Monday, 27 February 2017

The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe #ThePeopleWeWereBefore @annabellet


Published in Paperback 23rd of February 2017 by Quercus Books.

I am delighted to be able to invite Annabelle Thorpe back to the blog to discuss life since publication. It is no secret that this book made my Top Ten Books of 2016. I also have my review again, in case you missed it last time....

If war is madness, how can love survive?
Yugoslavia, summer 1979. A new village. A new life. But eight-year-old Miro knows the real reason why his family moved from the inland city of Knin to the sunkissed village of Ljeta on the Dalmatian Coast, a tragedy he tries desperately to forget.
The Ljeta years are happy ones, though, and when he marries his childhood sweetheart, and they have a baby daughter, it seems as though life is perfect. However, storm clouds are gathering above Yugoslavia.
War breaks out, and one split-second decision destroys the life Miro has managed to build. Driven by anger and grief, he flees to Dubrovnik, plunging himself into the hard-bitten world of international war reporters.
There begins a journey that will take him ever deeper into danger: from Dubrovnik, to Sarajevo, to the worst atrocities of war-torn Bosnia, Miro realises that even if he survives, there can be no way back to his earlier life. The war will change him, and everyone he loves, forever.


This is a superb book, it is stunning in the way that it is described, envisaged and written. It contains some beautiful storytelling. I can't really fault it!

This book covers a span of more than 20 years and covers the period of the wars that were happening in the 1990's. It follows the main character Miro through his story, growing up, and getting married and described when war begins how conflict changes people and those around them. 

This book is a brutal and realistic portrayal of the savages of war on lives and also those that are left to continue afterwards. War changes everybody. I felt incredibly emotional reading this book, the author did such a fantastic job of describing Croatia, and then also did am accurate job of describing how whole villages were destroyed when the fighting starting.

The author has managed to create a host of flawed but likeable characters, characters for whom I felt a warmth and an empathy. Characters that I was rooting for at all costs. The author writes with beauty and style and clearly shows a passion for the region. There is emotional depth within the characters and their individual stories, whilst still keeping a reality over the things that happen to people. 

Overall I would say that this is a story about the brutalities of war, of friendships and families, of overcoming obstacles. Right within the heart of it though is a story of love in all its many guises. 

I wholeheartedly recommend this book and eagerly await what this author comes up with next. She is one to watch!



Interview with Annabelle Thorpe.

Thanks so much for returning to the blog for a second interview.

Hi Leah - thanks for having me back on the blog, can't believe it was nearly a year ago that I was first on Reflections of a Reader.  It's been quite a year.

1)      How has your life changed since publication?

On a day to day level, not hugely - although I probably work harder and earn less than I used to!  But on a deeper level is really is life-changing; just in terms of knowing that I've achieved the one thing I spent my whole life wanting to do.  It took a long time to get to this point, and there's been plenty of times I'd worry that I'd never actually get published.  Having that fear of failure taken away is wonderful, it's really liberating.  Being able to say that I'm an author, that I have a novel published and another on the way, makes me happier than anything.

2)      What is a typical day like for you now as opposed to before?

I'm a journalist in my other life, so my days have always been about writing, but fiction is a very different thing.  I usually wake up, make a cup of tea and start writing straight away.  My mind is always clearest in the morning; sometimes I'll start at eight and won't move till about 11am.  I genuinely don't notice the time go.

3)      In terms of promoting your book, how have you gone about it?

In every way I can think of!  Publishing companies do promote books, but they have a lot of titles to push, and so you have to do a lot yourself.   I've done radio interviews, book events, written for travel companies and websites (my book is set in Croatia) and - of course - done lots of posts for lovely book bloggers!  As a new writer, it's been amazing to come across that community; a really supportive collection of people with an incredible passion for books.


4)      You are in the process of writing your second book, what can you tell us about it?

It's called The City of Untold Stories, and it's set in Marrakech, one of my favourite cities in the world.  It's the story of three friends who meet at university; Paul and Freya, who go on to get married, and Hamad, a wealthy Qatari.  We meet them first as students, and then twenty years later, when Paul and Freya move to Marrakech.  It's about how we change over time, whether we really know the people we love and how secrets we believe are buried can come back to haunt us decades later.


5)      On the subject of book two is it a struggle to write whilst still trying to promote book one. 

Yes - particularly if you're trying to do a job, or paying work as well.  I quite often end up doing twelve hours days at the moment.  But it's a quality problem to have!

6)      How have you found doing literary events? Were you nervous?

Yes and no.  I've done a fair bit of public speaking for work but I did struggle a bit with the concept that people were paying money to come and hear me talk.  My first ever literary event, I shared the stage with Louis de Bernieres, which was absolutely terrifying!  But it was good in one way, as I could relax a bit - I knew 90% of the audience had only come to hear him (the other 10% were my friends and family).


7)      Have social media/bloggers impacted on the experience of being a debut novelist?

Hugely.  And I think it's a really positive thing; it's incredibly difficult to get reviewed in print, there are so many titles jostling for coverage.  If you spend some time working out who to follow on social media, and joining the right networks, you can really get some good word-of-mouth promotion going on.  I've found there to be a huge amount of warmth in the blogging community, it's been lovely to feel that.


8)      Is there anything you would change about your approach to book one?

I don't think so.  Hindsight is a great thing, but I didn't really know anything about the publishing industry with my first book and so I felt I was learning really fast.  It's a very tough business.  I don't think I was prepared for that, but I'm more aware now.

9)      What advice would you give to new writers starting out?

Never give up.  Writing a novel is a long, hard road but if it's also one of the most rewarding things you'll ever do.  Involve your friends and family, bounce ideas off them, tell them how it's going.  Then, where there are moments where you think - 'I just can't do this' - they'll be there to help you keep going.  My friends and family have been invaluable to me - I'd never have got this far without them.

10)  What does the future hold for you?


More books, hopefully!  I've already got a framework for book three, and I've also got some ideas for non-fiction books bubbling away.  It's taken me so long to get to this point, I can't imagine ever wanting to do anything else.


About the Author:





Annabelle Thorpe has been a travel and features journalist for fifteen years, writing for national print and online media. She currently works as a freelance for the Times, Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Express, and works as a consultant for the National Trust. Annabelle completed an MA in Contemporary History in September 2012 and is an alumni of Curtis Brown Creative. She lives in London and Sussex.

You can find her on Twitter: @annabellet






Friday, 17 February 2017

Blog Tour: Because I Was Lonely by Hayley Mitchell

Published on 2nd March 2017 by Red Door Publishing. My thanks to the author and the publisher for the review copy and having me on the blog tour.

The grass is always greener on the other side…
Meet Rachel. She’s trapped in a sleep-deprived world of misery and grief. She used to love being a wife and mum, but now life is a grown-up mess.

Meet Adam. He’s trapped in a world of grief and confusion. It wasn’t always like this, but since the accident, things have never been the same. 

Rachel and Adam used to be friends, back in the days before marriage and babies… before loneliness set in. Then along came Facebook. So when Rachel and Adam rekindle their online friendship, what starts as a little harmless flirtation soon becomes an obsession, and slowly the threads of their lives unravel before them.

Because I was Lonely expertly traces the roller coaster of actions and reactions experienced by a cast of credible, fallible, and ultimately human, characters. The author carefully captures their emotions and handles the multiple viewpoints deftly, in this cleverly crafted, unputdownable debut novel.

My Thoughts:



This is a story of four individuals and two couples, set in two parts, it is not a particularly happy story but one that I was engrossed in throughout. The further I got into the book, the faster I read. I just had to find out how things ended.

Full of flawed characters that are emotionally damaged in their different ways. The characters actions are impaired by their mental states. The book starts at a slow pace but the further I got in the more strands of the characters lives seemed to unravel much like the mental health conditions they are struggling with. It was difficult not to feel some sympathy where all the characters are concerned.

The strength of this story lies in the characterisations, which were very well dealt with, in a realistic manner which made the plot plausible.

This is one of the books that is hard to give much away about but Rachel is suffering from Post Natal Depression. She rekindles a friendship with Adam, who also has his own issues. Both are dissatisfied with their current lives and initially seek the companionship that they both crave. When does this cross the line and when is it too much and a step over the boundaries that should exist online and in real life?

Hayley Mitchell has written an accomplished and intriguing story about loneliness, mental health issues and the pressures of being human and also communication or the lack of. A story told from several different viewpoints, I found it gripping and insightful.

I look forward to seeing what this author comes up with next.




Thursday, 16 February 2017

Blog Tour: Sealskin by Su Bristow


Sealskin was published by Orenda in print on 15th February 2017, it is also available as an e -book. My thanks to the publisher for the review copy and having me on the blog tour.

What happens when magic collides with reality? 

Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous … and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?

Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Exeter Novel Prize-winner Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.

My Thoughts:

I have been mulling over what to write in my review for this book for the last few days. I find it hardest to review the books that I enjoyed the most. This book is a feat of storytelling and one that deserves to be read. It transcended genres and took a small piece of my heart with it when the final page turned.

Sealskin is set in Scotland and tells the story of the Selkie legends. This is not something I really knew about, but Selkies are mythical creatures that can be found in folklore. They are seals that can shed their skin on land to become human. This wonderful creative story is shot through with magical realism and in some respects is a fable.

This is the story of Donald and Mairhi. Their relationship seems doomed from the start, circumstances of their getting together more than a little controversial. Mairhi doesn't speak but she soon learns how to adapt to her human life. She was my favourite character in this story. A transient, ethereal beauty with far more depth than people appreciated. Donald is very much an outsider and he made a rash decision that changes the lives of himself and those around him dramatically. Some for the good and some for the bad. This story tackles that sensitively and allows the space for the reader to form their own opinion.

Important topics covered within this book are, love in its varying guises, acceptance, wrong doing, atonement and redemption. All of which is set against the haunting and beautiful backdrop of the Scottish Coastline, and village life. The landscape becomes somewhat of a character itself. Drawing the reader in, with sounds of the sea and the calling of the waves.

Su Bristow writes elegantly, with grace and compassion. She has managed to display in her writing the best and the worst sides of the human condition. The lyrical and often magical prose makes this the perfect piece of story telling that it is.

About the Author:


Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern. Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar), and ‘Changes’ which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Her debut novel, Sealskin, is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magical realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.

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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Blog Tour: Mary's the Name by Ross Sayers


Published by Cranachan  on 29th January 2017. My thanks to the publisher and author for sending the book and having me on the blog tour.


An eight-year-old girl and her granpa are on the run… “When me and Granpa watched James Bond films, he told me not to be scared because people didn’t have guns like that in Scotland. That must’ve been why the robbers used hammers.” 

Orphaned Mary lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye. Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him–and their money. 


Mary’s quirky outlook on life, loss, and her love of all things Elvis, will capture your heart. Full of witty Scots banter, Mary’s the Name will have you reaching for the hankies, first with laughter, then with tears.


My Thoughts:


I really loved this warm book set in Scotland, it made me sad and it made me laugh. Told from the perspective of Mary, this is where the magic of the book lies for me. Ross Sayers has written the character and the voice of Mary beautifully and realistically.

Mary loves Elvis and James Bond and lives with her Granpa. This book whilst being quite humorous, touched me with its wit, and characterisations. There is even a robbery. There is a serious side to this book with some important themes tackled such as friendship, theft, and family relationships.

I loved the Scottish setting and really felt that it made the story come alive. It is Mary's voice that I will take away from this book. She will stay with me. It is very accomplished of the author to be able to write from the eyes of a child. 

Ross Sayers has brought a new voice the world of fiction and one that I enjoyed. I would love to read more by him. A unique read that I would most definitely recommend.




I am delighted that Ross has taken the time to answer some of my questions, thanks to him for stopping by. I have his answers below.

1)      Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m 24, living in Stirling, working as a civil servant in Glasgow. Mary’s the Name is my first novel, written during the summer of 2015.

2)      Could you tell us a bit about Mary’s the Name, for those who haven’t read it yet?

Mary’s the Name is a story about a wee girl named Mary, and her Granpa, Arthur. After he gets mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works in Stirling, he decides to take Mary on a summer-long holiday to the Isle of Skye. While she makes friends and explores the small village of Portree, she finds out her Granpa lied about the real reason for leaving Stirling. He’s stolen money from some dangerous people, and they’re coming to get it back…

3)      Which writers do you admire?

James Kelman’s novels and short stories have had a big impact on my writing. The late, great Terry Pratchett, I don’t believe there was anyone with a warmer, sharper humour than his.

4)      If you had to give one book only as a present, which would it be?

Assuming that the person you’re giving the book to has never read it, it’s got to be the first Harry Potter! Imagine introducing someone to that? They’d owe you for life.

5)      Are you writing currently, if so is there something you can tell us about that?

Currently I’m planning out book two. It’s going to be set in my hometown of Stirling again, tentatively about some high school pupils who get mixed up in a crime when they take a sick day.

6)      How important is the cover of a book in your opinion?

I’d say fairly important! Obviously, we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but I know I do it. A cheesy cover can really put me off. I was so thrilled with the cover of Mary’s the Name that Cranachan put together. Gives the sense of an unexplored place, the relationship between Mary and Granpa, and dark clouds moving in.

7)      What made you become a writer?

When I was in primary school, I wrote a lot of long, meandering stories which didn’t go anywhere. During university, I took creative writing modules, and this rekindled my appetite for storytelling. I then did my undergrad dissertation in poetry, before doing an M.Litt in Creative Writing, where Mary’s the Name was written.

8)      What was your inspiration for writing Mary’s the Name?

My main inspiration was James Kelman’s Kieron Smith, Boy. I was blown away by his complete commitment to the voice of Kieron. The village of Portree also gave me a lot to work with. A lot of the book’s plot and characters were shaped by my visit there.

9)      What are your writing habits and space like?

I like to write at home, feet up, radio on, laptop in my lap. I’ve never tried writing in public before, I don’t think I’d like the constant threat of being disturbed!

10)  What is the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your writing?

Because the story is about an eight-year-old girl, I needed to have a sense of what people her age get up to. Part of that is working out at what age parents/guardians let their children go and play outside by themselves these days. So if you checked, I probably Googled ‘when did you let your kids go out themselves’ or something similar. This lead me to lots of parenting forums. Felt a bit odd!

11)   Could you tell us something about you that people wouldn’t necessary know?

In 2014, I ran the Edinburgh Marathon to raise money for the MS Society. It was a proud moment!

How can people find out more about you or your books? (links)

You can tweet me @Sayers33, or visit rosssayers.co.uk to keep up to date with my blog.



About the Author:


 Ross Sayers is a writer of Scottish fiction, Mary's the Name is his first novel.

Ross graduated from the University of Stirling in 2014, with a BA (Hons) in English Studies (first class), and graduated again in 2015 with an M.Litt in Creative Writing (distinction).

His stories and poems have featured in magazines such as Quotidian and Octavius, and his short story, 'Dancin' is currently used on West College Scotland's Higher English course.



Thanks for visiting and please do check out the other spots on the blog tour.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Blog Tour: Corpus by Rory Clements


Corpus is published by Bonnier Zaffre on 26th January 2017. My thanks to the publisher and the author for the review copy.

1936.
Europe is in turmoil. 
The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland.
In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror.
Spain has erupted in civil war.

In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers.

In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand? 

When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe - and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson...

Set against the drumbeat of war and moving from Berlin to Cambridge, from Whitehall to the Kent countryside, and from the Fens to the Aragon Front in Spain, this big canvas international thriller marks the beginning of a major new series from bestselling author Rory Clements. 


My Thoughts:

This book was a bit of a challenge for me, I don't read very much historical fiction at all. It is something that I have always struggled with. It took me a while to settle into this book but once I was a couple of chapters in I was utterly absorbed and transported. 

Rory Clements has cleverly written this book in a way that is accessible to all readers. The plot is tight and the story rolls along at a steady pace. This book is set in 1936 and our main character is Thomas Wilde. He is a history professor and he manages to find himself embroiled in some calamities. A young girl has been found dead, a syringe found by her side. Elsewhere a well to do couple are found horribly murdered. Thomas Wilde can't help wondering if the two things are connected. 

Meanwhile on a national level there is more than a whiff of scandal as King Edward VIII has taken a mistress by the name of Wallis Simpson. This book is packed full of political intrigue. It is thrilling and exciting at the same time. 

Set at a time of unrest within the world of politics, this provided a perfect backdrop for this story and its many twists and turns. I am in awe about the sheer amount of research that goes in to writing a novel of this stature and I am pleased to hear that there will be a second book in the series. 

This book has managed to convert me into trying more historical fiction in the future. 


About the Author:

RORY CLEMENTS won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2010 for his second novel, Revenger. He is the author of the John Shakespeare series of novels which are currently in development for TV by the team behind POLDARK and ENDEAVOUR. Find out more at www.roryclements.co.uk

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Monday, 16 January 2017

Blog Tour: Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones


This book is published on 19th January 2017 by Sandstone Press. My thanks to them and the author for the review copy and having me on the blog tour.

Set near San Francisco, this warm and funny novel follows the fortunes and failures of Jack and Milly for sixty years. They marry in 1952, and typical of post-war couples, shift up a class. Optimistic and full of plans, they see themselves living the American Dream. Through the years they cling to each other despite having little in common. But the clinging doesn’t always preclude infidelity or disappointment, and the social changes they live through impact on their relationship in complex and surprising ways. Ultimately, though, what holds them together is stronger than what pulls them apart. This is a love story that tells the truth – or one or two truths – about love and marriage.

My Thoughts:

This book appealed to me from the very first moment I heard about it, I was not disappointed as I delved into the lives of Jack and Milly across the span of so many years of their marriage. Addison Jones is an astute writer who has crafted a wry look at the 'love' within a marriage and how to make it last. Shot through with a pithy humour I found this book captivating. 

At the start of the book it is 1950, back then Jack and Milly were known as Jacko and Billie. They were full of life and love and met each other when they were working for the same company. The next chapter takes us forward to 2014 when both characters are ailing, their ages and temperaments starting to get the better of them. 

The rest of the book works backwards from the current time to when they got married. This was an excellent tool by the author and I very much enjoyed the story playing out like that. Rather than building forward towards an end we as a reader get to go back to the start. 

Addison Jones has skilfully written nuanced characters, neither without their faults. She has gone into depth with them both individually and as a couple and she writes so beautifully I found it hard not to be captivated. 

This book is a unique and individual take on love and what it really takes to make a marriage last and what personal costs and sacrifices it takes to make it work. I would guess that the overall thing that I will take from this book is that love endures. 

Really recommend this one. It is both tender and stark and had me turning the pages as the years of our characters lifes rolled past. It was beautiful. 




About the Author:

Addison Jones is the author of four novels and a collection of short stories, all written under the name of Cynthia Rogerson. Her short stories have been broadcast, anthologised, short-listed and included in literary magazines. She holds a RLF Fellowship at Dundee University, and supervises for the University of Edinburgh’s creative writing program.


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Blog Tour : A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart


This is book was published in Paperback and ebook on 5th January 2017. My thanks to the publisher and author for the review copy and having me on the blog tour.

A beautiful, funny and surprising story of family and love, perfect for fans of The Rosie Project, David Nicholls’ Us and Nick Hornby’s About a Boy.
MEET THIRTY SOMETHING DAD, ALEX… He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.
MEET EIGHT-YEAR-OLD SAM… To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.
When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other… When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?
A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author’s own experiences with his autistic son.

My Thoughts:

I read this book in one sitting such was my involvement with the story and primarily the relationship between Sam and Alex. 

Sam is eight and is autistic, his father Alex is struggling in more ways than one. He feels like he can't communicate with his son, or his wife for that matter. He feels trapped and feels guilty about an event that happened in his childhood. 

Sam is struggling at school, struggling to fit in. It seems like he is an outsider but so is his Dad in many ways. This story is a lot about both father and son finding some common ground and a medium to help them to communicate their thoughts and fears. In this case the medium is Minecraft. There is a logic to the brick building game, a logic that seems missing from both father and sons lives. This time and space when they are playing the game allows both father and son to open up a little and that was a wonderful part of the story to read about. 

This book is touching and endearing, full of warmth and written from some personal experience on the authors behalf. I can't pretend to know that much about Autism but this book made me want to know and made me want to understand. 

I found the characters to all be likeable and the story to be told with great skill and tenderness. An absolutely charming read that I would have no doubt in recommending to everyone. 

Keith Stuart writes with a great deal of realness. He doesn't sugar coat Autism but instead he writes about it with all of the tears, tantrums, frustrations, also though this is balanced out with the love and the joy and the privilege of parenthood. 

This book is wonderful and one I won't forget in a hurry. 

About the Author:

 In 2012 one of KEITH STUART's two sons was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The ramifications felt huge. But then Keith and both boys started playing videogames together - especially Minecraft. Keith had always played games and, since 1995, has been writing about them, first for specialist magazines like Edge and PC Gamer then, for the last ten years, as games editor for the Guardian. The powerful creative sharing as a family and the blossoming of communication that followed informed his debut novel.

You can find him on Twitter @KeefStuart


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