Having downloaded all of Lizzie Lamb’s books, I opened Boot Camp Bride. Remembering Lizzie Lamb’s Scottish romance books, I expected to be travelling with a man in a kilt. Instead, I was off to London with Charlee, a fledgling journalist. Charlee is forced to attend a boot camp to get a scoop for the magazine she works for. I adored the situation set up for this story – such fun! The author is very clever at painting her characters and adding poignant brushstrokes of humour and vulnerability. Oh my, Charlee’s humour is the perfect anecdote to the winter blues!
Charlee guided me through her adventure, and I could not stop laughing. How does Lizzie Lamb manage to combine humour, adventure and romance? Charlee was feisty, fun, intelligent and clumsy – perfect. Undeterred by the alpha male, she managed to fight him with wit and stubbornness. Lizzie Lamb’s characters and style of writing sparkle in Boot Camp Bride. This romantic comedy is classic gold: it is the equivalent of comfort food and a good night out with friends.
The soundtrack track to Spectre boomed, as I read the opening chapters of Boot Camp Bride, and Charlee was assigned her first undercover operation as a ‘faux’ bride. And her ‘self- assurance and sassiness’ made this an absolute hoot. Charlee’s ‘off the cuff remarks’ constantly entertain. I adored this refreshingly bubbly style of writing. The wit and tension fizzed and bubbled like a good Champagne. At this point, Charlee would observe:
‘If she was beginning to think in clichés, it was time for her to put down the empty glass.’
However, I didn’t have a glass of anything. It was a joy to immerse myself in Charlee’s world. She spoke before she put her brain into gear and is charming, funny and endearing. Lizzie Lamb used her characteristic turn of phrase to describe that moment when one says the wrong thing:
‘As the seconds drew out, Charlee imagined she could hear the tick of the grandfather clock marking time: feel the chill wind of disapproval whistling round her ankles…’
This captured the moment perfectly! I think there is an element of Charlee in all of us. She is a very real, honest and intelligent young woman. Then there is the experienced Bear Grylls meets James Bond type hero, Rafa Fonseca Ffinch, but thankfully he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I adored the sparks flying between Charlee and Rafa combined with the calamities. Furthermore, the dialogue is superb, and the scenes were filmic in quality. Lizzie Lamb is very skilled at challenging stereotypes for comic effect.
The narrative hurtles at great speed while the humour awaits the reader around every corner. Even the weather manages to mock Charlee as ‘hailstones hurled themselves at the window aided and abetted by a cutting wind off the marshes.’ Clever writing makes this novel feel like a trusty companion – I loved it! It is the sort of book one can return to chase away the blues!
After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided to pursue my first love: writing. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride. Although much of my time is taken up publicising Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bride, I published a third novel Scotch on The Rocks in July 2015. It achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon. I am a founding member of an indie publishing group – New Romantics Press and have held an Author Event at Waterstones High Street, Kensington, London. The icing on the cake, as far we are concerned, and a fitting way to celebrate our achievements. March 2016 saw Scotch on the Rocks shortlisted for the prestigious Exeter Novel Prize and in November 2016 I held an author talk in London, at Aspinalls. In Spring 2017 I published – Girl In The Castle, which reached #3 in the charts. I am currently working on a novel set in Wisconsin – Take Me I’m Yours, and have more Scottish-themed romances planned.
I have been waiting for weeks to meet Leah. As soon as the book arrived, I made myself some strong coffee and lost myself in France.
As I opened the book, I could feel the ‘sheen on my skin where the sunshine streamed in through the window’. But the book isn’t just about the shimmering heat, a fast heart beat and copious amounts of rosé pamplemousse. It is a wonderfully witty book that isn’t ‘Just for the Holidays’ because the consequences of the holiday will last forever. This novel examines the fragility of the ‘protective shell’ surrounding teenagers that can shatter without their parents. In turn, Moorcroft also shows how adult are left vulnerable and exposed when relationships breakdown. However, you will still laugh all the way through novel and forget that you need to go to sleep – hence strong coffee needed. You will also crave some expensive chocolate.
Prior to reading this novel, I was unaware of the challenges facing Leah as I had focused on the trail of clues in the #PostcardsJFTH. One must admire Leah as she ‘rolls up her sleeves’, supports everyone and hopes that the ‘frost’ will thaw between her sister and brother-in-law. Leah’s ‘heart twists’ for the teenagers but also flutters when she feels the heat from a certain man. It is moving that Leah has an incredible capacity to empathise, putting the needs of others first. It is equally endearing that she removes the halo from time to time. Who wouldn’t want Leah, with her ‘sunny personality’ and compassion, as a sister?
The narrative is as fast paced as Leah’s Porsche, but one longs to find out if the romance will become a harmonious melody rather than a sporadic drum beat. Besides the events rolling on, there is a tremendous lyrical quality to the dialogue that drives you through the events. The humour sparkles throughout the interactions and difficult situations. I am in awe of the way in which Moorcroft combines humour with a more challenging and sensitive subject. Characters are built with precision as each word is selected with tender loving care: Moorcroft cares about her characters thus ensuring that the reader will also suffer from a ‘sore heart’ at times.
Read it and you will understand why Leah needs to get a massive ‘Do not disturb’ sign on her door.
A whole constellation of stars to be awarded to Sue Moorcroft for this funny, poignant yet heart-breaking read! Must go now and bake the quick pecan toffee pudding to console myself for having finished the book.
Set in the nineties, this first-person narrative is a tender tale of life’s journey. Initially, one can luxuriate in simplicity of university life until the narrative and the mystery begin to unfold. Flora, ‘beautiful and talented’ is an engaging, likeable character from the outset. Letters to Flora’s unborn child will be constructed from her inner dialogue.
The people in Flora’s life construct the narrative threads. Although, surrounded by supportive friends and family, Flora is secretive. Friends and family love Flora and there are tender moments. For instance, the letter that Flora’s father writes to the unborn child is incredibly moving. Her mother’s silent support is beautiful while support from her friends evoke humour. The constant in the narrative is the developing relationship that Flora has with Little Bump. Flora’s experience of her difficult pregnancy and analysis of her relationships pull the reader into the story. Is Flora hiding something? Each time it seems as if a mystery has been solved, the narrative moves on. Initially, the mystery of the child’s father intrigues. The reader longs for a certain man to be the father, yet the undertones of something unsettling unnerves and nudges the reader.
As you get to know Flora, you want to protect and support her and Little Bump. Flora’s need to confide in Little Bump successfully confirms her loneliness. One questions if she is truly’ happy’. Flora seems naïve, vulnerable yet she successfully analyses her role in the two relationships in her life. She explores how the relationships developed and moulded to the circumstances. The juxtaposition of the two relationships reveal insight into Flora’s psyche. With one lover, she experienced the ‘distant music that guided our feet and our entwined bodies did the rest’. This is juxtaposed with ‘I winced. I glared around the small pungent smelling storeroom.’ Here, the discomfort is clearly signified in the language choices and reinforced through the punctuation. One wants to warn Flora but was she already aware of it? She is a clever student.
The plot moves in and out of contrasting past experiences with the two lovers. Flora is ‘not entirely comfortable’, at times, and neither is the reader. Humour is contrasted with despair. A secretive, cliched relationship is compared with a natural, good humoured relationship. Surely, the unconfessed love that she ‘wished [she] had told him’ is the shadow that is pressing on Flora’s mind. Her memories of happier times provide support for Flora during the isolation of her pregnancy. Williams skilfully builds layers of intrigue. Flora becomes trapped in events and her silence. She admits that:
‘It is all a cruel game, this life of mine, as I begin to lose track of what is real and what isn’t.’
The real cruelty isn’t fully in focus until the end of the novel. This novel is intriguing and offers far more than the blurb promises. I completed the novel in the early hours of the morning as I could not abandon Flora. This is a powerful exploration of a mother’s love for her unborn child, first love, seduction and love for family and friends. Williams successfully explores some complex and challenging themes and places betrayal at the core.
From a darkened corner of the room a figure appeared. ‘The Weight of Shadows’ is all he said, before collapsing at my feet; an ornate handled knife buried in his back. What could the victim’s last words possibly mean?
I met with author, Karl Holton, at Greenway House, and he had staged a dramatic introduction to his new book. He is an Agatha Christie fan and it seemed fitting to visit her holiday home. The house is deemed ‘the loveliest place in the world’, on the website, and it certainly lived up to expectation. I marvelled at the glorious view of the River Dart. Appropriately, Karl wanted to conduct the interview in the library. I inspected the library for a body, again, but it was safe. The light and airy library seemed a fitting place to inspire the great Agatha Christie. Karl waxed lyrical about the house and gave me some interesting facts about the great author.
Karl: Did you know that this house inspired Dead Man’s Folly? It’s one of the Poirot novels and it was the last ever ‘Poirot’ made by David Suchet playing the role of the great detective. They made it right here in the house and this was what she did so well; she adapted what she knew directly into the narrative.
Jessie: No, I wasn’t aware of that. I love the Poirot novels – they are great fun. My husband can watch Poirot programmes all day. Who is your favourite TV Poirot? I like Albert Finney. I’m not sure if that was TV or film.
Karl: For me, David Suchet is the quintessential ‘Poirot’.
Jessie: Of course, yes he was brilliant – he was Poirot. We digress, can you tell me about ‘The Weight of the Shadows’?
Karl delved into his rucksack. Strangely enough, his rucksack was full of his favourite Agatha Christie novels, and he proceeded to display some of the novel on the table. Finally, the actor, who had performed earlier, reappeared with a copy of Karl’s novel. The cover of ‘The Weight of the Shadows’ is modern and suggests a fast-paced plot set in London.
Karl: At one level ‘The Weight of the Shadows’ is an entertaining crime thriller mystery with plot twists and turns. At another level it is the first six days at the beginning of a series that introduces some interesting characters and a narrative that has subtle and, I hope, thought provoking subjects.
Jessie: Crime thrillers are always popular. It’s a great genre to establish a fanbase. What have the reviewers said about your new book?
Smiling, Karl started to recall some of the reviews.
Karl: “an intriguing plot, thoughtful, profound themes, complex troubling characters, and language that make us shudder for its honesty, clarity, and confidence” – Piaras O Cionnaoith
“irresistible book, impossible to put down” – Bookgirl Sulagna
“a story that is intense and heart-pounding!” – Elaine Emmerick
Jessie: I’m impressed that you have already commenced your second book. We are in an ideal place to read. Can you read an extract from the book to tempt the reader?
Karl: It’s a real privilege to read here in Agatha Christie’s library.
Benedict was motionless with one thought. Never give up.
She pushed the tip of the blade in and under the skin on his chest, near his heart.
Karl: This extract is only a few words, but the importance of these at the start of the narrative is significant.
Jessie: A great choice – you certainly hook the reader into the narrative. I can tell that you enjoyed constructing the narrative and the characters. How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Karl: The euphoria of finishing was quickly met by the realisation that as an indie author the work had just started. Apart from the marketing, reviews, social media etc. I remembered that I needed to start working on the second book in the series.
Given the second book in the series starts the day after the end of this first book I’ve not really had the opportunity to miss the characters.
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Karl: If I were choosing an author it would be Agatha Christie. We could discuss the pace of the plot and sub-plots.
If it were someone famous (and alive) I’d ask Stephen Fry to review the book. Within the series I’m going to try to examine and compare some cognitive and emotive subjects through the plot, characters and narrative. I’d really like to discuss these with him.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Karl: Well I hope it has a plot that keeps you guessing and is enjoyable as it begins to reveal itself. If you read some of the reviews you will notice that it’s not clear what the connections are at the start and then the plot arcs entwine; that’s very deliberate.
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Karl: ‘Nice nails’ – you’ll have to read the book to see why I might have written that down.
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Karl: This is a really interesting question because it will very much depend upon what type of author you want to be. A full-time author who wants a publisher to do everything for them will have a very different set of challenges compared to an indie with a job who is happy selling a few books a month. I’m going to give you my answer based upon what I am, which is an indie who is trying to make this my full-time job.
My single biggest challenge is becoming known enough so that people take a chance and buy, read and review the book. As an indie author, you have no one to help this happen so you need to do it and this takes a significant amount of both time and commitment. In a world where we have over 200k books published in the UK per year and possibly 1 million in the US, just being seen is a challenge that any aspiring author should not understate.
I have discussed this issue with other authors, both published and indie. Personally, I think many really talented authors will either give up or just never be seen because they get lost in this ‘jungle’.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Karl: Get an editor.
Karl is a chartered accountant who previously worked in financial markets for over thirty years. He has collected books his whole life with a focus on London and crime fiction. He is married with two children and lives in Surrey.
Karl is very animated when talking about his book. It is clear he is dedicated to his writing and is very industrious. Many reviews say that the book is ‘spine tingling’ and ‘irresistible’ I do hope that Karl’s debut novel is successful and wish him the best of luck with his novel.
Carol Drinkwater’s The Forgotten Summer is safely stored in my handbag and can be enjoyed at any time, but a generous glass of Chateauneuf du Pape is a recommended companion.
I devoured Drinkwater’s memoirs and drank up her wisdom, and her novel, Forgotten Summer, did not disappoint me. Drinkwater wraps up her nuggets of wisdom, and powerful observations, in a beautifully crafted narrative.
This is so much more than the story of an English girl that fell in love with a Frenchman. Jane’s memories of her life, thirty years on, are the starting point for Jane’s exploration of another world that her husband inhabited.
Read the complete review of Forgotten Summer in My Reading.
Drinkwater books are like my old friends. I started this reading friendship with the Olive Farm books.
I escaped into the world of Apassionata immediately. I could feel the heat of the sun on my face as I ran away to the Mediterranean, with the narrator’s voice in my head. The descriptions are vivid, soothing and thoroughly necessary; they nourish the imagination and transport you.
Read the complete review of The Olive Farm in My Reading.