Before I Let You In by Jenny Blackhurst

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I’m thrilled to be part of the paperback celebrations for Jenny Blackhurst’s psychological thriller Before I Let You In. Before I Let You In is published by Headline and available in e-book and paperback by following the publisher links.

Before I Let You In

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Karen is meant to be the one who fixes problems.

It’s her job, as a psychiatrist – and it’s always been her role as a friend.

But Jessica is different. She should be the patient, the one that Karen helps.

But she knows things about Karen. Her friends, her personal life. Things no patient should know.

And Karen is starting to wonder if she should have let her in . . .

My Review of Before I Let You In

Psychiatrist Karen’s new patient Jessica isn’t quite what she seems!

I have to admit that for the first thirty pages or so I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Before I Let You In. It felt a bit disjointed and initially I didn’t warm to the characters of Karen, Bea and Eleanor. However, it wasn’t long before I was totally in the grip of this clever novel and I frequently found myself exclaiming aloud at the plot. Indeed, I have no idea how Jenny Blackhurst managed to create such an intricate narrative. It’s always difficult to say too much without giving away the story, but I though it was intelligent, surprising and scarily plausible. I liked the way the narrative was divided into three sections like traditional plays so that reading Before I Let You In made me think of traditional Greek and Shakespearean themes and characters, providing an extra layer of enjoyment.

The characters themselves are all flawed but equally human. Although she’s actually present in few scenes, Jessica remains an underlying menacing presence throughout so that the reader is never quite sure what will be uncovered or what will happen next. The past is as much a part of the story as the events happening in the present, making the reader question just what has gone on, creating tension and excitement. I found the first person narrative that intersperses the third person stories of Bea, Karen and Eleanor quite chilling. Disturbing events are often dealt with in a matter of fact manner that adds to the atmosphere too.

The themes of Before I Let You In are so well handled. Friendship, identity, post-natal depression, adultery – they are all here in a magnificent tapestry leaving the reader entertained, informed and sometimes uncomfortable. This is powerful writing.

What I enjoyed most about reading Before I Let You In was that I assumed I had it all worked out all the way along. I loved that Jenny Blackhurst proved me wrong.

About Jenny Blackhurst

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children. Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels – writing her own seemed like natural progression. Inspired by the emotions she felt around her own son’s birth, How I Lost You was Jenny’s thrilling debut crime novel.

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You can follow Jenny Blackhurst on Twitter, find her on Facebook and see more with these other bloggers:

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Born This Way by Sacha Lanvin Baumann

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I am grateful to the author for providing a copy of Born This Way in return for an honest review. Born This Way by Sacha Lanvin Baumann, and translated by Wendell Ricketts, was published on 7th September 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book from your local Amazon site.

Born This Way

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In February 1978, when the flawless Gia Carangi arrived in New York at the age of barely eighteen, she had already landed a contract with one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world. The future that lay before her seemed dazzling. Blessed with a magnetic beauty and a unique personality, the young Philadelphia native reached the peak of success in only a few months, quickly joining the elite ranks of “supermodels.” One of the most requested models in her field, Gia appeared regularly in such magazines as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. For all intents and purposes, Gia’s life quickly became a fairy tale—or so it seemed.

In only a few years, Gia’s destiny was complicated by unscrupulous individuals and by her inability to manage her cataclysmic success. Once on that road, the legendary model began a decline that led to her tragic end.

Born This Way brings to light never-before-heard stories and unusual memories of Gia, offering new perspectives on her life, career, and personality. Through these previously unpublished accounts by those who knew and worked with Gia, Lanvin shines a spotlight on the woman herself, peering beneath the fast-lane glamor and the fame to capture the true essence of a supermodel who continues to mesmerize the world even decades after her death.

My Review of Born This Way

The first supermodel, Gia Carangi, is recalled by the people who knew her in this biographical homage.

When I was asked by the author, Sacha Lanvin Baumann, if I would be willing to read Born This Way for review I have to confess that I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of read. I have no interest in celebrity and had never heard of Gia Carangi so I didn’t think I’d find it especially engaging.

However, I found Born This Way unsettlingly interesting. I was uneasy in the reading as at times I felt like I was intruding into other people’s grief. Born This Way draws on the anecdotes and memories of those who knew model Gia well, with direct quotation giving a flavour of the woman she was and how her friends felt, and still feel, about her. I have to admit that I found this formula a little repetitive towards the latter half of the book, but there is no denying that Gia evoked strong emotions in those who knew her. I thought the translation from Italian worked very effectively so that the flavour of the speakers and the original writing remained true.

Gia was such a troubled soul that reading Born This Way made me feel her life and demise was an inevitability. She seemed to fight with every element of what made her who she was – her beauty, her sexuality and her addictions. The element of freefall I found quite shocking and terribly sad and it made me wonder how much has changed to protect the vulnerable in the fashion world today.

I would have liked photographic illustrations too in the book as I think they would have helped underline and celebrate the very brief life Gia led. An example might be ‘Gia’s Last Photograph’ mentioned by Borodulin, for example.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to read Born This Way. It made me thankful for the fairly ordinary life I’ve led and introduced me to a woman, Gia, I would have liked to have known and a world of fashion I’m glad I’ve never been a part of.

You can follow Sacha Lanvin on Twitter.

An Interview with Kel O’Connor, author of Broken Bits

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I’m very pleased to welcome Kel O’Connor to Linda’s Book Bag today. Kel’s novel Broken Bits is book one of the DAG Team Series and is available in e-book here. Kel has kindly agreed to be interviewed about her writing and Broken Bits in particular.

Broken Bits

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Kit Foster thought a week in the woods would be the perfect way to recover from the family scandal that shattered her world. No reporters, no gossip and no drama. Then a helicopter dumps an injured man in her path.

Mick Harris is having a bad day. It was bad enough that he botched an op, but then he awakes beaten and left for dead in the middle of a forest. He is lucky to be alive, but now he is at the mercy of Kit- the only person who knows the route home.

During the time it takes to hike back to civilization, Kit and Mick become friends and explore their growing attraction. While the way out is hampered by bad memories and an assassin, they manage to grow close enough to attempt a real relationship.

However, that bliss is short-lived when Mick’s job again threatens Kit’s life and destroys their happiness. Can a second chance bring them back together?

An Interview with Kel O’Connor

Hi Kel, thanks for being on Linda’s Book Bag. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

My husband and I have 2 teenagers and 2 cats. I am addicted to coffee and peanuts. I love anything that will make me laugh- friends, cartoons, comedians, movies, whatever… I love it so much we once owned a humor store.

I know you’re a former bookseller. How did you make the transition into being a writer too?

The writing came first. The bookselling career was a natural choice for me since I loved reading.

I know you enjoy cross-stitch. Do you see any parallels between the patterns in cross-stitch and in plotting a novel?

For me, writing is the opposite.  I start with a loose outline and then write out scenes as they come to me. When I have a handful of scenes, I go back and fill in the story.  With cross-stitch, I love knowing how it will turn out before I even start.

Other than a cross-stitcher, if you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I sew and I used to dabble in calligraphy.  Would love to learn to knit someday.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your writing is realistic?

I love researching a new idea! Google is my best friend and I could spend days down different rabbit holes there.  I am also a voracious reader. When I read thrillers or suspense, I love learning new things while I am being entertained.

(I think we can all disappear into Google, Kel!)

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Writing the original scenes is easy for me. Revisions are agony!

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

My favorite spots to write are sitting in bed or in a recliner.  Before I start, I do listen to whatever song(s) I feel work for the scene I am about to write.  I love to write in the morning, but end up doing it whenever I can squeeze it in.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I love action movies! But sometimes ideas just come to me at the craziest times.

Broken Bits has a very atmospheric cover. It made me think of obfuscation and the search for the truth. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

The cover designer and I were looking for wilderness pictures.  She found the guy right off and then tried him against different tree landscapes.  I loved the way all the blues blended together.  Mick and Kit are stuck together miles from civilization. I think it would be spooky to be in that situation with a stranger.

Broken Bits is the first in the DAG (Data Acquisitions Group) team series. How easy or difficult is it to set up a new series in the first book?

The series idea came from my editor.  I realized that a 20-year old story idea would fit perfectly with Broken Bits.  So I went back and fleshed out the other agents.

Which of the DAG team you’ve created is most like you and why do you think this?

Probably Peter, one of the founders. I’m a boring manager in real life.  Peter keeps the business running and makes the agents fall in line. I wish I could say it was math-whiz Mick or martial-arts Amy, but no.  However, Peter has some interesting secrets that will come out in later books!

If Broken Bits became a film, who would you like to play Kit and why would you choose them?

In my head, Kit looked like Hayley Atwell with darker eyes and short curly hair. Plus, I think Hayley is a great actress and well-suited to play sassy Kit.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Broken Bits should be their next read, what would you say?

How about 12 words? Two damaged people find themselves and fall in love while dodging assassins.

Oh – even better!

About Kel O’Connor

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Kel O’Connor lives with her husband and teenagers in the mountains of North Carolina. In addition to reading and writing, she loves coffee, loud rock music and subversive humor. She collects graphic t-shirts and hates to vacuum. You can follow Kel on Twitter, find her on Facebook and visit her website.

Anti-heroines in Women’s Fiction, a Guest Post by Rosa Temple, author of Single by Christmas

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Having previously interviewed Rosa Temple for Linda’s Book Bag (you can read that interview here), I’m delighted to be starting off the celebrations for her latest novel Single by Christmas. Single by Christmas is published tomorrow, 18th October 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book here.

I’m equally thrilled that Rosa has provided a smashing guest blog today all about anti-heroines in women’s fiction. Also, Rosa is giving the opportunity enter to win one of 5 e-copies of Single By Christmas by clicking here.

Single by Christmas

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You’ve heard the saying, ‘opposites attract’ haven’t you?

Meet 27 year old Alex Marshall, a party girl with a penchant for free flowing Prosecco, and her devilishly handsome scientist boyfriend, Charlie, who loves jazz and dinner for two.

Alex and Charlie are together for 11 blissful months until Alex goes out of town and does something she will later regret. Was she drunk? You bet. Does she want Charlie to know? Well what do you think?

With the couple about to spend their first Christmas together will Charlie be the forgiving kind or will Alex be Single by Christmas?

This is a feel good, Christmas novel with very few mince pies, not much snow and absolutely no mistletoe – just a couple of best friends, a sociopathic nemesis and a lot of drinking.

Anti-heroines in Women’s Fiction – Where Do You Stand?

A Guest Post by Rosa Temple

Most of my writing day is taken up by writing fiction. If I’m not writing a blog or magazine article for a client, I’m creating fictional characters either in my own stories or as a ghost writer. Most of the fiction I ghost write comes under the women’s fiction umbrella, mainly romance. In every outline I’m given the heroine is always likeable, kind, well adjusted, good looking (if not absolutely beautiful) and everything she does makes her worthy of the handsome hero.

I know we pick up a book because we like to escape the real world but I always prefer to ‘keep it real(ish)’ when I write – particularly in my own stories.

So when it came to writing Single by Christmas, I knew straight away that I wasn’t writing my female protagonist in the typically expected style for women’s fiction. Alex Marshall wasn’t going to be the heroine, she was going to be the anti-heroine.

When writers create anti-heroes – the bad guy who womanises, drinks too much, puts his needs first – it seems to be acceptable because he is a man. But how do you react to a woman who does all those things?

Typical Anti-Hero/Anti-Heroine Traits (in brief)

*Self-absorbed, selfish

*Shows little remorse for bad behaviour

*Imperfections easily identified

*Has the reader’s sympathy but has questionable morals

I knew that when I embarked on my Christmas story that Alex Marshall wasn’t the type of woman who owned a cake shop and sold mince pies to the man of her dreams, neither was she going to get stranded with him in a snow storm in a remote and picturesque town. But I had to be careful. I didn’t want to lose the spirit of Christmas. I didn’t want Alex to be an out and out villain who ambushes Santa and holds the pressies for ransom. I had to tread carefully and let the reader see her ‘naughty’ side in the events of the story and hopefully understand her motives as the scenes played out in typical anti-heroine fashion.

I also had to bear in mind that this story was a romantic comedy – emphasis on the romantic and the comedy. So how could I make Alex edgy and still leave room for the odd laugh or two (or more, hopefully). My answer: I made Alex a little too fond of booze and gave her a very selfish streak.

One early reader of Single by Christmas said she wanted to slap Alex. Maybe you will, too, but the fact remains, her motives are questionable and so is her behaviour.

I knew I was taking a risk, especially since I’ve created a female character in a previous story who, potentially, put the whole sex in a bad light. One reviewer didn’t appreciate that and deducted a star from her review because she hated when women are not portrayed in a positive light.

But I say, ‘Hey, we’re only human, and we all mess up sometimes’ – even women.

I guess when it comes to romantic comedy there may be a strong argument that dictates that the leading lady ought to have nothing but flawless qualities. But I argue that there’s nothing wrong with upsetting stereotypes and Alex Marshall is no stereotypical heroine.

So what’s your view? Do you want all the women you read about to be ‘perfect’ or can you handle the odd flawed character once in a while?

(Oh I think flawed is always more compelling than perfect Rosa!)

To find out more about Rosa and to catch up on all her musings please join her here on Rosa Temple Writes

You can find Rosa on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+. You can also follow Rosa on Twitter.

There’s more too with these other bloggers:

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The Perfect Escape, a Guest Post by Izzy Bayliss, author of The Girl I Was Before

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I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but that belonging to Izzy Bayliss and The Girl I Was Before is so lovely I just had to invite Izzy onto Linda’s Book Bag with a guest post. Luckily Izzy agreed and is writing in praise of fiction’s escapism today. The Girl I Was Before was published by Blue Gate on 21st August 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book here.

The Girl I was Before

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When Lily McDermott walks in to find Marc, her husband of just three months in bed with actress Nadia, life as she knows it is over. Lily thinks things can’t get any worse when she sees photos of her husband and his new lover splashed across the glossy magazine pages, but when she loses her job too, she is at her lowest ebb and turns to baking to soothe her soul.

Wounded and broken she has to try and pick herself up again with the help of her best friend Frankie and with her encouragement, Lily decides to turn her hobby into a business and sets up Baked With Love. However whatever Lily does, it seems disaster soon ensues and when handsome stranger Sam comes to her rescue, Lily isn’t quite ready to turn her back on her marriage.

Can Lily risk opening her heart again or is she destined to allow Marc to shadow her life forever?

The Perfect Escape

A Guest Post by Izzy Bayliss

One of my favourite parts of the day is when I climb under my duvet, let my weight sink into the mattress beneath me, reach over to my bedside table and pick up my book. It’s my time to escape from a hectic day. I can switch off from word count woes and temper tantrums and get lost in a different world far beyond my reach. Depending on the book I’m reading, I could find myself immersed in a cookery school set amongst the lavender fields of France or I could be in a Fifth Avenue penthouse with the snow tumbling softly past my window. This is the beauty of reading fiction. It allows our brains to tune out and to recharge for a while.

Nonfiction snobs would argue that we can learn nothing from fiction but there are lots of benefits to it. For example, it expands our creativity. How many times have you read the same book as a friend but both of you form a totally different picture of the protagonist in your mind? In real life you might be finding it hard to meet your dream man but you can meet your perfect alpha-male in a romance novel and best of all, he’ll never let you down. When we read fiction we are constantly drawing upon the well of our imagination.

Fiction can also help to educate us as well as empathise with a situation. In Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong we can all but feel the bitter cold experienced by WWI soldiers as they stood in water logged trenches or the claustrophobia and fears of suffocation faced by the tunnellers as they burrowed deep underground towards enemy lines. In Victoria Hislop’s The Island, we can imagine the feelings of despair experienced by those diagnosed with leprosy in Greece as they left everyone they loved behind and set sail for the colony of Spinalonga. Fiction can serve as a reminder to appreciate the things we take for granted.

Life can be so overwhelmingly busy and crazy at times that we sometimes need to escape and that’s what fiction gives us. Every time you pick up a piece of fiction you are carried off to another world and the best bit is you get to choose where. So where are you off to tonight?

(What a great question Izzy!)

About Izzy Bayliss

Izzy Bayliss lives in Ireland with her husband, children and their dog. A romantic at heart, she loves nothing more than cosying up in front of the fire with a good book. Her motto is that reality is over-rated and she is happiest staring into space and day-dreaming.

You can follow Izzy on Twitter and find her on Facebook. You can also visit her website.

The Deadline by Jackie Kabler

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I’m delighted to be reviewing The Deadline by Jackie Kabler today. The Deadline is the second in the Cora Baxter Mysteries after The Dead Dog Day which you can read all about here.

The Dead Dog Day by Jackie Kabler Cover

The Deadline is published in e-book and paperback by Accent Press on 20th October 2016 and is available for purchase by following the publisher links here.

The Deadline

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Cora Baxter is back – and this time, she’s facing the most important deadline of her career…

When TV reporter Cora Baxter attends the scene of a murder in a London park, she’s horrified to discover the victim is someone she knows and devastated when one of her best friends is charged with the crime. Suddenly the fun-filled life of Cora and her eccentric camera crew takes a darker turn. Cora is convinced that her friend is innocent, but with seemingly solid evidence, the police investigation team reluctantly led by Cora’s boyfriend DCI Adam Bradberry believe the case is closed. With a trail of clues that leads all the way to New York, can Cora find out the truth before the trial begins or is it already too late?

The Deadline is the second in the hugely popular Cora Baxter Mysteries series by acclaimed broadcaster Jackie Kabler.

My Review of The Deadline

Cora’s friend Sam is receiving anonymous gifts that cause a rift with her boyfriend Marcus. But flowers and cuddly bears are about to become the least of Sam’s worries.

I really enjoyed The Deadline. What appealed to me so much was the quality of the narrative without recourse to extraneous violence or shock tactics, but just really well written story-telling and excellent plotting. It was effortless to read Jackie Kabler’s prose so that it felt like a real treat. I was very much reminded by the narrative style of a modern day Agatha Christie.

I thought the title, The Deadline, was inspired as the setting emerges from a daily television news programme where dealines are all important, but there are deadlines in Cora’s attempts to prove her friend Sam is innocent too.

I enjoyed the background realism and humour of the television news programme that stems from the author’s own experiences so that it is completely authentic. Incidents such as that with the shirt (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read the book) helped balance the more serious issues of the story perfectly. I also found the attention to detail helped give a really wonderful sense of place and I loved travelling back to New York through the story. I found the dynamics of the relationships worked especially well so that I felt I knew the characters and could believe in them entirely.

However, what really gripped me most was how Jackie Kabler was able to trip me up as a reader. I kept thinking ‘Oh, yes. I know EXACTLY what’s going in here,’ only to find three pages later I had to revise my view and guess again. Each of the red herrings and clues was so smoothly delivered that reading The Deadline was a real pleasure. The plotting is tight, believable and hugely entertaining. I really enjoyed it.

About Jackie Kabler

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Jackie Kabler worked as a newspaper reporter and then in television news for twenty years, including nearly a decade on GMTV. She later appeared on BBC and ITV news, presented a property show for Sky, hosted sports shows on Setanta Sports News and worked as a media trainer for the Armed Forces. She is now a presenter on shopping channel QVC. Jackie lives in Gloucestershire with her husband, who is a GP.

You can follow Jackie on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook.

Tackling Domestic Abuse Through Fiction, a Guest Post by Jennifer Gilmour, author of Isolation Junction

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I’m a lucky person. I’m married to a man who goes out of his way to make sure I’m loved and happy, but not everyone is as fortunate and when I realised Jennifer Gilmour was releasing her debut novel Isolation Junction to coincide with October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month I had to invite her onto the blog to tell us more. 

Isolation Junction is available for purchase in e-book here and paperback here.

Isolation Junction

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Rose is the mother of two young children, and finds herself living a robotic life with an abusive and controlling husband. While she struggles to maintain a calm front for the sake of her children, inside Rose is dying and trapped in ‘Isolation Junction’.

She runs an online business from home, because Darren won’t let her work outside the house. Through this, she meets other mums and finds courage to attend networking events, while Darren is at work, to promote her business. It’s at one of these events that Rose meets Tim, a sympathetic, dark-haired stranger who unwittingly becomes an important part of her survival.

After years of emotional abuse, of doubting her future and losing all self-confidence, Rose takes a stand. Finding herself distraught, alone and helpless, Rose wonders how she’ll ever escape with her sanity and her children. With 100 reasons to leave and 1,000 reasons she can’t, will she be able to do it? Will Tim help her? Will Rose find peace and the happiness she deserves? Can Rose break free from this spiralling life she so desperately wants to change?

The Importance Of Tackling Difficult Issues

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Domestic Abuse Through Fiction

A Guest Post by Jennifer Gilmour

I’m Jennifer Gilmour, a young married mum of 3, an entrepreneur and now a published author. From an early age, I have had a passion for writing and have been gathering ideas and plot lines from my teenage years.  A passionate advocate for women in abusive relationships, I have amalgamated and fictionalised other survivors’ experiences alongside my own to write my first novel. It details the journey of a young woman from the despair of an emotionally abusive and unhappy marriage to develop the confidence to challenge and change her life and to love again.

Isolation Junction has been a challenging novel to write and I have written it for a few reasons. I have been the victim of abuse myself. I found myself writing down my feelings in a way to get it out. For many years I have kept a diary; it first hit when I was around 15 and Bridget Jones came out – I wanted her diary. I don’t have those diaries from my teenage years anymore and I never really read through them. I did however, find it very therapeutic to write my emotions, highs and lows down and this got me through my early teens.

This was a bit harder; I had to keep a record to remember my emotions on the abusive relationship. You can find yourself minimising the abuse and looking on it and thinking it wasn’t that bad, but when reading back on my diary snippets I can see that it is important for me to remember. Isolation Junction was by far not an easy write and there were times I couldn’t write because it was damaging emotionally, I really had to be in the right zone. Now my debut novel is released it feels a little strange but now the conversation is about the message of the book and this is the important thing. I feel like I don’t have to be quiet anymore about admitting what I went through.

People have seen a different side to abuse through my fictional novel. It’s something that has been addressed in a text book rather than a novel. The reaction has been that people have learnt about a different type of abuse and what coercive control can look like. It is hard to explain in a text book to fully demonstrate this type of behaviour. I’m pleased that people are being educated through my fictional story.

I’ll quote a few reviews here to give you a bit of an idea:

”This book I was not able to put down”

“A hugely important book!”

“A very gripping and interesting read”

“Thank you Jennifer for highlighting this issue and hopefully inspiring women to break free from emotional abuse”

“A fictional account of an everyday, unacceptable issue”

The novel has opened up a huge discussion of the behaviour and for those who don’t understand, it’s enlightened them to see what it could be and the progression behind it. My aim is to encourage questions, challenge the current law and the behaviour itself. It has gotten people thinking about their friendship circle and I have been contacted by many saying, “I have passed your book on to my friend because I think they are in this situation…”

As well as educating, it is also an entertaining book as you can see from the reviews. It is not filled with doom and gloom but features romance and some comedic moments.

I hope that the book will raise awareness of this often hidden and unseen behaviour and empower women in abusive relationships to seek help for themselves and find the confidence to change their lives. I also mention at the end of the book a message from myself and I include a helpline as I recognise that there needs to be a link to support from reading the book.

Now the book is out there to buy, the message needs to be talked about and to break the taboo. The book is just the beginning of blocking the road to ‘Isolation Junction’, I have put myself forward as an passionate advocate for women in abusive relationships.

Thank you so much Jennifer for raising awareness of such a tricky subject. If readers need help they might like to see some of the following websites:

Victim Support

Safe Lives

Refuge

Woman’s Aid

About Jennifer Gilmour

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Born in the North East, Jennifer is a young, married mum with three children. She is an entrepreneur, running a family business from her home-base and she has a large readership of other young mums in business for her blog posts.

Jennifer’s debut novel Isolation Junction is designed to raise awareness of domestic violence whilst providing readers with a great read.

You’ll find more about Jennifer on her website, on Facebook and by following her on Twitter.