Watercolours in the Rain by Jo Lambert

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My grateful thanks to Jo Lambert for a copy of Watercolours in the Rain in return for an honest review and a huge apology that it has taken so very long to reach the top of my TBR pile.

Lovely Jo has previously featured on Linda’s Book Bag, telling us about writing in the first person and you can read that blog post here. There’s also more information about another of Jo’s book, The Other Side of the Morning, here.

Watercolours in the Rain is available for purchase here.

Watercolours in the Rain

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What happens to the future when past and present collide?

JESS:  Six years ago Jess’s relationship with Talún Hansen was torn apart by one night of deception. He disappeared from Lynbrook village and she headed for university vowing never to let anyone break her heart again. Now a teacher, Jess returns from holiday to an unexpected phone call and life changing news which will eventually bring her back home once more.

TALUN: Six years on Talún Hawkeswood, as he is now known, is heir to his grandfather’s Norfolk farming empire. When he hears of trouble in the village due to Lynbrook Hall being put up for sale, going back is the last thing on his mind. But staying away is not an option either, not when someone he owes so much to is about to lose their home and their livelihood.

LILY: Splitting with her husband after her son Josh’s birth, Lily now works as part of an estate agency sales team.  She has always held onto her dream of finding a wealthy husband and a life of self-indulgence. When the sale of an important property brings her face to face with Talún once more, she realises despite the risks involved, the night they spent together six years ago may be the key to making those dreams come true.

As Jess, Talún and Lily return to Lynbrook and the truth about what happened that summer is gradually revealed, Talun finds himself in an impossible situation. Still in love with Jess he is tied into to a trade off with Lily: his name and the lifestyle she craves in exchange for his son. And when a child is involved there is only one choice he can make…

My Review of Watercolours in the Rain

When Jess begins a new life, little does she realise the past is not so easily left behind.

I have a confession. Watercolours in the Rain has all the elements I often don’t like. It’s a follow up to another book, Summer Moved On, which I haven’t read. It has multiple narrators which I usually find irritating. It has a very prominent child character and I’m not keen on children. So much is written in the continuous present tense that I normally don’t enjoy and yet… I really, really enjoyed this read.

Jo Lambert weaves the back story so well into Watercolours in the Rain that I was at no disadvantage in understanding what had happened previously and how it impacted on the present. In fact, I think not having read the first book was actually an advantage as there was so much to discover. I thought the plotting was great. I kept exclaiming aloud, telling Talún in particular, ‘Oh. No. Don’t do that.’ The more I read, the more I wanted to read on.

I thought the three main characters were exceptionally well portrayed and at times I wanted to dive into the pages and give Lily the hardest possible slap. I hope she gets everything she deserves in her future after the pages of Watercolours in the Rain and I find it hard to believe that she isn’t a real person. Each of the three narrators has a very distinct voice and it is as if they are addressing the reader directly which drew me in to the story even more. I appreciated the full range of female personalities too from the vacuous Georgie and Danni through the mature Anna to the steadfast Bella.

I loved the concept of the title. Just as watercolours run, smudge and blend in the rain, so the main themes of Watercolours in the Rain explore the blurring of truth and deception, of assumption and expectation so that I found the whole experience of reading Jo Lambert’s prose thoroughly captivating and rewarding.

Watercolours in the Rain is a charming, entertaining and delightful story that I can heartily recommend.

About Jo Lambert

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Born and raised in rural Wiltshire, Jo Lambert grew up with a love of books and a vivid imagination. As a child she enjoyed creating her own adventure stories similar to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Writing always stayed with her, but college, work and eventually marriage found it was kept very much in the background. However in 2009 she finally had her first novel – When Tomorrow Comes – published. Three other connected books – Love Lies and PromisesThe Ghost of You and Me and Between Today and Yesterday followed. They became collectively known as the Little Court Series.

In 2013 she decided to give up full time work to concentrate fully on her writing. Two other books have been written since – The Other Side of Morning which is the final book of the Little Court Series and Summer Moved On, a love story set in South Devon. Jo describes her writing style as drama driven romance.

Jo is married and lives in a village on the eastern edge of Bath with her husband, one small grey feline called Mollie and a green MGB GT.  She loves travel, red wine, rock music and has a passion for dark chocolate…

You can find Jo Lambert on FacebookGoogle+ and her web site. You can also follow her on Twitter and read her blog.

A Writer’s Toolbox: A Guest Post by Seb King, Author of City Affairs

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One of the frustrations of blogging is that there simply isn’t time to read every book that comes my way and City Affairs by Seb King is one such book. Fortunately, however, I do have a guest post from Seb today all about the writing process and I’m delighted to share that with you.

City Affairs is published by Revival and is available for purchase here.

City Affairs

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Felicité has a reasonably successful career, working in London’s Canary Wharf financial district; and is a faithful, doting wife. Her husband is an author and serial cheater. After catching him cheating for the umpteenth time, she sets him an ultimatum. Meanwhile, a dreamy mega-rich hedge fund manager has been showering her with attention. A chance encounter one lunchtime will have profound ramifications beyond her wildest imagination.

As she struggles to make sense of everything, she is forced to confront her inner demons and grapple with the difference between fate and destiny. A strange confluence of circumstances conspires to present her with her greatest dilemma yet.

A Writer’s Toolbox

A Guest Post by Seb King

I have been overwhelmed by the initial reaction to my debut novel. Without any publicity or marketing, it has an all-five-star rating on Amazon. True, only nine ratings but as an unknown first-time Indie author I’ve been taken aback by private messages of appreciation.

A reader stopped me in my favoured coffee shop while I was sipping on a latte and asked for writing tips. I’m not sure I qualify to be dishing out advice, but I’ll happily present you a glimpse into my toolbox.

Identify your audience

What makes an enjoyable novel will depend on the genre and target audience. A mass-market beach-read will likely be unenjoyable for someone looking for a sophisticated spy-thriller. Why is this important? Because the words, phrases, similes, metaphors, scenes and characters you bring forth will vary accordingly.

Language is about communication. In our quotidian life we employ different lexicons according to the audience. The language I employ while speaking to my toddler is vastly different to that I use with my wife which is different to that I use with my car mechanic.
Let’s take a real life example. Fifty Shades of Grey was slighted by literary critics yet has sold over 100 million copies. What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander.

Less is more

Don’t over tell. A poem should ignite a little light bulb in one’s mind that sends one’s imagination running wild. I once read a short love poem that kept me agitated all evening as my mind grappled with it.

Let the story tell itself by offering up select vignettes that come together to form a coherent story. A master story should be open to interpretation, not a cinematic reel that replays every moment of the protagonist’s life.

This point overlaps with show don’t tell. Many preach it, few feel it. Here’s an example in action from City Affairs:

End of Chapter 14 [narrator: philandering husband holidaying with his mistress in California]:

A flock of brilliant white Snowy Egrets hover above creating a cacophony of chirping as they swoon down on stray fish. I feel the taste of a film of sweet white wine coat my tongue as I lean over and kiss Sarah, basking in the sunshine, revelling in gaiety.
California!

Opening of next chapter [narrated by Lissie – his wife]:

I’m working from my makeshift home in Cathy’s loft today because there are emergency gas repairs going on. Real reason: depression. I look in the mirror and let out a soft sigh. There are more bags under my eyes this morning than in my gym locker.

Now, imagine if instead of the above, I had written something like, “I didn’t go in to work today because I’m desperately depressed. I’ve been gorging on chocolate all morning and crying till my eyes are sore…’

Boring.

By juxtaposing her husband living the life of Riley, philandering with his mistress in sunny California, with Lissie struggling to get into work, I’ve attempted to engage the reader’s visceral emotions. It’s hard not to feel for her. Yet none of this is stated. Indeed, the entire purpose of Chapter 14 was to generate sympathy for Lissie by showing her husband’s blithe indifference to the state of their marriage. Engage your readers’ emotions; point them in the right direction to the hallowed land, don’t drag them there.

Further, a short descriptive paragraph is sufficient. Don’t overdo it. Let the reader fill in the gaps. The late Ludlum is one author who, despite his pre-eminence in story-telling, fell foul of over-describing. Hemingway lies on the other extreme.

Location, Location, Location

No, I’m not talking about buying a house! We all like going on holiday. The joy of new places, novel cultures, languages, foods and customs is what enriches our lives. If it’s not construed, why not set an otherwise mundane scene in a foreign city? It’s a free lunch. The plot continues apace but the reader’s imagination is stimulated.

Be careful, though. Get it wrong and it will come across forced. If in doubt, leave it out.

Diction

Effective description is about evoking the strongest emotions with the least number of words. Mot juste is key, and this comes through reading, writing and practice. Here’s a secret: read poetry. Poetry is all about word choice and sentence construction. Study poetry and your scenes will be more vivid.

Here’s a scene I enjoyed writing: [Lissie narrating their flight]

I peer out of the window as our climb continues unabated. The last remnants of the fiery sun lingers on the horizon, leaving a blaze of warm oranges, pearly pinks and gentle purple. The milky outline of a full moon appears with growing confidence as the pale stars slide into place. Cars thin and merge into a continuous thread as fields separate into distinct blocks of brown and green.

Last but not Least…

You need a story to tell, the provenance of which will be your life experience or your imagination. The corollary is that you must be constantly reading on a wide range of topics and genres in order to feed your imagination. Those who are not widely read struggle to write anything original. Their stories are rehashes of the same themes, replete with trite clichés and stilted dialogue.

I’m constantly reading on topics as disparate as gardening, the weather, quantum mechanics, love, politics, finance, economics and fitness. You want to be that person at the party who has something meaningful to proffer on any given topic.

A reviewer said of City Affairs:

This book incorporates a little something for everyone: cityscapes, money, politics, art, and relationships intertwined with all the feelings that go along with those subjects

I hope I’ve provided food for thought in this brief post. Perhaps my greatest tip of all would be: have confidence. Confidence not to be shackled to stereotypes, tropes or conventions.

City Affairs is out now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. I’d love to hear from you; do get in touch and tell me whether you enjoyed it.

My next novel is a contemporary thriller set in London about a sophisticated Islamic terrorist cell with grand designs.

My sincere gratitude to Linda for affording me the opportunity to introduce myself and my novel.

Seb King

(My pleasure to host you Seb and thank so much for providing some very interesting food for thought for those of us embarkinng on a writing career.)

About Seb King

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Seb was born and raised in the environs of London in the county of Essex. After a decade in investment banking, punctuated by a healthy dose of international travel (lived in Damascus, Zurich and Cairo) he found his real passion in life is writing. This is his first fiction novel.  He is currently writing a thriller, set in London.

He has published a best-selling non-fiction work on European Union Law (MiFID II: A Survival Guide) and regularly publishes articles on financial regulation. In terms of fiction, a few of his short stories have been published on Kindle. He also writes on being an author and the publishing industry.

You can follow Seb on Twitter @authorsebking and visit his website to find out more.

Introducing House of Lies by E.V. Seymour

House of Lies

One of the things I like most about being a blogger is getting to see and read books early. Today I’m delighted to be helping to reveal the new cover for House of Lies by E.V. Seymour.

Published by Harper Impulse under the Killer Reads banner, House of Lies is available for purchase here.

House of Lies

House of Lies

A sudden disappearance…

When Roz Outlaw’s partner Tom mysteriously vanishes, she knows his life is in danger. Tom has been distracted lately, afraid, as though he is being hunted…

A desperate search…

With the police showing little interest Roz knows it falls to her to find Tom. But as Tom’s secrets are uncovered nothing can prepare Roz for the dark lies and twisted truths she finds. She thought she loved Tom, but quickly realises she has been living with a stranger – a man with murder in his past.

A house of evil.

The key to unlocking Tom’s past lies in his childhood home – Vixenhead. A house of wickedness that keeps its secrets well hidden. Can Roz find Tom before it’s too late or will the evil within Vixenhead claim her too…

About E.V.Seymour

Eve Seymour

E. V. Seymour is the author of several novels and has had a number of short stories broadcast on BBC Radio Devon. Educated in Malvern at an girls’ boarding school, which she detested, she spectacularly underachieved. Sixth form in Cheltenham proved a lot more interesting, enjoyable and productive.
After a short and successful career in PR in London and Birmingham, she married and disappeared to Devon. Five children later, she returned and began to write seriously. In a bid to make her work as authentic as possible, she has bent the ears of numerous police officers, firearms officers, scenes of crime, the odd lawyer and United Nations personnel. She also works by day as a freelance editorial consultant, specialising in crime fiction.
Eve lives with her second husband and often has a houseful of offspring, sons-in-law, partners, and a growing tribe of little ones. Nomadic by nature, she is planning another move very soon.

You can find out more by visiting Eve’s blog, following her on Twitter, finding her on Facebook and visiting her website.

Giveaway and an Extract from Say My Name by Allegra Huston

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I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Say My Name by Allegra Huston with an extract from the book and a (UK only I’m afraid) hardback giveaway that you can enter at the bottom of this blog post.

Published by HQ, an imprint of Harper Collins, on 27th July, Say My Name is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

Say My Name

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‘This is the time to run away, she thinks, to call it a mistake, to race back to home and safety. If I don’t go home I will never feel safe again.’

On meeting Micajah Burnett, the son of an old school friend, Eve Armanton is faced with a choice. Years of a miserable marriage means she’s as broken as the beautiful antique violin she’s just found, and Micajah offers a spark of life, an opportunity to reawaken her sense.

If Eve takes a leap into this new world, she’ll be leaving behind her old self for good. Her happiness depends on forging a new life, but at the end of her journey who will Eve have become?

An Extract from Say My Name

There, under a table heaped with china of the sort nobody uses anymore, she spots it, almost hidden behind random objects carrying price stickers faded by time. Daylight filters through grimy windows onto worn green velvet, golden wood. Strangely, the case is open—as if it’s hoping to be found.

It’s bigger than a violin, much smaller than a cello. It’s fat, squarer than most instruments of its kind, with an elongated neck, and—this is what draws Eve in—encrusted with vines. The fragile carvings seem greener. They were once painted, maybe.

Eve moves the piles of junk aside so that she can crawl under the table. Usually she wears jeans for these expeditions, but it’s a hot New York summer, so this morning she chose a thin dress, counting on the intricate print to disguise any smudges. It will rip easily, though, so she tucks up the sides into her underwear to keep it off the floor.

As she crouches down, the bones of her knees crack. Though she’s fit and strong, her forty-eight-year-old body is starting to show age. Her brown hair has almost no gray in it—good genes, her mother would have said—but soon she’ll have to decide whether to color it. She’s never seen the point of lying about her age and, being married, she’s less concerned about looking young than she might be if she were single. Still, the ugly milestone looms. She’s tied her hair in a ponytail and covered her head with a scarf to protect against cobwebs.

By profession, Eve is a garden designer. Her husband, Larry, makes enough as a product development manager for a pill-coating supplier to pharmaceutical companies to enable him to treat her little business as, basically, a hobby. This annoys her, but the truth is, she treats it that way too. Taking it more seriously would mean confronting Larry and claiming ownership of her time and priorities, which she is not prepared to do. The status quo feels fragile, although it also feels as lasting as mortal life allows. All that’s required is that she keep the delicate political balance, and doesn’t rock the boat or disturb the sleeping dogs. She’s gotten into the habit of not pushing any communication past the minimum required for practical matters and the appearance of enough closeness to assure her that their marriage is sound.

On weekends, guiltless and free, she searches out treasures for her friend Deborah’s antique shop. Larry doesn’t com- plain; she suspects he’s glad to have the house to himself. For her part, she’s glad to be away from it. The strange objects she finds ignite her imagination, conjuring up lives more exciting, and more terrifying, than the low-intensity safety of her own. Today she’s exploring a northerly part of New York City that, like a tidal pool left by successive immigrant waves, houses people from nations that may or may not still exist: Assyrians, Armenians, Macedonians, Baluchistanis. The alphabets in which the signs are written change block by block. Neighborhoods like this are her favorite hunting grounds.

On her hands and knees under the table, she tugs at the instrument in its case. It shifts with a jerk, leaving a hard outline of oily dust on the floor. Probably it hasn’t been moved in years. She lifts it up onto a tin chest, keeping her back to the storekeeper to disguise her interest.

The vines twine over the body of the instrument and up its neck, stretching out into the air. Though the delicacy of the carving is almost elfin, it has the strength of vines: blindly reaching, defying gravity. The tendrils are dotted with small flowers: jasmine, so accurately rendered that Eve identifies them instantly. A flap of velvet in the lid conceals a bow, held in place by ribbons. It, too, is twined with curling vines.

She wiggles her fingers into the gaps between the instru- ment and the velvet lining, prying it loose. A moth flies out into her face and disappears in the slanting shafts of light.

Holding it by the neck, she senses another shape. With spit and the hem of her dress, she cleans away the dust. There’s a pudgy, babyish face, the vines tightening their weave across its eyes. Cupid, blinded by love.

Eve pinches up dust from the floor to dirty the face again. She has learned not to improve the appearance of things until after the bargaining is done and the money has changed hands. Then she turns the instrument over.

The back is in splinters.

Eve touches her finger to the ragged shards of wood, long- ing to make this beautiful thing whole again. The damage must have been deliberate: an accident would have broken off the vines. What drove that person over the brink? Musician’s frustration? Rage at fate? Heartbreak? She can almost feel remnants of the emotion stuck to the gash, like specks of dried blood.

If she had it repaired, the cost would almost certainly be more than the instrument is worth. And even an expert might not be able to restore it completely. It could serve as a decorative item, but only if the gash stays hidden. Deborah won’t want it—she has a rule against broken things. Also, she feels more comfortable with things that have names, like bowls and vases and candlesticks. Passionless things that sit prettily in nice rooms. The history that this object bears on its back would freak her out.

Eve moves to return the instrument to its exile, but she can’t bring herself to do it. Now that she has touched it, she cannot push it back into the shadows.

About Allegra Huston

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Allegra Huston has written screenplays, journalism, and one previous book, Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found. After an early career in UK publishing, including four years as Editorial Director of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, she joined the film company Pathé as development consultant. She wrote and produced the award-winning short film Good Luck, Mr. Gorski, and is on the editorial staff of the international art and culture magazine Garage. She lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her 14-year-old son.

You can follow Allegra on Twitter @allegrahuston and visit her website.

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Say My Name Giveaway

say my name

For your chance to win one of three hardback copies of Say My Name by Allegra Huston, click here. UK only I’m afraid, Giveaway entries close at UK midnight on Tuesday 1st August 2017.

Death Plays a Part by Vivian Conroy

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I’m pleased to be part of the launch celebrations for Death Plays a Part by Vivian Conroy and to be sharing my review today.

Published by HQ Digital, an imprint of Harper Collins, on 7th July 2017 Death Plays a Part is available for purchase in e-book here.

Death Plays a Part

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With high tide comes murder…

When her beloved London theatre closes for renovations, costume maker Guinevere is excited to start a job at Cornisea castle, a centuries-old keep on a small tidal island off the coast of Cornwall. Imagine a whole summer full of stories of hidden treasures, fab food and long walks with her perky dachshund Dolly.

But when a reenactment of a medieval trial in the castle dungeons ends in real-life murder, and accusations threaten the castle’s future, Guinevere and Dolly dig deep into the island community’s best-kept secrets to unmask the killer and save their Cornish summer.

My Review of Death Plays a Part

With the theatre where she works closed for renovations, Guinevere has no idea a simple summer job cataloguing books for Lord Bolingbrooke will quite so dramatic.

I’m going to get a negative out of the way before I really get into my review. I absolutely loathed the use of ‘doggy’ to refer to Dolly the dacshund, because she is quite a strong and determined character in her own right and I felt this undermined her.

Doggies aside, I thought Death Plays a Part was a fun read – which seems a peculiar thing to say when murder is at its heart, but it so reminded me of a modern day Agatha Christie or P.G. Wodehouse. I really could see the book as hugely entertaining Sunday night television.

What struck me was the totally consistent way Vivian Conroy carries through the entire conceit of drama, from Guinevere’s usual job in the theatre to her means of trying to solve the murder mystery with everything else in between. The whole structure of the story with the reliance on dialogue to move on the action made me think of a playscript too as I read. I would have liked a little more description at times too.

I enjoyed meeting the cast of characters, and thought the way in which they were all interconnected as is typical of a small community was so cleverly organised. I think I might be a bit in love with Jago.

But it is the plot that I enjoyed the most. I have no idea how Vivian Conroy managed to plan it as she did. She drops clues and red herrings throughout so that it’s very entertaining trying to keep one step ahead with Guinevere when so many others obfuscate the truth.

Death Plays a Part is a fun whodunnit with just the right balance of villains, heroes and distractions to provide great entertainment for all lovers of Agatha Christie.

About Vivian Conroy

Vivian Conroy discovered Agatha Christie at 13 and quickly devoured all Poirot and Miss Marple stories. Over time Lord Peter Wimsey and Brother Cadfael joined her favorite sleuths. Even more fun than reading was thinking up her own fog-filled alleys, missing heirs and priceless artefacts and so he own writing career began.

You can follow Vivian on Twitter @VivWrites.

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Love Apples by Melissa van Maasdyk

love apples

My grateful thanks to Kelly at Cameron Publicity for providing me with a review copy of Love Apples by Melissa van Maasdyk and for putting me in touch with Melissa so that she could provide a super food based guest post for you to read along with my review of Love Apples today.

Love Apples is published by Lulu and is available for purchase in ebook and paperback here.

Love Apples

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Why get married? London-based food writer Kate Richmond can conceive of no good reason. She’s seen where it got her mother and so has written her own recipe for life, relishing her career, with men on the side — including a delicious love match in Daniel Price.

When Kate heads to Mauritius on an assignment, she seems set to secure her dream job at Be magazine until a cyclone curdles her carefully laid plans for the summer issue. With her career at stake, Kate will stop at nothing to get things on track, shamelessly entangling others in her quest, including the irresistible Fai Li, but when she takes a step too far, she sets herself on a tempestuous course that will upturn some long-held beliefs.

Set in the glamorous, racy world of magazines and suffused with sensual descriptions of food – plus recipes – Love Apples delves into love, marriage, infidelity, and why people continue to invest in a convention so prone to failure.

The Best Foods to Accompany Reading and Writing

A Guest Post by Melissa van Maasdyk

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” – Virginia Woolf

Having a mother who’s an excellent cook, I absorbed a passion for food while growing up, which found its way into my career as a magazine food writer, and then took over my debut novel, Love Apples, a contemporary romance revolving around a commitment-phobic food editor. In my everyday life, too, it remains an important force, and I wholeheartedly agree with Virginia Woolf on the above, although I believe different foods are suitable for different moods, occasions and tasks. Who can deny the seductive powers of a romantic meal, especially one laden with aphrodisiacal delights such as oysters, prawns, chilli and chocolate. If one doesn’t intend to stay up all night in the throes of passion, however, a light meal rich in sleep-inducing tryptophan (found in things like fish, chicken and cheese) might be a better option. As for thinking well, there are a number of foods said to enhance one’s mood and brainpower, which brings me to the best accompaniments for reading and writing.

While both activities engage the mind, they do so in different ways and therefore require different side dishes, although in both cases I avoid foods that need a knife and fork, which get in the way of tapping the keyboard and holding a book. Apart from the inconvenience of juggling utensils and reading material, a book is a meal in itself, offering nourishment for the mind, and potentially as much pleasure as a perfectly crafted dish. That said, simple, undistracting snacks can enhance the experience and make it more convivial, like breaking bread with the characters in a book.

In respect of writing, since constructing sentences and developing plot require mental stamina, foods that enhance brainpower are best. There’s also a strong psychological component to writing, which I find is often better served by something liquid. I can almost understand why authors like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner and Fitzgerald were borderline or full-blown alcoholics since I find that a glass of red wine relaxes the mind and makes me less self-conscious, allowing ideas to flow more easily. I keep alcoholism at bay, however, by reserving it for writing at night, while, during the day, I rely on snacks to fuel the process. Below are three essential foods to read with and three to write with.

Foods that enhance reading:

Popcorn: This is the perfect accompaniment to a fast-paced, entertaining read that plays out like a movie in the mind. Apart from being easy to pop in the mouth, its comforting, monochrome flavour doesn’t conflict with colourful prose. One rule is that it should be air-popped, as I don’t like greasy fingers when turning the page.

Chocolates: Sweet and sensual, chocolate is ideal for a romantic read. Cacao also contains the mood-enhancing chemical phenylethylamime, which adds to the feel-good factor imparted by a delicious novel, and, good news for those who like to read at bedtime, the serotonin in dark chocolate aids sleep.

Strawberries: Bite-sized with no pesky pip to remove, this sweet, juicy fruit is a healthy option that feels indulgent thanks to its pretty colour, heart shape and fragrance – not surprising given that strawberries are part of the rose family. They’re also packed with vitamin C, which protects the eyes to ensure that you can continue reading into the future.

Foods that aid writing:

Biscuits: Because writing is hard, I’ll sometimes do anything to avoid it, which is where sweet treats come in. After luring myself to the computer with a cappuccino, I later reward my inner writer with biscuits, usually opting for those that aren’t too heavy and contain (albeit negligibly) nutritional nuts, such as lovely crumbly almond cornes de gazelles.

Hummus: Once my writing is flowing (hallelujah), I prefer not to break the spell, and hummus is often my go-to option for lunch since it’s easy to snack on at my desk. The magnesium in chickpeas and tahini is also said to speed up the transmission of messages between brain cells, and if I make beetroot hummus (to a recipe from Love Apples), nitrates are added to the mix, which increase the flow of blood to the brain.

Dates: As the afternoon wears on and my energy wanes, I’ll often have a couple of these vitamin-packed fruits of the palm to perk me up. Higher in natural sugars than most other fruits, they provide a quick and powerful energy boost that’s healthier and longer lasting than that offered by refined sugars. Dates also contain antioxidants and phytonutrients, which protect the brain from memory loss.

Recipe for brain-boosting beetroot hummus

from

Love Apples

Serves 6.

3 medium-sized fresh beetroot or a jar of beetroot

400 gram can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tablespoons tahini

2–3 tablespoons lemon juice

sea salt

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

To serve:

Flatbread or crackers and raw vegetables

If using fresh beetroot, wash and top and tail them (do not peel), and then place in a pot of boiling salted water, ensuring that the water covers them. Return to the boil, reduce heat to a vigorous simmer, and cook for 45 minutes or until a knife slides easily into and out of the beetroot. Place under cold running water, and then rub off the skin with a paper towel. Chop and set aside to cool.

Place cooled beetroot in the bowl of a food processor. Add chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and salt, and then whizz to a paste. While the machine is still running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until the dip is smooth and creamy. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice, as required. Serve with flatbread or crackers and raw vegetables such as radishes, carrots and peppers.

My Review of Love Apples

When a disastrous assignment in Mauritius leads to life changes for Kate, she has to reassess the important aspects of her life.

Warning. DO NOT read this book if you are on a diet, or even remotely hungry as it will make you simply ravenous.

Every element in Love Apples revolves around food and the imagery of food permeates every layer. If I’m honest, I’d have liked a little less of the iterative image, but there’s no denying that Melissa van Maasdyk knows her stuff and has presented it impeccably. The same goes for the insight into the world of high end magazines and the people who create them. Reading Love Apples made me incredibly grateful I’ve never been part of that world.

I thought the characters were interesting. I felt Roberta was slightly stereotypical and it took me a long time to really warm to Kate, partly because of her infidelity and partly because she smokes which I hate, but by the end of the novel I was really rooting for her. However, it was Daniel I liked most and I’d be happy for him to teach me about wine at any time!

I found it quite hard to define Love Apples so that other readers would know the kind of book it is. Certainly it has a chick-lit aspect, but it has so many more layers than I was expecting with its literary and cultural references, its delicious food presentation and the way in which the life and culture of its main setting Mauritius was conveyed. As a real bonus too, the recipes at the end of the book will appeal to all foodie types so that I think Love Apples has elements for so many different types of reader to enjoy.

There a some other weighty themes underpinning the narrative too. The treatment of models, the frequently unreasonable expectations of those living in the so-called glamorous world of magazines, sexuality, relationships and the way our past can affect our present all give a depth I wasn’t expecting. I think Love Apples is one of those books that is really transformed by whoever is reading it so that it definitely becomes a different book when a different reader brings their own experiences to it.

As for me, I’m off to the allotment to harvest some beetroot for the relish recipe at the back of the book.

About Melissa van Maasdyk

melissa

Melissa van Maasdyk has a Masters in Translation, and has worked as a writer, translator, sub-editor and editor on several magazines over the past two decades. These include Elle Decoration and Marie Claire in the UK, Style and Marie Claire in South Africa, and Time Out in Bahrain, where she also wrote a travel guide to the kingdom. Food writing has featured prominently in her career, nurturing her passion for cooking, and adding flavour to Love Apples, which is her first novel. Melissa currently lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband.

You can find out more on the Love Apples website.

The Traveller’s Daughter by Michelle Vernal

the travellers daughter

My grateful thanks to the author of The Traveller’s Daughter, Michelle Vernal, for organising the lovely people at Harper Impulse to send me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

The Traveller’s Daughter is published by Harper Impulse, an imprint of Harper Collins and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Traveller’s Daughter

the travellers daughter

Her mother’s secret…

For fifty years Rosa kept the secrets of her past hidden from her beloved daughter, Kitty. The hurt and pain, the guilt over what she’d done, was something she could never face. But now the time has come to share the truth of Kitty’s heritage…

Her daughter’s discovery…

Kitty never knew anything about her mother’s early life. But after her death, the discovery of Rosa’s journal opens Kitty’s eyes to a whole new world-a family she’s never known and a love she’s never dreamed of…

The fate of a family…

Now Kitty must travel to her mother’s homeland, but after fifty years, can the sins of the past be forgiven? Or will history repeat itself? With a decades-old family feud threatening her future, can Kitty put right what once went so wrong?

My Review of The Traveller’s Daughter

When Kitty’s mother dies, Kitty thinks all is lost, but sometimes an ending can be a beginning.

I’m going to begin with a tiny negative. Just a couple of elements detracted very slightly from The Traveller’s Daughter as I didn’t think Paula and Steve, the wasp sting, or cow pat were entirely necessary to the plot although I understand their fuction in providing light relief as there is much that is quite emotional in The Traveller’s Daughter.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Traveller’s Daughter, so much so that I read it in one sitting. I was gripped by the emotional opening and from that point I simply had to know the story. Well plotted, it didn’t disappoint and I put down the book feeling satisfied that I had been thoroughly entertained. I could so easily see The Traveller’s Daughter as a Sunday evening television series. I loved the romantic idea of trying to recreate Christian’s photograph and capture a moment in time too.

I was completely convinced by the characters and their situations, especially Kitty and Rosa. Having taught many traveller children, I thought the traveller lives were incredibly realistically portrayed and particularly liked the way Michelle Vernal didn’t romanticise them or slip into stereotyping. These were warm, flawed and real people whom I cared about. There is a subtle shift in tone for passages relating to Kitty, Rosa in the past and Rosa’s first person narrative which works so well that I felt I was reading about someone I could meet in the street in real life. I thought the direct speech was utterly convincing and naturalistic.

I think Michelle Vernal has a deft touch when it comes to setting too. Her depiction of France in particular was vivid and realistic so that it was easy to picture the scene in my mind’s eye. Indeed, I felt her way with words captured the setting easily as well as any photograph taken by Christian might do.

However, what I enjoyed most was the exquisite exploration of relationships. Underpinning it all is Kitty’s relationship with her mother Rosa and her desire to know about the past Rosa has so carefully hidden, but there are so many others to consider too; family and sibling, friends and enemies, the community and travellers, lovers and rivals. I think The Traveller’s Daughter can actually be read on many levels.

The Traveller’s Daughter is a lovely read. I don’t usually make comparisons between authors but Marie Vernal’s writing made me think of Dinah Jefferies. I was completely absorbed in the story and recommend it highly.

About Michelle Vernal

Michelle vernal

Michelle Vernal is an author who loves a happy ending. She lives near the Southern Alps in New Zealand with her family and three black cats. Her novel The Traveller’s Daughter was shortlisted for an award with Love Stories UK.

Michelle spends an awful lot of time daydreaming about exotic locations she’d like to visit with her family.

You can fid out more about Michelle by following her on Twitter @MichelleVernal, visiting her website and finding her on Facebook.

Gloria’s Handbag: A Guest Post by Lisa Mary London, Author of Reality Rehab

REALITY REHAB COVER (1)

I have a guilty secret: I’m addicted to I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! Consequently, when I heard Lisa Mary London used to work on the series and her book Reality Rehab could be just up my street I had to invite her on to Linda’s Book Bag. I was so intrigued by the character of Gloria in Reality Rehab that I asked Lisa Mary London what is in Gloria’s handbag. Luckily she agreed to tell me!

Reality Rehab is available for purchase (or should that be pooch – ase) in e-book and paperback here.

Reality Rehab

REALITY REHAB COVER (1)

Faded soap star Gloria Grayson swaps banoffee pie for humble pie with a stint on reality TV.  But her last ditch bid to salvage her celebrity backfires, when the ex-husband from hell is sprung on her in front of 10 million viewers.

Can Gloria win back A-list status, happy ever after and her Rear of the Year title? Reality is stranger than fiction!

Faded TV star Gloria Grayson has hit rock bottom.  Sacked from her starring role in a top soap, divorced from hell-raising actor ‘Mad’ Tommy Mack, and obese from binge eating, her days as Britain’s sexiest blonde are well and truly over.

But her luck changes when cruel paparazzi photos relaunch her career, and she and her fat, feisty dog are booked to appear on TV’s Reality Rehab.

Gloria is incarcerated with an American psychotherapist, a rabble of D-list celebrities and umpteen cameras, then put on a starvation diet.  But worse is to come, with the shock arrival of her alcoholic ex-husband.

Tears and tantrums ensue as the divorced couple’s therapy sessions take over the show, and ratings soar.  The other celebrities are infuriated to be sidelined and Reality Rehab fast becomes The Tommy and Glo Show.

But Gloria and Tommy are hiding explosive secrets from each other and 10 million viewers – Reality is stranger than fiction!

Gloria’s Handbag Secrets

An Exclusive Guest Post by Lisa Mary London

In a world exclusive, Gloria shares the secrets of her bulging designer handbag – and when you hear what’s in it, you won’t be surprised it’s bulging!

Compact Mirror

As the former star of Britain’s top soap Jubilee Road, I’m told I’m ‘a national treasure’. I’m not sure I like that description – it sounds like I’ve been dug up!  Obviously there are wonderful perks to being a celebrity, like red carpet events, designer gowns and a beautiful mansion in London’s swanky Highgate.

But as the saying goes:  “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” (Hmmm… is it lunch time yet?) and like every superstar worth her salt (salt and vinegar crisps? Don’t mind if I do!) I guard my privacy jealously.

A downmarket paper recently printed unflattering photos of me putting the rubbish out in a ketchup-stained kaftan, claiming I’d gained weight.  The cheek of it!  I may have put on a few pounds recently, but that’s no reason for Britain’s best-selling tabloid to liken me to Jabba the Hutt!

I must be on guard constantly for sleazy photographers hoping to snap me in Tesco bulk buying banoffee pie, purchasing supersize Spanx or bending down to pick up Baby-Girl’s poop. So for me a handbag essential, is a compact mirror.

Not only can I check my lipstick, I get a crucial rear view to spot paparazzi’s long lenses when I’m relaxing in a restaurant and just about to deep throat an éclair.

Baby-Girl

My pedigree Maltipoo Baby-Girl stars in my new memoirs Reality Rehab and is also the book’s cover star.  Thanks to Reality Rehab, Baby is the world’s first four-legged reality TV star, and I’m afraid fame’s rather gone to her head.

She now has a wardrobe of designer clothes bigger than mine and will only leave the house wearing enormous celebrity shades.  She can’t get her tail out the front door without a hundred selfie and paw-tograph requests from adoring fans, she’s like a canine Kim Kardashian. Baby does her best to accommodate, but she doesn’t want to be accosted when she’s ‘taking care of business’, if you catch my drift.

DOLLY TUTU P1020845

So she gives stalkers the slip by snuggling out of sight in my oversized Louis Vuitton tote.  Baby’s always been the ultimate handbag dog and no one but me knows she’s in there.  And boy do I know it, as the shoulder straps cut into my flesh like a cheese wire through Edam, and I reflect I should ration her donut allowance!

Pooch-Snood

Baby-Girl’s adorable but her table manners are quite appalling.  When I serve her a plate of wet food, say a delicious coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon, half goes in her tummy and the rest covers her face from top-knot to toes.

So I put my thinking cap on, and solved the problem of Baby-Girl’s ‘gravy ears’ – the Pooch-Snood!  It’s my own invention, I had my dressmaker run it up.  The Pooch-Snood is like those ghastly snoods that were inexplicably popular back in the eighties.  It has gentle elastic that goes round Baby’s little face and holds her ears back,  allowing her full access to her dinner while keeping her fur clean and gravy-free!

Baby wasn’t keen at first, but when I uttered the words:  “No Snood – No Food”, she couldn’t get it on fast enough! I’ve had a collection of them made up in different fabrics to match her outfits. As Baby-Girl and I invariably stop off at an exclusive restaurant for lunch when we’re out and about, my handbag always contains a Pooch-Snood. I really must get the Pooch-Snood patented, it could be a bigger celebrity money-spinner than the George Forman Grill!

DD Retouched

Healthy Snack

As a busy actress and working mother to a Maltipoo I take my health very seriously and try to get my five a day. To that end, I make sure my handbag always contains a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.  Vitamin C’s so important don’t you think?

My Diary

As Oscar Wilde famously said:  “I never travel without my diary, one should always have something sensational to read on the train”. How right Oscar was, and my new memoirs Reality Rehab are a handbag essential. It’s an effervescent tale, packed with laughter, tears and cliff hangers galore, and I can hardly believe it all happened to me. But it did – and I’ve got the mental scars to prove it!

Baby-Girl and I had many hair-raising adventures when we appeared on TV’s Reality Rehab and were both put on a starvation diet.  It was no picnic, believe me (Ooh Picnics, I love those!) and when the Producers sprung ‘Mad’ Tommy Mack, the ex-husband from hell on me, all hell was let loose! I can’t reveal any more, you’ll have to read the book for yourself. But believe me, my ex-husband’s so bad he should have a bounty on his head. We split over his affair with a certain dyed redhead actress, but that’s another topic (Bounty… Topic… I’m starving again and I’ve only just had lunch!)

As I mentioned, my talented little fur-ball’s a leading character in Reality Rehab. I wrote a no holds barred account of her behaviour in the rehab house, and all I can say is – thank God she can’t read, and won’t sue!

(Linda – I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from finding out just what Gloria has in her handbag – or why!)

About Lisa Mary London

Lisa

Lisa Mary London went from Chief Reporter on a sleepy Cotswold newspaper to become Celebrity Producer on some of Britain’s best-loved TV shows.  Her TV credits include An Audience with Ken Dodd, A BAFTA Tribute to Julie Walters, The British Comedy Awards and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! She’s worked with stars from Tony Curtis to Ant and Dec, and her debut novel Reality Rehab features around 200 famous names.

‘There’s never a dull moment when you’re working with the stars’, says Lisa. ‘One minute you’re sipping champagne with Pierce Brosnan, the next you’re standing in the Ladies’ minding Barbara Windsor’s handbag.’

Reality Rehab is based on her real life, behind-the-screen experiences as a Celebrity Producer.

A journalist by profession, Lisa has written for the Daily Mail and was briefly a News of the World reporter, but made her excuses and left before anyone was imprisoned for phone hacking.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter @lisamarylondon and visit the Reality Rehab website. There’s more from Reality Rehab star Gloiria on Facebook and you can follow Gloria on Twitter too!

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett

a slip of the keyboard

I have a confession – I’ve never read anything by Terry Pratchett until A Slip of the Keyboard was chosen for my U3A reading group.

A Slip of the Keyboard was published by Corgi, an imprint of Transworld on 25th September 2014 and is available for purchase here.

A Slip of the Keyboard

a slip of the keyboard

Terry Pratchett in his own words

With a foreword by Neil Gaiman

Terry Pratchett earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series – but in recent years he became equally well-known as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer’s research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together the best of Pratchett’s non fiction writing on his life, on his work, and on the weirdness of the world: from Granny Pratchett to Gandalf’s love life; from banana daiquiris to books that inspired him; from getting started as a writer to the injustices that he fought to end.

With his trademark humour, humanity and unforgettable way with words, this collection offers an insight behind the scenes of Discworld into a much loved and much missed figure – man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orang-utans and the right to a good death.

My Review of A Slip of the Keyboard

A Slip of the Keyboard is a collection of non-fiction pieces by Terry Pratchett with a foreword by Neil Gaiman.

Reading A Slip of the Keyboard I had to ask myself why I had never tried any of Terry Pratchett’s writing before. This collection covers so many topics with authority, wit, generosity, rage and compassion that I was totally hooked.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the book signings and the writing process and actually think there is much good advice for aspiring writers there, particularly the concept of getting straight on with the next book. I thought the style was intelligent, and humane – and I’ve rarely come across better use of the elipsis!

Having watched several people I love dwindling to a painful death I found Terry Pratchett’s arguments in favour of assisted dying resonated completely with my own. I thought these passages, given Terry Pratchett’s own looming death, were very touching, even whilst he retained his humour and vigorous writing.

A Slip of the Keyboard is a true cornucopia of wonderful writing. How many memories are true and how many a fabrication I have no idea. What I do know is that not having read Terry Pratchett’s writing before I have been missing out.

About Terry Pratchett

terry pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett was the acclaimed creator of the global bestselling Discworld series, the first of which, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983. In all, he was the author of fifty bestselling books. His novels have been widely adapted for stage and screen, and he was the winner of multiple prizes, including the Carnegie Medal, as well as being awarded a knighthood for services to literature. Worldwide sales of his books now stand at 70 million, and they have been translated into thirty-seven languages.

Sir Terry Pratchett died on 12th March 2015.

You can visit the Terry Pratchett website here. There is also a Facebook page.

An Extract from Tremarnock Summer by Emma Burstall

Tremarnock Summer

When a book looks as gorgeous as Tremarnock Summer by Emma Burstall, it’s so disappointing when I haven’t had chance to read it yet. However, I am lucky enough to have an extract from Tremarnock Summer to share with you today.

Tremarnock Summer was published by Head of Zeus in e-book in May and will be released in hardback in the autumn. Tremarnock Summer is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

Tremarnock Summer

Tremarnock Summer

Bramble Challoner has had a very normal upbringing. She lives in a semi in the suburbs of London with her parents and works at the call centre down the road. She still goes out with the boy she met at school. At weekends they stay in and watch films on the telly and sometimes hold hands. Bramble is dying for an adventure.

So when her very grand grandfather, Lord Penrose, dies, leaving his huge, rambling house in Cornwall to her, Bramble packs her bags immediately, dragging along her best friend Katie. The sleepy village of Tremarnock had better be ready for its newest residents…

An Extract from Tremarnock Summer

BACK IN LONDON, Cassie was standing in the bedroom doorway, clutching a pile of Bramble’s ironed clothes so tightly to her bosom that it looked as if they’d have to be wrenched away.

‘You can still change your mind, you know. You don’t have to go.’

Bramble herself was sitting on the end of the bed with a blue canvas holdall, half-full and open, beside her, while another, zipped up and bulging, was on the floor at her feet.

‘It’s something I need to do,’ she said gently, trying to ignore the tears pooling in the corners of her stepmother’s eyes. ‘You do understand, don’t you? I have to give it a try.’

Cassie let out a small sob and Bill, standing behind, put a protective arm around her shoulders.

‘Remember, you can always come back if you don’t like it. There’ll be no shame in it.’ His eyes, too, were suspiciously glassy and there was a wobble in his voice that he couldn’t disguise.

Bramble jumped up and flung her arms around both parents, so that they were huddled together like small animals clinging to each other for warmth and comfort.

‘It’s only Cornwall. It’s not that far,’ she said – uncertainly, for right now she felt as if she were emigrating to Australia. After all, she’d lived her whole life in Chessington and, bar the occasional week in Tenerife or Mallorca, had barely ventured outside the M25.

‘They do things different there,’ her father said ominously, knitting his unruly grey eyebrows. ‘Instead of buses and cars, you’ll see fields and sheep and…’ He paused and rubbed his chin. ‘…and half-wits.’

Bramble laughed; she couldn’t help it. ‘Half-wits? What on earth do you mean?’

Her father nodded wisely. ‘Inbreds. They go in for it; it’s a known fact. There’s not much choice, y’see.’

‘Da-ad, I can’t believe you said that.’

Bill shrugged. ‘You can think what you like, but it’s true. It’s not for nothing they’re described as wurzels with a piece of straw sticking out of their mouths. They’re not quite all there, most of ’em.’

Bramble pursed her lips. There was no point arguing. Her father had tried every tactic known to man to persuade her to stay, but to no avail. The inbreeding theory was but the latest in a long litany of excuses as to why she shouldn’t go. Chances were, he no more believed it than she did, but he was desperate.

‘When are you coming to visit?’ she said hopefully, but Bill only growled.

‘Said I’d never set foot in that man’s place, not after what he did, and I never will.’

‘Nor me,’ said Cassie, all choked up. ‘Never.’

‘But he’s dead,’ Bramble cried. ‘And it’s not his manor any more, it’s mine!’

About Emma Burstall

Emma Burstall

Emma Burstall studied English at Cambridge University before becoming a journalist for local and national newspapers and women’s magazines. She lives with my husband in South West London and has three children and two fat cats called Pablo and Dolly. As well as visiting Cornwall, Emma likes reading (a lot) and running in Richmond Park with her friends (slowly).

Emma’s books are all warm, heartfelt tales about women, love, life, relationships and families.

You can follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaBurstall, find her on Facebook and visit her website. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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