Laura

I’m Laura. I started Novel Kicks in 2009. I wanted a place to post my writing as well as give other writers like me the opportunity to do the same. There is also a monthly book club, a writing room which features writing prompts, book reviews, competitions, author interviews and guest posts. I grew up by the sea (my favourite place in the world) and I currently live in Hampshire. I am married to Chris, have a cat named Buddy and I would love to be a writer. I’m trying to write the novel I’ve talked so much about writing if only I could stop pressing delete. I’ve loved writing since creative writing classes in primary school. I have always wanted to see my teacher Miss Sayers again and thank her for the encouragement. When not trying to write the novel or writing snippets of stories on anything I can get my hands on, I love reading, dancing like a loon and singing to myself very badly. My current obsession is Once Upon a Time and I would be happy to live with magic in the enchanted forest surrounded by all those wonderful stories provided that world also included Harry Potter. I love reading chick lit. contemporary fiction and novels with mystery.

Book Review: Sisters Behaving Badly by Maddie Please

Sisters Kitty and Jenny haven’t spoken since a very disappointing Carvery lunch. Kitty, sixty-two, thinks Jenny is turning grey. Jenny, sixty-six, thinks Kitty needs to grow up!

So when both sisters inherit a farmhouse in rural France, it gives them the perfect chance to heal the rift between them. Except the farmhouse is a wreck, the garden is terrorized by a flock of chickens, not to mention a donkey with a serious flatulence problem!

Kitty is determined to enjoy herself, especially when she meets gorgeous French builder, Leo. Ooh la – la! And Jenny finds the fully stocked wine cellar helps enormously with missing horrible husband Paul – hic!

And as the two sisters begin to repair their fragile friendship, they discover that being bad is actually very good for the soul.

*****

Kitty has not spoken to nor seen her older sister, Jenny in a while.

So, when they both inherit a farmhouse in rural France, they are given time to hopefully heal their relationship.

They may well just discover that being bad… isn’t bad.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Maddie Please. Having read the premise for this book, I was excited to be invited onto the blog tour.

I loved the setting for this story. I could see the house and surrounding area from the way it’s described. It sounds stunning. I imagined it like Colin Firth’s Garden in Love Actually.

I liked that these ladies were in their sixties and were still having fun. I think it makes them very relatable. As sisters, even as adults, both of them know exactly what buttons to press.

Kitty is very easy to love. She’s a fun character who wears her heart on her sleeve and takes things as they come, even if it means jumping into situations without thinking.

Jenny was a little harder to get to know and therefore, it took me longer to warm to her. She’s a little shy and reserved and therefore, it’s easy to think that she’s not going to be a likeable person when you first meet her.

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NK Chats To… Helen Buckley

I am delighted to be welcoming you to Novel Kicks today, Helen. Thank you for inviting me onto your blog tour. Can you tell me about your book, Strictly Christmas Spirit and what inspired it? 

Strictly Christmas Spirit is a heart-warming, festive romance about a bad boy Hollywood superstar sent to do community service at a homeless shelter. Blake immediately clashes with community centre manager Emily, who is a former dancer from TV show Strictly Dancing with Celebs. Blake doesn’t care about the centre, or Christmas for that matter, he just wants to get his community service over and done with. Will the people he meets at the centre, and Emily herself, change his heart? Strictly Christmas Spirit is book three in the Spotlight Series but can be read as a standalone story.

The book was actually inspired a lot by my real life work. I used to run a community centre in London, providing services for the homeless and marginalised in the community. I based a lot of the story on the experiences I had there (although I never had a Hollywood star come to do community service there!)

 

What’s your typical writing day like? 

Almost impossible at the moment as I have two very young children! If I can, I write between 5-6am and 7-8pm. I literally squeeze in time while my kids are asleep and it’s very hard.

 

What are the challenges you found when writing your novel, especially when it’s part of a series? Did you know that it was always going to be a series? 

Strictly Christmas Spirit is the third book in my Spotlight Series. When I wrote the first book, Strictly on Ice, I had no idea it was going to be part of a series. It was only when I met a literary agent that he gave me the tip to write a series, and that’s where it all came!

The main challenge I have when writing is having to research information. I just want to write and let my imagination run wild but sometimes a little research is necessary!

 

What songs would make up a playlist for your book? 

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Book Extract: Christmas at Snowflake Lodge by CP Ward

I am very happy to be welcoming CP Ward back to Novel Kicks and the blog tour for his novel, Christmas at Snowflake Lodge. 

Plumber Jessica Lemond is determined not to follow in her parents footsteps by living off her famous grandfather’s fortune.

However, when the old timer himself elopes to Scotland with suspicions over the recent death of his much younger third wife hanging over his head and a private detective on his tail, it is left to Jessica to follow and clear up the mess. Happy to escape from her nightmarish lodger Doreen, she heads to the remote Snowflake Lodge with her young trainee Kirsten in tow.

However, Snowflake Lodge – with its oddball staff and very dodgy plumbing – is not how it appears in the brochure. Among the beautiful Scottish scenery, and with more hot chocolate and mince pies than she can possibly handle, can Jessica find something she didn’t even know she was looking for?

 

CP Ward has shared an extract from his novel with us today. Enjoy! 

 

***** beginning of extract*****

With suspicions over the death of his ex-wife growing, Grandpa Lemond has fled to Scotland. However, his son is too busy with an upcoming cruise, so it is left to poor Jessica to track the old man down.

 

‘Jess, is that you?’ came Benjamin’s voice. ‘What happened? Are you in hospital or something? A car accident?’

‘My phone battery died. What’s up? Your message said to call you urgently. Have they found Grandpa yet?’

She could almost hear Dad umming on the other end of the line, wondering what to say. With Grandpa having gone on the run from police and been missing for two weeks now, both Jessica and her mum were convinced Mavis’s death had been murder. Doreen was certain old Ernest Lemond, a famous TV comedian from the nineteen-fifties, was set to kill again. Dad, however, wouldn’t hear of it. While Mavis had been a tyrant, a fitness freak with a penchant for spending her elderly husband’s money, Grandpa, in his advanced years, had held her in something like affection, even if the rest of the family despised her. And in any case, Mavis had outweighed him by twenty kilograms. There was no way he could have pushed her off that ladder.

‘No … the police haven’t found him.’

‘Okay. Is that good or bad?’

‘It depends on how you look at it. However, a postcard arrived yesterday.’

‘A postcard?’

‘Yes. From Scotland.’

Jessica lifted an eyebrow, her genetically inherited sense of humour unable to miss the opportunity for a bad joke. ‘Really?’ she said. ‘I didn’t know you and Scotland were such good friends.’

‘Jess … you’d put the old man into his grave with something as poor as that,’ Benjamin said, squeezing out a reluctant laugh. ‘From your grandfather in Scotland.’

‘What’s he doing there?’

‘Evading the police. And he told me he’s got a job over the Christmas season as the in-house comedian at a ski lodge.’

‘Do they have ski lodges in Scotland? I didn’t realise they had that much snow.’

‘Obviously his postcard didn’t contain much detail, but it seems they must do. Especially if they’re in a position to hire a professional comedian, even if he is ninety-two.’

‘Well, good luck to him.’

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Book Review: Horsing Around by Lexi Rees

Calling all pony fans!

This journal and activity book is bursting with pony-fuelled fun. Whether you’re preparing for your first lesson or out collecting rosettes every weekend, this book has everything you need.

✓ set your riding goals and track your progress

✓ record your best riding moments

✓ tackle the horsey games and puzzles

✓ test your equestrian knowledge

✓ giggle at the funniest horse jokes

✓ try the fun pony-themed arts and crafts

✓ save your precious pony memories

Can you complete all the challenges and become a riding superstar?

*****

I have become a big fan of Lexi Rees’s workbooks, journals, and fiction so I was delighted to be invited onto the one-day blog blitz for Horsing Around, a journal and activity book.

Horsing Around is packed with activities, trackers, to-do lists and planners relating to horses and ponies whether the child in your life is caring for one or just loves them.

With beautiful illustrations, it’s something I would have loved to have had as a child (even though I have never had access to a horse.)

It really gives the young horse lover in your life the chance to be creative especially as there are also colouring pages and ‘how-to’ for crafting projects.

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Upcoming Book Releases – November

I always like looking at upcoming book releases.

It could be that a premise of a book speaks to you and therefore, you discover a new author, or you could find out that your favourite writer is due to release a new novel.

Below are five novels that are due for release before the end of November. Which one gets your attention? I’d love to know in the comments.

The first one on my list is The Island We Left Behind by Kate Hewitt.

This is the fourth book in the Amherst Island series and is due to be released on 30th November by Bookouture.

I’m not familiar with this book series but this does sound like something I would love.

It’s New York, 1928. Ellen and Lucus have made the hard decision to leave Amherst Island behind for a new life – the island that’s so much a part of their history.

New York opens new opportunities including Lucus making money on the stock market. Ellen finds fulfilment as a mother.

When their son becomes ill, Ellen knows what she must do, even if it means being away from the man she loves and the new life they have begun to build.

 

Never Tell a Lie by Gail Schimmel is the next book on this list. It’s due to be published by Lake Union Publishing on 30th November 2021.

Again, this is another novel that sounds good and will be added to my TBR list.

After her marriage ends, Mary is happy. Her focus is on her twelve-year-old son.

However, when she finds an old postcard, it throws everything upside down.

She’s relieved when she has her high school reunion as a distraction and is even delighted when she reconnects with her old classmate, April.

As she forges a new bond with April, Mary finds herself drawn further into her friends’ life.

Is everything as perfect as it seems? Is her own past clouding her judgement or has she a reason to be distrustful?

 

Book three on this list is a new release by one of my favourite authors and I am looking forward to reading it.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult is due to be released this Thursday (25th November,) by Hodder & Stoughton.

Diana’s life is perfectly to plan. She’s 29, up for a promotion to her dream job at Sotheby’s and she’s convinced that her surgeon boyfriend, Finn is about to propose on an upcoming holiday.

Then the virus hits New York and Finn not only has to work, but the hospital also needs him to stay.

He convinces her to go on vacation without him. She reluctantly agrees.

Once she is there, the world then shuts down and Diana is stranded.

Isolated and getting only intermittent news, Diana starts to examine everything that has got her here.

But not everything is as it seems.

 

Mercy by David Baldacci is book four in the Atlee Pine series. It’s due to be released on 25th November by Macmillan. It sounds right up my street.

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Book Extract: The Custard Corpses by M J Porter

The Custard Corpses, a delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

 

M J Porter has kindly shared an extract from The Custard Corpses with us today so grab that tea and biscuit and enjoy! 

 

***** beginning of extract*****

 

Chief Inspector Mason is about to meet the mother and father of the murdered boy whose case he thinks might be so similar to that of Robert McFarlane

Sam paused, watching the slow progress of the woman. She was so bent; it was almost as though her nose scraped the ground. He swallowed heavily, but perhaps this was too good an opportunity to miss. Especially as an upright man followed behind, his steps slow, but his eyes focused on Sam and Higham. It was evident he’d noticed their interest in the monument.

“Good day,” Sam took the initiative, startling the woman, if not the man.

“Who are you?” the man’s accent was rough, the sound like a stone being pulled over cobbles.

“My name’s Chief Inspector Mason, from Erdington Police Station.”

Two sets of tired eyes settled on him, and he knew whatever he said next might spark hope in them. Could he be so cruel when so much was as yet unknown?

Mrs McGovern puffed through her cheeks, and he noticed the fine hairs above her lip in an unwelcome flash of late sunlight. Her lip quivered, and in her hand,  she clutched yet more bright red flowers for the graveside.

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Book Extract: Partner Pursuit by Kathy Strobos

When a workaholic lawyer meets a fun-loving music marketing executive for opposites attract, friends-to-lovers adventures, which partnership will she choose?

Workaholic lawyer Audrey Willems is not going to take any chances with her bid to become a partner at her New York law firm—especially with only six months until the decision.

Until she bumps into Jake—her new neighbor. Jake is a fun-loving music marketing executive who might just be The One.

He’s funny, caring, supportive—and able to kill water bugs in the bathroom.

But Jake will never date a woman married to her job. His father was a workaholic lawyer who never had time for family.

And she’s just got the case of a lifetime—the one she needs to win to make partner.  Working 24/7 at the office may not even be enough hours to pull off a victory.

If only she had not met him now.

Audrey is determined to prove that she can juggle work and romance—even if managing court cases, candlelit dinners, and bike rides around Manhattan is a lot harder than it looks.  She keeps canceling dates for yet another case crisis.

But when making partner is like a game of musical chairs and the last seat is a business-class alone, which partnership will she choose?

 

Kathy has shared an extract with us today. Enjoy. 

 

*****beginning of extract*****

 

Excerpt: Pride & Prejudice

As they reached the green subway entrance in the traffic island in the middle of 72nd Street, Jake asked, “This is your subway, right? The daycare is over on West End Avenue a few blocks down, so we’ll make it in time.”

She nodded reluctantly.

“Say goodbye to Audrey,” he said to Luna.

Luna hugged her. Audrey loved those little arms holding onto her.

Then Luna said, “You should marry this one. Mommy says that if you marry, I might get cousins I can play with.”

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Book Review: Sleep Tight by C S Green

Even in your dreams you’re not safe…

The nightmare is only just beginning…

When DC Rose Gifford is called to investigate the death of a young woman suffocated in her bed, she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to the crime than meets the eye.

It looks like a straightforward crime scene – but the police can’t find the killer. Enter DS Moony – an eccentric older detective who runs UCIT, a secret department of the Met set up to solve supernatural crimes. Moony wants Rose to help her out – but Rose doesn’t believe in any of that.

Does she?

As the killer prepares to strike again, Rose must pick a side – before a second woman dies.

*****

DC Rose Gifford is called in to investigate the death of a young woman who has been suffocated in her bed.

As she works the case, she can’t help but feel that there’s more to this death than it appears.

Rose then meets DS Moony, an eccentric older detective who runs a secret department of the MET set up to solve supernatural crimes.

Moony wants Rose’s help but Rose doesn’t believe in ghosts… does she?

The killer is preparing to strike again. Rose must decide what she believes in before someone else dies.

Having read the premise for this novel, I was excited to be a part of the blog tour for Sleep Tight, book one in the Rose Gifford series.

Right from the beginning, this novel had me completely hooked.

The plot unfolds at a great pace as does the tension and suspense. It had me completely on edge, especially with the supernatural elements.

I was gripped all the way through as I tried to figure out what was going on and what Rose’s role in it would be.

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Novel Kicks Fiction Friday: Random Page Story Starter

It’s Friday which means it’s time to start writing some fiction.

Fiction Friday is our weekly writing flash fiction prompt.

The aim is to write for a minimum of five minutes and then keep going for as long as you can.

Don’t edit, just write. Once you’re done, you’re welcome to share in the comments but there’s no obligation. 

Today’s prompt: random page story starter. 

Pick a random book from your book shelf or Kindle.

Open it to page fifty-two. Go to the fifth sentence on the page.

That is now the first line of your short story.

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Novel Kicks Writing Room – NaNoWriMo Writing Sprint

Through November, I take part in National Novel Writing Month.

The idea, if you’ve never heard of it, is to write 50,000 words in thirty days.

That works out to about 1,667 words per day. This is what I usually aim for as a minimum, but I also don’t go over by much. Why? I like the community of the event. I like reaching that last 1,667 on or around 30thNovember. I’ve rushed through it before, and it wasn’t as exciting. One year, I had finished by 18th November and there was such an anti-climactic feeling of “oh, OK. What now?”

No, I much prefer to take it slow. 1,667 words a day is manageable to me. That’s not to say that it always comes easy. Some days, it takes me all afternoon to reach that target.

Finishing early is a bad thing. It just doesn’t work for me. What is good for you is the most important thing.

One of the things I have found helpful is writing sprints. These are made up of small writing challenges. They are usually based on a theme and do require a little imagination. If you want to see more examples, click here. I find them so helpful and fun. They have helped me improve my word output on more than one occasion.

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My October Favourites

Wow, how are we already halfway through November? For anyone, me included, doing National Novel Writing Month, that 30th November deadline is speeding toward us at an alarming rate.

Due to NaNoWriMo, I am a little behind on other things. I know it’s a little late, but I wanted to share some favourites from October. Just a disclaimer, I bought all these with my own money and all that.

Speaking of this crazy challenge we call NaNoWriMo, my first favourite is this creativity notebook. My ritual every year is to buy a new notebook in an aim to be more organised and prepared. Um… this year, not so much.

However, it was still an excuse to buy a cute notebook, and, in my defence, I have written some notes. Just not as much as I’d like.

Grant Snider’s illustrations are so cute and as they feature a cat, I had to buy it.

The only problem with having a notebook addiction, is that they are all so pretty, I don’t want to write in any of them and so the cycle of buying notebooks continues. Haha.

 

It was hard to pick a favourite book for October as, in all honesty, there wasn’t one I didn’t like. Even picking two was hard.

The Room in the Attic by Louise Douglas and The Girl in the Maze by Cathy Haywood are the two that have particularly stuck with me.

The subject matters were intriguing for both novels. The Room in the Attic focuses on an old Asylum and to realise how people were treated at the turn of the 1900s – it’s shocking.

I also loved how The Girl in the Maze focused on the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter and how you don’t always fully know a person.

 

With it being October, my film favourites for last month had to be Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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Novel Kicks Book Club: 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

Hello November. 

I know it’s a little late but I have an excuse! I have been busy with National Novel Writing Month. However, as it’s now November, it’s time for a new book to read for our club.

This month, I have chosen a novel I’ve wanted to read for a while and that’s 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons. 

This book sounds so intriguing and I can’t wait to get reading. The cover is so pretty so that’s a plus already.

As usual, I have posted a question below to kick off the discussion.

Anyone can join our book club at any time even if it’s halfway through the month. So, if you’re reading along with me or have already read it, I look forward to discussing it in the comments section below.

 

About 100 Days of Sunlight: 

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Book Review: I’ll Be Home For Christmas by M W Arnold

I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Book Three in the Broken Wings series. 

A mysterious key left by her murdered sister, leads Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Betty Palmer on a journey of discovery and danger. Given up to an orphanage upon birth, the parents she’s long thought had no part in her life force themselves back in, purely out of greed and self-preservation.

Penny’s life is unexpectedly turned upside down by a potentially life-changing situation, which causes her wounded husband to question their marriage. No-one seems safe in this year of turmoil in the middle years of the war, as some relationships face breaking point whilst others become stronger.

Kidnap, crashes and dogfights, the girls of the Air Transport Auxiliary Mystery have never faced such dangers. To survive may not be enough as they must find the strength to rise above the most trying times yet of their lives.

*****

The ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) Mystery Club is back in I’ll Be Home For Christmas, the third instalment of the Broken Wings series.

Betty finds a key belonging to her late sister and soon finds her estranged parents back in her life, much to her dismay.

Penny receives news that will change her life and before long, marriages, relationships and loyalties are tested.

The girls find themselves facing more danger than they’ve ever faced before.

Yay! The ladies of the ATA are back.

I’ve grown so fond of this group of characters. It really does feel like I am catching up with old friends. I want to be part of their gang.

That, and the fact that this book is set at Christmas meant I pretty much devoured this story as quickly as I could.

This can be read as a standalone, but I do recommend reading the previous two books in the series (A Wing and a Prayer and Wild Blue Yonder,) as it gives a better overall picture of what has happened prior to this book plus, well, they are brilliant. They have given me a real interest in learning about the ATA.

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Book Review: The Girl She Was Before by Jess Kitching

Nat lives a picture-perfect life, but it wasn’t always this way. A victim of horrific bullying when she was a teenager, Nat will do anything to keep distance between the girl she was before and the woman she is now.

But when her best friend is murdered and people begin to point their finger at her, Nat’s new life quickly begins to unravel.

To Nat, it’s no surprise that the crime happened at the same time as the return of her biggest tormentor, Chrissy Summers. A woman with a violent streak who destroyed lives when she was younger and isn’t afraid to do it again.

Face to face with the past she so firmly keeps behind her, Nat’s sanity wavers as her determination to reveal Chrissy as the monster she knows her as rises to dangerous heights.

The question is, can Nat prove Chrissy is a killer, or will Chrissy get to Nat and her family before she has the chance?

You can’t outrun the past…

*****

Nat has a perfect life. As an online influencer, the perception of perfect is important.

However, her life wasn’t always like that, having been subjected to horrible bullying as a teenager.

She will do anything to keep her perfect life.

Then her best friend is murdered, and her nemesis returns to town.

When Nat is then accused of murder, her life begins to crumble in a big way.

Wow! That’s the first word that comes to mind. Wow!

From page one, this book doesn’t so much pull you into the action, it pushes you in with both hands.

Told from Nat’s point of view in the present, there are also ‘then’ flashback chapters involving an unnamed schoolgirl and the horrible bullying she’s subjected to by Chrissy Summers and her gang. When I say horrific, I mean totally horrific. When you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

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Book Review: Brooklyn Monroe Wants It All by Karen Booth

Brooklyn Monroe Wants It All

She can’t hit the snooze on her biological clock forever…

Love, career, kids—Brooklyn Monroe wants it all. Her beauty company? A triumph. Her love life? Total fail. At 42, that makes motherhood her top priority.

With no man in her life, she’s prepared to fly solo, but her plan is derailed when a mailing list mishap turns Brooklyn into a someone-get-me-pregnant internet meme. Making her PR nightmare go away entails a soul-baring interview on national TV. And the guy asking the questions? Her all-too sexy ex.

Talk show host Alec Trakas is the king of bad timing. Case in point, his heartbreaking romance with Brooklyn. Alec was all about commitment but Brooklyn was launching her start-up, and forever wasn’t in the cards.

Now a shot at his ultimate dream job depends on convincing Brooklyn to spill the secrets leading to her viral celebrity. It sets Alec’s star rising, but puts Brooklyn in a sea of flirty men.

Fate has thrown them back together. Sparks are flying. But is the timing finally right? Because having it all might not be worth the risk of losing each other again.

 

*****

 

Successful business… check.

Love Life… disaster.

At 42, Brooklyn Monroe knows that, if she wants to be a mother, that time is running out.

As she considers her options, an office joke gone wrong quickly makes her into a viral internet meme, where suddenly everyone knows her plans for motherhood.

Her ex, Alec knows that his career depends on whether he can get Brooklyn to agree to a TV interview about her new found fame. Is fate throwing them together again? Can Brooklyn really have it all?

Brooklyn Monroe Wants It All is the second book in the Never Too Late book series. However, you don’t have to have read Gray Hair Don’t Care to be able to read this one. It stands alone. Lela and Donovan do make an appearance in this though.

Brooklyn is a wonderful, strong, successful character. In fact, the book overall has empowering women and I loved that. These characters have worked hard and achieved success. You don’t feel that they need to be rescued by men.

It shines a spotlight on motherhood, especially for women in their forties and this was something I could immediately relate to.

Alec is a great male lead. He is written as a strong man but I feel that there was also a vulnerability to him. A conversation he has with another male character showcases this perfectly.

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Book Review: The Wedding Cake Wish, Little Duck Pond Cafe by Rosie Green

Wedding excitement is in the air!

With their big day approaching, Fen has her heart set on a gorgeous, intimate celebration with not much fuss at all. But strong-minded mother-of-the-bride Marjery seems to have considerably grander plans.

There’s also the small problem of a missing best man, and when Fen tasks Hudson Holmes and Ruby Watkiss with the job of tracking him down, their investigations unearth far more secrets than they bargained for.

Will the Big Day go ahead in the light of such dramatic revelations? Can a wedding cake wish save the day? One thing’s for sure – this will definitely be a wedding to remember!

*****

Fen and Rob are getting married. They would like an intimate wedding. However, Margery, the Mother of the Bride, has grander plans for her daughter’s wedding and soon takes over.

Also, Rob’s Best Man, Rory has gone missing.

Fen asks Ruby and Hudson to look for him with unexpected results.

It was lovely to be back at The Little Duck Pond Café. It’s like going back to somewhere that you know so well.
Although this is book seventeen, you can read this as a standalone. It didn’t even matter that I’d not read the previous novel to feature Ruby. Enough is explained so that you don’t feel you’re playing catch up but the story still flows well.

Told from the point of view of both Ruby and Fen, it gives an all round look into the overall picture as the girls prepare for the wedding between Fen and Rob.

I loved Ruby. She’s wonderful – a lovely, relatable character. Hudson’s story is tragic and I felt so much sympathy for him. Immediately, I could see these two characters as a couple and really wished they were. Their friendship and feelings for each other really jump from the page.

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Book Review: The Perfect Daughter by Alex Stone

The perfect daughter…

Jess Harper has spent her whole life trying to make her mum, Abigail happy and proud. And everything Jess does, from the clothes she wears, the job she has, the men she dates, are all approved by Abigail first.

The perfect boyfriend…

So when Jess announces that she has a new man in her life – plumber Adam – Abigail is less than impressed. ‘A plumber? Really, Jessica….’ Adam encourages Jess to break free from her mum’s manipulation, can’t she see what’s happening?

The perfect mother….

But Abigail is only doing these things to keep Jess safe, to protect her from getting hurt again…isn’t she?

Or the perfect liar?

Jess, caught in the middle, doesn’t know who to believe or trust. And then Adam vanishes without trace.

Now Jess is the police’s prime suspect and they want to know if Jess really is as perfect as she seems….

*****

Jess is always trying to be the dutiful daughter. She runs everything by her mother, Abigail first. That’s normal right?

Her mother knows best after all and Jess isn’t always trusting of her own judgement. Not if past experiences are anything to go by.

Plus, all Abigail wants to do is to protect her daughter.

So, when Jess meets Adam, Abigail is less than impressed.

Determined to prove her mother wrong about Adam, he practically moves in to her flat. They have a future.

However, when Adam disappears without a trace, Jess is the prime suspect.

From page one, this novel had me hooked. Told from Jess’s point of view, we enter the mind of someone who really doesn’t know who she is nor does she trust herself.

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Book Review: The Girl in the Maze by Cathy Haywood

‘I would caution you against delving into the past. The past is often best left exactly where it is.’

Emma Bowen has never had a close relationship with her mother, barely speaking with her in the last years of her life. But after her mother’s death, Emma finds something that might just explain the distance between them.

Discovering letters between her mother and grandmother, it seems to Emma that her mother has always been difficult.

As she searches for answers about her own childhood, Emma is drawn into the mystery of her mother’s enigmatic life. The more she finds, the more lost she feels, but Emma is determined to uncover her mother’s past, and the secrets held within it, whatever the cost.

An enthralling story of three women, generations apart, linked by one terrible tragedy.

*****

Emma had never been close to her mother.

After her mother’s death however, she finds something that may not only explain why her mother was always a little distant but also a secret that will change Emma’s life forever.

I found the premise of this novel immediately intriguing. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between mothers and daughters.

Told from the point of view of Betty, her Daughter, Margaret and Granddaughter, Emma, it gives the reader a real insight into three generations of women – their differences and parallels. The story also occasionally focuses on Emma’s stepfather, Jack and his input and influence over the women.

I also liked how the painting that featured in the novel was interpreted in many different ways. This really added an extra dimension to the story.

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Book Review: The Room in the Attic by Louise Douglas

A child who does not know her name…

In 1903 fishermen find a wrecked boat containing a woman, who has been badly beaten, and a young girl. An ambulance is sent for, and the two survivors are taken to All Hallows, the imposing asylum, hidden deep on Dartmoor. The woman remains in a coma, but the little girl, Harriet, awakens and is taken to an attic room, far away from the noise of the asylum, and is put in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.

Two motherless boys banished to boarding school…

In 1993, All Hallows is now a boarding school. Following his mother’s death and his father’s hasty remarriage, Lewis Tyler is banished to Dartmoor, stripped of his fashionable clothes, shorn of his long hair, and left feeling more alone than ever. There he meets Isak, another lost soul, and whilst refurbishment of the dormitories is taking place, the boys are marooned up in the attic, in an old wing of the school.

Cries and calls from the past that can no longer be ignored…

All Hallows is a building full of memories, whispers, cries from the past. As Lewis and Isak learn more about the fate of Harriet, and Nurse Emma’s desperate fight to keep the little girl safe, it soon becomes clear there are ghosts who are still restless.

Are they ghosts the boys hear at night in the room above, are they the unquiet souls from the asylum still caught between the walls? And can Lewis and Isak bring peace to All Hallows before the past breaks them first…

*****

It’s 1903. Fishermen find a boat containing an unconscious, badly beaten woman and a young girl. They are both taken to All Hallows, an asylum on Dartmoor.

As the woman remains in a coma, the young girl, Harriet is taken to an attic room and put into the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.

In 1993, All Hallows is now a boarding school for boys. Lewis is sent there after the death of his mother. He feels alone and isolated.

He then meets his new roommate, Isak. Their room is in the attic, located in the old part of the building.

The boys begin to learn more about each other and about the school’s past as an asylum.

It soon becomes clear that the past is restless and that many ghosts still linger.

From the moment I read the premise for this book, I knew it was going to be a book I would find intriguing.

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Novel Kicks Fiction Friday: Surprise Party

It’s Friday which means it’s time to start writing some fiction.

Fiction Friday is our weekly writing flash fiction prompt.

The aim is to write for a minimum of five minutes and then keep going for as long as you can.

Don’t edit, just write. Once you’re done, you’re welcome to share in the comments but there’s no obligation. 

Today’s prompt: Surprise Party.

Your character has been told to be at a restaurant at a certain time. As it’s their birthday, they assume it’s a surprise party. Full of excitement, they make their way to the venue.

When they arrive, there is a surprise but not the one they were expecting.

Sitting around the table are five people. They are your character’s five major relationships. None of these ended well.

Start the conversation with ‘Sit down. We need to talk.’ 

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NK Chats To… Evie Alexander

Hi Evie, thank you so much for joining me today. Can you tell me about your novel, Highland Games and what inspired it? Was it always going to be part of a two book series?

Highland Games is a steamy romantic comedy set in the Highlands of Scotland. It’s about a fiery heroine who moves up from London to live in her great-uncle’s derelict cabin, and the Scottie hottie who wants her out.

I have a real life friend called Zoe who lives in a one room cabin she built herself and this was part of the inspiration for Highland Games. But I wanted to write what might happen if someone moved their life but were totally unprepared for what they found. It was never going to be part of a series. I wrote it as a standalone, however I accidentally wrote two hundred thousand words so it had to be turned into two books; Highland Games and Hollywood Games.

Then I realised I had two more stories to tell that happened in the same location and timeline as Hollywood Games, so I wrote two more books; Kissing Games and Musical Games to complete the Kinloch series.

 

What’s your typical writing day like?

I get up between half five and half six, go downstairs and immediately start writing. I have a break when the rest of the family get up and then I go back to write for a couple more hours before I have breakfast around mid morning. There are always other tasks to do, so I might not get back to my desk to write until later in the day or the evening. If it’s a good day then I probably spend four to six hours writing and try to aim for two thousand words minimum a day.

 

What are the challenges you found when writing your novel?

Not having a clear plan. I pantsed the first draft of Highland Games and so it took two years to sort out into two books. I planned my third book, Kissing Games, and it only took a few weeks to write, and only needed a copy edit and proof when it was done.

 

What songs would make up a playlist for your book?

I’m rubbish at thinking of playlists because I have to have complete silence when I write!!! If anyone has an idea for a playlist for Highland Games then please let me know!

 

Which fictional character would you like to meet and why?

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October’s Recent and Upcoming Releases

There are some great books that have been released or due to be released this month.

Here are five books I am particularly looking forward to reading or like the look of. Let me know in the comments what new releases you may read or have been enjoying.

 

Better off Dead is the latest Jack Reacher novel. Written by Lee Child and Andrew Child, it’s due to be released on 26th October by Bantam Press.

In this latest instalment, Reacher isn’t a man to back down from a problem.

On an Arizona road, a jeep has crashed.

Minutes after the crash, Reacher and Army veteran turned FBI agent, Michaela are heading to a nearby town in search of someone. To do this, Reacher is going to have to achieve the impossible.

 

Another release from Bantam Press is The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsella.

I am so pleased that Sophie has a new book release. I have been so excited to read this one. Released on 14th October, this focuses on Effie.

Her parents are divorced and are selling the family home.

Her Dad and his new girlfriend are holding a house-cooling party prior to the sale and Effie is quite ceremoniously not invited.

Fine, she’s OK with that… until she remembers that there are things from that house she’ll have to go back for.

It’s a simple plan. Creep in during the party, get what she came for and leave. What could go wrong?

Well, an ex-boyfriend and finding out out family secrets for starters.

 

The Girl She Was Before is the upcoming release by Jess Kitching and is due to be released by Kingsley Publishing on 31st October.

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Book Review: A Christmas Wish on a Carousel by Lottie Cardew

Snuggle up under your favourite blanket and escape to the beautiful village of Pebblestow this winter, for one of the most heartwarming stories of the season…

When Cara Mia Shaw makes a desperate wish one night, while riding on a carousel at a Christmas market, little does she know her small, but safe world is about to spin off its axis.

Befriending a fascinating returnee to the village, an elderly woman called Perdita with a jaunty pink beret and the wisdom of a life well lived, might set Cara on a different, albeit harder, course, if she’s brave enough to listen. Art was always her passion, after all, even if fate seemed to have other ideas.

And then there’s the new man in her life, who her friends think is perfect for her because they set her up with decent, reliable Greg in the first place. Cara’s been hurt enough times to know the difference between a good man and a feckless one. Until Wilfred comes along – moody, sarcastic, and scattered – just to complicate matters and meddle with Cara’s resolve, to the horror of almost everyone around her. But is either man ultimately meant for her, anyway? And will she self-sabotage as usual, or gamble everything this time, including her heart?

It might take the highs and lows of friendship, the risk of a forbidden romance, and a Pomeranian called Loki – not to mention some much-needed Christmas magic – before Cara finally realises the wish she made that night on the carousel might just be about to come true.

 

*****

Cara makes a wish on a carousel at a local Christmas market. Soon after, her quiet life turns upside down.

Her friends set her up with Greg, who is a decent, reliable man. She also meets Wilf, the not so dependable brother of her ex-employer. Is one of them the one?

She also meets Perdita, an elderly resident who has come back to the village. Could she send Cara on a different course?

As I have said many times on this blog, one of the things I love most about this time of year is the arrival of novels with Christmas/festive settings. This one was wonderful, drew me in and was magical.

Cara is a bit of a lost soul, at least, that’s my impression. She’s also stuck and scared. I also got the same impression about Wilf and of course, the two connect. There is a mystery surrounding Wilf and I found it interesting to see how they both developed through the novel. I really wanted them to find happiness, even if it wasn’t with each other.

Perdita was also intriguing. I couldn’t quite work out how she fitted into the story but I wanted to know more about her. She’s fabulous.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town.

Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.

After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone . . .

*****

Cats and Books. This novel had me before I even got to the first page.

There is something whimsical about the front cover that immediately pulled me in.

This book is only about 224 pages so it isn’t a long read but it’s an interesting, sweet, compelling story.

Rintaro is a guarded character at the beginning as he is grieving the loss of his beloved Grandfather and is facing a complete life change as a result. He is due to move and has to put his Grandfather’s bookshop up for sale. I think he’s someone a lot of people will find relatable and easy to empathise with.

Instead of going to school, Rintaro decides to work in the bookshop. One of his classmates, Sayo refuses to give up on him and goes to the shop every day to try and persuade him to come to school.

Sayo is a complete contrast to the restrained Rintaro and I found their dynamic interesting – what they bought out in each other.

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Events: The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2021

The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival for 2021 has begun.

The festival, held at various venues around the city started today (8th October) and continues until 17th October 2021.

Participants and attendees are there to celebrate everything about books and writing. Those taking part include Writers, Poets, Actors, Politicians, Comedians and Musicians.

There are many things going on including workshops, interviews, panels and family events; some are free, others cost a fee but there is something for everyone.

People taking part include Elif Shafak, Maggie O’ Farrell, Ann Morgan, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Sebastian Faulks, Ben Miller, Caroline O’ Donoghue, Clare Balding, Hayley Mills, Jonathan Franzen, Cressida Cowell, Mark Billingham, Josh Widdicombe, Richard Osman, Lisa Jewell, Jed Mercurio, Suzie Dent, Paula Hawkins, Lionel Shriver, Marian Keyes, Dawn French, Bernardine Evaristo, Robert Webb and Will Young.

Workshops over the festival include ‘Writing Scary Stories’ with Jennifer Killick, Young Journalists with the Week Junior, How To Make Awesome Comics with Neill Cameron and Surviving and Thriving as a Young Writer.

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Novel Kicks Fiction Friday: Superhero Confession

It’s Friday which means it’s time to start writing some fiction.

Fiction Friday is our weekly writing flash fiction prompt.

The aim is to write for a minimum of five minutes and then keep going for as long as you can.

Don’t edit, just write. Once you’re done, you’re welcome to share in the comments but there’s no obligation. 

Today’s prompt: Superhero confession

Write from the point of view of someone who has to tell a loved one that they have not only superpowers but a nemesis.

The person/people your character loves are in danger.

First line: ‘what are you doing here? It’s late.’

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Book Review: The Village Inn of Secret Dreams by Alison Sherlock

After escaping her parents’ unhappy marriage to sleepy Cranbridge a long time ago, Belle Clarke dreams of staying at The Black Swan Inn forever.

But with the rundown Inn threatened with closure, Belle may be forced to leave, unless a buyer can be found … quickly.

So, when her oldest friend Pete Kennedy returns from working abroad with a plan to save the Inn, Belle should be overjoyed. The trouble is, Pete has some rather radical ideas for the renovation which Belle disagrees with.

But when a snow storm hits, Belle and Pete are forced to put aside their differences and work together to help the village.

Can Belle realise her dreams to stay in Cranbridge and can Pete ever stop running from his past?

As they try to save The Black Swan Inn, secrets are revealed and just maybe they’ll finally find out how they really feel about each other.

*****

The Village Inn of Secret Dreams is the third book in the Riverside Lane series.

Belle Clarke sees the village of Cranbridge as her home. She wants to stay there forever, working at her Uncle’s inn, The Black Swan.

When the inn is threatened by closure, Belle may have to leave. Cue Pete Kennedy, her oldest friend.

He buys the inn and has plans but these are the opposite of Belle’s vision.

Can Pete and Belle put aside their differences and save not only the inn but help the village too.

It was so lovely to be back in Cranbridge. It was really like being back with old friends. The descriptions and setting of this village sounds so stunning, especially as it’s set during Autumn and Christmas (I am feeling so festive now.)

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September 2021 Favourites

Summer is lovely (not that we got much of it,) but there is something I love about the autumn, about how the colour of the leaves change, having a reason to get the warm jumpers out and sitting listening to the rain whilst snuggled up inside.

September was, for me, a little bit of a blur. Having not had a great month in terms of my mental health, finding things that occupied my mind became very important.

So, I have some favourites to share with you.

My first favourite is No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo. OK, this isn’t technically a ‘new’ favourite but it’s a book I’ve heavily been consulting during the past month as I begin to prepare for National Novel Writing Month 2021 which is in 26 days. Eeek!

This book, in my opinion, should be in everyone’s list when getting organised for NaNoWriMo. From developing characters to giving me a week by week guide through the weeks of November, this book won’t leave my side. Anyone else taking part this year? My user name is Laura Parish if anyone wants to be buddies.

It was really hard to pick a favourite book from the month of September. The ones I have read were all so good.

Jane’s Away by Clare Hawken made it to the top spot. It was such an interesting, compelling and unique take on the spouse leaving and Roger goes through quite a transformation. It’s a great novel.
Here’s the blurb and you can read my full review here.

Roger Kurmudge is rather smug about his affluent life and happy marriage.

It’s just as well his wife, Jane, is totally in the dark about what he got up to in the past. But on his retirement day, Jane disappears. Roger’s about to panic. Will he have to sell some shares or – heaven forbid! – the house in Bordeaux to pay a ransom demand? Worse – has Jane discovered his guilty secret?

Then Jane’s emails start arriving. Take the dog to the vet. Look after grandson Alfie for the day. Do the washing, shopping and cooking. Host Christmas for the family. Roger doesn’t know why Jane’s gone but he’s sure he can manage her ‘women’s work’ without any trouble. Although it’s harder than it looks.

As the weeks go by and Jane stays away, Roger is forced to re-examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his life and himself. But even if Roger can change for the better, will Jane ever come back? Or has she, too, been keeping secrets of her own?

My TV favourite for last month is a show called Miracle Workers, based on a book by Simon Rich.

I came across a clip of this show when I’d fallen down one of my many You Tube rabbit holes and immediately wanted to watch more. For anyone who has watched it, it was the clip from series three, in the bar, with one of the characters singing.

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Novel Kicks Book Club: The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling

Hello October. 

October is not only my birthday month, it is also the build up to Halloween and, in my opinion, the real beginning of Autumn.

This month, I wanted to pick a set of books that have been so important to me. So, our book club is reading… Harry Potter.

I think these books are so perfect for the spooky month with it being about witches and wizards and magic and all.

I am going to be focusing on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as this is my favourite. You can read that with me or you can pick whatever Harry Potter book is your favourite. I’m so excited to find out which book is the most popular.

As usual, I have put a question in the comments below to kick off the conversation. Anyone can join our book club, whether you’ve read the books or are yet to read them.

I look forward to discussing this book series with you.

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: 

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

 

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets: 

Harry Potter’s summer has included the worst birthday ever, doomy warnings from a house-elf called Dobby, and rescue from the Dursleys by his friend Ron Weasley in a magical flying car! Back at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his second year, Harry hears strange whispers echo through empty corridors – and then the attacks start. Students are found as though turned to stone… Dobby’s sinister predictions seem to be coming true.

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it’s the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run – and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry’s tea leaves… But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss…

 

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: 

The Triwizard Tournament is to be held at Hogwarts. Only wizards who are over seventeen are allowed to enter – but that doesn’t stop Harry dreaming that he will win the competition. Then at Hallowe’en, when the Goblet of Fire makes its selection, Harry is amazed to find his name is one of those that the magical cup picks out. He will face death-defying tasks, dragons and Dark wizards, but with the help of his best friends, Ron and Hermione, he might just make it through – alive!

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Book Review: The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain

When the manuscript of a debut crime novel arrives at a Parisian publishing house, everyone in the readers’ room is convinced it’s something special. And the committee for France’s highest literary honour, the Prix Goncourt, agrees.

But when the shortlist is announced, there’s a problem for editor Violaine Lepage: she has no idea of the author’s identity. As the police begin to investigate a series of murders strangely reminiscent of those recounted in the book, Violaine is not the only one looking for answers. And, suffering memory blanks following an aeroplane accident, she’s beginning to wonder what role she might play in the story …

*****

A manuscript for a debut crime novel arrives on Violaine Lepage’s desk and everyone agrees that it’s going to be huge. The only problem is, no-one knows who the author is.

This becomes a bigger issue when it’s shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honour.

Also, people start to die in similar circumstances to the novel, the Police come calling and Violaine wonders what part she has to play in everything.

I have become such a fan of Antoine Laurain’s novels and so I was excited to read this one and I was immediately intrigued by the premise.

This book is a mystery. Who is this writer and who is the person murdering people? I got drawn in straightaway, wanting to know who, where and why.

Set at a Publishers in France,  I wanted to be a part of the Readers’ Room team. I could also see myself in the setting. How Antoine Laurain describes the city and Violaine’s workplace and home – it’s all so vivid and beautifully written. I could picture this world through the eyes of these interesting, complicated and relatable characters.

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Book Review: The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Ambition will fuel him.

Competition will drive him.

But power has its price.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuvre his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined – ; every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favour or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

*****

Snow Lands on Top!

Coriolanus Snow is 18 and a student in the Capitol, ten years after the end of the war. With the effects of the war still fresh in the mind of those both Capitol and Districts, the 10th Hunger Games is about to begin. Snow is one of 24 students chosen to be in the first batch of mentors for the incoming tributes.

When he is assigned the girl tribute from District 12, he sees this as the biggest humiliation. Once the games begin however, it becomes a battle for survival both in and out of the arena.

From the time I first read The Hunger Games books and saw the films, I found myself wondering about President Snow and how his story began so when I found out that The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes was going to be from Snow’s perspective, I was excited. Surely he was not born with that much hatred and contempt for the districts?

When we meet Coriolanus, the Snow family are one tax bill away from losing their home. They are as far away from the President’s mansion and riches as they could possibly be. His Grandmother is frail, his Parents dead and his Cousin, Tigris does all she can. Their biggest fear is that someone finds out about their situation and the Snows become a laughing stock. No, they need to keep their secrets.

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Book Extract: The Landlord of Hummingbird House by Jane Harvey

I’m pleased to be welcoming Jane Harvey to Novel Kicks. She’s here with the blog tour for her latest, novel, The Landlord of Hummingbird House.

When April moves into Hummingbird House, she is intrigued by her mysterious landlord, Dai.

With a bruised heart and a distinct lack of furniture, she spends the summer getting to know the other occupants. As she smartens up her home and makes peace with her recent past, she befriends Paul, a solitary ex-chef, and Betty, an elderly lady who lives in the basement flat.

But Hummingbird House holds many secrets, and the relationships of the tenants are not as straightforward as they seem. April learns some shocking truths one eventful night, and realises that victims and villains can look the same.

The Landlord of Hummingbird House is a contemporary novel exploring unlikely friendships, unexpected love interests, and family relationships. Here, everyone is in need of a second chance – and appearances can be deceptive.

 

Jane has kindly shared an extract with us today. Enjoy. 

 

*****beginning of extract*****

 

April (a 32-year-old Primary School teacher) has had to move to a new home following the break-up of her long-term relationship. Immediately before this scene, April and her sister are working away to improve her new rental home. As she works, April starts to dwell on how she renovated her last home, which leads to reflections on the end of the relationship. She has just described how she and Tom seemed to be drifting further apart, and how he was working long hours, following a promotion.

 

Eventually, he invited her to a black-tie do, for his work. April knew the date off by heart for weeks, building this one evening into something special, something that would help to salvage things. Take them back to how they were. They would have a wonderful time. They would laugh and eat and drink. Maybe dance.

She had no idea what to wear at first, and ended up having to get a new dress, and buying sparkly sandals when she couldn’t find heels that she could walk in. She had always had a problem with shoes. They both dressed up: physically pressed and booted; emotionally crumpled and tired. It was the first time they’d been out together in months.

When they were seated, April struggled to make conversation with his colleagues and acquaintances – her work stories revolved around little Jamie’s lost trousers after P.E rather than how the office intern had nearly lost them half a million. She felt like someone’s little sister. Like she’d been asked along by mistake, or out of pity, with her costume jewellery and too-tight Spanx.

It struck her that there was a time when they would have been accomplices at these events – saving each other from dire conversations with dribbling, drunken Non-Executive Directors, or giggling behind menus, thick as thieves. But Tom was off, working the room, and chatting amiably to everyone. It was expected, he said. He had to show his face.

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A Moment With… D.S. Lang

It’s lovely to be welcoming DS Lang to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for her latest novel, A Lethal Arrogance, which is book 3 in the Arabella Stewart Historical Mystery series.

After returning home from her service as a United States Army Signal Corps operator in the Great War, Arabella Stewart’s goal, to save her family’s resort, seems within reach as the summer season progresses. She and her business partner, Mac MacLendon, look forward to re-establishing a successful championship golf tournament, once the signature event of the resort’s year. Problems arise when one of the contestants, an overbearing snob who has created problems at other competitions, clashes with more than one person. When he is found dead, the victim of a suspicious automobile crash, Bella once again helps Jax Hastings, the town constable and her childhood friend, investigate. As they pursue answers, Bella and Jax find several suspects who might have wanted to make the victim suffer for his lethal arrogance.

 

*****

Today, D.S. Lang tells us about the inspiration and research behind her book series. Over to you, D.S. Lang. 

My Arabella Stewart Historical Mystery series takes place shortly after the Great War (World War I). Bella, the main character, was a United States Army Signal Corps operator in France during the conflict. Originally, I planned for Bella to be a nurse. While doing research, I discovered that American nurses needed to be at least twenty-five years old. Since I wanted her to be younger when she volunteered, I searched for other roles available to young women and found that they were accepted into the Signal Corps.

The U.S. entered the war in April 1917. By the end of the year, General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, decided that women were needed to replace male operators, freeing those men for combat duty. About 10,000 ladies applied, and some 200 were chosen. The main requirement was fluency in both English and French. The training, primarily learning to operate complicated switchboards, took place before they sailed for France. The women proved to be highly competent, connecting six calls in the time it took male operators to handle one.

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Book Review: Jane’s Away by Clare Hawken

Roger Kurmudge is rather smug about his affluent life and happy marriage.

It’s just as well his wife, Jane, is totally in the dark about what he got up to in the past. But on his retirement day, Jane disappears. Roger’s about to panic. Will he have to sell some shares or – heaven forbid! – the house in Bordeaux to pay a ransom demand? Worse – has Jane discovered his guilty secret?

Then Jane’s emails start arriving. Take the dog to the vet. Look after grandson Alfie for the day. Do the washing, shopping and cooking. Host Christmas for the family. Roger doesn’t know why Jane’s gone but he’s sure he can manage her ‘women’s work’ without any trouble. Although it’s harder than it looks.

As the weeks go by and Jane stays away, Roger is forced to re-examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his life and himself. But even if Roger can change for the better, will Jane ever come back? Or has she, too, been keeping secrets of her own?

 

*****

Roger is quite pleased with his perfect life. He’s about to retire from a successful business, he has a nice home in Guildford and he has a beautiful and dutiful wife. He has good reason to be smug right? Especially as he’s managed to keep his secret all these years.

When Jane disappears on the day of his retirement and e-mails from her begin to appear, Roger must quickly learn to adapt but Jane’s job of running the house, walking the dog and looking after their grandson should be easy – or so he thinks.

Roger or ‘Woger’ at the start of this story is one of the most frustrating fictional characters I have ever met. He has this attitude that his family are happy purely based on the fact that he’s always provided for them financially and because of this, he feels that he is well liked and respected, both in his personal and professional life. I really wanted to give him a piece of my mind. Haha.

However, as the book progressed, I loved seeing how Roger adapted and began to realise what he had and what he’d taken for granted. There is a wonderful life lesson with this novel and it is tackled well.

The supporting characters are all well rounded and real. Alfie especially was adorable and I really liked Jamie.

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Book Review: The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen

London, 1885

Amelie Hampton is a hopeless romantic, which makes her the perfect columnist to answer lonely heart letters in The Marriage Gazette. When Amelie plays matchmaker with two anonymous lonely hearts, she also decides to secretly observe the couple’s blind date. To her surprise, the man who appears for the rendezvous is Harold Radcliffe–a grieving widower and a member of Amelie’s book club.

Police detective Michael Baker has been struggling ever since his best friend and brother-in-law died in the line of fire. Because he knows the dangers of his job, he has vowed never to marry and subject a wife and family to the uncertainty of his profession. But when he meets Miss Hampton, he is captured by her innocence, beauty, and her quick mind.

When a woman’s body is pulled from the river, Michael suspects the woman’s husband–Harold Radcliffe–of foul play. Amelie refuses to believe that Harold is capable of such violence but agrees to help, imagining it will be like one of her favorite mystery novels. Her social connections and clever observations prove an asset to the case, and Amelie is determined to prove Mr. Radcliffe’s innocence. But the more time Amelie and Michael spend together, the more they trust each other, and the more they realize they are a good team, maybe the perfect match.

They also realize that Mr. Radcliffe is hiding more than one secret, and when his attention turns toward Amelie, Michael knows he must put an end to this case before the woman he loves comes to harm.

*****

London 1885.

Amelie is a hopeless romantic. Detective Michael Baker has vowed never to marry.

When the body of a woman is pulled from the Thames, Michael and Amelie’s paths cross but can romance bloom in the middle of a murder investigation?

Romance and mystery… perfect!

Amelie is a lovely character with the matchmaking interest of Emma Woodhouse, the sweetness of Jane Bennett and the sass of Lizzie Bennett and I loved her. She’s a strong character but at the same time, and like a lot of us, she wants to fall in love and this makes her a little naive when it comes to her own love life. Love can blind you.

Michael is a wonderfully flawed hero. He’s dealing with grief and loss and without realising it, it’s made him lonely and I believe this makes him very relatable. He certainly doesn’t count on meeting Amelie.

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Events: The Desiblitz Literature Festival

Nikesh Shukla

The UK’s leading British South Asian Literary Festival, organised by DESIblitz.com is due to begin on Saturday.

Running from 18th September until 1st October 2021, the Desiblitz Literature Festival aims to champion the work of the UK’s South Asian literary stars as well as raise awareness of the lack of diversity in the UK publishing industry.

Although the festival is designed to encourage young and aspiring British Asian writers, it’s open to all.

Based in Birmingham, the festival will be running a mix of in-person and digital events across the next couple of weeks. Live events will be taking place at The Rep Centre and B Music (formally Symphony Hall,) in the city centre.

As well as workshops, panel events and poetry readings, the festival will showcase 18 leading writers and thinkers of South Asian decent.

People appearing at the event include Imtiaz Dharker, Saima Mir, Serena Patel and Sarfraz Manzoor amongst others.

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NK Chats To… Anne Montgomery

Hello Anne, welcome to Novel Kicks. Can you tell me about your novel, The Castle and what inspired it? 

Why write a novel about rape? For me the reason was personal. While attending college, I was sexually assaulted. I became a statistic. Today, one out of every six women in the United States will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Like 80% of those victims, I never went to the police. Why? I believed they would have blamed me. I was on a date with a sweet-faced farm boy who played for my university’s football team. I’d had a few drinks. I willingly followed him into his dorm room. What did I expect would happen? So, I said nothing.

Years later, I became a teacher at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, a position I held for 20 years.  It was during this time I came to understand another sad statistic: Four out of five rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. I kept meeting young girls who’d been sexually assaulted, always by a family member or friend. Sadly, many of these teens were ostracized by their loved ones when they came forward, told they were lying, or that the assault was their fault.

This prompted me to investigate the behavior and psychology of rapists, the profile of a victim, and the ways sexual assault survivors can heal. The end result was the story of Maggie, a national park ranger who works at Montezuma Castle in Arizona’s Verde Valley. Maggie is recovering from the gang rape she suffered in the Coast Guard. We follow her through her depression, anger, and ultimate healing.

 

What’s your typical writing day like? 

Until I retired from teaching, I only wrote during school breaks, so most of my books were produced during the summer. Now, I generally get some work done every morning and sometimes in the late afternoon, depending on what else I have going on.

 

What are the challenges you found when writing your novel? 

I find the writing is the easy part. I like to tell stories, perhaps a hangover from my previous life as a reporter. The real challenges come when an author tries to convince others—agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, readers—to like their books.

 

Which fictional character would you like to meet and why? 

I find Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt rather appealing. Not only is he pretty hot, but he’s a scuba diver. I am as well. I would love to tag along on some of his underwater adventures.

 

What elements make up a good story? 

The setting is especially important. I consider locale as another character. Most of my stories, for example, take place in Arizona in and around the Sonoran Desert, a magical area filled with rugged, wild terrain and plants and animals that live nowhere else. The land is both magnificently beautiful and horribly treacherous, if one is not careful. Of course, a good story rides on its characters, who must be engaging, interesting, and relatable.

 

Which authors do you admire? 

I don’t have any favorite authors. I read stories that look interesting, whether the author is a well-known for best-sellers or a first-time Indie author.

 

What’s your favourite word and why? 

Favorite word? I don’t know. I like lots of words, but mostly ones that sound funny when you say them, like absorb and nudibranch. (The latter are strange Seussical-like creatures who live in the sea. As I mentioned, I’m a scuba diver.)

 

Any other advice for aspiring writers? 

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NK Chats To: Mick Arnold

A lovely big welcome to Mick Arnold who is here with the blog tour for the second novel in the Broken Wings series. Hi Mick. It’s brilliant to have you back on Novel Kicks. In Wild Blue Yonder, we are back with the girls at the Air Transport Auxiliary. What can we expect from book two? 

Many thanks for having me back Laura. You must be a glutton for punishment!

Well, it’s about six months on from the events in ‘A Wing and a Prayer’ and as usual, fate isn’t being kind to some of the girls.

Exactly when their personal relationships seem to be trotting along nicely, an accusation of theft is laid at their door and though not a taxing mystery, it’s still an unwelcome distraction. There are bombing attacks to withstand from the Luftwaffe, POW husbands and sons to worry about, clothing is still going missing, and one of the girls is still suffering the after effects of being stabbed in books 1, ‘A Wing and a Prayer’. So, an awful lot going on for them to deal with.

 

How has your writing process changed between writing the first and second novel in the series?

Not a lot really. As I didn’t know if I’d be able to get a contract for the first one, I only had the barest of idea about a sequel, so when I was asked for it and after I’d recovered from the minor panic attack, I set to. I’m not a planner, so the process was the same as for the first book. Type away and see what comes to mind. Luckily, something did!

 

How long does it take you to write a book?

So long as I don’t allow myself to get too distracted – damn you YouTube! – I can write a 100K story in about 3 – 4 months. As I tend to edit each chapter as I go along, my first drafts are really somewhere between 2nd and 3rd’s in reality.

 

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

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Book Review: Lil’s Bus Trip by Judy Leigh

It’s always a good time for a road trip…

When 82-year-old Lil decides to book herself, her 65-year-old daughter, Cassie, and her friend Maggie on a bus trip across Europe, she hopes for a little adventure to counteract the monotony of life in sheltered accommodation.

Along with three members of the Salterley Tennis Club and the Jolly Weaver five-a side football team, whose ideas of a good time are rather different to Lil’s and strikingly at odds with each other’s, the merry band of travelers set out on their great adventure.

From moving moments on the beaches of Normandy, outrageous adventures in Amsterdam, to the beauty of Bruges and gastronomic delights of France, the holiday is just the tonic Lil, Maggie and Cassie needed. 

And as the time approaches for them to head home, Lil makes an unexpected discovery – even in her advancing years, men are like buses – there isn’t one for ages then two come along at once. Is Lil ready to share her golden years, and can the ladies embrace the fresh starts that the trip has given them. Or is it just too late to change… 

*****

When 82 year old Lil decides that she needs a holiday, she takes her daughter Cassie and her best friend Maggie along for the ride. Along with a variety of different people, they embark on a mini bus tour of Europe and soon discover that it’s never too late to live and love.

This book, to begin with, was a bit of a slow burner. As there are a few people going on the holiday, it meant that quite a few characters needed to be introduced early on. However, once they actually got going on the holiday, I couldn’t put the book down.

Told mainly from the point of view of Lil and Cassie, it covers their holiday across France, Belgium and Amsterdam with many hilarious, poignant and wonderful moments along the way.

It was interesting to see how all the different personalities interacted, especially as they were all travelling in quite close proximity and were a variety of ages.

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Book Review: Whisper Cottage by Anne Wyn Clark

How well do you know the woman next door?

When Stina and Jack move to an old rural cottage, they’re hoping for a fresh start. Their new home is run-down compared to their neighbour’s, but generous Mrs Barley quickly becomes a friend.

Until Stina sees a mysterious figure in the widow’s garden, and her happy new life begins to unravel. And when she hears strange noises in the night, she is forced to question if Mrs Barley is what she seems.

Why do the other villagers whisper about her? Why is she so eager to help the couple? And what is she hiding in her picture-perfect home?

*****

I love this kind of psychological thriller. One that gets under your skin.

Stina and Jack are soon to be parents and are excited to be escaping the trappings of the city for the rural village of Avoncote. They soon become friends with their elderly neighbour, Mrs Barley.

Then Stina sees a mysterious man in their neighbours garden, she begins to hear noises at night and finds out that other people in the village don’t trust Mrs Barley. Is their new friend what she seems?

From the beginning of this book, you’re drawn into something sinister and this feeling bubbles throughout the novel. The suspense is built up so well that I couldn’t really get a grip on how the story was going to play out.

The characters are well developed and I did find Mrs Barley unsettling. I also didn’t quite know what to make of Jack. Anne Wynn Clark does a good job at driving doubt into the reader, making them feel unsure of all the characters.

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