Thursday 30 June 2016

Outside Looking In (DCI Matilda Darke, Book 2) - Michael Wood

The second book in Michael Wood’s darkly compelling new crime series featuring DCI Matilda Darke. Perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid.
When elderly George Rainsford goes to investigate a suspicious noise one night, the last thing he expects to find is a bloodbath. A man has been killed and a woman brutally beaten, left for dead.
The victims are Lois Craven and Kevin Hardaker – both married, but not to each other. Their spouses swear they knew nothing of the affair and, besides, they both have alibis for the attack. With nothing else to link the victims, the investigation hits a dead end.
The pressure is on for investigating officer, DCI Matilda Darke: there’s a violent killer on the loose, and it looks like her team members are the new targets. With no leads and no suspects, it’s going to take all Matilda’s wits to catch him, before he strikes again.

What did I think?

Michael Wood is certainly picking up quite a following with his DCI Matilda Darke series and I can completely understand why – both books are gripping page turners that had me reading late into the night as my eyes raced to the end of the book before my brain told me I needed to sleep.  Matilda Darke is a tremendous main character - she’s a bit like a boiled egg; she might have a hard exterior but she’s surprisingly fragile.

You could read Outside Looking In as a standalone but you really don’t want to do that!  Once you have read the first book, For Reasons Unknown, I can guarantee that you will be racing to Amazon to buy this one.  Michael Wood has really brought Matilda Darke to life; her thoughts, fears and vulnerabilities are there for us to see, and us alone, as she doesn’t want to show any sign of weakness to her colleagues.

This book starts with a bang as an elderly couple, Mr & Mrs Rainsford, are on their way up to bed with their night time cup of tea.  I knew I was going to love the book when I read that, as I rarely go up to bed without a cuppa (except on a Friday when I might take up a wee dram of something a bit stronger).  As they settle down for the night they hear a car horn in their quiet neighbourhood (aptly named Quiet Lane); then as they listen a bit more closely they realise that it resembles an SOS.  So Mr Rainsford bravely goes out to investigate and he finds a horrifying murder scene: a man lying shot dead beside the road and a woman, barely alive, but religiously pumping out the SOS on the car horn.  As DCI Matilda Darke is called in to investigate, I couldn’t read fast enough to untangle the threads of this mysterious and tragic couple’s story.

I loved the link to For Reasons Unknown as we were reminded of Jonathan Harkness’s love of books.  Matilda seems to revere books almost as much as Jonathan (and all of us bookworms) and I think all books should be printed with Matilda’s warning of ‘..don’t break the spines, fold over the corners or rest your coffee on it.’

Superbly written and full of amazing twists, I did more than gasp out loud at the ending; I not only gasped in shock, but I think I held my breath for longer than I thought possible.  Why Mr Wood, what an intriguing web you weave!  It was well worth every penny of the £1.99 I paid for it from Amazon.

I am happy to release my review as part of the Outside Looking In blog tour.

My rating:

Buy Outside Looking In from Amazon
Buy For Reasons Unknown from Amazon

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Tuesday 28 June 2016

BLOG TOUR: Sweet Breath of Memory - Ariella Cohen

This was one blog tour I didn't want to miss - Sweet Breath of Memory remains one of my favourite books of the year.  You can read my review here but as part of the blog tour, I give Ariella Cohen a warm welcome to my blog as I ask her some questions about her fantastic debut novel.

I would like to welcome Ariella Cohen to my blog as I ask her a few questions about her wonderful book Sweet Breath of Memory. I was privileged to be invited to read this book before it was published and consider it one of my favourite books of 2016.

Q: Ariella, can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel, Sweet Breath of Memory?

Sure; and thanks for inviting me to chat, Michelle. Sheila, the character who owns Vitelli’s Grocery, would say that Sweet Breath of Memory is a bit like her lasagna – colorful comfort food with layers of flavor. Although satisfying enough on their own, those layers are best savored together. The people of fictional Amberley are like that – spicy, meaty characters who work well as a team.
The newcomer to town is war widow Cate who views Amberley as a new page on which to rewrite her life. And remake herself. In the nature of things, Cate becomes a catalyst for change, stirring the pot by shining a light on Amberley’s past.

Q: Can you also tell us a bit about yourself?

That’s always the toughest question! I grew up in suburban New Jersey, the youngest of four. Mum was a single parent who worked all the hours God sent. A librarian and primary school teacher, she filled our house with books. I can’t remember learning how to read so it must have been early on. One of my favorite books as a child was Mister Pine’s Purple House. It tells the story of Mr. Pine who lives at the end of a long block of white houses. After he paints his purple, neighbors follow suit. Mr. Pine then paints his house white. The nonconformity message resonated with me loud and clear – Mum’s doing. She believed that, just as books unlock doors in the mind, education unlocks society’s doors. We were each encouraged to go to university and on to graduate school. I became a lawyer with a large firm in New York City but am now privileged to be a full-time caregiver for Mum.
I’m a self-taught writer; I didn’t study literature at university and I’m not in a writing group. This new profession is both the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done and the toughest. What drives me to revise and rework a project is the desire to give my characters the life they deserve.

Q: What inspired you to write
Sweet Breath of Memory?

I read a lot of lovely prose about women falling to bits when death shreds their lives, but the truth is that most of us DON’T fall apart even after losing the people we love most. We may huddle for a time, sobbing and broken, but then reality knocks. We feel hungry, the dog wants a walk, and the children start crying. So we get up and do the things that need doing. Some days it’s a matter of two steps forward, one step back. Others, we’re virtual zombies. But we keep moving forward; we’re animals, after all, bred for survival. Although a source of pride, this rebuilding rests on a foundation of guilt, for we question whether our ability to move on means our love was somehow flawed. How can we continue living after the death of a loved one? How can the world keep spinning and birds keep chirping? The novel explores these questions in a number of ways.

Q: There are many unique characters in the book. Can you tell us who is your favourite character and why?

My ‘favorite’ tends to change with my mood. At the moment, I’m gravitating toward MaryLou, the always-speak-your-mind iconoclast. MaryLou’s a risk-taker who gambles on love and tells the truth even when it costs her. She’s funny, a loyal friend and lots of fun. Her unfiltered personality was a joy to write, as she represses nothing. And she’s also a skilled mechanic – something that is completely beyond me. MaryLou is the sort of friend you would go into combat with; just don’t eat lunch with her, as she’ll steal the food from your plate!

Q: Each character is very well developed with their own story to be told. How long did it take you to research and write your book?

Quite some time as the characters developed over many years. I initially wrote so many characters that Amberley got a bit overcrowded. Sadly, those who didn’t make the cut are waiting on the literary sidelines – a binder on my kitchen table. I plan to spring them from captivity for the sequel.

Developing Miriam’s storyline took time; she’s a Holocaust survivor and I was concerned that her narrative might overshadow the rest. It was a balancing act of sorts to intertwine her tale with so many others.

Q: Sweet Breath of Memory deals with some very difficult subjects; such as the war in Iraq and the Holocaust. How difficult was it for you to write?

Those were the toughest bits of the book, both due to the subject matter and because I wanted the novel to be issue and voice driven. My goal was a book club title that celebrates the timeless value of community and addresses timely issues of war and its aftermath. Regarding the Holocaust, I tried to narrow the focus such that the detail wouldn’t be overwhelming. There’s a takeaway, but it’s one that readers should be able to carry without feeling too weighed down, if you take my meaning. The challenge with respect to the Iraq War was quite different as I decided to explore its inherent ambiguity – were our allies really allies; are children culpable for terrorist acts; does combat fundamentally change a soldier or simply strip him to the core? Unlike the moral certainty underpinning America’s struggle in WWII, the Iraq conflict was coloured in shades of grey. As the goal posts moved and the rules of engagement shifted, victory and defeat were redefined, sometimes daily. That sense of uncertainty was tough to fit on the page.

Q: If Sweet Breath of Memory was made into a film or TV series, who would you like to see in the cast?

Protagonist war widow, Cate – Emily Blunt, Sandra Bullock or Drew Barrymore. Each has that wonderful combination of vulnerable and feistiness.

Father Sullivan – My first choice is Alan Alda. Liam Neeson could also do it quite well and it would be nice to see him in a nonviolent role. Richard Gere would make an awesome priest.
Amberley’s ornery ex-mayor and matriarch, Beatrice – Helen Mirren or Olympia Dukakis.
Italian grocery owner, Sheila – Katey Sagal – an American TV actress who would be perfect for the role.  (Brilliant choice, Ariella - Katey is known for playing Gemma in Sons of Anarchy but I'll always think of her as Peg in Married...with Children)
Empathetic diner owner, Gaby – ONLY Cate Blanchett. If she’s not available, we wait until she is.
Tough-as-nails mechanic, MaryLou – Susan Sarandon.
Hardware store owner, Peter – Scott Glenn.

Q: I missed the characters terribly when I finished the book; will we be revisiting Amberley again in the future?

Yes! I’m hard at work on the sequel. All the Amberley folks will be back, although a funeral and a wedding will reshape the town. New businesses will open and we’ll meet three new characters:
- Sara, Sheila’s chef daughter, who finds herself unexpectedly back in her hometown coping with her parents’ expectations and her own disappointments.
- Penny, a victim of spousal abuse who finds refuge in the ordered universe of accounting because, “Numbers are solid things that don’t need talking to or tending. They can’t be twisted around like words. The colour bleeds out of words when the people who said them change. But numbers – they stay put. Always add up.”
- Ben, a mechanic who works for MaryLou. Ben is mute and a favorite of the Amberley Diner’s owner who observes that, “Although what most people said wasn’t worth listening to, there was a quality to Ben’s silence one couldn’t hear anywhere else.”

Thank you very much for answering my questions and good luck with your book.

Thank you, Michelle!

Don't wait a minute longer - you MUST buy this book!  Head over to any of the retailers below and add to your basket.

About Ariella

Ariella Cohen is a graduate of Columbia University, the Hebrew University and the University of Michigan Law School.  Although she makes her home in New England, her dream self resides in County Mayo, Ireland.  She believes in the healing power of cat purrs, coffee and almond cookies.  Sweet Breath of Memory is her debut novel and she's hard at work on the sequel.


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Monday 27 June 2016

BLOG TOUR: Elizabeth Just 16 - Cecilia Paul

When I was offered a book to read about a syndrome I had never heard of, I had no idea how distressing this disorder would be for sufferers of Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH).  Cecilia Paul, through Elizabeth Just 16, has certainly given sufferers hope and opened the eyes of people who would otherwise have had no knowledge of this cruel disorder.

As I am the opening stop on the Blog Tour, I asked Cecilia Paul to tell us about Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome.  I have also released my review of Elizabeth Just 16, which you can read at the end of Cecilia's piece or on the next blog post.

What is Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH)?
-by Cecilia Paul, author of Elizabeth Just 16

Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH) is a congenital (born with) disorder, affecting the female reproductive system, resulting in some women being born without or with an under-developed womb, cervix and vagina. It was named after the doctors who discovered the syndrome but, sometimes it is also known as Müllerian Agenesis or Rokitansky syndrome.

MRKH is an unusual but not a rare condition and, occurs in 1 in 4,500 newborn girls of the population, according to current statistics. The diagnosis is commonly made when the girls have not started their periods by the age of sixteen - they have no wombs and therefore they will not menstruate. They have normal functioning ovaries, which produce their female hormones so they develop their secondary sexual characteristics (breasts, body hair and external genitalia) normally at puberty. They are females because they have a female chromosome pattern, 46XX, which is easily confirmed by doing a special blood test.

MRKH is also associated with other congenital abnormalities - 40% of the women have renal anomalies like a single or pelvic kidney. Some women have some hearing loss or impairment and some have spinal or limb abnormalities. Occasionally, a few women might also have rudimentary uterine horns (under-developed wombs), which can cause abdominal pain so these need to be surgically removed using a simple laparoscopic procedure. Otherwise, most women only need an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), a type of scan, to confirm the diagnosis. The women usually have a vaginal dimple and, will need a vaginal examination to assess this before treatment for their under-developed vagina. The first line treatment recommended is non-surgical dilator therapy, (using special graduated-sized cylindrical dilators or rods). When treatment is successfully completed, it will enable them to be sexually active. A study also proved that their sexual activity and satisfaction was normal when compared to other women. A few women experienced pain, which was resolved when they used some lubricants like lubricating gels. Surgery is another treatment to create their vaginas but is less commonly performed nowadays, as this should only be done if dilator treatment is unsuccessful.

The cause of MRKH is unknown but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors that causes some women’s Müllerian duct to not develop completely. The inheritance trait is also unclear and, no genes have been identified or associated with this syndrome as yet, so it is important for the women to know that they were born with it and they had not done anything to affect or cause it.

The psychological impact of MRKH on the women is hugely complex and affects their whole being. Understandably, they are frightened and confused and, feel ashamed of their abnormality so they are terrified of anyone finding out that they are different. Therefore, their appropriate management should incorporate both the physical correction of their under-developed vaginas and the psychological support to help them come to terms with their beliefs about their femininity, self-worth and womanhood and their inability to bear their own children. It is vital that the women are treated by specialists with such expertise and, at centres that cater to their needs and, that also provide a wide range of contact support system to enable them a better chance of living and leading normal lives.

The fertility options currently available to women with MRKH are Adoption and IVF Surrogacy. Many women have successfully had their families using both methods. The latter involves InVitro Fertilisation using the (MRKH) woman’s eggs and her partner’s sperms and then implanting the embryo into the surrogate mother of their choosing to carry their baby for them. The baby is therefore genetically hers and her partner’s even though the surrogate is the biological mother. There are recent developments in uterine transplants but these are still largely experimental although in October 2014, a woman with MRKH in Sweden became the first woman to successfully give birth to a baby boy albeit that he was delivered prematurely because of health risks to both mother and baby. This is very hopeful progress but it is not without health and safety risks and why it is not available to everyone yet.

About Cecilia Paul
Based in London, Cecilia Paul has worked for the NHS, in the field of gynaecology for over twenty years and, where she later worked within a specialist team, specialising in congenital disorders of the genital tract. Together, they have treated hundreds of women with this unusual congenital syndrome, MRKH. Now retired, and with a wealth of knowledge under her belt, Cecilia has been inspired to write her first novel dealing with this little-known syndrome hoping to bring awareness and understanding into the public sphere. Furthermore, as she has retired, she would like to encourage these women to get the appropriate help from specialist centres, that can provide them with a holistic support and treatment. Elizabeth Just 16 by Cecilia Paul (published by Clink Street Publishing 28th June 2016) is available to purchase from online retailers including and to order from all good bookstores.

What did I think?

Elizabeth is just 16 when she is diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), which is a genetic disorder that affects the female reproductive system.  When Elizabeth doesn’t start her periods, she is taken to her GP.  On examination, it was found that she didn’t have a vagina or uterus and she is understandably confused and upset.  Elizabeth doesn’t think that she can possibly call herself a girl when the very things that make us female are absent.  Thankfully, she has a very supportive family when she investigates treatment options to help her cope with her MRKH.

It was so sad to read about Elizabeth calling herself a freak and dreaming of simply being normal.  What is ‘normal’ anyway?  As human beings, we come in all shapes and sizes and I like to think that, with education, we are a lot more accommodating and understanding of people who may be different.  Unfortunately, devastating incurable genetic disorders seem to be touching more and more families’ lives these days, mine included.  So although this was completely devastating for Elizabeth, I struggled to completely sympathise with her, due to my own family's recent experience with a lethal genetic disorder, as it was always in the back of my mind that at least her disorder wasn’t a death sentence.

Although I found the book to be a bit padded at times (wow, the Appletons really like their food), I think this book will be a great encouragement to MRKH sufferers, especially those women who are suffering in silence and are too embarrassed to talk about their condition.  There is hope!

I received this e-book from Authoright in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

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Sunday 26 June 2016

Elizabeth Just 16 - Cecilia Paul

Elizabeth Appleton is a sweet and easy-going adolescent. But as she turns sixteen, she discovers something so devastating about herself that her whole world is turned upside down. Elizabeth has been born without a womb or a vagina and is diagnosed with MRKH, an unusual congenital disorder that affects the female reproductive tract. Frightened and confused, Elizabeth must struggle to understand how she can still be a girl but no longer a 'normal' one. As she questions everyone and everything around her - her burgeoning sexuality, her gender, her hopes for the future - Elizabeth must fight against the shame and betrayal she feels if she is to ever become the woman she has always hoped to be.

In her first novel, Cecilia Paul, now a retired expert in the field of MRKH, sensitively explores and illuminates this complex and often emotionally fraught medical condition, in order to raise public awareness of MRKH and to support those affected by it.

What did I think?

Elizabeth is just 16 when she is diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), which is a genetic disorder that affects the female reproductive system.  When Elizabeth doesn’t start her periods, she is taken to her GP.  On examination, it was found that she didn’t have a vagina or uterus and she is understandably confused and upset.  Elizabeth doesn’t think that she can possibly call herself a girl when the very things that make us female are absent.  Thankfully, she has a very supportive family when she investigates treatment options to help her cope with her MRKH.

It was so sad to read about Elizabeth calling herself a freak and dreaming of simply being normal.  What is ‘normal’ anyway?  As human beings, we come in all shapes and sizes and I like to think that, with education, we are a lot more accommodating and understanding of people who may be different.  Unfortunately, devastating incurable genetic disorders seem to be touching more and more families’ lives these days, mine included.  So although this was completely devastating for Elizabeth, I struggled to completely sympathise with her, due to my own family's recent experience with a lethal genetic disorder, as it was always in the back of my mind that at least her disorder wasn’t a death sentence.

Although I found the book to be a bit padded at times (wow, the Appletons really like their food), I think this book will be a great encouragement to MRKH sufferers, especially those women who are suffering in silence and are too embarrassed to talk about their condition.  There is hope!

I received this e-book from Authoright in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Valentina - S.E. Lynes

When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.
But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane...
That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina.
She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she? As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears...

What did I think?

This was a psychological thriller and a half.  With mysterious characters and plenty of twists, albeit some were guessable but no less enjoyable, it had me turning page after page until I had devoured every last word.  It left me reeling and wondering just how well we really know the ones we love.

For Shona it is love at first sight when she first sees Mikey but unfortunately he’s not single, although his relationship is apparently on rocky ground.  When his relationship does break up, Shona agrees to go out with him and the rest, as they say, is history.  Only this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

When Mikey gets a job offshore, Shona and their daughter, Isla, move to Aberdeen.  Mikey has chosen a little cottage in the middle of nowhere which at first seems idyllic until Shona realises how vulnerable she is in this remote area.  Shona wants to make friends so she enrols Isla in a trial at a nursery; it is there that she meets the vivacious enigma, Valentina, who is also trialling the nursery for her son, Zac.  With babies the same age in common, they immediately hit it off and Shona invites Valentina to the cottage.  Although they appear to be friends, it isn’t long before Valentina seems to be taking advantage of Shona, leaving the baby for Shona to look after and always finding an excuse as to why Shona can’t meet her husband, the mysterious ‘Red’. 

There were lots of questions floating around my head when I was reading this book.  Why does Shona call Mikey her husband when they aren’t married?  Why aren’t they married?  Where is Valentina’s husband?  Does he even exist?  Just who is Valentina?  With so many questions, it was no wonder I kept wanting to read one more chapter.  I just had to find the answers and I couldn’t contemplate thinking of anything else until I found out how this story would end.

As debuts go, this is one of the best.  It really crept under my skin and made me question everything I had read.  I was fascinated by the change in Shona – she went from being a tough cookie standing up to people in the street to being scared to be on her own in the cottage.  She almost lost her identity by trusting and believing in the man she knew as her husband.  As her rose coloured glasses are ripped from her eyes, all the pieces of the puzzle slot into place and she finally sees Mikey for who he really is.  Who will be left standing at the end?

An absolutely gripping story – Valentina is completely enthralling from start to finish.  This is a debut of such exceptional quality and I am eager to see what S.E. Lynes has in store for us next.

I received this e-book from the publisher, Blackbird, in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

I am delighted to release my review as part of the Valentina blog tour.  Please make sure you follow the tour for some amazing reviews of this captivating book.

Friday 24 June 2016

BLOG TOUR: Peanuts & Eggcups - Sara Mendes da Costa

I was really impressed with Sara Mendes da Costa's debut Peanuts & Eggcups so I was more than happy to join the Blog Tour and I have an amazing guest post from Sara.  Sara is the current voice of the BT Speaking Clock and when she's not telling us the time, she's writing her fabulous books.

You can read my review after Sara's guest post on her journey from voice artist to author and please do make sure to stop by the other blogs on the tour.

My journey from telemarketer to Voice Artist to Speaking Clock & to Author by Sara Mendes da Costa

Before I did what I do now, I ran my own little B2B telemarketing company – for my sins – and wow was I beginning to hate it! I had people in and out of my house (my office) every day. It was no longer a home, it was a business I slept in. And I had no space…I couldn’t breathe properly with the stress. I knew things needed to change – they had to change I was getting really ill and low – and one day I caught myself sitting on the sofa, clutching my knees and rocking back and forth, feeling like a caged animal. At that point at that very moment, I knew the time I had come; I had to do things differently, and I was the only one who could make that happen.

I called up my co-director Richard and said ‘Hey, you know you left your well-paid job in London in order to come and join my small set up…well, we need to talk!’ Luckily he was my best friend and understood that health and happiness came first and we needed to wind down the company. A couple of days later I called everyone off the phones and gave them the news, explaining I was gradually going to cease trading, that I didn’t want this anymore that it was making me ill and I wanted, I needed, to be creative. I gave them all three months’ notice and set about planning my future.

At that point I decided to seek the help and support of a wonderful life coach. Bit by bit she helped me to see who I was and what I wanted in life. I wanted to use my voice and I wanted to write. And she said, ‘You know what Sara, when you talk about being a writer, an author, you come alive!’ And I really heard that. So I made a plan. I was going to keep on a couple of telemarketing clients to keep the wolves from the door and I was going to do whatever I could to get myself into voiceover work – after all, with my telemarketing experience, I would be able to pick up the phone and clients would literally hear what I had to sell – my voice! But the driving force was writing. I wanted to eventually migrate from telemarketing to voiceover work and then voiceover work would (I hoped) continue to support me whilst I became a writer. And I’m happy to say that’s pretty much what happened.

I invested a lot of time (and a fair amount of money) building my voiceover business and luckily people started booking me, rebooking me and then recommending me. All the while I was single – six years single – and during that time I started writing in my spare time. That’s when I began really learning my craft and finding my voice. I travelled to Spain to write; first for a week and then for five weeks to write Peanuts & Eggcups. After the second trip, I came home and realised I’d literally galloped through the second half of the book and needed to do a lot of ‘filling in’ and to be honest, those five weeks in Spain, whilst amazing, were only the beginning of my writing journey. They gave me the head space to allow my ideas to really flow…but I was impatient to finish and I needed to properly apply myself and learn patience. Once home I got on with the voiceover career and continued writing – evenings and weekends. And I loved it. It was the one thing I did that I could lose myself in for hours without being aware of time. Eventually there came the hard part – finding an agent. As a writer, you need to get ready for rejections. Sometimes people get lucky with something that smacks an agent round the head and is just what they want at the right time but it’s tough when there are so many budding authors trying to get agents’ and publishers’ attention. So it took me a little while to get an agent. Then I got one who loved my work but then he became somewhat disillusioned with the changing ways of the industry so he changed direction and I moved on.

After a while, Derek, a previous telemarketing client, got in touch needing a voiceover artist. He worked just around the corner and came in for a cuppa. During that meeting in my kitchen, I talked about my novel and wonderfully Derek said he knew someone in the publishing industry. Well, it went from there really. He made an email introduction and the guy, John, got in touch. He wasn’t an agent but he knew an agent. I dropped my m/s round to John and he, in turn, passed it on to his contact Annette. I waited and I waited and I waited. Then I got a call from Derek who’d just come away from playing a round of golf with John who’d said that Annette had read my work and thought it was really, really good. Can you imagine how amazing that felt! Someone in the industry, a professional, loved my work! I was on cloud nine. Apparently she was going to call but I was to act surprised. I could do that! I would do whatever it took! So once again I waited and I waited…and I waited. But no call! In the end I wrote to Annette. She’d had other things going on in her life but said she’d like to meet. We met in Café Rouge in London’s Victoria Station and had a lovely lunch (with a fair amount of liquid!) got on really well, and it was all systems go! The whole process took a while but after a spell she set her new literary agency - A for Authors - and her colleague Bill joined her and together they took me on as their client. There was more writing, editing, rewriting, reading, editing etc. etc. …and then with a professional team involved and I was on my way.

So, after a lot of years and an awful lot of patience, here I am with Peanuts & Eggcups out there as my debut novel. It’s a wonderful, wonderful, feeling (scary too I must admit!) But I do feel pretty blessed. I’m still doing the voice work – I’ll likely do that for many years to come and there are two more novels on their way next year: Time and Time Again and Maggie Ever After - a sequel to Peanuts & Eggcups…plus a third novel in the planning stages called Accidentally Alice.

Looking back, it all seems like a bit of a dream. Sure, it has been hard work, but once I’d dumped the stuff I hated – and could breathe and be happy and healthy again – it was just about following my dreams and that can only be a good thing – for us all. I intend to follow my heart always now and happiness and freedom are key. So, the next step I hope will be to travel more and take my work with me. For me, not much would beat being up a mountain somewhere or looking out to sea or over a lake…or anywhere beautiful ….and dreaming and writing! So I’m going to set my mind to that focus, and see what unravels over the next decade

A little bit about the book:

For Maggie Parsons there’s only ever been one man: the stunningly delicious Luke Henderson. Unfortunately, he left her, without explanation, after their ‘first night’ together …breaking her heart in the process.

Now ten years on, without any contact, he’s back and going to her school reunion. Great! And, to confuse matters…so is his suave, sexy, brother Tony who makes a major play for Maggie, then turns up with his insufferable - supposedly ex – fiancée!

Via the reunion, a black eye, getting the sack (as a result) a madcap girlie holiday and juggling her confused emotions around the two alluring brothers…Maggie starts to build a picture of what she really wants in life.

Trouble is, Maggie’s a pawn in a game she doesn’t even know she’s playing …and things are about to get a whole lot more complicated. 

What did I think?

At a hefty 727 pages long (10 hours on kindle) I felt a little daunted about tackling this book, but I needn't have worried.  The pages absolutely flew by as I read about Maggie's trials and tribulations and felt like I ended the book as one of her close friends. 

I think you could guess from its size that this isn't simply a no-brainer chick lit book and I really must raise my glass to Sara Mendes da Costa on her epic debut; she has really allowed the reader to fully immerse themselves in the book and be part of Maggie's story.  I absolutely loved the writing style and regularly laughed out loud at Maggie's escapades that sometimes resonated all too frighteningly well with me.

Maggie and Catherine have been best friends since school, together with Jenny and Pauline they form a close knit group of four.  As they arrange to meet up at their school reunion, Maggie is worried about bumping into her old flame (and Jenny's brother), Luke, so she contemplates missing the event.  As her friends talk her into going, she is disappointed to learn that Luke will not be there so in the spirit of having a good time she flirts with some old pals, including Luke's brother, Tony.  When things get a bit more serious with Tony, Maggie has to decide whether she really likes Tony or whether he simply reminds her of Luke.

Aside from Maggie's story, there are some excellent storylines for the other characters; Catherine is searching for true love and saving her virginity for 'The One'; Jenny has had an affair with a married man and has bowed out after the wife announced her pregnancy; and Pauline is stumping doctors with a mystery illness and has an unsympathetic husband who doesn't seem to be interested in her health.

As a debut, this is a really exceptional novel and I can't wait to see if we'll hear some more from this group of friends.  There are some absolutely hilarious moments that did literally have me laughing out loud.  I'm not going to spoil any of the book but I am still laughing thinking about Maggie at the dentist.  When the dentist announces that she needs four fillings and a crown, whilst all his tools are in her mouth, she answers with "Huck" and I almost choked.  Why do dentists ask questions when we can't move our mouths?  I also have to give a shout out to my football team, Sunderland, for getting a small mention.  Not in a hilarious way, surprisingly ;-)

This would be a great holiday read, keeping you entertained for hours as you soak up the sun.  Of course there are some predictable elements, but at that point we care so much about the characters that it's exactly what we want to read.  Peanuts & Eggcups is an absolutely delightful read and, despite its mammoth size, I didn't want it to finish.  

I received this e-book from Authoright in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

Available from Amazon UK

About Sara Mendes da Costa

Sara Mendes da Costa is the voice of the BT Speaking Clock; the fourth person to hold this prestigious title since 1936.

A successful, world-renowned voiceover artist, her dulcet tones are easily recognisable on television, radio, film and across countless media.

Never far from the press, she’s known for her appearances on BBC Breakfast, ITV This Morning, Children in Need, Wake up to Wogan and The Today Programme, and balances her prolific voiceover career with her passion and commitment as a novelist.

Peanuts & Eggcups, her debut novel - hotly anticipated by the industry - is “The perfect & highly addictive reading companion for women’s fiction fans”. `

A lover of laughter, creativity, great storytelling and a wee dram, Sara adores writing novels and seeks to entertain, uplift and inspire.

Her upcoming novels: Time & Time Again & Maggie Ever After, are expected in 2017.


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Thursday 23 June 2016

The Optician's Wife - Betsy Reavley

Can you ever really know someone?
When Deborah, an unpopular seventeen-year-old, meets the charming and handsome Larry, he sweeps her off her feet. The trouble is Larry has a secret.
Then a series of grisly murders cast a shadow over everything.
As Deborah’s world starts to fall apart she begins to suspect the man she loves of a terrible betrayal. And to keep their marriage alive, sacrifices must be made.
A compelling, psychological thriller that unpicks what goes on behind closed doors and reminds us that sometimes the worst crimes can take place closer to home than you think.
What did I think?

Although I have a gargantuan ‘To Be Read’ pile, I just couldn’t resist The Optician’s Wife after seeing lots of excited tweets about it.  So I promptly hot-footed it over to Amazon and picked up a copy from the kindle lending library.  I read it within a few hours as my eyes glued themselves to my kindle (no doubt holding onto the kindle for dear life, in fear of being ripped out).

I did literally read this in one sitting and as I gasped at the ending and finally turned my bedside light out, my eyes remained open, staring at the ceiling.  It took a little while for my heartbeat to get back to normal and I eventually drifted off to the land of nod, dreaming of floating eyeballs and buried bodies (nice).

Deborah, known as 'Dee', has a boring job in Woolworths and heads down to the river at lunchtime every day to eat her prawn sandwich.  One day she meets Larry, an optician, and is amazed that he seems interested in her, in spite of her unattractive Woolworths navy polyester tabard.  I wore exactly the same one when I was a Saturday worker back in the early 90’s, so I know just how sexy they were.

Dee seems a little naïve at first and does whatever Larry tells her to do.  They inevitably get married and have children, then turn into something that wouldn't look out of place on The Jeremy Kyle Show.  The poor children are left to fend for themselves whilst their parents run their dodgy ‘business’ and an abundance of shady characters filter through the house.  Then bodies of people tenuously linked to the couple start turning up in the river with their eyeballs ripped out, leaving the police hunting a suspected serial killer.  As bodies start appearing closer to home, the police move in and the killer has nowhere to hide.

Written at a pace comparable to the speed of light, The Optician’s Wife will either have you up all night reading or awake all night trying to avoid dreaming of severed eyeballs.  Creepy and shocking, it has a stomach churning ending that I will not forget in a hurry.  I’ll definitely be looking out for more books by Betsy Reavley and recommend this one to any thriller lover with a healthy constitution.

My rating: