#TuesdayBookBlog ‘The Cellar’ by Minette Walters #BookReviews #AmReading #Audible

I became a fan of Minette Walters in the nineties, after reading her first novel, The Ice House (1992), I also r

ead The Sculptress, The Scold’s Bridal and many more.

I didn’t write reviews at that time, but I loved her carefully crafted crime thrillers, the way the characters came to life, the unexpected twists, and how there was also a hint of romance. If you haven’t read them yet, and enjoy detective fiction, check them out.

I hadn’t read any of her novels in over a decade, and when I came across The Cellar, published in 2015, I decided to read what she was writing almost 23 years after her first novel.

Blurb

The terrifying Hammer novella by Minette Walters, bestselling author of The Sculptress and The Scold’s Bridle

Muna’s bedroom is a dark windowless cellar and her activities are confined to cooking and cleaning. She’s grown used to being maltreated by the Songoli family; to being a slave.

She’s never been outside, doesn’t know how to read or write, and cannot speak English.

At least that’s what the Songolis believe.

But Muna is far cleverer – and her plans more terrifying – than the Songolis, or anyone else, can ever imagine …     

My review

The Cellar is not a long novel, at about 250 pages, but I wouldn’t call it a novella. I didn’t feel I was reading a short story or brief account. It’s a fully fleshed novel from start to finish.

Although crimes are committed in this novel, and the perpetrator is unknown until the final part, I did find it very different to her original crime novels, whose main interest was solving a crime. The Cellar is not concerned with how the detectives discover the culprit or how this person is brought to justice and equilibrium is restored. The Cellar points a finger at all of us, because it is concerned with why and how events occurred and no one even cares enough to take notice.

The Cellar is an extremely dark, psychological thriller, bordering on horror. At the same time, it’s a  contemporary account of cultural misunderstandings and the challenges of immigration on both immigrants and the receiving country. It also deals with sensitive topics such as sexual and emotional abuse, domestic abuse, parenting, corruption in our legal system and psychological illness.

Ultimately, it raises more questions than it answers, about our welfare state, our consciences, and how we protect the children living in our modern western countries, independently of their country of origin.

It’s not an easy read due to the subject matter and because there’s no one to root for in the long-term; main and secondary characters were all unlikable, uncaring, inefficient, unstable or downright evil.

And yet, it’s a terrific novel. I was totally immersed in Muna’s dreadful world. I’m glad Minette Walters disturbed me enough to make me think and rethink about the complex and controversial issues the novel brings up.

I listened to the audio version, which was brilliantly read, right to the chilling ending.

Buy Links Minette Walters novels US

Buy Links Minette Walters novels UK

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Minette Walters has recently published a historical novel set in the 14th century, The Last Hours, which I’ve just Downloaded onto my kindle, and is currently bestseller on Amazon UK.

Buy link The Dark Hours 

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Have you read any of Minette Walters’ novels?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman #TuesdayBookBlog #amreading #Bookreviews

Eleanor Oliphant is completely Fine is one of those exceptional, unsettling and ultimately uplifting novels a reader never forgets.

It’s a special novel that made me feel a multitude of contradictory and strong emotions; optimism, devastation, shock and joy, but overall enthusiasm and positive energy.

Eleanor is definitely not fine. The reader will walk in her shoes and gradually discover why she’s not fine and what, if anything, she can do about it.

Amazon UK Buy link

Eleanor is a unique and engaging narrator. She’s honest, naive and very lonely, and at the beginning she’s also insensitive and infuriating!

She’s hard-working and efficient, but lacks social skills, because she’s physically and emotionally scarred. There’s a dreadful reason for her detachment from others, which the reader suspects and is very gradually unveiled throughout the compelling narrative.

There are some twists in the story, mainly due to Eleanor’s unpredictable actions and reactions to events, but my main reason for turning the pages avidly was because I cared about Eleanor and hoped she would find a way to recover from her agony and alienation. 

In spite of the traumatic subject matter, it is an optimistic novel of hope, love and second chances. There is a great deal of comic relief, too, and a touching romance.

Eleanor is able to start moving on thanks to the unexpected friendship of a colleague and a wonderful case of serendipity. Sammy is an endearing character who has a short but vital role is Eleanor’s awakening and recovery.

Eleanor and Raymond are unforgettable characters brought to life in a unique and beautifully narrated, heart-wrenching story with an uplifting ending. I can’t stop recommending it to my friends.

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According to Deadline.com Reese Witherspoon’s new company Hello Sunshine has set up to produce Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

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Blurb

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . 

I listened to the audio version, which I really enjoyed, and now I have my paperback copy on my proud bookshelf, ready to be enjoyed all over again, because Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine is a truly wonderful novel to be read and reread.

Rough Writers World Tour #Flash Fiction Anthology. How to Make Every Word Count #TuesdayBookBlog  

Writing is often a solitary endeavour, so supportive writing communities, like the Rough Writers at Carrot Ranch, led by Charli Mills, are invaluable to authors.

They’re a safe place where we can express our creativity, receive and offer feedback, and feel we belong to a greater worldwide community we would never be able to reach on our own.

Rough Writers are an encouraging and friendly group who often comment on each other’s flash fiction. There are usually lively discussions on the weekly prompt day and the round-up, as well as comments on each other’s posts.

My first contribution to the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge was in February 2015. It’s been a great pleasure to have contributed with almost fifty stories over the past three years and to have read hundreds of other stories. I’m always amazed at how many different approaches the rough writers come up with to the same topic!

The first flash fiction anthology from Charli’s Rough Writers over at The Carrot Ranch was published in February, 2018. I am honored to have been part of that anthology, which was made possible by the participation of over thirty regular contributors to Carrot Ranch’s weekly Challenge, as well as Charli’s enthusiasm as group leader.

A very special mention and thanks to Sarah Brentyn, the fabulous editor of the volume, who made sure all our contributions were perfect (she certainly helped me make the most of mine! Thank you Sarah).

The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1 is available for distribution in 17 countries worldwide.
It’s available now in print and e-book versions: preferably via book baby; and also on Amazon US, Amazon UK

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I’d like to share with you the one most important lesson I’ve learnt from writing Flash Fiction:

Make every word count.

The more I unclutter and draw my readers straight into the story, the higher the chances they’ll keep reading.

Contemporary readers are both busy and impatient, and their attention spans are shorter, because they’re more used to multitasking and online reading. I know this because I’m also a contemporary reader and I interact with many others! A great deal has been written about this, for example this article in the Guardian, Ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write.

Writing flash fiction (and poetry, but that’s for another post!) have both increased my confidence as a writer by:

· Improving my writing style,

· Enhancing my creativity, and

· Boosting my word power.

How to Make Every Word Count?

Whatever I’m writing, be it a poem, a flash or a novel, the first draft is all about finding and creating my story, so I write to my heart’s content, the more words and information the better, because at this point, I’m telling the story to myself.

It’s later, with the subsequent edits, when I start thinking of my readers, that I edit consciously and viciously. I ditch or combine scenes, shorten paragraphs and chapters, tighten sentences and ultimately, cut out words, or rephrase to clarify and get to the point.

In flash fiction, for example, a lot of the first draft will be brainstorming ideas, scenes, whole sentences, ignoring the word count.

Once I’ve completed my first draft, I start again and ask myself these questions about every single word:

· Does the word move the story on?

· Does the word tell the reader something essential?

· If I read the text without the word does the sentence still convey my intended meaning?

· Can I include the idea behind the word in another shorter way, for example with another expression or a different verb?

· Is there a more direct and clearer way of writing a sentence?

· Am I satisfied that each word conveys my intended meaning? There’s always a perfect word and I need to find it. I still have my original Roget’s Thesaurus, which I bought in 1980 on my desk, plus all the online tools available to activate all the vocabulary my brainpower can recall.

· Finally, I prioritize. I may need all the words, but I have a word limit. I must decide which words, or groups of words, even whole lines, are more essential than others to convey my meaning.

This is why it takes me less than thirty minutes to write the first draft of a flash or poem and several hours, often days, to come up with the final version.

With a novel it takes me about three months to write a first draft and at least six more for the subsequent drafts and edits.

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Before concluding, I’d like to indulge in a short trip down memory lane and include my first contribution to the Carrot Ranch 99-word Challenge.

Aunt Lucy (Published on 9th February, 2015).

“Your sister should have married.”
“She’s perfectly happy on her own.”
“I suppose you can’t blame anyone for not wanting to live with her, can you?”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s as mad as a hatter.”
“What a horrible thing to say! She’s not mad. She’s just different.”
“Look at her clothes and her sixty-year-old hippy friends. They still smoke pot, for crying out loud! Thank God we had the sense to adopt her child so she could have a normal life.”
The door opened.
“I wondered when you were going to tell me Aunt Lucy was my mother.”
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Here are my other contributions to Carrot Ranch’s Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge

Here’s a previous post I wrote about how flash fiction has improved my writing.

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You might enjoy visiting these other Rough Writers who have taken part in the book launch and tell us about how flash fiction has influenced their writing.

Irene Waters in Australia

Susan Zutautas in Canada

Norah Colvin in Australia

Sherri Matthews in the UK

Sacha Black in the UK

Ann Edall-Robson in Canada

Anne Goodwin in the UK

Geoff Le Pard in the UK

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What’s your experience of writing flash fiction? Has it helped you improve your writing, too?

#TuesdayBookBlog ‘The Remedy for Love’ by Bill Roorbach #BookReview #amreading

The remedy for love,’ by Bill Roorbrach is a breathtaking and unique novel. I’m really glad I chose to read it, because it has given me so much to think about, and so much to be grateful and hopeful for. Its underlying optimism and faith in human nature is contagious.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading. I was drawn in by the wintry blurb, ‘The Storm of the Century threatens western Maine,’ and the two unlikely protagonists; a young, penniless squatter and a lawyer, who find themselves alone and trapped in a cabin for a few days during the storm.

I started reading the first ten percent, as I usually do when a blurb catches my attention. I wasn’t sure if I’d continue reading, but once I started, I couldn’t stop and I finished the novel in one wonderful sitting.

The vivid descriptions transported me to the alarmingly unprepared cabin; no electricity or running water, or any type of ‘modern comforts’ we take for granted. The writing made me feel snowed in, chilled to the bone and terrified of the storm.

The only two characters present in the novel also came to life with their loneliness, pain and singularities. Danielle, a starving and homeless young woman, seems unstable to the point of lunacy, and Eric is, at first, a cold, uncaring lawyer, interrogating a suspicious client.

I enjoyed listening to their banter and occasional quarrels. I was grateful for the comic relief brought through their dialogue and interaction which was well constructed and realistic, given their peculiarities and the situation they were trapped in.

Neither of them are who they seem at the beginning. They are both in denial, living in a parallel universe, refusing to face the truth of their respective situations. They cope in very different ways. Eric, abandoned by his wife, is involved with his community doing pro bono work, while Danielle has chosen the solitary path of an outcast, and yet they are ultimately able to help each other start to face the truth of both their situations, in order to move on.

It is not a traditional love story, and there is no conventional love between the characters, although they grow to care for each other, and yet, it is an intensely romantic novel, because there’s an underlying belief that love can heal, that love can break down barriers, and love can arise in the most adverse and unexpected ways.

In spite of the undeniable affection and attraction which grows between them, the few intimate scenes are more gritty than romantic, and yet, there’s no doubt in my mind, that their relationship will develop and their lives will never be the same after their encounter, because they’ll both start moving on from their pain and loss, whatever happens between them in the future.

It isn’t a happy ever after, easy ending, there’s still a lot of healing to be done after the final page, but it’s an optimistic and hopeful conclusion.

I was surprised at the negative reviews, but on the other hand, I’m aware that it is a challenging and intense novel, which will not leave any reader indifferent.

More about the novel and the author on Goodreads

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#TuesdayBookBlog ‘Parallel Lies’ by @GeorgiaRoseBook #BookReview

‘Parallel lies” is the fourth novel I’ve read by author Georgia Rose. I enjoyed The Grayson Trilogy and was looking forward to her latest standalone novel.

Read my review of A Single Step 

Read my Author Spotlight on Georgia Rose

Blurb Parallel Lies

My name is Madeleine, Madeleine Ross. It is a name chosen with thought and because it is classy, and that is what is needed here…’

Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it.
Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job.
Company… when she wants it.

It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect.

Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers.

But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets.

And they never stay buried for ever.

Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him.

Or her past.

Here he is, on her doorstep, with a proposition she is powerless to resist but which could devastate the future she hoped to have.

Can Madeleine satisfy the old love while keeping the new?

You can’t always get what you want but, desperate to preserve the life she has worked so hard for, Madeleine is willing to risk everything to prove that she can.

My Review of Parallel Lies

Parallel Lies is a contemporary romantic thriller set in the UK. It’s written in the present tense mostly by the main character, Madeleine Ross.

Madeleine, who has recently moved from London, is trying to live a quiet life, keeping a low profile, in the idyllic English village of Crowbridge, although it’s soon clear that she has plenty of secrets she’s not prepared to share even with the reader! Her hidden agenda is very gradually and suspensefully disclosed.  She has many personal issues to deal with throughout the novel, including her promiscuous attitude to sex, which she uses to make up for her insecurities, rooted in her childhood.

She interacts with a variety of local characters in the village. I liked the way her supportive relationship with a young girl, who also has to deal with a complex, dysfunctional family, brings out the best in Madeleine, reminding her of her own traumas.

Madeleine also has an unusual, unorthodox and secret job with an insurance company. Matters are further complicated by her personal, professional and romantic relationship with her boss’s nephew, Daniel, whom she doesn’t trust, and the reappearance of her former, unscrupulous boyfriend, threatening to wreck her life.

Parallel Lies was a pleasure to read. I enjoyed the way Madelaine’s character gradually unfolded and developed throughout the novel, and there were many twists and turns to keep me interested right to the end.

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UK Buy Link

US Buy Link

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Happy reading and Happy Christmas!

Have you written a Christmas or Wintry themed novel you’d like me to feature? Drop me a line or let me know in the comments.

#TuesdayBookBlog ‘The Missing Wife’ #BookReview by Sheila O’Flanagan #amreading

Today on #TuesdayBookBlog I’m reviewing The Missing Wife, suspenseful, contemporary women’s fiction by Sheila O’Flanagan.

My Review

One day, insecure and shy Imogen vanishes into thin air without a trace. Everyone is shocked, especially her doting husband. Nobody knows where she is or why she has gone, but Imogen has a plan. As the novel unfolds, we gradually discover why she left and where she’s going.

Imogen embarks on a journey of self-discovery and liberation. I don’t want to include spoilers, so I’ll just say it was easy to sympathise with Imogen’s need to break away and go back to understand her past searching for answers to her present predicament and as a way towards her future. Drama unfolds as she finds out the truth about her past and starts to live a new life,  but not everyone is willing to let her move on.

Various family dramas unfold and eventually collide in the end when Imogen will have to decide who she is and where she wants to be, and prove to herself that she’s strong enough and ready to move forward on her own.

I enjoyed reading about Imogen’s geographical and emotional journey of self discovery. In spite of some very unpleasant events and circumstances occurring throughout her life, on the whole it was a feel-good read and an  optimistic take on a very dark family drama.

UK buy Link.

US Buy Link.

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The One by @JohnMarrs1 #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #amreading #TheOne

Today I’m thrilled to tell you all about one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, The One by John Marrs.

Now and again I read a book, and I’m aware that this is a personal and possibly non-transferable feeling, which blows me away, because it’s perfect; the writing, the characters, the plot, and the themes it opens up to me, all merge into one perfect whole, leading to a unique experience as a reader, and a writer in my case.

The One is a brilliant book. I wish I hadn’t read it so that I could read it all over again, and this is why…

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My Review of The One by John Marrs

The One is an ingenious, well-written, moving and thought-provoking novel, which is a perfect read for anyone living in our contradictory, contemporary century.

Marrs proves you can write an engaging, fast-paced thriller which is also great literature, not a single word is out of place.

The One has an original plot and engaging characters. Marrs is a master story-teller, creating varied characters and surprising readers by withholding information until the last minute, so we are constantly on our toes.

There are 103 short and enticing chapters which are perfectly contrived. Each chapter is told in the third person, from one of the five main characters’ point of view. Each chapter begins exactly where the character’s last narration took off and ends with a bang, so the reader is looking forward to, and has to wait for a few chapters, for the character’s next appearance.

The characters are constantly at a crossroads, and such as life itself, when one hurdle is overcome, another bomb is dropped.

The transitions are smooth and regular, so it’s easy to follow the story line, which is completely unpredictable and perfectly contrived. There are surprises, twists and turns in every chapter right up to the final bang!

The themes dealt with are timeless, universal issues which affect us all, such as the nature of love, and the difference, or not, between infatuation, love and sex, determinism versus environmentalism, the virtues, or not, of genetic engineering and scientific advances which may affect the way we live and love profoundly, the role of social media in creating or recreating our views of ourselves and our world… Readers are constantly provoked by controversial themes and complex, unexpected situations.

Some reviewers have described it as dark, but I don’t agree. It is true that there are dark themes, scenes and characters, but there are also inspiring, positive moments and people. The One shows the many facets of human nature and the difficulties of balancing the punches life throws at us with our principles, and that’s not dark, it’s reality. Overall, I felt there were a lot of decent people and good vibrations in the novel’s universe, in spite of the darkness.

It stands out as one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

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Blurb

How far would you go to find THE ONE?

One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.

A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

Amazon UK buy link.

Amazon US buy link 

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About John Marrs:

John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last 20 years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines.
He has written for publications including The Guardian’s Guide and Guardian Online; OK! Magazine; Total Film; Empire; Q; GT; The Independent; Star; Reveal; Company; Daily Star and News of the World’s Sunday Magazine.
His debut novel The Wronged Sons, was released in 2013 and in May 2015, he released his second book, Welcome To Wherever You Are.
In May 2017 came his third book, The One. It was chosen as the book of the month for BBC Radio 2’s Book Club.
The Wronged Sons was re-edited and re-released in July 2017 under a new title, When You Disappeared.
And his fourth book, The Good Samaritan, is set for release in November 2017.

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