Book Of The Summer Book Review!

We interrupt your regular programming to bring you breaking news (or it would have been if I’d read this book when it was first published last summer!) of a book I have completely fallen in love with, The Map Of Us. It’s got a typewriter, a garden, sand art, washing machines, French estate cars, statistics, the colour blue, handbags, a sofa and a dog. Not sure what else a book needs, really.

 

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The Map Of Us 

This book is one of those rare treats that can surprise and delight and stretch the boundaries of genre. It’s got EVERYTHING; a little bit of history, a generous helping of clever, wry humour and tons of humanity. The characters manage to avoid the usual tropes and all bring their own very unique personalities to this quirky tale of family, love and finding your path in life.

Jules Preston is officially my new favourite author, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle because his new book isn’t out yet. So no pressure Jules, but get a wriggle on! Where did he come from? Why didn’t I hear of this book till now? And why isn’t it being made into a film? All questions I will fail to deal with here.

Anyhoo, I don’t like writing reviews that kind of dissect a good book, I feel it’s enough to keep shouting in big letters how much I love it, but I’ll do my best to give you a flavour of this wonderfully uplifting story.

The Map Of Us tells the story of the North family (although it doesn’t really read like a family saga at all) starting with Violet North – a tenacious young woman who is abandoned by her family in a very large house with a very large garden. Unfortunately, Violet cannot walk very far, having suffered from polio as a child, but she does not allow this to hold her back.

Her family had lately abandoned her in a  house with several staircases and a large garden in the hope that she would fall and die as quickly and conveniently as possible. They had told her as much when they left. She had been a burden to them for long enough. Violet could not walk far, but she was twenty-six and had her own house with a large garden and decided to be as inconvenient as possible. She did a grand job.

There’s a hint of fairytale (think Lemony Snicket) to Violet’s story and dare I say a whisper of magical realism throughout the book. Not necessarily in the plot, but simply in how the story is told. There is something of the ‘once upon a time’ to it; the repetition, the short chapters (with funny names), the triumph of good over evil. But we do not linger with Violet for long, as the book shifts gear into the present day with our first person narrator Matilda. I adore Matilda and her dry sense of humour. Her marriage is ending and as a statistician, she decides that in order to better understand where it went wrong, she should write a report on it.

Okay. Maybe writing a report on our marriage with footnotes and a summary and a series of conclusions was another spectacularly bad idea. But that is what I did.

You often hear of books being described as feel good, when really they leave you feeling like you’ve had to ingest unsafe amounts of sugary cringe. But this book really made me feel good – about myself, about life. Because life is (unfortunately) all about challenges and how we overcome them. Life changes us; it’s supposed to and if we’re really lucky, we will find exactly what we need to be happy here. This book even gave me goosebumps when the gardener…. well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

There are so many laugh out loud (or giggle quietly) moments to enjoy. When Matilda describes her erstwhile husband Matt’s dedication to listening to experimental jazz.

He went to all this effort just so he could listen to music that sounded like an instrument salesman being pushed down a flight of concrete stairs wearing trousers made of trombones.

And another one of my favourite lines also comes at Matt’s expense. We’ve all been here!

Matt was waiting for something to happen. It was hard to tell what. He didn’t know. He liked to think about his future while he was asleep on a secondhand sofa. For all he knew his future may have already come and gone.

Over-arching themes like the futility of building an empire versus the nobility of building a garden; the impermanence of life and sandcastles set against the durability of love and family. It is written with such poetry and honesty and I think this line encapsulates the entire story.

We were a family. We were strange and resilient, too.

I think I’m going to make that my family motto – strange and resilient! Perhaps with a fire panda as my crest. Or a sloth! I digress. The point is, I am utterly beguiled by this book, which seems to have been written just for me. I love that feeling when reading a book – the sense that the author secretly mined your imagination and produced the exact kind of book you wanted to read. And I also like the fact that I’ve found it a year after its publication, because it reminds me that readers will find my books long after the initial hype is over.

So if you like books that take a kindly look at the human condition and find redemption in our foibles, or a story about a man who walks the great moors, even if he is just the figment of a young woman’s imagination who is too afraid to visit the garden, then please give yourself the gift of this novel. It’s just beautiful.

 

 

Ye Olde Book Recommendations

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The year is coming to a close and we’re laden down in listicles, so it would be remiss of me not to jump on the bandwagon with some of my favourite reads of 2018. Now I should point out that I don’t necessarily mean books that were published in 2018, because that would be too straight-forward and I prefer to read in more of a zig-zag.

Eagle-eyed readers will remember that I got a bit trigger-happy during the summer and called my three favourite historical novels in May here (*spoiler* they were The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde, The Mermaid & Mrs. Hancock and The Essex Serpent). So here are another three for the latter half of the year, which I would highly recommend.

The 7√ā¬Ĺ Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleOMG this book. If you want to know what it’s like to be trapped inside a game of Cluedo, then read this book. You know that a murder will happen, but you have to figure out who commits the crime by seeing it (literally) with fresh eyes every day. Because the day will repeat over and over until the mystery is solved. Turton has done something truly wonderful with this story – he has taken a formula we are all familiar with (murder mystery) and created something original. (The bastard). I’m also angry that he has written one of the best opening sequences I’ve read in a long time. You are instantly in the middle of the action and rooting for the poor Sebastian Bell, who appears to have lost his memory but is adamant on finding a woman he thinks murdered in the woods. Since reading it, I wonder if the characters were written in a sequence to capture the reader, as much as they are to catch the murderer. THAT’S how clever it is! If you enjoy some retro Agatha Christie in a Groundhog Day mash up, all served with a twist, then this is the book for you.

26046312Time for some contemporary fiction. It’s hard to find a good contemporary novel that straddles the genres of literary fiction, humour and romance, but when you find a good one, it’s certainly worth the wait. The Clasp is clever, funny and utterly unsentimental. It’s strange how books find you at the right time. I’d been seeing an acupuncturist (for acupuncture – not dating) and we often spoke French together (because we’re total eejits) Anyway, she recommended I read some short stories by Guy de Maupassant and I found a copy of The Necklace in my local bookshop (Charlie Byrne’s literally has every book under the sun). As it turns out, The Necklace is a famous short story (with a twist that I won’t spoil) and it forms the basis of the plot in The Clasp, which fell into my lap a few weeks later. Three disenchanted college friends, who meet up at a friend’s wedding years later, are all trapped in the bourgouis pretence of trying to look happy and successful, while leading rather unfulfilling lives. But the legend of a priceless necklace sets them on an adventure that will shake up the status quo. It’s a story within a story and as I said in my Goodreads review, it reveals a universal truth; sometimes we just need to believe in somethingorder to believe in ourselves.

36589609Last but not least, a novella that was first published in 1978 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The Book Shop is a story about a determined young woman who wants to open a bookshop, despite the fact that the building is haunted and certain figures in the community do not want her there. Beautifully written, I only wish it could have been a bit longer, but that is the charm of novellas – the author uses such an economy of language to create the greatest impact. Reminiscent of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat – where an outsider comes to a community and their mere presence seems to shake things up, but not always for the better. Penelope Fitzgerald is a new author to me and one I plan to read more of in the future.

So there you have it, three very different and very absorbing reads. Of course, if the mood takes you, you might fancy something with a bit of magical realism, historical AND contemporary fiction…. Then look no further than my latest novel, The Story Collector. Inspired by a young anthropologist from Oxford University who came to Ireland in search of fairy stories in 1910 – it’s described by the Irish Times as having ‘all the warmth and charm of a fairytale‘. You can even read a preview on Amazon to see how BRILLIANT it is ūüôā

What Is A Review Worth?

love of books

Out of every 100 copies of my book sold, approximately 2 people will leave a review. At least that’s what the statistics say, but empirical evidence shows that it is far less.¬† The fact is that most readers don’t see the connection between leaving a review and improving the book’s visibility on Amazon or Goodreads.¬† Yet, that is exactly what happens, every time someone writes a review. In fact, few people outside¬†of the publishing industry are aware of the importance of reviews. ¬†They are the lifeblood of authors and their books – a priceless promotional tool that is aimed purely at other readers. In this USA Today article by Elizabeth Weise, it claims that “Just going from zero review to one increases the rate at which online window-shoppers actually click the ‘buy’ button by 65%.”

The publishing industry has changed a lot. ¬†It used to be that you went to your local bookshop, picked up a book you liked the look of and if you enjoyed it, you probably loaned it to a couple of friends. ¬†There was no such thing as writing a review and word of mouth was the only way to spread the love. ¬†Nowadays however, leaving travel reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor has become the norm and something businesses rely on heavily for publicity and future trade. ¬†It’s no different for books and reviews can¬†make a huge difference to future sales, especially for Indie Authors and publishers.

If your book garners¬†20-25 reviews, regardless of how many stars awarded, Amazon will highlight the novel under the ‚ÄėCustomers Who Bought This Item Also Bought‚Äô and ‚ÄėYou might also like‚Äô section on a page. ¬†If your book receives more than 50 reviews,¬†Amazon will include the title in their newsletter and increase its¬†visibility on the site with spotlights, which means it will reach more potential readers.

Obviously, reviews are paramount to your book’s future success. ¬†But how do you encourage readers to write reviews without resorting to begging and losing any sense of dignity?! ¬†Readers are under no obligation to leave a review and to be fair, they’ve already paid you the highest compliment of buying your book in the first place. ¬†But I honestly believe that if readers knew how much of a difference their review could make in terms of an author’s ranking (not to mention potential revenue and ratings), I think they would be much more inclined to write one.¬† Especially if they are already a fan of the author’s work. When it comes to Amazon in particular, they make it extremely easy to leave a review with their ‘reminder’ email, asking you to rate the book. ¬†These ratings are so important, because even when it comes to promoting your book with sites like Bookbub, they take your star rating into account.

So why do such a small percentage of readers write reviews? Even readers who contact me personally to say they enjoyed my book are reluctant to publish a review online, as oftentimes, they don’t know what they’re expected to say.¬† If you scroll through the reviews on Amazon on Goodreads, you will find that a lot of reviews are written by professional book bloggers and are written in a standard format that includes the blurb and an in-depth critique of the novel. ¬†However, it is the reader’s choice what they decide to write – after all it is their opinion and they’re free to express it however they wish.

One reader told me that she didn’t like reviewing because it felt like being back at school and writing book reports, so I wonder if that’s what puts people off? It’s not like reviewing a lipstick, for example, because you don’t feel pressure to sound clever about it. Either you liked it or you didn’t! But the thing is, a review is simply to inform other readers – a brief review of your response to the book, saying why you liked the book (or didn’t like it), and maybe a similar book that it reminded you of. ¬†I am currently reading a book that I would describe as an ‘Entertaining read, very likeable characters and an interesting plot. ¬†Fans of Nick Hornby would like this book.‘ ¬†However, when I REALLY like a book, I go all out and write something more in depth. ¬†It’s really up to the reader – if you’re really moved by a book, you want to shout from the rooftops about it. ¬†But if it’s just okay or average, you might not bother. However, all ratings have value and even critical ones give a more balanced picture of readers’ responses.

The truth is that we all rely on reviews to some degree before hitting the ‘Buy’ button. Apparently, they drive 20% of overall sales.¬† I always check out the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon before buying a book, just to get a feel for it and even if there are negative reviews, it can sometimes influence my decision to buy. ¬†As an example, I recently bought and read an AMAZING book that I absolutely loved (you can see me gush about it here) and that was after I saw a negative review saying that it was a story about a girl who talks to squirrels. ¬†Talking squirrels you say? ¬†Count me in! ¬†Obviously, the story was about so much more than that and it’s clear the reviewer hadn’t read the entire book. ¬†But the point is that what turned her off (a little quirkieness) completely turned me on. ¬†So you see, all reviews have their own funny way of influencing future readers. ¬†Ultimately, I think most people make up their mind using a combination of the blurb, the cover and reviews, but it definitely makes a book look more appealing if there are more reviews beside it.

So I would always encourage readers to use this platform to provide feedback on books that traditionally, might only be reviewed by book critics or worse, not at all. Short or long reviews, they all count!¬† Your review has a big impact on, not only the book’s future, but also the author’s career.¬† Writers and readers are so important to each other, as the author John Cheever once said:

‚ÄúI can‚Äôt write without a reader. It‚Äôs precisely like a kiss‚ÄĒyou can‚Äôt do it alone.‚ÄĚ

3 Gorgeous Books For Historical Fiction Lovers

So it turns out that other people have also written books over the last couple of years – imagine that!¬† So instead of dropping not-so-subtle hints about my own book, I thought I’d take a breather and recommend some lovely books I’ve read so far this year.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was always going to be top of the list!¬† If you know me at all, you can see why…. Historical fiction, a long-winded title and MERMAIDS!!!¬† Nuff said.¬† But was this book all fur coat and no knickers?

Poldark meets Moulin Rouge!

I wasn’t one bit surprised to learn, while reading this book, that it had been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, because it has everything you want in a book – originality, personality and mermaids!

I hardly even read the blurb – I was already hooked by THAT cover and the intriguing title, so it was a pleasure to find that what lies within does not disappoint. Wonderfully written with characters that stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is like historical fiction with a generous sprinkling of Baz Luhrmann theatrics!

A truly wondrous book, full of excess and greed, grace and humanity. The author does a fantastic job of representing women who, born into a patriarchal society where property and wealth are always something to be attained through trickery but never to be owned, are forced to live by their wits. Yet there is no moral judgement here, which allows the reader to completely immerse themselves in the lives of these characters and feel forever changed by them.

I loved spending time in Imogen Hermes Gowar’s world, as she deftly weaves myth and magic into the harsh realities of 18th century life, and I would highly recommend a visit.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Okay so I arrived a little late to this party, but The Essex Serpent was so much more than I expected.  Again, I was caught by the lush cover, the hint of something otherworldly afoot, and yet again, I was not disappointed.

‚ÄúThey sharpen themselves on each other; each by turn is blade and whetstone”

Seriously, do yourself a favour and read this book. Masterful, elegant, authentic, quite funny and keenly observed – a study of feminism, religion and society in the 1800’s – this book is the epitome of soul-satisfying literature. There. If you don’t read it now, there’s no hope for you.

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

Just finished The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, a dual-timeline novel (my fav!) that has all the charm of 50’s England and the unbreakable bond of sisters.

I already have one amazing sister, but this novel made me greedy for more!  Eve Chase has captured the nature of sibling relationships perfectly in this gorgeous novel about one hot summer that leaves an indelible mark on the Wildling sisters.  If you like old country houses with hidden secrets, set against a modern family coming to terms with their own problems, then this book is for you.  Absorbing and charming, a perfect summer read.

Highly recommend these books and if you’re thinking, ‘hey, these are totally my cup of tea and if these are the books Evie enjoys, I wonder if her new book would appeal to me too?’ I couldn’t possibly be so brash as to answer that question.¬† But probably, yes.

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So I’ll just leave this here…

Early reviews for THE STORY COLLECTOR say¬†‘Simply magical’, ‘Captivating’¬†and‘Heartily recommended’.

Pre-order your eBook or Paperback on Amazon

Recommended Reads

Too soon? ¬†Never! ¬†I’ve stumbled across so many spectacular reads this year, that I thought I’d do an end of summer review of my favourites. ¬†So if you’re looking for ideas for your next read, this one is for you.

Historical Fiction

Golden Hill

GOLDEN HILL

Set in 18th century New York, this is a novel that will turn your idea of historical fiction on its’ head. ¬†Part caper, part mystery, this novel is beautifully written in a unique style. ¬†Small wonder that Spufford won the Desmond Elliot, Costa and Ondaatje prizes for his debut novel. ¬†As I said in my Goodreads review, ‘Some books are just perfection to read. ¬†This is one of them.’

 

 

 

Contemporary Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

Does this book even need an introduction?  Believe the hype people!  This is such a refreshingly original novel, written with a perfect balance of wit, intelligence and sincerity.  I defy you not to fall in love with this book and Eleanor.  An uplifting story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.  Check out my full review here.

 

 

 

Classic

Rebecca

REBECCA

It’s always good to read something timeless, and so, Rebecca. ¬†The best way to describe this book is if Downton Abbey was written by Edgar Allen Poe! ¬†I absolutely adored this book, the lush descriptions, the opulent setting, the dashing widower, the innocent ingenue, the creepy maid… it’s all there!! ¬†It’s grip lit meets gothic romance, all in a lovely English mansion. ¬†What’s not to love?!

 

 

 

Novella

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT

If you’re looking for a shorter read, this novella is certainly a quirky one. ¬†Falling somewhere between dystopian and science fiction, this is a curious story that is strangely unnerving and compelling. ¬†It’s about a very average couple who find jobs in a very unusual place. ¬†There is a lot of ambiguity and it’s probably best to read it with no expectations. ¬†Think Kafka-esque, without the cockroach!

 

 

 

 

Of course, you could always read MY novels!

A Bookish Selection Box

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Books, like people, are a random lot. ¬†In any given year, you can meets lots of perfectly nice books, but there are a certain few that just crawl into your heart and make a little home for themselves. ¬†Being the thoughtful person that I am, I’ve rather helpfully compiled a shortlist (because ain’t nobody got time for long ones!) of the books that really struck a chord with me this year. ¬†Four 5 star reviews and one 4.5 star review of five very different books (try saying that after a few Baileys hot chocolates!). ¬†We’ve got a girl who lives in the woods, a woman who speaks to squirrels (pattern?!), the family reunion¬†from hell, an amateur detective with a fear of turning left and finally, a talking canvas. ¬†It’s an eclectic mix, I’ll grant ¬†you, but one thing they all share is fantastic writing by extremely talented story tellers. ¬†Enjoy!

Our Endless Numbered Days  Our Endless Numbered Days

This book came as such a surprise. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover and added it to my list without really reading the blurb. I’m so glad I didn’t – it’s a refreshing change to come to an original story like this without any preconceptions.
I instantly fell in love with Punzel (Peggy) and instantly worried about her mother and father’s parenting skills. The cover reminded me of a fairytale (a girl lost in the woods) and this is a fairytale in its traditional sense, warning of the evil lurking in the shadows and the courage of the human spirit to overcome these demons. While it is a dark tale, it is told through the bright and optimistic eyes of a young girl, making the best of things. I think it’s this wonderfully innocent perspective that makes the story so compelling.
Fuller’s touch is subtle, yet infinitely more striking for it. She’s such a talented writer and it was a joy to lose myself in her prose. This is one of those books that stays with you for a long time after and you feel compelled to talk to other people about it. That, in my eyes, makes for the perfect story and that is why I’m giving this book 5 stars. Highly recommended.

The Portable Veblen The Portable Veblen

I flippin’ loved this book!! And it’s inspired a kind of protectiveness in me that means, if you don’t like this book, we can’t be friends. As promised in the blurb, it is a big-hearted, laugh out loud story that begins with the simple premise of boy-meets-girl, which only belies the complex journey that lies ahead.
Veblen is named after Thorstein Veblen, the American economist and socialist, who (according to wiki) was a witty critic of capitalism. Veblen’s life is completely inspired by his teachings of ‘conspicious consumption’ explored in his book ‘The Theory of The Leisure Classes’. I had never heard of Thorstein and discovering him is one of the highlights of this book. Whether or not you have an interest in economics, McKenzie explores the issues of status and consumerism expertly through the lens of family, relationships and the ego’s quest to conform and conquer.
The characters are so well fleshed out and true to their own natures that I would hardly question their existence. Both Paul and Veblen’s dysfunctional families provide the perfect backdrop to a story of self-discovery and self-determination.
Packed with philosophical observations and moving introspection, it’s no surprise that this novel was short-listed for the Baileys Prize. Witty, intelligent, with a good dollop of quirkiness thrown in, this is a truly original novel that thoroughly deserves five stars.

 

The Green Road The Green Road

Wow. You often hear people say ‘I could listen to her sing the phonebook’. Well I could read Anne Enright’s fictionalised version of it! This novel reads effortlessly (which obviously means a ridiculous amount of work has gone into it) and I didn’t want it to end. The Madigans are like a sitcom that could just continue on and on, with their daily squabbles and trivial decisions. Which, of course end up being monumental ones. Yet they are so real to me, I feel that I could drive down to Clare and pop into them for a cup of tea. Well, maybe not to Rosaleen, I wasn’t too fond of her. But that was the point. She was the cloying Irish mother that could not let her children go; could not let them be happy. And this novel is about each of their respective efforts to escape. It’s another one of those novels where nothing happens and yet everything happens. Whole lives happen, in their dull, predictable yet entirely complex and intriguing way.
Enright’s style is searingly honest – which I suppose is what every great writer strives for… truth. And it is up to us, the reader, to find the beauty in that truth. In characters that are so helplessly flawed and hopefully trying to be better versions of themselves, trying to live better versions of their lives. Brilliant.

 

Mystery Man Mystery Man

Why have I left it so long since reading Colin Bateman? I suppose, you have to give other authors a chance, but coming back to this book only reaffirmed what I already knew – nobody does it better! His unique brand of irreverent humour coupled with his ability to create the most unlikely heroes in the most bizarre circumstances is second to none.
Our man, who shall not be named, is interested in two things: selling crime fiction in his bookshop ‘No Alibis’ and Alison, the shop assistant who works across the road. But when the detective agency next door closes down and people start bringing their problems into his shop, our man uses everything he has learned from his back catalogue of crime novels to crack their cases.
‘Bookselling is like prostitution, you sell your wares, you close your eyes, and you never fall in love with the clients. You also keep your fingers crossed that they won’t ask for anything perverted.’
Despite his hyponchondria and a myriad of phobias including a fear of turning left, our hero proves himself to be quite the detective. With little help from his assistant Jeff, who spends most of his time working for ‘that shower of whingers at Amnesty International’, our man solves several hard-hitting crimes, including The Case Of Mrs Geary’s Leather Trousers.
‘I am actually colour-blind. Every time I go through traffic lights it’s like playing Russian roulette.’
But it is Alison who really brings our hero to life. I love how Bateman writes his female characters; courageous, witty and smart. Their budding romance, which again seems so unlikely that you can’t help rooting for it, gives this story its heart and reveals our man at his most vulnerable. Needless to say, the story takes lots of entertaining twists and turns, involving murder, mayhem and Nazis. And a book launch!
‘He was the type of man women said they hated, they absolutely hated, they absolutely and categorically hated, and then they went to bed with him. I was the type of man women said they hated, and then they went home.’
Only someone who has mastered his craft can make it look so easy. What I love about Bateman’s books is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but they are seriously good books. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their humour on the darker side.

The Improbability of Love The Improbability Of Love

Wow, this novel has everything but the kitchen sink! (Actually, no, there is a kitchen sink in there too). What begins as a simple story about a woman nursing a broken heart, turns into a comedy caper that takes us on a journey through the world of art, food and rather improbably, love.
I engaged with Anna from the start and as for the painting, The Improbability Of Love, I have never been more drawn to such a self-important, French canvas in my life! Such a clever idea to feature snippets from the paintings point of view and gave the storytelling a whimsical quality (and you know I love whimsy!)
Hannah Rothschild is simply the queen of character development and while it did at times feel as though the world and it’s wife were featured in this story, it didn’t detract from its brilliance. I can only guess at the amount of research that was gobbled up in the making of this novel, which is such a gift for the reader, as not only are we being entertained, we’re being informed.
As a self-taught artist who lives a billion light years away from the auction rooms of Europe, it was fascinating to eavesdrop on the goings on behind the big price tags and even bigger egos. This novel questions the true value of art and one of the characters even admits that he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. What makes a painting so desirable? In the end, it comes down to our own human nature; the desire to acquire valuable items in the erroneous belief that we will somehow be worth more ourselves.
It’s a fantastically thought out novel, whose timeless theme of loving beauty for beauty’s sake is both heartwarming and reassuring. I’ve taken away half a star for two reasons: The pacing in the middle of the novel was a bit slow and I found myself trying to rush through these tangents to get back to the main story. Also the ending left me feeling a little cheated, but I’ll forgive her that ūüėČ

 

What’s that? ¬†You’d like to know where you can get your hands on MY books? ¬†How thoughtful of you!

new heirloom1+1 Amazon (Paperback) ~ Kindle

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy Amazon (Paperback) ~Kindle ~Nook ~ iTunes ~ Kobo 

Book Review – The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen

I flippin’ loved this book!! And it’s inspired a kind of protectiveness in me that means, if you don’t like this book, we can’t be friends. As promised in the blurb, it is a big-hearted, laugh out loud story that begins with the simple premise of boy-meets-girl, which only belies the complex journey that lies ahead. ¬†Elizabeth McKenzie is a gifted storyteller, penning a novel that embraces life’s imperfections and lays bare the very human struggle between compromise and authenticity. ¬†Encompassing everything from corporate governance to mental health, war to squirrels, this is a story like no other.

Named after Thorstein Veblen (the American economist and socialist and outspoken critic of capitalism), Veblen’s life is completely inspired by his teachings of ‘conspicuous consumption’ and has spent her life shunning materialistic values for a simple life.¬†She is such a likeable character, who unfortunately seems to put everyone’s needs ahead of her own (“Her unvoiced needs were in remission..”). ¬†Her fiance, Paul Vreeland, (equally likeable)¬†is determined to shake off his past and aspires to¬†all of the trappings that the ¬†‘American Dream’ has to offer.

I had never heard of Thorstein Veblen and being introduced to him was a highlight of this book. ¬†I love when books expose you to new and exciting topics by stealth! ¬†As we speak, I am tracking down a copy of his book ‘The Theory Of The Leisure Class’. ¬†Whether or not you have an interest in economics, McKenzie explores the issues of status and consumerism expertly through the lens of family, relationships and the ego’s quest to conform and conquer.

The characters are so well fleshed out and true to their own natures that I would hardly question their existence. Both Paul and Veblen’s dysfunctional families provide the perfect backdrop to a story of self-discovery and self-determination. ¬†Packed with philosophical observations and moving introspection, it’s no surprise that this novel was short-listed for the Baileys Prize. Witty, intelligent, with a good dollop of quirkiness thrown in, this is a truly original novel that thoroughly deserves five stars.

 

Can Reading Make You Happier? Probably!

book_of_rose_flower_pink_soft_nature_hd-wallpaper-1562660¬†Read a book for what ails you…

We’ve all had that experience – when the exact book we need just happens to come along at the right time. ¬†Maybe it’s a break-up, or a health issue, or just feeling ‘stuck’ in ¬†your life, when a book that seems to speak to you and your life situation directly, magically finds its way to your lap. ¬†Perhaps it was a friend who insisted, ‘Oh you have to read this book, it really helped me through x, y or z’, or it could have been a chance discovery in a library or a review you read in a magazine. ¬†But for all this glorious happenstance, what if there was someone who could prescribe the perfect book for you? ¬†Say hello to the bibliotherapist! ¬†For some time now, bibliotherapy has been used by the health service to recommend various self-help books as a means of providing psychological therapy for people experiencing emotional difficulties. ¬†However, is it possible that fiction can hold similarly helpful insights, while telling a story and reaching our subconscious in a more subtle and entertaining way?

Ceridwen Dovey’s article in The New Yorker, is written around her experience¬†with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. ¬†Following her session with the bibliotherapist, she was ‘prescribed’ certain books that were relevant to her life situation. ¬†After a year of working her way through the reading list, she commented:

‘In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence…’

What’s more, reading has been shown to be very good for our health and well-being. ¬†According to the article, studies have shown that readers of fiction tend to be better at empathising with others and that reading can ‘improve social abilities and move us emotionally – prompting changes of self-hood’. ¬†¬†Ceridwen concludes:

‘Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm’.

So, if you ever needed a reason to read more and carefully consider your reading choices, bibliotherapy is it!  Reading fiction offers us the greatest escape; where we can literally lose ourselves (or our ego at least) in another world of possibility and untold futures.  Characters who lodge in our hearts with their feisty attitudes, or their ability to turn a terrible situation into something beauty, can in turn help us to re-frame our own attitudes to a particular situation.  Just the very act of taking time out of life to drift away on the prose of a well-crafted book, is a gift to ourselves and an oasis from the demands of modern life.

For those of us who can’t make it to a bibliotherapist, there are plenty of resources online where you can find reading lists and recommendations for every kind of challenge life can throw at ¬†you. ¬†Here is a list of bibliotherapy books on Goodreads¬†and a mood-boosting list from the Reading Agency¬†and if you have any recommendations of fiction books that helped you through a challenging time, please add them in the comments below.

Why Readers Should Go Indie

small__5599873685¬† ¬†I recently read a piece by Richard Lea in The Guardian Books Blog¬†about how self-publishing may well be a revolution for writers, but that the same might not be true for readers. ¬†It wasn’t so much the article itself, as the comments that inspired me to make the following points:-

Readers, please don’t make the erroneous assumption that just because a book has been traditionally published, it is somehow ‘better’ than a self-published book. ¬†

Phew, glad that’s out there.¬† Now I have to be honest and admit that I’ve also been under the same illusion – if it’s published, it’s a safer bet. ¬†But how true is that? ¬†The whole self-published -vs- traditionally published argument has been flogged to death at this point, but it doesn’t always consider the readers point of view. ¬†As a reader myself, I’ve read many ‘lemons’ in my time and wondered ¬†how the hell they ever got published. ¬†But to know that, you would have to understand the inner processes of a publishing house, which I don’t pretend to know, but suffice it to say, it all comes down to sales. ¬†‘Will they sell?’ is the question at the heart of every publication decision and that’s only natural. ¬†At least, that’s the only reason I can see why The Random House Group have published no less than five novels by Katie Price. ¬†Five. ¬†NOVELS.

There are lots of reasons why really good authors get rejected by traditional publishers, everything ranging from (a) the length of the novel (b) they might already have a similar book on their lists (c) they might already have a similar author on their lists (d) they don’t have money to invest in new writing. ¬†Of course we all know the story of how JK Rowling was rejected by no less than 12 publishing houses, despite having the representation of a good agent. ¬†Imagine if she had just given up? ¬†Or decided to self-publish Harry Potter? ¬†Would people still be looking down their noses? ¬†The gatekeepers, as they are known, therefore control what the public reads. ¬†They decide whether or not this year’s craze will be vampires or wizards. ¬†But readers have had the most recent laugh, because with the revolution of self-publishing, readers can pick and choose what they want to read, not what the publishers have decided they should. ¬†A recent example of self-publishing success is Mel Sherratt, who had her novels rejected for reasons varying from not fitting into a genre to being too generic! ¬†No such rejection from Kindle readers however, who sent her debut novel onto the bestsellers list.

Sometimes authors actually choose to self-publish.

Imagine that! ¬†Readers might not be aware, but a lot of ¬†authors actually choose to self-publish rather than sign a contract with a publisher. ¬†Polly Courtney is the perfect ¬†example – she ditched her publishers HarperCollins because they insisted on creating ‘chick lit’ style covers for her novels, despite the fact that her novels did not fit that genre. ¬†And frankly, I don’t think the move has done her any harm either. ¬†There are lots of examples of authors feeling pressured by publishers to ‘fit in’ and compromise on their creative output. ¬†Equally, there’s the time it takes to get your book out there that can make self-publishing more appealing. ¬†For a newbie such as myself, if I sent a submission to a publisher, it could take the best part of six months before receiving a response. ¬†Only then do you send the entire manuscript, give that another few months. ¬†Then there is the whole acquisitions process, give or take another few months. ¬†Only then will the actual production begin, editing, layout, cover design etc. ¬†It would take at least a year or more to see your book on the shelves. ¬†Then there are the royalties. ¬†I think the standard rate for new authors is 10% of net. ¬†Yikes!

Where’s the risk?

People have commented that they don’t want to take the risk on an Indie Author that they don’t know, but I ask you, where’s the risk? ¬†On both Amazon and Smashwords, you can read a free sample of the book before you buy. ¬†If you’re still not sure, most of us Indies have websites and blogs, so you can get a good sense of our writing style. ¬†And if you’re still unsure, check out the reviews on Goodreads and other sites. ¬†That’s about as much information (if not more) as you will get in a bookstore about a traditionally published book, only eBooks are cheaper so you’ve risked even less! ¬†Not to mention all the promotions and giveaways that self-published authors run on a continual basis, you’re bound to get a bargain.

Are there a lot of crap self-published books out there? ¬†Of course there are, just as there are a lot of crap traditionally published books. ¬†Writers who are serious about producing good quality books will do their best to create a great book. ¬†Those of us who are in this for the long haul want to build a readership that can trust our ‘brand’, so we are not going to release anything that would fall below our own self-imposed standards. ¬†Self-published authors now ¬†have easy access to book designers and editors, creating a new and exciting space for other freelance experts to create outside of the traditional constraints.

Being self-published is challenging and don’t get me wrong, I would welcome the support and backing of a publishing house to help get my books out there. ¬†It’s hard being a one-woman show and I know that when I launch my second novel next month, I will be doing the equivalent of standing on the Cliffs Of Moher and trying to shout across to America! ¬†It would be fantastic to have the marketing and promotional services that a publisher can offer. ¬†So I don’t want this to be a publisher-bashing exercise. ¬†In my opinion, I think the industry is adapting to what readers are demanding and we now have ‘digital imprints’ and ‘digital first’ arms to many of the traditional houses, which is great to see . ¬†My point is that self-publishing can be (and is) a revolution for readers too and I think we are reaching a stage where the reader doesn’t care who published the book – as long as it’s good.