Wednesday 31 May 2017

Rachel's Tenerife Mini Break Reading

I've had a wonderful mini break over in Tenerife. Not sure how rested it has left me, as I was cramming as much into it as possible, from reading, to sunbathing (when the sun was out), to nights out! 

On the first evening we went and saw Gloria Gaynor in concert. There is something amazing about everyone rushing to the front as the opening beats of I Will Survive come on, and singing along to an incredibly long remix version of the song, in both Spanish and English. 

On the second evening, I had dinner with my sister, in a restaurant that can't tell the different between Sirloin and Fillet steak, and then we went onto a bar where Black Lace were performing.  This included Colin Gibb one of the original members of the band, and there is something surreal about seeing a bar of grown adults singing along to cheesy pop songs, and doing the actions to "Agadoo", "Music Man" and "Superman".  The lest said about our Conga related injuries the better!

On the other nights I saw a Temptations tribute act from South Africa, a Rod Stewart act who looks like the real thing, and also an immensely funny comedian, all the while being taken to delicious Canarian restaurants that my sister knows about from living out there. 

So did I fit in any reading over my 4 night break? Well I did manage some, have read 7 books over that time, so let's take a look at them. 

Amazon UK
The Beach Hut Next Door by Veronica Henry - 5 Stars

It was lovely to be able to return to the gorgeous setting of Everdene in this sequel to The Beach Hut. The chapters were all from different people's perspectives, all which had a link to a Beach Hut on Everdene for the summer. Some characters we only really saw once or twice, but a couple recurred quite a bit and I became quite involved in their lives. Elodie's life was very interesting and I also loved the idea of the new seafood restaurant being opened. This was a very enjoyable book, and incredibly fast to read. 

Amazon UK
The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan - 5 Stars

So glad that I finally found the time to read this book as I have been meaning to since the moment I bought it! First let me just say the whole Isle of Mure sounds like a brilliant setting, its remote, its got gorgeous men on it, its has a rustic charm and generally feels so removed to regular life, would be a great place for a holiday. It took about 30 pages, and then I was completely hooked on this book. I loved the different brothers and their personalities, and the history behind Flora having stayed away from the island for so long. There are multiple men that Flora could end up with which added to the fun of the book.   And the Summer Seaside Kitchen, was such an inspired idea and features a rather special recipe book, and features down to earth, non pretentious food!  This is another wonderful book by Jenny Colgan that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Amazon UK
The Vets at Hope Green by Sheila Norton - 5 Stars

Originally published as four separate parts, I have waited to read the full book in one, and I'm so glad I did. At least two of the parts had mini cliffhangers, that kept me on the edge of my seat, at least until I turned the pages and just added to the drama of the book.  It is a story filled with cute animals, a not overly happy vet, a girl who just wants to be more than a vets receptionist and seems to really love animals, plus her grandmother who is great. Each of the four parts were short and took in a certain time frame and a new phase in the story, so that worked really well. The writing was easy to follow and I was compelled to keep turning the pages. I would absolutely love to see a sequel to this book or another one set in Hope Green, as I loved the setting and characters so much. 

Amazon UK
Just a Girl, Standing in Front of a Boy by Lucy Anne-Holmes - 4 Stars

I am still highly amused at the names of some of the characters, and just what they sound like if said quickly. I loved the banter between Fanny and her best friend, in fact their friendship is what made the book for me. They are nuts, but equally have each others best interests at heart. I loved the Smiling Fanny Manifesto, which is a set of 10 things Fanny needs to do each day, to try and stave off her depression, and it has assorted results. I found this to be quite a slow book to get into, which really wasn't what I wanted on my holiday, but once I got into the swing of it, it became far more enjoyable. 

Amazon UK
The Once In a Blue Moon Guesthouse by Cressida McLaughlin - 4.5 Stars

The second I got my hands on a copy of this book I knew one thing... and that was that this book was knocking my new Dorothy Koomson book out of my suitcase, and that this was going on holiday with me instead! Now whether that was the correct decision I can't really say yet, as I haven't read both books, but I can say that I adored The Once in a  Blue Moon Guesthouse.

The room designs in the guest house itself were rather unique, and I loved the thought and story behind each of them. As Robin has previously run an event company, some of her large plans for various things in Campion Bay seemed unrealistic until everyone pitched in and they pulled off some great things.  There were many guests to the guest house and some became more like friends than others, and they generally were all interesting characters as you may expect from a guest house. I really disliked Robin's ex-boyfriend who kept cropping up, he was a real pain, and I'm not sure who if anyone liked him. Whereas Will the man who is sorting out his aunts house next to the guesthouse, was my sort of guy! There are also two adorable pets in this book, one kitten and one dog.  This book is a fantastic poolside read and yet again the author has come up with an incredible book that has some great storylines in. 

Amazon UK
The Lipstick Killers by Lee Martin - 5 Stars

Story involving a family of kick-ass women that won't take anything lying down. I was impressed with the attitudes of two of the family members in particular, as they try to work out exactly what is was that Monty was involved in before his untimely death.  Mags and Roxie both really know how to handle themselves, and due to personal circumstances have very little to lose by trying to see justice is served. The pacing in the book is fantastic, frenetic and kept me intrigued and reading the whole way through.  For a book that I have had on my kindle for over 4 years and that I keep forgetting about, this was unexpectedly great for me, and I am already looking forward to reading other books by the author. 

Amazon UK
The Summer of New Beginnings by Helen Rolfe - 5 Stars

Set in Primrose Bay, near Melbourne this was a story of family, in particular of sibling relationships and rivalries that have been present for their entire lives. The Marcello family have 3 children, Will is the oldest who is now living in New York, Mia is the middle child, close in age to Will, and has a teenage daughter, and youngest daughter by far Jasmine, who lives in London, and seems to get on best with her niece. 

There are all manner of jealousies in this book as the siblings get together to try to keep the family business running, while their parents are seemingly going through a crisis. There is plenty of family bickering in this story, and I loved the way the three siblings evolved as characters as the book progressed. I loved Mia's picnic hamper company, clearly a lot of thought had been put into it, I loved the food in the hampers and the cafe. I really enjoyed everything about this book, and it was the perfect way to end my holiday reading, with such an entertaining story. 

As you can see I managed to pick a fantastic selection of books for my holiday this time. I thoroughly enjoyed them on the whole, and even got to read a couple of books that have been lurking on my kindle for too many years!

What do you think of these? Are you going anywhere on holiday anytime soon? Would love to hear from you. 

Guest Post & Giveaway - Chances by Sue Shepherd - Chances Fortnight

An interesting title. There are many ways we can take a chance. We can try something we wouldn’t normally choose, ‘I’ll take a chance and try the curry, please.’ ‘I’ve never read this author before, but I took a chance because I loved the blurb.’ ‘I don’t normally wear bright orange trousers, but they called out to me to take a chance.’ You get the idea. 

We also take chances when we stretch ourselves. When we apply for a job that’s a level up from our present one, but we think it’s worth a shot. Or when we approach someone in a bar even though they’re a little out of our league. (Do people still approach others in bars?)

Anyway, today, I thought I’d share with you one of the biggest chances I’ve taken. 

 I was fast approaching the age of 43, married, and a proud mum to 2 sons. One day, out of the blue, my husband and I had a very unexpected conversation. We were sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and we both looked at a new-born baby in a car seat. We remarked on how quickly the baby stage flies by. Our children were 6 and 9; we had no further need for baby seats. My husband said something like, ‘Do you think we’ve left it too late to have one more?’ I replied, ‘I’m over 40, of course we have.’ We both stared at the baby.

Once home, I googled the chances of a woman having a baby at 42, and happened upon a site called Mumsnet. It was a whole new world. I found a group of women in their forties, all trying to get pregnant. I was amazed. It hadn’t occurred to me that people chose to have babies that late. Suddenly, from nowhere, came the overwhelming desire for a third child. I went from “My family is complete.” To “I really want another baby.” From 0-60 in a matter of seconds. 

We discussed it and agreed we’d give it a go. The odds weren’t great. My eggs were old. We had to face the possibility of birth defects and our chances of miscarriage were high. At any point we could’ve said, ‘This is madness, let’s forget it.’ But we both wanted to try.

We were successful within six months. Naively, we told the boys. They were very excited. Our friends and family were pleased, although many thought we were nuts. To one friend, I said, ‘By the way, it was planned.’ She replied, ‘Oh God, I know that. No one our age has sex unless they have to!’

Just before my twelve week scan I began to bleed. Even now, I can remember the feeling of cold hard fear clutching at my heart. A scan revealed that the baby had stopped developing at about 8 weeks. I felt like a fraud. I’d been under the impression that I was still pregnant for the last month and actually the baby had no heartbeat. It’s called a missed miscarriage. It’s one of life’s cruelest tricks. 
Our mistake had been to tell the boys before twelve weeks, we now had the heartache of telling them the baby was gone. I stupidly used the term, ‘We’ve lost the baby.’ This confused the heck out of our six-year-old, who figured it was blatantly obvious where the baby was. 
I had a procedure to remove the failed pregnancy. I was crying, and the nurse told me not to worry, she said that there would be other chances. I sobbed, ‘But, I’m 43!’ Her face fell a little.

I was pregnant again within 3 months. Far more wary that time, there was no telling the boys. No assumptions were made. 

Sadly, I miscarried at 6 weeks. I still mark the date, along with the first loss. 

Some people might have given up at that point, but I knew many 40+ women on Mumsnet who were successfully having babies. So, determined, we carried on trying.

I wish I could tell you that the third time was a charm, or that persistence paid off. But, you only have to look at my profile to see how many children I have. Two. Two sons. The same two sons I had that day when I sat in the doctor’s and looked at the new-born baby. 

There were no more pregnancies for me. Each year into my forties the possibility became less and less likely. Until the day when I finally accepted it was never going to happen. 

Am I sorry that I took that chance? Absolutely not! If I had never tried, there would always be a part of me that wondered what might have been. I would’ve assumed that success would’ve been a given. I think I had to take that chance, in order to learn that a third child wasn’t a possibility for us. 

I look back now and I realise that my life would be so different if I had a six-year-old. Maybe it would be better, but I love being an author and I very much doubt I’d have had the time to finish my first book with a baby in my life. 

When my first book was published, it was like a baby for me. (As was my second.) I’m aware that might sound crazy, but I put so much into them and I’m so proud of them. There’s a reason authors call them book babies, you know. Plus, two years ago, we got our gorgeous standard poodle, Forrest and he’s my darling fur baby. 

I will never forget our two tiny lost babies, but, I can honestly say I’m at peace with the outcome of the chance I took.

Thank you so much Sue, for opening up and sharing your chance with us. That must have been hard to write and I'm glad you have got through to the other end.

About Sue Shepherd

Sue Shepherd writes contemporary romance and enjoys creating novels with heart, laughs and naughtiness. She doesn’t pull any punches when choosing her subjects, but manages to handle her characters’ challenging situations with sensitivity and humour.

Her debut novel 'Doesn't Everyone Have a Secret?' was published by Corazon Books in March 2015.  It reached the top 10 UK Kindle chart, and also topped the romantic comedy, contemporary romance and humour charts. It became available in paperback on Amazon.UK in November 2015. 

Sue’s second novel ‘Love Them and Leave Them’ was published in September 2016.

Sue lives on the picturesque Isle of Wight with her husband, two sons and a standard poodle.  Her passions in life are: her family, writing, the sea-side and all the beautiful purple things her sons have bought her over the years.  Ask Sue to plan too far in advance and you'll give her the heebie-jeebies and she'd prefer you not to mention Christmas until at least November!

Twitter - @thatsueshepherd
Facebook -

Giveaway to Win a £5 Amazon Voucher (UK Only)

Ian at Corazon Books, Sue Shepherd's publisher,  has kindly offered my readers a chance to win a £5 Amazon voucher. He would like to urge you to use it to take a chance on some authors new to you, and possibly take a look at Sue Shepherd's books too! 

Giveaway open to the UK onlu, all options are voluntary, but please do what they ask, as I will be verifying the winner. Giveaway closes 23:59 14/06/2017. Winner will be announced on twitter and emailed, and they will need to reply within 7 days, or forfeit the prize, and I will re-draw for a new winner.  Good luck everyone.

Win a £5 Amazon Voucher (UK Only)

Book Review - Under the Cherry Tree by Lilac Mills - Chances Fortnight - #AroundTheUKIn144Books #Worcestershire

I feel as though I took a chance on Under the Cherry Tree as Lilac Mills is a debut author, and also a book blogger, and when you are reviewing a brand new author, without really hearing much about the book it could always be a gamble! 

Amazon UK
Title:  Under the Cherry Tree
Author: Lilac Mills
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Author supplied copy
Publisher: Lilac Tree Books
Publication Date: 31st May 2017
Rating: 5 Stars

“My dog didn't like men. Actually that was a lie – she didn't like the men I chose. The only ones who rocked her world had been my father (who was no longer with us), Ross (who was gay), and the butcher on the high street (for obvious reasons).”

When Jenni Meadows has the opportunity to expand her dog-grooming business she takes it, and when a nice man appears on her horizon but fails to make any sparks fly, she decides she has enough on her plate with her business without adding a boyfriend into the mix.

Besides, Millie doesn’t like him and when her dog doesn’t like a man, Jenni knows all about it. So why does Millie take a very strange liking to the new vet, especially since he has a taciturn expression, wears a wedding ring, and wields a needle?

Under the Cherry Tree is a tale of love and hope, waggy tails, and cold noses.

What a rollercoaster of emotion I have just been on, and don't mean it in the typical this was a heavily emotional book. In fact for the most part its incredibly light hearted with plenty of laughs to be had. And its due to the quality of the writing and how well you get to know the characters which is why certain events hit me incredibly hard. 

There was a particular film that came to mind during parts of this book, which this felt slightly reminiscent of, but I will refrain from naming the film, as anyone knows it may then guess certain outcomes of this story and I wouldn't want that. 

As far as I'm concerned this book is all about Millie, she is the best character, and although she doesn't speak, she communicates surprisingly well and its amazing at how many men she seems to really dislike. I should possibly mention that Millie is in fact a Westie, and one of the best four legged characters I've read this year. 

She is full of character, and is inseparable from her human Jenni. Jenni is dog mad, and hopes to expand her dog grooming business to include dog behaviour training and agility classes, plus a whole lot more. Jenni is also single although there are three very distinct possible men on the horizon, so she hopes one of them may turn into something more. 

There is Mark with his parent's dog Randy who is a real handful, Neil the architect who feels a bit slimy, even from the start, and there is locum vet Scott. Of these men Millie attacks one, fawns over another and shows utter indifference to the third.  

Besides Millie and men, there is another storyline in progress, which is about Jenni's expansion plans, and whether she will touch the money she has in order to buy the perfect property for the business, and its not long after Jenni starts to look at a property that the title of the book begins to make some sense. 

Under The Cherry Tree is a very entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable debut novel, that had me smiling and crying. It is a reasonably quick read and Lilac has a great turn of phrase, which pulls the reader right into the book and won't let you go. This book is a must for dog lovers, dogs in fiction lovers, animal lovers and  generally anyone who enjoys a good fun romantic comedy. 

Thank you so much to Lilac for this copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Guest Post & Giveaway - How I Took a Chance on a New Agent by Carrie Elks - Chances Fortnight

I was sitting by a pool in sunny Portugal the day my life changed. I picked up my phone and checked my Facebook messages, and one of them was from an online friend from Brazil, telling me she was becoming an agent. She asked if I’d consider her representing me. I showed the message to my husband and asked him if he thought it was some kind of scam.

But let’s step back a moment. Back in those days – the summer of 2013 – I was writing fan fiction, and had gained a small online readership, including my friend from Brazil. At that time a lot of authors were breaking out from fan fiction, thanks to their talent and a huge appetite for new stories caused by the rise of the e-reader. I, on the other hand, was still just writing for fun, and posting online once or twice a week. It was – and still is – a lovely community of writers, readers and supporters, and I was happy there.

And then came the message. Would I be interested in writing something to be published? My friend explained that she was joining a new agency, and they were looking for fresh and exciting authors. They were already representing a number of successful, mostly self-published, romance authors, and had made some foreign rights sales.

I remember saying to my husband ‘I’ll see where it goes. As long as they don’t ask me for any money upfront, then I’ll assume it’s not a scam.’

Best. Decision. Ever.

Within twelve months of that first contact, my book, Fix You, was sold to a Brazilian publisher for Portuguese rights, and then to Corvus as an eBook in the UK. Since then the novel has been sold to another 5 countries, and was released in paperback here in the UK, allowing me to finally see my book in the shops. Now I’ve written a new four-part series – The Shakespeare Sisters – which was picked up by Piatkus here in Britain, and by Editora Record in Brazil. The first book in the series, Summer’s Lease, will be released in eBook and paperback on July 13th.

And that person who messaged me back in 2013? She’s not only still my agent, but also a dear friend. It’s a rare week that we don’t chat – on messenger, Skype, Whatsapp or whatever device we can find. She’s my number one supporter, but also my strongest critic; always pushing me to produce the work she assures me I’m capable of. Even better, as I’ve grown into a certain level of success, so has the agency (Bookcase Agency) – and I’m proud of all of us.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d ignored that message and gone for a swim instead. I’m so happy I took a chance and said yes.

Thank you so much Carrie for sharing with us your chance on a new agent. I'm so glad it worked out for you and I'm really looking forward to your new book. 

Can the one who broke your heart be the one to heal it?

On New Year's Eve, 1999, Hanna and Richard meet. She is a born and bred Londoner with plans for a career in journalism. He is the son of a wealthy New Yorker and destined for Wall Street. As Hanna and Richard go back to their own worlds they keep in touch, and when Hanna has her heart broken it's Richard she turns to. They reunite and fall deeply, madly in love.

But they can't possibly imagine the ways their love will be tested. Fifteen years after they first meet, neither can bear to hear the other's name spoken. Then one day Hanna walks into Richard's office and reveals a shocking secret. Richard must decide if he can forgive her. And both need to choose whether to take a second chance on happiness, or if their love is beyond repair?

Giveaway to Win a signed copy of Fix You (Open Internationally)

Carrie Elks is giving you a chance to win a signed copy of Fix You, the resulting book from her own chance. 

Giveaway open internationally, all options are voluntary, but please do what they ask, as I will be verifying the winner. Giveaway closes 23:59 14/06/2017. Winner will be announced on twitter and emailed, and they will need to reply within 7 days, or forfeit the prize, and I will re-draw for a new winner.  Good luck everyone.

Win a signed copy of Fix You (Open Internationally)


Carrie Elks lives near London, England and writes contemporary romance with a dash of intrigue. At the age of twenty-one she left college with a political science degree, a healthy overdraft and a soon-to-be husband. She loves to travel and meet new people, and has lived in the USA and Switzerland as well as the UK. When she isn't reading or writing, she can usually be found baking, drinking wine or working out how to combine the two.



Tuesday 30 May 2017

Guest Post - Taking a chance on a creative writing course by Catherine Simpson - Chances Fortnight

I wrote my first book when I was eight and then got writer’s block for nearly forty years. I dreamed of writing a book throughout my teens and twenties but instead I trained to be a journalist – it seemed a more realistic way of making a living with words.

Journalism was good to us (my husband is a journalist too). I enjoyed interviewing people with amazing real life stories and writing them for women’s magazines including Woman’s Own and Closer. It was well-paid work I could fit in around raising two children, one of whom is autistic. I still had a dream of writing a book but I voiced that dream less and less and stopped believing it would ever happen.

Then when I was 45 my uncle died and left me a small legacy. At the same time a friend told me she’d signed up for a Creative Writing course with the Open University. I was galvanised into action. What better thing to spend my uncle’s legacy on than finding out once and for all if I could write fiction?

I took a chance and signed up.

This felt like an enormous risk because as long as I didn’t make an attempt to write fiction I couldn’t fail at it. But I think I’d got to the stage that the fear of failing was overtaken by the fear that I would never try at all.

The OU course was online and we were asked to write short pieces and submit them for critique by a small group of peers.

I sat at my kitchen table, brand new notebook in front of me, all ready to get going, knowing I would find out pretty soon if I could write things people enjoyed reading.

The first thing I learned (and very quickly) was that I loved doing the OU writing exercises. Once I started I didn’t want to stop. I realised creative writing was a way to find out what you thought about all sorts of things.

I was nervous when I pressed the ‘send’ button and my fledgling bits of work flew off to the members of my tutorial group.

I was delighted and relieved to receive positive feedback from someone who became a good friend and remains so today. From that moment my confidence began to grow.

I did two years of OU Creative Writing and, knowing I still had a lot to learn, I went on to do a Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University. As part of the MA I had to write the first 20,000 words of a novel. That novel became my debut novel, Truestory, about a woman struggling to raise a child with autism who refuses to leave the house. It is fiction inspired by my own experiences and is a book full of humour and hope.

I was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award when I submitted the opening passages of Truestory. The mentorship they offered helped me finish it. I got an agent shortly after and Truestory was published by Sandstone Press in 2015. I was 51 and it was a dream come true.

It has been translated into Danish and is due for publication in Denmark in May 2017.

My website:

My Amazon Author page:

Twitter: @cath_simpson13
Thank you so much Catherine for sharing your chance with us, It is always encouraging to know that its always possible to realise a dream no matter your age. 

Book Review - Be My Killer by Richard Parker - Chances Fortnight

This book was chosen for Chances fortnight as I have never read the author before, and also often find hyped thrillers a risk for me, as I don't always have the same reactions as the majority towards them. 

Amazon UK
Title:  Be My Killer
Author: Richard Parker
Format reviewed: Ebook
Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Bookouture
Publication Date: 26th May 2017
Rating: 3 Stars

You set the trap. Now you can’t escape.

When an online prank goes viral and triggers a spate of gruesome murders, documentary maker Hazel Salter watches in horror. But then Hazel’s childhood friend, Meredith Hickman, is the next victim and Hazel knows she has to find out what happened to her.

Is it one killer or more? Random acts of violence, or part of a bigger, twisted plan?

The police have no leads, but Hazel has a theory – one she’ll stop at nothing to prove – and she also has a film crew. She’ll make a documentary, catch the killer, and give Meredith justice.

Her stage is the abandoned amusement park where Meredith was found. 

Her cast are the family and friends the killer left behind. 

And her crew? They keep disappearing, one by one…

I was oddly compelled to keep turning the pages and to find out what happened, but I'm not completely convinced I enjoyed the book.  It definitely has a hook and the short chapters make it feel as though you are whizzing through the pages. 

However equally there were multiple times where I had to stop reading for a bit, and clear my head, as the vivid violent descriptions were a bit too much for me, and at least one of them had me feeling incredibly ill, as I could see the death play out far too clearly for my liking. Other may love this, but for someone who is very squeamish, there were parts that just weren't for me. 

For a large amount of the second half of the book, my best description of it, would be that it would make a great horror/scary movie. There is a small group of people making a film about a chain of deaths that started on social media, and are staying and shooting in an abandoned amusement park. Yet periodically it seemed like someone connected with the filming would "disappear". 

As readers we would then get a chapter, or a few chapters about exactly what happened to that character, all the while the group doing the filming was getting smaller and smaller, seemingly oblivious to the clearly larger danger at hand. 

Yet the start of the book, apart from the initial murder, was relatively sedate and I honestly for a fair amount of the book didn't think I was particularly reading a thriller or similar genre book, more a drama that had turned to the dark side for a bit. 

Did I see the ending coming? Not a clue, didn't have an inkling as to how the final outcome would resolve itself. I wasn't even sure how to go about guessing it, I was just going with the flow and probably as just as surprised as the characters. 

Ultimately the book is well written, it kept me guessing but I just wasn't completely enamoured by it. I suspect its more one of those "it's not the book but me" situations, yet I'm positively plenty of other people will be raving about it. It just didn't affect me the way I would have wanted it to. 

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Bookouture for this copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily. 

Guest Post & Giveaway - Take a look at Jennifer Wilson's Chance - Chances Fortnight

Hi Rachel, and thank you for inviting me to join your blog today.

I’m not always good at taking chances. I’m a bit of a ‘stay safe’ sort of person, but in late 2014, I decided to give chances a go, and threw my name in the hat for a Very Important Ballot. Very important to me, at any rate.

I am a Ricardian. That is, I am a supporter of King Richard III of England, and, I confess, this has sometimes edged just slightly into obsession.

It’s an odd thing to ‘lose’ a King of England, but for over 500 years, that’s what had happened to Richard, after his defeat and hurried, undignified burial in Greyfriars Priory Church at Leicester, following the Battle of Bosworth. People knew where the church had been, but with centuries of building and development, the site of the actual burial had been lost, until a campaign led to an archaeological dig in 2012.

I was hooked to the press conference on 4th February 2013, when they announced that a skeleton discovered the previous September was indeed that of Richard III. The scene was set for a magnificent reburial, with plans finally announced that the location would be Leicester Cathedral.
And so to that chance in December 2014. A ballot was announced, giving 600 ordinary people the chance to be part of the three services which formed the reburial week. How could I not take part? I just wanted to say I had been part of it, and fast forward to January 2015, when the gold-rimmed envelope appeared in my letterbox, I just assumed it was to tell me I hadn’t been successful. On reflection, opening said envelope on the busy Metro during my morning commute wasn’t the smartest idea… I was invited to Compline! Ok, so I had to instantly Google Compline to check what it actually was, but in that moment, I didn’t honestly care – I was off to Leicester!

The weekend of 21/22 March 2015 was magical for me. A Saturday of lectures, then on the Sunday, the official unveiling of Richard’s coffin, following his hearse along the first part of his journey, then sitting in the cathedral (front row!), watching that same coffin being carried in for the first time. Filtering past it at the end of the service is something I’ll never forget.

It was an inspiring day, and later that evening, sat in the Travelodge (apparently built on the site of the inn where Richard spent his final night before travelling to Bosworth), I started scribbling, and by the end of the night I had three poems (none particularly great, but never mind), and finally, the motivation to finish editing the draft novel I had completed during the previous November’s NaNoWriMo.

Within the month, it was finished, polished and preened, and then came another decision to take a chance. To submit, or not to submit – that was the question. My mum provided the answer, advising me, kindly, to “stop faffing about and submit it.” So I did. To the wonderful Crooked Cat Books, and in October 2015, only six months after sitting in Leicester Cathedral, there was my debut novel, up on Amazon, for all the world to see (and, hopefully, buy!).

Two chances, which I am so glad I took, mainly because they made me a heck of a lot braver and willing to take more.

And the latest? Hitting ‘send’ and submitting what has since become my second novel, due for release in June 2017.

Giveaway to Win an e-copy of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London (Open Internationally)
Jennifer Wilson is very kindly giving my followers a chance to win an e-copy of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London

Giveaway open internationally, all options are voluntary, but please do what they ask, as I will be verifying the winner. Giveaway closes 23:59 13/06/2017. Winner will be announced on twitter and emailed, and they will need to reply within 7 days, or forfeit the prize, and I will re-draw for a new winner.  Good luck everyone.

Win an e-copy of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London (Open Internationally)

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, and Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is coming June 2017. She can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog

Sunday 28 May 2017

Character Spotlight on James Ballantyne by Paul Purnell - Blog Tour

The Foreign and Colonial Office known as the FCO is the pillar of British Government Diplomacy. It aims to keep a high standard among its members. It recruits from the best at universities. James Ballantyne could never be in that group.

After High School, he turned his back on academic life. His family background was unremarkable. His parents lived comfortably in Cheshire not far from Manchester and he enjoyed most outdoor sport including shooting and riding. When the time came to think of a job, only one life appealed to him; to be a soldier.

Unable to pass the Sandhurst Academy examination, he chose to apply for a short term commission (for three years) and made his way through the short course to become a second lieutenant. He had found his calling; he passed high in the commission Examinations and joined an infantry regiment. He was nineteen years of age.

Within a year, he found himself in Afghanistan based in Helmand Province. That Province was the sector of Afghanistan allocated to the British Army. In brief, the Army was over stretched and he became involved in several fire fights against larger groups of Muhjaddin. His skill in these situations was noted and he came through that tour of duty with high marks in his Personal Report.
Boosted by this, when the regiment came back to the U.K, he applied for a transfer to the Marines. Months passed before the transfer was approved. In the meantime he enjoyed the social life of a young unattached officer in a popular regiment stationed near London. Invitations to parties and other social events came easily to hand and he was in demand. For months he grew accustomed to the life and enjoyed it. There were several girls who reckoned they had lassooed him. He knew he was not cut out for their world of social triviality and the idea horrified him. He never gave the idea of a serious relationship much thought but enjoyed what came along. When the transfer came through he ran like a greyhound.

Life in the Marines is hard and he confronted the rigour of training with fierce concentration. During the Iraq war, his unit remained on standby for months until finally deployed to Basra. After the official withdrawl of British troops, his patrol stayed on for observation duties. 
That was how he became involved in the incident leading to his court-martial. After an ambush by insurgents, his patrol took prisoners for interrogation. Two of the four prisoners were shot. His account at court-martial was they tried to escape by seizing the weapons of the men guarding them and were shot escaping.

The court-martial dismissed the charge of manslaughter but brought in a verdict of insubordination arising from his disobedience of orders not to pursue combatants. No penalty was imposed but it had to be recorded on his Personal File. Effectively, this meant the end of his military career.

For a year he travelled in Asia, improving his Russian and Farsi which he picked up in Afghanistan. He had no clear plan of what to do. A chance meeting with an old army friend introduced him to a FCO official, Sir Edmund Cravendale. It was a crucial meeting, since Cravendale needed personnel to carry out 'unofficial' tasks for the Foreign Office. That is, tasks which would not be directly linked to the British Foreign Service. Unofficial enquiries confirmed Ballantyne's combat record and Cravendale urged him to apply for FCO employment. He was rejected officially but Cravendale overruled the decision and took a chance, sending him to Kazakhstan on a simple exercise of treaty preparation. It was intended as a test. Events turned out unexpectedly.

James Ballantyne travels to Kazakhstan on a minor diplomatic assignment. A simple task, but he falls for the glamorous aide Ocksana Petrova, sent to guide him through the process. Fate leads him to the rescue of a US special agent who is the target of assassination by the Kazak authorities.
What should Ballantyne do? Should he be led by duty or compassion?

Events force his hand and he recruits smugglers to get the agent away from Kazakhstan. The escape route is dangerous and it becomes clear they are being monitored every inch of the way. Is his new love, Ocksana, behind the surveillance? Or has his own team been infiltrated?
Getting out of Kazakhstan alive will draw upon all of James’s military skills, and a lot of luck. With ambush and deception along the way, will he make it to the border and safety? How can he protect his lover? This journey through a wild country stretches every nerve.

Purchase from Amazon UK 

About Paul Purnell

Based in London, Paul Purnell has worked for over forty-years as a Criminal Law barrister. After serving five years stationed in Germany with the British Army, Purnell began his career as a trial lawyer prosecuting and defending in serious criminal cases across the country. Later he was appointed Queen’s Counsel, a role which has seen him engaged in court cases both across the country and to far flung destinations including the Cayman Islands and Kazakhstan. His extensive experience and understanding of the criminal world has provided the inspiration for his short stories and his latest Jack Ballantyne series. When not writing, or in court, he enjoys racing around the country on his motorbike and spending time with his three children and grandchildren.

Previous titles include a series of well-received short stories; The Hireling (2015), Scaramouche (2015) and The Storm (2016).

If you liked this taste of The Kazak Contract, then follow along with the rest of the blog tour. 

Fab Firsts - Q&A with Alice May

Take a chance on an author new to Rachel's Random Reads - Alice May. 

Fab Firsts is my new regular Sunday feature, that is going to be highlighting books that are firsts. When interviewing authors, it will be about their first book, as well as other firsts in their lives. When reviewing books for this feature, there will be a mix of debuts, first books in a series, the first time I read an author, and possibly other firsts depending on what I can think of!

If you are an author wanting to take part in Fab Firsts then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you.

I hope you enjoy this look at a variety of hopefully fabulous firsts, while making some sort of dent in my review and paperback TBRs which are my current main focus!

Hello Rachel Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed for your Fab Firsts feature.


My name is Alice May and I am the author of ‘Accidental Damage’ which is book 1 in the series ‘Tales From The House That Sat Down’. I am currently working on the sequel ‘Consequences’. There is also a third book (as yet un-named) in the series which is in the early planning stages. In addition to these projects I am writing and illustrating a children’s book.

1. Can you tell a bit about your first book?

‘Accidental Damage’ is the tale of a family of six who suddenly find themselves homeless after their old cottage falls down completely out of the blue one day. With nowhere to go they are forced to move into a tent in the garden. The tent is supposed to be a temporary solution but when their house insurance company refuse to help them the tent becomes a more permanent fixture.

Told retrospectively from the mother’s point of view, ‘Accidental Damage’ is packed with both humorous anecdotes and brutally honest reactions to what it is like to live in your garden whilst working out how you are going to rebuild your home. 

It is a tale of family love and loyalty, proving that if you pull together as a team and look after each other you can survive anything. 

2. What was your original Inspiration to become a writer, and to write your debut novel?

Having been a prolific reader all my life, I had always thought that one day I would write a book. Nevertheless I was completely unprepared for the fact that one day would suddenly arrive unexpectedly and that I would quite literally just sit down and actually start writing.

No joke! One minute I wasn’t writing and book and the next minute I was.


The urge to write completely overwhelmed me and once I started I found I couldn’t stop. I wrote day and night for three weeks. My beloved husband thought I had gone a bit mad, but by the end of that time I had 60,000 words and the initial draft of my first novel. 

It seemed that ‘Accidental Damage’ was a story that wanted to be told.

3. How long did it take you to write your first book

As I mentioned, the first draft was written in approximately three weeks, but after that began the lengthy process of editing and re-writing as well as cover design etc. It was important to me that I be able to use my own artwork on the cover of the book.

Having never done anything like this before I was completely clueless and had to learn everything from scratch, which has been fun and scary at the same time. All in all it took about six months to get ‘Accidental Damage’ ready for publishing. Then on 1st August 2016 ‘Accidental Damage’ was officially published. It was an amazing feeling.

4. If you could do anything different in retrospect, what would you change about your debut, or how you went about writing it?

In retrospect I would probably do a lot more research into the world of publishing. There are so many different ways to approach it.  I had no idea that promotion and marketing were going to be such a massive part of the whole process or that you would have to devote quite so much time to it that it can get in the way of actually writing.

5. Was your book self or traditionally published, and how did you go about making that decision?

‘Accidental Damage’ is self-published. I am a control freak and wanted to retain complete artistic control over my work and self-publishing allows me to do that. I do appreciate that this makes the promotion and marketing side of things a lot more work but I don’t regret my decision.

6. Do you have any tips for other first time authors?

I would advise any first time authors to join social media author/writer groups. There are so many inspirational people out (authors/reviewers/bloggers etc) there with fantastic advice for newbie authors. Find a group that is supportive and inclusive and you can ask all sorts of daft questions about writing, publishing and promotion and get practical advice and support. The book community is a very special one.

7. What was the first book you bought?

The first book I bought was Watership Down by Richard Adams. I was ten years old and saved my pocket money for it. I must have re-read it a hundred times and eventually the pages all fell out. 

8. What was your first pet?

My first pet was a rabbit.

9. What was the first prize you won?

I remember wining a first prize for poetry in an Eisteddfod (a traditional Welsh festival of literature, music and performance) when I was 16.

Thank you so much Alice for answering my questions.

Contact details

‘Accidental Damage’ by Alice May is available from

Twitter: @AliceMay_Author
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