Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Book Review: The Mirror World of Melody Black

The Mirror World of Melody Black
By Gavin Extence
Published by Hodder
Available in paperback & ebook

The Mirror World of Melody Black starts with a dead body, and a woman standing over this body, smoking, unable to comprehend what is happening to her.

Gavin Extence's second novel, The Mirror World of Melody Black is a realist portrayal of inner struggles, and the way these can manifest themselves into reality.

Abby lives with her boyfriend in London, working as a freelance journalist. Life should be rosy but she has just found her next door neighbour dead in his flat. And all she can do is stand there, watching over the body, unable to react with any emotion.

Abby suffers from type two bipolar disorder and her period of mania sends her mind into hyperdrive - she can't sleep, extreme moods are pushing her in all directions, and her burst of energy sends her to Oxford, back to London to have lunch and go on a shopping spree before ending up in a posh hotel in a designer dress with a man who isn't her boyfriend. She needs her therapist... From there she is admitted to hospital, and starts to recover, slowly, with help from health professionals.

This is a book about isolation in its many forms. There is the feeling of isolation even though the book is set in London - we all live in tightly packed flats with another human only being a couple of feet away but at the same time there is this feeling of emptiness and loneliness as people do not seem to want to become involved in other peoples business. There is also isolation from the people who love you the most, and also from yourself when your mind and body become detached from each other.

Extence has created a book that is full of humour but also slows the reality of mental health issues. As well as showing the way a person becomes tangled with their struggles it also shows people being on the outside, desperate to help but not being let in to give that support or really knowing what to do.

This is a witty, painful yet compelling, and you should definitely read this book. You can buy The Mirror World of Melody Black from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy from the publisher.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Fiona Harper's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Fiona Harper, The Summer We Danced, to Writer's Little Helper to take part in
the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A. Fiona has give some great answers!

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What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. I’m rubbish at thinking up titles for my books most of the time, but this is even more difficult. Let me chew on that one for a moment…

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Now this one’s easier: within easy walking distance of my house. Next-door would be good. And if it also had a café - a place where I could escape my family and work and sip lattes at the same time, I’d be in heaven!

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
Okay, now you’re talking! If the café could serve cocktails in the evening and have a place where I could tap dance when I needed a break (my latest obsession after researching The Summer We Danced) I don’t think I’d ever leave.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
Is cocktails and tap dancing not different enough?! Okay, if this were really going to be my dream bookshop, it would have a walled garden out the back, full of roses and wisteria, where I could take my latte/margarita and read under the shade of a tree.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
Definitely lots of room for romance and happy endings! There would also have to be lots of cookery books, because I’m slightly addicted to them. (Don’t tell my husband I bought at least three last month!) I don’t think I’d ditch anything, even if every genre isn’t to my taste, because dictating to people what they should or shouldn’t be reading is a horrible idea.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I’d put my dog-eared and much loved favourites on it, so everyone could love them as much as I do. For display purposes only, mind! If you want your own copy, go and get one off the shelf!

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
I think I would pick Roald Dahl, because his imagination was boundless. I think we’d all disappear through a secret door in one of the bookshelves and travel by glass elevator to Charlie’s chocolate factory, burrow through James’s peach and then go and help Matilda teach Miss Trunchbull a thing or two, before arriving back at the bookshop in time for tea and scones.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Summer We Danced and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
If someone wanted to buy The Summer We Danced, I’d tell them it’s a book about love, friendship and learning how to love yourself, no matter what your size, age or bra-size. Oh, and about the quest for the perfect time step, too.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Coffee cake. It’s my absolute favourite, with lashings of cappuccino-inspired icing and chocolate-covered coffee beans on top! Stop it. I’m making myself hungry…

Oh, yes! A bookshop name! I’d have to pick The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams, which is a bit of a cheat, because it’s the title of one of my books. However, that’s what books contain, don’t they? Hopes and dreams. I can’t think of a better name than that.

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Author Biography
Fiona lives in London, but her other favourite places to be are the Highlands of Scotland and the English countryside on a summer's afternoon. She loves dancing, cooking and anything cinnamon-flavoured. Of course, she still can't keep away from a good book or a good movie—especially romances—but only if she's stocked up with tissues, because she knows she will need them by the ending, no matter if they're happy or sad. Fiona has written numerous books for Harlequin/Mills & Boon and many of her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in 30 different countries across the world


The Summer We Danced by Fiona Harper is out now in paperback and ebook (MIRA)

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Book Review: Jane Steele

Jane Steele
By Lindsay Faye
Published by Headline
Available in trade paperback and ebook
Paperback forthcoming


We've had classics remade into modern day versions - Pride and Prejudice morphed into Bridget Jones' Diary, and we've had zombies make appearances in classics - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Now we have gutsy, independent and fierce serial killers in the reimagining of Jane Eyre.

This is gothic romp full of thrills and spills (of blood, lots of blood!) with a protagonist who will not suffer fools or tolerate rat-bags. Jane Steele adores Jane Eyre, not just in their related characteristics but their lives - both orphans, both suffering cruelly in the hands of family, and working as a governess but there's one huge difference. Reader, Jane Steele is a serial killer, and will hack down anyone who stands in her way.

Leaving corpses as she flees boarding school, London, and the home of her employer. Who, like Jane Eyre, has fallen in love with her employer but will he find out the truth?

I loved this book as I have read Jane Eyre countless times for my A Level English Literature course (back in the day), and funnily enough even though I read it too many times I didn't learn to hate (which normally happens when I read a book over and over, pulling it a part looking for meanings). There are lots of nods towards Jane Eyre, and fans will love this.

This is a book about a woman becoming independent and standing up for her rights when doing so wasn't the 'right thing to do' and was seen as being a failure - it was all about leaving school, being accomplished and marrying a man for fortune and land. Not love. Think Jane Eyre meets Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games.

Jane Steele is a fun and entertaining read, and will appeal to anyone who has read Jane Eyre (if you did A Level English Literature then I'm looking at you) or just wants to read a book and wants to have a jolly good time. You can buy Jane Steele from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Shamim Sarif's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Shamim Sarif, whose novel, Despite The Falling Snow, a story of love and bretrayal in Soviet Russia, has recently been turned into a film starring Charles Dance.

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What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Haven Books. I would have liked to call one of my children Haven, but my wife wasn’t having it.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Within 5 minutes walk of wherever I am living.  And yet always with bird song outside the windows. Except at night. That would be weird.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
Homemade cakes, very gentle jazz (and I mean 1930s to 1950s, Billie Holiday style jazz) in the background. I would love a stage for musicians, singers and readers to entertain guests of the shop. We would also have a small cinema with a fabulous sound system and relaxing seats, where we would show films that had some link, however tenuous, to books. And let’s not forget a wine cellar.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
The coffee would be Italian-made and perfect. The cakes home made and fresh daily. The books would include secondhand books and brand new alongside each other on the shelves. I would also like to run a monthly Shakespeare workshop where people could come to get used to Shakespearian English. I remember it being like learning a new language. But once it clicked, it was like the sunrise in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t believe how brilliant Shakespeare was.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
Religious texts might get elbowed. Otherwise, I would have a broad range. Lots of fiction, but also travel, business (primarily for my wife) and other non-fiction. I might not spend a huge amount of time there, but I respect those who might want to.  I’d like a section of film books, memoirs and autobiographies too. And cookery books. Love those.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I think it would be fun to have other writers select their all time favourite books and put those out. So more of a curated selection that changes weekly. Certainly, Haven Books would not expect publishers to pay for 3 for 2 promotions to get onto the tables.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
John Keats, perhaps. I love his poetry and he always looks so pale and thin. In dire need of some good cake and some looking after.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Despite The Falling Snow and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
Since I wrote and directed the film, I became good at pitching (in an awkward, British, artistic way). So I would tell them that in Cold War Moscow, a young woman spy falls in love with the man she is spying on. Even as she starts to change her mind about betraying him, the net starts to close. If they don’t want to read it after that, I would suggest the religious texts as an antidote to Soviet spies.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

There can be no limits to cake. Fresh scones are a must, but that would be between 2 and 4pm so they can be eaten right out of the oven. Carrot cake, lemon cake and my famous chocolate fudge cake would also be daily offerings. Salted caramel sauce can be kept handy to pour over anything that people would like, from cake to ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’.

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Shamim Sarif tweets here.

You can buy Despite the Falling Snow here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Phaedra Patrick's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Phaedra Patrick to Writer's Little Helper to take part in the latest Imaginary Bookshop Q&A. Phaedra's debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper came out last week, and would appeal to fans of A Man Called Ove and The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.



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What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?

My bookshop will be called Once Upon a Time. It’s the first line that everyone learns when reading books.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
It will be close to my home in Saddleworth, surrounded by hills and by the side of the canal so that passers-by can drop in, grab a coffee and browse through some gorgeous books whilst watching
canal boats drift by.

Would your bookshop have any special features?

In the middle of the shop will be a Princess and the Pea style bed, piled high with mattresses. A long
ladder will allow customers to climb up to the top, to settle down to read a book. The bookshop will
have low squashy leather sofas with lots of coloured cushions, and large glass windows to let in lots
of light.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?

I love the idea of the bookshop being a community hub, for people to drop in and to get to know each
other, whilst sharing their love of books. I’ll host a monthly book-swap so customers can get together,
to pass on a book that they’ve read and loved in exchange for one that they haven’t yet discovered.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? Are there any traditional sections you’d do away with?
It’s a smallish bookshop so I can’t feature all sections but I’ll definitely stock books that have a touch
of magic about them, which transport you away from everyday life. I especially love books about
street art and murals, and books about modern jewellery design. If I have to get rid of any traditional
sections then my least favourite subjects at school would have to go – science, history and maths.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I shall display my favourite authors on a large refectory-style table at the front of the shop. Anything
by Lucy Clarke, Sarah Addison-Allen and Antoine Laurain will have a great spot, as will Nina George’s Little Paris Bookshop. I’ll also add a few beautiful art books to browse through and, of course, I’ll display a few copies of my own book too.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
My author event will be with Joanne Harris as her book Chocolat was a big influence on my writing. I’d invite her to read from her favourite work and host a Q&A with an audience. My own question would be to ask Joanne how she felt when she first saw her book on the big screen.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I’d tell them that the book is about an elderly widower who finds a mysterious charm bracelet in his
late wife’s wardrobe. He sets off on a journey to discover, charm-by-charm, his wife’s secret life before they met. I’d say that it’s a poignant, funny, warm and life-affirming read.


What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
My favourite is lemon drizzle cake, so I’d offer that for others to eat too, though I’ll probably save the biggest piece for myself!

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You can buy The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper from your favourite bookshop.