Publication Day – In the Lion’s Den by Barbara Taylor Bradford

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SYNOPSIS:

In the Lion’s Den is a gripping new Victorian epic novel featuring the characters of the House of Falconer series from beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author, Barbara Taylor Bradford.

London, 1889: Victorian London is a place of wealth, privilege and poverty, a city of extremes. For James Falconer, who grew up as a barrow boy on a London market, it is a city of opportunity.

Working his way up Henry Malvern’s trading company in Piccadilly, James faces fraud and betrayal. A fierce rivalry develops with Henry’s daughter and heir Alexis – but their animosity masks a powerful attraction.

Embarking on a love affair with the daughter of Russian émigrés, James’s life begins to transform. But as treachery and danger threaten, a secret comes to light that will change his life forever. James must decide where his future lies – with Henry Malverm or following his own dream…

MY THOUGHTS:

We’ve all heard of the legendary Barbara Taylor Bradford but would it occur to you to pick up one of her books? As soon as I read the synopsis for her latest book, In the Lion’s Den, I knew it was a book I’d enjoy. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction and this sounded like exactly the kind of book that was perfect to curl up with on a cosy winter’s night. But I admit that if I hadn’t received the email from Get Red PR about working together that I might have skipped past it. Instead I’m excited to immerse myself in a new series by a much-loved author.

Thank you to HarperCollinsUK and Get Red PR for my gifted copy of this novel.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Barbara Taylor Bradford was born and raised in England. She started her writing career on the Yorkshire Evening Post and later worked as a journalist in London. Her first novel, A Woman of Substance, became an enduring bestseller and was followed by many more, including the bestselling Harte series. Barbara’s books have sold over eighty-five million copies worldwide in more than ninety countries and forty languages, and ten mini-series and television movies have been made of her books. In October of 2007, Barbara was appointed an OBE by the Queen for her services to literature. In the Lion’s Den is her thirty-fourth novel.

Visit barbarataylorbradford.co.uk 

The Assistant by S. K. Tremayne ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SYNOPSIS:

She’s in your house. She controls your life. Now she’s going to destroy it.

A terrifying and timely new psychological thriller, from the No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling author of The Ice Twins.

She watches you constantly.

Newly divorced Jo is delighted to move into her best friend’s spare room almost rent-free. The high-tech luxury Camden flat is managed by a meticulous Home Assistant called Electra, that takes care of the heating, lights – and sometimes Jo even turns to her for company.

She knows all your secrets.

Until, late one night, Electra says one sentence that rips Jo’s fragile world in two. ‘I know what you did.’ And Jo is horrified. Because in her past she did do something terrible. Something unforgivable.

Now she wants to destroy you.

Only two other people in the whole world know Jo’s secret. And they would never tell anyone. Would they? As a fierce winter brings London to a standstill, Jo begins to understand that the Assistant on the shelf doesn’t just want to control Jo, it wants to destroy her.

MY REVIEW:

This story has seeped into my psyche and given me the most bizarre dreams of technology terrorising my life since reading. I don’t have an Alexa, any smart meters or Home Assistants. And after this book, I have never been more thankful of that! Intriguing, suspenseful, creepy and unpredictable, The Assistant exposes and explores a very modern fear alongside ones that have been around for years. 

Jo is a freelance journalist, recently divorced and living in her best friend Tabitha’s spare room. The Camden flat is the height of luxury and high-tech, filled with the latest Home Assistants who control everything from the temperature and lights, to answering your questions. Jo is alone most of the time so she’s started talking to one of the assistants, Electra, for company. But one night the assistants suddenly don’t seem so friendly, uttering the terrifying words – “I know what you did…I know your secret.” Jo is horrified because she does have a secret. One that only two others know. A secret that has haunted her for fifteen years. As the assistants begin to terrorise Jo, it soon clear they want more than control. They want to destroy her. As her life slowly unravels, Jo desperately tries to get to the truth before it’s too late for herself and those she cares about.

Eerie, menacing and sinister, The Assistant is a timely story about our love affair and reliance on technology mixed in with a story about mental health problems and good old fashioned vengeance. It is a claustrophobic story and you have a real sense that someone or something is  always watching and listening. 

Jo was an unreliable protagonist as early on we learn her father had late-onset schizophrenia and his symptoms were remarkably similar to what she is experiencing. Everything is questionable: is she hallucinating the assistants saying these things or is this really happening? I liked this as we never know what to think which makes the story harder to predict and you’re full of questions right up until the end. I would go back and forth in my own thoughts on Jo’s sanity and what was really happening throughout the book. 

The idea that someone could weaponise the assistants against us filled me with a lingering sense of horror. We’re all dependent on technology to some degree. If I leave the house without my phone I panic and feel like my arm has been cut off. We don’t think twice about using these devices to make life easier and connect with people. It is also seen as something that doesn’t make mistakes and it certainly doesn’t think for itself, which is why no one believes Jo when she says it’s out to get her, is speaking to her and doing things using her email accounts of its own accord. That’s just crazy. And it seems just as crazy that someone could be using the assistants to get some kind of revenge. After all, Jo is in charge of the apps. 

This was my first book by this author but won’t be my last. I loved the language and vivid imagery in his writing and though I felt like it started a little slow, the tension soon ramped up to a nail-biting suspense. I was desperate for answers and couldn’t put the book down, racing towards the finale where the jaw-dropping twist and revelations left me blindsided. 

I would recommend this unsettling and unpredictable novel for anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers. Just make sure you unplug your Alexa before you start…

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollinsUK for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Published November 29th.

Published November 29th.

Saving Missy by Beth Morrey (Sampler) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

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SYNOPSIS:

A free sampler of Saving Missy, 2020’s most astonishing debut.

Prickly. Stubborn. Terribly lonely.

But everyone deserves a second chance.

Missy Carmichael’s life has become small.

Grieving for a family she has lost or lost touch with, she’s haunted by the echoes of her footsteps in her empty home, the sound of the radio in the dark, the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock.

Spiky and defensive, Missy knows that her loneliness is all her own fault. She deserves no more than this, not after what she’s done. But a chance encounter with two very different women opens the door to something new.

Another life beckons for Missy, if only she can be brave enough to grasp the opportunity. But seventy-nine is too late for a second chance, isn’t it?

MY REVIEW:

I have fallen in love…

I’ve been seeing lucky bloggers who’ve received early proofs of this book raving about it so I was elated to find this sampler available on NetGalley and have the chance to read some of it for myself. Like them, I’ve fallen under the spell of this charming story and the cantankerous Missy Carmichael who, despite her hard, bristly exterior was someone I found myself quickly having a soft spot for. 

The story is beautifully written and addictive from the start. I was enthralled by this story and now desperately need the rest of the book so I can find out what Missy did to make her daughter stay away, learn more about her backstory, and to read more of the exploits of Missy, Sylvie and Angela.

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for my copy of this sampler in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: February 6th 2020.

Review: ‘Seven Days’ by Alex Lake ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SYNOPSIS:

The addictive new psychological thriller from the Sunday Times bestselling author of After Anna and Copycat.

SEVEN DAYS UNTIL HER CHILD IS TAKEN.

SEVEN DAYS TO SAVE HIM.

In seven days, Maggie’s son, Max, turns three. But she’s not planning a party or buying presents or updating his baby book. She’s dreading it. Because in her world, third birthdays are the days on which the unthinkable happens…she loses her child.

For the last twelve years Maggie has been imprisoned in a basement. Abducted aged fifteen, she gave birth to two sons before Max, and on their third birthdays her captor came and took them from her.

She cannot let it happen again. But she has no idea how to stop it. And the clock is ticking…

MY REVIEW:

WHAT. A. RIDE. The adrenaline raced through me as I read this jaw-dropping thriller. This is a book that grabs you by the throat and throws you to the ground speechless when it’s finished with you. Fast-paced and expertly plotted, I tore through this book; I would have read it in one sitting if not for that pesky thing called human interaction with my family. But I knew I’d not be able to sleep without knowing what happened so I stayed up until the early hours to finish. Boy was it worth it for that ending!

Maggie has been held prisoner in the basement for twelve years. In seven days her son Max will turn three and her captor will take him from her, just like her two other sons. She has to save him but has no idea how. We then follow the story in dual timelines and from multiple points of view, with flashbacks that start the day Maggie is kidnapped slowly unveiling the story of the past twelve years. In the present day she is desperately trying to find a way out and save her son, the seven day countdown adding tension and urgency to the subdued atmosphere.

Maggie was a great character. We watch as she not only goes from teenager to woman, but also becomes a mother three times. We see that behind her terror is a formidable woman determined to fight and protect her child. Her strength, courage and tenacity are phenomenal and she’s a character I grew to like, admire and care for. I quickly fell in love with little Max and my heart broke at what possibly awaited him. He was both a light relief in the dark basement and a cause of even greater despair for both the reader and Maggie. 

Maggie’s captor was a sinister and terrifying figure, though it’s his delusions that are most frightening. He is so convinced of them and truly believes that imprisoning her in a basement and raping her is saving her and that he had no choice but to do it. His audacity in many of his actions – which I won’t detail because of spoilers- were infuriating, as was his arrogance that he’d never be caught.  

I think what made the book so harrowing for me was it’s believability, part of which is because of the well written characters. Each is brought vividly to life as they share the narration of the story. Reading how Maggie’s disappearance affected her family brought a deeper sense of anguish, longing, heartbreak and terror to the story. I have a son the same age Maggie is when she’s abducted so I inevitably pictured the torment I’d feel if it were my child that was gone, living every emotion alongside her parents. But I think the hardest story to read was that of her younger brother James and how it ravaged not only his present, but also his future. 

This is the first time I’ve read a book by this author but I can guarantee it won’t be the last. He knows how to captivate his audience, not letting go until the last page. I was gasping out loud and my heart was in my throat as I read the electrifying finale. This is a story that is perfect for the movie screen. 

Highly addictive, heart-stopping, dark, disturbing and hopeful,  this book is a masterclass in suspense. It is one of my favourite books this year and one you don’t want to miss.

Thank you to NetGalley, Harper Collins UK and Alex Lake for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Out now on Kindle.

Out in paperback November 14th.

Blog Tour Review: The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Welcome to my stop on the blog tour. Thank you to HQ Stories for the invitation to take part and my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS:

A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of murder. Who can save Pale Harbour from itself?

1846. Desperate to escape the ghosts of his past, Gabriel Stone takes a position as a minister in the remote Pale Harbour, but not all is as it seems in the sleepy town.

As soon as Gabriel sets foot in the town, he can’t escape the rumours about the mysterious Sophy Carver, a young widow who lives in the eerie Carver Castle: whispers that she killed her husband, mutterings that she might even be a witch.

But as strange, unsettling events escalate into murder, Gabriel finds himself falling under Sophy’s spell. As clues start to point to Sophy as the next  victim, Gabriel realises he must find answers before anyone else turns up dead.

MY REVIEW:

Witchcraft, suspicion and secrets abound in this dark, atmospheric thriller that is a perfect autumn read. 

“He wasn’t sure why he was drawn to the house on the hill, but his feet carried him there as if they knew the answer.”

A reclusive, wealthy widow that is the subject of whispered accusations and rumour, and a transcendentalist minister new to town and in search of redemption, are our narrators in this shadowy tale. As soon as Gabriel Stone, a widower himself, hears the rumours about Sophroina ‘Sophy’ Carver he is fascinated by the curious widow who lives a reclusive life on the hill. From the moment they meet there is a spark between them and the pair find themselves dreaming up ways to see each other.

As the pair become increasingly smitten,  the mystery of the dead animals and birds and the effergies left around the town deepens. The townspeople are still convinced it can only be Sophy and think that she has bewitched Gabriel, but he sees how she is being targeted and, as they try to fight their feelings, they begin to work together in secret to search for answers. But, as things escalate, people are found dead and notes reveal Sophy is in their sights, the search for the culprit takes becomes imperative. 

“Now that she had broken through her wall of fear, the freedom was intoxicating.”

I loved the character of Sophy. She has been damaged by what has happened in her life but seems to glide above it all gracefully. She is misunderstood and maltreated but remains kind, quietly doing what she can to help those she cares for. Gabriel took me some time to warm up to. I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t really care for him either at first. But as he found the voice to stand against the entire town in defense of Sophy, I began to see his strength and decency shine through. There were some great secondary characters in this novel too. One that stood out for me was Helen, Sophy’s maid and companion. She’s a strange character and I was never quite sure if I trusted her or if I was misinterpreting her over-protectiveness to be something sinister. I like that she wasn’t someone I could figure out, just like I couldn’t shake my suspicions of a number of the others.

“It was not a particularly welcoming place, but now a sense of wrongness took hold of him, as if he were not supposed to be here. As if something did not want him here.”

Part romance and part mystery, this historical, Gothic fiction novel has all the right ingredients for spooky read. The author builds vivid imagery of Pale Harbour as ghostly and unwelcoming from the start. It isn’t a place I’d want to wander through alone at night. Despite this the book started started slower than I would have liked, and for a long time it felt like the love story rather than a gothic novel. But as the author turned up the suspense and built up the eerie and foreboding atmosphere I love in Gothic fiction, I found myself turning the pages as fast as possible and unable to put the book down. I was hooked and on the edge of my seat as we reached the heart-stopping conclusion. 

Publication Date: October 17th

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Hester Fox comes to writing from a background in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician.

This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has the privilege of cleaning and caring for collections that range from paintings by old masters, to ancient artefacts, to early American furniture.

She is a keen painter and has a master’s degree in historical archaeology, as well as a background in Medieval studies and art history. Hester lives outside of Boston with her husband and two cats.

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September Wrap Up 

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It’s the end of another month. Autumn is well and truly settling in here in England and it feels like the time for hot chocolate, cosy blankets and spooky reads. I admit I’m missing the sun already though. 

September has been a really busy for me. I’ve read 11 books, taken part in 12 blog tours, and have been to two book events.

First I’ll start with what I read this month:

  • The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • The Woman Upstairs by Ruth Heald ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫
  • The Bad Place by MK Hill ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Postscript by Cecelia Ahern ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫
  • The Flower Arranger by JJ Ellis ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • My Judy Garland Life by Susie Boyt ⭐⭐⭐💫
  • The Liar’s Sister by Sarah A. Denzil ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫
  • I Wanted You To Know by Laura Pearson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen ⭐⭐⭐⭐

My favourite book this month was The Testaments, but I Wanted You To Know and Postscript were the two others I loved most of all. 

I’ve loved taking part in so many blog tours this month but realise that I took on too many for one month. I’m being stricter about how many I do each month now and in October I have blog tours for 6 books and one novella. So keep an eye out for those reviews. 

I went to two fantastic book events this month. The first was to hear Sara Collins speak about her book The Confessions of Frannie Langton at the Festival of Women’s Writing in Hawarth on September 21st. This was my second time hearing Sara speak and again she blew me away with how intelligent, interesting and friendly she was. I took my Mum along and it was her first book event. She loved every minute and went straight home with my copy of the book to read for herself. I’m hoping it’s the start of more events together. 

The second event was one I still can’t believe I’ve been too. On September 26th I went to the VIP Launch Party for The Foundling, the new novel by Stacey Halls, which is out early next year. The Familiars was my favourite book this year so to be able to not only meet the author, but go to the launch of her next book was incredible. The event took place at Brunswik House which is a beautiful Georgean setting that couldn’t have been more perfect for the book. Stacey was so lovely and spent time talking to every single person there. Hearing her talk about her inspiration for the new novel and read from it has me so excited to dive in, but I’m making myself wait until nearer publication. I attended this event with my blogger friend, Beth, and we met some other bloggers we talk to online and an author that we didn’t realise would be there. The staff from Zaffre were all so friendly and I had some great conversations with some of them. This was my first book launch and they gave whatever launch I attend next a lot to live up to. The Foundling is out February 6th 2020.

So as you can see, September has been a great month. I’ve got some great books I’m planning to read next month and am attending an event in Nottingham where I’ll see Jessie Burton and Laura Purcell – two of my favourite authors. 

Have you read any of the books I read this month or did you attend any book events? Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for my gifted books, and Tracey at Compulsive Readers, Anne at Random Things Blog Tours, Peyton at Agora books and Blogger HQ for the invitations to take part in the blog tours. A big thank you to Ellen at Zaffre for my invitation to The Foundling launch party.

Blog Tour Review: Postscript by Cecelia Ahern ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for the long-awaited sequel to PS, I Love You. Thank you to Harper Fiction PR for the invitation to take part in the tour, and to Harper Collins UK and Cecelia Ahern for my gifted copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. 

SYNOPSIS:

It’s been seven years since Holly Kennedy’s husband died – six since she read his final letter, urging Holly to find the courage to forge a new life. 

She’s proud of all the ways in which she’s grown and evolved. But when a group inspired by Gerry’s letters, calling themselves the PS, I Love You Club, approaches Holly asking for help, she finds herself drawn back into a world she worked hard to leave behind.

Reluctantly, Holly begins a relationship with the club, even as their friendship threatens to destroy the peace she believes she has achieved. As each of the people calls upon Holly to help them leave something meaningful behind for their loved ones, Holly will embark on a remarkable journey – one that will challenge her to ask whether embracing the future means betraying the past, and what it means to love someone forever.

MY REVIEW:

“In one second, almost two and a half million emails are sent, the universe expands fifteen kilometres and thirty stars explode, a honey bee can flap its wings two hundred times, the fastest snail travels 1.3 centimetres, objects can fall sixteen feet, and ‘Will you marry me?’ can change a life. Four babies are born. Two people die. One second can be the difference between life and death.”

Poignant, emotive and uplifting, Postscript is a story of life, death, love and hope. Exquisitely written, it tackles the difficult topics of death and grief with sensitivity and candour, and also gives hope in its message of the power of love and healing. 

The story picks up seven years after the death of Holly’s husband, Gerry, and six years after she read the last of the ten letters he left for her to read after he passed. Holly is now working at a vintage clothing shop, Magpie, with her sister Ciara and trying to move on with her life. She’s been dating Gabriel for two years and he recently asked her to move in with him. She worries she’s using him as a stop-gap until she can be reunited with Gerry once more. But that isn’t who she wants to be. So she agrees to move in and move forward.

“We all have something that unexpectedly derails us when we are motoring smoothly, blissfully, ardently. This encounter with the club is mine. And it hurts.”

Meanwhile, Ciara has a podcast series called How To Talk About and has asked Holly to take part in the episode How To Talk About Death. Reluctantly, Holly agrees. The crowd are particularly interested in Gerry’s letters and some people express that they wish their loved ones had left them letters like he did for Holly. One lady in particular is keen for Holly to keep sharing her story and maybe even write a book. She keeps coming into the shop and Holly tries to evade her thinking she’s a bit of a stalker. When she learns the woman is part of something called the PS I Love You Club she’s had enough. But in time she begins to connect with the small group and help them as they try to leave behind a small piece of them for their loved ones to cherish, changing not only their lives, but hers too as she begins to re-examine what Gerry’s letters meant and what they could continue to mean. 

What a book! I read PS I Love You when it was first released and was both thrilled apprehensive when I learned that there was to be a sequel. Would it live up to the emotive power of the first book? It didn’t take long to realise that my concerns were unfounded. Postscript exceeded all my expectations and now has the distinction of being one of the very few books to make me shed a tear. While reading I fell in love with this author’s writing style – she knows how to stir emotion, how to break your heart one moment, and then make you laugh the next. The vivid imagery and metaphors were spectacular and I couldn’t put this book down. 

“We want to control our deaths, our goodbye to the world, and if we can’t control it, we can at least control how we leave it behind.” 

For me, the best parts of this book were Holly’s interactions with the members of the PS, I Love You Club. They are an eclectic group whose commonality is they’ve all been diagnosed with a terminal or life-long, degenerative illness. Joy has MS and is preparing for life in a wheelchair, losing her ability to communicate and needing a feeding tube, Bert has emphysema, Paul is in remission from a brain tumor for the second time but is preparing for it possibly returning, and teenager Ginka has cervical cancer. They all have their own reasons for wanting to leave parts of themselves behind and each teach Holly something different about life, love and grief. Amongst this group Holly slowly finds a safe harbour where she can talk about Gerry without worrying she’s making them uncomfortable or having to edit what she says. 

The story and character that touched me the most was Ginka. She’s just sixteen-years-old and is a single mother to baby Jewel. She has no family – they disowned her after she announced her pregnancy and cruelly told her that the cancer is God’s punishment for her sins – and lives with the heartbreak of knowing there’s no one who knows to care for Jewel and tell her about the mother who adored her. She’s practically a child herself yet is facing more pain and hardship than most of us can imagine. As a mother the idea of strangers raising my children would be terrifying. The relationship that develops between Ginka and Holly was my favourite and I loved their scenes together. Her story is just one example of this author’s magnificent talent for writing characters and stories that reach into your soul.

This novel was a truly breathtaking read that reminded me why Cecelia Ahern is such a beloved author.  She tackles a difficult subject in a beautiful and powerful way and reminds us to cherish every moment with those we love. I would recommend this book and don’t think you need to have read the first one to enjoy it.

Available September 19th from your favourite bookseller.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

After completing a degree in Journalism and Media Communications, Cecelia wrote her first novel at 21 years old. Her debut novel, PS I Love You was published in January 2004, and was followed by Where Rainbows End (aka Love, Rosie) in November 2004. Both novels were adapted to films; PS I Love You starred Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, and Love, Rosie starred Lily Collins and Sam Claflin.

Cecelia has published a novel every year since then and to date has published 15 novels; If You Could See Me Now, A Place Called Here, Thanks for the Memories, The Gift, The Book of Tomorrow, The Time of My Life, One Hundred Names, How To Fall in Love, The Year I Met You, The Marble Collector, Flawed, Perfect and Lyrebird.

To date, Cecelia’s books have sold 25 million copies internationally, are published in over 40 countries, in 30 languages.

Along with writing novels, Cecelia has co-created the US ABC Comedy Samantha Who? and has created many other original TV projects.

Cecelia’s next book is a collection of 30 short stories about 30 women, titled ROAR. ROAR will be published in the UK and Ireland in Autumn 2018 by HarperCollins UK, and in Spring 2019 in the US by Grand Central Publishing.

“At the age of 19 I experienced a difficult time in my life, and as I have done since childhood and throughout my teenage years, I turned to writing to process my feelings. PS I Love You was born from my feelings of sadness, fear and loss of my identity. I poured my heart into the story of a woman suffering from grief after the loss of her husband, a woman who had hit the lowest point of her life and was struggling with both the desire and the ability to find her way out of the fog. Writing Holly’s journey helped me find my own path, writing PS I Love You brought both Holly and I to a more positive place in our lives and that is what I continue to do with my novels.

The thread that links my work is in capturing that transitional period in people’s lives. I’m drawn to writing about loss, to characters that have fallen and who feel powerless in their lives. I am fascinated and inspired by the human spirit, by the fact that no matter how hopeless we feel and how dark life can be, we do have the courage, strength and bravery to push through our challenging moments. We are the greatest warriors in our own stories. I like to catch my characters as they fall, and bring them from low to high. My characters push through and as a result evolve, become stronger and better equipped for the next challenge that life brings. I like to mix dark with light, sadness with humour, always keeping a balance, and always bringing the story to a place of hope.”