Friday, 31 July 2020

Publication Day Review: With or Without You by Drew Davies

How long does a coma last?’ I ask.
‘Days, weeks, months?’ the nurse replies with a shrug, although her eyes are very kind.
‘But on average?’
She just smiles, unable to give me an answer.

Wendy’s life can be neatly divided into two: before and after.

Before her husband’s car accident, it was just the two of them. They never took the train at rush hour, and they avoided their noisy neighbour upstairs. Naveem devoted his spare time to vintage train models, and Wendy to re-reading the well-thumbed pages of her favourite books. It didn’t matter what others thought about their small, quiet life together – they were happy.

After the coma, Wendy barely recognises herself. When she’s not holding the love of her life’s hand, accompanied by the beep of the life-support machine, who is she? The nurse tells her to talk to Naveem – that he can still hear her – but she doesn’t have a single thing to say.

Suddenly Wendy can’t bear the silence. She needs something, anything, to talk to Naveem about. Suddenly she’s losing herself at fairgrounds packed with crowds and candyfloss, she’s at the airport, waiting for the whoosh of the planes as they take off, making friends with the neighbour she has spent over a decade avoiding.

Knowing that every breath her husband takes might be his last, Wendy has no choice but to try to carry on without him. Should she feel guilty about living while his life is on pause? And when – if – he wakes up, will he still love the woman she has become?

This poignant, moving and uplifting tale is for anyone who has taken life for granted, neglected to say ‘I love you’ to their loved ones, or forgotten to find happiness in the little things. Perfect for fans of Josie Silver, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Jojo Moyes. 

Wendy and Naveem Dixit are like a well-oiled machine. They live their life as a devoted couple, rather than two individual people married to each other. To the outside world, their lives are quiet and predictable, set in their ways as they follow their daily routines. All is well until taxi driver, Naveem is involved in a car crash and ends up in a coma. Suddenly, Wendy's life takes on an uncertain direction as her husband fights for his life and she flounders in the unknown. 

The world is full of people like Wendy and Naveem who blend into the background, getting on with their lives without drawing too much attention to themselves. I enjoyed how the author created them and the secondary characters, into such underwhelming people… which isn't a criticism because when dealing with a crisis, they come alive and pull together and offer support, as you'd expect. However, to outsiders, they're quirky, somewhat odd and mostly don't fit in within the definition of normal. Yet, just like everyone else, their time of need is just as fraught and dramatic. 

With or Without You is a heart-wrenching novel bursting with intriguing characters. The mood is melancholic but broken up with light-hearted moments and witty dialogue, courtesy of Mrs Rampersad. As a reader, we're taken on an emotional journey. The beginning leaves you feeling as despondent as Wendy, coming to terms with her new normal but as time progresses, the mood ebbs and flows and ends happily. The overall message is touching and highlights the strength of friendship especially during times of need and emphasises the point that life can stray off course at any point in time. 

This is my first Drew Davies novel and won't be my last. This is a well-thought-out and crafted story, giving pause for thought and reflection. 

***arc generously received courtesy of Bookouture via NetGalley***

Drew Davies was born in London and grew up in Whanganui, New Zealand. He attended the Unitec School of Performing Arts in Auckland and won a Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwright of the Year award in 2000. After a brief stint on a kiwi soap, he has worked in Search for the past 15 years. Drew’s other claim to fame is that Stephen Fry once called him droll. Either that, or he got his name wrong. He now lives in Wanstead, London. 

Twitter: @Drew_Davies
Instagram: @drewdavieswriter

Monday, 27 July 2020

New Release Spotlight with a Book Extract: Starting Over at the Vineyard Alsace by Julie Stock

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock

It’s springtime at The Vineyard in Alsace, a new season and a new beginning
After being abandoned by her partner when she falls pregnant, Lottie Schell goes home to live on The Vineyard in Alsace, where she has started a new relationship with the estate’s winemaker, Thierry. Now about to give birth, Lottie’s determined to raise her child and to provide for them both on her own without having to depend on anyone else.
Thierry Bernard is still dealing with his grief and guilt following the death of his wife two years earlier, for which he blames himself. When he meets Lottie, the instant attraction he feels towards her gives him hope that he can move on from the tragedy of his past, as long as he can tell Lottie the truth of what happened.
When circumstances force Lottie and Thierry closer together, they both find it hard to compromise – she’s proudly independent and he’s fiercely protective – and they’re both wary about trusting someone new with their heart.
Can Lottie and Thierry take a chance on each other, move on from their pasts and start over?
Escape to The Vineyard in Alsace once again with this romantic read set in the heart of Alsace’s wine country.

Extract 3 for Ellesea Loves Reading
Despite Lottie’s need for independence, her options start to look limited when Sylvie tells her that her friend, Frédéric, has asked her to move in with him.
Finally, she replied to Sylvie’s point. ‘It would be an easy solution for me to move in with Thierry, but there are lots of reasons why I don’t think it would be the best idea right now.’ She didn’t elaborate, knowing how fond Sylvie was of Thierry, and not wanting to criticise him in front of her.
Sylvie fiddled with her rings. ‘To tell you the truth, Frédéric has asked me to move in with him, and I’ve been weighing up all the pros and cons, just as you have. I like my independence too, you see.’
Lottie grinned. She and Sylvie had a lot in common.
I can only see pros, Sylvie. You’re finding it difficult to manage the garden on your own now – you said that yourself – and if you move in with Frédéric, you can tend the garden together, and you’ll enjoy having his company. Not only that, but there would be plenty of room for Chlöe to come and stay. So what’s stopping you from saying yes?’
Well, first of all, I promised your family I’d look after you, and the baby, when it comes, and I don’t want to let them or you down by going back on that promise.’
Lottie threw her hands up in the air. ‘This is why I haven’t ever learned to support myself, because my whole family treats me like I’m a child. You’re not responsible for my welfare, Sylvie. You must put yourself first.’
They’re only looking out for you, Lottie. And I’d feel a lot happier about accepting Frédéric’s proposal if you were settled somewhere else, with a support network around you, especially if you do want to go back to work eventually. There’s no shame in accepting help, you know, and Thierry really wants to help you.’
Lottie placed their coffees on the table. She sat down again, trying not to take out her frustration with her family on Sylvie when she’d been so good to her.
Thierry’s not ready for me to move in, despite what he says. He’s still not over the death of his wife, and I think he needs more time.’
Sylvie took a sip of her coffee. ‘Yes, I agree. He’s never got over what happened to Nicole. He used to be such a carefree young man before life intervened and changed his outlook forever. Such a tragedy, when they loved each other so much. But perhaps if you moved in, you could help him to come to terms with everything.’
Although Lottie was interested to hear Sylvie’s take on Thierry’s situation, she couldn’t help feeling that there were too many secrets surrounding him. She wanted to hear about his past from him rather than from everyone else, but he showed no sign of relenting.
If you want to move in with Frédéric, I will completely understand. It would make a lot of sense, and if I’m going to move out anyway in the near future, there’s no point you hanging on here any longer than you need. Someone will be able to take me in. You mustn’t worry about it.’
As much as she believed what she was saying, Lottie had no idea where she would go if Sylvie did decide to move in with Frédéric. Right now, Thierry seemed to be offering the only option.

Julie Stock writes contemporary feel-good romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She published her debut novel, From Here to Nashville, in 2015, after starting to write as an escape from the demands of her day job as a teacher. Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace is her ninth book, and the second in the Domaine des Montagnes series set on a vineyard.
Julie is now a full-time author, and loves every minute of her writing life. When not writing, she can be found reading, her favourite past-time, running, a new hobby, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand.
Julie is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and The Society of Authors. She is married and lives with her family in Bedfordshire in the UK.

Friday, 24 July 2020

A spotlight on: The Greenbecker Gambit by Ben Graff

The Greenbecker Gambit by Ben Graff

‘I only feel truly alive when the chess clock is ticking and the patterns on the squares in front of me are dancing in my head. Very little else gives me the same feeling. Nothing else, that does not involve a flame.’
Tennessee Greenbecker is bravely optimistic as he sets out to claim what he sees as rightfully his – the title of world chess champion. But who is he really? Is he destined to be remembered as chess champion or fire-starter? Either way, might this finally be his moment?

Ben Graff is a writer, journalist and Corporate Affairs professional. He is a regular contributor to Chess and Authors Publish. He is not a grandmaster but did draw with one once.

Twitter - GreenBGambit
LinkedIn - Ben Graff

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

New Book Release Spotlight: The Dead Tell Lies by J. F. Kirwan

The Dead Tell Lies by J. F. Kirwan

Greg Adams, a criminal psychologist at Scotland Yard, specialises in bringing serial killers to justice. He tracks down a spree serial killer nicknamed the Divine, who has already killed six teenage girls and is about to kill a seventh. Greg works out the location where he is hiding and joins a raid. The police capture the Divine and save the girl, but on the very same night, Greg’s wife is brutally murdered by another serial killer, known as the Dreamer.
A year later, unable to bring the killer to justice, Greg has quit his job and is ready to end it all, when he receives a phone call from a man who tells him the Dreamer is dead, and that he didn’t kill Greg’s wife, Kate.
Greg returns to Scotland Yard to work for Superintendent Chief Detective Donaldson in the hope he can re-examine the case with the help of two new detectives, Finch and Matthews.
As Greg delves into the case further, he becomes more convinced that the Dreamer wasn’t the man responsible for his wife’s murder.
But if it wasn’t the Dreamer, who was it?
In order to solve the mystery around his wife’s murder, Greg is going to have to delve even deeper into the mind of a terrifying psychopath. And this time he might not make it back in one piece…

Amazon UK           Amazon US 

J. F. Kirwan is an insomniac who writes thrillers in the dead of night. He is also a psychologist, and has drawn upon this expertise, including being taught by a professor who examined serial killers for Scotland Yard, to pen the crime/mystery/thriller The Dead Tell Lies for Bloodhound Books. He wanted to shed light not only on the darkness of serial killers, but of those who track them down, who must inevitably step inside the serial killer’s worldview, and may not come out clean afterwards. He is also the author of the Nadia Laksheva thriller series for HarperCollins (66 Metres, 37 Hours and 88 North). His favourite authors include Lee Child, David Baldacci and Jo Nesbo. He is married, and has a daughter and a new grandson, and lives between Paris and London.

Website -
Twitter - @kirwanjf

Monday, 20 July 2020

Author Guest Post and Book Spotlight: Homeward Bound by Richard Smith.

Homeward Bound by Richard Smith
  I want to be alone.
After weeks of lockdown, when people have struggled with isolation, it may seem odd that I should invoke the spirit of Greta Garbo and crave solitude. But there are moments when things just can’t be shared.
Take dreams. They may seem vivid, exciting, riveting and real, as if they really happened and were not created while you slept, in your imagination. But they were and that’s the best place to leave them. I find a way to rid myself of them is to write them down. I have often forced myself out of bed, slunk off to the loo with a pen to make notes on toilet paper. It’s the only time I miss those hard sheets of paper from my childhood, the ones that were a cross between tracing paper and sandpaper - with brand names like Bronco and Izal – because you could write on them, unlike the soft tissue of today. But I digress. Next day, I will transcribe what I can decipher with the intention of using it some time, but invariably it gets filed away, then forgotten. Which tells its own tale. If that’s how unmemorable a dream is to the dreamer, I can’t imagine how unbearably dull an unrestrained soliloquy over the Rice Krispies must be to the listener.
There’s also another medium that should not, in my view, be shared. Recorded music. I love it and it’s a vital part of my life (anyone who’s read my novel, Homeward Bound, can’t fail to have realised that, even though it’s fiction). But it’s best listened to alone. There are lots of reasons.
The first is volume. Two people rarely have the same hearing – or tolerances to loud music. One may want the volume to be high, picking out every nuance in the recording, enjoying the vibration from the loudspeakers, the bass bouncing off the walls. The other might prefer it gentler, softer. Only one can have their way.
The second is mood and thus is not entirely unrelated to the issue surrounding volume. Whereas one listener might feel energised, wanting music to excite – usually at high volume - the other may be feeling more subdued, preferring to relax or even read with it in the background. And it goes further than that. Mood will affect the choice of music. While one may have in mind Saxon, the other might want Sade. There is no satisfactory compromise. Perhaps, if the music is stored alphabetically, the couple will end up with Santana, an easy listening alternative that satisfies neither. After a few tracks, the moment will be lost, the music off, and they’ll wind up in flicking Netflix menus.
Part of this stems from my view that music should be foreground or not at all. Not for me Alexa spluttering away in the background. Or in the shops and hotels. I wonder if Paul McCartney enjoys standing in a lift, speeding his way to a suite on the 30th floor, listening to Yesterday. Or on phones. True, it’s good to know you’ve not been cut off while you wait thirty minutes to get through to a call centre. But what would Vivaldi have make of Spring played endlessly on a Casio, interrupted by a voice claiming, ‘We apologise for keeping you waiting. We are currently experiencing exceptionally high call volumes. Your call is important to us’? No, they wrote music to be listened to. And so it should be. Alone.
And you should be in the middle of the music. That might mean headphones. I don’t mean ear buds, but cans that cover your ears. These literally place you in the centre with the added advantage that you choose what you listen to and at the volume that suits. And if you have the space to listen in isolation and thick enough walls, you can’t beat loudspeakers. For optimum sound balance, I sit in a central position, with the speakers angled towards me. I once had a friend who had string from each speaker laid across the floor at a 45˚ angle, and where they intersected, he sat. Perhaps that’s going too far.
Getting to the middle of the music at a live gig is ore difficult. Getting a seat at all can be a challenge, and find yourself in the wrong place and you can be deafened or lose the sound in the wings or the ceiling. I was once at a Springsteen gig and the reverberation around the auditorium meant the vocals were a good few seconds ahead of the drums and guitars. Not ideal. But then, you rarely go to a gig to listen. Yes, you might want to hear certain songs, but he best gigs are where you join in, sing along, clap, dance even. The performers relish it, encourage it, give better performances because of it. It may be imperfect and nothing like the artists strive for in a studio and during the painstaking process of post-production. Even ‘live’ albums are taken into the studio for sweetening, auto-tuning and editing. What people really go to a live event for is the experience. Being there. You can enjoy it even if you don’t really like the artist. There’s something about the collective spirit that can lift you. Why else would seemingly mature people spend an evening at the Albert Hall waving flags to tunes they wouldn’t give the time of day to at any other time of the year?
But there’s one sort of performance that doesn’t work for me, no matter where you sit. Those Bring your vinyl nights in bars and pubs. Bring your favourite records and we’ll get ‘em spinning,’ they promise. Nightmare. It’s fatal to try and persuade someone to enjoy something you like. And in a bar? Forget it. Though I’ve often been tempted to show up with Des O’Connor’s Greatest Hits and insist they spin that. Perhaps I’m scarred by an experience I had with Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies album. I’d just bought it when weekend visitors arrived at my home. They’d not been before and they asked to have a taste of my hifi system that they’d heard so much about. I went straight to that album, the antithesis of all I considered evil and was killing music at that time – Gary Glitter, Little Jimmy Osmond, David Cassidy – even though I knew they were glam rock fans. I wanted to give them a lesson in music and one that would highlight the full capabilities of my speakers. Cracking guitars, wailing vocals, pounding percussion. They couldn’t help but be impressed. It didn’t strike me that the song I chose, I Love The Dead, might be unsuitable. And yes, it is about necrophilia. That wasn’t the point, it was the sound that mattered. And were they impresses? The answer was in their frozen expressions and faint gasps.
“I think that’s enough of that. Tea and a piece of cake anyone?” my wife suggested, turning down the volume before we’d got to the good bit.
Still I didn’t get it. “Hold on, wait for how it ends.” I turned the volume back up. But they’d already closed the door behind them as they headed for the kitchen. Leaving me alone. Which is how it should be. But the lesson of sharing music and turning on friends to it was learned. Some things are just better between you and your imagination.

Homeward Bound features 79-year-old grandfather George, who didn’t quite make it as a rock star in the ‘60s. He’s expected to be in retirement but in truth he’s not ready to close the lid on his dreams and will do anything for a last chance. When he finds himself on a tour of retirement homes instead of a cream tea at the seaside his family has promised, it seems his story might prematurely be over.
He finds the answer by inviting Tara, his 18-year-old granddaughter, to share his house, along with his memories and vast collection of records. She is an aspiring musician as well, although her idea of music is not George’s. What unfolds are clashes and unlikely parallels between the generations – neither knows nor cares how to use a dishwasher – as they both chase their ambitions.

Richard Smith is a writer and storyteller for sponsored films and commercials, with subjects as varied as caring for the elderly, teenage pregnancies, communities in the Niger delta, anti- drug campaigns and fighting organised crime. Their aim has been to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials he worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Author Guest Post and Spotlight: Deadly Wishes by Rachel McLean

Researching Book Locations When You Can’t Go Out

Deadly Wishes is the first book I’ve written that’s set entirely in my home city of Birmingham. I’ve set in in the south of the city, where I used to live. But as I now live in the north of Birmingham, and the whole city is constantly being dug up for road improvements, sometimes my memory of the road system is wrong!
For Deadly Wishes I would have loved to get in my car (or on my bike) and go to some of the locations in the book. There are scenes where my characters are getting from one place to another and I needed to know the route they’d use and how long it would take.
But I wrote the book in April and May 2020, when the UK was in lockdown. So going out to the locations was a no-no.
Instead I had to rely on Google Maps to fill in the gaps in my memory of that part of the city from when I lived there almost 20 years ago. I used Google street view to trace routes. And I used Right Move to find the house that would be the scene of the crime. It’s a huge house, a bit of a gothic pile really, and the perfect setting for a murder.
When the government started using maps data to identify how many people were breaking lockdown, it made me smile. Officially, I was probably breaking all the rules, travelling all over Birmingham online. But in reality, I was at my desk the whole time, letting my imagination fill in the gaps.
I’m now writing the second book in the series, Deadly Choices. It’s set a bit closer to home, but instead of using an actual house from Right Move, I’m basing the victims’ house on one I used to live in, which makes things easier. The biggest challenge is that the opening scene (where two children disappear) takes place at Cadbury World, which isn’t open right now! Normally I’d take the time to go there and spend time in the location, so I could get a feel for the place and use it to make the scene more dramatic. But again, I’m having to rely on my memory of trips to Cadbury World when my kids were small, and hope that my readers will forgive me if things aren’t 100% right!
Research is one of my favourite parts of writing – it gives me a chance to visit places and to learn things I didn’t already know. I now know lots about how West Midlands Police is run, not sure how useful that will be! And I’m looking forward to being able to do more in-person research when I get around to writing the next book.
Thanks for having me on your blog as part of my bog tour, I hope your readers enjoy the book!

Deadly Wishes

Meet Zoe Finch, West Midlands Police's newest Detective Inspector. She's outspoken, ambitious, and damaged. And she's working a case that could make her career, or cost her everything...

Fresh from the success of the Canary investigation into depravity and corruption at the highest levels, Zoe has attracted attention. Not least from Assistant Chief Constable Bryn Jackson.

But when Jackson is brutally murdered on the night of his retirement party, Zoe is dragged into a case that's deeply personal.

All the evidence points to the victim's downtrodden wife, who has secrets of her own. But Zoe begins to suspect all isn't as it seems. Could Jackson's death be linked to the Canary case? And what is her new boss, DCI David Randle, hiding?

Seeking out the truth will force Zoe to confront her own past and put her career, and her team's lives, on the line.

Deadly Wishes is a gritty crime thriller perfect for fans of Angela Marsons, Caroline Mitchell, and the BBC's Line of Duty.

Amazon UK           Amazon US 

My name's Rachel McLean and I write thrillers that make you think.

What does that mean?

In short, I want my stories to make your pulse race and your brain tick.

Do you often get through a thriller at breakneck pace but are left with little sense of what the book was really about? Do you sometimes read literary fiction but just wish something would damn well happen?

My books aim to fill that gap.

If you'd like to know more about my books and receive extra bonus content, please join my book club at I'll send you a weekly email with news about my writing research and progress, stories and bonus content for each book. And I'll let you know when my books are on offer.