Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Book Review - Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With MeStay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was given this NetGalley copy in return of an honest review.

This has to be one of the best books I've read all year. It's so rare that I give a book five stars but by the end of the book I found myself turning the last page and whispering, 'That's amazing,' so five stars it is.

I was drawn into the intrigue of this book from the very first chapter and as I continued to read I was fooled into thinking that this story was not going to go any further than the married couple, Akin and Yejide's problems trying to conceive a child. But as I kept going I became more and more absorbed by the cultural backdrop and the beautifully articulated prose.

Set in Nigeria between 1985 and 2008, Stay With Me tells the story of a couple who meet in their early twenties, their marriage and the problems they encounter with meddling in-laws when they are unable to have a child. But the book goes deeper than that. We learn so much about what motivates our two main protagonists as Adebayo weaves a set of engaging plot twists played out by fully formed and colourful characters. All the of the supporting roles stand out, you really feel as if you have stepped into the world the author creates.

I like the use of foreign words, the writer doesn't lose you by using them and she doesn't hold back in introducing the reader to what might be different culture to the one we are used to.

The middle and end of the book I found the most gripping so there was a nice build up of intensity there that I really appreciated by the end of the book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fiction that is true to life, honest, well thought out and thoroughly entertaining. I will look out for more books by this author.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Book Review - Underground Airlines by Ben H Winters

Underground AirlinesUnderground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this fast paced, well written book by Ben H Winters. As the first of his I've read I will certainly be looking into other work by him. The dystopian world he creates in which slavery is still in existence is so skilfully crafted you could almost imagine it to be true. Winters shows great imagination and a flair for imagery, scene setting and character development.
At first I found it a hard novel to get into but that might be because it is not the kind of novel I usually go for. I think if you like crime or thrillers or psychological dramas, then you won't be disappointed in this one.
You might ask, then, why I didn't give this a full five stars. It was simply because I seemed to become aware in shift in the voice of the narrator. I'm not sure if this was intended or just imagined by me, but I wasn't convinced at the start of part two if I was following the exact same protagonist I'd set out with at the start of the novel.
That said, I'm sure this will be a winner with many readers. I recommend it.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The SI Leeds Literary Prize - Shortlisted!

While casually doing a send and receive of my emails, and chatting on the phone, I discovered that I was on the shortlist for the SI Leeds Literary Prize!

Well the conversation I was having fell by the wayside; I was hyperventilating, having trouble with my speech and getting blurred vision. I had to hang up. I read the email over and over - I'd read it right. For the first time ever, I was on a shortlist.

The email came on a Saturday and on the following Monday I was due to join the rest of the other five shortlisted writers for an author Q&A and reading at Rich Mix Cultural Foundation! I was so nervous on the Monday the only meal I had was breakfast and for someone who gets hungry and eats every few hours, that's a big deal.

The other five people on the shortlist were fabulous writers and the work they produced sounded exceptionally good. I'd love to read them all one day.

Writers to watch out for!

This is the shortlist. (The first on the list is about to be published so look out for it!)

Dark Chapter – Winnie Li
Deadly Sacrifice – Stella Akinade – Ahmadou
Marmite and Mango Chutney – Amita Murray
Our Staggering Minds – Harkiran Dhindsa
Recognising Strangers – Jamilah Ahmed
When Skies Are Grey – Fran Clark

Image result for main space rich mix cultural foundation
Our readings and Q&A took place in The Main Space at Rich Mix

The SI Leeds Literary Prize

The SI Leeds Literary Prize is the prize for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women resident in the UK aged 18 years and over.  Everything about the SI Leeds Literary Prize aims to act as a loudspeaker for Black and Asian women’s voices, enabling fresh and original literary voices from a group disproportionately under-represented in mainstream literary culture to reach new audiences.

We will be at another event at Southbank on 9th October as part of the London Literature Festival  

And the actual 2016 Prize Award Event is at Ilkley Literature Festival on Wednesday 12 October at 7.30pm

Can't wait.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

My #Writing Plans

Writing a novel is hard. Trust me on that. All those weeks and months of writing and re-writing is enough to turn anyone ga-ga. And not necessarily in a good way - because I'm assuming there is such a thing as "good" ga-ga.

So anyway, I'm well on my way with writing projects under my pseudonym but I haven't yet made plans to write my next novel as me quite yet. That might be because the ink hasn't quite dried on When Skies Are Grey and I have yet to start the daunting task of finding an agent or publisher or deciding about self publishing for this one.

But it got me thinking about what goes in to writing a novel and how I need to get my mind going when an idea finally comes.

A Sense of Purpose
I had very definite ideas about what I wanted to say in both Holding Paradise and When Skies Are Grey. They were both set in more or less the same era and I wanted to go down a path in recent history that, although taken many times, gave meaning to the things I learned about those days and stayed with me from childhood.
So in the same way, I need to think about what my goals are for my next book, what I want to achieve, what message I want to put across and how I want my reader to feel after reading my novel.

My Leading Player
For both of my last novels my main protagonist was female. I have to decide if I want to do that again this time. As a woman I assume I will give a female character depth and greater appeal. But having said that I have written in the voice of men too and it is something I could explore to a greater extent. (I'm reading a book in which a white man narrates as a if he were black and I'm totally convinced).
Most importantly my protagonist must have purpose, they must have desires or goals and something about their character must drive them to do the things they do. What will my protagonist learn by the end of the book, if anything, and how will they change? So much to consider.

Plotting a Path
Whatever my story is and whoever my characters, I have to make sure everything hangs together with a good plot. I know I'll need to think up some top notch conflicts for my protagonist and the odd obstacle to prevent them from reaching their goals easily. All of this should bring life to my character and move the story along.

Dear Reader
Most of all I want to make my reader happy. After although we write the books we want to read, we love for others to read and enjoy our book, so I'm going to think hard about my cast of characters; make them jump off the page if I can.

If I can do all that I might just have a good novel up my sleeve and have a fantastic time writing it ... until the re-writes of course!

What's your writing process when writing a novel?

Friday, 19 August 2016

Book Review - The Loving Husband

What they say:

For fans of Apple Tree Yard and The Silent Wife, The Loving Husband draws readers into a marriage where nothing is as it seems...
For better, for worse, to love and to cherish, till death us do part...

Fran Hall and her husband Nathan have moved with their two children to a farmhouse on the edge of the Fens - a chance to get away from London and have a fresh start.

But when Fran wakes one night to find Nathan gone, she makes a devastating discovery. As questions about her husband and her relationships start to mount, Fran's life begins to spiral out of control.

What is she hiding from the police about her marriage, and does she really know the man she shared her bed with?

What I say: 

I just finished reading this novel and decided there were only two reasons I read it to the end. One, because I was given the copy via Net Galley for my honest opinion and two because I wanted to know how the author was going to end what I thought was a convoluted yet annoying plot.

I don't read many thrillers but for me this one was not up there with some I've found really entertaining reading. As I've seen some three to five star reviews for this book out there, I must have to conclude that this one was not for me.

Firstly I felt nothing for the main protagonist, Fran, but annoyance. Fran's reaction to the discovery she makes about her husband in the first few pages didn't ring true and the constant need for the author to refuse to let her complete a sentence until very late in the book made it hard for me to get a sense of who this woman was, what she felt and what made her tick.

As far as supporting characters went, I found some of them cliched in the way they spoke and were described. Some of them I believed but I was not convinced by the character 'whodunnit' at all.

I'm one of these people who sits and watches films and notices when someone has a full cup of tea in one shot and has finished it in the next and by the end of the same scene there was no cup at all. I mention that because on a few occasions there were these little inconsistencies that just added to my annoyance.

To mention some of the bigger things that either didn't ring true or were far fetched would be to add spoilers so I can't say more on those.

Mostly the pace was too slow for me except for the ending which I whizzed through because the intrigue built quite well.

If you choose to read this book, you will enjoy the author's use of POV and time. But beware because Kent sometimes moves from past to present quite rapidly, blink and you'll miss it. I did like that touch as well as the way we saw through Fran and Ali's eyes - neatly done. You will also enjoy the strength behind Kent's ability to describe settings.

But in my honest opinion this is not the best thriller you are likely to read.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Book Review - Behind Closed Doors

What They Say:
Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.
You’d like to get to know Grace better.
But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.
Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.
Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie.

What I Say: 
Every now and again I can't resist reading a book that everyone is raving on about and, because the price was down on this one, I thought I'd give it a try. Sadly I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the end, though. I read it quite quickly partly to get it over and done with and because behind the unbelievable and improbable plot lines there was a decent enough story that did have me intrigued.

I did like the writer's style which was easy, well paced and relatively light reading. I did enjoy the fact that the writer kept you guessing. So although you were expecting everything to resolve itself and for the victim to finally escape her fate, you couldn't guarantee that she would.

I liked the characters at first. They seemed to be well rounded but the leading male seemed to have me less and less propelled to believe his charming on the outside but psychopathic on the inside nature and the back story of how he became the way he was seemed an easy option to take and did little to build the tension as I'd heard it all before. Maybe that is unfair to say because after all what makes a person a psychopath? I suppose I just wish the author's take on it had been a little more original.

That said, I also stopped believing in the main protagonist because for an intelligent woman I can't believe that she was taken in by this man.

The supporting characters were convincing and went a long way to improving my involvement in the story.

All in all I would not discourage anyone from reading this book but in my opinion I think this debut is overrated - but that happens quite a lot doesn't it? I bet this will be a block buster film next year :)

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Writing Competitions and Thick Skins!

Recently I found myself rushing to meet deadlines in order to enter some writing competitions that I'd earmarked. I'd entered a few in the past and, apart from one Highly Commended for a short story, I have never won or made the short list - until today!

This is my celebratory post and a pat on my own back for having my second novel, When Skies Are Grey, make the long list for the SI Leeds Literary Prize for 2016! I'm extremely proud and excited, I can't stop smiling to myself.
I'd vowed to knock the competition entering on the head after these recent entries because I need to concentrate on all the writing projects I have in the pipelines or on the go. Only recently I was asked to ghost write a memoir, and you may remember I'm planning to write a book series under my pseudonym. I'm up to my eyes in word counts!

But since making the long list I feel like a writing competition Ninja - I'm going to enter everything! - Well, not really. I'm sure the feeling will pass. I mean apart from all the above mentioned writing projects, every time I didn't make the cut as far as prizes went, I felt hurt. I still don't have a thick enough skin to handle rejection like a Ninja would. It takes a while to get over the disappointment, I'm afraid. So I'm going to revel in the fact that, for once, I don't have to pull myself together and self help myself into believing I can still write after a panel of judges didn't pick my story.

The short list has yet to be announced. I just hope I can survive the nerves until the end of September. I'll be buying an extra supply of moisturiser in case I need it for all that extra thick skin.

I'm keeping everything crossed until then but making the long list has meant a whole lot to me.