Scrapbook of an Unfound Songstress review…

Author: Vicky Nolan 

Blurb: 

You’re a 15-year-old schoolgirl who has big dreams of becoming a pop star, and then one day you get your lucky break. Polydor records sends you to Copenhagen to make pop music – to make you a recording artist. You get back home and your future is looking brighter than ever – until the High Court writ hits the door mat – you’ve fallen out with your management and they have decided to sue. No, this isn’t a dream, this is now Vicky Nolan’s reality and fast becoming a nightmare, and all while still at school at the sweet age of sixteen.

Read about the trial, the family, Hollywood, London town, the glamour, the dog (eh?) and most importantly, the music. Curiouser and curiouser?

We always talk about ‘making it’ and fulfilling your dreams. The question is, what if you don’t? What happens next? Ultimately, this book speaks about life and family; its hopes and disappointments, Its ups and downs. Scrapbook of an Unfound Songstress is in some way a story that speaks to us all, because in the end, the best stories are always true.

“I’m living my life as consequence of yesterday.
And all of my choices compliment my life today.
There may have been times I could have gone and lost my way,
I could have, I would have, I should have, I don’t care – I’m here now.”

@Captivated_by_Fantasy

Review:

Firstly thank you so much to Vicky for sending me this gem of a book. 

This book is written in a scrapbook/diary-esque format which makes it appear deeply personal and filled with even more passion. The description is soo powerful because of its authenticity and ability to suck you in. 

It is safe to say, I am fully invested in her dreams. I feel like I know her and that is one powerful quality of a book. To connect so deeply with a character’s qualities is amazing but even more amazing when that person is real. 

The reader is right by her side through all the ups and downs making her words fuelled with inspiration and passion. Ahhh the passion in this book makes me so so so happy and eager to take on new challenges and not give up on my dreams.

I just love how clearly developed and coherent her ideas are and the relationship she establishes with the reader with her openness. 

Overall, I would give this book  5 stars because of its authenticity. She pours her heart and soul into this book and you can tell – it is just wonderful.  

And, oh my god can Vicky S-I-N-G.  

She is beautiful inside and out and you must go and buy her book and support her because she deserves it so much!  

About the author:

Professional female vocalist Vicky Nolan performs impressive vocals to your favourite songs in her own unique, classic style. From Motown to RnB, Classical to Contemporary Pop and everything else that’s in-between. 

http://www.vickysingsforyou.co.uk

@unfoundsongstress

Me Mam.Me Dad. Me. Blog Tour…

Title: Me Mam. Me Dad. Me. By Malcom Duffy. 

Publisher: Head of Zeus. 

Blurb: 

Humorous and heartbreaking debut novel with the fresh, funny, honest voice of a 14-year-old Geordie lad recounting the trials and tribulations of family life and finding first love. Nominated for the 2019 Carnegie Medal. 

Danny’s mam has a new boyfriend. Initially, all is good – Callum seems nice enough, and Danny can’t deny he’s got a cool set up; big house, fast car, massive TV, and Mam seems to really like him. 

But cracks begin to show, and they’re not the sort that can be easily repaired. As Danny witnesses Mam suffer and Callum spiral out of control he goes in search of his dad. The Dad he’s never met. 

Set in Newcastle and Edinburgh, this supremely readable coming-of-age drama tackles domestic violence head on, but finds humour and hope in the most unlikely of­ places.

Review:

When the publishing sent me this book to review I did not know what to expect. My attention was instantly grabbed by the wonderful and bright cover and I just could not wait to devour it! It was also clear by the cover, the dialect was going to be northern, an accent that I welcome in my life as someone that is very much southern.  

This is a very important book, everyone needs to read it! Although themes such as domestic violence are sometimes difficult to read, this book approaches it in a really balanced and reassuring way. The information is easy to digest but it still kicks you in the teeth and makes you want to jump into the book and demand justice for the wronged.   

The protagonist, Danny, a fourteen year old boy was all I could wish for in this narrative and more. His fondness for his mother purely touched my heart and made me fall completely in love with his character.             As mentioned above, this book is easily accessible because of the way it presents the events in Danny’s life. Harrowing yet hilarious! He is broken yet full of banter.

This book does cater for an array of ages, it is suitable for young adult and I honestly do think it will help children like Danny in similar situations to process their thoughts and feelings and it is accessible to older people. I am 22 now and this book had me laughing and crying all at the same time. I just wanted to hug Danny at times and tell him every thing would be okay. 

‘Harrowing yet hilarious’

and….oh boy…that ending! Wow.  Message me to discuss because I need to talk but I do not want to ruin it!

About the author:

Malcolm Duffy is a Geordie, born and bred. His first novel, Me Mam. Me Dad. Me., nominated for the 2019 Carnegie Medal, was inspired by his time at Comic Relief, visiting projects that support women and children who have suffered as a result of domestic abuse.

malcolmduffy.com

@malcolmduffyUK

More About Malcolm Duffy

The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau Blog Tour

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Firstly, thank you so much to Endeavour for sending me a wonderful digital copy of this book. I will definitely be buying a physical copy because LOOK at the copy, it is gorgeous, and I hate to say it but I do judge a book by its cover. I could stare at it all day, just amazing!

Today, I am going to review The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau and I hope you enjoy it!

 

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The-Blue-cover-comingBlurb:

In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities; fortunes are made and lost upon it. Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture.

For Genevieve Planché, an English-born descendant of Huguenot refugees, porcelain holds far less allure; she wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London. If only she could reach Venice.

When Genevieve meets the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse; if she learns the secrets of porcelain, he will send her to Venice. But in particular, she must learn the secrets of the colour blue…

The ensuing events take Genevieve deep into England’s emerging industrial heartlands, where not only does she learn about porcelain, but also about the art of industrial espionage.

With the heart and spirit of her Huguenot ancestors, Genevieve faces her challenges head on, but how much is she willing to suffer in pursuit and protection of the colour blue?I

 

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Mini Review:5-star-rating

 

Title: The Blue 

Author: Nancy Bilyeau

Where to buy it: Free for download on Kindle Unlimited or £7.99 from Amazon

Pages: 488

Publisher: Endeavour Quill

Genre: Historical Fiction

I do not want to give any details away because I do not want to ruin it BUT if you have read and want to discuss (because I do!) comment below and we can have a good ol’ chinwag.

Just know it is absolutely incredible! After devouring this amazing novel I cannot wait to pick up her other books because this was right up my street. The insight and excitement of an 18th Century tale of risk and international espionage had me electronically turning the page in anticipation!

I often go through stages of reading historical fiction and this has catapulted me right back into my obsession! Everything was just amazing – the characters were divine – the detail- ahhhh the detail- so good!!! The concept and narrative were just impeccable. LOVE LOVE LOVE.  

I normally only read historical fiction about Tudor times so this was SUPER interesting for me! Thank you so much to Hannah, the Marketing Coordinator at Endeavour for sending it to me and to my wonderful friend Taryn (Endeavour’s current Intern) for telling me about this book!

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NancyBiography:

Nancy is a writer and magazine editor, a graduate of the University of Michigan who worked as an editor at “Rolling Stone,” “InStyle” and “Good Housekeeping.”
 
She wrote a trilogy of award-winning Tudor mysteries, published in 9 countries: “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry.” Her new book is “The Blue,” a novel of suspense set in the rivalrous art and porcelain worlds of 18th century Europe featuring a young female artist turned spy.

Praise for Nancy:

“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books and transports us back to the dangerous world of Tudor England. Vivid characters and gripping plots are at the heart of this wonderful trilogy. Warmly recommended!”
—Alison Weir, author of The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I and many bestsellers

“Nancy Bilyeau’s polished, inventive debut has all the ingredients of the best historical fiction: a broad cast of characters, well-imagined settings, and vivid story-telling… In Joanna Stafford, Bilyeau has given us a memorable character who is prepared to risk her life to save what she most values, while Stafford’s desperate search for a lost religious relic will satisfy even the most ardent mystery fans.”
—Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches

Blog: http://nancybilyeau.com 

Twitter: @tudorscribe

 

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You can follow the tour here…

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10 ways to overcome a book slump…

Recently I have been in a bit of a bookish slump, I  keep picking up books – reading a bit and then putting it down. Urg, I hate myself for doing this…come on Shannon – just read the darn book.

So, to motivate myself and you – I am going to reveal my top tips for getting out of a book slump.

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1. Stop reading the book you are currently reading:

This might sound like a strange thing to say but sometimes the book is just not right for you at this time in your life. It is stopping your progression, slowing you down and hindering your ability to move on – so put it down and pick another book.

2. Start a smaller book:

Size does matter! If you’re feeling the dread of a big book, do not rush your reading experience and force yourself to read it quickly. We all know there is no better feeling than finishing a book, so go and pick up a smaller book or an easy read because you will feel fab-u-lous once your read that last page. You will feel like your reading mo-jo is back, embrace it and let it motivate you.  Even if you just read one of the £1 penguin modern classics – reading is reading.

3. Switch genre:

You might not be feeling the genre anymore, so mix it up and try something else. This is also a good time to explore a completely new genre that is outside your comfort zone. Go for it!

4. Pick up an old friend:

This is where I would be whacking out one of the Harry Potter books for comfort (probably Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) or The Bell Jar. Sometimes you just have to return to an old favourite and remind yourself why you love reading so much. For me, in my hectic life – I just need to zone out sometimes and lose myself within books.

5. Start or join a bookclub:

I have failed at this more times than I should admit – I have the best intention of going and then I don’t or me and my friends organise our own , read the book and then never discuss it. But I will join a bookclub soon, I will!

6. Set your own goals:

If you are an introvert like me and not fond of the bookclub idea, set your own goals to motivate yourself. Easy or hard goals will act as a reminder to you – this is why I love the Goodreads Reading Challenge because I can track what I have read and achieved so far and how far I have to go.

7. Reorganise your bookshelf:

If you’re anything like me, this tip will help you live your most organised life while also familiarising yourself with books you have forgotten about. We have all been there haven’t we? Moved a book and discovered a forgotten hidden gem.

8. Go book shopping:

I love a good bookshop! They are cozy, warm, full of wonderful people and of course, books! What more could you want? Go and motivate yourself with some new reads and grab a cup of tea if they have a coffee shop.

9. Watch a book to film adaptation:

Sometimes you just want/need a break from reading…do not judge yourself too harshly and just relax with a good movie.

10. Listen to a bookish podcast or audiobook:

This may be a podcast by your favourite author or a podcast about books! Like tip number 9, be kind to yourself and seek comfort in other forms. Some people do not view audiobooks as reading but it is – do not be ashamed of listening.

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  • What are you book slump tips?
  • Do you agree with any of mine?

My weird (yet wonderful) bookish habit.

Recently I have been reflecting upon the weird things I do when I am reading or in my everyday life regarding reading and I thought I would share them with you. Maybe you can comfort me and let me know that I am not the only one who does them.

So, without further ado here are my weird book//reading habits.

  1. My favourite place to read is sat on a cushion, on the floor with my back pressed against a scorching hot radiator. Obviously I can and do read in other locations but this is where I feel the most relaxed.  I love having a cup of tea within reaching distance when I read, any kind – peppermint, green tea, normal tea. Where do you like reading the most?  

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  1. Whenever I am out and about and I can see someone reading a book that I love, this weird thing happens to me. I stop what I am doing and just stare at the person for a while; I try my hardest to look normal on the outside but on the inside I am screaming up and down with eagerness. I want to be their friend, I want to go 3up to the person and chat to them about the book and gain their opinion.   I know this is super weird but I would love it if someone did it to me, it would be slightly bizarre at first but then I would be like ‘yaaaaasss gurl, I love this book. ITS AMAZING!!’ Please tell me that at least one of you do this and that I haven’t gone completely crazy.

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  1. I absolutely despise it when people bend the top of a page when reading as an indicator for where they got to. I will use ANYTHING and EVERYTHING before resorting to mistreating my book. The other day for instance, I didn’t have any paper in my bag so I quickly used my paracetamol packet instead to keep my page. Bookmarks can be so quirky, colourful and amazing…use them people…use them.

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  1. Once facebook told me on a quiz, that I would meet my true love at a bookstore while reaching for the same book. Obviously facebook is 100% an accurate and reliable source, so I am waiting for the day to happen. Imagine it now…it has been a stressful day and I long for the comfort of a bookstore, I am in desperate need for the latest release and just when I am on the verge of giving up. I spot the last copy out of the corner of my eye, I run to the book in a socially accepting manner and just as my hand are about to clasp the book, a strong muscular arm collides with mine. *romantic instrumental music begins* as our touch creates sparks and we stare longingly into each other’s eyes.

So, number on my list is how I always think how romantic it would be to meet      someone as a bookstore. OR, I imagine myself into books where I date the main character.

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  1. Forgetting I have hands when reading and stifling a yawn with a book. I read about someone else doing this the other day and I realized that I also do it. I am so intensely captivated by the book that instead of putting to book down like a normal human to cover my mouth while yawning, I just bring my book to my mouth and yawn.

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This post made me sound crazzzy, absolutely bonkers. I have sooo many more weird (yet wonderful) book habits to share with you guys, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you and scare you away. But if you do like this post and want to hear more- please comment below and I a second post will follow.

Also, do you have any quirky things you do while reading?

Review of Not That Bad:Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay.

*Thank you so much to Atlantic Books for sending me this book!*

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Blurb:

In this valuable and timely anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay has collected original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronised, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, and bullied” for speaking out.

Highlighting the stories of well-known actors, writers, and experts, as well as new voices being published for the first time, Not That Bad covers a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation and street harassment.

Often deeply personal and always unflinchingly honest, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

Review:

Oh boy! This book…urrgg…I just have so much admiration for the bravery of the people that decided to speak out. I wish I could hug every single author of the entries and tell them how amazing they are! This book could not have come at a better time, 2018 has seen the rise in the #MeToo movement and a lot of brave souls have spoken out for the first time!

The essays featured within the anthology made me cry and NEED change! It is an enlightening read full of raw and personal encounters with rape and I did have to put it down a few times to breathe and take it all in.

I was shocked by how sexual assault is still a prominent downfall of the twenty-first century and how often it happens. I truly hope this book shocks people into change because HOW is this still happening, no one deserves to have their bodies violated and it MUST stop. As I put the book down I found myself actively searching my brain on how I can contribute to the understanding of rape culture and how everyone needs to be aware of it – I started by recommending this book and giving it to a friend to read.

This eye-opening encounter and insight into something that not everyone can understand is vital in everyone’s life. It is not an easy read, but it is sooo worth it!

Every essay presents the reader with a different encounter of sexual assault which makes the anthology truly special as it gives people agency to express themselves in a culture where they are often silenced.

One aspect that I really admired was the voice given to male victims, often society associates rape victims with being a woman but that is so far from the truth. A victim is a victim no matter their gender, race, class or the culture they grew up in.

About the Editor: 

Roxane Gay is the author of the essay collection Bad Feminist, which was a New York Times bestseller; the novel An Untamed State, a finalist for the Dayton Peace Prize; and the short story collections Difficult Women and Ayiti. A contributing opinion writer to the New York Times, she has also written for Time, McSweeney’s, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Rumpus, Bookforum, and Salon. Her fiction has also been selected for The Best American Short Stories 2012, The Best American Mystery Stories 2014, and other anthologies. She is the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She lives in Lafayette, Indiana, and sometimes Los Angeles.

Rating: 

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Bookstagram

I am becoming a frequent user of instragam, especially on my book page. I think you should go and check out my page and maybe give me a cheeky follow.

Let me know if you follow me from this blog and I will follow you back!

My Instagram is – Captivated_by_Fantasy    …here is a sneaky peak. 📚🤓💫🍂🍁👑📝


Guest Post: The Aladdin Trial by Abi Silver.

Thank you to the wonderful people at Lightning Books for sending me this marvellous book to read and thank you so much to Abi Silver for writing me a guest post. I am half way through this book and I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT, please go check it out. So, without further ado – welcome to my place on the blogging tour:

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Title: The Aladdin Trial
Author: Abi Silver
Pages: 368 pages
Blurb:

When an elderly artist plunges one hundred feet to her death at a London hospital, the police sense foul play.

The hospital cleaner, a Syrian refugee, is arrested for her murder. He protests his innocence, but why has he given the woman the story of Aladdin to read and why does he shake uncontrollably in times of stress?

Judith Burton and Constance Lamb reunite to defend a man the media has already convicted. In a spellbinding courtroom confrontation in which they once more grapple with all-too-possible developments in artificial intelligence, they uncover not only the cleaner’s secrets, but also those of the artist’s family, her lawyer and the hospital.

A new Burton and Lamb legal thriller with an AI twist from the author of the acclaimed The Pinocchio Brief.

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Guest Post:

Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land…love them as you love yourselves’: Leviticus 19:33-34

#These are a few of my favourite things – part two

It always takes time for my ideas to bed down, sometimes months, sometimes years. That’s the nature of the beast called #amwriting, I suppose. Some days I overhear a snippet of conversation on the underground, I make a mental note and use it that very night. More often, I squirrel it away for a wintery day, when it suddenly and unexpectedly becomes relevant. Other times, ideas flood in at night and I thrash around, attempting to tame them, before scribbling them on a notepad I keep by my bed. Sadly, there have been occasions when I’ve been unable to decipher my scrawl in the morning – enough said!

But throughout 2015, the refugee crisis was featuring most nights on the News and it could not fail to stimulate my interest and evoke my sympathy. Overloaded boats of all shapes and sizes were taking to the water and promptly sinking, with tragic consequences. Our inspired response? To cease patrols of the Mediterranean, in the hope that would stem the flow.

Camps of destitute migrants were expanding at Calais; our answer was to tear them down. Young, desperate men were storming lorries bound for the Channel Tunnel in the hope of reaching England before arrest, so we increased security and threatened drivers with prosecution. Further East, Hungary closed its border with Serbia, ceased all railway crossings and mounted-police patrolled barbed-wire fences, forcing families to take long and often treacherous journeys on foot, to reach their desired Western European destinations. I watched and gawped and felt totally and utterly powerless.

Then I realised there was something I could do, something I often do when I am trying to make sense of what is going on around me; I could write about it. And as the focus slowly shifted from exclusion towards ‘integration’ and our then PM, David Cameron, committed the UK to accepting 20,000 migrants from Syria over the following five years, I began to reflect on my own immigrant past.

Just over a century ago, all four of my grandparents arrived in the UK, fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. As with many of today’s refugees, we don’t know the route they took, how long they were travelling or how they managed to travel so far. They certainly didn’t talk about it to me; Kitty, Joe (my maternal grandparents), Bernard and Esther (on my father’s side), not their real names of course, but the closest approximations in English to their birth names. They didn’t get to keep their long, difficult-to-spell surnames either, being lumped in with the people in front in the queue, suddenly creating a whole new artificial, extended family.

There were not many clues for my younger self to my grandparents’ foreign past. They spoke English, apart from the odd Yiddish word, which tended to escape from their mouths in moments of tremendous angst, when there really was no English substitute (I challenge you to find an appropriate synonym for ‘Oy a Clog!’ – sort of OMG but imbued with centuries of bondage, woe and affliction).

Grandma Kitty loved the Queen (‘I think she’s marvellous’ she would say) as she munched on Ryvita with cottage cheese for breakfast, Grandpa Joe liked to write long, almost illegible letters to Margaret Thatcher (he had only spent three years at school) and never missed an episode of Hawaii Five O and Grandad Bernard, who had worked as a tailor, was ‘a frustrated artist and musician’ (apparently he had played the violin as a young man but I never saw any evidence of this; I do, however, have some of his paintings up in my house today, so that part of his history, at the very least, must be true).

But as I watched the modern-day refugees on TV, disembarking on our shores, I wondered what life had been like for my grandparents when they first arrived, clutching a few personal possessions, dispossessed even of their names, knowing no one and saturated, no doubt, with a wealth of traditions and culture which most English people would have found strange and frightening.

And so with the inspiration of my grandparents firmly in mind, I created Ahmad Qabbani; a recent arrival on English soil, considered fortunate to have found cleaning work at my fictional St Mark’s hospital, but ultimately unlucky to have chosen to befriend an elderly patient who ends up dead, eleven floors below. Ahmad becomes the prime suspect in her murder and Judith and Constance, our accomplished double act, have to work hard to craft him a defence, in circumstances where the media has already judged him to be guilty; nothing like real life then, I’m pleased to say.

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Thank you once again to Abi Silver for writing such a wonderful piece.

Go buy the book here : https://amzn.to/2xv8CZB and to find out more about Abi and her writing go check out her website: www.abisilver.co.uk

To see more about the influences for The Aladdin Trial check out Shaz’s Book Blog, @ShazsBookBlog on 21 June and The Book Bag, @TheBookBag on 26 June, both part of The Aladdin Trial blog tour.

 

May Wrap-Up

Hello everyone, I knows it been ages since frequent blog posts but hopefully I am back now!! Yaaaaaaayyy. I have recently finished the teaching side to my MA in Publishing Media at Oxford Brookes and I am coming to the end of my one month stint in London working at publishing houses. I am so grateful to Biteback Publishing and Icon Books for taking me in and teaching me so much. If you have any questions about publishing/an MA in publishing or internships – drop me a message in the comments.

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Due to my daily commute into London for the last month I have had a lot of reading time.  Check out the books I have read in May below –

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  1. The Child by Fiona Barton
  2. The Read Peter by Peter Dudgeon
  3. Equal Power by Jo Swinson 
  4. Places I Stopped on the Way Home by Meg Fee
  5. The Art of Not Falling Apart by Christina Patterson
  6. This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay
  7. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
  8. Post-Truth by James Ball
  9. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  10. Midnight Sun by Trish Cook
  11. (and I am currently reading) Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

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What have you been reading this month?

Guest Post: The Sheriff’s Catch by James Vella Bardon.

*Today’s post is by author James Vella Bardon. Thank you James for writing such a wonderful guest post for my blog. Readers, it would be fabulous if you could check the author out, watch his book trailer and ultimately – READ THE BOOK.  If you have read this book, let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you and I am sure James would also love to see your comments. *

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The Making Of The Sheriff’s Catch / Introducing James Vella-Bardon

I don’t think you can beat well-researched novels which are also fast-paced. It doesn’t matter if they’re in eBook format on your smart phone, leaving you to miss your train stop on your way home from work. Or if they’re paperbacks that you hide under your pillow with a small torch, so that you can read late past midnight long after the missus and kids are asleep.
There’s heaps of other people I know who love these breaknjeck page-turners which leave you too breathless to realise just how quickly you’ve read the story. Yet for some reason these sorts of books are so hard to find. I remember reading The Fellowship Of The Ring when I was ten and sick in bed. It was a magical week that I’ll never forget, in which my eyes were absolutely glued to the page while I read the chapter about the fellowship fleeing orcs and a flaming balrog in the Mines of Moria. Reading that chapter left me wondering: what if I could one day create the same levels of anticipation and exhilaration for other readers, all through written words on a page?
There have been other similar works which have also stirred great emotions inside me while also teaching me a lot about different periods in real human history. Henri Charriere’s Papillon was quite simply ‘crack on a page’ from cover to cover, not to mention the opening chapter of ‘Q’ by the band of Bologna-based writers who call themselves Luther Blissett (and subsequently Wu Ming). The first-person account of Gert from the well fleeing Catholic forces with the unconscious Anabaptist Thomas Muntzer was like something out of Mel Gibson’s Apocalytpo. Precious few novels have evoked the same exhilaration and burning curiousity, and in my case these have included Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’s Tiger’, Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series and more recently Tim Willocks’ ‘The Twelve Children Of Paris’.

What if I could write a whole novel with the same first-hand intensity? Something which you couldn’t put down, like ‘The Da Vinci Code’? But without the dryness of an airport read and without all the sagging, flouncy, hellishly boring bits usually contained in a Booker Prize-winning novel? And even better still: what if I could produce a series of books like that, with a story arc akin to those created by fantasy writers like Tolkien, David Eddings and Stephen Donaldson?

At the age of 25 I finished university and with my tertiary studies off my back, I instantly knew what I had to do. I was working in Brussels when I decided to try my hand at writing a fantasy epic, but I knew that the Dark Lord vs the forces of good theme had been done to death and was wearing a bit thin. Rehashing former fantasy series just wasn’t a stimulating enough venture for me. It was during that period of deliberation that I received a book called ‘Romegas’ by Carmel Testa as a birthday gift from my uncle Klaus in Malta. I was instantly drawn towards the stark differences in customs and traditions between the people of the 16th Century, and immediately decided that this world would be the canvas for my novel. But what sort of story should I write?

The key spark of inspiration occurred a couple of years later, shortly after I had emigrated to Sydney, Australia. I walked into a second hand bookstore and picked up a small historical nonfiction book by the Irish journalist T. P. Kilfeather, called ‘Ireland: Graveyard Of The Spanish Armada’. Spanish Armada in Ireland? What was this about? Yet I hardly started to read the first page, that I did not put the book down until I’d read it all. I bought it for three bucks and staggered out of the shop, feeling like I’d just been on the wildest rollercoaster ride I’d ever been on. Moria? Orcs? Papillon? The stories of the Spanish Armada castaways in Ireland ate all that up for breakfast!

I locked myself away in my studio flat, typing out my first twelve-chapter draft in less than a week, subsequently realising that the first draft required further rewriting and editing. I stuck to this project like a hound on the scent, editing and rewriting it again and again for years on end until I developed my voice. Extensive research was also carried out on this period of history, which was nearly as addictive as the writing itself!

And how couldn’t it be? The Spanish Armada shipwrecks in Ireland were a juncture at which three starkly different cultures met: counter-reformist Spaniards, reformist English and the late medieval Irish. There were just too many dramatic episodes to cover, from the preparation and voyage of the Spanish Armada itself, to the dramatic slaughter of Spanish castaways along the Irish beaches, with desperate ‘man on the run’ stories of those Spaniards who managed to elude the great bloodbath along the beaches.

As if this story was not amazing enough, nothing prepared me for the wonder and complexity of 16th Century Gaelic culture. We all too often forget that Ireland was the last European country to be influenced by Rome, so that a sophisticated Gaelic culture of law and bardic tradition had blossomed there, with women having the exact same rights of men and there being no concept of a bonus paterfamilias. I was also taken aback by the sheer beauty of the countryside when I visited Sligo Town and surrounds in Western Ireland to undertake further research on the novel back in October 2012. This was just too much mind-blowing material to be left untouched by fiction, and before I knew it I had penned a staggeringly long novel in five parts. I subsequently divided this into a five-part series called The Sassana Stone Pentalogy.

The first instalment is called ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ and was published by leading British crowdfunding publisher Unbound on 15 March 2018. The required crowdfunding figure of 4000 pounds was raised in less than six days, even though the campaign was expected to last three months! A number of other highs were to follow. My publisher Unbound got me to work on the manuscript with structural editor and talented novelist CM Taylor, as well as experienced copy-editor Andrew Chapman. There followed work with award-winning cover designer Mark Ecob, before the novel was serialised on international online book club The Pigeonhole. To my disbelief, this book club was previously used by Ken Follett to promote his sequel to ‘The Pillars Of The Earth’, called ‘A Column Of Fire.’

I was walking on air as the comments from 250 readers about my debut novel came through on The Pigeonhole, with a few of them kindly also posting reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. My nine years of backbreaking rewriting and research had already paid off, with a large number of readers greatly warming to my anti-hero protagonist and deadly marksman Abel de Santiago, also known as ‘The Lynx of Haarlem’, not to mention the gutsy tragic heroines Elsien Van Der Molen and Muireann Mac An Bhaird. And as if that wasn’t enough, I received a call from Tim Willocks’ (and Ken Follett’s former) literary agent Mr Albert Zuckerman last month which was the absolute cherry on the cake! Mr Zuckerman kindly invited me to his hotel to discuss my novel for close to an hour, which was quite simply unbelievable. Yet more unbelievable news was to follow earlier this month, when a novel trailer I created was nominated in the ‘best trailer for a novel or book’ category at the Golden Trailer Awards to be held in Los Angeles on 31 May 2018!

Watch the trailer below:

The product of a long lonely nine-year slog has so far met with a really good reception, and I cannot wait for what’s next around the corner. And for those readers who have loved ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ (and you only need to check my Goodreads and Amazon pages to discover what the feedback has been to date), the good news for my growing following of readers is that the draft manuscripts for four other sequels have already been penned, which altogether will make up ‘The Sassana Stone Pentalogy’. I can’t wait to get stuck into the editing of the next instalment: ‘A REBEL NORTH’.

 So what are you waiting for?

Jump on Goodreads and have a look at the reader reviews, then hop on Amazon and read the ‘Look Inside’ free excerpt of The Sheriff’s Catch, and find out for yourself just how hard it is to put down! And if you love it, well, then strap on your seatbelt and buy the whole thing, as you embark upon one of the literary thrills of your life!

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James Vella-Bardon

James was born and raised in Malta, an island nation steeped in the millennia of history. As a boy he often caught a rickety old bus to the capital of Valletta, where he would hover around the English bookshops to check out the latest titles in fiction.

Growing up he was an avid reader and a relentless day-dreamer, with his standout subject at school being English composition. He also won a couple of national essay competitions. Although he spent seven years studying and obtaining a doctor of laws degree, this did not cure him of his urge to write stories. So after emigrating to Sydney in 2007 he resolved to have a proper stab at writing his first novel.

The result of this decision is an epic, sprawling five-part historical fiction series called The Sassana Stone Pentalogy. It is the product of nine years of intense rewriting and research, and tells the story of a Spanish Armada survivor who is shipwrecked in Ireland.

The first instalment in the series is a rip-roaring, myth-busting page-turner called The Sheriff’s Catch. Its anti-hero protagonist Abel de Santiago is an Armada survivor who finds himself on the run across Connacht, whilst being pursued by English troopers who want him tortured and killed.

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