A Life in Books with Marilyn Messik


Earlier today I posted a review of the spookily good Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik, and this evening Marilyn joins me on my blog to take part in my feature A Life in Books.


Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Well, my default setting is definitely mild hysteria, but I don’t like to tell too many people about that! I earn my living as a copywriter working for businesses, so feel I should at least attempt to project a cool, calm and reasonably responsible exterior.

My vice is books. I have a TBR pile of about 50 and goodness knows (I certainly don’t!) how many lurking on my Kindle. I should also confess, if I don’t have a book (or several) lined up to read after the one I’m currently enjoying, then I get decidedly twitchy. And trust me, you wouldn’t like me when I’m twitchy!



What was your favourite book from childhood?41fLv2WvJNL

So hard to name just one – how to choose between Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did and Little Women (why, oh why, did Beth have to go?). But my father also had a brilliant collection of probably highly unsuitable stuff into which I stuck my nose at a very early age, devouring Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage alongside Edgar Rice Burroughs output – loved the Mars series – that Thuvia, Maid of Mars was a real trouper!


What type of books did you read as a teenager?

Rebecca of course and Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen. Tons of science fiction – Alfred Bester, Damon Knight, Isaac Asimov. Also loved Georgette Heyer – she used humour so brilliantly in her writing. And then of course there was the rather torrid Angelique series by Anne and Serge Golon in which, I seem to recall, there was a fair old amount of bodice-ripping and a suitably scarred, yet still unbearably handsome hero.


When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

Probably, Golding’s Lord of the Flies – although I’m not sure I ever enjoyed it.


41pizDYbrQLWhat is your favourite classic book?

Jane Eyre.


What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 years?

One? Just One? Now you’re being really tough! OK, I’m going to go for Justin Cronin’s Passage trilogy – yes I know that’s three books but can we stretch a point?


 What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

War and Peace, but, life’s too short!


What do you consider to be your favourite book?51xjpTQyyLL

Now, that’s like being asked to choose your favourite child! Can I have two? The House Next Door, Anne Rivers Siddons – one of the best haunted house stories ever. The other one would be Time and Again by Jack Finney, a time travel tale that’s always stayed with me. Ooh, and Stephen King’s It! I’m so sorry I know I’ve failed miserably to answer the question accurately – that was always my problem in exams!.


 Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?

41VvawTiGALYes, Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, many years ago when it first came out. I found it totally distressing, maybe because it was so dystopian yet so scarily not really that far out. I’ve been watching the TV series which is brilliantly done, completely compelling and probably even more distressing, because there’s nothing in there that any of us can dismiss.



Which two books would you take to a desert island?

How to build a Hut and Teach Yourself Smoke Signals


Kindle or Book?

Real life book, because you can’t replace the scent, weight, cover texture and sheer pleasure of one of those. I do dally with a Kindle occasionally, if push comes to shove, but it’s definitely not the same experience.


If you haven’t read my review of Witch Dust please take a look, thank you.


Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik



“A red gash of a mouth rimmed with impossibly tiny, razor-sharp teeth yawned wide, then swift as a snake, she bent and struck . . . “
For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill. But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving.

From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know. Ophelia it appears, has not been entirely honest about any number of things. There’s no doubt in Sandra’s mind, the sooner she puts as much distance as possible between herself, her newly discovered nearest and dearest, their peculiar tendencies and their failing hotel business, the very much happier she’s going to be.

Dire straits call for desperate measures and Sandra reluctantly rises to the occasion. A hanged housemaid, a fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Psychic Society and a quasi co-operative journalist all handled correctly should, she reckons, get the family business up and running, which will allow her to do the same – as fast as she can, and in the opposite direction. Things unfortunately move swiftly from bad to farce and then get a hell of a lot darker. One moment Sandra’s struggling to save the family’s income, the next, she’s battling to save their lives.
Turns out, some darknesses, once buried, are best left undisturbed.



Witch Dust, on paper, is not a book I would normally have chosen to read; I tend to stay away from the fantasy genre. However, I do like trying something new and in this case I am glad I did, pardon the pun but this was spookily good, in a way I reminded me of the television show from my childhood Rentaghost.   There are times when I really need a good easy book, with humour, great characters and plot that is easy to understand, and Marilyn Messik ticked all those boxes for me.

The plot is narrated by Sandra/Serenissima.  I loved her narration, she is sensible, stable, and quite normal considering her parents are famous magicians and very passionate and dramatic.   It seems that she is the only character grounded in reality,  in a cast full of eccentric and unusual characters who go for the over dramatic.  The other characters are simply brilliant; some were loveable, some not but all brought humour and fun to the plot.  Marilyn carefully has their very different lifestyle interwoven brilliantly with the mundane facts of life; they could be anyone’s family who run a hotel.

Marilyn Messik’s writing really draws you into the plot.  The short chapters keep the story snappy, you always think one more chapter as its only about eight pages, and before long you realise you have read ten chapters.  The storytelling itself is beautiful, the prose flows seamlessly along engaging the reader and makes you want to stay in her magical world.  There is lots of humour in this book to keep a smile on your face as you read and also some cringe worthy moments that all combine to make this a very entertaining read.

Witch Dust is a captivating read, full of memorable characters and a brilliant rollercoaster of a plot.  Its an easy read that will keep you entertained from start to finish; a truly magical book.

A Life in Books with John Nicholson


On this Bank Holiday Monday author John Nicholson takes part in my feature A Life in Books.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I was born in Hull in the early 60s and brought up on Teesside. I’ve lived in over 20 places in the last 35 years, everywhere from the north of Scotland to southern California, and have been writing professionally for 16 years, first about football (my book We Ate All The Pies was long-listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year) then about food (The Meat Fix) before moving on to write fiction. I’ve now written 14 novels in the last four years, 12 of which form the Nick Guymer crime series, which I’ve lately taken to describing as literary soap opera.

Having been snapped up by a publisher for two books, I quickly realised that the only way to give yourself a chance to make a living at writing was to set up your own publishing imprint. So that’s what I did, establishing Head Publishing in 2012 and publishing

all my books through it. It worked well from pretty much day one, and in the first month I’d made more money than in three years with a publisher. I surround myself with talented people to edit, proofread and design the books, all of whom are tasked to make me look better than I really am!

I know I’m fortunate to be able to write for a living, but it’s exactly the position I wanted to get into as I entered the second half of life, figuring that as long as I’m compos mentis, I can keep earning a living until I cark it. I won’t be retiring because I’ve nothing to retire from!

Outside of tapping away at a Chromebook, I am a vinyl record collector with over 4,500 albums. I live in Edinburgh with my partner of the last 37 years, Dawn, who is one of those annoying people who is brilliant at a lot of different things. Currently, she’s set up a jewellery company, but is also a well-respected artist and graphic designer. We live in a lofty apartment in the New Town, in a state of permanent semi-chaos.



1. What was your favourite book from childhood?IMG_1488
My parents encouraged me to read from a really early age and while I was a voracious consumer of Enid Blyton, it was the Brer Rabbit stories that really captivated me, especially the Tar Baby, which taught me at any early age, how to get out of sticky situations. I was also mad about Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.


2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?

As a young teen I loved the Lone Pine series of books because the characters had relationships and fell in and out of love. I was quite a soppy boy and was never a fan of adventure books supposedly aimed at me, such as Biggles. As I got into my mid and late teens, I read anything that was part of the late 60s counterculture such as Kerouac, Kesey and Wolfe. On top of that, I’ve always had a love of poetry and can usually be found with a slim volume of difficult verse in my pocket. I especially love the Beat poets, who opened my mind to how you could forge art from experiences.


IMG_14893. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

This is easy. It was Kes by Barry Hines. It was the first novel I’d read which was written in the working class vernacular that I was so familiar with. It felt less like a novel and more like a documentary. It allowed me to believe people from my background could write books and that it wasn’t just a middle-class thing for middle-class people. Kes has been incalculably important in my life and even now, it informs and inspires.


4. What is your favourite classic book?

I went to college to study English and History and in doing so developed a love of Russian Literature. The gothic darkness of Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky captivated my soul and seemed to tell me eternal truths about the human condition that have stayed with me ever since.


5. What is the best book you have had over the last 5 years?IMG_1491

I’m a bit biased on this but my pal Dan Gray recently published a book about football culture called Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters. He has such a romantic, heady prose style that, even if you’re not interested in football, he pulls you into his world view.


6. What book do you think you should read but never get round to?

Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne. My old English teacher Dr Day was an expert on the book and I’ve always thought it sounds fantastic. The parts I’ve heard read are really funny, but I’ve never sat down and read it, cover to cover. I don’t know why really.


7. What do you consider to be your favourite book?

IMG_1492If I had to choose one it’d be Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It’s a joyful, crazy, multi-hued beast of a book, full of wit and far out philosophy. Every time you dip in, it it’s like you’re putting on psychedelic glasses and are transported to the late 60s. When you finish the book, you really do feel stoned. I also adore Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski novels. All of them are excellent but I’d go for Double Indemnity. I set out to be Teesside’s Sara Paretsky!



8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?


I tend to struggle on with books, feeling that pain is good for my soul. I once tried reading The Prime Minister by Tony Trollope, as I like to call him. It was so dry it almost hurt my eyes. Didn’t finish that. I also struggled with Emma by Jane Austen, who I don’t much like. I get why people do like her, but to me, they’re nowhere as smart and funny as they think they are, every book seems the same and there’s only so many women in bonnets that I want to read about. Oh and I read Alan Alda’s autobiog. I’d always loved him, but the book was so teeth-grindingly dull that I couldn’t finish it.


Which two books would you take to a desert Island?IMG_1493

I’d have the Record Collector price guide, which details all manner of interesting things about vinyl records. I’d also have to have the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, just to grok on the trippy vibes…err…man.


10. Kindle or Book?
It’s not an either/or for me. I’m happy to have each to read in different contexts. I think novels are quite disposable, so Kindle is ideal for them. But I also have massive volumes of poetry and music reference books and I couldn’t be doing with them on a Kindle. So I think they have to co-exist. The snooty attitude to digital books is completely anathema to me and those who perpetuate it, are, as far as I’m concerned, howling at the moon.


John Nicholson’s Nick Guymer Crime series is available to buy now.

Skin Deep by Laura Wilkinson.




Diana was a child model, always admired for her beauty.  In 1980’s Manchester she turns her back on modelling and her pushy mother to study art at Manchester University.  Insecure and having difficulty with her art she is under pressure, until she meets Cal.

Cal is four years old, and is kept hidden by his drug addict parents due to his facial disfigurement.  Diana is fascinated by Cal and his difference, and he becomes the focus of her art.  As Cal grows older and struggles to become accepted, and Diana becomes a renowned artist cracks start to appear in their relationship.  Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, and can Cal be accepted in a society where image is so important.



Skin Deep is a powerful, if at times a difficult read.  The main plot line deals with the question of what makes people beautiful.  In todays society where our lives are documented on social media, and the importance of the selfie it really captures the zeitgeist of the period.

The narrative goes between Diana and Cal and their lives.  Diana’s story follows her from the  1980’s to the present day, from a student to a renowned artist.  Cal’s story is told from a hospital bed where he is recovering from a cosmetic procedure which he hopes will make him look ‘normal’.  Cal also has flashbacks that take him back through his childhood to becoming an adult.  He reminisces about certain events and his feelings and thought about them.  He is never really sure if some of them are real memories of just imaginings of his mind.  What these thought do is let us see his feelings about who he is, how he is seen by other others and how the fame brought about by Diana’s art has effected him.

As characters Diana and Cal are polar opposites. Diana is blonde, beautiful, and comes from a privileged background.  However, her relationship with her mother, Bunny, is strained due to years of abuse, both physical and emotional; Bunny pushed Diana in her modelling career and would hit her if she misbehaved.

Cal is dark haired and facial disfigured, kept out of sight so he doesn’t frighten others. He is neglected by his drug addict parents, kept in a bedroom with his toys and television.  Diana sees him as the antithesis to her and beauty and makes this into a life long art project; she makes him more beautiful and herself less so, even going to the lengths of injecting saline in to her face to distort it. What I found really interesting all of this is that the abused became the abuser; Diana in her relentless pursuit of her art pushes Cal into the limelight without really considering how it could effect him, she even resorts to blackmail at one point.  However, I still had sympathy for her, she really did love Cal and thought she was doing her best for him.  In my eyes she redeems herself by realising what she has done, even if it may be too late to save her realtionship.

Laura Wilkinson’s prose is beautifully written and her characterisation really engages the reader, realism in plot and characters come through.  The only problem for me was the timeline;  there was very little indication of what year we were in, the age of Cal at the important parts of the story.  Personally I feel that the inclusion of years would have added to my enjoyment of the book, I felt it would help me understand more of Cal’s journey and feelings.

Overall, Skin Deep is an original and thought provoking read, with characters that will capture your heart.  I think it is a novel that will certainly stay with me for a long time; it is intelligent and gives a balanced argument to both sides of the story.  I highly recommend this book, and think it would benefit a teenage audience as well as adult as it questions so many values in todays society.







Guest Post by Emma Dibdin: Cult Research.




To celebrate the release of her new book The Room by the Lake Emma Dibdin has written a guest post about her research into cults, the theme at the centre of the novel.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Emma for writing this very interesting piece.


Cult Research by Emma Dibdin.

The idea to write about a cult came from a strange encounter I had years ago in Seattle, with a man on the street who was protesting against then-president Barack Obama. The man was very young, about my age at the time (early twenties), and his argument was very odd and illogical, as though he had learned it by rote or by brainwashing. He was polite, but dead-eyed, and the encounter haunted me, particularly when I learned he was part of a far-right “political movement” which is essentially a cult. They prey on young people, often people cut off from their own families, and that got me thinking about what would make someone psychologically vulnerable enough to be sucked in.

There are a lot of novels out there about cults, and I made a point of not reading any of them because don’t think that kind of direct influence is helpful when you’re in the “discovery phase” of writing fiction. What I did read was a lot of non-fiction, including biographies of cult leaders – Jim Jones, Bonnie Lu Nettles and Charles Manson in particular – and self-help books targeted at cult survivors and their families, with instructions on how to combat cult mind control. I listened to an extensive podcast interview with a cult survivor who spoke about the terrifying hallucinations he experienced after drinking drugged tea: a very specific blend of psychedelics and antidepressant drugs which I ended up using wholesale in The Room By The Lake.

The final piece of the puzzle, in writing the cult, was working out what it would actually look like day-to-day. It had to seem harmless and appealing enough on the outside that a reasonable person would be sucked in, and so I settled on this combination of an intense bootcamp and a therapeutic retreat. In 2014 when I wrote the bulk of the novel, I was doing a lot of classes at Barry’s Bootcamp (which I hasten to add is delightful and not a cult!), and thinking a lot about extreme exercise and dietary restriction, how this healthy desire to push yourself and live clean can become obsessional. For me, fiction isn’t about writing “what you know”, so much as taking little pieces from your own life and imagining them several shades darker.

The cult is really secondary to Caitlin’s psychological journey – it’s just the impetus that forces her to confront these long-held fears she’s had about her own sanity, because of the history of mental illness in her family. But I wanted to make sure that the depiction was as detailed and convincing as possible, as well as respectful to the horrific reality that actual cult survivors go through. One interviewee described his recovery process: “For the first three months when I got back, I thought i was still in the cult. I thought that real life was a hallucination.” That blurred line between reality and hallucination, and between dream and waking states, resonated with me and played a big role in the way I wrote Caitlin as the book developed.


Please take a look at this wonderful psychological thriller available to buy now.


Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul




1911 At the age of fifteen, carefree Mary Kirk and indomitable Wallis Warfield meet at summer camp.  Their friendship will survive heartbreaks, separation and the demands of the British Crown until  it is shattered by one unforgiven betrayal.

1997 Rachel’s romantic break in Paris with her fiancé ends in tragedy when the car ahead crashes.  Inside was Princess Diana.  Back in Brighton, Rachel is haunted by the accident, and intrigued to learn the princess had visited the ;art home of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, only hours before the crash.  Soon, the discovery of a a long forgotten link to Wallis Simpson leads Rachel to the truth behind a scandal that shook the world….



Another Woman’s Husband is a beautiful novel, that seamlessly combines past and present, fiction and non fiction together.  In the present we follow Rachel’s story  as she deals with the aftermath of what she saw in the Alma Tunnel and that of her fiancé Alex, a television producer who decides to make a documentary about Diana and the crash.  Alex is determined to prove that Diana was murdered, and the accident was set up.  What I liked about this was that Gill Paul didn’t make Diana a character the book, it is never about her story per se, but about the reaction and theories at the time.

The other part of the book follows Wallis Simpson from the age of fifteen until her death.  The main emphasis is on the close friendship between Wallis and Mary Kirk.  Through Mary the reader sees how Wallis was viewed by others;  many books have been written, both fiction and non fiction a lot of which I have read over the years, but most just tell Wallis’ story not how she was seen by friends and acquaintances in America and Britain.  Gill Paul writes a balanced portrayal of Wallis, and includes some of the theories that followed her to her grave; did she have an affair with German Nazi Minister, Jaochim von Ribbentrop, her problems or dislike of sex, and was she complicit in giving information to the Nazi’s during the war.  I do have some sympathy for Wallis; she was portrayed as an evil woman who destroyed the British Monarchy, when in reality she found her self in a position she couldn’t get out of.  She never wanted to marry Edward VIII, but after his abdication she had no choice.

This is a wonderfully atmospheric novel that brings to life an important period of British History.  Gill Paul’s writing makes this book a joy to read, the prose flows seamlessly and by the end both plot lines come together.  The characters are vividly brought to life and draw you into their lives so you feel you really know them by the end of the book. The relationships seem so natural and are very relatable.

This is the second book I have read by Gill Paul, I reviewed The Secret Wife last year, and it will not be the last.  This is a compelling read, full of detail and very well written, I highly recommend this for your reading shelf.



Teaching English in our Secondary Schools: A Teachers Perspective.


Today I have a guest post by a friend of mine, Daisy Jane Bell, who is an English Teacher in Fife.  So many of us got the reading bug from school, but with technology and social media playing such an important role in children’s lives I asked Daisy Jane to write about how English is taught in schools today, and the barriers she faces.  This is a fabulous piece and it gives us all something to think about.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Daisy Jane for finding get time to write this piece for my blog.  She also runs a brilliant Facebook book group Hens Hooked on Books , where we have monthly book choices that we discuss at the end of the month.


My name is Daisy Jane. I am a Principal Teacher of English and I work in a large Secondary School, in Fife, Scotland.
My main job remit means I have the responsibility for all pupils, within the years of s1-2, and this responsibility relates to their educational, learning, personal and behaviour needs. I also teach and am responsible for other children in our Dept, aged 11-18 years, and more specifically those who are in my classes. I am second in charge in a Dept of 12 and have been in post, since 2002. Since qualifying, I have been employed in only 3 High schools, yet I have worked with many colleagues, ranging from students, to newly qualified teachers, including Guidance Staff, and Depute Head teachers. I believe that working with many professionals and such ‘diversity’ of teaching styles, ages and experiences, has, all-in-all, greatly benefitted me n my many pupils and staff.
In my 19 years of teaching, having graduated in December, 1998, with Distinction in Education, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with many professionals and teaching many different classes, ranging from low ability, smaller ‘set’ groups, to teaching larger, more challenging (learning n behaviour groups), to also stretching the needs of high flyers and gifted children/pupils. I have mentored many pupils, students n staff, as well as being a Personal Tutor, to many children, over the years. I have taught classes in the early broad, general education (curriculum years 1-3), right up to teaching, National 3/4, 5 and Higher and Advanced Higher. I have also been employed as a Higher English Tutor, one evening per week, at a local college, teaching and meeting the needs of mature students. I am currently also an appointed marker for National 5 and Higher, with the SQA ( SCOTTISH QUALIFICATION AUTHORITY.) Though my job is a demanding and constant one, I consider myself lucky n extremely privileged to have experienced teaching all levels n stages n that, I can and do, work in a job, which I still really, really enjoy. Teaching is a hugely demanding career, but a very rewarding one too.

Through my years in teaching, the teaching of English in schools, has changed and continues to do so. I personally believe that ‘change’ is good and is truly ‘part and parcel’ of effective teaching: we (as individuals and professionals) must change and develop, to consistently and constantly meet the diverse needs and ranges of our pupils. Society itself, is constantly changing, as is parenting n families within our 21st Century life and, therefore, continued change in education is essential to meet the needs of our workforce: the pupils and children we teach. This ongoing change often reflects in workload (in teaching, this is huge, not as some think only existent from the hours of 9a.m. – 3.30pm, Monday to Friday.) Preparation for teaching and the planning of our lessons and subject content is constant. Good, effective teachers, really, never stop, thinking and planning n researching n preparing! Ultimately, we have to be prepared to be ‘one step ahead’ of our classes and pupils. This input is driven by our initiative,  passion and enthusiasm.

However, there are some issues, which we do become aware of and experience, on a daily basis. Teenagers today are extremely tech-savy!! Children today are involved in a huge technology culture. Their world is all: Mobile phones, Playstations and iPads! Technology is everywhere for them and it means everything to them. This reliance on and their addiction to such technology can and sadly, often does ‘hamper’ education, mainly shown via their desire to read books n review written language. Personal Reading is not a hobby or habit every child experiences, or enjoys. Ultimately, for many, their main daily need is to Tweet or Facebook or FaceTime their mates! The language they use for these sources is modified and simplistic and sadly, this often results in limited knowledge of and appreciation for language. Additionally, there is another word, many children detest: Homework!! That one word is laughable for and to, many youngsters today! Teachers cannot dictate that this additional study is completed. The choice to complete additional study, is a personal one. Also, sadly, in many modern homes, the environment does not lend itself to facilitating continued home study. For many, there is the issue of why they should do homework? Teachers continually face the issue of proving its worth in their overall education and it is a dilemma for many teachers, depts and schools. It’s an ongoing, never-ending battle!

On the other hand, many teachers, including myself have adapted and changed, to meet the demands and needs of our pupils. I now use more media sources in education, on a lesson or Unit basis. For example, audio recordings and other sources, support low ability pupils in many effective ways. Having such resources also support pupils who are prone to displaying high absenteeism. Radio, TV, adverts, film posters, trailers, newspapers, websites, comics, graphic novels, magazines and films are also, all used to support, deepen and enhance learning. Film is used regularly, to help pupils, visualise, appreciate and understand a written text. Due to many children not reading texts which challenge them, or books that are relevant to their age range, film can help them gain wider knowledge n a deeper understanding. Film, is a great asset to pupils n teachers alike!
Through the years, some ‘classic’ books and great literature have had to be shelved and are now perhaps ‘overlooked’ for more modern, relevant or topical texts. For example, only specific senior, ability levels, would perhaps enjoy books such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or Oliver Twist. Many of these texts are not chosen to be studied as much as before. However, other great texts, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and 1984, still remain popular and are good to show social impact and modern ideas. I guess, once you know your subject and classes and your pupils, teachers with a diverse range of reading, will know which specific texts their class may or would enjoy. I regularly try to engage pupil input and give them a choice, by revealing a short synopsis of each main text, or a ‘taster’ lesson, before we study each larger text. We have also been known to review a film trailer, to help guarantee interest and enhance overall pupil engagement.

In relation to the study of literature there are many, many texts which I love teaching, but some of my personal favourites include: Matilda by Roald Dahl, Goodnight Mr Tom, by Michelle Magorian, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, Of Mice n Men, by John Steinbeck, Dead Poet’s Society by N H Kleibaum, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

To conclude, I still love teaching n working in education as much as, if not more than I did, when graduating. I personally love reading, communication, language n words n I am very, very lucky, as on a daily basis, I am allowed to deepen my knowledge, in this area, whilst helping others to do likewise. One great bugbear I do have, however, results when people, who are not in the teacher profession, comment on the ‘great holidays we have!’ Sadly, they do not appreciate that our holidays are used primarily to help us refuel, then they allow us ‘treasured’ time to think about our next term/session n the stages n ages of pupils whom we will soon meet n become responsible for teaching. Someone once said ‘teaching is a work of heart’ and I do believe this quote is very true. For all effective teachers n professionals, it is our love of subject, our pupils, and our job, which remains at the centre of our desire to install our knowledge and love in others. There is no better feeling in the world than helping a child to understand, acknowledge or appreciate an issue or outcome: seeing the recognition and pride on their face, or noting the spark in their eyes when they gain understanding, or praise or recognition, as they celebrate their own success, is a joy others do not experience in their careers, which remains, to me, unparalleled.

A Life in Books with Amy Sullivan of Novelgossip book review blog

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m Amy, a wife and mom to three kiddos, they’re 8, 5 and 2. I’m a readaholic, I finish a book every single day. (Most days) I don’t really have any other hobbies besides reading as my kids and their activities keep me busy!


What was you favourite book from childhood?

I loved the Babysitters Club series so much! I think it was the first series I ever read and I remember begging my mom to take me to the book store to get the latest one. I read them over and over again. I wanted best friends like the girls and I thought Claudia was so chic.


What type of books did you read as a teenager?IMG_1445

As a teenager I read V. C. Andrews, I loved the Flowers in the Attic series and after I finished that one I moved on to her others. Thinking back, it seems like I read books over and over again because I can still recall specific details from many of her books. I loved her Heaven series as well. I also devoured the Sweet Valley High series and read most of them. I was fascinated by twins and Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield were the epitome of cool to me.


When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?

I remember reading Island of the Blue Dolphins for a book report and I didn’t think I would end up liking it but I loved it! Karana was such a tough little cookie.


IMG_1446What is your favourite classic book?

This sounds terrible, but I’m not a huge fan of classic literature. I did love the Great Gatsby, anything from the twenties reels me in, so glamorous and dazzling.




What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 years?

Oohh tough one! I loved Sirens by Jospeh Knox, it was such a crime fiction masterpiece in my opinion.


What book to you think you should read but never get round to?

To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s a travesty that I’ve never read it! I don’t know how I managed to get through high school without reading it?!


What do you consider to be your favourite book ?IMG_1447

I can’t possibly pick just one so I’ll cheat and pick a favorite series. The Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter is amazing. The characterization is astounding, the plot details are intricate and impressively executed, and she’s such a talented writer. Her books are gritty, dark and graphic which are all elements I love in crime fiction.


Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?

Sigh, yes. So far this year The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt was one I thought I would like, the premise was intriguing. But it was very slow and it just didn’t hold my attention. I also gave up on the Fractured Life of Jimmy Dice by Ronan Ryan. It’s quirky and I just wasn’t in the right mood I think, but I’m going to try it again later.


511cDkD1VmLIf you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have with you?
Hmm something long I think. Maybe Stephen Kings 11/22/63 and maybe a chick lit to keep it lighthearted, probably a Kristan Higgins, all of her books are great. They’re like comfort food for me.



Kindle or Book?

Kindles are so convenient but nothing beats an actual book.

Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah, Published August 24th.




Cara Burrows has spent a third of the family’s savings on a two week stay at a five star spa resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona.  She hasn’t told her husband and children where she is going.  Arriving late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s unease deepens when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is somebody she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in America, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes.  Did she really see Melody?  And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?



Did You See Melody? Is the first book I have read by Sophie Hannah, so I come to this with fresh eyes and no preconceptions.  I say this because the press release does say it is a departure from her previous novels, and I have noticed in other reviews it has been commented on.  I really enjoyed this book, it is a great psychological thriller with an interesting premise at its centre; could a girl, whose parents were convicted for her murder seven years ago, still be alive and staying at a five star spa resort in Arizona.  It may seem a bit far fetched but, like all good crime and thriller novels it could happen.  It is a fast paced, utterly compelling read full of twists and turns to keep you guessing.  Sophie Hannah also writes with some wit, looking at American Justice TV shows and the American culture of having every thing at hand; buttons to press for a car to drive you around the spa so you don’t have to walk, another button to get waiter service to your sun lounger and even the rooms have a button to arrange fresh orange  delivered in a morning.

As well as the main plot there are chapters written by Melody when she was seven detailing her life when living with her parents.  These are troubling to read, there is no physical abuse but plenty of emotional abuse.  Also included are transcript of an American TV show, Justice with Bonnie, the followed the murder investigation of Melody Chapa, and her parents ultimate conviction.  This gives the reader the chance to learn more about the case and possible reasons for Melody’s disappearance;  it is also evidence of how much influence television has on these cases in America.

There are a diverse cast of cast of memorable characters in this book; corrupt police officers, larger than life television personalities, a crazy older lady who thinks she sees Melody every time she stays at the resort, and the mother and daughter due who ooze sarcasm. I have to be honest and say I quite admired Cara Burrows as a character.  She is troubled by problems at home, and takes herself  half way around the world to sort out her feelings.  She is full of wit and sarcasm, in a typically English way at the American way of life; she is not used to the over the top American welcome and customer a, and is horrified at their justice system and trial through media.  Tarin Fry is Cara’s complete opposite, she is loud, nosey, rude to a point and use to being pampered.  Normally they would never have become friends but this mystery brings them together, and it is Tarin’s single minded determination that pushes the theory of Melody being alive.

Did You See Melody? is not an edge of your seat thriller, but it will grab your attention from the very start and keep you guessing until the last page;  I found it hard to put down and carried it with me all weekend picking it up at every chance, even whilst sitting with the dogs as they had their tea.  A fascinating, and compelling read that I highly recommend.



Hush Little Baby by Joanna Barnard















It is every families worst nightmare.  Sally and Richard take their ten month old son to the hospital with  a fever, a swollen arm and he won’t stop crying.  They discover his arm is broken, but how did it happen?  Sally, Richard and Richard’s teenage daughter, Martha, find themselves under suspicion.

Sally is exhausted by motherhood, she feels alone staying at home all day with Oliver.  Richard is feeling pushed out and angry with Sally, he works all day and just wants to relax when he comes home.  Martha resents Oliver, she is no longer her dad’s only child and finds herself on the outside looking in at his new wife and new baby.  All three have things to hide and reasons to hurt Oliver.



Hush Little Baby is one of those books that gets under your skin from the start.  It is every parents worst nightmare that their child gets harmed and they find themselves under suspicion.  It is the authenticity of the plot and is characters that make this a disturbing read.  The book is narrated by the three main characters, Sally, Richard and Martha.  Each character narrates their back story to this point, their actions that night and the effect it is having on them and those around them.  It also gives them a chance to air their suspicions of those around them.  None of the characters come out well; I found I had sympathy for Sally as the mother having her baby taken away and only allowed supervised visits where she is put under scrutiny.  She has a troubled background dealing with an eating disorder as a teenager and not having very understanding parents.  However, there is a selfish side to her and a whiff of suspicion.  Richard is really a despicable character in my view.  He is self centred, a narcissist, an adulterer and is one of those people who always blames their actions on others.  He is irresponsible in his duties as a father, especially to fifteen year old Martha who lives with Sally and himself.  Martha was the only character I really did empathise with.  At fifteen she is going through those terrible teenage years where you are trying to fit in at school, and are in-between childhood and adulthood.  It is no wonder she makes some bad choices in life given that her mother didn’t want her living with her so she had to move in with her father and his new wife Sally, and her father doesn’t give her the attention she deserves.  Obviously this breeds contempt where Sally and Oliver are concerned. I found I felt a bit voyeuristic to this families disintegration.

This is a well written book and a compelling read.  It deals with the controversial issues of self harm, eating disorders, OCD, drugs, infidelity and the taboos around parenthood.  All these issues are dealt with understanding and empathy and are in no way sensationalised.  I don’t know much about the social system but it seemed to be a realistic account of what could happen in the circumstances at the heart of this book.  I found this more suspenseful than the build up to what actually happened to Oliver, and as a whole I didn’t find it a ‘suspenseful’ novel, more a Domestic Noir.  It has been described as ‘The most gripping domestic suspense you’ll read this year’, but I found I was disappointed by the book.  I think the plot was a bit obvious and at times dragged on, I didn’t feel there was a build up of suspense and the ending was an anticlimax for me.