Road Trip Reads: Agatha Christie

Book review: Agatha Christie, An English Mystery by Laura Thompson, published by Headline

This year I’ve set myself a challenge to read something connected to each place I visit.

My first stop this Easter break was Belgium and as Belgium was the home of the fastidious fictional detective Hercule Poirot it seemed like a good opportunity to read this biography of his creator, Agatha Christie.

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Behind the public persona of the Queen of Cosy Crime lies a remarkable and complex woman. Journalist Laura Thompson has used unpublished letters, papers and notebooks to put together a remarkably detailed portrait of the writer.

Although I’ve read a lot of Agatha Christie’s books, I knew very little about her and was intrigued to know more. This book follows her from her childhood in Devon, through her two marriages, and her writing career including the revelatory novels she wrote as Mary Westmacott.

This book’s very readable and well researched. I felt I really got to know Agatha and I liked her a lot.

I was interested to learn about her girlish personality, her travelling, her writing, her closeness to her mother and her attachment to her childhood home. I also learned more about her eleven-day disappearance which has always intrigued me.

It’s an affectionate and touching account I found difficult to put down. The bonus is that it’s also beautifully written, evoking the sights, sounds and smells of Agatha’s surroundings and getting right inside her head to understand her decisions, behaviour and responses.

I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the writer – or even just in English middle class life in the 20th century.

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My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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The dreaded blurb – why is it so hard to write?

I’ve been tearing my hair out over the blurb for my next novel The Secret!

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You know – those few lines on the back of the book that explain what it’s all about?

So important.

And so hard to write!

When you’ve spent months or even years writing a novel, how do you condense it into a few lines? That actually make sense? And give an accurate idea of the story without giving too much away?

From talking to other authors I know I’m not alone in this.

For many of us it’s the hardest thing about writing a book.

After all, the blurb is a sales pitch – it can make all the difference between someone choosing your book or someone else’s.

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But I’m lucky in that I had the help of a very supportive community of writers and editors at Crooked Cat Books. I inflicted an early version of my blurb on them, knowing they’d give me honest feedback.

As you’d expect from a group of 100 authors I got some conflicting advice but the overall message was to go back to the drawing board (or at least the keyboard.)

But at least I had a clearer idea of what I was trying to achieve:

1. Start with a strong, snappy sentence that introduces the situation.

2. Create a sense of who the characters are.

3. Introduce the problem

4. Add the twist

I hope this is helpful to anyone else writing a blurb.

I must thank Joan Livingston in particular for her help. Look out for her mystery Chasing the Case which is released in May and sounds amazing.

My publisher Stephanie Patterson then gave it a final tweak.

Here’s the result – I’d love to know what you think:

Love, Lies, and Betrayal in Wartime Italy

Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences. Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War, friendship is tested, and loyalties are divided until a chance encounter changes everything.

Their lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan mountain village, while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.

But neither marriage nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.

Decades later, a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby, whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds among the next generation.

The ebook of The Secret is published on June 1st – you can preorder it on Amazon now on this link.

Please tell me if you do and you’ll be entered into the draw for an Italy related prize.

IMG_6730The paperback is available right now!

 

 

 

 

 

Easter bargain reads

Happy Easter weekend!

Think of us – three generations of the Johnson family + boyfriend squashed into a car for a 1000-mile drive – and the forecast is rain, rain, rain. What can go wrong?

We have no alternative but to pack light.

Which means I won’t be able to bring many books (apart from the ones I’ve hidden under the seats and in the glove compartments)

Thank goodness for ebooks!

I’m a fairly recent convert to these – I must admit I do love the feel and smell of a paperback – but there are definite advantages to ebooks:

1. The size – being able to fit a whole library in your handbag means you’ll never be bored.

2. The cost – at around £1.99 each, ebooks are much more affordable which means you can buy a coffee and a book and still have change from a fiver.

3. The extras – you can highlight and bookmark, search for a line or a word and look up words in the dictionary as you read.

4. Being so inexpensive means you can buy lots more books and trying out a new author is much less of a risk.

5. You can read at night without disturbing your partner or grappling with one of those mini reading lights.

I love reading books that have some relevance to the place I’m in so I’ve been saving up some amazing reads for the countries we pass through.

And I’ll also be snapping up a few bargains at the Crooked Cat half price sale this weekend.

The Silence and Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings are included in the sale and are each 99p/99c

These links will take you through to the Amazon page and the reduced price

TheSilence 

Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings

But there are hundreds of other titles in crime, romance, historical and paranormal.

At 99p each you can buy five books for less than £5…

Or three books + a cup of coffee…

Or two books and a chocolate egg…

If you haven’t bought ebooks before, you don’t need a kindle to read them – just download the free kindle reading app and you can read on your phone, tablet, Mac or PC.

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Book review: Come A Little Closer by Rachel Abbott

 

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Come a Little Closer, Rachel Abbott

Publisher: Black Dot

Genre: psychological thriller

A group of strangers is brought together because of a bad choice they each made. Now they’re living with the consequences in a strange old house but it’s gradually apparent that things are not what they seem – and what is about the name Julia?

This is a highly original, intriguing and disturbing psychological tale that had me gripped from the start. As the reader you know more than the character so you can see how the situation is being built up from the first encounter and have an idea of the consequences which makes it fly-on-the-wall fascinating and yet there are surprises I didn’t see coming. Different threads – a young woman trying to escape her problems, a body discovered in a lonely place and a man looking for his sister – are skilfully drawn together.

I’m a huge fan of Rachel Abbott’s books so wondered how this one would match up but for me it’s her best yet. I’m always more interested in the character’s situation than the procedural side but Tom Douglas is likeable and believable and I really enjoyed his family situation in this one.

my rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Come to the festival!

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Love reading? Love writing? Love Italy?

Then you’re invited!

The book festival takes place right here on this blog, Facebook and Twitter from 1st to 8th May

So you can take a virtual road trip around the Bel Paese

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Be transported to Venice, Verona, Tuscany, Rome, the Lakes, Liguria, Umbria, Le Marche, Amalfi, Sicily and more! And discover some fabulous reads along the way. All from the comfort of your sofa

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There are lots of amazing authors taking part

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Share your travel tips * anecdotes * book recommendations * foodie favourites * places to stay * writing retreats – and win prizes!

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More details coming soon.

But for now please note the date in your diary. Drop in any time during the first week of May to catch up on posts and be in with a chance of a prize

Look forward to seeing you!

 

If you’re an author with a book set in Italy and would like to take part, please get in touch

Book review – Sophia by Anita Anand

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Sophia – Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: non fiction, history

A shocking story of disposession and discovery. Sophia Duleep Singh was born in 1876 after her father the Maharaja Duleep Singh’s Sikh kingdom (as well as the Koh-i-nor diamond) was taken by the British and he was exiled to England. Queen Victoria was godmother to Sophia who as a child was quiet and genteel – so what changed the princess into a militant suffragette?

This is an amazing story. If it was a novel it might seem a little far-fetched but it’s true, and an absolutely compelling book. It’s meticulously researched but told in a novelesque way which makes it a joy to read.

We follow Sophia from her aristocratic, socialite lifestyle at Hampton Court Palace to her travels in India where she learns about her roots and the injustices facing her people, to her fight for female justice, leading marches and getting arrested. I’d recommend this untold story to anyone with an interest in British history and especially the suffragette movement.

my rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My Love Affair with an Ape

This has been such an exciting week. For one thing, my edits have just come back so I’ll be going into hiding for a day or two while I go through these. A top notch editor makes such a difference to a book and I’m so pleased to be working with Christine McPherson again who edited The Silence.

Secondly, the artwork for the cover of The Secret has just come in. I hope you like it.

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I love the ancient Tuscan street with the shutters, the iron balconies, stone arches and most of all the cute little Ape.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding among people not familiar with Tuscany, I’m not talking about a monkey here but a bee. Not a real bee either but that’s the name given to the tiny three-wheel pickup truck made by Piaggio that’s become synonymous with Italy and was born in Tuscany.

Just as Vespa means wasp and is the name of Piaggio’s iconic motor scooter, the Ape or bee, by the same designer, d’Asciano, is aptly named because it buzzes about doing essential work.

The word Ape (pronounced AHpay) is one of the many “false friends” English-speaking people encounter when learning Italian. But if you think of apiary it’s not actually so strange.

First made in 1948 in Pontedera, the motorcycle van was the perfect solution for cash-strapped post-war Italy, giving thousands the freedom to create their own business with a low cost, low fuel consumption, compact vehicle that was easy to manoeuvre in narrow city streets and steep winding mountain lanes.

Although the design has been modified a few times over the years, incorporating a steering wheel instead of the old motorcycle handlebars, the heroic little van is still seen in rural villages all over Italy. As well as providing transport, it’s also used for promotion with an advertising hoarding in the back, and versions have been used as mini ice cream or coffee vans and even taxis.

It’s just the sort of van that Flávio d’Olivo, the woodcutter who first appeared in The Silence published last year but who also features in The Secret, would drive.

There’s a Piaggio museum at Pontedera (between Pisa and San Miniato) showing the history of the Vespa and Ape with some super-stylish and gorgeously nostalgic designs https://www.museopiaggio.it

The lane that borders our garden in Tuscany is only fractionally wider than a family car, extremely steep, heavily potholed and with no safety barrier to protect you from the vertiginous drop if you misjudge the “gomito” or “elbow” bend halfway up. Most locals know better than to use it and visitors who do so have been known to emerge white-faced and shaking.

But Ape vans trundle up and down with ease.

So if it sounds as though I’m a bit in love with the Ape, it’s true. I want one. But for now, just looking at the one on my cover brings a smile to my face.

I think it’s the bee’s knees!

The Secret will be published by Crooked Cat Books on 1st June.

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