Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Guest Post with Talli Roland

Morning! It's publication day for the lovely Talli Roland, with the Pollyanna Plan being re-released by her new publisher, Amazon, and I'm lucky enough to have the lovely lady herself here, talking positive thinking... over to Talli...

The Power of Positive Thinking . . . or Not? 

Training as an athlete for ten years, it was drilled into me that positive thinking could influence results. By visualizing yourself succeeding, my coaches told me, you could make it happen.

It was this exposure to positive thinking early on in my life that led me to write The Pollyanna Plan. In the novel, Emma Beckett is most certainly not a ‘glass is half full’ person – quite the opposite. To protect herself from any potential pain, she always predicts the worst outcome. I wanted to explore how – or if – positive thinking could change her life.

When I started writing, I wasn’t sure how I wanted my main character to end up. Did I want her to be blindly optimistic and deluded, like the athletes I encountered who thought they’d win the race, no matter what? In my opinion, that’s really no better than being constantly negative. I think it’s possible to have a positive outlook, while still being in touch with reality. By the end of the novel, Emma has found that balance . . . along with a new life.

Writing The Pollyanna Plan forced me to examine my own experience of positive thinking. Looking back, I’ve no clue if the constant visualization and positive self-talk helped me run faster, start quicker, and have better technique. But perhaps it’s not so much the practice of it all, but the belief in the power of positivity that makes a difference. If we think it works, chances are it will. And I’m all for a little optimism if it makes the world a happier place!

Do you believe in the power of positive thinking? Has it made a difference in your life?

About The Pollyanna Plan

Is finding true love as easy as an attitude change?

Thirty-something Emma Beckett has always looked down on 'the glass is half full' optimists, believing
it's better to be realistic than delusional. But when she loses her high-powered job and fiancé in the same week, even Emma has difficulty keeping calm and carrying on.

With her world spinning out of control, and bolstered by a challenge from her best friend, Emma makes a radical decision. From here on in, she'll behave like Pollyanna: attempting to always see the upside, no matter how dire the situation.

Can adopting a positive attitude give Emma the courage to build a new life, or is finding the good in everything a very bad idea?

Thanks for visiting, Talli, and good luck on your publication day!
Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Q & A with Hannah Beckerman

After the sensational release of The Dead Wife's Handbook a couple of weeks ago, Hannah has been in hot demand on the blogs... and yet I still had some burning questions for her about her debut novel... I'm very excited to have her with us today... cue inquisition.... I mean interview... *ahem*

The book is broken down into the seven stages of grief – how important were these stages for you in shaping the narrative?

The seven stages of grief were crucial to the structure of the book. As soon as I had the idea of telling Rachel’s story, I knew I wanted it to follow the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model, because it’s the classic interpretation of mourning. It also helped me think through Rachel’s feelings at a much deeper level.

Can you tell us a little about the research you had to do on grief, death and dying?

Well, there was obviously Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s On Death and Dying. Then I read a lot of psychoanalysis around fears of death and the grieving process. There’s a particularly wonderful American psychoanalyst called Irvin D Yalom (who writes both case studies and fiction - I highly recommend everything he’s written) who wrote a book about his experience as an analyst working with terminally ill patients. The book, Staring at the Sun, is beautiful and insightful and helped shape a lot of my thinking about Rachel’s journey, particularly towards the end of the book. I also read grief memoirs like Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking and CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed. All highly recommended.

For me, the unsung heroine of DWH was Eve – her courage and grace in dealing with her place in this strange family set up- as well as having the strength to encourage Ellie and Max to keep Rachel alive in their memories. Did Eve fall- fully formed this perfectly onto the page, without a hint of bitchiness (which I’m sure we’d all fear to display in her shoes) or did her character take some editing to achieve?

There was definitely a process Rachel had to go through in various drafts where I pulled back a bit on what had initially been a much more bitter (and, yes, bitchy) response to Eve’s arrival. But as regards Eve, she was always very clear to me as a woman who wasn’t going to be threatened by Max’s past. I think it’s a common misconception that all women are a) slightly ambivalent (even unconsciously) towards step-children and b) that all women want to obliterate the existence of the partner who came before them. I think what was important for me was to create a back-story for Eve that helped the reader (and me) understand why she is the way she is (ie really rather lovely!) and to have an authentic set of experiences which help explain her character.

You have placed Rachel in a state of limbo that is white, nondescript with parting mists/clouds as she is granted access – was there a time in any of your edits where limbo took on another form?

No, Rachel’s netherworld was always as it is in the book. I never wanted there to be any hint of ‘heaven’, or any sense of the fantasies people have about what that might entail. It had to be limbo and it had to be lonely.

As the author, what do you imagine next for Rachel as her access closes for the very last time?

For me, Rachel’s journey is less a physical one than an emotional one. So although there is the sense of her ‘moving on’, to my mind it’s about the emotional place she’s ready to go to by the end of the novel that’s really important: it’s the lessons she’s learned about life and memory and inheritance. And the understanding she reaches about what her life - as short as it was - really meant.

I’ve seen other bloggers casting actors for Max and Rachel – who would you choose to play Max, Rachel and Eve?

I am TERRIBLE at this game. Not least because all my characters are so clear in my head that any ‘real’ people cast as them would always be a compromise! If The Dead Wife’s Handbook ever gets made into a movie, I might ask to sit down with one of those police artists, and describe each character so they could be drawn as they are in my mind’s eye. Hopefully the question of casting will be a ‘real’ problem I have to face one day, but for now I’m going to keep the characters as clear people in my head!

Thank you so Hannah much for visiting us at Chick Lit Love... and if any of you have yet to read The Dead Wife's Handbook - go and get it now! Seriously!! You can read my review here.

You can chat with Hannah on Twitter @hannahbeckerman or find out more about her on her website www.hannahbeckerman.com

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review and Giveaway: Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

I’ve got something a bit different for you today, but before I get to the review, you need to know that I’m doing a GIVEAWAY of one copy of Unravelling Oliver courtesy of the lovely people at Penguin, Ireland. All you have to do is:

1.     Head over to my Facebook Page and click “Like”
2.     Find the giveaway post (pinned to the top) and leave a comment to let me know you want to enter.

The giveaway is international and I’ll draw a name at random next Friday evening, 28th February.

As I said, this is something a bit different for me in terms of reading matter. It is definitely not chick lit. Nor is it romance. Though at the very heart of Unravelling Oliver you’ll find a nugget of one of the most beautiful, unselfish love stories you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading. It will make you cry. I promise.

Oliver Ryan is a very clever, very damaged and, ultimately, tragic monster. The book opens with him beating his wife into a coma. This is bad- yes, but it is nothing compared with the depth of his dark character and past that slowly comes to light during the course of the book.

I can honestly say that I read this in two sittings. It was compelling, compulsive and really grim reading. The story is revealed through a patchwork of narrators who have had contact with Oliver Ryan at various times in his life, and as they tell their parts of the story, the full gruesome history of this character is made clear.

This was the perfect book. A great pallet cleanser if you’re a chick lit addict like me but occasionally need a break from cheerfully happy endings. This is dark, destructive and thought provoking – not a comfortable read, and all the more interesting for it.

Don’t forget to head to Facebook to enter and win a copy!

The Blurb:

'I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

Liz Nugent's gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children's books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease - enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel.

Pre order at Amazon UK

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Review: The Dead Wife’s Handbook by Hannah Beckerman

I finished this book over a week ago but have only now sat down to write the review. Usually when this happens it means that I didn’t like the book and I’m trying to figure out a subtle, interesting and balanced way of discussing the book without simply stating that I didn’t like it. This is not the case with this book…  the reason I needed the pause for this one is because it was beautiful, moving and ultimately, felt very personal. I needed time to get over the emotion of reading it before I could review it.

Initially I made a mistake with this book. Being a reviewer and lucky enough to be caught in a veritable snowstorm of new releases, I have a developed a habit of guzzling books. I read them very quickly and for long stints at a time. The Dead Wife’s Handbook doesn’t suit being guzzled. This is a book to take your time over. It is a grieving and recovery process, and if there’s one message it’s trying to get across it’s that grieving cannot be rushed. I slowed down and gave myself the time I needed to read it – to experience it fully.

So- the story? At the opening, Rachel has already been dead a year. The story is told from her perspective, caught in a white, cloudy limbo whilst granted occasional (one way,) access to watch her daughter and husband’s lives as they continue to mourn her loss and slowly begin to rebuild their lives.

This is not a passive read. As a reader you’re taken on a powerful journey of intense emotions- sadness, joy, uncertainty, fear… and at times even annoyance with various characters- including Rachel herself- as they slip in and out of synch with each others’ recovery. At times I found myself muttering at our dead heroine, but then chastising myself- after all, her life is over, she’s lost everything and she’s completely alone- she’s definitely got something to whinge about!

To sum up- this is not an easy read- it can be uncomfortable with your personal “what-if-it-was-me” mirror constantly held up in front of you. It makes you consider time- what time have you got left? What time does it take to grieve and recover? What time does it take to move on?

There’s no doubt that this is a very beautiful debut novel.

The Blurb:
Today is my death anniversary. A year ago today I was still alive.'
Rachel, Max and their daughter Ellie had the perfect life - until the night Rachel's heart stopped beating.

Now Max and Ellie are doing their best to adapt to life without Rachel, and just as her family can't forget her, Rachel can't quite let go of them either. Caught in a place between worlds, Rachel watches helplessly as she begins to fade from their lives. And when Max is persuaded by family and friends to start dating again, Rachel starts to understand that dying was just the beginning of her problems.

As Rachel grieves for the life she's lost and the life she'll never lead, she learns that sometimes the thing that breaks your heart might be the very thing you hope for.

Available Amazon UK and Amazon US

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Review: If You’re Not the One by Jemma Forte

This is Jemma Forte’s third novel, but the first one I’ve read of hers – and also just happens to be the third new release I’ve read this year that has starred a major head trauma or a coma as an important part of the story…  seems to be a trend going on!

The Blurb:

Jennifer Wright has a seemingly perfect life a husband, two kids, a lovely house. She also isn't entirely sure if she's happy. Frustrated with her lack of career and a husband who barely seems to notice her, she can't help but wonder, is this it?
At 38 she's hurtling toward middle age and a mid- life crisis. And she starts to think what her life would be like had she made different choices along the way...
Would she be happier if she d stayed with sexy, carefree, unconventional Aidan? Or fabulously wealthy Tim? Would she be living happily ever after with sweet, kind, harmless Steve? Jennifer's about to find out. After a terrible row with her husband she has a life threatening accident, and, whilst unconscious, is given the gift of seeing what would have happened if she'd stayed with each of these men from her past. And then Jennifer's left with the biggest decision of all...

Initially, I was hooked. Forte has a strong voice and draws you in a story that storms along at a great pace. But then WHAM: change of timing- you are one week previous then WHAM: you are in the further distant past then WHAM: you are in the present day then WHAM: you are in an alternative “what if” universe… and this is how the book continues throughout. As a reader I found this massively disconcerting – I tend to snatch moments to read at lunch breaks, before meetings, five minutes before bed – but you simply cannot leave this book mid-chapter. This isn’t down to the “can’t put down” factor but because there are so many temporal and alternate universe story strands going on, you’d have no hope of figuring out where you where when you picked it back up. This book kept holding me prisoner- and not in a good way.

In all I think there are something like nine strands to keep track of… and for me that was simply too much like hard work.

Sadly this wasn’t my only gripe. As we learn about Jennifer’s potential alternate realities through her coma, as well as her past, I really didn’t warm to her as a character. Sure, she’s pretty tragic, but not once does she shine as the main player in her own life- she seems to be more a victim of fate and bad choices.

So– after all the hard work of keeping the strands straight in my head, did it have the “wow” factor ending which would have made it all worth while? No. Without giving anything away, the only word I can really use is “Inconclusive.”

To summarise- gorgeously written and well paced, but reading it felt far too much like hard work for very little reward.