Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Bibliomaniac's Book Club: February's Read (PaperWeight)


26th January by Fig Tree (Penguin)

Swimming Lessons

What is it about?

Gil's wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years. Believing to have spotted her from afar, Gil chases after her but unfortunately this results in him injuring himself which brings his daughters Nan and Flora back home to his side. As they care for him, they begin to confront the mystery surrounding their mother and her disappearance. And the answers lie in all the books around them that clutter up the shelves, hallway and practically any available space in the house.

To read my full review of "Swimming Lessons" please click on the following link:

Bibliomaniac's Review of Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons: Questions

  • Whose story is it? 
  • What do you think about the title? Is it the best title for the book? 
  • What did you think about the Epilogue? Is it needed? Is it effective?
  • What does the fact that the title of the books in which the letters are hidden is included at the end of each section add to the novel? What does it reveal about the characters and their relationship?
  • There are lots of themes in the book which are contrasting - the most obvious being hope and grief.  How many others can you think of? Which theme did you engage in the most and why?
  • What did you make of the relationship between the two sisters Nan and Flora? Was it convincing? Which sister did you feel more empathy for and why?
  • Gil says "Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind." What do you think about this quote? 
  • Gil regrets that he didn't tell Ingrid that he loved her more. Would this have changed the outcome of the story? Does this regret affect your sympathy towards his character?
  • What did you make of the relationship between Ingrid, Flora and Nan? And the relationship between Gil, Flora and Nan?
  • Which event in Ingrid's life do you think had the most impact on her or most affected her? 
Where could you hold your book group for Swimming Lessons?
  • A swimming pool / a changing rooms at the swimming pool
  • maybe a luxury, private pool would be more pleasant - oh, maybe a spa day is needed?!
  • A library or a second hand bookshop 
  • A cafe 
  • Behind the bike sheds 
What could you serve?
  • Pots of tea and teacakes 
  • Lucozade and a Mars Bar (isn't that what everyone has after a swim?!)
What props could you use to start a conversation about "Swimming Lessons"?
  • A yellow daffodil (wooden) 
  • A bicycle lock 
  • A book from a second hand book shop - preferably with a dedication / name or notes in....!
  • Swimming membership card / Swimsuit 
  • A pen and an envelope 
  • A library card, a receipt, a parking ticket, a train ticket........anything that might have been used as a bookmark and 'left' behind
  • A book which is referred to in the text (see Swimming Lessons: A Reading List )
Other things you could discuss:

If you were going to hide a letter to someone in a book, which book would you choose and why?

Are there any books from the list that Ingrid used to hide a letter inside that you now think you'd like to read? (Swimming Lessons: A Reading List )

Gil enjoys looking at what people wrote or doodled inside the margins or on the pages of books. What do you think - should you write in a book or not? Do you make notes in a book or not?

Have you ever found anything inside a book? Have you ever left anything inside a book? 

Gil and Ingrid's initial letter writing is very romantic and Ingrid begins by writing a prophecy about their future. Write your own letter to your future self, yourself as a child, to your children or partner about what the future may hold for them. 

The line "what's the worst thing that could happen?" is repeated a lot in the novel. What are your thoughts about having this attitude to life and decision making? 

If you liked this book and want to read similar novels try:

The Night RainbowEverything Love IsThe Paris WifeThe Finding of Martha LostThe Museum of You

The Little Paris BookshopThe Red NotebookThe Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe End of the AffairThe Go-Between

Fever at DawnThe Book ThiefThe Uncommon ReaderNotes from an ExhibitionRandom Acts Of Heroic Love

To read a few more interviews with Claire Fuller click on the links below:

Claire Fuller: **Extra Interview**
An Interview with Claire Fuller


Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative Writing, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It was published in the UK by Penguin, in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and bought for translation in 15 other countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize. 

Click here to read my review of Our Endless Numbered Days and Bibliomaniac's Book Club discussion of Our Endless Numbered Days 

For more reviews and recommendations for Book Groups you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Bibliomaniac's Book Club: February Read (PaperLight)


 published by Bonnier Zaffre in January 2016

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged

What is it about?

"Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?'

Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?
To read my full review please click here:

Sofia Khan is not Obliged: Questions

Watch this video of Ayisha chatting about why she wanted to write Sofia Khan, what sort of heroine she wanted Sofia to be and what she hoped readers would take away from her novel. Have a chat about anything that strikes you or you find interesting........

You Tube Video of Ayisha Malik talking about Sofia 

How did you find Sofia as a character? Did you like her? Relate to her? Sympathise with her?  Malik wanted to create a "character who readers would fall in love with and would perhaps stop that immediate link between Muslim and terrorists in people's minds". Did you fall in love with Sofia? 

The book opens with a quote from Sofia's blog: "Yes, I'm Muslim, Please Get Over It." Did you get over it? How much is this a book about being Muslim and how much is this a book about being a young woman in today's society? 

Malik uses a lot of extracts from blogs, emails and diaries. Did this work for you? 

"Some people like shopping, some people like therapy, I happen to like praying." How did you find this aspect of Sofia's character? How does this element add both comedy, empathy and depth to the novel?

"Yes, that scarf thing." Sofia's hijab is frequently referred throughout the novel and often becomes a point of discussion or contention within her own family as well as her wider community. Apart from the obvious, what else is it being used to symbolise? 

"Yes, I'd like to be known for writing that one awful book that had to be edited to within an inch of its life." What sort of insight does Malik offer into the world of publishing and the office staff she works with?

"Fresh", "Funny", "Groundbreaking", "Snort diet coke out of the nostrils funny" have all been used to describe this book. Which one word would you use to sum up this novel? 

This is a book about dating. Have you ever gone on a blind date, gone speed dating or joined an online dating agency? 

This book has been compared to Bridget Jones. Would you agree?

Have a chat about how the theme of love is presented in this novel. 

Have a chat about some of the other themes explored in this book: parenting, expectations, pressure, family, friendship, death.......


Below is a link to a You Tube clip featuring an interview with Ayisha Malik: 

You Tube Video Clip: Ayisha Malik on What's it like to be a Muslim Woman

Where to hold your book group for Sofia Khan is not Obliged:

  • Someone's front room 
  • In the corner of an office 

What could you serve?

  • Lemon Puffs
  • Chocolate digestives 
  • Coffee 
  • Diet Coke 

What props could you use to start a conversation about title?

  • A flyer for a dating agency or some dating profiles - or write your own!! 
  • A packet of biscuits 
  • vintage shoes 
  • cigarettes
Quotes to start a conversation with:

“I wanted women to come across as strong, not oppressed just because they wear a headscarf, not oppressed just because they choose to follow a certain belief system. The women I know aren’t downtrodden. It gets kind of nauseating when you have to read that over and over again. And I wanted them to be relatable characters despite their ethnic or cultural or religious origin.” Ayisha Malik

"Do you really think you'll find someone who adores you as much as I do?"

"Terrorists don't wear vintage shoes, you ignorant wanker!" 

"After I'd explained about common Asian practice, not only did I feel like a black sheep, but I would have quite like to be a sheep. Sheep are not judged." 

"Emma asks a lot of questions. I find this to be a problem. Not the questions, per se, just the assumption that I have the answers. I'm not an anthropologist." 

If you liked this book and want to read similar novels try:

  • Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding 
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
For more articles about Ayisha and more interviews with her about her writing, please click on the links below:

Article from WHSmith Blog on fresh talent about Ayisha Malik
Article from Buzzfeed about what writing means to Female Muslim Authors


Ayisha Malik

Ayisha is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all.) She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering, being a publicist and a managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Agency.

Ayisha was one of WH Smith's Fresh Talent picks, Winter 2016.

Twitter @Ayisha_Malik



The Other Half of Happiness (Sofia Khan)

Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way . . .

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can't hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

A book to make you smile, laugh and cry, this is the story of a mixed-race marriage and a mixed-up family, for anyone who's ever struggled to balance their pride with their principles, or stuck around to try to mend a broken heart

To find out more about Bibliomaniac's Book Club and further recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

To find out about Bibliomaniac's February PaperWeight read please click here:

"Dare to Remember" by Susanna Beard

Dare to Remember

Reeling from a brutal attack that leaves her best friend dead and her badly injured, Lisa Fulbrook flees to the countryside to recuperate. With only vague memories of the event, she isolates herself from her friends and family, content to spend her days wandering the hills with her dog, Riley.
However, Lisa is soon plagued, not only by vivid flashbacks, but questions, too: how did their assailant know them? Why were they attacked? And what really happened that night?
As she desperately tries to piece together the memories, Lisa realises that there's another truth still hidden to her, a truth she can't escape from. A truth that may have been right in front of her all along.
I think there are a few words in the book blurb above (courtesy of Goodreads) that really capture the essence of this novel: brutal, plagued, desperate and inescapable. This novel is about a character who is terribly traumatised, falling further into depression each day as she tries to remember the real events from that evening and tries to understand how she can overcome the devastating loss of her best friend.

To me, this didn't feel like a conventional psychological thriller even though it is almost entirely a novel about the mental, emotional and psychological state of the protagonist. To me, this felt like an exploration of what it means to survive a tragic event; of what it means to suffer colossal mental anguish and what happens when you have witnessed a crime and yet have no memory of it. This is a novel that focuses on the internal journey of a character rather than the action of the criminal events they have physically been through.

Lisa wakes up in hospital; injured, confused, distressed and without any real memory of the events leading up to why she is there. Odd pieces of the jigsaw have fallen into place but large chunks remain missing. The importance of remembering what happened to Lisa and her best friend is for Lisa's own sense of sanity as much as for the prosecution.

"By the time the rest came back, it was too late to tell the police; the verdict had been handed down and the sentence passed." 

But Lisa's life will never be the same. She walks away from the flat her and her friend Ali shared, from the carefree life they led and their innocent life centred around having fun and "kicking back".

"She never went back to the flat. Her previous life was reduced to a small bag of belongings. Lisa shoved it, unopened, under the bed." 

Beard is able to convey the intensity of Lisa's feelings, the oppression of her anxiety and the all consuming distress she feels every single minute of her days. The narration may be in third person, but we are kept very close to Lisa and Beard is able to evoke atmosphere and tension through her well written prose.

"She would have stayed longer, but the silent pressure from her mother, the unformed questions, felt like an ever present weight on her shoulders. She was jumpy and bad-tempered. She couldn't confide in anyone for fear of making those around her even more worried." 

Beard's descriptions on panic attacks, flashbacks, glimpses of memories and adverse reactions to sounds or certain objects are effective if not unbearably intense and relentless. Despite the advice of her psychotherapist and her mother, Lisa keeps herself hidden away in isolation, knowing that even in December "The malevolent spirit of her nightmares has no respect for Christmas."

Although the mystery and tension surrounding what really happened on that fateful night isn't fully disclosed until the very end of the book (and Beard maintains a satisfying degree of suspense until the last minute) it probably won't shock or surprise many readers. However that isn't Beard's goal - or at least I don't think it is. She uses characters like the psychotherapist to explore the emotional turmoil and psychological distress from which Lisa is suffering and uses things like the "Restorative Justice" scheme to look at different ways of confronting her emotions. Beard is obviously fascinated by the work of psychotherapists and the conversations between Lisa and her therapist were very authentic and convincing. I think "Dare to Remember" travels an interesting line between being a book about mental illness and the judicial system and a novel about a murder.

There is a lot of exposition in this book and there are a lot of quite dense passages. At times the scenes are quite oppressive and harrowing. The role of Lisa's neighbour is also full of tragedy and violence; there is very little respite amongst these pages. It is interesting to watch the dynamics between them and how these two women learn to help each other but it does make for quite a weighty plot and raises several complex issues.

However there is a lot of wisdom hidden in these pages which reflects Beard's sensitivity and ability to avoid sensationalism when portraying domestic violence, depression and anxiety in her characters. In this debut, Beard has shown us that she can definitely write good prose and that she is capable of writing a book which manages complex issues.

If you are interested in the mind of the victim as much as the killer, then this will be the book for you. If you like a novel when you get completely inside the head of the main character and cannot help but become involved in their pain and anguish, then you will enjoy this. It's not a long read and you will keep turning the pages, but perhaps not because of the reasons you originally thought.

"Dare to Remember" is Susanna Beard's debut novel and is out on the 1st February 2017 with Legend Press.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Monday, 30 January 2017

"Dead to Begin With" by Vivian Conroy

Dead to Begin With

Coming home can be murder.

Vicky Simmons is looking for the simple life. She’s ready to trade in London for a slower pace by opening a British Country Gift Shop in her old hometown on the coast of Maine. Little does she know a few old faces are back in Glen Cove, including unrequited teenage crush Michael Danning—having taken over the local Gazette and looking better than ever.

All is looking rosy until Vicky finds herself face-to-face with a dead body and Michael is the prime suspect. When the sheriff links the motive for murder to the unsolved disappearance of a teenage girl twenty years ago, Vicky must turn amateur sleuth. She’ll stop at nothing to save Michael…and unmask the real killer!

This is an upbeat, charming and cosy read from the author of the hugely enjoyable Lady Alkmene series. Conroy has left the 1920s behind for her brand new amateur sleuth series (#Country Gift Shop) which is set in the modern day world. This new protagonist, Vicky Simmons, lives on the coast of Maine and is as likeable, as endearing and as charismatic as Lady Alkmene. Conroy has stuck with the cosy crime genre and "Dead to Begin With" is a fun, enjoyable and perfectly pitched detective novel that will appeal to crime lovers, Agatha Christie fans as well as those who enjoy a light chick-lit-esque read.

So meet Vicky, who has returned to Glen Cove to set up her own gift shop selling all things English. Throughout the novel, the setting of Maine provides the perfect backdrop to this cozy crime novel. By using a seaside town, Conroy takes the image of a colourful, happy, safe town full of holiday makers and sprinkles a suggestion of something more sinister over the top of it. Not only does this help with creating the right atmosphere for a crime novel and a murder, but it also introduces some tension with the sub plot of Vicky. How successful will her attempts to set up a gift shop in a place that might only bring her custom for half the year?

"In summer, when the tourists flooded in, the town flourished, presenting that postcard idyll holiday makers longer for. It was like the incoming tide, bringing unsuspected riches to the shore. But in the fall the tide became outgoing as the ocean that had lured the tourists now drove them away, cold gusts of wind whipping the sharp sand across the deserted beach and even into the windowsills of cottages that were no longer let."

As we meet some of the characters in Glen Cove and Vicky begins to settle back in, Conroy again emphasises that despite appearing like a pretty, safe, tourist fuelled town, there is more to Glen Cove than meets the eye - specifically an unsolved mystery of a missing girl, which surely can't have anything to do with the local residents?!

"Glen Cove was such a friendly little place where people only wanted the best for each other. It was impossible someone would have lived among them for over twenty years, hiding such a dark secret."

It isn't long before Vicky finds herself caught up in solving the mystery of Celine's disappearance from twenty years ago. Unwittingly she becomes embroiled in Michael Danning's amateur investigation into the unsolved case which soon sees them not only discovering a new murdered body but also trying to make sure they are not the prime suspects.

"Some fine mess this was. She was going to be questioned by the police again. This time not because she happened to be in college with a girl gone missing, but because she had found a dead body!"

Vicky has returned home and finds herself living with her mother Claire. There is a fun dynamic between the women and Claire's vivacious character adds humour as well as perceptive observations and comments which help the reader get to know Vicky's character more fully. I liked Claire's statement that she's "not nosy; I just like to know things," and her accusation that Vicky only came back to see Michael Danning again draws our attention to the possibility of a potential romance. There is indeed tension between Michael and Vicky which adds another layer to the plot.

Vicky is our new protagonist and I really liked her. She is a bright, determined woman who has no intention to become a detective or indeed seek out a crime to solve. As with all the best amateur sleuths, it is just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time - or perhaps meeting up with the wrong person at the wrong time. She can't believe that there may be a murderer amongst this innocent town of happy people and even tries to hand everything over to the police, but Danning and Conroy have other plans for her.

I also enjoyed the sub plot of Vicky's attempts at setting up her gift shop and think this provides a good distraction as well as a great way of revealing more about her character.

"Vicky always got defensive when people told her she couldn't do something. Challenge was the biggest trigger word in her book." 

I don't want to give anything away about the storyline but what I enjoyed most about this book was that it moves along at a very comfortable pace. I wouldn't say it gripped me but I would say I was very reluctant to put it down! I was really enjoying being part of Glen Cove and felt very settled and relaxed within Conroy's story. It is a crime novel; there is a mystery, there are twists and turns and moments of great revelations and I was caught up in the anticipation, suspense and tension as it jogs along to its grand finale. Sometimes it is a relief to read something without your heart rate accelerating beyond what is healthy and without your blood pressure shooting off the scale!

This is a story of disappearance, murder, jealousy, revenge and all things deliciously criminal, yet it is a remarkably cheerful read and there is a lightness throughout the whole book. This really would be the perfect book to take on your next seaside break or to enjoy with your favourite box of chocolates on a Sunday afternoon. You will not want to put it down.

"Dead to Begin With" draws you in with it's charm, warmth, likeable characters, lively dialogue and an intriguing tale of an unsolved mystery from Vicky's past. I really enjoyed the dialogue and the way it drove the action forward.

Vicky makes a competent and enjoyable sleuth and a great central protagonist for a new crime series. Her excitement about her shop and all she might stock is also infectious and I for one am rooting for its success. As the last line of the book claims:

"The Country Gift Shop was off to a roaring start." 

And so is the first instalment in the Country Gift Shop series. I'm very much looking forward to the next book!

So if you've enjoyed Conroy's other novels, or are a fan of writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers you must look out for "Dead to Begin With" which was published on 13th January 2017 by HQ Digital.

For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Sunday, 29 January 2017

My First Blog Birthday!

Image result for book blogging quotes

A year ago today, I sat down at my computer and decided to start a blog. I had never been on Twitter before, I had never set up a webpage before, I had never written book reviews before - well, not for public viewing anyway! But on a whim, I set up a twitter account, a blogger page and wrote my first ever review and suddenly I discovered a whole new world of book bloggers, TBR piles, acronyms, blog tours and - the most coveted prize of all - advance reader copies!! 

I have had such a blast this year! I have "met" so many lovely, friendly, generous book bloggers who all share my passion for books and I genuinely look forward to chatting with. I have had "conversations" with authors who I admire and adore and with some great people from the world of publishing. I have read more than ever and my screams of delight can still be heard at the end of the street the when I'm approved for an ARC or I receive some book post! Sadly for my neighbours - and my very confused children, I don't think I will ever stop doing that - it's just far too exciting! 

So here are a few highlights from the last 12 months! No, I cannot tell you my favourite book or author because quite frankly that is impossible!

Here is my Top Ten Most Read Posts - click on the link to read the review!

The Girls by Lisa Jewell
Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas
My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood
Watch Me by Angela Clarke
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
What Alice Knew by TA Cotterell
Glass Houses by Jackie Buxton
The Easy Way Out by Steve Amsterdam 

Image result for images books and presents

My very first Book Review was Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Still Alice by Lisa Genova

My very first ARC via NetGalley was Unforgotten by Laura Powell
Unforgotten by Laura Powell

My very first Festival was the Killer Women Crime Festival in October
Killer Women Festival: Fresh Blood
Killer Women Festival: History and Mystery
Killer Women: How to Write a Thriller
Killer Women: Inside the Killer's head
Killer Women: Silver Scream- book v film?

My first quote in a paperback was for "The Good Mother" by A L Bird
The Good Mother by A L Bird

My first "live" event was when Deborah O'Connor (My Husband's Son) came to our book group:
My Husband's Son by Deborah O'Connor
Bibliomaniac's Book Club: Deborah O'Connor

My first Bibliomaniac's Book Club event was only held on the 18th January 2017:
Bibliomaniac's Book Club: Criminally Good Books
A review of Criminally Good Books

My goals for the next year?

  • To run another Bibliomaniac's Book Club live event! (Dazzling Debuts)
  • To run Bibliomaniac's Book Club via this blog with suggested reads for each month providing questions and ideas for any book group to use
  • To attend more festivals! 

And most importantly -

  • To carry on enjoying book blogging, sharing my passion for books with anyone who will listen, chatting away with all the fabulous book bloggers, authors and publishing peeps I have got to know over the last 12 months, hopefully meet a few more and whatever else happens, to carry on reading, recommending and reviewing as many books as my bibliomania can manage!! 

There are so many of you out there to thank - far too many to mention but I really would like to say a huge thank you to anyone who reads my blog, retweets, shares, comments and likes my posts, and an enormous thanks to the authors and publishers who are generous enough to send me ARCs!

Image result for images thank you

And to show my thanks, here's a giveaway! A mystery prize for anyone who loves reading!! Enter below if you'd like to be in with a chance of winning! Ends of Friday 3rd Feb 2017.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you'd like to see how I get on in the next 12 months of my blog then please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)