Book Blog, Book Reviews, Guest Reviews

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau @aurumpress @womentoinspire #GuestReview By J A Warnock

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau By Julie Ferry
Aurum Press ~ Feb 2017
Review ~ J A Warnock 

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On 6 November 1895 Consuelo Vanderbilt married Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough. Though the preceding months had included spurned loves, unexpected deaths, scandal and illicit affairs, the wedding was the crowning moment for the unofficial marriage brokers, Lady Minnie Paget and Consuelo Yzanga, Dowager Duchess of Manchester, the original buccaneers who had instructed, cajoled and manipulated wealthy young heiresses into making the perfect match.

Fame, money, power, prestige, perhaps even love – these were some of the reasons for the marriages that took place between wealthy American heiresses and the English aristocracy in 1895. For a few, the marriages were happy but for many others, the matches brought loneliness, infidelity, bankruptcy and divorce.

Focusing on a single year, The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau tells the story of a group of wealthy American heiresses seeking to marry into the English aristocracy. From the beautiful and eligible debutante Consuelo Vanderbilt, in love with a dashing older man but thwarted by her controlling mother, Washington society heiress Mary Leiter who married the pompous Lord Curzon and became the Vicereine of India, Maud Burke, vivacious San Francisco belle with a questionable background, this book uncovers their stories. Also revealed is the hidden role played Lady Minnie Paget and Consuelo Yzanga, Dowager Duchess of Manchester, two unofficial marriage brokers who taught the heiresses how to use every social trick in the book to land their dream husband.

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau dashes through the year to uncover the seasons, the parties, the money, the glamour, the gossip, the scandal and the titles, always with one eye on the two women who made it all possible.

Review By J A Warnock 

Did you ever read an account of a historical event and think “Wow, I wish I had a seat at that dinner table” or “To have been a fly on that wall…”? If your answer is no then ‘The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau’ by Julie Ferry probably isn’t for you. If you answered yes, read on.

There is no question that a stupendous amount of research has gone into the production of this book but there is also a fair bit of imagination.  Ferry uses fictitious scenes of her own imagining to stitch together biographical accounts, contemporary journals, letters and social commentary into a giant (I do mean giant; it is not a short book) patchwork of a story. This makes for a style of writing that not everyone will take to. The flow of more traditional narrative storytelling is regularly interrupted by this or that opinion on the subject and, while it is interesting and reinforcing, it can get a little distracting.

The narrative meanders around the topic of the business of Transatlantic Marriage brokering and its key players with no real predictable structure. There is no attempted to build suspense rather events are presented a historical fait accompli sometimes all at once. It reminded me a little of those stand up comics who start a story at the opening of the show and distract themselves go off on tangents, have moments and asides then have to come back on for an encore because they didn’t actually ever get to the point. Although certainly planned and undoubtedly clever, this can be tiresome and a little disconcerting.

On the whole, Ferry offers up a fascinating insight into an industry (for that is truly what it was) about which I for one knew very little. Rather than provide a dry historical account, her imaginative spice makes this a hugely readable book. Her ideas about what might have gone behind closed doors add both colour and interest and help the reader to identify with characters that may otherwise have felt aloof and unreachable. She offers a fly on the wall view of events and invites you to a seat at several high powered dinner tables as the story unfolds.

You can purchase your copy here ~

Thank you to Julie Ferry and Aurum Press for the ARC copy for review.

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Book Blog, Guest Reviews

Buy Buy Baby By @HelenMacKinven @cranachanbooks #Guest Review J A Warnock

Buy Buy Baby By Helen MacKinven
Cranachan Publishing July 2016
Guest Review: J A Warnock 

 

The Review

If (like me) the thought of really getting inside a woman’s head fills you with abject horror, I suggest you stop reading now. There is absolutely nothing to see here; please move along. I have never before read a book that captures so well a woman’s contradictions, vulnerabilities, irationalities, sheer resourcefulness and force of will. At times the characters in Buy Buy Baby baffled me as much as many of my female friends and at points had me trying to shake some sense into them through the pages of my Kindle.

Speaking of Kindle, my review is of a relatively early Kindle draft which contained a couple of continuity blips which left me a little confused. Many thanks to the author for taking the time to answer my questions and for reasuring me that I wasn’t going mad. As they were all ironed out in the final draft, there is no need to dwell on them (or my sanity) here.

Buy Buy Baby is a character driven novel which often looks at events from multiple perspectives. This can have the effect of making progress a little slow but I like the twisting interpretations that this provides. I am the first to admit that what I think is not necessarily what I say or do and it is nice to see this reality captured in a book.

The structure of Buy Buy Baby should also be commended. Helen MacKinven takes two very different characters with completely different motivations and presents them with the same dilemma. This makes the moral questions more apparent and will make the reader question how they might have responded in similar circumstances. Without giving too much away, I was please to see that their responses weren’t always moulded to stereotypical type.

In summary, this isn’t really my sort of book but there were elements I enjoyed and I found much to commend. If this is your cup of tea then I am sure you will love it.

J A Warnock

Buy Buy Baby By Helen MacKinven

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What price tag would you put on a baby?

Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing.
Packed full of bitchy banter, it follows the bittersweet quest of two very different women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby.

Carol talks to her dog, has an expensive eBay habit and relies on wine to forget she’s no longer a mum following the death of her young son.

Cheeky besom Julia is career-driven and appears to have it all. But after disastrous attempts at internet dating, she feels there is a baby-shaped hole in her life.
In steps Dan, a total charmer with a solution to their problems.

But only if they are willing to pay the price, on every level…

Purchase your copy ~ Amazon UK

Huge thanks to Helen and Cranachan for the ARC copy for review.

We are running a Twitter giveaway ~ head over to our Twitter Page and see the pinned post.

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Book Reviews, Crime Fiction Takeover, Guest Reviews

Sewing The Shadows Together @Alisonbailliex @ matadorbooks Guest #Review By J A Warnock

Crime Fiction (2)

Review By J A Warnock
Sewing The Shadows Together By Alison Baillie ~ Matador Books ~ 07/08/2015

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‘Sewing the Shadows Together’ by Alison Baillie is a masterclass in simplicity. The pace is exquisite. The story is entirely straight forward and elegantly told.

Baillie seems perfectly comfortable in the role of storyteller and relies on the strength of her characters and plot to keep the reader engaged.  There are no clever for the sake of clever narrative tricks. There is no convoluted timeline or staccato structure designed to daze and confuse.  There is a measured reasonableness which I found extremely refreshing.
This feeling of reasonableness is not limited to stucture but is also present in the plot.  I found that suspicions, worries and doubts expressed by the characters often matched my own thoughts as I read. A thought might occur to me and appear to be corroborated by a discovery a few pages later only to be disproved or confirmed by later events. I felt there were just the right number of clues to string the reader along and keep things interesting.
Much of the story is set in either Portobello or Edinburgh and the atmosphere of both locations is accurately captured. I will admit it triggered feelings of nostalgia for my own youth which shared many locations mentioned in the book though my vanity forces me to add I inhabited these streets some years after Baillie’s characters.
As the story unfolds old crimes and old feelings are intertwined. If you want to know if they are reconciled or resolved, you will have to read ‘Sewing the Shadows Together’ for yourself.  Highly recommended.

From The Back Of The Book 

Can you ever get over the death of your sister? Or of your best friend? More than 30 years after 13-year-old Shona McIver was raped and murdered in Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh, the crime still casts a shadow over the lives of her brother Tom and her best friend Sarah. When modern DNA evidence shows that the wrong man was convicted of the crime, the case is reopened. So who did kill Shona? Sarah and Tom are caught up in the search for Shona’s murderer, and suspicions fall on family and friends. The foundations of Sarah’s perfect family life begin to crumble as she realises that nothing is as it appears. Dark secrets from the past are uncovered, and there is another death, before the identity of the real killer is finally revealed… Set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa, Sewing the Shadows Together is a thoroughly modern murder mystery that keeps the reader guessing to the end. Filled with characters who could easily be friends, family or people we work with, it asks the question: Do we ever really know the people closest to us?

Purchase your own copy at Amazon UK

Huge thanks to Alison Baillie for the advanced copy for review and for featuring on my blog today.

We are running a Twitter giveaway ~ head over to our Twitter Page and see the pinned post.

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Crime Fiction

Book Reviews, Guest Reviews

The Man Who Loved Islands @dfr10 @OrendaBooks #GuestReview J A Warnock

The Man Who Loved Islands By David F Ross

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The Disco Boys and THE Band are BACK …

In the early ’80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than ten years. A bizarre opportunity to honour the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself if only they can forgive … and forget.

Absurdly funny, deeply moving and utterly human, The Man Who Loved Islands is an unforgettable finale to the Disco Days trilogy.

Buy your copy: Amazon

The Review By J A Warnock

In the course of the couple of days, I’ve spent reading David F. Ross’s ‘The Man Who Loved Islands, I have come to think of it almost as one would think of a friend with a dissociative identity disorder. I say, friend, because there is much about this novel that I like but the personality of the book is, I think, disjointed and a little inconsistent. I put up with the aspects I didn’t like because there are others I liked immensely.
Ross creates a wonderful sense of time and place in each of the locations of this book by filling them with very specific musical, cultural and political references. This style occasionally meanders off into a brief treatise on the history of music mixing or the rise of capitalism but on the whole draws the reader in (or age permitting, takes them back) to an iconic era of change and fractured possibility. If you are under 35, you may need a little help from Google else gloss over some of the more oblique pop culture references.
I will confess a real fondness for novels set in towns I know so also very much enjoyed this trip down memory lane. The Kilmarnock references, in particular, are entirely recognisable and should seem familiar to anyone with knowledge of that place.  It is always good when a novel captures the feel of a location as well as its description and Ross does this in spades.
The timeline jumps about a bit, not only via the dated chapters but also through the reminiscences of the characters within so beware it will keep you on your toes. There is a real feeling of loss in this book partly for events that unfold but more for life’s ability to unravel, to get away. Many, though thankfully not all, of the characters’ achievements are tinged with sadness and regret. As the novel progresses and the time lines converge we become witness to their attempts to confront, avoid, reconcile and obliterate various aspects of their pasts. This makes for an interesting if not always uplifting read.
‘The Man Who Loved Islands’ is cleverly constructed, well-paced novel that zips around the world and spans 40 years. My head is still spinning from both the tangential route and genre splicing soundtrack.
Check out these other titles available from @OrendaBooks
Huge thanks to David F Ross @dfr10 , Karen Sullivan @OrendaBooks and Anne Cater @annecater  for the opportunity to be on the tour and for the review copy. 

Find Love Books Group here too ~

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Book Reviews, Guest Reviews

The Undercurrent ~ @thewriterjude @bloodhoundbooks #Review J A Warnock

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Phoebe and her disabled husband, Martyn, move into a new house in a village on the edge of County Durham. They plan to lead a quiet existence, a set up that suits them both.

Then Anna, who lives over the road and is bored of spending her days alone, seeks friendship with Phoebe and events take a dark turn.

Phoebe has secrets and is haunted by her past and Anna’s arrival in her life may prove to be the catalyst for her undoing.

What is Phoebe hiding and why are she and her husband so reclusive?

When Anna gets caught in a storm and is rescued by Phoebe the truth becomes apparent and Anna is thrown into danger.

Is there a difference between madness and evil?

Some friendships can be murder.

Buy your copy here ~ AMAZON UK

 

About J A Baker 

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J.A.BAKER was born and brought up in the north-east of England and has had a love of language for as long as she can remember.
After gaining an MA in Education & Applied Linguistics with the Open University, she found herself with spare time and embarked on doing something she always wanted to do – write a novel.
She has a love of local history and genealogy and enjoys reading many genres of books but is an addict of psychological thrillers.
In December 2016 she was signed by Bloodhound Books who published Undercurrent. J.A. Baker is currently working on her second novel.
She has four adult children and a grandchild and lives in a village near Darlington with her husband and dog.
You find out more about J.A.Baker by visiting her website at jabakerauthor.com

J A Warnock ~ Guest Review 

‘Undercurrent’ by J. A. Baker opens with an incredible enticement. A stand-alone chapter called ‘The Escape’ which acts as a wonderful hook. A rush of emotion and adrenaline from a character, known only as ‘she’, who finally got away. As we skip back three months to chapter one, we have many unanswered questions; Who is running? From what? From whom? The language of the story that follows is perhaps a little flowery for my taste but sets out the events that lead to that dramatic escape. As the characters are introduced every female is a possible ‘she’ and I found myself looking for clues. Every character is a possible captor who is cleverly referred to as only ‘A dark, sinister figure […] laced with a special kind of madness’. It was perhaps my digging for clues that led me into trouble with this book. You see there are lots. So many in fact that at times I wondered if the reader was supposed to be in on the plot watching the other characters’ react and work it all out. I think I would have enjoyed it more if my role as the reader had been more clearly defined. I was distracted and perplexed by my own unanswered questions. Am I just an unbearable smart arse who guessed the ending? Have I missed a conspiratorial edge? How am I supposed to respond? That aside, the book is nicely paced and J. A. Baker really gets into the psychology of her characters. My review is tainted by my discombobulated response so please don’t let it put you off. If you like psychological crime thrillers, definitely give it a go.

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Book Reviews, Giveaway Prizes, Guest Reviews

Onyx Webb Book 1 @OnyxWebb ~ #GuestReview ~ J A Warnock ~ #Giveaway

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 J A Warnock’s Review 

I thought to open this review by likening Onyx Webb to being hit by a train but hesitate as people may take that as a bad thing.  So… Don’t think intercity express that is going to unceremoniously flatten you; think heritage engine, steam billowing, that will sweep you onto the footplate and carry you along at such a pace, you think you can fly.   To labour the metaphor, the impact is unmistakable and, rather than fight it, the best approach is to let the characters take you where you need to go.  The place is not constant, time is not linear; both curl around you like steam and smoke from the engines.  Relax, don’t overthink anything and (I promise this is the last train reference) enjoy the journey.

Book one of this ten book series opens with a warning that we should not expect everything to be sewn up in the first instalment.  I would go further for, in a world where we accept that death is not necessarily the end, we can never really know if something has been sewn up or not.  Traditional narrative is interspersed with journal extracts, poems and quotations which could have been off-putting but in fact flowed remarkably well.  Chapters, though I use the word loosely, employ an economy of language; although short there is a vibrancy and detail that conveys more than you might expect.  As much as the writers would have you believe they practically channelled the words onto the page, it has the feeling of being well crafted and carefully considered.

I am positive that anyone who reads this first book will want to read the rest if not because they are captivated then out of sheer curiosity.  I loved it and will (sorry couldn’t resist) be hanging on for the rest of the ride.

About The Onyx Webb Series

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You can buy your copy ~ AMAZON UK ~ CLICK ME

WIN Onyx Webb Goodies 

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We have two signed books up for grabs and three runners up winning swag bags and a magnet.

Click here to enter for free ~ ENTER HERE GOOD LUCK

 

Book Reviews, Guest Reviews

Dancers In The Wind By @Anne_Coates1 ~ @urbanepub ~ #Review J A Warnock

About The Book 

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SHE IS HUNTING FOR THE TRUTH, BUT WHO IS HUNTING HER? Freelance journalist and single mother Hannah Weybridge is commissioned by a national newspaper to write an investigative article on the notorious red light district in Kings Cross. There she meets prostitute Princess, and police inspector in the vice squad, Tom Jordan. When Princess later arrives on her doorstep beaten up so badly she is barely recognisable, Hannah has to make some tough decisions and is drawn ever deeper into the world of deceit and violence. Three sex workers are murdered, their deaths covered up in a media blackout, and Hannah herself is under threat. As she comes to realise that the taste for vice reaches into the higher echelons of the great and the good, Hannah realises she must do everything in her power to expose the truth …. and stay alive.

Guest Review By J A Warnock 

Anne Coates ‘Dancers in the Wind’ is one of those books that is quite difficult to categorise. Yes, there is a cop and yes, there is a murder enquiry but it is not your run of the mill crime thriller. Neither is it your average investigative mystery despite the freelance journalist and tabloid hacks.
It is, in fact, a cleverly written, nicely paced and utterly believable story. Set in London in the recent past, there is a familiarity to the setting; that sense of place almost a character in its own right.  In certain moments, I felt a sense of nostalgia for times past.  In others, I felt a palpable relief that some things have changed. I was reminded how the telling of a story has changed in our more technology driven present. I was also reminded that some things we might like to see changed are still with us in the present day.
As the book progresses, each character asks the fundamental question, who can I trust? With their answer, each character shapes their response to events and their place in the narrative. Motivations and actions are not always explicitly drawn into the main narrative but a line on blackmail here and personal investigation there invites the reader to assemble the building blocks and keeps the novel interesting.
With Coates’ cast, as in life, what is thought does not necessarily resemble what is said or what is done. Her portrayal of human nature is, I think, well observed.  She embraces conflicting and often irrational emotions never making the characters’ decisions overly straight forward or clear cut. As a reader, one must decide whether or not to believe in coincidence just as the characters, in their part, must decide how to act on them. It is easy to get caught in the action and you may find yourself wondering what you would do in a character’s place.
I highly recommend the book.

 

#FavFive with Anne Coates

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What’s your favourite book cover by another author and why?

Thinking about this question I realised that I am more likely to be put off a book by a cover I dislike than be led to a book because of its interesting cover. However, that said, I love the Marnie Rome series by Sarah Hilary and adore the covers which depict the outline of the heroine with a scene depicted in the silhouette. All four books are now like this and it brings a unity together with a brilliant and immediate identity.

What is your favourite time to read?

I love reading whenever I have the opportunity but probably my favourite time is when I have a free afternoon ahead of me and can immerse myself in a book for several hours.

Do you have a favourite snack to nibble whilst reading?

Eating while reading goes against the grain with me. If the book is absorbing, I don’t want to let my concentration lapse while reaching out for a chocolate. Plus I like to keep my fingers clean for turning the pages!

Who is your favourite book character that has stayed with you long after the book ended?

When I was a child I loved the Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. The story of the Prince (a statue) giving his gold and jewels to the poor via the Swallow who, in the end when he was blind, would not leave him, has stayed with me. The Swallow’s fidelity and love still bring tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat when I read it to children.

What is your favourite book quote?

“Tomorrow is another day” from Gone With The Wind.

Twitter ~ @Anne_Coates1

Website ~ http://www.annecoatesauthor.com/

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Buy your copy here ~ AMAZON UK

Coming Soon ~

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Death’s Silent Judgement is the thrilling sequel to Dancers in the Wind and continues the gripping series starring London-based investigative journalist Hannah Weybridge. The series is very much in the best traditions of British women crime writers such as Lynda La Plante and Martina Cole. Following the deadly events of Dancers in the Wind, freelance journalist and single mother Hannah Weybridge is thrown into the heart of a horrific murder investigation when a friend, Liz Rayman, is found with her throat slashed at her dental practice. With few clues to the apparently motiveless crime, Hannah throws herself into discovering the reason for her friend’s brutal murder and is determined to unmask the killer. But before long Hannah’s investigations place her in mortal danger, her hunt for the truth placing her in the path of a remorseless killer…

Pre~ Order your copy ~ Amazon UK

 

Book Reviews, Guest Reviews

A House Divided by Margaret Skea @margaretskea Guest Review~ By J A Warnock

About The Book 

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‘When you must face Maxwell, give evidence before
Cunningham the King. Have you thought on that?’
‘If I do not face Maxwell, I will not
be able to face myself.’

Scotland 1597. The truce bCunninghamand Montgomerie clans is fragile. And for the Munro family, living in hiding under assumed names, these are dangerous times.

While Munro risks his life daily in the army of the French King, the spectre of discovery by William Cunninghame haunts his wife Kate. Her fears for their children and her absent husband realized as William’s desire for revenge tears their world apart.

A sweeping tale of compassion and cruelty, treachery and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of a religious war, feuding clans and the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597.

This eagerly awaited sequel to Turn of the Tide can also be read as a stand-alone novel and will appeal to fans of Winston Graham’s Poldark and C J Sansom’s Shardlake series.

J A Warnock’s Guest Review 

Margaret Skea’s ‘A House Divided picks up the tale of the Munro Family some six years after the dramatic conclusion of her series opened ‘Turn of the Tide’ and it becomes quickly evident that, despite a seeming calm, the events of this instalment will be no less intense. The rumblings of trouble and uncertainty start on the first page and only build as the novel progresses.

In terms of practicalities, I do not think it essential to have read the first book in order to appreciate the second (I indeed had not) but, be warned you will be left with unanswered questions about the events that lead to the current circumstance.

‘A House Divided’ is nicely paced and picks up the tale from the perspective of a variety of characters as the story progresses. This often puts the reader in the enviable position of knowing more about what is going on than the characters themselves and helps drive the narrative. Characters are split less by blood or family allegiance and more by their decency and moral code.  I am trying, somewhat ineloquently to tell you there are baddies and goodies for whom the reader can boo or cheer! There is a real simplicity in the style of storytelling that belies the complexity of politics and plot in which it is set. In terms of context, pestilence, plague, spies, intrigue, witch trials, allegiances, succession and revenge make up only as a small proportion of the giddying mix. Each turn of the page brings a new calamity and once could, at times, be forgiven for thinking that, were it not for bad luck, the Munros would have no luck at all.

By making this essentially a story of a family that happens to be set within a historical context, Skea makes her novel all the more accessible. I would thoroughly recommend this novel so much I am off to find her first. Perhaps if I stand on my head after reading, the pieces will all fall into the right places. Four out of five stars from me.

Order your copy here ~ Amazon UK

About Margaret Skea 

 

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Margaret Skea

 

Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’ but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders.

An interest in Scotland’s turbulent history, and in particular the 16th century, combined with PhD research into the Ulster-Scots vernacular, led to the writing of Turn of the Tide, which was the Historical Fiction Winner in the 2011 Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014.

An Hawthornden Fellow and award-winning short story writer – her recent credits include, Overall Winner Neil Gunn 2011, Chrysalis Prize 2010, and Winchester Short Story Prize 2009. Third in the Rubery Book Award Short Story Competition 2013, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society Short Story Competition 2012, shortlisted in the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2012 and long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Short Story competition 2014, the Matthew Pritchard Award, the Fish Short Story and Fish One-Page Prize, she has been published in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and the USA.
A new collection of short stories – including some those from competitions mentioned above available for pre-order now.