Diva reads: May Edition.

I managed to crack this out by the skin of my teeth. I know we’re almost in June but I hope I can still inspire you with some of my favs from this month. So, what have I been reading this month? For the last week I’ve been dragging my heels with my current read, a Tess Gerritson book, but I’d say it’s nothing to do with Tess and more to do with the fact I’m so tired I just can’t keep my eyes open at night to read it. That probably means I should try doing more day time reading —but you know— kids.

House 21 hosted their first book club in May and as mentioned in my April edition, we read An American Marriage. It was a strange book, not compelling as such, but easily interesting. It depicts the life of an African American man who’s wrongly incarcerated and delves right in to his relationship with his wife. It oozes big cultural vibes and it provoked me to address a few things: The demands of a marriage and the emotional toll on both parties, as well as unconscious bias. I would based on its ability to make me take stock alone, recommend it’s worth a read.

Next month’s book club read is Beth O’Leary’s Flat Share, but I’ve not started it yet, so let me tell you a bit about what I have been reading instead.

Following An American Marriage I reverted to my trusted genre of thriller and picked up my first Karin Slaughter book. What can I say besides WOW. It’s blew my mind. The pace was so elite I felt like I was reading as fast as Usain Bolt runs.

I couldn’t get enough of The Good Daughter – not only is it beautifully written (and it really is, no language or vocab corners cut for Karin.) It was so utterly addictive that I felt somewhat exhausted at the end. That only served to prove it was completely exhilarating. I don’t know what rock I’ve been hiding under, but the moment I finished this book I went on to read two more of hers.

Her Last Breath – which is a Novella prequel to The Good Daughter, equally as enticing, it’s only failure being it’s not a full book. It just wasn’t long enough, I felt robbed by it’s too soon climax.

I then went on to read: Pieces Of Her. Which is set to be made into a Netflix original series. It was a complex read but with equal amounts of explosive content from the very first page. It’s fast and punchy pace keeps up momentum until the end.

I mentioned on this week’s podcast that I’d previously struggled with reading American written books because of the language and dialogue used, however since Karin completely dragged me over to the dark side of American thriller I couldn’t wait to get my hands on more, so I downloaded Shari Lapena’s – The Couple Next Door – another great thriller about a kidnapping gone wrong. A mother’s worst nightmare and full of the kind of characters we all hope to avoid in real life. With shocking twists and American mountain vibes. It was another race to the end. I enjoyed it and would definitely consider many more of her books in future.

All of those thrillers drained me by being so fascinatingly edgy, but afterwards I needed some lighthearted vibes. With this in mind I reverted back to the woman who opened my eyes to genres of comedy and romance, friendship and girl power, Dawn O’porter and sped through Paper Aeroplanes. She hasn’t written a book yet that I don’t adore. I don’t know what it is about her realistic accounts of women and girl power portrayals that get me so emosh, but there’s really nothing not to like. She’s a legend and every woman out there should read at least one of her books, but I suggest reading them all.

That’s it so far this month, so enjoy!!

You can find all of these in local bookstores and downloadable for E-readers. Keep reading and tag me/ message me/ share with me what you think.

You can also read this over at House21 just head to the culture & reading section.

Diva Reads #4

Diva reads April

So I’ve been busy this month. Busy doing a lot of reading and not much else, but that’s okay, because it means I get to share my findings with you guys.

I stumbled upon this first author mentioned by accident, and the first book of hers I read was so fantastically tragic and twisty that it made me download a second book, immediately after I’d read the last page of the first.

Lucinda Berry

When She Returned – This book set in modern America has an undercurrent of betrayal throughout, building to a crescendo at the end. It’s so good it had me flicking pages faster than I could blink in a desperate bid to get to the end.

It tells a story of a modern marriage and a completely opposing cult lifestyle that are world apart but intricately linked. There’s no happy ending either, which is a surprising relief because sometimes I get to the end of the book and am met with disappointment at its highly unbelievable ending, but this just adds an additional twist making the turning of that very last page all the more satisfying.

Missing Parts – Another exceptionally twisty read. I’ll admit it didn’t surprise me quite as much as the first but the story was quite different.

This one, about a mum who struggled to bond with her daughter who was then diagnosed as critically ill. It left a bad taste in my mouth, but equally demanded I put myself in the protagonist’s shoes. Full of betrayal and tragedy, this book will keep you on your toes until the very last page.

CL Taylor

Strangers – Cally Taylor is one of my all time favourite writers, I read all 7 of her books in a seriously short space of time and she never disappoints. Strangers is set in my home town of Bristol and that only adds to the relatability for me.

There are three main protagonists in the story, I probably related to Alice the most but each had both endearing qualities as well as misgivings, making them believable. It also wraps up well and for a stand alone book I feel that’s important. I don’t think you’ll ever be disappointed as a thriller fan with a C.L Taylor book and this one is no different.

Belinda Bauer

Black Lands – This was pretty dark. It had a classical murder mystery vibe, set up on Exmoor in typical Moors Murder vibes. The difference being this wasn’t your typical whodunnit. In fact it wasn’t a whodunnit at all. Another thing to set this book aside from your average crime thrillers is, the protagonist is a child. It’s very well written and captivates you from the first page. However the actual storyline was a bit over the top tragic and not much excitement, in my opinion.

Rubber Necker – Another Belinda Bauer thriller. She was recommended to me by author C.L Taylor and there’s absolutely no denying she has a talent for writing unusually dark and atypical thrillers. Completely different from backlands Rubber Necker tells the story of a young man with Aspergers who stumbles upon a conspiracy that has tragic consequences.

Tayari Jones

An American Marriage- I cant say too much to give this story away as it’s House 21’s May book club edition. What I will say though, is it really opens your eyes to a poor judicial system, overbearing pride and wavering love. It’s well written informative fiction with several protagonists each with their own endearing and flawed characters.

All of these books were read on Kindle and can be downloaded from your amazon kindle store.

Don’t forget to let me know what you think by emailing me here divamumsteph@hotmail.com

Diva reads #3

So it’s been a while since I’ve written a book review. That’s not to say I haven’t been reading though, because I most definitely have! I’m actually on my 14th book this year already, that’s averaging me at 6 books a month! 

I recently had a weekend in bed unwell. If you read my blogs you’ll know I suffer with a chronic illness and reading can really be a salvation for me as it’s about all I can manage when I’m experiencing a flare up. That, and a little writing where possible. I’m a thriller fan in every sense of the word when it comes to genres. I want to read books that force me to turn pages even when I know I need to sleep! Ones that provoke questions and leave chapters on cliffhangers. It’s very rare for me to veer away from the thriller genre, but whilst I was feeling under par I needed something a little lighter to read, lighter, but just as interesting. I stumbled upon Dawn O’Porter AKA @hotpatooties and what a wonderful writer she is!

I read The Cows in a day, it was so relatable and intriguing, in parts, laugh out loud funny. A true depiction of girl power, resilience and friendship. The Protagonists are exceptionally well portrayed. Tara is a single mum with a sexual appetite and a strong woman stance, who inadvertently becomes tabloid news in the most excruciatingly embarrassing way. Even Stella who is for all intents and purposes a bit unhinged, is relatable in her struggles and it’s a real eye opener turning pages to grief and mental health. It warmed my heart and made me feel like I could take on the world. I loved it so much as soon as it ended I downloaded So Lucky immediately. 
I wasn’t sure the second book was going to have the same effect but it didn’t disappoint and held just as much resonation, albeit in a different way. I related to a lot of Ruby’s parenting struggles and health condition limitations, Beth’s work life balance issues and poor young Lauren with her need to edit everything whilst feeling lonely in an online world full of watchers. It conjured up relatable scenarios with me, and there is not much more you can ask from a good read!

I’m sure I’m late to the party with the Powerhouse Female book catalogue but as mentioned, thrillers are usually my main squeeze to tuck up with at night. Stupid really, for someone who regularly gets nightmares, but I just can’t help it, the ability to pique my interest is found inside the covers of a good domestic noir! 

So it seems only right that I should finish with the absolute rollercoaster thriller by Harriet Tyce that is Blood Orange! It was intensely dark and equally emotional. In wake of the #Metoo movement this book was in parts hard to read. It portrayed women as just that, human beings having sex because they like it. But it showed foibles of men in power succumbing to chauvinism and taking what is not theirs to take. That’s not forgetting the undercurrent of a woman who takes the blame for a crime she didn’t commit. Some lines are morally blurred but they seize to make this book a more compelling read. Contains triggers for DV and sexual assault victims. All of these books can be purchased via your Amazon kindle or any Waterstones bookshop. 

If you read and love the books mentioned I’d love to hear some of your recommendations too. 

You can email me your suggestions at divamumsteph@hotmail.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter @divamumsteph I’m also on goodreads under the same name. I plan to make #Divareads a monthly occurrence so pop back next time too! 

When losers win.

I have always been the girl, who never does anything extraordinary. Never got nominated for anything in school. Never got a part in the school play even though drama is my forte, because I didn’t put myself forward. I didn’t raise my hand to answer questions even though I knew the answer. I didn’t stay for after school clubs in my favourite subjects because I was more interested in smoking weed and playing spin the bottle (that’s a euphemism for whatever the fuck I liked) When I didn’t know the answers I didn’t seek to learn them. I didn’t like rules and I didn’t get the right kind of attention, any attention I did get was for the wrong reasons. My attitude took a long time to change and I’m still learning from the bad decisions I’ve made, and I’ve made plenty.

When my first stint at secondary school didn’t work out and I moved on to the next one I didn’t get praise for good work, I got chastised for bad work.

When I got my one and only A in GSCE I didn’t get told well done. I got told I could of done better in other subjects, if I’d have only worked harder.

When I went to work and had time off sick because my mental health can’t always be relied upon to remain ‘normal’ enough for me to function at full capacity all of the time, I got told I would never excel in my career if I couldn’t show up. I got told to suck it up and do better.

When I got diagnosed with a physical condition I had to take a lesser paid and much lesser privileged job, because I wasn’t deemed reliable enough to do important work. Suffice to say I left that job.

So when I won this award today, it wasn’t a victory because I was awarded winner status. It wasn’t a cash prize or a holiday to the Maldives. It was just a certificate, but it was a certificate rewarding my effort.

It was a victory because I won it doing what I love (writing) and it’s a potential doorway to another realm, one where hope exists and efforts are recognised. One where I’m good enough. It was a small award for a reasonably well read blog, but one day it might be a big award for a bestselling book (never say never) and even if it’s not, it doesn’t matter, because it’s given me the confidence boost needed to pursue a passion. It was a reminder that you can do whatever you want, we have the power to change our futures if we’re willing to give things a try.

Take a chance on yourself, it might not pay off, but it’s a lovely way to learn more about where your strengths are. We can’t all be good at everything but it helps if we like what we are good at.

So my apologies for milking this day to high heaven, but for the first time in my life I feel like a winner. 🥳

Recommended Reads #3

I promised to keep them coming.

What have I been reading the last couple of months? LOADS! I’ve been reading loads as usual. On average I get through a book in three nights.

I’ve now read all of C.L Taylor’s books and am patiently awaiting her 7th release. My favourites are definitely ‘The Missing’ ‘The Escape’ and ‘The Accident’ I liked ‘Sleep’ as I really related to the characters particularly Anna, but I found Christine’s role a bit far fetched and that kind of ruined it for me a bit. ‘The Accident’ is my most recent favourite and I could relate to Sue as both, a girl in a relationship with a narcissist and a mother, it definitely kept me guessing and I understood her battle with mental health also.

Some other good reads are ‘Watching You’ by Lisa Jewell, set in my home town of Bristol. A good twisty thriller written in a traditional English style, which you don’t come across often anymore and so it makes pleasant reading. Lisa is a powerful story teller and her thrillers always have a great protagonist.

Another of my new favourite Authors is ‘Mark North’ his first book ‘Hold My Hand’ is set between Bath and Oxford and that was what drew me in, having been born and bred in Bath I like books I can relate to in terms of geographical memory. I like to read about streets I’ve walked, I find it helps me connect. His second book ‘Keep Her Close’ is all Oxford based but equally as good. His Protagonist Josie Myers is a good strong female lead and I’m intrigued to see where her story goes in the next instalment. I do find a lot of Crime Thrillers & Cop Saga’s do tend to be samey but if it’s a genre you enjoy I would recommend this writer.

Another author who’s work I admire and I’m currently reading a book of his is Mark Edwards. Im almost at the end of ‘Follow You Home’ I love the way Mark manages to convince you of some supernatural activity before dropping the obvious explanation, making you question your own sanity for a moment or two. He did a similar thing with ‘In Her Shadow’ and I really enjoyed reading that too. Follow you home is dark and gripping making you look at the world at its worst but in an addictive and compelling way that will keep the pages turning until the very last.

Recommended reads #2

My last recommended reads proved popular and useful to some of you, so I thought, hey, I’ll do that again.

Goodreads says I’m on book 15 of my 50 books this year challenge, but that’s an out and out lie. I just haven’t added them all, think I’m definitely closer to 30. After all, I’ve just finished my second CL Taylor book this week and am about to start my third! She is KILLING IT!

If you haven’t checked her out yet you absolutely need to immediately! I read The Fear last week and loved it. The strong stand against paedophelia and the ever present link between predators and their victims was really brought to life in this book. Definitely not a light ’round the pool’ read, but then I am a thriller lover. Main character Lou is both unhinged and likeable, making it easy to follow and equally captivating.

I’ve since just finished The Missing, much like my own WIP manuscript, this book is set in my (now) home city of Bristol and that only makes it all the more relatable. A tale of a mother’s anguish as her son is missing and their family secrets are revealed. South Bristol vibes throughout, the leading protagonist could easily be your best friend, auntie, mum or neighbour. Honest and gritty, this again, not for you if you don’t like graphic realism. However if you’re a thriller fan and love the psychological pull of drama, get involved. You won’t regret it.

Prior to starting on my CL Taylor binge, and after patiently awaiting its arrival; I read Victoria Selman’s second novel Ziba Mackenzie Book Two: Nothing to Lose. I have to regretfully say it didn’t blow my mind like the first book. As often with sequels characters become predictable and I personally found Ziba particularly annoying in this book. She’s known for her quirkiness and love of abbreviations, but when she abbreviated ‘my house gets cold often’ to MHGCO I almost stopped reading. She also repeats her favourites often like BFO A.k.a Blind fucking obvious. Just a little irritating if I’m giving it an honest critique.

Whilst the storyline still has a perfect thriller ideal, it kind of gets a bit jumbled towards the end, with two huge dramas weakly intertwining. Leaving you, or in my case me (the reader) feeling a bit anti climaxed and frustrated. I think I could be at fault here as a reader too, as I just get irritated by over the top personalities (irony isn’t lost on me) but maybe when book three comes out I’ll give Ziba a final chance. Third time lucky and all that!

Whilst I’m binging books till my literary heart is content, I’ve been neglecting my own work and writer’s block is a concrete embedded chicane in my peripheral vision at the moment. I need to get back in the zone, even the blogs are some how land sliding away from the top of my to do list. So if you’re reading this, please…. send motivation.

A big thanks to one of my besties, sending me a boost this morning and a much needed kick up the ass to carry on. I now have a self imposed January 2020 deadline for finishing Book1. Watch this space.

Recommended reads

So I started a book read challenge this year. It’s to read 50 books during 2019. Considering I’m already on book 10 and it’s only February, I think I’ll be fine. I know what you’re thinking, she has too much time on her hands, right? Well some would argue yes, but I am trying to write my own novel so it’s important I read a lot for ‘research’ I also suffer terrible insomnia so most of my reading is done in the deep dark of the night when I’ve given up on tossing and turning.

Since I announced I’d started my own novel a lot of people message me about books. I’ve even got chatting to established authors and have been given some great advice and book recommendations. I’m going to list my favourites books that I’ve read this year so far and why I love them. My favourite genre is psychological thriller, but that’s not all serial killers and detectives as people very often think. It’s whatever keeps you guessing, on edge, turning pages right to the end. You know that phrase ‘couldn’t put it down’ that’s what I get from thrillers. That need to keep reading even when your eyes are struggling to stay open. The below list is not in order, it would be too difficult for me to decide on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so I’m just going to list them in no particular order.

  • Little White Lies by Lucy Dawson – This was the first of Lucy’s books I had read and I’d come across great reviews. The reviewers weren’t lying. It was gripping. From start to finish I was constantly questioning the characters and their motives. You read this from a first person protagonist only to then start reading from a different perspective. It’s extremely well written and the storyline is believable and in parts, quite chilling. I would highly recommend!
  • The Daughter by Lucy Dawson – Again this is another great and gripping book by Lucy, written in the first person. The story begins with a mother losing her child and the events that follow are scary and also emotionally traumatic, being a mum myself I could really empathise with the main character. Another 5* ending too and one I didn’t see coming.
  • Bad Blood by Victoria Selman – This is Victoria’s first novel and introduces the larger than life character that is Ziba McKenzie, a detective profiler. Victoria has clearly done her research as throughout the book Ziba’s character was relatable and interesting, again mostly written in first person you really got to know her character right from the first page. It’s the right amount of chilling and graphic. It did keep me up a few night’s and some weird dreams followed. I have recently learned that Victoria is due to release book two in March with Ziba as the protagonist again, I’ve already got it on pre order.
  • You let me in by Lucy Clarke – I am a huge fan of Lucy and have read all of her books to date but this was definitely up there with the favourites. She manages to combine normalcy with spine chilling and this book is no exception. Any Claire McIntosh fans out there definitely need to get behind Lucy Clarke. Picture English seaside meets Bates Motel, quite brilliant in it’s own right.

Well I hope that’s enough for you to be going on with. I am currently reading ‘Behind Closed Doors‘ by Kathryn Croft. I was up until 2am desperate for just one more chapter so I hope for a hell raising conclusion. It’s my first Kathryn Croft book, but if the ending is anything like the beginning it definitely wont be my last.

What makes a writer, a good one?

What makes someone a good writer?

Is it the difference between being able to write a poem, or a book? Do you need to be able to do both in order to demonstrate capability? Or is it someone who writes only in the Queen’s English?

The answer to all the above questions are of course no. The definition of a ‘good’ writer has no bounds. It’s not determined by ‘one size fits all’ its versatile.

Much like myself. I like to write both stories, and poetry, and as you know I’m a huge fan of a blog post or 6. I started blogging mainly to document my pregnancy back some three years ago now. I know, another ‘mum’ blog – insert eye roll emoji at your will. But, in my defence I had a pretty interesting story. It wasn’t your bog standard birthing book that’s for sure. Since then, I’ve been reminded of my passion for words and literacy. My abilities aren’t superior, I don’t write in the Queen’s English (although I am a bit of a grammar nerd) but that’s not necessarily what defines my style of writing. Since studying copywriting I’ve learnt nothing, accept how ‘not’ to use her majesty’s Royal ‘we.’ Words aren’t what make a writer. The message is what maketh the writer. If you can connect with your audience, whoever that might be, then you yourself are what I like to call a good writer. Whatever your chosen writing style, and it may change along the way, whatever it is only matters to the person who’s reading it.

So when you’re filling out your CV don’t be bland and boring just because it’s formatted, connect with your reader, explain your skills and what you bring to the table with passion. The ability to sell yourself is something most people assume a writer doesn’t need. WRONG. Even introverted writers, write to connect! The message needs to be powerful, bold and from a place of passion. Whether it’s to sell holidays in the Caribbean or writing the next best seller. Know who’s reading, and talk to them, through the words on your page. I know my linked in profile is professional, but I try to link my personal and professional life in order to make me an honest candidate for any new job application. I know not everyone reading my blogs will relate, nor will they love me for them, but they’ll get to know me, because that’s who I’m selling, and it’s all done with the power of words.

Winging it

When I decided to resign from my job I was excited, full of hope at all the spare time I’d have to write. Truth is I have absolutely no spare time, there’s ALWAYS something to do at home. At work, it’s just your job that needs doing until you get home, at home all day and it’s the dishes, the washing, the dust on the skirting boards, the charity shop clothes bags, the shopping, the planning and prepping dinner from scratch etc.

How did I manage that before you ask? I didn’t.

Before, I didn’t do the shopping, well not physically anyway. Amazon pantry was my bff along with whichever super market had the best BOGOFF deals. Before, I didn’t clean the skirting boards or do the sorting for the charity shops, I just lived in a mess. So why am I doing it now? Because it does need doing, and now I don’t have a hard day’s work an as excuse as to why I’m not getting it done.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, it’s great that I have time to do all this stuff, but I have found little if no time at all to write, study, or do any of the things I said I was going to do.

When I was working, my mum did the school runs, Shaun did the washing, we ate from jars, and the shopping was delivered at a time of my choosing. But I find, rightly or wrongly, it’s expected of you to get things done if ‘You’re at home all day’ remember though, we’re still doing school run’s or looking after little people, we’re still trying (at least I am) to get some work done.

I can actually take an oath that I haven’t watch a SINGLE episode of Jeremy Kyle since leaving work. I have however, caught up on Lose Women on more than one occasion.

I really miss the social bustle of working for a large organisation and I’ve gone from feeling excited to feeling scared and at times lonely.

I want to be successful in my work, my parenting, my social groups, managing my health. I want people to believe I have it all covered from the every angle, but of course I don’t. I’m 100% winging it, with little guidance accept the online world of other mum’s who’ve followed their passions and my family and friends. The few people in my life that truly have my back, the ones that want to see me succeed are at the forefront of my mind every time I feel like quitting.

I may never succeed in my dream to write a novel, but I sure as shit won’t, if I don’t even try.

So it’s with a slight wobble I’m reminding you (and myself) to keep going. To let your creativity drive you in whatever form you find it. To keep at it because mama’s don’t quit and diva’s don’t lie down.

I will tell myself and you, everyday if I have to, that WE have got this.

And when we don’t got it, there’s always Guinness.