Claire King


Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

No Spoilers Please

Posted on: April 25th, 2016 by Claire - 4 Comments

What makes something a spoiler?

Although my new novel isn’t out until July, it’s been available on NetGalley for a while for reviewers to get hold of, a few uncorrected proofs have been sent out and there was recently a Goodreads giveaway, so it’s now in (very modest) circulation.

A few reviews have started to pop up, and since they are so lovely – and also gratifying for an author with pre-launch wobbles (PLWs) – I thought I would add some of the comments onto my Everything Love Is book page.  You can see that here.

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However, in order to do that I had to edit out a few lines of what I would consider to be spoilers. I don’t believe for one minute that the reviewers considered their (very kind and insightful) words that way. But some of the comments included information that, as the author, I’d prefer future readers discovered at their own pace, through the story itself. And if they learn about it before diving in, well, it could spoil the read. Not ruin it, but still make it somehow less gratifying than I had intended, and tried to achieve through the (meticulous) way I wrote it.

With The Night Rainbow there was a huge potential spoiler, and to start with I was quite obsessive about looking at reviews to see if it had slipped out, and thanking reviewers for their discretion! I knew how easily it could be mentioned when trying to summarise what the book was about.* Thankfully only a few reader reviews ever mentioned it, although one national newspaper mentioned it in the first line of their otherwise glowing review. We couldn’t do anything about the thousands of print editions, although at Bloomsbury’s request they did edit the online version.

*I know how hard it is to answer the question “What is it about?” because I am asked it often and struggle to respond in any meaningful way. With some books it’s not a problem – it’s easy to talk plot points without spoiling the story – but with the kind of books I write, it isn’t and I find it easiest to stay thematic. With The Night Rainbow I would say it was about hope, our human struggles with grief, and the tenacity of children. With Everything Love Is I am simply telling people it’s a love story. I do realise that these are not always satisfactory answers, and I’m sorry about that. This is why I need reviewers, obviously.

I am always so moved by the careful way people phrase book reviews. I think that because book reviewers are book lovers, they  are sensitive to avoiding sharing plot points that could affect someone else’s experience of the book, even when this makes writing a review much harder to do. The question is, where is the line drawn between explaining something that gives a little context to the book, and revealing a spoiler, and as an author, should we just try not to get involved? After all, once our novels are published what people say about them is out of our hands.  We cannot curate readers’ experiences of our books any more than we can govern if they like them or not.



Does Amazon block reviews from Twitter/Facebook followers?

Posted on: December 17th, 2015 by Claire - 3 Comments

Several authors have had complaints from readers recently that they have tried to leave reviews on amazon and not been allowed to do so.

The belief is that amazon is changing its review policy and if amazon can see (by authors/readers connecting their social media accounts such as facebook and twitter to their amazon account) that you are somehow connected, they will view the reviews as biased and will delete them.

Of course this seems like a crazy policy: readers like to connect to authors on social media and authors like to connect to them. Readers like to leave book reviews and authors LOVE that. Reviews help other people find our books. (Thank you readers).

And yet, many authors seem to have resolved their readers’ review issues by disconnecting their social media accounts from their amazon accounts.

I wrote to amazon to get clarity on their policy.

Here is their reply in full:

Mixed Reviews

Posted on: May 29th, 2014 by Claire - 6 Comments

As I’m sure you’ll be aware, the extraordinary, inspirational woman, Maya Angelou, died yesterday.

She had an astonishingly rich life, starting right at the bottom of the pile and ending her life as a teacher, a role model, a treasure and an inspiration to millions.

Maya Angelou

I came to know of her first through her poetry. The first poem I read of hers was Still I Rise, which is one of my favourite poems to this day. I re-read it often and it still makes me cry and it still makes me feel stronger. You can find it on YouTube being read by Maya herself.

Yet when Wikipedia, and some obituaries out today, mention Maya Angelou’s poetry they say it ‘received mixed reviews’.

I’ve seen this phrase before and I don’t like it. It often seems to be used as a euphemism for ‘Wasn’t particularly special.’ But I think poetry should receive mixed reviews. I think poetry, and all forms of writing should aim to speak powerfully, but not to every reader and not to every reviewer. Books that are unanimously feted and glorified make me suspicious, and might in fact disappoint readers if, as is sometimes the case, it turns out to be a matter of The Emperors New Clothes. Only by reading widely do you find the words that reach into you.

Nor should writers worry about the prospect of ‘mixed reviews’. Trying to please everybody can only make your writing weaker, because it can no longer come from the heart.

Maya Angelou herself said “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou Walking Along Beach


The photos in this post are taken from Maya Angelou’s biography on

Following a Trail of Thoughts.

Posted on: November 25th, 2013 by Claire - 2 Comments

Sometimes people visit this blog via a link from another website, and of course I like to pop over and see who sent them here.

– Today I found myself at the blog of Mitzi, whose blog is Tea & Biscuits & A Good Book (and who can argue with that?) and who has just finished reading The Night Rainbow (in the bath).

I had a look around her blog and was interested to see that Mitzi lists three criteria for how she chooses her books, and the first is:

“1. Recommendation – you know whether your taste in reading material is the same as the person who recommends it.”

Sure enough, in her review Mitzi mentions that she had heard about The Night Rainbow last month from Jo, at her blog Through The Keyhole.

I followed the trail, and in reading Jo’s post, I found that in her turn she had come to the book through recommendation, having heard about The Night Rainbow from Anna at the Green Tapestry blog, (a gardening and allotment notebook), who had written a post back in August talking about her summer holiday reading.

I usually try not to read too many reviews, as I’m finding that what people have to say about a book that has been published somehow affects how I feel about the one I’m writing now. But as an author it was a joyful little moment, finding this organic trail of blog posts. It’s reassuring to see readers picking up on recommendations and passing them on in their turn, and a privilege to peek at the dialogue between the bloggers and the readers who leave comments.

So my thanks to each of these three bloggers for sharing their thoughts, and to everyone who has taken the time to write a review or simply to tell others how you’ve enjoyed reading The Night Rainbow. After the brief burst of excitement over the launch of a book, I honestly believe it’s people like you who determine how it fares in the long run.

Tea and Biscuits

If you’re interested in other blogs where you can find book recommendations, I did a series of interviews with book bloggers earlier this year. Start here and follow the trail!

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Word of Mouth: Rob Around Books

Posted on: May 14th, 2013 by admin - 4 Comments

Thank you to everyone who has given this series of blog posts such a warm reception. I’m so pleased you’ve been interested in finding out more about people who blog about and review books online. My last guest is Rob, aka Rob Around Books. Rob describes himself both as a ‘book sniffing weirdo’ and as a ‘literary evangelist’, and having known him online for 3 years now, I’d say that’s a fair assessment!

Rob with Joyce

When did you become a literary evangelist and why? Has reviewing books changed the way you read?

I’d like to think that I’ve always been something of a ‘literary evangelist’, but it’s only been about a year or so since I first started labelling myself as such. It all came about when I realised that the term ‘blogger’ just didn’t really fit with what I stand for in the world of book reviewing. You see, my main aim in doing what I do is to encourage people to pick up books and read – nothing more, nothing less. And the most powerful ‘weapon’ I have at my disposal is my own passion and enthusiasm for the written word. I guess I view reading as a form of religion, and to spread this ‘religion’ effectively involves plenty of overzealous preaching to the masses, much like an evangelist who spreads the word of the gospel. It all sounds a bit nuts I know, and as though I have ideas above my station, but in reality ‘literary evangelism’ is just a fun role that I try to live up to.

You describe sharing your passion for reading as a kind of religion. To continue the metaphor, do you remember the moment when you were ‘converted’?

My ‘conversion’ came at a fairly young age. As an only child I used to spend a lot of time on my own. I was never unhappy, but more often than not I had to find ways to entertain myself, especially during the summer months when I stayed with my grandparents in the country village where they lived. It was here that I first discovered the wonderful world of Just William and The Famous Five. These books gave me so much entertainment and companionship, and they fuelled my imagination as I recreated scenes from these books in the open countryside around me.

As far as my conversion to literature goes, I have a lot to be thankful to my grandparents for. They, together my parents, were very encouraging when it comes to reading, and there was never a time when a new book wasn’t sitting there waiting to be read.

As time progressed I did gravitate more towards nonfiction – nature, science, history etc. to the point where I never really read much fiction. In fact my conversion back to fiction only returned in recent years, when I realised once again just how much value I got from reading novels, and especially the classics.


Are you a literary superhero, and if so what is your mild mannered alter ego? How do the two get along?

Oh I don’t know, ‘literary superhero’ sounds awfully pretentious doesn’t it? That said, I was playing the role of ‘literary superhero’ last year as part of Book Week Scotland’s celebration of the written word. Selected as one of the members of the League of Extraordinary Booklovers, my job was to dispense book advise to all those seeking it. It was a lot of fun – the perfect job for me you might say – and I even came away with my own cape and a mask to keep the persona going in my own time, and to remind me of the rewarding time I had during what was a wonderfully bookish week.

Do I really consider myself to be a literary superhero though? Well if superhero powers are measured in terms of passion and enthusiasm then I guess I am, but in reality I’m just a regular guy with an insatiable passion for the written word and a drive to get others reading. Have I a mild mannered alter ego? Well, if you’re asking if I’m ever away from books, then the answer is no. I do take time to connect with the world around me of course, but barely a minute goes past without the written word being somewhere at the forefront of my mind. I know, there’s an institution for people like me, right? 🙂


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

I get many highs from reviewing books, and one or two lows as well. The biggest high of course comes from finding out that your reviews have made a difference to somebody, whether that be author or reader. I get no greater satisfaction than hearing that a book I’ve shone a light on has motivated others to read it, and a word of appreciation from the author him/herself makes all of the countless hours of effort worth it. The biggest prize of all in this respect, is hearing that I’ve encouraged a non or seldom reader to pick up a book. When that happens I can think of no bigger high.

I’ve also connected with a phenomenal number of beautiful minds through reviewing – authors, fellow reviewers, publishing people, book lovers – who have given me more than I could ever give back. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve felt truly blessed to be in the company of such people – both virtually and in person – and it is, for me, one of the major plus points of reviewing.

Additionally, book reviewing not only brings me to books I may never have considered, but it also ensures that I connect with a book with more thoughtfulness and depth than I might have given it otherwise. That niggling reminder in the back of my head that you’re sharing your reading experience with others is a great concentrator. It’s like reading a book for a test I guess, and we all know how much more attention we give to our reading when it’s for such an important purpose as this, right? So what I’m saying I suppose, is I get way much more out of a book when I’m reading it for review.

As to the downsides of book reviewing? Well, the most noticeable thing is how much time it sucks out of your life. If you’re going to commit to reviewing books with any kind of seriousness then be prepared to invest many long and torturous hours. This game is seriously time consuming, and although there are rewards are there to be reaped, the time investment often outweighs the benefits. There is no end to it either. It’s perpetual, and if you have an anxiety linked to never being able to get to all the books you want to read in a lifetime, then it that anxiety becomes ten times worse when you start book reviewing. Arrggghhh!!!

Although you do review some general fiction, you tend to steer into other areas. How would you describe your taste in literature? What makes something stand out for you?

Oh, I think my literary tastes are definitely eclectic, and a little left of field. I’m a little strange in that I tend to steer away from books that are heavily marketed and/or being spoken about by everyone, because as snobbish as it may sound I like to read differently so that I can bring something different to the table, so to speak. The Japanese author Haruki Murakami once remarked, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”, and this I’ve adopted as a mantra, not at all to be pretentious or exclusive, but just to add something new to the mix.

I also consider it something of a duty to shine a light on lesser supported titles (debuts, releases from small presses) and genres (particularly translated fiction and short fiction), and there’s nothing that satisfies me more than when I’ve encouraged somebody to read a book that they’ve never heard of before, or to engage in a genre that’s new to them.

As for what makes something stand out for me? Well, it’s certainly not ‘shiny and new’ that does it for me. Rather it’s literary works which have stood the test of time. It saddens me to see so many readers these days easily seduced by fancy covers and clever marketing. As a society we have an obsession with the new and the up-to-date, and consequently we shun anything that’s more than five minutes old. We pick up the latest literary creation from an author of the minute and we hail their writing as the greatest thing that we’ve ever read, yet most people have not really read anything more than a handful of years old.

No, the real treasures in my mind are the ones that are already under our noses i.e. the works of literature that have fuelled past generations and have endured. For example, I remember re-reading The Great Gatsby not long ago and telling people that once you’ve read this literary masterpiece you realise that there is nobody alive today that can even get close to touching the genius of Fitzgerald. And the same in my opinion goes for the likes of Steinbeck, Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Chekhov and Maupassant, to name but five. Recently, I’ve discovered the Canadian author, Morley Callaghan who seems largely forgotten outside of Canada, and yet reading him one discovers just how alive and precise his writing is, and how easy it is to engage with. His novels and short fiction zing with freshness and they feel as invigorating today as they must have during the decades they were first published. In other words Callaghan’s prose has very much stood the test of time, and this is very much what makes something stand out for me.


Where do you get your reading recommendations from? 

My reading recommendations come from all over the place. Friends and colleagues are a big source, and I include the dear people that I know and love on Twitter and Facebook in this. Never a day goes past when I’m not noting down another half-a-dozen books or so that people have enthused so magnificently about.

Literary award longlists and shortlists are also a big source of reading inspiration for me. I don’t tend to focus on the bigger prizes so much, like The Man Booker and Costa Book Awards for instance, but more specialist prizes such as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, are constant sources of inspiration.

Finally, books themselves are a primary source for recommendations. Books about books especially are like untapped gold mines waiting to be discovered. My current infatuation with the Canadian, Morley Callaghan came about solely as a result of reading about him in Joe Queenan’s ‘One for the Books’. And, my love affair with the ‘father of the essay’ Michel de Montaigne, stemmed from reading Sarah Bakewell’s ingenious biography on the man, ‘How to Live’.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

I use star ratings for my reviews and have always done so. However, I would never use such a system works on its own because I don’t think it works. But when used in conjunction with a written review it does offer a reader an instant snapshot of a reviewer’s opinion. As to a star rating’s meaning? Well, it’s intuitive enough surely? 5 stars signifies a triumph, while 1 star means it’s a bit of a flop. Anything in between is a variance between these two extremes.


Recommend me three books (or other pieces of literature) that have blown you away

Herodotus’ The Histories – This is the book that made me want to study history at university. It’s all about epic wars, lost civilisations, great kings, myths and legends. What’s not to like?

Shusaku Endo’s Silence – Based around the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan, this is one of those deeply affecting novels that climbs to the bottom of your soul and lives there for ever more. Martin Scorsese is meant to be adapting this for the big screen, with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the chief missionary who bears witness to the all the wrongdoings, but thus far nothing has materialised.

John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row – When people recommend John Steinbeck they usually talk Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men or East of Eden. However, my favourite Steinbeck novel is Cannery Row. Populated by endearing and never forgotten characters, Cannery Row is by far Steinbeck’s greatest triumph, and although it’s nowhere near as epic in scale as Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden, it’s the kind of novel that has your mind continually wandering back to it, even years after first reading it.

Many thanks to Rob for his illuminating evangelism, and once again to the others who took part. Do explore their websites, and if you’ve enjoyed this post, please do visit the other interviews in the series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

 Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

– Teresa – Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan – Words of Mercury

– Lindsay – Little Reader Library

– Ann – Random things through my Letterbox


Word of Mouth: Random Things Through my Letterbox

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 by admin - 3 Comments

A warm welcome to the lovely Anne Cater today, in the penultimate post in my week of book bloggers.

Anne Cater

Anne, your blog is Random Things Through My Letterbox, and as well as reviewing books you review well, pretty much anything. What is the strangest thing you’ve reviewed?

I must admit that although I started the blog with the intention of talking about everything that arrived through the letterbox, over the years it has slowly morphed into a ‘book review’ blog and not much else. There have been a couple of very random items though; a foil blanket for use in emergencies, some Angel Delight ice cream and a packet of cat shaped paperclips stick in my mind quite clearly. My difficulty is with blogging about them, and making it entertaining for readers.


Where do your books come from, how many books do you read per month on average, and has reviewing them changed what and how you read?

Books arrive on an almost daily basis! I’ve always posted reviews of books that I’ve read on various websites; Amazon, Good Reads, Waterstones etc, and usually had a good response. Over the past year I’ve started to Tweet my reviews and this has certainly attracted lots of attention from publishers and authors. I’m now on the mailing list for various publishers who send books out randomly and I do receive lots of requests via my blog for reviews.

On average, I read around 12 books per month and this has not changed since I started reviewing, I’ve always been a quick reader. I don’t think that reviewing has changed how I read but it has certainly changed what I read. Although I still read my favourite authors, I now experiment with genres that I probably would not have considered in the past, not because I didn’t think that I would enjoy them, but purely because I wouldn’t have even heard of them. The internet is a wonderful thing, it has opened up the world of literature so freely to everyone. I often spend hours just browsing online – reading other reviews, noting down titles on my ever expanding wish-list, just totally immersing myself in the world of books and reading.


You say publishers send out books randomly. As an author this interests me – just as we are advised to approach agents who are interested in our ‘genre’, so I would have imagined publishers target their ARC mailings. Not the case then? If you were asked to advise publishers on approaching book bloggers, what advice would you give?

I’d guess that publishers do target their ARC mailings as I rarely receive books that I’m not interested in.  When I say ‘randomly’, I mean that they arrive without notice and I’ll often receive 3 or 4 books from the same publisher within a couple of weeks, and then none from them for ages.

I’d advise publishers to take a look through a blogger’s reviews, to  get a feel for what they like to read first, and then make their approach.  It’s always good to receive a copy of the the press release, the blurb about the book and maybe a little about the author.  Most bloggers are delighted to get on to a publisher’s mailing list, but I’d advise the publisher to ask about any genre of book the blogger really doesn’t want to read rather than ask what they do like.


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

The highs including receiving so many beautiful new books through the letterbox. I still get a tingly, joyful feeling every time a new book arrives.
As a result of my blog, last year I was invited to be part of the first Pan Macmillan Reader’s Group Panel, made up of book reviewers from around the country. We have met up three times so far, to read and discuss a book, and then help to produce the reading group guide material that will be in the paperback edition. Pan Macmillan have treated us to cocktails and afternoon tea, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet and chat to authors – it’s been wonderful, and I’m honoured to be part of it.

The low points are few, but I often feel a little anxious that I won’t be able to get a review done on time. I work full-time as a Community Development Worker, I also do voluntary work, so blogging and reviewing is very much a spare-time occupation, as much as I’d love to do it full-time. My working hours are flexible, and I’m a night-owl so many of my reviews are done late at night.
Also, I’m so aware that I’m a reader and not a writer and am often worried that my reviews will not do the book justice. I admire authors, and I could never write a novel so I always try to be as constructive with any criticism as I can.

If I really don’t have anything good to say about a book, then I won’t publish a review.


You talk about anxiety over not getting a review done on time – do you feel a pressure to time your reviews around specific dates? Do you think that readers prefer to see several reviews go up all in the same week (a big ‘push’) on a new book?

Not all publishers ask that reviews are posted in time for publication date, but I do like to try and make sure that reviews are up either before, or the same week as publication date. If a publisher or author has specifically asked me to review a book, then I will prioritise it for publication date where I can. If I’ve received a book with no prior notice, then I will review it as near to publication date as possible – it doesn’t always work that way though. I’ve noticed that there are some dates during the year when quite a few books are published, for example 14 March and 9 May this year were particularly busy publication dates, there was no way I was able to read and review all of them for the same date.
I have to admit that a couple of months ago, I actually started a ‘review spreadsheet’! It sounds a big geeky, but it has made it easier for me!

As a reader, I tend to read reviews by bloggers/reviewers that I follow and trust, so lots of reviews of the same book can be really interesting – it’s interesting to compare views and thoughts.


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?

My book tastes are wide and varied and I will give pretty much anything a go. I enjoy non-fiction as well as fiction, although I don’t tend to read as many non-fiction titles.
I guess that contemporary, modern fiction is my favourite genre – a bit of a cop-out really as that would cover a range. I enjoy crime fiction and a good psychological thriller that makes me think will always be a winner.
Over the past few years, I’ve started to read more and more Young Adult fiction, although I have passed on the vampire/werewolf fad. I prefer gritty and real over witches and magic.

What makes a book good? A book that stays with me for a while, that makes me think and that I enjoy reading. The subject matter doesn’t have to be ‘pleasant’ as long as the writing is engaging.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

Personally, I’d rather do without the star ratings. I don’t use them on my blog but have no choice if I want to post my reviews on sites such as Amazon and Good Reads. I rarely take any notice of a star rating either, preferring to read reviews by bloggers/reviewers whose tastes I already know and trust. Star ratings are so subjective. I may have loved the reading experience although the writing may not have been great.

I really enjoyed The Da Vinci Code – it kept me up until the small hours, yet I appreciate that the writing is not brilliant. So what do I do? Give it 5 stars because I really enjoyed it, or 3 stars because the writing is not perfect?

I know exactly what you mean. There’s such a difference between a critical review and a rating which says how much you enjoyed a book. Great point.


Anne, You don’t read ebooks, is that correct? Do you think that the market will eventually push you in that direction? What for you is the difference between reading on paper and on a screen?

Ah! The BIG issue! No, I don’t read e-books, although I do have the Kindle app on my iPad and have tried it – I’ve read 2 books on there and although both books were very good, I really didn’t enjoy the experience. I am not against ebooks and ereaders at all, I think that for people who love gadgets (stereotypically, probably men and young people), ebooks are wonderful and will encourage new readers.

I’m not sure that the market will push me in the direction of ebooks – not in my lifetime anyway, but I’ve love to be around in 100 years, to see the world of books then. I have over 1200 books on my TBR (to be read) pile – yes, that is crazy, and yes they take up space in my (small) house – but I love being surrounded by books, I love browsing through them, reading the backs, looking at the covers, re-arranging them, just anticipating them. People always try to sell the Kindle for travelling, but one of my favourite parts of preparing to go on holiday, is choosing which books to take. I usually take books that have been on the shelf for ages, usually quite easy reads. I love discovering the bookshelves in the apartments and bars when we are in Greece, and leaving my books there for someone else to enjoy – and taking a couple away myself.
Reading on paper v reading on screen? For me, there is no comparison – it’s not so much the actual reading, but just holding a book. I’ve had a book on my person at all times since I was 10 years old and would feel lost without one. An ereader just doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me, or smell right! I love that book smell – whether it’s a brand-new book or an old, battered paperback.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away.

I could name more than three, but the following are the ones that always spring to mind when asked this question:

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – This book was a turning-point for me in terms of what I read. My boss lent it to me and urged me to read it, back in 2006. Although I’d always been an avid reader, until then I usually read best-sellers and the sort of fiction found on the supermarket shelves. The Shadow of the Wind changed my reading habits forever. I was transfixed, it was like nothing I’d ever read before – totally magic.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – I’d read The Kite Runner and enjoyed it. My friend Teresa (Lovely Treez Reads) gave me her copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns and I still treasure it. It takes the reader on an emotional journey that I found physically painful at times, yet so important, and so beautifully written. I think one of the main reasons that this novel blew me away is because the author is male, yet the story is told through female eyes – very clever, and incredibly well done.

Room by Emma Donoghue – I’d been a fan of Emma Donoghue for a while and bought Room as soon as it was published in hardback – more because of the author, than because of the blurb. It is a work of genius, she is a genius! Her ability to weave a story never ceases to amaze me. The language is astounding, the impact of the story is long-lasting. This should be a classic in years to come.

Thank you, Anne for coming by to chat!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, don’t miss the others in the series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

 Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

– Teresa – Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan – Words of Mercury

– Lindsay – Little Reader Library

– Rob – Rob around Books

Word of Mouth: Little Reader Library

Posted on: May 12th, 2013 by Claire - 7 Comments

For the fifth in my series of seven book bloggers is Lindsay Healy aka The Little Reader Library. I got to know Lindsay via Twitter and really enjoy reading her reviews.

Lindsay Healey

Why do you blog about books? How many books do you read per month on average and has blogging about them changed the way you read?

I started writing reviews of books a few years ago, placing them on Amazon, then writing them for Newbooks magazine. Then I began to notice and read a couple of book blogs and one day decided to try it myself, as a way of collating the reviews I wrote for different places into one site.
I blog because I enjoy books and I enjoy writing about them, and I’d like to write my own book one day.
The quantity I read varies a lot. It can depend on a lot of factors, but especially on mood. Some months I have read twelve books, others only three or four, and it depends on the books themselves, how I feel, and so on. I wish I could read faster but I can’t otherwise I miss things and have to re-read.
Blogging has meant that I have read a lot of new authors, I’ve started to read e-books, I’ve read books I would very likely have never come across otherwise.


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

Highs – I love sharing the excitement when I’ve just read a book and thought, wow! It’s wonderful to think that someone might read my blog and pick up a book because I’ve written about it recommending it. It’s lovely when people say that they saw a review on my blog and went and bought the book because they thought they’d like it too; a really rewarding feeling.
I’ve also had the chance to ‘meet’ (virtually at least!) some lovely authors who have featured on my blog; this is an aspect that I didn’t anticipate – I thought it would just be book reviews but now I feature author guest posts, interviews and excerpts from books too.
By reviewing books, I have received some lovely books pre-publication and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to read some of these releases early.
Getting to know other book lovers through their blogs and through twitter has been great.

Lows – I really enjoy writing my blog but there have certainly been things that have made me enjoy it less sometimes as time has gone on. There can be pressure from authors/publishers to review their books within a certain time span and having certain expectations and this has reduced my enjoyment of reading and made reading and blogging feel more like a job and not a pleasure. This is something I am really aware of now and I am trying to get back to the feeling of reading being a joy and not a stress otherwise it will be ruined for me. I guess partly if a book blog is doing well then it will attract a lot of requests and I was too eager to say yes to want to please everyone and I’ve realised I need to say no a lot more now in the hope of being able to feel less stressed about it. Unfortunately there is never enough time to read all the books we might want to read. Blogging has introduced me to so many new books and new authors which is wonderful, but it means that I sometimes have read books that I feel I ‘should’ read instead of ones I would like to read. I’d like to change that back.


Regarding the pressure to review more books than you can manage, have you thought of (or heard of) setting up a book bloggers collective, where you ‘share out’ the books? I’ve just discovered Bloggers Recommend in the USA, which seems to bring a number of bloggers together in one place. Smart idea?

I hadn’t heard of the book bloggers’ collective before but it sounds like a clever idea; I think a lot of bloggers must have numerous books around the house that they perhaps will never read and it’s great to pass them on to other keen readers rather than them languishing forgotten. What I’ve done myself on my blog recently is I’ve invited book-loving friends who I’ve got to know online through a book forum to read some of my review books and write an occasional guest review for my blog. I think and hope that this has worked well and offered a different perspective and style from my writing too for readers of my blog, and it has given some readers a chance to have a go at writing a review too.


I do empathise with the feeling that book blogging can start to feel like a job, and of course an unpaid one at that. It’s a lot of effort to craft a well written review, more so than a general blog post. It amazes me how many people do this. Would you ever consider reviewing professionally, or adding some kind of revenue stream to your site?

I appreciate what you’ve said about it being a lot of effort to craft a well-written review. I’ve often spent many hours writing my reviews, and thinking about what I want to say. Sometimes I’m really pleased with how a review has flowed, other times I just can’t seem to put together what I want to say very well. I am my own biggest and harshest critic. I don’t know if there are many opportunities for bloggers to move into reviewing professionally, and whilst on the one hand it might sound ideal because I am already reading and reviewing a lot, to be able to earn some money through my love of books and reading, on the other hand reading then really would be equated with work, and it has never been about financial recompense for me. Plus I suppose I’d worry if the enjoyment and relaxation that should come from reading may be lost even more then.


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?

When I was younger I read lots of classics and loved novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Thomas Hardy novels, and then as a student I read lots of German and some French literature. Now I tend to read a lot more new books, and I have quite broad tastes; I can enjoy reading a cracking crime novel one week and an historical novel the next, but I’d like to return to some of the classics one day. It’s hard as there are so many wonderful books and the more involved in the book world you get, the more books you find out about, and the ones you wish to read just spirals out of control!

A good book is one that has characters who fascinate me whether I love or hate them, a storyline that I am intrigued by and desperate to continue with, a beautiful use of language, or it may call out to me personally.


So many people this week have cited Jane Eyre as an all time favourite book. What is it about this book that has stayed with you?

I think it’s because it’s a captivating story that has got a bit of everything; love, passion, desire, friendship, loneliness, poverty, sadness, cruelty, madness, tragedy, wit, such vivid, memorable characters and all against the superb backdrop of the wild and rugged Yorkshire moors landscape. I grew up not that far from Haworth and have visited quite a few times, walking the steep cobbled streets and exploring the Parsonage and it was exciting to think such talented authors had lived there.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

When I started my blog, I did use star ratings, but for a long time now I haven’t used them. I do add my book reviews to amazon and goodreads, and some on waterstones, and obviously then you are compelled to give a star rating, and I do so using the terminology they supply as a guideline.

I stopped using stars on my own reviews for a few reasons. One, because I think it is very difficult to give totally different books from different genres a comparative rating. Another reason is that I felt that people would just have a quick look at the rating, and not read the actual review I’d written, which is the true indicator of what I thought.

Also I think that people view them very differently, so what you rate a book may be interpreted differently by someone else. I saw an author comment about how to see a three star rating on goodreads as a good thing once. Well, three stars on goodreads means ‘I liked it’ and is a good rating, but evidently some are not happy to receive this. Also, a lot of bloggers/reviewers have different interpretations of what the star ratings mean; I know some bloggers who very rarely give a five star rating, others who give this for most books, so how can it be very helpful to compare them.

They can be a good guideline, but the words of the review and the fact that the reader trusts the reviewer is much more important.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away.

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman – an intelligent, brilliant and important novel that made a big impression on me.

The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn – I became completely immersed in the world of this beautiful novel.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes – I found this book absolutely compelling and utterly convincing.


Thank you, Lindsay for coming by to chat.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, don’t miss the others in the series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

 Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

– Teresa – Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan – Words of Mercury

– Anne – Random Things Through my Letterbox

– Rob – Rob around Books


Word of Mouth: Words of Mercury

Posted on: May 10th, 2013 by admin - 2 Comments

You really do meet all sorts of interesting people on twitter through a shared love of books. Today’s guest book blogger is Alan, aka Words of Mercury, a PhD student at Durham University who also maintains a cracking blog on books.

Alan Bowden cufflinks

Could you tell us a little about your PhD? What are you working on, and where would you like to go with it afterwards?

I’m working on the role of attention in aesthetic experience: what is it, exactly, that paying attention, either mental or perceptual, does for our experience or awareness of aesthetic properties or features of art, nature, and everyday life. That’s meant that I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about the kinds of experiences we have in daily life which differ markedly from the kinds of special experiences we aim for in the art gallery, theatre, or nature reserve. Those are the kinds of experience to which we pay attention – after all, that’s why we went in the first place. My central question, then, is whether everyday life – when we are too busy to pay attention to much of our surroundings and their features – can support aesthetic experiences or some kind of aesthetic engagement with the world even without our being aware of it.

Attention (suitably understood) plausibly affects the complexity of the properties we can perceive as well as the sophistication and accessibility of those experiences for higher cognitive functions like appreciation and judgement. Or so I argue.

As to where I go after all that is done with, I’m not sure. Academia is always a possibility, of course (should one be able to find a job). But I would like to continue thinking and writing about books and, eventually, to write them as well. So we’ll see.


Why do you blog about books? Has reviewing books changed the way you read?

I began blogging about books when Penguin started something called the Penguin Proof Group on Google+ last year. I thought it sounded like a good diversion from my PhD, so I set up my blog and put my name down for Evan Connell’s Mrs Bridge. I’ve had a few blogs in the past which had some bits and pieces of philosophy and art criticism posted (the exhibition reviews are up on my current blog), but none of them had really stuck and I’d never been able to engage with other people. That all changed when I got to know people on Twitter and found lots of excellent book blogs on all sorts of books. Suddenly I could talk to all sorts of people with all kinds of approach to writing and reading.

So, I began blogging about books as a sort of side project, but I’ve kept on doing so because I really enjoy discovering new things and talking about them with others. My literary horizons have really expanded. I knew a lot about books already, but I feel like reviewing has given me more traction. I also think (hope) that my writing has great improved as I’ve learnt how to approach books and how to relax into the process. Reviewing has unquestionably changed how I read: I’m now more attentive to language, structure, and thematic development and, as I read more, I think my judgement develops as I have greater experience to draw on with each book I read. Sometimes this means I can overanalyse when I should just get on with reading, but I definitely get more out of books now that I did before.


Do you copy/paste your reviews onto places like GoodReads, Amazon etc? What do readers get from visiting book blogs rather than just browsing the book in online stores?

Not as a rule, largely because I’m not a fan of Amazon’s copyright rules for reviews. I’ve never really got into GoodReads, for no very good reason. Book blogs are great because they are far more idiosyncratic than the standard front page of an online store. Amazon and Waterstones are going to recommend you buy the latest book or one fairly similar to the last thing you bought there. Not only are bloggers more likely to read books I never would have thought of reading, they are more likely to read older books which won’t be found on online store front pages.

There is also the obvious benefit of a person whose taste you have come to understand and trust reviewing a book you might want to read, not to mention the sheer enjoyment of reading someone who has written about something because they like it and want to tell you.

Finally, I think I’ve learnt a lot about how to review and write and generally think about books from the book blogs I visit. That’s not something I could say for the average Amazon review’s writer being caught up in its own outrage over the book they ordered not involving likeable characters or being slightly the wrong colour.


It’s clear you read a lot (38 books so far this year). Was that always the case? How do you decide which books to read, and of those how do you decide which to review?

Some of those books were quite short! I’ve always read a fair amount but I think I’ve actually sped up recently even as I become more careful when I do so. I think that’s because I devote more of my time to reading these days. It’s cheaper than beer.

I try to balance working my way through books received/solicited specifically for review and the library I seem to have assembled over the years. I’d like more of a grounding in early to mid-twentieth century literature, so everyone from Woolf to B.S. Johnson are fair game there. In general it depends on my mood when I happen to finish the last book. I’m going to try and read more novels and texts on artists and creativity in the next few months so that will affect my choices. I’ve been asking everyone on twitter for their favourite novels in that vein and people have been very helpful.

I used to try and review everything I read, but I’m realising more and more that not every book one reads is suitable for reviewing: that may be because I haven’t really been able to engage with the book, it might not be for me, or it might just not be very good or interesting. These days – what with the PhD breathing down my neck – I’m much more selective. I have to really enjoy and feel that I have something interesting to say about a book to review it. (Or (foolishly) I’ve promised someone a review).


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

The high points are unquestionably reading a book you might not have picked up and finding something you never thought you would inside; the occasional review where you feel you might have written something worth reading; and the opportunity to talk to everyone from bloggers, reviewers, writers, and publishers.

The low points are those moments when you suddenly feel obligated to review a book rather than wanting to. A few months ago I managed to make myself ridiculously anxious because I was missing publication dates or the author was on twitter and I hadn’t liked the book and so on. There is also a tendency in both myself and others to be ever attracted to the new books, the shiny proofs, and the publicity-promising blog tours. This can get in the way of a proper engagement with the books that appeal to me. There is so much I haven’t read (or reread), so an infatuation with the new can be quite damaging.

That’s an interesting point, because whilst twitter can be great for networking and sharing ideas, as you get to know people it can be easy to feel obligated to buy/review or promote their books. Of course it’s impossible to do that for everyone. How do you manage life on twitter?

Fortunately the people I like best on Twitter, whilst they would love a review (who wouldn’t?), value talking to people who like books and will write and talk and them in an unpretentious and enthusiastic way. I have reviewed the books of people I know on twitter. Fortunately, I liked them. The ones I didn’t like I haven’t reviewed. Some of them I liked but haven’t got around to yet. I used to worry about that, but it’s ridiculous to be pinned down by who you happen to know on twitter. I imagine it’s the equivalent of writing blurbs for other author friends. Every now and then I get anxious because twitter has revealed a whole swathe of literature I didn’t know about, and then I rush off to a book shop and some blogs to find out what I can about those books. Fortunately I can’t buy them because my wife and I have agreed a monthly book budget. Otherwise I would be surrounded by books but a pauper. That’s the danger of twitter.


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?

I really have no idea. My taste seems to veer wildly. I love travel writing but I hardly ever review it, which is a shame. It may be pure escapism: which probably also explains my taste for fantasy and science fiction, neither of which I’m an expert in. All of those areas have serious and interesting things to say beyond their (fairly fluid) genres and I suppose I’m interested in books which really have something to say about people and things: not just stories, but ideas. But that just means I like good books – and poetry. That probably also explains my fondness for books which aren’t quite novels but aren’t quite anything else. I love Sebald, but then so does everyone else: poetic delvings into place and history are my sort of thing. Hence my enjoyment of Robert MacFarlane, Colin Thubron, and Rory Stewart, amongst others.

My favourite recent novels are from all over the place: James Smythe’s The Explorer and The Machine, Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child, Sam Byers’ Idiopathy, Nicholas Royle’s First Novel, Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, Christa Wolf’s Cassandra.

I suppose what these books have in common are a (diverse) concern for language and the nature of thought and identity, and how those two might be best married in order to represent what is important about the human and society. That might be grief and despair and its expression, the fragmented nature of thought and the illegitimacy of coherent narrative, the narcissism of our lives and rationalisations, or the fugitive nature of the mind itself. Yet, I don’t like books that become too caught up in their own style, which is why I put down Herta Müller’s The Passport last week. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner might also have become a bit too self-involved by the end.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

I’m entirely unconvinced by star ratings. Any judgement of a book has to be qualitative rather than quantitative. Books can be terrible and great for any number of very different reasons. It’s unclear how any given reviewer really thinks their actual experience of a book translates into star ratings. It’s equally unclear how a prospective reader is to interpret those ratings.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away.

Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway

Fragmented, tormented, unrelenting.

The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

Generous, lost, unbearably sad.

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

Intimate, grand, poetic.


Many thanks, Alan, for your time & your thoughts.

Do visit Alan’s blog. Also why not catch up with other interviews in this series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

 Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

Teresa – Lovely Treez Reads

– Lindsay – Little Reader Library

– Anne – Random Things Through my Letterbox

– Rob – Rob around Books

Word of Mouth: Lovely Treez Reads

Posted on: May 9th, 2013 by Claire - 4 Comments

In the third of my series of posts chatting to book bloggers, today I’m delighted to welcome Teresa aka Lovely Treez Reads

Teresa Majury

Why do you blog about books? How many books do you read per month on average and has blogging about them changed the way you read?

I don’t really see myself as a book blogger, I’m much too disorganised to have scheduled posts and monthly round ups etc!

I started reviewing books for an online bookswapping site about 6 years ago and folk there seemed to enjoy what I wrote so I became more confident about my reviews.  It’s a creative outlet for me and gives me a focus outside the world of a stay-at-home-Mum.

I read around 8 books a month and make an annual target with Good Reads which keeps me in check.  I don’t think I read any differently since starting reviewing.  I went off reading for a while after my university degree in French and Italian as I was so focussed on finding the “deep underlying meaning” and couldn’t switch off and just enjoy reading.  Now that my children are growing up, aged 9 and 13 now, I find myself reading more and more YA to discover new reads for them…and of course, we are all members of reading groups….is that not the norm? 😉

Oh I wish it was! Tell me more about your reading groups (I’m envious): have you ever had your point of view changed about a book as a result of a reading group discussion? How do the ‘live’ discussions differ from conversations online?

I really enjoy my monthly reading group at our local library.  The age range is from 30 – 65 and at the moment we only have female members although it is rumoured that a man may join our ranks in September – it will be interesting to see how this affects the group dynamic and discussions in general.  Book talk with like-minded folk is so satisfying and it is refreshing to see other viewpoints/interpretations.  We have lots of “aha” moments when someone else spots something new in a novel and as I have generally already read at least half of the chosen titles I have an opportunity to re-read novels and experience new levels of understanding.

Re the pros and cons of “live” discussion versus online, I find that conflicting opinions seem less abrupt in real life as you have the benefit of facial expression, body language and natural pauses plus there is a more natural flow to conversation.  We, as a group, also share more personal stories which all serve to  enhance the reading experience.  Our most recent read was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and we had an extremely rewarding discussion re mental health issues.

I am delighted that my son and daughter are involved in reading groups too.  They are both quite shy but reading gives them a common interest with others and an opportunity to exchange opinions.  Reading is definitely becoming a more vibrant, interactive, dare I say…cool activity.  Long may it continue!


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

High points are reading spectacular debut novels which you just want to share with everyone.  The only “low” point is wondering how I will  be able to read all of my TBR pile…reaches for the immortality pill…


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you? 

It’s probably easier to say what I don’t enjoy.  I’m not a big fan of modern romance and although I really like YA novels I prefer those with dystopian themes minus the teen angst. I dislike Misery Memoirs and Clogs and Shawls books.  My favourite reads usually have some element of quirkiness and a bit of Victorian Gothic doesn’t go amiss.

Do you ever read books that you don’t really fancy, but everyone else seems to be reading and talking about?

I tend to be a creature of habit and have had my fingers burnt when I stray too far out of my comfort zone  Major confession..I did read Fifty Shades of Grey as I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  Some folk believe that it doesn’t matter what people read as long as they are reading but I would rather read the back of a cereal box for eternity than face any more of the “grey matter”!  I had got out of the habit of reading thrillers in my late 20s but I’ve dabbled a little recently with Mo Hayder’s Poppet and they’re back on the agenda. At the moment I am tempted to read Gone Girl as it has such a buzz about it but I’m not convinced….yet…


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

I’ve seen many bloggers discussing this online and I can’t see the problem. Readers are intelligent and like to read a variety of opinions so they can make a balanced decision on whether to buy a book or not.  Sometimes I feel that book bloggers can be rather anal and precious about such things and can end up patronising readers.

Could you expand a little on what you mean by patronising the reader? Could a book that isn’t to your taste at all get a 5* review if you thought it was brilliantly written?

Readers have minds of their own and aren’t too swayed by star ratings. I think star ratings give readers an initial idea about how you felt about a novel and as they get to know your reviewing style and tastes they are a good guide for what might work for them.  The rating needs to be backed up with a balanced review.

I think it’s important to mention stylistic factors for example present/past tense, 1st/3rd person or multiple narrators as a lot of readers have fixed tastes re style.  There are plenty of marmite books out there which make for interesting reviews and indeed books which provoke discussion and make you feel something are much more intriguing than bland, safe novels – better to aim for the stars and risk failure rather than sticking to tried and tested formulas.There isn’t much difference between my 4 and 5 star ratings apart from the fact that I reserve 5 stars for books which I think will stand the test of time and are an excellent example of their genre.  For example I would give 5 stars to a spectacular children’s novel even though I’m slightly over the target market age range!  I often find that I have to “digest” a book for a couple of weeks to make sure the initial sparkle doesn’t fade before posting a rave review…you can tell I was a strict teacher in the classroom.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away.

My all time favourite book is Jane Eyre but, in recent times, I have been very impressed by The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell and The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes.

Many thanks to Teresa for taking the time to be here and chat.

Catch up with other interviews in this series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

Alan – Words of Mercury

– Lindsay – Little Reader Library


– Anne – Random Things Through my Letterbox


– Rob – Rob around Books


Word of Mouth: The Literary Sofa

Posted on: May 7th, 2013 by admin - 8 Comments

Second up in my series of posts on book bloggers is Isabel Costello, whose book blog On The Literary Sofa is a wonderful source of both book recommendations and fascinating insights from the authors themselves. Isabel is also a writer, so we occasionally get glimpses into that world too.

Isabel Costello 2


Why do you blog about books?

For me blogging is a way of connecting with people who share my love of reading and writing, an extension of my favourite kind of conversation.  I enjoy spreading the word about good books, getting recommendations in return and talking to other writers.  My blog readers are great at joining in.  I’ve met so many interesting people online and in real life through the Literary Sofa.

We writers do like discussing other people’s books. Do you have an idea what proportion of your blog readers are also writers?

I get the impression a lot of them are writers.  Certainly most of those who comment are!


How many books do you read per month on average and has blogging about them changed the way you read?

I read five or six books per month.  I don’t think blogging has particularly changed the way I read but now I’m plugged into the book world I’m more aware of new releases and much more selective.

Five or six books per month is amazing, I barely manage one! How do you fit in reading with writing and your other commitments?

I take every possible opportunity to read: on public transport, in the bath, late at night, so the hours add up.  I watch very little TV.


Has reviewing books changed the way you write?

Blogging does seem to have had a positive effect on my writing – I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’ve finally started to get to grips with short stories.  If you’re an emerging writer and your blog isn’t articulate and well-written, I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot.


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

I enjoy all aspects of reviewing, especially taking an in-depth look at the writing, which is often overlooked.  I relish the challenge of reviewing without giving spoilers – it’s hard but it can be done!  I only review books I think are worth recommending but I adopt a critical approach.  I aim to be honest and fair and that’s important to the credibility of any review – nobody takes any notice of a gush.

If anything I search harder for flaws if I absolutely love the book!

It’s frustrating that I just don’t have the time to read and review all the titles which interest me.


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?

 My home terrain (in reading and writing) is the crossover between literary and commercial fiction.  I am hugely drawn to American writing.  The only thing I actively dislike is chick lit.  I strongly believe we all have a right to our own taste and don’t need to justify it.

Good writing matters the most to me and I and particularly admire novelists who can write beautifully about difficult subjects and emotions.  All reading is escapism if the writing is good enough to pull me in. If pushed, I would rank character above story but I rarely have to compromise because so many novels have all three elements.  A truly excellent novel will make me think and make me feel something.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews?

 I find it very unsatisfactory so I prefer not to do it. For me the best books I’ve ever read would be 5 star and 3 stars would be a very decent appraisal.  I’m out of kilter on this but it doesn’t matter as I don’t review books anywhere but my own blog.


Through your success as a respected book blogger you have become ‘known’ to editors at publishing houses. Whilst it’s always the writing that counts, it’s great to have that (I think). Would you recommend book blogging to other writers seeking to raise their profile in advance of submitting their work?

Thanks for your kind words, Claire.  I’d recommend blogging based on passion and enthusiasm rather than a specific agenda.  I never expected the Literary Sofa to take off so it’s been a fantastic surprise. I do believe that the writing is what counts for agents (publishers may be slightly more interested in an author’s profile), so my top tip for anyone submitting is to get your book professionally edited before sending it out.  I wish I had done that.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away

These three novels tick every box in my answer to Q3:

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie Macdonald


Many thanks to Isabel for her time and great answers.

Do also have a look at the other posts in this series, where I chat to:

– Dan from Utter Biblio

– Teresa from Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan from Words of Mercury

– Lindsay from Little Reader Library


– Anne – Random Things Through my Letterbox


– Rob – Rob around Books

Word of Mouth: Utter Biblio

Posted on: May 4th, 2013 by Claire - 4 Comments

Today I’m starting a new series of posts chatting to book bloggers/reviewers.

I’ve got to know quite a few people, mostly via twitter, who read voraciously – I mean incredibly so –  and review the books they have read on their blogs (and/or on Goodreads, Amazon etc).

I’ve realised over the last few years that I’ve come to rely on these reviews to help me push books to the top of my ‘To be read’ pile, or to start discussions with others around these books.

Book bloggers are readers, whose points of view are considered, honest and based on a lot of reading, usually very widely. They also do a wonderful job for authors by helping to spread the word about out books to readers, which as any author knows is worth its weight in gold. So I’ve called these posts ‘Word of Mouth’.

First up is Dan, also known as Utter Biblio, previously known as Dog Ear Discs. Dan is definitely worth following on Twitter @utterbiblio and is lovely to chat to. Here he is in all his robot glory:

Utter Biblio

I asked Dan…

Why do you blog about books? Has blogging about them changed the way you read?

I blog about books to tell people about the brilliant works that are out there, whether they be new releases or older. I want to be able to express my passion for the written word. Blogging has definitely changed how I read. Sometimes I push older books to one side in order to read the latest titles. However, since I began blogging I’ve branched out in what I read. Now I read more poetry and non fiction than ever before.


Where do you get your recommendations from? And where do you get your books from?

My recommendations come from all over. Mostly Twitter and podcasts, though. I now keep a notebook with me when I am listening to podcasts as they tend to rack up pretty quickly.

Same as above, my books come from all over. Publishers send through copies for review, I buy from high street chains, fill my Kindle at Amazon, trawl charity shops and import from the US and Canada through various websites.


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

The high points are easy. The best thing is someone getting in touch to say that they loved a book I recommended. Reading such a broad range of books is also a high point, I’m generally more open to reading different things since I began reviewing them.

The only low point that gets to me is when I read a wonderful book that doesn’t achieve the success I believe it deserves.


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?

I am very eclectic in what I read. It’s easier to say that I don’t really read crime or horror and, although I like romance in books, I don’t read chick lit. Anything else is welcome. At the moment I am very partial to essays, creative non fiction and short stories.

A good book for me is one that engages me. I generally like a little oddness in what I read, I prefer speculative ideas. Most of all, an author needs a unique voice that tells a great story. Lyrical prose, etc, is all well and good, but I read for the stories.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

I used to use a star rating system. It is generally very helpful for summing up a general opinion. As consumers we tend to want an experience summed up briefly. Recently I abandoned star ratings completely.

The main reason for this is because a small image of stars just doesn’t encapsulate how I feel about each aspect of a novel. While you can sum up general feelings, you can’t discuss the nuances of the books with stars. I wondered how many people scrolled to the bottom to see the star rating and left before reading any more. Only in reading the body of a review can you really find out if it is something you may enjoy. Having said that, I still find myself looking at star ratings, it’s hard not to.


Have you ever had an author (or indeed a reader) react badly to a review (or a star rating)?

No authors that I know of. To be honest, even readers have never really reacted badly. Sometimes I get a comment on my blog debating certain aspects of a book, but I’ve been pretty lucky with the community.


Do you talk about books a lot with your friends and family, or mostly via your blog/twitter etc?

Sadly very few of my friends and family read, and certainly not to the extent I do. In fact, many times I have paused to read a section of a book to my wife and her eyes have glazed over. I rely on Twitter and Goodreads for my conversation. If it wasn’t for Twitter my evenings would be quieter and my TBR would be smaller.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away.

I’m going to cheat, because there are too many books that I love.

1) The entire Holt trilogy by Kent Haruf is just stunning. Plainsong, Eventide and Benediction are each delicately beautiful and communicate the subtlety of humanity with near perfection.

2) The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait. I have read many books on depression, none have captured the darkness suffered as well as Rebecca.

3) I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle. The magical realism in this brooding book makes it such a great read. Each character is still with me some two years later.

Many thanks to Dan for taking the time to chat. Do have a browse through his blogs for more great recommendations.

Do have a look at the other book bloggers in this series:

– Isabel from The Literary Sofa

– Teresa from Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan from Words of Mercury

– Lindsay from Little Reader Library


– Anne – Random Things Through my Letterbox


– Rob – Rob around Books

A Launch Party Mingle

Posted on: February 1st, 2013 by Claire - 4 Comments

I’m having (whoopee!) an actual launch party in London on 13th February, on the eve of The Night Rainbow’s official publication date, but not everyone can be there, so I’ll be doing some virtual mingling over the next couple of weeks with some very smashing people indeed.

I’m hoping it will be like being at a party on the web, where you wander around chatting, you meet some new people, ask some questions, have a bit of a laugh. And all this without having to wear heels. So come on in, help yourself to a drink, and I hope you have a good time!

Champagne glasses

Take a glass and mingle

Who I’ve met so far:

Kate at For Books’ Sake, where we talk about the portraying pressures of motherhood and how long a story should be.

Jen at The View From Here literary magazine, who asks me what are the important things, and where did the idea of a night rainbow come from?

Roz Morris, about the Undercover Soundtrack to The Night Rainbow – the songs that were part of its making.

Joe at the Bristol Short Story Prize, the home of my first published short story, who asks “What has it been like?”

Dan at Dog Ear Discs  – who asks about the environment of the novel and the surrounding countryside. “It becomes as important as the characters. Was it based on an actual place?”

Simon Savidge, who pokes around my bookshelves and asks “Are there any guilty pleasures?…”

Jen Campbell – Bookshoppist and author, who I may have made happy-sad.

Caroline Smailes, who wants to know about being a debut author and asks “How has your following your dream influenced your daughters?”

Isabel Costello on her Literary Sofa, where we talk about the pleasures and challenges of writing in a child’s voice.

Waterstones blog, where I talk about the inspiration behind The Night Rainbow

Alison Bacon, who asks about my experience of the publishing process with a top publisher, as well as life on twitter!

Vanessa Gebbie, who asks “How much did you want the novel to explore notions of non-belonging?”

Alison Wells – Who has been running a series of posts exploring ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. I talk to her about keeping the joy in writing

Rumjhum Biswas at Flash Fiction Chronicles where I chat about how writing short fiction has influenced my novel, and what I looked for as an editor of a literary magazine


Spotted across a crowded room! I’m heading towards…

Chris Mosler  over at Thinly Spread, who has things to say, and a giveaway!

Nik Perring, about getting started and keeping going on a novel and…

… Jonathan Pinnock, who wants to know how I managed to wait out the two years from signing a book contract to publication…

and other people too…I hope there’s enough champagne.



Marie-Claire selected The Night Rainbow as one of their top reads for the month.

Marie Claire Book Review

“An original and beguiling debut.”

Stylist magazine tipped me as one of their 4 soon to be bestsellers (alongside Maya Angelou and Dan Brown!)

You'll be on tenterhooks throughout

You’ll be on tenterhooks throughout

Good To Know magazine have listed The Night Rainbow as one of their 2013 book club picks (alongside Jodi Picoult, Yann Martel and Jojo Moyes!). If you post a review here you could win an e-reader.


Overheard…”Have you read it yet?”

Dan at Dog Ear Discs – The picturesque setting of Southern France in the midst of a heat wave is almost hypnotic.”

Nettie Thompson – “Pea and Margot are characters who stay with you, long after the last page is turned “

Teresa Majury – “…a narrator who will grab your heartstrings and never let go”

Tracey Upchurch – “Favourite character? Margot — little sister, voice of reason, bearer of night rainbows.

Laura Vickers at For Books’ Sake – Recommended for… Dreamers, mothers, lovers of the rich landscape of the south of France, and those in need of warming up.”

See more reviews on this page.

I’ll update the page with links as they happen.

For mingling in person, please see my events page here.

Champagne photo (c) Chris Chapman




What I wrote & what you read.

Posted on: December 29th, 2012 by Claire - 7 Comments

I wrote a blog post a while ago about the intention in what we write – how we choose the palette for our story, the setting and the small details to send messages for the reader to pick up on.

But intention is a funny thing, because things are sometimes not interpreted the way we intended. This is the source of a lot of arguments. Any of these phrases seem familiar?

“That’s not what I meant!

“You are inferring that from what I said.”

“You were implying that when you said…”

“I could see by your expression that…”

“It’s not what you said, it’s the way that you said it!”

Well, anyway, in November Waterstones ran a draw for people to receive review copies of The Night Rainbow, and December the books went out. So although there’s still a month until it starts shipping ‘for real’, reviews are now coming in, and I get to see if what I intended to say came across to *actual* readers in the way I hoped. Or not.

This, in a way, is the end of one writing journey that started back in 2009 and which I’ve been blogging about for almost 3 years. So I thought I’d share my first thoughts on being read, and reviewed.

I’d thought about book reviews before in terms of the rating, the number of stars. What does a one star review mean? How would I feel the first time I got one? It’s easy to say that rationally there is going to be some kind of bell curve. You can’t please all the people all the time. And a five star review is the flip side of the coin. You really hit a nerve with a reader, but it doesn’t mean you’re a literary genius.

Actually, now I’ve started to read the reviews, what matters much more is the words. Readers have taken the time to write at some length about how they experienced the story, how it made them feel as they read it, and their conclusions at the end. It’s such a privilege to read these insights, and to see if what I hoped I wrote matched up with what people actually read. It seems so far, so good!

I’m going to try not to get obsessed with reading reviews (seriously, I am!), mostly because I have written a new book that I am revising now and I have to turn the internet off most of the time to do that. But the appearance of these reviews is a timely reminder that I am writing for readers, and that I have to get it right. That ‘good enough’ isn’t really good enough, unless I want to face ‘good enough’ reviews on my next novel in 2 years time. And that’s not my intention.

So to the book reviewers out there who are taking the time to write these considered, detailed reviews – A Big Thank You!

And I wish all readers of this blog a very happy new year. Good health, peace and happiness to you and yours in 2013.

It’s the Book-Recommendation Swap Shop

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

I need a few Christmas gift ideas (sorry for mentioning the C-word so early, but when you live abroad you have to consider postage and so on). I’m hoping you can help.

So, here is my proposal. In the spirit of Swapshop, I’m going to tell you what books I’ve read and enjoyed this year and my top 5 recommendations for Christmas gifts (or your wish lists). Of course these are only my own personal tastes, I tend to read mostly in contemporary/literary fiction, with a few detours. And many of my family and friends prefer other genres – thrillers, for example. But here is where you can help! In the comments, could you please tell me your top 5 books you’ve read this year that you would recommend, and mention the genre, so we have an idea who they’d be suitable for?

This year I’ve started 27 books so far. I’ve left two unfinished (and since they’re e-books I can’t find them a better home, unfortunately), and I’m still reading a couple of short story anthologies, two paperbacks and one e-book. So I’ve finished 21. Here I’m just mentioning the 18 that I really enjoyed:


Paper books (Author A-Z): 

♥ At Home (non-fiction) – Bill Bryson

♥ Whatever you Love – Louise Doughty

♥ The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant

♥ The Cowards Tale – Vanessa Gebbie

♥ Chocolat – Joanne Harris

♥ How to be a Woman  – Caitlin Moran

♥ Dambusters – Robert Radcliffe

♥ What I Did – Christopher Wakling

♥ Why Willows Weep – The Wildlife Trust Joanne Harris, Maggie O’Farrell, Philip Hensher, Kate Mosse, Ali Smith & others


On my Kindle (Author A-Z)

♥ From Words to Brain (non-fiction) – Livia Blackburne

♥ Pistache – Sebastian Faulks

♥ Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

♥ The hand that first held mine – Maggie O Farrell

♥ The Devil’s Music – Jane Rusbridge

♥ Like Bees to Honey – Caroline Smailes

♥ Change of Life – Anne Stormont

♥ Trespass – Rose Tremain

♥ The Route Book at Bedtime (short stories) – Jo Cannon, Cally Taylor & others…


Books I’m still reading

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

We need to talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver (Kindle)

Geek Love  – Katherine Dunn

Playing Sardines (short stories) – Michèle Roberts

For Esme – with love and squalor (short stories) – JD Salinger

Other Stories and other stories (short stories) – Ali Smith


Still waiting on my ‘to read’ pile:

Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick

The Daily Coyote – Shreve Stockton

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson

The Pile of Stuff at the bottom of the stairs – Christina Hopkinson


So, how to pick a top 5 from that lot? In the end I’m just going to go with gut feeling…


My Top 5 reads of 2011 (A-Z by author)

Whatever You Love – a hard book to read, but the tiny perfect observations in this book really made it stand out for me.

The Coward’s Tale – because it’s kind and lyrical and reads like an audio book on paper.

Pigeon English – because I don’t remember ever having been so knocked out by the ending of a book.

How to be a Woman – because it made me laugh out loud, a lot. Caitlin Moran is invited to my fantasy dinner party.

The Hand That First Held Mine – because I loved the voice.


Top 5 (so far) on my wish list for 2012:

One Thousand and One Nights – Hanan Al-Shaykh

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Blueeyedboy – Joanne Harris

The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog – Chad Orzel


So that’s me. What about you?

Whatever You Love, or feel vaguely ambivalent towards…

Posted on: April 26th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

I’ve just finished reading Louise Doughty’s novel, Whatever You Love. It was amongst my Christmas presents (oh, I’m not even half-way through that To Be Read pile yet) and came on the recommendation of my lovely agent.

Well, what a recommendation. As I’ve mentioned before, what with small children and writing my own novel, my reading time has been spare and this was the first book of Louise Doughty’s that I’ve read. I truly loved it. I galloped through it in a way that is rare for me and all along the way saying ‘Wow!’ and ‘Yes!’ The kind of book where i go out and buy the entire back catalogue. *THAT* kind of book.

Honestly, I loved this book and wholeheartedly recommend you buy it.

I try to write reviews on Amazon for any book that really rings my bell. (I don’t write negative reviews because I rarely feel passionate enough about a book that just didn’t quite do it for me). Of course I read the other reviews up there while I’m on it, and was quite shocked by the polarity of the comments. As an author on the brink of receiving my own reviews, this sort of reception, especially for a book I would rate so highly, terrifies me. I’m sure I would take it to heart. What do you make of it all?

Amazon 1/2 star reviews:

“absolutely HATED this book”

“The story is drawn out unnecessarily”

“Faber & Faber, get your act together and use some decent copyeditors and proofreaders. The book was littered with spelling mistakes and typos”

“…she was waffling”

“…this novel unfortunately failed to reach me, as the grief the protagonist felt over the loss of her daughter seemed one-dimensional and failed to encourage any sympathy.”

i’m aghast; each to their own and all that, but I just can’t even begin to see where these comments came from. The book was tight and meticulous…wow. If I had been on the receiving end of these I would be reaching for…what? My husband probably. But then look at these:

Amazon 4/5 star reviews:

“I found these scenes almost unbearably moving in their honesty.”

“Wow. I didn’t expect this! This book is so powerful and insightful. I was blown away to be honest”

” compulsive reading! I could not put it down”

“simply one of the best novels I have read in a long time”

“a genuinely captivating read”

“A book that tugs at the heart, draws tears and still manages to surprise right to the end.”

“…I could not put it down…”

“300 pages of insightful and expertly-crafted story-telling.”

Yes! Yes to all of these comments.

So what is it about a novel that can divide readers this way, and how are we, as writers, supposed to digest this kind of reception to our work?