Manipulated Lives by H A Leuschel #review @HALeuschel

Manipulated Lives is quite different from my usual kind of read and probably not one I would have come across had the author not contacted me and asked if I would like to read it. I am glad she did as I found it quite a thought-provoking read. Helene also took part in an author spotlight on the blog last year which you can read here.

Manipulated Lives is a collection of five novellas with a common theme. In each story, there is a character who is either a manipulator or has been manipulated in some way. The manipulators are all kinds of people: parent, lover, boyfriend, child. And all appear to be normal everyday people. The story which spoke to me most was The Spell, the story of a woman beginning a relationship with a single father and his son Leo. As a reader it was clear that something wasn’t right with what David was telling Sophie but he seemed so convincing and to have all the answers. I think I was quite affected by this one as I was concerned for the future of little Leo. I also thought that the story of Holly was probably very true to life. She was a clever teenager who wanted to make a better future for herself yet still found herself duped by Luke, one of the cool boys in school, who over the course of their short relationship manages to cost her both money and self-esteem.

I would recommend taking time to read each story individually, by which I mean not one after the other. This will give you time to reflect on the characters and events of each story. The book made me think about the many ways in which people can be influenced by others and consider at what point influence becomes manipulation. People who manipulate aren’t always who you might imagine and are clever at what they do, making their actions seem reasonable.

Manipulated Lives in an intelligently written book with a reflective style of writing. Some of the stories are unsettling and they will make you think about whether you may know any manipulators in your own life.

My thanks to the author for offering me a copy of her book. Manipulated Lives was published in June 2016 in paperback and as an ebook, and is available to order online here: Manipulated Lives

From the back of the book

Five stories – Five Lives.
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself, followed by a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Lastly, there is Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

#WatchMe by Angela Clarke #review #guestpost and #giveaway  @theangelaclarke @AvonBooksUK

Watch Me is the second in Angela Clarke’s Social Media Murders series (the first was Follow Me) and was published last Thursday by Avon Books. If you haven’t read the first one, don’t worry as this can easily be read as a standalone. Follow Me focussed on a race against time to catch a murderer leaving clues on Twitter. In Watch Me, the criminal is using Snapchat as a means of communication. The two main characters are friends DS Nasreen Cudmore and journalist Freddie Venton and I really enjoyed finding out a bit more about their background in this book. They have 24 hours to find teenage student Lottie before she may be killed. Lottie just happens to be the sister of one of the other police officers who works with Nas. The countdown in the title of the short chapters made this a very fast-paced story. Following Nas and Freddie over this fraught 24 hours as they tried desperately to find Lottie made for a gripping and tense read.


Angela Clarke is joining me today with a terrific guest piece about New Year writing resolutions and don’t miss a very special two book giveaway at the end of the post.

New Year Writing Resolutions: It’s All About Time

‘The long unmeasured pulse of time moves everything. There is nothing hidden that it cannot bring to light, nothing once known that may not become unknown. Nothing is impossible.’  Sophocles   

This January have you resolved to achieve a writing goal? Whether you’re planning on starting, finishing, or redrafting a book, blog, script, or other creative project, it’s all about time; how to find it, and how to use it.

Find Time

It’s easy at any stage of your writing career to prioritise other things, whether it’s the day job, emptying the dishwasher, socialising, or even grabbing an extra hour in bed. We lead busy lives with barely time to draw breathe. Plenty of new writers curse their to-do list, saying things like: ‘if I didn’t have to go to work, I’d have time to write.’ Yet people might be surprised to learn that many writers work as well as write. From 1917- 1925, T S Eliot worked for Lloyds bank, Monday to Friday, and one Saturday every month, with only two weeks’ holiday in the year. During that period, he wrote many of his most well-known works, including The Waste Land. In 1925 Eliot joined Faber and Faber on their editorial team, and worked there for the rest of his life, continuing to write and publish great works in his spare time.

But writers with other jobs and other lives aren’t just found in the past. Whether full time or part time, roughly half of the published writers I know still have a day job. And that’s writers who bring out a book a year. Sometimes this is because of financial constraints (if you want to write because you think it’ll make you rich, I suggest you look into investment banking, or panning for gold). But for many published writers, continuing at their day job proves preferable to the dream of full time writing.

Helen FitzGerald, author of the fantastic thriller Viral, explains what happened when she handed in her notice on her day job to write full time: ‘I became the mad woman in the attic. It was all about me, me, me. I need routine and colleagues and other people’s stories.’ Similarly, Brian McGilloway, author of cracking crime novel Preserve the Dead, says: ‘I struggled with the time and the silence – I found myself far more efficient when I was fitting writing into a 90 minute gap in my day.’ And SJI Holliday, author of gripping The Damsel Fly, sums it up: ‘I really thought by being a full time writer I would get so much more done and really enjoy it, but the reality was that I missed the feeling of being valued on a daily basis in a job I am trained to do and am good at.’ Like FitzGerald and McGilloway, Holliday returned to her day job, saying: ‘It’s much easier to manage time when there are people expecting things from you daily, not just after several months when you send them a book. When I left my day job, I felt like I had lost my identity, and now I’ve got it back.’ 

FitzGerald, McGilloway, Holliday, and others have found they are more productive when they have other work to do. Perversely, when they have less time to write they achieve more. There’s nothing like a deadline for prompting single-mindedness. Having only a short period of time when you must write, whether it’s half hour in the morning before work, or one day of the weekend, is often more fruitful than endless hours within which you could write. Reframe your thinking. Writing is not about wishing you had more time, it’s about utilising the time you have.

Use Time

Writing a book can be psychologically daunting. A blank page to any writer is scary. You have so many words to find. So many more to get down. Perhaps making dinner will help you think, or answering a few emails will make you feel like you’re achieving things, or ironing the kids school uniform will get your to-do list off your mind so you can concentrate? Stop. You have found time to write, so write. Set yourself a target, whether it’s minutes writing or a word count to hit. Many writers I know use ‘sprints’, myself included. I set a timer on my phone, say 30 minutes, and write as much as I can until the alarm sounds. After that, I’ll allow muck around on Facebook, pop to the shops, do some filing, have a nap, whatever. More often than not, the alarm sounds and I keep writing.

Starting is the thing that is daunting. Starting is the thing that messes with your head. But starting is the small change you can make to achieve your goal this year. Break your target down into bitesize chunks. You don’t have to write a whole book, you just have to write for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes each day and you’ll soon find your word count rising. If you get down seven hundred words in each session, within one hundred and seven days you’ll have seventy-five thousand words. That’s a whole novel in three and a half months. If your new year’s resolution is to write a novel this year, you could have the first draft done by April. Less than a third of the way into the year. Suddenly writing a book doesn’t seem so overwhelming, and all from just thirty minutes per day.

If you have more time, scale up accordingly. I often set my alarm for 90 minutes of work, followed by 30 minutes of rest. In my rest time I take a bath, I cook lunch, I mess about on Facebook, I paint, whatever I want that isn’t work. On the flip side, I stay focussed in my ninety-minute work sessions. It’s a cunning trick: to give yourself a deadline. For me, it works brilliantly. I achieve loads and I still feel like I’ve had a moment to myself. Do that four times over and you’ve done six solidly productive hours in a nine to five work day.

I found this method of timed 90 minute working sessions online*, and it works for me. There are countless other strategies out there to try. But I tend to find most people respond to routine and deadlines, so give yourself both. If possible, write first thing in the morning – this means you get it done before the rest of the day can run away with itself. And set yourself a target, whether time or word count per writing day. Just that small change will soon add up.

You can find time, and you can use time to your advantage. As Sophocles said, nothing is impossible. Go nail your new year’s resolution.

(*Link for above credit:

Now for the giveaway

Today you have the chance to win not only a copy of Watch Me but also a copy of  Jenny Blackhurst’s Before I Let You In. Here’s a little about that book.

‘Karen is supposed to be the one who fixes things. She takes care of her patients and her friends, it’s who she’s always been. So when her new patient Jessica Hamilton knows more about her and her friends than she should Karen is determined that she will protect them at all costs. But how do you know who the enemy is if you have no idea who you have let in?’

This is a UK only giveaway and your prize will be sent directly from the publishers. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the instructions there. You can enter the giveaway until midnight on Wednesday 18th January and a random winner will be selected and announced within 24 hours.

Click here to enter the giveaway

Laura Kemp Guest Post – 8 Things You Need to Know About Being an Author @laurajanekemp @aria_fiction

                  kemp_laura  Whatever Happened to Vicky Hope's Back Up Man? by [Kemp, Laura]

I’m delighted to be joined by author Laura Kemp. I read and very much enjoyed The Late Blossoming of Frankie Green last year – you can read my review here. Her latest book Whatever Happened to Vicky Hope’s Back-Up Man?, was published by Aria on 1st January – buying links are at the bottom of this post. Laura is sharing eight things she thinks you need to know about being an author. Read on to find out more!

Eight Things You Need To Know About Being An Author…

  1. You Have To Grow Rhino Skin – Not only for the initial search for an agent but in the quest for a deal and when your book is published. Knock backs are horrible – rejection is never nice. We all go through it in life. In terms of books, it can feel a personal affront because it has come from inside of you. But it’s part of the journey and it can be a very powerful force, if you turn it on its head. Getting back up makes you stronger. Working out why it happened is learning. And it makes you even more determined to carry on. 
  2. You Have To Love Criticism – I mean it. Definitely constructive criticism, because that, from your agent, editor or friend, is how you will improve and develop. Even criticism in the form of bad reviews: if people have bought your book then they are entitled to their opinion. They might not understand what you were trying to do – doesn’t that mean something.
  3. Most Of Us Aren’t Rolling In It – Unless you’re JK, you’re not going to be coining it in. But that’s okay. Because what other job is there in the world that lets you make up things for a bit of a living?
  4. Envy Is Pointless – If you’re jealous about a bestseller or a book getting snapped up for a film, then you’re missing the point. Your agent is bound to represent someone wildly successful. Your publisher too. That means you’re getting the benefit of their experience. My agent Lizzy Kremer represents the phenomenal Paula Hawkins, who wrote Girl On The Train, so when I get Lizzy’s input, I treasure it all the more. 
  5. It’s Lonely – One perception of authors is that we waft around in Barbara Cartland pink looking for inspiration. The reality is that we sit at a desk wearing fingerless gloves whilst swearing at the screen. 
  6. It’s Looong – Edit after edit after edit means getting up at 4am to start and finishing at midnight is normal on deadline. Yes it does sound like a first world problem – and we’re blessed to be able to do it – but that doesn’t help when you’ve got the caffeine shakes and dinner is biscuits.
  7. It’s A Bit Minging – If you go into an office every day, you have a shower so that your armpits do not cause any offence. When it’s only you and the dog and your imaginary friends in your head, you sometimes forget there are things called deodorant and make-up and clean clothes. Apologies if you come across us like this. We promise we’ll wash tomorrow.
  8. But It’s Bloody Brilliant – When we hear from a reader, speak to other authors, brainstorm with our agents, meet our publishers, see our books in the shops, find out we’re in the Amazon top 100, get a good review on Goodreads and make people feel things, then it’s absolutely the most amazing thing ever. Who’d want to do anything else? (Unless 1-7 put you off.)

About Laura Kemp

Laura lives in Penarth, Cardiff with her supportive husband, gorgeous son, playful dog and ancient cat. Writing is compulsive to Laura. With 15 years journalistic experience and several successful books to her name, writing is her escape and her love.

Follow Laura


Facebook: @LauraKempBooks

Twitter: @laurajanekemp

Instagram: @laurajanekemp

Whatever Happened to Vicky Hope’s Back Up Man?

A tender, funny and haunting coming-of-age novel which asks if the past can ever be part of your future.

Twenty-one and insecure, Vicky Hope comes up with a plan on the eve of travelling the world with her high flying friend, Kat Lloyd: if she isn’t married by the time she’s thirty, she’ll marry her geeky best mate Mikey Murphy.

Fast-forward eight-and-a-bit years, Vicky, now Vee wakes up on her thirtieth birthday in Brighton, expecting a proposal of marriage from her arty boyfriend Jez. Instead he tells her their relationship is over and she has no choice but to return to her parents’ home.

Devastated and alone in her childhood bedroom, she decides she has nothing to lose and tracks down her two old mates. With shock, she discovers Mikey, now Murphy, is a successful app designer driven by his tragic upbringing. Kat, or Kate, never made it – but she hides a devastating secret, which threatens the happiness of all three.

Links to buy




Google Play:


Laura’s previous book, THE LATE BLOSSOMING OF FRANKIE GREEN is available now:




Google Play:



Sarah Hardy’s #FridayFour @sarahhardy681


Kicking off my Friday Four feature is Sarah Hardy, a prolific blogger who you will find at By The Letter Book Reviews. You can also follow her on Twitter @sarahhardy681 or like her Facebook page. Sarah is hugely supportive of authors and bloggers and I’m delighted she’s going to share her Friday Four today.


Four books I think everyone should read and why
This just blew me away with the story of domestic abuse, especially as it’s the man that is being abused by his wife which you don’t come across very often in books. I went through a total roller coaster of a ride with my emotions and it’s one that will stay with me for a long time to come. 
[I agree Sarah – it’s a brilliant book!]
This is another story that really got to me and has stayed with me since I read it. This is a deeply moving story of two boys who grow apart and the direction their lives take. Really is a must read.
I’ve read quite a few books on the Holocaust and found this one very informative and gives you a wider understanding of what went on in the camps and how it affected people in the aftermath. A definite must read if you are interested in the Holocaust.
I read all these as an adult and absolutely loved them. They are definitely for adults just as much as children and transport you into a wonderful world of magic. Great way of escaping the reality of real life.
Four of your favourite children’s books:
 The Very Hungry Caterpillar by [Carle, Eric]                   
Four Books I’d love to see made into films:
             The Not So Secret Emails Of Coco Pinchard (Coco Pinchard Series Book 1) by [Bryndza, Robert]   The Optician's Wife: a compelling new psychological thriller by [Reavley, Betsy]  Holy Island: A DCI Ryan Mystery (The DCI Ryan Mysteries Book 1) by [Ross, LJ]

[Cheating slightly by choosing a series Sarah, but I’ll let you off!]

Four Favourite Book Characters
Ethel from The Coco Pinchard series by Robert Bryndza
DI Damen Brook in the series by Steven Dunne
Alex Thorne who appears in a couple of books from detective Kim Stone series by Angela Marsons
Bridget Jones from the diaries by Helen Fielding


Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch #review @thatjuliacrouch @headlinepg


Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch is an absolutely brilliant psychological thriller. It begins with a bang, literally, as Louisa’s car with her children in the back is forced off the road by her husband’s car and crashes. Her husband, Sam, is killed in the accident and as Louisa manages to crawl free, her car erupts in a fireball. We next meet her as she is rebuilding her life following many months in hospital and having had counselling to help her get over the trauma and grief. But this story isn’t just about Louisa: it’s also about Sophie, her husband’s lover, and how she seems intent on tracking Louisa down and ruining what is left of her life.

This story was so cleverly constructed. Of course to begin with, my sympathies lay entirely with Louisa. How could they not be after what she had gone through, losing her husband and children? Sophia seemed like a money-grabbing home wrecker who had caused all the awful events to happen. The story unfolds through the eyes of both characters in the past and the present with so many twists that I really didn’t know who to believe or trust.

In the last few heart-racing chapters I literally had no idea what was going to happen and felt my tension levels rise. By then, all had been revealed about what had really happened and just who was telling the truth but how would it all end?

This book is definitely up there as one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read. It totally messed with my mind so that I didn’t know if I could believe what each character was telling me or not. For me, it was the epitome of a page turner and genuinely a book I couldn’t put down. I highly recommend this if you enjoy psychological thrillers and are looking for a totally gripping read. I’m sure this book will be huge this year!

My thanks to the publishers Headline for my copy of this book. It will be published as an e-book and in paperback on 26th January. You can order a copy online here:  Her Husband’s Lover

From the back of the book

She stole her husband. Now she wants to take her life.

After the horrors of the past, Louisa Williams is desperate to make a clean start. Her husband Sam is dead. Her children, too, are gone, victims of the car accident in which he died.
Sam said that she would never get away from him. That he would hound her to death if she tried to leave. Louisa never thought that he would want to harm their children though.

But then she never thought that he would betray her with a woman like Sophie. And now Sophie is determined to take all that Louisa has left. She wants to destroy her reputation and to take what she thinks is owed her – the life she would have had if Sam had lived.

Her husband’s lover wants to take her life. The only question is will Louisa let her?

Isolation Junction by Jennifer Gilmour @JenLGilmour #review

Isolation Junction: Breaking free from the isolation of emotional abuse by [Gilmour, Jennifer]


Isolation Junction is a fictional tale inspired by the author’s own experiences blended with other women’s experiences of emotionally abusive relationships. The story is told in two timescales. Rose has escaped from an emotionally and physically abusive marriage and, with the help of new partner Tim, is trying to build herself a new life for herself while working her way through the court system to keep her children safe. Through her memories, we also see just how trapped and controlled she was in her marriage to Darren.

This was quite a disturbing book to read not least because it is based on true experiences. I felt so sad to think that women are trapped in these kind of relationships and can feel so helpless to change their situations. It is almost impossible to believe the lack of help which abused women can access when even the court systems can seem to work against them. Sadly though, as I’m sure many of you will know from reading news stories, this can be all too true and sometimes with tragic consequences.

I know that one of the reasons the author wrote the book is to raise awareness of emotional abuse and I think that she has definitely succeeded. It’s a real eye opener and I’m sure that women will be able to identify with Rose. Not that they will necessary have been victims but because they may realise that Rose could easily be anyone and that anyone could find themselves in her position. Victims of domestic abuse aren’t weak and stupid to remain – they are truly trapped. But the book also offers hope that there can be a way out and that women can find support if they can find the courage to escape.

My thanks to the author for offering me a copy of her book. Isolation Junction is available in paperback and e-book editions.  You can order a copy online here: Isolation Junction

From the back of the book

Rose is the mother of two young children, and finds herself living a robotic life with an abusive and controlling husband. While she struggles to maintain a calm front for the sake of her children, inside Rose is dying and trapped in ‘Isolation Junction’.

She runs an online business from home, because Darren won’t let her work outside the house. Through this, she meets other mums and finds courage to attend networking events, while Darren is at work, to promote her business.

It’s at one of these events that Rose meets Tim, a sympathetic, dark-haired stranger who unwittingly becomes an important part of her survival.

After years of emotional abuse, of doubting her future and losing all self-confidence, Rose takes a stand. Finding herself distraught, alone and helpless, Rose wonders how she’ll ever escape with her sanity and her children. With 100 reasons to leave and 1,000 reasons she can’t, will she be able to do it?

Will Tim help her? Will Rose find peace and the happiness she deserves? Can Rose break free from this spiralling life she so desperately wants to change?

The Affair by @AmandaBrookeAB #review @FictionPubTeam

The Affair: A shocking story of a schoolgirl and a scandal by [Brooke, Amanda]

I featured The Affair by Amanda Brooke when this book came out as an a ebook but didn’t have time to read it then. It’s just about to come out in paperback and today I am sharing my thoughts.

This is certainly a very compelling read which touches a subject many parents must dread. Fifteen year old Scarlett is pregnant and refuses to say who the father is beyond that he’s a married man. Her mother, Nina, has just started to settle into married life with her second husband Bryn and apart from dealing with the usual teenage truculence from Scarlett and her older brother Liam, she had thought her life was going well. Suddenly her world seems to be spiralling out of control. The book tells the story from the points of view of Nina and Vikki, who is married to Scarlett’s teacher and is one of the men Nina suspects could be the father. There are also diary style extracts by Scarlett herself and through these we find out a bit more about what has really been going on -although even within the pages of her diary, she is keeping her secrets well.

This was a book which had me changing my loyalties all the way through. Sometimes I felt sorry for Scarlett as it seemed she had been manipulated and strung along by this older man who should of course have had nothing to do with her. At other times, I felt that she was the one doing the manipulating and that she was a very scheming young lady knowing exactly what she was doing. Of course, at just 15, she was very much the innocent, thinking she knew what she wanted but really she was being abused. 

Suspicion fell on a few characters throughout the book and by moving between the past and the present, the author cleverly leads her readers to have doubts about all the men it could be. Like Nina, I wasn’t sure who I could or should trust and that included Scarlett. How much of her story was true and how much was her covering for herself and her lover?

The Affair was not at all predictable. I thought I had worked out who Scarlett was having an affair with. I even made myself a wee note so I could be pleased when I was proved right. Of course, I was completely on the wrong track! Amanda Brooke has written her story so well really delving into the devastation caused to so many relationships and showing just what effect Scarlett’s affair had on not just her own family but also the families of the suspects.

This is the first Amanda Brooke book I have read and I was very impressed with her ability to weave the different aspects of her plot together so well, keeping me turning the pages, keen to find out just what had been going on.

Thanks to the publishers Harper for my copy of the book via Netgalley. The Affair is available now as an e-book and will be published in paperback on 12th January. You can order a copy online here.

From the back of the book

A shocking story about a fifteen-year-old girl and the man who took advantage of her

“You might as well know from the start, I’m not going to tell on him and I don’t care how much trouble I get in. It’s not like it could get any worse than it already is.

I can’t. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t.”

When Nina finds out that her fifteen-year-old daughter, Scarlett, is pregnant, her world falls apart.

Because Scarlet won’t tell anyone who the father is. And Nina is scared that the answer will destroy everything.

As the suspects mount – from Scarlett’s teacher to Nina’s new husband of less than a year – Nina searches for the truth: no matter what the cost.