Books That Matter UK Unboxing: The Wild Women Box.

Books That Matter UK Unboxing: The Wild Women Box.

Happy Sunday readers! I apologise for my absence recently but I have been slowing down a little with social media, trying to gain a little perspective. I have however, missed you all terribly so when I got my latest Books That Matter box, I simply had to take the opportunity to do an unboxing post for you guys.

This time, the theme is ‘Wild Women,’ a category in which I feel extremely comfortable myself! The box has been specially curated to explore the themes of ecofeminism, sustainability and our planet. As usual, I am blown away by this box. They have packed it with amazing goodies and a book I am genuinely looking forward to reading. The best news?  You can use code MARIE10 to get 10% off your purchase now! So let’s dig in shall we…

 

 

First up, this month’s book is The Word for Women is Wilderness by Abu Andrews. This book follows the nineteen-year-old protagonist Erin in her travels from the Midlands to Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and eventually a lonely cabin in the wilds of Alaska where she charts the changing landscapes of her own mind and reimagines not just a woman’s place in society, but humanity’s place on planet earth. It sounds like one Hell of an adventure and one I’m looking forward to delving into.

Next up, we have another great read. This time it’s a zine from the Revival Collective, a Brighton based sustainable fashion collective. It’s called ‘Feminist Fashion Revival’ and is packed with informative articles, fashion inspiration, craftivism as well as guides and facts about the intersection of feminism, fashion, ethics and environmentalism.

 

Alongside this informative reading, there is a beautiful metal straw by Sugar and Sloth. The straw is a gorgeous ‘oil slick’ colour and is perfect to take to outings and picnics. There is also a vegan shampoo bar in a travel tin by Hairy Jayne hair care. This smells wonderful and the tin can be reused to keep new bars in. Small changes like this and the straw are a great way to reduce waste and do your part to help the environment. There is also a packet of seeds from Wildflower Limited, with a percentage from each packet’s price going to the bumblebee conservation trust. Wild flowers don’t just look and smell beautiful but they are great for attracting local wildlife like our friendly Bees. If you have a little unused or unloved part of the garden just throw these in and watch them grow!

Finally, there is a cute ‘sustainability is a feminist issue’ print and ‘A woman’s place is in the revolution’ bookmark…sentiments I can certainly get behind.

This is another wonderful box from Books that Matter and for the price, their boxes are not only fantastic value but genuinely informative. Plus you can use MARIE10 to save 10% now! You even get to make a small difference to the world with this one so why not grab your own while you can?

As always, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to stay up to date with all the latest posts and if you want to see an unboxing video of this box along with pics of bookish goodies galore, head to my Instagram!!

 

Book & Movie Review: Needful Things by Stephen King.

Book & Movie Review: Needful Things by Stephen King.

For the second instalment of my Stephen King book club, my friends and I read Needful Things before watching the 1993 movie adaptation and once again, we discovered exactly why he is the one true King of horror.  So, what is it all about?  The book takes place in the quiet US town of Castle Rock, where a new shop called Needful Things is being opened by the town’s new and mysterious resident Leland Gaunt.  The shop sells curios and antiques which appear to be a steal but inevitably come with a heavy price.  Intriguing right?

First of all, the premise is wonderful.  I love the idea of the Devil being bored and going place to place selling cursed goodies to unsuspecting punters.  The objects in question are needfulalways relatively generic- a children’s game, a baseball card, a glass lamp or silver teapot.  These items hold no significance to anyone other than the intended victim as each item is chosen specifically based on that individuals NEED.  Whether the item reminds them of precious memories, a time they dearly wish they could return to, or offers relief for excruciating pain, the items are irresistible to the intended customer and once you buy, there are no returns.  The entire book is a damning indictment on the materialistic, possession obsessed society we now live in.  Remember when you were a kid and you would beg your mum for that toy, telling her you had to have it because you NEEDED it and she would say no, you don’t NEED it, you just WANT it?  Well, your Mother was inadvertently teaching you how to avoid the trappings of Leland Gaunt and his magical wares.  Every one of us has something we need, or at least think we do and this is preyed upon on a daily basis by corporations and companies selling us rubbish every day. Creams that will make us younger, juices that will give us energy and vitality, clothes that will make us fashionable trend setters, this is the world we live in now, surrounded by adverts and bill boards bombarding us with all these Needful Things.  Mr Gaunt and his little shop of horrors is the ultimate personification of this and it works perfectly as both horror and wry social commentary.

What the book makes clear however, is that while Gaunt may control a person’s need, he cannot control their will.  He has a whole bag of tricks to bamboozle his customers, including putting them in trances, creating elaborate dreams which feel perfectly real to terrible nightmares and warnings which feel even realer, but the customer has to willingly take the item and they have to willingly accept the payment.  We, after all, walk our own paths in life and it is up to us how we choose to do so.  This book is all about temptation.  Just as Satan tempted so many in the bible, Gaunt tempts his customers to sin in order to fulfil those perceived needs.  Some of the sins seem minor, like throwing mud on clean sheets, while others are more serious, like slashing tyres or killing a beloved bed, but all the residents of Castle Rock seem more than willing to pay and in doing so sow the seeds of their own destructions.  I love that King made sure to show that none of us are immune to such temptation, with the most devout and holy rolling Christians of the town giving in as easily as the local drunk or disgraced politician.  Each character has their own flaws, their own personal defects which Gaunt readily exploits. For the lead character Sheriff Pangborn, it is the guilt and grief that he refuses to let go off as a result of the death of his wife and child a year before.  For Polly Chalmers, it is her pride.  It is the residents who acknowledge these flaws and work to overcome them, that survive intact.

needful3For the most part, I found myself feeling little sympathy for the residents of Castle Rock.  After all, they made the choices which led to their grizzly ends and some of them frankly got what they deserved, but there are exceptions.  The young Brian Rusk is just a child and he is the first to not only fall prey to Gaunt’s charm but also the first to realise who or what Gaunt truly is.  His only sin seems to be a childish attachment, a need for a baseball card he has always coveted but being young and naive is his biggest flaw.  He is easily exploited by Gaunt and when he tries to stop, Gaunt changes tactics and uses good old-fashioned fear to control him.  Whilst he made the choices he did and did the not very nice ‘pranks’ requested as payment willingly, all for a measly baseball card, I do feel like his youth and innocence make him incapable of truly understanding the ramifications of his actions until it is far too late.  Nettie Cobb, the local ‘nut’ suffers from severe mental health issues as a result of the trauma from a past abusive relationship.  Again, because of this she seemed an innocent to me and less capable of understanding her actions fully than the other residents.  There are also peripheral characters who never entered Gaunt’s shop, who are caught up in the carnage including several state Police officers.  Unlike the rest of the town’s residents, I genuinely felt bad when they met their grizzly ends.

There are a lot of characters involved in this book, a whole town’s worth, so it can be a little confusing at first trying to keep the names and storylines straight but it is definitely worth persevering.  King paints the perfect picture of small-town life, the kind of place where everyone makes a point of knowing each other’s business but where secrets still dwell.  The characters are fleshed out and often you will find yourself recognising the characters from your own home town. Whilst some of the characters are incredibly sympathetic and you find yourself genuinely attached to them and upset by their fates, the young Brian Rusk and Nettie being the two that broke my heart, for the most part I didn’t feel overly invested in the other characters and I think this is due to the sheer number of them being introduced.  Also, King seems to have a bit of an obsession with children and animals dying in horrible ways and several pets are executed in this particular tome.  You have been warned.  The book has a great pace, slowly and steadily building to that big, final crescendo. Some of the book club found it a little slow in parts, but I think that the fact that King takes his time with the reader at first, gradually increasing the pace and action, makes it a far more gripping read and resulted in me being unable to put it down for the last quarter of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I thoroughly recommend it- definite five stars from me!

Now to the movie…If I am honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for this film.  I needful2have seen a lot of the earlier King adaptations and the movies tend to, well, suck (see my review of the original adaptation for Pet Semetary for a prime example).  I was especially wary of how the movie would edit such a massive novel into a viewable length whilst also maintaining the integrity of the story.  I was also concerned about how certain parts of the book would appear in film format, for example the spider like parasite which is inside Polly’s necklace is perfect horror written down, but on film it would probably come off as silly rather than scary.  Remember the Pennywise spider at the end of the original IT adaptation?  Exactly.  But the writer of the screenplay not only did a good job or whittling down such a heavy read, they were also smart enough to change certain aspects of the story to suit a movie’s format.  The ending of the book was my biggest concern.  In the novel, Sheriff Pangborn is an amateur magician, performing tricks, sleight of hand and shadow puppet shows throughout (it sounds weird if you haven’t read it, but it does make sense in the book).  He realises that Gaunt’s powers come from need and that he uses that need to create illusions and make the impossible real, like objects that transport their owners when touched.  He turns the tables by using Gaunt’s own techniques against him. Gaunt NEEDS his bag, which is now stuffed full of the resident’s souls, so Pangborn performs tricks and puppet shows which become real and alive, just like the forgeries sold by Gaunt.  On paper, this is a great ending.  It is wonderfully ironic and karmic that Gaunt is defeated using his own methods and it makes for a really interesting read. On film though, I don’t see how this could ever work.  Shadow puppets and fake spring snakes attacking the devil on screen would start to resemble some weird sketch show and it definitely wouldn’t be scary.  The film smartly changes the ending entirely, with the town’s residents becoming aware of what they are doing, of the ramifications of their actions and decisions and admitting they were wrong.  They atone and Gaunt is driven out of Castle Rock.  I also like that the fate of Brian Rusk is changed.  A young child killing himself on screen would likely turn a lot of viewers off and I personally prefer a version where he is changed, but alive.  Some changes don’t make a lot of sense to me however, like why the prim and well to do Wilma Jerzyck of the novel becomes a scruffy red neck turkey farmer in the film, but overall director Fraser Heston successfully translates the books core themes and story and I would definitely enjoy it even without reading the novel it’s based on.  Also, on a side note, I now have a huge crush on Ed Harris.

For our next instalment of the King Club we will be reading and watching The Shining.  Why not join us?  Keep an eye on my Instagram to see when we will be watching the film so you can watch along with us and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all the latest posts!

 

 

 

Book Review: Decorating a Room of One’s Own by Susan Harlan.

Book Review: Decorating a Room of One’s Own by Susan Harlan.

Happy Sunday readers! For tonight’s blog post I will be reviewing Decorating a Room of One’s Own by Susan Harlan, who Kindly gifted me a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review after seeing my love for classic literature on my Instagram! The basic premise of this book is so original and charming, I’m genuinely obsessed with it.  Imagine an interior design book, where instead of interviewing designers or celebrities about their home style inspiration, it features interviews with some classic literary characters.  People such as Dracula, Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett open the doors of their homes and castles and give the reader insight into their interior design choices, where they get their inspiration from and what their favourite features of their homes are.  It includes tours of famous literary residents such as Pemberley, Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory and Jay Gatsby’s swinging pad, all the while littered with references and quotes from the books and insight into the characters featured.

I think it’s obvious from my introduction that I just adored this book.  It has such adecorating 1 wonderful sense of humour, one of my favourite moments being Miss Havisham from Bleak House, who when referring to the author who wrote her such a depressing storyline stated, “He really put the ‘Dick’ in ‘Dickens.'”  It is littered with little ‘inside’ jokes between the reader and the characters which had me literally laughing out loud.  Every ‘tour’ and ‘interview’ was a little trip down memory lane as I remembered the books I have read and loved in the past, some of which I haven’t picked up in far too long.  It renewed my love of classic literature and as a direct result, there are now multiple re-reads on my TBR pile.  Indeed, there are some classics referred to in the book which I have never taken the time to read but after reading this book, I definitely plan on doing so.

The book is divided into chapters covering specific types of domiciles, everything from ‘Ancestral Estates’ and ‘Crazy Castles’ to ‘Cottages, Cabins and Hovels.’ Whether you live in a big house or a flat, or even castles, ships or wardrobes- there is style inspiration for everyone.  Dotted amongst these main chapters are little funny interludes, like the witch from Hansel and Gretel discussing decorating with the Mama Bear from Goldilocks and the Three Bears.   Whatever your favourite books are, Susan has it covered.

decorating 2It is beautifully illustrated by Becca Stadtlander (I mean check out that drool worthy cover), with images from each resident adorably featured in each interview.  Highlights include paintings of Dracula’s coffin, the Gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, the wardrobe from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and a full page illustration of Pemberley.  I love the classic style of the images, which for perfectly with the books theme.

Susan Harlan is a great writer and it’s clear how much time and research she put into each character and each interview.  She obviously re-read every single book featured as each interview perfectly captures that particular book and character, whilst giving it a humorous, modern and light hearted twist.

Randomly, I also want to note how beautiful the book actually looks as well as the fact that it is of a really high quality.  It is a hard back, which I love, but also the actual pages are of a really thick and high grade paper.  It’s the type of book you would have sitting on your coffee table for people to peruse.  It makes me sound so old saying something like that, but I genuinely appreciated the weight and appearance of it.  It felt grown up and expensive!

Overall this is a fun, light hearted book which would be perfect for any fan of classic literature and as a side note, it would make a really lovely gift! Definitely 4.5 stars out of 5!

Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day.

Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day.

Hello readers!  For today’s blog post, I will be reviewing The Party by Elizabeth Day, but before we delve into what I thought, lets start with that all important blurb:

the party reviewMartin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.

But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.

At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.  Would he?

Told from the perspective of Martin and his wife Lucy, this book moves back and forth through time, between Martin’s Police interview regarding some unknown dramatic incident at the party in question, and the past where we see how Martin’s relationships were formed.  It’s a very suspenseful method of writing, and I found myself eager to read the next chapter and the next, to finally discover exactly what happened at the party and what it will mean for the main characters.  This is definitely a slow burner, but I found it worth the wait.

At its core, this book is about relationships and the importance we put on them.  Martin strategically wedges himself into the life of his ‘best friend’ Ben and his elite family, as a means of bettering himself and his life, importance and status by proxy, but more than that, Martin finds himself drawn both sexually and emotionally to Ben as he struggles to accept his own homosexuality.  Then there is the cold and loveless relationship he shares with his Mother, one which profoundly shapes who Martin is and the absent relationship of his deceased father, unknown but always felt.  Lastly, there is the relationship with his wife Lucy.  To call their courtship romantic would be the biggest overstatement of the century, with both characters essentially settling, seemingly content to simply find someone who respects them and who will be there.  Lucy’s chapters are the most insightful of the book, as unlike Martin, she is capable of a huge amount of emotional intelligence and of seeing things from the perspectives of others.  She brings a level of humanity to Martin which is much needed, because to put it frankly, he comes across as a needy personality vacuum without Lucy’s observations.

It is also a criticism on the class system and of the power and influence that money and titles still hold over society today.  Ben is the epitome of the white, privileged, upper class Eton boys which seem to flood the chambers of Westminster to this day.  He is able to charm and win over anyone, he is liked by all, but at his core he has nothing behind that smile without his family’s wealth to back him up.  The party itself is filled with the typical Notting Hill set of trendy ‘it’ people and influencers, politicians and rich vacuous people whose sense of self entitlement and detachment from the real world is perfectly described by Day throughout- this is satire at its best.  But if you are hoping for a story about those elites getting their come-uppence then I’m afraid you will be reading the wrong book, for the conclusion is clear- money trumps justice every time.

There are a few negatives to this topic and the characters Day has chosen to create.  First of all, none of them are particularly likeable people.  Apart from Lucy (and I found myself irritated with her at points, particularly when she seems to simply shrug and settle in life), every other character is a total tool (I want to use stronger language to be honest).  Martin, the main protagonist, is the worst.  He is so utterly pathetic at points, so desperate to be loved, so desperate to be important and in with the ‘it’ crowd.  He puts so much importance on wealth and status, even buying ridiculously overpriced trainers simply because Ben bought a pair too.  His priorities are completely shot and it results in a character that I felt nothing but dislike and very occasional pity for.

Another issue I had was with the constant negativity of the book.  Martin in particular spends the entire book criticising and hating on other people, particularly at the party itself where there is no end of examples of loathsome people to bitch about.  It can at times make you as a reader feel cynicism taking over, but perhaps that was the point.  This negativity however is interpreted with some fantastic moments of action and these are the moments where Day utterly shines.  There is the event in Ben and Martin’s childhood where Martin took the fall for a fatal car accident, thus solidifying his place in Ben’s life, there is the ‘blow job’ scene at the party where for a moment Martin’s veil shifts and you see the real him and then there is the climax at the party which results in Martin’s interview at the Police station.  Day excels at these moments of action and it is then you see just how talented a writer she really is.

Overall, I found this book an interesting and suspenseful read and I would recommend it to anyone who fancies something thought provoking and writing with a sharp edge…think the Talented Mr Ripley or a modern Great Gatsby.  I would give it four stars out of five and definitely plan on reading more of Day’s work in the future.

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.

Hello readers!  The weekend is almost over (I hope you had a good one), and whilst that can be a bit of a bummer, a new week means new reading opportunities.  For this evenings blog post, I am reviewing The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden, the second in the Wintersong trilogy (for the review of the first instalment, The Bear and the Nightingale check out my previous post under the category ‘Book Review.’).  So what is the book about?  Let’s have a look at that trusty blurb:

arden review picFor a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

I had high expectations of this book, because I adored the first one in the instalment, but this equalled it and more, seemingly without effort.  I am a huge fan of Arden’s style of writing, and she really brings the magic and peril to life.  When it gets to the big exciting moments, such as fight scenes, it honestly becomes difficult to pry yourself away from the book and I found myself drowsily reading in the small hours of the morning, swearing to myself that I would just read ‘one more chapter.’

Vasya, the main character, develops and grows further with this instalment, and I now feel as if I know her.  She has flaws and weaknesses like all of us, of course, but she refuses to shy from these, instead constantly trying to learn from her mistakes.  I love fantasy fiction, but I find that many of the books fall into the same tropes, particularly when it comes to the lovey dovey stuff.  Not so here.  The love story running throughout both books, grows with intensity in this instalment, and I genuinely cannot wait to see how it ends for Vasya and her Winter King.

The rich folklore, and Russian culture create the most fantastical back drop to what is essentially an adventure story, featuring one badass, independent young woman who refuses to play the role society has planned for her.  Quite frankly, I cannot recommend this enough…buy immediately.

For other book reviews, and pieces of original writing, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!!

My Novel ‘Broken Mirrors’ Official Release!

My Novel ‘Broken Mirrors’ Official Release!

my book IG picHey everyone!  This blog post is a very special one, because it is not a review of someone else’s book, but information about my own!  That’s right, I wrote a novel and it has officially been released today Friday the 13th.  I wanted to thank all of my lovely followers, because your support has been so wonderful.  Putting yourself and your writing out there is a very scary thing, and you guys have been nothing but lovely every step of the way.  In fact, it was the support and encouragement from my followers here and on Instagram, that gave me the courage to put my book into the world, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I would really appreciate your continued support now, as my book goes on sale worldwide…if you could buy it, that would be amazing!  If you read it, even better, and if you review it, well ten gold stars for you!!  You are the bloggers and reviewers and social influencers, and your opinion means the world to me.  It has got great reviews so far from some of the people who received ARCS, so grab a copy now and let me know what you think!!  Buy your copy on Amazon now by clicking here!

About ‘Broken Mirrors’:

When Marie moves from Belfast to London, she envisions a fresh start and an escape book IG picfrom a broken home. Once there, she meets Malcolm Carter, a charming, handsome man who sweeps her off her feet and gives her a life she could only have imagined. But Malcolm isn’t all he seems; he’s a criminal, a mobster and a murderer. Detective Fraser Duncan knows what he is, and he’s determined to take him down, but things get more complex when a rival and brutal gang leader appears on the scene, setting his sights on Malcolm’s empire. When Marie chooses to stay with Malcolm, regardless of what he is and what he has done, she starts down a path from which she can never return, and now she has been taken, Detective Duncan and Malcolm must set their differences aside and join forces in a race against time to save the woman they love.

Broken Mirrors explores the fragility of our own sense of self and the moral code by which we live our lives and hold ourselves to account.

An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Novak and Professional Reader’s Box Giveaway!

brenda 1I have no doubt you have heard of the author Brenda Novak.  She has written over sixty books, sold millions of copies worldwide, topped the New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers lists and won award after award, including The National Reader’s Choice award, The Write Touch award and the Beacon Award for Published Authors.  In fact, you probably have at least one of her books on your shelf right now.  But did you know that, not content with merely taking the world of literature by storm, she also has started her own Global book club, as well as a monthly subscription box?  Me neither, but that’s how I got the chance to chat with Ms Novak.

If you aren’t already aware, I am a dedicated Bookstagrammer.  Basically, I take pretty pictures of my favourite reads and nerd out with other book worms around the world.  Geeky I know, but it’s a great community (if you aren’t already a part of it, definitely give it a look, and me a follow!) and you get to meet so many amazing people.  Enter Brenda Novak.  I was approached by her wonderful daughter Alexa to publicise ‘The Professional Readers Book Box’ and of course, I jumped at the chance.  They sent me February’s Valentine’s Day themed box, and I am truly in love (wait until the end of the article for a quick run down and review of the box as well as a chance to win one of your own!).  But not content with merely discussing the box, I chanced my arm and requested an interview with Ms Novak herself, and amazingly, despite her insane schedule, she agreed!

So grab a cuppa, kick back, and enjoy….

Let’s start with a brief introduction…who is the team behind Professional Readers Box?

I’m a New York Times Bestselling author of over sixty books. I curate these “professional reader” boxes each month with my daughter, Alexa Novak.

For those of us unfamiliar with the Professional Readers Box, can you explain a bit about it?

The Professional Reader Box is a subscription box that brings two autographed books to your door each month–one big name author and one up and coming author I’ve hand selected–along with other reader-related items.

It would be remiss of me not to ask a couple of writing related questions, while I have the ear of the Legendary author that is Brenda Novak! You have written over 50 books, and sold millions of copies worldwide, tell me, what was the biggest hurdle you faced to getting your first book published, and how did you overcome it?

Getting the time to research and write was probably my biggest hurdle. I never dreamed I’d be a writer, but when I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while I worked as a loan officer, I quit my job to stay home with them myself. I still needed to figure out a way to help provide for the family, however, so I was looking for something I could do at home. My sister had given me a good book–Jude Devereux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, and I loved it. I remember closing that book and thinking, “I wonder if I could do this!” I started right away, and spent the next five years researching the Victorian area (the time period of my first book, OF NOBLE BIRTH) and teaching myself the craft of writing. Meanwhile, I had two more children to give me a total of five, so you can see why getting the time to learn and create was a hurdle!

What is your writing process? Would you plan your book out before writing it, or is it more of a stream of consciousness style process?

I’m more of a “pantser,” which is the name bandied about among writers for someone who doesn’t plot. I start with the conflict of a story–something I think would be very interesting to explore–and then I decide what kind of characters would be most challenged by that conflict. The plot grows out of the characters.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

When I first started writing I had THE GREAT IDEA. It was based almost entirely on a title that popped into my head one day—OF NOBLE BIRTH. This title lent itself to a very specific theme: whether one is noble or not depends on the heart and not the pedigree. That was the message I wanted to deliver, and I knew the best backdrop for a story with such a message would be a historical setting where the caste system was firmly in place, so I decided that my book would be a historical romance set in Victorian times,

but I soon realize that was NOT the only idea I would ever need if I wanted to make my living as a published author. In order to build my career, I needed to write another story, and another, and another. In other words, I had to develop my imagination, turn it into a deep well of ideas from which I could draw time and again.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this but, fortunately, our brains are very adaptable. The more I demanded that my imagination deliver IDEA NUMBER 2, the harder it began to search. Before long, my mind turned into a “sifter.” It sifted through everything that came my way, every conversation I overheard, every funny anecdote I was told, every movie I saw, every newspaper article I read, every true crime show I puzzled over until I could pull an attitude from one character I’d come to know via a TV show, mix it with a situation my mother had mentioned the week before last, throw in some of my personal experience and…I was off and typing.

Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did you get beyond it? If not, what is the secret to writing over 60 successful books without suffering from it?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. But there are days when I get stuck, when my story seems to be turning to drivel or I can’t get it to hold any emotional tension. That’s when I know something is wrong. I’ve taken the story where it wasn’t meant to go, for lack of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, there are ways to get myself “unstuck.” Experience has taught me to mentally step away from the manuscript and look at it from a macro perspective, always asking myself, “Where did you go wrong?”

I start from the beginning and check the story as a plumber might check a series of pipes for leaks. I feel my way along, testing the story to see if it’s still “holding water.” I read, consider, read, consider and read some more until I find the “break” or part that isn’t in harmony with my intuition. Sometimes I do this by reading the manuscript aloud to my husband and asking for his input. Then we both look at the reasons my story isn’t coming together. Maybe I’m forcing my characters to do something these types of characters would never do. Maybe I’m ascribing a certain trait or pathology to my villain that just isn’t ringing true. Maybe I’ve veered too far away from my “core story.” It’s a bit of a hassle to go back, and definitely risks some unraveling and rewriting, but if I take the time to do this I almost always find the point that’s troubling my subconscious and interrupting my ability to proceed. Then I can fix it.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers?

Over the years, I have often been asked what piece of advice I would offer someone who is just starting out in publishing. I have always said I can boil it down to just one word, and that hasn’t changed even after 50+ books and nearly two decades. Believe. It’s really that simple. If you truly believe in yourself and your talent, you will be motivated to actually sit down and write the book instead of only dreaming about it.

You will be driven to seek out any help you may need (research or craft-related) to make it the best you can create. You will follow through with marketing ideas until you sell it (or self-publish it), and you won’t give up if you don’t immediately reach your goals. Belief drives the entire engine—especially through the rough spots.

Ok, back to the Professional Readers Box…What Inspired you to create this service?

Once I started my online book group on Facebook, I wanted to “add value” to becoming a member, and I did that through developing various programs. We have a Book Buddy Program, a monthly reading challenge, a commemorative pin for anyone who has read more than fifty of my novels, etc. The book boxes are just one more fun thing we offer to make it even more enjoyable to belong.

How do you go about curating each box? Do you pick a theme and then choose your book, or is the box built around a selected title?

I choose the books first. I fill out the schedule a year in advance. Then we choose items that will either go with a generic reading theme (like March’s box, which is all about reading in the tub and includes a pretty robe), or we focus on one of the books (like we did when we created our Whiskey Creek box). Sometimes we even focus on the closest holiday, like we did for our October, November and December boxes.

If an author or a business would like to collaborate with you on a box, is that something you would be interested in? If so, how would they go about arranging that with you?

Sure! I’d entertain submissions/ideas. We are very picky about what goes in our boxes, so it would have to fit with the theme and be of a certain quality, but I’m always interested in taking a look at new ideas and collaborating with others. There’s a contact link on my website, so I’m easy to reach.

How do people subscribe to the Professional Readers Box?

There’s a store right on my website at http://www.brendanovak.com. People can save a few bucks by signing up for a yearly subscription, or we have monthly subscriptions available. We even sell individual boxes, although it’s best to get a subscription because we sell out well in advance, and a subscription is the only way to guarantee getting one.

brenda 2Some invaluable writing advice from a true expert!  But what of the box I hear you ask?  Well, each box contains at least one book, often autographed, and a selection of bookish goodies chosen around that book.  My box, being Feburary’s, was all about Romance.  Along with two amazing books, All We Know by Jamie Black and The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak herself, I got some handmade chocolates from All things Chocolate in Georgia, powdered donuts (which as an Irish lass I have never actually tried this American treat, but I will definitely bee seeking them out again in the future), socks which say, ‘If you can read this, bring me chocolate’ (excellent advice), a beautiful wooden sign which reads, ‘It doesn’t matter what the question is, chocolate is the answer’, a date suggestion kit, and a make your own valentine’s card kit.  All of these goodies came beautifully packaged in peach coloured tissue paper and frankly, it was an awesome Valentine’s day gift to receive through the mail.  I couldn’t recommend the box enough, and the next one looks even better if that were at all possible.  You can check out how to order your own here.

It gets better though, you could win your own Professional Readers Box!  Just head to my Instagram to find out how to enter the giveaway!