Best Books of 2017

December is here, yay! It’s almost Christmas, and 2018 is just around the corner. So it’s time for The Bandwagon’s best books of 2017!

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As usual, I’ve read some absolutely brilliant books this year. It’s always difficult to pick a favourite, so I’ve picked my top 10 books of 2017. The only theme I can pick out is that most of my tops books were written by women. There have been a lot of strong books by women authors lately, and I’m keen to see this theme continue.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

Read my review here.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

Read my review here.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Essex, England, 1645. With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth–but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew’s soul.

There is a new darkness in the town, too–frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice’s blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene–and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.

Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother’s brutal mission–and is drawn into the Hopkins family’s past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils–before more innocent women are forced to the gallows.

Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience.

Read my review here.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Elka barely remembers a time before she knew Trapper.

She was just seven years old, wandering lost and hungry in the wilderness, when the solitary hunter took her in. In the years since then, he’s taught her how to survive in this desolate land where civilization has been destroyed and men are at the mercy of the elements and each other.

But the man Elka thought she knew has been harboring a terrible secret. He’s a killer. A monster. And now that Elka knows the truth, she may be his next victim.

Armed with nothing but her knife and the hard lessons Trapper’s drilled into her, Elka flees into the frozen north in search of her real parents. But judging by the trail of blood dogging her footsteps, she hasn’t left Trapper behind–and he won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, Elka will have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about the dark road she’s been set on.

The Wolf Road is an intimate cat-and-mouse tale of revenge and redemption, played out against a vast, unforgiving landscape–told by an indomitable young heroine fighting to escape her past and rejoin humanity.

Read my review here.

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

Read my review here.

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer

Poison is a literary psychological thriller about a marriage that follows minor betrayal into a bubbling stew of lies, cruelty, manipulation, and danger.

Cass and Ryan Connor have achieved family nirvana. With three kids between them, a cat and a yard, a home they built and feathered, they seem to have the Modern Family dream. Their family, including Cass’ two children from previous relationships, has recently moved to Portland —a new start for their new lives. Cass and Ryan have stable, successful careers, and they are happy. But trouble begins almost imperceptibly. First with small omissions and white lies that happen daily in any marital bedroom. They seem insignificant, but they are quickly followed by a series of denials and feints that mushroom and then cyclone in menace.

With life-or-death stakes and irreversible consequences, Poison is a chilling and irresistible reminder that the closest bond designed to protect and provide for each other and for children can change in a minute.

Read my review here.

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Molly wakes her mother to go to the toilet. The campsite is strangely blank. The toilet block has gone. Everything else has gone too. This is a place with no sun. No god.

Just four families remain. Each has done something to bring them here – each denies they deserve it. Until they see what’s coming over the horizon, moving irrevocably towards them. Their worst mistake. Their darkest fear.

And for just one of them, their homecoming.

This gripping conceptual horror takes you deep into one of the most macabre and unique imaginations writing in the genre. On family, on children, Lindqvist writes in a way that tears the heart and twists the soul. I Am Behind You turns the world upside down and, disturbing, terrifying and shattering by turns, it will suck you in.

Read my review here.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . .

When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure–a silent companion–that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition–that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, this is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect–much like the silent companions themselves.

Read my review here.

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne

Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and becomes convinced it is making her ill. Whilst Richard remains preoccupied with Zoe, their mercurial twenty-seven-year-old lodger, Eleanor becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the house’s previous owners—including Emily, whose name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room.

Read my review here.

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Enemies of Peace by M.K. Williams

Introducing Enemies of Peace, the thrilling new book by M.K. Williams.

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Enemies of Peace literally starts with a bang: an explosion captured by two teenage girls of a house engulphed in flames. In the summer that lead up to the explosion, the Hydroline Corporation hired Timothy Lawson and his firm to represent them in a class-action lawsuit. While juggling his caseload, he and his wife Cynthia decide to buy their first house. It should have been the happiest summer of their lives. Nevertheless, their date with death was looming. 

Who could have possibly done it? Could it be the corporation that Timothy was defending, did he uncover one secret too many? Could it be the cousin that Cynthia has forbidden Timothy to talk with anymore? Could it be the other man who is in love with Cynthia, his jealous rage driving him to kill? Or, could it be the quiet neighbors next door, the unsuspecting extremists living in American suburban splendor?

Enemies of Peace will be released on November 9th 2017. You can read Williams’ Ask The Author interview here.

img_3695MK Williams is an Indiana-born, Philadelphia-raised, Florida-transplant working and living beneath the sunny, and often rainy, skies of Tampa. Williams’ writing influences include a lifetime of watching suspenseful mysteries and action movies and reading Stephen King, Ian McEwan and J.K. Rowling.

 

Goodreads | Amazon UK

Remember, remember, the 5th of November: Weltanschauung turns 1!

On the 5th of November, Weltanschauung will turn 1. To celebrate, I’m giving away 3 signed copies of my short story collection.

41mh26eZQyL._UY250_The harbinger, the oddball, the remaining twin… Weltanschauung seeks to open your eyes to different stories, set in different worlds and at different times, but with the same theme in mind: to make you question your worldview.

This collection of short stories traverses genres, introduces a variety of characters, and shines a light on some of our deepest fears.

Challenge your perceptions.

You can enter to win a signed copy on Goodreads. Don’t forget to join me on Facebook, and let me know what you think!

Jessica Bayliss jumps on The Bandwagon to talk about improving your writing

bayliss-new-3-5_1Jessica Bayliss is a fiction author with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who loves all things reading and writing. Her work crosses genres including romance, urban fantasy, and horror. Although it’s typically advisable to focus on one audience, Jessica just can’t seem to settle down; she writes Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and (eh hem) regular adult fiction. She is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Because one cannot live on writing alone, Jessica also spends a great deal of time with friends and family. She is a lover of all animals especially one very special Havanese and one extremely ornery cockatiel. She also loves to cook, eat, and exercise (it’s all about balance, right?) and is a firm believer that coffee makes the world a better place.

Jessica is available for Skype Visits, Workshops, and talks about her books, writing, and related to her PsychWRITE workshops and webinars.

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Today I want to talk about the fluidity of books and stories. This notion has been on my mind a lot for a few different reasons. Number one, I’ve been working on revisions of my own books, and I’m a Pitch Wars mentor, so revision is on my mind in general. But I’ve also been doing reading for critique partners, and it’s not uncommon to find little inconsistencies in books that are undergoing revision, which are often holdovers from previous drafts. So, a CP may say something like, “Oh, in the last draft, the character named Bessie was actually the MC’s best friend, but my editor said I needed a little more tension so we turned Bessie into a robot shark.” Okay, maybe I’ve never heard that exact line, but you get the point.

When I think about some of my books, and some I’ve read for friends, and then think about the way these books used to be, I’m often blown away by how different the finished product is from the original.

We can also flip this around. Next time you start a new book, try asking yourself: What was this book like in its first draft? And think about all the things that might have been different. Unless the book was written by a friend (or unless the author discloses details of their revision process), we will never know. But one thing I am certain of is that every book we purchase—whether from our local indie bookstore or downloaded to our e-reader—was very different in its earliest iteration.

I use that word deliberately: iteration. Because plotting and character development are iterative processes. I think about my own revisions on my debut novel, TEN AFTER CLOSING, or the one I just sent off to my editor—a book that I revised quite a bit on my own, then re-revised for my agent. If my editor decides she wants it, I’m sure I’ll do even more revision. Both of these books have had huge changes; it’s actually hard to wrap my brain around that, especially because I (naturally) thought they were both perfect before the changes (LOL!).

If you’ve read any of my blog posts, particularly my It’s a Writer Thing blog series, you know that I believe practice is the single most important thing we can do to be successful.

So, for me, practicing that process of major revisions, literally re-imagining big chunks of my books, has been an incredible learning experience. It’s taught me to be flexible. It’s taught me that new versions of my manuscript can feel just as right—more right even—than the original version. I’ve learned things about myself too: I know that changing something I love won’t kill me. I know I can get through and come out the other end feeling even better than ever about the MS. And I know it’s like this for other writers because they’re telling me about their own revision whirlwinds all the time.

Until the day the book goes to print, it’s a fluid entity, a shapeshifter without a true face. It can be anything.

So, here’s one weird tip. Take a book you’ve written (or a short story, or even a scene), and now rewrite it in an entirely different way. I know, that sounds crazy. You worked hard on that book and you probably love it; I know I loved mine. But try it. You don’t have to keep the new version. Just try rewriting it and pretending you’re going for an entirely different feel or different genre or just a different emotional dynamic in a particular scene. Put your all into it—pretend it’s for realz—and then see how you feel about the new version.

Perhaps you’ll still love your original more. Even if you do, you might find yourself getting totally wrapped up in this new imagining of your tale. You might discover all sorts of new ideas, exciting ones. Maybe you’ll never use them (or maybe a couple will find their way in the book in the end). Regardless of which draft you prefer, you will definitely see the stories in a new light. Gone will be the false belief that books and stories are static, that there is one way to tell this tale. And, hopefully, one day when you get revisions from your agent or your editor, you’ll know that you can make any changes they ask for and love them. Because you practiced it already.

Introducing: The Triangle by Nakisanze Segawa

Contributing author of Crossroads, Nakisanze Segawa is a Ugandan writer and performance poet. She is also a contributor to Global Press Journal, and to the Daily Monitor newspaper in Kampala. The Triangle is her first novel.

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It is a time of upheaval in the African nation of Buganda. Missionaries are rapidly converting people to Christianity, undermining the authority of their king and sewing discord among his people. Three characters – Nagawa, a young but unhappy bride to the king; Kalinda, a servant in the royal courts; and Reverend Clement, a Scottish priest – are swept up in forces that will change their lives and reshape the future of their nation.

While African history often has been told by Westerners rather than Africans themselves, Ugandan writer Nakisanze Segawa offers an African perspective. Her meticulously researched novel examines a critical moment in Ugandan history, and offers a surprising and fresh perspective on Africa in the days just before colonialism.

For more information, or for bloggers to request a review copy, email nagawakalinda@gmail.com.

The Triangle is available to buy in paperback and as an ebook on Smashwords.

Autumn is coming

Yesterday, I noticed the leaves were starting to fall from the trees outside our house. It might still be August, but the scent of autumn is starting to filter through on the breeze.

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Autumn is my favourite season. Cosy throws, fluffy slippers, hot chocolate. Crunchy leaves, Halloween, darkening evenings. And, of course, curling up with a good book. Autumn is the best time for getting stuck into stories, being frightened by a ghost story or thrilled by a thriller.

Each year, I try to come up with a list of books to read during autumn. A couple of years ago, I got stuck into Stephen King. The year before that, I discovered his son, Joe Hill. This year, I’m lining up a bunch of thrillers. Here are my recommendations for autumn 2017.

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas

Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown

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The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne

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Slade House by David Mitchell

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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What’s on your autumn reading list? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

I review Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon.

Twin sisters Robin and Sarah haven’t spoken in years.

Robin can’t leave her house. A complete shut-in, she spends her days spying on her neighbors, subtly meddling in their lives. But she can’t keep her demons out forever. Someone from her past has returned, and is desperate to get inside.

Sarah can’t go home. Her husband has kicked her out, forcibly denying her access to their toddler. Sarah will do anything to get her daughter back, but she’s unraveling under the mounting pressure of concealing the dark secrets of her past. And her lies are catching up to her.

The novel takes readers back in time to witness the complex family dynamics that formed Robin and Sarah into the emotionally damaged, estranged young women they’ve become. As the gripping and intricate layers of their shared past are slowly peeled away, the shocks and twists will keep readers breathless long after the final page.

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I read Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon when it came out, so I knew I’d want to grab a copy of Don’t Close Your Eyes. Seddon writes classic thrillers as if it’s as easy as breathing – and perhaps it is, for her. She’s that rare talent who deserves all the credit she gets, and more.

Delving into dark subjects such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicide, Seddon doesn’t pull any punches. Every character is fully formed, fleshed out into life, and every incident is thrilling, engaging. Robin in particular is so real, it’s hard not to relate to her.

I love books about dysfunctional families – coming from one myself, I know just how twisted it can get. When Robin and Sarah’s mum has an affair with Callum’s dad, everything disintegrates, and their families merge into one big mess. Robin and Callum stay with her dad and his mum, and Sarah moves out to Atlanta with her mum and Callum’s dad. The distance between the sisters grows, in emotional as well as literal terms. The tangles web of their mingled families gets tighter and tighter, until something has to give.

I loved the way Seddon wrote this, engaging the reader by giving snippets of the past, interspersed with chapters from today. This style of writing, although not unique, is always enticing, and Seddon does it well. Overall, I’d say Don’t Close Your Eyes is another winning thriller.

Many thanks to the author, publisher, & NetGalley for providing me with a free review copy.

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