Welcome!

This is the website of Claire Musters, freelance writer and editor. Please feel free to look around – check out ‘About’ for more details of Claire’s publishing career.

Watch this space for some personal blogs from Claire on subjects ranging from juggling a writing career with young children to what life is like now her record-producing husband has become a full-time pastor!

Thanks for visiting the site – hope you enjoy it.

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The history in the mystery

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I am delighted to be a part of Fiona’s blog tour as The Kill Fee, her second book in the Poppy Denby Investigates series, is released. I am partway through the book currently – and am absolutely hooked (as I was with the previous title). Fiona is an incredible writer; she really sets the scene and historical background to her work and also paints her characters and storyline vividly and imaginatively. The pace is just right – as a reader you are swept along, immersed in the story, eager to find out how the mystery will be solved. Fiona explains below the way that she ensures the history of the period is as accurate as possible in her books during the writing process:

The Poppy Denby Investigates books are murder mysteries set in the early 1920s. The Jazz Files takes place in June 1920 and The Kill Fee, October of the same year. Each book has a particular historical backdrop and also a backstory, set a few years earlier. So I have to ensure I get two different sets of historical ‘facts’ correct in each book. How do I do it?

Firstly, it is impossible to ensure that every single thing is 100% right. That being said, I try my utmost to do so and would estimate that about 90% of it is as right as I can get it, 5% has been deliberately ‘tweaked’ to fit in with the story (I always point it out in the historical notes) and the final 5% will be mistakes I was not aware of – I apologise in advance for my inevitable fallibility. I try to deal in historical authenticity rather than complete accuracy – it’s a novel, not a history text book – and aim to create an authentic feel for the period rather than giving the reader a checklist of exactly what happened where and when.

As I also write for stage and screen, my writing is very visual. One reviewer said she could almost ‘see’ the story as if it were being acted out on stage. Just as I would create the mis en scene by selecting representative costumes, props, music and actions to evoke a sense of the period, I do the same in my novels. Before I even start writing – and certainly during the process– I absorb myself in the music, fashion, art, architecture, cuisine, cinema and theatre of the period. There are lots of collections online, plus books to read and museum exhibits to visit. I even made an outfit from an original 1920s pattern for my first Poppy Denby photo shoot!

1920s-pattern

The 1920s pattern Fiona used as inspiration for her own outfit.

In terms of the historical backdrop of the suffragettes (book 1) and the Russian Revolution (book 2) I took a more ‘academic’ approach. I have a degree in history (simply a BA, but it is enough to ground me in the techniques of historical research). Before I start writing the story I spend around four months reading the key texts of the period. I prepare for writing in the same way I used to prepare for my university exams – sketching timelines and flow charts and trying to reach an understanding of the broad historical, political, social and economic backdrop, rather than memorising ‘details’. The details can, and are, easily added later. But I do not start writing until I have a feel of what it might have been like to live in that period – I try to read diaries, biographies and novels written at the time – as well as how the period ‘fits’ into history.

But then I stop, switch brains, and start to focus on the story, the characters and the mystery. That for me is the most important part. The history is certainly the skeleton of my books, but the muscles, the flesh and the beating heart are Poppy, her friends and their adventures. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have writing – and researching – them.

For more on the social, historical and cultural background of the books – as well as flapulous fashion and music – visit www.poppydenby.com

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Fiona in her own ‘flapulous’ creation!

 

 

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What I read over the summer

I know I am posting this rather late – but better late than never! I took time off of blogging while my kids were on holiday, and have been busy finishing off a book I am co-writing since they went back to school. But I read some great books during the summer, so wanted to share them with you:

vis-fearful-symmetryFearful Symmetry
By C.F. Dunn
I was so excited that I got to read the final book in the gripping ‘Secret of the Journal’ series before it was officially released, as I am a great fan. It certainly didn’t disappoint, as I was totally engrossed right until the end. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author about her writing process and how she felt having finished the series. I was feeling quite bereft knowing that I wouldn’t be engaging with the characters anymore – it seems she has ways of keeping them alive in her head and getting to know them better! I would definitely recommend this whole series. If you haven’t read them at all, they are quite epic but flow really naturally and draw you in immediately. The series would make a great Christmas present…

the-fragmentjpegThe Fragment
Davis Bunn
This book was sent to me by the publisher the day before I was flying out on holiday, so it made it into my hand luggage. It was a delightful read, very well crafted and full of interest from the off. It is set in 1923, and centres around Muriel Ross, a young American photographer who travels to Paris to document antiques for a US Senator. But all is not as it seems, and she ends up part of a much more dangerous mission… Historical interest, intrigue and romance all interweave with one another seamlessly. I will certainly be looking up some of the author’s other books now.

chosenjpegChosen?
Mel Menzies
Having read Mel’s Time to Shine, I was looking forward to seeing what Evie Adams’ latest clients would reveal and how they would impact on her. I didn’t realise how personal this story would be for the main character, but loved finding out more about her – often at the same time as she did! It was interesting to see how Mel explored the whole concept of being ‘chosen’ – one of the other major characters, Matt, is adopted and the book charts his journey into discovering more about his birth parents and wider family. Through her characters, Mel tussles with the thought of whether being adopted means you are chosen or cheated. One of the other main themes is about being free to make our own choices – both Evie and another character, Sophie, have moments in which they have to decide whether to face both their fears and their own responses to situations and people, or to hide from the truth. Yet again, Mel has used her own knowledge to create a riveting book about some difficult subjects – it is well worth a read.

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End of the Roadie
Elizabeth Flynn
I felt I still needed to include this book, even though I interviewed Elizabeth for her official blog tour on my website. She writes great detective mysteries with characters that are likeable and ‘real’. If you like this genre I would definitely recommend the book.

 

 

 

to-everything-a-timejpegTo Everything a Time
Eleanor Watkins
This is a story about a farming family who live in a rural setting, but still fairly close to a town. Centring around the wife, Alison, it is a very honest look at the challenges of raising teenagers and younger children. There are mysteries, misunderstandings, tears and laughter throughout, but it is also a really gentle read full of tenderness. As a farmer’s wife Alison is very aware of the seasons, and the book’s structure is hung on them too, which was a nice touch.

The family’s faith is a thread through the book too, and I like the way that the women of the community learn to share more deeply with one another and support each other through some tough times. Alison also shares times where she really sees God at work in her interactions with people – helpfully sharing her mistakes as well as good decisions😉

Eleanor is obviously an accomplished writer: I was drawn into the story very quickly and felt like I could really empathise with Alison – as well as draw my own life lessons from those she was learning.

simplifyusejpegSimplify
Bill Hybels
I started reading this as research for the book I’m co-writing on how to deal with burnout, but I soon found it is full of really practical advice helpful for anyone juggling 21st century living. I don’t know why we all rush about so much, filling our time with endless chores – advances in technology haven’t given us the extra time and space we all thought it would (we are now constantly available – if we are allow ourselves to be!). I stopped reading after the first couple of chapters, as I felt it was a great book to work through with my husband. Each chapter ends with questions/reflections for you to apply to your own life and we have found them extremely challenging and helpful.

holyhabitscoverHoly Habits
Andrew Roberts
This book explores the ten ‘holy habits’ we see in Acts 2 (biblical teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, giving, service, eating together, gladness and generosity, worship and discipleship making). Andrew, a Methodist minister, uses a mixture of biblical background and real-life stories to put them into context for 21st-century disciples.

I like the fact that a lot of the chapters focus on cultivating and outworking these habit in community, as so many other discipleship books are more introspective. I did find it took me a little while to get into the book – I don’t know whether it is because there are a lot of quotes – and there were a few typos, which are a particular bugbear of mine.

I did like the suggestions for further reflection and action that Andrew provides at the end of each chapter. He facilitates personal and collective reflection and action both at a local as well as global level. He also helpfully provides recommended reading and, where relevant, further resources – the list within the chapter on prayer was particularly helpful as we have a week of prayer coming up as a church! His chapter on worship really got me thinking about how well we cater for everyone during a Sunday morning meeting. There is a lot to ponder in this book…

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The poison of comparison

I met up with a friend for breakfast the morning, so that we could catch up on what God has been doing in each of our lives. I was really struck by a question she asked: do you find it easier to talk to women who aren’t Christians? It sparked a conversation about whether, as Christian women, we can have a tendency to wear masks around each other because we feel we should have everything ‘together’ as it were. I also pondered whether we can enter a conversation unsure of how much to divulge because we are comparing ourselves to the other woman all the time – and feel we fall short.

I came away still thinking about that particular part of our conversation, so I wanted to share the start of an article I wrote on this very subject, which is featured in October’s Woman Alive (the full title is: Why can’t I be more like her?). To read the rest, which focuses on practical ways we can avoid comparing ourselves to other women, do buy a copy of the magazine or consider subscribing to it.

I am continuing to explore this theme in the book I am currently writing: Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically. You will probably hear a lot more about that over the coming months!🙂

comparison-piece

 

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End of the Roadie

EndoftheRoadieblogtour

This is the third D.I. Costello book that I have read, and yet again Elizabeth has created a fun, well-paced mystery, detective book. This time the murder happens backstage at a concert, so we enter the world of musicians, roadies and ticket touters.

The characters are likeable and interact so well with one another that you can really begin to imagine their lives. I love the banter between the main characters, and the fact that Elizabeth shows them at home as well as at work. I saved this book to read on holiday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t quite see the ending coming this time, which was very refreshing.

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I’m always fascinated to hear how other authors work, and so am thrilled Elizabeth has agreed to answer a few questions about her writing methods for this, the first day of her official blog tour:

 

This book is part of a series – did you have the ideas for all of the titles before you embarked on writing the first one, or has the series developed over time? 

I only had the first one at the beginning. That was the one set in Wimbledon: Game, Set and Murder. I’d had some help from Ali Hull of Lion Hudson, publishers, on the editing and writing style. It was from Ali that I heard of Lion Hudson’s plans to ‘go mainstream’ with a new imprint: Lion Fiction, and I asked her whether I should present my novel. In fact she sent it to Tony Collins, the commissioning editor of the new imprint, on my behalf. He looked at the synopsis and first chapter and got back to me within the hour asking two questions: 1, did I plan to use the protagonist again? And, 2: Could he read the whole manuscript? This was the furthest I’d ever got with an agent or publisher before and I was just so excited. Of course I told him that I planned to use the protagonist again. I was very struck by his long-term view, even at that early stage. I whizzed off the entire manuscript to him and the rest is history. Dead Gorgeous, the second novel in the series was originally called Not Just a Pretty Face but Tony Collins didn’t really think it worked. I plucked Dead Gorgeous out of the air and sent the idea to him thinking I was about to begin a very lengthy back-and-forth of suggested titles and rejections but he emailed me back almost immediately saying he liked it and we stayed with it. I’m really pleased. I think it’s a lovely title. End of the Roadie was Tony’s suggestion. We’d had a lot of back and forth on the title and couldn’t come up with anything. I think End Of The Roadie is pretty neat.

It has been great to see how the main characters have developed and interact with one another over the three titles you’ve written so far. I find myself really connecting with them, wanting to know what happens to them and how they deal with everyday home life as well as their work. How have you felt that connection with your characters – do they seem to take on a character of their own (ie have they gone in directions you didn’t first envisage) or did you have a clear idea of what you wanted them to be like and what situations you would put them in before you started each new book?

I do feel a connection with my characters but I only have a loose idea of how they’re going to develop. I didn’t really know, before I found myself writing it, that Patrick’s daughter was going to move back home. (SPOILER ALERT!) This is mooted in the first novel in which she doesn’t appear but she moved in at the beginning of the second book and now she’s become one of the regular characters. I don’t really have much of an idea of how Patrick and Angela are going to develop. I do remember once, in a piece on the Association of Christian Writers website that someone, in giving advice to crime writers said: avoid clichés, not all detectives are alcoholic divorcées. So I’m very pleased to make Angela a happily married woman. Patrick is an ex-DI and he’s useful as a kind of back-up to Angela as well as her husband.

Do you have a particular place you like to write in? And do you have a particular writing schedule – are you quite disciplined about setting aside a certain amount of hours each day, or when you are in the midst of writing a new book does it simply take over and envelop your days until you are done?

I write wherever I am, so long as I’ve got a pad and pen or a PC to hand.  I’ve written while working on switchboards (when I was a telephonist), I’ve written on the beach and, of course, at the kitchen table. I tend to write more in the afternoon but it’s not a rigid timetable and I’ll write in the morning if I feel so moved. I only do about 1,00o words a day, give or take, and generally know when I’ve reached the end of that day’s session, at which point I stop until the next day.

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The paperback and Kindle version of End of the Roadie are available here. Lion Fiction are also running a special offer promotion on the Kindle version of Dead Gorgeous, which you can purchase here.

If you like light-hearted, well-written murder mysteries, I would thoroughly recommend this series.

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Author interview: Beth Moran

TheNameICallMyself blog tour posterI am delighted to be a part of the blog tour for Beth Moran’s third novel, The Name I Call Myself. It is a great summer read – a romance novel that also tackles some pretty huge subject matter including identity, grief, abuse, murder. It might sound heavy, but Beth writes in such a way that grips you right from the start and there are also some wonderful moments of female friendship and laughter. I asked Beth to give us some insight into her writing process for this novel:

What was the inspiration behind this new book?

The Name I Call Myself started with three different ideas that had been floating around inside my head for a while. Like all my books, this led to asking lots of questions, that I hoped The Name I Call Myself might begin to answer!

The first idea was a brother. I have two brothers and no sisters and my daughter also has two brothers and no sisters, so I knew I would enjoy writing about a sister-brother relationship (my husband has seven brothers and no sisters, but that will be a whole other story!) I wanted to include a big brother who had once been his sister`s hero, and explore what happens when that dynamic shifts, and he is the one needing help. Is there a limit to the sacrifices we should make for a sibling?

The second idea I wanted to write about was a secret past, and a main character who has changed her name. I wondered how trying to keep that covered up would affect how she felt about herself. Does keeping old secrets mean you can never really leave them behind, or are some things better kept in the past?

But all that sounds a bit serious and heavy… I knew this woman was going to need some help, and also something to smile about, and that fit really well with the third idea, which was a choir. I sang in choirs in my younger days and really enjoyed them. They are also great equalisers, where age, size, status or labels are irrelevant, and stresses, problems and to-do lists are cast aside for a while. And let’s be honest, most of us women can do with places like that! There is also something incredible that happens when we work together to create something beautiful. And as well as being a safe place where anyone could unashamedly be their messed up, crazy selves, this choir needed to be a whole lot of fun!

Why did you decide to tackle such big issues as grief, abuse, murder and addiction?

Goodness! I certainly didn’t set out with that in mind… It was really the two threads of the brother in trouble and the secret past. Once I’d established the reasons for Faith and her brother Sam changing their identities, which had to be fairly horrific, I worked with the fact that an early trauma, if not dealt with well, can often lead to making bad choices later on. I wanted the contrast of one sibling who ended up very needy, and another who dealt with the past by trying to become independent and tough. I like including both big, serious issues and more fun elements in my stories because I think that`s the way life is for most of us.

What are your working methods when writing a novel?

I start mulling over ideas for the next novel about halfway through writing the one before it. This includes a lot of daydreaming, often while driving or walking or cleaning my house. I play around with plot elements, start getting to know the main characters and keep a notebook full of scrappy thoughts, random conversations, half-written sentences and loads of questions.

Before I start writing I spend a couple of weeks getting the main plot together, ending up with three or four sides of notes, following a rough order. I then create a document where I keep any more random thoughts that pop up, a timeline, areas needing research and themes I want to develop.

Once I’m ready to begin, I tend to make detailed plans for each section of the book as I go, so every day I know what I’m writing about. I also aim for a rough word count each week. This will range from 5000 -12,000 words depending on how busy I am with other things. I find it really difficult to write unless I have a clear two or three hours, but if I have an odd hour I will edit, plot details or do some research, so I’m always adding to the notes as well as the main book. I find that if I start to feel a bit lost, or progress becomes heavy going, getting back to the notes always helps me refocus, and the more planning I do in advance, the quicker I write. Having said that, I often experience that weird phenomenon where my characters just seem to take over and lead me off into a completely unexpected direction, so there are always surprises for me too!

moran_bethBeth’s new novel is available now, in both paperback and Kindle formats.

As a special promotional offer during the blog tour, Beth’s second novel, I Hope You Dance, is available on Kindle for £1.19. I absolutely loved that book, and asked Beth to write a guest post for me when it first came out, which you can read here. It was on the theme of friendship, which is a common thread in her books.

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Joining a writing group

Writing-Group

Last month I spotted a message on a local Facebook forum page, asking local writers if they would be interested in joining a new writers’ group. Both myself and a friend found the invite at the same time, and answered positively. So, a few weeks ago, we went to our first evening together. I was apprehensive – glad my friend was also there, but concerned I did not know the person running the group – or anyone else that could be there. My writing is so open and honest, and blatantly about my life and faith, that I wasn’t sure how it (or I) would sit in such a group.

I soon learned that my fears were unfounded. While it did make me feel really vulnerable, and it is going to take me a while to get used to reading my own writing out to others, the host was charming, laidback and very welcoming. She also kept a tight ship regarding ensuring we had time to write. I will definitely be going back, and will also share on here some of the tips that I learn and exercises that we do in the hopes that it will spark some ideas in you too.

That night we were each given an envelope with five words cut out of magazines in them. We then had 15 minutes to write either a story or five stand-alone paragraphs that included one of the words. Yes that’s three minutes per paragraph! I literally stopped typing the final one as the timer went off to say time was up. I froze: I simply wasn’t sure I could share what I had written without editing it first. I didn’t even have time to go back and read through it! But share it I did – and I’m going to go one step further here and let you read it too.

The exercise certainly pushed me, and it was interesting to see how different our approaches to it were (mine was still very much involving my everyday life and family). If you are looking for inspiration for ways to get writing – or want to do some completely different writing to your usual – why not try the exercise yourself? While the time limit did feel constraining, there was a freedom (and necessity) to write about whatever first popped into my head. I’m going to complete the exercise with my daughter sometime as I think it will be a really fun thing to do with her…

Home. That place of safety – and of comfort. The noise can be deafening, the squabbles annoying, but the joy – and the love – exuberant and rejuvenating. Home. The place I always long to be if I am away from it for too long. Home.

 

The delight of watching the children’s pure pleasure as they ran about the field, throwing themselves down and ragging together in the long grass. The discovery of new paths through the wood, their occulation of leaves and undergrowth as they explored a different area. The high point: when they both ‘fought’ to hug me and the three of us turned into one great mass of arms and legs, hysterically laughing as we fell into the grass. . .

 

The smell is excruciating, the acrid air intoxicating – not in a good way! Rammed up against a man’s already sweaty armpit, I sigh as we pull into yet another station and another body squashes into the already unhealthily crowded space…
No I do not miss commuting . . .

 

I loved those weekends before kids, when as four couples we would escape to a B&B or cottage regularly at weekends. The days were for exploring – the evenings for hilarity. The latter usually involved murder mysteries, and inventive and almost certainly hysterical costumes. Why are my costumes more likely to be pirate or star war based today?!😉

 

I live with gadget man. Pretty much every second of every day he is glued to something. I do think it is a sign of the times – we don’t do well without our smart phones and laptops today do we – but he definitely overloads on technology daily. Our son seemed to develop the same love as soon as he could crawl. Rather than moving towards a toy and sitting quietly to play with it, as his sister had done, he always managed to find his way to some gadget or other, or the power lead attached to it, and then began to pull it apart. Obviously he was a genius and was simply learning how it worked…

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What I have been reading: Spring

Here’s a selection of the books that I have been reading in recent months:

Realm of Darknessrealm of darknesspic
By C.F. Dunn

I waited until the Easter holidays to delve into this delight as the ‘Secret of the Journal’ series has a way of gripping your attention so much that reading the books takes over! This, the fourth in a series of five, was eagerly awaited by me (the books are huge, but I am always impatient for the author to finish the next one – and still find that I have to flick through the previous ones to remember where the storyline has got to, although she has thoughtfully provided a ‘The Story So Far’ section at the beginning of each book). The series is described as historical, romantic suspense – possibly not my usual genre of choice, but I LOVE Claire’s writing and have devoured each of these books. The last in the series is out in September – I heartily recommend you starting from book one now so that you are ready for it come the autumn!

she'salmostateenagerShe’s Almost a Teenager
By Peter and Heather Larson and David and Claudia ARP

I was sent this book and put it on the side in my office thinking it would become useful in a year or two. However, I recently picked it up and found it full of incredibly helpful advice. My daughter is at the tween stage, and there is so much understanding, grace and love in the pages of this book that I am thoroughly grateful for it right now. The strapline is ‘Essential conversations to have now…’ and the subjects covered include friends, academics, body image, faith, boys, money etc. I have to confess I’ve only read four of the eight chapters so far – but that’s because I am taking my time, being challenged, writing copious notes and engaging in the suggested topics of conversation with my daughter. She noticed the book sat on the side one day, picked it up and was straight away eager to start talking! What a blessing this book has been to me, and my relationship with my daughter, so I would definitely recommend it.

having a mary heartcoverHaving a Mary Heart in a Martha World
By Joanna Weaver

I am working through this book with my women’s book study group once a month, so I haven’t finished it yet – but, like the previous book, it is full of wisdom and is speaking to me hugely so I wanted to flag it up now. I love the way Joanna describes how those of us who can be duty led (and love our ‘to do’ lists) so well, and then also reflects the longings of our hearts – to be still and sit at Jesus’ feet. With so much vying for our time and talents, it can be so hard to do just that, but she has certainly helped me, and others in the group, to start putting little practises into place to facilitate being with Jesus. Of course much of it I already knew, or had read before, but I have found I have really connected with this book and many of the subjects covered are things God has already been talking to me about so it has been very timely. I have mentioned some of this in my regular column for Christian Today – here are links to two articles.

woundedbyGod's peopleWounded by God’s People
By Anne Graham Lotz

I was intrigued to read this book, as I had heard it is Anne’s most personal book (indeed the jacket says that). She has been very open about difficulties and hurts both her and her husband have endured, but doesn’t dwell on them – they are there to back up the biblical principles she is exploring through the story of Hagar. She also includes other people’s stories so it isn’t all about her, which I was pleased to see. I also liked the touches of reflection and wondering about different aspects of Hagar’s story – where she allows her mind to think about what might have happened in more detail than we read in scripture.
Anne is very honest, which is refreshing, but also very direct – she talks about what she has learned but then turns her attention to the reader and asks where they are at. I’m not sure there is anything particularly new but I have underlined much within the pages – and I am always convinced that we Christians can be forgetful and need reminding of basic truths constantly!
In today’s culture, which bangs on about freedom meaning that we can do and be exactly what we like, it is good to be challenged on that and realise that God calls us to be His disciples. That involves a process of refining – and that means we need to readily share our hurts with God, be open to His healing and also allow Him to reveal our own blind spots to us. As Anne states, there is a blessing in brokenness, and a power in forgiving others – although there is also a cost involved. If this book helps people move past hurt towards healing then it has done its job well.

At therapy's endAt Therapy’s End
By Susie Flashman Jarvis

This book is fiction, but tackles some hugely difficult subjects that sadly occur in many people’s daily lives – domestic abuse and family tragedy. Susie is very sensitive in the way she has portrayed the characters and storyline, and I found I was drawn in to the book very quickly. I am sure her years of experience as a counsellor has helped shape her work, and I learned a lot from reading it. I have read her non-fiction too (her own story) and I actually felt this book was better written (possibly due to her growing as a writer – if that isn’t too patronising to say!). If you are interested in understanding more about what people who are suffering abuse, or are grieving from deep loss, go through then I would say do get hold of a copy of this book.

Lucy 01_Crop-AW2.inddLucy Butterfly
By Heather Cursham
NB This review is by my 10-year-old daughter.

This is a very exciting book that I found difficult to put down. The fact that you always had to wait for Lucy to be asleep to find out what the next part of her quest was made me begin to imagine what was to happen next. It felt to me as if I was beside Lucy as she ventured across her dream world, facing problems and solving puzzles along the way. I felt the way she felt while she experienced both good times and bad times, as well as times when she had to make decisions. If you like adventure and fantasy books (and are a tween!) you will enjoy this fantastic story as much as I did, so try to find a copy of this book and its soon-to-come-out sequel, Lucy Ever After.
NB I believe Lucy Ever After is due to be published in January 2017.

 

 

 

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