The Secret Letters by Catherine Law

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Published by Zaffre, Oct 2016, 377 pages, £3.99

”A heart-breaking tale of love and loss”- heart-breaking indeed.

Elderly Rose Pepper finds a few unopened letters by her long lost love hidden between the floorboards. She is forced to relive her past and confront the secrets she has kept from her two adult daughters. What we know from the start is that she had lived in Prague straight after the war but had to leave her beloved Krystof behind once communist forces began to take control. We also know that her two daughters have different fathers. Her youngest belongs to Krystof, but her eldest is from Will, a man they all agree to hate. If this is not the great secret then what is? And whatever happened to Krystof?

The rest of the book tells the story from the start, we meet a young Rose heading off to work as a land girl in Cornwall. She is engaged to Will, an older man who her parents adore. He is controlling, tempestuous and she struggles to break off the engagement. The only thing giving her hope is the chance to move away from them all and immerse herself into the countryside. The work is harsh and the people she lives with are also rough but good-natured deep down. Rose is someone you can feel slowly growing in strength and confidence. However, I did find her inability to leave Will, not just in their relationship but as a figure who dominates her life, very frustrating. This insecurity carries on throughout the rest of the novel with great consequences.

Will was a piece of work. I do admire authors who can create characters you loathe as much as ones you love. I cannot imagine any reader not hating him with a passion. So when Krystof arrives, he was like a ray of soft sunlight. Gentlemanly, sensitive and witty, Rose falls deeply for him. But dark shadows were constantly threatening their short-lived passion. The plot becomes more gripping and there was a nervous point where I thought everything was going to crumble. As the story moves to Prague, we get a temporary spell of happiness as the couple reunites, but punctuated by increasingly dark events from the communist army. As we knew from the start, Rose had to leave and then we return to her elderly self. When she finally opens the letters it was more of a confirmation than a revelation. I felt overwhelmingly sad and wished for something a little more uplifting. If you want a tear-jerker this is the one.

For more on Catherine Law check out her tips on beating writer’s block!

Many thanks to Zaffre for my review copy

XXX

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How To Beat Writer’s Block by Catherine Law

 

Catherine Law is the bestselling author of Map of Starsa tear-jerking wartime romance for fans of Kathryn Hughes and Leah Fleming. Her latest novel The Secret Letters was just published last week by Zaffre (review to follow). Set in WW2 England and Communist Prague, it promises another heart-breaking story of love, hope, lies and buried secrets.

She’s here to give her tips on how to conquer the formidable beast that is writer’s block…

 

When the writing stops…

All writers have been there at some time or another. But what do I do when inspiration fails, when I’m wading through the frustrating and scary depths of dreaded writer’s block? I find that half the battle is recognising that I have it. A fog of general dissatisfaction seems to creep up on me. Symptoms include lack of confidence, very lazy writing, and a tendency to find other things to do, such as cleaning the leaves of a houseplant with a wet wipe and checking in to Buzzfeed to divert a few more of my brain cells away from the path that they are supposed to be taking. Hands up, who feels that the pesky distractions of the internet have become such an annoying and common phenomenon?

When I was writing my first novel, A Season of Leaves back in 2008 (to be re-issued as an e-book on 6 October 2016 with the new title The Secret Letters), I did not have to struggle against these disruptions. I’d never heard of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or Instagram. I got about one email a day. And I did not have all these icons right there on my computer desktop alongside my Word document – I still had dial-up, for goodness sake!

Was my head clearer then? Was writing easier? Did inspiration strike more often? When I think back, I was at a different, much earlier place on my learning curve, my long journey as a writer. And I hope that, over the years, the more I have written, the better I have become, developing my skills all the time. So, despite the interference of the modern digital-age, my creative process remains the same.

But if I realise that I’m plunging into a well of non-creativity, while trying not to panic, I do something else creative, something else that will feed my imagination, often in an unlikely way. Here’s a mini check list that works for me:

  • Read books outside of your genre.
  • Listen to music – comforting favourites or something fresh and new.
  • Watch films, really good stirring modern classics, such as The English Patient or Atonement, or something fun like Bridesmaids or Bridget Jones and laugh that block away.
  • Do a practical – and quite mindless – task, such as clearing out cupboards or something more creative like the decorating.
  • Go for long walks and if you can, reconnect with nature. Stand in a wood or on a beach and just listen.
  • Stay away from your lap top and try to let your mind drift to allow your imagination to click back in to gear.
  • And, still avoiding the lap top, sit down with pen and paper and force yourself to work through the problem, whether it is that there is something wrong with the plot or the characters.
  • Finally, treat yourself. Sometimes all it needs is a nice cup of tea and a bar of chocolate.

It goes without saying that social media is the killer of creativity, so I do try to resist the urge to constantly check it. My best time for writing is very early in the morning, so I set aside a portion of the end of the day for all the emails, posts and tweets that demand my attention, and help to get my work out there.

By the way, I recently downloaded an app that was supposed to block the internet from my computer as and when I wanted it to. But I found it too tricky and time-consuming to use, which was not part of the plan at all. I got so annoyed with it for constantly sending me emails, that it had to go! I’ll just have to stick with good old-fashioned discipline and self-control.

 

CATHERINE LAW  was born in Harrow, Middlesex in 1965 and has been a journalist for twenty-two years, having trained first as a secretary at the BBC and then attending the London College of Printing. She now works on a glossy interiors magazine and lives in Buckinghamshire.

 

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A truth buried for over forty years.
A love that lasted a lifetime.

Rose Pepper has kept her wartime past a secret for decades. Forty years ago, she fled communist Prague and left behind the love of her life.

Now in her sixties and with two daughters, Rose discovers a bundle of unopened letters sent to her by her lost love, hidden beneath her home. Confronted with the possibility of facing up to her past, she decides it’s finally time to go back to where her story began and uncover the truth buried for so long in Prague . . .

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

 

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Awesome!

Published by Harlequin Teen, 4th Oct 2016, 384 pages, £7.99 

4.5 stars

Fellow bloggers will agree with me that this book has come at perfect time. Immigration is now the capital I-word that is boiling up a lot of tensions and unease. Here in the UK, it was one of the main issues that pushed for Brexit and I can’t even begin to imagine the madness of #TrumpAmerica. I think its great to have a YA novel that tackles this issue, helps young readers understand and relate. Because technically we are the future- just saying. Melissa de la Cruz writes about her own experiences growing up in America as a Filipino. I really felt she covered all the complexities and antagonisms of being multi-racial with touching depths.

Jasmine de los Santos has worked hard. She’s captain of the cheer-leading team, volunteers twice a week, has top grades and won a full scholarship to the college. This is everything she has dreamed of, the reason she cancelled all those plans with friends, didn’t have time for boys- everything that would make her parents proud. They have sacrificed so much, worked menial jobs to build a new life in America for their children, and this was how she would prove to them that’s its all been worth it. But when she tells them the news, instead of being joyful, they acted grim.

It turns out that they are living in California illegally, and so her life spirals through her finger tips. She might get deported, let alone not be able to go to college. I really felt for her and there were some teary moments. Jasmine goes through many levels of anger, sadness, fear, guilt, injustice and confusion. She questions her identity and what it means to be American. She starts to rebel a little, go to the parties she always turned down and meets a boy along the way. Royce Blakely is handsome, confident and kind. However, he is also the son of a senator who is passing a law that makes it even harder for her family to get citizenship. Their worlds collide with exhilarating but painful outcomes.

As her family struggle to fight for belonging through a twisty plot, things become tougher but also more motivating. Racism begins to seep into her life, but is combated by the great love and support from her family, friends and the new people she has met during this period. The author punctuates the intensity of the context with light and funny moments, such as typical teenage musings and flirty texts. At times, Jasmine did seem too annoyingly perfect, in a Rory from Gilmore Girls case. But I didn’t think this for very long. Her character has a lot of integrity and strength that is to be admired.

I can see readers who might look at Jasmine’s example and ask why she should have the scholarship if she’s not ‘really’ American and deprive someone else of the chance? Jasmine calls California her home, she shares the same values of law-abiding citizens, believes in the American Dream that you can be anybody you want to be if you just work hard enough. The only thing she doesn’t have is a piece of paper confirming this. As Jasmine ends with a kick-ass valedictorian speech, she urges not just her peers, but the reader to look beyond what papers, offices and people say about you. The only person who knows you is you. I make it sound corny, but the book is not- well its a little bit mushy but in a satisfying way.

I really related to this book, being the daughter of immigrants myself. I wish there are more books like this, especially from Asian perspectives. I totally got Jasmine’s confusion, worried about how her friends might think of her, the pressure to be both races but not quite managing it, just ending up as something in the middle. I’m glad this has been published, and hopefully it would help sway opinions about race and immigration.

Many thanks to Cara from HQ Stories for my copy

xxx

About the Author

Melissa de la Cruz is the author of many best-selling novels, including the Blue Bloods series; the Au Pairs series; the Ashleys series; and Angels on Sunset Boulevard. She is also a frequent contributor to Glamour, Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter, and is hard at work on her next book.

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