Spotlight on Laura Barnett: Authors Who’ve Most Influenced My Work

May 26, 2016 Spotlight Author 1

I am constantly fascinated and amazed by the authors who influence a writer. It’s like taking a peek at a writer’s bookshelf, but even better! This way there’s more background on why a particular author is chosen!

So, it is with immense pleasure that I bring you author, Laura Barnett.  Her debut novel The Versions of Us, was released in the U.S. earlier this month after first being released in the UK June, 2015. Plus 24 additional countries have since published The Versions of Us!  In case you missed it, my review is here.

Without further ado, welcome Laura Barnett!

Laura Barnett

I wouldn’t be the writer – or the person – I am today if it weren’t for Anne Tyler. I was thirteen when I read my first Tyler novel, A Slipping-Down Life: the book had come free with my mum’s women’s magazine, and she passed it on to me.

It was so much better than I was expecting: there, caught between those flimsy paperback covers, was a young woman’s whole life, rendered in all its blazing ordinariness and tawdry glamour. Since then, I’ve read every novel Tyler has written, and her particular brand of clear-sighted, emotionally cogent, unshowy realism has probably been the biggest single influence on me as an author.

While writing my debut novel, The Versions of Us, I discovered another author who would send shockwaves through my understanding of the power of literary realism. Elizabeth Jane Howard was, for a time, married to Kingsley Amis, and was also, for me anyway, the far more interesting writer. She died in 2014, but I read an interview with her the year before – just as I’d started the first draft of The Versions of Us – and thought she sounded wickedly intelligent and fascinating.

I began the first of Howard’s five-novel series, the Cazalet chronicles – about an upper middle-class English family before, during and after the second world war – and was dazzled by it. Her writing is intense, almost hypnotic, and incredibly detailed – we get everything from the characters’ innermost thoughts to the brands of shampoo they are using. I read all five Cazalet books in quick succession, and they gave me so much courage in my own attempts to capture life as it is actually lived, and pin it to the page.

My other ambition for The Versions of Us – and for all my writing, really – is to explore love not as an idealised, impossible dream, but as the real, flawed, multi-faceted, difficult emotion we all experience day to day. The writer who has most influenced that aspect of my work is probably Richard Yates. I read his novel Revolutionary Road – as devastating an examination of a bad marriage as anything ever written – shortly before my own wedding. It probably wasn’t the best timing, but I took such a useful lesson from it about not being afraid to confront the most challenging aspects of love, as well as its many joys.

The Versions of Us is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Laura Barnett is an author and a journalist based in southeast London. An arts journalist and theater critic, Laura writes for The Guardian, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph and Time Out London. An interesting side note ~ Laura has an article in the British Vogue on migraines. The article perfectly sums up the life of a chronic migraineur. {Laura, as a fellow sufferer since age 19, I can empathize with you and the women in your family. Thank you for your wonderful article and attempting to quash a few myths about it being ‘just a bad headache.’}

Website | Twitter

from Goodreads:

the versions of us

In one moment, two lives will be changed forever . . . and forever . . . and forever.

The one thing that’s certain is they met on a Cambridge street by chance and felt a connection that would last a lifetime. But as for what happened next . . . They fell wildly in love, or went their separate ways. They kissed, or they thought better of it. They married soon after, or were together for a few weeks before splitting up. They grew distracted and disappointed with their daily lives together, or found solace together only after hard years spent apart.  With The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett has created a world as magical and affecting as those that captivated readers in One Day and Life After Life. It is a tale of possibilities and consequences that rings across the shifting decades, from the fifties, sixties, seventies, and on to the present, showing how even the smallest choices can define the course of our lives.


Thoughts on Flight Patterns

May 24, 2016 Book Review, reviews 4

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Thoughts on Flight PatternsFlight Patterns by Karen White
Published by NAL on May 24th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Southern
Pages: 416
Source: complimentary review copy


I’ve been a fan of Karen White’s books since Falling Home and After the Rain. She’s one of those authors that it doesn’t matter what the book is about, I’m going to buy it. My absolute favorite book of Karen White’s is On Folly Beach ~ that one was like immersing myself in dream, buying a used bookstore & living at the beach…

So about Flight Patterns. I’m not sure what went wrong with this one, but for me, I simply could not buy into the premise, the characters or even the setting. And setting is typically this author’s strong point!

What I did not love

  • Maisy. She was angry at the world, spiteful and simply not a nice person. It seemed like the author was trying to make a point with Maisy’s character and how our parents can affect us even into adulthood. I did not see any real growth in her character throughout the book. Even in the end she felt flat and one-dimensional to me – an angry, bitter person.
  • The progression of the book seemed stilted. It’s like the author threw every contrived scenario at the characters in order to create emotional drama and impact but instead, it didn’t flow with White’s typical immersive storytelling skill.
  • The novel felt too long and drawn out. We were told many, many times how Birdie was mentally unstable and Maisie was ‘justifiably’ angry and Georgia was responsible for everything.

What I did enjoy

  • Becky, Maisy’s daughter. Such a sweetly drawn character who stole the show for me.
  • Many of the bee facts – fascinating!

When a hive is invaded by a wasp, the bees cluster around the intruder and fan their wings to make it 117 degrees, knowing that wasps cannot survive temperatures above 116. This is the ultimate act of survival, as the bees will die if the temperature reaches 118 degrees.

  • Nuggets of life truths sprinkled throughout the book:

When you let your hurt from the past control you, you are tied to it forever. You will never change your life until you learn to let go the things that once hurt you.

Because no one can hurt us as much as those we love the most.

Sometimes all we need to do to forgive our parents is to understand their own childhoods.

I”d honestly recommend one of Karen White’s earlier books over this one, especially On Folly Beach…have I mentioned how much I love that book?!?



Book Review: The Versions of Us

May 20, 2016 Book Review, reviews 6

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Book Review: The Versions of UsThe Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 416


Eva and Jim meet at Cambridge in 1958.  Eva is a writer while Jim is either pursuing art or law in the different versions. What begins as a beautiful love story from a chance meeting turns into version 2 and version 3. Each one slightly different, yet enough to change the trajectory of their story. It’s the equivalent of three different ‘what if’s?’ Which is a brilliant idea for a story as most of us play the what if game in our minds and in our journals.

The writing is lovely and immersive. The subtle nuances of each storyline is fleshed out.

Perhaps that’s how love always arrives in this imperceptible slippage from acquaintance to intimacy. Eva pg 12


I had difficulty following the different storylines as each chapter changes. I felt disjointed in reading The Versions of Us. It was almost hard work keeping up with which version was which. I wanted to love the book. I truly did. It was a smart story, incredible idea and beautiful writing. I just had a hard time keeping up.

Side note ~ there are wonderful references to books and publishing houses throughout the book:

Pale brown hair, in need of a cut; a Penguin paperback in his free hand. Eva can just make out the title on the spine, Brave New World . . .

He shifts the paperback he is carrying–Mrs. Dalloway; he’d found it on his mother’s bedside table as he was packing. . .

It was fun finding the references to literature and pop culture throughout the book – everything from Shakespeare to People magazine. Even David Bowie has a mention.

Have you read this one? Am I right that we all tend to play the ‘what-if’ game in our heads or am I the only one 😉 ?


*With tremendous thanks I received The Versions of Us from the publisher for the purpose of an honest unbiased review.*




Sunday Serenade with Aloi from Guiltless Reading

May 15, 2016 Book Talk 8

guiltless reading


I’m thrilled to bring you Aloi of Guiltless Reading for Sunday Serenade. Aloi is tireless in her dedication to getting the Nobels into everyone’s hands, sharing incredible tips and resources and being a great blogging friend to many, including me! Truly, Aloi is a sweetheart and champion of books. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much I did!

You’ve got several resources and activities on your site for both the reader and the blogger. Can you share a bit about Read the Nobels, Author Reader Connect, Travel the World in Books and all the additional extras you share?  

When you list everything out like that, it seems like such a lot! All these “resources” pretty much evolved out of my own interests, which to say the least, are eclectic and numerous. I get inspired by so many things that my blog seems to go off on many tangents. But since book bloggers and authors come by the blog, it was only natural that everything revolved around reading, literature, and anything even remotely bookish.

Bookmark Monday has been around since 2009. I simply started posting pics of my bookmarks or anything fun, creative, or quirky that I came across online. I later decided to make it a meme since I know that a lot of readers love bookmarks too! Despite it not having too many participants at any given time, bookmarks fascinate me too much for me to put an end to this meme. I also enjoy graphic design so when I get the urge to make something … be careful, I’ll put up a free printable bookmarks.

Author Reader Connect had its beginnings in 2013 but I only gave its name in 2016. Now I’m trying to more actively promote it. Basically, it’s a self-organizing book list that both book bloggers and authors can access — authors can offer up a book for review or a book blogger can get contact info of authors to request a book to review. Years ago I was getting so many requests from authors, the pressure was on and I didn’t know what to do. (In retrospect, I just had a hard time saying “no.” I was on crazy one-review-a-week sked as I barely turned anyone down. Obviously all this fizzled out. I couldn’t sustain that level of reading and reviewing.) Hopefully this resource gets some more love!

Read the Nobels is another very old idea — 2007ish. At the time, reading award-winning literature like the Booker, the Pulitzer, the Newbery, etc. was a thing. I dedicate the idea of the blog to Gabriel Garcia Marquez who I was surprised to learn is a Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. Since there was no blog specifically for reading Nobel Prize-winning literature, I decided to start one. It’s a perpetual challenge so it has people coming and going. I’m pretty dang proud that despite a small following, it attracts very keen, focused readers. And when I read others’ reviews, it only inspires me to seek out more Nobels! (my TBR for Nobels alone is pretty ridiculous). As a side project,  I started creating Nobel wallpapers because I couldn’t find any existing to feature. Besides, I get to pick who to feature that way!

Travel the World in Books wasn’t my brainchild (yo, special shout out to my awesome co-hosts Mom’s Small Victories, I’m Lost in Books, Savvy Working Girl and Fictional 100)! In practice, I had always been attracted to stories set all over the world, written by authors from different countries, and exploring other cultures. I have a wunderlust in reading (and life, if I had the money!). It was only a matter of time that I discovered this particular reading challenge (yet another perpetual one – do you see a pattern here?). I joined the challenge in 2014, even hosting a mini challenge (with full tutorial) that encouraged people to create their Google Book Map to keep track of their reads. I loved the whole experience, particularly interacting with such an eager group of readers   … and I was over-the-top excited when the hosts invited me to co-host! It’s great to be part of a project with some wonderful people. It adds a more personal and fun dimension to the reading experience.

I can see where the Author Reader Connect would be immensely helpful – especially for newer bloggers and authors. The ability or rather lack thereof, to say ‘no’ is something I think us readers are all cursed with! I know I have such a hard time saying no, especially after I read a pitch then I’m a goner for sure!

On your site there are strategically placed ads and affiliate relationships featured as well. How long have you worked with ad agencies and affiliates? Are you pleased with the results? What advice would you give to other book bloggers about branching into ads and affiliate marketing?

Ok, this is a no-holds barred admission: I have a love-hate relationship with monetizing. There are a few book-focused bloggers out there who have delved into this rather laden topic. One particular post is by Ashley of NoseGraze (read Making Money from your blog – it’s nothing to be ashamed about)  which got me thinking about this whole dilemma of book bloggers being treated differently from other niche bloggers (say, lifestyle blogger). The post challenges the “norm” of book bloggers practically “working for free” promoting books.

I can’t remember when I first started dabbling with affiliate marketing, it’s been on and off because the payback is so small that it is disheartening. I’ve contemplated not monetizing at all, then I swing to the opposite. Despite being in the blogging scene for such a long time, I am in limbo at the moment and it’s a little embarrassing to admit it since I probably should’ve figured this out early, right? This recent slew of sign-ups with affiliates (only products or services I personally like, use, or willingly buy) is an experiment-of-sorts to see if I can meet this simple goal: make enough to cover the cost of a domain name, hosting and internet fees for a year.

To be totally honest about it, given my current setup, I can’t even cover my basics. That’s why I am still on a free platform, I haven’t bought my own domain and I pretty much do things by myself. The few dollars here and there usually covers a book giveaway or a new blog theme. Definitely cannot quit the day job!

So why do I still do it? I’m hoping that if I stick to this for a full  year, I may just make my goal. If I don’t try it, I’ll never know if I can actually do it. I’m sorry to disappoint every book blogger out there who hopes to makes truckloads of money reviewing books they love! If there is anyone out in book blogging also struggling with this, or if anyone out there has advice for me, I’d love to chat.I’m obviously the worst person to give advice on this topic. Although, one thing is clear to me: you have to be very clear about the goals for your blog.

Ashley’s post is one I go back to often – she’s right. We are basically unpaid marketers for publishers and authors. I’ve struggled with that as I am on a self-hosted WordPress site and I do pay for my domain. I’ve also vacillated between having ads and not running ads. I’d love to talk with you more about this topic! Anyone else want to chime in on the topic please do so!

Time management. Such a huge topic. How do you find the time to read, blog and ‘live this thing called life?’ {sorry, just had to throw in a Prince reference}!

I just go for it. I love to read so I make the time for it, even if it’s little pockets of time in my week. The same goes for blogging — I enjoy it so I make the time for it. Obviously I have obligations like everyone else so those always are top priority. I think what helps me is that I don’t overthink things and I never overschedule myself if I can help it. Also if things don’t go over as planned, I don’t dwell on it. Somehow it all works out. There is no magic formula — if work and family take up more time, something else just has to give, so sorry, reading and blogging. Or, I just go to bed later, once in a while. 🙂 (Sidenote: Aww, I know we’re all going to miss Prince!)

That’s fantastic you work at not over scheduling yourself! It’s something I struggle with always! You make a great point, though, about loving to read and blog, so you make time for it. That comes through in your blog. I’ve also been so impressed at your dedication to the blogging community. Your passion for reading and blogging are admirable!

What advice would you give to a blogger who wants to expand their focus as you did with starting Read the Nobels and Author Blogger Connect?

Wow, Stacy, you make me sound like I have this grand plan! My blog in its present form came about pretty serendipitously. I guess what I’d suggest is if you have an interest, or are itching to do something, pursue it in the way that makes sense to you. If it works out, you’ll reap the rewards. If it doesn’t, at the least you learned something. So either way, take the risk and enjoy the ride!

Wait, don’t you have a grand plan Aloi? I swear I read that somewhere “Aloi’s Grand Plan” 😉

Thank you Aloi for your candidness and time and being willing to talk monetization! I’ve long admired your blog, and I’m so thankful to be getting to know you better!

Friends, you can find Aloi at  Guiltless Reading  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Pinterest  |

If you’re new to Guiltless Reading, check out the fantastic free digital wallpaper Aloi shares here!



Armchair BEA: International Giveaway!

May 14, 2016 Armchair BEA, Book Talk, Giveaway 33

Have you had a great Armchair BEA week?

I’ve had a fabulous time reading so many of the blog posts and learning how to use TweetDeck! Can I just give a shout-out to the Armchair BEA folks! I assisted during the Friday night twitter chat and wow! I’m so impressed with the Armchair BEA team! They have got it going on 🙂

Ok, without further ado. What you’ve all been waiting for….Giveaway Day!

One lucky winner will receive up to $20 in books from the Book Depository! Contest is open worldwide. One winner will be chosen at random.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy Reading!