#BookReview: He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly @HodderBooks

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About the Book

Who do you believe?

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something – and someone – is always in the dark…

 

My Thoughts

I first read Erin Kelly when I read the Broadchurch novel and I was hooked on her writing style so when I saw He Said/She Said was due out I knew I had to get my hands on it. I actually read this book earlier in the year but due to ill health am only reviewing it now, and I can honestly say that this book has really stayed with me in the intervening months – always the sign of a great novel!

He Said/She Said is a novel that hinges around Laura who witnesses a horrible attack during an eclipse, and her life is forever changed by that moment.

I loved the way this novel was set during an eclipse because we’ve all heard about how behaviour can change as the sun disappears. It’s so peculiar to know it’s daytime and yet there is no sun, the air cools down as the darkness grows, and then just as quickly it’s all over and the sun is back. The way Erin Kelly chose to use this as the moment Laura witness the assault is just brilliant because Laura would already have felt unsettled by the eclipse and then to see what she did would have been horrifying to her. It works so well to see how darkness descends so shockingly both literally and metaphorically in this novel.

He Said/She Said does move around in time – we get the build up to the assault and immediate aftermath in one strand and then in other chapters we’re in the present day and seeing the stress and anxiety that Laura and Kitt are living with. I thought the build up to the assault would be the part of the book that propelled it forward but I found that I was much more fascinated by how Laura dealt with it afterwards. She never feels safe, she seems quite paranoid but as you learn about what has happened you wonder if it’s that or if she really has reason to be frightened. I am always drawn to books that explore anxiety and trauma, having suffered from PTSD myself, and this book was so well done. I had to put it down a few times just to breathe because it really does show what it’s like when you’re reaching breaking point and you don’t know if you can trust your own reactions and perceptions anymore.

This novel also looks at a person’s perception of an event and the way in which we can convince ourselves that something must be true. There is a moment in this book where a lie is told, the teller of which believes it’s a tiny little lie but the repercussions are huge. The tension really builds from this point onwards and this is where the novel really becomes near impossible to put down.

This novel does have brilliant twists and turns, but it also has so much more than that. It’s a great exploration of how we deal with witnessing a traumatic event, and I loved it for that. He Said/She Said is a slow burn novel but it does continually build and build, and the tension really does reach edge-of-your-seat stuff! This is a novel that really gets under your skin and it’s one you won’t forget!

He Said/She Said is out now and I highly recommend it!

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

About the Author

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Erin Kelly was born in London in 1976 and grew up in Essex. She read English at Warwick University and has been working as a journalist since 1998.

She has written for newspapers including the The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Express and magazines including Red, Psychologies, Marie Claire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

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#BookReview: The Way Back to Us by @kaylangdale @HodderFiction @JazminaMarsh

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Today I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour for Kay Langdale’s brand new novel, The Way Back to Us!

 

About the Book

Cover Since their youngest son, Teddy, was diagnosed with a life-defining illness, Anna has been fighting: against the friends who don’t know how to help; against the team assigned to Teddy’s care who constantly watch over Anna’s parenting; and against the impulse to put Teddy above all else – including his older brother, the watchful, sensitive Isaac.

And now Anna can’t seem to stop fighting against her husband, the one person who should be able to understand, but who somehow manages to carry on when Anna feels like she is suffocating under the weight of all the things that Teddy will never be able to do.

As Anna helplessly pushes Tom away, he can’t help but feel the absence of the simple familiarity that should come so easily, and must face the question: is it worse to stay in an unhappy marriage, or leave?

 

My Thoughts

I’m going to start by saying that I’m a huge fan of Kay Langdale’s novels – the first one I ever read was Her Giant Octopus Moment and I adored it. I can say, with absolute honesty, that The Way Back to Us is her best yet! I read this in one sitting, I just didn’t want to put it down for a minute.

The Way Back to Us is a novel about a family of four who are still coming to terms with the fact that the youngest child, Teddy, has SMA – a rare genetic disorder that has changed all of their lives.

Anna, Teddy’s mum, gave up her career the very second Teddy got his diagnosis. There is a moment where she shares how she felt at that time and I felt so emotional as I was reading it. I don’t have children but I have lived through that horrendous life-defining moment where you know your world has moved on its axis and your life is forever changed. Anna becomes fiercely protective over Teddy – she’s become obsessive about cleaning and keeping him safe from germs but she’s utterly devoted to him and fights so hard for his right to attend a normal school. I could totally identify with her desire to stop germs coming into the house – I was the same when I was a carer to my mum as she went through chemo as part of the palliative care. It’s partly a need to protect your loved one but it’s also a way of having some control over the desperate circumstances you find yourself in. I felt such empathy for Anna, I wanted to reach through the pages and hug her.

Tom is Teddy’s dad and he is now the sole bread winner for the family and so is very focused on his work. When he gets home he rushes to his children to greet them but Anna is often distant with him and he doesn’t understand why. As a reader you have an all-seeing eye and can spot what is happening but these characters are mired in the situation and can’t see the wood for the trees. Tom clearly loves his children, and his wife, but when Anna seems to always be snapping at him to be careful with Teddy it’s easy to see why a work colleague starts to catch Tom’s eye. The situation they’re in is not an excuse to think about cheating but it’s so apparent that Tom loves his family – he just feels redundant as Anna is so focused on what needs to be done, and Tom is focused on work that there never seems to be time for them to sit and just talk about how they feel.

Isaac is Teddy’s older brother and he is such a wonderful child. Kay Langdale has the writing so spot on in that Isaac always comes across as a child but he is so perceptive, he can’t always understand what is going on with his parents but he picks up on the mood and the atmosphere. He is so caring towards his mum, he is really tuned in to her feelings and wants to do anything he can to help her. He tries to soothe her at times by trying to look on the bright side, and he takes care of himself to take some of the responsibility off her shoulders. The thing I loved most about Isaac though was his relationship with Teddy. He is so careful not to hurt him but at the same time is determined to help him try to do normal, fun things. There is a moment when Isaac tries to help Teddy learn to hop, which is impossible as Teddy can’t even stand unaided, but the amount of pure love and joy in both boys in that moment radiates from the page. I adored that moment and it makes me smile every time I think of it.

The novel is set in the present but we get the back story as the characters, particularly Anna, mulls over how she got here. As we learn about how Teddy was diagnosed  the language Anna uses in her own thoughts is so telling – there is a moment when the doctor explains how her genes and Tom’s led to Teddy having SMA and Anna ponders about other men she had relationships with and how their genes might have mixed differently but then she thinks of Tom ‘who carried it undetected towards me’. She doesn’t really blame Tom but it’s an undercurrent, a thing that can’t be said in their marriage – it shows her anger and her sadness that this has happened to them, to their child.

The clever way the story is built on in each chapter, with more layers and depth as we see other points of view ,is brilliant. Kay Langdale deftly shows how each person feels and what they think but how they often just can’t say it because their own pain holds them back, and they fear making things worse. It feels so real as you read this novel – the missed chances between Anna and Tom took my breath away at times, I was willing them to find a way to really communicate with each other. My heart broke when Tom tried to recreate old times with Anna  by fantasising on what they could spend his bonus on, he was trying so hard and I loved him for it, but Anna’s first words are how they could use the money to help Teddy, which is totally understandable, but it broke the spell of the moment. My heart was breaking for them both at this point.

I won’t give any spoilers but there is an incident with a kite in this novel and it’s in the aftermath of that where we really come to understand why each member of the family is the way they are. The mix of sheer joy from one, sheer terror from another, the misplaced fear and the worry from the other two is palpable. We learn so much in this part of the novel and it’s the point when it felt like make or break for this family and I was really hoping they would find a way to move toward each other again once the pain and anger subsided.

The Way Back to Us is at its heart a novel about how people cope when life throws a massive curveball at them. It’s a look at relationships – between a married couple, between parents and their children, and between siblings – that is so raw and honest that at times you need to pause and take a breath. The plot of this novel is very moving but it’s more a look at the characters, and they are such well thought out characters. The way Kay Langdale makes you feel sympathy for everyone in this family is so cleverly done – it would be easy to make Anna the good guy and Tom the bad guy in the marriage but that never happens. Instead, through the layering of the perspectives we just see the reality of their lives in its raw and honest state. There is heartbreak in this novel, and honestly I shed quite a few tears whilst reading, but there is beauty and joy too.

This novel is incredible and so beautifully written. I can’t stop thinking about these characters – they feel like real people to me. This is such an emotional novel – at times it’s heartbreaking but it really is such a stunning read. Kay Langdale is a master of crafting novels that feel so true and real, she really gets under the skin of her characters and makes them feel like people you know – I’m sure that these characters will have a hold on me for a long while to come. This is absolutely Kay Langdale’s best work to date and I am certain that The Way Back to Us will be one of my top books of this year – I’ll be recommending it to everyone! Go buy a copy now, you won’t regret it!

The Way Back to Us is out now.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

I was very lucky that I got to interview Kay Langdale when her previous novel, The Comfort of Others, was published so you can read more about her here if you’d like to.

 

About the Author

Kay Langdale © John Cairns

Kay Langdale was born in Coventry, England.

From a young age she loved to read and to write.

She attended Bedford College, London University, graduating with a first class degree in English Literature and then went to Oxford University where she completed a doctorate on Samuel Beckett’s prose fiction. She briefly taught twentieth century literature at St Edmund Hall, Oxford before beginning work as an account handler and copywriter at a brand consultancy.

She is married to a South African entrepreneur, with whom she has four children who are now mostly grown. Kay divides her time between their homes in Oxfordshire and Devon.

Now writing her eighth novel, Kay also works as an editor for the charity The Children’s Radio Foundation which trains young broadcasters in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

When not writing Kay enjoys running, ballet barre, yoga, swimming, coastal walking, learning Italian, cooking and reading. Always reading.

(Bio taken from: KayLangdale.com)

 

You can follow the rest of this blog tour at the following stops:

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#BookReview: The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull #blogtour @rebeccamascull @HodderBooks

The wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

About the Book

In Edwardian England, aeroplanes are a new, magical invention, while female pilots are rare indeed.

When shy Della Dobbs meets her mother’s aunt, her life changes forever. Great Auntie Betty has come home from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, across whose windswept dunes the Wright Brothers tested their historic flying machines. Della develops a burning ambition to fly and Betty is determined to help her.

But the Great War is coming and it threatens to destroy everything – and everyone – Della loves.

Uplifting and page-turning, THE WILD AIR is a story about love, loss and following your dreams against all odds.

My Thoughts

The Wild Air is a wonderful novel, it drew me in from the prologue and had me captivated right through to the final page. This is the story of Cordelia (Della) Dobbs who knows that her place in life is to help her mother until such a time that she marries and has children of her own to raise. Della loves cycling and mending her bike and is fascinated by how things work. So when her Great-Auntie Betty arrives from America and introduces Della to kite flying and later aeroplanes it seems her life might be about to change beyond all recognition.

This book is so much about female ambition and determination and I loved that: from feisty, no-nonsense Great-Auntie Betty to her niece Della whose quiet desire to fly planes slowly becomes a real possibility. I so enjoyed seeing Della’s confidence slowly grow – it was lovely to see her find her voice, to begin to tentatively step forward and ask for what she wanted, to stand her ground. Even Della’s mum quietly admits to a long ago desire to achieve in a man’s world but it was something that she just couldn’t push ahead with. It means she has a real understanding of her daughter’s desire to achieve her dream though and she’s always very supportive of Della.

I’ve always been interested in the history around women pilots – I grew up near Hull so was always fascinated by Amy Johnson. Della felt like a real person to me, I absolutely believed in her – her sheer joy of flying planes just shines throughout this book and I was rooting for her all the way. It’s hard to imagine just how difficult it must have been for women in the Edwardian era to find a way into such a male-dominated arena. Della is referred to by one newspaper man as ‘little Della Dobbs’, which is so demeaning for an adult woman who is accomplishing so much in her field. It was also totally believable but still really quite shocking that some of the women who came to see Della were less than impressed with her achievements and were more interested in ‘the arrangements for [her] undercarriage’ – i.e. whether she still wore a corset! I really enjoyed reading about this obviously very well-researched time in history and about the women who paved the way for women pilots like Amy Johnson.

I have to mention one of the male characters in this book too. I loved Dud, he is such a great man and I loved his gentle nature and his enthusiasm for Della’s ambition to be a pilot. He believed in her from the day he saw her flying a kite and he never waivered in his belief in her. It was hard to read about what happened to him during the war, but again this was so beautifully and sensitively written – it really moved me.

The writing in this book is so beautiful and very evocative. My heart was in my mouth as Della gets her first taste of flying – I swear I could hear the propellers and could taste the engine oil. I was holding my breath as I willed her to get it right, to show the men on the ground exactly what she was made of. The moment she feels the wind in her hair for the first time, I could have been up there with her. The sheer magical joy just emanates from the page, it’s fabulous!

Rebecca Mascull really evokes what it was like to live in an era where flying was new and scary and exciting. This novel brought to life the way it must have felt to people to see these flying machines for the first time, and then for people to see female pilots in a time when women were expected to marry and raise a family, and not to have ambitions to have a career in any way equal to a man. The Wild Air is a beautiful, captivating novel and I highly recommend it.

I received a copy of this book from Hodder via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Wild Air is due to be published on 4th May by Hodder & Stoughton and can be pre-ordered now.

About the Author

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Photo taken by Lisa Warrener

 

Rebecca Mascull is the author of THE VISITORS and SONG OF THE SEA MAID. She has previously worked in education, has a Masters in Writing and lives by the sea in the east of England.

(Bio taken from: Hodder)

 

 

 

You can follow the rest of the blog tour at the blogs below:

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Interview with author @KayLangdale about The Comfort of Others #BlogTour @HodderBooks

 

Today I’m thrilled to be kicking off the blog tour for Kay Landale’s The Comfort of Others and am very excited to be sharing an interview I’ve done with Kay.

Please tell my readers a little bit about yourself and your novel

The Comfort Of Others is my sixth novel. It tells the story of the friendship between an elderly woman, Minnie, and an eleven year old boy, Max. Both have issues that they need to come to terms with, and the novel is about how they approach that.

I live in Oxfordshire, am married and have four fledged children between the ages of nineteen and twenty four. When I’m not writing or reading I’m mostly walking or running, and my labradoodle Rocco is with me for all of the above – his favourite spot is beneath my writing desk.

I’m reading The Comfort of Others at the moment and am finding it very moving – in particular the way you show the loneliness of Max and Minnie, and the way it’s possible to find friends in the places you’d least expect. What inspired you to write it?

I’m so pleased that you are finding it moving – thank you.

Minnie was the character I started with. I was interested in portraying someone who has not lived the life she wanted to life, and who has been stigmatised by shame and secrecy. I wanted to explore how someone who was basically vulnerable and sinned against can manoeuvre themselves into a position where they see themselves as wholly at fault. I also wanted to think about how time can change the perspective by which something is viewed, and Rosemount was a means of ‘fastening’ Minnie into the period in which it all happened.

I was very conscious that Minnie wouldn’t open up to an adult and so I wanted to explore how a child – with a child’s unerring accuracy for truth – might be able to win her trust. Max is watchful; he is frequently just on the outside of things, and it was this shared quality which became the premise for their friendship.

I’m finding myself getting quite emotional at some of the things Max says but clearly doesn’t understand yet, but as an adult I see the bigger picture. I’m getting similar emotions coming up whilst reading Minnie’s story – from the way she’s looking back on her life and seeing things anew. Both characters feel like real people to me and I know I’m going to miss them when I finish reading. How did you find writing from the perspective of a young boy, and of an older lady?

I loved writing Max and Minnie.

Minnie came to me almost fully formed. I had such a strong sense of her girlhood – her exuberance, her zest for life – and of how her mother found that so very difficult. The emotional truth of her adult life also felt very immediate to me; her total withdrawal, her bruised reflections and her sadness that she has been so effectively snuffed out by her experiences.

I really enjoy writing from a child’s perspective. Most of my books contain this as a feature. What I loved about Max from the start was his desire to please; whether it’s his mother with her startling hair colours, the old man who gives him the dahlias, or Mrs Philips with her budgie and her buttered brazils. He is constantly trying to piece together the implications of his mother’s actions – which is the same as Minnie when she was a girl – and that kind of watchfulness was a very immersive writing experience.

How did you first come to be a writer?

When I was a child I always wanted to be a writer, and upon leaving university, I refined that into working with words, which I thought made a bit more (necessary) financial sense. I worked as a copywriter for a brand development consultancy, and then began having my children (four of them in five years).

I was totally rubbish at anything resembling controlled crying, and so when my children woke in the night, I would go and sit with them and just pat their backs or stroke their hair but not talk, as we all know how quickly that becomes a game of  i-spy. Sitting beside them in the darkness I began to think about the central character of my first novel – Martha – and basically began telling myself a story. I was working part-time at this point and realised that Martha was developing a hold on me when I would drive to work and be thinking about the plot rather than the meeting I was headed to. When my youngest child started nursery school, we realised we could just about make the numbers work as I could write without the cost of childcare, and so I resigned and began writing the book that became Redemption. For years I fitted my writing around school hours and term times, with lapses for example when they all got chicken pox in perfect sequence. Now that they have all fledged, my timetable is much more flexible. It was very disciplined in the early years!

It depends what stage of a book I’m at. If I’m mulling on the beginnings of an idea I don’t spend much time at my desk. I walk miles and I think, and have my notepad with me, and I tidy cupboards and wardrobes. I’m a big believer that if the mechanical, logical part of your brain is engaged, your creative thinking somehow is liberated.

When I’m writing a first draft, I’m very disciplined. I work most days and aim to have about three to four thousand useful words. That’s not always the case, especially if the plot takes a different turn and I need to pause to recalibrate. I’m very fond of a French phrase – Reculer per mieux sauter – which basically means to pause in order to jump better. I think it’s important to know when to do that.

When I reach the end of a book – the last 20,000 words – I get really obsessive and work much longer days and find it hard to think about anything else.

When I have a complete draft, I put it aside for a couple of weeks and catch up on everything I’ve neglected, and then return to it with fresh eyes and start editing and refining.

It never feels finished – I mostly get to a point where I can’t bear to look at it anymore!

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What has your journey to publication been like?

I’ve been hugely lucky. My first book was published by a small indie publisher, Transita. My second book – which was very dark – did not get an English publisher but went to a three way auction in Germany and then Poland, which was pleasing. I learned some lessons from why that hadn’t worked for a UK audience, and then my third book was signed by Hodder and Stoughton, and they have remained my publishers ever since. I’m working on my eight book now and am hugely proud and thrilled to be part of Hodder’s team of writers. They have a wonderful mural at Carmelite House called the River of Authors which streams around the lifts at each floor. My name is next to John Lennon’s, which is when a school register alphabetised strategy really pays off!

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, Polly Clark’s Larchfield, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and now I’m reading Sarah Dunnant’s In the Name of the Family. I’ve got the new Elizabeth Strout on pre-order on Amazon and can’t wait for it to arrive!

If you were to be stranded on a desert island and could choose just one author’s books to read, who would you pick and why?

Virginia Woolf, no question. To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway are two of my favourite books ever. Every sentence she is writes it so beautifully balanced, so loaded with psychological insight and with such an awareness of what it is to be alive; she would be sustaining company on a desert island.

Is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked? What’s your answer to that question?

That’s a very clever, very tricky question! I think it would probably need some analysis to answer correctly! I write obsessively about mothers, about mothering, about the ties that bind us. To be totally truthful I don’t know why this is such a preoccupation. I have the objective, lit-crit ability to see how much it features in my work – I found Minnie’s account of her mother’s death very moving to write and I hope it holds a truth about what we need to feel and hear as adult children – but I can’t subjectively tell you why that is the case.

How can people connect with you on social media?

Twitter @kaylangdale. I’m constantly vowing to be become better at it although am also mindful how it can suck up time. I always answer back, and really enjoy hearing from readers.

 


 

The Comfort of Others is out now and available from all good bookshops or online at BookDepository.

The blog tour continues all this week and you can find the other stops here:

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#BookReview: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel @EmilyKitchin @HodderBooks

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About the Book:

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.

My Thoughts:

I have to admit that I didn’t really know what this book was about when I received a surprise copy in the post. I’d seen photos of the book cover, which is gorgeous, on social media but I hadn’t really taken in what it was about. I’m actually quite glad that I didn’t know what it was about as the secret running through this story is a topic that may have led me to thinking this book wasn’t for me and that would have meant I’d have missed out on this brilliant novel.

The Roanoke Girls is a really intense, dark and claustrophobic read. The dry heat that stifles Lane when she moves to Kansas emanates from this book so that even though I was reading it on a cold winter day I could feel the heat on me. I felt like I was trapped in this small town with Lane, that I was almost in her head and could almost see what had happened to Allegra but couldn’t quite shake it free from the recesses of my mind. 

This isn’t a fast-paced thriller; it’s more of a slow-burn noir that builds and builds until you feel like you can’t breathe (in a good way!). I was suspicious of everyone; there are lots of secrets in this book that are waiting to be discovered.

The cover of this novel is so perfect. It seems like a fairly innocuous, albeit very pretty and retro wallpaper that seemingly belies what the novel is actually about BUT that tear across the cover is so brilliant – the sneak peak of what lies beneath is just utter genius. The idea that something perfect and pretty can be damaged and ripped apart really does encapsulate what this novel is about.

The Roanoke girls seem to have a power over everyone they meet, they just captivate people, and they will get to you just the same. This book (and these girls) will weave a spell over you, it will pull you in and it won’t let you go until long after you’ve finished reading.

This book is disturbing and dark and twisted yet utterly brilliant! I highly recommend The Roanoke Girls and I already can’t wait to read whatever Amy Engel writes next.

I received a copy of this book from Hodder and Stoughton in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

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Amy Engel is the author of the young adult series The Book of Ivy. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. The Roanoke Girls is her first novel for adults.