Guest Posts

Winter Light – Martha Engber

Today I am joined by Martha Engber, as part of the blog tour for her book Winter Light. Many thanks to Martha for taking the time to talk to us today about her goals as an author, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources, for inviting me to be a part of the tour.


Fifteen-year-old Mary Donahue of suburban Chicago is a kid on the cusp of failure during the brutal blizzard winter of 1978-79, the end of a hard luck, hard rock era sunk in the cynical aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Though a smart, beautiful kid, she’s a motherless girl raised by an uneducated, alcoholic father within an extended family of alcoholics and addicts. Aware that she’s sinking, she’s desperate to save herself and so reaches out to an unlikely source, Kathleen, a nice, normal kid from English class.

But when the real storm hits, the full force of a harsh adult world almost buries Mary. Only then does she learn that the only difference between life and death is knowing when to grasp an extended hand.


Amazon UK

Amazon US

WinterLight Cover


My goal as an author is to write books that completely capture readers’ imaginations. Not partially. Not almost. But totally. In short, I’m trying to achieve the same level of immersion in other universes that I experienced while reading when I was a kid.

Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Garden, Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game. The genre never mattered to me so long as two things occurred: 1) the author launched me to where I’d never been before, and 2) the author never — not for a single moment — broke the magic of that universe. When I finished that kind of book, I’d be sad for days, wishing I could get back to that world, but knowing I couldn’t.

I suppose getting spoiled like that so early on is why nothing irks me more than sloppy storytelling where I can see author missteps: characters not acting according to their natures; plot twists that don’t make sense; telling me too much, even though the author has done a good job of showing what’s going on.

If I’m a harsh critic of other books, that means I have to be even tougher on my own, which I took to heart when writing Winter Light.

Though I wrote the first draft in about four months, I spent the next ten years turning the material over and over to see every angle of every moment, because I know as a reader how even one tiny oversight can rip a reader out of that particular world.

The most interesting part of writing this book, however, was that magical moment when I no longer thought about the reader, but instead felt overcome with responsibility to Mary Donahue and the need to tell her story right. If I was going to burden her to the point of breaking, I had to see and understand every implication of that weight and its effect on her and others.

And therein came my epiphany as an author. By losing myself in Mary’s universe, as I once got lost as a reader, I allowed Mary to tell her own story. She’s so with such strength and courage that she — not I — is the one who will bring readers into her world and keep them there to the very end.

Long live characters who allow us to feel at such a deep level!


Winter Light - Martha Engber author photo

Martha Engber’s next novel, WINTER LIGHT, will be published Oct. 6, 2020, by Vine Leaves Press. She’s also the author of THE WIND THIEF, a novel, and GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS FROM THE GROUND UP. A journalist by profession, she’s written hundreds of articles for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. She’s had a play produced in Hollywood and fiction and poetry published in the Aurorean, Watchword, the Berkeley Fiction Review and other journals. She’s also a freelance editor, workshop facilitator and speaker. She currently lives in Northern California with her husband, bike and surfboard.







Martha is running three fab giveaways at the moment – if you click on the prize info for each, it will take you to the Rafflecopter entry form. Ts & Cs for all three are underneath the entry links.

Win an e-copy of Winter Light (Open INT)

Win a Book Club Chat from Martha Engber (Open INT)

Win a free hour book development consultation with Martha Engber (Open INT)

Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter links.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Don’t forget to pay a visit to the other blogs on the tour to find out more about Winter Light.

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Book Review

Dyed Souls – Gary Santorella

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the award winning Dyed Souls, by Gary Santorella. Many thanks to Gary, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for providing me with a copy of the book.


Described by John Lloyd of The Bookbag as “Catcher in the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Dyed Souls is a gritty coming-of-age literary novel, set in a residential treatment center in 1980’s California.

Charlie Lyle loves science, natural history, and the world of the mind, and it is his refuge and salvation as he copes with his drug-addicted mother and a world of circumstances well-beyond his grasp. More a work of philosophy than psychology, “For the teen it has a galling coming-of-age, redemption quest. For the adult it has that, as well as a literary look at a singular fictional life.”

Dyed Souls Cover



Amazon UK

Dyed Souls has won two awards:

Silver in the 2018 Global eBook Awards – Young Adult Fiction Category

Chill With a Book Readers Award.


I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with this book, as the blurb doesn’t give too much away, but something about it caught my attention, so I thought I would give it a try. In all honesty, it took me a couple of attempts to get into it, but once I did I was completely drawn in. I fell hard for all the troubled kids living at Hawthorne, and I felt deeply invested in each of their stories. I could have happily followed any one of them to see what happened, and would actually love to know how each of them turned out. But this was not their story, it was Charlie’s.

As Charlie begins his journey into adulthood, we see him encounter the best and worst people that society has to offer. This is not a book that is always comfortably reading, and there are parts that I found quite harrowing, but they were filled with such raw emotion that at no time did I feel that anything had been added simply to get a reaction from the reader. Everything that happens does so for a reason that shapes Charlie and the way he lives his life.

Although this is very much a coming of age tale, there is so much more to it than that. The depth given to each of the characters, even those encountered only briefly, breathes a whole life into the writing, and results in an almost philosophical view on life.

I am really struggling to find the right words to say to do justice to this book, so I will leave you with this. Just read it. You won’t regret it.


Dyed Souls Author PicGary Santorella, Owner, Interactive Consulting is a Lean implementation, organizational development, conflict resolution, and team-building specialist. He has a BA in Behavioural Psychology from Providence College, Providence, RI (1980), a Master’s Degree in Occupational Social Welfare from UC Berkeley (1990), and is a licensed cognitive-behavioural therapist in the State of California. His book: Lean Culture for the Construction Industry: Building Responsible & Committed Project Teams 2nd Edition was published by Productivity Press (a division of Taylor & Francis) in 2017. His first novel, Dyed Souls, was published by Matador Publishing in 2018.





Don’t forget to pay a visit to the other blogs taking part in the tour.

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Gap Years – Dave Holwill – Extract from Chapter One

I am so excited to have a second stop on the Gap Years blog tour, and absolutely thrilled to be able to share an extract from the start of chapter one of the book with you all. Thank you so much to Dave Holwill for allowing me to share this.


Shit, Dad was right.

Why does Dad have to be right?

Why am I so annoyed that I am wrong?

That’s not what’s important here.

Priorities Sean, that car just came out of nowhere, and your twelve year old stepsister is in a hedge.

Not on her bike, in the hedge, upside down and not screaming anymore. It’s been less than a month since we met, and I’ve killed her.


Why didn’t they stop? The car should have stopped, pulled over and checked we’re alright before apologising – and helping. It didn’t, it swerved round me, the dog’s lead went completely taut and my bike stopped (I didn’t, I am soaring over the car in a slow, graceless arc). Dad told me not to tie the dog to the bike, and not to take Melody on the road. He loves all three of us – I assume, he hasn’t mentioned it to me – but he will probably love them a little more than me when he hears about this.

I look down at the flattened dog, and Melody’s legs poking from the hedge. With a twitch of toes and squeal of joy she leaps out in a single bound.

‘Come on Whizzy, get up.’ A crackle of green light streaks from her finger. The blood pooling in the road regroups and streams back into the dog, who re-inflates, runs a few circles around Melody then sits next to her with his best good boy bark, tail thumping against the pot-holed lane.

‘Sean, come down from there and let’s carry on,’ Melody groans, as another flash from her fingers turns our bikes from mangled wrecks to two new, perfect specimens. I try to land but am unable, I am soaring ever higher, floating on a gentle summer thermal towards the sun, the sun has a face, it is smiling at me, beckoning me closer with short stubby yellow arms. I feel its warmth across my face, it smells like hot tarmac.

Tarmac, I remember now.

I am unconscious.

Melody is not a wizard.

The dog is almost certainly dead.

I landed on my head.

The balance of my life is now dependant on whether or not the helmet I hope I am still wearing was worth the extra twenty quid it cost. I suppose this flying towards the sun is some kind of rubbish visualisation of me clinging to/escaping from life. After all these contactless years I finally get to spend some time with Dad and his family and I’ve killed most of them/us. Well played Sean, well played.

I am metaphorically dragged back down to the road and reality. I open my eyes to a wheel flashing past. It’s a big wheel and very close. This is a truck, I am still lying in the road, why is nobody stopping? I pull myself to my feet, and check my limbs. All moving, a bit achy, probably just bruises. Good news, I walk towards the dog, at least I try, before my right leg gives way and I cascade to the ground.

‘Hey, are you alright man?’ A voice, finally somebody has stopped.

‘Apparently not, how many fingers am I holding up?’ I ask, waving my hand.

‘Three, but that’s not how it works, how many am I holding up?’ He thrusts his hand in my face.

‘Oh yeah, that’s true, three?’ I venture, I can see three, I hope I’m right.

‘Three it is,’ he laughs. ‘You’ll be fine, come on then.’ He picks me up off the road and helps me over to the verge. I recognise him now. I’ve seen him around. He looks like he came straight from a Grateful Dead concert, all long hair, beard and tie-dyed shirts. I see him quite a lot when I’m cycling about, he goes everywhere on a big old heavy dutch bike – which in Devon is madness, these hills are hard enough work on my super-lightweight road bike – usually with a basket full of cider, in a big floppy straw hat and flip flops. I don’t think he’s a serious cyclist, but I do think he can’t afford a car.

‘My sister,’ I say, ‘she’s… she’s…’

‘Already seen to her,’ he says, ‘in the recovery position and breathing, you got a phone I can use? Or you want to call it in yourself?’

‘You haven’t called an ambulance?’

‘Hey man, I needed to check you were both breathing.’ He looks offended, I feel bad now. ‘And anyway, I don’t have a telephone, no need for one, happier without.’

‘Okay, I can do it,’ I say, fumbling in my back pouch for my phone. I make the 999 call, my companion proving invaluable in pinpointing our location.

‘And the dog?’ I ask, once I know the ambulance is coming, I don’t think I want to hear the answer.

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If that has grabbed your attention, you can find out more about Gap Years, and Dave Holwill over on my review from 15th February here. Don’t forget to have a look at the other blogs taking part.

Book Review

Gap Years – Dave Holwill

I am hopping on board the blog tour for Gap Years by Dave Holwill today. Many thanks to Dave, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources, for inviting me to take part and for providing me with a copy of the book.


19 year old Sean hasn’t seen his father since he was twelve. His mother has never really explained why. An argument with her leads to his moving to the other side of the country.

Martin, his father, has his life thrown into turmoil when the son he hasn’t seen in nearly eight years strolls back into his life immediately killing his dog and hospitalising his step-daughter.

The one thing they have in common is the friendship of a girl called Rhiannon.

Over the course of one summer Sean experiences sexual awakenings from all angles, discovers the fleeting nature of friendship and learns to cope with rejection.

Martin, meanwhile, struggles to reconnect with Sean while trying to delicately turn down the increasingly inappropriate advances of a girl he sees as a surrogate daughter and keep a struggling marriage alive.

Gap Years is an exploration of what it means to be a man in the 21st Century seen from two very different perspectives – neatly hidden inside a funny story about bicycles, guitars and unrequited love.



Amazon UK


Let me start by saying that Gap Years has one of the strangest starts to a book that I have read in a long time. After just the first page, I was completely drawn in to Dave Holwill’s unique writing style. Come back on 21st to find out what I mean.

Gap Years covers a lot of subject matter that has the potential to be quite heavy – estranged families, confusion over sexuality, a struggling marriage, unwanted advances. However, it is filled with a dry wit that, at times, had me laughing out loud as Sean and Martin stumble through the minefield of modern life and emotional relationships in a way that only us Brits can. Honestly, I think 12 year old Melody is the most emotionally mature character in the book and I love her for that.

Gap Years is told from the alternating perspectives of Martin and Sean, and although they each have a very distinctive voice, it is easy to see that they are much more alike than either realises, or is prepared to admit. It is a real coming of age story for both characters (even though obviously Martin has been a “grown up” for many years), but without all the sickly sweet niceness that often comes out in books about teenagers turning to adulthood. Instead it is wonderfully awkward and entirely real. I loved every second of it.


Gap Years - AuthorHeadShotDave Holwill was born in Guildford in 1977 and quickly decided that he preferred the Westcountry – moving to Devon in 1983 (with some input from his parents).
After an expensive (and possibly wasted) education there, he has worked variously as a postman, a framer, and a print department manager (though if you are the only person in the department then can you really be called a manager?) all whilst continuing to play in every kind of band imaginable on most instruments you can think of.
Gap Years is his third novel – following on the heels of Weekend Rockstars and The Craft Room, and he is currently working on the fourth (a folk horror set in his native mid-Devon) and a sequel to Weekend Rockstars.








Make sure you pay a visit to the other blogs taking part on the tour, and remember to pop back here on 21st February, when I will be sharing an extract from the book.

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