A Week in Books · Adele Parks · Liz Fenwick · Non-Fiction · Tom Michell · Virginia Woolf

Sarah’s Vignettes Literary Lowdown ~ 15/09/2019

Welcome to this week’s round-up of what’s been going on here at Sarah’s Vignettes, on social media, the books I’ve been adding to my shelves and other bookish delights. Keep scrolling to get the lowdown.

~ On the blog ~

Shelf Control

On Wednesday, I took part in a meme run by fellow book blogger Lisa over at Bookshelf Fantasies called Shelf Control. The idea is to choose a book on your bookshelf that you haven’t read yet and talk about when you got it and why you want to read it.

This week, I chose The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

~ On social media ~

For #ThrowbackThursday, I shared the link to my review for The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick. The tweet below says it all 🙂

~ On my bookshelf ~

It’s been a quiet week for adding books to my bookshelf but I did add 1 to my digital bookshelf.

When I came across the complete writings of Virginia Woolf on Apple Books for 99p, I couldn’t resist downloading them. I much prefer reading a physical copy of a book but this is perfect for dipping in and out of.

Virginia Woolf's writing lodge at Monk's House.

Last year, I visited Monk’s House, Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s 16th-century country retreat in East Sussex. The house and gardens are fascinating but I adored Virginia Woolf’s writing lodge in the garden. It overlooks the South Downs and I can see why she chose to wrote most of her great works there.

Virginia Woolf's desk
Virginia Woolf's desk

Virginia Woolf: The Complete Collection by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf: The Complete Collection by Virginia Woolf

This volume collects the complete writings of Virginia Woolf: 8 novels, 3 ‘biographies,’ 46 short stories, 606 essays, 1 play, her diary and some letters.

Contents:

THE NOVELS
The Voyage Out
Night and Day
Jacob’s Room
Mrs. Dalloway
To the Lighthouse
The Waves
The Years
Between the Acts

THE ‘BIOGRAPHIES’
Orlando: a biography
Flush: a biography
Roger Fry: a biography

THE STORIES
Monday or Tuesday
A Haunted House, and other short stories
Mrs Dalloway’s Party
The Complete Shorter Fiction

THE ESSAYS
The Common Reader I
A Room of One’s Own
On Being Ill
The London Scene
The Common Reader II
Three Guineas
The Death of the Moth, and other essays
The Moment, and other essays
The Captain’s Death Bed, and other essays
Granite and Rainbow
Books and Portraits
Women And Writing
383 Essays from newspapers and magazines

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING
A Writer’s Diary
Moments of Being
The Diary Vols. 1–5
The Letters Vols. 1–6
The Letters of V.W. and Lytton Strachey
A Passionate Apprentice. The Early Journals 1887-1909

THE PLAY
Freshwater: A Comedy (both versions)

~ On my bedside table ~

Lies, Lies, Lies by Adele Parks

Since last week’s lowdown, I have read Lies, Lies, Lies by Adele Parks. Crikey, it kept me on my toes right from Page 1 until the very end. It’s a super read and I will pop a review on here once my thoughts are in a coherent order. It’s left me with such a book hangover that I haven’t started reading anything else yet.


What have you been reading and buying this week? Let me know by leaving a reply in the box below.

Until next week, happy reading!

Advanced Review Copy · Blog Tours · Books · fiction · Mary Beth Keane · Review Copy · Reviews

A Sarah’s Vignettes Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (@Mary_Beth_Keane) ~ @MichaelJBooks #BlogTour

I am pleased to be sharing my review of The New York Times bestseller and Radio 2 Summer Book Club pick Ask Again, Yes , the latest novel from author Mary Beth Keane.

My thanks to Sriya Varadharajan at Michael Joseph for a space on the tour and for me sending me a proof copy of the book (in return for my honest review).

Before I share my thoughts with you, here is what Ask Again, Yes is about.

~ Publisher’s Description ~

A gripping and compassionate drama of two families linked by chance, love and tragedy

Gillam, upstate New York: a town of ordinary, big-lawned suburban houses. The Gleesons have recently moved there and soon welcome the Stanhopes as their new neighbours.

Lonely Lena Gleeson wants a friend but Anne Stanhope – cold, elegant, unstable – wants to be left alone.

It’s left to their children – Lena’s youngest, Kate, and Anne’s only child, Peter – to find their way to one another. To form a friendship whose resilience and love will be almost broken by the fault line dividing both families, and by the terrible tragedy that will engulf them all.

A tragedy whose true origins only become clear many years later . . .

A story of love and redemption, faith and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. 

A story of how, if we’re lucky, the violence lurking beneath everyday life can be vanquished by the power of love.

~ My thoughts ~

Ask Again, Yes is one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time. Set in Gillam, New York, this multigenerational family drama follows the trials and tribulations of neighbours The Stanhopes and The Gleesons across 40 years.

When The Stanhopes move in, everyone expects that Anne Stanhope and Lena Gleeson will be friends. The neighbourhood is so tight, that it is suffocating. However, Anne is very cold towards Lena and it isn’t until much later on in the book that we understand why.

The story is told mostly from the points of view of Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope. Kate and Peter are born during the story and both families are completely different. Seeing events through young and innocent eyes, they cannot understand why their parents want to stop them from being friends. Then as the years pass, we see through their adult eyes the reasoning behind this.

Mary Beth Keane writes with compassion for her characters but she also puts them through the mill, as she does her readers. I was exhausted by the time I came to the end. Four decades of love, loss, tragedy are carefully woven with the topics of mental health, alcoholism, marriage, parenthood, and much more.

At it’s core, Ask Again, Yes shows how the power of love will conquer all. This is a book and an author to watch.

~ Where to find Ask Again, Yes ~

Ask Again, Yes book cover

Ask Again, Yes was published in the UK by Michael Joseph on 7th August 2019. You can buy it in all good bookshops and on Amazon UK. It is also on Goodreads.

~ About Mary Beth Keane ~

Mary Beth Keane, author photo

Mary Beth Keane attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA. In 2011, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 Under 35,’ and in 2015 she was awarded a John S. Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing. She currently lives in Pearl River, New York, with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of The Walking People , Fever , and Ask Again, Yes .

W: MaryBethKeane.com ~ F: @mbkwriter ~ T: @Mary_Beth_Keane ~ I: @marybethkeane

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Advanced Review Copy · Ali Pantony · Blog Tours · Books · fiction · Review Copy · Reviews

A Sarah’s Vignettes Book Review: Almost Adults by Ali Pantony (@alipantony) ~ @EburyPublishing #BlogTour

I am pleased to be sharing with you my review of Almost Adults , the debut novel from journalist and author Ali Pantony.

My thanks to Alice King at Ebury Press for a space on the blog tour and for sending me a proof copy of the book (in return for this honest review).

Before I share my thoughts with you, here is what Almost Adults is about.

~ Publisher’s Description ~

The struggle is real but at least they’re all in it together.

Ever managed to kill a succulent after just a few days? 
Got seven reminder letters on the kitchen table because you forgot to pay your council tax? 
Become a hot mess who’s falling apart because they’ve been broken up with?

Mackie, Edele, Alex and Nat are navigating their chaotic and confusing twenties together. They have jobs and pay their own rent (well, most of them) but don’t know how to bleed radiators, defrost a freezer or test the smoke alarms.

With break-ups to deal with and major decisions to make, life can get messy especially when they’re still trying to get the hang of this ‘being a grown-up’ thing.

Welcome to the joys of being almost adults.

~ My thoughts ~

Almost Adults is a fresh and uplifting story exploring the power of female friendships. It was such a joy to read and I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Mackie, Edele, Alex and Nat have been the best of friends for years. Mackie and Alex seem to have life figured out and Nat and Edele are still working it out. Almost Adults charts the highs and lows of the twenty somethings as they navigate their way through their personal and professional lives, asking the question, when is it that we truly become adults? It is the strength of their friendship that gets them through. These are the friends who are there to cheer you on on your good days but more importantly who sit and hold you on the bad days. These women have each others backs and will do anything for one another.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view , allowing us to get to know each of them individually and see the other characters how they see them. Each character is relatable and I think there are elements of these women in all of us.

Ali Pantony writes with such ease that the story flows seamlessly and I could easily have read this book in one sitting. Instead, I read it over several lunch breaks and I found that I couldn’t wait to pick up where I last left the girls to find out what was happening and how they were. I felt so comfortable in their company that I felt as though I was an honorary member of their group.

Almost Adults has a lot of heart and I finished it with a smile on my face. It is feel-good fiction and a perfect summer read. This is a brilliant debut and I’m looking forward to seeing what Ali Pantony writes next.

~ Where to find Almost Adults ~

Almost Adults was published by Ebury Press, first as an eBook on 24 June 2019 and in Paperback on 8th August 2019. You can buy it in all good bookshops and on Amazon UK. It is also on goodreads.

~ About Ali Pantony ~

Ali Pantony

Ali Pantony is a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in Glamour, Grazia, BBC Three, Refinery29, Vice, Red, and Evening Standard. Ali was born in Maidstone, Kent, and lives in North London. Almost Adults is her debut novel.

W: https://www.alipantony.com/ ~ T: @alipantony ~ I: @alipantony

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Almost Adults blog tour poster
Advanced Review Copy · Blog Tours · Books · Review Copy · Reviews · Rowan Coleman

A Sarah’s Vignettes Book Review: The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman (@rowancoleman) ~ @EburyPublishing ~ @annecater #RandomThingsTours #BlogTour

I am thrilled to be able to finally share with you my review of The Girl at the Window by Sunday Times bestselling author Rowan Coleman. I read it back in June and it blew me away. I’ve been itching to talk about it ever since.

My thanks to Ellie Crisp at Ebury Press for sending me a stunning proof copy of the novel (in return for my honest review) and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

Before I finally share my thoughts with you, here is what The Girl at the Window is about.

~ Publisher’s Description ~

Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

~ My thoughts ~

Whenever I can, I like to read a physical copy of a book. For me, there is something about holding it, turning its pages, and looking at the book’s cover each time I pick it up. I feel I become part of the book. This was certainly the case with The Girl at the Window and my enjoyment started with its beautiful front cover. Even the proof copy of the book is a thing beauty.

I have five of Rowan Coleman’s novels sitting on my bookshelf, patiently waiting to be read. For some reason, The Girl at the Window is the first one that I am reading but I do understand why. I am a great believer that some books come to us at the exact time that we are supposed to read them and The Girl at the Window is one of those books. It is simply stunning and what an introduction to Rowan Coleman’s writing!

The Girl at the Window is a hauntingly beautiful story about love and hope. When Trudy Heaton’s husband goes missing, she returns to her family home, Ponden Hall, with son Will in tow. As Trudy becomes reacquainted with her mother and the Hall, both the house and its surroundings start to offer up some of their secrets. 

The book is divided into six Parts, each part introduced by an Emily Bronte poem. It moves between present day, Trudy and her husband Abe’s story and the historical story. Each story is so intricately and delicately woven together, they flow seamlessly. If I’d had the time, I could have easily read The Girl at the Window in one sitting. It is captivating! Rowan Coleman’s love of the Bronte’s really shines through in this book too and Emily Bronte is living within its pages.

Rowan Coleman’s writing has a gentle, softly spoken nature to it – one I’ve not experienced before. It’s tender almost, holding your hand as you travel Trudy’s journey with her. It’s sensitive to all of the characters stories, both past and present. 

Whilst immersed in this story, I laughed, I cried, my heart pounded several times, but most all, I loved. The Girl at the Window really does have the whole package. It is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I highly recommend it!

~ Where to find The Girl at the Window ~

The Girl at the Window was published by Ebury Press, first as eBook on 27 June 2019 and will be published in Paperback on 8th August 2019. You can buy it in all good bookshops and on Amazon UK. It is also on Goodreads.

~ About Rowan Coleman ~

Rowan Coleman

Rowan Coleman lives with her husband and their five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family. Rowan’s last novel, The Summer of Impossible Things , was selected for Zoe Ball’s ITV Book Club. Rowan has an everlasting love for the Brontes, and is a regular visitor of Ponden Hall.

W: www.rowancoleman.com ~ T: @rowancoleman ~ F: @rowancolemanauthor ~ I: @rowanmcoleman

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Advanced Review Copy · Books · Review Copy · Reviews · Victoria Hislop

Blog Tour, Review: Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop (@VicHislop) ~ @headlinepg ~ @annecater

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop.

Thank you to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Headline Review for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Scroll on for a taster of the book and to read my review.

~ Publisher’s Description ~

Athens 1941. After decades of political uncertainty, Greece is polarised between Right- and Left-wing views when the Germans invade. Fifteen-year-old Themis comes from a family divided by these political differences. The Nazi occupation deepens the fault-lines between those she loves just as it reduces Greece to destitution. She watches friends die in the ensuing famine and is moved to commit acts of resistance.

In the civil war that follows the end of the occupation, Themis joins the Communist army, where she experiences the extremes of love and hatred and the paradoxes presented by a war in which Greek fights Greek.

Eventually imprisoned on the infamous islands of exile, Makronisos and then Trikeri, Themis encounters another prisoner whose life will entwine with her own in ways neither can foresee. And finds she must weigh her principles against her desire to escape and live. As she looks back on her life, Themis realises how tightly the personal and political can become entangled. While some wounds heal, others deepen.

~ My thoughts ~

Gosh, what have I just read in 481 pages! The life story of Themis, our protagonist from 1930 to 2016, is powerful and captivating.

We first meet Themis at the end of her birthday celebrations in 2016. Two of her grandchildren, Popi and Nikos have stayed behind to help their nonagenarian grandmother to tidy up. They chat about the state of the society and Themis becomes contemplative. She takes her two grandchildren to the nearby cafe and proceeds to tell them about her past. What follows is a walk through the history of Athens and Greece in World War II, the Civil War and the post war period.

I’ll admit it took me a while to get into the story but once I was in it, there was no turning back – similar to Themis at several points in the book. I was living Themis’s life, experiencing her emotions and wondering whether I would have made the same decisions. I came to the conclusion that I probably would have. Themis is a brave and resilient woman whose life mirrors Greece’s turbulent past.

The depth of detail in this book is astonishing. It has been researched within in an inch of its life and the writing is just brilliant.

I remember reading The Island , when it came out 10 years ago and Cartes Postales from Greece in 2016 and being taken on a journey of different periods in Greece’s history. Those Who Are Loved is no different. It is historical fiction at its best and it is simply epic.

~ Where to find Those Who Are Loved ~

Those Who Are Loved Headline Review on 30 May 2019. It can be found at Amazon UK Amazon US and on Goodreads.

~ About Victoria Hislop ~

Inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, Victoria Hislop wrote The Island in 2005. It became an international bestseller and a 26-part Greek TV series. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards and is now an ambassador for Lepra. The Island has sold over 1.2million copies in the UK and more than 5 million worldwide.

Her affection for the Mediterranean then took her to Spain, which inspired her second bestseller The Return, and she returned to Greece to tell the turbulent tale of Thessaloniki in The Thread, shortlisted for a British Book Award and confirming her reputation as an inspirational storyteller. It was followed by her much-admired Greece-set short story collection, The Last Dance and Other Stories. The Sunrise, a Sunday Times Number One bestseller about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, was published to widespread acclaim in 2014. Victoria’s most recent book, Cartes Postales from Greece was a Sunday Times Number One bestseller and one of the Top Ten biggest selling paperbacks of 2017. Her novels have sold 10 million copies worldwide.

~ Where to find Victoria Hislop ~

You can find out more about Victoria on her website https://victoriahislop.com/ and connect with her on Twitter @VicHislop and Facebook @OfficialVictoriaHislop

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Advanced Review Copy · Blog Tours · Books · Kathleen McGurl · Review Copy · Reviews

Blog Tour, Review: The Forgotten Secret by Kathleen McGurl (@KathMcGurl) @HQDigitalUK @HQstories @rararesources

I am thrilled to be sharing my review of Kathleen McGurl’s latest novel The Forgotten Secret with you today.

Thank you to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to HQ, Harper Collins for sending me an e-copy of the book via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Scroll on for a taster of the book and to read my review.

~ Publisher’s Description ~

A country at war

It’s the summer of 1919 and Ellen O’Brien has her whole life ahead of her. Young, in love and leaving home for her first job, the future seems full of shining possibility. But war is brewing and before long Ellen and everyone around her are swept up by it. As Ireland is torn apart by the turmoil, Ellen finds herself facing the ultimate test of love and loyalty.

And a long-buried secret

A hundred years later and Clare Farrell has inherited a dilapidated old farmhouse in County Meath. Seizing the chance to escape her unhappy marriage she strikes out on her own for the first time, hoping the old building might also provide clues to her family’s shadowy history. As she sets out to put the place – and herself – back to rights, she stumbles across a long-forgotten hiding place, with a clue to a secret that has lain buried for decades.

For fans of Kate Morton and Gill Paul comes an unforgettable novel about two women fighting for independence.

~ My thoughts ~

I can’t believe I am only just reading Kathleen McGurl’s stories!! I am sure I say this every time I review a book by an author whose books I haven’t read before, but I can’t!

The Forgotten Secret has everything I love in a story: contemporary and historical fiction, a mystery, characters I can easily connect with, well researched, beautifully told.

The story is told as a dual time frame, set between 1919-1920 and the present day. In the historical thread, Kathleen McGurl pulls us into Ellen O’Brien’s life and the War of Irish Independence. I warmed to Ellen instantly and the love she has for her childhood sweetheart is beautiful. Ellen’s story was not easy to read at times and there were instances where I wanted to jump into the page to hug her.

In present day Ireland, we accompany Clare Farrell on her journey to independence from her broken marriage. Having inherited a run-down farmhouse from her uncle, she seizes the chance to leave her husband, Paul, and start a new life. Gosh, I hated Paul. Even after a week, he still hasn’t redeemed himself. Well done to Kathleen McGurl for a writing a character who provoked this emotion in me! I did however really like Clare and was championing her on to really make a new life for herself.

I do love it when a house throws up a mystery to be solved and the farmhouse in this story is no exception. I will say no more for the risk of spoiling the story so you will have to read The Forgotten Secret to find out more.

I love how Kathleen McGurl intertwines both women’s stories, answering questions raised in one era in the other, tying it all up nicely at the end.

I do love reading the acknowledgements at the end of a book. Often, the author will give us an insight into where the idea for the story came from. The seed for The Forgotten Secret was a small nugget of conversation which became this great story.

~ Where to find The Forgotten Secret ~

The Forgotten Secret was published as an eBook by HQ Digital, Harper Collins, in March 2019 and will be published in paperback in May 2019. It can be found at Amazon UK and on Goodreads.

~ About Kathleen McGurl ~

Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, UK, with her husband and elderly tabby cat. She has two sons who are now grown-up and have left home. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.

~ Where to find Kathleen McGurl ~

You can find out more about Kathleen on her website https://kathleenmcgurl.com/ and connect with her on Twitter @KathMcGurl, on Facebook @KathleenMcGurl, and on Instagram @kathleenmcgurl.

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Be sure to drop by the other blogs on the tour!

Advanced Review Copy · Blog Tours · Books · Dan Proops · Review Copy · Reviews

Blog Tour, Review: A Letter from Sarah by Dan Proops (@Dan_Proops) @UrbaneBooks @LoveBooksGroup

I am pleased to be sharing my review of Dan Proops’ debut novel A Letter from Sarah with you today.

Thank you to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group Tours for inviting me to take part and to Urbane Books for sending me a copy of the book in return for my honest review.

Scroll down to find out more about the book and to read my thoughts.

~ Publisher’s Description ~

Adam’s sister, Sarah, has been missing for seven years, but he hasn’t given up hope of finding her. He is a sculptor and lives with his bedridden father who is a bully and a curmudgeon.

One morning, as the anniversary of Sarah’s disappearance nears, Adam receives a letter from her and she is apparently alive and well, living in New York. Adam travels to Brooklyn to search for Sarah as he’s desperate to see her, but she seems determined to avoid him.

Sarah’s letters arrive weekly, but she continues to remain elusive. Adam is perplexed by Sarah’s requests for secrecy, as is his father and his girlfriend, Cassandra.

He is determined to find her, whatever the cost to his wellbeing, health and sanity….  

~ My thoughts ~

I want to begin by mentioning how well packaged A Letter from Sarah is. The cover (below) is simple yet effective and I love the font choice and colour. It ties in nicely with the idea of the letters coming from New York. At the top of the page for each new chapter, there is ripped paper and a piece across the bottom follows through the entire book. It’s almost as though the story has been written on paper. At the end of each chapter, there is a silhouette of the Manhatten skyline, as per the photo on the left.

The story itself is far from simple though . Dan Proops has crafted an intimate observation of how the loss and resulting grief from a situation can take over your life and impact on those around you. Essentially, it shows how the not knowing what happened could literally drive you mad. We meet Adam, the protagonist, seven years after his sister, Sarah goes missing. With no word from her in this time, suddenly, letters from Sarah start to arrive. This leads Adam to try to find track her down, no matter what.

My thoughts about A Letter from Sarah have taken a while to settle in my mind. This isn’t because I didn’t enjoy the story. I just wasn’t sure what to make of it. Dan Proops has a style of writing that I’ve not read before. Some of the time, I was trying to decide whether I was reading thoughts and feelings from Adam’s imagination or whether it was his reality. As I write this, I think what I was reading was Adam verging on the edge of madness.

This book was not what I expected. Even so, something kept me reading, wanting more. The twist at the end was not something I saw coming and reflecting on this, Dan Proops has created a haunting and disturbing story. You’ll have to read the book to find out more about this.

~ Where to find A Letter from Sarah ~

A Letter from Sarah was published by Urbane Books in March 2019 and can be found at Amazon UK and on Goodreads.

~ About Dan Proops ~

Dan has been a full time writer for six years and has completed four novels and a memoir. He wrote short stories as a teenager gleaning knowledge from his grandmother, the legendary advice columnist, Marje Proops.

Dan Proops

Dan was a professional artist, and had a one man show at the age of fourteen in London. He’s had many exhibitions over a long career and his artwork was purchased by internationally acclaimed art dealer, Eric Franck. His artwork appeared frequently in the national press and his painting was featured in Image of the Week in the Times. One of his exhibitions was previewed in the Telegraphby columnist Colin Gleadell.

Dan lives and works in London. He is a Twitter influencer and has a following of 22, 000. Dan has been using the twitter platform for some years. In 2016 he had a wide outreach and his tweets were seen by 1.5 million users.

~ Where to find Dan Proops ~

You can find out more about Dan on his website http://dan-proops.com/ and connect with him on Twitter @Dan_Proops.

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