Gilly Macmillan – Q&A

Today I’m very pleased to welcome Gilly Macmillan to the blog. Gilly’s debut novel, Burnt Paper Sky, was published by Piatkus on 27 August 2015. Today Gilly kindly answers a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Burnt Paper Sky.

Burnt Paper Sky is a psychological thriller that tells the story of a single mother, Rachel, whose son Ben goes missing while they are out walking the dog together.  The story is narrated by Rachel and also by DI Jim Clemo, the detective in charge of the investigation to find Ben and it takes place over the nine days following Ben’s disappearance.

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book?

I wanted to try to write a psychological thriller because I love reading them, and especially those in the domestic noir genre, because I think a thriller is even more compelling when you can imagine that the events in it might happen to you.  As a starting point I decided to try to think of what my worst nightmare would be and, as a mother, it was to have my child go missing, and not to know what had happened to them.  After that I began to get interested in how going through such a dreadful thing might feel to the child’s mother, particularly once the media get involved and the story breaks out into the public domain and every little thing that the family do is judged by everybody.

3. Given the subject area of Burnt Paper Sky do you think that the world is now too quick to lay the blame for a child’s disappearance, that is has trial by media sapped away public sympathies and made them the exception rather than the norm?

That’s a really interesting question.  As I was writing ‘Burnt Paper Sky’ I did a lot of research into this, and watched the reaction on social and traditional media to several real life cases of child disappearance.  One of the main things I thought was that the speed at which we can share and react to information released about these cases, as well as the way that we can read the reactions of other people, does encourage us to make judgements and cast blame very early on.   We all become armchair detectives and commentators, and since these cases are so terrible, we also experience very strong reactions to them, through fear as much as anything, and this can lead to people getting caught up in a sort of online hysteria and forgetting that reporting only ever gives us a fraction of the real story, and that’s never enough to base a judgement on.   Having said that, I’m sure that both online and away from the computer screen many people do remain sympathetic to the families involved, but they’re not necessarily those who are loudest on social media.

4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I’m a real ‘wing it’ writer!  I started ‘Burnt Paper Sky’ with only the first scene in the woods in my head, and a general idea of what I wanted the outcome for the family to be, but nothing more!  I get my best ideas when I’m actually writing so I tend to just get started and see where the story takes me.  The first draft of ‘Burnt Paper Sky’ was written in about a year, but it took eighteen months after that to get it ready for publication, as I had to do rewrites for both my agent and my publisher.  In contrast, my second book, which I’ve just finished, took just 9 months!

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I read a lot, it’s an obsession, and I read really widely.  I also love cooking, walking my dogs and spending time with my kids.  Simple pleasures!

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

Oh my goodness!  That is probably the most difficult question I’ve been asked for ages!  I think it might be ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, just because it is so perfect, but I have so many favourites I’d probably give you a different answer if you asked me tomorrow!

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I would love to be asked about my second book, because I’ve just finished it, and it’s pretty much all I’ve been thinking about for the past nine months.  It’s another psychological thriller in the domestic noir genre, and it’s intense and claustrophobic and takes place over a very short time frame.  The characters thrilled and unnerved me as I was writing it.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the cover, which I’m told might be ready shortly.  Called Butterfly in the Dark it’s going to be out, so far as I know, in 2016.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

Thank you very much for inviting me.  It’s been a pleasure J

About the book:

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“A gripping psychological thriller about a missing child and how the public can turn on a mother following a single, momentary mistake

Rachel Jenner turned her back for a moment. Now her eight-year-old son Ben is missing.

But what really happened that fateful afternoon?

Caught between her personal tragedy and a public who have turned against her, there is nobody left who Rachel can trust. But can the nation trust Rachel?

The clock is ticking to find Ben alive.

WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?”

 

My review should be here but I’ve not managed to read the book yet! However I can’t wait to get to it and it’s one of my next reads so keep your eyes peeled for a review in the very near future.

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The Widow by Fiona Barton – Review

Published by – Bantam Press

Publication date – 16 January 2016

Source – copy received at Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival

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“‘The ultimate psychological thriller’ Lisa Gardner

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the woman who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

Du Maurier’s REBECCA meets WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and GONE GIRL in this intimate tale of a terrible crime.

‘My book of the year so far’ C. L. Taylor, author of THE LIE”

4 of 5 stars

Jean Taylor has just lost her husband Glen. Rather than being able to mourn she is soon inundated with press knocking at her door. For years earlier Glen was implicated in the disappearance of a 2 year old girl, Bella, who has never been found. The press believe that Jean really knows what went on. And they want her to let them know. So does the police officer who has been investigating Bella’s disappearance and Bella’s mother. And as for Jean. She thinks it may be time to set the record straight. Or does she?

I am loathe to use terms like ‘the next [insert popular book here] or comment on how accomplished a book is just because it is written by a debut author. A book should be considered on its own merits rather than compared with other (bestselling) titles. If a book is well written it doesn’t matter if it is the author’s first or 21st. And this book is well written. It is engaging, dark, compelling reading. It is the book version of a juicy headline or car crash TV. However much one may loath the media’s intrusion into daily lives, it’s relentless call for justice, it’s rabble rousing and political motivations this story encompasses all of them. It is an indictment on the state of the world, our need to know everything, the press being the driving force, and the phenomena that is trial by media. And as much as I’m loathe to say it one day future books will be stamped with the tag line ‘If you liked Fiona Barton’s The Widow you’ll love…’

I can see that this is going to be one of the titles from Transworld’s 2016 catologue and can envisage a lot of publicity and media coverage (ironically). I am usually underwhelmed when I read a book that has received such publicity. I build the idea up in my mind that the book is going to be more than it is and it invariably doesn’t live up to expectations, which is not fair on the book or the author. I was lucky to read this book a while before it’s planned publication and before the publicity for this had mounted. I therefore had no expectations. Luckily I read this book without any preconceptions of how I should find it. I don’t know if this has altered my opinion of the book but I have to say I did love it. Not initially. At first I was thinking it may not live up to the anticipated hype. The characters grated and the story was hinted at too much and not shown. But the more I read, the more I was pulled into the story.

It is a very modern novel, the judgement of a single act, the assumption that a wife must know more than she is letting on, the reliance on social media and the dangers that await if one is lulled into its confidence.

The chapters flit between 2010 when Glen Taylor has just died and to points in the past from the time Bella has disappeared. Each chapter is led from the point of view of one of the main characters. It is telling that Glen, the driving force behind the whole situation, does not have his own chapter until near the close of the book. This is not a ‘whodunit’ but a ‘did he do it’. This is less a story about a crime, than about the influence of media and social media on modern life, how it influences our daily lives and makes us judges and sinners in equal measure.

The characters are all well defined. I didn’t particularly like the majority of them but Fiona Barton shows her skill as a writer by extracting those feelings from the reader. Jean is a strange character. Almost down trodden there is a steely determination behind that quiet façade and hints of something more off kilter. Each of the main characters are flawed. The opportunistic journalist who seems to have Jean’s best interests at heart but is driven to get the scoop, the police officer who has let the case take over his life, and the mother of Bella, whose own interaction with media, both traditional and social media, makes the reader stop and think.

If you want to loose yourself in a gripping, dark, compelling ‘domestic noir’ then this is the book for you.

It may only be out in January but it will definitely be one of the hit books of 2016. Now I’m just waiting for the next book from Fiona Barton.

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Choose Your Own Adventure by Steve McHugh – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Steve McHugh to the blog. Steve’s latest book in the Helliquin Chronicles series, Lies Ripped Open is out now. Steve tells us about the books that made him fall for Urban Fantasy fiction.

Choose Your Own Adventure

In the late 1980s, when I was 10 years old, Urban Fantasy wasn’t really a genre that existed, and if it had, I’m not really sure that I’d have paid attention. By the time I was 10, I was reading Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island and The Jungle Book. I liked adventure books and mysteries.

 I think I was 11 when I found a copy of a few a Fighting Fantasy books by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in a charity shop. They were maybe 10p (16c) each, although I couldn’t tell you all of their names, I do remember one. The Forest of Doom. They were all good fun, but Forest of Doom was the one I re-read the most. This is primarily because it was hard and I died a bunch of times, but win or lose, I had fun. Except with Armies of Death. I remember having no fun at all with that that one very clearly, as I’m pretty certain it was impossible.

Over the next year or so, I managed to go through most of the series by finding them in libraries or using pocket money to buy them. They were my entry into the world of fantasy novels, but it was an English teacher, Mr Pearcey who got me to branch out. 

In English class, we all had to keep a book diary of what we’d been reading. After several months of mine containing only Fighting Fantasy novels and superhero comic books, Mr Pearcey took me aside and told me to try something else. 

I went to the school library and took out Terry Practhett’s Men at Arms. Why did I pick that book? Well, I’d like to say that I was drawn to it, but in truth the cover looked like fun. No matter the reason, one read was all I needed. That was it I was hooked. I was soon at the local library taking out Stephen King, David Gemmell, Anne Rice and reading anything else I could get my hands (note, these weren’t in the school library. I’m pretty certain parents would have complained). 

I read a huge amount stuff during my school years, and college years, and still do at 36 (although not as much as I’d like these days). I still go back to Men at Arms. It’s probably my favourite book of all time and one of the very few (along with It and Legend) that made me want to be a write books.

These days Urban Fantasy is a big genre, and one that I’m more than happy to be a part of, but you can trace my current writing to the mix of genres I got through when I was at school. Mystery, action-adventure, horror and fantasy all play a big part in my writing, and if I could figure out a way to include some dice rolling and map drawing for my readers to take part in, I’d probably have done that by now too.

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Steve McHugh is the author of the popular Hellequin Chronicles. The fifth book, Lies Ripped Open, is out on 25th August 2015. He lives in Southampton on the south coast of England with his wife and three young daughters. When not writing or spending time with his kids, he enjoys watching movies, reading books and comics, and playing video games.

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Lies Ripped Open: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lies-Ripped-Open-Hellequin-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B00UCLPC5A/ref=sr_1_3_twi_kin_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1439924788&sr=8-3&keywords=steve+mchugh

Blog: https://stevejmchugh.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StevejMchugh

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steveJMchugh

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The Dark Inside by Rod Reynolds – Review

Published by Faber and Faber

Publication Date – 3rd September 2015

Source – Net Galley

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“1946, Texarkana: a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. Disgraced New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story of a spate of brutal murders – young couples who’ve been slaughtered at a local date spot. Charlie finds himself drawn into the case by the beautiful and fiery Lizzie, sister to one of the victims, Alice – the only person to have survived the attacks and seen the killer up close.
But Charlie has his own demons to fight, and as he starts to dig into the murders he discovers that the people of Texarkana have secrets that they want kept hidden at all costs. Before long, Charlie discovers that powerful forces might be protecting the killer, and as he investigates further his pursuit of the truth could cost him more than his job…
Loosely based on true events, The Dark Inside is a compelling and pacy thriller that heralds a new voice in the genre. It will appeal to fans of RJ Ellory, Tom Franklin, Daniel Woodrell and True Detective.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Texarkana on the Texas/Arkansas border. There have been a number of brutal killings. Young couple, courting in lovers lanes have been shot. New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story, his bosses desperate for him to get out of the way, Charlie well aware that this may be his only chance to keep his job. As he begins to investigate the story he becomes more involved. He finds himself almost compelled to help Lizzie Anderson, the sister of one the first victims. And as he meets more and more resistance from the people of Texarkana he becomes more determined to find the killer. He soon finds its more than just his job that’s on the line, it’s his life too that is also under threat.

This is the debut novel from Rod Reynolds and he hits the ground running. This is an assured novel, one that draws you in from the first page and keeps you there until the last page. Rod Reynolds has created an old school noir and the language and era it evokes is something to wallow in and enjoy.

The imagery is immediate. I could imagine Charlie narrating his tale, much like hero investigator in old film noirs such as Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. I could imagine driving down Texarkana High Street, see City Hall sitting in the middle of the road, straddling the two states. I could see the old automobiles parked outside diners, see GIs walking down the street and picture the fashions of the 40s. Even as I read the story I could hear the southern drawl of the characters.

The characters are well drawn. I liked Charlie, for all his faults, probably because he was well aware of these faults. He is a stubborn man but it is this stubbornness and refusal to back down that powers his investigation. There is a malignant presence in Texarkana that the author hints at in the characters of the power members of town hierarchy. I did get a little side-tracked by trying to remember which police department certain of the characters worked for but this didn’t bring me to distraction and I soon got lost again in the flow of the story.

This book is called The Dark Inside and indeed it is. The story is dark, horrific murders that are terrorising a town. But there is also darkness from the town and its inhabitants. There is a malignant presence in Texarkana that the author hints at in the characters of the power members of town hierarchy. Charlie becomes more aware that the people who are supposed to be helping the town have their own dark secrets to hide. There is a palpable sense of dread created by the author. The reader is aware, slightly before Charlie that he is in danger and it is this that make this reader at least, route for Charlie even more.

What makes this story all the more fascinating is that it is loosely based on true events. There is a town called Texarkana and there were a spate of killings in 1947. Those murders however remain unsolved.

I don’t normally comment on covers but here the cover image perfectly encapsulates the book. It is how I imagined the scenery surrounding Texarkana and hints at the danger the town holds.

I’m not going to say any more about the actual story for fear of giving anything away. If you like dark murder mysteries, novels set in mid century American towns, novels with a conspiracy at the heart of them or novels that draw you in and keep you there until the very end then this book is for you.

A gripping, dark, engrossing read and one which I found highly entertaining. I am impatiently waiting for more from Rod Reynolds.

 

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Saskia Sarginson – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Saskia Sarginson, author of The Twins and Without You to the blog. Saskia’s new book The Other Me was published by Piatkus on 13 August 2015. Saskia kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Other Me.

It’s about a girl who’s running from her past, her father and what she thinks he’s done. At university she’s happy in her new identity as Eliza, and she’s in love. But her boyfriend only knows her as Eliza. When she’s forced to return home, her father and her old identity are waiting to claim her. 

2. What inspired the book? 

I discovered who my real father was when I was in my 40’s. It was too late to meet him, he’d died shortly before I found him. But I did discover facts about him. To my surprise, I learnt that he’d been a Dutch Jew and that he’d lived in France most of his life. Later, I wondered how I would have felt if I’d discovered that he’d had Nazi connections instead of Jewish ones. The whole process of trying to find him made me think about how important our parents are as the foundations of our identity. I knew I wanted to write about that, and to explore the idea of inherited guilt.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I write a fairly detailed synopsis, but as I start to write and become immersed in the story  it reveals new possibilities, twists and plot developments that I hadn’t thought of before. It takes me about ten months to write and edit a book.

4. What do you do when you aren’t writing? Which authors do you turn to when you have time to read for pleasure?

When I’m not writing, you’ll find me walking my three dogs, doing things with and for my kids  (all four of them are fairly grown-up at 16,22, 24 and 24) and spending time with my partner: we like to see films, modern dance and theatre when we can. And my passion is dancing – salsa and tango. When I’m reading purely for pleasure, I like to read out of my comfort zone and try different authors, but some of my favourites are Sadie Jones, Rose Tremain, Michael Cunningham and Tessa Hadley.

5. Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a novel what have you learnt that you wish you’d known before you started?

I think as an unpublished author, all you focus on is getting published. You think that everything will be a breeze after that. But the minute your book hits the shops there is huge anxiety about how it will be received by critics and readers, how many copies you’ll sell, and if your publisher will offer another book deal! Having said that, I couldn’t be happier. I feel incredibly privileged to be doing the one thing I’ve always wanted to do. 

6. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I love animals and always include them in my novels. So I’d like to be asked a non-writing, pet-orientated question – I’d like you to ask me where to get a new dog! And my answer would be: go to a shelter and give a home to one of the many gorgeous dogs that desperately want a person of their own to love. I’d really like to get the message out there that people should avoid puppy farms like the plague, and consider a rescue dog before buying one from a breeder. 

About the book:

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“A story about hidden identities, by the Richard & Judy-bestselling author of The Twins

Eliza Bennet has the life she’s always dreamed of. She’s who she wants to be, and she’s with the man she loves.

But Eliza is living a lie. Her real name is Klaudia Myer. And Klaudia is on the run. She’s escaping her old life, and a terrible secret buried at the heart of her family.

This is the story of Eliza and Klaudia – one girl, two lives and a lie they cannot hide from.”

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The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto – Review

Published by Arcadia Books

Publication date – 15 September 2014

Source – review copy

Translated by David Hackston

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“Anna Fekete, who fled the Yugoslavian wars as a child, has a past. Just beginning her career as a criminal investigator in a northern Finnish coastal town, she is thrust into a high-profile, seemingly unsolvable case that has riveted the nation. It doesn’t help that her middle-aged new partner, Esko, doesn’t bother hiding his racist prejudices, and Anna becomes the target of a systematic campaign to unsettle her.

A young woman has been killed on a running trail, and a pendant depicting an Aztec god has been found in her possession. Another murder soon follows. All signs point to a serial killer, but can Anna catch the Hummingbird before he – or she – strikes again? And at what personal cost?

Dark, gritty and filled with contemporary themes, this is a chilling, unforgettable book that you will find impossible to put down. Or forget.”

3.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

A young woman goes out for an evening run. She doesn’t return. Her body is found the next morning. She has been brutally shot. Anna Fekete’s first day on the job as a police detective finds her head first in the investigation. Soon possible leads run dry. But then another body is found and it becomes apparent that Anna’s on a race against time to stop the killer before he or she strikes again.

This is the first in the Anna Fekete series from Kati Hiekkapelto and being someone who likes her crime series I was keen to read this one.

Anna is a complex character. She moved to the country in her youth, escaping the war in the former Yugoslavia she had settled in Finland. Keen to do well she is met with the ultimate obstacle in the form of Esko, her new partner. He is a mysognist, openly racist character who makes her life hell. Others seem to pander to him, or at least excuse his actions. Having learned in the past it is not always best to confront prejudice, Anna internalises the upset Esko causes. I wasn’t always sure I liked Anna. There were times that she came across as a caring, friendly person, eager to repay the country that had taken her in and to help others who needed it. Other times she was rash or acted in a way that I wanted to shout at her and urge her to stick up for herself. However I did feel that Anna’s personality was not fully shown to the reader. There was the impression that the author was holding something back. This makes sense in some ways as it appeals to the reader, encouraging them to want to read more stories featuring Anna Fekete. It was also though slightly frustrating as I felt I couldn’t get a proper handle on her character.

As for Esko I positively hated the man. He racist rants and childish actions offended me and it was these that made me wish Anna would just stand up to him. Again I think the author was holding something back from the reader as to his background as others seemed to excuse his actions as if something in his past warranted them.

There are a whole host of other side characters that add to the story. Virkkunen, Anna’s boss, seems to be slightly kowtowed by Esko, but hovers around in the background as most good fictional bosses do, popping up now and then to cause a headache for the lead character. I liked the interaction between Anna and the coroner and her colleague Sari.

The mystery is engaging. The reader is kept guessing and it wasn’t until shortly before the reveal that I figured out the killer’s identity.

One thing I have noticed as I read more translated fiction is the fact that, for me, the key to a great translation is the fact that I can’t tell it is translated. That’s to say I don’t think twice that the words I am reading are the ones the author intended to be read. For the most part that’s what happened with this book. But every now and then I came across a word or turn of phrase that seemed to jar, it was almost as if the translator had picked the words specifically for a British target audience and I had a little difficulty in thinking that such phrases were in common Finnish usage. They would appear every now and then to remind me I was reading a translated piece of fiction and stay a little while until I was drawn into the story again.

I loved the setting of the novel. Finland is a place I know little about but on reading this it is added to the list of places I want to visit. The insights into Finnish lifestyle was interesting, their attitude to drink for example, or how the shifts in weather and season affect the residents.

Overall I enjoyed the first outing of Anna and Esko. Luckily I have the next book in the series, The Defenceless, waiting on my reading pile so I will turn to that one soon.

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of The Hummingbird.

 

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What this anniversary means to me by Sheila O’Flanagan – Guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Sheila O’Flanagan to the blog. To celebrate the publication of her 20th book, My Mother’s Secret, Sheila tells us what writing her book anniversary means to her.

I’m often asked if I ever dreamed that I’d be a published author – and of course I did, all the time! It was always an ambition to write a book and have it published. I remember my first editor, the late Kate Cruise O’Brien telling me that anyone could write one book, but not everyone had it in them to write a second or a third. She wanted to know if I thought I could do that, and I was so terrified that if I said no she wouldn’t take on my first book that I said ‘of course’ even though I hadn’t a clue how I was going to write a second book! I never in my wildest dreams expected to write twenty! Even now I can’t believe I’ve written that many. The best part about being a published writer is bringing the same joy and excitement I get from reading a favourite author to my own readers. With social media, readers can be in much closer contact with authors than ever before, and I love engaging with people about all sorts of books. It’s always lovely to hear from readers who’ve identified with certain characters or who say that reading one of my books has got them through a difficult time in their lives, or simply that they’ve enjoyed the book. That communication with readers is probably the nicest thing that’s happened for me over the course of writing my twenty books – whenever I’m feeling doubtful or unsure of what I’m doing (and every author is plagued by self doubt) I look at messages from my readers and feel inspired again. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished but each book is an individual journey for me as a writer. I always try to learn from the one that’s gone before so that the book I’m writing is the best it can be. Ten, twenty, thirty….who knows! I’m still writing and still learning.

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About the book:

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“From the No. 1 bestselling author of BAD BEHAVIOUR and IF YOU WERE ME comes an engaging, warm and thought-provoking new novel about a secret that can’t be kept under wraps any longer – whatever the consequences. Not to be missed by readers of Jane Green, Lisa Jewell and Marian Keyes.

When Steffie helps her two siblings organize a surprise wedding anniversary party for their parents her only worry is whether they’ll be pleased. What she doesn’t know is this is the day that her whole world will be turned upside down.

Jenny wants to be able to celebrate her ruby anniversary with the man she loves, but for forty years she has kept a secret. A secret that she can’t bear to hide any longer. But is it ever the right time to hurt the people closest to you?

As the entire family gather to toast the happy couple, they’re expecting a day to remember. The trouble is, it’s not going to be for the reasons they imagined…”

My Mother’s Secret was published by Headline on 2nd July 2015.

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Sarah Jasmon – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Sarah Jasmon to the blog. Sarah’s debut novel, The Summer of Secrets was published by Black Swan on 13th August 2015. Sarah kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions

1. Tell us a little about The Summer of Secrets.

It’s a coming of age novel set along the banks of the canal. In the present day, Helen is living an isolated life in Manchester when she comes across an art exhibition featuring the work of a long lost friend, Victoria Dover. In the summer of 1983, when they were both 16, Helen and Victoria were inseparable. The narrative takes us back through the events of that summer as Helen faces up to what happened, and her role in its tragic end.

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book?

It very much started from the image of the boat sitting in the garage, which did come from an actual happening. It’s a kind of metaphor for the possibilities of life, but also of the weight of unfulfilled dreams. 

3. The Summer of Secrets is your debut novel. What has surprised you most about the publishing process?

The length of the process, really. I did a lot of editing after the book was picked up, and that stretched things out, but people would ask me if I was onto book two or three, and I’d have to say that book one wasn’t out yet! Being published has also opened a new door in contacts. I’ve met so many wonderful authors over the past couple of years. It’s been so much fun (and my tbr pile is now immense!)

4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

For The Summer of Secrets, it was very much a case of sit and write and see what happens. I’ve earned a lot about planning over the process though, and I’m excited to be working on my second book with a bit more structure. I also wrote at a leisurely pace first time round, so it took around two years to finish the first draft (and that only because I had a deadline for my MA), and then a year of working on the edits. It’ll be interesting to see how long #2 takes…

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

Read, although I do sometimes feel guilty if I’m not working through my official tbr pile. I have two dogs, so they get me out walking. And I love yoga, especially when I’ve been sitting at my desk for a long stretch.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

No, that’s impossible! I’ll tell you what, though: in The Summer of Secrets, Helen and Victoria have a reading list of books that are impossible to finish. That started because, when I was at college, a friend and I had a running joke that nobody would ever finish Ulysses unless they were on a world trip and didn’t have anything else to read. So maybe it would be the one to keep me going.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Who is Larry? This guy has slipped completely under the radar so far, but I’m very fond of him. He’s a completely minor character, and is dead by the time the story begins, so I can understand why he’s not the one readers remember. He fits into the time between the summer itself and the present day sections. When Helen runs away from home (another happening that is inferred rather than spelled out), she lands by chance on Larry’s doorstep. There are so many bad things that could have happened to her, but he’s an unlikely saviour is the reason she’s still around to go to Victoria’s exhibition in the first place.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

About the book

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‘A wonderfully atmospheric first novel’ Claire Fuller
‘An evocative and atmospheric coming-of-age story’ Carys Bray

The summer the Dovers move in next door, sixteen-year-old Helen’s lonely world is at once a more thrilling place. She is infatuated with the bohemian family, especially the petulant and charming daughter Victoria.

As the long, hot days stretch out in front of them, Helen and Victoria grow inseparable. But when a stranger appears, Helen begins to question whether the secretive Dover family are really what they seem.

It’s the kind of summer when anything seems possible . . .

Until something goes wrong.

A suspenseful, spell-binding coming-of-age story about how one simple action on a summer’s day can echo through the years. Perfect for fans of Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard, Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret and Helen Dunmore’s The Lie.

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George’s Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle – Review

Published by Gallic Books

Publication date – 16 March 2015

Source – review copy from Publishers

Translated by Anna Aitken

9781908313737

“At the age of 83, retired butcher George Nicoleau is about to set off on the greatest adventure of his life. George and his neighbour Charles have long dreamt of a road trip, driving the 3500 kilometres that make up the stages of the Tour de France. And now that George’s over‐protective daughter has gone to South America, it’s time to seize the moment.

But just when he feels free of family ties, George’s granddaughter Adèle starts calling him from London, and he finds himself promising to text her as he travels around France, although he doesn’t even know how to use a mobile.

George is plagued by doubts, health worries and an indifference to modern technology. And yet – might the journey still prove to be everything he had hoped for?”

4 0f 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

George is 83 and dreams of adventure. The sudden departure of his loving but overbearing daughter gives George the opportunity to live his dream. He and his friend Charles are to drive the route of the Tour de France. The car is bought, the bags are packed and are ready to set off when George receives a call from his granddaughter Adele. Adele extracts a promise that George will text her daily as he goes on his trip and he reluctantly agrees. So begins George’s Grand Tour, perhaps the grandest of his life.

This is a charming tale of George. Tired of being confined to home, smothered by his well meaning daughter, he doesn’t want to wait out his days at home. The gleeful, almost child like excitement at the planned trip and adventures to come make you realise that life doesn’t have to end when the years advance. George’s adventure involves more than he realises as he comes to grips with modern technology and goes on his first date in over 50 years.

It is less than 200 pages but packs a lot into them. There are lots of little comedic touches in this short tale, George learning to ‘text speak’ is one such example.

The references to the Tour de France went over my head but I loved the travelogue side of the story. I could imagine the places George and Charles were visiting, opening up parts of France that were not familiar to me before.

The book is filled with wonderful characters. George, Charles and Adele are all flawed, have issues but are also warm, surprising and fun individuals. George is cantankerous, Charles has his secrets and Adele conflicted about the distance she has created with her Grandfather. Even the incidental characters are not out of place, fully formed, easily imagined and adding that essential layer to the story.

As I read more French Literature I am more convinced of its charm and magic. It is firmly becoming a favourite and this little book has added to that conviction.

There’s little else I can say without giving the story away. You’ll just have to take a trip with George yourself to find out more.

This story shows that life can ‘begin’ at any age. It is never too late to go on an adventure, make new friends, find romance or rekindle family relations.

 

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The House of Dolls by David Hewson – Review

Published by Pan Macmillan

Publication date – 25 September 2014

Source – received from publisher

the-house-of-dolls-978144724617601

“Where dark secrets lurk behind every door . . .

Anneliese Vos, sixteen-year-old daughter of Amsterdam detective, Pieter Vos, disappeared three years ago in mysterious circumstances. Her distraught father’s desperate search reveals nothing and results in his departure from the police force. Pieter now lives in a broken down houseboat in the colourful Amsterdam neighbourhood of the Jordaan. One day, while Vos is wasting time at the Rijksmuseum staring at a doll’s house that seems to be connected in some way to the case, Laura Bakker, a misfit trainee detective from the provinces, visits him. She’s come to tell him that Katja Prins, daughter of an important local politician, has gone missing in circumstances similar to Anneliese. In the company of the intriguing and awkward Bakker Vos finds himself drawn back into the life of a detective. A life which he thought he had left behind. Hoping against hope that somewhere will lay a clue to the fate of Anneliese, the daughter he blames himself for losing . . .”

3.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Three years ago Amsterdam detective Pieter Vos failed to solve the most important case of his career; the disappearance of his daughter Anneliese. Haunted by the fact that she has seemingly vanished without a trace he quits his job, splits from his partner and moves into a decrepit houseboat. Living off his measly pension he spends his days walking his dog and smoking in the local cafes.

Then whilst staring at Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house in the Rijksmuseum he’s approached by Laura Bekker, a trainee officer. Another girl has gone missing, in eerily similar circumstances to Anneliese. Soon Vos is drawn into an investigation, one which shows the murky lines linking those who run the city, and those that run the city’s underworld.

I have read some of David Hewson’s Nic Costa series and of course was aware that he had written novels based on the hit TV series The Killing. This, The House of Dolls was the first in a new series featuring Pieter Vos.

First of all I loved the setting of this book. From David Hewson’s descriptions I could image myself walking along the paths and roads, watching the barges go past on one of Amsterdam’s many canals. It was easy to also imagine the darker side of the city, the red light district and dark alleyways where danger could lurk.

I loved the character of Vos and would dearly hoped that he would return in future books. He was damaged and flawed but remarkable in that he maintained an almost unruffled, placid nature. One that charmed many people, helping him in his investigations. His protégé Laura Bakker was a character that grew on me. Her sometimes bolshie attitude seemed a bit extreme and I was wishing she would calm down in places. That said she was a perfect foil for Vos and the two worked well as characters. Its a sign an author has done their job well when you can easily imagine characters and have a reaction to them. This happened here with The House of Dolls. There were many characters I didn’t like, for example Wim Prins, the missing girl’s father and Liesbeth, Vos’ former partner and this added to the story.

The story soon draws you in, and this is aided by the short, snappy chapters. I’m a sucker for short chapters in novels. It never fails to draw me in with the temptation of ‘just one more chapter’. It always more than just one more chapter in those circumstances! The influence of creating novels from screenplays is perhaps evidenced here as a lot of the chapters played like scenes in a film or television programme and I could almost see the ‘fade to black’.

This is a gritty read, with dark undertones. This is perhaps because of the gangland and political elements to the story, which lent it story strands to make it more than just a police procedural.

An enjoyable read, I’ll be seeking out more of David Hewson’s novels. Pieter Vos and Laura Bakker return in The Wrong Girl.

My thanks to Pan Macmillan for my copy of the book.

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