Jack Jordan – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jack Jordan to the blog. Jack is the author of Anything for Her, which he has just re-released and his new novel, My Girl will be published on 4 July 2016. Jack kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Anything for Her.

Louise Leighton’s life has fallen apart, all because of one fateful night. Her husband is an adulterer, her sister is his mistress, and soon, Louise will lose everything she owns. But she never imagined she would lose her daughter. 

Eighteen-year-old Brooke Leighton is missing. It’s up to Louise and the Metropolitan Police to find her. Has Brooke run away? Or has she been taken against her will? And can Louise aid the investigation without mentioning the night where all of her troubles began? 

If she mentions that night, she will incriminate her daughter for heinous crimes. But if she doesn’t, she may never find Brooke; and if she has been abducted, the person who took her may come for Louise, too. 

Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. Sometimes the past comes back to kill you.

2. What inspired the book? 

The bond between a mother and her child is unbreakable, and the love is unconditional. Most mothers will tell you that they would do anything to protect their child. When writing Anything for Her, I wanted to explore just how far a mother would go to protect her child, and at what cost.

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’m definitely a plan, plan, plan writer. When I first started writing, I let my stories lead the way, as I was exploring my abilities and allowing room for experimentation. Now that I’m a published author, I have to know where the story is going before I begin writing my next book. Knowing that my work will be scrutinised, I approach each book with as much detail as possible, so I don’t fall under the pressure. I like to plan each chapter beforehand, so when it comes to writing, I have the plan to follow. Chapters always change, but I really appreciate having the chapter timeline when I sit down to write the first draft.

4. Anything for Her was your first novel. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

I was really surprised that my characters were able to evoke strong emotions in me. As the person who created them and the problems they found themselves in, I didn’t expect that they would make my heart race or tears well up. Sometimes I would leave my desk feeling drained. It’s a surreal experience. 

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

I must admit I’m not very good at relaxing. When I’m not writing, I’m reading or watching TV. The problem is, those two things inspire future projects, and the next thing I know, I’m back to writing and planning. It’s an unbreakable cycle!  

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

Gone with the Wind. It shouldn’t be my all-time favourite book, as the oppression of African Americans and the martial rape scene featured in the story go against all of my beliefs, but still I find myself adoring this novel. The beautiful writing, the endless tragedies, and the unique ending have a reserved place in my heart. 

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

The question would be: what don’t you like about being an author? 

Taboo subject alert! The one thing I dislike about being an author is the criticism that comes with the trade. With this particular profession, it’s normal to receive criticism about one’s work, and as an author, you’re expected to take it without a word. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but some comments are difficult to forget. I think some people forget that, behind the book, there is a person who dedicated his or her life to it, and only wrote it to entertain. 

It’s like someone coming up to you during your workday and telling you what an awful job you’re doing. ‘Who even hired you? You’re the worst employee I’ve ever met. You should quit. I don’t even know how anyone could like you or what you do. I can’t believe I wasted my time and money on you.’ 

Of course this is a small con to many pros, and I want my readers to share their true opinions of my work, but sometimes I find that there is a lot of unnecessary venom in the words that, to me, doesn’t seem appropriate for someone who simply tried to entertain you.  

To end on a lighter note, I’ll mention what I think is the best thing about being a writer. 

There is nothing better than hearing how happy I’ve made someone by telling one of my stories. Learning that readers have stayed up until dawn while repeating ‘Just one more chapter’, sworn and gasped out loud, and laughed and cried, makes me tremendously happy, and lucky that I’m able to make a stranger’s day (and in doing so, they make mine!). 

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

You’re very welcome! :-) x

About the book:

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“Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you.

Louise Leighton’s life has fallen apart, all because of one fateful night. Her husband is an adulterer, her sister is his mistress, and soon, Louise will lose everything she owns. But she never imagined she would lose her daughter.

Eighteen-year-old Brooke Leighton is missing. It’s up to Louise and the Metropolitan Police to find her. Has Brooke run away? Or has she been taken against her will? And can Louise aid the investigation without mentioning the night where all of her troubles began?

If she mentions that night, she will incriminate her daughter for heinous crimes. But if she doesn’t, she may never find Brooke; and if she has been abducted, the person who took her may come for Louise, too.

Sometimes the past comes back to kill you.” (Image and synopsis from Amazon)

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Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

This week’s first suggestion is Worthless Men by Andrew Cowan, published by Sceptre and was suggested by Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books.

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“It’s market day in an English city two years into the Great War. The farmers are coming in from the country, the cattle are being driven through the streets and that evening a trainload of wounded soldiers is due to arrive.
At the local mansion, its new hospital tents to the ready, waits Montague Beckwith, himself a psychological casualty of the war. In the town’s poorest quarter, Winnie Barley prays that Walter, her missing son, will be on the train (but that her violent husband is not). In the pharmacy, Gertie Dobson dreams of romance while her father keeps unsuitable men at bay. And everywhere is Walter, a ghostly presence who watches as the girl he loved from a distance is drawn into Montague’s orbit.

Weaving together multiple viewpoints, Andrew Cowan creates a panoramic, extraordinarily vivid portrait of a place as individual as it is archetypal. Here is a community where the war permeates high and low; where the factory now produces barbed wire, the women are doing the men’s jobs, and the young men are no longer so eager to answer the King’s call. And here is the tragic story of a casual betrayal, and a boy who proved that those at the bottom of the heap – the worthless ones – could be the most valiant of them all.”

Here’s what she had to say:

“I loved the style of this book; the gradual building up of a picture was immensely satisfying with every page of this 260 page book adding detail to this well-known historical period.”

You can read Cleo’s full review here.

The second book put forward today is Girl at War by Sara Novic, published by Little Brown and was suggested by author Sarah Jasmon.

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“Growing up in Zagreb in the summer of 1991, 10-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy; she runs the streets with her best friend, Luka, helps take care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But when civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, football games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills.

The brutal ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnians tragically changes Ana’s life, and she is lost to a world of genocide and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later she returns to Croatia, a young woman struggling to belong to either country, forced to confront the trauma of her past and rediscover the place that was once her home.

Girl At War is a haunting, compelling debut from a brilliant young writer, rooted in historical fact and personal experience. Sara has lived in the States and Croatia, and her novel bears witness to the haunting stories of her family and friends who lived through the height of the conflict, and reflects her own attempts to come to terms with her relationship to Croatia and its history. It is an extraordinary achievement for a novelist of any age, let alone age 26.”

Here’s what Sarah had to say:

“Nović creates a beautiful portrait of a family, and of a whole way of life, shattered by violence and the irrationality of partisan fervour….this is primarily a story of growth and rebuilding, and we are not led too far into the darkness. I enjoyed every moment”

Girl at War was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016.

You can read the full review on Sarah’s website. Sarah’s novel, The Summer of Secrets was published by Black Swan on 13 August 2015. You can read a Q&A with Sarah here.

So two more books that deserve to be more widely read. I hope you like this week’s selection. Do let me know if you’ve read either of them, and if you have any suggestions for a quiet book.

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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – Review

Published by Mira UK (Harlequin in the USA and Canada)

Publication date – 7 April 2016 (UK), 3 May 2016 (USA and Canada)

Source – Net Galley review copy

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“Having been married for over 40 years, 69-year-old Arthur Pepper is mourning the loss of his wife. On the anniversary of her death, he finally musters the courage to go through her possessions, and happens upon a charm bracelet that he has never seen before.

What follows is a surprising adventure that takes Arthur from London to Paris and India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met, a journey that leads him to find healing, self-discovery, and love in the most unexpected of places.” (Image and synopsis from Amazon)

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

Arthur Pepper is still mourning the loss of his beloved wife Miriam. On the anniversary of her death he decides it’s time to take her clothes down from the wardrobe and give them to charity. As he is sorting through Miriam’s items he comes across a charm bracelet, one he does not recall Miriam every wearing. Spotting a clue on one of the charms Arthur is soon the trail of the history of the charms. The more he finds out about the bracelet, the more he learns about a Miriam he never knew, and learns more about himself in the process.

I found myself charmed by Arthur and his tale of discovery. I was soon wrapped up in his story, wondering where the next charm would take him and what adventure, or misadventure he would find himself in.

There were some wonderful characters in this book all perfectly drawn. Arthur’s description of grief at the loss of Miriam seemed all too real and his tendency to revert to introspection and loneliness felt true to live. Bernadette is a larger than life character who appears initially to be a busy body but who’s exterior hides a kind, lonely woman who has only good intentions for those she cares about. As Arthur bumbles along on his adventure he meets some wildly different but all wonderful characters, including Lord Graystock, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a real life eccentric member of the aristocracy with a penchant for wild animals, and Mike the former drug addict who helps Arthur when he gets into a spot of bother in London. As Arthur finds out about each charm on the bracelet he finds out more about Miriam. Her personality is rounded out. She is very easily imagined and is as much of a main character in the novel as the others are, even though she is gone before the book starts.

This book is as much about Arthur’s transformation as it is about Miriam’s hidden past. We see Arthur go from merely existing to living again. He rediscovers his zest for life and does things that he never imagined he would. This story shows that when life unexpectedly goes off course, the new paths open to explore are often exciting ones. It is never too late to try new things and to learn to love any new lives we may face.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is the debut novel from Phaedra Patrick. It is an assured, lovely tale of enduring love, grief and finding a new way to live after the loss of a loved one. I look forward to reading more from Phaedra Patrick in the future.

 

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The Champagne in the Freezer by Virginia King – Guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Virginia King to the blog. Virginia is the author of The First Lie, the first Selkie Moon mystery. Her latest novel, The Second Path was published on 20 May 2016. Virginia has also written a short ghost story, entitled Laying Ghosts, as a prequel to the Selkie Moon mysteries. Today Virginia has written a guest post about incendiaries in fiction.

The Champagne in the Freezer

How Writers Plant Incendiaries in their Novels

Novels and movies are full of ‘incendiaries’ – those early events that ‘explode’ later in the story: a look shared between a man and an out-of-bounds woman; a throwaway comment that hints at a secret. As these clues career towards their final detonation – often with a twist – they create suspense while the reader tries to predict what’s coming.

Beats and Consequences

In movies, ‘incendiaries’ are called ‘beats’ which lead to later ‘consequences’. Every tiny fragment has a purpose. Hitchcock was a master at this. Remember in Suspicion – every behaviour the wife observes convinces her that her husband is trying to kill her. The audience is carried along on a wave of escalating beats until the dramatic and unexpected consequence on the cliff.

In novels, writers can plan these beats or they can turn up as the story ‘writes itself’. Then a beat will niggle away at the author until a consequence turns up. The sleeping mind is good at making these unexpected connections.

That Champagne Bottle.

In my ghost story Laying Ghosts the main character Selkie Moon describes what happens when a bunch of people arrives at a beach house for the weekend: 

“Hey Pollyanna,” Stork said when Rina greeted him. He bent to kiss her on the cheek then tried to move to her lips.

She pushed him away. “I’ve told you not to call me that.”

He laughed and winked at me, getting a steely look that matched Rina’s. Was there a collective noun for more than one creep? He shrugged, and conversation turned to squeezing their grog into the fridge, putting a bottle of champagne in the freezer, then opening packets of chips.

Putting the champagne in the freezer seemed like something Stork might do if it wasn’t very cold after their long drive. I had no outcome in mind for the champagne until a couple of hours later in the story when it had been forgotten (by the characters and the author!) and this beat suddenly created consequences. Big consequences. What if the shattering champagne generated a symbolic emotional explosion … with deadly results?

Doris the Shop Dummy

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This process works with mini incendiaries. In Chapter One of my psychological mystery The First Lie, we discover that Selkie Moon is sharing a Waikiki flat with Wanda and her headless shop dummy, Doris:

‘A naked shop dummy sits on a chair at the end of Wanda’s bed, her plastic legs akimbo. Doris. For the first few weeks I kept jumping out of my skin every time I caught sight of her. Wanda has dressed her in a hula skirt and peppered her torso with nails like a woman in a Dali painting. She drapes her with anything from net bags to headbands to leis. Today Doris is wearing a straw hat even though she doesn’t have a head.’

Doris turned up because Wanda is a quirky art student, but unknown to me Doris was creating several beats that would create mini blasts later in the book:

1. In The First Lie, a Dali lithograph plays a deeply symbolic role, including the final scene. This reference to Doris being a Dali-style woman triggered this later consequence in my subconscious mind and created a connection that flows through the book.

2. In The Second Path, Doris appears unexpectedly in several dreams. One dream needed a French theme and I remembered a signpost I once saw in a French village. Two arrows pointed in opposite directions creating a humorous juxtaposition – one said PARIS, the other said TENNIS. The signs popped into my mind and with them another similar word: Doris. Serendipity at its finest. In the dream, the PARIS and DORIS signposts create a kind of ‘dream logic’.

3. In The First Lie and The Second Path, Doris and her ‘headless state’ act as symbols of deeper emotional issues running through both stories.

Your Favourite Incendiaries?

What’s the most surprising or innocuous explosive element you’ve encountered in a film or novel? Avoid spoilers unless it’s well-known.

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A FREE Ghost Story

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Discover the consequences triggered by the exploding champagne by downloading your free copy of Laying Ghosts – a modern 24-page haunted house story inspired by a Russian folktale and tangled up in a murder ballad dating back to the 1700s. It’s a standalone story but also the prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series.

About the book:

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“A rock ripped from the soil, a message scrawled in lipstick on the floor, a torn photo, a silver spoon … What do they all mean?

Only her subconscious knows.

When we last left Selkie Moon, she was running towards the source of her deepest primal fear: the sea. Now she finds herself naked on the beach, stunned that she has no memory of the past two weeks.

Recovering at a friend’s house, Selkie wakes up to discover a bizarre collection of items scattered across the floor. Items she apparently gathered in her sleep. Finding the ho’ohihi – the interconnectedness – between them will carry her around the globe, from Honolulu to Sydney to Paris. A dark fairy tale journey filled with fear and despair, laughter and hope, The Second Path has Selkie searching for her place in the world, in her relationships, and in herself.

Searching for home.”

Giveaway of The First Lie

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“Someone is trying to kill you.

When Selkie Moon flees Sydney to start over in Hawaii, it’s to live life on her own terms. But Life has other plans. Though she tries to dismiss the warning as just another nightmare, it soon becomes apparent that someone, or something, is stalking her. Attacked by frightening visions and mysterious compulsions, she must piece together the fragmented clues before time runs out. Virginia King effortlessly blends funky creativity and deep spirituality – with a dash of Celtic folklore – to craft a story of one woman’s fight for truth, and her discovery that the lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous of all.”

You could be one of ten lucky winners who will choose either a signed paperback or an audio book of The First Lie plus a $15 Amazon gift code. One grand prize winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift code. Enter here.

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Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary – Review

 

Published by Headline

Publication date – 7 April 2016

Source – review copy

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“The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.

A runaway who doesn’t want to be found, she only wants to go home.

To the one man who understands her.

Gives her shelter.

Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.

He’s the head of her new family.

He’s Harm.

D.I. Marnie Rome has faced many dangerous criminals but she has never come up against a man like Harm. She thinks that she knows families, their secrets and their fault lines. But as she begins investigating the girl’s disappearance nothing can prepare her for what she’s about to face.

Because when Harm’s family is threatened, everything tastes like fear…”

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. The following is my honest opinion of the book.

A girl, seemingly distressed, runs in front of a car and causes a fatal accident. Marnie Rome and her team are on her trail but before she can be found another girl is found dead. Are the two girls linked? Where have they been staying? It is with Harm, a man who offers shelter to those who live on the streets. But is there more to Harm than meets the eye? Just how safe are the lost girls? After all, home is where Harm is….

There are some authors whose books find you in a quandary. You eagerly await the release of their latest novel but once it is in your hands you want to eek out reading it, delaying the gratification you know will follow, wanting to treasure each moment you have with the world they have created. Sarah Hilary’s books are such books as these. I eagerly await each new Marnie Rome novel, then put off reading it for as long as possible, knowing the wait for the next will be interminable. But then I got to the point I could wait no longer. But worth the wait it was.

It was a joy to return to Marnie’s often dark and twisted world, a world where she has to conquer devilish criminals and her own feelings for her foster brother Stephen Keene, the brother who murdered her parents. Stephen doesn’t feature as much in this story, but he is still there, lurking in the background, casting a sinister shadow over Marnie’s life. It was also great to see more of Noah Jake, and his personal life, insights into his relationship with Dan and background as to the troubled past of his brother Sol. As for the other characters they were all perfectly placed and imagined. They brought with them sadness, fear and pulled the story together perfectly. Particularly Harm, a terrifying yet abstract man, used to hiding his true self, which made the real him, when revealed, all the more terrible.

This case hits close to home for Marnie, involving runaway girls, girls she can see mirroring herself as a teenager. It is with sadness that she can now look back on her actions, and those of her parents, with an adult understanding, one she wishes she could share with the children involved.

A staple of Sarah Hilary’s novels is the choice of an abstract, little known or written about crime or condition as a driving force for the story. This is the case for Tastes Like Fear. Harm casts a strange spell over his victims, one which Marnie and Noah have not experienced before, but find chilling. The clues are carefully revealed, leaving a trail that allows the reader to work out parts of the story just before Marnie and Noah reach the same conclusion. It was as always a great source of reading fun, pitting my investigative wits against Harm, trying to figure out who it was or what had happened.

This is the third novel to feature Marnie Rome and whilst it can be read as a standalone I would urge you to read Someone Else’s Skin and No Other Darkness first, simply so you don’t miss out on such terrific novels.

As always, Sarah Hilary has written a taut, gripping and brilliantly stifling thriller, one which grabs you at the first page and makes you want to cling on until the very end.

In Someone Else’s Skin Sarah Hilary set herself out as one to watch. She is now an author that is firmly on the crime writing scene, and a standout author at that. It is often suggested that genre novels, in particular crime novels, aren’t as ‘worthy’ as literary fiction, not a notion I’d endorse. I’d suggest that whoever says this hasn’t read a novel such as one by Sarah Hilary. She is an author that can be relied upon to create compelling, moving crime thrillers, tackling little mentioned crimes, shied away from or unknown in the wider world but which lend themselves to moving, thought-provoking stories.

Sarah Hilary joins the short list of authors, including Jonathan Kellerman and Donna Leon that I eagerly anticipate. Now that I have devoured Tastes Like Fear I am sadly waiting for the next Marnie Rome novel, and waiting impatiently at that.

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Before the Blog review – United States of Love by Sue Fortin

I thought it would be a good idea to put all of my reviews in one place. I’ve therefore created a Before the Blog review page where all of these reviews can be found. I will hopefully be able to say where it was first posted and when I read it.

Title –  United States of Love

Publisher – Harper Collins

Originally posted – Goodreads

Read – 20-23 October 2013

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“Since splitting from her husband, single mum Anna Barnes is enjoying her new found freedom and independence.

However, she didn’t bank on working for Tex Garcia – or the sparks that fly between them. The gorgeous American chef is getting the locals hot under the collar and not just because of his culinary prowess!

One problem: Tex can’t commit and women pass through his life like dishes going out to service! Will it be the same with Anna? One thing’s for sure, this All American man is determined to break her self-imposed rule of never mixing business with pleasure – and add some spice into the mix…”

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

3.5 stars if that were allowed on Goodreads.

Anna comes with baggage – a teenage son, three jobs and an ex husband who’s not quite got his head around the ex part. Tex is a love ’em and leave ’em American who hasn’t really recovered from the death of his wife and hides behind shallow relationships, cutting and running when things get too serious. He sees Anna at first as the next in a long line of conquests but she is adamant she won’t fall for his charms, particularly when she starts to work for him.

This is a different type of love story in that we know Anna and Tex get together quite soon in the book. The story is about how their relationship develops and how they get over the obstacles in the path to true love.

This is a gently paced story but with lots of story arches, showing a whole host of problems that cause the romance to hit rocky ground.

This is the author’s debut but she still clearly has her own style and voice, which can only grow with any further works from her.

I really enjoyed the scenes set in Texas on Tex’s ranch. In fact it would be great to see a sequel based around the ranch and it’s inhabitants!

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Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

This week’s first suggestion is from Emma who blogs at Mrs Red’s Reviews. Her choice is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury.

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“LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE

From the moment Alma Whittaker steps into the world, everything about life intrigues her. Instilled with an unquenchable sense of wonder by her father, a botanical explorer and the richest man in the New World, Alma is raised in a house of luxury and curiosity. It is not long before she becomes a gifted botanist in her own right. But as she flourishes and her research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction – into the realm of the spiritual, the divine and the magical. The Signature of All Things soars across the globe of the nineteenth century, from London and Peru, to Philadelphia, Tahiti and beyond. Peopled with extraordinary characters along the way, most of all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker.”

See more at on the Bloomsbury website.

Here’s what Emma had to say about it.

“I wouldn’t call it a romance novel, but an exploration of a woman’s life….The writing flows well and I loved the tone of the book.”

You can read Emma’s full review and see the answers Elizabeth Gilbert gave to Emma when she took part in a web chat on Emma’s blog.

If that’s not enough to tempt you The Signature of All Things was longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize and shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize and has 185 five star reviews on Amazon.

The second book to be recommended this week is The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, published by Bloomsbury. The Wicked Boy was recommended by Caryl who blogs at Mrs Blogg: The Average Reader.

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“Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-year-old brother Nattie set out from their small, yellow-brick terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord’s. Their father had gone to sea the previous Friday, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents’ valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. But as the sun beat down on the Coombes house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building.When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made sent the press into a frenzy of horror and alarm, and Robert and Nattie were swept up in a criminal trial that echoed the outrageous plots of the ‘penny dreadful’ novels that Robert loved to read. In The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale has uncovered a fascinating true story of murder and morality – it is not just a meticulous examination of a shocking Victorian case, but also a compelling account of its aftermath, and of man’s capacity to overcome the past.”

See more at on the Bloomsbury website.

This is what Caryl had to say about it.

“I’m not sure which aspect of the research all woven into a fascinating narrative, appealed to me the most, but it just about covered a number of my interests in one fell swoop. We have history, social history, Victorian crime and punishment, emigration, family history, maritime history, Gallipoli during the First World War and later in France and Flanders…”

You can read Caryl’s full review on her blog.

So there we have this week’s suggestions. I hope you found something new and appealing to add to the reading list. Do let me know your thoughts on the choices and don’t forget you can nominate your own quiet book too.

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Stephen Booth – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Stephen Booth to the blog. Stephen is the author of fifteen novels featuring detectives Cooper and Fry and the latest novel, The Murder Road, was published by Sphere on 5 May 2016.

Stephen kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Murder Road.

The story centres around the fictional Peak District hamlet of Shawhead, where there’s only one road in and one road out. A lorry delivering animal feed is found jammed under a railway bridge in the narrow lane, and there’s no sign of the driver except for a blood-stained cab. Detective Inspector Ben Cooper and his team from Derbyshire E Division arrive at the scene, but find themselves faced with more and more questions. In the nearby town of New Mills, one man may have known the answers – but it’s too late to ask him, since his body is found hanging from a walkway high above the river gorge. As the police begin to discover connections, festering wounds and a longing for vengeance are exposed in the local community. Meanwhile, things have been moving on in E Division. A new sergeant has arrived, old-school DC Gavin Murfin has embarked on a second career, and even Diane Fry has finally moved away from Derbyshire. But Ben Cooper is still torn by mixed emotions over new and old relationships. This book opens with a dramatic incident on the A6, and it still makes me nervous whenever I drive past that spot! 

2. What inspired the storyline?

I did an event in the town of New Mills a few years, and one of the questions from the audience was: “This is a good place for a murder. So when are you going to set one of your novels here?” I was under a bit of an obligation! I love to write about small communities, and the more isolated they are the better. I think the issues involved, and the conflicts between people who live there are very interesting. Grudges can linger for many years, and in a small community you can’t escape each other. The hamlet of Shawhead is based on a couple of similar places in that part of Derbyshire, and they can be surprisingly difficult to reach, especially when there’s a low bridge which is likely to trap an unwary HGV driver. In this case, the location inspired the story. Similarly, when I visited New Mils and walked out onto the wonderful Millennium Walkway over the River Goyt, I saw it as a great place to find a body.

3. The Murder Road is the 15th novel to feature detectives Cooper and Fry. What do you find are the benefits and downsides to writing a series? Is the fear there that you know the characters too well or can they still surprise you?

They can certainly still surprise me! I’ve never planned the lives of Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, but try to allow them freedom to do whatever they want, even if that means them making mistakes. As a result, I constantly learn new things about them. I think this is the way it should be, because it’s how we get to know people in real life – bit by bit, not all at once. Even a friend you know very well can still take you by surprise, and that’s how I feel about Ben and Diane. These characters have really driven the series, and they keep readers coming back for more. Without them, I would never have reached 15 books (and soon 16). For me, one of the advantages of writing a series is that I already have a solid base, a platform I can launch a new book from.

4. The Murder Road, like the rest of the series is set in and around the Peak District. How important is the geographical location to you. What makes the area so inspiring?

My interest in using a strong sense of place in crime fiction goes back a long way. Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ made a deep impression on me as a child – a very dark story, with a wild, remote setting. In another story, Holmes tells Dr Watson: “The lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” So it was perhaps inevitable that I would choose a rural setting for the Cooper and Fry series. And the Peak District was the perfect choice. I think of the Peak District as beautiful, but dangerous. It can certainly be a frightening place, particularly for people unfamiliar with the hills or the unpredictable weather. It has been responsible for a lot of deaths. For me, one of its great attractions is its enormous range of atmospheric locations, where I can often sense a darkness lurking beneath that attractive surface. This may be to do with its thousands of years of history, from the ancient stone circles to abandoned lead mines, much of it visible right there in the landscape for my characters to see and touch. It’s said to be the second most visited national park in the world, because it isn’t really remote. It has several large cities on the doorstep, and those millions of visitors create a lot of conflict with the people who live and work there. Although I know the area well, the amazing thing is that I can still stumble across something I didn’t know about, which will give me an idea for a story. Then we have the Dark Peak and White Peak, the geologically contrasting halves of the Peak District which provide perfect symbolism for a crime novel, representing the dark and light, good and evil. Those sudden eruptions of black, twisted rock in the middle of a picturesque landscape constantly remind me of the darkness that lurks beneath the surface, the sinister secrets behind the attractive exterior. And that’s what I’m writing about – complex family relationships, ancient vendettas, the deepest mysteries of the human heart.

5. 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 don’t do any planning. I start with ideas – about the characters, a place, and perhaps an opening scenario with a victim about to meet their end. I write around these ideas until a story starts to develop. Because I give my characters as much freedom as possible, they’re able to go off and create the story for themselves. So I don’t know how a book will end. I find out ‘who did it’ when Ben and Diane find out. This is a much more interesting and exciting way of writing. But I’m lucky that I write about police detectives. The way I see it, it’s their job to find out what happened, not mine. They’re the detectives, and I’m just the writer. I’ve been contracted for a book a year for the past 16 years, so I can’t take longer than 12 months on each. In practice, two books tend to overlap – I’ll be editing one book while I’m already working on ideas for the next.

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

I’ve always done a lot of walking, and I like to get out into the hills for a bit of peace and quiet. The trouble is, ideas still come to me when I’m doing that, so I don’t think you ever really escape from being a writer! We live in a rural village, and it’s very peaceful anyway – almost the only traffic we get consists of tractors and the occasional horse. We also have three cats, who are wonderful for helping me to relax.

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

Blimey, this sounds like ‘Desert Island Discs’! It would have to be something with plenty of variety that I could keep re-reading. So probably ‘The Penguin Book of the British Short Story’. There are two volumes, but if I had to choose I’d go for ‘Volume 1: From Daniel Defoe to John Buchan’.

8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Question: What would you say to someone who doesn’t read books?   Answer: To paraphrase Mark Twain, “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

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

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About the book

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“Ben Cooper and his team from Derbyshire Constabulary’s E Division return in this gripping new page-turner from the master of the genre.

Ben Cooper and his team from Derbyshire Constabulary’s E Division return in this gripping new page-turner from the master of the genre.

For the Peak District hamlet of Shawhead, there’s only one road in and one road out. Its handful of residents are accustomed to being cut off from the world by snow or floods. But when a lorry delivering animal feed is found jammed in the narrow lane, with no sign of the driver except for a blood-stained cab, it’s the beginning of something much more sinister…”

The Murder Road by Stephen Booth is out now, published by Sphere, price £8.99 in paperback

 

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Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent – Review

Published by Penguin Ireland

Publication date – 9 April 2015

Source – review copy

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“‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’

Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.”
Read more at on the Penguin website.

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book. The following is my honest opinion of the novel.
Oliver Ryan is a successful man, wealthy after publishing a number of award winning children’s books, books that were illustrated by his wife Alice. It would seem that theirs is the perfect life but one evening Oliver beats Alice so badly he leaves her comatose. Afterwards those who know Oliver reveal what they know about the man, whilst Oliver tells his own story of what led him to hurt Alice as he did.
The fascinating aspect to this story is that it is told backwards as it were. The book opens with the horrific crime, when Oliver beats Alice unconscious and then works backwards to show how Oliver arrived at that moment. Oliver is indeed unravelled, but conversely the narrative creates a more rounded and fleshed out view of Oliver Ryan, rather than stripping him down.
As more is revealed about Oliver it becomes more apparent that he is a sociopath. Whether he was born this way or whether his sociopathy was as a result of how his life played out is a question that perhaps cannot be answered and it is left to the reader to decide. My interpretation is that Oliver would have always turned out to be as he did, irrespective of his background. Whilst handsome and charming, Liz Nugent makes it apparent throughout that Oliver has few feelings for anyone but himself, and those feelings he does have for others are all to benefit him in some way
The format of alternate chapters, narrated by different characters works extremely well. Each one had an individual voice, easily distinguishable from each other, making the characters well-rounded and convincing. Even those who didn’t have their own chapters, and were described only by way of hearsay from the other narrators, were complex and easily imagined. We only ever hear about Alice from the other characters and each of them have only their own view of her. There is no impartial observer who can accurately portray Alice, and this indeed could also be said for Oliver. But that is after all a reality. Each of us is a different person to everyone we know. We may be known by a different name, have a different role or a less or greater impact on someone’s life and therefore a person’s opinion of us is coloured by that relationship.
Liz Nugent’s writing quietly draws you into the world of Oliver, Alice and the people who have come and gone through his life. There is a compelling undercurrent to the story, pulling the reader along so that they find out more, whilst the sense of unease and awareness that there is something ‘not quiet right’ about Oliver Ryan builds.
Chilling, fascinating and quietly compelling. This is the debut novel from Liz Nugent. I am eager to read more from her in the future.

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Falling in Love by Donna Leon – Review

Published by Arrow

Publication date – 9 March 2016

Source – own copy

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“In Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon’s first novel in the Commissario Brunetti series, readers were introduced to the glamorous and cut-throat world of opera and to one of Italy’s finest living sopranos, Flavia Petrelli – then a suspect in the poisoning of a renowned German conductor. Now, many years after Brunetti cleared her name, Flavia has returned to the illustrious La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca.

As an opera superstar, Flavia is well acquainted with attention from adoring fans and aspiring singers. But when one anonymous admirer inundates her with bouquets of yellow roses – on stage, in her dressing room and even inside her locked apartment – it becomes clear that this fan has become a potentially dangerous stalker. Distraught, Flavia turns to an old friend for help. Familiar with Flavia’s melodramatic temperament, Commissario Brunetti is at first unperturbed by her story, but when another young opera singer is attacked he begins to think Flavia’s fears may be justified. In order to keep his friend out of danger, Brunetti must enter the psyche of an obsessive fan and find the culprit before anyone comes to harm.”
Read more at on the Penguin website.

Flavia Petrelli has returned to La Fenice, this time appearing as Tosca. Many years ago Brunetti met Flavia when a German conductor was murdered. Meeting Brunetti again after one of her performances she mentions to him that she has been receiving unwanted attention from an admirer. Yellow roses, and lots of them have been left for her in her private dressing room, and inside her locked apartment building. When another opera singer is attacked Brunetti realises he has to find the obsessive fan before Flavia is hurt.

Donna Leon’s novels are very much character driven. I’d recommend reading the series from the beginning for part of the joy of the books is watching the characters develop over the years. Each one is vital to the story, impinging on how Brunetti investigates, be it with the help of Vianello or Signorina Elettra’s insights or indeed working in an alternative way to either spite or circumvent Bruentti’s annoying and snobbish boss Patta.

Because the books are so heavily dependent on the characters I often find that the crime that drives the story takes something of a back seat. This could be said for this book. Brunetti rarely has to deal with gruesome crimes, though often they are sad and this sometimes makes them more effecting. In Falling in Love the crime is unusual in that this is a case of stalking, at once a rather personal crime but one that can be carried out by someone unknown to the victim as easily as by someone known. There are no clues dotted around to enable the reader to discover who the perpetrator is, we find out when Brunetti does. This is not to say that the story lacks something as a result. It does not. It was good to see how Brunetti identified who was stalking Flavia, helped as always by Vianello and the incomparable Signorina Elettra, who has connections that it is perhaps best that a police detective doesn’t enquire into.

Donna Leon’s skill lies in the vivid descriptions she provides for scenes and location. The family life of Brunetti and the location of Venice are beautifully portrayed. In such novels as Falling in Love this is important for it rounds out Brunetti’s character and makes him the detective he is.

As always, I looked forward to reading the latest Donna Leon and I was not disappointed with Falling in Love. Reading it was like returning to visit old friend and what an enjoyable return it was. I’m now very keen to read the next instalment; The Waters of Eternal Youth.

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