Monthly Archives: January 2016

Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson – Review

Published by Orenda Books

Publication date – 15 January 2016

Translated by Quentin Bates

Source – review copy

NightBlind-BF-AW-2-275x423

Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.

Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him.

The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will. Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all. Dark, chilling and complex, Nightblind is an extraordinary thriller from an undeniable new talent”

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

Five years after the events in Snowblind we find Ari Thór Arason settled with Kirstin in Siglufjörður. They now have a 10 month old son, Stefnir. Tomas’s boss, Ari Thór has left the town, returning to Reykjavik with his family. Having hoped to take over Tomas’ position as Police Inspector, Ari Thór faced disappointment when Herjólfur was given the role. One night whilst Ari Thór is ill, Herjólfur attends a call out. Not returning, Ari Thór goes looking for his boss and finds him shot. Now Ari Thór, with the returning Tomas, must find out who wanted to kill the Inspector and why.

After having read and enjoyed the first in the Dark Iceland series from Ragnar Jonasson, Snowblind, I was eager to return to the sheltered northern Icelandic town of Siglufjörður and its residents. The sense of isolation and remoteness that was apparent in Snowblind is just as apparent in Nightblind. The town feels like it is part of another world or another time and this was extended by the fact that most of the story centres around only a handful of characters. The fact that the story centred on such a small group made the mountainous walls that surround the town seem even closer. The sense of menace of the murder again juxtaposes the sense of a safe haven that the town projects.

Time doesn’t appear to have altered Ari Thór much, he is still impetuous in his investigation of the murder of his boss, asking questions in a manner that could perhaps cause more harm than good. But his intentions are clear to see, he loves his job and wants to ensure he does it to the best of his abilities. His professional abilities are thrown into focus when compared to his apparent unawareness of issues with his relationship with Kirstin, which he is slower to detect.

The murder mystery itself is deftly dealt with. This is a short novel by some comparisons, at just over 200 pages but words are used wisely and the narrative drives on at a pace.  Short chapters are interspersed with extracts from a diary of an unknown psychiatric inpatient, which add a layer to the story. The use of such short chapters and extracts led me quickly through the story as I could always justify ‘just one more chapter’ to myself. The characterisation is clear, I grew more fond of Ari Thór, despite some of his obvious flaws. I welcomed the return of Tomas who is a perfect balance to Ari Thór’s impetuousness and who I hope will return in later books. His calmness and logical thought process perfectly partners Ari Thór’s more eager and direct approach. As for Kirstin, I wasn’t that keen on her in Snowblind and she didn’t appear to be any more personable in Nightblind. Hopefully the further books in the series will highlight Kirstin and her relationship with Ari Thór.

The translation by Quentin Bates again was spot on. I always believe that if I forget I’m reading a translated novel then the translator has done a good job. That was the case with Nightblind.

There is something of an old fashioned, ‘closed room’ feel about this book, aided I think by the fact that there are few suspects and Ari Thór and Tomas get to the conclusion by old fashioned deduction. It also mirrors the remote feel of the town, cut off from it’s modern day neighbours and still perhaps stuck slightly in the shadow of its herring fishing golden age, which long since disappeared.

The next three novels from Ragnar Jonasson will fill in the intervening years between Snowblind and Nighblind and I’m looking forward to them very much. Don’t worry if you haven’t read Snowblind. You can read it after Nightblind without any fear of spoilers.

2 Comments

Filed under Reviews

The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons – Review

Published by Sceptre

Publication date – 24 March 2016 (paperback edition)

Source – Netgalley review copy

isbn9781444736410-detail

“By the author of Mr Rosenblum’s List, this is a captivating tale of passion and music, ancient songs and nostalgia, of the ties that bind and the ones we are prepared to sever.

Fox, as the celebrated composer Harry Fox-Talbot is known, wants to be left in peace. His beloved wife has died, he’s unable to write a note of music, and no, he does not want to take up some blasted hobby.

Then one day he discovers that his troublesome four-year-old grandson is a piano prodigy. The music returns and Fox is compelled to re-engage with life – and, ultimately, to confront an old family rift.

Decades earlier, Fox and his brothers return to Hartgrove Hall after the war, determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But on the last night of 1946, the arrival of beautiful wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, which leads to a shattering betrayal.

With poignancy, lyricism and humour, Natasha Solomons tells a captivating tale of passion and music, of roots, ancient songs and nostalgia for the old ways, of the ties that bind us to family and home and the ones we are prepared to sever. Here is the story of a man who discovers joy and creative renewal in the aftermath of grief and learns that it is never too late to seek forgiveness.”

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

Harry Fox -Talbot, known as Fox, is grieving the loss of his beloved wife. Unable to concentrate on anything he is wandering a lonely existence through life. The music that has always accompanied him has vanished, replaced only by silence. This is troubling to both him and his family as Fox is a celebrated composer. One day his four year old grandson visits and Fox discovers he has an unbelievable talent for playing the piano. Fox suddenly finds a reason to exist as he guides Robin on his musical journey.

Sometimes you stumble across a book and start to read it, perhaps more out of curiosity than anything else, not sure what to expect. And then the book starts to work its magic on you, drawing you in, urging you to read just one more page. This is such a book.

The story switches between post war Dorset and the first year of the new Millennium and each time period progresses over a number of years. We see how Fox and his beloved wife Edie meet, how they fall for each other, of the sacrifices Fox and his family make in their attempts to save Hartgrove Hall and how Fox forges his career as a composer. We then see how Fox has to cope with death of Edie, how he has to find the strength to continue, and to put right the wrongs of the past.

This is full of evocative writing, easily drawing a portrait of post war life, full of an atmosphere of celebration, reflection, sadness, frugality and frivolity.  I loved each era, drawn into the time when Fox was a young man, then transported to the future Fox, learning to live again after the death of his wife. The grief that Fox was suffering was sensitively and realistically portrayed, not only drawing the reader to Fox but also lending a certain wistfulness to the parts of the novel set in past. There is a betrayal and a love story at the heart of this tale, and that isn’t giving anything away. We are told early on what has happened, though not directly, so the story guides us through the how and when. This story is a journey to an already known destination and the time it takes to travel the tale is an enjoyable one.

There are only a few main characters, so the book feels more intimate and personal because of it. Each character adds something to the story, be it drive the narrative along, such as Edie or Fox himself, but also to highlight character traits and faults in others, for example, Fox’s granddaughters and how they act when they interact with their grandfather.

A symphony of a story, full of rich detail and beautiful movements, it should ideally be accompanied by a CD with musical soundtrack.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Fahrenheit Press Exclusive – Introducing Fidelis Morgan

Today I’m delighted to be able to exclusively reveal the latest author to be published by Fahrenheit Press. Fidelis Morgan has joined the Fahrenheit Press ranks and her first novel to be published by them, The Murder Quadrille is released today. Fidelis is an actor, director and author, having starred in Never Let Me Go alongside Keira Knightly and Carey Mulligan and in A Little Chaos with Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman. As well as acting on screen, Fidelis has an illustrious career on stage, appearing in productions of Proust, Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward. In between acting and directing Fidelis has also written many novels including the popular Countess series featuring 17th century Countess turned detective Lady Ashby De La Zouche. Faherenheit Press are delighted to be able to re-publish The Murder Quadrille, a novel described by actress Celia Imrie as “A cross between Wilkie Collins and Alfred Hitchcock, with a touch of Patricia Highsmith thrown in.”

Fidelis kindly answered a few of my questions and read on to find out more about The Murder Quadrille.

1. Tell us a little about The Murder Quadrille.

It starts at a dinner party. The couple hosting the dinner are on the road to divorce. The guests all have some interest in murder and, because a body has recently turned up on the local common, the conversation swiftly turns to murder. One by one, through the book, everyone at the dinner table becomes involved somehow or other in the real thing. Bodies get buried, bodies disappear, and so do the dinner guests.

2. What inspired the book?

A spate of ‘bodies under the patio’ domestic killings in the newspapers. I also wanted to write a multi-voiced book, as Wilkie Collins so often did. As he put it “the story of an offence against the laws as told in Court – by more than one witness”.

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 start with an idea and let it roll. It’s the same way I cook. I know what ingredients I have, then I try to put them together and attempt to make something sizzle. Whenever I hit a patch where I find things slowing down, I think ‘What’s the best that can happen? What’s the worst that can happen?’ and ‘Who’s available to muddle things up?’ and then chose which way to go. It’s like driving without a map, deciding where you’re heading every time you hit a crossroads or a T junction. Sometimes you get taken up a blind alley, but that’s easy enough, – you just go back to the last junction and make a different decision.

As for how long it takes, I usually think about a book or a play, and research around it for about 3 months. Then I sit down and write like a whirlwind. But I do take the occasional long pause while I think, so that the 2 months actual writing ends up taking about 4 months.

4. You’ve a prolific writing career with an array of including sagas, short stories and the historical crime Countess series featuring Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche previously published. Which is your favourite genre to writing and are what are the biggest challenges to writing the various genres?

I don’t have a favourite. I’m bad at choosing. If put on the spot and asked to choose out of 10 CDs I’d end up choosing 6. Usually the project that is my favourite is the one I’m working on and the one in my head. I don’t really see that there is much difference between the genres. Dickens and Graham Greene for instance wroteeverything from historical, comedy, social, crime, and plain drama. It’s a pity that nowadays (to help bookshops and their displays) things have to be divided into genres. I’d prefer everything to be shoved together. All I want is a thumping good read. It’s all telling a story and grabbing your audience by the throat and not letting them go till you’re done.

5. You are both an actor and director and write in your spare time (I’m surprised you have any spare time!) Do you find that your experience as an actor and director has influenced your writing and if so, to what extent?

I always write (and direct) as an actor. I find myself acting out all the parts and I am allergic to the kind of characters that would not be fun to play. It’s a theatre actor’s job never to let the audience drift off. You have to keep them alert and interested. I try to do the same thing as a writer. If you look back, actors have always written, even before the 17th century when novels were invented. Shakespeare is the most famous, but Moliere, Sheridan, Dickens, Shaw, and more recently Noel Coward, Beryl Bainbridge, Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Rodney Ackland, Jessie Burton, Jackie Collins, David Nicholls and my cousin, Lynda La Plante, also started out (or, in some cases, continued) as actors.

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

Writing, directing and acting are what I do to relax. I love cooking too, and painting, and playing music. And I adore travelling around on trains and boats. But I usually find myself having to write about travelling while I’m doing it. And I am usually travelling somewhere to write or act!

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

The Universal World Train/Ship Timetable and Rail/Ship Atlas. Unfortunately, there are no such books. Failing that it would be Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable or the Dictionary of Historical Slang.

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?

Q. Is there anything you CAN’T do?

A. Sew!

 

About the book

51NJN5P4-ZL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_

“There’s a dead body on the Common, so what else can you talk about over dinner?  But for a husband and wife whose marriage is on the rocks, their bank manager, their lawyer and his bimbo girlfriend, is it a safe conversation to have, particularly when a writer of lurid crime fiction is also there to make up the numbers.  There’s a very sharp knife about the place too.  And whatever did happen to the missing librarian?

In this intriguing suspense novel written in the Hitchcock mode, Fidelis Morgan plays tag with the reader, taking them through the minds of six guests at a dinner party where Murder is on the Menu.”

“Creepy yet hilarious, filled with startling twists and thrills, this one had me laughing even as I was feverishly turning the pages. Only Fidelis Morgan can pull off a caper with such wit and style!” Tess Gerritsen

“Fabulously funny, twisted, dark and unpredictable. You couldn’t pry it out of my hands!” Rebecca Chance

“Fidelis Morgan plays a great game with the readers. The Murder Quadrille is twisty fun.” Karin Slaughter

“A totally engrossing read.  Highly recommended”  Classic Mystery

A cross between Wilkie Collins and Alfred Hitchcock, with a touch of Patricia Highsmith thrown in.” Celia Imrie

“This is possibly the funniest crime book I’ve ever read…  I found myself engrossed from chapter one. Every time you think you know where the story is going, it performs a switchback worthy of any white knuckle ride.  In short, expect the unexpected, because this is a rip-roaring page turner that wrong-foots you at every end and turn.”  www.crimefictionlover.com

 

Fahrenheit Press’ Chris McVeigh had this to say

“We’re so proud to publish Fidelis. She’s perfect for Fahrenheit – smart, funny, and always edgy. The Murder Quadrille is the first book we’re publishing by her but I’m delighted to reveal here that we’ve signed up ALL 4 of her best-selling ‘Countess’ novels. We’ll be publishing them under the Fahrenheit banner very soon and we can’t wait to bring these awesome books to the attention of a whole new audience.”

 

The book is available to buy now from Amazon. If you are a subscriber to the Fahrenheit Press Book Club you will receive a copy of The Murder Quadrille as part of your subscription. You can find out more about the Fahrenheit Press Book Club here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Christmas in Disguise by Katie Fforde – review

Published by Cornerstone Digital

Publication date – 25 November 2015

Source – Netgalley review copy

cover_jpg_rendition_460_707

“When Jo’s friend Andi asks if she’ll stand in to cook Christmas lunch for her employer, Jo reluctantly agrees. She knows Andi will lose her job if she doesn’t, and wants to help out her friend.

Jo is nervous because Andi’s boss is a well-known celebrity diva, who outright refuses to have anyone but Andi cook for her. But she also insists Andi wears full chef’s whites so the girls think they’ll get away with it … it’s the perfect Christmas disguise.

But when Jo runs into one of the guests – good looking and very smart Anthony – things get even more complicated…
Read more here.”

 

I received a copy of this short story from the publisher via Netgalley and this is my honest opinion of the story.

Jo has been asked by her friend Andi to cover for her on Christmas Day. Andi is a chef to celebrity Christine who has refused to allow Andi to have the day off. Andi convinces Jo that Christine won’t even notice that it’s not her who is serving dinner. Jo reluctantly agrees. She then meets Anthony, a guest of Christine’s. Somehow he convinces Jo to pretend to be his girlfriend for the day. Will Jo be able to carry off both deceptions?

This is a short, sweet story from best-selling author Katie Fforde. I love Katie’s novels and so thought this would be a nice little distraction whilst I wait for her new novel.

This has all the characterisation and charm that you’d expect from Katie. Jo is a lovely character, Anthony a down to earth, yet charming, leading man, and the gentle villain of the piece, Christine, is pitched just right to balance the story.

This is a short story and can be easily read in an hour. It is a nice distraction to while away the commute or lunch hour and although it is set at Christmas it can be enjoyed at any time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Getting an agent or going it alone – Guest post by J. Paul Henderson

Today I am pleased to welcome J. Paul Henderson, author of Last Bus to Coffeeville, to the blog. Paul’s latest novel The Last of the Bowmans was published by No Exit Press on 21 January 2016. Paul has kindly written a guest post about the publishing process and getting an agent or not as the case may be.

 

I started writing The Last of the Bowmans for probably the wrong reasons:  to get another book published.  It was conceived not out of love, but as a donor baby to save the life of its three-year old brother, Last Bus to Coffeeville.  But things changed.

Last Bus to Coffeeville was my first book, written over a three-year period and completed in January 2011.  Writing a book is enjoyable.  Getting it published isn’t.  It costs you three years of your life.

Everything you read about being published focuses on the importance of securing an agent:  without an agent you’re dead in the water.  And this is generally true.  Publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts, and it’s the agents who now accumulate and sift through the slush piles.  Consequently, it’s they who decide what a publisher reads and doesn’t read.

The same people, who emphasise the importance of securing an agent, also emphasise another importance:  to go with an agent you feel a connection with, and not with the first one to offer representation.  It’s good advice, but only if you’re Haruki Murakami.  The rest of us can’t be picky.  We’re thankful just to get an agent.  Any agent.

And boy was I thankful when I heard back from an agent only two weeks after sending out the manuscript.  I thought my ship had come in, and so I travelled down to London on a train.  She and a colleague (the rights director, from memory) took me to lunch (this is what agents do), and I ordered sausage and mash:  I wanted to give the impression I was low maintenance and a man of the people.  Over coffee we agreed terms, and then parted company.  They went back to their offices and I headed for the Underground.  It was the last we saw of each other.

I should have been whistling or skipping down the street after that lunch; buying a copy of the Big Issue from one of its luckless vendors or throwing coins into the cap of a Rumanian accordionist:  I’d got an agent!  I was on my way to being published!  Hip, hip…

But there was no hoorah.  I felt oddly depressed, and couldn’t help but feel that I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life.  But it was a mistake I couldn’t have afforded not to make:  a writer can’t live without an agent!  Everyone knows this.

It soon dawned on me that it’s also difficult to live with one.

I was under the impression, after our luncheon meeting, that the manuscript was pretty much ready to go.  A few tweaks, maybe, but nothing major.  But then the agent decided to send it to a ‘brilliant’ (she used this word a lot) freelance editor, and he wanted major changes:  the characters were fine, he said, but the plot was lacking:  there were no car chases – or this is how I interpreted his comments.  (I talked to him over the phone once, and he ate an apple for most of the conversation).  The agent agreed with his every word, as if more interested in representing him than me.

I was new to the game of non-academic publishing and didn’t want to appear overly-precious.  I also figured that between them, the freelance editor and the agent knew what they were doing.  And so, for the next four months I made the changes they asked for, but then, when they asked for more, I dug in my heels.  No more changes!  The manuscript presented to the publishers was a mess, a bad compromise between what they wanted and what I wanted.  I was almost relieved when it got turned down.  It wasn’t the book I’d written.

The agent’s new plan was for me to write another book, and one that would allow Last Bus to Coffeeville to ride its coattails.  And so I started writing The Last of the Bowmans, a celebration of life on the small-scale.

Halfway through writing chapter one, something happened.  I fell in love with the story and its characters, and again found myself writing for all the right reasons:  to get The Last of the Bowmans published!  The day I finished writing, I felt the same sense of bereavement as when I’d finished writing Last Bus to Coffeeville.  It was a good sign.

I sent the manuscript to the agent and looked forward to her timely reply:  the book, she’d tell me, was brilliant!  I was brilliant!  Everything was brilliant!

In the event I heard nothing.  I emailed her a couple of months later and she replied that she’d been busy.  A further three months passed – (that’s five now, if you’re counting) – and I emailed her again and asked if the manuscript was something she wanted to represent or not.  She replied the next day apologising for the delay but said no, she didn’t.  It was the voice, she said – that lazy and irrefutable get-out clause for any agent – and the fact that we’d disagreed over the first book.  She thought I’d be better off getting representation elsewhere.  The fact that she’d never even read the manuscript (I still believe this to be true) inclined me to agree with her, and we went our separate ways

I revised Last Bus to Coffeeville to my liking, and then prepared to take out the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for the second time (how I hate that book).  But then I got lucky.

There’s a song called People and it’s sung by Babs Streisand.  It starts:  People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.  I beg to differ.  It’s the people who know people who are the luckiest people in the world.  And I was that lucky person, because it turned out that I knew people who knew people who knew other people, and I was introduced to No Exit Press.

I handed over both boys to them:  Last Bus to Coffeeville and The Last of the Bowmans.  They have different personalities, I explained, but I love one as much as the other.

Fortunately, they did too.

About the book:

9781843442776

“After an absence of some seven years, Greg Bowman returns from America to find his father lying in a bamboo coffin, his estranged brother Billy stalking a woman with no feet and his seventy-nine-year-old Uncle Frank planning to rob a bank. While renovating the family house he is unexpectedly visited by the presence of his dead father and charged with the task of ‘fixing’ the family. In the course of his reluctant investigations, Greg discovers not only the secrets behind the strange behaviour of his brother and uncle but also an unsettling secret of his father’s, and one that brings him face to face with the unintended consequences of his own past.

The Last of the Bowmans is the story of a family on the run from itself in a city with no place to go.”

6 Comments

Filed under Spotlight on Authors

Finding Margaret – Guest post by Catherine Hokin

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Catherine Hokin to the blog. Catherine’s novel, Blood and Roses was published by Yolk Publishing on 13 January 2016. Here Catherine talks about how she first came across Margaret of Anjou.

FINDING MARGARET

The Wars of the Roses: that’s a well-mined seam that’s surely been well and truly ‘done’? That’s usually the second comment when I mention that my debut novel Blood and Roses is firmly set against the background of this so bloody conflict – the first is ‘I wish I had the time to write a book’ but no writer ever responds to that one with anything other than an inner scream.

My response? No period of history is ever truly ‘done’ until all the voices have been heard: for the Wars of the Roses, as for so much of History, it is the female voice that is too often silent or misheard. Step forward Margaret of Anjou.

Who was she? The facts are well-known: she was born in the Duchy of Lorraine in 1430 and married to Henry VI of England in 1445; she had one son, Edward, born after 8 years of marriage and dead in battle at 18; she was a key figure on the Lancastrian side in the dynastic conflicts of the fifteenth century that the Victorians rather romantically christened the Wars of the Roses; she died in gentile poverty in 1482. That’s a life but it isn’t a person which is where my search for Margaret began.

I first met Margaret when I was 12. My father ran a war gaming club (in the non-virtual days when this involved a sand table) and all the members were obsessed with the Wars of the Roses, I think some of them thought it was still going on. They also shared a loathing for Margaret of Anjou which fascinated me – how could one woman who lived so long ago still rile men so much? As a contrary teenager, I was hooked.

My father was also a Shakespeare fanatic so I got caught up in that to. Anyone who knows their Shakespeare knows that, in the spirit of propaganda, he reviled Margaret in his work, depicting her as “a foul wrinkled witch’ and a ‘hateful with’red hag.” By this point my blood was up – how could such an over-wrought characterisation have become a shorthand for a woman contemporaries described as a “great and strong-laboured woman”? How did that fit with Shakespeare’s portrayal of her wandering round court clutching the severed head of her supposed lover the Duke of Suffolk like a medieval revved-up Mrs Rochester?

Clearly there was a lot more to this woman and, following a History degree which included a study of the use of political propaganda against women in the Middle Ages, she became a scratch I needed to itch. Then life got in the way and the scratch took 30 years to get to…

What did I find when I began to dig? A politically astute, well-educated woman trapped as a Queen Consort – her role was essentially to be an intercessor and a peacemaker which is all very well except she was married to the weak, ill and ineffectual King Henry VI at a time when the English Crown was very much the spoils of war. She was perfectly able to rule in an England that would not countenance her doing so and became the scapegoat for her husband’s failings.

That’s one aspect of my Margaret but there is also another: she was a mother, a strong woman trying to turn a boy she loved fiercely into a strong man she had to let go. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that I found my Margaret when I had a son of 18, the age hers was when he died – a key relationship too often portrayed in a sinister light and badly in need of a redress.

My Margaret is a strong, deeply intelligent women driven by ambition and perfectly capable of manipulating circumstances to her own advantage. I’ve been looking for her for a long time and am delighted that my publisher recognised that a revision was due and trusted me to do it.  I hope you will be as fascinated by her as I have become and that the voice I have found for her rings as true for you as it continues to do for me.

About the book:

CRDg-oxW8AAKMmD

“1460

The English Crown – a bloodied, restless prize.

The one contender strong enough to hold it? A woman. Margaret of Anjou: a French Queen in a hostile country, born to rule but refused the right, shackled to a King lost in a shadow-land.

When a craving for power becomes a crusade, when two rival dynasties rip the country apart in their desire to rule it and thrones are the spoils of a battlefield, the stakes can only rise. And if the highest stake you have is your son? 

You play it.”

You can buy the book here.

About Catherine Hokin

chair

Catherine is a Glasgow-based author with a degree in History from Manchester University. After years of talking about it, she finally started writing seriously about 3 years ago, researching and writing her debut novel, Blood and Roses, which will be published in January 2016 by Yolk Publishing. The novel tells the story of Margaret of Anjou and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses, exploring the relationship between Margaret and her son and her part in shaping the course of the bloody political rivalry of the fifteenth century. About a year ago, Catherine also started writing short stories – she was recently 3rd prize winner in the 2015 West Sussex Writers Short Story Competition and a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition. She regularly blogs as Heroine Chic, casting a historical, and often hysterical, eye over women in history, popular culture and life in general.

Social media links: https://www.catherinehokin.com/

http://catherinehokin.blogspot.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/cathokin/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Twitter @cathokin

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight on Authors

God Bless the Screenwriter – Guest post from Stefan Ahnhem

Today I have a guest post from Stefan Ahnhem, author of Victim Without a Face which was published by Head of Zeus on 7 January 2016. Here Stefan talks about screenwriters who are turning to novel writing.

God bless the screenwriter

Since Maj Sjöwall and her husband Per Wahlöö had their big breakthrough with their books about homicide investigator Martin Beck in the beginning of the seventies, the fictitious homicide departments in Sweden have been busy with solving cases and hunting down serial killers. Ten years ago, people said the Swedish crime fiction wave had reached its peak, and there was only two ways it could go: down, or deeply down. Then Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy was released and the rest is history.

And now, like a redeemed choir, those same voices are singing yet again about the downfall of Nordic Noir. The question is: are they right this time? Will the impressive global sales figures that we see today be nothing but a faint memory in a couple of years? Well, I don’t think so. Why? Because the screenwriters are on the horizon, ready to take over the baton and hit the ground running.

You may be wondering: so what? There have always been screenwriters writing Scandinavian suspense. But I’m not talking about television series like Wallander, The Bridge or The Killing. I’m talking about screenwriters entering the book scene with novels of their own. They have their own detectives, their own stories and above all, their own set of rules. 

Let’s have a quick (and unscientific) look at the Swedish crime fiction scene has gone through during the last twenty years. 

First there were the authors. Some of them had already written several novels before they started to write crime stories. Others debuted in the world of suspense and then went on to writing fiction outside the genre. What they had in common was the skill to create complex and interesting characters and, just as importantly, they knew how to tell a good story.

Then came the experts. Former police officers and homicide investigators started writing crime fiction. Lawyers, psychiatrists and journalists followed. Even our former Minister of Justice is now a full time crime writer. They are all experts in a specific field – they know exactly how two police officers talk during a coffee break, or how tough the deadlines can be on a daily newspaper. But do they also know about telling a good story and creating three-dimensional characters? Yes, some of them obviously know a lot and are indeed very talented. Others … Well, let’s just say that not everyone has the gift. 

Then a new trend started a couple of years ago as screenwriters made the shift from screenplays to prose. Some are now switching between the two. Others, like myself, have completely left the film industry. This is (hopefully!) good news for all the publishers, agents, and – most of all – you readers. Screenwriters don’t know anything about forensic analysis, medical terms and so on (which is why we do lots of research). What we do know, however, is how to tell a good story. A story with twist and turns that are hopefully unpredictable but still logical nonetheless. A story that grabs hold of you from the first and pages and that you won’t be able to put down before you have reached the end.

So the next time you’re standing at the crime table in your local book shop and can’t decide what to buy, choose a book by a former screenwriter. I promise you will know the difference.

Stefan Ahnhem

About the book:

b7af340cbbe033f09728245da7711edc

“A KILLER WITH A MESSAGE The first victim was a bully who liked using his fists. The second was a thug who favoured steel-capped boots. Their bodies bore the marks of a killer who knew their sins. A single clue was left at the scene: a class photo from 1982, with two faces neatly crossed out. A DETECTIVE WHO CAN’T LET GO There are eighteen men and women in the photo who are still alive – and one of them is the lead detective on the case. Fabian Risk thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood … Who is the faceless killer who’s come back to haunt them? CAN YOU EVER HIDE FROM JUSTICE?” – See more on the Head of Zeus website

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight on Authors

Toppling the TBR pile – Sceptre 2016 titles

Those eagle-eyed amongst may have noticed that I didn’t include any Sceptre titles in my Hodder and Stoughton Toppling the TBR pile post a few weeks ago. Well that may have been because I couldn’t see any catalogue. I’ve now managed to rectify that and it couldn’t come at a better time.

2016 marks the 30th birthday of Sceptre. Back in 1986 one of the first titles they launched was the Booker Prize-winning Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally. Over the next three decades Sceptre have repeatedly published highly regarded and prize winning novels from authors including Rose Tremain, Melvyn Bragg, Michael Chabon, Jill Dawson, David Mitchell, Siri Hustvedt, Tracey Emin, Chris Cleave, Peter Ho Davies, Andrew Miller and Kevin Powers to name but a few.

So with such an illustrious history and a special anniversary to mark, Sceptre is sure to have a whole host of treats to tempt a book lover.

Here’s what we can expect….

January and the release of the paperback edition of The Chimes by Anna Smaill. In The Chimes, a boy called Simon stands at a roadside on his way to London. He has no directions as the written word is banned, he has no memories, no parents. All he has is a song, a melody that pulls him towards the truth of what happened to his parents. The world around Simon pulsates with music. It is controlled by a giant musical instrument that wipes away memories and leaves each new day like the last. It is blasphemy to talk about before. But Simon is remembering, waking with a sense he has something urgent to do. And then he meets Lucian, who can hear things others can’t, who has secrets of his own and who may know something about the danger Simon faces.

Onto February and When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall is published. Imagine you live in an abandoned block of flats with your parents and younger siblings. You have never met anyone your own age. You live in a world isolated since a virus swept through the population and most of the survivors fled to the south coast. You grow used to the violent weather cycles but are connected to the world online. You are about to meet your fiancé who is coming from down south. Then a charming stranger enters your world. And you don’t know if he can be trusted….

Also out this month is the paperback edition of The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons. Fox is a well known composer, determined to be left alone as he mourns the death of his wife. He is brought back to the real world when he discovers his four year old grandson is a piano prodigy. Compelled to re-engage with life he also has to face a rift that occurred years earlier. In 1946 three brothers were brought back to the family house, determined to save it from ruin. But then singer Edie Rose arrives and a chain of events occur that lead to betrayal. A story of rediscovering the joy in life and that its never too late to seek forgiveness. I have a copy of this to read so keep an eye out for my review soon.

Moving onto March and Stork Mountain by Mirolslav Penkov is published. A young American student returns to Bulgaria, the place of his birth, hoping to trace his grandfather. He finds him in a remote village high on the Strandja Mountain. It is a place where pagan rituals meet Christian beliefs. The young man falls for a young Muslim girl and all the while old conflicts reignite and old ghosts arise.

Quicksand by Man Booker shortlisted author of A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz is also published in paperback this month. Aldo Benjamin is an unlucky man. But to his writer friend Liam is a muse, a source of stories that include a life-long love affair, get rich quick schemes, a sexually confused evening, a brothel and a conversation with God.

Onto April and the release of Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Already gathering rave reviews this is the story of Mary North, who, the moment war is declared leaves school and enlists. Tom Shaw has decided not to, until his flatmate Alistair enrols and he can no longer avoid the war. When Mary is made a teacher she does everything she can to protect the children under her care. Tom, meanwhile will do anything for Mary. And then Mary and Alistair meet and it love as well as war that will test the three of them.

Best selling author Fredrik Backman, who’s debut novel A Man Called Ove was picked as a Richard and Judy Summer read in 2015 returns in April with the paperback release of his second novel, My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises. Seven year old Elsa’s granny is called eccentric or crazy but to her she is the source of stories of knights and princesses, of dragons and castles. These are her superpowers because Elsa is becoming aware that heroes and villains aren’t just the stuff of stories, they can live down the corridor. Then as Christmas comes Elsa’s grandmother may have some things to apologise for. And Elsa may have some adventures of her own.

Arriving in May is Napoleon’s Last Island by Booker prize winner Thomas Keneally. To some he was a hero, to others an ogre. To young Betsy Balcombe, Napoleon Bonaparte was fascinating and exciting. Set on the island of St Helena, where the commander was sent in exile, the Balcombes and Napoleon become friends but they don’t envisage the vindictive governor of the island, which leads to trouble for them all.

The High Places by Fiona McFarlane is a collection of short stories that take place in locations around the world from Australia to Greece and include stories of revelations of old friends on holiday, accidents on dark country lanes and a lottery win, all with the theme of people being forced to see themselves in new and sometimes disconcerting light.

Fredrik Backman is back in May with the ebook and trade paperback editions of Britt-Marie Was Here. Britt-Marie is a bit of an acquired taste. She is particular, though some may call it fussy or judgemental. She may appear to be a passive-aggressive busy-body but underneath is a warm hearted woman full of imagination and dreams. Then Britt-Marie finds herself jobless, husband-less and in a backwater called Borg running the children’s football team. And is a little unprepared to say the least. (The hardback edition is out in July). I have a copy of this so keep a look out for my review.

On to June and Jill Dawson’s The Crime Writer is published. It is 1964 and crime writer Patricia Highsmith is seeking refuge in a Suffolk cottage. Though she is trying to concentrate on writing and flee her fans she also has a secret romance with a married lover to consider. But her lover vanishes, a stalker from Paris seems to have found and a journalist comes to interview her. All of these things mean Highsmith’s life takes a catastrophic turn. Or does it, for like everything in Patricia Highsmith’s life, all is not as it first appears.

Also out this month is Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon. Set in Iceland in 1918, this is the story of Mani Steinn who awake lives on the edge of society but who at night dreams in pictures. When the Spanish Flu arrives, killing hundreds, the shadows at the edge of existence get darker and Mani has to take another look at society and his role in it.

The Crossing by Andrew Miller is also published in paperback in June. In this new book from the Costa award-winning author, a woman – a girlfriend, daughter and a mother, takes to the sea after tragedy strikes, unaware as to where the journey will take her.

July sees the publication of Fell by Jenn Ashworth. Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home in Morecombe to find it crumbling and abandoned. What she doesn’t know is that she is not alone, the spirits of her parents are with her, and they long to make amends. Because the summer of 1963 is returning to them and they see it clearly, when Netty, Annette’s mother was ill, and when a stranger moved in. A stranger that drew their attention away from Annette with his claims of miracle cures. Now they steer her towards another stranger, one who can save her.

July also sees four books by poet Irina Ratushinskaya being published. Grey is the Colour of Hope and In the Beginning both being works of non-fiction and The Odessans and Fictions and Lies being novels.

Onto August and Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. Set in New York, Berlin and Connecticut, it tells the story of Yuki, a Japanese girl who moved to the US in the 60s’a and her son, Jay, who in the present day wants to find the woman who abandoned him when he was two years old.

Tell It Slant by Peter Ho Davies is also published this month. This traces the lives of four people, real and imagined, capturing the history of the Chinese in the US. Covering the tales of a Chinese boy having to make his own way in the 1860s, a film star and flapper, forbidden to kiss on screen in the 1920s, a man killed in 1980s Detroit because he looked Japanese and a writer in the present day who has all he wants, except for a child.

Onto September and the paperback release of Melvyn Bragg’s Now is the Time. A story set during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, fourteen year old King Richard is fearful given the return of the plague and the lack of money available to him. Then the unthinkable. A group of commoners invade the capital, intent on saving England and rescuing the Kind from his corrupt ministers.

Finally we arrive in October and the paperback edition of David Mitchell’s Slade House is released. Set in the same world as the bestselling The Bone Clocks and stemming from a short story David Mitchell published on Twitter, Slade House is a tale of a house on Slade Alley. There’s a door with no handle that opens when you touch it. You enter into a courtyard that is too large for the space it is in, too grand for the shabby neighbourhood. You will be greeted by name by a stranger and invited in. At first you will feel as if you never want to leave. And then you will find that you can’t.

So there you have it, a selection of novels suitably enticing and fitting of a 30th birthday celebration. So whilst I wish Sceptre many happy returns I’ll be making a list of presents I want to give myself from the titles above. I know what will be on my wishlist. What about you?

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer – Review

Published by Faber and Faber

Publication date – 24 December 2015 (paperback edition)

Source – review copy

24901.books.origjpg

“Shortlisted for the 2015 Costa First Novel Award

Eight-year-old Carmel has always been different – sensitive, distracted, with an heartstopping tendency to go missing. Her mother Beth, newly single, worries about her daughter’s strangeness, especially as she is trying to rebuild a life for the two of them on her own.

When she takes Carmel for an outing to a local festival, her worst fear is realised: Carmel disappears into the crowd. Unable to accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone for good, Beth embarks on a mission to find her. Meanwhile, Carmel begins an extraordinary and terrifying journey of her own. But do the real clues to Carmel’s disappearance lie in the otherworldly qualities her mother had only begun to guess at?”

3.5 of 5 stars

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

Carmel and Beth are visiting a story-telling festival. Beth is eager to spend quality time with Carmel, aware that she hasn’t been herself since she split from Paul, Carmel’s father. But her world comes crashing down when Carmel disappears from the festival. As the days turn into weeks Beth struggles with the guilt of Carmel’s abduction. Meanwhile, Carmel has to adjust to the shift in her world when she starts to live with her new family. A family who believe she will be their saviour.

There were places in this book where it was almost too painful to read, where the despair of Carmel mirrored that of her mother. I don’t believe that just because I am a parent I have any right to say I could understand the feeling Beth suffers more than a reader without children. I couldn’t and no one could unless they have been unfortunately and sadly subject to such a loss. Such terror and sorrow can only be guessed at. I do feel however that Kate Hamer got the tone right as to how I imagine the situation would feel.

As for me I was torn between sorrow and anger for the first half of the book. My heart broke for Carmel and Beth and I found myself wanting to alternatively put the book down or carry on reading in the hope for some good outcome. As for Gramps I hated him with a passion. His actions negated any possibly sympathy he could possible deserve.

But, the strength of feeling evoked only shows what a good writer Kate Hamer is. It is only through her accomplished and compelling narrative that the feelings of Beth, Paul, Carmel and the other characters shine through. It is because she writes so well that the abject heartbreak of Beth can be felt by the reader, as can the upset, loneliness and confusion of Carmel.

This is touted as a thriller though I would say its not a thriller in the usual sense. It is a story about religious fervour and what it will drive a man to do. It is a story about loss, about finding new parts of yourself and new inspiration in the world. It is also a story about learning to live in a new world when your own is tilted off its axis, and about remaining true to yourself.

I raced through the final third of this book, desperate to find out how the story would end for Beth and Carmel. The book is full of beautifully written, almost poetic prose, evoking vivid images. I could easily imagine the US country towns, trailer parks and evangelical meetings. The contrast between the wide open spaces of the geography of Carmel world contradicted Beth’s closed and insular one, where a major achievement was walking into town unaccompanied. Yet Carmel’s own environment is a small one, limited to her ‘Gramps’ and his family, despite the open areas and itinerant lifestyle they live.

A book that will make you think and run you through a gamut of emotions. I look forward to reading more from Kate Hamer in the future.

5 Comments

Filed under Reviews

You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell – Review

Published by Headline

Publication date 28 January 2016

Source – review copy

isbn9781472208903-detail

4 of 5 stars

“It’s Lily’s twenty-fifth birthday. And she’s about to open the very last letter written to her by the beloved mother she loved so much… A warm, poignant and unputdownable novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU, THE ONE YOU REALLY WANT and THE UNPREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE

From the bestselling author of THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU and THE ONE YOU REALLY WANT comes a deliciously romantic and poignant read about love, loss and how nothing can stay hidden for ever… If you love the novels of Cathy Kelly and Sophie Kinsella, you won’t want to miss Jill Mansell.

On the morning of Lily’s twenty-fifth birthday, it’s time to open the very last letter written to her by her beloved mother, who died when she was eight.

Learning more about the first and only real love of her mum’s life is a revelation. On the same day, Lily also meets Eddie Tessler, a man fleeing fame who just might have the ability to change her world in unimaginable ways. But her childhood friend Dan has his own reasons for not wanting Lily to get too carried away by Eddie’s attentions.

Before long, secrets begin to emerge and Lily’s friends and family become involved. In the beautiful Cotswold village of Stanton Langley, nothing will ever be the same again…”

Lily Harper is just about to turn 25. That means she’ll be receiving the last letter from her mum, who died 13 years ago. In the letter she learns about her mum’s first love. On the same day she meets movie star Eddie Tessler, hiding from the press. Is something developing between her and Eddie? And why is her best friend, Dan, determined that she doesn’t get in too deep with the actor?

Oh this is a wonderful, heart-warming, funny story. It is moving in parts, particularly when memories of Lily’s mother arise. The sadness that she isn’t there to share her life with Lily, and the what could have been’s with her lost love is weaved onto the page. The memories also show how her mother, even in her absence has shaped Lily’s life. But this is not a sad, sentimental book. It is a book about friendship, love and what ‘real’ family is.

All of the characters are a perfect fit for the story and wonderfully drawn. Lily is a lovely, down to earth girl, grounded and mature given her sad loss. She is comfortable in herself and aware that family isn’t necessarily down to just biology. Each character adds something to the story, be it Coral, Lily’s surrogate mother, or Declan, her mother’s first love. Eddie is charming, kind and the perfect way for Lily to experience the world outside her life, and be an adventure for her. As for Dan, he is a wonderful character, the relationship and banter between him and Lily is funny and as you would expect for two people who have grown up together.

Perfect to curl up with on a dark cold winter evening or to read in the sun on a summer’s day. A gem of a book to read if you want to escape reality or just need a little pick-me-up. Funny, and laugh out loud in places this is a romantic read with the romance perfectly paced. I’m going to go back and re-read this soon, and read Jill Mansell’s other novels while I wait for her next book.

4 Comments

Filed under Reviews