Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift – Review

Published by Scribner

Publication date – 25 February 2016

Source – review copy

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“It is March 30th 1924.

It is Mothering Sunday.

How will Jane Fairchild, orphan and housemaid, occupy her time when she has no mother to visit? How, shaped by the events of this never to be forgotten day, will her future unfold?

Beginning with an intimate assignation and opening to embrace decades, Mothering Sunday has at its heart both the story of a life and the life that stories can magically contain. Constantly surprising, joyously sensual and deeply moving, it is Graham Swift at his thrilling best.”

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

Mothering Sunday, 1924. Jane Fairchild, like all other household staff, has the day off but having no mother to visit, she has the day to herself. The eventful day will help shape her future in unforeseen ways.

Mothering Sunday is a short novel but is packed full of beautiful, evocative writing. It takes skill to round out a character in few words and Graham Swift has that skill. Jane Fairchild is a complex character, she is a glimpse into what it is like to be both seen and invisible. Graham Swift explores the class divide of the early 20th Century, when the shift was moving towards fewer household help, when women’s liberation was a fledgling idea. Jane Fairchild is a perfect metaphor for the undercurrent of the time. Outside meek and bidding, perfect in her role as housemaid, unaware of her secret, the way she has bridged the divide. She has ideas and desires ahead of her time, ambitions and aspirations of doing more with her life than being in service.

An event in the novel, on Mothering Sunday, precipitates her eventual change to famous author. The narrative weaves from Jane in her twenties to a ninety year old reflecting on her life and all the intervening years.

The book is a commentary on how minor incidents and major shifts can both impact on our lives. It is, on first appearance, a short novel about a young orphan girl and a reflection on a day in her life. In reality it is much more. It is a social commentary, a coming of age tale and a love story, of falling in love with others and with yourself, of accepting who you are and of challenging boundaries. In short, a beautiful, thought-provoking read.

 

 

 

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Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben – Review

Published by Century

Publication date – 24 March 2016

Source – Net Galley review copy

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“If your husband was murdered
And you were a witness
How do you explain it when he appears on your nanny cam?
You thought you trusted him.
Now you can’t even trust yourself.

Dark secrets and a terrifying hunt for the truth lie at the heart of this gripping new thriller by the ‘master of the double twist’, Harlan Coben.”
Read more on the Penguin website.

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

Maya Stern has just had to bury her husband, brutally murdered in Central Park. Given a nanny cam by her friend she is initially unsure about having it in the house but on viewing the footage one night she sees her husband playing with their daughter. Determined to find out, and unsure who she can trust, her investigations lead back to the murder of her sister, moths earlier and an unexplained tragedy from almost 20 years ago.

I found the premise of this story intriguing and I was keen to see how the story would play out. As I began to read I started out with mixed feelings about this book. I found it difficult to engage with it initially. I wasn’t really attached to any of the characters. There were one or two moments when I feared clichéd conspiracy scenes would be the bulk of the story but thankfully that wasn’t the case.  However I did find myself engaged and once I was, I soon flew through the book, eager to find out what would happen.

Though there were plenty of peripheral characters this felt very much like a one woman show. The main character was Maya, who drove the story forward and maintained control throughout. Bits and pieces were revealed about her character, the flashbacks she suffered from her days in the armed forces taking control of her nights. She seemed closed off to all, her relationship with her daughter seemingly distant, perhaps purposefully so. She seemed as if she was a different person to the one she had been before the murder of her sister and the incident that led her to leave the army, despite the reader not having met this ‘before’ Maya. All that said, it did appear that only part so her were being revealed to the reader, with the unknown elements of her being a character almost in their own right. I would have liked to have seen more from certain characters, particularly Shane and Detective Roger Kierce but having read the novel I can see why focus was kept on Maya.

The latter part of the book improved greatly, there were twists and turns aplenty. The title is apt as Harlan Coben does indeed fool the reader as nuggets of information and clues are revealed. The denouement was one I had guessed (I didn’t mind though, enjoying the moment of ‘ah I knew it’), though the eventual outcome was something of a surprise.

In summary this was an engaging and enjoyable read.

I am a huge fan of Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels and this was the first of his standalone novels I have read. I really do need rectify that and read the other standalone novels soon.

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Natasha Solomons – Q&A

Today I’m very pleased to share with you this Q&A with Natasha Solomons. Natasha is the author of Mr Rosenblum’s List, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands and The Novel in the Viola. Her latest novel, The Song Collector, was published in paperback by Sceptre on 24 March 2016. I had a chat with Natasha and she kindly answered some of my questions.

1.       Tell us a little about The Song Collector.

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.

2. What inspired the book?

The inspiration was two fold. Firstly, I wanted to write about grandparents. I’d just had my son and I wanted to explore relationship between my mum and son, to look at intimacy between a grandparent and a grandchild, which I think has been underdone in fiction. Secondly I like to explore different types of creativity, and song collecting fit. Also when I moved house I discovered that a song collector named Benjamin Rose has once lived there during the 18th Century and who had written a manuscript book full of songs he had collected. I was fascinated by his story as I found out more about him.

3. Did you write the novel sequentially or did one aspect of the dual time storyline appear first, and the other written in response

I wrote it weaving in and out. It very much had to feel like one novel. There is the danger with a dual time novel that it will feel like two novellas sliced together and I didn’t want that to be the case. I wanted to ensure that it was not the case that the reader would like one time period of the book and not the other. I wanted to ensure that a question raised in one was answered in the other. So that required some planning, lots of charts and a messy desk.

4. The novel feels like a symphony in written form, there is almost a musical flow to the narrative. I did say that I felt the book should come with a soundtrack! What melodies would you include on any soundtrack?

Oh lots of Vaughn Williams, a little of Elgar and a lot of Delius, those kind of big turn of the century composers. I’d mix this in with folk music and songs from folk singer, musician and song collector, Sam Lee and Tim Laycock. I’ve started a communal project with friends to map as many songs as possible and we’ve created a song map so that people can freely access the music of their town and perhaps learn their own local songs. You can find out more at www.songmap.co.uk.

5. How important do you think it is that old customs and folk songs in particular are retained for future generations? What do folk songs bring to society?

I think they are essential, they are part of who we are even if we don’t realise it. They are a connection of who we are and where we live. The wonderful thing about music is it is a living functional thing. It changes and grows with you. There is an emotionality when you hear music from a certain place.

6. 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?

It depends. I do have plan and have weigh points but I need room for surprise. I need a sense of where it is going. I listen to the rhythms of the story but need the space to be surprised by it. I can write quite fast but life gets in the way. On average it takes about a year to write a novel, sometimes can be faster, but edits can take a while. The novel I’m currently working on is going to be huge so will take longer for sure.

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

Laundry and tidying up after the children mainly! And squeezing in a glass of wine if there’s chance.

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

Jane Austen’s Emma it is the perfect novel in miniature. The whole world is in that novel, there’s drama and romance and never strays outside the small village of Highbury where it is set.

9. 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?

Would you like you like to cash this cheque for £1million pounds? Or Would you like a massage? You can guess the answer to both.

I found The Song Collector to be a wonderful novel. You can read my review here.

About the book:

isbn9781444736410-detail

“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.”

 

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Sinead Moriarty – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Sinead Moriarty to the blog. Sinead is the author of 11 novels including The Secrets Sisters Keep, Mad About You, This Child of Mine and The Baby Trail. Her latest novel, The Way We Were, was published by Penguin on 24 March 2016.

Sinead kindly answered a few of my questions.

1.       Tell us a little about The Way We Were.

The Way We Were is about a married couple, Ben and Alice, who have two teenage daughters and who love each other deeply but are going through a bump in their marriage.

Like all relationships theirs has got a bit stale. Ben is feeling restless. He’s having a mid-life crisis. Is this it? He wonders. He feels his life has become mundane and is slipping through his fingers. He wants to shake things up, to feel vibrant again. Ben craves adventure and when someone offers him the opportunity to have that adventure he jumps at the chance.

Ben’s fellow surgeon asks him to go to Africa, to Eritrea to operate with another colleague, Declan. Ben knows there is a risk involved as the country is very unstable, but he says yes.

He knows Alice will be worried about him, he knows it’s a dangerous place but he can’t wait to go and experience something new with a fellow surgeon.

Alice is furious and worried sick that something will happen to him. It turns out she was right and what happens next changes their lives forever.

The book is really about love and the power of memories. Alice needs to forget Ben to survive and be a good mother to their daughters, but he clings to her memory to keep himself alive.

What will happen to their lives? Can Ben survive? Will they ever see each other again? If they do, can they possibly get back to the way they were?

I wanted to explore the power of memory. I also wanted to look at how people change. What happens when the person you know so well is altered by life? When something happens to turn your life upside down and you have to change to survive?

2.       What inspired the book?

Back in the late 1980s Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, among others, were kidnapped and taken hostage in Beirut. They remained in captivity for over four years and when they were finally released the two men talked about this incredible friendship that had kept them sane. You could see the deep connection and love between them.
To this day they are best friends and the bond between them remains. I was always fascinated by this and by the fact that John McCarthy’s girlfriend campaigned so tirelessly to get him released and then when he was released everyone presumed they’d end up together…but in fact they broke up and he married someone else. I wanted to somehow write a book with some of these themes worked into the storyline.

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 a planner and a plotter. After a couple of failed initial attempts at writing I realised that it was far too easy for me to go down dead ends and storylines that didn’t work out. So I now plot out my books. I literally do a chapter by chapter breakdown before I start writing. I may only put in two lines for each chapter but it allows me to see where any holes in the story may lie and helps me to keep the pace going. I find it really helpful. It’s actually a tool that I learnt at a creative writing course and I’ve used it for all of my 11 novels.

4.       Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a number of novels is there anything that still surprises you about the creative process of creating a book?

How it never gets easier, in fact it gets more difficult. I think as a writer you always strive to be better and for each book to be stronger, so you put yourself under pressure. I hope that with each book I have grown as a writer and that I have learnt something from each book. But no matter how many books you have written, that first day in front of a black screen is always a little terrifying.

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

I’m not very good at not writing. I get grumpy when I’m not writing, it’s as if something is missing. I try to catch up on my reading and go for walks and swim and catch up with friends and family when I finish a book, but I always miss the writing and go back as quickly as I can.

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

Great question – probably Ulysses because I haven’t managed to read it and everyone says it’s a very challenging read. So, it would keep me busy!

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?

Which writer’s skills would you most like to have? I’d like Nora Ephron’s witty, warm, clever writing skill please!

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

Thanks for inviting me on, it was a pleasure!

About the book:

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“When Alice’s husband Ben disappears suddenly, her world falls apart. They shared twenty years and two daughters and life without him is unimaginable.

Having lost her parents while young, Alice understands her girls’ pain. At fifteen, Jools is at that awkward age and only Ben could get through to her. And eleven-year-old Holly looks for the answer to everything in books but this time she’s drawing a blank. Alice realizes that for their sakes she must summon up superhuman reserves of strength.

Somehow all three of them come through the dark days. In time, it’s even possible for Alice to consider marrying again, with the girls’ blessing. So when Ben turns up after three years, her world is again turned upside-down. The girls assume that their family can go back to the way they were. Alice is not so sure.

Once more Alice has to find the strength to be the mother her daughters need her to be. But this time what that means is far from clear…”

You can buy The Way We Were in bookshops or online and on Amazon.

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Fever at Dawn by Peter Gardos – Review

Published by Doubleday

Publication date 7 April 2016

Source – review copy

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“In an over-crowded hospital ward in the summer of July 1945, Miklos is propped up against a pillow. He is writing a letter of hope. It doesn’t matter that Miklos is bruised and battered, that his skin shares the same colour as a greying pile of ash, or that the doctor told him “You have six months to live”. Because, now, for the first time since the war, he feels truly alive.

Miklos is thinking of things far more important than his health.

He is thinking that he would like to find a wife…”
Read more on the Penguin website.

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

Miklos is looking for a wife. Having suffered horrific suffering in Belsen concentration camp, he finds himself taken to Sweden for medical care. Whilst in his hospital bed he decides to write to the women from his home village who are also convalescing in Sweden, all 117 of them. He intends to find a wife. And he’s not going to let the fact that he’s just been told he has six months to live get in his way.

This story is based on the author’s parents and how they met so you can guess how it ends. This isn’t a spoiler though as the story is more about the story of how they get together, than whether they get together.

There are times in this book when it’s charm takes over and you almost forget it sets set against the backdrop of one of the worst times in human history. Peter Gardos weaves the romance of how Miklos and Lili meet and fall in love, in with the glimpses of the darker story of what led them to be convalescing in Sweden. The horrors of the war and their separate internment in Belsen is almost too much for them to talk about, and indeed when they do meet, one of the scenes mentions the things that they don’t discuss.

Miklos is a very strong willed character. He refuses to believe that he has only months to live and refuses to believe that he won’t be able to meet the woman who will become his wife. He writes to a number of women who responded to his first letter but has his sights on Lili and is determined to meet her, not concerned with the fact that he is in ill health and that Lili is at the other side of the country. He has socialist ideals, which he tries to explain in his letters to Lili.

It is a romantic story, though not overtly so. Miklos’ gifts show more thought and care than flowers or chocolates could and they give each other the gift of hope, something which had been sorely lacking from their lives in the previous years. Their romance is one of letters, falling for each other from a distance, indeed, falling in love with an idea rather than reality at first. But it is a love that once formed stands the test of time for the real Miklos and Lili remained together until Miklos’ death decades later.

This is a lovely, moving tale, made all the more so by the fact it is based on a true story. Fever at Dawn is a simply told story but this is as it should be. Whilst artistic licence has been taken, Peter Gardos has written a beautiful tribute to his parents and shows that even in the shadow of great tragedy and adversity, hope and love can still shine through.

 

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Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr – Review

Published by Headline

Publication date – 12 February 2015

Source – review copy

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“After a summer fighting wildfire, US Park Ranger Anna Pigeon sets off on a camping trip to the Iron Range in upstate Minnesota. With her are four women: Heath, Leah and their two teenage daughters. For Heath, who is paraplegic, it is the chance to test out a new, cutting edge line of outdoor equipment, designed by Leah to make the wilderness more accessible to disabled campers. On their second night, Anna takes a canoe out on the Fox River but when she returns, she finds that a band of kidnappers, armed with rifles, pistols and knives, has taken the group hostage. With limited resources and no access to the outside world, it is up to Anna to track them across the treacherous landscape and rescue her friends before it is too late…”

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

Park Ranger Anna Pigeon is hoping to spend a few days enjoying a trip in the Minnesota forests, whilst her friend Heath, tries out new camping equipment designed for the disabled by Leah Hendricks. Also on the trip is Heath’s daughter Elizabeth and Leah’s daughter Katie. But on the first evening, whilst Anna is enjoying a moment alone, the peace is shattered when Heath, Leah and the girls are kidnapped. Anna must work alone to save the women before it is too late.

I have read previous Anna Pigeon novels and enjoyed them immensely. For some reason I had stopped reading the series a few years ago. After reading Destroyer Angel I will be renewing my acquaintance with Anna Pigeon again.

There is violence running throughout this novel, be it actual physical violence perpetrated upon the female characters, or indeed by them, or the underlying constant threat of it, that is so palpable it becomes almost a character in its own right. It isn’t barbaric or gratuitous however, which show consideration and skill by Nevada Barr.

The action is full on, the women are taken hostage within a few pages and Anna’s almost insurmountable task of rescuing them begins in earnest. There is no respite for them or us as a reader.

As much as this is a thriller it is as much a story about adaptation and survival. Anna almost breaks away from her human self, so fixated is she on tracking the kidnappers and her friends, she forgets the social norms that are usually in place. When the reality of the situation breaks through, it is almost as if she is awoken from a dream, struggling as she does to revert back to accepted actions. She goes from being a lawful peacekeeper to someone who sits outside society, almost to understand her ‘prey’ as it were. Similarly, her friends transform as they undergo their ordeal. Each one becomes aware of what they are capable of, where their strengths lie and indeed what those strengths are. And find out exactly what they will do to survive.

This book drew me in from early on and I was gripped throughout. The characterisation was spot on, the kidnappers truly vile, the women pushed to the extreme and not always easy to like.

There were some sections that seemed too descriptive and technical to me, in particular the scenes when Leah is adapting Heath’s wheelchair. However, I let these scenes almost wash over me and they didn’t detract from my enjoyment. In fact, throughout the book it was easy to visualise the scenes depicted, transported as I was to the forest, feeling as closed off and remote as the characters did.

Destroyer Angel has reignited my enjoyment of the Anna Pigeon novels and I’ll be reading the ones I have missed whilst I wait for the latest instalment.

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My Friend in Crime by Jorn Lier Horst – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome guest blogger Jorn Lier Horst to the blog.

Jorn Lier Horst is one of Norway’s most experienced police investigators, but also one of Scandinavia’s most successful crime writers. He writes engaging and intelligent crime novels that offer an uncommonly detailed and realistic insight into the way serious crimes are investigated, as well as how both police and press work. His literary awards include the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize, the Riverton Prize (Golden Revolver), the Scandinavian Glass Key and the prestigious Martin Beck Award.

My Friend in Crime

Ordeal is my tenth book about Chief Inspector William Wisting and the fifth to be translated into English. It starts down in a basement in an old, substantial timber villa. The man who had lived there is now dead, and the house has been inherited by single mother Sofie. She has no happy memories from the place, and before she takes it over, ensures is emptied of all contents and personal effects and cleaned so that nothing remains to remind her of the past. The only thing left behind is a bulky old safe fixed to the floor in the basement with internal bolts. It is locked and no one has been able to find the key …

Not until seventy pages into the story does the reader learn what the safe contains. The contents have great significance for a case that William Wisting has been working on for more than six months.

One of the dominant characteristics of the crime fiction genre is the serial protagonist. From the time of Edgar Allan Poe and Sherlock Holmes, they arrive in fast and furious succession: Sir Peter Wimsey, Father Brown, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Dr Gideon Fell, Maigret, Philip Marlowe, Martin Beck, Kurt Wallander and Harry Hole.

They are detectives, lawyers, journalists, private investigators or even rank amateurs. Many authors have considered it of paramount importance to hit upon a central character as original as possible, who has some kind of illness, bad habit or some other trait that makes them interesting or exceptional. What they have in common is their literary function. They are problem solvers: in the end they return everything to its rightful place, providing us with knowledge and understanding and ensuring justice.

When, almost fifteen years ago, I had in mind to create a new, Scandinavian crime hero, I was very conscious of what he should be like. I was tired of reading about detectives who singlehandedly solved murder cases while dead drunk, waking up in the mornings with three-day-old designer stubble and a whisky bottle at the ready on the bedside table. I wanted a central character who was more like the policemen I knew from my daily work in the police force. It turned out to be William Wisting, a fair-minded, exemplary policeman but above all a decent and genuine human being.

One of the greatest demands resting on the shoulders of a writer of police procedurals is the depiction of the interpersonal. Ordeal and the previous novels, therefore, do not merely deal with how Wisting tackles a case and how he solves it, but also the impact the case has on him. Wisting changes from one book to the next, and even from one chapter to the next.

We who write about serial protagonists have all experienced how readers become concerned about our central character on a purely personal level. In many ways they have stepped out of fiction and into reality. Tourists go on pilgrimages to Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes museum there, even though they will search in vain for 221B. Maigret has his own statue in George Simenon’s home town of Liège in Belgium. Ystad in Sweden has become a magnet for tourists and you can follow a guided tour of The Killing locations in Copenhagen. I myself have come across German tourists with a street map, trying to find out where William Wisting actually lives. This says something about the serial protagonist’s significance for the reader, as a person as well as a fictional figure. What we find when we delve into a book in which we encounter a character we already know from before, is that this is a safe place to be, this is a place we recognise. The genre also gives us confirmation that we have made another good choice, and this is exactly the type of book we want to read.

To anyone who has not read any of my earlier books, I like to think Ordeal will provide an interesting first meeting with Chief Inspector Wisting. And to those already familiar with him, I hope that the book will be a pleasant reunion with a dear old friend.

Jorn Lier Horst

Jorn-Lier-Horst-colour-by-Jesper-Mageroy

About the book:

Ordeal

“Together with her one year old daughter Maja, single mother Sofie Lund moves into the house she inherited from her grandfather. Sofie has such painful memories that she has had every trace of the old man removed, every trace but a locked safe that has been bolted to the basement floor. Inside the safe, Sofie finds something shocking that will also become crucial evidence in a case that has plagued Inspector William Wisting for a long time. To follow this lead though, he must cut across important loyalties and undermine confidence in the police force.”

Ordeal was published on 17 March 2016 by Sandstone Press.

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Devil’s Bridge by Linda Fairstein – Review

Published by Sphere

Publication date – 18 February 2016

Source – review copy

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“The Manhattan waterfront is one of New York City’s most magnificent vistas, boasting both the majestic Statue of Liberty and the busy George Washington Bridge. But Detective Mike Chapman is about to become far too well acquainted with the dangerous side of the Hudson river and its islands when he takes on his most personal case yet: the disappearance of Alex Cooper.

Coop is missing – but there are so many leads and terrifying complications: scores of enemies she has made after a decade of putting criminals behind bars; a recent security breach with dangerous repercussions; and a new intimacy in her relationship with Mike, causing the Police Commissioner himself to be wary of the methods Mike will use to get Coop back… if he can.”

I received a copy of this book from Emma Draude PR Agency and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Alexandra Cooper has just had a disastrous day in court. As a major case seems to be collapsing around her, her boss is being cryptic and she is wary of his actions. To add to this she’s still coming to terms with her new romantic relationship with Detective Mike Chapman. But when she disappears after a dinner celebrating the capture of a felon who had threatened her life, Chapman is in a race against time to find Coop, and will go to any lengths to do so…

This is the seventeenth book to feature Alexandra Cooper and I have read all but the last three in the series. It was nice to be able to revisit familiar characters, being able to pick up where I had left off without much missing from the background story.  These books are part of a series and there are some references to previous events though they don’t spoil the outcome of the previous novels.

For those unfamiliar with this series, the main character is Alexandra Cooper and the novels are usually written from her viewpoint. I had missed the instalment when Alex and Chapman’s relationship moved from platonic to romantic, something I had hoped to see in the past, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that this book is written from Chapman’s viewpoint, showing the shift in the relationship.

There are some aspects that are very particular to the USA, references to faces from popular culture for example and the legal system in particular. The novel, though explaining some jargon, does rely on the reader having some knowledge of the US legal system and trial process, which is different to the UK system.

The story seems to travel at a frenetic pace, which would fit the race that Chapman finds himself in, trying to track down ‘Coop’ before it is too late. I did find some of his actions and attitude a little conflicting and unnecessary on occasion, and though some of it could be put down to his concern for Alexandra, there did seem to be a bit of arguing and rudeness for rudeness sake. It seemed to jar a little with the character that had been portrayed in the previous novels, similarly, some of the actions of Alexandra’s friends seemed to be uncharacteristically antagonistic which did jar slightly.

Despite these slight negatives, or perhaps because of them, I found this book highly entertaining. I had picked this book up at a time when I had not read a complete novel for nearly two weeks, a very long time for me, so I was grateful that I was soon absorbed by the book. I went along with the fast-paced flow and soon found myself swept along with the story, looking forward to reading it when I was busy with real life.

The mystery itself was engaging. This isn’t so much a book that you can pit your wits against the detective as a lot of the clues weren’t shown until Chapman himself had worked it out. But it was engaging, action-packed and entertaining. New York is very much used almost as a separate character. The city is a key part in the whole series and Linda Fairstein obviously researches the history of the city, using nuggets of information to find the most picturesque or memorable of action scenes.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the world of Cooper, Chapman and Mercer so much so that I’m very much looking forward to the next in the series. I want to go back and read the ones that I have missed whilst I wait for that next novel.

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Adam Brookes – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Adam Brookes to the blog. Adam is the author of Night Heron and his latest novel to feature Philip Mangan, Spy Games, was published by Sphere on 10 March 2016. Adam kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Spy Games. 

Spy Games marks the second time that journalist Philip Mangan has allowed himself to get drawn into espionage against China. He first tasted the covert life in ‘Night Heron’, and ‘Spy Games’ is a sequel. Mangan has discovered that he has a self-destructive taste for this hidden, parallel life. We find him lying low in Ethiopia at the start of Spy Games, but Chinese intelligence operatives are seeking him out, bringing gifts for him to take to the British. Why does he allow himself to do it? Because he can, and it makes him relevant and important, no matter the cost to others.  

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

I lived and worked as a journalist for a long time in Asia, especially in China. And over the years I became aware that the relationships between countries are conducted, in large part, out of sight. You can see the diplomacy getting done, for the most part. And if you dig, you can find out a good deal about the commercial relationships. But the military relationships are much harder to fathom. And then, most secret of all, is the world of intelligence, where countries will spy the living daylights out of each other, and collaborate when it suits them, sometimes at the same time. A little study reveals just how huge the world of the intelligence agencies really is, and I became intrigued by this nagging sense that our appreciation of the world and its statecraft is limited to the overt, when so much happens that is covert. And I thought it might be interesting to develop the idea in my favourite form – the spy novel.  

3. What do you think are the perks and downsides to writing a recurring character?

Perks: You get to know them well and you can tell a much longer story in more depth. And your readers have a character to invest in and hang on to and look forward to. 

Downsides: It’s hard to keep a recurring character plausible. How many times is your hardboiled spy/detective/PI going to go down that dark alley? How many close shaves are they going to survive? Why do they just keep on doing what they’re doing? There’s only so many weird compulsions you can dream up. Part of the question here is this: does your character recur in one long story arc spread over several books? Or does he/she start afresh with each new book? If the latter, you’d better have a strategy to keep the reader persuaded. The most successful writers do, of course. 

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

I think I’m a plan, plan person, with some flexibility built in. It’s great to have a synopsis and to know where I’m going, but sometimes the writing throws up a better idea than what’s in the plan. So then, out comes the knife. Stick a knife in the plan and make the changes. I think it’s a terrible mistake to drop a good idea just because it’s not in the plan. As to time, ‘Night Heron’ took me four years and three rewrites, partly because I was still working full time in journalism. ‘Spy Games’ I wrote in less than a year, not least because my thriller maestro genius editor, Ed Wood, was helping me plan, plan, plan.

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

Mostly I run slowly, drink, annoy my children and play the mandolin. When I can, I travel, and I live for our summer trips to Eskdale, in the Lake District.  

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

That sounds like purgatory. It would have to be long, I suppose, and challenging, and something you could go back to again and again and find new things. Poetry, then. Collected Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot, maybe? At the risk of sounding off my head, there’s a book called Tang Shi San Bai Shou, or Three Hundred Tang Dynasty Poems, which is an anthology of classical Chinese poetry. If you haven’t ever looked at it, do, it’s magical. I try to include bits of it in my novels, just because.  

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. You must have answered a lot of Q&A/interview questions before. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

I am completely stuck on this question. Since arriving at it, I have made coffee, read Facebook and Twitter, eaten a sausage sandwich and searched your blog to see how other writers answered it. I am reduced to facetiousness: would you like a pint of IPA? Yes, please, and some pork scratchings.   

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

It’s been my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. 

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About the book

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“Fearing for his life, Mangan has gone into hiding from the Chinese agents who have identified him as a British spy. His reputation and life are in tatters. But when he is caught in a terrorist attack in East Africa and a shadowy figure approaches him in the dead of night with information on its origins, Mangan is suddenly back in the eye of the storm.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away on a humid Hong Kong night, a key MI6 source is murdered minutes after meeting spy Trish Patterson. From Washington D.C. to the hallowed halls of Oxford University and dusty African streets, a sinister power is stirring which will use Mangan and Patterson as its pawns – if they survive.

Spy Games by Adam Brookes is published 10th March by Sphere, price £7.99 in paperback.

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Where do your ideas come from? – Guest Post by Jane Isaac

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Jane Isaac to the blog. Jane is the author of An Unfamiliar Murder, The Truth Will Out and Before It’s Too Late. Her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, featuring DCI Helen Lavery, was re-released on 1 March 2016. Jane has kindly written a guest post discussing where her ideas come from.

Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

I was doing a talk at a book club a while ago when I was asked this question. Well, no. It actually went a little more like this, “Are your mysteries based on reality, cases from the past, or simply just a stab in the dark?”

While we all merrily chortled away at her little pun, I took a breather to wrack my brains. I’ve been to literary festivals where writers have been asked this question and said, “Everywhere… They’re all around me.” There are those that claim the idea came to them in a dream (I wish!).  Neil Gaiman openly admits that his stories are complete figments of his own imagination, and Ian Rankin keeps a file of newspaper cuttings that he wades through for inspiration for his next book. But I don’t do any of this.

My fascination lies with people, and how they react when you take them out of the realms of normality, so I usually start with my characters. My books are psychological crime thrillers/police procedural crossovers. When I start a new project I usually consider the opening – putting somebody normal, somebody like you or I, in an extraordinary situation. As the mystery unravels and we begin the police chase to solve case and track down the killer, we also explore the perspective from the victim’s point of view.

I guess it derives from a great sense of nosiness. When I was growing up, my mother was always telling me to, “Stop staring!” Even now, I love to sit in cafes, stand in the supermarket queue, wander around the stores watching how people react in certain situations. It’s that all important ‘what if’ scenario that captivates me. Most of us tend to live in a little bubble of habits that are tried and tested, that we take for granted. We drift through our days and don’t give them a second thought. But it’s when things go wrong, run differently, that fascinates me. How do we react to the extraordinary?

So, no, my initial ideas aren’t a stab in the dark, they don’t derive from reading real crime (that comes later with the research), nor from the news that persistently clogs my television. They are born out of nosiness, and flourish with the assistance of a rather overactive imagination. And my answer to the question? “My ideas come from everyday people. In essence, they come from you!”

About the Book:

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“Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder inquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim…

Leading her first murder investigation, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?”

Find out more here.

About the author:

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Jane Isaac lives writes detective novels with a psychological edge. She lives with her husband and daughter in rural Northamptonshire, UK where she can often be found trudging over the fields with her Labrador, Bollo. On 1st March 2016 she re-released her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, originally published in the US in 2012, which was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.’ Later in the year her fourth book, Beneath the Ashes, will be published by Legend Press.

You can find out more about Jane here.

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