Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward – review

Published by Faber and Faber

Publication date – 2 February 2017

Source – review copy

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“Autumn 2004
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016
A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .”

2004 and Lena Fisher is convicted of killing her husband Andrew. 2016 and a body is found in an old morgue. The trouble is the body is Andrew Fisher. So who did Lena Fisher kill 12 years ago? Where has Andrew been for all those years – and why was he murdered now?

Having read and enjoyed In Bitter Chill, Sarah Ward’s debut novel, I was keen to read the latest book to feature detectives Sadler and Childs. The story opens with an intriguing premise, a man supposedly murdered twelve years ago, turns up dead in a mortuary. The story grabs from the outset and pulls the reader along with it until the very end.

Lena Fisher isn’t particularly likeable, and this is even after events surrounding the 2004 murder arise. But her actions become clearer and more understandable as the story progresses. There is a good balance between the police involvement and the involvement of Kat, Lena’s sister, who is also trying to untangle the mess her sister appears tied up in, whilst dealing with professional and personal issues of her own. We get to learn more about Sadler, Connie and Palmer, as well as other characters. This helps round out the story,  their characters and what drives them are just as essential to the storyline as the motive for the murders is. As we read more about the detectives, the more the reader, or this reader at any rate, becomes invested in the story, and in what will hopefully become a long running series. The setting too adds a layer to the story, there is the small town feel to Bampton, one which is used to keeping secrets, and not too keen on sharing them, which adds to the tension.

This novel feels much more assured than In Bitter Chill, and I mean no offence when I say that. There is a confidence to the writing, and the characters and location feel more established on this, their second outing. The topics covered in the novel are emotive and thought-provoking and dealt with a skilled and sensitive way. In my opinion A Deadly Thaw firmly establishes Sarah Ward on the crime writing scene.

A thoroughly enjoyable novel, I’m looking forward to the next Sadler and Childs novel.

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Lisa Gardner – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Lisa Gardner to the blog. Lisa is a New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author and her 16 novels include the FBI Profiler novels featuring Quincy and Raine including SAY GOODBYE, GONE and THE KILLING HOUR. She has also written the Detective D.D. Warren series including the International Thriller Writers’ Award winning THE NEIGHBOUR, CATCH ME, CRASH & BURN and FIND HER. Lisa’s latest novel RIGHT BEHIND YOU is published by Headline on 31 January 2017

Lisa kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Right Behind You. 

FBI profilers Pierce Quincy and Rainie Conner are ready to focus on family life with the upcoming adoption of their thirteen year old foster daughter.  When they’re called in to consult on a shooting, they’re dismayed to learn the prime suspect is Sharlah’s older brother, Telly.  With the body count mounting and the tracking team coming under fire, Quincy and Rainie must race against the clock to figure out what’s happening—and what it might have to do with the deaths of Sharlah and Telly’s parents years earlier.

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

I read an article on high-risk fugitive tracking in a magazine.  The author, who specializes in training law enforcement officers, discussed the challenges of cases where the shooter or escaped felon has no intention of being taken alive.  It’s incredibly dangerous work, not just for the trackers, but for anyone unfortunate enough to cross the fugitive’s path.   Immediately I knew I had a book idea!   So I e-mailed the author out of the blue, and convinced him to help a thriller writer with her next novel.  I think he found the whole thing rather funny.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?  

Oh, no plan!  That would make things way too easy.  I devise my crime, then run it by real world experts to see what techniques they’d use.  Also, what complications they might encounter to thwart their efforts along the way.  Then, I’m off and running.

4. You have written two series featuring different protagonists as well as standalone novels. What do you find are the benefits and downsides to writing a series? Is the fear there that you know the characters too well or can they still surprise you?

See, now we’re back to the no plan part.  A writer with foresight would pick a character, a series and stick with it. Nope.  I gotta be all over the place.  All my books were meant to be stand alone.  But then the character grows on people and the next thing I know I’m getting requests for another book involving Quincy and Rainie, or Detective D.D. Warren, and I like the characters so much, why not.  But if I’m going to write another book, I definitely have to mess with their lives.  Such as Quincy and Rainie hoping to finally have a child, except…   So it might not actually be a kind thing to request my characters.

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

Hiking.  Or snow shoeing this time of year.  I’m blessed to live in the gorgeous White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Inspiration is always only one short walk away.  Not to mention, it’s my dogs’ favourite part of the writing process and I like to humour them.

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

If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be chocolate.  One book is tougher.  Depends on your mood, you know?  I’m trying to think of a compilation.  Greek myths?  Bloody and romantic stories that have withstood the test of time.  Do I get to eat chocolate while I’m reading this one book?

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

Molly.  You should ask about Molly.  She is the incredibly brave, sweet, slobbery rescue dog who won the right to appear as a tracking canine in Right Behind You.  A pit bull mix, Molly was discovered abandoned, emaciated and heavily pregnant.  Despite her own poor health, she gave birth to seven puppies and nursed them faithfully before finding her forever home with the head of my local animal shelter.  Now she attends all our board members and snores through most of them.

About the book:

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“Thirteen-year-old Sharlah Nash knows that the first time her brother killed eight years ago, he did it to save their lives.

Now retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his wife Rainie Conner have offered Sharlah a new life of safety. She desperately wants to believe this is her shot at happily ever after.

Then two people are murdered in their local convenience store and Sharlah’s brother is identified as the killer.

Telly Ray Nash is on the hunt for Sharlah and as the death count rises it becomes clear that nothing and no-one, including Pierce and Rainie, will stop him getting to her.

Now, Sharlah has one chance to take control.

She can run for her life… or turn and face the danger right behind her.”

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A Piece of the Puzzle by Ruth Hogan – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Ruth Hogan to the blog. Ruth’s debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things is published today, 26 January 2017 by Two Roads.

I loved The Keeper of Lost Things, a charming story of love, loss and friendship. You can read my review here.

Here Ruth talks about the first thing she found, the piece that started her collection of lost things and which inspired the book.

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So, this is where it all began. This was the first thing I found and it was this jigsaw puzzle piece that inspired the first of the short stories in the novel. I picked it up from the gutter when I was still working part-time as a receptionist and had gone out at lunch time for a stroll and a breath of fresh air. I surprised myself with the story that so quickly came to mind about Gladys and her shocking sister, Maud. I used to love doing jigsaw puzzles when I was a little girl, and once when I was tackling a particularly large one, a female relative was visiting and put one of the pieces in its rightful place. I remember being furious, particularly as she told me that I couldn’t claim to have done it all by myself once it was completed, because she had helped me. But an author’s store of memories is a rich resource, and I’m thankful to her now (well, almost!)

About the book:
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“MEET THE ‘KEEPER OF LOST THINGS’…
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

With an unforgettable cast of characters that includes young girls with special powers, handsome gardeners, irritable ghosts and an array of irresistible four-legged friends, The Keeper of Lost Things is a debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that will leave you bereft once you’ve finished reading.
WE’RE ALL JUST WAITING TO BE FOUND…”

The Keeper of Lost Things is out now, priced £16.99, published by Two Roads books

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Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb – review

Published by Orenda Books

Publication date 5 January 2017

Source – review copy

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“Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong.

The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past. Not only is JT fighting a child exploitation racket operating out of one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Winter Wonderland, a place where ‘bad things never happen’, but he’s also mixed up with the powerful Miami Mob. With two fearsome foes on their tails, just three days to get JT back to Florida, and her daughter to protect, Lori has her work cut out for her. When they’re ambushed at a gas station, the stakes go from high to stratospheric, and things become personal.

Breathtakingly fast-paced, both hard-boiled and heart-breaking, Deep Down Dead is a simply stunning debut from one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.”

Lori Anderson is desperate for a big money job. A bounty hunter in Florida, she finds herself facing large medical bills after her daughter suffers leukaemia. Worried about meeting those bills and paying the rent she agrees to fetch a bail skip from West Virginia and to deliver him back in three days time. It seems a simple job, too simple for the high bail bond set. Then she finds out the skip is her former mentor. What could JT have got mixed up in that means members of a child exploitation racket and members of a different mob are after his head. And can they make it home in time?

The is a fast, frenetic pace to this story, the action never seems to let up, and neither does the tension. It drags you along, making the reader speed through the chapters to keep up with Lori and JT and their hunt.

There have been stories about female bounty hunters before, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is a shining example. But don’t expect madcap family members and pockets of comedy with Deep Down Dead. This is a much grittier, darker tale. Lori Anderson is tougher, more hardened and tempestuous. She is a impetuous yet tries to be considered, has a tough exterior that hides deeper emotions. This amalgam of traits makes Lori emerge as a more concrete, rounded character. She is easy to envisage and in turn she enables the reader to easily imagine the other characters in the story.

The main characters are Lori and JT. This isn’t to say that the other characters who appear aren’t depicted well enough or are superfluous, far from it. It just means that the story is driven by these two main characters, most of the narrative is concentrated on them. The reader spends much of the story with them and as a result becomes more invested in their story. The other characters facilitate this, broadening out the story, bring danger and threat to Lori and JT, just as the reader becomes attached to them.

I’m not going to go too much into the story for fear of spoiling it. let me just say that it is an emotive one, it can only ever be emotive when the issue involves child exploitation. It’s very nature means that the reader is invested in Lori and JT, willing them to succeed in their bid for justice, the urgency of doing so all the more pressing.

Steph Broadribb trained as a bounty hunter in the USA and has spent some of her working life out there. This experience shows in Deep Down Dead. The language used feels authentic and doesn’t jar, clipped sentences and phrases used means the reader can hear Lori’s accent when they read and whilst I don’t imagine that Steph found herself in the same predicament as Lori, the fact that she has experience in bounty hunting comes across in the novel.

Deep Down Dead takes the reader on a tumultuous, frenetic ride one where the pace never lets up and the reader is soon caught up in Lori’s race to save the people she loves.

Deep Down Dead is the first in the Lori Anderson series. I am impatiently awaiting the next book from Steph Broadribb.

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Movies I loved in 2016 by G X Todd – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome G X Todd to the blog. Her debut novel, Defender, was published by Headline on 12th January 2016.

Today she is talking about the films she loved last year and those she is looking forward to this year.

Movies I Loved in 2016 (and what I’m pants-wettingly excited about seeing in 2017)

I’ve watched a lot of films in 2016—I watch a lot of films most years (I always call myself a movie buff whenever anyone asks me about hobbies)—but I’m going to try and keep this list from turning into War and Peace and pick what I believe is the best film in each genre. If possible. Let’s see how we go.

 

Drama

Spotlight

Every so often a film comes along that makes such an impact it leaves you thinking for days afterwards. There have been two films this year that have done that and this is the first. I won’t go into plot details (that’s what IMDb is for), but suffice to say this film tackles some very disturbing allegations surrounding the child molestation cases brought up in Boston about the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. The fact this story is based on real events is what makes it so hard to watch. It also makes it an extremely important piece of filmmaking that everyone should see. I remember reading the information that appeared on the screen at the close of the film, and just feeling tears run down my face. Powerful stuff. There’s a reason it won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

 

Horror

10 Cloverfield Lane

I watched this again recently and was able to sit back on the second viewing and really appreciate everything first-time director Dan Trachtenberg achieved with this film. It could be argued it’s the best piece of claustrophobic, single-location film-making of recent years. Amiable John Goodman, who most of us associate with his comedy roles, plays Howard (an ambiguous saviour figure who see-saws from bad guy to good every ten minutes) with such skill you never know whether to trust him or not.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the perfect heroine here. She’s real and raw and totally believable as the everyday woman (albeit an everyday woman who remains gorgeous to look at even after being locked in a bunker for weeks on end without a beauty regimen). She’s scared, and rightly so, but she’s resilient with it. She doesn’t have overly much dialogue, but she emotes so much with her eyes it doesn’t even matter. And that ending. Wow. It splits audiences, I know, but I freaking loved it.

Honourable mention: The Conjuring 2.

 

Comedy

Deadpool

Come on, this movie is hilarious! And beings I haven’t seen that many films over the past twelve months that can be classed as comedy, this is all you’re gonna get. Ryan Reynolds was made to be Deadpool. His superhero’s bawdy humour might not be for everyone—and it does miss its mark a time or two—but when it hits home, oh man, it’s glorious. I did find the general story and the character’s arc to be wholly uninspired in the grand scheme of things, but the originality of the character and how Reynolds brings him to the big screen is what makes this a winner. As long as you’re not easily offended by crudeness and graphic violence, this really is a must-see.

 

Animated/Children’s

The Little Prince

I was going put Zootropolis here, because I did really enjoy it. I think Disney nailed it on the head with choosing to spotlight a strong, hard-working female character in Judy Hopps. But I just didn’t love it. You know?

What I did love was The Little Prince on Netflix, despite its arguably weaker ending. It was so beautiful! It was the second animated feature I’d seen that utilised stop-motion action (the other being Kubo and the Two Strings). The Little Prince is a mix of both stop-motion and standard animation, but it’s the stop-motion that really blew me away, and it was the fantastical story told in those segments which really resonated. The story of the Little Prince and his fox sidekick was wonderful. It’s making me want to watch it again simply from writing about it…

With stellar voice acting by the likes of Jeff Bridges and Rachel McAdams, this is a top class production, which not only treats the eyes to its visual splendour but tugs at the heartstrings with its message about acceptance, family and how to find our place in the world.

Adventure/Action

Tarzan

Tarzan?!” I hear some of you cry in derision. Yes! Tarzan! Hush, I liked it. I also bought it on Blu-ray, and not solely to pause the footage when Alexander Skarsgård takes his shirt off for the first time. No, it’s a fun romp, with excellent action set-pieces and a central love story that transcends all time and space! Margot Robbie is suitably feisty and pugnacious as Jane, too. What’s not to like?

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Arrival

I’ve won you back after picking Tarzan, haven’t I? How can I like Tarzan and then pick Arrival, you ask? Because I’m a complex individual with hidden depths, that’s why.

Arrival is a cerebral, slow-paced discovery of a movie, and it’s that second film I mentioned (see Spotlight above) which impacted on me so much I’m still thinking about it now. The way it plays with time, and how it then reveals how it played with time, is majestic. Amy Adams is also majestic in how understated and multi-layered her performance is. She really is on top of her game here (although she is in most everything she’s in). And all that linguistic stuff! Man. So clever.

Arrival isn’t showy and it’s not action-packed, but what it is is complex with many hidden depths. Just like me.

 

Movies hitting in 2017 to be excited about

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Chris Pratt. That is all.) 

Bladerunner 2049 (Ryan Gosling. That is all.)

Logan (I’m really liking the direction this is going in with an old, gnarly-looking Wolverine.)

Alien: Convenant (ALIENS IS MY FAVOURITE FILM OF ALL-TIME.)

Wonder Woman (Oh my god, I’m scared they’re gonna mess this one up.)

Beauty and the Beast (My childhood literally coming to life.)

The Ghost in the Shell (I’m excited even with Scarlett Johansson being top billing.)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (I’m hoping Luc Besson is back on Fifth Element form with this one.)

Split (James McAvoy playing a man with twenty-four distinct split personalities. Colour me intrigued, Mr Shyamalan. You have another chance here to redeem yourself.)

IT (It’s Stephen King.)

The Dark Tower (IT’S STEPHEN KING.)

God Particle (The third, and possibly final, part in the Cloverfield Anthology movies.)

Annihiliation (Based on the first book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. The screenplay is written by Alex Garland and stars Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac. One to watch out for.)

Okja (the second American produced film by Joon-ho Bong, the guy who brought us The Host and the crazy brilliant Snowpiercer. Joy of joys, Tilda Swinton, is starring, too.)

 

 About the book:

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On the cusp of sleep, have we not all heard a voice call out our name?’

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Defender pulls you on a wild ride to a place where the voices in your head will save or slaughter you.

#HearTheVoices

 

 

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Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner – Extract

Today author Helen Cox and publisher Avon have kindly given me permission to share with you an extract from Helen’s latest novel, Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner, the second book in the Starlight Diner series. Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner was published in ebook format on 16 December 2016.

Funny how you can interact with some people your whole life and never truly know them, while others make you feel as though you’ve always known them after five minutes. That’s how it was for me with the staff at the Starlight Diner. They let me in on their jokes, told me their life stories and listened to mine. Though I’d only been working there for one week, I didn’t want to remember a time when I’d lived without them.

            Whether I was laughing at one of Mona’s stories about her son, Donnell, trying to convince Bernie to eat eggs on wholewheat toast rather than greasy bacon for his breakfast, or watching Lucia sing Roxette into her spatula, I found myself more at ease than I’d ever been. And Esther, well, I had a sister back in Detroit and I loved her, but Esther was an only child and had spent most of the last week doling out all of her pent-up sisterly love to me. She’d barely left my side.

‘Thanks for walking with me to the store,’ I said. ‘I know it must seem a little pathetic. Not like anything is that far away from anything else in the East Village.’

‘Not at all,’ Esther smiled. ‘I speak from experience when I say that New York is a pretty scary place to be sometimes. Especially after dark.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’ I shrugged. ‘But growing up on the outskirts of Detroit I never thought I’d find myself going all wobbly on the mild-mannered East Coast, you know?’

‘Well, you’ve been through a lot,’ Esther said, putting her arm through mine. It’d be enough to put anyone on edge.’ ‘You’re right, I know you’re right, it’s just sometimes I think I’m going nuts.’ I cleared my throat, which felt drier than usual, even though I’d had some water before leaving the diner. Was now the time to bring up the way I’d been feeling the last few days? And how sore my stomach muscles were from tensing up over the things I didn’t know if I was seeing for real or dreaming up in my head?

‘I’m sure you’re not going nuts, it just feels that way,’ Esther said, patting my arm.

I stopped walking. She stopped too and looked at me, waiting.

‘I don’t know anymore. I’m probably just imagining things, but the past few days I kept thinking I could see someone standing just out of sight. Like I was catching glimpses of them in the corner of my eyes or something.’

Esther stiffened. ‘A man or a woman?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know.’ I pressed my lips together and shook my head. ‘It might not be either. Whenever I turn around nobody’s there. Or certainly not anybody who looks in the least bit menacing.’

‘Sometimes our minds can play tricks on us, but I wouldn’t dismiss your concerns outright,’ said Esther, her eyes flitting up and down the length of Suffolk Street. Paranoia, it seemed, was contagious.

‘I don’t know. Like you say, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been having nightmares since… Well, since I saw what I saw. Damn near screamed the place down that first night at Jimmy’s.’ I put my sleeves around myself, rubbing the arms of my leather jacket. ‘I never thought I’d ever see anything like that – a life ended. And the way Frankie did it, too, as easy as snuffing out a candle.’ I put a hand to my mouth, remembering.

‘It’s not the kind of thing a person gets over quickly,’ said Esther. ‘Seeing death, really seeing it…’ She shook her head and kept her eyes on the ground. Did she know what it meant to see the wide-eyed stare of a corpse, one that wasn’t on TV or in a movie? Then I remembered what Jimmy had said about the ‘timely death’ of Esther’s husband. Was Esther there when he died? Is that how she knew what it felt like to stare into the eyes of death?

‘But the dreams aren’t real.’ I figured if I said that sentence with enough confidence, I might feel a little less jittery about it all. ‘And this feeling about somebody hovering around probably isn’t real either. The whole thing is probably just a hangover from the time I spent on the run from Frankie Ray.’

‘Maybe.’ Esther started walking again and I followed her lead. ‘Thing is, if you’re wrong, if there isn’t anyone watching you, the worst thing that can happen is that you look a little bit silly. If you’re right, whoever it is following you could be dangerous.’

‘Somebody sent by Frankie.’ I shuddered. ‘I can’t believe what that man’s put me through, and there may be more to come.’

‘Try not to think that way.’ Esther linked her arm through mine again. ‘Regardless of what I think of Boyle as a person, there’s one thing I can’t deny: when he puts his mind to something he’s pretty much unstoppable.’

‘Yeah, I get that impression.’ I raised both eyebrows.

‘Haven’t seen him in the diner lately,’ Esther said, looking at me out the corner of her eye.

‘No… I told you, he’s out in Atlantic City gathering evidence for the defence case. He’s being weirdly secretive about it all too. You’d think he might let me in on it given it might decide whether or not I go to jail for the rest of my life.’

Esther tilted her head to one side. ‘He must have his reasons for keeping things hush-hush. And I did remember he’s in Atlantic City, I just meant I thought we’d be seeing more of him, in general,’ Esther pushed. She had the cheekiest look on her face I’d ever seen.

I sighed and shook my head at her. ‘And you say Mona is the meddler of the diner gang.’

‘What?’ Her smirk lapsed into a smile. ‘I’m just noting my surprise.’

‘Our relationship, if you can call it that, is purely professional. He says that’s the way it’s gotta be.’ I’d almost got used to the idea. Almost. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have other things to worry about.

‘Can’t believe he has the audacity to utter the word “professional” after some of the things I’ve seen him do. Wait a minute, what am I talking about? Yes, I can. That’s just Jimmy Boyle.’

‘Who can say what his reasons are? I guess I’ve just gotta be grateful he’s still willing to work my case. My list of allies is short.’

‘The list might be longer than you think. Once the Starlight Diner staff take you in, they don’t let go.’ Esther paused as we reached Sullivan’s grocery. ‘You want me to come around with you?’ She was doing all she could to sound enthusiastic about this idea but we were both tired as dogs after an eight-hour shift at the diner and it was obvious to anyone, by the way she was slouching on one leg, that all she really wanted was to get home and put her feet up.

About the Book:

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“What brings Bonnie Brooks to The Starlight Diner? And why is she on the run?

As the front-woman in a band, Bonnie is used to being in the spotlight, but now she must hide in the shadows.

Bonnie only has one person who she can turn to: her friend Esther Knight, who waitresses at the Fifties-themed diner. There, retro songs play on the jukebox as fries and sundaes are served to satisfied customers. But where has Esther gone?

Alone in New York City, Bonnie breaks down in front of arrogant news reporter, and diner regular, Jimmy Boyle. Jimmy offers to help her. Can she trust him?

When the kindly owner of the Starlight Diner offers Bonnie work, and she meets charming security officer Nick Moloney, she dares to hope that her luck has changed. Is there a blossoming romance on the cards? And can Bonnie rebuild her life with the help of her Starlight Diner friends?”

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Erica Ferencik – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Erica Ferencik to the blog. Erica’s debut novel, The River at Night is published by Bloomsbury Raven, today, the 12th January 2017.

You can read my review of The River at Night here. Erica kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The River at Night.

The River at Night is a novel about four women friends who fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident in the wilderness of Northern Maine.

2. What inspired the book? 

Two events in the summer of 2012 were my inspiration for this book.

One:

I read and fell in love with James Dickey’s 1970 novel Deliverance. Most people have seen the movie – cue the banjos! – but I’m not sure the book has gotten the love it deserves. 

Dickey was a poet, but he also wrote this propulsive, visceral, first-person novel about four male friends who go white-water rafting in the Georgia wilderness. The story was utterly terrifying to me; I was struck by this story of a series of bad decisions that led to disaster.

Two:

The summer before I started the book I was hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with a few friends and we got lost. We had all depended on – let’s call her Lucy – to map out the day; she was the one who had the most hiking experience after all, the one who knew what she was doing. Turned out, Lucy had done some did pretty shabby planning. 

The idea was to get to the hut (the White Mountains have a system of huts hikers can stay in) by around five to get cleaned up and grab a bunk before a 5:30 call for dinner. But we were still hiking at 7:30; thank God it was summer so it was still light, but we had some older people with us, specifically a very tall, teetery gentleman in his seventies lugging this ginormous pack, and I thought we are going to have to carry this guy…we ran out of water and food, and one of the women had such bad cramps in her calves and hamstrings we had to stop and massage her muscles just so she could unbend her legs. The wind had picked up and the temperature dropped like a stone, and we were up past the tree line scrambling over huge boulders, completely exhausted and scared…finally we made it to the hut just past nine, barely able to see our hands in front of our faces. A search party was being organized. They were all suited up. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when we stumbled in the door…talk about food tasting good, talk about a cot feeling like the Four Seasons…we had been so close to spending the night on the mountain, alone and lost. 

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? 

After many half-written I’ll just let the words take me where they will novels shoved in the drawer in frustration, I am an outliner and, as you say, a planner. Creating a book is no less complex than building a house – I would argue it’s usually a hell of a lot more complex – and so for me anyway, I need a blueprint. 

A novel for me starts with an idea. Not just any idea, but one that has the depth and complexity novels demand, and one that I feel I can actually pull off. But even this stage is tricky. So many times I’ll come up with some brilliant idea, and I get so excited, and I go to bed some kind of freaking genius. I wake up an idiot, however, when I realize what a lame idea it is. But every now and then an idea sticks with me, stands the test of several nights sleep, and still feels like it has legs. 

Then I bang out a rough outline that I can take months to flesh out. I refuse to actually start writing the book until I am clear on most of the elements: what happens, characters, subplots, the ending. 

The shortest to write and complete rewrites for a book for me has been a year, the longest is four.

4. What would your ideal girls holiday be – an adventure like Pia or relaxing on the beach as Win dreamt of?

Something inbetween would be perfect…

I would love to go someplace exotic and lovely with lots of natural beauty, but safeJ, a place where we could each do our own thing and enjoy it, then get together later in the day for dinner and talking and drinking. I have found that a girlfriend getaway has to work for the group as well as everyone individually; part of a vacation is as we call it finding your bliss: for one of us that might mean sitting on the beach reading all day, for another it could mean shopping the local markets, for another it could be an invigorating hike. The best way to have fun is to not have expectations of each other, or to have minimal expectations. For many years we’ve all gone to Cape Cod which I love, but I wish we could all afford to do something crazy like rent a place in the south of France, or go to a Greek Isle…hey, now I’m getting ideas…

5. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

This my sixth novel, first published one, so you would think there wouldn’t be a lot of surprises but there were. The truth is, no matter how many books I write, I am still learning how to write books. Why? Every book is different – plot, complexity, point of view, characters, tone; so there’s that. Also, in every book there’s so much to remember, to keep in mind, all at once as you write. And each time I’m always surprised at how much work it is. Duh. 

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

I LOVE being outside in any way, shape or form: I love to be in nature, be around animals, travel, explore this amazing world of ours, see friends and make new ones, and I love movies and of course, books. I love sleep. I love staring into space. Some pampering, a massage. A double feature. A day to do nothing!:)

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

Stoner, by John Williams. 

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: What advice would you give a young writer?

Know that learning to write is a lifelong process. Consider the giver in every piece of criticism you receive. Not everyone is going to love your writing, and that’s okay. You need to find, love, and cultivate your audience.

Don’t ever give up. It took me thirty years, seven novels, countless screenplays and essays, and five agents to get my first novel published. I’m not saying it will take you a fraction of that time and effort, but persistence is your friend. Stay organized. Keep track of how you spend your time. 

Remember that really difficult, big, lovely things are often made slowly, and in pain. The more compelling the path, the more lonely it is. And we all have that inner voice that says, this is a waste of time. It’s the worst thing I ever did. 

And you need to answer, I’m going to do it anyway.

About the book:

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“‘A thought came to me that I couldn’t force away: What we are wearing is how we’ll be identified out in the wilderness.’

Win Allen doesn’t want an adventure. After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans. Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air. No phone coverage. No people. No help…

To celebrate publication day the ebook is currently on offer for £1.49 on Amazon, ITunes and other ebook retailers. https://www.amazon.co.uk/River-at-Night-Erica-Ferencik-ebook/dp/B01MAVRUGF/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1484218502&sr=8-1

 

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Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

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

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

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

Today’s first suggestion is from Susmita Bhattacharya, author of The Normal State of Mind. Her suggestion is The Village by the Sea by Anita Desai, published by Puffin.

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“A story of survival set in a small fishing villlage near Bombay. Lila and Hari, aged 13 and 12, struggle to keep the family, including two young sisters, going when their mother is ill and their father usually the worse for drink. When Hari goes to Bombay to find work, Lila seems to be responsible for everything. Although the book paints a picture of extreme poverty, it demonstrates the strength of the family even in the most extreme circumstances and offers a powerful picture of another culture.”
Read more on the Puffin website.

Here’s what she had to say about it:

“I love Anita Desai’s The Village by the Sea. It was part of our school syllabus 25 years ago, but even now, it draws me in. The story, about two young children surviving in the big, bad city of Bombay (as it was called then) still has a charm that has not quite diminished. It is a pleasure to read it with my children, as the themes cross continents and cultures. And Anita Desai is one of my favourite writers.” 

The second suggestion is by Kate Frost, author of The Butterfly Storm. Her suggestion is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, published by Black Swan.

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“When Israel Finch and Tommy Basca, the town bullies, break into the home of school caretaker Jeremiah Land, wielding a baseball bat and looking for trouble, they find more of it than even they expected. For seventeen-year-old Davey is sitting up in bed waiting for them with a Winchester rifle. His younger brother Reuben has seen their father perform miracles, but Jeremiah now seems as powerless to prevent Davey from being arrested for manslaughter, as he has always been to ease Reuben’s daily spungy struggle to breathe. Nor does brave and brilliant nine-year-old Swede, obsessed as she is with the legends of the wild west, have the strength to spring Davey from jail. Yet Davey does manage to break out. He steals a horse, and disappears. His family feels his absence so sorely, the three of them just pile into their old Plymouth, towing a brand new 1963 Airstream trailer, and set out on a quest to find him. And they follow the outlaw west, right into the cold, wild and empty Dakota Badlands. Set in the 1960s on the edge of the Great Plains, PEACE LIKE A RIVER is that rare thing, a contemporary novel with an epic dimension. Told in the touching voice of an asthmatic eleven-year-old boy, it revels in the legends of the West, resonates with a soul-expanding sense of place, and vibrates with the possibility of magic in the everyday world. Above all, it shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, the most tragic of fates” (Image and synopsis from Amazon)

Here’s what she had to say about it:

“He’s only written two books and this was his debut and a stunning one it is. Set in Minnesota and North Dakota in the 1960s and told from the perspective of Reuben, an asthmatic nine year-old boy, it’s in turn evocative, heartbreaking and uplifting and the characters simply ooze off the page, particularly Reuben’s nine year-old sister, Swede. It was one of those rare books that I kept thinking about when I wasn’t reading it and the characters and story haunted me long after finishing the last page.” 

So there we have it, two more books that may have passed you by, but which could find a home on your bookshelf. Do let me know if you’ve uncovered any hidden gems that you think should be more widely read.

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Oi, Dog! by Kes Grey and Jim Field – review

Published by Hodder Children’s

Publication date 6 October 2016

Source – own copy

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“The absurdly funny sequel to the award-winning Oi Frog! from vibrant pairing Kes Gray and Jim Field.

The hilarious sequel to the bestselling Oi Frog! will have children rolling around with laughter. Shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award 2016.

Frog’s had enough, he’s the changing the status quo! Cat insists that there are rules – only mules sit on stools, no one but hares should sit on chairs and however irritating, dogs MUST sit on frogs.

‘Well, I’m changing the rules,’ said the frog.
‘From now on, dogs sit on logs, not frogs!’

And everyone else is going to have to sit somewhere else too. Will Cat want to sit on gnats instead of cushy mats? Will spiders like sitting on gliders? Will whales be happy to sit on nails? And, most importantly, where is FROG going to sit?”

Frog is fed up with where dog’s seating arrangements and turning the tables on bossy Cat, devises a new seating plan for the animals. Having given up his place on the log for Dog, Frog has to find new seats for everyone, and Cat for one is not happy with his new resting place.

This is wonderful sequel to Oi, Frog! with a whole host of new animals who are having to comply with the hilarious new seating plan devised by a rather fed up Frog. The rhyming couplets lend a lovely flow to the book, making it easy to read and easy to follow, and allowing for suggestions of where other animals might sit, to be discussed with active and imaginative young minds. My children were soon joining in with ‘reading’ after only a couple of readings of the book. And it is a book that elicits calls of ‘read it again’ straight after the last lines.

The illustrations perfectly match the text, with the expression of a put upon Cat and a rather perplexed Whale, adding to the story, eliciting giggles when seen in junction with the story being read.

A wonderful addition to any child’s haul of books, I for one can’t wait for Oi, Cat. I mean, the kids can’t wait, obviously…

 

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