Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Off-the-shelf book reviews - six months on

When I set up my book reviews blog on 30th December 2014, I had no idea what was in store.

Six months on, I have had over 18,500 page views, read some outstanding books, taken part in some great blog tours, interviewed many brilliant authors and met (in the virtual and real worlds) some amazing bloggers/reviewers, authors, publicists and publishers. I have discovered a whole new world and a whole network of people with a passion for books and reading.

When I'm not working as a freelance health journalist/editor, I'm reading and reviewing fiction (even though I should really be writing more of my own book - more of that later). According to my 2015 Goodreads challenge, I have read 124 books this year so far (it's probably closer to 130, as I still have a few more reviews to add). This is already more books than I read for the 2014 Goodreads challenge.

I have always loved reading and immersing myself in fictional worlds. As a child, I longed to be a detective, spy or explorer. I wanted to turn the Secret Seven into the Secret Eight. I dreamed of being Nancy Drew. I wanted the Hardy Boys to be my brothers. And I imagined myself to be part of the Willard Price adventures.

According to my parents, I was constantly glued to a book, particularly at the dinner table (which was a common bone of contention in our household). I was often found writing and illustrating stories too. My parents aren't surprised that I have made a career out of working with words. Even now, I have a book or Kindle with me whenever I leave the house and I take my 'Kindle' for a walk on most weekdays.

When I reached my teens, I worked my way through my dad's Alistair Maclean and Desmond Begley novels, before discovering Stephen King and eventually crime thrillers. By then, I wanted to write the books, rather than be a part of them. I bought a whole series of books from the USA on writing about forensics and crime.

Although I always enjoyed English at school, I loved the sciences too, which is why I decided to embark on a Biomedical Science degree, with the intention of obtaining a PhD in Forensic Science. The plan was that I would eventually use my forensics knowledge to become a crime fiction author one day (or at least try to do so).

But in my final year of university, my love for journalism overcame my love for science. This led to a Masters in Science Communication and working for consumer and pharmacy magazines, writing about health. Over the years, I have also edited health books, magazines and websites. My non-fiction book on children's allergies was first published in 2009 (then 2013).

Starting this book blog has been an amazing experience and I wish I had discovered the joys of book blogging years ago. I am a very fast reader and usually manage to read up to four books a week (in addition to working virtually full time from home).

As I have already mentioned, over the last six months I have met a diverse range of people, all with one thing in common - a love of reading. In recent weeks, I have been to the Killer Women launch, the book launch of The Versions Of Us and the Crime in the Court event at Goldsboro Books.

Friends and family are astonished to discover that book bloggers don't get paid. After all, running a book blog can be just as time consuming as paid work - from reading the books and writing reviews to fitting in blog tours and arranging and typing up author interviews. But I love every minute of it.

(Obviously though, if any publication wants to pay me to write reviews or author interviews, or any authors/publishers want to pay me to edit their books, I won't say no! It's just a side-step from health really...)

My ultimate aim remains, however, to complete a novel of my own, even if I never attempt to get it published. I have started several books over the years. Since December, I have written over 25,000 words of a historical fiction novel, loosely based on the story of a great-uncle of mine during WW2. But I struggle to find the time to fit writing into my life, with family, work and reading/reviewing.

There's a possibility that this will change in November, when I plan to put my life on hold (a little) while I take part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I thank the lovely Elizabeth Haynes for persuading me to sign up. I have another book idea buzzing around in my head, and I'm going to focus on this for those 30 days (although I can't avoid work completely during that time, as I still have bills to pay).

Thanks to everyone who has helped me to build up my blog over the last six months. There are several book bloggers in particular who give me brilliant advice and support. I'm not going to mention specific names, as I'm sure I'll end up missing someone out. But hopefully you all know who you are.

I look forward to the next six months and beyond - sharing my time and thoughts with so many other book lovers.

Monday, 29 June 2015

AUTHOR IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Mark Edwards - BLOG TOUR

I am delighted that MARK EDWARDS is joining me on my blog today, as part of the Blog Tour for his latest book. Mark 's latest book - Follow You Home - is published by Thomas & Mercer on 30 June 2015. 




So Mark, what inspired you to write a book in the first place?
Follow You Home came from a conversation with my editor. Both The Magpies and Because She Loves Me, my previous novels, were inspired by something that happened to me: living above nightmare neighbours and having a jealous girlfriend. My editor jokily asked me what other terrible experiences I'd had, which made me think back to something that happened to me when I was 20. My then-girlfriend and I went inter-railing around Europe but were robbed on a night train on our second day and stranded in southern France. This led to me thinking about the worst thing that could have happened. So Follow You Home starts with a couple setting off on a night train in a foreign country and it all goes horribly wrong...

Where do your ideas come from?
As above, the spark always comes from something difficult or stressful that has happened to me. Then I try to make it as dark as possible, to put my characters in really difficult situations. I pick up ideas, too, from news stories or TV shows - for example, the next Voss and Edwards book was inspired by a documentary about crazy One Direction fans!

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing? And if so, how?
Apart from the above, everything that happens to me influences my writing. Whether it's writing about relationships, the way couples interact for example, or work situations. I don't go around with a notepad writing down people's conversations, although people sometimes suspect I lurk around doing this. But I absorb everything that goes on around me, as I am sure all writers do.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
I write psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
Yes, I have a trained parrot who does all my typing… I recite the words and he skitters around the keyboard, tapping it out.

But seriously… I don't know if it's strange but I do most of my writing in cafés and at my local gym, surrounded by people and noise. I do this because I have small children at home and my office was turned into a nursery when our third child came along. but I now find it very hard to write when it's quiet.

Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
I used to be a 100% pantser, making it up as I went along, but I now try to plot in advance. I tend to plot out the first part, and then start writing, extending the plot and figuring it out as I go along. This technique is, I think, called the 'driving in the dark' technique. You can see what your car headlights reveal but, beyond that, everything is shrouded in darkness. This makes writing more exciting.

What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Two things. The biggest one is plotting. When you write psychological thrillers, readers expect twists and turns, misdirection and shocks. Coming up with these twists, making it all work, dropping in enough clues without giving it all away… that's what makes it hard. The second thing is, now that I'm on my 11th novel, is keeping it fresh. Not repeating things. Not repeating things.

Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
Yes! Mistrust any author who doesn't read. In fact, if I found out an author doesn't read, I would instantly think their books must be rubbish - because the words you read provide fuel for your own writing. And why would you want to be a writer if you don't love books? My favourite authors are Donna Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis, Mo Hayder, Peter James, Sarah Lotz, Ira Levin, Paula Daly and tons of other crime and psychological thriller writers. Far too many to list here.

As well as writing solo, you also collaborate with Louise Voss. Has writing with Louise affected the way you write or research your own books? If so, how?
It hasn't really affected how I research books, although the books with Louise do require more research as they are police procedurals. Co-writing is great as it gives you a sense of freedom. I write something, send it to Louise, she gives me instant feedback… I think it makes us both more comfortable about taking risks.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
'Mark My Words'

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Being a writer is so stressful that you have to really, really want it and be unable to stop yourself doing it. So only start writing if it's your passion and you believe that you have something original and interesting to say.

And lastly, why should people read Follow You Home?
Follow You Home is scary and exciting. It starts out like the Blair Witch Project and ends up like an action-packed Simon Kernick thriller. And I guarantee you won't guess the final twist. Don't just take my word for it. It's had rave reviews from writers including Angela Marsons, Clare Mackintosh and CL Taylor, who says: 'Twisty, turn and downright creepy in places, Mark Edwards has, yet again, produced an unputdownable psychological thriller. He is a master at creating a tangled web of secrets, lies and red herrings so cleverly constructed that I was kept guessing all the way through.

About Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers. His first solo novel, The Magpies, topped the Kindle chart in the UK. What You Wish For followed in March 2014 and Because She Loves Me was published in September 2014. Follow You Home will be out in June 2015.

Mark has also co-written five novels with Louise Voss: Catch Your Death (a number one bestseller in the UK), Killing Cupid (chosen by Peter James as his book of 2012), All Fall Down and Forward Slash. From the Cradle was published in 2014 and is the first in a series featuring DI Patrick Lennon.

Mark lives in the West Midlands with his wife, three children and a ginger cat.

Find Mark Edwards and Louise Voss on their official Facebook page and follow Mark on Twitter - @mredwards.


Follow You Home
Published by Thomas & Mercer (30 June 2015)



Synopsis: 

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, a final adventure before settling down.

After a perfect start, Daniel and Laura's travels end abruptly when they are thrown off a night train in the middle of nowhere. To find their way back to civilisation, they must hike along the tracks through a forest… a haunting journey that ends in unimaginable terror.

Back in London, Daniel and Laura vow never to talk about what they saw that night. But as they try to fit back into their old lives, it becomes clear that their nightmare is just beginning...

Click here to find it on Amazon UK.




Friday, 26 June 2015

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Little Black Lies
By Sharon Bolton
Published by Transworld (2 July 2015)
ISBN: 978-0593068202



Publisher's description
What's the worst thing your best friend could do to you?

Admittedly, it wasn't murder. A moment's carelessness, a tragic accident - and two children are dead. Yours.

Living in a small island community, you can't escape the woman who destroyed your life. Each chance encounter is an agonising reminder of what you've lost - your family, your future, your sanity.

How long before revenge becomes irresistible?

With no reason to go on living, why shouldn't you turn your darkest thoughts into deeds?

So now, what's the worst thing you can do to your best friend?

My verdict
Little Black Lies is filled with secrets, lies, betrayal, suspense and intrigue. I read it in just a few hours, yet the story lingered in my mind for some time afterwards. It's chilling, nail-biting and breath-holding writing at its best.

Three years after the tragic death of her two sons, Catrin is still struggling to cope with her grief. Her childhood friend Rachel, who was responsible for the accident, is no longer part of Catrin's life. When a child goes missing and the search begins, Catrin's memories haunt her and her hatred of Rachel grows and grows.

The Falklands provide the perfect location for this story - a chilling remote island setting. In such a small community, everyone knows each other. When tragedy strikes, it's far more difficult to forget and move on if the people involved don't move away. In Little Black Lies, Rachel still lives close by and has a family of her own, while Catrin's suffering continues.

Not only is this book a roller coaster read, filled with twists and turns, but it's very well-researched, especially the local wildlife and history of the Falklands community. The book is set in the mid-1990s, which is only 12 years after the Falklands War. The War is still very raw in the minds of the island residents, which adds to the story's background and gripping atmosphere.

Sharon Bolton has been one of my favourite authors for years, and I think that Little Black Lies may be her best standalone novel yet. I held my breath for most of the last third of the book. There were so many red herrings that I had no idea which way the plot was going to go. I was drained and exhausted by the final page.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves well-researched chilling thrillers that leave you with goosebumps.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Follow You Home by Mark Edwards

Follow You Home
By Mark Edwards
Published by Thomas & Mercer (30 June 2015)
ISBN: 978-1503944374



Publisher's description
It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, a final adventure before settling down.

After a perfect start, Daniel and Laura's travels end abruptly when they are thrown off a night train in the middle of nowhere. To find their way back to civilisation, they must hike along the tracks through a forest… a haunting journey that ends in unimaginable terror.

Back in London, Daniel and Laura vow never to talk about what they saw that night. But as they try to fit back into their old lives, it becomes clear that their nightmare is just beginning...

My verdict
Follow You Home is the story of Laura and Daniel, who are on the trip of a lifetime, backpacking around Europe, before they settle down and have children. After they are thrown off a train in Romania one night, they have a horrific experience. Stunned and emotionally scarred, they make a pact that they will never mention it again - not even to each other. But the past doesn't always stay hidden, and a series of accidents and events suggests that someone is out to get them.

Mark Edwards has the knack of taking normal people and putting them into difficult situations to see how they would cope. After Romania, Daniel tries to get on with his life, but Laura struggles to do so, leading to a downward spiral in her physical and mental health. Their relationship breaks apart too - but can they rely on each other when their lives may be in danger?

Follow You Home keeps you guessing right until the end, when you finally discover what Laura and Daniel actually saw that night in Romania. This easy-to-read thriller is creepy and filled with suspense, various dodgy characters and twists and turns. A perfect choice for Mark Edwards fans (or anyone who enjoys creepy thrillers).

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

River of Souls by Kate Rhodes - BLOG TOUR

I am delighted to be today's stop on the BLOG TOUR for Kate Rhodes' River of Souls, which was published on 18 June 2015 by Mulholland Books.


River of Souls
By Kate Rhodes
Published by Mulholland Books (18 June 2015)
ISBN: 978-1444785562





Publisher's description
Jude Shelley, daughter of a prominent cabinet minister, had her whole life ahead of her until she was attacked and left to drown in the Thames. Miraculously, she survived. A year later, her family ask psychologist Alice Quentin to re-examine the case.

But then an elderly priest is attacked in Battersea, his body washed up at Westminster Pier. An ancient glass bead is tied to his wrist.

The river has always demanded sacrifices, and now it seems a killer believes it's calling out for more.

Alice is certain that Jude and her family are hiding something, but unless she can persuade them to share what they know, more victims will drown...

My verdict
Yet again Kate Rhodes has written an excellent atmospheric crime thriller. I loved her last Alice Quentin book - The Winter Foundlings - and couldn't wait to read this one too. Although River of Souls is part of a series, it can easily be read as a standalone, as it includes enough background information about the characters so that you don't get lost but no spoilers about previous books.

River of Souls incorporates a chilling plot filled with suspense, tragedy, grief and family secrets. The crimes are savage ones, involving horrific mutilations, and psychologist Alice Quentin is called in to assist the investigation. I love that this series is set in London, around the Thames in this case, as I could relate to many of the settings and landmarks. The underlying historical theme was fascinating too.

All of the characters are very 'real'. Alice Quentin, in particular, is a brilliant and very likeable protagonist. She's a tough and independent psychologist, but also warm and devoted to helping people as part of her job. Although she has family issues to deal with (her mother's physical health and brother's mental health), she doesn't let these impinge on her working life.

This is a well-researched page-turner, a real 'can't put it down' book - and I suggest you read it to find out how brilliant it is!

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through Bookbridgr in exchange for an honest review.

Follow the Blog Tour:


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

AUTHOR IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Rebecca Pugh - BLOG TOUR

I am delighted that REBECCA PUGH is joining me on my blog today, as part of the Blog Tour for her book - Return to Bluebell Hill - which was published by Carina on 18 June 2015. 




So Rebecca, what inspired you to write a book in the first place?
I don’t think it was anything in particular that sparked the idea. I suppose, in a way, it had always been there, right at the very back of my mind. I’ve always been an avid reader and I’ve always been surrounded by books. I never thought I’d be able to write anything that compared to the books I’d read. I have numerous stories saved on my laptop that I twiddled and tweaked, but never took seriously. Return to Bluebell Hill was the first story I managed to complete. It meant something to me, became extra-special, and I cared about my characters immeasurably. The decision to submit my manuscript to Carina bounced about in my mind for a while, until I finally took that step. Not in a million years did I ever, ever, ever expect anything to come from it. It’s safe to say that my jaw hit the floor when I received ‘the call’…

Where did the idea for Return to Bluebell Hill come from?
Completely from my imagination. I’ve always found bluebells and the myths/stories behind them enchanting, mainly because I have a very whimsical mind that clings to anything slightly romantic and fairy-tale like.  I’m a complete sucker for romance, too, but I’m also a huge family girl. I think I included a smattering of the things that I love in Return to Bluebell Hill. Whether I liked it or not, they would have crept out of me and into the book anyway. It’s just how my mind works.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
A sprinkle of cosiness with a dash of magic!

Do you have any strange writing habits?
I know that I can definitely get carried away with the descriptions of settings when writing, so much so that the whole book could be dedicated to the place where my stories are set! ;) I also find it hard to get started without first having a nice cup of coffee. I’ll sometimes sit with the TV on but switched onto mute, no idea why. And I really can’t cope with interruptions once I’m really in the swing of things!

Did you plot out the whole book before you started or just started writing to see where it would lead you?
I’m not organised in the slightest, meaning when an idea comes to me, I much prefer to tap away rather than make notes etc. I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong, to organise myself and make things easier so that I don’t hit that black hole later on, all because I didn’t make a plan, but it just doesn’t work for me. Once I have an idea, I just have to get it out and get involved in it. I guess every writer is different, and chaotic bursts of inspiration are what work best for me!

What have you found to be the hardest part of your writing?
Ensuring the pace of my story is enough to keep readers turning the pages. If you’ve read any of the book reviews on Becca’s Books, you’ll see that sometimes, I will ramble on and on and on, and I think I can end up doing this when writing, too. As I mentioned above in the question about writing habits, I get seriously carried away when it comes to descriptions… What should probably be a quick mention can easily turn into a three-paragraph long description of some trees. Oops!

Has your life changed since getting your publishing deal? If so, how?
It’s definitely more exciting! That’s not to say I didn’t love my life beforehand. I’m incredibly blessed to have such wonderful and loving people surrounding me. I had and still have everything that I need and I’ve never expected to have more than that, because I know that people have less. Since being offered my publishing deal, I feel like I’ve found my purpose, does that sound ridiculous? All of a sudden, things that I never dreamt of happening, even having this chat with you, are happening, and it’s completely surreal. I’d also like to say that being offered my publishing deal has reinforced the fact that dreams do come true. I couldn’t wait to tell my younger brothers and sisters about it because I wanted them to know that you can achieve your dreams in life. I hope that’s what they think, that their big sister wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted, so they won’t be afraid either. Finally, my publishing deal has made me realise that maybe, my writing isn’t so bad after all… It’s upped my confidence and I feel brave and capable. I going at my writing harder than ever and I absolutely LOVE IT!

You regularly review books on your own blog. Do you think your love of reading and reviewing has helped with your writing?
Yes, definitely! I 100% believe that my love of reading has built the foundations for what I hope will become a writing ‘career’. I’ve read so many books, seen the way other authors write and create their stories, and it’s solidified it in my head. I think the books that I’ve read have paved the way to becoming an author myself.

Who are your favourite authors?
Oh, wow. How long have you got? I have nearly all of Jill Mansell’s books because I adore her style so much. I love Miranda Dickinson, Sophie Kinsella, Holly Martin, Rebecca Raisin, Rosanna Ley is another firm favourite. But then, I also love Stephen King for his incredible imagination. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, too. Honestly, this list doesn’t even touch the surface.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
This is a fabulous question! I think I’d call it, ‘The Girl Who Did,’ and it would be about having the courage to go after what you want, no matter how unachievable you may think it is at the time.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Same as above, I reckon! I cannot even begin to tell you how important I think it is to just try. No matter who you are, where you’re from, what you do for a living, whether you drink coffee or tea, have a dog or a cat, are ambitious or not, do it. Just bloody DO IT! I saw a quote once, and I can’t for the life of me think who said it now, but it went something along the lines of this, ‘It’s not fear of failure that holds us back. It’s fear of how big our success might turn out to be.’ I love it, because it’s true, for me anyway. The fear of actually having to step out and bring some attention to myself scared me much more than the idea of failing. That’s not to say that I didn’t think I would fail, because I most definitely did. But if I failed, life would go on as normal and at least I could say that I’d tried. If I succeeded, it wouldn’t.

And lastly, why should people read your book?
I guess my debut Return to Bluebell Hill will make or break me. It will either be the beginning of a much dreamt-about career in writing, or the end of a very quick burst of excitement! ;) I sincerely hope that it’s the former. Return to Bluebell Hill is the only story out of about 578529583 that made it to the finish line. To see it make it past that line? Well… *exhales shakily* It’ll be a little bit crazy. Okay, A LOT crazy.

About Rebecca Pugh
Rebecca Pugh grew up in the green county of Shropshire, with a mind full of fairy-tales and happy endings. Enchanted by true love and Disney Princesses, she decided that no matter what life threw her way, she'd continue to see the world through a child's eyes. Through the pages of countless books, her adoration of reading blossomed, and it didn't take long for her to fall under the spell of hundreds of authors' words. 
Now, Rebecca's own story has taken a fairy-tale like turn, and at 22, her dream has come true. With her faithful companions: Bonnie the dog, her partner, and her gigantic family by her side, Rebecca is ready to share her stories with readers who enjoy falling in love and losing themselves within beautiful, fictional worlds.
Rebecca Pugh is the author of women's fiction and romance, her all-time favourite genres. After all, who doesn't enjoy a good swoon?

Find Rebecca Pugh's book reviews blog here and follow Rebecca on Twitter - @BeccasBoooks.


Return to Bluebell Hill
Published by Carina UK (18 June 2015)



Synopsis: 
Home is where the heart is…
Jessica McAdams has never belonged anywhere; never truly felt at home. Of course, what did she expect from parents who never made her feel welcome in her own home? Leaving her life in London to return home to the charming country village of Bluebell Hill is harder than she thought. Especially as she never considered she'd be returning under such heart-wrenching circumstances.

Clearing out the stunning and imposing Bluebell House after her parents' death is difficult for Jessica - they never had the best relationship and now it's too late. Yet spending time in the house that was never a home, having afternoon tea with dear old friend Esme - and sharing hot, sizzling kisses with delectable gardener Reuben - opens Jessica's eyes to the potential of Bluebell House.

Could this big, old, beautiful manor really be her forever home? Is Bluebell Hill where her heart is, has always been?

Jessica soon dares to dream of her very own home with delicious Reuben by her side. But when a deep, dark secret of Bluebell House is unearthed, Jessica's world is turned upside down…

Will Jessica ever find where her heart truly lies?

Read my review here

Follow the Blog Tour:



Return to Bluebell Hill by Rebecca Pugh

Return to Bluebell Hill
By Rebecca Pugh
Published by Carina UK (18 June 2015)



Publisher's description
Home is where the heart is…
Jessica McAdams has never belonged anywhere; never truly felt at home. Of course, what did she expect from parents who never made her feel welcome in her own home? Leaving her life in London to return home to the charming country village of Bluebell Hill is harder than she thought. Especially as she never considered she'd be returning under such heart-wrenching circumstances.

Clearing out the stunning and imposing Bluebell House after her parents' death is difficult for Jessica - they never had the best relationship and now it's too late. Yet spending time in the house that was never a home, having afternoon tea with dear old friend Esme - and sharing hot, sizzling kisses with delectable gardener Reuben - opens Jessica's eyes to the potential of Bluebell House.

Could this big, old, beautiful manor really be her forever home? Is Bluebell Hill where her heart is, has always been?

Jessica soon dares to dream of her very own home with delicious Reuben by her side. But when a deep, dark secret of Bluebell House is unearthed, Jessica's world is turned upside down…

Will Jessica ever find where her heart truly lies?

My verdict
Return to Bluebell Hill is a 'feel good' holiday read and a sweet treat for chick lit fans. It's the perfect book to escape into while soaking up the summer sun, whether here in the UK or abroad.

After the sudden deaths of both of her parents, Jessica is forced to journey home from London to Bluebell Hill, having escaped from there so many years ago. She returns to Bluebell House, her childhood home, with her old nanny Esme providing the support she needs as she packs up her parents' possessions.

Jessica has to make a decision about whether she should now cut ties with her roots completely or forgive and forget past mistakes. Meeting Reuben, the handsome, sexy gardener at Bluebell House, makes the decision to leave even harder, even though she wonders whether returning to her life in London may be just what she needs.

Return to Bluebell Hill is a really easy read. I loved the descriptions of Bluebell House and the country village setting, and I could picture the scenery in my mind. Jessica, Reuben and Esme felt very 'real' and really brought the book to life. Jessica is a sweet character filled with emotions, unsure about where her future lies. This isn't just a book of romance, as it also contains suspense and intrigue as Jessica gradually uncovers the secrets of Bluebell Hill and her family's past.

This is a great debut, an amazing achievement for Rebecca Pugh, who is just 22. I would have liked to know a bit more about how Jessica's parents died, as the book concentrated more on Jessica's relationship with her family and Bluebell House. Maybe there's an opportunity for a follow up book one day!

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

AUTHOR IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Mel Sherratt

I am delighted that MEL SHERRATT is joining me on my blog today. Mel's latest book - Only the Brave - was published by Thomas & Mercer on 26 May 2015. 



So Mel, what inspired you to write crime fiction in the first place?
I like writing about underdogs, often showing their good sides as well as their mean streaks – plus writing about situations that escalate out of control. I also like a sense of justice, the knowledge that either someone is caught for committing a crime or someone is getting help to move on and improve his or her life.

Where do your ideas come from?
Everywhere - a song title or lyric, a newspaper report, a TV program or a news bulletin.  A comment on social media. If I’m ever stuck for ideas for The Estate Series, for example, I can pick up a women’s magazine and find plot lines galore.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing? And if so, how?
I think every writer’s personal experience influences their writing. One of the main themes in a lot of my books comes from the sense of feeling abandoned. My parents divorced when I was a child and I think this stems from memories of my childhood. Also working as a housing officer for the local authority for eight years meant that I saw some terrible situations, some you would think would be fiction rather than fact. This background knowledge was a great starting point for ideas to ferment.  A writer mostly twists reality with the words ‘what if.’

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
Gritty, raw, emotional and passionate. And lots of short sentences.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
Erm – none that I know of.

Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
I plot a lot of it, having a vague beginning, middle and end. I create the characters and then I start writing, letting the main ones dictate to a certain extent. If I go off the original plan, I always tend to come back to the same ending.

Your books obviously involve in-depth research. What's the most interesting place you have visited for one of your books? And what's the strangest? Have you visited anywhere particularly frightening?
I don’t actually do a lot of research, except around any social issues that I might touch on, and for that, I research on the Internet or read a book on a particular subject, or a case study. I haven’t been to any strange places, as my books are either set in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent or in a fictional town (The Estate Series).  The weirdest one was visiting the police station where my detective sergeant, Allie Shenton, is based. I could have sworn I saw her walking down the corridor towards her desk.

What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Switching off. It’s such a fascinating job - there is always something to learn, to read, to research.

Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
I like crime fiction, psychological thrillers and women’s fiction (although I don’t particularly like that phrase – there’s no such thing as men’s fiction.) I have a few favourite authors whose books I read as soon as they come out, such as C L Taylor, Elizabeth Haynes, Martina Cole and Kimberley Chambers.  For women’s fiction, it’s Rowan Coleman, Lisa Jewell and Lucy Diamond. I read a lot of books to provide quotes for too. There is a mass of talent out there.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
My editor calls me Ms Brit Grit-Lit so it would have to be something along those lines. Something like 'Everyone likes an Underdog'. Now, I’m sniggering.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Advice I give to any aspiring writer is to find what is best for them. We all go on different journeys to achieve our goals – and all our goals are different. Self-publishing gave me some massive opportunities but I was hard at it for years before that. What works for one might not necessarily work for you, but keep at it. Experiment, have fun, and it will show in your work.

And lastly, why should people read your latest book?
Because Only the Brave would dare miss out…

About Mel Sherratt
Met Sherratt writes police procedurals, psychological suspense and fiction with a punch - or grit-lit, as she calls it. She has related three psychological thrillers in a series, The Estate, and Watching Over You, a dark, erotic thriller. More recently, she has made her first novel, Taunting the Dead, into the first of a series, with Follow the Leader and Only the Brave, books 2 and 3 respectively, both published this year.

Find Mel Sherratt on her official Facebook page and follow Mel on Twitter - @writermels

Only the Brave
Published by Thomas & Mercer (26 May 2015)




Synopsis: 
When one of the notorious Johnson brothers is murdered and a bag of money goes missing, a deadly game of cat and mouse is set in motion.

DS Allie Shenton and her team are called in to catch the killer, but the suspects are double-crossing each other and Allie has little time to untangle the web of lies.

As she delves deeper into the case, things take a personal turn when Allie realises she is being stalked b the very same person who attacked her sister seventeen years ago and left her for dead.

Read my review here


Only the Brave by Mel Sherratt

Only the Brave
By Mel Sherratt
Published by Thomas & Mercer (26 May 2015)
ISBN: 978-1477830628



Publisher's description
When one of the notorious Johnson brothers is murdered and a bag of money goes missing, a deadly game of cat and mouse is set in motion.

DS Allie Shenton and her team are called in to catch the killer, but the suspects are double-crossing each other and Allie has little time to untangle the web of lies.

As she delves deeper into the case, things take a personal turn when Allie realises she is being stalked by the very same person who attacked her sister 17 years ago and left her for dead.

My verdict
Only the Brave is Mel Sherratt's third DS Allie Shenton book. Although this book could be read as a standalone, I suggest reading this series in order. In Only the Brave, characters return from the previous books and the background story about Allie's past continues.

This book is about crime, dodgy dealings, deception and, ultimately, money. When a man is stabbed to death, the police begin their search for the murderer, but none of the people involved are forthcoming with their information. Meanwhile, money that the dead man was carrying has gone missing, and the rightful owner is determined to find it.

Allie Shenton is a tough cookie and always gets the results, but in Only The Brave you get to see her more vulnerable side (a nice contrast against the hard characters of the crime world). Behind the scenes, her life is in turmoil. Her sister Karen, who was left for dead in an attack 17 years earlier, is now seriously ill and Allie has a difficult decision looming. She is also receiving threats from her sister's attacker, who has suddenly appeared on the scene.

Only the Brave moves at a steady pace, with the whole story taking place over just 48 hours. I found it to be a little rushed at the very end, but comes to a satisfying conclusion. I am intrigued to see what happens to Allie next.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson

The Day We Disappeared
By Lucy Robinson
Published by Michael Joseph (9 April 2015)
ISBN: 978-1405911603



Publisher's description
It's springtime in London and everything is about to change for Annie Mulholland. From the moment she meets Stephen Flint, things seem too good to be true as Annie abandons her customary cautiousness for a wild love affair.

In Somerset, Kate Brady is starting a new job. Fresh air, new faces and good old-fashioned hard work is just what she needs to put everything that happened in Dublin behind her.

But what are these two old friends hiding, and how how long can they run from the secrets of their past before they come crashing into their futures?

My verdict
The Day We Disappeared is sad, funny and keeps you guessing. It's a brilliantly written book with a clever plot, fast pace and intrigue. It's a combination of love story and psychological thriller.

There are two parallel stories - Annie in London and Kate in Somerset. The chapters alternate between the two women, each one falling for her handsome boss. Kate is clearly running away or hiding from something, but is gradually making friends and building a new life for herself. Annie has a tragic past, which is clear from the outset, but has a great network of friends to rely on and keep her focused.

It took me a couple of chapters to get into the book. It reads like chick lit, which is no bad thing, but chick lit has to be very well written to keep me reading all the way through. In this case, I was sucked into the story soon enough, with its humour, romance and suspense. Then there's the sudden twist (which I have to admit, I had already suspected but not completely sussed out).

The Day We Disappeared is an excellent choice for fans of I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. It's very easy to get so engrossed in the story that you forget the time - and then to shout OMG when the twist arrives.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 19 June 2015

AUTHOR IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Erica James

I am delighted that ERICA JAMES is joining me on my blog today. Erica's latest book - The Dandelion Years - was published in paperback by Orion on 18 June 2015.




So Erica, what inspired you to write a book in the first place?
It was a love of reading that triggered the thought that maybe it might be rather fun to tell a story of my own. I was proved right!

Where do your ideas come from?
As with most authors, ideas come from all sorts of places and often in the most unlikely. Occasionally an idea will come to me following a conversation with somebody, it could even be something as simple as a particular word used that could set off a thought process. With The Dandelion Years, it was reading something about Bletchley Park that set me off.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing? And if so, how?
I think I can only really write about something that has an emotional resonance for me, I need to be able to 'feel' the situation I'm going to write about, it's about empathy. Many times in my novels I've dug down deep to explore and use my own emotions; it's frequently been a very cathartic experience.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
I'm a storyteller.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
Oh, where to start! My first novel was published in 1996 and ever since I've written in the same way, printing chapters off as I go along and putting them into a red file - no other colour would do. I have my 'magic' pens and pencils that nobody else is allowed to touch, I drink from 'magic' bone china mugs (again nobody else is allowed to use them) and I have everything set out on my desk in the same way for each book. Basically nothing must change or the magic will leave me. 

Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
I've never plotted a book before, I just go where the characters take me. When I started work on The Dandelion Years I had no idea I was going to write Jacob's character in the first person, but suddenly that was how he wanted his story to be told. Who was I to disagree?

What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Holding my nerve when the doubts kick in, as they always do. I've never written a book that hasn't given me cause to doubt that I'm writing a story people will want to read. I call it the Wobble Factor and there's nothing else for it but to keep going in the hope it will pass.

Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
My reading taste has changed quite a bit over the years and I find that I'm reading more and more books written by men. Daniel Silva is a thriller writer I've recently discovered, but my favourite book of the year so far, and a book I'd been meaning to read for a very long time, is E.F. Benson's Mapp & Lucia. The wait was worth it; it's a gloriously funny novel.

Your latest book The Dandelion Years prompted me to visit Bletchley Park (the day after I finished your book, in fact). What's the most interesting place that you have visited for your books? And what's the strangest?
I suppose Venice and Lake Como are at the top end of the spectrum when it comes to the most interesting places to visit for my novels, but strangest… well, I can't think of anything that fits that particular bill.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
'She Could Have Done Better'

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Never ever rubbish a book you've just read and claim you can do better. Nothing annoys me more than hearing the kind of arrogance from aspiring authors.

And lastly, why should people read The Dandelion Years?
Oh lawks, I'm a hopeless self-promoter, so practically the latest person to urge anyone to read anything I've written. But if you had a gun to my head, I'd say The Dandelion Years is a bargain with two stories for the price of one - Saskia's story as a book restorer in contemporary Suffolk, and Jacob's story set during WWII at Bletchley Park. How does that sound?

About Erica James
With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion. The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her recent Sunday Times top ten bestsellers, Summer at the Lake and the The Dandelion Years, Erica now divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.

Find Erica James on her website and follow Erica on Twitter - @TheEricaJames


The Dandelion Years
Published in paperback by Orion (18 June 2015)



Synopsis: 
Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had every seen as a little girl. A rambling pink cottage on the edge of the Suffolk village of Melbury Green, its enchanting garden provided a fairy-tale playground of seclusion, a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.

Now as an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to the broken, battered books that find their way to her, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a notebook carefully concealed in an old Bible - and realising someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own - Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love...


The Dandelion Years is one of my favourite books of 2015 so far. Click here to read my review.

The Edge of Dark by Pamela Hartshorne

The Edge of Dark
By Pamela Hartshorne
Published by Pan Macmillan (Paperback - 12 March 2015)
ISBN: 978-1447249559





Publisher's description
Be careful what you wish for. 
Jane believes in keeping her promises, but a deathbed vow sets her on a twisting path of deceit and joy that takes her from the dark secrets of Holmwood House in York to the sign of the golden lily in London's Mincing Lane. Getting what you want, Jane discovers, comes at a price. For the child that she longed for, the child she promised to love and to keep safe, turns out to be a darker spirit than she could ever have imagined.

Over four centuries later, Roz Acclam remembers nothing of the fire that killed her family - or of the brother who set it. Trying on a beautiful Elizabethan necklace found in the newly restored Holmwood House triggers disturbing memories of the past at last - but the past Roz remembers is not her own...

My verdict
Wow, The Edge of Dark is a brilliant supernatural novel that left me all 'tingly'.

This is the story of two women: Roz in the present day and Jane in the 16th century. Roz's family died tragically in a fire in York when she was just five years old. She went to live with her aunt and, not remembering anything about the tragedy, was told that all of her family had died in a car accident.

When Roz starts working at Holmwood House in York, she hopes that some of her memories will return. But the flashbacks she experiences are not her own - she appears to be living another woman's life during these visions. Roz doesn't know whether she's being haunted by Jane or just losing her mind.

I loved the time-slip aspect of this novel. Pamela Hartshorne very cleverly switches between the two time periods, seamlessly weaving them together. The two women's stories run parallel to one another and, although they are born over 400 years apart, there are several similarities between them. I also found the historical background fascinating, reading about women's lives in Tudor times.

The Edge of Dark had been sitting in my 'To Be Read' pile for a while, and I now wish that I had picked it up earlier. It was very difficult to put down and I raced through the last few chapters to find out what happened at the end. I recommend this book to anyone who loves novels set in the Tudor period or historical fiction with a supernatural twist.

I read the hardback version, but both the hardback and paperback books have beautiful covers (which is why I have included both of them with my review).

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



Thursday, 18 June 2015

You, Me & People by Fionnuala Kearney

You, Me & Other People
By Fionnuala Kearney
Published by Harper Collins UK (18 June 2015)
ISBN: 978-0007593989



Publisher's description
They say every family has skeletons in their closet…

But what happens when you open the door and they won't stop tumbling out?

For Adam and Beth, the first secret wasn't the last, it was just the beginning.

You think you can imagine the worst thing that could happen to your family, but there are some secrets that change everything.

And then the question is, how can you piece together a future when your past is being rewritten?

My verdict
I loved this book from start to finish and couldn't put it down. You, Me & Other People is a thought-provoking look at the breakdown of a marriage and the costs of infidelity.  The story is filled with gentle humour as well as sadness as the story unfolds.

Fionnuala Kearney is not just a gifted storyteller but fleshes out her characters so well that they come to life. The chapters alternate between the viewpoints of Beth and Adam, which means you get to hear both sides of the story. I felt like I knew these two people personally by the end of the book. It's the little details that make them so realistic and believable - their likes and dislikes, their mannerisms etc.

At the beginning of the story, Beth finds out that her husband Adam has cheated on her for the second time. But this is only the top layer of his deception. As the story progresses, Beth's character grows and strengthens, dealing with whatever secrets are thrown her way.  Little snippets of information tease the reader and keep the story flowing. The secrets keep on coming, with layer after layer peeled away until the final reveal of all.

This is an amazing debut, and I couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

AUTHOR IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Fredrik Backman

I am delighted that FREDRIK BACKMAN is joining me on my blog today. Fredrik's latest book - My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises - was published by Sceptre Books on 4 June 2015. 




So Fredrik, what inspired you to write a book in the first place?
I'm not really a person who gets ‘inspired’, I'm more of a person who ‘steals stuff’. A man called Ove literally started out with me standing in line at an Apple Store, behind a man in his prime years, who held an iPad in his hands and demanded to be told if this was a computer or not. The clerk, who as they always tend to be at Apple Stores was about 12 years old, couldn't quite hide his frustration. As the argument got out of hand, I stood there thinking ‘this would be a great first chapter of a novel’. So somewhere in Stockholm there is probably still a very angry man with an iPad, roaming the streets looking to hunt me down for royalties.

Where do your ideas come from?
I would say a combination of having a lot of free time and not having many friends as a child. My mother also claims it could have something to do with me eating candles when I was about four. Apparently it's bad for your brain or whatever. But I don't know where do any ideas come from? I think a lot, and I'm pretty bad at talking to people. This is my way of communicating.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing and characters? And if so, how?
I think only a very select few writers, who are the geniuses of each generation, can write fiction that is totally separate from themselves. Most of us are, of course, not geniuses. Most of us, and me in particular, will never even come close, so we have to tell stories that are close to ourselves. We have to pour all our own trials and tribulations into each of our characters and feel everything that they felt and just do our very best to make them as real as possible. So to the question ‘if so, how?’, I answer ‘in every possible way’. Most stories are the sum of the experiences of the person trying to tell them. I can tell you a joke right now about two drunks in a boat, and tell you the same joke in 25 years. It might be a lot funnier then just because I will tell it differently when I'm 59 than when I'm 34. And you might hear it differently. Experience changes everything we do. Especially, I think, the way we tell stories.

Both of your books are funny, moving and heart-warming. What makes you laugh and what makes you cry?
Fun things and sad things. I have learned not to try to be intellectual about comedy and grief. When you laugh you laugh, when you cry you cry, I have no idea how that works but I'm pretty sure that if I don't do it when I write no one who reads it ever will either. Sometimes people ask me questions with the belief that I somehow know how to write something ‘commercially’ just because I sold a couple of books, but I really have no clue. It just so happens that a lot of the things I like are things that a couple of other people like as well. That's not really answering your question, is it? Sorry.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
A writer who never uses 10 words if he can use 12.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
Before I can sit down and write each morning, I have to throw a guitar, a can of conserved pineapples and three monkeys (any sort of monkey, I'm not picky) into a volcano. It's just a thing. But other than that: Nothing at all. 

Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
Both. To ‘plot out’ is what I would call ‘thinking’. And a book is thoughts and words. I don't know how to do anything at all with just one of them. But I guess this falls in line with me not being a great writer, technically. I think there are a lot of astounding writers who possess a great language and can just sit down and jam with their sentences like a musician, but I'm not nearly as good as that. So I think a lot before I start writing. But then of course a novel takes several months or even years to finish, and if you don't have a single NEW idea during all that time you are in desperate need of a holiday. So my answer is: Both. Always both. Like a good drink it is all in the mix. And the ice. And the company.

What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Answering questions about writing. Other than that, it's the constant struggle with self-confidence. But everyone who tries to be creative of course deals with that. I don't think anyone who is altogether sure of themselves has ever produced anything really good at all. If you're totally sure of yourself, you have nothing left to prove. Doubting is almost always the first step.

Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
I do, quite a bit. I think one has to, to become better at writing. Musicians have to listen to music, artists have to watch other artists’ art… It's just the way you learn. My favourite author would be Astrid Lindgren. During my childhood, her books were like puddles of mud that I could jump around in without shoes and socks on. I wouldn't be writing at all if it wasn't for her.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
'This is gonna take a while'

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write. Then you're not ‘aspiring’ anymore and that's a really good first step. Other than that I don't think anyone should take my advice because I honestly don't really know what I'm doing.

And lastly, why should people read My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises?
They shouldn't. It's not very good.

About Fredrik Backman
Fredrik Backman is a Swedish blogger, columnist and author. His debut novel A Man Called Ove has been a number one bestseller across Scandinavia. It has now sold over one million copies. Fredrik's second novel, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises, also went straight to number one in Sweden on publication in 2014.

Follow Fredrik Backman on Twitter - @Backmanland


My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises
Published by Sceptre Books (4 June 2015)




Synopsis: 
Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy. Standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa runs to her grandmother's stories, to the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. There. everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

So when Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologising to people she has hurt, it marks the beginning of Elsa's greatest adventure. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attach dogs, and totally ordinary old crones - but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

Click here to read my review.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Cold Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

Cold Moon
By Alexandra Sokoloff
Published by Thomas & Mercer (5 May 2015)
ISBN: 978-1477821626





Publisher's description
The hunt for mass murderer Cara Lindstrom is over. FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke has been working for this moment: the capture of a killer who savagely hunts the worst of humanity. But Roarke remains traumatized by his own near-death at the hands of the serial killer who slaughtered Cara’s family…and haunted by the enigmatic woman who saved his life.
Then the sixteen-year-old prostitute who witnessed Cara’s most recent murder goes missing, and suddenly pimps are turning up dead on the streets of San Francisco, killed with an MO eerily similar to Cara’s handiwork.
Is a new killer on the loose with a mission even more deadly than hers? In the pulse-pounding third Huntress/FBI Thrillers book, Roarke will have to go on the hunt…and every woman he meets, even those closest to him, may prove deadly.

My verdict
Cold Moon is the third Alexandra Sokoloff book that I have read. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. I love the plot and the characters and look forward to reading book four (no pressure Alexandra Sokoloff, none at all...).

In Cold Moon, Special Agent Matthew Roarke wants to help female serial killer Cara, who is now awaiting trial. But he knows that this would be against everything he believes in as an FBI agent. The book focuses on the characters' emotions: Cara's need to fight evil and Roarke's struggle with his own feelings. You can almost see the sexual tension sizzling between them. Then there's also the problem of copycat murders - since Cara is locked up, she definitely can't be the culprit, so who else is to blame?

Cold Moon is a great crime thriller, with a fascinating story, snappy dialogue and writing that moves at a cracking pace. The book is highly descriptive and filled with suspense and intrigue. I love the cat and mouse 'game' between Roarke and Cara. Plus there are some other great female characters in this book, especially Jade and Rachel.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Click below to read my reviews of the first two books:
Huntress Moon
Blood Moon