Friday, 21 December 2018

#BookLove2018 on Off-the-Shelf Books, Part 2!

Many people have seen my #BookLove2018 banners on Twitter and Instagram. Huge thanks to everyone who has shared them!

Here are the second batch of banners
(in no particular order) 
To see Part 1, click here.

In 2019, I'm looking forward to reading some more fantastic books and catching up on some of the books I didn't manage to get to this year. I've also made it my mission to read more Jewish books, as I'm writing Jewish-themed crime fiction and I'm now a book blog partner of Jewish Book Week 2019, so look out for those.

Have a great Christmas and New Year!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Snap by Belinda Bauer

By Belinda Bauer
Published by Transworld (23 August 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher via NetGalley

Publisher's description
On a stifling summer's day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack's in charge, she'd said. I won't be long.
But she doesn't come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.
Three years later, Jack is still in charge - of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they're alone in the house, and - quite suddenly - of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother. . .

My verdict
Yet again, Belinda Bauer has written an original, highly unsettling read about love and loss.

Snap is more than just a police procedural/psychological thriller combination. While there's plenty of investigating going on, Snap is about the emotional impact of tragedy, with three abandoned children taking centre stage. Jack, the eldest, is trying to maintain some sense of normality, even though their world has fallen apart.

The book is well written. It's a slow burner at first, to set the scene and introduce the characters, but eventually moves along at a cracking place. I love the mixture of darkness and humour - sad, tragic and funny at the same time. The multi-layered plot is a little far fetched, with plenty of police incompetence and coincidences, but it's also compelling, highly entertaining and very twisty.

The children are portrayed realistically and their plight certainly pulled at the heartstrings - with Jack's alternative' parenting style and sense of duty towards his younger sisters creating some very funny moments. The police came across as caricatures, but I thought this fit in well with the nature of the book.

Snap is a fun highly memorable crime novel - not to be taken completely seriously!

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

#BookLove2018 on Off-the-Shelf Books, Part 1!

Many people have seen my #BookLove2018 banners on Twitter and Instagram. Huge thanks to everyone who has shared them!

Here are the banners I've included so far
(in no particular order) 

This is a very varied list, featuring books in different genres, and I've enjoyed them all. More #BookLove2018 to come over the next week on Twitter & Instagram!

In 2019, I'm looking forward to reading some more fantastic books and catching up on some of the books I didn't manage to get to this year. 

I've also made it my mission to read more Jewish books, as I'm writing Jewish-themed crime fiction and I'm now a book blog partner of Jewish Book Week 2019, so look out for those.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Presumed Guilty by Jane Isaac

I am delighted to be today's stop on the blog tour for Presumed Guilty by Jane Isaac. Read on for my review.

Presumed Guilty
By Jane Isaac
Published in ebook on 10th December 2018

Publisher's' description
Accident or murder? 
The first victim – a prominent local councillor, killed in a hit and run ‒ could be either, but the next bodies leave no doubt. A twisted killer is at large. And he’s not finished yet. 
DC Beth Chamberlain, Family Liaison Officer, has to support the victims’ families, but before she can solve the crimes in the present, Beth needs to uncover the secrets of the past. 
Meanwhile, the killer has her in his sights... 

My verdict
Presumed Guilty is another fabulous book from Jane Isaac, the second in her DC Beth Chamberlain series.

A chilling prologue, followed by a hit and run, leads into a murder investigation. The plot moves at a cracking pace as the body count rises, with plenty of twisty trails for Beth to investigate. Jane Isaac is a great writer and certainly kept me on my toes. I love her evocative descriptions, which set the scenes and bring people and places to life without halting the pace of the action.

Presumed Guilty is a police procedural, but there's so much more involved, including a family torn apart. With a Family Liaison Officer as the protagonist, it's not surprising that this is an emotional read. Beth gets right into the heart of the families involved, making the case feel very personal - to her and to me. Yet this character-led book also manages to be gritty and dark, with a serial killer on the loose.

You could probably read Presumed Guilty as a standalone, but I would suggest reading After He's Gone first, to get to know Beth and understand her background.

I can't wait for the next book in this series.

Follow the Blog Tour

Friday, 14 December 2018

Storm Rising by Sara Driscoll

Storm Rising
by Sara Driscoll
Published by Kensington Books (27 November 2018)

Publisher's description
In the wake of a devastating hurricane, Special Agent Meg Jennings and her Labrador, Hawk—invaluable members of the FBI’s Human Scent Evidence Team—have been deployed to Virginia Beach. They have their work cut out for them. Amid graveyards of debris, and the buried cries for help, the search and rescue operation begins. The most alarming discovery is yet to come—a teenage girl hiding in the Great Dismal Swamp. Shaken by the storm, she has reason to be scared. But this young survivor is terrified of so much more.
Her name is Emma—a disheveled runaway lost to the sordid underbelly of a Virginia sex-trafficking ring. Its leader has disappeared in the chaos—along with other victims. With so much evidence, and so many witnesses, seemingly washed away, Meg joins forces with Special Agent Walter Van Cleave to ensure no further harm comes to their vulnerable charge. They soon discover that this is no small-time localized syndicate. Its branches are rooted in some of the most influential powers in Virginia. Now as Meg’s investigation digs deeper, she’s making some very dangerous enemies. And one by one, they’re coming out of the storm to stop her.

My verdict
I loved this book! Those four words sum up my entire review - so I don't really need to write anything else! But I will.

Storm Rising focuses on the devastating impact of floods following a hurricane and the discovery of a sex-trafficking ring involving young teenage girls. It's well researched (as always), with plenty of background into the K-9 search-and-rescue team and also disaster management and crime investigations. The book includes some interesting facts at the start of each chapter. This is great for me, as I love to learn something new when I read.

Storm Rising is well written and well plotted - I whizzed through it fairly quickly - with an amazing sense of place, thanks to the vivid descriptions of the floods. It kept me interested and entertained all the way through. The topic is very timely, with US floods (and also fires) in the media spotlight. The book highlights the impact of natural disasters on everyone involved, from those who lose their homes to those responding in an emergency.

Meg is a brilliant main character - although I think Hawk the dog is really the one in the limelight in this series. You could easily read this book as a standalone, but I would suggest you read the previous two books as well, to build up the characters and the dynamics between them.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl - a cover reveal update!

In September 2018, I revealed the cover for The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl, which is being published by Orenda Books in March 2019. Well, I'm delighted to reveal that the cover has been updated and you can see it below!!! 

If you missed the blurb the first time, here's a reminder!

*drum roll*

The Courier: Read the blurb

In 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In a great haste, she escapes to Sweden, saving herself. Her family in Oslo, however, is deported to Auschwitz.
In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, who helped Ester get to Sweden. Their burgeoning relationship ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.
And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…
Written with Dahl's trademark characterization and elegant plotting, The Courier sees the godfather of Nordic Noir at his best, as he takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in an exceptional, shocking thriller.

I am so excited to read this book! I'm currently on the search for more 'Jewish books' to read, as I'm a book blog partner of Jewish Book Week in March 2019. So the timing is perfect!

AND NOW.... *drum roll*

The Courier: View the NEW cover

I love this! If you're familiar with Orenda Books, you'll know how brilliantly each jacket cover ties in with the story inside! 

The Courier: Read about author Kjell Ola Dahl

One of the godfathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries and sold over two million copies. He lives in Oslo. 

Find Kjell Ola Dahl on Twitter - @ko_dahl

For ALL of your Orenda news, visit the Orenda website and follow @OrendaBooks on Twitter.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Jewish Book Week 2019

Next year, Jewish Book Week takes place from 2nd to 10th March 2019. I'm now a official blog partner, so expect lots of 'Jewish book-related tweets' from me over the coming months, with some posts on Off-the-Shelf Books too.

As many of you will know, I'm writing Jewish-themed crime fiction. So when Jewish Book Week contacted me (following my recent post on Chanukah - click here), I was very excited to get involved.

Be an early bird!
To celebrate Chanukah, Jewish Book Week has put 12 very special events from the 2019 programme at Kings Place, London, on sale A MONTH EARLY, including Elif Safak, Michael Rosen, Francesca Simon, Tracy Chevalier and many more. You can book your tickets here!!!

What makes a novel 'Jewish'?
Jewish non-fiction is easier to define, but what about novels? This is a question I've been asking myself over the last couple of days. What defines a novel as a 'Jewish book'? Is it ...
  • A Jewish author?
  • Jewish characters?
  • Jewish setting?
  • Holocaust theme?
Or, for you, maybe it's something else? Jewish Book Week would love to hear your thoughts.

Follow the #greatjewishbooks hashtag!
The Jewish Book Week twitter account is on the search for great Jewish books - creating the ultimate Jewish reading list! From now until Jewish Book Week 2019 (#JBW19), Jewish Book Week wants to know your recommendations - fiction and non-fiction. Share your thoughts and a photo with the  #greatjewishbooks hashtag and the Jewish Book Week twitter account (@JewishBookWeek) will RT for you!

My own search
I'm now on the search for more 'Jewish' novels to read over the coming months (time permitting). Most genres welcome. Since I tweeted yesterday, I've had an amazing response, with lots of recommendations - I already have 17 books on my list! I can't guarantee I will read everything in time for Jewish Book Week in March (as I still have other books to read, work to do and a novel to finish!). But I will certainly read as many as I can and continue reading them during 2019!

If you're a publisher or publicist, please do get in touch if you published any relevant books in 2018 or have something coming up in 2019. I'm not looking for 'free books'(!) - very happy to buy a book if I feel it's right for me.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Rebecca Griffiths

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


to share her BEST OF CRIME ...

This is a difficult one ...  John Fowles, Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, Roald Dahl, Ruth Rendell, John Harvey to name but a few ...  but if really pushed, I’d have to say, Friedrich Durrenmatt. His book The Pledge is one I return to time and again. For its atmospheric settings and scenes that play like a musical accompaniment to the dramatic storytelling that leads the reader to the shocker of an ending. It is a study of obsession and the precarious balance which exists between good and evil - in a nutshell, I admire Durrenmatt as a writer because he creates excitement and tension by quiet and simple means.    

Another difficult one! There are so many, and my favourite genre in film has to be a great court room drama like: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Accused, Reversal of Fortune. But, if pushed, the absolute standout film in the crime/thriller genre for me has to be, Gorky Park (written by Dennis Potter, from a Martin Cruz Smith novel, and directed by Michael Apted). 
I first saw this film in my late teens, and have watched it many times since. The most striking thing for me, is that it hasn’t dated, and is as absorbing, chilling and fresh today as it was 35 years ago.  From the gruesome opening scene, when three murder victims are found in Moscow’s Gorky Park without their faces or fingertips, it creates an immediate intensity that’s sustained throughout by a cast of characters you care about who unearth a network of deceit and intrigue. In essence, this is a taut and clever psychological plot entwined in a tender love story. Haunting and bleak and moody, it is strangely riveting without need for endless shootouts, car chases or elaborate special effects.  

The Strike Series (from the books by Robert Galbraith). Private Detective Cormorant Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, are so terrifically drawn and believable, it’s difficult to pull your eyes away from the screen. Fundamentally, what makes them interesting to me, is they are, both of them, wounded; either physically or psychologically, or both, and I find I don’t really care about the crime they are solving (although the crimes are thrilling) - what I love, is the absorbing and touching way these two interact with one another. They truly are a fabulous duo, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Lethal White (published September 2018) to be televised.

Jack Vance (created by Val McDermid). A TV celebrity with a secret lust for torture, murder and underage girls.  Wire in the Blood was published in 1997, but what echoes it has with what went on to be revealed about Jimmy Saville after his death in 2011. Chilling, doesn’t come near it. ‘Who knew?’ - it’s a question I’m waiting to ask Val McDermid. 

Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick (created by John Harvey). A sensitive, intelligent and three-dimensional character, that Harvey goes on to develop throughout the series of books. Resnick has become so real in my head, I can go to town and see him drinking his strong, black Polish coffee at a café in the undercover market, a blob of mayonnaise on his tie!

I have to say, it’s more the 'why' rather than the 'how' that interests m The steady unravelling of the human psyche, and how personal backgrounds and prejudices influence actions ... that can evolve to become deadly actions.  

Lamb to the Slaughter (1953) is a short story by Roald Dahl. *spoiler alert* ... The story was supposedly suggested to Dahl by his friend Ian Fleming: "Why don't you have someone murder their husband with a frozen leg of mutton, which she then serves to the detectives who come to investigate the crime?"

I like trawling through Facebook and Twitter. It’s often where I find my characters’ names and information on the lives they lead and the jobs they do - social media sites provide an amazing treasure trove of goodies, as they shine a rather bold, unerring, if not unintended light into the warped workings of the human mind!

Just do it.

I try not to! Limiting myself to mugs of hot black tea and the odd rhubarb and custard sweet until it’s deemed a decent hour in the day for a large gin and tonic!

Rebecca Griffiths grew up in rural mid-Wales and went on to gain a first class honours degree in English Literature. After a successful business career in London, Dublin and Scotland she returned to mid-Wales where she now lives with her husband, a prolific artist, their three vampiric cats as black as night, and pet sheep the size of sofas.

Find Rebecca Griffiths on Twitter - @rebeccagriffit7


Publisher's description
In a dark, dark wood
In Summer 1990, Caroline and Joanna are sent to stay with their great aunt, Dora, to spend their holidays in a sunlit village near the Forest of Dean. The countryside is a welcome change from the trauma they know back home in the city; a chance to make the world a joyful playground again. But in the shadowy woods at the edge of the forest hide secrets that will bring their innocence to a distressing end and make this a summer they will never forget.
There was a dark, dark house
Years later, a shocking act of violence sends Joanna back to Witchwood. In her great aunt's lonely and dilapidating cottage, she will attempt to unearth the secrets of that terrifying summer and come to terms with the haunting effects it has left on her life. But in her quest to find answers, who can she trust? And will she be able to survive the impending danger from those trying to bury the truth?

A Place to Lie is published by Sphere on 6 December 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Attend by West Camel

I am delighted to be today's stop on the Blog Tour for Attend by West Camel. Attend is published by Orenda Books. Read on for my review...

By West Camel
Published by Orenda Books (Ebook - out now; Paperback - 13 December 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.
With echoes of Armistead Maupin, Attend is a beautifully written, darkly funny, mesmerisingly emotive and deliciously told debut novel, rich in finely wrought characters that you will never forget.

My verdict
Attend is a novel of threads - gritty and dark, tender and light, mysterious and magical - just like the three threads featured on its cover. It's a book of past and present, grief and tragedy, forgiveness and redemption, and hopes and dreams. It's about the uncertainty of life and the unpredictability of the future.

The book features three lonely people - former drug addict Anne who has been estranged from her family for years, young Sam who is in love with a local thug, and the elderly and very eccentric Deborah who claims she can never die. All three strands gradually intertwine as these three people's paths and lives collide.

Attend reads like a soap opera with emotion at its core, featuring the diverse tapestry of life in south-east London. This book is very surreal in places, yet it's also filled with harshness of modern day real life. The realistic dialogue is interspersed with astute observations of characters' appearances and mannerisms. And thanks to the vivid descriptive writing, Deptford (old and new) leaps off the page - I could picture it, smell it, feel it and hear it.

I found myself reading slowly, out loud (under my breath mainly so I didn't annoy members of the household) to savour the gorgeous prose - especially Deborah's chapters, as she recounts stories of her past, through the decades of her life.

Just as the story features an intricate sampler, Attend IS an intricate piece of work, showing off author West Camel's skill in weaving words and phrases together to create a great debut novel.

Follow the Blog Tour

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Outside looking in: A 2018 Chanukah update

This morning I went on a doughnut (donut) run. I originally wrote this post a year ago. But with Chanukah beginning tonight, it seems relevant to post it again - with an update and some extra photos.

Christmas: Outside looking in

At this time of year I sometimes feel like a trespasser. A ghostly apparition peering through a smudged window into a tinsel-draped world I'm not really part of.

On the outside looking in. 

Here, but not here.

I watch the fervent build up and read frantic discussions on social media from the sidelines. Present buying. Christmas trees. Delicious festive treats. Large family meals. I don't join in, but that doesn't mean I don't understand your stress and excitement. I have my fair share during the year, with the weekly Jewish Sabbath and several Jewish festivals (with a strong focus on food!).

I've never celebrated Christmas. 

During my childhood, December 25th was simply a family day, with a large lunch, as there was little else to do. No Christmas tree. No presents. No Christmas pudding. We would still eat turkey though, along with home-made stuffing, brussels sprouts and minced pies. I remember Christmas crackers on the table and watching festive TV. After all, that's what everyone did at 'this time of year'.

I knew all about Christmas, don't get me wrong. I had plenty of friends who celebrated it - non-Jewish ones and Jewish ones - and I didn't go to a Jewish school. I didn't take part in the annual Nativity play but would watch the rehearsals from the sidelines, learning the songs and the lines, just as I watch the build up to Christmas now. I didn't go to the school carol services either (we had a day off instead - shopping or cinema, if I remember right, though we were probably meant to do school work(!)). Yet I knew all of the carols anyway.

I guess not much has changed.

For me, this time of year has always been about Chanukah (Hanukkah), the Jewish festival of lights, which lasts for eight days. A festival of miracles and hope and joy. Unlike Christmas, Chanukah doesn't occur on a set date each year, as it's determined by the Hebrew calendar. One year, it may be in November, and the next year in December. This year it begins on 2nd December - Sunday evening -  as soon as darkness falls.

In keeping with tradition, each night we will light candles on a nine-branched Menorah (also called a Chanukiah), an extra candle each night (with the ninth candle called a Shamash (helper) to light the others).

So one candle on the first night, two on the second and so on, until all eight candles are twinkling in a row. The candles symbolise a miracle in the second century BCE, when a handful of Jews defeated the Greeks to reclaim back their Holy Land and rededicated the Second Temple in Jerusalem. When they wanted to light the Temple's Menorah, there was only enough oil for one day - yet miraculously the oil lasted for eight days, known as the miracle of Chanukah.

There's a whole Rugrats episode devoted to this!

At Chanukah, it's traditional to eat fried foods - especially donuts and latkes (fried potato pancakes like rosti) - and to play a game with a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top) for coins, nuts or chocolate.

We can buy Chanukah biscuits (including candle or dreidel shaped ones) too.

Chanukah is often associated with presents, but that's not a Jewish tradition so I assume it's the influence of Christmas. We give money called Chanukah gelt (or chocolate coins) to children, as well as to charity. You can now buy Chanukah decorations, as sparkly as the Christmas ones, and lots of crazy Chanukah-themed items.

Even Chanukah socks this year (no, I didn't buy them).

As a child, I would receive one Chanukah present each night (some small, some large), as did my two boys when they were younger. Now they are teenagers, the eight-present tradition has faded away in our house. But not the candle lighting - never that.

Chanukah is also a time for community, with activities and celebrations at our Synagogue. This year we will have another interfaith event with the local church - our Rabbi will light a large Menorah as the vicar beside him switches on Christmas tree lights. There will be Jewish songs and carol singers. There will be mulled wine and minced pies and kosher donuts for the children.

Some people worry they'll offend me if they wish me Happy Christmas. But not at all. 

When I say I'm on the outside looking in, I don't mean this in a negative way. I enjoy watching friends building up to their big event of the year - my Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with that positivity. After the last few years of world politics (and Brexit on the horizon), we all need plenty of that.

People who know I'm writing fiction often ask me what I'm writing. 

I'm usually suitably vague and don't say much about what I'm doing or what stage I'm at. But the truth is that I'm writing Jewish-themed crime fiction, set in a fictional multi-cultural town in Hertfordshire, UK. I'm very open about my Jewish heritage and proud of it too. My book also happens to be set at this time of year - Chanukah and Christmas season.

Last year, I wrote in the original post that I planned to finish this WIP in 2018. Erm... well... that hasn't quite gone to plan! But I am getting closer to finishing my second draft. If I'm a little quiet on social media, or Off-the-Shelf Books seems to be taking a few days off, assume that I'm editing or writing, or both, when I'm not busy working. Feel free to give me a virtual kick (or just a message will do) from time to time, to make sure I am!

I'm hoping that one day you'll get a chance to read my novel (if you want to) and learn more about Jewish traditions, the worrying rise of anti-semitism in the UK (what it's like to experience it for real 'on the frontline', not what you read in the newspapers) and the huge sense of family and community spirit that I know so well.

Thank you for reading to the end of this non-bookish post and for supporting Off-the-Shelf Books, which turns four on 30th December 2018.

I wish you all a Happy Christmas, Happy Chanukah or whatever you're celebrating within the next month. And a Happy New Year too.