Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Constant Soldier by William Ryan

The Constant Soldier
By William Ryan
Published by Mantle (25 August 2016)
ISBN:  978-1447255017

Publisher's description
The pain woke him up. He was grateful for it. The train had stopped and somewhere, up above them, the drone of aircraft engines filled the night sky. He could almost remember her smile . . . It must be the morphine . . . He had managed not to think about her for months now.
1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut - a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who - against all odds - have so far survived the war.
When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.
But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope - for Brandt and the female prisoners - grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.
And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .

My verdict
The Constant Soldier is an emotional novel about the uncertainty of war, the loss of humanity, guilt and redemption. It offers a far more humane side to German soldiers compared with other books that cover a similar theme, including many of those that I have read in the past.

Set in the last few weeks of the Nazi regimen, it follows the story of a German soldier who has returned to his home village to live with his father after suffering severe injuries. He wasn't a Nazi sympathiser, quite the opposite, but gets a job in a local SS rest hut after he recognises one of the female prisoners there.

The book provides an insight into the chaos, panic and conflict felt by the Germans as the war was ending, and also the experience of the Russians as they advanced towards the camps. Some of the SS officers looked back at their actions with disgust, others with pride. Then there were the Germans who refused to take part in the brutality and joined the resistance, determined to save as many lives as possible.

Based on true events, and inspired by a series of photographs of Nazi officers enjoying themselves at a rest hut, The Constant Soldier is certainly compelling and fascinating reading. It's beautifully written in haunting poetic prose, with vivid descriptions of the characters and setting. The story is gripping, realistic and well-plotted from beginning to end. I felt real empathy for many of the characters and was on the edge of my seat for much of the book and then in tears by the end.

The Constant Soldier is yet another novel that I'll be recommending widely (and already have been). It's powerful, heartbreaking and highly thought-provoking - a book that shouldn't be missed.

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

Monday, 22 August 2016

An interview with journalist and author Christine Webber by Christine Webber

I would like to welcome Christine Webber to my blog today. Christine's book Who'd Have Thought It was published on 19 June 2016. Christine is a journalist too, so for something a bit different she's interviewed herself!

An interview with myself 
By Christine Webber

Hello, everyone. I’m delighted that Victoria has given me the chance to ‘chat’ to you in this way. As I’m a journalist by trade, I thought it might be interesting to ask myself the sort of questions I might pose if I were interviewing another author. So, here we go!

This is your first novel for 29 years. What happened to the first one? Was it such a flop that you crawled away vowing never to repeat the experience?
In Honour Bound was published when I was a news presenter for Anglia TV.  It actually did quite well – but mostly in the nine counties of the Anglia region!
What happened to prevent Novel Number 2 was complicated. Mostly, it was down to me leaving daily television news for print journalism, where I became an agony aunt for various newspapers and magazines including (at different times) The Scotsman, Best, TV Times and BBC Parenting. Gaining a reputation as an agony aunt led to me being booked as a sex/relationships ‘expert’ on various TV programmes - including BBC Breakfast and Good Sex Guide… Late .  Next, I decided to gain more credibility by training as a psychotherapist. That led to me starting a small therapy practice. Soon, publishers began asking me to write self-help books. 12 of those later, I finally found the time to return to fiction.

Many writers talk about having a burning desire to write. It doesn’t sound as if that is the case with you. Surely if you had, you would have got on with this sooner?
Good point! I’m interested in lots of things, I suppose. I did keep scribbling away at novels, though. But somehow they never saw the light of day.

Were they awful?
Probably. I think one thing I’ve come to understand is that to write good fiction you need to read novels. I had read voraciously as a child, but my grown up life seemed to be all about keeping up with therapy journals and all the newspapers – so that I was well-informed enough to do my day job.  That has changed. I now read masses of fiction. Favourite authors include Helen Dunmore, Ian McEwan, Iris Murdoch, Colm Toibin, Patirick Gale, Kate Atkinson and John le Carré.  Also, last year saw a debut novel by Clare Mackintosh called I Let You Go. It was my favourite book of 2015 and I can’t wait to read her new one which is out shortly. I also read books by fellow indie authors and am currently loving An Unknown Woman by Jane Davis.
So, you read more fiction these days, but were there other reasons for writing a novel now? 
In a nutshell, I became increasingly aware that life doesn’t go on forever! Also, I got a great idea, which arose in a slightly strange way. I was invited on to BBC Breakfast to discuss a new trend - which had been given the acronym SWOFTY by the Department for Work and Pensions. SWOFTY stood for Single Women Over Fifty. I couldn’t help feeling there was a novel waiting to be written here!  Also, at that time, Piatkus had just published my baby boomers’ guide, Too Young to Get Old. And all the research I had done for that fed into the novel too.

What’s the novel about then?
It’s about a woman GP, aged 55, who finds herself unexpectedly single after almost 30 years of marriage. But the story starts a year after the event when she discovers what a SWOFTY is and that she is one! And she starts embracing single life with enthusiasm. However, she quickly discovers that being single in mid-life is totally different from being single when you’re young – because you’re dealing with your adult children’s problems, your ageing parents, your job, your friends having their own ups and downs and so on. Most mid-life people I know say that they are amazed at how turbulent their lives are – just at a time when they thought they would be calming down. So that is reflected in the story. There are very serious issues in it. But it’s also funny – and lots of people have told me they have laughed out loud as they have read it, which is gratifying.

Did you publish it independently because you couldn’t find a publisher?   
There was an element of that. All my contacts in publishing were on the non-fiction side, and there was little reason for them to be interested in whether or not I could write a decent novel. Also, various friends who had always been published in the past were changing to Indie publishing. So they were an inspiration. And I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to waste time pursuing various publishers, and that I just needed to get the book out. I have loved the process – especially finding the right editor/proof reader (Helen Baggott) and the perfect jacket designer (Jane Dixon-Smith). Forming your own creative team is fun! Also, I have fallen on my feet with my printers, Clays, who produce really beautiful books.

Are you going to continue writing novels – and publishing them independently?
That’s the plan.

About Christine Webber
Christine Webber is a writer, broadcaster and psychotherapist. She has just brought out a novel – Who’d Have Thought It? After almost three decades as an author, this particular book signals a change of direction. For a start, it is her first work of fiction for 29 years! And, after decades of being published conventionally, she has gone the Indie route.

Find Christine Webber on her website and on Twitter - @1chriswebber

Who'd Have Thought It
By Christine Webber
Sold by Amazon (published on 10 June 2016)

Publisher's description
A year after discovering that her husband no longer loves her, Dr Annie Templeton wakes up with a sudden relish for singledom. However, she soon realises that being single in your fifties is very different from being single in your twenties.
How, she wonders, do people of my age – with careers, adult children doing unwise things with unwise people, parents going gaga, and friends falling ill, or in or out of love – ever have the time and energy to find a new partner?

Who’d Have Thought It? is a romantic comedy, which will make you laugh and cry – often at the same time.

Buy Who'd Have Thought It? from Amazon here

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Happy Holidays - I'm taking a break!

I'm taking a blogging break for a couple of weeks (my first proper blog holiday in the 18 months since I set up my blog), although I'm sure you'll still find me lurking on Twitter so pop by and say 'hello'. I may still publish a couple of reviews too, but I won't be writing anything new for my blog until September.

I have a huge To Be Read pile. So I have decided to concentrate on reading books that I've bought during these two weeks, rather than review copies. Top of my list are the first three Maeve Kerrigan books by Jane Casey, which have been waiting patiently on my Kindle for months. I reviewed book 5 and loved it and have been desperate to catch up with the whole series. I'll let you know exactly which other books I picked on my return.

I'll also be continuing to spend my time writing and editing the manuscript of my debut novel. Due to family commitments, I took four months off writing, so it was great to get back to it at the end of July. I've been doing a big edit, following some positive and motivating feedback, and hope it will be ready to resubmit in the Autumn.

Lastly, there are some fantastic London-based events coming up if you're a crime fiction fan.

First Monday Crime takes place on the first Monday of every month (unless it's a bank holiday). There's a lively panel discussion in the College Building of City University in St John Street (near Angel) from 6.30pm, following by a social at a local bar. In September, you can listen to Sophie Hannah, Tim Weaver, Rod Reynolds and Jane Corry. You can book your tickets here.

Then in October, it's the first ever Killer Women Crime Writing Festival on Saturday 15th October 2016 (9 am to 8.30 pm) at Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT.
I devoted a whole week to Killer Women on my blog recently. See below for the links.
Day ONE - a guest post by DE Meredith
Day TWO - a guess post by Tammy Cohen
Day THREE - a guest post by Erin Kelly
Day FOUR - a guest post by Sarah Hilary
Day FIVE  - find out about the festival.
You can find out more and book tickets for the festival here.

Enjoy the rest of your August! And see you in September, when I'll have more reviews, author guest posts and author interviews.



Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

Tall Oaks
By Chris Whitaker
Published by twenty7 (e-book - 7 April 2016; Paperback - 8 September 2016)
ISBN:  978-1785770302

Publisher's description
Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.

Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who's determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .

My verdict
Tall Oaks isn't a crime novel, as such, although a boy's disappearance is at the heart of the book. It's far more than 'who' or 'how' or 'why'. It's a study of small town America, where nothing much usually happens, until a little boy goes missing.

As mentioned by other reviewers, Tall Oaks is ideal for fans of Twin Peaks. It reads like a series of intertwined short stories featuring a whole host of diverse, larger than life characters.  It's a dark, intriguing and humorous mystery, with vivid descriptions, sharp dialogue and a gripping plot.

This isn't a fast paced read, but it's certainly not a boring one! Everyone is a suspect but, without any clues, local police chief has no idea what's happened to three-year-old Harry. Everyone is also VERY keen to help him - many are over-keen - and it's clear that there are secrets, lies and strange behaviour bubbling underneath each characters' many layers.

There were several twists and turns, including a few OMG moments that kept me on the edge of my seat. But it's really everything going on in the background, how easily you get caught up in people's lives and the reading between the lines that makes this a book to remember.

Before I end my review, I have to mention that 'Manny rocks' - he's definitely my favourite character in Tall Oaks!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Black Night Falling by Rod Reynolds - BLOG TOUR

I am delighted to be today's stop on the Blog Tour for Black Night Falling by Rod Reynolds, which was published in e-book by Faber on 2 August 2016. 

Black Night Falling
By Rod Reynolds
Published by Faber (2 August 2016)
ISBN:  978-0571323234

Publisher's description
And now I stood here, on a desolate airfield in the Arkansas wilderness, a stone's throw from Texarkana. Darkness drawing in on me. Cross country to see a man I never imagined seeing again. On the strength of one desperate telephone call...'

Having left Texarkana for the safety of the West Coast, reporter Charlie Yates finds himself drawn back to the South, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as an old acquaintance asks for his help. This time it's less of a story Charlie's chasing, more of a desperate attempt to do the right thing before it's too late.

My verdict
I enjoyed Black Night Falling even more than the author's first book, The Dark Inside, something I didn't think was possible. Author Rod Reynolds has written another stunner!

Black Night Falling is set soon after The Dark Inside ends. Yet again, it has an authentic feel - not just for small town America but also for the 1940s time period. The book is well researched, well written and highly atmospheric, with plenty of action, historical depth and twists and turns to keep the reader engrossed and guessing all the way through.

The plot is gritty, dark and intense, as reporter Charlie Yates investigates corruption, dodgy dealings and mysterious deaths in a claustrophobic town in Arkansas. Some of the characters will be familiar if you've read the first book, but I do believe Black Night Falling could be read easily as a standalone.

This is a book that you won't want to put down. I was so immersed in the plot that I didn't even notice the time and finished it in the early hours. It's a winning formula of intriguing plot, believable characters and fascinating setting.

Charlie is a particularly strong character and extremely likeable - he's flawed, but not unbelievably so, which makes the book feel very 'real'. His wife Lizzie seems like his perfect partner (professionally and romantically), and I'm hoping she'll be taking a more prominent role as this series continues and develops.

Add Black Night Falling to your shopping list! And if you haven't read The Dark Inside, buy that too!

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

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