Category Archives: Blog Tour

Blog Tour: One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis

Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis which will be published as an eBook on 23 February, and in paperback on 29 June by Black Swan.

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You trusted your best friend… you shouldn’t have.

Vicky Seagrave is blessed: three beautiful children, a successful, doting husband, great friends and a job she loves.  She should be perfectly happy.

But what she is about to learn is that one mistake is all it takes; that if you’re careless with those you love, you don’t deserve to keep them.

When Vicky risks everything she holds dear on a whim, there’s only one person she trusts enough to turn to, her best friend Amber.

One little lie.  One little secret.  One little mistake could destroy her world.


One Little Mistake is one of those novels that it’s difficult to talk about without giving too much away, so I won’t focus on the plot too much in my review.

It focuses on Vicky who makes a spur of the moment decision.  Nine times out of ten, such a decision would probably have no significant impact and you’d think little more of it.  Unfortunately for Vicky, her decision proves to have disastrous consequences in this instance, and she turns to her best friend, Amber, for advice.  What follows shows how Vicky deals with the aftermath of this mistake, which proves to be much further reaching than she could ever have guessed.

Curtis successfully weaves together two narratives throughout One Little Mistake – the first following Vicky’s plight in the present day, and the second set 18 years earlier.  Whilst the flashback scenes are few and far between, I really enjoyed these little snippets and this second story very quickly built up in tension.  I don’t want to say too much about it, but I really enjoyed the second story and the way that the two narratives eventually converged.

I thought that Curtis handled the relationship between Vicky and Amber really well, and the gradual deterioration of this relationship as Amber begins to show her true colours made this an absolutely fascinating read.  Vicky is pitched as one of those people for whom good things just happen.  What is very apparent to the reader is that Vicky has worked hard to get where she is, and I think that it’s very easy to forget the elbow grease that people have often put in to get where they are.  Amber, on the other hand, hasn’t had quite the same level of success that Vicky has experienced, and whilst they are friends, it’s clear from the outset that she is envious of many aspects of Vicky’s life and it doesn’t take much for the reader to see another side to Amber, a side that Vicky isn’t aware of.

Curtis has done a brilliant job of making Vicky easy to sympathise with.  She has made mistakes, but she’s hardly alone in this, and it feels as though the punishment far outweighs the crime.  I did perhaps find her to be too forgiving and perhaps a little gullible, although in this instance it made her endearing rather than frustratingly naive, as can sometimes be the case in a novel such as this.

One Little Mistake is a gripping read and builds up to a tense conclusion which, whilst not entirely unexpected in some respects, was nevertheless a dramatic, if slightly rushed, finale.

Many thanks to Rosie Margesson for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

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Blog Tour: Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant which has just been chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club.

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Synopsis:

Paul Morris is running out of money, friends and second chances. His literary success of his early 20s is now a distant memory and his new relationship might be his last hope of happiness.

Alice is not like any of the women he’s pursued in the past: wealthy, lonely, driven and with links to the heady days of his youth. When Alice invites Paul to her holiday home in Greece with friends and family, he decides to do whatever it takes to make the romance stick.

But the summer is not the idyll he had planned: members of the party seem far from happy about Paul’s presence and soon the pool becomes a tableau of tension and unspoken grudges.

To further aggravate the situation, ten years ago, a thirteen-year-old girl went missing on the island, and now a fresh sighting and another attack unsettle the long hot days. It soon becomes apparent that Paul is not the only person with an agenda… and his dreams of a life worth living may yet turn into a nightmare he cannot escape.

You can see my review of Lie With Me here, and today I’m delighted to be able to share an extract of the novel with you, taken from the prologue and the first chapter of the novel.


August 2015

It struck me in the night that it might have started earlier. I sat up in horror and, in the darkness, used my fingernail to scratch the word ‘BOOKSHOP’ on the inside of my forearm. It has gone now: the skin is inflamed due to an infected insect bite, which I must have further scratched at in my sleep. Still, the act of writing did the trick, as it tends to. This morning I can remember well enough.

Hudson & Co: the secondhand bookshop in Charing Cross Road. I have been assuming it began there – that none of it would have happened if my eye hadn’t been caught by that silly little shop assistant’s red hair. But am I wrong? Were the forces already in motion, in the weeks and months before that? Does the trail of poison lead back, long before the bloody girl’s disappearance, to university? Or before then, even – to school, to childhood, to that moment in 1973 when I struggled, puce-faced, into this unforgiving world?

I suppose what I am saying is, how much do we collude in our own destruction? How much of this nightmare is on me? You can hate and rail. You can kick out in protest. You can do foolish and desperate things but maybe sometimes you just have to hold up a hand and take the blame.

BEFORE

Chapter One

It was a wet day, one of those grey, drizzly London afternoons when the sky and the pavement and the rain-streaked buildings converge. It’s a long time since I’ve seen weather like that. I’d just had lunch with my oldest friend Michael Steele at Porter’s in the Charing Cross underpass, a wine bar we had frequented since, at the age of sixteen, we had first discovered the discretion of both its location and its landlord. These days, of course, we would both have much rather met somewhere less dank and dark (that chic little bistro on St Martin’s Lane specialising in wines from the Loire, par example), but nostalgia can be a tyranny. Neither of us would have dreamt of suggesting it.

Usually, on parting from Michael, I would strut off with a sense of groin-thrusting superiority. His own life restricted by the demands of a wife, twin boys and a solicitor’s practice in Bromley, he listened to my tales of misadventure – the drunken nights in Soho, the young girlfriends – with envy in his eyes. ‘How old’s this one?’ he’d say, cutting into a Scotch egg. ‘Twenty-four? Saints alive.’ He was not a reader and a combination of loyalty and ignorance meant he also still thought of me as The Great Literary Success. It wouldn’t have occurred to him that a minor bestseller written twenty years ago might not be sufficient to maintain a reputation indefinitely. To him I was the star of ‘Literary London’ (his phrase) and when he picked up the bill, which he could be depended upon to do, there was a sense less of charity than of him paying court. If an element of mutual bluff was required to sustain the status quo, it was a small price to pay. Plenty of friendships, I am sure, are based on lies.

That day, however, as I returned to street level, I felt deflated. Truth was, though I had kept it to myself, life had recently taken a downward swerve. My latest novel had just been rejected, and Polly, the twenty-four-year-old in question, had left me for some bum-fluffed political blogger or other. Worst of all, I had discovered, only that morning, that I was to be evicted from the rent-free flat in Bloomsbury I had, for the last six years, called home. In short, I was forty-two, broke and facing the indignity of having to move in with my mother in East Sheen.

As I have mentioned, it was also raining.

I trudged along William IV Street towards Trafalgar Square, dodging umbrellas. At the post office, a group of foreign students, wearing backpacks and neon trainers, blocked the pavement and I was pushed out into the gutter. One shoe sank into a puddle; a passing taxi soaked the leg of my corduroys. Swearing, I hopped across the road, wending my way between waiting cars, and turned up St Martin’s Lane, cut through Cecil Court, and into Charing Cross Road. The world juddered – traffic and building works and the clanging of scaffolding, the infernal disruption of Crossrail. Rain continued to slump from the sky but I had made it doggedly beyond the Tube station before an approaching line of tourists pulling luggage thrust me again out of my path and against a shop window.

I braced myself against the glass until they had trundled past, and then I lit a cigarette. I was outside Hudson & Co, a secondhand bookshop specialising in photography and film. There was a small fiction section in the back where, if I remembered rightly, I had once pilfered an early copy of Lucky Jim. (Not a first edition, but a 1961 orange Penguin with a Nicolas Bentley drawing on the cover: nice.)

I peered in. It was a dusty shop, with an air of having seen better days – most of the upper shelves were bleakly empty.

And then I saw the girl.

She was staring through the window, sucking a piece of long, red hair, her features weighted with a boredom so sensual I could feel it tingle along my fingertips.

I pinched the lit tip off my cigarette, put the remainder in my jacket pocket and pushed open the door.

I am not bad looking (better then, before everything happened), with the kind of face – crinkled blue eyes, strong cheekbones, full lips – I’ve been told women love. I took trouble over my appearance, though the desired result was to make it look as if I didn’t. Sometimes, when I shaved, I noticed the length of my fingers against the chiselled symmetry of my jaw, the regularity of the bristles, the slight hook in the patrician nose. An interest in the life of the mind, I believed, was no reason to ignore the body. My chest is broad; I fight hard even now to keep it firm – those exercises I picked up at Power Pulse, the Bloomsbury gym, over the course of the free ‘taster’ month continue to prove useful. I knew how to work my look, too: the sheepish, self-deprecating smile, the careful use of eye contact, the casual deep-in-thought mussing of my messy blond hair.

The girl barely looked up when I entered. She was wearing a long geometric top over leggings and chunky biker boots; three small studs in the inside cartilage of one ear, heavy make-up. A small bird-shaped tattoo on the side of her neck.

I dipped my head, giving my hair a quick shake. ‘Cor blimey,’ I said in mock-Cockney. ‘Rainin’ cats and dogs out there.’

She rocked gently backwards on the heels of her boots, resting her bottom on a metal stool, and cast a glance in my direction. She dropped the spindle of ruby hair she’d been chewing.

I said, more loudly: ‘Of course Ruskin said there was no such thing as bad weather. Only different kinds of good weather.’

The sulky mouth moved very slightly, as if vaguely in the direction of a smile.

I lifted the damp collar of my coat. ‘But tell that to my tailor!’

The smile faded, came to nothing. Tailor? How was she to know the coat, bought for a snip at Oxfam in Camden Town, was ironic?

I took a step closer. On the table in front of her sat a Starbucks cup, the name ‘Josie’ scrawled in black felt tip.

‘Josie, is it?’ I said.

She said, flatly: ‘No. That was what I told the barista. I tell them a different name every time. Can I help you? Are you looking for anything in particular?’ She looked me up and down, taking in the absorbent tweed, the cords, the leaking brogues, the pathetic middle-aged man that wore them. A mobile phone on the counter trembled and, though she didn’t pick it up, she flicked her eyes towards it, nudging it with her spare hand to read the screen above the cup – a gesture of dismissal.

Stung, I slunk away, and headed to the back of the shop where I crouched, pretending to browse a low shelf (two for £5). Perhaps she was a little too fresh out of school, not quite my audience. Even so. How dare she? Fuck.

At this angle, I smelt damp paper and sweat; other people’s stains, other people’s fingers. A sharp coldness in here too. Scanning the line of yellowing paperbacks, phrases from my publisher’s last email insinuated themselves into my head: ‘Too experimental . . . Not in tune with the current market . . . How about writing a novel in which something actually happens?’ I stood. Bugger it. I’d leave with as much dignity as I could muster and head off to the London Library, or – quick look at my watch – the Groucho. It was almost 3 p.m. Someone might be there to stand me a drink.

I have tried hard to remember if the door jangled; whether it was the kind of door that did. The shop had seemed empty when I entered, but the layout allowed anyone to hide, or lurk – as indeed I was now. Was he already in the shop? Or not? Do I remember the scent of West Indian Limes? It seems important. But perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it is just my mind trying to find an explanation for something that may, of course, have been random.

‘Paul! Paul Morris!’

He was standing on the other side of the bookcase, only his head visible. I took a brief physical inventory: close-set eyes, receding hairline that gave his face an incongruously twee heart shape, puny chin. It was the large gap between the two front teeth that sparked the memory. Anthony Hopkins, a contemporary from Cambridge – historian, if I remembered correctly. I’d bumped into him several years ago on holiday in Greece. I had a rather unpleasant feeling that I had not come out of the encounter well.

‘Anthony?’ I said. ‘Anthony Hopkins!’

Irritation crossed his brows. ‘Andrew.’

‘Andrew, of course. Andrew Hopkins. Sorry.’ I tapped my head. ‘How nice to see you.’ I was racking my memory for details. I’d been out on a trip round the island with Saffron, a party girl I’d been seeing, and a few of her friends. I’d lost them when we docked. Alcohol had been consumed. Had Andrew lent me money? He was now standing before me, in a pin-stripe suit, hand out. We shook. ‘It’s been a . . . while,’ I said.

He laughed. ‘Not since Pyros.’ A raincoat, pearled with drops, was slung over his arm. The shop assistant was looking over, listening to our conversation. ‘How are you? Still scribbling away? Seen your byline in the Evening Standard – book reviews, is it? We did love that novel you wrote – my sister was so excited when you sold it.’

‘Ah, thank you.’ I bowed. His sister – of course. I’d hung out with her a bit at Cambridge. ‘Annotations on a Life, you mean.’ I spoke as loudly as I could so the little scrubber would realise the opportunity she had passed up. ‘Yes, a lot of people were kind enough to say they liked it. It touched a nerve, I think. In fact, the review in the New York Times said—’

He interrupted me. ‘Any exciting follow up?’

The girl was switching on a blow-heater. As she bent forward, her silk top gaped. I stepped to one side to get a better view, caught the soft curve of her breasts, a pink bra.

‘This and that,’ I said. I wasn’t going to mention the damp squib of a sequel, the disappointing sales of the two books have had that followed.

‘Ah well, you creative types. Always up to something interesting. Not like us dull old dogs in the law.’

The girl had returned to her stool. The current from the blow-heater was causing her silky top to wrinkle and ruche. He was still prattling away. He was at Linklaters, he said, in litigation, but had made partner. ‘Even longer hours. On call twenty-four seven.’ He made a flopping gesture with his shoulders – glee masquerading as resignation. But what can you do? Kids at private school, blah blah, two cars, a mortgage that was ‘killing’ him. A couple of times, I said, ‘Gosh, right, OK.’ He just kept on. He was showing me how successful he was, bragging about his wife, while pretending to do the opposite. Tina had left the City, ‘burnt out, poor girl’, and opened a little business in Dulwich Village. A specialist yarn shop of all things. Surprisingly successful. ‘Who knew there was so much money to be made in wool?’ He gave a selfconscious hiccupy laugh.

I felt bored, but also irritated. ‘Not me,’ I said gamely.

Absent-mindedly, he picked up a book from the shelf – Hitchcock by François Truffaut. ‘You married these days?’ he said, tapping it against his palm.

I shook my head. These days? His sister came into my mind again – a gap between her teeth, too. Short pixie hair, younger than him. I’d have asked after her if I’d remembered her name. Lottie, was it? Lettie? Clingy, definitely. Had we actually gone to bed?

I felt hot suddenly, and claustrophobic, filled with an intense desire to get out.

Hopkins said something I didn’t completely hear, though I caught the phrase ‘kitchen supper’. He slapped the Hitchcock playfully against my upper arm, as if something in the last twenty years, or perhaps only in the last two minutes, had earned him the right to this blokeish intimacy. He had taken his phone out. I realised, with a sinking horror, he was waiting for my number.

I looked to the door where the rain was still falling. The redhaired temptress was reading a book now. I twisted my head to read the author. Nabokov. Pretentious twaddle. I had a strong desire to pull it from her grasp, grab a handful of hair, press my thumb into the tattoo on her neck. Teach her a lesson.

Turning back to Hopkins, I smiled and gave him what he wanted. He assured me he would call and I made a mental note not to answer when he did.


About the author:

Sabine Durrant is the author of two psychological thrillers, Under Your Skin and Remember Me This Way. Her previous novels are Having It and Eating It and The Great Indoors, and two books for teenage girls, Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles and Ooh La La! Connie Pickles. She is a former features editor of the Guardian and a former literary editor at the Sunday Times, and her writing has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines. She lives in south London with her partner and their three children.


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Blog Tour: City of Drowned Souls by Chris Lloyd – Author Spotlight

Today I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Chris Lloyd’s latest novel, City of Drowned Souls, the eBook of which is published today.

City of Drowned Souls is the third novel in Lloyd’s Elisenda Domènech Investigations series, and follows on from City of Good Death and City of Buried Ghosts.

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When a child disappears, the clock starts ticking

Detective Elisenda Domènech has had a tough few years.  The loss of her daughter and a team member; the constant battles against colleagues and judges; the harrowing murder investigations… But it’s about to get much worse.

When the son of a controversial local politician goes missing at election time, Elisenda is put on the case.  They simply must solve it.  Only the team also have to deal with a spate of horrifically violent break-ins.  People are being brutalised in their own homes and the public demands answers.

Could there be a connection?  Why is nobody giving a straight answer?  And where is Elisenda’s key informant, apparently vanished off the face of the earth?  With the body count threatening to increase and her place in the force on the line, the waters are rising…

Be careful not to drown.

The stunning new instalment of the gripping Elisenda Domènech crime thrillers for readers of Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell and Andrea Camilleri.

About the Book:


About the Series

City of Good Death

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An intense and brilliantly realised crime thriller set in the myth-soaked streets of Girona

A killer is targeting hate figures in the Catalan city of Girona – a loan shark, a corrupt priest, four thugs who have blighted the streets of the old quarter – leaving clues about his next victim through mysterious effigies left hung on a statue.  Each corpse is posed in a way whose meaning no one can fathom.  Which is precisely the point the murderer is trying to make.

Elisenda Domènech, the solitary and haunted head of the city’s newly-formed Serious Crime Unit, is determined to do all she can to stop the attacks.  She believes the attacker is drawing on the city’s legends to choose his targets, but her colleagues aren’t convinced and her investigation is blocked at every turn.

Battling against the increasing sympathy towards the killer displayed by the press, the public and even some of the police, she finds herself forced to question her own values.  But when the attacks start to include less deserving victims, the pressure is suddenly on Elisenda to stop him.  The question is: how?

About the Book:


City of Buried Ghosts

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Be careful what you dig up…

Still recovering from the tragedy that hit her team, Elisenda takes on a new case.  Except it’s not new.  On an archaeological dig by the coast a body is uncovered, seemingly executed with a spike thrust through the base of the skull – an ancient tribal ritual.  It soon becomes clear that this body is neither ancient nor modern, but a mysterious corpse from the 1980s.

Assigned to the case along with her team, Elisenda soon uncovers a complex world of star archaeologists, jealousy and missing persons.  They find a dark trade in illicit antiquities, riddled with vicious professional rivalries.  And even though she’s staying close to the crime scene, Elisenda is also never far from enemies of her own within the police force.

Just as the case seems to become clear it is blown wide-open by another horrific murder.  Elisenda must fight her personal demons and office politics, whilst continuing to uncover plots and hatreds that were long buried.  How far will she go to solve the crime?  Is her place in the force secure? And can she rebuild her life?

The atmospheric second crime thriller featuring Catalan detective Elisenda Domènech, for readers of Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves

About the Book:


About the Author

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Chris was born in an ambulance racing through a town he’s only returned to once and that’s probably what did it.  Soon after that, when he was about two months old, he moved with his family to West Africa, which pretty much sealed his expectation that life was one big exotic setting.  He later studied Spanish and French at university, and straight after graduating, he hopped on a bus from Cardiff to Catalonia where he stayed for the next twenty-four years, falling in love with the people, the country, the language and Barcelona Football Club, probably in that order.  Besides Catalonia, he’s also lived in Grenoble, the Basque Country and Madrid, teaching English, travel writing for Rough Guides and translating.  He now lives in South Wales, where he works as a writer and a Catalan and Spanish translator, returning to Catalonia as often as he can.

He writes the Elisenda Domènech series, featuring a police officer with the newly-devolved Catalan police force in the beautiful city of Girona.  The third book in the series, City of Drowned Souls, is published on 6 February 2017.

Website: http://www.cityofgooddeath.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/chrislloydbcn


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Blog tour: Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie, which is currently available to buy as an eBook, and which will be released in paperback in May.

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Rating: ★★★★☆

The charred body of an enigmatic policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found in the burnt-out shell of his car on the Southend sea front.

Meanwhile, a vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

As DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell from the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve the mystery of their colleague’s death, dark, dangerous secrets begin to surface. Can they solve both cases, before it’s too late?

Mark Hardie’s stylish and gripping debut introduces a brilliant new detective duo to the world of crime fiction, weaving together two suspenseful stories that end in a breath-taking finale.

I thought that the structure of Burned and Broken worked really well.  The novel opens with a short prologue which focuses on the death of DI Sean Carragher – currently the subject of an internal investigation.  From there, the novel jumps back in time by four days, and then leads up to and beyond this opening scene.  For me, this structure worked brilliantly – I liked knowing part of the outcome, yet still being able to enjoy the journey as I found out what happened to Sean and how he ends up as he does.

Intertwined with this plot line is a second mystery in which a young woman, Donna, is desperately seeking information as to what happened to her friend.  Alicia’s death was ruled an accident, but Donna is convinced that it was murder, and becomes frustrated when the police won’t take her seriously.  Having run out of alternative options, she takes matters into her own hands.  Whilst I found Donna’s story a little more difficult to get into, I did feel extremely sympathetic towards her character.  She is quite a troubled young woman and extremely vulnerable, although there is strength and courage in her.

Burned and Broken is told from multiple points of view, and I did initially find it a little difficult to keep track of who’s perspective the story was being told from and what their role was, particularly when the perspective changed mid-chapter (although this doesn’t happen often).  It soon became much clearer, however, as I got into the story, and I found this to be a riveting read.

Dark and gritty, Burned and Broken is a great addition to the genre, and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Pearson and Russell series, Truly Evil, which is due for publication later in 2017.

Many thanks to Clara Diaz and the publisher, Sphere, for providing a copy for review.


About the author:

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Mark Hardie was born in 1960 in Bow, East London. He began writing full time after completely losing his eyesight in 2002.  He has completed a creative writing course and an advanced creative writing course at the Open University, both with distinction.

Mark lives with his wife Debbie in Southend-on-Sea.


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Blog Tour: The Dry by Jane Harper

I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Dry by Jane Harper which will be published tomorrow – 12 January – by Little, Brown.

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Rating: ★★★★★

Aaron Falk left his home town of Kiewarra 20 years ago.  Against his wishes and his better judgement, he has now returned to the small farming community for the funeral of his one-time best friend, Luke Hadler, after Luke shot his wife and son before turning his gun on himself.

Aaron wants to get the visit over and done with as quickly as possible – Kiewarra brings back a lot of bad memories – but when Luke’s parents ask him to investigate the death of Luke and his family, he can’t refuse.  Aaron works as a Federal Police Investigator in Melbourne, but he’s out of his jurisdiction, and he teams up with the local police officer, Greg Raco, who also has a few questions over the apparent murder-suicide.

The Dry successfully weaves together the investigation into the Hadler family’s deaths with another, older mystery that was never successfully solved, although plenty of people have their opinions about what happened on both counts.  I don’t want to say too much about the second element, as I think that it’s something best discovered by the reader, but the two mysteries come together really well, and both add a great deal of intrigue to the novel.  And I really liked the way that parts of the novel are told through flashbacks giving the reader hints towards both mysteries.  This is a device that can sometimes result in a disjointed novel, but I thought that Harper used it really well in The Dry, and those sections fit seamlessly into the novel, helping to enhance the story.

I absolutely loved the small-town setting of Kiewarra.  It’s one of the those towns where you’ll always be a newbie if you weren’t born there, and where everyone knows each other’s secrets, family history and comings and goings.   This is a town with plenty of family feuds, and Aaron’s return does cause a few sparks for those who thought they’d seen the back of him.  The tense, almost claustrophobic atmosphere is also enhanced by the drought that Kiewarra has been experiencing for the last two years.  Detrimental to the farming community and local economy, it’s easy to understand why tempers are short, and why Aaron’s questions often rub people up the wrong way.

The Dry is, quite simply, astounding.  You’d never know that this is Harper’s debut from the quality of – it has absolutely everything.  It’s well written, has great, well-rounded characters, the mystery has plenty of twists, turns and red herrings, and everything is neatly tied up by the end of the novel.  I absolutely loved it.

The Dry will be published on 12 January.  Many thanks to Grace Vincent for providing a copy for review.

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Blog Tour: Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Rachel Amphlett’s latest novel, Scared to Death, which will be published on 6 December.

My review for Scared to Death can be found below, and Rachel very kindly agreed to a Q&A and so I’ll hand you over to Rachel to start the post.

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  1. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I currently live in Brisbane, Australia after emigrating here 11 years ago from the UK. Prior to emigrating, I played guitar in bands, helped run a pub, and worked in local radio as a freelance producer and broadcast assistant. To date, I’ve written eight books with Scared to Death being the latest.

  1. And a little bit about your latest novel, Scared to Death?

Scared to Death introduces Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter, who is clinging onto her career after enduring both personal tragedy and a professional vendetta against her. We meet Kay as she’s thrown into a new case – a kidnapping that appears to have gone wrong, and a teenage girl has died.

As the investigation evolves, Kay becomes convinced that there’s more to the case than she first thought, and her worst fears are realised when a second girl is taken.

  1. Who would you recommend Scared to Death to?

I’d like to think that anyone who enjoys the novels of Robert Bryndza, Angela Marsons, Peter James and Mark Billingham would enjoy Scared to Death. It’s a fast-paced crime thriller, so if you enjoy that element of the crime genre, I’d suggest giving it a go.

  1. Are you planning more Kay Hunter novels?

Definitely. I set out to write Scared to Death with the knowledge that there would be more books featuring Kay Hunter. She’s got some scores to settle yet!

  1. How do you tend to write – after careful planning, or just writing and seeing where the story goes?

I’ve got a really tight process these days for writing. I’ll get an idea going around in my head, and then I’ll scribble that down in a new notebook and keep jotting down basic scenes as they crop up, and then I’ll take that and develop it into an outline of about 30 – 40 key scenes. For each scene, I’ll write a sentence or two about what has to happen in that scene, and then I’ll get stuck in and write.

  1. How long does it usually take you to write a novel?

Scared to Death took me nine weeks to complete the first draft using the above process. After that, there were weeks of editing, but I enjoy that as much as the writing because I keep discovering new things about the characters and story.

  1. What kind of research do you do for your novels, and is it in advance of beginning a new book, or as you’re writing?

I’m lucky in that I have friends serving in the police in the UK and I was recommended a couple of books to read while I was sketching out the plot, so that gave me a good head start.

After that, I concentrated on the story for Scared to Death, and made a note of things I’d have to check as I went along. I got about halfway through the writing process, and then started emailing some experts in the police in the UK and kept writing other scenes while I waited for their responses or sought further clarification.

Of course, the more I write in this series, the more I’m learning, which is another bonus of being an author – I soak it all up!

  1. What sort of novels do you like to read, and who are your favourite authors?

I do love crime thrillers, and this last year I’ve been devouring books by a lot of the Bookouture authors – they’re publishing some awesome titles. I’ve also been catching up on Leigh Russell’s back catalogue.

My favourite authors are Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Robert Crais, Val McDermid, Lynda La Plante, and Peter James.

  1. Of your own novels, do you have a favourite?  Or is that like asking someone to pick which of their children is their favourite?

It is a bit, yes!  I do have a soft spot for Look Closer – it’s completely different from my espionage thrillers, and gave me the confidence to write a full crime thriller series. I enjoyed having a character that had to rely on his wiles, not on strength or weapons. I really think that book made me grow as an author.

  1. What are the three best pieces of advice that you’ve ever been given? (Not necessarily writing specific)
  • Learn to type, and learn to pull a pint – you’ll never be out of work (thanks to my late grandmother for this one. She was right!)
  • Pay it forward
  • Keep your next move to yourself

Thanks so much, Rachel – your grandmother sounds like a smart lady! 🙂


 

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Rating: ★★★★☆

Yvonne and Tony Richards return from their holiday to a parent’s worst nightmare – their teenage daughter has been kidnapped.  Hoping for the best, they pay the ransom money and abide by all the kidnapper’s rules, but when they go to collect their daughter from an abandoned building, their worst fears are confirmed.

Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter is assigned to the case, and whilst her colleagues see it as nothing more than a kidnapping gone wrong, she isn’t so sure.

And then another girl goes missing, and it’s a race against time to save her.  Can Hunter and her team get to her before it’s too late?

In Kay Hunter, Amphlett has created a great character.  Strong, determined and willing to stand up for what’s right – she’s the kind of person who will get the job done no matter what.  She has her demons, however, in the form of Detective Chief Inspector Larch who has taken against her following a previous case.  He seems intent on undermining her every step of the way, although Hunter isn’t one to be easily cowed.

One thing I really enjoyed about Scared to Death were the personal scenes when Hunter is with her partner, Adam.  So many novels of this genre have their main character alone / divorced / separated etc. and I thought that it was really nice to see someone in a healthy relationship.  It’s not all perfect, and they’ve been through some hard times prior to this case, but I thought that this was a nice element, and it added warmth and a little humour to what is otherwise quite a dark novel.

Scared to Death is a fast-paced read, and the chapters are short enough that “one more chapter” all too easily becomes three or four!  Extremely well-plotted, this really is a novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat as Hunter and her team follow the clues that lead them to the perpetrator and his latest victim.  Due to the nature of the crimes, this is quite a dark story, although the violence is not gratuitous in any way – I thought that it was well handled, but without leaving any room for doubt as to what was going on.

Scared to Death is a wonderful start to a new series, and I can’t wait to read the next instalment featuring Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter.  Whilst all elements of the crime were tied up nicely, there are a few questions outstanding about Kay’s past and the case that has turned DCI Larch against her, and I’d like to see this explored further.

Scared to Death will be published on 6 December 2016.  Many thanks to Rachel for taking part in the Q&A, and for providing a copy of her novel for review.


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

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Blog Tour: The Shogun’s Queen by Lesley Downer

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Lesley Downer’s The Shogun’s Queen – published on 3 November 2016 by Bantam Press.  The Shogun’s Queen is, chronologically, the first novel in The Shogun Quartet, although it the last to be written.

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As part of the blog tour, Lesley very kindly offered to write a guest post, and I asked if she’d share a little information about her experiences in Japan, and how this came to be the setting for her novels.


Hello, Jo.  First I would like to thank you for inviting me to post on your blog today.  I greatly appreciate it.

You asked me to tell you something about my time in Japan, my experiences and why this has become the setting for my novels.

My life has revolved around Japan ever since I first went there thirty years ago.  I remember my first sight of Mount Fuji – a perfect symmetrical cone rising out of the plain.  Other mountains are obscured by mountain ranges but Fuji stands all alone in the flat plain, ethereal and beautiful with a wisp of cloud crowning the summit.  In case you were wondering, it is still live and there’s often a trail of smoke wafting from the crater and it sometimes gives a rumble.

I once took the bus halfway up to where the climb begins, and discovered that it’s a real mountain, freezing cold and covered in rough grey lava, very difficult to walk on.  In the climbing season it’s a bit like Piccadilly Circus, with an endless line of people plodding steadily upwards.  Most people climb overnight to watch the sunrise from the summit; but I wasn’t properly equipped and had a cup of coffee and came down again.

I lived in Japan for five years and continue to go back and forth, sometimes staying for a year at a time; and even when I’m in London in my mind I’m usually deep in nineteenth century Japan.  The Shogun’s Queen is the culmination of my time there, my research and my love for the country and the people.

Over the years I travelled all over the country, learnt the language and steeped myself in the culture and the history.  I wrote non-fiction on the country – a travel book, a biography of a dynasty, a book on geisha and a book on the woman who was the model for Madame Butterfly – and three novels and also some cook books and children’s books.

Japan remains itself no matter what.  Many people have commented that although it’s very modern and western-looking on the surface, there’s something extremely foreign about it – more so than other countries like India or China.  But I’ve found that seeing Japan through the lens of its history makes it look entirely different.  When I was researching The Shogun’s Queen I went to places where nothing is left of the past.  But knowing the history, the great events that took place, I could imagine myself back to that era.

I also love languages and it made a big difference learning Japanese.  The way you speak is the way you think so when you speak Japanese it also transforms the way you feel and the way you are.  When I speak Japanese I use Japanese body language – I bow a lot – and say things I probably wouldn’t say in English.  I probably behave differently too, more demure and feminine and polite.  People say that Japanese smile and nod and say ‘Yes’ all the time and that it’s hard to understand what they really mean.  But if you’ve lived in Japan and speak Japanese then it’s easy.

In fact my first experiences of Japan were a sort of ordeal by fire.  I’d been posted to Gifu, a city no one had heard of, where so far as I knew no westerners ever went.  I was teaching English at a women’s university in the northern suburbs – the backwater of a backwater.

At the job interview at the Japanese Embassy in London, I’d been asked, ‘If you’re offered this job, where would you like to be posted – Tokyo or the countryside?’  At the time I didn’t speak a word of Japanese.  I’d said ‘countryside’, imagining green trees, fields, sheep and cows.  I didn’t realise that to my Japanese interlocutor the word inaka – ‘countryside’ – actually means the provinces, anywhere that isn’t Tokyo.  So I’d ended up there because of a linguistic misunderstanding.  It was my first experience of the cultural gap.

I’d travelled a lot and was eager to absorb myself in the culture but living in Gifu was a bit brutal.  At first it was horrendously lonely.  After three months a colleague asked, ‘Would you like to meet the other foreigners?’  I hadn’t realised there were any.  It turned out there were two – a married couple, John from Coulsdon and Sarah from Seattle.  They became close friends.

To counter the loneliness I went for walks to the beautiful temple nearby which had a lake with tiny green turtles swimming around in it and a little stall that sold tofu with sweet miso sauce brushed on top, grilled over charcoal.  I also taught myself Japanese; as there were only three foreigners there was no call for Japanese teachers.  I learnt tea ceremony and flower arranging and read Japanese literature in translation.  It’s the most wonderful literature, searing and poignant.  I also loved the kabuki and Noh theatres.

mum-in-gifu-tea-ceremonyI hitchhiked all over the country.  One of the things about Japan is that it’s really safe.  You can hitchhike everywhere and people are extremely kind and helpful, especially if you’re a lone female.  In all my time there I always felt entirely comfortable no matter what time of day or night it was.

At the weekends my colleagues took me to see festivals, sword-making, paper-making, cormorant fishing and other local activities.  Then I started to make women friends.  We cooked together and went to temples deep in the mountains to dine on temple food, extraordinary delicate dishes.  And that was the beginning of my love affair with Japan.  They took me on trams that trundled off deep into the countryside to ancient moss-covered temples with stone Buddhas outside and Shinto shrines with vermilion arches in front, often both religions celebrated side by side.

temple-in-gifuI also went to visit my friend in Kyoto and that was when I first saw geisha.  By the time I went to live among them to write a book about them many years later, I knew how to behave myself among Japanese people.  I didn’t rush in and bombard them with questions as a brash newcomer might have done.  Instead I behaved as if they were deer and I was trying to get them to eat out of my hand.

with-maiko-trainee-geishaI was so steeped in Japan, its culture, the romance of its history, its magical poetry and the way it feels to be a woman in Japan that it made perfect sense to start to write fiction set in Japan, to weave stories around its extraordinary past.  And so I began The Shogun Quartet, the series of novels of which The Shogun’s Queen is both the first and the last – chronologically the first but the last to be written.


The images above were shared by Lesley and show, respectively:

  1. Lesley and her mother performing tea ceremony
  2. Gifu women friends visiting a temple
  3. Lesley with Meiko, a trainee Geisha

And here are my thoughts on The Shogun’s Queen:

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Shogun’s Queen transports the reader to a period in Japan’s history where everything is set to change as it comes under the scrutiny of various Western nations.  Having set up tentative trade agreements with the Dutch, Japan is unprepared for the force that other countries – America, Britain, Russia, to name but a few – will bring to bear upon them in order to get a foot in tightly closed doors that Japan has previously presented to the rest of the world.

Into this political maelstrom comes Atsu – a young woman from a relatively minor household who is, following a series of political manoeuvres, chosen as a bride for the Shogun.  Whilst this should be an exciting opportunity – she will be Queen, after all – it also involves a great deal of sacrifice on her part, as she must leave behind her family and everyone that she has ever known.  And, once installed at the palace in Edo (as Tokyo was known at the time) she will never be able to leave.

The Shogun’s Queen is a fictionalised account of this defining moment in Japan’s history, and I enjoyed the political manoeuvring that takes place throughout the novel as both sides – those who believe that they should trade with the barbarians, as they were seen at the time, and those who want to ignore them – seek to gain the upper hand.  What surprised me was the power and influence that the women held.  Whilst this may have been exaggerated for the purposes of the novel, I expect that certain women, those close to the men in power, were able to assert their views and opinions, thus having an impact on the politics of the time, and I found this to be extremely interesting.

The main character throughout the novel is Atsu, who gains many names for the various stages of her life, yet never forgets her upbringing in a minor household far from the opulence that she later comes to know.  Throughout the novel, I admired her strength and determination, despite the challenges she faces in the Shogun’s mother and other women at the palace who seek to undermine her.  She does dither a bit, flip-flopping between wanting to do her best for her husband versus doing what is best for Japan, although I understand that she is facing a conflict of interests and was therefore trying to decide the best path to take.  Overall, however, she is a great character, and one whose situation evokes sympathy at the situation that she has been forced in to.

The Shogun’s Queen is both a love story as well as a tale of political intrigue set at a time of significant change and turmoil, and marks the beginning of The Shogun Quartet, which continues in The Last Concubine, The Courtesan and the Samurai and The Samurai’s Daughter, all of which are available to buy through the usual channels.  Beautifully evocative, this is a surprisingly quick read, and I raced through it eager to know the outcome, not only for Atsu, but also for Japan and how they would decide to treat those who’ve landed on their doorstep, demanding to be let in.

The Shogun’s Queen will be published on 3 November.  Many thanks to Hannah Bright for the ARC, and to Lesley for taking the time to write about her time in Japan and for providing the above photographs.


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

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