Monday, 20 November 2017

#ThePerfectVictim #CorrieJackson #Review #Q&A #BlogTour


Today I am thrilled to be part of the Blog Tour for The Perfect Victim with both a review and a Q&A with Corrie! A brilliant way to start of the week! 

THE PERFECT VICTIM
Corrie Jackson 

Husband, friend, colleague . . . killer?

*My thanks to the publisher from whom I received this book in return for being part of the Blog Tour and for writing an unbiased and honest review*

I really enjoyed Corrie Jackson's debut, Breaking Dead, which introduced us to the protagonist in this series, journalist Sophie Kent. I was thrilled to read the next instalment and think with Sophie, Jackson has created an engaging, likeable and original character who brings a fresh and exciting twist to crime fiction and murder mysteries. As a journalist, Kent has a different kind of access or flexibility in the way she can investigate a crime which means although this book centres on the investigation of a murder, it is not a straight forward police procedural. 

Not only is Kent a journalist, but in The Perfect Victim, she is also the best friend of the man accused of murdering a young woman. I found this really intriguing and it was gripping to watch Sophie as she tried to make sense of the evidence in front of her, of what she was being told by Emily - Charlie's wife - and what she knew about Charlie from her years of friendship. The stakes are raised, the tension is palpable and it certainly makes for a much more multilayered plot. 

Charlie and his wife Emily appeared to be the perfect couple, but as investigation into the woman Charlie is accused of killing continues and Sophie tries to clear Charlie's name, she is pulled deeper and deeper into their marriage and realises that it was not perfect. Each of the characters in the book is faced with struggles, they are grappling with issues that are engulfing them as they try to survive and continue as if everything is fine. As Sophie learns more about Charlie, Emily and the dead girl, she is forced to uncover more than she bargained for and has to reassess all that she thought she knew. 

Jackson's writing is punchy, direct, full of authentic dialogue which captures the characters vividly. She presents the challenges of working in a newspaper office with conviction and the pressure felt by the journalists, the office politics and the dynamics between the colleagues is portrayed with brutal realism. The impact of each revelation, twist or new piece of evidence was heightened because the journalists are constantly up against deadlines, the search for a sensationalised headline and desperate to be first with a good story. And of course, with Sophie's personal connection with the case, the twists and turns have a huge impact on her emotionally, creating conflict and additional pressure.

As well as writing with such vitality and energy, Jackson is also capable of writing very powerful, evocative scenes and I think the opening to this novel is particularly captivating. It shows how skilful Jackson is as a writer and it was impossible not to be hooked after reading the first two pages of this novel. She is able to convey a lot of emotion in her words which also ensures her characters are also well crafted. 

This book asks lots of exciting questions about friendship and marriage and it will keep you guessing until the end. Jackson's controlled storytelling ensures that there is a great balance between action, characterisation and pace and the reader is pulled along, desperate to see what might happen next. 

The Perfect Victim is full of energy and is a fantastically gritty read, I like Sophie Kent a lot, I think she's a refreshing female lead character and I like Jackson's unflinching use of dialogue and language. It is a page turner, it is compelling, it is addictive and it is well worth reading. This is a great sequel and this is an exciting new series in Crime Fiction. 

If you like Angela Clarke, Steph Broadribb and Nicci French, you will love Corrie Jackson. 

The Perfect Victim is published by Bonnier Zaffre on 16th November 2017.

Don't forget to follow the rest of the blog tour! Here are the other stops with lots of reviews and guest posts.



Q&A WITH CORRIE JACKSON

It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Corrie along to my blog today! Thanks ever so much Corrie for answering my questions about The Perfect Victim. 


Sophie Kent is a journalist and you also worked as a journalist.  Was this your main reason for creating a protagonist who was a journalist or did the inspiration for Sophie come from somewhere else?

I’ve been a journalist for fifteen years so it was certainly easier for me to write the role of a journalist than, say, a police detective. However, my background is in women’s magazines (Harpers Bazaar, Grazia, Glamour) so Sophie’s gritty world of criminal reporting was a steep learning curve. But I did my homework. I interviewed lots of reporters to get a sense of the job – especially in today’s 24/7 news industry. I struck up a friendship with the award-winning Canadian reporter, Jana G. Pruden. Jana’s tenacity, along with her ability to think on her feet, were instrumental in shaping Sophie’s character in my mind. I also relished the challenge of basing a series on a journalist, rather than a detective. A detective can walk onto a crime scene because he/she belongs there, but a journalist has to think outside the box. In THE PERFECT VICTIM, Sophie hits a dead end on a crime scene and her editor tells her: ‘Find me ten ways around the word no, Kent.’ In today’s ruthless world of news, it’s no good coming back empty-handed. In another life, I would love to have gone down the investigative reporting route. There’s huge appeal in solving a puzzle, righting wrongs, exposing the truth. Still, now I get to sleuth away without leaving my house (or getting dressed).

It’s great to see Sophie is back and hopefully there are plenty more instalments to come! What do you think are the main differences between planning and writing a book that is part of a series as opposed to two novels that are completely different and separate?

I’ve never written a standalone so it’s difficult to say. But series fiction sparks challenges, for sure. The central character needs to resonate with readers, and needs to be engaging enough to compel people to buy your next book. Committing to a series has given me the chance to dive deep into a character, which I love. And I didn’t know everything there was to know about Sophie Kent before I wrote the first book. I’m peeling back layers as I write. She’s smart, she’s stubborn but she can be intense, which is partly why I decided to split THE PERFECT VICTIM into two viewpoints. You get Sophie, and you also get Emily, the wife of the prime suspect. It was nice to jump into someone else’s headspace for a while.

Lots of writers talk about the challenges of writing their second novel. What did you find challenging about writing book 2 – or about the launch and publication of book 2?

There’s a reason why people talk about the dreaded second book! With my first, I wrote at a leisurely pace with no idea if it would ever see the light of day. Book two was all about hitting the deadline. I had a lot of other crazy stuff going on in my life. I started the book eight weeks after my daughter was born and finished it the night before a removals company packed up our stuff to move us to America. It was a frantic time in my life – but having the ability to disappear into a fictional world was surprisingly therapeutic.

As with your first novel, there are some tough and gritty scenes in The Perfect Victim. Charlie’s personal life is very emotionally complicated and Emily also has a lot of issues. How did you find writing about these characters? How did you ‘switch off’ at the end of a day of writing?

The great thing about being a crime writer is that you get to leave your comfort zone without actually stepping foot outside your house! For this book I immersed myself deep inside an unraveling marriage. It was both fascinating and unsettling, and it very much made me appreciate my own boring life. One thing I never cope well with is the research. I’m a total wimp. I don’t want to give too much away but I had to research a particular creepy/psychological crime for this book. It warped me for weeks. My husband was travelling a lot around that period and I had to sleep with the lights on. As for the switching off part, I have two young kids. I often go straight from writing a dark scene to bathing my kids, so switching off is never an issue!

When we spoke last September, when Breaking Dead was published, you said Sophie was a great character to write as she was constantly surprising you. Was there anything that Sophie did or that happened in The Perfect Victim that surprised you about her?!

Absolutely. Although I’m a total planner when it comes to plotting, lots of things occur as I’m writing. There are two major twists in the book that didn’t exist in the planning stage. They appeared out of nowhere as I was hammering away at my keyboard. Both occasions I got goosebumps. Hopefully, the fact that I was surprised means the reader will be surprised, too.

I think Sophie Kent is a great character. What do you think it is that makes her so appealing and engaging to readers?

My favourite thing about Sophie is that she doesn’t take crap from anyone. I really enjoy living vicariously through her! She’s talented, sharp and compassionate, but she’s also deeply flawed. She makes stupid decisions, particularly in her personal life, and I think most of us relate to that.
And then there’s the younger brother, Tommy, who dies just as book one opens. Tommy’s death cuts Sophie in half, and the reader shares in her struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Fun fact: we both have brothers called Tom. I named Sophie’s brother Tommy when I was writing the first draft because I needed to draw on the protectiveness I felt towards my brother as a kid. I planned to change the name but it stuck. Much to the bemusement of my brother (who is now six foot five and needs very little protecting).

Both books are set in London although in real life you now life in America. Would you ever consider changing the location of your novels from London to America? 

I love writing about London. It’s the greatest city in the world! For me, London is the backbone to this series so I can’t imagine uprooting her yet. Also, selfishly, now that I live in the US, writing about London makes me feel closer to home. Having said that, I’m all for mixing things up. Could Sophie head Stateside? Yes. Preferably Southern California so I can travel there for ‘research’.

What’s next for Sophie Kent? Is there a book 3 coming?
Yes, for sure. I’m in the planning stages now.

And, as a bibliomaniac, I can’t let you go without asking you these two questions!

What’s your book recommendation of 2017?
My favourite book of the year so far is The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. It blew me away.

What are you reading at the moment? 
I’ve just started Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and am totally gripped. Her first book was a gem.

Thank you so much Corrie for such fantastic answers! It's been such a pleasure to have you along today and I've loved hearing your answers about writing, Sophie Kent and The Perfect Victim. Good luck with book 3 and I can't wait to read it! 



You can find out more about Corrie Jackson here:


Saturday, 18 November 2017

#TheDeathsofDecember #SusiHolliday #BlogTour


*My huge thanks to Rosie Stephen and Mulholland Books for an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review and for taking part in the Blog Tour.*

Well, quite frankly, isn't this the best looking cover for a Christmas murder story that you've seen, like, ever? It's a stunning design; simple, yet tantalising. And I love the title and I love the premise. Susi Holliday has done it again. Whatever else you ask for this Christmas, make sure this book finds its way under your tree! 

Holliday has struck red, silver, green and gold with this new stand alone crime thriller. The story is about an advent calendar that arrives at the police station and as DC Becky Greene starts opening its doors, she realises that this is no ordinary advent calendar nor, sadly, is it a prank. Behind every door is a photo of a crime scene. This is an advent calendar from a serial killer who has been killing for twenty years. 

An advent calendar with four doors left. Four more murders. 

Unless DC Becky Greene and DS Eddie Carmine can catch the killer in time... 

What a genius idea! As soon as I heard the concept for this murder story I was hooked and desperate to read The Deaths of December. I have read, and loved, Holliday's Banktoun trilogy and I am a huge admirer of her writing style so there was no doubt in my mind that this festive novel would be as deadly and as compelling as her other books. 

The book is divided up into 'days' so we start on Friday  - or 'nine more sleeps' as it is subtitled. I liked the use of 'sleeps' here as it is loaded with suggestions of excitement and a childlike countdown to a special celebration but also suggests death. I like the juxtaposition of something so naive, childlike and positive used as in a more sinister context. It also immediately creates a sense of pace, threat and tension with the 'ticking clock' and race against time to solve the crime. 

The chapters are narrated by Becky, Carly, Eddie and The Photographer; the latter is the only one which uses first person. The Photographer is anonymous but it is not long before we realise his role in the story. The first person narrative is used effectively to create a more intimate voice and emphasise a greater sense of unease and the anonymity of the voice is unsettling as well as intriguing. The chapters alternate between these four voices so it is impossible to stop reading as you are keen to link the narratives together and always tempted to read on and find out the next part of the story. And with several different narrative view points, Holliday is also able to add depth and several plot lines that string themselves across the page like contrasting ribbons of tinsel adorning a Christmas tree. As two of the voices are the detectives investigating the case there is a perfect balance between the police procedural storyline and the more emotional or psychological storyline that is revealed through the photographer and Carly. Each voice is distinctive, different and well developed and each chapter is well structured and perfectly placed to maintain tension, engagement and cohesion. 

Holliday has a talent for creating believable, authentic and down to earth characters who feel like very real people. It is easy to form a relationship with the protagonists. She has knack for creating three dimensional characters through careful use of specific detail and observations.  Holliday's characters are easy to align yourself with so you invest quickly and want to stay with them until the end of the book. She also avoids stereotypes and cliches. For example, Becky is a great balance of a detective who is diligent, intelligent and yet cautious or with the suggestion of more emotion fragility. I thought she had a strong voice and would love to meet her again in another story.

The other character I enjoyed was The Photographer. Although we can guess that this must be the voice of the perpetrator, Holliday does not make it easy for us. This character is really interesting. He challenges the reader, he speaks directly to the reader and as the novel continues - particularly towards the end - he reveals himself not to fulfil the conventions of a serial killer. He challenges the reader's empathy and attitude towards him and it is thought provoking. I think it is really interesting that this is the one character Holliday chose to write from first person as this makes the character more immediate to the reader and encourages the reader to become more involved with his voice, point of view and internal thoughts. Although this is a detective fiction novel, Holliday has definitely added plenty of grey (or red and green?!) into this story and the voice of the Photographer is a fascinating device for adding further psychological complication to the plot. 

This is a superb police procedural. It is faultless and fluent in it's execution of story, plot, action and resolution. It is well researched, it is exciting and dramatic and it is well paced. I think the thing I enjoyed most was the readability, the fluidity, the ease and effortlessness of the writing and dialogue. I lost all sense of time when I was reading this book and enjoyed indulging in such a clever, well designed detective investigation. It's the perfect read for Christmas and will be a brilliant book to read over the festive season. 

It also has a fantastic ending. Like, a really fantastic ending! 

The Deaths of December is definitely the book to read this Christmas and should be waiting the tree of any crime fiction fan this Christmas Eve - however many sleeps that may be! 

The Deaths of December is published by Mulholland Books on 16th November 2017.

Don't miss the rest of the Blog Tour with more reviews and more guest posts from Susi herself! 


SUSI HOLLIDAY


Susi (S.J.I.) Holliday grew up near Edinburgh and spent many years working in her family’s newsagent and pub before studying microbiology and statistics at university. She has worked as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry for over 16 years, but it was on a 6-month round-the-world-trip that she took with her husband 10 years ago that she rediscovered her passion for writing. Her first novel, BLACK WOOD was published in 2015, the second, WILLOW WALK in June 2016, and the third, THE DAMSELFLY in February 2017. You can find out more at www.sjiholliday.com, or on Twitter and Facebook @SJIHolliday.

You can read my reviews of Susi's other books here: 

Susi is also coming along to my next author event in Harpenden and I can't wait to hear more about the inspiration for this novel! 


Thursday, 16 November 2017

#TheFosterChild #JennyBlackhurst #Review


THE FOSTER CHILD
by JENNY BLACKHURST 

*My thanks to Millie Seaward at Headline for an advance copy of this novel in return for an honest and unbiased review*


All I can say is that it is a good job I already have Jenny Blackhurst's other novels stored on my kindle for a rainy day because rain or not, I am off to read them this minute. I can't believe I've not read them already - it's shocking. I totally underestimated how much I would enjoy this author and how much I would enjoy The Foster Child. It is such a good book. 

Initially when I looked at the blurb, I thought I was in for a relatively straight forward thriller. All the components are set for an emotional, dramatic and tense read. The main character is Imogen, a child psychologist, who takes on the case of 11 year old Ellie who everyone believes to be dangerous. Ellie is the only survivor of a fire that killed her family and Imogen is determined to prove that this girl is just sad, grieving, angry and misunderstood rather than anything more sinister. But then there are too many incidents when Ellie is around, too many bad things happening around her and once upset, Ellie seems incapable of controlling herself. Convinced she can help Ellie, Imogen continues to fight Ellie's corner, even when it means she might be putting herself in danger. 

It's an intriguing set up and anything with exploring complex family issues is going to make for a powerful read. I was hooked by Imogen's character and her drive to get involved with Ellie and I liked that there was plenty of backstory to her character providing conflict, tension and depth as the plot unfolded. I liked the tension between Ellie and her foster family. I liked the dark atmosphere that was built from the mean way she was treated by others and then the one liners that slip from Ellie's mouth, which had I not been able to reread the words on the page, I might have thought I had misheard. 

This is where the genius of the writing begins. Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know I love a bit of the ghostly, a bit of the supernatural, a lot of the unreliable narrator and a whole load of unnerving atmosphere. I love a novel with a hint of something so deeply unsettling that you are unable to do anything except read, read, read and read. The Foster Child is one such novel. The book starts off in a relatively straight forward way as we would expect from this genre; a set up that implies threat, suggests complications, raises questions and flags up things to watch out for but don't be fooled... Blackhurst has much more planned for these characters - and the reader! - and there is nothing straight forward or average about this story at all. Beware. This is compelling, gripping and so so dark!

As I mentioned before, there are two main characters. Imogen is hardworking, kind and dedicated. She immediately connects with Ellie and gains the reader's empathy. However there are plenty of hints that things are not all rosy and suggestions that things in her previous job did not end well. She is also haunted by her own mother's behaviour towards her. The line between carer, psychologist, mother and friend are all blurred for Imogen as she tries to confront her own fears, her own issues and her professional responsibility towards Ellie. Things are muddled, complicated and murky for Imogen but Blackhurst has used this so effectively to explore the role of fostering, motherhood and love. Ultimately I was on Imogen's side and I enjoyed the well observed relationships she formed with the other characters in the story and the journey she found herself travelling. 

Ellie is equally well crafted. She is a young girl, traumatised by a terrible past and on the receiving end of unkind remarks and judgements by the community. It is really odd the way people respond to her and the reader is quickly alerted to the fact that something about Ellie frightens people - properly frightens them. 

Blackhurst has created characters who provoke a strong emotional responses from the reader and actually, this whole book is crammed with powerful emotions of hate, revenge, cruelty and violence. The bullying is vividly depicted and there are some very intense scenes to read. However, it never felt sensational to me. Because the dynamics between the characters are realistic and believable, we are rooted firmly in an authentic feeling, contemporary world and that is what makes this novel such addictive and thrilling reading.


As the novel progresses there are clues, hints and suggestions that something much darker is going on and there is some sense of (deliberate) confusion as the reader tries to make sure they understand what is happening. Blackhurst plays with us. After hooking us in to a story we think to be about a damaged child and her psychologist who wants a happy ending, we then have to start reconsidering what we are being told against what we can see happening. Slowly the jigsaw starts to take shape but still with glaring holes and still with some pieces that just don't quite fit where they should. 

I was gripped and as soon as I realised there was something rather special going on, I rattled through the second half of the novel without being able to put it down. It's hard to talk about the twists and finale without spoilers but the revelations and connections between the converging plot lines are woven together beautifully. This story is so delicious in its darkness, so spine chilling suspenseful that the reader is perpetually asking questions and having to reassess all they thought they knew.

The Foster Child is a great read. A page turner. A novel that raises questions about how we treat people, how we decide what makes a good parent or how we respond to the responsibility of parenting. It raises issues about your past and the impact it has on your present; about second chances, about girls, families and memory. And ultimately, it's about perception and reality.


I didn't really want to stop reading The Foster Child. I loved the uneasy atmosphere and the way Blackhurst managed to tread the line between reality and suggestion, how she made it convincing, rooted in reality and yet also convinced me to accept something much darker. Oh, yes, and those twists. All in the right place. All effective. All breathtaking.

This book comes with a quote from Lisa Hall who calls Blackhurst "an evil genius". I love this quote and think it captures my final thoughts perfectly!

I'm so pleased I discovered Blackhurst and that I have two others of her books to go and enjoy now - it's reducing my sense of loss since finishing the book. Nothing else beats a good, read-it-one-day-just-a-great-pageturner-and-wow-I-did-not-see-that-coming, psychological thriller. Read it.

The Foster Child is published by Headline on 16th November 2017. 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Alt-Write: Creative Reactions to Uncertain Times EXTRACT


Alt-Write is a collection of stories, poems and illustrations for children from 50 leading authors and artists with all profits going to UNHCR. 

It is a fantastic project and the list of contributors is remarkable - it is full of inspiring, talented writers and illustrators. If you visit the website Alt-Write you can find out a lot more, including a few short extracts from some of the stories. 

Or you can read on here....



EXCLUSIVE: 

 THE DEMENTORS OUTSIDE by SAVITA KALHAN

EXTRACT

The Dementors Outside
by
Savita Kalhan


She sang softly, like a whisper under her breath, as she stirred the gloopy concoction, adding water to make sure there was enough for the three of them. She shivered as a gust of wind lifted one side of the tent, and wished that her brother Aboudy and her sister Sousan would come back quickly. Aya called her concoction butterbeer, after the drink that Harry and Hermione drank in the Three Broomsticks. It kept the young wizards warm when it was freezing cold and snowy outside, and it was always cold where Aya was. Rain, snow, ice, wind, but rarely sunshine, breezed through their home as though they had more right to be here than Aya, Aboudy and Sousan.
When Aya first read The Philosopher’s Stone she was nine years old and she had whizzed through it like lightning, so she had read it again more slowly – this time savouring each word. She read it a third time while she waited impatiently for the next book to arrive. Once The Chamber of Secrets had hit the shelves of her local bookshop, she disappeared into her room for the whole weekend, only appearing briefly for mealtimes, much to her mother’s despair. The eagerly anticipated The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in the series, arrived without its cover, but Aya didn’t care. War could be raging outside and Aya would not know it. Again, chores were left undone, beds unmade, but by then Aya’s mother had other concerns. When the fourth book arrived, it was passed over to Aya by the bookseller himself.
“Forgive me, Aya. I cannot get hold of anymore. The shop is no more.” He hurried away as though the devil were at his back, a suitcase in each hand.
Aya did not pause to wonder where the shop had gone now that Harry Potter and the Goblet and Fire was safe in her hands. She hid it deep inside the bag her mother told her to pack, the clothes that should have gone into the bag lay scattered on her bed.
“But you’ll freeze to death where we’re going,” her older sister told her. “The book is too heavy, take it out and put your warm clothes in there.”
But Aya refused.
With a shake of her head, as though she was far more than just four years older than Aya, Sousan packed her sister’s clothes into her own bag. She knew much more about where they were going than Aya did, and she also knew that, outside her sister’s fantastical book-world, magic was not real and that the adventure they were about to embark upon was going to be more terrifying than facing a hungry troll in a locked room.
Aya found out about the adventure for herself.



Alt-Write is a non profit collection. All the money raised from sales will be donated to UNHCR (the IN refugee agency). All the authors have donated their work for free but the editors need to raise enough money to cover the production costs of the book. This is a crowd-funding project which means Alt-Write are seeking support and donations. Using the links below, you can donate to the campaign - from as little as £4. 

In the words of Mary Hoffmann and Rhiannon Lassiter:

We are asking for your support to bring this book to life. In our campaign video we talk about the need for a new narrative, for building bridges not walls and for compassion and understanding for those who have suffered from the devastating affects of war and conflict.

By donating to our campaign you can support the creation of new work, contribute to new understanding and secure yourself a copy of the book or the original artwork produced by fantastic writers and artists.

You can watch a You Tube video all about the campaign and hear from some of the authors themselves why they are so passionate about this project. It's just 7 minutes long. 


You can donate using the link below:

Alt-Write: Creative Reactions to Uncertain Times Rhiannon Lassiter & Mary Hoffmann



ALT WRITE: CREATIVE REACTIONS TO UNCERTAIN TIMES

A collection of short stories for children by award winning authors, poets and illustrators

Alt-Write is a new collection of writing for children in response to the events of 2016 and 2017. The past year has seen a tumultuous series of world events that have left people reeling. What can people do to try and help? What can people do to try and make sense of the world?

Well, maybe the pen is mightier than the sword. These artists decided that they would write short stories of 1000 words, or poems, or illustrations, which might help to encourage a deeper level of empathy amongst people. Writers write to understand and process the world around them and they hope that these stories will help others begin to understand this too. 

The authors involved in is project is incredible- the contributors list is rammed full of the leading names in the world of children's books and many award winning authors. 

Patrice Aggs, Iris Anya Abras, Philip Ardagh, Ros Asquith, Christina Balit, Cathy Butler, Rūta Briede, Margaret Chamberlain, Lucy Coats, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Doug Cushman, Carol Ann Duffy, Kathryn Evans, Alan Gibbons, Miriam Halahmy, Shahrukh Husain, Inbali Iserles, Savita Kalhan, Jackie Kay, Tanya Landman (Foreword), Patrice Lawrence, Karin Littlewood, Antony Lishak, Paul Magrs, Irfan Master, Jonathan Mayhew, Sarah McIntyre, Michaela Morgan, Linda Newbery, Korky Paul, Jeff Perks, Andrew Fusek Peters, Chris Priestley, Saviour Pirotta, Susan Price, Jane Ray, Celia Rees, Chris Riddell, Michael Rosen, Lawrence Schimel, Nick Sharratt, John Shelley, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, Colin West, Alex Wheatle, Jane Yolen and Benjamin Zephaniah.

All the profits from this book will go to UNHCR, the UN refugee charity.

For a taste of some of the stories featured in the collection you can click on the link below:
To find out more about the contributors, you can click on this link:

Alt-Write: creative reactions to uncertain times is edited by Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter, a mother and daughter team with a proven track record in publishing. In 2003 they co-edited a similar collection Lines in the Sand: New writing on war and peace published by Frances Lincoln in the UK and The Disinformation Press in the US. All the contributors' royalties and the publishers’ profits went to UNICEF's emergency appeal for the children of Iraq.


Alt-Write is a non profit collection. All the money raised from sales will be donated to UNHCR (the IN refugee agency). All the authors have donated their work for free but the editors need to raise enough money to cover the production costs of the book. This is a crowd-funding project which means Alt-Write are seeking support and donations. Using the links below, you can donate to the campaign - from as little as £4. 

In the words of Mary Hoffmann and Rhiannon Lassiter:

We are asking for your support to bring this book to life. In our campaign video we talk about the need for a new narrative, for building bridges not walls and for compassion and understanding for those who have suffered from the devastating affects of war and conflict.

By donating to our campaign you can support the creation of new work, contribute to new understanding and secure yourself a copy of the book or the original artwork produced by fantastic writers and artists.

You can watch a You Tube video all about the campaign and hear from some of the authors themselves why they are so passionate about this project. It's just 7 minutes long. 


You can donate using the link below:


I think this is an incredible sounding book, full of fantastic authors and profits are for an important cause. I think it is a campaign worth supporting and a book that I cannot wait to see published. 



Tuesday, 14 November 2017

#TheMaidsRoom #FionaMitchell #Review



THE MAID'S ROOM by FIONA MITCHELL 

*My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of this book via NetGalley in return for my honest and unbiased review* 

This is a book that at times might shock you, at other times it might inform you but it will definitely move you, entertain you and ultimately keep you turning the pages as the lives of these women take over your own. These characters are so well depicted and portrayed so vividly it impossible not to love them, or love to hate them. Mitchell introduces us to a delightful cast of women; some are fearsome, cruel and selfish, others are fearless, kind and generous. The dynamics and relationships between them is compelling and fascinating, it will have you reaching for a tissue one moment and raising an enthusiastic fist bump another. 

There was nothing I did not enjoy about this story. Set in modern day Singapore, this is the story of sisters Dolly and Tala, two Filipino maids working for British ex-pat families, sending all their money back home to support their own children that they have left behind. Despite the tough issues that this story raises and the moments of sadness that cannot be avoided in a novel that explores injustice and inequality, the author writes with a witty, sharp humour that will ensure you smile, giggle and laugh at the spirit, warmth and strength of these maids as they fight to have their voices heard. Despite the heavyweight material and the amount of research that the author has undertaken to give her novel authenticity and credibility, this is such an upbeat, uplifting and hugely entertaining read that I can do nothing except highly recommend it. 

Whilst Dolly and Tala are the main characters - well, let's face it, Tala completely steals the show- Jules and Amber are the ex-pats who employ the maids to work for them. Jules does not conform to the stereotype of an ex-pat wife in the community in which she now finds herself and even though she hopes for a new start in this new country, she brings with her sadness, grief and a suitcase full of baggage. But she is thoughtful, kind, considerate and willing to challenge the women she finds herself socialising with. There are some great phrases when we first meet Jules that show how uncomfortable she is amongst these women who seem false and too tightly controlled. When Jules tries to make an ironic comment or imply things are not perfect beneath the veneer of her seemingly polished life, she is met with 'frozen faces' and 'the tumbleweed rolls'. It is not hard for the reader to empathise and relate to Jules and I found her emotional journey moving and poignant as she came to terms with her new life. Jules offers hope to the maids and in her creation, Mitchell is able to voice a range of attitudes and avoids falling into the trap of cliches or trivialising the lives of these women she is representing. 

In contrast, Amber is a woman whose voice is 'full of hard edges and sighs', a woman who has few redeeming features and whose distain towards the maids has you curling your toes and gripping the pages a little too tightly. There is a turning point in the novel - to say anymore would be to ruin the incredibly powerfully written scenes - but this sets Amber off on a road that will eventually lead her to consider her behaviour and question her attitudes. Although not before Mitchell has used Amber to create maximum dramatic tension and develop a delicious mutli-layered plot which Mitchell so masterfully controls.

As I said, this is a story about Dolly and Tala and all the maids who are employed by these wealthy women, left to sleep in cupboards and bomb shelters left over from the 1970s, without windows and without enough space to keep their sparse collection of belongings. Each chapter begins with a quote from the anonymous "Vanda", a woman who writes a blog about the "Life as the Employer of a Foreign Domestic Helper." Vanda shares her Essential House Rules which read like something from two centuries ago. Worse still, from time to time, Vanda will post a photo of a maid, list all their mistakes and add their permit number thus ensuring they lose their job and are never employed again. Following the shocking death of April Joy, who fell after being forced to lean out on a narrow ledge nine floors high in order to clean, and after an accusatory and hateful post against Dolly, Tala retaliates. She becomes Maidhacker. 

"Forget about putting your expensive coffee on the top shelf and worrying about which toilet you allow your visitors to piddle in, Dolly has more important things to think about like paying for her child to eat and go to school."

Tala's blog is fantastic. She articulates her anger so well and says everything that we all hope we would have the courage to say were we in her position. She is risking her job, her livelihood and her permit to stay in Singapore but when she posts her responses to Vanda, the 'number of blog visitors rises before their eyes like a stopwatch'. Tala is a colourful character with spirit, energy, love and vitality. She is sharp, she is observant and she is angry. She is also believable and fallible. As with all the characters in this book, Tala brings with her a backstory and also has to go on her own journey. But she does steal the show. She has a big heart and seeks no thanks from those she 'rescues', just justice and fairness.

The rest of the novel is a rollercoaster of a ride as Tala is determined to save the reputation of Dolly, and all the maids, and to discover the true identity of Vanda. There are also storylines about Dolly, Jules and Amber that become more complex and more interwoven as the novel moves towards the final denouement. I was completely immersed in this novel. I could hear the voices of the characters, I was damp with the sweaty heat of Singapore and the intensity of the plot. I was fully absorbed in the emotional drama of the scenes and caught up in the themes, issues and incredible behaviour of some of the characters. Most of all, I loved the balance of humour and lightness of touch amongst the  hardship which ensures this is a book you do not want to end. 

The Maid's Room has rightfully been compared to The Help and the irony that Amber's book group are reading The Help is not lost on the audience. The Maid's Room is a very well written, contemporary novel full of feeling and full of colourful characters that will not be forgotten in a hurry. I hope there will be a film or failing that, another book from Mitchell! 

It is a real treat to discover a novel that makes you feel and react strongly to characters - whether you love them or loathe them. It is a real treat to discover a novel that introduces you to a situation which provokes a reaction and a lively discussion, and it is a real treat to discover an author who can write about a range of characters with consistency, sustaining a strong sense of humour from the first page to the last. It is a treat to discover Mitchell. 

The Maid's Room is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 16th November 2017.


#IAmWatchingYou #TeresaDriscoll #Review


I AM WATCHING YOU 
by TERESA DRISCOLL

*My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance copy of this novel in return for an honest and unbiased review* 

I had seen a lot of reviews for this on social media and when NetGalley released a 'Read Now' teaser, I wasted no time downloading it. 

I'll tell you what I liked the most about this book - it was the opening. The narrator addresses the reader directly and we are immediately sitting with her on the train watching the scene she recounts. We are immediately part of her situation, sharing her dilemma and considering the consequences of her choice. We are all asking ourselves "What would I have done?". The opening section of this thriller is a fantastic example of how to catch, hook, embroil and trap your reader and a fantastic example of how to set pace, create suspense and fuel dramatic tension so that the reader is captivated and invested from the very beginning. 

And, you'll be relieved to hear, after such a strong opening, the book continued to thrill and chill! It did not fail to deliver an exciting and dramatic story which successfully kept me turning the pages, asking questions and desperately reading on in a frenzied state until I had reached the final paragraph!

So what was it in the opening chapter that was so gripping and enticing? 

Meet Ella Longfield. 

"A question for you now. What would you think if you saw two men board a train, each holding a black bin bag - contents unknown. For myself, the mother of a teenage son whose bedroom is subject to a health and safety order, I merely think, Typical. Couldn't even find a holdall lads?" 

What would you do? Two young lads start talking to two young girls - two girls whose conversation you have already been listening to ("I'm bored remember. They're loud" Ella reminds us) and know that these girls are coming to London, alone, naive, inexperienced. Easy prey perhaps for these men who reveal they have just been released from prison. Should you ring their parents? Should you warn the girls? Should you step in? 

But then what happens when hear something that makes you feel naive, foolish and prudish; that you have made some ridiculous assumptions and that you have no right or reason to get involved. So you decide to do nothing.

And then what happens the next day when you switch on the news to see that one of the girls - the beautiful Anna Ballard, has disappeared. 

I think I shared the sickness that Ella felt rising in her stomach. 

What is also clever about this novel is that it then jumps forward a year. Rather than dealing with the immediate fall out, the immediate police investigation, the immediate results of everyone's chosen course of action we are suddenly a year on from the disappearance. I liked that this novel is about the long term fall out of a crime. I liked that it picks up again with Ella - a witness rather than the family member, not directly involved with Anna Ballard but directly affected and still suffering huge guilt, unable to forget or move on. 

A year later and Ella starts to receive threatening letters; a year later and an anniversary appeal which reveals Anna's friends and family might also have secrets to hide concerning that fateful night. What is Ella's connection? Why is she being watched? What does Sarah, the other girl from the train, know and not want to share? Why is she frightened and willing to risk her life rather than face further questions? What does Anna's father know? So many questions! So many suspects! So many story lines to explore and enjoy as Driscoll spins a compelling tale of secrets, suspicion, fear, threat and danger. 

The novel is told from several points of view, but the main voice is Ella, who I thought was a very well drawn, likeable character. She is open, honest and quick to establish her flaws from the first page:

'I read somewhere that by your forties you are supposed to care more about what you think of others than what they think of you- so why is it I am still waiting for this to kick in?"

The reader aligns themselves with her, sympathises with her and understands how her decisions are affected by her own relationship with her son and the issues in her personal life. As a random witness to events preceding the crime, Ella is an interesting view point to follow and to make so central to the plot. This actually makes the book feel more fresh and original and I was intrigued to watch how Driscoll handled this as the investigation and clues as to what happened that night continue to reveal themselves. 

The chapters are neatly headed with either "The Witness", "The Father", "The Friend" and the obligatory anonymous voice thrown in to unsettle us just when we think we know where the story is headed. I liked the alternating view points and felt each voice was different enough and used effectively in building tension and pace. It also gave Driscoll scope to build several layers to the plot and then bring them together skilfully in a well executed ending. 

I don't want to spoil this book for you. All I need to say is that you are in safe hands. Driscoll's fine writing and sound understanding of how to grab her readers and pull them along into a compelling story which raises questions, challenges actions, invites judgement and exposes secrets in a way that will leave you breathless. There are twists, there are things you might see coming and things that you won't. 

This is dark. This is clever. This is gripping. You need to watch Driscoll. I will be. 

I am Watching You was published by Thomas & Mercer on 1st October 2017.