Monday, 30 May 2016

YA Fiction: "Beetle Boy" by MG Leonard

Beetle Boy
Dr Bartholomew Cuttle is at work at the National History Museum where he is the Director of Science on an unremarkable Tuesday afternoon. He has locked himself into the Entomology Room to continue his research. But he never comes home that evening. The room was locked from the inside but completely empty. He had simply vanished from a sealed chamber. 

Thirteen year old Darkus Cuttle sets out to solve the crime and to find his father. 

This book is full of wonderful characters. It has flavours of Lemony Snickett, Gerald Durrell, Roald Dahl, recent films like "Paddington" as well as the classic "101 Dalmations". It is a real treat and a really well written adventure that will appeal to all readers between the ages of 8-11.

Following the disappearance of his father, crazy Prof Max, Darkus's uncle, agrees to take him in, his mother having died when Darkus was younger and there being no other family member to help out. Max lives above a health food shop in Camden but he's "not much good with guests as he never knows what to do with them." He's an extrovert and gives Darkus a hammock to sleep in as he tries to work out how to accommodate a child in his home. However, he is also full of astute insights and advice like pointing out that "grown up life can be terribly dull, full of politics and compromise." These throwaway remarks actually work as clues about Bartholomew's past and what might actually have happened to him. Max supports Darkus's plan to investigate his father's disappearance, commending him on his "grit and determination" - a phrase which is repeated frequently throughout the story.

Darkus is a sensitive and unsuspecting hero. He is lonely. He doesn't know how to talk to people about the things in his head. He has terrible nightmares and lives in a "chasm of fear". He is not a typical hero. But he makes new friends - the vivacious and lively Bertock and Virginia who ooze charisma and spirit. And most importantly, he finds Baxter the Beetle.

Baxter comes to the rescue and together Darkus as they set out to defeat the villainous Lucreita Cutter - coleopterist - collector and studier of insects. Lucretia is a highly imaginative creation. She is a mixture of Cruella DeVille and Millicent Clyde in "Paddington." Leonard's collection of villainous characters are entertaining, cartoon like in their evilness, vivid and very easy to picture. The children are equally appealing and full of vitality and life. It's an engaging and hugely enjoyable read.

The real stars of the show are the beetles. Leonard combines scientific terminology and language effortlessly in a way which is not inaccessible or off putting. There is a glossary at the end of the book but actually, the references to proper vocabulary and terms is part of the charm and appeal of the book. This will captivate any young adventurer or insect lover. It will also captivate any child with an imagination. The scenes with the beetles and the way in which they assist Darkus are very well described and form great images in the reader's mind. Leonard's choice of description and detail make this story original and fresh as well as retaining all the key elements of a classic adventure mystery book.

Although most of the book is about nature and insects, themes of friendship, family, grief, confidence and happiness are also explored with deft control and effectiveness. It is a funny book, a quirky book, ....a book that will send you out in to the garden to look at all the creatures you might uncover there. It is book full of facts and information as well as a great adventure and mystery. This book goes to show that with a bit of grit and determination, anyone can be unbeatable!

For more recommendations and reviews, please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up to receive future posts via email.


"Exposure" Ava Marsh

Exposure

Kitty Sweet is in prison, charged with double murder. She’s as damaged as she is charismatic, as dangerous as she is charming. And now she’s been invited to tell her story, to explain how on earth it came to this.

Hers is a story of heartbreak and desperation, of adulation and glamour. Of ruin. She’s descended to an underworld that most people can only imagine and she’s lived to tell the tale…


This novel opens in 2016, with Leanne (Kitty Sweet) in prison serving her sentence for double murder. The writing is gritty, making the reader very aware of the brutal world of prison with its favours, game playing and the need to be constantly alert and wary of every other inmate. Leanne knows she must never give anyone leverage over her despite how tempting it is to confide in someone you think could be a friend. The language is brutal, coarse, offensive and harsh but used by Marsh to create authentic and believable characters. She ensures that the right atmosphere and setting for her hard hitting story is established. By the end of the first page it is clear this novel is not for the faint hearted!

We then move back to 2004 when Leanne was only 19 years old, returning right to the beginning in order to find out just how she has ended up in prison for murder. Finding herself in serious financial difficulty thanks to her ex-boyfriend, Leanne starts to earn extra money by posing nude. The lure of the thick wad of notes becomes too enticing and too "soothing for the soul" and before she really can stop herself, she has entered the world of porn movies and begins to earn a significant income this way. She doesn't walk into this lightheartedly; there is plenty of dilemma and conflict surrounding her decision which she is never fully comfortable with but she is young and this is "easy" money. It is not until the work becomes more pornographic that she realises there is no going back. The passages describing her work and the seedy world of the porn industry are incredibly explicit and graphic. Again, they are not for the faint hearted or prudish. They are eye opening and hard hitting.

Leanne is a character you can care about. She is naive from the outset and the truth of her situation - of the effect it will have on her and how it will shape her- only dawns on her later. Marsh has written a book which "exposes" the porn industry and explores the effect it has on the people within it. From the outset the reader is pulled in and pulled down in to a dark, violent, exploitative and uncomfortable world. She doesn't hesitate to include shocking detail and language, but manages to create a story in which she is not passing judgement or making moral comment.

The chapters are short. The novel is well paced with a good build up of tension. It is full of action and colour. The language is explicit and there is a lot of erotic and sexual content which at times is quite overwhelming. However, there are lots of reviewers who are captivated by Kitty Sweet and compelled to find out her full story. This could be the next "Fifty Shades of Grey", albeit a much more gritty version.

Thank you NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book in return for a fair review.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

"Too Close" by Gayle Curtis

Too Close
This is a gripping and unsettling story about the relationship between twins Sebastian and Cecelia. Growing up on a farm in the isolated Fens with their abusive and violent father, Sebastian and Cecelia have always looked out for each other, relied on each other and shared a deep bond. After the disappearance of their mother when they were children, they become even closer despite the fact their father is so disapproving of their intimacy. Sebastian is determined to protect Cecelia from their father's aggression- especially as it becomes more threatening- at all costs. Then events take a dramatic turn which changes the relationship between the twins forever.

The novel opens with the most brilliant prologue. Cecelia lies in bed at night, her dream "becoming an unreachable memory as it cusped its way up to the high ceiling and burst on the victorian cornice." She is haunted by a mysterious green suitcase. Then her daughter Caroline appears by her bedside. Getting up to help her Cecelia takes her out into the landing. "Cecelia, there's no one there," her husband Samuel tells her when he finds her wandering about the house. "Caroline's asleep in bed, I just checked." Cecelia is convinced she could still "feel the tiny hand ..in hers, her quiet whispering voice in the memory of her mind." It is a ghostly opening; one which raises many questions in the reader's mind and suggests that there is something strange, something disturbing, playing on Cecelia's mind. As we read on, nightmares and sleep walking become a recurrent theme within the novel. Cecelia's vivid dreaming confuses her and the reader, the lines between what is real and what is imagined becoming blurred and intertwined. It creates a haunting, mysterious and threatening edge to the already unnerving tale.

Following the prologue, we start the book in 1984 just after the twins' mother has disappeared. Yvonne, their mother, has been planning to leave her husband Roger for a long time, promising the twins she would take them with her. But she doesn't. For Cecelia, without her mother everything was grey and she misses the "magic liquid (of her mother) to colour her dim grey world." For Sebastian, he is haunted by the last time he saw his mother; her legs and feet under the kitchen table and his father whispering "You didn't see anything," in his ear. They believe her to be dead, murdered by their father.

As they grow up living with Roger, a "foreboding atmosphere settles over the farmhouse." They feel "unsure, unsafe, unsteady." Cecelia's night walking increases and her nightmares more realistic. Her temper becomes a problem at school. At home, they learn to gauge Roger's moods, endure his punishments; they seek refuge in each other's company, hiding together and trying to protect each other. Then during a particularly violent altercation with the twins, Roger is shot.

The book then continues 18 years later. Sebastian is released from prison after serving a sentence for killing Roger, a sentence he served to protect Cecelia and save her future. Cecelia is married and has one daughter Caroline. Their mother has returned. Cecelia remains a haunted character, still deeply traumatised by her past - and a recent tragedy that has deeply affected her as a mother. She is still prone to nightmares, hallucinations and night walking - sometimes these "spells" seem more like fugues or something more psychologically sinister than just a bad dream. The confusion between her ghostly visions, dreams and reality create a sense of madness. Sebastian has also become more menacing. He seems to seek revenge for his incarceration. He seems bitter and dangerous. He stalks Cecelia, unable to accept that their relationship is broken and ignoring her wish not to see him. He befriends her daughter Caroline in a way that suggests he has a hidden motivation. They are great characters and cleverly drawn. It is hard to know who to believe, what is real, who is reliable and trustworthy, who to sympathise with and who to be scared of. The exploration of their relationship and how it has changed and been affected by their shared history is captivating.

The ending is incredible. It really picks up pace with a menacing crescendo. Events and characters begin to spiral out of control as the purpose of the characters becomes clear and more twists are revealed. The reader watches helplessly as characters hurtle toward their inevitable fates. It was chilling and powerful. It is an ending that makes a lasting impression on the reader, leaving them reeling. It is a great story about siblings who just become "too close".

My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up to receive future posts via email.


Thursday, 26 May 2016

"Knickers Model's Own: A Year of Frugal Fashion" Caroline Jones

Caroline Jones Book Knickers Model's Own - A Year of Frugal Fashion Cancer Research UKCaroline Jones Book Knickers Model's Own - A Year of Frugal Fashion Cancer Research UKCaroline Jones Book Knickers Model's Own - A Year of Frugal Fashion Cancer Research UKCaroline Jones Book Knickers Model's Own - A Year of Frugal Fashion Cancer Research UK
In 2014, Caroline Jones' mum died of Cancer. Looking for a way to raise money for Cancer Research UK, a charity her mum had supported for 13 years, a way to help her come to terms with her grief and creating a meaningful legacy for her mum, Caroline hit on the idea of an innovative project: for 365 days she would wear 365 outfits and pose for 365 photos on social media. Each of these 365 outfits would be self styled using only the preloved clothes from the racks of Cancer Research shops.

Caroline began her challenge by posting her photos on Facebook with a link to her Just Giving page. Within a week, her photos had attracted thousands of visitors, press interest, radio interviews and generated generous donations to her fundraising campaign, "Knickers Model's Own". By the end of the year, the inspiring and original project had captured the attention of the national media, won Caroline JustGiving Creative Fundraiser of the Year and Highly Commended Pioneer of the Year by CRUK as well as the Points of Light Volunteer Award from David Cameron. To date she has raised nearly £60,000 for CRUK through her JustGiving page, as well as inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to buy from the charity shops. This book, published by CRUK with 100% profit going to CRUK, is a record of her 365 outfits and her year of "Frugal Fashion". It is an amazing legacy in memory of her mum.

The opening pages include a forward from designer Henry Holland, whose famous line of clothes sell in high profile high street and online places like Debenhams and ASOS. He refers to Caroline's campaign as "inventive, creative, fun and effective." He writes that fashion can unite people; "it brings together a shared love for shopping and self expression and therefore this fundraising project is a way of offering some light relief during a time of grief, tragedy and pain. It gives people a way of sharing something, of bringing them together."

The book is beautifully produced. It is of an exceptional quality. The photography (some of which is by Rankin) is stunning and each page is artistically and attractively put together. Each double page shows each of Jones' 52 weeks of eye-catching outfits on a budget. Jones' talks through her choices, with each week given a heading like "Cape of Good Hope", "Go Faster Stripes," "Follow the Rainbow" and "My Kilty Pleasure." She offers advice about how to get the look and a top tip on every page. The book is fun and reflects Caroline's humour, flair and vitality. The outfits are attractive, contemporary, colourful and most importantly, achievable every day ensembles.

There are also pages with some advice on how to transform your preloved purchases with simple tweaks and twists; how to make the right choice in store and how to select items that suit you best and enhance your shape, colouring and size. There are copies of some of the newspaper interviews and television appearances as well as contributions for famous celebrities. There are also comments about how to take a good photo and how to select outfits for specific occasions. This is a book to read, dip in and out of, to look at again and again and to keep to hand for fashion inspiration as well as a reminder of what can be achieved through self motivation, love and voluntary work.

Jones obvious has a great eye for colour, fashion and style. She does make bold choices with some of her outfits, but what I liked most about the book was that the look Caroline achieved with her purchases was contemporary- not quirky, outlandish or deliberately headline grabbing - but "ordinary" and most definitely enviable! They will appeal to everyone. One of the most important things she has achieved is getting people to consider charity shops to be a serious rival to the High Street chains. This book offers people a way to stay fashionable, to change or update their look regularly and constantly add variety to their wardrobe by buying preloved items. It offers top tips on "How to Shop Preloved," and how to achieve great fashion on a budget. Jones has broken the taboo of charity shops, recycling clothes and rewritten the public's preconception of charity shops. Buying clothes from Cancer Research shops is not something to be ashamed of or hide. In fact, some of the outfits are designer labels, but as Jones points out, ignore the label and look at the detail - think about the colour and shape and what you could do with the item to refresh it and give it a new lease of life. Most of the clothes listed for the photos are High Street names like Top Shop and H&M and 90% of the outfits were bought at her local branch of Cancer Research.

Jones' commitment to her project is unfaltering - she wore her preloved wardrobe to Royal Ascot and for meeting with celebrities and the appearing on the television. Preloved clothing does not have to mean old clothes, tatty clothes, frumpy, causal and "for the garden only" clothes. You can fill your wardrobe for all occasions and eventualities with a bit of insightful rummaging and accessorising!

One of Jones' highlights of the year was when she created a pop up shop to sell off her "year of frugal fashion". She filled a local hall with rails and rails of things that had been considered second hand, discarded, rejected clothes and transformed them into this seasons "must haves". They became exciting and coveted. They were seen as they always had been seen to Jones: beautiful, wanted, cared for, colourful wonders.

This is a gorgeous book for people interested in fashion and clothes - and even those that aren't! The style tips are realistic, authentic, achievable and aimed at the everyday shopper. They are "ordinary" outfits from a woman who is absolutely nothing but "ordinary"!

If you are interested in supporting Caroline Jones' campaign, please go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/knickers-models-own to donate. "A Year of Frugal Fashion" can be purchased online from CRUK (www.cruk.org) or through the shops. You can follow Caroline Jones on Facebook (Knickers Models Own) or Twitter @knickersmyown.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Q&A with YA author Jo Cotterill


A Library of Lemons

Jo Cotterill, author of over 20 children's fiction books, published her latest novel on 5th May with Piccadilly Press. In this story we meet 10 year old Calypso, who lives with her emotionally incompetent father who can't, or won't talk about the death of her mother. Instead he leaves Calypso to fend for herself (and him) and buries himself in his writing - a book about the history of the lemon. Calypso loves reading and writing and loses herself in the world between the pages of her favourite books. But a new friendship with a girl called Mae ends up forcing her to accept some truths about her family home and her father. It is a bittersweet heart wrenching read; poignant and moving, full of excellent characters and great writing. 

I am thrilled to welcome Jo Cotterill to my blog today to take part in a Q & A session. My enormous thanks the publishers for giving me this opportunity, and to Jo for taking the time to answer my questions! 

Can you start by telling me a little bit about where the inspiration for this novel came from? 
Actually, this book started with the title, well before I had any characters. I like wordplay, and this phrase just sort of fell into my head. And the strange thing was, as soon as the title appeared, I knew immediately what the library of lemons was and who was involved. The central character, 10-year-old Calypso, bears a very strong resemblance to my own 10-year-old self, who really preferred books to people and imaginary worlds to the real one…perhaps I still do!

Can you describe Calypso in three words?
Imaginative, independent, lonely

Calypso's dad is writing a book about the history of the lemon. Was there a particular reason you decided to use the lemon as his chosen focus? 
Only because it was in the title!

If you were to write "A History of....." what would it be?
Oh wow, that’s a hard one. I am pretty fascinated by the imagination though. So it might be something to do with the way imagination has been used or understood over the years.

The novel is full of charming references to "Anne of Green Gables" and several other children's books and poems. Which books made an impression on you as a child and why?
Our house was full of books – both for children and for adults – because my parents love books. We also went to the library frequently. As a child, Anne Shirley was a huge heroine of mine. I had a tendency to dramatise myself, like Anne, and a highly advanced vocabulary, so I liked to identify with her! I also loved the Famous Five (though I confess I had more in common with Anne than George), and fell head over heels for Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence, which I also reference in A Library of Lemons.

What are your three all time favourite books?
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and Lucas by Kevin Brooks. Though I haven’t read the last one for years because it makes me sob bucketloads.

Is there a book you've read which you wish you'd written?
Honestly, no. There are books I’m in awe of and authors I envy because of their success, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book I wish I’d written. There are too many books I still want to write rather than steal someone else’s!

Are there any authors that inspire and influence you and your writing?
I’m so lucky to have a wide circle of fantastic author friends, many of whom inspire me daily with their work ethic, their generosity of spirit and their incredible wordcraft. It’s thanks to some of them that I’ve kept going through the rough patches, and upped my productivity to keep up with them!

Where is your preferred place for writing? 
I have a study at home, with a desk and a PC. I’m surrounded by my books, my musical instruments and my craft materials. It’s very ‘me’.

When writing, do you prefer typing on the computer or writing by hand?
Computer. Unless I’m starting out on a brand new story. I find my imagination works better with paper and pen, to get down the basic ingredients of the book. But once I start writing the manuscript, it’s computer all the way.

What has been the most important moment in your writing life?
Hearing I’d been offered a six-book deal by Random House for my series Sweet Hearts in 2009. That was a massive moment for me. I began to believe that I could actually make it long-term as a writer. And it was the moment I knew I could give up teaching in order to write full time.

I loved the way your novel explored the use of writing (and reading) as a way of "healing" and enabling people to process their feelings and emotions. Can you tell me a little bit more about this?
I think I’ve always done this, and I think a lot of others do too, through diaries, poetry, songwriting… I don’t think it’s a conscious thing for me. And actually, using words to express emotions seems to have got harder over time, as you develop a wider emotional range and there aren’t enough words to fit the way you feel. But I do believe that communication is the essence of healing, whether that’s written or spoken or sung – even if it’s never shown to anyone. The fact that you have made something to show how you feel can help you to face those feelings with more power and confidence.

Looking at your impressive back catalogue, you write for quite a range of ages and cover a variety of themes. Where do you get your ideas from? 
Oh, ideas are easy! It’s turning them into books that’s the hard part! I get ideas from all over the place, but I almost always start with a character or a concept. And I particularly like the question, ‘what if?’ That’s led to a lot of my stories!

I'd like to read "Looking at the Stars" next. Do you have any "favourites" from your back catalogue?
Oh gosh, yes. Sadly some of them are out of print. I wrote a novel back in 2008 (under the name Joanna Kenrick) called Screwed, about a teenage girl slowly self-destructing. That was about grief too, though the girl dealt with her emotions in a far less socially acceptable way than Calypso! I’m hoping to re-publish the book at some point. Model Behaviour, one of my Sweet Hearts books, I adored writing because the characters practically leapt off the page into my head. And of course more recently, I couldn’t be prouder of my book Electrigirl, which is part-book, part-comic strip by the wonderful Cathy Brett. Electrigirl is my attempt at re-balancing the gender inequality in superhero stories – and was just immense fun to write.

Are you currently working on any new novels?
That’s a great question to ask me today because within a week, I should know if I have the green light on two brand-new novels…! So the answer is, I very much hope so!

And so do I! I can't wait to read more of your books! 
Thanks ever so much for your time and for appearing on my blog - it's been really interesting! 

A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill is out now, published by Piccadilly Press. 

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) 

Monday, 23 May 2016

"The Red Notebook" Antoine Laurain

The Red Notebook
I bought this book after finishing "The Reader on the 6.27" as one reviewer on Goodreads had sighted it as a similar kind of story. It is a slim novel of 160 pages and the chapters are only about two to three pages long making it a really quick read.

Laurent Letellier, a bookshop owner in Paris, finds a purple handbag abandoned in the street. His first intention is to hand it into the police even though he thinks of the police station as one of those "purgatorial places like A& E, Customs Offices at Airports where your always better off outside even if it's raining." Laurent had never opened a woman's handbag with out "explicit instructions - a command only ever valid for a short time" but he decides to look inside the bag. He can find nothing inside it to indicate who it belonged to or how he could return it to the owner but it is full of other fascinating objects; "it was more complicated than dissecting an octopus on a kitchen table." In particular, he finds a red notebook in which the owner has filled pages with her jottings - lists of what she likes, what makes her happy, what she is afraid of, things that have caught her attention. Laurent is filled with a desire to meet this woman even though there is nothing bearing her name or any clue to her identity. "She was an enigma ...like looking at someone through a fogged up window." He is intrigued and feels some kind of connection with the woman - and so begins his search, a search which comes to symbolise something more powerful and leads him to something much more significant than just returning a missing handbag.

Meanwhile there are snapshots of the mysterious owner, lying in hospital following her attack when the handbag was stolen from her. Words like "head injury" and "coma" float into her subconsciousness but she remains unable to wake and let the nurses know who she is. "No sound came out of her mouth," and in her dream like unconscious state she imagines herself to be in a garden with her deceased parents. Memories flicker and float through the sections about the woman who we learn is called Laure, implying a past of grief and pain.

Laurent's daughter gives him an astute analysis of the kind of woman she thinks owned the handbag: "She is in her 40s, judging by her choice of makeup and chic designer handbag....she's attached to the past as her mirror is ancient.... Are you in love?" she deduces, realising that from the objects in front of her, this could indeed be her father's perfect woman.

The book is filled with lyrical writing and insightful observations. For example:"If there was one thing that defined adolescence it was hysterical laughter. In adolescence the brutal realisation that the world and life were completely absurd made you laugh until you couldn't catch your breath whereas in later life, it only results in a weary sigh."

There are also many musings and reflections about relationships and love. "How easy it was to disappear from someone else's life....a chance meeting, a few words exchanged, and a relationship begins. A chance falling out, a few words exchanged and that same relationship is over." This is a book about love, chance meetings, things that could have been. The author writes about having a nostalgia for something that hasn't happened and I like this idea that we can experience a nostalgia for  what might have been. He writes about how easy it is for things to "pass by", something important like a job, a love, a move and how we can grab "fragments of what might have been like catching snatches of a far off radio frequency." The author's writing is simple and concise, yet rich and resonant.

The ending of the book is perfect. Like a fairy story, it links all the characters and threads together through literature. We are like spirits gazing down on the city and floating over them, then moving away to leave them to "experience" their lives. This is a story of searching, of love, of belonging, of connections, of chances and the way we can "pass by" people so close "that something of the experience remains" and touches us. The best word to describe the story is charming and it is a real gem. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a short, easy read and if you enjoyed "The Reader on the 6.27", "The Little Paris Bookshop" or are fans of writers like Graham Swift, you will love this book. Highly recommend!

For more recommendations and reviews, please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up to receive future posts by email.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

BLOGTOUR Leigh Russel "Murder Ring"



Murder Ring (A DI Geraldine Steel Mystery)
"Murder Ring" is Book 8 in the DI Geraldine Steel series and is now available in paperback. 


SYNOPSIS:

     Hearing footsteps pounding along the street behind him he glanced back, fleetingly worried, then laughed because the street was deserted. All the same, he felt uneasy. Everything looked different in the dark. Then he heard more footsteps approaching, and a hoarse voice called out. Turning his head, he made out a figure hovering in the shadows and as it raised one arm, the barrel of a gun glinted in the moonlight… The dead body of unassuming David Lester is discovered in a dark side-street, and DI Geraldine Steel is plunged into another murder investigation. The clues mount up along with the suspects, but with the death of another man in inexplicable circumstances, the case becomes increasingly complex. As Geraldine investigates the seemingly unrelated crimes, she makes a shocking discovery about her birth mother.





Today I am delighted to welcome Leigh Russell to take part in my first ever post for a BlogTour! My huge 
thanks to Leigh and No Exit Press for letting me participate in this tour, and for giving me the exciting
opportunity to put some questions to Leigh about her writing and latest publication "Murder Ring". 


Welcome Leigh! I am impressed with your knowledge of police procedure. Do you have any
experience of working in the police force? How do you ensure you keep up to date with the latest
detective procedures, technology and acronyms?

I have never worked for the police, but have some very supportive contacts in the Met. At first I was surprised by how many police officers are fans of my books. I'm very relieved that they are forgiving of the occasional liberties I take with police procedure. To write detective novels with an authentic feel, it's probably essential to have contacts who are actually doing the job and able to advise. Of course, like most crime writers, I don't adhere strictly to the facts, but it is helpful to have an idea of what happens in the real world. This makes it possible to sustain the illusion that the world of my books is real. I try to keep up to date with developments in forensics. It's a fascinating field, and can be quite inspiring. In Murder Ring Geraldine makes use of one of the latest techniques in forensics to help her solve the crime, and researching it also helped me to work out how I was going to resolve the plot in the book.

This is the 8th book in the series. Did you always plan to write a series? Did you always have a "journey" or subplot for Geraldine or is it something which evolved as the series progressed? There's clearly another instalment on its way - have you planned how many more there will be or is it more organic than that?

When I wrote the first in the Geraldine Steel series, Cut Short, I had no idea my story would ever be published, let alone become the first in a long running series. I had never even planned to become an author. Always an avid reader, I literally had an idea one day, started to write, and haven't been able to stop since. So Geraldine's development through the series has been evolving from book to book. I really do make it up as I go along! I am currently writing the ninth in the series, with at least another three under contract with my publisher, which will take us up to twelve in this series. And I don't think I'll stop there. As long as people keep reading my books, my publisher will continue to publish them, and I'll carry on writing them.

This book is about gun crime. I remember from listening to your talk at Harpenden Library that is something you feel quite strongly about. Why? Was there a particular incident or case which made you want to write about it? Do you want your book to carry a message about gun crime or was it just something you wanted to explore?

Having written seven books in the Geraldine Steel series, with four set in North London, I felt I couldn't continue indefinitely setting a contemporary detective series in North London without ever mentioning guns. So although I hate guns, I decided to tackle the issue. The topic turned out to be far more interesting than I had anticipated. Of course many people who own guns are not evil master criminals, but dysfunctional people, often acting irresponsibly because they are extremely young. One of the reasons crime fiction is so interesting is that it examines difficult social problems. Murder Ring does not offer any solutions, but it does raise the issue of gun crime.

Who are your favourite detectives? Have any other detective writers influenced your own work?

There are so many brilliant fictional detectives - Dalziel, Poirot, Rebus, Reacher, Lincoln Rhyme, Roy Grace - that it would be impossible to pick out my favourites. That said, I admit my original influence was probably Conan Doyle. Although forensics have moved a very long way from Sherlock Holmes' magnifying glass, Conan Doyle was very skilled at presenting the reader with all the clues necessary to work out the identity of the criminal, without making the answer obvious. This puzzle solving aspect of crime fiction is part of its appeal. I find it very difficult to keep one step ahead of my readers, without introducing a twist that would be impossible to predict.

If the series was televised, who would play Geraldine and what soundtrack would you choose for the opening credits?

The brilliant actress I would like to see as Geraldine is very keen to play the role. As the series is currently in development for television, without anything being finalised, I am not allowed to say more than that! The soundtrack would not be my choice. Although I have a few ideas, producing a television series is a very different artistic endeavour to writing a book. I know something about writing books, but nothing about producing television shows. So if the current project ever succeeds, I'll be happy to leave all the decisions to the experts. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that Geraldine appears on our screens one day.

As am I! I think the series would transfer brilliantly to the screen. Good luck! Thank you so much Leigh for your time and for answering my questions. I wish you all the best with "Murder Ring" and the next instalment - which I will be looking out for! If you want to find out more about "Murder Ring", please see my review below.

Murder Ring is available to buy on amazon by clicking on the link below:



My Review of "Murder Ring" by Leigh Russell

This is the 8th book in the DI Geraldine Steel Mystery Series. It is only the 2nd one I have read - I fully intend to rectify this but as far as I can tell, these books work equally well as stand alone crime thrillers. 

Geraldine is an appealing character. She is considered, professional, successful but also human; "she had investigated so many murders...she remembered them all." She is also in deep emotional turmoil herself following the death of a colleague in the previous novel. There is a contrast between her personal and professional self. She is able to shut off her personal problems and emotions, focussing so wholly on her work that no one suspects how fragile things behind the facade really are. There is a clever "drip feed" of information about her birth mother -just enough to intrigue the reader but not to distract from the main crime or over complicate the novel with too many contrived sub plots. Russell has established a good balance. The reader is empathetic towards her. She appears to be a hard police woman but has her own weakness and vulnerability. She is lonely, a little isolated and struggling to work through her own grief. She generates sympathy but also interest and respect. The reader wants to learn more about her. 

There is clearly a back story with Geraldine which has obviously been gradually established over the previous 7 books but the reader is brought up to speed quickly and neatly with any necessary details. This will not be boring or repetitive for those who have already read the other titles but will probably help refresh everyone's memories over what is important as we move forward into the next "chapter" of Steel's life. As I said, this works as a stand alone novel but actually, I liked Geraldine a lot and would like to learn more about her backstory.

The chapters are short, full of pace and deftly switch between the different characters who are either involved in the investigation or a potential suspect. It is impossible not to be drawn straight into the action and finding yourself turning the pages to find out more about the story line you've left behind or intrigued by the new developments presented from the range of characters and the various subplots which Russell swiftly sets in motion and effectively controls in a way which ensures tension and suspense are well maintained throughout the whole book. 

The ending is good. There is a clear resolution and conclusion but also a few seeds are sown for the next instalment. I must admit, I am a little hooked! I didn't solve the crime, I fell for all the red herrings -Russell is too clever for me! My attention was held until the last page and I liked the fact that the revelations were held until the very ending of the book. It's an enjoyable, satisfying, easy read. Russell has clearly researched police procedure well and it is not a gratuitously graphic or violent crime novel. The reader is captivated by the characters - their motivation and deception, the tangled web that people spin through greed and opportunism. 

This has all the key aspects of a great detective novel. It has multiple characters who are all authentic and convincing. There is good dialogue, plenty of action, a great pace and the plot is well structured. There are complications and revelations which ensure the reader is kept guessing. It is very readable and written in a very fluent style.


Murder Ring (A DI Geraldine Steel Mystery)



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Guest Post: Horrible Histories by a MiniBibliomaniac

Horrible Histories: Angry Aztecs (New Edition)

"Horrible Histories Angry Aztecs" is an amazing easy-to-read book that's full of fascinating facts. Starting with a great timeline, the information in this book is very accurate, reliable and extremely interesting. Seeing as my class are studying the Aztecs at school, I have been given a head start because of this book and have discovered things that I was surprised to find out.

Some of the gobsmacking facts I have found out are:
-many priests ate the arms, legs and hearts of sacrificial victims
-King Nezahualpilli had 2,000 wives and 144 children
-after failing to conquer the Aztecs, Herman Cortes soon came back to Mexico for a re-match with the Aztecs
-people of Mexico had never seen horses before until the Spaniards came
-if a Mayan child died then their mother would cut the end off one of her own fingers and have it buried with the child

The book is really helpful when studying Aztecs as it covers the Maya and a little bit about the surrounding tribes at the time as well. "Angry Aztecs" includes some spectacular illustrations by Martin Brown which match the text perfectly. The book also features many many jokes which really DO make you laugh out loud. Terry Deary has given the "Angry Aztecs" a more fictional sense by joking around and adding remarks such as "That would have done her a good job" and "lucky her" when things aren't really good for them or lucky!

5/5 stars!

Thanks to my 10 year old son for requesting to have his (unedited) review featured on my blog!

'"The Spider in the Corner" Nikki Owen

The Spider in the Corner of the Room (The Project, #1)

Synopsis:

Plastic surgeon Dr Maria Martinez has Asperger’s. Convicted of killing a priest, she is alone, in prison and has no memory of the murder. DNA evidence places Maria at the scene of the crime, yet she claims she’s innocent. Then she starts to remember… A strange room. Strange people. Being watched. As Maria gets closer to the truth she is drawn into a web of international intrigue and must fight not only to clear her name but to remain alive.

To me, I found this book was a real mix of genres. There's conspiracy, mystery, murder, mental illness. The ambitious combination of all these different themes is really well handled by Owen, making it a highly original and fresh voice in the world of crime fiction.

Maria Martinez is a plastic surgeon who has Aspergers. The book opens with her already in prison, convicted of a killing a Catholic Priest, Father Reznik. She has no memory of this and is certain she is innocent. I found this a truly intriguing opening - starting off with your protagonist already in prison is a really clever idea and within the first page the link between crime, murder, religion and Aspergers are already filling the reader's mind with a multitude of questions and curiosity about the characters, set up and plot.

Martinez is struggling in prison. Lonely, isolated, confused and unable to cope without her fixed routine, her vulnerability is further exposed with the invasive prison procedures and constant intrusion of any personal space. The conversations and interviews between her and the police, prison officials, other inmates and her therapist are fascinating and depict her intelligence and emotional state with real conviction. She retains every detail, she collects data obsessively. Her social interaction with her peer group is so awkward - her responses and reactions so different from the other prisoners- it could almost humorous at times, but without a doubt, it creates substantial tension.

Martinez is also struggling as she tries to piece together what has happened to her. With the help of the arrival of a new cell mate Patricia, Martinez begins to establish a relationship and a routine. She has found someone in whom she can confide and talk to. "I have learnt not to put my faith in anyone, not to trust, because no one, not a man in a priest's outfit, not a judge in a robe, not a God in the sky can be relied upon. But Patricia seems different, pure, a white sheet of cotton, a dandelion in the wind. She believes me." Martinez knows that Reznik taught her how to detect patterns and codes and trained her to fix things fast. He frequently tested her with advanced mathematical challenges and now she realises it must have all been for a reason. She just needs to find out what the reason was. Fixated with the idea of everything having a purpose, she now seeks the purpose of Reznik's "training" and the way she can recall data she doesn't even remember learning.

It's hard to say much more without revealing too much about the book. I found Martinez an interesting creation. She is definitely the main character but at times I found it a little hard to build a deep relationship with her. I wonder if this is because Owen has depicted someone with Asperges with such authenticity, that actually part of this has to be that there is a distance or boundary around them reflecting their social awkwardness or preference for remaining slightly more removed from others. Despite this, she is a compelling character who is consistently convincing and authentic.

Martinez frequently asks questions and there are several paragraphs which contain many questions as she mulls over events, memories and conversations. This is effective in several ways; it creates tension and suspense, mimics Martinez's thought process and encourages the reader to relate to her confusion and panic. At times I did find it a little overwhelming but appreciate this was probably the author's intention! It's also important as Martinez's memories are called into question. Kurt challenges her saying "perhaps your memory is not what you believe it to be....is your memory reliable?" Later Dr Andersson says that she finds her version of events hard to believe, she suspects Maria of making things up, of "mis-recollecting" things. So not only is Martinez trying to operate in a world with which she already feels detached from, where she already struggles to make herself understood, now no one will believe her. This also challenges the reader to consider how reliable she is as a narrator and whether we can actually believe her and what she claims to be remembering- an incredibly effective device in a novel about conspiracy!

I thought the character of Kurt, the therapist, was also very well crafted. From the outset I was unsure how to respond to him as often his questioning or counselling was quite blunt, more direct and more confrontational than he perhaps needed to be. I was constantly wondering whether to trust him, whose side he was on and what his motives were. Trust and distrust are important themes in the novel and Owen also uses this concept to explore the fragility and vulnerability of people while in prison or within the judicial system. Her ability to control these themes, complex characterisation and also maintain a plot of murder, mystery, memory and conspiracy shows her to be an accomplished writer.

This is a good read. It certainly feels similar to series like "The Bourne Identity" and Stieg Larsson. It also reminded me a little of some of the more recent TV series like "Marcella" and "The Bridge". It's full of pace, the chapters are often quite short and it's very readable. If you like conspiracy thrillers and slightly unconventional characters then this book is definitely for you.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK)

An Evening With Renee Knight ("Disclaimer")

DisclaimerFlamstead Book Festival

On Friday 20th May I was lucky enough to get tickets to attend a talk from Renee Knight about her recent psychological thriller "Disclaimer" at the Flamstead Book Festival, held in the beautiful church of St Leonards in the centre of the village of Flamstead, Hertfordshire.

Knight began the talk with a reading from her book. Here is the blurb from the back of the book for anyone who has yet to read it:

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine's bedside table, she curls up and begins to read. But as she turns the pages, she is horrified to realise she is a key character, a main player. This story will reveal her darkest secret. A secret she thought no one else knew.....

This really is a gripping read with a clever twist and the back cover is littered with praise from Val McDermid, Lee Child and The New York Times.

Knight began by explaining where the concept for Disclaimer came from. "Disclaimer is my first published book but my actual first novel was about what happens when the son of a friend comes to live in a room in your house. I wanted to explore the idea of privacy and what it would be like to have a stranger who isn't really a stranger, living in your house. It was based on a real friend, so once finished, I sent it on to her to read. While awaiting her response, I began to think about how odd it must be to start reading a book and then realise it is actually about you.......And so came the premise for Disclaimer."

The theme of privacy intrigues Knight, particularly in our current world of social media and the way people can present a public persona which may differ hugely to the real persona; the way our privacy can so easily be invaded through our 24 7 culture, our addiction to apps and social media and how people can literally "invent" a personality online too. "I'm intrigued by the way we judge and assume things about people and situations when actually life is much more complex. I suppose I'm interested in the grey area!"

"What also appealed to me was the idea that when you are at home reading, you are in a very safe, comfortable, secure place, physically and emotionally, therefore finding out the book was about you and about your deepest, darkest secret, would immediately make you incredibly vulnerable and threatened - and this is what happens to Catherine."

Originally a BBC documentary maker, Knight began writing once all her children were at school and she realised she could not return to the kind of work she had been doing now she had a young family to fit around. "I didn't start to write with the idea of becoming published, it was more just to write, and I knew I would always write even if it was only for me." This was something she could do that fitted around the children and didn't take her away from the house, even though it was often frustrating to keep having to clear up all her research and paperwork every time the family wanted to sit down for a meal! Knight now has a "Shed"; she begins her day straight after taking her daughter to school. "It's essential to have a disciplined routine. I take my coffee and the crossword, then I have to write at least 1000 words a day, which can take anything from 2 hours to over 4 depending on how things are going."

She started with writing TV Scripts and secured an agent but "the real turning point for me was attending some Creative Writing Courses," Renee explains. "I did a course with City Lit which was really like a bit of group therapy! We had to read our work out aloud which I hadn't done since childhood! The beauty of being on a course is that actually it is a very safe way to expose yourself and the critical feedback is absolutely invaluable. It also gave me the confidence to write, a deadline and a momentum." Knight also completed a six month course with Faber and Faber which really accelerated her completion of Disclaimer as one of the demands of the course was to submit 10,000 words by the end. On completion, Knight approached her agent for some advice about submitting the manuscript and after working alongside an Editor - "the most lovely of experiences!" adds Knight - the book became published. "Although it was rejected at least ten times first - but if you want to write, you have to be able to cope with rejection sometimes. Just don't let it put you off."

While writing the book, it was the structure that possibly caused the most consideration rather than the plot. "That was easy to work out - the premise was straight forward and I knew everyone's story, their motive, what they were doing when and where, but what was tricky was balancing two timelines, two families and two narratives - one of which is written in third person and one in first." Initially it was Stephen who was written in third person but Knight soon swapped this around. "Stephen needs to be the hunter; he needs to be more frightening, the reader needs to feel trapped by him and almost claustrophobic. This is more easily managed through the first person." Interestingly it wasn't Stephen's character that was the hardest to write (without giving too much away to anyone who has not read the book, he is essentially the character threatening Catherine with revealing her secret) and in fact, Knight seemed particularly "fond" of him! Does this mean she has a hidden dark side? "Only on the page! I guess I see the same situation as everyone else but look at it differently....always asking what if.......! I think Stephen is so far removed from me and the person I am, it is easier to write about him. Funnily enough it was Nick - Catherine's son - who was the hardest character to write."

Knight has signed a two book deal but she does not feel under any particular pressure with her next project. "Perhaps if it was part of a series I would need to get the next book out more quickly but there isn't too much pressure at the moment - more of a looming deadline." Her second book is looking at the relationship between two characters so there is more detail and depth to consider as well as the basic plot and action of the story. "It's taken me a while to get fully stuck in to the book as I wanted to establish the characters firmly - although I know I will probably have to edit most of this out at a later stage so that's affected my progress in getting to the crux of the story. Also, although I have the plot worked out in reasonable detail, often things crop up or change as I am writing. For example, in Disclaimer I changed the ending when I was about half way through. If the overall plot is looser there's more room to change the outcome as new things present themselves."

Since the publication of "Disclaimer" in February and indeed over the last year or so, there has been a real boom in the popularity of psychological thrillers and "Grip Lit" novels with female protagonists. "I don't think I was influenced by other titles - in fact I hadn't read "Gone Girl" until after I'd finished writing which was a good thing as there are some similarities. I wasn't particularly thrown by the fact my novel is part of this prolific genre, nor did I feel any extra pressure from such a label." Knight sites her literary influences as Daphne du Maurier -"Rebecca is an absolutely fantastic book!"- Lionel Shriver, Graham Swift and she adores Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. Knight also praised the Crime Writing Community for their amazing support and encouragement. "Actually, I am as influenced by TV as books," Knight commented. "I love watching creepy shows like Tales from the Unexpected and there was a particularly gripping show on in the 70s which I would curl up in front of every Friday night in the dark and watch all night long. I was never freaked out by anything and rarely frightened."

Perhaps more frightening is when you first share your book with friends and family. "You have to hope that they'll forget it's you once they start reading. I think the readers I was most apprehensive about were my children!" As well as taking on board feedback from friends, the whole editing process can't be rushed. For Knight, once her novel is finished, she follows the invaluable advice from her Faber and Faber course. "I left my manuscript for 2 weeks, then I read it in another form. I read it on Kindle and in print. Then rewrote, then did the whole process again. Space and distance are really important to help you get some perspective."

Once the book was finished and ready to go, there was great discussion about the title. "I'd initially thought of a very long winded title like Any resemblance to actual persons is... but clearly that wasn't going to help books fly off the shelf! The British publishers like Exposure but the American publishers favoured Disclaimer." A fascinating fact she then revealed is that no other language has a word  for "disclaimer". "The French edition is called Reveal and in Germany it is Dead Life. Perfect Life is also used on some European editions."

The film rights for Disclaimer have been optioned and Knight has written a screenplay. Her first version of this was rejected as it was too removed from the original book. "I tried to do a few things I couldn't do within the text version but they wanted it to be much closer." Knight is delighted about the prospect of a forthcoming film but also filled with trepidation as she really does want it to be a film people will enjoy. "There's always that debate about books of films isn't there, but when it's done well, it's a brilliant celebration of the author's work. I mean, isn't Emma Donoghue's Room just amazing? She wrote the screenplay and both the film and the book are totally breathtaking."

And who might play the leads in the film? "I've no idea - I'm rubbish at this sort of thing!" Knight laughs. "I'm not sure about Catherine - Stephen I probably have more stronger ideas about.....especially his cardigan!"

Thank you to Vikki Orvice who interviewed Renee Knight and is one of the main organisers of the Flamstead Book Festival. It was such an interesting evening and a real privilege to hear her speak - and get my book signed! Something to treasure! It was a really inspiring evening and fascinating to get an insight into the whole process of writing and publishing a book as well as the honour of meeting a real live author! I will definitely be looking out for next years festival. If you haven't already read the book then I highly recommend you get yourself a copy and enjoy the enthralling thriller.

For more recommendations and reviews, please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK).

Please see below for my review of "Disclaimer".

This is an excellent psychological thriller and a fine example of "GripLit"! Catherine Ravenscroft finds a book on her bedside table all about her and the dark secret she has kept buried from her husband and son. Knight uses the popular pattern of alternating chapters between the voice of Catherine and Stephen Brigstoke  - the retired teacher who has set out to destroy her life - to effectively build tension and drive the plot forward at a great pace.

I don't want to give too much away but as the narratives develop, Stephen becomes more sinister and vengeful; the increasing references to his dead wife show him to be more unhinged and dangerous which complicates the reader's relationship with him which is initially more sympathetic. His announcements in his very opening chapter where he states "I am not a cruel person......I have allowed things to slide..." imply a hidden malevolence.

Similarly our reaction to Catherine, which is not always sympathetic, is also completely challenged by the end of the book. The last third of the novel hurtles at such an accelerated pace, crammed full of plot twists, that the minute you finish the last page you feel the need to go back to the beginning and start again. The revelations are so clever that you have to reconsider everything you've just read.

I was completely gripped from the opening chapter. It's been a long time since I have been grabbed so firmly and so fully catapulted headlong into a story. You feel like you are trying to catch up with events from the first line and I was reading so rapidly just to try and uncover the secrets and the truth about Catherine's buried past. This can make the start feel a bit jerky and confused but it mimics Catherine's emotions as she realises the book on her bedside table is about her and her overwhelming fear of being discovered. Although the reader remains in the dark, Catherine's fear of being watched and her trauma from the near death of her son create a jittery tension which makes you read on. Knight's unique skill is her ability to force you to read on in order to try and make sense of what's happening and constantly having to piece together the secrets, the revelations, the actions of the various characters and which narrator is in fact reliable enough to listen to.

It's a winning easy read. It has all the right ingredients for a psychological thriller. It's a page turner, full of twists and surprises. I liked the fact that the story centred around a bitter, hurt and frustrated man's calculated personal revenge rather than a psychopathic criminal as it was more unsettling and realistic. Ordinary people, people that you think you know inside out, that you have lived with all these years, have deep secrets - which once revealed could destroy everything you have.  Be prepared to put everything else on hold once you pick up this book!