Exquisite Blogtour: Dark & Divine

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Exquisite – Sarah Stovell. Blog Tour Review.

Bo Luxton has it all—a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of best-selling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops. Or does it?

When Anne Cater messaged me to ask me about the Exquisite Blog Tour, I was literally up early every morning waiting for the postman until it arrived. Having seen the cover reveal during the winter and taken part in a Twitter moment where we were guessing the genre and plotline from the cover itself, my anticipation had really reached fever pitch.

Let me tell you that Exquisite did not disappoint.

The cover reveal hinted at a dark and mysterious tale where everything is not quite as it seems and I’d have to say that #TeamOrenda have done it again in choosing Sarah Stovell as one of their 2017 debut writers. Karen, you really have the magic touch!

The thriller’s enduring popularity at the moment during the ‘Grip Lit’ wave really means that writers have to think outside the box if they want their readers to be genuinely shocked at the end of their read and I am happy to report that Sarah Stovell manages this with skill and originality. I am also determined to ensure that there are no spoilers as this ending really is worth the wait.

I absolutely love an unreliable narrator and in Exquisite, you’re not just getting one voice that hints at there being more to their unfolding narrative than meets the eye, but two wonderfully contrasting voices that play with your mind and weave in and out of your sense of direction until you really are left wondering who on earth to trust.

Bo is mired in domestic drudgery and willing to be distracted by a younger rawer talent whose voice captivates her.

Alice’s single-minded determination to ‘set the darkness echoing’ by writing it out of herself is unleashed with unstoppable force after colliding with Bo’s world at a writing retreat where something hard to extinguish is kindled…

I loved the contrasting voices of Bo and Alice at the beginning of the novel and appreciated the skill with which Sarah Stovell manages to create both credible dialogue and lyrical descriptions of the natural environment in a finely tuned balance that really made her prose sing. Added to this, her slow-burning sense of rising sexual tension really made this a page turner as you race to see if your ‘narrative compass’ is as reliable as you thought it was.

I read this in a single day, being utterly loath to drag myself away from the claustrophobic and intriguing world that Sarah draws you into. I love books that are even better than the one you’ve been anticipating and I have to say that this novel was ‘Exquisite-ly‘ so. This book is the narrative equivalent of a ‘Magic Eye’ painting – you know that there’s more going on below the surface and try as you might to decipher exactly why it is, things keep shifting before your very eyes and the final picture eludes you right to the very end. And perhaps even afterwards…

Anyone who has ever been separated either by time or circumstances from the object of their affections will find much to relate to in the epistolary exchanges between Bo and Alice and I was very impressed by how credible their evolving friendship altered before our very eyes into something altogether more compulsive and glitteringly dangerous. Bo’s maturity, fame and experience seem to give her the upper hand in the relationship at the beginning of Exquisite and the way that this situation unravels is another exquisite aspect of Stovell’s writing.

I think it’s difficult to make a thriller genuinely sexy without seeming to try too hard or feel contrived – but Exquisite manages the perfect balance of a perfectly created fictional world and a realistic portrayal of an unsettling relationship.

 

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I loved this novel and I’ll be recommending it to everyone who likes their novels unpredictable, sexy and with a hidden sting in the tail. Sarah Stovell is definitely a talent to watch and yet more confirmation that Karen Sullivan’s eye for a fabulous read is firing on all cylinders. I look forward to Stovell’s next novel with just as much excitement as I awaited the postman arriving with Exquisite.

Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart.

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She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lincoln University. 

Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, is set in the Lake District.

Follow Sarah on Twitter here: @Sarahlovescrime

Treat yourself to a copy and find out how fabulous it is for yourself:

Treat yourself to Exquisite

It was an absolute honour to take part in the Blogtour and hopefully create a huge bizz around this fantastic read with all my amazing fellow bloggers. Liz and Anne’s blogs from yesterday really got me in the mood and are definitely worth a read

Anne Cater: Exquisite Blogtour

Liz Loves Books Exquisite blogtour

I am delighted to be sharing today’s spot with the lovely @frizbot and here’s a link to her review too to whet your appetite still further

Writes of Woman on ‘Exquisite’

 

Thanks again to #TeamOrenda for letting me take part and looking forward to seeing more fab books from Karen’s magical bookshelf in the very near future.

Exquisite looks fab in my #OnTheShelfie alongside my other Orenda title this month, the excellent #Block46 which, if you haven’t already read, I also heartily recommend.

Have a great weekend & happy reading everyone

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Block 46 Blogtour #FrenchNoir

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Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.

Karen, you’ve done it again!

Just when I think that the last Orenda book I read was the best one yet, she finds another book that blows me away! When I received Block 46 through the post, I couldn’t keep my hands off it – even though my TBR pile was even higher than usual.

Lots of reviewers have commented on the way that Block 46 defies categorisation and that is exactly right. It’s got touches of so many of my favourite genres: it’s set in Sweden so it’s got many Nordic elements, Johana Gustawsson is French so it’s got plenty of elements of #FrenchNoir too and it’s got profilers and a serial killer too. Add all of that together and add in the fact that it’s got a historical backstory and you’ve got one of my top reads of 2017.

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The combination of Emily Roy and Alexis Castells was a winning combination for me. Emily had the single-minded straight talking qualities of an expert profiler which combined perfectly with Alexis’ more serene and empathic nature. I loved the way that they complemented each other as they worked to uncover the truth behind this fascinating story. Emily’s background of the Canadian mounted police and Alexis’ True Crime expertise made this an unusual and very satisfying twist on the serial killer genre that I just could not put down.

I love novels that alternate in time and place and was gripped by the contrast between the murdered boys on Hampstead Heath and the disappearance of Linnea Blix in Sweden. The insight into the present-day investigation was hugely enjoyable and the sudden flashes of the killer’s thoughts added a disturbing, dark and addictive element to this novel that was satisfyingly chilling and definitely not for the faint-hearted. If you find yourself getting upset at reading about children suffering and the atrocities perpetrated ny the Nazis during WWII then you might find this a traumatic read – but I genuinely feel that Johana’s writing is so good that the violence is never gratuitous or distasteful.

Many novels in this genre are all plot and display a real disregard for the writing itself. Not so Gustawsson, her writing is precise and elegant showing a real talent for spinning beauty out of bleakness and even depravity. The section of the novel which takes us back to Buchenwald concentration camp stood out for me as some of the most chillingly beautiful that I’ve encountered in this genre and made me turn the pages long into the night to find the thread linking these events to the modern day murders.

The gallic touch that Gustawsson adds to the Nordic crime genre makes for a satisfying, gripping and harrowing read that drew me in completely. I can’t wait for Mr OnTheShelf to finish reading it so we can go over elements of it together as I found its historical elements so fascinating. The fact that he’s also engrossed speaks volumes as he’s not generally a fiction reader and Block 46 had him as gripped as I was.

I have absolutely no doubt that in #RoyAndCastells I’ve found a new detective pairing that I’ll be telling absolutely everyone about and I’ll definitely be looking out for the sequel. Block 46 looks at evil in a unique and memorable way and the quality of writing makes it hard to believe that this is Johana Gustawsson’s debut novel.

#TeamOrenda have produced a series of amazing blog posts about this novel and if you haven’t read them already then you’re in for a treat. Check out the #BlogTour poster to see who else is creating the #FrenchNoir buzz around Block 46

My partner on the #BlogTour today is the lovely @damppebbles and here is the link to her fantastic review that she also published today

Damppebbles’ Review of Block 46

How cute does it look alongside the fascinating #Exquisite in my latest #OnTheShelfie?

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Born in 1978 in Marseille and with a degree in political science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She is working on the next book in the Roy & Castells series.

I really enjoyed this Q and A on her website so I’m sharing the link below for you

Johana Blog Q and A

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Author LinksWebsite  Twitter

I chose to read and review the ARC of Block 46 that I was sent by the lovely Anne Cater. The above review is, as always,  my own unbiased opinion. I bloody loved it.

Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson was published in the UK by Orenda Books on 15th May 2017 and is available in paperback, eBook and audio.

The Stars Are Fire – Anita Shreve

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Good morning on this sunny bank holiday weekend! I’m delighted to be participating in this blog tour, for  Anita Shreve’s The Stars Are Fire. The first one of Anita’s novels I read was in Canada in 2002 and All He Ever Wanted is still a great read – if you haven’t read it,  I strongly suggest you look it up.  If you haven’t read anything by Anita Shreve yet, I think you’ll love #StarsAreFire and I’d like to thank Amelia from Little Brown for allowing me to take part in this blog tour and putting up with me sending her pics from sunny Crete when she was stuck in the office 🙂

Hot breath on Grace’s face. Claire is screaming, and Grace is on her feet. As she lifts her daughter, a wall of fire fills the window. Perhaps a quarter of a mile back, if even that. Where’s Gene? Didn’t he come home?

1947. Fires are racing along the coast of Maine after a summer-long drought, ravaging thousands of acres, causing unprecedented confusion and fear.

Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her difficult and unpredictable husband Gene joins the volunteers fighting to bring the fire under control. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, the women watch in horror as their houses go up in flames, then walk into the ocean as a last resort. They spend the night frantically trying to save their children. When dawn comes, they have miraculously survived, but their lives are forever changed: homeless, penniless, and left to face an uncertain future.

As Grace awaits news of her husband’s fate, she is thrust into a new world in which she must make a life on her own, beginning with absolutely nothing; she must find work, a home, a way to provide for her children. In the midst of devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms – joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain – and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens, and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.

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If you haven’t read any of Anita Shreve’s page turning novels yet, this is a fantastic place to start. The fact that this novel was based on a true story was another factor which really drew me in as I love investigating around the books I’m reading. The long, hot summer of 1947 in Maine was a fascinating period that I knew nothing about prior to reading #StarsAreFire and Anita Shreve does an amazing job of transporting you back in time and reliving this traumatic event with Grace and her friend Rosie as they draw on every ounce of internal strength they have to rebuild their lives after the fires destroy everything they own,

The pairing of these two characters was very clever as we keep comparing them long before it occurs to Grace herself to draw comparisons about the state of her marriage with the much more passionate and fulfilled marriage that Rosie enjoys. Grace has been married to Gene from a very young age and his belittling of her and his cold, secretive and brusque nature is what she has come to accept as normal. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel is the way we see Grace developing and flourishing despite the difficulties she has to endure.

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The metaphor of her rising, quite literally, from the ashes of her former life is a powerful one and this is a moving and engrossing read. Shreve keeps Grace faithfully within her 1940s context, providing much food for thought about marriage, independence and friendship for a 21st century readership.

I’m not generally a romance reader and I think that Anita Shreve is a writer who contains romance within her novels rather than make Grace’s whole journey about love, marriage and romance. The dramatic description of the fire and its immediate aftermath are the most striking part of this novel at first, but what remains after reading this novel is the grit and courage shown by Grace which enables her to make difficult decisions in her family’s best interests by the end of the novel.

I think that Shreve is just as skilful in writing about female relationships as she is about love and I thought Grace’s relationship with Rosie and her evolving relationship with Marjorie was another real strength of this novel. The journey for warring women to move towards accepting one another as human beings is a difficult one to paint without resorting to cliche and I feel that #StarsAreFire has managed it superbly. There’s no denying that Grace and Marjorie have a difficult relationship at the beginning of the novel, but the skilful and credible way that Shreve manages to describe their evolving appreciation of one another was another stand-out aspect of this novel for me.

Fans of Anita Shreve will love this and I hope that it also brings her new readers who love period fiction and strongly written female narratives. At the very end of her novel, Shreve suggests that we look up Wildfire Loose by Joyce Butler – which tells the true story of these fires – and this is the very next thing that I’m off to look up. Happy reading & enjoy the bank holiday!

Writer On the Shelf:

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Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts (just outside Boston), the eldest of three daughters. Early literary influences include having read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton when she was a junior in high school (a short novel she still claims as one of her favourites) and everything Eugene O’Neill ever wrote while she was a senior (to which she attributes a somewhat dark streak in her own work). After graduating from Tufts University, she taught high school for a number of years in and around Boston. In the middle of her last year, she quit (something that, as a parent, she finds appalling now) to start writing. “I had this panicky sensation that it was now or never.”
Returning to the United States, Shreve was a writer and editor for a number of magazines in New York. Later, when she began her family, she turned to freelancing, publishing in the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and dozens of others. In 1989, she published her first novel, Eden Close. Since then she has written 17 other novels, among them The Weight of Water, The Pilot’s Wife, The Last Time They Met, A Wedding in December, and Body Surfing.
Shreve is married to a man she met when she was 13. She has two children and three stepchildren, and in the last eight years has made tuition payments to seven colleges and universities.

Buy The Stars Are Fire online

Anita Shreve on Twitter

 

Thank you so much to Amelia at Little Brown Books for inviting me onto the Blogtour and sending me this gorgeous book. I’ll definitely be recommending it as a fantastic summer read that a lot of people should pack for their holidays this year.

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The Man Who Loved Islands #Blogtour

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In the early 80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than 10 years. A bizarre opportunity to honour the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself – if only they can forgive and forget. With the help of the deluded Max Mojo and the faithful Hamish May, can they pull off the impossible, and reunite the legendary Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one-off Music Festival—The Big Bang—on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island? Absurdly funny, deeply moving and utterly human, this is an unforgettable finale to the Disco Days trilogy—a modern classic pumped full of music and middle-aged madness, written from the heart and pen of one of Scotland’s finest new voices.

Even if I hadn’t read the first two books in the #DiscoDays trilogy, I would have loved the reading given by  David Ross last week at his Glasgow book launch and would have ended up desperate to get home and read the first two books as soon as I could.

Attending the book event was a ‘must’ for me as it was a really unique event combining music, gin and books – which if they aren’t my top three things in the world, must come pretty close…

It was also a chance to actually get to meet the lovely Karen from Orenda Books and hear a set by the best fictitious band in the world: ‘The Miraculous Vespas’ led by the inimitable Bobby Bluebell in the Admiral Bar.

Alistair Braidwood aka ScotsWhayHae! ably led an eclectic conversation with David where we gained insights into such diverse issues as changing priorities as you get older, stealing cows in Ayrshire, the Germans’ penchant for Scottish profanity and real life events sneaking into his fiction.

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It is always a pleasure to hear writers read from their own works and even though David made it clear this was not a favourite part of a book launch for him, it was fantastic to hear a rendition of the seance in his own voice and the crowd’s response on the night made it clear that they loved it too – including all the swearing!

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The dark humour in these books paints a truthful and perceptive portrait of Scottish men of a certain age and the blend of humour and poignancy hits just the right balance in this final book of the trilogy. Although I’m not sure we can really call it a trilogy as I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of these chancers as they’re surely way too good to put out to grass yet.

Mr OnTheShelf is an Ayrshireman and I took him along on the night to get a slice of nostalgia. He came away desperate to read the books for himself and was really enthusiastic about the memories it triggered. As a fan of  ‘Cath’ by The Bluebells, he loved this intimate gig with The Miraculous Vespas which took him right back to 1984 and his heyday.  The fact that he enjoyed the night so much also showed that even though this is a trilogy, you don’t need to have read the first two books to be swept up in Bobby and Joey’s tale of life, love and Blood Oranges.

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The addition of the playlists by David F Ross was also a huge bonus for me and I recommend playing them on Spotify for yourself when you’re reading the books. There’s a real range of tunes from Durutti Column through Malcolm Middleton to De La Soul and this really made the book come to life for me, it was great having the music as a backdrop and feeling the energy of the characters evolve and alter as they grow old rather than grow up.

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He’s been compared endlessly with Irvine Welsh and John Niven and if you enjoy these writers then you will definitely enjoy the Disco days trilogy, but I think they contain something wholly their own that sets them apart from their contemporaries.

Ross is an architect and it is perhaps the overarching structure of these three novels that contributes most strongly to their impact. They do not follow sequentially on from one another exactly but instead, all three of them contribute to a unique narrative arc that gives us a much stronger insight into the way the different eras of their lives contrast and collide with one another.

I loved The Man Who Loved Islands and I think that attending the event last week brought it to life for me in a very different way. Karen Sullivan from Orenda has made a name for herself in being able to choose fresh new voices in fiction and the launch in Glasgow has proven that she’s also able to choose fresh new ways to promote her books too. It was also lovely to meet Mary @bethsy as I always love meeting other book bloggers and it was great to see her win the limited edition vinyl on the night too! Not jealous at all, Mary…

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I can’t wait to see where David F Ross goes next in his fiction writing – once you’ve read his profile, you’ll be amazed he finds the time. He is definitely a Scottish writer to watch and I look forward to more news after hearing the hints that we could be seeing the Heatwave boys and The Miraculous Vespas on stage and screen in the near future, which is sure to bring him the wider audience he deserves.

Thanks to Karen and Anne for getting me a copy to review – you can buy yourself your own copy here – it’s an absolute must-read.

BUY A COPY FROM HIVE

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Author On The Shelf

David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964, and he lived in various part of the city until the late ‘70s. He subsequently moved to Kilmarnock, where he has lived since. He was educated at James Hamilton Academy until being politely asked to leave.
 (Expulsion is such a harsh word, isn’t it?)
 Following a frankly ludicrous early foray into sporadic employment (Undertakers, Ice Cream Parlour, Tennis Groundsman, DJ … he’ll save these stories until he knows you better), David found himself at Glasgow School of Art, studying architecture.
In 1992, he graduated from the Mackintosh School of Architecture. He is now the Design Director of one of Scotland’s largest, oldest and most successful practices, Keppie Design. (Funny old world, eh?)

David has worked all over the world and he led his practice strategy for projects in countries as diverse as China, Egypt, Malaysia, India and Libya. He is a designated business leader for East Ayrshire Council, a Board Mentor for Entrepreneurial Spark and he was design advisor to Strathclyde Passenger Transport for their modernisation programme of the Glasgow Subway in advance of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
 
He is married to Elaine and has two children, Nathan and Nadia, who have both signed legally binding agreements to house him in the best Old Folks Home his money can buy. He is a Chelsea fan – from long before the cash-rich days – and occasionally writes stream-of-consciousness rubbish for @ByTheMinChelsea and other @ByTheMinSport feeds on Twitter.

Ragdoll Blogtour 23/02/17

A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together like a puppet, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’.

Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.

The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.

With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?

 

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40 Bloggers. 3 Days & a massive social media presence from @BenWillisUK and the @TrapezeBooks team meant that if you’ve not heard of this book, where have you been?

Am happy to report that in this case, this hype was wholly deserved and I tore through this in record speed – and not just because I wanted to get the review in on time for  Ben’s deadline 🙂

One of the things I loved about this book is that just when you think you know exactly where you are, Daniel Cole turns things on their head and you’re left reeling in shock. He’s a deft plotter and as readers we are at his mercy throughout this gripping thriller. The prologue and its portrayal of a standard court scene prepares us for one story and then we’re presented with a totally different one. We know that the Cremation killer case is important but we are left wondering how these two plots intertwine and how they’ll lead us to the denouement…

It feels like a fantastic movie as it unfolds, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that it had started off as a screenplay and I was delighted to discover that the TV rights have been grabbed  and I already can’t wait to see how its casting and setting matches up with my own ‘casting’ in my mind’s eye.

The media get their own role in the book as we are presented with a ‘countdown clock’ to each fresh killing; it reminded me of the way that the press have come to present human tragedy as an opportunity to raise viewing figures and how low that they’ll sometimes stoop to boost them. The recent dramatisation of the Shannon Matthews case in ‘The Moorside’ showed this in a very striking way and #RagdollBook certainly matches this surreal story in lots of its fiendishly dark twists and turns. It’s been compared to the movie Se7en and I can see why…

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The @TrapezeBooks team getting their ‘Wolf’ on to celebrate Publication Day

I really fell for the isolated and mysterious detective William “Wolf” Fawkes and his dogged pursuit of the ‘Ragdoll Killer’ whose ‘signature’ is a patchwork corpse stitched together from the remains of his six victims. Fawkes is a haunted soul who intrigued me with his persistence and determination in the face of all the horror: his ex-wife is the journalist covering the case and because of this he is desperate to crack the case and fly in the face of all his doubters. Wolf is a perfect protagonist as he’s got just enough of the ‘unknowable’ about him to keep us intrigued– I was also a big fan of his faithful sidekick, Baxter and loved the way that their relationship was convincingly created – I can’t wait to see it on film.

Daniel Cole has created a fantastic, twisted, dark and addictive read. The time of day stays  at the top of each section of the book and creates a real forward momentum and the minutes flew by as I raced towards the end: I  really did stay up way too late last night to finish it.  I absolutely loved the ending because it was such a shocker. I have a ‘no spoiler’ policy so you’re just going to have to read #Ragdoll for yourself to find out the truth.

This debut novel comes unhesitatingly recommended by me. It’s a  pageturner in every sense of the word and it’s definitely one that I’m certain will be on lots of people’s ‘best of the year’ list at the end of 2017 – and it’s only February so that’ll tell you how much I was gripped by it…

#Ragdoll also looks absolutely gorgeous in my #OnTheShelfie

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Writer On The Shelf

At 33 years old, Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic, an RSPCA officer and most recently for the RNLI, driven by an intrinsic need to save people or perhaps just a guilty conscience about the number of characters he kills off in his writing.

 

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He has received a three-book publishing and television deal for his debut crime series which publishers and producers describe as “pulse-racing” and “exceptional”.

Daniel currently lives in sunny Bournemouth and can usually be found down the beach when he ought to be writing book two in the Nathan Wolfe series instead.

Twitter:  @Daniel_P_Cole

If you’ve loved “Ragdoll” you can read all  the other bloggers’ reviews by following Ben Willis on Twitter :  @BenWillisUK

 

 

 

 

Evil Games – Blogtour February 6th #OntheShelfBooks

The greater the Evil, the more deadly the game…
When a rapist is found mutilated in a brutal attack, Detective Kim Stone and her team are called in to bring a swift resolution. But, as more vengeful killings come to light, it soon becomes clear that there is someone far more sinister at work.

With the investigation quickly gathering momentum, Kim finds herself exposed to great danger and in the sights of a lethal individual undertaking their own twisted experiment.

Up against a sociopath who seems to know her every weakness, for Detective Stone, each move she makes could be deadly. As the body count starts to mount, Kim will have to dig deeper than ever before to stop the killing. And this time – it’s personal.

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When I first started blogging with Netgalley, I never really saw myself as a real reviewer. I read all the time and read eclectically – yes. But that never really felt Official. Well, this week has changed all that –  as now I really do feel like a Proper book reviewer…

When the lovely Emily Burns  @Emily_BookPR  from @bonnierzaffre  wrote to me asking whether I’d like to take part in Angela Marsons’ Evil Games Blogtour  I couldn’t believe it. The fact that the date fell on my birthday week made it feel like a doubly good omen and – once I read Evil Games – I was so glad that my very first Blogtour was for such a cracker of a read.

Angela Marsons’ crime thrillers are some of the paciest that I’ve read and I’m happy to say that Evil Games is no exception. Some of you might already have met enigmatic maverick DI Kim Stone in the first of the series: Silent Scream and been desperate to read more of her exploits, well I can promise that you won’t be disappointed. Dark, tense and compulsive, you’ll tear through it as you plumb the depths of humanity with Kim and her team.

I love that Angela Marsons has chosen a female detective as her protagonist. In the current climate ,where women are increasingly being portrayed as victims rather than agents of their own fortune, this is a great comfort. Although it must be said, Kim Stone’s world is a little short of comfort itself as she pursues depraved and brutal criminal masterminds through the Black Country streets. It did strike me, when I read the fantastic letter from Doon MacKichan and friends in the Guardian this week  Read Here…that we are more in need of female heroes than ever in the last month or so and DI Stone is certainly fit to tackle any attempt at ‘pussy grabbing’ in no uncertain terms.

Crime novels are ubiquitous and paedophilia has become an increasingly popular way for writers to suckerpunch their reader with dark and twisted events in order to leave them reeling. The opening scenes of Evil Games manage to be shocking without ever stooping to lurid sensationalism. Tiny details of the rooms themselves in the house that is raided builds a convincing picture of the scene of the crime, but like the best crime novelists, Angela Marsons allows just enough of the scene to remain unsaid – leaving space for our imagination to fill the gap.

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Evil Games is so compelling because of the fact that we don’t know everything about the backstory of Kim Stone herself. Just as she is working hard to uncover the details and read between the lines of the criminal minds she is battling with, so too are we unravelling the complex and intriguing character of DI Stone herself. For crime novels to work, we have to be as involved with the detective as we are with the crime itself. Even though you don’t have to have read the first novel, Silent Scream, before embarking on Evil Games – I thoroughly recommend that you do in order to gain a fuller insight into Kim’s backstory and find out, one piece at a time, some of the things that make her such a one-off. 

Kim’s strength as a character is that you’ve never met anyone quite like her – yet you end up wishing that you get the chance to, one day. Her mind is just as fascinating as some of the psychopathic characters she comes up against and her past every bit as veiled. Her developing relationship with Bryant is one of the other key aspects of this book which makes it stand out. Every truly great detective has a fantastic sidekick and even though I know Bryant would hate to be described in this way, their relationship and dialogue is definitely one of the things that I most enjoyed about Evil Games and one of the things that’s making me so keen to read Number 3: Lost Girls

I always try hard to avoid spoilers as I really find them very off-putting, but I do think that it’s fair to warn readers that if they’re of a sensitive disposition. Angela Marsons clearly takes the feelings of her readers into account as well as thinking of the victims themselves by handling any difficult scenes very thoughtfully; without abuse being portrayed in an overly sensational or gratuitous way –  which again goes back to the ideas raised in the Guardian letter that I mentioned earlier. Women and the vulnerable are not merely pigeonholed as victims here by Marsons and it is this that I find sets this novel apart from the vast body of its rivals. Kim Stone is a survivor and we are drawn to her, despite her rather ‘interesting’ interpretation of social skills.

After finishing Evil Games, one of the things that I reflected on was the skill with which Angela Marsons manages to keep both lines of enquiry open : we are skilfully drawn into the abuse case that the novel opens with, as well as the unravelling case of a convicted rapist whose body is discovered in unexplained circumstances. The skilful weaving back and forth betwen these two intriguing storylines keeps the reader on their toes and keeps the narrative much truer to the way that a DI is compelled to function in real life, lending a real tension and pressure to the narative that I feel few crime writers can match

The character of sociopathic Dr Alex Thorne is another aspect of Evil Games that drew me in and held me there. Alex is a stunningly attractive yet warped operator who lives for her evil games. She thrives on being able to manipulate people,  and when she encounters the damaged and driven DI Kim Stone she sets her sights on becoming her final opponent. The evil games themselves become darker and more depraved as Kim battles to work with a brilliant mind with no moral compass and gets drawn into a battle that she has clearly underestimated

This is fabulous and addictive read that is plotted like a 3D chess game or a celebrity deathmatch beween two fantastically well-matched opponents. As a nemesis, Marston has drawn Alex as a beautiful and terrifying enigma whose strategically sharp mind and twisted ethics are horrifyingly compelling. It ends with a truly page turning climax and I can see this being a novel that  I’ll be forcing other people to read. It would make a fabulous book group choice as I feel that it could promote really interesting discussions about gender roles, the representation of crime and comparisons with other gritty investigators. I was totally engrossed from start to finish and there can be no higher recommendation really. You should definitely go out and buy it if you are a crime aficionado – and I bet you’ll want to devour the rest too…

Thank you to Emily Burns @Emily_BookPR  from @bonnierzaffre for providing me with a copy in return for a fair review. I think it looks totally alluring in my #OnTheShelfie.  

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If you get the chance – definitely embark upon an Angela Marsons reading binge; you won’t regret it if you love dark, gritty British crime. I loved her story just about as much as Kim Stone’s when I found out that :

“The 47-year-old has now given up her job of 19 years as a Security Guard at Merry Hill Shopping Centre to focus fully on her writing, and labels it as a ‘dream come true‘.

I had been trying numerous publishers for 25 years but constantly got rejected. They would always say ‘we like it…but not enough’ and it just felt like I would never get there,” she said.”

Read More Here 

Author On The Shelf:

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Angela Marsons is the author of the Amazon Bestselling DI Kim Stone series – Silent Scream, Evil Games, Lost Girls, Play Dead and Blood Lines.

She lives in the Black Country with her partner, their cheeky Golden Retriever and a swearing parrot.

She first discovered her love of writing at Junior School when actual lessons came second to watching other people and quietly making up her own stories about them. Her report card invariably read “Angela would do well if she minded her own business as well as she minds other people’s”.

After years of writing relationship based stories (My Name Is and The Middle Child) Angela turned to Crime, fictionally speaking of course, and developed a character that refused to go away.

She is signed to Bookouture.com for a total of 16 books in the Kim Stone series and her books have been translated into more than 20 languages

 

Purchase Link : Evil Games

Twitter : @WriteAngie

The Last Night

After reading history at Bristol University, Cesca Major went on to work in television before becoming a history teacher. She is now lucky enough to be a ‘writer in residence’ at a boarding school in Berkshire after working there as housemistress.

She contributes regularly to the website http://www.novelicious.com and also – where does she find the time? – films  ‘Beat the Block’ videos for http://www.writersandartists.com 

I was so excited to receive a copy of The Last Night by Cesca Major after adoring  The Silent Hours that I literally read it in a single sitting…

Ever since finding out that Cesca had been a housemistress in a boarding school – which I’ve done for the last 19 years – I  felt a connection with her and as soon as I knew The Last Night was going to be available, I begged Corvus to let me read and review it

The fact that The Last Night takes real events and weaves a narrative around them is something which I especially loved about this book. I read it straight after Emma Flint’s Little Deaths and I really enjoyed the post-reading research that I did to find out the ‘story behind the story’ in both cases.

All of you who’ve had Poldark fever for the last year or so have been #TeamCornwall – Cesca’s book transports us to the small village of Lynmouth, in coastal Devon on a fateful night in 1952. Let me tell you, readers – #TeamDevon was just as gripping, dramatic and unputdownable as anything you’ve seen in Poldark. And then some.

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BOOKBLURB:

In a quiet coastal village, Irina spends her days restoring furniture, passing the time in peace and hiding away from the world. A family secret, long held and never discussed, casts a dark shadow and Irina chooses to withdraw into her work.

When an antique bureau is sent to her workshop, the owner anonymous, Irina senses a history to the object that makes her uneasy. As Irina begins to investigate the origins of the piece, she unearths the secrets it holds within…

Decades earlier in the 1950s, another young woman kept secrets. Her name was Abigail. Over the course of one summer, she fell in love, and dreamed of the future.

But Abigail could not know that a catastrophe loomed, and this event would change the course of many lives for ever…

The Last Night is the kind of novel that I absolutely love. Two women connected across time with lives and experiences that you are equally drawn to and whose stories you can move between effortlessly. Cesca writes Irina and Abigail so convincingly that you really feel that you’ve spent time in their worlds, making it very hard to pull yourself away. It’s a novel made for long autumn afternoons and I got lost in it in my half-term break in gorgeous Perthshire this year.

Irina – our ‘modern-day’ character –  is a woman with lots going on beneath the surface. Her life, in a small shop as an antique furniture restorer, has been created as a hiding place for her to keep her secrets close and escape any unwanted attention that her disfigurement may cause. She has deliberately cut herself off from personal relationships and her isolation draws us into her world whilst holding us at arms length too, which Irina does to everyone – even her own mother. The secrecy is such a fantastic technique to draw us closer to Irina; I found myself watching her every movement to see if I could catch a glimpse of whatever she was hiding. Her physical scars hint at the emotional damage that metaphorically scars her and Cesca skilfully leaves us to guess about the accident and speculate about the roots of her emotional withdrawal without alienating us from Irina herself – a very clever method of keeping us connected to her.

Irina’s obsessive self-control over her world is up-ended by the arrival of an antique bureau which spells the beginning of some very mysterious goings-on. This part too, is convincingly conveyed – without being over the top or stretching our belief in Irina’s story. Irina’s journey to unravel the secret that’s been locked away for 60 years is a fascinating and unputdownable one which really brings the setting to life and allowed me to lose myself in its twists and turns whilst remaining wholly connected to Irina and her secrets.

Abigail’s story – set in 1952 – is a successful counterpoint that didn’t jar with or distract from Irina’s tale. I often find that dual narratives can result in you flicking forward to the one that you found more engaging. Not so here. There was a pleasing balance of the past and present and both characters were so well-drawn that I felt like I knew them both and wanted to dedicate my attention to the way their stories interconnected, rather than feeling that one overwhelmed the other. The post-war setting is an interesting juxtaposition  to Irina’s world, and I soon lost myself reading about Abigail’s life with her sister Connie after her mother’s death.

Abigail is at first seduced by the glamorous life that Connie seems to lead with her husband – the wonderfully vile Larry:

‘The four-poster bed with a canopy stood imposingly in the centre of the room…it took Abigail’s breath from her.’

Although this is a total contrast with the penury that Abigail is used to, she soon senses that all that glisters is not gold and her sister’s marriage is not as enviable as it first appeared. When things begin to unravel, Abigail’s own pursuit of happiness could be the one thing to destroy everything that she’s dreamt of: tragedy looms after she falls in love with a handsome local fisherman and I was swept up in the shocking and evocative consequences

The atmosphere of secrecy  and drama is perfectly maintained throughout this wonderful novel; the setting of Lynmouth and its real-life flood in 1952 was something that I wanted to read more about as soon as I’d finished reading The Last Night. Cesca manages, just as she did in The Silent Hours, to make the setting as compelling and ‘present’ as her two main characters. Even though I was reading it in Scotland in November, I felt Devon come to life as I walked in the footsteps of these characters and experienced their poignant stories

Cesca Major is such a talented voice. She draws the reader into her characters’ worlds and makes them live for us as we read. Irina and Abigail’s tales are all the more powerful due to their connections with real-life events. I was happily engrossed in my Devon research – and looking through North Devon Air BandB rentals in a post-reading haze – for a whole afternoon after reading it.

This gorgeous book took pride of place in my very own ‘TBR Bookshelf’ and looked so tempting in my #OnTheShelfie that I devoured it in a single day.

Now I’m just waiting on her next one…

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Author On The Shelf:

Cesca’s first real writing success came when she was Runner Up in the 2005 annual Daily Mail Writing Competition. She has won, or been placed, in some prestigious short story competitions since then including the annual competitions for: Women and Home, Wells Festival of Literature, Grace Dieu and has also had short stories published in the Sentinel Champion and Sunday People Magazine.

She has written two novels based on real events.

Her debut THE SILENT HOURS was published by Atlantic Books in 2015 and THE LAST NIGHT is out this month.

Thank you to the lovely people at Corvus for allowing me to read and review this book.

It’s definitely going in a few stockings this year; I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

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Purchase Link : The Last Night 

Website : Cesca Major

Twitter : @CescaWrites