#BlogTour #IfIFall @nellbelleandme @arrowpublishing

We were told to meet at a rooftop bar.

Four friends, bound by one terrible secret.

No one knew why we were there.

Then we saw a woman, watched as she fell from the edge and plunged to her death.

The police think it’s suicide, but I know better.

Someone is sending a message.

Now they’re coming for us.

Thank you to Arrow Books and Merilyn Davies for inviting me onto the blog tour, it’s my pleasure to tell you all about If I Fall today.

Well, first off, the prologue had me hooked and then Chapter One drops the reader straight into the action and the inciting incident. Merilyn Davies has a lovely knack of setting the scene without losing pace. She drives the story forward purposefully while giving the reader plenty of information to recreate the scene in their mind.

Fans of Merilyn Davies will be familiar with DS Nell Jackson and Crime Analyst Carla Brown – If I Fall is their second outing (the first being in When I Lost You) but don’t worry if you haven’t read When I Lost You, Davies gives enough information for you to understand and empathise with these characters even if If I Fall is your first introduction to them.

By using Carla Brown’s point of view at the time of the woman’s apparent suicide, the reader feels as if they are not only at the scene of the crime with her but then also part of the subsequent investigation. I thought Carla’s insistence that this might not be suicide, and the battles she has to prove that, was a unique take on the police procedural.

The characters – and potential suspects – introduced are interesting and compelling, with the background story original and disturbing. Without giving too much away, I felt the subject tackled in this novel deserves to be widely recognised and confronted. This layered plot considers a range of themes including homelessness, revenge and sexuality. By combining all of these strands, Merilyn Davies has produced a believable novel with realistic characters.

Vic x

#BlogTour #BeforeSheDisappeared @LisaGardnerBks

Today it’s my turn on Lisa Gardner’s blog tour for her first standalone novel in ten years: ‘Before She Disappeared‘. I’d like to thank Penguin Random House for allowing me a sneak peek at this brilliant book and for having me on the blog tour.

Frankie Elkin is a middle-aged woman who spends her life doing what no one else will: searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up and the public no longer remembers, that’s when Frankie starts looking. Carrying little more than a backpack and her own demons, Frankie travels around the US looking for people who have been forgotten.

Arriving in Mattapan, Boston, Frankie starts her search for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teen who vanished after school almost a year earlier. Although Mattapan’s reputation precedes it, Frankie doesn’t let it stop her from asking around – but she’s met with resistance from the police department and Angelique’s family, who seem pretty wary of the white lady who’s sticking her nose in. Frankie soon learns, though, that she’s asking too many questions – questions someone doesn’t want answered.

I’ve got to admit, the first chapter didn’t grip me and I was worried that this might be a bit of a slog but once we arrived in Mattapan with Frankie, the story completely lifted and I enjoyed not only the mystery but also the descriptions of Mattapan and the people that live there. Gardner really creates a strong sense of the community that Frankie inserts herself into. It was a pleasure to learn about the rich Haitian culture that exists within Boston.

Frankie is a well-rounded character. She may be ballsy but she’s not infallible by any stretch of the imagination and this lent her an air of authenticity to me. Gardner portrays the insidious nature of alcoholism perfectly but manages not to hit the reader around the head with it. There were almost times in the story where I forgot that Frankie had a problem with booze, only for the demons to rear their heads again and I genuinely believe this is what it’s like for addicts. I really liked the idea that Frankie has swapped one addiction for another – she may not be obsessing over her next drink but she’s certainly consumed by the case she’s investigating.

Although there are references to police investigation techniques, I didn’t feel that I was reading a police procedural novel and that, for me, meant that ‘Before She Disappeared‘ wasn’t bogged down in the minutiae of police work. I did, however, feel that the details that were included were not only relevant but also interesting.

Thanks to the interesting cast of characters that Lisa Gardner has created, I found myself heavily invested in the outcome of this book. ‘Before She Disappeared‘ is a well-paced mystery that really packs an emotional punch.

This may have been the first Lisa Gardner book that I’ve read but it won’t be my last.

Vic x

#BlogTour #The Push by @audrain

I’m thrilled today to be reviewing Ashley Audrain’s debut novel ‘The Push‘ which was published yesterday.

Here’s a little snippet of ‘The Push‘ to whet your appetite:

The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life. But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn’t right.

I had always known that the women in my family aren’t meant to be mothers.

My husband Fox says I’m imagining it. He tells me I’m nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child.

But she’s different with me. Something feels very wrong.

Is it her? Or is it me? Is she the monster? Or am I?

As most readers of this blog will know, I became a mum for the first time in 2019. The Push takes place over a number of years so although I can’t recognise some of the feelings that Blythe, the narrator, feels as her child Violet gets older, I can attest that Ashley Audrain certainly captures the all-encompassing terror felt by some new mothers.

The Push‘, although being fiction, taps into the fears that many women experience when they become mothers: am I supposed to feel like this? Am I doing this right? Am I good enough? Is my child … ok? Normal?

This explosive novel explores subjects that still remain taboo: the pain and discomfort around breastfeeding, post-natal depression and how your relationship with your partner changes after the arrival of a baby. Yes, this novel takes those elements to the extreme but there certainly were scenes that had me nodding firmly in recognition.

Audrain has weaved natural fears around motherhood into this perfectly pitched novel, leaving the reader unsure whether they can believe what they’re being told.

Interspersed across three different timelines, this layered story is absorbing, emotional and terrifying, some might say like motherhood itself. Featuring complex, nuanced characters, ‘The Push‘ will leave ice running through your veins long after you have turned the final page.

There were scenes that left me feeling physically sick with fear, my emotions completely in Audrain’s thrall. I also wept repeatedly when reading this book thanks to the powerful nature of the prose combined with an utterly intoxicating plot.

I think ‘The Push‘ is the kind of book our society needs. It is definitely a great choice for a book club – it will generate conversation and no doubt some controversy but I genuinely think it will open the minds of those who read it. This novel isn’t just about the relationship a mother has with her child but also those around her – from her partner to strangers – and the expectations that are placed on her as a result.

Perfect for fans of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin‘, ‘The Push‘ is beautifully written, perfectly plotted and deserving of the hype it’s been receiving.

Vic x

My review of 2020

There weren’t any 2019 reviews on this blog but I’m sure you’ll all forgive me as I became a mum in 2019 and just didn’t have the wherewithal to arrange and schedule 31 end of year reviews! This year isn’t much better but you’re getting 200% more than last year – one from Simon Bewick and here’s mine!

OK, so it’s fair to say that 2020 wasn’t the year any of us expected. I think we’ve all had enough of bad news this year so I’m going to try and keep this light-hearted.

Top moment for me professionally this year?
I’ve been really lucky in 2020 – not only did I interview Ann Cleeves to celebrate the launch of her latest Vera book – The Darkest Evening – but I got to host Virtual Noir at the Bar every week for twenty-two straight weeks.
When the UK went into lockdown in March, I asked if anyone would be interested in a virtual Noir at the Bar – the response was phenomenal. I had expected to run it for a few weeks – the same way I expected lockdown to last about a month – but it ran from 1st April to 26 August. We hosted over 220 writers at various stages of their careers: from unpublished all the way through to the biggest names in crime fiction. It’s been so special working with such wonderful writers, connecting readers from all over the world and making a group of friends that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Photos courtesy of Suzy Aspley

Hearing from The Bookseller magazine that Virtual Noir at the Bar was shortlisted for Event of the Year at the FutureBook awards was pretty special. Simon and I worked very hard every week to ensure that viewers had a show to watch and it was amazing to be recognised alongside major industry players.

Launching Bay Tales has been an extremely exciting time for Simon and I. With a number of exclusive articles and short stories from some of our favourite writers, alongside discounts for Forum Books, Writing Magazine and Scrivener among others, we’re confident that Bay Tales can continue the good work that we started with VNatB.

I’ve also loved being part of Blood Brothers podcast. It’s a real pleasure to work with Rob Parker, Chris McDonald and Sean Coleman and be their Blood Sister. I laugh so much when I spend time with these guys.

With my Blood Brothers: Chris McDonald, Sean Coleman & Rob Parker.
Interviewing Ann Cleeves at Forum Books, Corbridge in a socially distanced way was a highlight this year.
Photo courtesy of Ian Wylie.

Top moment personally? Seeing my little boy grow and flourish.

Head over to baytales.com to read about my top 5 books this year. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably have seen me mention at least three of them repeatedly!

I’m struggling to think of my top TV show as I feel like I haven’t watched a lot of TV this year! I was, like everyone else, really into ‘Tiger King’ earlier this year and recently watched ‘Don’t F with Cats’. Of course, I blitzed season 4 of ‘The Crown’ when that came out. Genuinely struggling to think of anything else! I have rewatched all of ‘30 Rock‘ which is one of my favourite shows of all time. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you rectify that immediately.

I really enjoyed ‘Parasite‘ but was disappointed – and confused – by ‘Tenet‘.

I think the songs that have really stood out for me this year are ones that Simon introduced me to at Virtual Noir at the Bar. After being told that the free music was grating on some folk, Simon went out and asked some of his favourite musicians if we could use their music to start the show. We’ve featured Martin Stephenson, The Hold Steady, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Nils Lofgren. Billy Bragg started our Christmas show and was featured during our break and his song ‘Can’t Be There Today‘ is a real tearjerker. I must also mention Jason Isaacs who allowed us to use his music week in and week out – and I am now obsessed with his big band covers.

Not even going to mention downsides – I think we all know what has been sacrificed this year and difficulties people have faced. I think I got off lightly.

For 2021, I don’t have resolutions as such and I think my hopes are echoed the world over. Be kind to each other – and yourselves, it’s been a tough one.

Vic x

Review of 2020: Simon Bewick

OK, so 2020 was a thing. As most of you know, I’m mum to a firecracker of a boy so unfortunately we haven’t been doing a different review of 2020 every day in December as we have done in previous years but I couldn’t not invite my Virtual Noir at the Bar bar buddy Simon Bewick to chat about his year.

Without Simon, Virtual Noir at the Bar wouldn’t have become the must-watch event of the week for 22 weeks of 2020. His hard work, expertise and general brilliance ensured that we produced a professional show every week in addition to a charity anthology that raised funds for NHS Charities and a private showcase event. It has been a pleasure working with him this year and I’m really looking forward to doing more awesome projects with him in 2021. Bay Tales is up and running have you checked it out yet?

I’ll be here tomorrow to give you the lowdown on my 2020.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally?
My favourite moment was probably the Virtual Noir at the Bar session when we were able to announce that our charity collection Noir from the Bar had gone live that day. The combination of our having got VNatB up and running to a level when so many amazing authors were prepared to trust us enough to share their short stories with us to publish was a great feeling after only two months since starting. 


And a favourite 2020 memory generally?
Not one in particular…just being able to get up in the morning and go for a walk along the beach after 30 years of being thoroughly landlocked…

Favourite book of 2020?
Dead Girl Blues by Lawrence Block. For all sorts of reasons. Any new book by LB will be an event for me, but a NEW novel after a few years was a treat. Finding it to be as original and shocking as it was, was a bonus. The fact it was self-published showed bravery and a ‘to hell with you if you don’t like it’ attitude I loved. 

Favourite film and/or tv series?
Crime-wise, late to the game but finally caught up with Gomorrah – raced through all four seasons and was delighted to see a film was released this year…roll on the next season…I really can’t see what’s going to happen next. General TV series I’d probably have to go with Ted Lasso. A dose of niceness for football and non-football fans alike. 

Song?
Overall, I’d probably say Bruce Springsteen’s new album has been the album I’ve listened to most this year,and from that If I was the Priest has been my most played song of the year…and considering the album didn’t come out until November, it shows how much it’s been on replay… 

Let’s skip over downsides, shall we?
Yes. Let’s. 

Are you making resolutions for 2021?
Nope. Stopped making resolutions a long time ago. 

What are your 2021 hopes? 
Same as everyone I’m guessing…would like to come up with something witty, but…just that…

#BlogTour #ABowlofCherries by F.E. Birch

It is an absolute delight to be hosting my very good friend F.E. Birch on the blog today. F.E. is part of a very special group of friends that I’m lucky to have in my life.

I was given the honour of hosting F.E.’s virtual book launch for her short story collection ‘A Bowl of Cherries‘ earlier this year and am delighted to have her on the blog today.

Vic x

Thank you Vic, for hosting me today for A Bowl of Cherries, my short story collection. 

When I first started writing short stories in about 2004 I had no idea where I was going with them. I love writing in the short story form and I when I discovered flash fiction, I thought it was brilliant. I was in the process of changing careers and with three small children it was difficult but I just wanted to write, and write, and write – so I pinched time from everywhere I could and I wrote.

I then started entering competitions and calls for submissions to anthologies. I learned what some markets liked and what others didn’t. I prefer writing in the dark form: crime, psychological, character-centred and devious, and definitely not for everyone. 

Since 2004 I have had a hundred and fifty- five stories published in print or online. I won Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland in 2012 along with Joseph Knox. He’s gone on to be a very successful and talented writer. I was then published by Harper Collins for a collection of anecdotal stories under a pseudonym, which although quite successful, I couldn’t openly take any credit. Life events then got in the way and I had a hiatus from 2013, writing only sporadically, but still networking at lots of the writing festivals. Oh, how I miss them!

I have to praise Vic Watson and Simon Bewick for their lockdown VNATB. It was the highlight of my week, every Wednesday for twenty-two weeks. They really inspired me to pick up my pen again and I managed to finish my part-written crime novel, which is now in the editing stages. I also went back to my short stories and thought, actually, some were okay. A hard thing to admit for someone who doesn’t believe in themselves! Whilst  ‘cooking the book’ that I hope to be my first novel, I thought I could pull together a collection of my short stories. If they’d been published before, surely, they might have some merit? Hence, A Bowl of Cherries was born. 

Each story has a dark theme, and they cover most aspects of life, death, murder, abuse, violence, cannibalism, alcohol, domestic violence, ghosts, and much more. There are few markets for this type of genre, especially in the short story form, but I know there are people out there like me that like to read them. I also understand that for some, they may be too much, which is why they are labelled as triple XXX. I draw on my life and professional experiences for nuggets of ideas that I turn into stories and having seen the dark and dastardly things that people do to each other first hand, I have a wealth of ideas in the bank. There are many more stories loitering in files on my laptop, more still waiting to be written. 

None are for the faint of heart, though I do have the idea of writing a rom-com – if only I can resist killing off a character! 

I am very fortunate to have a great peer group of friendly writing folk, and a special circle of friends, and it’s such a wonderful writing community to be amongst. Thank you to all the readers who keep the writers going, all the writers who understand the need to keep going, and everyone else who supports us. 

Order A Bowl of Cherries now.

Guest Post: William Shaw

During our twenty-two week run at Virtual Noir at the Bar earlier this year, I was lucky to host a number of amazing writers. I was also invited to talk to a number of podcasts, publications, blogs and Facebook groups.

The first Facebook Live event I took part in was with William Shaw, who was hosting daily chats with a number of people from the world of writing. William was a brilliant host and I enjoyed appearing on his show.

A couple of months later, William appeared at VNatB and was so generous that he read an excerpt of someone else’s work instead of his own!

William is joining us today to talk about his next project: Reading Party. I’m confident that you’re going to be interested in what’s coming up!

Vic x

Guest Post: William Shaw talks about Reading Party

I’ve been trying to come up with a way in which Zoom events can have the same kind of engagement as live events – and also really be about the books. 

I came up with the idea of a reading party. The idea is guests get to read from an author’s new work – aloud. Together, twenty guests read a chapter from a writers’s new book, in the presence of the writer themselves.

It kicks off with the writer explaining a little about the extract they’ve chosen, answering guests’ questions about what kind of mood they want etc, and then the reader kicks things off followed by all the guests in turn. 
Afterwards there’s a discussion.

Admission is by ticket – or by buying a copy of the book. After the reading there’s time for discussion and then the writer signs and dedicates a bookplate for anyone who has bought the book. Books are supplied by the online bookshop Bert’s Books.

Nov 12th 7.00pm Bella Ellis (Rowan Coleman) reads The Diabolical Bones
Nov 19th 7.00pm Elly Griffiths reads The Postscript Murders
Nov 26th 7.00pm C. L. Taylor reads Strangers

Look out for upcoming events from Sarah Hilary, Mark Billingham and more. 

Review: ‘The Power of Rude’ by Rebecca Reid

For decades, women have been called ‘bossy’, ‘hysterical’ and ‘neurotic’ in situations where men might simply be dubbed ‘assertive’. We need to change the narrative around women and we need to use our voices to take control. Rebecca Reid isn’t afraid to show us how.

I am not an assertive person. I would like to be an assertive person. I recommend ‘The Power of Rude‘ to anyone who would like to be more assertive, especially if that person is worried about how being “rude” might be perceived.

I guess you could call ‘The Power of Rude‘ self-help but it is so much more than that. It’s insightful, constructive and thoughtful. It’s also thought-provoking and anger-inducing as well as being laugh out loud funny and totally relatable.

Rebecca Reid has shared her own experiences on several subjects including health, money and sex, coupled that with findings from her own research and case studies of well-known women. ‘The Power of Rude‘ is like a chat with a friend – a friend who will tell you that you shouldn’t be putting up with [insert any number of wrongs that women suffer on a daily basis].

I can’t stop thinking about ‘The Power of Rude‘ and how I am going to use the advice given to improve my life. I will refer back to this book for the rest of my life and will buy it for my female friends although, to be honest, I reckon anyone who doesn’t feel able to advocate for themselves could benefit from reading ‘The Power of Rude‘.

The Power of Rude‘ is an indispensable guide to how to assert yourself. Get it now!

Vic x

Review: ‘Firewatching’ by Russ Thomas

A body is found bricked into the walls of a house. From the state of the hands, it’s clear the dead man was buried alive. Soon, the victim is linked to an old missing person’s case and DS Adam Tyler is called.

As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler recognises his role for what it is – a means of keeping him out of the way following an ‘incident’. When this case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.

And then Tyler discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him. He makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors, certain that he and only he can solve the crime. But now Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth, without destroying the case or himself.

Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy affinity with fire. . .

Ok, so if the summary above didn’t entice you (it really should have, by the way), here’s why you should read ‘Firewatching‘ by Russ Thomas:

Firewatching introduces us to a fresh new take on the police procedural, featuring an original protagonist. For me, hinting at Tyler’s backstory while racing to stop more deaths, felt really natural and kept a realistic balance to the story. Thomas’s writing is taut and compulsive, hitting the right balance of plot and visceral descriptions.

The plot is strengthened by the cast of characters, particularly Lily who can’t remember the secret she’s keeping on account of the dementia that’s ravaging her mind. The characterisation in ‘Firewatching‘ is absolutely perfect, with Thomas portraying Lily’s dementia accurately and sensitively.

Thomas pulls the reader in and creates empathy for his protagonist by laying bare the bigotry that Tyler faces regularly. By pairing Adam with PC Rabbani, Thomas is also able to explore institutionalised racism. Again, he does this with a light touch that leaves the reader in no doubt about the difficulties these officers have to deal with – and that’s before you factor in the crimes they’re investigating.

The descriptions of the arsons are terrifyingly real and, while the person responsible taunts the police with cryptic blog posts, readers are presented with the sense of the urgency felt by Tyler and his colleagues.

If you’re looking for original characters, a strong plot and vivid descriptions, ‘Firewatching‘ is the novel for you! I can’t wait to read ‘Nighthawking‘, the next in the DS Adam Tyler series.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Point of No Return’ by Neil Broadfoot

After more than a decade of being in prison for the brutal murder two Stirling University students, Colin Sanderson has been released after his conviction was found to be unsafe.

Returning home to a small village not far from Stirling, Sanderson refuses police protection, even in the face of a death threat. But the PR firm that has scooped him up to sell his story does know of a protection expert in Stirling. They want Connor Fraser.

Connor reluctantly takes the assignment, partly as a favour to DCI Malcolm Ford, who is none too keen to have Sanderson on the loose, particularly as he was involved in the original investigation that saw him imprisoned. 

When a body is found, mutilated in the same way as Sanderson’s victims were, all eyes fall on the released man. But how can he be the killer when Connor’s own security detail gives him an alibi?

As Connor races to uncover the truth, he is forced to confront not only Sanderson’s past but his own, and a secret that could change his life forever.

Having read ‘No Man’s Land‘ and ‘No Place to Die‘, I was really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Connor Fraser series – and I wasn’t disappointed. ‘The Point of No Return‘ is a tight, pacey thriller that develops recurring characters within the context of another intriguing mystery.

Broadfoot has a knack of writing taut prose, with not one word wasted and that really helps me envisage the action unfolding. The action at times actually left me breathless. I genuinely can see Connor Fraser coming to a screen near you (hopefully soon).

The unflinching violence in this series is not for the faint-hearted but, with characters like Duncan Mackenzie and his henchman Paulie in the mix, it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. In addition to the menace provided by Mackenzie and Paulie, Colin Sanderson genuinely gave me the creeps.

Setting the series in Stirling gives Broadfoot’s series a fresh feel to it, putting Scotland – and its political conflicts – at the heart of every story. It’s great to see recurring characters being given space to develop and gain depth. As much as I like Connor, I love Donna Blake and the divided loyalties she experiences on a daily basis.

The third in Neil Broadfoot’s Connor Fraser series is his strongest yet. Readers get not only a barnstorming mystery, they’re also treated to a glimpse into Connor’s own backstory which makes it much easier to understand his motivations and behaviour. However, you don’t have to have read the previous two novels in this series in order to enjoy ‘The Point of No Return‘ – but I recommend that you do anyway!

I can’t recommend ‘The Point of No Return‘ highly enough.

Vic x