Review: ‘One Christmas Night’ by Hayley Webster

Christmas is ruined on Newbury Street, Norwich, following a spate of burglaries. Rumours are swirling that the thief may even live on the street. Instead of festive cheer, the residents are filled with suspicion and dread. 

The police have increased their presence on Newbury Street and as Christmas creeps closer, their investigations reveal that everyone has something to hide. 

But Christmas is a time for miracles… and if they open up their hearts and look out for each other, they might discover the biggest miracle of all.

Hayley Webster has written a lovely book with believable characters that the reader roots for. I really enjoyed the fact that ‘One Christmas Night‘ combines a mystery with heartwarming subplots.

As the story went on, I got more and more involved in the lives of these characters. I really admire that Webster manages to move the reader without being overly-sentimental. 

Although it’s an easy read, ‘One Christmas Night‘ tackles serious subjects like racism, fraud and coercive control. I haven’t read a book with such a compelling cast of characters since ‘The Casual Vacancy‘.

I couldn’t put ‘One Christmas Night‘ down – it is the perfect festive read. 

Vic x

**Black Summer Blog Tour**

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It’s my pleasure to be included on the blog tour for M.W. Craven’s ‘Black Summer‘, winner of this year’s CWA Gold Dagger. 

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars, is charming, charismatic and a psychopath. He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found but Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I loved The Puppet Show‘ by M.W. Craven (you can check out my review here) and was dying to read ‘Black Summer‘. Thanks to the generosity of M.W. Craven, who I have been fortunate enough to interview twice this year, I got an advance copy of ‘Black Summer‘. 

I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ so much that I thought Craven had given himself a tough job in trying to top it but I shouldn’t have worried: ‘Black Summer‘ is an absolute triumph. As with the first Washington Poe novel, Craven evokes locations perfectly, using the beauty of the Lake District in contrast to the brutality of the crimes Poe is investigating.

The relationship between Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, his brilliant but socially awkward colleague, has progressed since the first book in the series as the pair continue to be an investigative dream team. Craven’s ability to balance drama with humour is testament to his skill as a writer. Bradshaw and Poe’s friendship often provides some light relief when things get really dark. 

One of the most impressive elements of ‘Black Summer‘ is the character of Jared Keaton who is one of the most repugnant villains I think I have ever encountered. The back and forth between Poe and Keaton is well-written with their conflict leading to Poe finding himself in a jam that may prove too difficult even for him to get out of . 

M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe series continues to get stronger. 

Vic x

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Review: ‘Impostor’ by L.J. Ross

Forensic psychologist Doctor Alexander Gregory is renowned for being able to uncover whatever secrets lie hidden in the darkest of minds and, very quickly, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation.

A killer is on the loose in County Mayo, Ireland and panic has taken hold on the rural community. The Garda are running out of time. Despite swearing to follow a quiet life, Gregory finds it impossible to turn down their desperate request for assistance.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of L.J. Ross’s DCI Ryan series so it was with some excitement that I picked up ‘Impostor‘, the first book in the Alexander Gregory series. 

Despite having insane success with the DCI Ryan series, L.J. Ross has shown she isn’t afraid to take risks by embarking on a new series set in a new location. Ross has clearly done her research into psychological profilers – her portrayal of Gregory demonstrates her depth of knowledge. However, the story doesn’t lose its pace or get bogged down in unnecessary detail. It’s a real skill that Ross has honed – balancing backstory with pace. 

The characters in ‘Impostor‘ are well-drawn with hidden depths. Gregory’s backstory is intriguing and I like how Ross manages to create three-dimensional characters who contribute to the narrative throughout.

Setting ‘Impostor‘ in Ireland gives Ross plenty of beautiful scenery to draw on and she does so with aplomb. L.J. Ross uses the countryside to create an atmosphere that contributes to the tense narrative. 

As usual, L.J. Ross ensures that the reader is kept guessing until the very end. I was convinced I knew who the perpetrator was, only to be blind-sided by the big reveal. 

I’m looking forward to reading ‘Hysteria‘, the next in the series. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Warehouse’ by Rob Hart

Unemployment and bankruptcy have devastated the globe but in America, online store Cloud offers workers paid opportunities as well as homes in their live-work facilities. Spearheaded by a charismatic CEO, Cloud has branded itself as something of a saviour but underneath the supposed wonder of Cloud, something sinister is lurking. 

Entrepreneur Paxton never thought he’d be working for the company that ruined his business but compared to what’s left outside, he figures perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. When he meets fellow Cloud employee Zinnia, Paxton begins to thank his lucky stars but Zinnia has her eyes on another prize: Paxton’s all-access security pass. 

As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place.

It’s fairly clear that Rob Hart has written ‘The Warehouse‘ as a comment on a number of multinational corporations and the abuse they visit on their employees as well as small businesses and entrepreneurs who they regard as competition. ‘The Warehousemight be set in a dystopian future but it’s very easy to see how we could get there.

Hart has created a number of characters who are believable and easy to empathise with. I especially respected his ability to write one particularly abhorrent character who works as the perfect metaphor for Cloud. 

Weaving the backstory of Cloud, as told by its charming CEO, alongside Zinnia’s and Paxton’s stories ensures that the reader is kept intrigued throughout this story of corporate espionage in a world where everyone has their own agenda. 

Vic x

Guest Post: Jennifer C. Wilson on The Joy of Supportive Writing Buddies

My friend Jennifer C. Wilson is here today to celebrate the release of her story ‘The Raided Heart‘.

Jen’s going to talk to us about the importance of having a strong network of peers who understand what you’re going through as a writer and will help you when you need it most. 

My thanks to Jen for sharing her experiences and thoughts with us. 

Vic x

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Hi Victoria, and thanks for hosting me on your blog today. To say I’m excited about the release of The Raided Heart is an understatement, and I know that you know just how long I’ve been working on it, and what a big deal it is for me to finally be releasing it through Ocelot Press. You’ve also heard a lot of the story before the book’s released, as it’s been my work-in-progress at writing group for the last year or so. 

TheRaidedHeart-Cover-HiResAnd I’ve got to be honest, if it wasn’t for writing group members, The Raided Heart might still be in the proverbial desk drawer.

Back in the summer, I was having a total nightmare with the final draft. I was struggling to hit my word count targets, and angry at myself for that fact, given that I wasn’t even writing a new story; I was rewriting one, and for the third time at that. You’d think I would know what was going to happen next, to who, how, and when? Nope. Despite having a beautifully bullet-pointed synopsis, outlining in detail the entire plot, I just couldn’t find the words to bring any of it to the page. I was writing pieces here and there, at writing group, or on a Sunday afternoon, when I practically chained myself to my desk, but it was like wading through treacle, and I wasn’t enjoying it. Given that it had been with me for so long, this was anxiety-inducing, to say the least. 

Bringing Richard III into things had helped with the plotting, and the words had flowed for a while, but now they had dried up again. Hence one miserable night at a local crime-reading event, where I ended up pouring my heart out to fellow writers Sarah and Penny. In hindsight, declaring that I was quitting writing for good may have been a tad melodramatic, but it’s honestly how I felt in that moment. 

This is where being part of a circle of writers is so important. If I hadn’t been out that night, there’s a real chance I’d have been sat at my desk, hating the blank page, and deleting things rather than creating them. Instead, I was with good friends, who talked through everything which was bothering me, and came up with a genuinely helpful plan of action. Writing can be a solitary, if not downright lonely, activity, and having a solid group of people around you who know what you’re going through is so critical in my opinion.

And it’s not just to pull you through when you’re threatening to throw in the pen – it’s wonderful to have people who understand just what it means to you when you get shortlisted in a competition, have something accepted for publication, or (drum roll), you get yourself that magical Book Deal, and become a Published Author. Family and non-writing friends will be happy for you, yes, but only another writer can sometimes really ‘get’ just what you’ve been through to get to that point, and know what it means to have that success. 

That’s the reason I love hosting North Tyneside Writers’ Circle, and attending Elementary Writers, as well as getting a week-long fix of it at Swanwick Writers’ School every summer. And it’s why I cannot wait to celebrate seeing ‘The Raided Heart‘ into the world with people who really understand that after twenty-odd years in the writing, it’s a magical feeling to hold that paperback, and see it going live on Amazon. 

Happy writing!

About the book:
Meg Mathers, the headstrong youngest sibling of a reiving family on the English-Scottish border, is determined to remain at her childhood home, caring for the land and village she’s grown up with. When an accident brings her a broken ankle and six weeks in the resentful company of ambitious and angry young reiver Will Hetherington, attraction starts to build. Both begin to realise they might have met their match, and the love of their lives, but 15th century border living is not that simple, as Meg soon finds herself betrothed to the weakling son of a tyrannical neighbour, Alexander Gray. When tragedy strikes, can Meg and Will find their way back to each other, and can Will finally take his own personal revenge on Gray? ‘The Raided Heart‘ is the first of “The Historic Hearts”, a collection of historical romantic adventures set in Scotland and the North of England.

About Jennifer:
Jennifer C. Wilson has been stalking dead monarchs since childhood. At least now it usually results in a story, it isn’t considered (quite) as strange. Jennifer won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014 and, as well as working on her own writing, she is a founder and co-host of the award-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle and has been running writing workshops since 2015. Her debut novel, ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London‘ was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2015, with the fourth in the series, ‘Kindred Spirits: York‘, released in early 2019. Her timeslip romance ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is published through Ocelot Press, an authors’ collective formed in 2018. 

You can find Jennifer on Twitter and Instagram

**I Will Miss You Tomorrow Blog Tour**

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I’m really pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Heine Bakkeid’s ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘, the first in a new Norwegian crime series.

Fresh out of prison and a stint in a psychiatric hospital, disgraced ex-Chief Inspector Thorkild Aske only wants to lose himself in drugged dreams of Frei, the woman he loved but has lost forever. 

Yet when Frei’s young cousin goes missing off the Norwegian coast and Thorkild is called in by the family to help find him, dead or alive, Thorkild cannot refuse. He owes them this.

Tormented by his past, Thorkild soon finds himself deep in treacherous waters. He’s lost his reputation – will he now lose his life?

My thanks to Raven Books for inviting me to be a part of the tour and to Heine for taking the time to answer my questions. 

Vic x

Tell us a little about yourself…
I grew up in the North of Norway, in a place called Belnes. Just five houses, with the polar night looming above, the mountains behind us and the sea in front. It’s the kind of place where, as a kid, you can run around all day, play, and not see another human being. I used to read a lot, and developed a sturdy imagination, something that resulted in me getting lost I my own thoughts whenever and wherever I was. I still get lost in my own thoughts, usually thinking about characters I have created/want to get to know better, scenes I want to write, plots, and forget that I’m with other people, people that expect me to answer back when they talk to me. (My wife especially, finds this hilarious😊) Growing up in such a small place, you kind of get to be comfortable in your own skin and being on your own. Becoming a writer was therefore the perfect match for me, also because writers are often easily forgiven for being kind of weird sometimes, so …

And what can you tell us about ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow’? 
One of the things that has always fascinated me is how men, the kind of men I grew up around, handled their problems. It’s kind of expected that you sort yourself out and get on with your day. The main characters in crime fiction always seem to have certain traits; when you first meet them, they are broken in some way or form, and I always wondered why. How did they get there, to this point? So, when I first started writing about Thorkild Aske, I knew that this was something that I wanted to explore in the series. But also, what happens with a lone investigator-type, who doesn’t even want to fix himself, who can’t put himself together and just get on with it, but who actively sabotages his own well-being. So, when we first meet Thorkild in ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘ he’s just been released from prison, has lost his job as an Interrogation Officer with the Internal Affairs and is heavily abusing the pain medication his psychiatrist has given him. He is then forced to travel to the far north to investigate the disappearance of a young man who was renovating an old light house. What he then finds, is a young woman without a face in the breaking sea.

How long have you been writing? 
I started writing in my late twenties in 2003. I was studying programming in Stavanger and was well on my way to become a System Developer. Being a writer isn’t really something people from where I come from see as an option. Programming is as close to the inner circles of hell as you can get; it’s so structured, narrow, and has no freedom to go beyond the boundaries of the programming language, and I hated it.
One night, I had been hung up on this scene with this character (which later became Thorkild Aske) for a whole week and couldn’t sleep, so I just got up and started writing, hoping the scene would go away so that I could get some sleep. I wrote about fifty pages the following days, but quickly realized that I was way too young to write about such a character and decided that I was going to wait with the Thorkild Aske books until I got older.
But I still loved writing, this new-found way to escape the pains of programming, so I just kept writing and finished my first novel for young adults the same month as I completed my bachelor’s degree. I told myself that if the manuscript got published, I would become a writer, and if not, I would go on to my Master’s degree and slowly die, one day at a time, in some stupid office.

What was your journey to publication like?
I still know by heart the first line in the official letter from the publishing house that took on my manuscript. They had sent the manuscript to a well-known Norwegian YA-author who was consulting for them. “Finally, something that is pure gold, in an otherwise regular work day where everything is just so-so.” (I’m really butchering the English language on this one😊) So, with those words in mind I felt that I had moved a couple of inches away from that office space in hell, and decided to tell my wife that I was starting over again, from scratch with only my student debt in my backpack. I was going to become a writer. The book got published in 2005, and three years and three books later, in March 2008, I quit my day job and became a writer full-time.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell us about it?
Right now, I’m working on the fourth installment of the Thorkild Aske series. The story takes place in Stavanger, where the police have just dug up the body of one of their own, a dirty cop who went missing in 2011, a man that Thorkild Aske shares a personal past with. This one is going to get pretty intense.

What do you like most about writing?
As I said in the beginning, for as long as I can remember, I have been reading and making up my own stories and creating scenes in my head. Becoming a writer was the perfect outlet for this affliction. Telling stories is also the one thing that makes me truly happy.

What do you like least?
Editing. If I find a better way to tell a story, I will go and rewrite. This makes the editing process longer and more painful.

What are you reading at the moment?
The Secret History‘ by Donna Tartt. Very promising😊

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
The Norwegian writer and poet André Bjerke. He wrote children’s books, poems and psychological mystery novels in the 1940’s.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I did these writing courses for school kids in Norway after I got published and saw all the raw talents that were out there, young girls and boys that reminded me of myself at that age. I used to tell them to forget the “good student” type of writing and find their own expression, their own way to tell a story, to portray characters, their emotions and so on. Because that is what readers (and publishers) are looking for: something unique, different. That, and to edit, edit, edit and edit.

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer?
This one, most definitely😊 Being published in the UK, the land of Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter and C. J. Sansom, among so many others. Though, I must admit that my new favourite author is actually Irish: Adrian McKinty. The Sean Duffy series: wow, just … wow!

Review: ‘The Man on the Street’ by Trevor Wood

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When a homeless veteran hears something heavy fall into the River Tyne in the middle of an argument between two men, he tries to ignore it. But when he sees a plea from a girl whose dad is missing, Jimmy can’t turn a blind eye anymore. The girl – Carrie – reminds Jimmy of someone from his past and he decides he has to face the truth. Telling Carrie what he thought he heard, Jimmy gets pulled into an investigation which puts his life at risk. 

Trevor Wood’s protagonist, Jimmy Mullen, is a truly original character. I love the fact that Wood has tackled stereotypes with characters like Jimmy, Gadge and Deano – they’re truly unforgettable and massively sympathetic despite having complex backgrounds. Wood’s characters are portrayed sensitively and with understanding. I rooted for Jimmy from page one. 

Set in Newcastle, ‘The Man on the Street‘ evokes a strong sense of place while drawing the reader into a complex investigation. Having read crime fiction for many years, it’s not often a reveal leaves me speechless but Trevor Wood has managed it! 

With engaging characters, strong dialogue and gritty realism, ‘The Man on the Street‘ is utterly compelling. I couldn’t put it down. 

Vic x