Category Archives: Books

Review: ‘High Force’ by LJ Ross

high-force

I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I’ve encountered lots of people who are obsessed with LJ Ross’s DCI Ryan series – and the man himself. Having read ‘High Force’, I can understand why.

‘High Force’ may be the fifth DCI Ryan novel but don’t worry if you haven’t read the other books in the series, this novel can be read as a standalone.

Set in Newcastle, Northumberland and County Durham, ‘High Force’ follows DCI Ryan and his team as they track ‘The Hacker’, Ryan’s nemesis who has escaped from prison and appears intent on settling some old scores. Not content with having previously killed Ryan’s sister, ‘The Hacker’ has taken one of Ryan’s team hostage and continues to taunt him with a number of grisly murders.

I really enjoyed this compelling narrative which combined police procedural with criminal psychology. LJ Ross evokes place very well and the dynamics between the characters make this a really believable novel that I didn’t want to put down.

I will definitely be reading more LJ Ross.

Vic x

Cover Reveal: ‘Lost For Words’ by Stephanie Butland.

Today I’m thrilled to be able to take part in the cover reveal for my good friend Stephanie Butland’s latest release: ‘Lost for Words‘. 

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I think you’ll agree it’s a corker. I received my copy last week and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into it! Show the cover some love by using the hashtag #LostForWords

Vic x

Review: ‘Becoming’ by Chris Ord

Becoming

‘Becoming’ is a thoughtful, unique book regarding identity, morals and the idea of “community”.

The setting of Holy Island, and Northumberland in general, made this book more enjoyable for me because, thanks to Ord’s descriptions, I could imagine the action taking place in the wild coastal and countryside settings.

The characters in this novel are well-drawn and Gaia, the main protagonist, is a brilliant representation of a teenage girl. Comparisons may be drawn between Gaia and Katniss Everdeen but for all the right reasons. Chris Ord manages to capture the juxtaposition between being a vulnerable teenager and headstrong, principled young woman well.

If you like your books fast-paced and full of moral dilemmas alongside some excellent character development and beautiful imagery, ‘Becoming’ is the book for you!

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Helen Victoria Anderson

Today on the blog, we get to know Helen Victoria Anderson.

I first met Helen when she attended one of my writing groups in September 2013. Helen had contacted me about the session and explained that she was looking for somewhere to write while her daughter Georgina was in the Royal Victoria Infirmary. Unfortunately, Georgina was seriously ill with liver cancer and passed away. 

Helen has since released ‘Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir‘ which is an honest, unflinching account of her daughter’s final months and the impact her death has had. 

I’m really honoured to have Helen on the blog today. Thank you for taking part, Helen.

Vic x

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Helen, your memoir ‘Piece by Piece is about your daughter Georgina’s diagnosis with an aggressive form of liver cancer. Although much of the book is transcripts from diaries written during this period, how did it feel going back and reliving those times?

As I typed up the entries from my diaries, I kept thinking “Wow – did that really happen to us?” Georgina’s illness progressed and became terminal so rapidly (just four months from her diagnosis to her death) that it almost seemed like a bad dream. Going back over my diaries from that time brought it home to me that our lives have actually been changed forever. That period was such a mad whirlwind, I am now very glad that I have a record of it.

I thought the book was a really honest portrayal of depression, too, have you found people have been receptive to that element of it?

A lot of people who have experienced depression themselves have picked up on my references to my own mental health. I didn’t want the book to be ‘about’ my past (and sometimes current) depression, but I’m not ashamed of it either, so I was determined not to gloss over its effect on me and our family. Georgina was very worried that I might go on a downward spiral after her death, so it was natural for me to write about my efforts to maintain my recovery.

What’s been the most surprising reaction you’ve had regarding your memoir?

I have had many moving messages from other bereaved parents, including a lady in the US who has become a ‘penfriend’. It’s obviously meant a lot to me to have helped other people in this situation, in some small way. Also, the comments I have had about Georgina’s bravery and her music have made this project worthwhile. But probably the most surprising reaction has been the surprise of readers themselves to find that, overall, ‘Piece by Piece’ is an uplifting – rather than depressing – read.

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You are very open regarding other familial relationships in your life, how have the subjects coped with that?

I was careful to ask everyone who is mentioned in the book for their permission to publish the relevant passages, because no book is worth falling out over. My husband was very happy for me to write about him – even if his perspective of events (such as our arguments) was not always the same as mine! Georgina’s brother understood that it was important for me to tell my story, but so far he prefers not to read the book (which I totally understand).  On a side note, Georgina’s consultant was generous enough to let me include some slightly less-than-complimentary entries about our experience of her treatment, and said that the book would be useful in training future doctors about the patient/carer perspective of cancer.

Do you see writing as a cathartic experience?

Definitely, there is that element of relief when ‘spilling’ onto the page, but writing also helps me with ordering thoughts and feelings – hopefully to form a meaningful piece for the people who might get to read it.

I see you were recently able to make a donation to the Make-a-Wish foundation. How did that feel?

I recently donated £800 – the profits of the sale of the book to date – to Make-A-Wish UK, and it felt excellent to be able to give something back. Lots of charities helped Georgina, and we have tried to ‘repay’ them in various ways. In the book, I describe how Georgina’s story and her music became known around the world: Make-A-Wish was instrumental in getting Georgina’s music heard (which was her ‘wish’) via her YouTube video and single ‘Two Thirds of A Piece’. So, donating the proceeds of my book to grant other seriously ill children’s wishes seemed like something Georgina would approve of.

Have you any advice for someone considering writing a memoir?

It’s important to make careful decisions about how honest you are going to be – to think how you will feel once you have opened up your heart to your parents/neighbours/people you don’t know. Also, you need to be mindful and acknowledge that your version of events is just that – rather than objective ‘fact’.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently writing my second full-length piece of fiction ‘All Hushed’, while hunting for an agent for my first novel, which I’d just completed before Georgina got ill. Both of these books began with autobiographical seeds, but are very much crafted and fictionalised stories. I also have my first chapbook of poetry coming out with the Black Light Engine Room Press early in 2017.

What’s the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve received? Who was it from?

I received a wealth of useful advice from my tutors on the MA Creative Writing course at Teesside University about reading widely, writing a lot, and being persistent. I also love Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, in which he reminds writers that “stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it”. I often need to remind myself of that. But most of all, for me, writing is, as Stephen King also says, about “getting up, getting well and staying well. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

 

Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir’ (Slipway Press, 2015) is available from Amazon as an e-book (£1.99) and paperback (£7.99). It is also stocked by Saltburn Book Corner, Marske Post Office, Guisborough Book Shop, and Drake – The Book Shop, Stockton.

Helen blogs about writing at https://www.helenvictoriaanderson.co.uk

Follow Helen on www.facebook.com/helenvictoriaanderson

 To read more about Georgina Anderson’s story and legacy, see www.facebook.com/rememberinggeorgina

Review: ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’ by Shelley Moon

Stella Moon

Shelley Day’s debut novel, The Confession of Stella Moon, pulls you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go, even after the final page has been turned.

Stella Moon confessed to killing her mother on her eighteenth birthday. Now she’s served her time and is determined to start over but some things need to be put to rest before Stella can begin to think about her future.

A sense of claustrophobia pervades this novel, cloying and at times unbearable. I rushed through this story, partly because I couldn’t bear the tension! Day conjures up a strong sense of Stella’s rattled state of mind. The juxtaposition between the beautiful scenery of Northumberland and the hideous acts that occur is very well developed.

I was completely immersed in the story which is no mean feat. No wonder The Confession of Stella Moon was on the longlist for Not the Man Booker prize. I can’t wait to read what Shelley Day produces next.

Vic x

Getting to know you: Amanda Jennings

Today on the blog, we get to know more about Amanda Jennings. I met Amanda briefly at Newcastle Noir earlier this year and I’m really pleased to have her on the blog.

Her book ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected for WHSmith’s Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How cool is that?!

I hope you enjoy Amanda’s interview as much as I did.

Vic x

Amanda Jennings

Congratulations on being included in the WHSmith Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How do you feel?
I’m over the moon. It’s a little surreal – seeing my picture on a stand in WHSmiths! – but it’s a good surreal. ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected alongside some truly brilliant books from around the world, and I’m chuffed to bits to have that kind of nod of approval. What’s been really lovely is the number of friends and readers, both in real life and on social media, who have been openly happy for me and have sent pictures of the book taken in airports and stations around the country, as well as gorgeous messages. It has been very moving to feel the love and support.

I enjoyed your panel at Newcastle Noir, did you enjoy taking part?
I did! It was a great panel, and lovely to be part of an all-woman line-up, with the lovely, and very knowledgeable, Barry Forshaw moderating. I love talking at events. It makes a great change from sitting alone at home, staring at my computer screen (or more often than not out of the window!). I adore the social side of festivals. Readers and writers are almost without exception a warm and welcoming crowd with a mutual love of reading and books. I find it a very affirming and positive experience.

In Her Wake

What can readers expect from your books?
I am fascinated by the relationships that exist within a family unit. My books always tend to centre around a crime of some sort that has happened some time in the past which has been reignited in the present causing shock-waves. My books concentrate on the lasting effects of these past traumas, and tend to follow the protagonists as they work their way through to some sort of resolution. My writing focuses on the emotions of those involved, of cause and effect of the crime and their subsequent acting and reaction, of the concept that nothing we do can ever be separated from events that have occurred in our pasts. Every human being is a complex tapestry of their past experiences. I love analysing why people do ‘bad’ things and how those ‘bad’ things are justified, not only their minds, but also in the mind of the reader. I enjoy making the reader confront the grey areas surrounding what is right and wrong. If I can get a reader to feel sympathy or understanding for a person who has committed a crime – even if they (and I) still condemn that crime – I am very happy!

Most useful piece of writing advice and who was it from?
I am a big fan of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ and in it he talks about writing for your Ideal Reader, the one person who you want to make laugh or cry. If you tried to write for a wide readership, or for an unknown editor or agent, I think you’d lose your way. If a writer wants to have a unique and memorable ‘voice’ then they need to be totally true to themselves, to show their inner self. The easiest way to be true to yourself is to talk to someone who knows you so well they would question something that didn’t ring true. King writes for his wife Tabitha. I write for my husband, who not only encourages me but also challenges me. He’s my biggest fan and my harshest critic and I will always listen to his advice.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Finish your first draft! It’s only when you have a complete first draft that you can step back and look at the whole. When you have your story down you can then focus on what themes you want to concentrate on, which characters need more page-time, which need knocking into the background. I will edit a book a good number of times, sometimes as much as eleven or twelve full rewrites. Your first draft is your lump of clay and, though it needs shaping and reworking, it has all the ingredients needed for you to complete a book you are proud of. So don’t edit too much as you go along. Write notes in the margin or in capitals within the text when you have ideas as you write, and plough on. And don’t be tempted to submit the book too early. Yes you have that completed draft, but more likely than not there’ll be work to do. Most seasoned writers will tell you their first drafts are always dreadful!

I really needed that advice – thank you! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love those days when the words flow out of you almost beyond my control. I sometimes find myself in a special place where time seems to move without me being aware and I am totally immersed in the story and the words. But there are also those days – sadly more numerous than the good ones – where each word comes like blood from a stone. On these days I am plagued by self-doubt and The Fear, and genuinely believe I can’t do it and wonder why I am idiotic enough to even try. These days just need to be endured.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I have just started book four. It’s not coming very easily (I am in the enduring phase!) but I’m getting there. The story has been hidden in the mist a little, but it’s emerging slowly. I need to listen to my own advice and get the first draft down!

What’s been your happiest writing moment?
I think the moment my agent told me we had an offer of a publishing contract for my first book. My writing career, like those of so many writers, had been full of rejection up until that point. I had almost given up hope of every finding an editor. The phone call I took from my agent that began: ‘Are you sitting down?’ was without doubt one of the high points of my writing.

Thank you so much for your lovely questions. I thoroughly enjoyed answering them!

Review: ‘Not Working’ by Lisa Owens

Not Working

Claire is in her late 20s, she’s quit her “creative communications” (i.e. marketing) job in search of fulfilment. Her boyfriend, the supportive but frustrated Luke, is a brain surgeon. Can you imagine feeling unfulfilled and living with someone as important and single-minded as a brain surgeon?!

As a millennial, I identify with Claire. I may be a wee bit older than her but I understand this early adulthood crisis well.

Through a series of vignettes and thoughts, Lisa Owens manages to touch on scenarios that every woman my age will identify with. When Claire isn’t falling out with Luke over sexy colleagues or marriage and/or babies, she’s lying to her gym instructor about how much alcohol she consumes. Claire, in my opinion, is every woman. OK, so she’s not the ones who’ve got their life together – or seem to, at least – but she is every woman I know in one way or another. So you may be married but perhaps your mum isn’t speaking to you. Maybe you’ve got a great job but your friends think you drink too much. Claire is a composite of all our neuroses in one. And as much as there are scenes in this book where I despair for Claire, I love her. I care about her. I see myself in her.

Don’t get me wrong, this review probably makes Not Working sound rather depressing. The scenarios can be sad, particularly if you identify with them, but Owens manages to make them bittersweet. There’s a lot of humour in this book and much of it comes in the form of recognition. How many of us have gone to hand our notice in at the gym and walked out with an appointment for a personal trainer?

Not Working is a must-read. It truly is the Bridget Jones for millennials.

Vic x