Tag Archives: read

Review: ‘Block 46’ by Johana Gustawsson

The mutilated corpse of a jewellery designer is discovered in a harbour in a Swedish marina while a young boy’s body is found in London with similar wounds around the same time. Emily Roy, a Canadian profiler on loan to Scotland Yard, begins to investigate the case alongside French true crime writer Alexis Castells. As the story continues, Roy and Castells uncover evidence to suggest that there may be a link between these murders and the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

Written by Johana Gustawsson, and translated into English by Maxim Jakubowski, Block 46 is a tense thriller which unravels slowly but masterfully. The chapters are choppy and keep the plot moving along nicely. The language used throughout the book is beautiful which juxtaposes the violence of the murders well.

The plot is utterly intriguing and I can see how the partnership of Roy and Castells could be turned into a successful series – there are plenty of narrative strands that could be explored further.

When I saw Johana Gustawsson talk about Block 46 at Newcastle Noir, I saw that the subject had deeply affected her and I couldn’t wait to read this book. The fact that Gustawsson has weaved present-day narratives with an historical element makes this a really unique novel. A must-read.

Vic x

Review: ‘Exquisite’ by Sarah Stovell.

Imagine you are feted author with the world at your feet. You have a startlingly successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home. You go to teach on a week-long residential writing course in Northumberland and meet a talented but troubled young woman. The chemistry between you is instant and you embark on an all-consuming affair like the ones you write about: or do you?

Exquisite is a breathless and claustrophobic read which captivates you until the final page. I literally could not put it down. It’s been a long time since I read a psychological thriller as good as this. I could see the action unfolding in my mind and already have a clear picture of who would play these characters in a TV or film adaptation.

The way in which Sarah Stovell has crafted this book requires a tremendous amount of skill. The narrative completely reflects the obsessive and confusing nature of the relationship between Bo Luxton and Alice Dark. Exquisite is layered  to perfection and ensures that your sympathies never lie with one person for very long. Sadly, it’s terrifyingly believable.

A must-read.

Vic x

I review my 2016

I really enjoy running the annual reviews, they get wonderful feedback from readers and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with the participants so thanks to everyone who’s taken part this year. Here’s to a wonderful 2017!

Victoria

In 2016, I have had some really cracking professional successes. Noir at the Bar is a real highlight for me, having run two in Newcastle and participated in ones in Harrogate and Edinburgh. I have Graham Smith and Jay Stringer to thank for encouraging me to set up the Newcastle chapter. Special thanks must also go to Jacky Collins – organiser of Newcastle Noir – for assisting me with the running of NatB NE. The turnout for the events in Newcastle has been fantastic and it’s really gathering great support, it’s a really wonderful thing to be involved in. I’m really looking forward to the next one on Wednesday, 22nd February.

My friend Luca introduces me

Elementary Writers continue to go from strength to strength. This year, we’ve released a book – Blood from the Quill – and a pamphlet – Wish You Were Here. We’ve also done performances for Burns Night, Heritage Open Days and Halloween. It is a pleasure to work with such talented writers.

The writers that I’ve worked with as a copy-editor this year have had some great success. I loved going to Chris Ord’s book launch for his excellent novel Becoming and it’s great to see that Nicole Helfrich’s book Descent to Hell has been released internationally. Similarly, it’s great to see Paul McDonagh and Graham Bain‘s books available to buy now.

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Oh, and I started working on my novel again. I’ve written more in the last three months than I have done in six years. That’s a pretty good feeling. The feedback I’ve had from performing extracts and sharing the work has been awesome and has really spurred me on to actually finish it. It’s not easy but I’m actually really enjoying spending time with the characters and delving deeper into their lives. A couple of weeks ago, Mike Cockburn of Sogno Ltd did a session with Elementary Writers on Myers-Briggs Personality Types and that’s given me a lot of food for thought.

Personally, I’ve also had one of the best years of my life. The Boy Wonder and I moved into our first house together in August and, on 14th November in Oman, he asked me to marry him! I honestly couldn’t be happier.

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It was a true thrill going to see my dad be awarded an MBE for services to welfare reform and charity. It was such a special day, going to Buckingham Palace with my parents and brother to see my dad’s hard work rewarded. I’ve never felt so proud in my life. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea at the Grosvenor Hotel in London afterwards.

A very proud day

In other news, I finally hit my Slimming World target as well as being nominated – and winning – Woman of the Year and Miss Slinky at my group. I’ve made some great friends at the group and I will continue to go in order to control my weight.

Favourite film by a country mile was GhostbustersI didn’t want to see it as I was worried it would be a disappointed but I loved it. Kate McKinnon is my hero!

I’ve read so many fantastic books this year in a range of genres. I loved Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories which was a collection of his favourite chilling tales. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a real inspiration – any creative person should read this fantastic book. I read my first ever Agatha Christie this year and I’m proud to boast that I guessed who was responsible for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd very early on. The Yellow Wallpaper was an utter revelation. There are loads of other wonderful books that have stayed with me this year – you can check them out on my Goodreads page.

That has got to be Formation by Beyonce although I have been known to sing it as ‘Ok, ladies, now let’s get information’. The Boy Wonder and I went to see Hans Zimmer Live and that concert just took my breath away. Seeing him perform the music from The Dark Knight as well as being introduced to The Electro Suite and other incredible compositions has stayed with me ever since.

At the start of 2016, I’d been made redundant and a house purchase had fallen through. That was not a great start but since then, I’ve never looked back. Looking outward, I’m devastated by the events all over the world. Syria, the US election, the EU referendum in Britain and the fallout have just been terrifying. Every year, I worry that we – as humans – are losing touch with humanity. I can’t believe the way people are behaving towards one another – usually because of difference. That’s just heartbreaking.

My resolutions for 2017 are too try not to over-commit. I get very excited by the opportunities offered to me and find it difficult to say no but sometimes that negatively impacts on me.

I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year for people. I really hope we can find a way to work together to bring about positive change in the world – regardless of difference.

Review of 2016: Bernie Steadman

Today we have Bernie Steadman on the blog to review her year. By all accounts, it’s been a corker but you don’t need to hear that from me – allow Bernie to sum up her 2016 for you!

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
My first novel, Death and Deception came out right at the end of 2015, so it was in January 2016 that I first read reviews from people I didn’t know, about a book I had created. It was a special moment and the fulfilment of a dream. The second in the series, Death and The Good Son, came out on the 9th December this year, and my favourite part of that process was having a launch with so many friends, a glass or two of prosecco, some signings, some sales… it was a great afternoon!

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And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I’m an Iyengar Yoga devotee, and in May I went to Crete for a week long retreat with a brilliant teacher. The venue: 30 yards from the beach. The yoga: challenging, and in every way, stretching! The food: delicious home-made Cretan delights; yogurt, fruit and vegetables from the garden. The weather: warming nicely by the end of the week to 30 degrees. The sea: warm enough to swim. Reader, I wept like a baby when I had to come home…

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Favourite book in 2016?
So tough. I’ve read so many. I loved ‘The Rosie Project‘ by Graeme Simsion, and the first in the ‘Brilliance‘ sci-fi series by Marcus Sakey. Debut authors; I have to recommend Angela Corner’s ‘The Hidden Island‘. Heleyne Hammersley’s ‘Fracture‘ was good, and I mustn’t forget the magical, wonderful, ‘Ghostbird‘ by Carol Lovekin.

Favourite film in 2016?
Dr Strange‘, with the delectable Benedict Cumberbatch. Love a bit of Sci-fi, and will see ‘Rogue 1‘ before the end of the year, no doubt.

Favourite song of the year?
Emilie Sande, ‘Hurts‘. She’s a fabulous singer; you can hear her soul in her voice.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Personally it’s been a fantastic year, but so many of our icons have died this year that I think it is tinged with a little sadness for everybody.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Well, I have a new novel to write, starting January 1st

What are you hoping for from 2017?
A safe world, in which difference doesn’t spark xenophobia. I’m going for spontaneous acts of kindness, and smiling at strangers!

Review of 2016: Sandra Ireland

Today we’re joined on the blog by the lovely Sandra Ireland who’s here to review her year. I know it’s a funny time of year – the week between Christmas and New Year – so thanks to Sandra for taking the time to appear on the blog.

Vic x

book-signing

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I suppose everyone says ‘The Book Launch’, which is absolutely true! Mine was in St Stephens, Stockbridge, and hosted by a wonderful indie bookshop, Golden Hare Books. My publisher Polygon selected this venue as my novel Beneath the Skin is set right around the corner! But I have so many great memories of 2016, including being invited to take part in Bloody Scotland’s ‘Spotlight on Crime’ event.

 

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
2016 has been a BIG year. In April, I was a awarded Creative Scotland funding to undertake a year-long creative residency at NTS Barry Mill, Angus, and in May my son Jamie married his lovely girl, Lizzie, at the Mill. The ceremony took place beneath a gorgeous old apple tree. Not a dry eye in the place!

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Favourite book in 2016?
So many to choose from. At the moment I’m reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch‘, after seeing the painting in Edinburgh. Such a beautifully-written novel, and that sense of place bestowed by basing it around an actual artefact: brilliant! I’ve tried to do something similar with by second novel, which is set in a fictional version of Barry Mill. I love the idea of literary tourism.

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Favourite film in 2016?
Tricky. I’m not a fan of anything connected with ‘Star Wars‘ or action/ adventure/ superhero stuff, and I don’t like all the hype surrounding cinema releases. I’m a rather-read-the-book type! I did enjoy ‘Sunset Song‘ last year, but I guess that doesn’t count! This year I went to see ‘Room‘, and ‘The Girl on the Train‘ which were both just okay!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a big Nick Cave fan, so I would have to say that my go-to song for a bit of Gothic writing inspiration is his ‘Red Right Hand’. Since it’s the theme for Peaky Blinders (beautifully-written) I think that qualifies it to be included in my 2016 highlights!

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Mainly family stuff. I suppose bright light casts a long shadow, and alongside the good fortune of having my book published are the things that can’t be helped but must be endured. My father is nearly 93 and doesn’t keep well. However he’s doing okay at the moment. My younger son, Calum, is in Australia and managed to come back for the wedding. Neither of them made it to the book launch, which was sad but unavoidable. I missed them both.That’s the writing life – it’s a strange career choice; you just have to write through the downsides of life.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I like to see what the Universe has in store for me – I like to be led by my intuition, so no resolutions for me. Too much like taking control! I do have goals, though.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I hope to get my second novel published, and to build on the other strand of my writing life which is as a tutor/facilitator. I’m about to start working with Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust on a creative writing project at a local Macmillan Centre. I love the idea of well-being through the arts, so I’d like to do more of that in the New Year. I’m hoping for lots of good health, energy, enthusiasm and tolerance in 2017!

Thank you so much for sharing this space with me! Wishing yourself and all my writing friends every success and help from a friendly Muse in the New Year!

Review of 2016: Matt Wesolowski

Over the past twelve months, my path has crossed with Matt Wesolowski’s on a few occasions. Matt is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and he leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. 

Matt’s debut novella ‘The Black Land‘, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and he’s had lots of stories published in anthologies and magazines. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at ‘Bloody Scotland’; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel ‘Six Stories‘ is available through Orenda Books.

Thanks for reviewing your year for us, Matt!

Vic x

Matt

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be in May when I got the confirmation that my novel ‘Six Stories‘ was to be published by Orenda. Being published on a scale like this has been my dream ever since I can remember and even now, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I remember my legs turning to jelly…they still do if i think about it too much!

Six Stories

My favourite moment generally was seeing my son starting to learn to read. Watching him and helping him recognise words is such a privilege – he’s only five and has got a way to go but I can see the doors to a wonderful world gradually opening before him, a world that has given me such pleasure. I’m reading him Jo Nesbo’s ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder‘ books at the minute. He can try Nesbo’s crime stuff when he’s a bit older!

Favourite book in 2016?
I’m in no way biased toward Orenda but they released a stunning book this year called ‘The Bird Tribunal‘ by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn – the work is simply stunning; it reminded me of Tarjei Vesaas in its rustic poetry. I also was deeply impressed and influenced by Benjamin Myers’ ‘Turning Blue‘ – a really desolate rural thriller as well as ‘The Girls‘ by Emma Cline which is beautifully written and hold you in a vice grip until the end.

Favourite song of the year?
I listen to so much music when I’m writing, a mixture of ambience and atmospheric black metal so in that sense, individual songs often don’t stick out.

I did get into Chelsea Wolfe a lot this year –  she’s a sort of doom-folk singer. ‘Simple Death‘ off her Abyss album is just wonderfully melancholic and bleak…are you noticing a theme in these answers yet?

Favourite film in 2016?
The Witch‘ was hands down my favourite film this year. It’s set in the 17th century with this banished family of Christians trying to tame the wilds of an unforgiving forest and hindered by their own puritanical fear of the unknown. I adored the way the dialogue was lifted from genuine witch trials and of course the character of Black Philip – a goat – stole the show. It was a difficult and tense watch, genuinely unsettling.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I feel really strongly about animal rights, especially factory farming; it’s not common knowledge that ‘mega-dairies’ are operating in this country in 2016 – huge industrial complexes which allow the cows zero outdoor grazing. For such beautiful animals to be treated this way is just diabolical.

With so much scientific advancement from our species, it makes me sad that we still think it acceptable to treat other sentient creatures as products. For example, it baffles me when a company like McDonald’s brag about having free range eggs yet the chickens they farm for meat are still kept in inhumane and unspeakable conditions.  When someone gets on the bus with a bucket of KFC, the smell makes me want to vomit.

Under a Conservative government, for whom killing animals for fun is a pastime, it won’t be long until the pox that is fox hunting will return to our lands.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I don’t ever make resolutions at new year; I’m my own harshest critic all year round…that part of my brain nags me to be a better father and a more productive writer today!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope to see more reading in 2017…I’d love to see more people enjoying books rather than social media. There’s this wonderful tradition in Iceland called Jólabókaflóðið which roughly translates as ‘Christmas book flood’ and people give each other books on Christmas eve and spend the evening reading. It’d be wonderful if we could spread that tradition worldwide.

Review of 2016: Katheryn Womack

Today on the blog is Katheryn Womack, she’s here to review her year. Thanks for being involved, Katheryn. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
The only thing I can think of professionally is that I wrote a short science fiction story.  I have never written science fiction in my life, but I really loved this story.

Unless you count the fact that I have worked here for three and a half years and never taken a vacation, so this May, I took a month off to go to my hometown.  I hadn’t seen anyone for so long, and they hadn’t seen my girls since they were preschoolers.  It was the most wonderful month, maybe of my life.  Every day was packed with visits, parties, get-togethers, events museums, picnics, shopping, you name it.  It was a month of warm, fuzzy, love.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally? 
My favourite moment was when I took my girls to Shanghai Disneyland.  I became a single mother when my youngest was one and half, and my oldest had just turned three.  It was a horrible struggle financially and physically.  I had promised them I would take them to Disneyland when they were out of diapers and didn’t need naps.  It took me a long time to recover from cancer and an even longer time to recover financially, but I finally took them two weeks ago.  It was my proudest mommy moment.   

Favourite book in 2016?
I have read a few good ones, “Everything I Never Told You” By Celeste Ng.  Seems to be sticking out though.

Favourite film in 2016?
I’m about to go see “Dr. Strange” in a week and I’m hoping it will be the one.

Favourite song of the year?
I rarely listen to new music.  I will say, I saw the kids from “Stranger Things” do “Uptown Funk” and I could listen to that over and over.  

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I have two best friends going through horribly distressful times that they are having a very hard time handling, and I can’t be there physically for them.  I hate that I don’t know what to do or how to help them.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I will submit more manuscripts to more places.  I need to get more proactive with that part of writing.  Maybe apply for a few jobs in the states.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’m hoping to finally get new glasses.  I hope my mom comes out of cancer treatment with flying colours.  I hope I’m able to save money.