Tag Archives: read

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

**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: ‘Have You Seen Her’ by Lisa Hall

Nanny Anna only takes her eyes off Laurel for a second, thinking Laurel was following her mum through the crowds. But in a heartbeat, Laurel is gone.

Laurel’s parents are frantic. As is Anna. But as the hours pass, and Laurel isn’t found, suspicion grows. Someone knows what happened to Laurel but they’re not telling.

My mum recommended ‘Have You Seen Her‘ to me and I could not put it down. The narrative is simple yet effective, sucking the reader in. 

Set in a small village, ‘Have You Seen Her‘ explores the reaction of a community after a child goes missing. Sadly, it seemed an all-too-familiar scenario which added some realism to the story. 

Alongside evocative descriptions of place, Hall’s exploration of her characters sets up a great mystery where anyone could be guilty. I thought her descriptions of Laurel’s parents and their relationship were particularly strong.

Have You Seen Her‘ is the first of Lisa Hall’s novels that I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Body Lies’ by Jo Baker

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of a new life and single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative writing class.

When a troubled student starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the lecturer recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.

Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?

Starting with an assault on our unnamed pregnant protagonist, The Body Lies‘ drops the reader straight into a world where this woman is almost constantly at the behest of the men around her – from her husband who won’t look for a new job in order to facilitate a move to a place she feels safer in to the head of department who continuously expects her to take on more and more work despite her inexperience and the difficulties she has managing her work-life balance to the students who snipe at one another in her class, overruling her at every point. 

By leaving this character nameless, Jo Baker says a lot about her interpretation of the world – and how the character is unable to make herself heard and understood in her male-dominated life. However, don’t think that ‘The Body Lies‘ is a novel that is constantly screaming about inequality – its power lies in the fact that the author has managed to subtly weave the point in to almost every sentence without the reader even being conscious of it. The way the issues are presented is almost ‘normal’, reflecting how insidious sexism and inequality is in our society today. You may not notice it but it is happening.

Jo Baker’s skill for beautiful prose makes ‘The Body Lies‘ a truly stunning literary thriller. The slow-burn tension allows us to empathise with the main character, understanding the pressure she is under and how burdensome it is to be a woman. The imagery Baker creates heightens the tension at key points as well as showing the reader the beauty of the world despite the horrific events that occur in it. 

The Body Lies‘ is a compelling study on what it is to be a woman, how women are subjugated and taken advantage of in many areas of their lives and how unsafe many of us feel on a daily basis. 

I’m genuinely not sure I’ll find a more engaging read this year.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Woman in the Photograph’ by Stephanie Butland

An empowering, feminist and moving novel that will change the way you see the world. 

In 1968, Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. Then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change.

Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica is almost a recluse, her stellar career somewhat derailed by one of the most infamous photographs of the twentieth century.

Now, that controversial picture hangs as the focal point of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-hidden memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time for Vee to break her silence, and step back into the light.

Stephanie Butland captures the historical impact of feminism from the sixties onwards, right up until the present day, wonderfully. Using key moments, Butland weaves the lives of her characters into the realities of the UK’s first female prime minister to the #Time’sUp and #MeToo movements. The structure of the novel helps Butland combine Leonie and Veronica’s stories with the historical setting, giving the reader a sense of context. 

I really enjoyed the prickliness of Leonie, the woman who irrevocably changes Veronica’s life in many ways. She is militant and unapologetic, says what she feels and doesn’t care if that offends anyone. It would have been easy to make her a right-on feminist stereotype with little in the way of redeeming features but the way in which Butland brings nuance to this character is magnificent. Her depiction of Leonie is thoughtful and thought-provoking, making her a whole person rather than a caricature.  

The Woman in the Photograph‘ is a strong statement about women’s rights, how far we’ve come and how far we still have left to go. I really loved the exploration of how lack of equality for women, even now, is more subtle but no less insidious.  

Stephanie Butland has taken her writing to the next level with ‘The Woman in the Photograph‘. 

Out today, ‘The Woman in the Photograph‘ is a must-read. 

Vic x

**When I Lost You Blog Tour**

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I am delighted to be today’s host on Merilyn Davies’s ‘When I Lost You‘ blog tour.

As most of you will know by now, I am due to have a baby very soon and therefore my review for this book will be posted in due course (will I ever have time to read again?!).

However, today, we have an excerpt from ‘When I Lost You‘ to whet our appetites. I am sure it will make you want to put this book to the top of your TBR pile. 

My thanks to Merilyn and Rachel Kennedy for allowing me to be part of this wonderful tour. 

Vic x

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A screen sits to the left of the judge, and displayed on it is my child: a fragile, beautiful daughter, who had barely begun her life before the chance to live it was taken from her.

‘Not lost,’ the lawyer is saying, his wig a little frayed, in sharp contrast to the fresh youth of his closely shaven skin. ‘Her life wasn’t lost, it was stolen.’ He emphasises the words, ones I’ve heard endlessly during the two-week trial, by looking in my direction. He doesn’t linger, it’s more a glance – the way a painter uses a gentle brushstroke to shape the outline of an image before colouring it in – but it’s enough to make sure the jury remember I am the image he is painting: mother, killer, guilty.

I shift a little in my seat. The packed courtroom is hot and the white blouse I’m wearing sticks to my armpits, the polyester scratching against my skin. I see a juror glance in my direction and freeze; he’s the one my lawyer warned me about. 

‘Third one from left, hipster beard,’ he’d said in the cell as we waited to be recalled on that first day. ‘Jeans and a tight jumper. He’s got it in for you, so make sure you don’t fidget too much or it makes you look guilty, but move a bit, because too little makes you look heartless.’

I am a trapeze artist – one wrong move and I fall into a cell, seven foot by nine. I steady my breathing and look down at my feet, concentrating on the new brogues I’m wearing, their brown shine complementing the sky-blue suit my husband bought me for the trial.

‘Here,’ he’d said, handing me the plastic bag he’d paid five pence for, then sitting down across from me in the noisy, smelly visiting hall. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s your size, but I kept the receipt just in case.’

I didn’t remind him we had no time to exchange it. I just smiled my thanks and stuffed it by my feet next to the cooler bag full of fruit and biscuits. He took my hand. ‘We’ll get you out of here, my love,’ he’d said. ‘As soon as they see you, they’ll understand, and then this nightmare will be over.’

I lost myself for a moment in his touch, the lightness of it, a soft caress. I marvelled again at how resolutely he’d stood by me. Against all evidence to the contrary, he’d refused to ever accept my guilt. But then his words returned – ‘This nightmare will be over’ – and they dragged me back to the bowels of the prison where the whispered threats told me otherwise.

Extracted from When I Lost You by Merilyn Davies, out now in eBook and published in paperback by Arrow, Penguin Random House on 22nd August. 

Review: ‘Out of the Ashes’ by Vicky Newham

When a flash mob is interrupted by a sudden explosion, DI Maya Rahman dashes to the scene. A fire is raging through Brick Lane, one of the city’s most infamous streets, the site of Maya’s childhood home. The discovery of two charred bodies in the burnt-out building transforms an arson attack into a murder case.

With witnesses too caught up in the dancing to have seen anything useful, Maya faces a complicated investigation without any leads. Then, when reports of a second, even more horrifying crime land on Maya’s desk, it’s obvious there’s more at stake than she could ever have imagined. She must solve the case – before all of East London goes up in flames

Having really enjoyed the first novel in the DI Maya Rahman series – ‘Turn a Blind Eye‘ – I had high expectations for ‘Out of the Ashes‘. I was not disappointed!

Vicky Newham reflects the rich diversity of London well, building complex characters within the wider narrative of an explosion on Brick Lane. There are plenty of nuances to these characters, making them well-rounded and believable. I cared about the characters, even the ones that weren’t wholly “good”. In fact, I liked them all the more for their flaws.

Newham builds a rich, compelling picture of the residents affected by the explosion and how far-reaching the consequences of the past can be. I also love the way in which Maya’s own backstory interlinks with the central storyline, too.

Exploring serious themes of racism, immigration and gentrification, ‘Out of the Ashes‘ delivers a depth that many crime novels lack.

I can’t wait to read more from Vicky Newham.

Vic x