Tag Archives: reader

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

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Review: ‘The First Time Lauren Pailing Died’ by Alyson Rudd

Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old the first time she dies. 

Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too.

But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.

And so every ending is also a beginning. And with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to being found…

The premise of ‘The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ is an absolute corker. The idea that Lauren can switch from one life to another and the impact her (multiple) deaths have on those close to her is really interesting – and thankfully easy to follow. You might expect to get tied up in knots trying to follow which timeline Rudd is referring to but I genuinely never got confused once.

I liked the small differences in each world – the lack of cats in one, the fact that Britain has never had a female Prime Minister in another. By including these subtle changes, Rudd gives the reader a sense of the displacement and unease that Lauren feels when deposited into a new world.

However, I felt there were missed opportunities in terms of character exploration and dramatic tension at times. I thought there was more potential with certain strands than were exploited. 

Rudd’s strength lies in the nuanced in which way she explores the relationship between Lauren and her ‘final’ husband, Simon – how a half-lived life causes a ripple effect. In addition to this, the way Rudd weaves the mystery of Peter Stanning’s disappearance into each of Lauren’s alternative lives is skilfully done. 

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ is like ‘Sliding Doors’ meets ‘Interstellar’ with a dollop of mystery thrown in.  

It’s out tomorrow, pre-order The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ now. 

Vic x

**Come Back for Me Blog Tour**

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Evergreen Island
9 September 1993

We left in a storm. The sea was rising in sharp clumps of angry waves, rain hitting my feet like bullets. Dad must have known we shouldn’t be making the crossing to the mainland, yet he stood on the boat, one hand frantically flapping for one of us to reach out and take it. The hood of  his red mac had whipped off his head, the rain plastering his hair to his scalp. He yelled over the wind for us to get in, but we wouldn’t move froam the end of the jetty. 

The boat rocked violently as it tugged at the rope that kept it tethered to the dock, and I noticed Dad’s other hand gripping tighter to the steel railing of the steps. ‘Get in, Stella,’ he shouted. Thunder cracked overhead and the sky lit up with magnificent streaks of light. Behind me our house flashed bright between the silhouettes of our tall pines, making it look like something from a horror film. I pushed my hands deeper inside my raincoat, clutching Grey Bear harder to my chest. I didn’t want to leave the only home I had ever known, but I had never seen my dad so determined. His jaw was set, his teeth bared. It wasn’t like him to be so persistent, so unrelenting, and I found myself  shrinking further back.

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Bonnie screamed from beside me. ‘We’ll all die if we do.’ My sister held her hood tightly against her head but I could just make out the paleness of her face in the moonlight. Bonnie had yearned to leave the island for years, but this wasn’t the way she wanted to go. 

‘We will not die and we need to go,’ Dad yelled back. He turned to me and added more softly, ‘I promise you. It’s fine. We’ll be safe.’ Dad owned the small ferry that he was demanding we board, and he’d run the thirty-minute crossing between Evergreen and Poole Harbour every day for the last sixteen years. If anyone could take us to the mainland safely, it was him, but we’d never dared attempted a crossing in weather like this before. Mum wouldn’t usually let us out of the house when it was this bad.

‘Why can’t we wait till morning?’ Bonnie was begging. I stared at the water, its white foam bubbling and spitting in rage. ‘Because—’ Dad shouted. ‘God, will you both just get in?’ He flapped his hand again, his gaze drifting over my shoulder to where Mum was coming down the jetty. Her head was low, arms tucked inside a plastic poncho as she trailed a suitcase behind her.

‘Where’s Danny?’ he yelled as another flash of lightning lit up the sky, making both Bonnie and me jump. I counted, too quickly, only reaching two before thunder roared overhead. The storm was creeping closer. My brother trailed behind Mum, shrouded in a shapeless black coat that hung over his bulky body, reaching the ground.

Bonnie started shouting again, gesturing at the sea as it rose and dipped, higher and lower than I’d ever seen it go. Another loud crack filled the air and I yelped as the branch of one of the pines fell to the ground beside me. I jumped out of its way as the wind carelessly tossed it along the jetty. For a brief moment, Dad stopped yelling and stared at the branch. My tears were already bleeding into the rainwater that soaked my face, but my heart twisted every time I thought of leaving my beloved island. All I wished was for Dad to realise that whatever we were doing, it wasn’t worth it.

Come Back For Me Hi-Res Cover

An isolated island community is shocked by the discovery of a long-buried body.

For Stella Harvey the news is doubly shocking. The body has been found in the garden of her childhood home – the home her family fled without explanation twenty-five years ago.

Now, desperate to unearth the truth and questioning her whole life, Stella returns to the tiny island against her sister’s advice. But she quickly finds that the community she left isn’t as welcoming as she remembers – and that the residents will go to any length to protect their secrets.

 

I really enjoyed ‘Come Back for Me‘. It’s a compelling mystery and it kept me guessing until the very end. 

Heidi Perks uses the flashback technique to great effect during this story, slowly unfurling the truth as Stella investigates the reason her family left the island in such a rush. The characters are well-drawn and Perks manages to capture the idea of Stella seeing certain things but perhaps not understanding them or the significance they hold. 

The island setting ramps up the tension perfectly, sometimes leaving Stella with no means of escape while not knowing who to trust. The isolation alongside the small-minded residents who are keen to keep their own counsel leaves the reader in no doubt how Stella must be feeling. 

As with other books I’ve read recently, I really enjoyed the wider social context that drives the narrative. ‘Come Back for Me‘ masterfully explores the ripple effect of long-kept secrets and the lengths people will go to to protect them. 

Vic x

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Review: ‘The Moor’ by L.J. Ross

A ten-year-old girl turns up on DCI Ryan’s doorstep to tell him she’s witnessed a murder. He has no idea he’s about to step into his most spellbinding case yet. The circus has rolled into Newcastle, bringing its troupe of colourful characters including acrobats, magicians, jugglers. However, despite the joy they bring to many, one of the members of the circus is a killer. 

Ryan and his team must break through the secretive community to uncover a secret which has been hidden for eight years, to save the only living witness before the killer  strikes again.

If you’re from the North East, you’ll be familiar with the Town Moor but even if you’re not, you will enjoy ‘The Moor‘. As always, LJ Ross has managed to create a compelling narrative which draws the reader in, combining excellent local knowledge and descriptions with human interest. As with her previous novels, ‘The Moor‘ is easy to read and whips along at a good pace.

I love reading the DCI Ryan novels – it’s like catching up with old friends. It was an absolute delight to see the development in Frank and Denise in ‘The Moor‘.

LJ Ross has created nuanced characters with pathos which keeps me coming back for more. I really enjoy the fact that, despite Ryan and his team being called to investigate gruesome murders, Ross keeps the novels light with plenty of banter and light-hearted humour. The drama, although very dark at times, never feels too depressing due to the lightness that Ross weaves through her stories.

Ross handles the portrayal of a much-maligned community sensitively and the story doesn’t feel exploitative.

Thankfully, it’s not long to wait until the release of the next DCI Ryan novel. You can pre-order ‘Penshaw‘ now. 

Vic x

**One More Lie Blog Tour**

Charlotte wants a new start. This means forgetting her past – including the years she’s spent in prison and her friend Sean. But, even with a new identity, moving on proves to be less than simple. 

Wearing an ankle monitor, Charlotte visits her therapist regularly but her demons begin to close in, dragging her back down a path which takes her closer to the crime that ruined her life. 

From the moment I picked up ‘One More Lie‘, I was utterly compelled by this original premise. Combining an intriguing idea with skilful plotting and rounded characters, Amy Lloyd has written another gem. 

Amy Lloyd writes with real skill – presenting her characters with empathy and depth. I loved the fact that, despite knowing Charlotte had been involved in something hideous, I couldn’t help but care for her. The supporting characters are used excellently to illustrate the difficulties Charlotte experiences – as well as the kindness she is shown. 

The way in which the story is presented ensures that the reader is kept gripped throughout. ‘One More Lie‘ is one of those books that I kept promising myself “one more chapter” at bedtime then finding myself still reading ages later! 

You can download ‘One More Lie‘ now – or pre-order a physical copy. You won’t regret it – ‘One More Lie‘ had me completely hooked.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Secretary’ by Renee Knight

Look around you. Who holds the most power in the room? Is it the one who speaks loudest, who looks the part, who has the most money, who commands the most respect?

Or is it someone like Christine Butcher: a meek, overlooked figure, who silently bears witness as secrets are shared  Someone who quietly, perhaps even unwittingly, gathers together the knowledge of the people she’s there to serve – the ones who don’t notice her, the ones who consider themselves to be important.

There’s a fine line between loyalty and obsession. And when someone like Christine Butcher is pushed to her limit, she might become the most dangerous person in the room . . .

Christine is an average wife and mother, who is the personal assistant to Mina Appleton, the chair of a large supermarket chain. Following accusations of unethical practices within Mina’s business, Christine has to decide how far she wants to go to prove her loyalty to her boss in a surprisingly cutthroat industry. 

As ‘The Secretary‘ progresses, told through Christine’s eyes, it was interesting as a reader to work out what had happened to Christine and where she was telling her story from. When this was revealed where she actually was, I was quite surprised. Renee Knight didn’t go for the most obvious explanation and I appreciated that. 

I thought Renee Knight’s characterisation in this novel was very strong. I enjoyed the transformation in Christine as her job became all-encompassing. I thought the character of Mina seemed really believable, her manipulative behaviour certainly seemed to represent what we have come to expect from heads of corporations. In many ways, ‘The Secretary‘ reminded me of ‘The Devil Wears Prada‘. 

I thought the idea of having the central crime in this novel centre around unethical business practices and perverting the course of justice was really original. Although it may not initially seem as compelling as murder, this story seemed really realistic and the behaviour of the characters made me want to read on. This is a character-driven psychological thriller which keeps the tension tight throughout.

Vic x

**Running in Circles Blog Tour**

 

Today we welcome to the blog Claire Gray to the blog as part of the blog tour to celebrate the release of her new novel ‘Running in Circles‘.


Claire Gray lives in
 the South Lakes with her husband and two small children. She studied Creative Writing at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. She graduated in 2006 and then went on to complete a journalism course at Darlington College. 


That same year
, Claire won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North, and her work was featured in their anthology, ‘Ten Years On‘. Claire now works as a freelance copywriter and continues to write short stories, some of which have been published in magazines and online. 


Sapere Books published ‘Running in Circles‘ in 2019 and Claire is really excited to have published her first novel!
My thanks to Claire for sharing her experiences with us.


Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: 
Claire Gray

It’s difficult for novelists to make a living purely through their writing. I’m probably only a Google search away from the official statistics, but I would guess only a tiny percentage of authors are able to sit at their desks every day, working on their latest manuscript, without worrying about paying the heating bill or feeding the kids. 


Many
 novelists supplement their income by working in education, or by editing other people’s work or writing for newspapers and magazines. That’s the tier of professional writing that I aspiring to reach, and it still seems very far away. But I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to be in the position that I, and many other writers, are in. We’re the writers who have day jobs; jobs completely unrelated to the creative work we do. While it can be challenging in terms of time management, and occasionally dispiriting because of how far removed it is from what we really want to be doing, having a day job is valuable. To write you need to have life experience. Working is one of the most natural ways to achieve this. 


I studied Creative Writing at college and then found myself
 working in betting shops across Cumbria and the north-east. What started as a weekend job rapidly became full-time as I realised (and probably should have realised much earlier) that Creative Writing is not a vocational course. But it wasn’t all bad. I met some interesting characters amongst the staff and the customers. There was a period in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I narrowly missed a number of armed robberies, which was horrible but also great fuel for short stories. One of my co-workers was a published poet, and I still have the signed book he gave me as a leaving present. The writing and gambling industries seem to go well together, somehow. 


Eventually
, I enrolled on a Journalism course at Darlington College. Once all the exams were over I was qualified to work as a junior reporter. For various reasons, this didn’t happen. I’d moved to North Devon with my husband who was in the Royal Marines, and there weren’t many local newspapers or junior reporting jobs around. But I’ve worked as a freelance copywriter and my journalism training was certainly not a waste of time. I discovered the power of an opening sentence, how to firmly grab the reader’s attention, and the importance of editing. The main characters in my novel are journalists, and it is good to have background knowledge about the industry.


Since then I have moved around the country a fair bit, working on my novel, doing the odd piece of copywriting, and working in a succession of NHS administration j
obs. Much like the betting shop period of my life, this is a line of work I fell into accidentally, but somehow it stuck. I like working for the NHS because I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, and it is inherently unpredictable; things rarely get dull. There are stories everywhere inside hospitals. You hear about, and see, some horrible things and some wonderful things. These polar opposites help to fuel my writing when I find time to switch on my laptop in the evenings. 

 

Running in Circles‘ is available now.