Tag Archives: reader

Review: ‘Founders, Freelancers & Rebels’ by Helen Jane Campbell

In this book Helen Jane Campbell interviewed inspiring, brave and creative experts across the UK and US, tapping into some incredible insights and pulling them together into this friendly guide, to offer that support which we all need from time to time.

This book’s for you if you’ve stopped feeling ‘hungry’ for new client work, you’re starting up for the first (or second or third!) time, or you’ve simply run out of steam. The author's intention is to offer a wealth of ideas and fresh perspectives to inspire you at any stage of your independent creative career.

Whether you're chasing a better quality of life, finding your calling, leaving a legacy or focused on reaching your potential, this book can help you succeed when working on your own feels like an uphill struggle. It also offers a reality check and support for anyone who has the appetite to go solo, but who is nervous about taking the plunge.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 

I really liked Helen Jane Campbell's writing style, her strong voice comes through in a friendly, chatty style so that even when she's talking about certain aspects of freelancing that some may find uncomfortable (eg finances), it feels completely natural and not at all intimidating. Starting up a business can feel like an insurmountable challenge at times but Campbell's style helps reassure the reader and make everything seem totally possible. 

Campbell covers a number of topics that could be stifling your creativity or putting you off trying to go it alone. She uses case studies alongside her own experience to give practical advice and demonstrating her credentials to be the one giving this advice.

Vic x

Review: #Nighthawking by @thevoiceofRuss

Sheffield’s beautiful Botanical Gardens is an oasis of peace in a world filled with sorrow, confusion and pain. And then, one morning, a body is found in the Gardens. A young woman, dead from a stab wound, buried in a quiet corner. Police quickly determine that the body’s been there for months. It would have gone undiscovered for years – but someone sneaked into the Gardens and dug it up.

Who is the victim? Who killed her and hid her body? Who dug her up? And who left a macabre marker on the body?

In his quest to find her murderer, DS Adam Tyler will find himself drawn into the secretive world of nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable . . . and willing to kill to keep what they find.

In 2020, I was introduced to DS Adam Tyler in ‘Firewatching‘ by the wonderful Russ Thomas, check out my review here. I was lucky enough to be treated to an early copy of the second in the series, ‘Nighthawking‘. Big thanks to Simon & Schuster, Jess Barratt and, of course, Russ Thomas for my advanced copy.

Some series struggle after a strong debut but, in my opinion, Russ Thomas’s writing has only improved. ‘Nighthawking‘ is intense, dark and suspenseful and an absolutely compulsive read. It’s perfectly plotted and the pace builds well as we hurtle towards the denouement.

One thing I really love about this series is that Russ Thomas blends the criminal investigation along with the personal lives of his coppers. Tyler is still enigmatic, deep, and even troubled but his softer side shines through in his encounters with Callum. Mina, Tyler’s enthusiastic DC, shows real growth in this sequel. Yes, I am still Mina’s biggest fan – she’s immense! Similarly, there are new characters in this novel that I truly cared about, Thomas has a real skill for making the reader care for the people in the story.

Nighthawking‘ also explores police powerplays and internal politics, adding yet another layer to this stunning narrative.

Thomas has carried over the fantastic characters from ‘Firewatching‘ and adds yet more compelling people, integrating them into a truly original idea and setting.

I’m already looking forward to Book #3!

Vic x

Review: ‘Blackstoke’ by Rob Parker

WEALTH. SECURITY. PROSPERITY. NONE OF IT MATTERS IN THE DARK.

In a quiet cul-de-sac on the newly-opened, much sought-after Blackstoke housing development, the first handful of families are moving in. These neighbours, thrown together for the first time, are looking forward to settling into their bright new lives—with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The estate couldn’t be nicer, but it’s a big change for everyone.

Then things start to happen. Bad things. As if something doesn’t want them there.

As the new residents try to make sense of events, the buried history of the area makes itself suddenly, deeply apparent—with a series of shocking, violent escalations.

Soon, no one is safe, as the original powers of Blackstoke return to reclaim their territory and birthright in a final night of dark revelations, gore and bloodshed.

My thanks to Rob Parker for my ARC of ‘Blackstoke‘ which is available in e-book, paperback and hardback now.

It is quite difficult for me to write a review of ‘Blackstoke‘ without giving too much away. It starts off sedately enough, introducing the reader to the residents of the cul-de-sac. In this respect, Rob Parker does an excellent job in building up strong mental images of his characters, their idiosyncrasies and backstories. The descriptions he uses about the setting and characters are strong and, at times, almost lyrical. But don’t be fooled by the niceness of this new estate and the folks moving into it.

Despite it’s gentle start, ‘Blackstoke’ is eminently readable and I found, even in those early chapters before the horror kicked in, I didn’t want to stop reading it. Parker has such a way with words – and clearly understands what drives people – I didn’t want to step away from this narrative. To be fair, even if he had written a novel where very little happened, I’d still be inclined to read it because the prose is so strong.

But – fear not – plenty happens in ‘Blackstoke‘ – more than you could ever imagine when picking this book up, in fact. I must warn you now, however, if you’re squeamish, this may not be the book for you. I liked its refusal to shy away from the really dark and vicious. This book does not leave things to the imagination, it’s graphic and horrifying but I still wanted to keep reading it.

The female characters in this book are particularly well-drawn and utterly kick-ass which I think was my favourite element of ‘Blackstoke’.

I had in my mind when beginning this book that it was going to be reminiscent of an episode of ‘The X Files’ (‘Arcadia‘; Season 6, episode 15 – also known as the “garbage monster”) and, although it has similarities, there is another episode of ‘The X Files’ that ‘Blackstoke‘ resembles far more. I can’t say more than that episode is in Season 4 – I wouldn’t want to inadvertently give spoilers!

Blackstoke‘ is a real departure from the thrillers you’ll be used to reading from Rob Parker but it’s a compelling trip into horror that is impossible to put down.

Vic x

Review: ‘Lie Beside Me’ by Gytha Lodge

You wake up.
You can’t remember what happened.
The man lying next to you is not your husband.
And he’s not breathing . . .

Louise wakes up. Her head aches, her mouth is dry, her memory is fuzzy. But she suspects she’s done something bad.

She rolls over towards her husband, Niall.

But it’s not Niall who’s lying beside her. In fact, she’s never seen this man before.

And he’s dead . . .

As Louise desperately struggles to piece her memories back together, Detective Jonah Sheens and his team mark her as their prime suspect.

But she’s not the only one with something to hide . . .

Did she do it?

And, if not, can they catch the real killer before they strike again?

My thanks to NetGalley, Gytha Lodge and Penguin for the ARC of this novel.

This, the third in the Jonah Sheens series, is proof that Gytha Lodge is becoming stronger with each novel she writes. The hook for ‘Lie Beside Me‘ is brilliant, the opening pulls the reader in and refuses to let you go.

Louise has an alter ego: Drunk Louise. Louise sometimes loses hours, sometimes she wakes up with a stinking hangover but never before has she woken up beside a dead man.

Gytha Lodge has created a complex plot which will compel you to continue reading long after you should have put the light out. She builds up a number of potential suspects, giving them all motive. Lodge is adept at leading you down one path only to switch directions. The unraveling of the investigation demonstrates the intricate plotting that must have been done.

The pace is fast and the prose is sharp. I really liked the way the investigation chapters are interspersed with a excerpts of a letter written by Louise to her husband – it demonstrates to the reader how discombobulated Louise is by the events that unfolded when her alter ego, Drunk Louise, was in control. I thought it was a clever device to demonstrate that Louise knew she was an unreliable narrator.

The themes in ‘Lie Beside Me‘ include coercive control and alcohol addiction which are not easy subjects to portray empathetically but Gytha Lodge manages just that.

As always with this series, I was heavily invested in the lives of the investigation team as well as the subjects of their investigation. I am particularly interested in Juliette’s backstory and how that will continue to unfold in forthcoming books.

Lie Beside Me‘ is an intense, multi-faceted novel that will have you questioning everything you know.

Vic x

#BlogTour #IfIFall @nellbelleandme @arrowpublishing

We were told to meet at a rooftop bar.

Four friends, bound by one terrible secret.

No one knew why we were there.

Then we saw a woman, watched as she fell from the edge and plunged to her death.

The police think it’s suicide, but I know better.

Someone is sending a message.

Now they’re coming for us.

Thank you to Arrow Books and Merilyn Davies for inviting me onto the blog tour, it’s my pleasure to tell you all about If I Fall today.

Well, first off, the prologue had me hooked and then Chapter One drops the reader straight into the action and the inciting incident. Merilyn Davies has a lovely knack of setting the scene without losing pace. She drives the story forward purposefully while giving the reader plenty of information to recreate the scene in their mind.

Fans of Merilyn Davies will be familiar with DS Nell Jackson and Crime Analyst Carla Brown – If I Fall is their second outing (the first being in When I Lost You) but don’t worry if you haven’t read When I Lost You, Davies gives enough information for you to understand and empathise with these characters even if If I Fall is your first introduction to them.

By using Carla Brown’s point of view at the time of the woman’s apparent suicide, the reader feels as if they are not only at the scene of the crime with her but then also part of the subsequent investigation. I thought Carla’s insistence that this might not be suicide, and the battles she has to prove that, was a unique take on the police procedural.

The characters – and potential suspects – introduced are interesting and compelling, with the background story original and disturbing. Without giving too much away, I felt the subject tackled in this novel deserves to be widely recognised and confronted. This layered plot considers a range of themes including homelessness, revenge and sexuality. By combining all of these strands, Merilyn Davies has produced a believable novel with realistic characters.

Vic x

#BlogTour #The Push by @audrain

I’m thrilled today to be reviewing Ashley Audrain’s debut novel ‘The Push‘ which was published yesterday.

Here’s a little snippet of ‘The Push‘ to whet your appetite:

The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life. But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn’t right.

I had always known that the women in my family aren’t meant to be mothers.

My husband Fox says I’m imagining it. He tells me I’m nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child.

But she’s different with me. Something feels very wrong.

Is it her? Or is it me? Is she the monster? Or am I?

As most readers of this blog will know, I became a mum for the first time in 2019. The Push takes place over a number of years so although I can’t recognise some of the feelings that Blythe, the narrator, feels as her child Violet gets older, I can attest that Ashley Audrain certainly captures the all-encompassing terror felt by some new mothers.

The Push‘, although being fiction, taps into the fears that many women experience when they become mothers: am I supposed to feel like this? Am I doing this right? Am I good enough? Is my child … ok? Normal?

This explosive novel explores subjects that still remain taboo: the pain and discomfort around breastfeeding, post-natal depression and how your relationship with your partner changes after the arrival of a baby. Yes, this novel takes those elements to the extreme but there certainly were scenes that had me nodding firmly in recognition.

Audrain has weaved natural fears around motherhood into this perfectly pitched novel, leaving the reader unsure whether they can believe what they’re being told.

Interspersed across three different timelines, this layered story is absorbing, emotional and terrifying, some might say like motherhood itself. Featuring complex, nuanced characters, ‘The Push‘ will leave ice running through your veins long after you have turned the final page.

There were scenes that left me feeling physically sick with fear, my emotions completely in Audrain’s thrall. I also wept repeatedly when reading this book thanks to the powerful nature of the prose combined with an utterly intoxicating plot.

I think ‘The Push‘ is the kind of book our society needs. It is definitely a great choice for a book club – it will generate conversation and no doubt some controversy but I genuinely think it will open the minds of those who read it. This novel isn’t just about the relationship a mother has with her child but also those around her – from her partner to strangers – and the expectations that are placed on her as a result.

Perfect for fans of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin‘, ‘The Push‘ is beautifully written, perfectly plotted and deserving of the hype it’s been receiving.

Vic x

Guest Post: William Shaw

During our twenty-two week run at Virtual Noir at the Bar earlier this year, I was lucky to host a number of amazing writers. I was also invited to talk to a number of podcasts, publications, blogs and Facebook groups.

The first Facebook Live event I took part in was with William Shaw, who was hosting daily chats with a number of people from the world of writing. William was a brilliant host and I enjoyed appearing on his show.

A couple of months later, William appeared at VNatB and was so generous that he read an excerpt of someone else’s work instead of his own!

William is joining us today to talk about his next project: Reading Party. I’m confident that you’re going to be interested in what’s coming up!

Vic x

Guest Post: William Shaw talks about Reading Party

I’ve been trying to come up with a way in which Zoom events can have the same kind of engagement as live events – and also really be about the books. 

I came up with the idea of a reading party. The idea is guests get to read from an author’s new work – aloud. Together, twenty guests read a chapter from a writers’s new book, in the presence of the writer themselves.

It kicks off with the writer explaining a little about the extract they’ve chosen, answering guests’ questions about what kind of mood they want etc, and then the reader kicks things off followed by all the guests in turn. 
Afterwards there’s a discussion.

Admission is by ticket – or by buying a copy of the book. After the reading there’s time for discussion and then the writer signs and dedicates a bookplate for anyone who has bought the book. Books are supplied by the online bookshop Bert’s Books.

Nov 12th 7.00pm Bella Ellis (Rowan Coleman) reads The Diabolical Bones
Nov 19th 7.00pm Elly Griffiths reads The Postscript Murders
Nov 26th 7.00pm C. L. Taylor reads Strangers

Look out for upcoming events from Sarah Hilary, Mark Billingham and more. 

Review: ‘Firewatching’ by Russ Thomas

A body is found bricked into the walls of a house. From the state of the hands, it’s clear the dead man was buried alive. Soon, the victim is linked to an old missing person’s case and DS Adam Tyler is called.

As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler recognises his role for what it is – a means of keeping him out of the way following an ‘incident’. When this case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.

And then Tyler discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him. He makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors, certain that he and only he can solve the crime. But now Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth, without destroying the case or himself.

Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy affinity with fire. . .

Ok, so if the summary above didn’t entice you (it really should have, by the way), here’s why you should read ‘Firewatching‘ by Russ Thomas:

Firewatching introduces us to a fresh new take on the police procedural, featuring an original protagonist. For me, hinting at Tyler’s backstory while racing to stop more deaths, felt really natural and kept a realistic balance to the story. Thomas’s writing is taut and compulsive, hitting the right balance of plot and visceral descriptions.

The plot is strengthened by the cast of characters, particularly Lily who can’t remember the secret she’s keeping on account of the dementia that’s ravaging her mind. The characterisation in ‘Firewatching‘ is absolutely perfect, with Thomas portraying Lily’s dementia accurately and sensitively.

Thomas pulls the reader in and creates empathy for his protagonist by laying bare the bigotry that Tyler faces regularly. By pairing Adam with PC Rabbani, Thomas is also able to explore institutionalised racism. Again, he does this with a light touch that leaves the reader in no doubt about the difficulties these officers have to deal with – and that’s before you factor in the crimes they’re investigating.

The descriptions of the arsons are terrifyingly real and, while the person responsible taunts the police with cryptic blog posts, readers are presented with the sense of the urgency felt by Tyler and his colleagues.

If you’re looking for original characters, a strong plot and vivid descriptions, ‘Firewatching‘ is the novel for you! I can’t wait to read ‘Nighthawking‘, the next in the DS Adam Tyler series.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: M.J. Arlidge

Hope you’re all keeping well. If you’re looking for something new to read, M.J. Arlidge’s eighth Helen Grace novel ‘All Fall Down‘ is due out next week (Thurs, 11th June) .

Matt has joined us today to give us a little insight into his work as a writer and some advice for those of you out there who’d like to give it a go yourselves.

I’m hoping to host Matt at a Virtual Noir at the Bar in the coming weeks so make sure you’re first to find out when he’ll be appearing. Sign up to our newsletter now.

Big thanks to Matt and Orion Books for making this happen.

Vic x

M.J Arlidge

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?

I love the escapism of it. I never get tired of sitting down at my desk and opening up my laptop. There are dozens of different characters and numerous interweaving stories in each of my books, meaning I have a whole host of different people to climb inside and bring to life. I love working out what makes characters tick, what’s important to them, what would drive them to do reckless or desperate things. It’s so enjoyable to escape from my normal life, especially so during lockdown! 

There’s not much I dislike, though there’s no question writing a novel is a hard slog. I’ve just written the first chapters of a new one this morning and the road ahead seems long!!!

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. Just life really. I find ideas come to me unbidden and at the strangest times – in the middle of the night, when I’m in the shower, when I’m shopping in the supermarket. And once a really good idea pops into your head, it has you, you have to write it. 

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?

Yes, of course! I love reading and always find time, usually at the end of the day. Generally I read novels, but at the moment I’m making use of lockdown to consume the works of Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens, Homo Deus etc. I find his work absolutely fascinating. 

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?

So many authors to choose from. Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Harlan Coben…but I think I’ll have to plump for Stieg Larsson. When I was writing Eeny Meeny (my debut novel), Lisbeth Salander was very much in my mind. She was the most unusual, most interesting crime fighter I’d ever come across. There are shades of Lisbeth Salander about Helen Grace – I was desperate to make her as unconventional and intriguing as Larsson’s brilliant protagonist. 

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Wow. Good question. I would have loved to have been a photographer. Or a chef. I still harbour fantasies about the latter, but I’m probably too old…

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

That’s probably not for me to say! I’d say I work hard and am very committed to my writing and my readers – to the extent that when I’m writing a novel I find it hard to resist creeping back to my office late at night or as the sun is rising.  

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve literally just started writing Truth or Dare, the ninth novel in the Helen Grace series. Usually the first few chapters are utterly terrifying, but actually I’ve really enjoyed starting this one. 

Where can we find you online?

At my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

To borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it. Don’t spend too long prevaricating – pretending to research stuff, when actually you’re just putting off writing. Just be disciplined and get that first draft done. Only then do you have something you can work with, something you can potentially sell. When I was writing my first novel, I still had a day job, but managed to carve out one hour a day (5pm-6pm) to write. It was slow progress, but I got there in the end, and, boy, was it a good feeling!

What’s been your proudest moment?

The day Eeny Meeny was published by Penguin. To have joined the ranks of authors at such an impressive and important publishing house blew my mind!

What was the best writing advice you received and who was it from? 

When I delivered the first draft of Eeny Meeny to my agent, she declared that it was good, but needed “more emotional cruelty”. It was sage advice and something I bear in mind every time I’m penning a new Helen Grace novel!

ALL FALL DOWN by M.J Arlidge is published by Orion Fiction and out in hardback on 11th June 2020.

**Bones in the River Blog Tour**

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Zoë Sharp’s “Bones in the River“. I’ve known Zoë for many years now but here’s a little bit of background to the enigmatic writer.

Zoë Sharp began her crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photo-journalist. Zoë opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen.

Zoë’s work has won or been nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic, been used in school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for TV and film.

When not in lockdown in the wilds of Derbyshire, she can be found improvising self-defence weapons out of ordinary household objects, international pet-sitting, or crewing yachts in the Mediterranean. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.) Zoë is always happy to hear from readers, reader groups, libraries or bookstores. You can contact her via email.

My thanks to Zoë for having me on her blog tour.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job:
Zoe Sharp

I suppose there was half a chance that writing fiction might have been my day job, right from the start. After all, I penned my first novel at the age of fifteen—and I do mean ‘penned’. I wrote the entire thing, long-hand, in a month, and gave myself the most appalling writers’ cramp in the process.

That early effort did the rounds of all the major publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’—everybody said they loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it.

Looking back, I’m rather glad about that.

Because, in order to be a writer, you need different experiences under your belt. At the age of fifteen, I’d had few worth mentioning. Apart from living aboard a catamaran from the age of about seven and leaving school at twelve. But that, as they say, is probably another story.

Having failed at my first attempt to be a novelist, I became side-tracked by a variety of jobs in my teenage years, including crewing boats and learning astro-navigation. I was mad keen on horses, rode competitively, and once even took part in a rodeo. I learned to shoot—did a little competing there, too. Long guns, mostly. I considered myself an average shot with a handgun but, as I discovered on my last visit to a US indoor gun range, most people can manage to miss the target entirely at less than ten feet.

As for jobs, I became a freelance motoring writer at the height of the classic car boom of the late 1980s. That quickly transmuted into being a photojournalist, having taught myself both how to write commercial magazine articles and also how to take images good enough for numerous front covers and centre spreads.

It was hardly surprising, then, that eventually I’d have to start writing a character who was a photographer. Enter Grace McColl, first in Dancing on the Grave and now in Bones in the River. Grace started out as a keen amateur photographer, who became involved in providing evidence for the defence in a court case. She was then approached by the Head CSI at Cumbria police, who asked her if she’d ever thought of joining the side of the angels. Always nice to be able to write any parts of the story concerning photography without having to do lots of research.

My time spent writing about cars also played a part in Bones in the River, which begins with a hit-and-run incident. Understanding how the mechanics of a vehicle work makes writing scenes with them in so much easier and, I hope, more accurate.

Plus, all that time spent with horses came in very useful for a book that takes place during the largest Gypsy and Traveller horse fair in Europe. There were still plenty of times when I had up to a dozen different scientific research books laid on the table at the side of my desk as I wrote, though. Fortunately, forensic science and pathology are such fascinating subjects.

They tell you to write what you know. I disagree. I think you should write what you’re desperate to find out instead.

Bones in the River“, the second book in the Lakes crime thriller series, was published worldwide on May 26 2020 by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek of the first three chapters, and is available from all the usual retailers.