October 8

North Lanarkshire Encounters : James Oswald

During October North Lanarkshire are running the Encounters Festival. This is a cultural festival with over 100 events bringing together the best of literature, art, music, drama, dance and a whole lot more – these events are showcased all over North Lanarkshire.

North Lanarkshire is my home and it is a joy to me that events such as Encounters take place here – we are not generally considered to be the most glamorous of areas!

Today I was delighted to be able to attend an evening with James Oswald, author of the Inspector McLean novels and the fantasy saga The Ballad of Sir Benfro. Hosted at Coatbridge Library on a cold dark night (we all agreed on this point) Mr Oswald entertained with readings and stories of his long road to publication.

Despite his concerns that he had been waffling, James Oswald tells a fascinating story. It transpires that he is good friends with fellow crime writer Stuart MacBride and the pair forged an early working partnership writing comic books (partly illustrated by MacBride) which sadly did not catapult them to the success they had envisaged. Although this was clearly a great loss to the Graphic Novel industry it has been to crime fiction’s gain.

The evening opened with James Oswald reading from The Hangman’s Song. When your opening gambit includes a corpse, purification and the phrase ‘diarrhoea bursting’ you know you have captured your audience’s attention. I was captivated for the next hour as we learned how the character of Tony McLean evolved prior to his full debut in Natural Causes and it is exciting to think there are other Inspector McLean cameos out there waiting to be found.

Mr Oswald also outlined how his writing career suffered peaks and troughs building up to the whirlwind of publications that began with Natural Causes hitting Amazon (as a self-published novel) in 2012; and has since seen 7 published books in just a 2 year period. I got the impression on more than one occasion that even the author was a little startled by the speed at which new books were hitting the shelves.

Dividing his time between writing and farming James Oswald seems to have a busy schedule ahead. He indicated that his writing commitments are fully booked until 2017, however, he is keen to rework some of his early writing which he believes will appeal to the YA readers. Patience may be required for those stories though.

A highlight was the second reading of the evening – a debut reading from the not-yet-published 5th McLean novel which I hope I correctly recall to be Prayer for the Dead. As the final draft was only confirmed today we were treated to the first public reading of the opening chapter. I already want to read what comes next.

Sadly the evening ended too soon and I had to head home (with arms full of signed paperbacks). I had a great night in good company and am already thumbing through the Encounters brochure to book my next event….Back to Coatbridge for Magic Den with my 4 year old!

You can follow James Oswald on Twitter where he is @sirbenfro

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September 23

Who is John Sandford?

I am constantly amazed that one of my favourite authors is relatively unknown in the UK. I am not talking about an up and coming star with a couple of titles behind them – I refer to the prolific crime writer John Sandford (pen name of Pulitzer Prize winner John Camp).

In the early 1990’s I got a weekend job in my local bookshop. The rep from Harper Collins visited one day and suggested that we take a few titles from John Sandford’s Prey series. At this stage there were 4 books in total – Rules of Prey, Shadow Prey, Eyes of Prey and Silent Prey. Using my much loved staff discount I took home Rules of Prey to try out. One week later I owned Shadow, Eyes and Silent too!

The Prey novels feature Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport. Lucas is smart, charismatic and successful. He also has rugged good looks (scarred from playing ice hockey) that seems to ensure he attracts plenty of attention from the ladies in his life. He is a very likeable hero and the character has been well developed over the years.

Since 1989 Sandford has produced a Prey novel virtually every year. Field of Prey was released in May 2014 and is the 24th book in the series. For over 20 years John Sandford has provided me with hours of reading pleasure. Davenport has moved from investigative Detective to a more political role where he oversees his investigations and Sandford uses the supporting cast to do a lot of the more unpleasant leg-work.

Over the years the reader has seen Lucas become a father, get married and suffer the loss of close friends. Buying into the stories is an emotional rollercoaster at times. It is an added bonus when one or two of the more memorable adversaries crop up in more than one story – my particular favourite was the professional killer Clara Rinker (she debuts in Certain Prey).

Such was the success of the Davenport Prey novels that Sandford was able to take a minor supporting character and create an equally brilliant spin off series. Virgil Flowers (generally referred to by his colleagues as that F***ing Flowers) is also an unconventional investigator – many times married, a writer and thinker with an aversion to his own handgun. Virgil offers a different approach to crime fighting in Minneapolis and tends to be based in the more rural regions (Lucas works out of the Twin Cities in the heart of the State). Virgil will next appear in Deadline (October 2014) and this will be Sandford’s 8th Virgil Flowers book.

So with 24 Prey novels and 8 more books with Virgil we have a prolific writer with over 30 novels in the back catalogue why is there so little love for John Sandford in the UK? His dust jacket recommendation (front and centre) is a quote from a certain Mr Stephen King who believes that Sandford is a great summer holiday read.

Are shops and libraries too hung up on certain recognised names? I checked my local library and have scanned the shelves of Edinburgh bookshops. 12 books in total in my local library (including some duplicates) but not a single Sandford in Waterstones Edinburgh store today. Check for James Paterson and the shelves are jammed, same for John Grisham and Michael Connolly. I love Michael Connolly’s work and am pleased he is well represented but Sandford’s work is on a par (with less exposure).

A few years ago I visited a beautiful bookshop in Vermont, USA. I took the opportunity to check out the Sandford books. Pleasingly the shelves were full of Davenport novels – it is just a UK issue which is a real shame as these are books that everyone should have a chance to enjoy.

One final observation. HARPER COLLINS – The fifth book is called Winter Prey. In 1993 why the Hell did you feel you had to rename it The Iceman? It is now the only book in my Prey collection that does not have PREY in the title – do you know what this has done for my OCD over the last 20 years?

Read Sandford – you will thank me.

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August 27

It’s Jack Reacher Time!

This week will see the publication of the new Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child. It is safe to say that I am excited by this – Lee Child is now the only author I will buy on week of release (sorry Mr Pratchett, 10 months later and Raising Steam is still only half read).

I count myself fortunate that I found the first Lee Child novel (Killing Floor) around a month after it was first published. Hooked since day one I have enjoyed seeing the author’s popularity soar and the Reacher novels become bestsellers around the world. Lee Child writes books that I want to read.

His latest novel is entitled Personal and is the 19th Jack Reacher story. A review for that book will follow (just as soon as I can get my paws on it). In the meantime I thought I would put together a list of my five favourite Reacher stories:

In no particular order I recommend:

Killing Floor

This is where it all began! Book One. Meet Jack Reacher, former military cop – our hero.

Debut novel Killing Floor.
Debut novel Killing Floor.

Jack Reacher jumps off a bus and walks fourteen miles down a country road into Margrave, Georgia. An arbitrary decision he’s about to regret.

Reacher is the only stranger in town on the day they have had their first homicide in thirty years. The cops arrest Reacher and the police chief turns eyewitness to place him at the scene. As nasty secrets leak out, and the body count mounts, one thing is for sure.

They picked the wrong guy to take the fall.

This is an explosive start to the series, a small sleepy town is hiding dark secrets. Reacher is there by chance but finds himself caught up in events . To clear his name he must track down a murderer but it is kill or be killed and Reacher is not a man to back down from a challenge.






Without Fail

The Secret Service are looking for Reacher as they have a job for him – to assassinate the Vice President.

Book 6 in the series. If you are looking to avoid spoilers then this one should really be read after Killing Floor. I re-read the Reacher novels on a regular basis and Without Fail is one of the books I return to more than most. A clever plot which is both tragic and funny, it gives a great display of Reacher’s investigative prowess too. A highlight was the first introduction to Frances Neagley – she crops up again in

Bad Luck And Trouble

When Reacher was in the army he headed up a unit of Special Investigators within the Military Police. This close knit team were his hand-picked elite and they watched each other’s backs. Years later the Special Investigators have all lost touch and gone their separate ways but someone has killed one of the team and now Neagley wants Reacher to reassemble the Special Investigators.

I cannot speak highly enough of Bad Luck and Trouble. This was Book 11 in the series and we get to see Reacher working as part of a team rather than acting on his own. Lee Child has set some of his novels during Reacher’s time in the army (The Affair and The Enemy) I would love another story featuring the Special Investigators.


61 Hours

61 Hours
61 Hours


This book (number 14) kicked off a story arc which did not end until Never Go Back (book 18). While each story could be read as a stand-alone novel it does make more sense to read them in order.

I found 61 hours particularly atmospheric. The story plays out in a very snow filled town in South Dakota; Child nails his depiction of a desolate, cold and isolated town shut off from the outside world by snow storms. The local police are guarding a key witness who is going to help them prosecute a drug dealer but resources are stretched can they trust Reacher (a stranger) to guard their witness? To Reacher everyone is a stranger – can he protect the witness?






The Enemy

Finally I have selected one of the books set out of the normal chronology.

Back to the army in The Enemy
Back to the army in The Enemy

The Enemy is a story from the days that Reacher was still in the army. This was the 7th book released but our first look at how behaved when he was constrained by the rules and regulations of army life. Politics and distrust of the Military Police are rife and Reacher has to find a murderer on an army base when all the evidence suggests that Reacher himself is the killer.




The Jack Reacher novels can (generally) be read out of sequence as most are great stand-alone stories. It does help to read 61 Hours, Worth Dying For, A Wanted Man and Never Go Back in that order. Also Killing Floor has a major plot thread which is best read before Without Fail.

When Lee Child was touring to promote One Shot I was able to hear him discuss his work and read from his new novel (he has a great reading voice). During the Q&A’s Child confirmed that Reacher does grow older and the books do see him aging. This was around 10 years ago and later books do address Reacher getting older. However, one statement worried and saddened me…

When discussing the future of the character Child confirmed that Reacher would not go on forever. He suggested that one day there may be a book in which Jack Reacher would be killed off – provisional title on that evening in Glasgow was Die Lonely.

Ten years down the line and Reacher is still going strong – I hope it does so for many years to come.

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July 25

Competition – Top Secret Twenty One

Stephanie Plum is back!
Stephanie Plum is back!

The dead ends are turning into dead bodies.

Stephanie Plum is getting desperate. She’s running out of leads in the search for Jimmy Poletti, who was caught selling more than cars out of his New Jersey dealership. Even Joe Morelli, the city’s hottest cop, is struggling to find the criminal wheeler and dealer.

Stephanie’s No. 1 temptation, Ranger, is also struggling. There’s a killer in town with a personal vendetta against him. If Ranger wants to survive, he’ll need Stephanie’s help – and to reveal a piece of his mysterious past.

Death threats, highly trained assassins and highly untrained assassins are all in a day’s work for bounty hunter Stephanie Plum!


Competition time – I have been running a competition on Twitter to giveaway a copy of Top Secret Twenty One. However, I want people to come and see my blog pages too  so I will give away a second copy of Janet Evanovich’s new Stephanie Plum novel here on my blog.  To register your entry all you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me who you would trust most with your Top Secret. Personally, I have a 4 year old who cannot keep a secret for more than 10 seconds so it would be anyone bar him!

I will select a winner on the evening of Sunday 27th July. Sadly this if for UK readers only I am afraid – Good Luck!

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July 17

In Progress…

I am trying to divide my reading time between too many books this week!

After a weekend trip to Englandshire I forgot to bring my Kindle home. Fortunately my family were continuing the holiday without me (work commitments) so the Kindle and I will soon be reunited – but it left me on paperbacks for the week.

As it turns out this has been a bit of a blessing as I got to catch up on a Stephanie Plum novel (from Janet Evanovich). Although the series has now reached the 21st book, I am dragging my heels and have only just finished Smokin’ Seventeen.

The lovely people at my local library kept me going in Evanovich novels for a few weeks last year and I romped through the first 14 books in record time. Cracking, entertainment with humour and excitement in equal doses. However, I didn’t want to catch up with all the books in one run as I liked the idea of still having a few books left to read so I took an enforced break for several months.  That period of self denial is over and am loving reading about Stephanie Plum again.

When the Evanovich book was not within reach I have also been using the Kindle App on my ‘phone to read Digital Circumstances by BRM Stewart. What a joy that has been!  I will post a review once I get through the final 10% but it is fair to say I will be recommending it to everyone – especially those who know Glasgow.

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June 12

Books in progress

Lots of reading going on over the last few days.  Taken to the Amazon Kindle sale to stock up on some of my old faves.  Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct stories are a great wee piece of escapism for me, however, they are short so I grudge paying £8 or so for a book I will read in a night.  This is why I nab as many as I can when they go on sale (ie now).

This week’s digital reads are JD Robb stories. I love the Eve Dallas books and as work has been a bit hectic this week I am re-visiting one or two of the Dallas stories I remember less well from the first read through.

In paperback I am reading FAN – kindly provided by Sophie from @ReviewedTheBook. This one is full on and I am reading it in bursts as I find it intense and not always in a good way.  Must check with Sophie if she found any empathy for the protagonist (I am feeling sorry for his fiancee more than him).

A full review of FAN will follow soon as this is a book everyone should see.

Finally – I was planning attending an author signing this week in Edinburgh but found out it had been cancelled late in the day.  Both the publisher and author offered me apologies on Twitter after I posted my disappointment. See – there ARE nice people on Twitter.

June 2

Catching up

I have been gone for quite a while, many books have passed through my hands and there have been lots of Kindle uploads. Why the significant gap in updates?  Check out my final review of Ash!

Since my last post World Book Night has come and gone.  I managed to gift all my books (bar three and they are earmarked for specific readers). I had fun presenting some books to random strangers, I left one on the train so it could be ‘found’ (though I was sitting a few chairs away watching to see who nabbed it).  More importantly I tried to ensure they went to people who generally don’t get to read much – as I live in one of the less glamorous areas of Lanarkshire this was quite easy!

I did get a kick out of watching the passengers on the train trying to be subtle about taking what appeared to be a forgotten book.  I had boarded the train at a quiet station, destination Edinburgh.  I walked down a near-empty carriage and dropped a copy of Gorky Park onto an empty seat. If you did not see this year’s World Book Night titles it helps to know the covers were predominantly bright orange – Gorky Park is not a short book either!

Grab This Book
Grab This Book

The book sat alone for two stations though people did stare at it as they walked down the carriage. As we neared the Capital the train busied-up and people started to sit beside the lone book.  There were subtle glances towards it and one man even flipped it over to read the back – not brave enough to pick it up though!

I thought that my fellow passengers may be too polite to lift someone’s forgotten book – as I was riding the train to the end of the line I had planned to lift the book if nobody took it.  However, all was to resolve its-self quite suddenly.  As we pulled into Edinburgh Park station a lady placed her copy of The Metro onto the chair beside her (and on top of Gorky Park). The train stopped, the lady rose, lifted her paper (and a now-concealed copy of Gorky Park) and left the train. A quick glance back at the door to check she was not being challenged….BOOM – Gorky Park had a new home!

I hope she enjoyed it. Later it also dawned on me that she really did Grab This Book.

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April 14

World Book Night Draws Near

Exciting email received today from the team at World Book Night. It seems that my copies of Gorky Park should now be waiting for me at my designated collection point.

April 23rd draws ever closer and I will be looking for good homes for my 18 copies of Gorky Park – hoping also that I cross paths with another book giver who may introduce me to an author I have not read yet.

The first World Book Night (2011) remains my favourite to date as it landed in the middle of Glasgow’s Aye Write festival.  I attended a fantastically bookish evening in the beautiful Mitchell Library. I got to mix with other bookworms and even had the chance to hear Jo Nesbo and Mark Billingham discuss their writing careers.

Wonder what 2014 will bring?



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March 24

World Book Night

One of my primary reasons for wanting to share my love of books stems from my participation in World Book Night. This incredible initiative began in 2011 and I have been fortunate to have been selected as a Book Giver for each of the 4 years.

World Book Night’s webpage describes their venture as: ‘a celebration of reading and world book nightbooks, which sees passionate volunteers gift books in their communities to share their love of reading’.

A visit to their website is highly recommended and, although it is too late to register for 2014 they are looking for more people to become involved with World Book Night 2014 as Community Book Givers.

The caliber of authors signing up to be involved with World Book Night lends real weight to the underlying aim to get people reading.  Literary heavyweights such as Lee Child, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Adele Parks, Norah Roberts (to name just a few) all have supported World Book Night over the years. I am sure they also benefit from increased readership as a result of their books reaching new audiences, so this is a win/win situation for readers and the writers too.

On 23rd April be on the lookout for a World Book Night event near you – details are on numerous websites and your local library will hopefully be involved too.

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