October 27

Blog Tour – Leigh Russell Escapes to Solitude

This is the last stop on Leigh Russell’s Race to Death Blog Tour. My review of Race to Death follows below, but before we get there time to let Leigh cool the pace a little.

While the virtual tour has been progressing, Leigh has also been touring in York, where Race to Death is set. After a very hectic few weeks Leigh is heading for a well earned break. Before she finally escaped, however, she agreed to answer my request to consider what she may take on a desert island escape.

Borrowing heavily from Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, I asked Leigh what books she would take to a desert island escape, one piece of music and a luxury item – she kindly replied and has planned her escape…

 

Right now my life is so hectic, the idea of an “island get-away” seems very appealing. To give you an idea of how busy my life has become, just yesterday I returned home from a promotional tour of Yorkshire, today I’m in Brighton today at a meeting discuss establishing the International Thriller Writers in the UK, and then tomorrow I’m off to Barcelona to do some research. In November I’m travelling North again, through Birmingham to Buxton, for more book events, and then going South to Chichester before returning to York in December… I am rarely at home these days! So when I was asked to consider what I might take to a desert island, I was happy to accept the opportunity to dream about it…

If I could take just six books with me to my desert island retreat, the first would be the complete works of Shakespeare. If a complete works is not allowed, I would choose Hamlet and Macbeth as two of my six books, as I particularly love the language of those two plays. My third choice would be Milton’s Paradise Lost. The language is magnificent, and the poem is long enough to keep me engaged for weeks. My next choice would be Pride and Prejudice, for entertainment value and because, like my other choices, it is so beautifully written. My two final choices would be Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and Kazuo Ishiguru’s The Remains of the Day, which are both intensely sad novels, beautifully written.

The one CD I would take would be any Mozart as I find his music sublime. I don’t think I could ever tire of it. Lying on the beach on my island retreat, gazing at the ocean and listening to Mozart would be very relaxing. (When can I go, please?)

My one luxury item would be my ipad, and a source of electricity. That way I would never feel bored or lonely, because I would be busy writing books.

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October 27

Race to Death – Leigh Russell

Race to Death‘Moments before, he had been enjoying a day out at the races. Now he could be dying…. As he fell a loud wind roared past his ears, indistinguishable from the roar of the crowd. The race was over’.

A man plummets to his death during the York Races. Suicide or murder?  Newly-promoted DI Ian Peterson is plunged into a complex and high-profile case, and as the body count increases, the pressure mounts for his team to solve the crimes quickly.

But the killer is following the investigation far more keenly than Ian realises and time is running out as the case suddenly gets a lot closer to home…

 

Leigh Russell is the author of the successful DI Geraldine Steel books. Having firmly established Steel as a strong lead character Leigh then plucked Steel’s colleague, Ian Peterson, from an underling role to the principle character in his own series of books. Peterson takes the lead for the first time in Cold SacrificeRace to Death is the second Peterson book.

This was actually the first time I had read one of Leigh Russell’s books – it will not be the last as I really enjoyed Race to Death. At no stage did I feel that I was disadvantaged from not knowing Peterson’s back story. His character was outlined well in the opening stages of the book and the fact he had just moved house and job made Race to Death feel like a good jumping on point.

The action kicks off during the buzz of race day at York races, however, tragedy soon strikes for one family. The opening chapters are very nicely written and you actually get to experience a murder from the viewpoint of the victim – nice twist which was very well written (even if it was a little disconcerting).

Enter Peterson, newly in role, who tasked with solving the murder. We get to share his anxiety at the challenge of proving himself and we see his obsession in puzzling the half clues and unreliable witnesses. The story also follows Peterson’s wife, she is struggling to come to terms with the move to York and we see her largely ignored by her husband while his work takes over every waking minute.

One minor irk while I was reading was that I felt Peterson should have been paying more attention to his home life and I felt annoyed with him for ignoring his wife. Why can’t he see that he is not paying her enough attention? When I get annoyed with characters it is always a good sign that I am engaging with a book!

As with any murder story I like to try and puzzle out who the killer is before the author reveals all. Race to Death was no different, my brain was wracked and I formulated my suspicions – even to the point I was beginning to think this was a random attacker story and that there was no connection between the characters in the book to the killer. But all became clear in the end with a nice twist which I certainly did not see coming.

For the uninitiated this is a great introduction to Leigh Russell’s books. It works as a stand alone novel but clearly there is also a back story to enjoy too so the returning fan will not be disappointed. As I write I should also highlight that Leigh’s books are reduced in the Kindle Store and most are available for under £1 each. On the evidence of Race to Death these should be great reads.

Race to Death gets 4 out of 5 and makes me want to read more Leigh Russell books.

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October 25

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Thanks to Transworld and Netgalley for my review copy.

 

I could just leave this review as:

“Wow, this book is incredible – everyone should read it!” because that is exactly what I was thinking as I read The Girl on The Train.

You need a little more though.

 

Rachel is the lead voice, she is The Girl on the Train. She is a sad character. Her husband has left her, he is living with his new wife and their new baby in Rachel’s old house – a house that Rachel sees every day from her seat on the train as she travels to work. Unfortunately, Rachel is not prepared to accept that her marriage is over, she drinks heavily and is very much down on her luck.

On her journey to work Rachel sees another house every day – she watches the couple that live there and she imagines how their perfect life together must be. They are her ‘Jess and Jason’.

The narration switches from Rachel to Jess (real name Megan) and the reader gets to learn more about Rachel’s ‘perfect’ girl – unsurprisingly all is not perfect in her life after all.

The final narrator of the story is Anna. Anna is married to Rachel’s ex-husband. She does not like Rachel and is increasingly frustrated by Rachel’s constant interference in her life – she just wants Rachel to leave her family alone. But when Rachel gets drunk she calls and emails her ex-husband and Rachel gets drunk a lot.

As the book unfolds the story is moved on by changes to the narrator. We move from Rachel to Megan to Rachel then to Anna before joining with Rachel again. Slightly confusing if you have to put the book down mid chapter but easily recoverable (and you will not WANT to put the book down mid-chapter).

Paula Hawkins creates vivid, believable characters. The switching of narration between Rachel (The Drunk), Megan (The Perfect Girl) and Anna (The Other Woman) is expertly handled. I was completely drawn into the story, driven by the necessity to find out what happened next. The true mark of my enjoyment was that I was disappointed when the book ended – I could have read more.

I am very much against spoilers so I cannot reveal too much more about the various twists in the plot but I can assure you that there are twists a-plenty. The Girl on the Train is a gripping read – you must avoid spoilers, you must read it as soon as you can and you must hope that someone makes it into film so that you can tell them you read the book first and that it was incredible.

A full five out of five for The Girl on the Train.

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October 23

Confessions – Kanae Minato

The Japanese phenomenon – the story of a grief-stricken schoolteacher who comes face to face with absolute evil.

I reviewed this book for fellow blogger Shaun  and my review will feature on his blog at http://www.bookaddictshaun.co.uk

My thanks, therefore, to Shaun for trusting my opinion and for sharing my review with his readers – also for sending me a copy of Confessions to read!

Confessions
Confessions

So to the book…the description gives you very little but Confessions is a short novel and it is hard to reveal too much of the story without spoiling the twists.

Yuko Moriguchi is a teacher, during the course of the year Moriguchi suffered a personal tragedy when her daughter died in an accident. It is now the end of the school year and Moriguchi has one final message for her class – she knows that her daughter’s death was no accident and furthermore she knows that two of her students killed her daughter. Before her class is released for their holiday (and Moriguchi leaves the teaching profession forever) she discloses the identity of the killers to the whole class and reveals how she has exacted her revenge.

The opening section of the book is delivered entirely from Moriguchi’s viewpoint, a narration as we hear her address to the class. A clever device as once the class are dismissed Moriguchi slips from the story and the narrative is picked up by another.

The pattern of Confessions is thus established. The narrative switches to one of the killers and we hear his side of the story, Moriguchi it seems did not have all the facts at her disposal. Throughout the course of the book the narration switches between five different participants who were either involved in the murder or were caught up in Moriguchi’s subsequent revenge. As each narrator picks up the tale they provide depth to the back story and we see how the consequences of Moriguchi’s actions unfold.

As a story telling device I thought this element of Confessions worked really well. However, I had problems accepting what I was reading. The pupils in Moriguchi’s class are around 11 or 12 years old yet the featured characters all seem to be at extreme low points in their collective lives. Their actions and deeds just too implausible for me to buy into the story.

Let me be clear, I have read books where the world travels through space on the back of a giant turtle, others where vampires live alongside humans and my favourite fictional character is a 1200 year old Time Lord that travels in a blue box – I can suspend my belief in reality for the sake of a good story without any problem. However, Confessions just did not sit well – it started with real promise yet became more and more unbelievable while still trying to retain a degree of normality.

It is impossible to explain the issues without revealing spoilers and I am sure that where I found irritations there will be many who enjoy the evil deeds that are depicted. There are twists a plenty and a very unexpected ending which should enthral – it just wasn’t for me.

Overall there are a lot of clever elements to Confessions yet too many niggles for me to have embraced it. To rate it out of 5: I would not give it any more than a 3.

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October 23

Scarlett Point (short story) – Chris Ewan

SCARLETT POINT is a 6000 word short story from the bestselling author of SAFE HOUSE.

Cutler is a man with a dark secret, hiding out by the coast on the Isle of Man. Luke is a young boy hunting for an elusive treasure from an incomplete map. Their lives collide at SCARLETT POINT in a story about trust, redemption and how sometimes you find what you most need when you’re searching for something else.

SCARLETT POINT was originally commissioned by the Isle of Man Arts Council as  part of the Island of Culture initiative and is now available exclusively as a Kindle Single.

 

Thanks to Chris Ewan who emailed me a copy of the story to read.

 

At around 6,000 words, it will not take you too long to enjoy Scarlett Point. Yet you can be assured that you will enjoy this tale.

Luke is a treasure hunter on a mission. He has an incomplete treasure map and it is imperative that he finds the loot – unfortunately he doesn’t know what he is looking for.

Cutler is camping on Scarlett Point, he just wants some peace and quiet away from everyone else so a young treasure hunter outside his tent is not a great start to his day.

What comes next is a clever story with a twist I didn’t see coming.

 

Chris also has a new novel out which I reviewed here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=259

A cracking story of Hop-tu-Naa with a serial killer picking off a victim on 31st October each year. A group of friends share a terrible secret – a prank that went badly wrong. Now it seems that someone is out to make them pay for their mistakes…

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October 23

Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker

The Crawling Terror
The Crawling Terror

Gabby Nichols is putting her son to bed when she hears her daughter cry out. ‘Mummy there’s a daddy longlegs in my room!’ Then the screaming starts… Kevin Alperton is on his way to school when he is attacked by a mosquito. A big one. Then things get dangerous.

But it isn’t the dead man cocooned inside a huge mass of web that worries the Doctor. It isn’t the swarming, mutated insects that make him nervous.

With the village cut off from the outside world, and the insects becoming more and more dangerous, the Doctor knows that unless he can decode the strange symbols engraved on an ancient stone circle, and unravel a mystery dating back to the Second World War, no one is safe.

 

Many thanks to Ebury Publishing and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

 

Proper creepy monsters have arrived…or creepy-crawly monsters to be more accurate. The Crawling Terror brings a full quota of giant insects, beetles and a very well utilised Giant Spider.

There are touches of horror brilliance in Mike Tuckers latest Doctor Who offering. Villagers are falling victim to attacks from over-sized mosquito, a tunnel is filled with a giant web with a local farmer cocooned within (very dead) and there is a giant beetle stomping around the fields nearby. The opening third of the book builds a very tense atmosphere with many scenes played out during a dark and foggy night to crank the tension up several notches.

Now add in a local research laboratory where the locals believe that mad-scientists are conducting experiments on animals, a stone circle in the village (missing a stone) which rests on one of the Earth’s ley lines and cross link it to a Nazi experiment from WW2 which went badly wrong.

Finally we have the Doctor (Capaldi) and Clara arriving in a TARDIS that re-directed herself to drop them right in the middle of the action. Perfect Doctor Who manna for a fan.

Tucker does a great job of keeping the tension running high while balancing the development of a story which, as can be seen, has quite a few narrative threads to keep track of. The scene with the Doctor taking refuge from the Spider within an old farmhouse made the story for me.

Having now read all three 12th Doctor books from Ebury Press I can take a small step back and compare all 3 volumes as a collection. I understand that the books were written before the broadcast of Peter Capaldi’s first episode and I can see that the authors may have been slightly disadvantaged by this. I have read Mike Tucker’s previous Who novels (and many of Justin Richards books too) they can capture the essence of a Doctor so that you know you are reading about Tom Baker or Peter Davison…they nail the traits of each regeneration.

However, writing for a Doctor you have not seen is much harder and I felt that Silhouette (Richards) and The Crawling Terror were ‘Doctor Who’ stories rather than ‘Peter Capaldi Doctor Who’ stories.   Not to say that I did not enjoy them…they benefited from having a companion to ensure it was clear WHICH Doctor was in action.

A special mention, therefore, goes to The Blood Cell by James Goss as I felt that the argumentative Doctor in that story could only have been Season 8’s Peter Capaldi.

Having read my way through the launch of the Virgin Publishing’s range of New Adventures, the Past Doctor Adventures and then the whole of the BBC books range that came after the 1996 TV Movie I have seen the high and the low points of Doctor Who written adventures. The trio of The Crawling Terror, Silhouette and The Blood Cell are a strong start to what I hope will be a long run of books. When can I get the next ones?

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October 15

Competition – Doctor Who Engines of War

The War Doctor
The War Doctor

Time to give away another book. I have a copy of George Mann’s fantastic Engines of War, a story featuring John Hurt’s War Doctor, which I want to give away to one lucky winner.

I reviewed the book a couple of months ago and thought it was the best Doctor Who novel I had read for a long time. You can read my review in full:   http://grabthisbook.net/?p=180

All you need to do to enter the competition to win a brand new copy of Engines of War is leave a comment below telling me the name of your favourite Doctor Who companion. Simple.

 

Competition will run until Sunday 19th October.

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October 12

Our Zoo – June Mottershead

Our Zoo 2When George Mottershead moved to the village of Upton-by-Chester in 1930 to realise his dream of opening a zoo without bars, his four-year-old daughter June had no idea how extraordinary her life would become. Soon her best friend was a chimpanzee called Mary, lion cubs and parrots were vying for her attention in the kitchen, and finding a bear tucked up in bed was no more unusual than talking to a tapir about granny’s lemon curd. Pelican, penguin or polar bear – for June, they were simply family.

The early years were not without their obstacles for the Mottersheads. They were shunned by the local community, bankruptcy threatened and then World War Two began. Nightly bombing raids turned the dream into a nightmare and finding food for the animals became a constant challenge. Yet George’s resilience, resourcefulness and tenacity eventually paid off. Now over 80 years since June first set foot in the echoing house, Chester Zoo has achieved worldwide renown.

Here, in her enthralling memoir, June Mottershead chronicles the heartbreak, the humour, the trials and triumphs, above all the characters, both human and animal, who shaped her childhood.

 

Thank you to Bookbridgr and Headline for providing a copy for review

Start with the confession: I don’t watch much television so I have not seen the BBC dramatization of this story. But this is a positive for review purposes as it means the book stands on its own and I am not influenced why what may or may not have appeared in the television show. I believe this is relevant as in her book June Mottershead notes that chimps are no longer allowed to be used in television shows yet her chimp Mary was a prominent part of her childhood. Already I feel the book is providing a more accurate depiction of June’s life and that I am getting the FULL story.

Our Zoo is written in a delightfully chatty style. You could almost believe that you are sitting with the author as she reminisces over her childhood memories. The love and affection for dozens of the animals that came into the zoo seeps off the page and you laugh and cry with the events that unfold as you too become part of their world.

As Chester Zoo was built to be educational I found reading Our Zoo to be equally informative. The author has a wealth of knowledge which seeps through into her writing. Facts on animal care, trivia on the numerous animals that feature and some social history of 20th Century Britain all find their way into the book and make the reading experience much richer and engaging.

There are amusing anecdotes (monkey on the bus) which had me laughing aloud as I read them. Yet there are stories which horrified and had me questioning the sanity of some people’s actions and trotting out the clichéd ‘you wouldn’t get away with that these days’.

Quick word of warning: try not to get too emotionally invested into this book – so many accidents and deaths which befall beloved animals (and on occasion people) it is an emotional wringer! Such is the love that June bestows upon some of the charges at the Zoo that the sense of loss when they leave her care is tangible for the reader.

A heart-warming story of a small zoo struggling to find its feet and battling to survive – a beautiful story which I would recommend to anyone.

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October 9

Doctor Who: Silhouette – Justin Richards

silhouette

 

“Vastra and Strax and Jenny? Oh no, we don’t need to bother them. Trust me.”

Marlowe Hapworth is found dead in his locked study, killed by an unknown assailant. This is a case for the Great Detective, Madame Vastra.

Rick Bellamy, bare-knuckle boxer, has the life drawn out of him by a figure dressed as an undertaker. This angers Strax the Sontaran.

The Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating sideshows and performers. This is where Jenny Flint looks for answers.

How are these things connected? And what does Orestes Milton, rich industrialist, have to do with it all? As the Doctor and Clara joint the hunt for the truth they find themselves thrust into a world where nothing and no one are what they seem.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House/Ebury Publishing for the review copy.

Justin Richards is a name that should be very familiar to readers of Doctor Who novels. He has penned some of the best stories I read while the Doctor was on his extended break between 1989 and 2005. I highly recommend The Burning which also has one of the best covers ever), Grave Matter (6th Doctor and Peri story that I remember enjoying very much) and he also contributes to the Big Finish audio range – Time of the Daleks being another personal favourite. Quite simply, Justin Richards is an accomplished Doctor Who writer.

Silhouette maintains his high standard. The Doctor and Clara are in Victorian London, as we see from the introduction they are once again joined by Strax, Vastra and Jenny. So with the gang all in place attention turns to matters at hand. Mr Marlowe Hapworth dead in his study – a locked room murder as there is no possible way that he could have stabbed himself between the shoulder blades while sitting at his desk.

Investigations soon lead The Doctor to the local sideshow and the Carnival of Curiosities. I found Richards painted a vivid description of a damp and foggy London and the Carnival was brilliantly described giving the feeling of colourful splashes in the gloomy city.

The Burning and its stunning cover
The Burning and its stunning cover

The titular Silhouette is a master at the art of shadow plays and her origami birds (an art not known in London at the time the story is set) enchant the carnival audiences – her skills seem almost unworldly. Certainly The Doctor is keen to learn how she weaves her magic.

As always I will not spoil the plot lines but there were some lovely touches sprinkled throughout the story – Silhouettes origami birds are as dangerous as they are pretty. Strax makes friends with the carnival strongman and Vastra encounters a very familiar face.

When the reveal of the villain arrived I was delighted to find that I had been well off the mark with my guesses as to where the story was heading. The motivation for the murders was explained and I enjoyed the twist which defined how victims had been selected and what was taken from them that would benefit the bad guys…no clues.

In the end I can honestly say that the 12th Doctor range is still looking good. I have now read two books of the initial three that are available with just The Crawling Terror to go. The Blood Cell still stands tall as my favourite as James Goss really captured Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. But with The Crawling Terror to come next there is still fun to be had.

 

 

 

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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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