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SNOW BOOKS – You Don’t Belong Here by Tim Major

Sooo, it’s about time I started reviewing the books in my 52 Books by 52 Publishers reading challenge!

First up is:

snow-books

 

Snow Books!

 

 

About Snow Books:

“IT’S MORE THAN TEN YEARS SINCE OUR FIRST BOOKS WERE PUBLISHED IN 2004.

Snowbooks started in a spare room in Hackney in April 2003 and soon moved to a couple of rented desks in a business incubator on Old Street — before it was cool. We hired staff, signed up authors and our first books hit the shelves in 2004. Waterstone’s — with a possessive apostrophe back then — were our first and most supportive customer and with their backing our first books sold several tens of thousands of copies.

We’ve always been very interested in the business side of publishing — about being more efficient and canny than others. Early on, it pretty soon gave us a high profile. We won a Nibbie, then another one, then an IPA award too. Later, our books started to win prizes too: The Red Men got shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award and Mark Hodder won the Philip K Dick award with Spring Heeled Jack. You can find reviews of our books everywhere, from The Telegraph and The Sun to SFX Magazine and The Guardian and on all shapes and sizes of blog.

Our efficiency has been made possible by our technological skill. We are publishers-turned-Ruby on Rails developers, specializing in web application development and database management. With the benefit of a sizeable Arts Council grant we launched a sister company, General Products Ltd, in 2012. Through it we licence the software we’ve written to other publishers, in the expectation that it’ll help them as much as it helps Snowbooks. Our main product is Bibliocloud.com, an enterprise-level publishing management system. The website you’re reading right now was populated with data and images from Bibliocloud’s API in a single click. The combination of sleek technological efficiency and solid creative excellence is, for us, as potent and heady a combination as it’s ever been. And in 2013, Bibliocloud won us the Futurebook Best Technology Innovation award.

So here’s to the next ten years. Let’s hope it’s as fun as the first.”

Find out more about Snow Books and check out the rest of their titles here.

 

The book I’m reviewing from Snow Books is….

 

ydbh

You Don’t Belong Here by Tim Major.

 

Daniel Faint is on the run with a stolen time machine. As the house-sitter of a remote Cumbrian mansion, he hopes to hide and experiment with the machine. But is the Manor being watched by locals, his twin brother or even himself? Daniel is terrified about what the future may hold but, as he discovers, there can be no going back.

I loved this book! It really is unusual in a fascinating way. Despite the fact that the book is about time travel, it really didn’t feel too science-fiction-y to me, which I was quite happy with. It made the subject matter feel accessible. Daniel isn’t a scientist. He isn’t a great mind. He’s just a troubled man with a guilt-ridden past, looking for something to give his life a bit of meaning and excitement again.

After a little bit of a slow start, the book quickly picked up its pace. Daniel finds himself with a stolen time machine that he’s taken from a research facility, deep in the rural countryside of Cumbria. There the paranoia kicks in almost immediately. Who is watching him? Who can he trust? How can he hide this rather huge secret? How can he master the capabilities of the machine?

I particularly enjoyed the easy-to-read narrative which is studded with poetic writing and scenes of time-travel (and the subsequent confusion it creates). The time travel element unsurprisingly adds to the deep sense of mystery and allows the reader to really experience the feeling of detachment that Daniel suffers. Is he doing the right thing? How can he make the time machine take him to a time and place of his choosing?

Daniel’s obsession with his twin brother William is particularly fascinating throughout the book. You get the sense, after a little while, that Daniel feels uneasy or guilty about something to do with his brother. This guilt is there under the surface of the narrative throughout the story, humming away as  background noise until it emerges at some point in the book and hits you like a punch in the stomach.

There are some really strong characters in the book, giving the story a real richness and realistic feel. The women are strong and defiant, at the same time as showing real vulnerability when things get hard or terrifying. The male characters provide a real rainbow of seriously interesting personalities, including a rogue hunter, a shady figure from Daniel’s past, an untrusting gardener and a loving, dedicated brother.

There is also an unrelated twist at the end which was brilliant, and something I really didn’t see coming. Of course I won’t give away any spoilers, but it’s really worth reading for this aspect of the story alone.

All in all, this book deserves a massive FOUR stars. Really well done to the author, Tim Major, and to the independent publishing house Snow Books.

four-stars

 

 

 

Introducing Crime Author Michael Knaggs

As explained in this book review, I met Michael Knaggs at Waterstones in Hull, where he impressed me with his willingness to engage with the general reading public without ‘hard-selling’ his book. I have since got to know him more and he is an enthusiastic and charming author. His third book in the Hotel St Kilda trilogy is about to be published and I seriously enjoyed Catalyst, the first book in the series. Find out more about this Hull-born author in the interview below, in which he demonstrates that there is more than just one way to become a successful author…

michael knaggs picture

 

Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of background to your life and career.

I was born in Hull in 1944 and lived there until just after my 22nd birthday. During that time I attended Hull Grammar School where I wrote a short story for a school magazine which, 55 years later, turned up again as the opening scene in my first book!

After attaining a Higher National Diploma in Chemistry at Hull Technical College, I moved to Thurso, Caithness, in 1967 to work as an Experimental Officer at Dounreay Atomic Power Station, and relocated to Salford to complete a degree in Chemistry two years later. There at the University, in addition to getting my degree, I got a wife as well – Carol, who worked in the laboratory there.

From there up to my retirement in 2005, I worked for Kellogg Company – the global breakfast cereal manufacturers – latterly as HR Director with responsibility for Pay and Benefit policy across the Company’s European area operation.

I live in Prestwich, Manchester, with Carol, my bride of 45 years! Our great passion is hill-walking and we do at least one long distance walk each year. This year we are undertaking the West Highland Way for the second time and later in the year will be tackling the Wolds Way in East Yorkshire – close to my home. We have two children and two grand-children, all of whom live close to us.

How long have you been writing, and why did you decide to publish a novel?

I began writing after I retired at the end of 2005. But long before then I had the story very clearly formed in my mind and the first thing I did before starting on the manuscript was to set it out in full in abbreviated form. And although I had never written a book before I must have produced the equivalent in length of about ten or fifteen over the years in the form of reports, employee policy documents and communications, presentations, talks, speeches, training courses, etc. So at least the process of stringing words together was a natural one for me.

It was never my intension to write a trilogy. I simply had a story I wanted to tell which was too long for a single book, so I ended up with an accidental trilogy!

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My copy of Catalyst – as illustrated by Michael Knagg’s wife Carol

Tell us a little bit about Catalyst- ‘sell’ your book to our readers!

Catalyst is a crime/political thriller dealing with street crime and, more specifically, how to tackle it in the context of the wider issue of law and justice.

When three brothers, leaders of a brutal street gang, are lured to an isolated cul-de-sac and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press. Tom Brown, a Member of Parliament for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story by leading a crusade to implement a New Justice Regime which would include uncompromising methods for tackling street gangs.

The book follows Tom’s efforts to win support – assisted by a local campaigner, George Holland, and a freelance reporter, Tony Dobson – along with the parallel story of the hunt for the killer. When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced, the two storylines come together in dramatic fashion. At the same time the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George and descending in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Tom’s Party leader, Andrew Donald, is pursuing his own agenda….

I believe the book will appeal to a wide variety of readers of all ages. It features heroic characters of all types and vintages who I hope people will readily identify with.

What research did you undertake for the book? How did you manage the capture the voice and tone of the various environments within the story – the gang culture, the political and policing environments, the court room?

Researching the book was one of the most fulfilling parts of the whole experience – and in some ways, it was very easy. Through Wikipedia and Google you can find out every bit of information that has ever been discovered, recorded, collected, hypothesised or anything. This created a temptation for me to include a mass of technical, factual data which added nothing to the story, but made me sound very smart and knowledgeable. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and only the essential bits go in to the stories now!

I also met with a number of people – political representatives, lawyers and members of the police – who helped me a great deal and to whom I shall be ever grateful for their time and interest, as well as the great incites into their areas of work – and without the attendant extraneous information I’d got from other sources.

I see that your wife is also the book’s illustrator – it captures the book perfectly. What was your experience working together creatively? Was there much trial and error?

Carol is a water-colour artist whose preferred subject matter is pastoral landscapes and pet portraits, so the cover images were well outside her normal comfort zone. Working together on the cover designs was really great and all credit to Carol for producing exactly what I had envisaged for both books. It must be difficult enough for an artist getting onto paper or canvas what is in their own mind. It’s a step beyond that producing what is in someone else’s mind. Yes, there was a lot of trial and error – though perhaps ‘error’ isn’t the right word. And with the second book – Heaven’s Door – after we had seemingly wrapped up the artwork, I realised the image was the wrong way round to how I had described it in the book – so Carol re-drafted it, with – I have to admit – amazing patience and calm!

You clearly love crime writing – so, why this genre?

Up to when I retired I didn’t read much at all, but what I did enjoy mostly was crime fiction. But the main reason is the nature of the story itself which had been growing in my mind for a couple of decades, stemming from the short story I wrote at grammar school and expanding into this substantial saga. That story was about street crime so that’s the genre where it fitted. I didn’t choose to become a crime writer, as such; it just happened that’s where the story fitted.

I met you at a book signing in Waterstones – why do you think it’s important to engage with readers face-to-face, and what do you enjoy about marketing your work? Is there anything you feel that authors need to do more of?

Because of my virtual anonymity in a genre which is saturated with books, authors, and manuscripts waiting to become books, I have to get to people as best I can to persuade them to try my work. Meeting them in book shops is the best opportunity to do that. In fact, I sell the majority of my books at the sort of event where we met in Hull. If I had an agent and full PR behind me out in the market place, then I would not need to reach out to potential readers in this way. And whereas it would be nice to have someone out there promoting my work – I’d certainly relish that situation – I would miss out on one of the things I like most. That is the opportunity to share with people the journey that has brought me face to face with them in Waterstones or WH Smiths, or wherever. (Incidentally, I am exceptionally grateful to the store managers at all the branches of those stores where I have been given the opportunity to raise the profile of my books)

In so far as what authors should do more of, I’m not sure I can answer that for the whole spectrum of practitioners, but I would certainly encourage new authors to try what I do. It’s amazing how interested the reading public are in hearing about the process that turns an idea for a tale in someone’s head into a finished book or e-document. And also how prepared they are to try someone new.

Anything you feel that you’d like to learn more about?

 I guess the simple answer is anything that will help me reach a wider readership. And I’m finding out more about that all the time through meeting people like you who are kind enough to take an interest and help me move forward.

Why did you choose to self-publish your work, and why did you choose to go through a self-publishing imprint of a traditional publisher? How did you come across them, and what have been the benefits of taking this route? How have they supported you?

In this genre and increasingly in others, publishers will not accept manuscripts directly from authors, only from literary agents. So to get ‘traditionally’ published an author needs to persuade an agent to represent them, and the agent must be engaged enough to feel they can persuade a publisher to take it forward.

The decision is based on risk – ‘will the book sell?’ – and not on quality, although obviously there is a quality threshold. I was advised from the beginning that I would have very little chance of getting an agent – who is someone looking for a career writer with whom to establish a long-term relationship which would need a lot of work at the start to raise the author’s profile. An old guy writing recreationally in retirement is not a good bet.

So self publishing was the only way forward if I wanted to fulfil my ambition. I chose Matador because they are the self-publishing arm of Troubador who are mainstream publishers, and also because they are recommended regularly by independent sources on self-publishing, e.g. the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book. I have never regretted the decision and they have provided excellent support and advice throughout the production of the three books.

Why did you decide to tackle a controversial political subject in your book?

I’m afraid there’s a lot of me in the New Justice Regime and its provisions for dealing with people who set out to make other people’s lives a misery for no other reason than the fact that they are easy targets. I guess I’m into my Grumpy Old Man stage, but it goes further than that. I firmly believe that more should be more done to protect the victims and potential victims of street crime and less to understand and embrace the motives of the perpetrators. (This is where I could go on for several pages) Suffice to say, it could have been me making the speeches at the Old Bailey and the 3AF meeting.

Which characters do you particularly love in your books, and why?

That’s easy – my favourite characters are the two police colleagues, DCI David Gerrard and DS Jo Cottrell. They are close colleagues oozing respect for each other but also share a deep mutual affection. They are great vehicles for me to include all the light quips and comments that true friends will share and they serve to provide a lighter side to the darkness of the overall plot. I enjoy writing dialogue – which my editor thinks is my main strength – and have always thoroughly enjoyed putting together their exchanges.

What’s next for you and your books?

I promised both myself and Carol that I would retire again after completing the third book, which takes my original story to its conclusion. However, during the course of my writing I have had an idea for a fourth book – a sequel to the trilogy – which includes what I believe is a great twist and would provide a very satisfying conclusion to the whole saga. Whether I do this or not will depend on the reaction to my third book – which I, and my editor, believe is, by some margin, the best of all – and how I settle back to life without writing.

In so far as the three completed books are concerned, then I expect much of the same – introducing and promoting my work through book signings and through the numerous talks I have been invited to give to reading groups, creative writing groups and other organisations. Something else I enjoy very much.

We’ll see. But whatever happens, I have enjoyed the whole experience immensely and am quite proud of what I have achieved at a time in my life when I could have been excused for taking things easy!

Find out more about Michael Knaggs here.

Catalyst by Michael Knaggs

 

 catalyst

Today’s book review focuses on Catalyst by Michael Knaggs, a book which I was compelled to buy after Michael, very proactively, approached me in the Waterstones branch in Hull. I liked that it didn’t feel as though I was on the receiving end of a ‘hard sell’, he just really wanted to discuss his book with customers, regardless of whether or not they would be likely to buy it. For this reason, I decided to go with something different to what I would normally read. And it paid off.

When three brothers, the leaders of a brutal gang, are lured to an isolated street and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press.

 Tom Brown, an MP for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story. Having built a reputation as a champion of law and order, he leads the crusade to implement a New Justice Regime with several supporters in tow, including local campaigner George Holland who embarks on a tour of the country to rally support for radical change.

When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George for his outspoken condemnation of their activities and uncompromising proposals for their demise. They descend in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Party Leader Andrew Donald is pursuing his own agenda…

 This intriguing novel, the first of the Hotel St Kilda books, contains themes of politics, crime and the military with family drama at its heart, creating a wide appeal for readers both young and old.

What’s great about Catalyst is that it strikes you from the very first paragraph. Kicking off immediately with tense and fast-paced action, the first scene sets the tone for the rest of the book. There certainly are no slow parts in the novel.

The second chapter, in which an incredibly shocking and controversial incident occurs, really is the catalyst for all that follows throughout the rest of the book. The whole narrative is a response to that first scene, and the action, intrigue and controversy never lets up. What particularly struck me about the book is how authentic it felt, even with quite an extreme and controversial subject matter.

As stated in the blurb, the book starts off with the ruthless gunning down of three notorious gang members who have been terrorising the village and local town for years. When you read this passage, a moral debate rages within your head: am I shocked and appalled at this seemingly cold-blooded murder, or on some level do I feel slightly satisfied that they got what was coming to them?

That is what the whole book really centres around: the question of taking justice into your own hands when the policing system seems powerless to intervene. And off the back of that, the Opposition party runs its own election campaign – to deal with gang members and violent offenders far, far more harshly and strictly than ever before…

Each character within this book felt really real. So much so, that I felt genuinely sad for the residents of Cullen Field. It’s a horrible thought that the kind of trauma and fear and intimidation that the residents of this book go through actually happens in real life. The subject matter of this book is incredibly topical.

Tom Brown, an MP within the Opposition Party, is smart, intelligent, good-looking and a radical thinker. That is one side of him that we are exposed to. The other side is an exposure of his insecurities, his marital problems, and his familial worries and joys. He often struggles to balance his work and his private life and they bleed into one another: something that I bet a lot of people can relate to. Tom Brown is likeable, but depending on your personal viewpoint, he is also lost in his own idealism and wishful thinking. It’s really interesting to try to make up your mind about him as reader, as you go through the book. His wife has many opposing views to his, and that heightens the tension and intrigue surrounding their family life.

Another fascinating character within the book is George Holland, a resident of Cullen Field, who helps support Tom’s vision and campaigns for radical change. I couldn’t help but love this character: he is slightly naive, a little out of his depth, but so convinced by the movement which promises to fight back against gang youths that he takes on the task of convincing the general public with growing enthusiasm. Even if you disagree fundamentally with the process that he is fighting for, you can’t help but love and sympathise with George.

The most intriguing, though, is Jad, the gunman who shoots the three gang members at the beginning of the book. As you go through the novel, his history and back story are revealed, and it’s so gripping. Equally as thought-provoking are his reasons behind his actions (why did he gun the gang down, when he hasn’t lived in Cullen Field in years? Why did he give a false name and identity even after being charged with murder?) and his relationship with Tom Brown and his family. There’s more than meets the eye there.

The writing style, for some reason, reminded me a little bit of John Grisham’s; not so much in style, although there are similarities, but more the effect of the narrative. Though fairly straight forward and devoid of unnecessary adjectives or poetic devices, it just sucks you in and compels you to keep on reading. It doesn’t beat about the bush: the author knows what his going on in his world and he tells you in no uncertain terms. But the style is engaging, and keeps the reader hooked throughout. I always found myself wanting to know more; wanting to know what was going to happen next.

A quite surprising outcome of reading this book was that it allowed me to understand the workings and mindsets of local politicians and their job roles. OK, so perhaps some aspects within the book might have been exaggerated or changed with artistic license, but being taken through the story from both private and political angles really helped me understand how events can shape political manifestos and campaigns. It also shows how gang violence affects every aspect of modern society. And the reaction to it in this book really is extreme. (But that’s what makes it all the more exciting to read.)

This book will most definitely appeal to all crime novels and thriller fans, which I think goes without saying. But I would urge people who would not normally read these genres (like myself) to give it a try, because it really is a great read.

I will be posting an interview with the author in a few days, but in the meantime, find out more about him here.

You can buy the book here on Amazon and on the Matador Books website.

*BLOG TOUR STOP* THE WACKY MAN BY LYN G. FARRELL

9781785079566

My new shrink asks me, ‘What things do you remember about being very young?’ It’s like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone…

Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised.

As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be punched in the gut, hard, by a poet?

No, me neither, but once I’d finished reading The Wacky Man, I knew exactly how it would feel.

Wow! No book has ever quite had such an emotional impact on me whilst reading it. This novel was not only incredibly moving and powerful to read, but it made me re-evaluate a lot of things I thought I knew. It moved me to tears a lot, but also made me gasp with the beauty of it.

I don’t know how Lyn G. Farrell does it, but in The Wacky Man she manages to shape brutal, terrible subject matters – domestic violence, insanity, social unrest, fear – using the most stunningly beautiful language. When she writes, she doesn’t try too hard to make the reader understand what’s happening: she just writes what is and as a result, it feels like you’re living the story rather than reading it. She doesn’t tell the story, she shows it. For that reason, it spoke to me on so many levels.

She screams, an astonishing noise that explodes into the silence to send the night things rattling away and then hangs in the sky like a flare. The scream unpins Amanda’s frozen limbs like a magic spell and she scrabbles down the lumpy ground through high grown weeds that knot around her ankles like snares.

For me, the front cover perfectly reflects that of the writing inside: truly gorgeous artistry, with an upsetting but important subject matter within.

Seamus and Barbara are a young couple about to get married. Seamus comes from a big Irish family, Barbara from a quiet English background. Unrest and violence at the hands of the IRA are a growing problem, and Irish/English relations are at breaking point. Seamus seems to be kind, funny, friendly soul to the outside world, but behind closed doors hides a monster and the consequences of his actions will reverberate throughout both his and his children’s lives. Barbara does her best to protect their twin boys, Tommo and Jamie, and their daughter Amanda from his terrifying rages, but slowly the violence and fear begin to take their toll. The Wacky Man explores the consequences of such traumatic experiences on the lives of those who are domestically abused.

The story moves along in two narrative strands: the first is written in Amanda’s voice, talking in the present and sharing her childhood memories and her current predicament. She has locked herself in her bedroom and her sanity is slowly unravelling. The second narrative explores the past: both the early days of her parents’ marriage, and Amanda and her brothers’ harrowing childhoods. This is so effective because the book answers questions as it raises them without being overly transparent. It allows the reader to understand Barbara’s story, as well as Amanda’s. It keeps you invested in the family’s story and keeps you moving through the book, all the while hoping that things get better for them and they find a way to escape this hell.

What I loved most about the book is its authenticity. I don’t know if any of the things that happen in the book ever happened to Lyn, but I tell you, if they didn’t, she got her research spot on. What resonated with me in particular were Amanda’s experiences of being bullied and overlooked in school. When I was reading, I became Amanda while being simultaneously transported back to the old me, a desperately unhappy girl who is bullied and afraid. Having been that bullied girl, I can tell you right now that Farrell gets it absolutely spot on. All of the emotions; the erratic thoughts, the feeling of losing control and losing self-esteem: it’s all so expertly written.

For me, this isn’t a book you can afford to miss. So, it’s not the happiest of topics: but that’s what makes it work so well. It is honest, it is raw, but it is beautiful, and a truly magnificent read.

 

About the author:

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Lyn G. Farrell is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary and The Wacky Man is her debut novel.

Lyn grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if life had been different. She spent most of her teenage years reading anything she could get her hands on.
She studied Psychology at the University of Leeds and now works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.

Follow Lyn on Twitter @FarrellWrites

Follow the publisher Legend Press @legend_press

Buy a copy of the book here.

 

Written in Red by Annie Dalton

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Shortly before Christmas, Professor James Lowell is found brutally attacked in his rooms at Walsingham College, where Anna Hopkins works as an administrator. Baffled as to why anyone would wish to harm such a gentle, scholarly man, Anna discovers that Lowell had a connection with her fellow dogwalker, Isadora Salzman, who knew him as an undergraduate in the 1960s, a co-member of the so-called Oxford Six. It turns out that Isadora has been keeping a surprising secret all these years. But someone else knows about Isadora’s secret: someone who has sent her a threatening, frightening letter.

Could the attack on Professor Lowell have its roots in a 50-year-old murder? And who is targeting Isadora and the surviving members of the Oxford Six? Anna, Isadora and Tansy, the dogwalking detectives, make it their business to find out.

Written in Red is the second in the Oxford Dog Walkers Mystery series, and such an enjoyable read. This one kept me up late at night, and cost me a few hours’ sleep, due to my reluctance to put the thing down when it was time to go to bed.

Anna has become a million times stronger, mentally and emotionally, than she was at the beginning of the first book, in which she was tormented and haunted by the horrific events of her past. Isadora, Tansy, Jake and her other friends and family all help her heal, slowly but surely. She becomes a much more stable and happy individual. Throughout the two novels, Anna’s friends help her realise that life is worth living and that it IS possible to keep moving on without forgetting those that she has lost.

However, what I think makes Anna’s story all more the realistic is that she isn’t completely ‘fixed’: she still struggles in certain social situations; still gets scared and claustrophobic and still has troubles lurking beneath the surface. Anna isn’t managing to develop a more quiet, settled life; instead, violence and crime seems to be following her around more often that it ever was. But this time, she’s managing to fight it without completely falling apart. To me, this makes Anna more of a 3D character, and gives us the promise that more character development is yet to come in subsequent books.

I also think that it’s the need for Anna to support others in their times of crises that help her get through things. In Written in Red, it’s Isadora’s past that comes back to haunt her and it’s down to Anna and Tansy and their friends to help her get through it and discover the truth behind a series of killings and threatening letters. A wide range of strange, compelling, colourful characters come out of the woodwork from Isadora’s youth: the dangerous and sinister Tallis, who single-handedly ruins the lives of many of her friends; Catherine, the enigmatic born-again Christian with a big secret, and Professor James Lowell, racked with pain and regret about his actions of his past, to name just a few.

Now, since I was a young girl, Annie Dalton has been teaching me about history through fiction. In her Agent Angel books, the main character zoomed throughout history and I learned so much about various civilisations and events of the past from all over the world. She didn’t stop there: I learned a lot in terms of war and the fight against communism in this book. Annie expertly intertwines a modern-day narrative with diary excerpts and tales from a troubling political time in British history, showing how business, politics and international relations can affect the home lives of normal, innocent citizens.

Another brilliant aspect of this series is that there are also a lot of twists and turns within the books that aren’t necessarily linked to main crime story. These twists build upon the underlying and continuous story of Anna and her world, parallel to the individual murder mystery within the novel. I won’t give anything away here, but I was just as surprised and intrigued by these as I was by the many surprises thrown in my direction by the crime aspect of the story. If you think you know Anna and her life from reading the first book, think again! And if you haven’t read the first book yet, then you are most definitely missing out.

The truth about the killer, and other mysteries, is not revealed until really quite close to the end of the book, and what I particularly loved about it was that it isn’t a straightforward, black-and-white, morally simple case. I defy you to read this book and come out of it thinking that there is only one side to every story.

I seriously loved this book; lovers of crime and mystery will adore it, but it will also appeal to lovers of literary fiction, romance, and even chick-lit alike. Well, well worth a read!

 

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Wow, after the most hectic start to a year ever, in which I got myself a brand new job in trade children’s publishing, and moving yet again to a whole new town, I’ve finally found the time to write out a book review. It’s good to be back.me before you

Today I’m reviewing Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You.

There’s a reason there’s a lot of hype around this book. The characters are so distinct and interesting, the story incredibly compelling and emotional. I haven’t had a book pull me in so completely like this for a long time. So often people will say “this book had me laughing out loud and crying at the same time”, so much so that it becomes a reviewing cliché. In all honesty I rarely cry and don’t tend to laugh out loud when reading, but I found myself having to read this book alone in another room for fear of someone seeing my reactions. Turns out, JoJo Moyes is a storytelling genuis. She had me in the palm of her hand.

Lou Clark knows lots of things.

 She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

 What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

 Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now, and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

 What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

The big mistake would be to stumble across this book and automatically think it’s another simple love story, or a chick lit tale that you might have heard over and over again. It is unlike anything else I’ve read before, and tackles a topical and very challenging subject. Will is a paraplegic, paralysed after a horrific car accident. Lou is a colourful twenty-something girl who is hired to be carer. Will used to live life to its fullest, going on wild holidays and adventures, sleeping with beautiful women, being ruthless in business and earning a lot of money. Suddenly, he finds life unbearable when it’s all torn away from him and just can’t understand why Lou doesn’t make the most of her life while she’s young. Lou sees nothing wrong with how she spends her time – until Will opens her eyes to the possibilities of life.

Each and every character within the novel is so distinct and you will probably see at least some of your own philosophies or family dynamics reflected within the story. The sibling rivalry between Lou and her very intelligent sister is all too relatable, her feeling of being trapped in a loveless relationship will probably chime with a few readers as well. I loved her parents, although felt it a bit unfortunate for Lou that their financial stability rested on her.

Me Before You is so fascinating because it’s an exploration of how differently people live their lives and how differently people see the world. It’s also a brilliant demonstration of how events in life can change a person completely – both physically but also mentally. Most importantly, it is gripping because it makes you fall in love with the characters and the way they influence each other is incredibly moving. It is both life-affirming and utterly heart-breaking.

This is an absolutely beautiful novel. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt

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I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying they’re tired of hearing about books with ‘girl’ and ‘gone’ in the title – but ignore them. This book is powerful and breathtaking and you’d be missing out on something very special if you didn’t pick it up due to its title!

A baby goes missing. But does her mother want her back?

When Estelle’s baby daughter is taken from her cot, she doesn’t report her missing. Days later, Estelle is found in a wrecked car, with a wound to her head and no memory.

Estelle knows she holds the key to what happened that night – but what she doesn’t know is whether she was responsible…

Little Girl Gone is another one of those books where I completely forgot to make my usual notes as I go along because I was just far, far too engrossed in the plot line and the story. It is a harrowing tale of a woman who suffers badly with post-partum depression and it sends her spiralling into a pit of despair and desperation. Somebody has taken her baby, quite possibly murdered or hurt her, and even Estelle knows that there is a distinct likelihood that she has done it.

Waking up from a horrific car accident and finding out that her baby has gone missing, Estelle doesn’t remember a single thing about the whole episode. All she knows is that there is no sign of Mia anywhere and very few clues as to what might have happened. As a result, she is admitted into a psychiatric ward and must probe into the depths of her psyche, with the help of her counsellor Dr Ari, to figure out what happened and if she is responsible for her baby’s disappearance, or whether there is someone else involved.

Delving deeper into the labyrinth of Estelle’s mind is an emotional roller coaster and just endlessly fascinating and intriguing. This book encapsulates perfectly just how complicated and mysterious and fragile the human mind can be, especially when that person is going through depression or an incredibly difficult time. It explores the different psychological mechanisms and afflictions that are associated with trauma and actually teaches the reader a lot about the human condition.

I’ve known and heard about people who have had such massive traumas in their lives that their minds have just completely wiped their memories of them in order to cope. But what this book does is show us how and why that process happens. In the book, we have no idea what to believe and whether or not to trust Estelle’s version of events. She can’t even trust herself.

My heart bled for Estelle with every syllable of this book that I read. She hasn’t got a clue what is up or down any more. She feels like she wants to hurt her baby, but we know that it is just the depression getting to her and she’s aware that these thoughts are horrifying and wrong. She can’t trust anybody around her and she can’t trust herself. The author has done an amazing job on conveying what it is like inside her head: you can almost feel the despair weighing on your own shoulders and wrapping itself around your heart as you read through the book.

Estelle’s husband Jack is a difficult man to weigh up: he most definitely has his faults in that he can be controlling and condescending, and throughout the book he does often come across as a real jerk. But I did also feel a strong degree of sympathy for him. Though he handles it utterly appallingly, he does also suffer when Estelle’s depression hits and, having dealt with family depression in the past, I know only too well how upsetting it is. It is not always within the family member’s power to get everything right: they are suffering too. For that reason, I did understand Jack more than I really wanted to. After all, it is also his baby daughter that has gone missing and his instinctive inclination to blame Estelle can’t be entirely blamed.

I won’t give away what actually happens to Mia, but my god, the story is just mind-blowing. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the whole thing. There are few books where I have wanted to skip to the ending as much, although I did restrain myself.

You will adore this book, especially if you are a mystery or crime fiction fan. Little Girl Gone is action-packed, tense, and leaves an impression on you long after you finish reading. It is a stunning book.

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