Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Extract: The Night I Met Father Christmas - Ben Miller


I've always been rather a fan of Ben Miller, don't ask me why... I was super intrigued when I heard he was a releasing a children's book, and a Christmas one at that, and super excited when an early reading copy arrived through my letterbox! It's a heart-warming tale of how Father Christmas came to be, with a nod to some Christmas classics, and at the centre of the story is essentially a retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, but with elves.

Simon Kids UK have asked me to share an extract from the opening of The Night I Met Father Christmas so you can see how magical it is for yourself, and I do hope you'll pick up a copy of the finished hardback which is rather lovely!

The Night I Met Father Christmas - Ben Miller

Chapter One

When I was small, one of my friends said something really silly. He said that Father Christmas didn’t exist. ‘So where do all the Christmas presents come from?’ I asked him. He didn’t have an answer.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘It’s just something my older sister told me.’
‘Who comes down the chimney and eats the mince pies and drinks the brandy?’ I asked. ‘Who rides the sleigh?’
My friend was silent for a while.

‘You know what?’ he said. ‘You’re right. I don’t know why I brought it up. Do you want to play marbles?’
That night, I had trouble getting to sleep. I had won the argument, but my friend had planted a tiny seed of doubt in my mind. What if Father Christmas wasn’t real?
As Christmas approached, I began to ask myself all sorts of worrying questions: who was Father Christmas? Why did he bring presents? How did he deliver them all in one night? How did it all start?
I made up my mind that there was only one way to find out the truth. I had to meet Father Christmas, face to face.
Of course, I didn’t tell anyone about my plan. My parents would have tried to stop me, and my twin sisters would have wanted to tag along, even though they were much too young.

This was a serious operation and I couldn’t risk it going wrong. Finally, Christmas Eve arrived, and my parents came up to kiss me goodnight. ‘Do you know what day it is tomorrow?’ asked my mother, her eyes twinkling. ‘Is it Wednesday?’ I asked, pretending not to care. She looked at my father, who shrugged. ‘Yes, darling,’ she said, trying to maintain an air of suspense. ‘It is Wednesday. But it’s also Christmas Day.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I’m not really that interested in Christmas.’ ‘Really?’ said my father. They both looked very disappointed, and for a very brief moment, I felt bad for tricking them. ‘It’s okay, I suppose,’ I said, ‘if you like presents and chocolate and sweets and things like that, but I prefer to work through a few maths problems while listening to classical music.’ And then I faked a big yawn and closed my eyes. ‘Whatever makes you happy, darling,’ said my mother, sounding worried. They kissed me goodnight, switched out the light, and went downstairs.

I lay there in the dark, with my eyes closed, listening. I could hear my sisters in their bedroom down the hall, talking in their own special made-up language, which only they could understand. Usually, when I heard them talking like that it made me feel a bit left out, but not tonight, because I knew that I was doing something very special.
Eventually, my sisters fell quiet and the house suddenly seemed very deep and dark. I could hear the low murmur of my parents talking downstairs, but soon that stopped too, and then the stairs creaked as they made their way up to bed. I knew they might look in on me, so I acted as if I was fast asleep.

‘Goodnight, little man,’ my father whispered, as he gently moved my head back on to the pillow and pulled the covers up to keep me warm. Then I smelled my mother’s perfume as she gave me a kiss. The door closed, and I heard their footsteps crossing the landing to their bedroom. I lay still, listening in the darkness.
After what felt like the longest time, I decided it was safe enough to half-open one eye. My bedside clock showed a quarter to twelve. I had never, ever been awake that late before, and I wondered for a moment if, when it struck midnight, I would be turned to stone, like a child in a fairy tale.

Don't forget to check out all the other fabulous blogs taking part in the tour for The Night I Met Father Christmas!






Thursday, 15 November 2018

Guest Post: How Important Is Research In The Modern Crime Novel? - MJ Lee


I'm thrilled to welcome MJ Lee to the blog today, talking about researching a modern crime novel!

How Important Is Research In The Modern Crime Novel?


In the old days, life was quite different for crime writers. Agatha Christie didn’t have to research modern forensic science, nor did she bother herself with the minutiae of police hierarchy or the competence of a Coroner.’


Instead, she researched the effects of poisons, a knowledge boosted by her time spent as a nurse during World War One. Hercules Poirot relied on his ‘little grey cells’ to solve a dastardly murder. While Inspector Japp was content to bungle on until his incompetence could be demonstrated.

While the ‘cosy’ mystery still exists, it has been replaced by a much stronger emphasis on authenticity in crime fiction. People have watched CSI and so they are well aware of the methods of DNA analysis or of blood detection in a crime scene. They had watched countless episodes of COPS so they aware of the communication procedures of police on the beat. And ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries of actual cases, the most recent being the brilliant ‘Making of a Murderer’ ensure that the reader has a pretty good idea of what should happen in a crime story.

So it’s important for the writer to get it right if he or she wants to maintain credibility. So before I even touched fingers to keyboard for Where the Truth Lies, I made sure to get the details were as accurate as I could. In short, I had to become a detective of the process of modern detection

For this novel,  there were four main areas where I needed to make sure the facts were correct; the Coronial System, the police force, modern forensic science, and the treatment of cancer.

First, I read general books on the legal system, with particular emphasis on the Coroner’s courts. They were founded just after the Norman Conquest in 1066, created then as servants of the crown (hence coroners) to separate the investigation of death from the legal process of judgment. Not a lot has changed since then. I spent quite a lot of time attending inquests to get a feel for the language and the procedure.

I then researched the modern police forces of the UK, who I’m sure you’re aware have come under immense pressure in the last few years, talking with ex-members of the GMP, Scene of Crime Officers and police support workers. Some of their stories were fascinating and I’m sure will form the background for future novels.

To understand modern forensic science methods, I attended courses on forensics, the science behind DNA, facial reconstruction, the procedures of a Scene of Crime Officer and read extensively in the subject.

Finally, I researched the field of cancer. Luckily, Manchester has one of the world’s leading research and treatment hospitals, Christie's, and I was able to find out from patient’s themselves what it felt like to be diagnosed and treated for Myeloma.

Hopefully, this research is reflected in the book, allowing readers to understand the obstacles police have to endure to obtain a conviction based on evidence. Obviously, it is still a fiction book not a slice of real life, but in doing all this research I hope it helped create a world that feels authentic.

But in the end, all the research in world won’t make a bad book good. Because research only fills in the details making the story believable and authentic, not worth reading.

I hope you enjoy reading Where the Truth Lies. I’m presently editing the second story in the Ridpath series which should be coming out in 2019.

And, guess what, I’m now researching the decomposition rate of bodies. I hope the police never have cause to look at my search history….

About The Author


M J Lee has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a university researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the north of England, in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, and Shanghai, winning advertising awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and the United Nations.
While working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarters of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practising downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake, and wishing he were George Clooney.

Twitter - @WriterMJLee


Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths


A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?

A gripping contemporary Gothic thriller from the bestselling author of the Dr. Ruth Galloway mysteries: Wilkie Collins and MR James meet Gone Girl and Disclaimer.

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specializing in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...
 


I first came across Elly Griffiths when I picked up the first in her Ruth Galloway series quite some time ago! Since then, I have devoured nearly the entire series and read the first two installments in her Stephens & Mephisto series, about a magician and a detective. I was delighted when I read about The Stranger Diaries, partly because it was Elly's first standalone novel but mostly because I was intrigued by the synopsis and the description of the book as a contemporary Gothic novel. I say standalone novel because I think that's what it is but, one of the main characters, DS Harbinder Kaur, was fantastic and I would love to read more stories involving her.

The focus of The Stranger Diaries is Clare Cassidy, a divorced forty-something, living with her teenage daughter and dog near the Sussex coast. Clare is an English teacher, lucky enough to teach at a local state school that was also the home of a Victorian writer who just happens to be the subject of a book she is writing. As well as hearing from her point of view we also get to hear from her daughter, fifteen-year-old Georgia, and the inimitable DS, Harbinder. Having three points of view in The Stranger Diaries is not at all confusing, indeed I think it adds to the story and ensures that we see it from all angles. Having finished the book and looking back over my notes, it's also easy to see that Elly Griffiths does sprinkle hints about the identity of our literary-inspired killer here and there in the different p-o-v's, but I was so engrossed in the superb story I missed all of them...

The Stranger Diaries is a splendid mix of Victorian Gothic and contemporary thriller, and I adored it! As much as I love Ruth Galloway, this has definitely leapt into my top five Elly Griffiths books and surpassed all my expectations. There are plenty of literary references, a wonderful doggy character called Herbert (named after the dog in R. M Holland's story, The Stranger), a love interest who is a bit quirky, one of the most genuine teenage characters I've read in a long time, a mystery both in the present and the past (see if you can figure out who the elusive Mariana is!), murder, and as in her other books, really compelling settings. I loved reading her wonderfully descriptive writing and it's so easy to get lost in the story, always a sign of an excellent book in my eyes. 

I shall say no more about the story except to admit to checking all of my journals afterwards, to make sure there were no unexplained entries in someone else's handwriting. The Stranger Diaries was a joy to read, the ending probably was obvious to plenty of people (except me!) but it's almost certainly my favorite book of 2018, and an eminently suitable book to read at this time of year.

If you're in London on November 12th then you might be interested in coming along to the Rooftop Book Club this month, as Elly is one of three featured authors and will be there talking about The Stranger Diaries. Find more information here, and if you do go make sure to say hello! I shall be there as I've only been to one event with Elly in the past and can't wait to hear more about her inspiration for The Stranger Diaries.




The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths
ISBN -  9781786487391
Publisher - Quercus
Release date - November 1st, 2018

About The Author

WINNER OF THE 2016 CWA DAGGER IN THE LIBRARY. Elly Griffiths was born in London. She worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer. Her bestselling series of Dr. Ruth Galloway novels, featuring a forensic archaeologist, are set in Norfolk. The series has won the CWA Dagger in the Library and has been shortlisted three times for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her Stephens and Mephisto series is based in 1950s Brighton. She lives near Brighton with her husband, an archaeologist, and their two children. Photo by Sara Reeve.

Twitter | Website

Huge thanks to Olivia and Quercus, both for the invitation to take part in the blog tour and for a copy of this hugely enjoyable story. Please do check out the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and other snippets!



Friday, 12 October 2018

Dead End - Rachel Lynch


When the seventh Earl of Lowesdale is found hanging from the rafters at Wasdale Hall, everyone assumes the aging, hard-partying aristocrat had finally had enough of chasing the glory of his youth. But when the coroner finds signs of foul play, DI Kelly Porter is swept into a luxurious world where secrets and lies dominate.
At the same time, two young hikers go missing and it’s up to Kelly to lead the search. But digging deeper reveals ties to two other unsolved disappearances and Kelly and her team find themselves in a race against time.
Now, as all roads of both investigations and Kelly’s own family secrets lead to Wasdale Hall it becomes more important than ever for Kelly to discover the devious truths hidden behind the walls of the Lake District’s most exclusive estate...

Having read and loved Rachel Lynch's first two Kelly Porter books, Dark Game and Deep Fear, I was very much looking forward to diving into Dead End. We return to the glorious setting of the Lake District for this nailbiting third installment and are plunged straight into the action. DI Kelly Porter is running two cases at once in Dead End, the supposed suicide of an elderly earl, and two missing hikers who disappeared from a local campsite in the middle of the night.

The earl was elderly and the pathologist, Ted Wallis, throws the suicide verdict into doubt because of his age and other factors. Whilst Kelly is trying to work out who may have wanted the earl dead, and didn't want to wait any longer for his death, she's also trying to find out exactly what has happened to the two missing hikers. The girls were being stalked by an ex-boyfriend and staying at a campsite run by an extremely repugnant manager.

When links are made to a third missing girl, eerily similar in appearance to the other two girls, alarm bells start to ring for Kelly and her team. When bones found by a local walker come up in the investigation and a body is found in the hills it's time to admit that something sinister is going on in one of the most beautiful places to live.

The Kelly Porter series gets better with every book and this latest one is full of tension, from all directions. Kelly's home life has not improved, her sister is as bitter as ever, and her mother, recently diagnosed with cancer, is caught in the middle of the warring sisters. Her romantic life is improving in leaps and bounds though, with her relationship with Johnny, a local mountain rescue worker, one of the only things keeping her grounded. The mix of personal and work lives is partly what makes these books so readable, it's rare to hear so much about a detective's home life in a series and considering the curveball that Kelly has just been thrown I can't wait to read the next one.

Incredibly well written and detailed, Dead End paints a picture of the more sinister side of the Lakes. It's a page-turner, albeit a slow burner of one, but this ratchets up the pressure on each and every page. There are red herrings by the dozen, I defy you to work out who is ultimately responsible and get it right on the first, second, even third attempt!

If you like female-focused police procedurals where the setting is as important as the characters then do check out this series. Dark Game was a fantastic start to the series and Dead End only builds on that, to make a superbly addictive crime novel.
Dead End (Kelly Porter #3) - Rachel Lynch
Publisher - Canelo
Release date - October 8th, 2018
About The Author
Rachel Lynch grew up in Cumbria and the lakes and fells are never far away from her. London pulled her away to teach History and marry an Army Officer, whom she followed around the globe for thirteen years. A change of career after children led to personal training and sports therapy, but writing was always the overwhelming force driving the future. The human capacity for compassion as well as its descent into the brutal and murky world of crime are fundamental to her work.

Find Rachel on Twitter

Many thanks to Ellie & Canelo for the review copy and the invitation to take part in the blog tour.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Deep Fear - Rachel Lynch


DI Kelly Porter is back. 

But will this new case push her beyond her limits?


On a peaceful summer's morning in the Lake District, a woman's body is discovered outside a church. She's been murdered and a brutal, symbolic act performed on her corpse. 


DI Kelly Porter is in charge of the team investigating the crime and is determined to bring the killer to justice. But as more deaths occur it is clear this is the work of a disturbed, dangerous and determined individual. Can Kelly put the puzzle pieces together before the danger comes closer to home?


Having enjoyed Rachel Lynch's first book, Dark Game, I was really looking forward to reading Deep Fear and, thankfully, it didn't disappoint. DI Kelly Porter returns, on a high after successfully solving one of the hardest crimes of her career. Little does she know what the immediate future holds for her. Backed up by her incredibly hardworking team, who know she likes to operate by now, they are stunned when a woman's body is found with a piece of poetry by a Lakes poet on her body. 

What follows is a frightening case, as more bodies turn up, and more poetry is located on each body. This case is getting the better of Kelly, and she doesn't like it. Frustrated at every turn, knowing she's missing something, her home life continues to deteriorate with her relationships with both her mother and sister hitting rock bottom. Her sister Nikki cannot get over her bitterness about Kelly having created a better life for herself, and her mother is in hospital.

The perpetrator of the latest series of crimes to hit the Lakes seems to be trying to teach people a lesson, each piece of poetry points to what could be considered a sin. Kelly can't help but think that she's missing something and when the case hits too close to home for comfort she's going to need all her strength to find the killer before it's too late.

I think of all the Kelly Porter novels this one is probably my favorite. I loved the literary twists and turns Deep Fear took and how it added to the storyline. Because of the poetry angle, I can only assume that everyone who reads it will leap to the same conclusions I did, that the culprit is somebody immersed in the academic world, or at least on the periphery. The red herrings from book one make a welcome return, follow the clues that Rachel plants and you'll be second-guessing yourself on every page. I spectacularly failed to guess who the killer was right up until the very last moment but this is something she does incredibly well.

Deep Fear is another fantastically written police procedural, the background of the Lakes adds to the sense of menace throughout the book, and as always, the character of Kelly is ably supported by well fleshed out colleagues, friends, and family.


Deep Fear (Kelly Porter #2) - Rachel Lynch
Publisher - Canelo
Release date - May 14th, 2018


Friday, 5 October 2018

Review and Q&A: The Secrets You Hide - Kate Helm


In her eyes, no-one is innocent...

A knock-out read for fans of Clare Mackintosh, Anatomy of a Scandal and Apple Tree Yard.

Georgia Sage has a gift: she can see evil in people. As a courtroom artist, she uses her skills to help condemn those who commit terrible crimes. After all, her own brutal past means she knows innocence is even rarer than justice.

But when she is drawn back into the trial that defined her career, a case of twisted family betrayal, she realizes her own reckless pursuit of justice may have helped the guilty go free.

As Georgia gets closer to the truth behind the Slater family, something happens that threatens not only her career - but even her own sanity. At first, she fears her guilt around the events of her terrible childhood is finally coming back to haunt her.

The truth turns out to be even more terrifying...

THE SECRETS YOU HIDE is an ambitious rocket of a novel. Every layer, every twist, every revelation makes you question the very characters you thought you could trust, and rethink a plot you thought you were beginning to unravel...
 


Kate Helm is also known as Kate Harrison and has published numerous books both fiction and non-fiction, including the YA trilogy that started with Soul Beach which I loved. This is her crime fiction debut, hence the name change, and it's a corker of a crime debut!

Georgia Sage is one of a dying breed in this digital age, a court artist. The person who draws the sketches you see on television, of the judges and jury, the defendants and other people of interest - all brilliantly brought to life in pencil and pastel.

But Georgia wasn't always Georgia and she knows the horrors and brutality all too well. It's this legacy that leads her to believe she can 'sense' good or evil in a defendant. When Georgia starts to see things, people that can't possibly be there, she believes her past is catching up with her and that she is going mad.

Blaming what turns out to be a desperately sad medical diagnosis on stress, insomnia, and even too much alcohol, Georgia carries on with her life.  Despite everything, she signs up for a new book project which takes her back to one of her most memorable cases of her court artist career. When she starts to jump to conclusions about what really may have happened, she ends up neck deep in trouble and with her life in danger.

The Secrets You Hide is a character-driven novel, all the way through, and has some of the most fleshed out characters I've read in a long time. Georgia is a simply wonderful character. Realizing she's about to lose everything that means something she throws herself into her work, knowing that what she's doing is driven by purely selfish reasons. Also standing out is Georgia's former fiance, Oliver, a barrister who is now married with a child on the way. Even though Georgia pushed him away he never gives up on her and is determined to remain in her life which is quite easy considering he is a barrister!

The Secrets You Hide is a page-turner from start to finish. I started reading it the minute I downloaded it and didn't put it down until I had finished, a couple of hours later.  It's a slow-burner of a novel but it builds up the tension perfectly, leading to what was an excellent confrontation with the real villain of the piece. I very much enjoyed Secrets and am certainly hoping that we'll be hearing more from Kate in her crime writing persona.




The Secrets You Hide - Kate Helm
Publisher - Bonnier Zaffre
Release date - October 4th, 2018

Q & A With Kate Helm





1. What inspired The Secrets You Hide?

KH - It came from hearing a podcast while I was at the gym about a courtroom artist in America who described what her job was like: I worked as a court reporter when I was a very young journalist, and I realized this was a way to write about justice and guilt and the secrets about ourselves that we all try to keep hidden.

2. What drew you to thriller writing specifically?

KH - I love reading thrillers but I hadn’t planned to write one until I had this idea – now I have been completely bitten by the crime-writing bug and spend an awful lot of time thinking about deadly scenarios, high emotions, and twists. It’s really cathartic and the thriller writing and reading community is just so welcoming too.

3. The book is about the world of the court artist. Are you artistic?

KH - I would love to be artistic but I can’t draw or paint to save my life (except walls: I am quite good at decorating!). I failed Art at school when I was going through a bit of a monochrome Gothic phase, but I love colour, especially the names of all the different shades, which are like a palette to paint word pictures with. It was fascinating to research how sketch artists work, and I share Georgia’s fascination with faces and portraits, but I will leave creating art to the people with a talent for it!

4. How would you describe the main character Georgia in five words?

KH - Damaged, vengeful, loyal, compassionate, courageous.

5. What is the best thing about being an author?

KH - So many things to choose from but I think it’s a huge privilege to be able to create characters and invent stories that become so real in readers’ minds that they want to talk about their decisions and disasters!





Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Lost Fleet: Corsair - Jack Campbell


The century-long war between two space empires, the alliance and the Syndics, has ended, but Captain Michael Geary, nephew of the legendary Alliance Commander John "Black Jack" Geary, believed MIA, is still a prisoner.

Together with former enemy, Destina Aragon, desperate to escape the reach of a tyrannical government, can he help her rebellion succeed, live up to the legend coloring his family name - or will he die trying?

Grievances must be put aside as a daring intergalactic jail-break becomes a battle for survival against the odds, in this gripping new comic series written by New York Times best-selling author Jack Campbell, based on his novel series.

People always seem to be surprised when I say I read military SF, I suppose at first glance they don't think it's the sort of thing that would appeal to me but it does. Ever since picking up my first military SF book (by accident, I hasten to add...) at the library I've read quite a few titles, including quite a few of the Lost Fleet titles by the legendary Jack Campbell a.k.a John Hemdy. After reading Lost Fleet: Corsair I definitely need to go back and catch up with the ones I haven't read as I'm pretty sure I've missed out on a lot.

Having said that, you don't need to have read any of the previous books (although you might want to just so you're acquainted with the Lost Fleet universe) to dive into the new Corsair comics. Lost Fleet: Corsair is a bindup of the original five issues and is strangely addictive. I whizzed through my copy one night, quite late, when I knew I should turn the light off and go to sleep but couldn't.

If you're a fan of the Lost Fleet novels there's only one question to be answered: is Black Jack alive? Well, read Corsair and you might get an answer. Really though, Corsair is Michael's story. Still held captive by the Syndics he's made an offer he can't refuse, even if it comes from someone he believes is his enemy. You know what they say though, sometimes an enemy can do more for you than friends and/or colleagues. Desperate to escape and find out what has happened to the fleet Michael agrees to team up with Destina Aragon (love that name!). Aided by a Syndic ship full of Alliance P.O.W.'s they make their escape and head for Destina's homeworld. Along the way, there are some superb space battles and more obstacles than one would wish for but that is what makes Corsair a page-turner.

The graphic novel is full of fantastically defined dialogue, accompanied by great illustrations. It's everything you want in a Lost Fleet novel but in graphic form. There's no over-sentimentality, everything has a point, and if you're not a fan at the end of 129 pages of Corsair, then go back and read it again! As for me, I'm off to start re-reading the Lost Fleet series and then diving into the rest of the series that I've missed. By my reckoning, that means I've got about ten books to read for the first time.

If you'd like to win my copy of Lost Fleet: Corsair, head on over to my Instagram account and like/comment on my photo. Open to those resident in the UK only due to postage, sorry to everyone else but postage is astronomical at the moment!


The Lost Fleet: Corsair - Jack Campbell | Andre Siregar | Sebastian Cheng
ISBN - 9781785852992
Publisher - Titan Comics
Release date - March 20th, 2018

Huge thanks to Imogen and Titan Comics for my copy of The Lost Fleet: Corsair, and don't forget to enter the giveaway over on Instagram!

Check out the rest of the tour stops and click here to follow Titan Comics on Twitter!


 
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