Monthly Archives: January 2017

Author Influences With Tom Bale

I am beyond delighted to have one of my favourite thriller writers joining me today to discuss his author influences…it’s Tom Bale!!!!

Tom Bale 02

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?

Enid Blyton was the first author that I really remember who made an impact on me – particularly with her fantasy adventure stories like the Enchanted Wood and the Magic Faraway Tree, as well as the Wishing Chair books. I was also an avid reader of comics like the Beano, the Dandy and Whizzer & Chips, and a huge fan of comic books like Asterix and Tintin.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?

Not initially: I was apparently quite slow at learning to read, and my parents became so worried that they devised a word game that they played with me in the evenings to help me catch up. Then something must have clicked, because by the time I went to junior school I was reading books intended for children two or three years older. Towards the end of junior school and the beginning of secondary school, my English teachers seemed to spot some potential and often had nice things to say about my essays and compositions – though as a painfully shy child I was always mortified to be singled out in class, even if it was to be congratulated on something.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?

Absolutely – there’s always been a close correlation between what I love to read and what I write. The first genre to hook me was science fiction, at the age of ten or eleven, and so my first stories were nearly all SF epics – little surprise given the impact that Star Wars had on my generation! Within a few years I started shifting towards horror, particularly because of Stephen King, but also James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell and others. Then horror fiction seemed to go out of fashion, with gruesome serial killer novels taking their place – I think one of the first out-and-out crime novels that I read was Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, and from then on I was hooked.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?

Horror, probably! I have several ideas with a very supernatural flavour to them, and one in particular has been nagging at me for several years, pleading to be written.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?

I think there are lots, but I’d have to say Enid Blyton for really introducing me to the power and potential of storytelling; and then Stephen King for giving me the inspiration during the key period in my adolescence when the desire to write became a truly serious ambition.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?

There are – John Sandford is probably still the author whose books grab me most immediately.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?

So many books make me envious, but the one that floored me more than any other is probably The White Hotel, by DM Thomas, which I read when I was sixteen. Then again, these questions have reminded me of the impact that The Silence of the Lambs had on me, and since that’s just about the perfect thriller – imitated thousands of times since but never bettered – I could equally nominate that book.

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)

I’m safe here, because I can emphatically say no. There might well be elements of real events or even real people in my stories, but always so jumbled up that they no longer have enough of a similarity to trouble the lawyers.

A huge thank you for taking part.

My pleasure, Abbie. Thank you!

All-Fall-Down-Kindle[61321]

Tom’s latest novel All Fall Down is out now.  You can read my review HERE.

See How They RunSkin and Bones

Read my review of See How They Run HERE and Skin And Bones HERE.

About Tom Bale

Tom Bale has had a variety of jobs including retail assistant, claims negotiator and project manager, but none was as exhausting as the several years he spent as a house-husband with two pre-school children.  Tom has been writing since the age of seven, and completed his first novel  at fifteen.  After twenty years and hundreds of rejection slips, his first novel Sins Of The Father was published under his real name, David Harrison.  With his next book, Skin And Bones, he acquired an agent, a pseudonym and a book deal that allowed him to write full time.  He lives in Brighton with his family.

Connect with Tom

Website: www.tombale.net

Twitter: @t0mbale

Facebook: @tombalewriter

Book Review – Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt

Devastation Road

The Blurb

Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know.  Injured and confused, he pulls himself up and starts to walk.

His name is Owen.  A war he has only a vague memory of joining is in it’s last throes, and as he tries to get back to England he becomes caught up in the flood of refugees pouring through Europe.  Among them is a teenage boy, Janek, and a troubled young woman, Irena, and together they form a fragile alliance on their way across battle-worn Germany.  Owen attempts to gather up the shattered pieces of his life, but nothing is as he remembers, not even himself – how can he return home when he hardly recalls what home is?

My Thoughts

 ‘”The war might as well still be raging for all the good the peace is doing us”’

A moving story about the catastrophic impact of war told through three different perspectives, Devastation Road is poignant, wonderfully written and a stark reminder that peace does not necessarily bring with it an end to suffering.

When Owen wakes in a field in Germany in 1945 with no memory of where or who he is, he has to make his way across the country in order to get home. Along the way, he meets Janek and Irena and this unlikely group of disparate people, each with their own unique and moving experience of the war, forge together to make their way home and rebuild their lives.

Devastation Road has an air of mystery about it as we are drip fed information about Owen when parts of his memory slowly come back to him. Hewitt’s portrayal of Owen’s memory loss is incredibly effective, giving the reader the experience of how it would really feel to lose this function, the confusion it causes and its impact which goes way beyond anything I could have imagined. The vague snippets of memories that come back to him that he can’t fully make sense of and then forgetting them again the next day, make piecing his life back together incredibly difficult.

Each of the three characters has their own story to tell and their own methods of survival. While not always liking the decisions they have made and the action they have taken, you cannot help but feel for them and understand their behaviour in this most extreme of times when survival becomes everything. They are all victims of the war and in many senses peace time will be just as dangerous for them.

The real beauty of this book, for me, is its exploration of the impact of war. Although historical fiction, Devastation Road has an authenticity about it showing that Hewitt has clearly researched his subject. His descriptions give a real sense of place and surrounding, with the reader being transported to Germany during this tumultuous time. Peace time has arrived and yet lives are still in turmoil and danger is not over. While our views and ideas of the end of the Second World War are often one of jubilation and celebration, this was not the reality for the majority of people. Lives and homes devastated, displacement and the uncertainty about the safety of loved ones are all explored and portrayed gently and sensitively. Hewitt accurately describes how human lives become worthless during war time making this an emotional read.

Heart-breaking, gripping and wonderfully written, Devastation Road is a gorgeous novel and a fantastic piece of historical fiction. A tale of unlikely friendships, loss and the lengths people go to in order to stay alive that will move you deeply. Highly recommended.

A huge thank you to Jason Hewitt and Scribner for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Published on 14 July 2016 by Scribner.

 

 

#AroundTheUKIn144Books – Challenge

Challenge Banner[2422]

You may have seen on Twitter and Facebook that Bloomin’ Brilliant Books is teaming up with Jenna at Jen Med’s Book Reviews and Rachel at Rachels Random Reads to complete an epic (crazy??) challenge.  We aim to read a book set in every county in the UK.  Are we mad? Probably, but it should be great fun and we hope you will join in along the way.  Jenna put out a post last week explaining the idea and ‘the rules’. 

Here is what she said…

So. Since yesterday when I introduced the idea of the Read the UK challenge, it has taken on a personality all of its own. It seems to be a very popular idea and I guess I can understand why. It also led to some debate over definition of a county and, if you take modern definition or current county boundaries, then the list is longer. A lot longer. Like an extra 58 books.
Never ones to run from a challenge though, Abbie and I are quite happy to redefine boundaries but it does mean that the challenge will take a little longer to complete. That’s okay. We have no time scales, we just want to know if it is possible. That said, it gets awful lonely on a long trip and while one of us is ‘driving’ the other will be sleeping (fat chance with two insomniacs on board lol) so we need a little company along the way.
And we found it. Joining us on this now epic 144-book challenge is none other than Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Reads. As Rachel reads different genres to me and Abbie we stand a much greater chance of completing so we are going to tackle all 144 counties, metropolitan boroughs or whatever the heck they are called these days in the UK and NI including all of the islands. Yep. Epic challenge indeed.
Our plan is thus:
1. No timescales. We read as we always intended to but we will endeavour to cross off all counties along the way. We may come looking for help i.e. book suggestions, and we’ll certainly be looking up all suggestions made so far – thanks for those.
2. We will post our review as and when the book is read and tag all posts #AroundTheUkIn144Books. Hopefully with your support we can get it trending on Twitter too – wouldn’t that be a hoot.
3. At least once a month we will try and ‘meet up’, perhaps reading a book from the same county but certainly delighting all you lovely bookish folk with a group update.
As for the rest… we’re winging it. This has to be a fun journey and it can’t interfere with the normal running of our blogs or it just won’t work. That said, it will be great to take stock this time next year and see how many counties we have visited between us. I’ll even try and find someone to map it for us because lord knows, I’ll be no good at that.
The new list of counties we are attempting to visit is below (note we are including London as one big lump as I’m too old and tired to try and separate books into the relevant boroughs and there will be much crossover anyway):
Aberdeen City                                                       Luton
Aberdeenshire                                                      Medway
Angus                                                                       Merseyside
Antrim                                                                      Merthyr Tydfi
Argyll and Bute                                                    Middlesbrough
Armagh                                                                   Midlothian
Bath and North East Somerset                     Milton Keynes
Bedford                                                                   Monmouthshire
Berkshire                                                                Moray
Blackburn with Darwen                                   Na h-Eileanan Siar
Blackpool Neath                                                 Port Talbot
Blaenau Gwent                                                    Newport
Bournemouth                                                       Norfolk
Bridgend                                                                 North Ayrshire
Brighton and Hove                                             North East Lincolnshire
Bristol                                                                      North Lanarkshire
Buckinghamshire                                                North Lincolnshire
Caerphilly                                                               North Somerset
Cambridgeshire                                                   North Yorkshire
Cardiff                                                                      Northamptonshire
Carmarthenshire                                                 Northumberland
Central Bedfordshire                                         Nottingham
Ceredigion                                                             Nottinghamshire
Cheshire East                                                       Orkney Islands
Cheshire West and Chester                            Oxfordshire
City of Edinburgh                                               Pembrokeshire
Clackmannanshire                                            Perth and Kinross
Conwy                                                                     Peterborough
Cornwall                                                                Plymouth
Cumbria                                                                 Poole
Darlington                                                             Portsmouth
Denbighshire                                                       Powys
Derby                                                                      Redcar and Cleveland
Derbyshire                                                            Renfrewshire
Devon                                                                     Rhondda Cynon Taf
Dorset                                                                     Rutland
Down                                                                      Scottish Borders
Dumfries and Galloway                                  Shetland Islands
Dundee City                                                         Shropshire
Durham                                                                 Somerset
East Ayrshire                                                       South Ayrshire
East Dunbartonshire                                       South Gloucestershire
East Lothian                                                        South Lanarkshire
East Renfrewshire                                             South Yorkshire
East Riding of Yorkshire                                 Southampton
East Sussex                                                          Southend-on-Sea
Essex                                                                       Staffordshire
Falkirk                                                                    Stirling
Fermanagh                                                          Stockton-on-Tees
Fife                                                                          Stoke-on-Trent
Flintshire                                                              Suffolk
GL: Greater London                                         Surrey
Glasgow City                                                       Swansea
Gloucestershire                                                 Swindon
Greater Manchester                                        Telford and Wrekin
Gwynedd                                                             Thurrock
Halton                                                                   Torbay
Hampshire                                                          Torfaen
Hartlepool                                                          Tyne and Wear
Herefordshire                                                    Tyrone
Hertfordshire                                                    Vale of Glamorgan
Highland                                                             Warrington
Inverclyde                                                          Warwickshire
Isle of Anglesey                                                West Dunbartonshire
Isle of Wight                                                      West Lothian
Kent                                                                      West Midlands
Kingston upon Hull                                        West Sussex
Lancashire                                                         West Yorkshire
Leicester                                                             Wiltshire
Leicestershire                                                   Worcestershire
Lincolnshire                                                      Wrexham
Londonderry                                                     York

So – where can you follow us on our epic UK ‘road trip’? Well here of course (Jen Med’s Book Reviews). It was my daft idea – can’t abandon the team now. I’m the designated driver – just call me Jennie Sat Nav.
You can also follow Tour Director – Abbie Rutherford over on www.bloominbrilliantbooks.com

Entertainment Director – Rachel Gilbey over on rachelsrandomreads.blogspot.co.uk
The adventure starts here. Wish us luck. Alternatively it you want to get on the ‘library bus’ and travel with us, let us know. The more the merrier.
Happy Reading All
JL

Given that anything below Hull is merely ‘somewhere down south’ to me this should be an interesting journey!  As Jen says, feel free to join in it should be a lot of fun.

Abbie x

Blog Tour – The Alibi by Jaime Raven *Book Review*

The Alibi

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s turn on The Alibi blog tour.  I really enjoyed Jaime’s first novel The Madam and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Alibi after I had taken part in the cover reveal.  I’m delighted to be able share my thoughts with you on Jaime’s second book today.

The Blurb

A perfect crime needs a perfect alibi…

Crime reporter Beth Chambers is committed to uncovering the truth – and she’s not afraid of bending the rules to get there.

When troubled soap star Megan Fuller is found stabbed to death in her South London home, all eyes are on her ex-husband – the notorious gangster, Danny Shapiro.

Determined to expose Danny as a cold-blooded killer, Beth obsessively pursues him.  But in her hunt for the truth, her family are set to pay the ultimate price…

Secrets, lies and revenge brim to the top in this gritty thriller.  Perfect for fans of  Martina Cole and Kimberley Chambers.

My Thoughts

What a tangled web we weave…

Murder, lies and corruption take centre stage in Jaime Raven’s second novel, The Alibi. When celebrity Megan Fuller is found murdered at her home, crime reporter Beth Chambers automatically assumes Megan’s ex-husband, Danny Shapiro, is the killer given his reputation as one of London’s leading gang bosses. In the pursuit of being the first to get the story, Beth becomes embroiled in a web of deceit that threatens her livelihood, her family and ultimately her life. Knowing the finger will be pointed at him, Danny, fakes an alibi resulting in a knock on effect he could never have predicted.

With Beth as the main character the story is told in first person narrative by her, interspersed by the points of view of Danny Shapiro and Ethan Cain in the third person. The novel starts with a bang, with twists, turns and startling revelations from the outset grabbing the reader immediately and firmly ensconcing them into the story. The Alibi moves along at a fast pace resulting in late nights for the reader! Some of the twists I did guess, this may be due to the amount of crime thrillers I have read recently, however, this did not impact on my enjoyment of the book.

Beth is a career-focused crime reporter with, at times, questionable morals. I enjoyed reading about the risks she takes to be the first to get the story and Raven gives a real insight into the life of a journalist. This angle made a change from the usual detective-led story, adding extra appeal to The Alibi.

Raven covers some relevant topics throughout the book – the problems of gangs on London housing estates, the 2011 London riots, disillusionment of police officers and over-riding your ethics and values in order to get what you want – with the dangers of not sticking to the premise of innocent until proven guilty being the most interesting theme to me. Beth inadvertently creates a domino effect, that has wide reaching consequences, in her assumption and belief that Danny is guilty from the outset.

The Alibi is a cracking crime thriller that moves along at a super fast pace. A great second novel from Jaime Raven.

Thank you to Jaime Raven, Avon Books and Netgalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review. Thank you Louis at Avon Books for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

Published on 29 December 2016 by Avon Books.

You can purchase a copy HERE.

The Alibi

 

Author Influences with Helen MacKinven

Absolutely thrilled to be joined by Helen MacKinven, author of the brilliant Buy Buy Baby and Talk Of The Toun, today talking all things bookish as she discusses her author influences.

HMK's pic[662]

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?

One of my best loved memories of primary school was when the teacher finished the day by reading a chapter from the latest class book. That was probably my favourite part of the day and I remember being enthralled by books like Charlotte’s Web.
My childhood home didn’t have shelves of books but I remember seeing copies of Catherine Cookson novels which my mum and gran read and I read and enjoyed her children’s book, Oor John Willie by the bestselling author. Growing up, I went to my local library a lot and I feel passionately about maintaining a library service in communities. I devoured the Malory Towers series of books about a Cornish boarding school for girls which transported me to another world. Other favourites were The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden featuring the lovable Kizzy and another great character was Lizzie Dripping in the book by Helen Cresswell. I always got an annual at Christmas such as the Bunty or Jackie annual and this was as much a tradition as hanging up my stocking for Santa. I also loved non-fiction books for school project such as studying the culture of different countries and I believe that early interest inspired my love of travel.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?

Yes and yes. Apart from art, English was my favourite subject at high school and I studied it right up to sixth year when I did a dissertation on the work of John Steinbeck. I had a place to study English literature at university but when I failed to be accepted for art school, I made a last-minute decision to train to be a primary school teacher but my love of reading and writing has been lifelong.
If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?

I’d probably have a go at children’s writing as I think it would be an amazing feeling to inspire young readers. I liked to read stories to my sons when they were small and I’d love to have written a book for them. But now that my sons are adults, maybe I could have a go for future grandchildren!

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write? Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?

The advice given to new writers is often, ‘write the book you’d like to read’ and that’s the route I’ve taken. I particularly enjoy reading Scottish and Irish fiction, especially those featuring black comedy. The work of other writers of Scottish contemporary fiction has had an influence in the type of writer I aspire to be and any writers using dialect and exploring issues of class and identity are attractive to me as a writer and a reader. After reading Buddha Da by Anne Donovan, the novel gave me the confidence to write in my own ‘voice’ to create authentic characters from a working-class background.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?

Without even reading the blurb, I would immediately order any book by Roddy Doyle and Maggie O’Farrell as they’ve yet to let me down as a reader. I would also immediately read the latest book by my close friend Karen Campbell as I’d be desperate to see how the ideas she’s talked about have come to life on the page.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?

As a voracious reader. there are too many to list but one which I’ve recently finished reading is My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal which reduced me to tears more than once. For a book to have that impact on me proves it’s a powerful read and I admire a writer that can move me in that way and make me genuinely care about fictional characters as if they’re real people.

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)

My debut novel, Talk of the Toun, is set in the same area where I grew up and although the storyline is entirely fictional, I’ve used some anecdotes from my childhood and embellished them to make them more interesting. In the novel, the main character has a close relationship with her grandmother and I was inspired by the memory of my own bond between me and my gran as a starting point for the interaction between the two characters. In the book, the gran, Senga, is a pet psychic and an extrovert. My own gran never led such a colourful life and was an introvert but she shared Senga’s ability to be funny without even trying. In Buy Buy Baby, the plot is 100% fictional but I’m sure that there are elements of reality which have subconsciously crept into the personalities of the characters.

A huge thank you Helen for taking part.

About Helen MacKinven
Helen’s short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine and one of her novels was shortlisted in a UK-wide competition by Hookline Books. Her debut novel, Talk of the Toun, a coming-of-age story set in 1985 in central Scotland was published by ThunderPoint in 2015 and Buy Buy Baby was published by Cranachan in 2016. She is currently a Scottish Book Trust writer-in-residence at Levenmouth Academy in Fife.
Originally from the Falkirk area, Helen moved to a three-hundred-year old cottage in a small rural village in North Lanarkshire to live with her husband after watching far too many episodes of Escape to the Country. She has two grown-up sons but has filled her empty nest with two dogs, two pygmy goats and an ever-changing number of chickens as she attempts to juggle work and play in her version of The Good Life.

Talk of the Toun cover[663]BBB COVER[660]

Talk of the Toun and Buy Buy Baby are out now!  You can read my review of Buy Buy Baby HERE.

Connect with Helen

Helen blogs at helenmackinven.co.uk and you can find her on Twitter as @HelenMacKinven

Review – Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me

The Blurb

‘NEW NAME.

NEW FAMILY.

SHINY.

NEW.

ME.’

Annie’s mother is a serial killer. 

The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police. 

But out of sight is not out of mind. 

As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly. 

A fresh start.  Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be. 

But Milly’s mother is a serial killer.  And blood is thicker than water. 

Good me, bad me. 

She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…

My Thoughts

‘I read in a book once that people who are violent are hot-headed, while psychopaths are cold-hearted. Hot and cold. Head and heart. But what if you come from a person who’s both?
What happens then?’

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land…what a book to start the new year with! Touted as one of the books to look out for in 2017 I couldn’t wait to read it. This is a slow-burning character study of a child in the most extreme of circumstances and the inner turmoil she has to contend with. With an added dose of manipulation, social observation and that timeless nature vs. nurture argument this is a book that packs a lot in and it certainly makes you think.

At the age of fifteen and after years of abuse, Annie eventually calls the police on her serial killer mother. The book charts Annie’s life as she is placed with carer’s, given a new identity – that of Millie Barnes – and she prepares to give evidence at her mother’s trial.

The prose stuck me immediately. Annie/Millie is telling the story through her thoughts and the way it is written sets the tone from the outset which is quiet and unnerving. The use of short sentences, some consisting of single words give maximum impact and give a real depth to Annie/Millie, transporting the reader into her mind. I never knew how much I could trust Annie/Millie although I felt for her. At times I felt guilty about doubting her after all she had been through, causing me a whole raft of emotional unrest while reading.

Land has created the character of Annie/Millie perfectly. The range of feelings and emotions she has as a result of her experiences come across realistically. Worried that her DNA makes her capable of the same acts as her mother you really feel her inner struggles, her need to belong and the two sides to her nature fighting to be at the fore front. Often conversing with her mother in her head, Land accurately reflects how those who have had a tenuous attachment to their caregiver and have been abused by them still love them and want to be close to them –

‘I can’t tell him, I’m not able to say it. That the person I want to run from is also the person I want to run to.’

The nature-nurture debate is not the only theme in Good Me Bad Me. The impact of murder on the murderer’s wider family, the use of social media in bullying, the pressures on teenagers to portray the perfect life and the impact of poor attachments are all issues that Land covers. Phoebe, Annie/Millie’s foster sister, is another teenager in trouble despite being raised in what from the outside would look like the ideal family. As a character she is unlikeable and yet evokes a level of sympathy. As we get our impression of her from Annie/Millie I’m still not sure if the portrayal of Phoebe is wholly accurate, as days after reading I’m still not sure how much what Annie/Millie says is true and how much I trust her version of events. The number of questions raised while reading make Good Me Bad Me a great book for a reading group with so much to discuss and I wish I had this opportunity while reading it.

I suspect this book will be akin to Marmite with those who love it and those who hate it in equal measure. I found I liked the book more after a few days of reading it and some contemplation – it will be a book I re-read a few times in the future. I certainly think it will spark some interesting discussions! A psychological thriller in the truest sense of the word, if you are after a simple fast-paced, by-the-seat-of-your-pants book it probably won’t be for you.

Good Me Bad Me moved me, shocked me, shook me up and stunned me. It is an intelligently and interestingly written, accomplished debut novel and Ali Land is an author to keep your eyes on.

Thanks to Ali Land, Michael Joseph and Netgalley for the advance copy in exchange for this, my honest and unbiased review.

Published on 12 January 2017 by Michael Joseph.