Monthly Archives: December 2017

Author Influences with Sharon Dempsey

Happy hump day, bookish folk! It’s Author Influences time and I’m delighted to be joined by thriller author Sharon Dempsey today. So, without further ado, I will hand you over to Sharon to tell you about the books and authors she loves.

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
I loved Enid Blyton. Her books were pure escapism for me and I’m sure they laid the ground work for my love of mysteries and crime fiction.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
Yes, like many writers, I was good at English and I loved it. The books we studied in junior years, To Kill a Mockingbird and Call my Brother Back had a huge influence on me. I achieved A grades in my English GCSEs, Literature and Language and studied English as part of my degree at Queen’s University.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I read a lot of crime, across the sub-genres: police procedurals, mysteries, thrillers but I also enjoy dystopian and speculative fiction, historical fiction and literary fiction. Everything I read as an impact on my writing. It is one of my greatest pleasures to read good book and feel inspired.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
Ooh maybe young adult because I love the sense of discovering the world through fresh eyes; a good YA book can make me laugh and cry and remind me of being at that stage in life when everything feels so intense. I also love a bit of gothic horror so I can definitely see me exploring a story within the gothic genre.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
I suppose Stuart Neville’s crime novels had an impact on me in that sense. He was writing about Belfast without the tired old cliches and his work encouraged me to see that the stories I wanted to write could have a readership and that Belfast is a place worth exploring.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
Two Southern Irish crime writers –Tana French and Louise Phillips. But there are lots of authors who I’m always desperate to read.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
Faithful Place by Tana French, felt so real to me. I like books that make me feel uneasy and The Roanoke Girls achieved that in spades.

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
Yes, my novel Little Bird, opens with a murder at wedding. The idea came to me while I was leaving my cousin’s wedding party. It was a gorgeous balmy night and I could hear the music and chatter within the hotel as I was leaving. It was in a beautiful semi-rural setting and I just thought, mmm what a great place to have a murder!

Sharon’s debut crime novel, Little Bird, was published on 26 July 2017 by Bloodhound Books. Here’s what it’s about:

Forensic psychologist, Declan Wells, is dealing with the aftermath of a car bomb during the Troubles in Belfast, which has left him in a wheelchair. But that is only the start of his problems.
Welsh Detective, Anna Cole is running away from a dead-end relationship and the guilt of her mother’s death. She hopes secondment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland will provide a distraction.
There is a killer on the streets targeting young women and leaving behind macabre mementoes to taunt the police.
Can Declan and Anna work together to catch the deranged killer before he strikes again?
And is it ever possible to leave the past behind you?

About Sharon

Sharon Dempsey’s debut crime novel Little Bird was published by Bloodhound Books on July 26th. She writes fiction and non-fiction books and teaches creative writing. Sharon has lived in London and Cardiff but has now settled in her native city of Belfast with her family and a tailless cat called Scruffy.

Twitter: svjdempz@twitter

Website: https://1stchapterdempsey.wordpress.com

A huge thank you, Sharon, for taking part.

Review – Dilly the Camper & The Magic Fairy Garden by Dolores Keaveney

The Blurb

When Grandad John gets a broken down camper from his friend Digger, he doesn’t realise the magic that lies within it. Only his grandchildren know.
An adventure to find the Eternal Eye quartz crystal which has been stolen by the fierce Nogard from the Magic Fairy Garden promises a meeting with magic fairies, amazing animals, and much more…
This book is written by Dolores Keaveney and her grandchildren who contributed with names and descriptions of all the animals and fairies, some of the happenings, and the song. It is fully illustrated throughout by her grandchildren.

My Thoughts

This lovely little book is the work of Dolores Keaveney and her grandchildren. While Keaveney outlined the plot, her grandchildren provided the magic by coming up with the magical creatures and by helping out to illustrate the book.

Dilly the Camper & The Magic Fairy Garden is the tale of a neglected campervan that is brought back to life by John. His grandchildren help in the vans restoration and soon discover that there is more to Dilly than meets the eye. They encounter a fairy who need their help to find the stolen Eternal Eye quartz from the Magic Fairy Garden.

Aimed at 4 to 9 year olds, it is a great book to read with a child and for the older child to learn to read from.

Full of the wonder of magic with fairies, magical creatures and wishes and wonderfully vibrant illustrations, Dilly the Camper is sure to delight most children, male or female. Like all good fairy stories, it has its share of scary moments which will give children a thrill while not being too frightening. The premise of good triumphing over bad, cooperation and friendship are timeless themes within the book that children always enjoy.

I adored the fact that this has been written in conjunction with the author’s own grandchildren and the pictures throughout the book were drawn by her grandchildren. This gives the book that ‘special’ feel and will, I think, make it even more relatable to children and fire off young imaginations.

A delightful, colourful read for children that provides thrills along the way.

Published on 9 July 2017 by DBee Press. You can grab a copy HERE.

A huge thank you to Dolores Keaveney for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Bloomin’ Brilliant Books’ Favourite Reads of 2017

It’s that time of year again when I and other book bloggers try to narrow down our favourite books of the year. I can’t believe that 2017 is coming to an end! This year has flown by (a sure sign I’m getting old, I think) and it has been a fantastic year for books. So, after much deliberation, here are my favourite books of 2017 judged largely by the impact they had on me. Some of the books I have chosen were published in 2016, as this is about the books I have discovered this year. Click on the pictures to read my reviews.

The Book That Made Me Want to Adopt


Not adopt any child, however, but a specific child. That child was Mary in Ross Sayers’s gorgeous debut Mary’s The Name. I’m still astounded by Ross’s writing talent. His ability to write authentically from the perspective of an eight-year-old-girl as an adult man is amazing and he nailed it. Mary’s The Name is both heartbreakingly moving and laugh out loud funny. An absolute treasure.

The Book That Made Me Pee My Pants Laughing


The Day That Never Comes, the second book in Caimh McDonnell’s Dublin Trilogy, had me rolling on the floor laughing. While I love Bunny McGarry, it was Maggie the German Shepherd who stole the limelight for me in this book. The Day That Never Comes demonstrated the talent Caimh has for combining rip-roaring comedy with edge of your seat thriller – a match made in heaven. It was followed up in 2017 by the prequel Angels in The Moonlight which is also fantastic and a great place to start for anyone wanting to get into the series.

The Book That Made Me Sob


On the flipside there was a book this year that made me cry … a lot! I don’t cry very often (I have a hard heart, hahaha) but there is one thing guaranteed to get me sobbing and that is dogs. FJ Curlew’s Dan Knew had my face leaking at the end and this real-life tale about the Ukrainian street dog that is taken in by a British family is incredibly moving and really captures the essence of canine. A must read for dog lovers.

The Book That Took My Breath Away With Its Beauty


This undoubtedly has to be Sealskin by Su Bristow. This book based on the selkie myth is absolutely stunning and this is an outstanding debut. I loved everything about it and it is one of those books that has you thinking ‘If I could write, I would want to write like that.’ Every inch of Sealskin is sublime.

The Book That re-ignited My Love For The Gothic Novel


An eagerly anticipated book for me this year was House Of Spines by Michael J Malone. It has everything I have loved in a novel since my teenage years when I first discovered Du Maurier and the Brontes – the omnipresent house, the family secrets, the questionable sanity and the spine-tingling element. Simply wonderful!

The Book That Had Me Nodding In Recognition


This is an older book that I read this year and it is a novella rather than a full-length novel. Best Seller by Terry Tyler is the short book that packs a punch. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strange love/hate relationship with social media. While it can be wonderful in so many ways it can also bring out the worst in people. Best Seller captures all of this with Terry’s acute observations of human behaviour. A deliciously dark tale.

Favourite Historical Fiction


I couldn’t decide between two books for this one so I’m including them both! I will start with The Shogun’s Queen by Lesley Downer is captivating, sumptuous and a book to be savoured. The story of the courageous Okatsu gets deep into your heart.

My other favourite book in this category is The Constant Soldier by William Ryan. A compelling look at the human condition and psyche during one of the most horrific acts in history – the holocaust – this book had me thinking about it for weeks afterwards.

The Book That Horrified Me


Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul Hardisty really had an impact on me and Paul’s ability to combine gripping thriller with political acuity is outstanding. Set in South Africa during two time zones – 1981 and 1996 – it is based on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is incredibly hard-hitting and I found I had to take breaks from this book, but is a book that should be read.

The Book That Totally Transported Me To Another Place


Sandlands by Rosy Thornton is a collection of short stories all set on the mudflats and marshes of Suffolk. Rosy’s stunning prose is haunting and evocative and you become completely immersed in the surroundings in each beautiful tale.

My All Time Favourite Book of 2017


My favourite book of 2017 has to be Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. A creepy, ethereal blend of folklore and social media that bristles with unease and tension, Six Stories is quite unlike anything I have ever read before. Utterly refreshing with a different take on how crime/thrillers are usually presented Six Stories is highly original. I have been lucky enough to read Matt’s second book, Hydra, and it would seem that my prediction that Matt is an author to keep your eye on is correct as Hydra is equally brilliant.

So, those are my choices. Do you agree/disagree on any of them? Which books have been your favourites of 2017? Please feel free to comment, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Author Q&A with William Ryan

I am very excited to bring you a Q&A with the wonderful William Ryan today. I recently reviewed The Constant Soldier by William (you can read it HERE) and was lucky enough to see him on the Behind Bars: Freedom, Oppression and Control panel at Hull Noir. The Constant Soldier is one of those books that made a huge impression on me and I was delighted when William agreed to answer a few questions. 

What was the initial inspiration behind The Constant Soldier?
In 2007 a photograph album put together by a man called Karl-Friedrich Hoecker was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. From June 1944 until January 1945 Hoecker was the Adjutant to the Commandant of Auschwitz and the photographs were taken during his time there – mainly at a nearby rest hut for the SS officers and other ranks who ran Auschwitz. You can see some of the photographs in the album here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/gallery/2016/nov/22/nazis-retreat-ss-holiday-hut-auschwitz-pictures-mengele-photographs and the striking thing about them, for me at least, is how ordinary the people who feature in them look, even though they include mass murderers and sadists like Rudolf Hoess and Josef Mengele. I’ve always been amazed that the Holocaust was ever even possible – how ordinary people came to be involved in the extermination of millions on millions of other ordinary people. I think the photographs gave me an insight into how the perpetrators – some of whom had started out life on very different courses – had changed from being apprentice confectioners, bank clerks and bookkeepers to being responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust. And how they dealt with that. So that’s how the novel started out – although it perhaps evolved into a wider consideration of personal responsibility and the perils of totalitarianism.

Photograph: United States Holocaust Museum

The Constant Soldier is a powerful tale about one of the most horrific moments in history. At its heart is the human condition and the impact that events such as the Holocaust have on those who are involved be it willingly or forced. Was this aspect your original intention or did it evolve as you wrote?
I think it was always something I knew I’d have to address and it’s probably why I ended up telling the story through the eyes of three main characters – Neumann, an SS officer; Brandt, a wounded soldier who has returned from the front and Agneta a prisoner. All three of them have very different perceptions of the reality in which they live – and very different expectations of what will happen to them now that the War is nearly over. Brandt is the main character and his need to atone for his responsibility, peripheral as it is, for the Holocaust and, indeed, Agneta’s imprisonment is what drives him – and the novel. His efforts to rescue Agneta and the other women prisoners who work in the hut out of it, is what the story is all about. But it’s also Agneta’s story – how she copes with the terror of her situation and how she manages to survive. And Neumann’s as well – who now has to face up to the consequences of his actions and the reality of his guilt.

Photograph: United States Holocaust Museum

Although a work of fiction, The Constant Soldier is based on actual events. How long did the research take you to ensure it came across as authentic?
I did a lot of research but I was very careful to fictionalise everything at the same time. The camp they work at, but which the novel never visits, is not identified and nor are the local town and village. Likewise all of the characters were my inventions. That meant I could create a fictional world that was authentic but, at the same time, allowed me to look at some of the ideas I wanted to explore. So while a lot of the scenes in the novel are based on particular photographs – I’ve no idea what actually went on in those photographs or much about the people in them and the novel’s scenes are completely imagined. The novel creates a parallel world that could have existed, perhaps – and so the research went into make it believable and accurate to the time. Most importantly, with the holocaust being sacred history, I had to be respectful to that history – but at the same time hopefully add something to a modern reader’s view of it.

Photograph: United States Holocaust Museum

Why write historical fiction? What other genre would you like to have a go at?
Normally I write historical crime and I have a contemporary crime novel I’m working on at the moment. I also have a ghost story, which is kind of fun – and some science fiction. So I’m pretty flexible. What I like about historical fiction though, is that it allows you to explore contemporary issues in a slightly disguised way. And if, from that, you might wonder if I think there are parallels between the 1930s and today, I’d probably have to agree that there might be one or two …

Photograph: United States Holocaust Museum

You are took part in this year’s Hull Noir. Is talking about your work at events something you enjoy or do you get nervous?
I do a lot of events and talk so I really don’t get nervous any more – and I also enjoy it. Writing is often a lonely old game – so any opportunity to get out and meet readers is a welcome one.

A huge thank you William for taking the time to indulge me and answer my questions. I know you have been busy, so it is much appreciated. Great responses, I’m sure readers will agree. 

If you haven’t yet read The Constant Soldier I suggest you get it on your TBR pile as soon as possible and check out William’s other books too.

Review – To Catch A King: Charles II’s great escape by Charles Spencer

The Blurb

How did the most wanted man in the country outwit the greatest manhunt in British history?

In January 1649, King Charles I was beheaded in London outside his palace of Whitehall and Britain became a republic. When his eldest son, Charles, returned in 1651 to fight for his throne, he was crushed by the might of Cromwell’s armies at the battle of Worcester.
With 3,000 of his supporters lying dead and 10,000 taken prisoner, it seemed as if his dreams of power had been dashed. Surely it was a foregone conclusion that he would now be caught and follow his father to the block? At six foot two inches tall, the prince towered over his contemporaries and with dark skin inherited from his French-Italian mother, he stood out in a crowd. How would he fare on the run with Cromwell’s soldiers on his tail and a vast price on his head?
The next six weeks would form the most memorable and dramatic of Charles’ life. Pursued relentlessly, Charles ran using disguise, deception and relying on grit, fortitude and good luck. He suffered grievously through weeks when his cause seemed hopeless. He hid in an oak tree – an event so fabled that over 400 English pubs are named Royal Oak in commemoration. Less well-known events include his witnessing a village in wild celebrations at the erroneous news of his killing; the ordeal of a medical student wrongly imprisoned because of his similarity in looks; he disguised himself as a servant and as one half of an eloping couple. Once restored to the throne as Charles II, he told the tale of his escapades to Samuel Pepys, who transcribed it all.

In this gripping, action-packed, true adventure story, based on extensive archive material, Charles Spencer, bestselling author of Killers of the King, uses Pepys’s account and many others to retell this epic adventure.

My Thoughts

While I was eager to read To Catch a King as I have always liked history, I was a little apprehensive about whether or not I would be able to get into it as my interests tend to lie in modern British and European history. My knowledge of the monarchy and Britain in the 17th Century is sketchy at best. However, I needn’t have worried as Charles Spencer has written a pacey historical novel in which the momentum never lets up and which is easy to follow.

In January 1649 Charles I was beheaded and Britain became a republic. Next in line to the throne, Charles II was safely ensconced in France, however, he returned to England in 1651 to fight for his throne. Defeated in battle, the next six weeks Charles spent on the run from Cromwell and the New Model Army and it is this hair-raising tale that Spencer tells us in To Catch a King.

While in the back of mind I knew about the brutality often displayed in early Britain, I was quite taken aback about the extent of it and it was really put into context for me in in this true account. I was also surprised about the level of propaganda used during this period, for some reason I considered propaganda and the use of media to be a more recent phenomenon, but Spencer highlights how it was used during this period.

The seventeenth century was certainly a tumultuous time in British History with civil war and harsh punishments for those who showed allegiance to the monarchy and those who practised Roman Catholicism. I was bowled over by the unswerving loyalty displayed to Charles II by those that helped him especially in the face of the punishments that would be meted out to them if they were caught. To Catch a King is easily up there with the thrillers I have read this year yet it has the added edge of being true. That Charles II and his entourage pulled of this feat during times in which the means to communicate were substantially more difficult than they are now is truly amazing and I can’t believe that I did not know more about this escapade. I was also unaware as to why there are so many pubs in Britain called The Royal Oak and the story behind this is brilliant.

To Catch a King took me longer to read than a book normally would and this was in part due to me keeping track of the substantial cast of characters but also because I wanted to savour it. Spencer has clearly taken considerable care in his research and it is a book that begs to be taken in gradually. Incredibly well written, Spencer has captured the time period perfectly and yet made To Catch a King accessible and readable. I really appreciated the final chapters of the book in which we learn, briefly, about Charles II’s time during the Restoration and what happened to those who helped him.

A great read for history lovers and those who like pacey thrillers. While I did not doubt Spencer’s ability to write, I have to confess to enjoying To Catch a King a lot more than I thought I would. A great slice of British history told in a compelling way.

Published on 5 October 2017 by William Collins you can purchase a copy HERE.

A huge thank you to Charles Spencer and Harper Collins for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Review – I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll

The Blurb

What would it take to make you intervene?

When Ella Longfield overhears two attractive young men flirting with teenage girls on a train, she thinks nothing of it—until she realises they are fresh out of prison and her maternal instinct is put on high alert. But just as she’s decided to call for help, something stops her. The next day, she wakes up to the news that one of the girls—beautiful, green-eyed Anna Ballard—has disappeared.

A year later, Anna is still missing. Ella is wracked with guilt over what she failed to do, and she’s not the only one who can’t forget. Someone is sending her threatening letters—letters that make her fear for her life.

Then an anniversary appeal reveals that Anna’s friends and family might have something to hide. Anna’s best friend, Sarah, hasn’t been telling the whole truth about what really happened that night—and her parents have been keeping secrets of their own.

Someone knows where Anna is—and they’re not telling. But they are watching Ella.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed Last Kiss Goodnight by Teresa Driscoll which comes under the genre of ‘women’s fiction’ and I was interested to see her take a different direction with I Am Watching You, her first psychological thriller.

I Am Watching You has an interesting premise in that it follows the people involved with a teenage girl, Anna, a year after she has disappeared. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different person, in this case the witness, the father, the friend and the private investigator. A further voice punctuates the book at intervals and is headed ‘Watching’. I loved the way the first chapter is told from Ella the witnesses point of view in second person narrative as this serves to immediately draw the reader in and make them feel involved in the book and the life of Ella.

It becomes clear immediately that I Am Watching You is not simply a thriller but also an examination of the ripple effect of a crime on those directly and those inadvertently involved. While the characters berate themselves about what they could possibly have done differently and examine their actions leading up to the moment that Anna disappeared, I found myself asking myself how I would have reacted in Ella’s position.

As the investigation into Anna’s disappearance unfurls hidden family secrets amongst those closest to her, we clearly see how the events of the previous year have highlighted the weaknesses in the relationships of those closest to Anna. This aspect of the knock-on effect was my favourite part of the book and Driscoll has done a great job of exploring this.

Inevitably, I spent time trying to figure out ‘whodunnit’ and was satisfyingly wrong! The ending came as a total surprise but I am not sure how I felt about it. It felt kind of random and maybe hearing more from the protagonist and about Anna’s life pre-disappearance could have helped it work a little more for me. However, Driscoll has done a great job with her first psychological thriller and I look forward to reading more by her in this genre.

An interesting concept that gets you considering the wider implications of a crime, I Am Watching You is a good first psychological thriller by Driscoll.

I Am Watching You was published on 1 October 2017 by Thomas & Mercer.

A huge thank you to Teresa Drsicoll, Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for my unbiased and honest review.