Category Archives: Authors V to X

Reviews by author surname V to X

Countdown to Hull Noir 2017 – Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski *Review and Author Q&A*

Today is the second stop on my Countdown To Hull Noir feature and I’m delighted to welcome Matt Wesolowski to the Bloomin’ Brilliant Books for an interview. Matt is taking part in the Getting Away With Murder: Golden Age Vs Digital Age talk on Sunday 19th November. I unfortunately missed Matt at Newcastle Noir so am pleased to be seeing him this time round.

Before my interview with Matt I’m sharing my thoughts on his debut novel Six Stories.

The Blurb

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who took that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure.

My Thoughts

Six Stories, the debut novel by Matt Wesolowski, has been on my radar for a while having received rave reviews by other book bloggers. It was a book I knew I wanted to get round to reading sooner rather than later partly because I loved the sound of it and partly to see what all the fuss is about. Is it worthy of the fuss and the rave reviews? Damn bloody right it is! I loved this book!

Journalist Scott King is attempting to unravel the death of teenager Tom Jeffries that occurred in 1996 in Scarclaw Fell, Northumberland. Through his podcast he interviews those who were present at the time to try and get to the bottom of who or what caused his death. Told through the podcasts and punctuated by the son of the owner of Scarclaw Fell, Six Stories offers something totally unique and I got completely drawn into this book immediately.

Orenda have this knack of finding really talented authors and Wesolowski is one of those talented authors. Telling a tale through six different voices is not an easy task but Wesoloski pulls it off flawlessly, ensuring that the unique personality of each character comes through in the narration. None of the characters are particularly likeable, something that I love in a book, and it has you second guessing as to who is telling the truth about Tom Jeffries’s death throughout.

Six Stories is beautifully written and I fell in love with a folksong that one of the characters recites. I Googled it to see who had written it and discovered it was written by Wesolowski. Six Stories is brimming with atmosphere as Wesolowski describes the rugged and hostile terrain of Northumberland with its marshes and disused mineshafts. It literally bristles with tension and unease.

As Scott King unpicks what happened on that fateful night, we discover a tale of bullying and pack mentality amongst a group of teenagers known as the Rangers who spent time at Scarclaw Fell. This brought back memories of Lord of the Flies to me as each of the, now grown-up, teenagers talk of their place within the group, the pressure to fit in, the social dynamics and tussle for dominance. This gives Six Stories a depth and added layer that I wasn’t expecting. Alongside this, Wesolowski makes you think about the role of the media in reporting crimes and the impact that trial by media can have on those targeted.

I absolutely adored the way old and new folklore meld together throughout Six Stories giving it a creepy, ethereal feel. The hairs on my arms regularly stood on end while reading this book and yet the creepiness also has an enchantment to it due to the prose.

Wesolowski has managed to thread the story together in a complex way and has pulled it off brilliantly. Six Stories deserves the praise it has received and Wesolowski is an author to keep your eyes on. Current, unique and startling Six Stories is a must-read!

Published on 15 March 2017 by Orenda Books.

Q&A With Matt Wesolowski

 

Six Stories has a very current format in that it is told through the use of podcasts. What was the inspiration behind this?
I’ve always been fascinated by true crime. From being a teenager, I read a great many books about real murders and serial killers before I ever read any crime fiction. I always wanted to write about a fictional true crime but never had enough skill to do so convincingly. When someone recommended me the Serial podcast, I was instantly hooked on its unique way of storytelling and it was like I had finally found the medium to write my fictional true crime.

Social Media now has a huge presence in our lives. How so you feel about it? Is it a force for good or a necessary evil?
There are good and bad things about social media. I’m not a big fan. It makes me sad that so many people, from young people to adults feel that they their only validation can come from ‘likes’ on photos of themselves. To me, that’s baffling.
However, it is a great tool for sharing book recommendations, jokes and strange things – a double-edged sword perhaps? It’s not going anywhere, so I think we have to be careful about how we use it. You see people utterly consumed by it which is pretty depressing.

Six Stories is told via six different people and interspersed by Scott King. How did you go about ensuring each character had their own unique voice?
That was really hard to do. I had to hear their voice, the character had to arrive in my head pretty much formed before I could do their voices justice. This was for sure the hardest aspect of writing the book.

Six Stories has a complex plot in that it takes six different point of view. Did you have to meticulously plot it or did you see where your writing took you?
I never plan, I’ve tried a few times and it’s killed the story dead before it’s started. With Six Stories, I didn’t know who killed Tom Jeffries until I was about half way through episode five! It was only after I’d completed the first draft that I had to go back and snip off all the frayed edges of the story.

How important has social media being in the promotion of your debut novel?
For all my fear and resistance of it, it’s actually been really important. Karen, my publisher had to tell me to unlock my Twitter account so people could interact with me when Six Stories came out. I still find it amazing when people tweet me to tell me they liked it, that’s really special as I’ve done that with so many authors I like!
Social media can be a wonderful tool; for things like book promotion, I just find being accessible to anyone on there a bit scary!

Where you active on social media prior to the release of your novel?
I’m quite a solitary and private person so I find being ‘available’ on social media quite stressful. I appreciate, though, that you have to be so I use Twitter and there’s a Facebook page I use for author promotion stuff. I’m not one for arguing about politics etc online though; to me, that’s just an exercise in futility.
One of the themes in Hydra, the follow-up to Six Stories explores the detrimental effect social media can have; I think I was exploring my own fears!

You were at Newcastle Noir and are taking part in Hull Noir in November. Does talking at literary events come easily or do you get nervous?
I do get really nervous because I know how important these things are; people have paid money to come and hear you and you don’t want to let them down! I remember being an audience member at these sorts of events and buying books because of how the authors came across. I do my best to not appear nervous!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Always. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life; chef, teacher, shop assistant, but I always wrote, that was always the ultimate goal.

What has been the best part of your journey to published author?
I think it’s when you see your work in an actual shop. There was a wonderful moment when my son was five and we saw Six Stories in Waterstone’s. He pointed it out to me and gave me a massive hug and said he was proud of me. A few tears may or may not have leaked out!

If you weren’t writing what other job would you love to do?
Like I say, I’ve done a lot of jobs but I’ve not really loved any of them like I do writing. I love animals though, so perhaps working with them in some sort of rescue centre?

Thank you for taking part Matt. I have really enjoyed reading your responses.

For full details of Hull Noir 2017 including programme and ticket details click HERE. Hope to see you there!

 

Book Review – Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

The Blurb

Tall Oaks is an idyllic small town, until the disappearance of a young child throws the tight-knit community into crisis.

Jess Monroe, the boy’s distraught mother, is simultaneously leading the search and battling her own grief and self-destructive behaviour. Her neighbours watch on, their sympathy masking a string of dark secrets.

This is a small town where nothing is as it seems, and everyone has something to hide. And as the investigation draws towards a climax, prepare for a devastating final twist…

Dark but laugh-out-loud funny, full of suspense and packed with twists, this brilliant new thriller is like nothing you’ve read before.

My Thoughts

‘’’We’re all fucked-up in one way or another.’’’

I have had Tall Oaks sitting on my Kindle for a while and have been dying to get around to reading it, but never seemed to find the time. Fellow reviewers and bloggers have raved about it, and I had to see if it lived up to the hype.

Whitaker’s debut novel centres around the small American town of Tall Oaks. A close-knit, well-heeled neighbourhood with a small crime rate, Tall Oaks has been rocked by the disappearance of three-year old Harry Monroe. This is not, however, your run-of-the-mill crime novel. Tall Oaks is a novel about community, facades and never really knowing what goes on behind closed doors.

I was impressed by Whitaker’s writing. Despite being British he pulls off the American setting perfectly, and I never once felt I was anywhere other than the USA. For the duration it takes to read Tall Oaks you are fully immersed in this very American town and living and breathing amongst its inhabitants.

With a large cast of characters, it would be easy for some to have more of a peripheral feel, but each one has been carefully thought out and developed to the point that they all leave their mark on you. Incredibly well plotted, the intertwining nature of their lives works perfectly with Whitaker skilfully holding back enough information to add intrigue and then weaving it all together flawlessly at the end. It is hard to believe that this is Whitaker’s debut novel.

Tall Oaks is dark and emotional yet very funny. It relies on the individual stories of each town member to bring it to fruition and I adored this aspect. It made me laugh and at the same time moved me. The gradual unfurling of secrets helps you identify with each and every character while simultaneously throwing you off the scent of the story at its core, resulting in an ending that took me completely off-guard and yet made perfect sense.

Quite unlike anything I have read before, Tall Oaks is quirky, refreshing and compelling. It is one of those books that leaves you feeling upset that you won’t ever experience it for the first time again, but you know you will find yourself re-reading it to look for clues you may have missed the first time around. A work of pure brilliance!

Published on eBook on 7 April 2016 and paperback on 8 September 2016 by Twenty7 (Bonnier Zaffre).

Thank you to Chris Whitaker, Bonnier Zaffre and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Blog Tour – Bad Little Girl by Frances Vick *Book Review*

I’m thrilled to be one of two hosts on the Bad Little Girl blog tour today, finally getting to share my review of this cracking psychological thriller by Frances Vick. Be sure to also check out Sarah’s review on By The Letter Book Reviews today.

The Blurb

 ‘I’m not safe – you have to help me…’

Little Lorna Bell is from a notorious family on a rundown estate. Everyone thinks she’s a nasty piece of work. The schoolchildren call her a thief. But Lorna’s hair is matted, her shoes pinch her feet and school teacher Claire Penny can’t help herself; some kids just need a bit more support, a bit more love, than the rest.

As the bond between teacher and pupil grows stronger, Claire sees Lorna’s bruises, and digs to uncover the disturbing tale behind them. Heartbroken, Claire knows she has to act. She must make Lorna safe.

Just when Claire thinks she has protected Lorna, a chance encounter brings enigmatic stranger Marianne Cairns into their lives. Marianne seems generous and kind but there is something about her story that doesn’t quite add up. Why does she feel so at home, and why is Lorna suddenly so unsettled?

Claire has risked everything to save Lorna. But what can save Claire from the shocking truth?

An utterly unputdownable and darkly compelling read that will have fans of The Girl on the Train, The Sister, and Gone Girl absolutely hooked.

My Thoughts

Bad Little Girl is the story of Claire Penny, a teacher, and her pupil Lorna Bell. When Claire suspects that Lorna is being abused by her family she feels she has to take action to make the little girl safe. With that action comes consequences she never imagined…

Vick completely pulls you into the novel from the very first page. The prologue starts with a bang and then chapter one teases you with just enough information to compel you to keep reading to find out more. Written in third person narrative, Vick writes really well with vivid descriptions and I loved her use of smells and scents, especially in relation to Lorna, to describe people and the contradictions within them mixing sweetness with something altogether less pleasant. Bad Little Girl is not a fast-paced story, it is one of those insidious, creeping novels that gets under your skin and sets your nerves on edge although you are often left wondering why. It has that ‘something’s wrong but you can’t quite put your finger on’ quality to it.

The characters within Bad Little Girl are key to the whole book and they are strongly portrayed. Vick has cleverly written them so that they often leave that seed of niggling doubt in your mind as to whether or not you can trust them or believe them. Claire is a character you warm to immediately, but she also drove me mad! She clearly cares deeply about her job and the well-being of her pupils, to the detriment of her personal life. While her actions are not right they come from a good place and are well-intentioned, but every one of my ex-social worker senses was screaming out at her to make different choices. She finds it hard to go against people despite believing they are wrong. Claire is a woman who has missed out on her life and those opportunities to start a family of her own and I really felt for her. Lorna fulfils something within her that she hasn’t been able to achieve on her own.

Lorna is the child who is tarred by the reputation of her family, who is unlikely to succeed due to the unfortunate hand that fate has dealt her by making her a member of the Bell family. Switching between empathy and distrust, the character of Lorna kept me on my toes and messed with my head.

And then there is Marianne. Unfortunate enough to bump into Marianne in Cornwall, Claire finds she cannot get rid of her. Blatantly unstable from the start, the consequence of meeting another unsettled mind is devastating. Is Marianne manipulator or manipulated? Marianne is a highly unlikable character who I found particularly intriguing.

Underneath the layer of psychological thriller Vick raises some serious themes. This is also a novel about manipulation, the impact the history of your family has on you and if you can ever escape it and whether children grow up to quickly and are too knowing. Bad Little Girl would work really well within a reading group as it raises lots of issues that are ripe for discussion.

Bad Little Girl is an unsettling novel that it has you doubting what you are reading and who you can trust. It centres around some disturbing ideas that are thought-provoking and uncomfortable and you are left feeling uneasy. A great psychological thriller, highly recommended.

A huge thank you to Frances Vick and Kim Nash at Bookouture for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Published on 22 February 2017 by Bookouture.

Purchase Links

UK 🇬🇧 http://amzn.to/2gElGCH
US 🇺🇸 http://amzn.to/2fsr3zE

About Frances Vick

The only child of parents who worked at a top security psychiatric hospital, Frances grew up receiving disquieting notes and presents from the patients. Expelled from school, she spent the next few years on the dole, augmenting her income by providing security and crewing for gigs, and being a guinea pig for medical trials. Later jobs included working in a theatre in Manhattan, teaching English in Japanese Junior High Schools, and being a life model in Italy, before coming back to London and working with homeless teenagers and refugees.

www.francesvick.com
https://www.facebook.com/FrancesVickAuthor/
https://twitter.com/franvicksays

Blog Tour – Jacques by Tanya Ravenswater *Author Guest Post and Review*

Jacques

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Jacques, the beautiful novel by Tanya Ravenswater, I am sharing my review and am excited to have the lady herself here talking about the five things she can’t write without.  So, I will hand you over to Tanya…

Tanya Ravenswater[156483]

Five Things I Can’t Write Without

My Laptop
When I first started writing, I used to always make notes and write first drafts on paper (in black gel pens), then type them up and continue to revise on the computer. I now tend to write most of the time directly onto my laptop. I find that the act of sitting in front of it can put me into a more focused frame of mind and even when I’m not feeling so inspired, I can usually write something which might be the seed for something else. The ease of deleting gives permission to freely experiment and also appeals to my obsessive attachment to a tidy page! When writing on paper, I honestly don’t like the visual ‘clutter’ of a lot of scoring out. Call it writing hygiene, housekeeping, whatever. Or perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that I had my hand smacked on my first ever school day for day-dreaming and enjoying drawing in my Writing Book? I genuinely thought my teacher would be proud of my lovely work, but she wasn’t. Still, we live and learn, sometimes by growing our own shells and neuroses.

Quietness and Space
While I enjoy listening to music and it can put me in a creative mood, when actually writing I need a quiet background. Ideally, I prefer to be alone, though working at home with family around, I’ve got used to getting into the zone and blinkering myself from everything else going on in the circus arena. Even if the ring-master sometimes has to call me in.

Table and Chair
I’ve recently started working in a shed down the garden, which I love. It’s a quiet place apart, with minimal distractions, a simple desk, power-point, high-backed office type chair and a simple white table for spreading out books and papers. Otherwise I move to wherever’s quiet in the house, often to the kitchen table by the window. Sometimes, more at weekends, I’ll write in bed as soon as I wake up or last thing. I do think the relaxing feel of staying under the duvet in such a personal space can help loosen up ideas. The odd cigar and bottle of champagne works wonders as well. Churchill, Twain and Proust, among others, apparently did the same.

Windows
I want plenty of natural light and a view – somewhere to look and take regular screen breaks. I think I could make myself write in a room without a window, but I’d always be much happier with one.

Food and Drink
I write better these days with plenty of Yorkshire Tea and Colombian coffee. Home-made iced coffees more recently. My husband’s a Yorkshire man, iced coffee is my agent’s favourite drink, so there could be a rationale there? If totally absorbed, particularly at first draft stage, I can go for a long time without thinking about food, but during redrafting and editing I tend to graze a lot. Chocolate, bread and salted peanuts are often on my mind, though I try to go for celery, apples and oranges instead. And iced green grapes can do the trick. Even if it hasn’t been a productive writing session, there’s still something to feel good and virtuous about!

About Jacques

‘It’s only when we matter, when we are seen and truly loved, that we know what it means to fully live.’

This is the story of Jacques Lafitte, a young French boy who is orphaned and torn away from everything he knows.  Forced to move to England to live with his guardian – the proud and distant Oliver Clark – Jacques finds himself alone in a strange country, and a strange world.

As years go by, Jacques becomes part of the Clark family and learns to love life again.

But then his feelings for Rebecca – Oliver’s daughter – become stronger.

And this development has the power to bring them together or tear the whole family apart…

For fans of Boyhood, Jacques is a moving and unique coming-of-age story about one boy’s struggle to find his place in the world.

My Review

‘…sometimes in a confined space, within limitations of the present, we can have everything.’

Jacques is a beautiful coming of age novel in which loss, grief and love intertwine to make an enthralling read and it’s beauty comes from it’s depth and simplicity.

Jacques’ world is turned upside down when his parents die and he has to move from France to England to be cared for by his legal guardian. I was not surprised to learn that Tanya worked in bereavement support as she captures the feelings of grief and loss perfectly and writes about them with empathy and acute sensitivity.

The prose is gorgeous – poetically philosophical – and I found myself re-reading paragraphs just to take in the words again. Tanya is a very talented writer and she evoked such emotion within me while I was reading Jacques. Despite this, the book has a peaceful feel about it and is a book you want to read slowly in order to take it in and appreciate it.

‘Some experiences bring us awareness we can’t ignore. They become touchstones, deeply embedded in the valleys of our psyche. Whether we want to or not, we can’t help measuring everything else in our subsequent life against them. Such knowledge has the potential to lead us to despair, as well as to the path of authenticity.’

Jacques is a wonderful character, he is sensitive, intelligent and emotionally intuitive. You cannot help but adore him and feel every nuance of his thoughts and feelings. Anna also stood out for me, initially a character that is difficult to warm to, Tanya demonstrates through her how experiences can affect a person’s character. As the story progressed, I began to feel a great affection for her. In contrast, Jacques’ guardian, Oliver, is a self-centred, arrogant man who has little empathy for those around him and seeks to gain sympathy from others to justify his own bad behaviour. I loved the different character’s within Jacques who Tanya has brought to life wonderfully.

Jacques is a remarkably uplifting book, despite the themes of loss and grief it never comes across as melancholy. Jacques’ views on life and his resilience in the face of adversity make you think and contemplate those things you maybe take for granted.

An intelligent, thought-provoking, moving, beautifully written book I cannot recommend Jacques highly enough. You need to add it to your to be read list!

Thank you to Tanya Ravenwater and Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre for the copy in exchange for my thoughts.

About Tanya Ravenswater

Tanya Ravenswater was born in County Down, Northern Ireland.  she graduated in modern languages from St Andrews University.  She has worked as a nurse, in bereavement support and counselling education.  With a love of words since childhood, inspired by nature and fascinated by the diversity of our inner worlds and relationships, Tanya writes fiction and poetry for adults and children.  She has published a collection of short stories for women, and has also been short-listed and published in the Cheshire Prize anthologies.  Her children’s poem, Badger, was the winner of the 2015-15 Prize for Literature.

Connect with Tanya via Twitter at @starlingbird

A huge thank you to Tanya for taking part with a great post and to Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre for including Bloomin’ Brilliant Books on the blog tour.  Catch Tanya’s other guest posts on the rest of the Jacques blog tour…

Jacques Blog Tour Banner[189332]

 

#10 Books of Summer – Book #4 The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

Things We Never Said

The Blurb

In 1964 Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed.  She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and a man called Jack and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together…

In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago…

And as these two tales interweave, the secrets of the past, long kept hidden, start to come to light in unexpected and sometimes startling ways.

The Things We Never Said is a powerful novel about fatherhood and motherhood; nature and nurture; cruelty and kindness; and mental breakdown.  Written in beautiful, compelling prose, it is by turns revealing, witty and moving.

 

My Thoughts

Told during two different times, we follow the main characters, Maggie from 1964 and Jonathan from 2008. The prologue drew me in immediately with enough unanswered questions to keep me intrigued.

Maggie’s story is really moving. The reader first meets her in 1964 when she is a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Susan has written these parts of the book wonderfully, horrifying yet with glimpses of humour, it has the perfect balance. I really liked Maggie, she has an inner strength and courage that I admired greatly.

Jonathan is having a difficult time as events seem to conspire against him. Expecting his first child with his wife, he is finding it difficult to tell his parents due to the difficult relationship he has with them. I was rooting for him throughout the book, desperately hoping things would work out for him.

Without giving the plot away, the two stories come together perfectly. Mental health and parenting feature in this book and Susan has written sensitively and beautifully about difficult issues. The book is not depressing, however, and I felt uplifted by the ending.

A compelling read that is written beautifully, I would definitely recommend this book. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it as part of my 10 books of summer.

Published 23 May 2013 by Simon and Schuster UK.

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