The Kindness Of Strangers by Julie Newman – a review BLOG TOUR

I have to say that when I received an email with the blog tour pack for The Kindness of Strangers I was a bit surprised as I had no recollection of signing up for it. It was clearly something I did on the spur of the moment when busy. Looking at the cover of this book I wasn’t convinced it was for me as I only review crime fiction and this looked more like a romance. However I wouldn’t want to let anyone down so I started reading, and it just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
The Kindness of Strangers introduces us to three main characters. There is Helen who has recently been widowed and is struggling to adjust to her new life. This is made even harder when she discovers her husband has been hiding a big secret. Martin is an army veteran suffering from PTSD and trying to put things right with his family. Then we meet Charley a young pregnant artist who is determined to do the best for her baby. All of them are brought together in a way by Audrey who volunteers in the local charity shop.
This story starts off as a nice gentle story of three struggling characters, all being helped in their own way by other people. Told in the first person, you get drawn into their lives and begin to really hope they all get the predicted nice happy ending. Until part 2 hits. Here the story switches to third person, and the pace cranks up incredibly. I am not going to say any more as I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone. Yet it completely blindsided me, and made it impossible to stop reading.
It was a truly shocking turnaround between part 1 and part 2 which made it all the more compelling. The characters are all cleverly written and once you finish you can look back at part 1 and realise the clues to some of the actions are there. However they are well hidden so as to make part 2 such a shock.
To an extent it was a departure from my usual type of read which normally starts with a crime and finishes with it being solved. This was very much character lead, with the crimes being secondary to an exploration of perceived kindness and human nature. However that was exactly what made it so superb. I’m really glad I signed up for this tour. I would thoroughly recommend this novel and can’t wait to read Julie Newman’s first novel Beware the Cuckoo.

Buy The Kindness of Strangers here https://amzn.to/2HzNkeA

Don’t forget to visit some of the other stops on the blog tour.

 

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Endless Night

Now I never thought I would have to write the following sentence.

Apparently some people don’t like crime fiction.

I know it’s quite unbelievable isn’t it? How can people possibly not enjoy a good tale of murder and intrigue? Personally I don’t get it. It’s like people who don’t like red wine or cheese. I know people like that exist but these are not people who I’m likely to become friends with.

However maybe investigating life outside crime fiction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have recently read The History of Bees. I admit this is not something I would have picked up myself. Mr F bought it for me, as he’d seen something about it (on facebook I imagine!) Not being particularly at home in a bookshop he’ll have dashed in, asked a shop assistant for a copy and dashed out again. Clearly this is not a crime fiction book. I’ll be honest when he gave it to me I did start to wander if he knew me at all. However in the interests of home harmony I gave it a go. Well once I started I couldn’t put it down, this is a superb novel. I’d highly recommend it to everyone and I’m very glad I was given it, as otherwise I don’t think I would ever have read it.

That’s one of the great things about World Book Night, it encourages people to not only read more but to read stories they wouldn’t necessarily pick up. York Libraries are celebrating World Book Night in just that way. As well as encouraging people to donate books for Bookcase For All, they are also sharing the book love by asking people to donate a new copy of their favourite book to a library for others to enjoy, and to encourage a friend or neighbour to join the library. They are also getting people to read something different by asking the librarians for recommendations of books that have inspired them or going onto goodreads to tell people what books they enjoy.

As readers of this blog will know I am passionate about reading, and think anything that gets people reading is a good thing, I also think that people who love books also love talking about them. That’s why World Book Night and York’s celebration of it is such a good idea. Although I do think one night isn’t long enough, it should be endless!  We all love to talk about books, and when you read something that is really gripping you want to tell everyone about it. Running ‘bookcase for all’ is another excuse for me to bang on about books and reading. It’s such a thrill for me when someone comes back after having taken a book I’ve recommended and asks if we’ve anymore by that author (admittedly in a recent case he asked if I had any more by Mark Birmingham, fingers crossed he meant Billingham or he may have been rather disappointed!)

So maybe there is something to be said for broadening one’s horizons in the reading world after all (I’m never going to like white wine though!)

World Book Night is on the 23rd April. Find out more about York’s celebration at York Explore or via the York Press

Also keep an eye out for Bookcase For All on Look North next week, potentially Monday!

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The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dhal – a review BLOG TOUR

I must confess to never having read any of the previous novels by Kjell Ola Dhal. However when he was introduced to me as the Godfather of Nordic Noir I jumped at the chance to be on the blog tour for his latest novel, and I’m glad I did.

In the Ice Swimmer it is a few days before Christmas and a woman is being pursued onto a tube station in Oslo. When she is then run over by a train it is at first assumed to be a suicide. Elsewhere a body has been pulled from a frozen lake. This time it is thought that he just fell whilst drunk and the cold got him. However as Detective Lena Stigersand and her colleagues Gunnarstranda and Frølich start to investigate, they begin to realise that there are more sinister forces at work, which reach far wider than they thought.

This is a superb novel that I genuinely couldn’t put down. Set in the cold streets of a Winter Oslo the atmosphere was chilly to say the least. It’s the kind of book where when you are reading the descriptions of the place you feel the need to put an extra jumper on as the cold seeps off the page.

I really enjoyed the character of Lena. Personally I felt she was a really welcome change to a lot of the current female leads out there. Often females are portrayed as either being whisky drinking, one night stand, no feeling types, or weak and pathetic needing to be ‘rescued’ Yet she wasn’t either. She was a tough police officer who could look after herself. However she had a natural vulnerable side to her that helped in her policing. Her health scare, and her blossoming relationship with a local reporter also helped to give her a multidimensional character that worked really well. Although her taste in music was little dodgy (Does anyone really like listening to Christmas music??)

The story itself is fast paced with a huge amount of twists and turns, yet it was easy to follow. The novel is the sixth in the Oslo detective series however it works as a standalone and although I would like to know more about the detectives, that’s because I enjoyed the characters so much rather than I felt I was missing anything. One thing that I also really liked was that to me this didn’t actually feel like it was a translation. Sometimes when reading translated books I find myself having to re-read bits to make sense of them, yet this didn’t which is testament to the translator Don Bartlett.

If you like novels where the story is gripping and the writing is so good that you actually feel like you are in the place it is set then I would highly recommend The Ice Swimmer. I will definitely be reading the rest of Kjell Ola Dahl’s novels.

Find out more about the Ice Swimmer and Kjell Ola Dahl by visiting the other stops on the blog tour or buy the book here:

 

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What falls between the cracks by Robert Scragg – a review

Last month was the York Literature Festival. I was absolutely thrilled when the festival offered to do a book collection for Bookcase for All and they were fantastic in publicising the project throughout the festival. Therefore I was very excited when I found out that the final event was going to be a Crime themed one at Waterstones.

The theme of the event was Northern Noir and it was a discussion by two authors Robert Scragg and AA Dhand. Obviously as always I cannot resist buying new books so I had a very enjoyable evening and left with two new signed books.

The first I read was What Falls Between the Cracks by Robert Scragg. It starts with a severed hand being found, which DNA  identify as having belonged to Natasha. She hasn’t been seen for 30 years but nobody has reported her missing. It is down to detectives Porter and Styles to find out what has happened, and why her family didn’t track her down. Their case soon becomes even more complicated when it links with another investigation and sparks begin to fly.

This was certainly an accomplished debut novel. It starts relatively slowly which draws you in. As the pace of the investigation ramps up so does the pace of the novel. The writing flows naturally, especially the conversation elements. However there were an awful lot of characters which it was sometimes hard to keep track of in the middle, but as the story progressed things slotted into place.

I liked the characters of Jake Porter and Nick Styles. They complemented each other very well and I enjoyed the banter between them.  The story itself is also good, you know early on who the ‘baddies’ are but as the story progresses as with all good crime fiction things are never quite what they seem.

Overall this was a good read and I look forward to reading more featuring Porter and Styles. It was also a fantastic closing event to a great festival.

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The Intrusions by Stav Sherez – a review

I’m sat here typing this in front of my laptop which has a little camera hole at the top. I have to say I am rather freaked out having just finished The Intrusions by Stav Sherez. I have read Stav Sherez’s previous novels and thoroughly enjoyed them so after hearing him talk in Hull I had to break my self-imposed ban on buying any more books (that day) and picked up a copy of the The Intrusions. I’m glad I did, despite it freaking me out a little.

The Intrusions starts when a clearly distressed young woman arrives at the station claiming her friend has been abducted and that the man is going to come back for her. At first it seems to Detectives Carrigan and Miller that it is a case of someone abducting woman from a back packers hostel. However it soon becomes much more sinister. It is tricky to say more about the story without giving anything away, but it involves online stalking and webcams.

I am a big fan of this pair of detectives. Geneva Miller is a strong woman who despite her occasionally annoying habits I really like. The pairing with the slightly gruff and reckless Jack Carrigan works really well.

The plot is fascinating. It is a story that you think is going to be one thing, yet twists and turns into something else entirely. One of the things I really like about these novels is the style of writing which seems to flow effortlessly. Whilst it is clearly fiction by the end you feel like you have learnt something and somehow your thoughts on society have changed slightly. I like novels that make you think differently, and this will certainly do that. However this in no way detracts from the story which kept me gripped throughout. It was a very modern thriller that is all the more scary because of the very real premise it is based on.

This is the third novel to feature Carrigan and Miller however I think it would still work well as a standalone. If you like police procedurals with a modern day moral tale included then I would thoroughly recommend those by Stav Sherez. However you might want to disable your laptop camera before you start reading!

 

 

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The Fourth Monkey by J.D Barker – a review

I picked up a copy of this from Netgalley ages ago and for some reason I kept overlooking it. Until a trip to Newcastle where there was no wifi in my room and I hadn’t updated my kindle recently and this was at the top of the list. Well once I started I couldn’t stop.

The Fourth Monkey is about a killer who sends body parts of his victims to the police to taunt them. First they get an ear, then the eyes following the ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil’ monkeys. Detective Porter has spent 5 years chasing the 4MK (4th Monkey Killer) whilst also dealing with a tragedy in his personal life. Just when he thinks he will have to give up, the police seem to get a big break. So starts a race against time to find the next victim.

This was a really gripping novel, that I felt had that great combination of gruesome murder and humour. I like a serial killer story, and read a lot. Therefore to find one that to me felt a bit different is a real bonus. There were some great one liners in this book that made me chuckle, especially in the interaction of the detectives. The story also includes a diary of the young 4MK and details his relationship with his parents and how his childhood was. Personally I wasn’t as keen on the diary element as I was on the rest of the story, mainly because it makes some very uncomfortable reading. Yet it also gives you an insight into the killers childhood that almost make you feel a bit of sympathy for him.

This is definitely not a book for the feinthearted. There was a scene with a rat which made me squirm. However it is a great read that I would highly recommend if you like a gruesome story with a touch of humour.

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The City

According to the BBC, York has been voted the best place to live in the UK. Having been here for a few years since the age of 18 (Yes ok so technically I’ve been here a couple of decades rather than a few years but let’s not split hairs!) I would agree on the whole, although maybe not for the same reasons.

According to the highly trustworthy BBC (unless it’s the weather forecast which is always wrong) York is the perfect mix of heritage and hi-tech. Heritage yes but hi-tech? I am clearly missing something! I know that we have the the National Railway Museum but I’m not sure World’s fastest steam engine could be classed as hi-tech nowadays? The mystery plays are a fantastic thing to watch and this year they will be featuring a movable stage which of course is quite hi-tech I suppose (or at least it was when it was first done back in medieval times!)

What wasn’t mentioned in the report of course was one of my favourite things about York – no not the pubs and bars before you think it – but the libraries. We have a fantastic library service which puts on some great events. For example last week I went on a course to learn how to make notebooks. It was a fun day although I suspect Paperchase may be a bit worried about a fall in their profits now I can make my own. Stationary being my second favourite purchase after books.

York library also has a high crime rate. Not people walking off with a Winsey Willis biography under their arm, or pilfering the drawing pins from the notice board, but crime fiction events. Last year we had some big hitters talking including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah. There was also Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre. This was a hilarious evening, made all the better personally by the looks on the faces of some of the attendees. Clearly two women behind me thought the event was going to be a talk by the WI about jam making rather than one involving frozen chickens in public toilets and dead bodies.

Coming up next month is another exciting sounding event called CSI’s in York – from the writing duo Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper better known as Ashley Dyer. They are spending the afternoon showing us how to lift fingerprints and identify shoe evidence (you never know when that might come in handy)

Whilst I may not agree with some of the reasoning behind York being voted the best place to live, I certainly agree with the sentiment. Where else could you learn how to investigate a murder, see the only memorial in the country to women who lost their lives during the First World War and drink in a Viking bar all in the same afternoon? Not necessarily hi-tech but pretty amazing all the same.

Tickets for CSI’s in York are still available https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/event/csis-in-york-the-truth-about-forensic-investigating/https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/event/csis-in-york-the-truth-about-forensic-investigating/

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