Exquisite by Sarah Stovell – a review

I received a surprise copy of this from the publisher and have only just got around to reading it. Exquisite is the new novel by Sarah Stovell, and Exquisite it really is.
The story follows two women and is told purely from their points of view. Bo is a successful author who lives in the lake district with her husband and two daughters. Occasionally she teaches at a creative writing retreat. It is here that she meets our other protagonist, Alice. Alice is a young aspiring writer, who lives in Brighton with her ‘artist’ boyfriend. Alice and Bo soon become friends, but it is then that things start to spiral. As their relationship develops further, you are left not knowing who to trust. Is young Alice being preyed on by a manipulative older women, or is Bo the victim of an unhinged stalker?
Having previously just finished a hard going (but still good) novel, Exquisite was the perfect next read. I loved this and could not put it down, consequently I actually read it over a couple of days (my late marks at work just keep rising thanks to books!) Throughout the novel I couldn’t decide which of the two main characters I believed. As soon as I thought I had it figured out something else would get thrown in that would change my mind.
I felt both characters were well written, and you ended up liking and disliking them both in equal measure. My only slight criticism is that I struggled to place what year the novel was set in. At the start Alice had to go to the library to send emails which surely no one does nowadays? However putting aside that very minor gripe, this was a fantastic book.
The novel was set mainly in the Lake District and using this small, and to me relatively unknown, setting added to the mystery around the character of Bo. Was she really happy living in the quiet town she had chosen for her family, or was she craving some excitement instead? The writing seemed to flow gently, building up the atmosphere around the two women. Without wishing to give away any spoilers there was one scene that was quite shocking, jarring as it did with the rest of the story. This just added to the tension of what I felt was a superbly plotted book.
Exquisite was an excellent novel and I would thoroughly recommend it.

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The Monster’s Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

I was sent a copy of this by the publishers Melville House, and I agreed to review it having already said that historical fiction isn’t really my thing. This however sounded interesting as it was described as a historical thriller set in South Africa which is a country that has always intrigued me.

The Monster’s Daughter is the debut novel by Michelle Pretorius. The novel is a story in three parts. It’s a thriller, a historical novel and also a bit science fiction. It starts in 2010 when we are introduced to Alet, a disgraced police constable who has been reassigned to the small town of Unie. Here she discovers the body of a woman burned beyond all recognition. Her investigations soon lead her to believe there is a serial killer stalking women.  Alongside this murder mystery we are treated to a potted history of the country’s violent past, starting in 1901 at the height of the Boer war. Linking these two elements are Tessa and Benjamin who were in a British concentration camp where a doctor was conducting some grim experiments.  

This was not an easy read. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, and the jumping around of the timelines meant that it was sometimes hard to keep up with the story. However considering it included both science fiction and historical elements, two things I’m not a huge fan of in my crime novels, this was completely worth the effort.

This was a superb novel. The writing was incredibly evocative and upsetting at times. I had a very basic knowledge of South African history and found this part of the novel absolutely fascinating. The violence and hatred jumped out of the page as we travelled from the Boer War, through Apartheid to the present day. The landscape and the heat, alongside the tensions of the time were evident, all the while with the back drop of a modern day murder investigation.

The characters themselves, whilst perfectly well rounded, for me did come secondary to the historical elements. The story was interesting and I think just the modern day part on its own would have been a decent story, yet the rest of elements were really what made this an absolute stand out book.

Sometimes it is good to read something out of your usual type and The Monster’s Daughter was definitely one of those times.

 

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Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown – a review

I went along to a few of the fringe events at this year’s festival, one of which was a writing masterclass which was fascinating. Whilst there I picked up a copy of a couple of Isabel’s novels and as Little Sister was on the top of the pile when I got home this was the first of my new books I read and I’m glad I did.

Little Sister is set on the Isle of Wight. Jess and Emily are sisters who were estranged when young, but recently reconciled. Emily is married to James and she brought up his daughter Chloe as her own. Chloe was delighted when she became an older half sister to Daisy. However now Daisy has gone missing, taken from the family home on New Year’s Eve whilst Jess was supposedly looking after her. The story follows the grief and fear within the family as they struggle to deal with their missing child. We also gradually find out more of the relationship between Emily and Jess and what happened all those years ago.

This was a great quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The cast of characters was quite small which gave the story a claustrophobic feel which is further compounded by the setting on the Island. The story itself is a little bit slow to start but I liked that as it felt the tension was being built up quite realistically. The novel is mainly told from the viewpoints of Emily and Daisy. This means that you are forever questioning who is right and who is wrong, every time you think you know what is happening another twist was thrown at you.

I would thoroughly recommend this novel. It is a great summer read, especially if like me you have ever spent a childhood holiday on the Isle of Wight.

 

 

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Broken Branches – Q and A with M Jonathan Lee BLOG TOUR

I was lucky enough to be contacted recently by Hideaway Fall, a new publisher based in Yorkshire. They  asked me to join the blog tour for an interesting novel, Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee. Broken Branches is about Ian and his wife and son who move into the family home after the death of his brother. When things start to go wrong, Ian sets out to prove that the cottage is cursed. This is a story of grief and a families reaction to tragedy that I really enjoyed. It is an intriguing read and I’m delighted to be able to welcome the author M Jonathon Lee to my blog.

Thanks for joining me Jonathon. Firstly can I ask, what was the inspiration behind Broken Branches?

A very good question. My grandfather passed away the year before last at age ninety-seven. As a family we began looking through some old documents and I realised that in each generation a child had predeceased their parents. This got me thinking about a potential ‘curse’. Further to this we found an old photograph, about a hundred years old, which simply said “George, the Dog Hanger” on the back. This became part of Broken Branches. It’s funny where inspiration suddenly appears from.

Do you have a ‘day job’? Or do you write full time?

I write full, part, time! After my third novel (A Tiny Feeling of Fear) I gave up my well paid job in this city to focus on writing. I do still spend a day or two a week working on tax and accountancy, but have far more time to write nowadays.

Can you tell us what a typical working day looks like for you?

I tend to get up around 7 and begin writing as soon as I’m up. Definitely in my PJs. I tend to write until 11ish and then break for a couple of hours. Maybe read or watch a film, or catch up on emails and social media. I then begin again and maybe do another three hours in the afternoon. I’m unhappy if I don’t get to 3,000 words a day.

How would you spend a perfect afternoon away from work?

I get a lot of pleasure from the simple things such as gardening or taking the dog out. I also really enjoy watching films. I’m fairly easily pleased to be honest. If I can have the perfect evening give me loud music at a gig any day

Are you an avid reader yourself? If so, which authors do you find yourself returning to time and again?

Yes. I tend to develop an obsession with a writer and then read everything I can get my hands on. I go through long phases of reading true crime or biography and then back to novels. Joseph Connolly never fails to excite me. I’ve just finished a marathon of everything Vincent Bugliosi ever wrote which included buying old out of print copies online.

Finally, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on next?

I’ve just about finished my fifth novel, How Was I Supposed to Know How It Would Be? This book focuses on a man who would do anything to swap his life for the relative peace and ease of his neighbour opposite. But, how much does he actually know about what happens across the road. And when he finds out does he really want to swap?

That sounds fascinating, no one really knows what happens behind closed doors!

Thanks very much for joining me Jonathon, and I would highly recommend reading Broken Branches.

Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee is out now (£8.99, Hideaway Fall)

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The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan – a review BLOG TOUR

I was delighted to receive a copy of The Unquiet Dead from No Exit Press and be part of the blog tour for this interesting novel by Ausma Zehanat Khan.

The Unquiet Dead is a novel that almost has two halves, although they are inextricably linked. It’s difficult to review without using clichés but there really is no other word to describe the story other than powerful. I didn’t skip through the book desperate to find out the end as I so often do with stories. This was a novel I had to read slowly both in order to keep the large number of characters and situations straight in my head, but also because of the incredibly emotional prose that was written.

In The Unquiet Dead Toronto Detective Rachel Getty is asked by her boss Esa Khattak to look into the seemingly accidental death of Christopher Drayton who was found dead at the bottom of Scarborough Cliffs. Usually the cases that the team handle are related to crimes against minorities so she is unsure why they are involved.  However Rachel is happy that she is being included after having faced issues within some of the other teams she has worked for. When the detectives discover that Christopher Drayton may have been living under an assumed name she soon realises that the case is a lot more complicated than first seen. The second story focuses on the atrocities in Srebrenica during the 1995 massacre and we are given insight into what happened from the eyes of young boys living through it.

Whilst I would definitely recommend this novel, for me the actual detectives were rather flat. For some reason personally I didn’t get a whole lot of feeling about them and felt it was a little ‘off’. Rachel is a young woman yet despite having a good job continues to live with parents she doesn’t really like which seemed a bit strange. It almost felt that too much had been shoehorned into the book. There was a lot of description of the atrocities, which were then tempered with detailed background of the characters (often the issue with debut novels when the author wants to tell us everything).

Yet despite this slight issue, I did enjoy the story. It was interesting to learn about a period of history that although it happened in my lifetime I have to confess to knowing little about. I enjoyed the writing style and felt despite the heavy topic it was not a hard read. 

I would thoroughly recommend this novel especially if you enjoy learning about history during your reading.

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End in tears (of sadness at the end of TOPCWF)

Going out bras, spot porn, fart jokes, and murder – it could only be The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing festival (TOPCWF for short)

Our bathroom at the Crown was a lot cleaner.

Yet again it was a superb weekend over in Harrogate, with an absolute cornucopia of authors and bloggers from all over the country (and the world) I know I probably say this every year but I really think this year’s event was the best ever. Well, in all aspects except the weather. Sadly someone forgot to order the usual bright sunshine, and Saturday was positively torrential. However the river like streets didn’t seem to dampen any enthusiasm.

As usual there were some big hitting names. Kathy Reichs was making her first appearance at the festival discussing everything from bones to beavers (the dam making kind before you get any ideas) and Ann Cleaves bought along not one but three celebrity TV stars to keep us all entertained whilst talking all things Vera and washing machines.

One of the funniest events of the weekend was the late night panel, featuring Sarah Millican chairing, with Val McDermid, Lee Child and Mark Billingham. Secrets were flying round the ballroom, from who used to have David Beckham washing his car to who sleeps naked, and which celebrity nearly crushed their dogs head with her (or his!) boob. This was probably my most favourite session of the weekend and they all had the whole room in stitches.

The quiz is always a highlight of the event, and this year was no exception. Questions range from music to pictures, with our hosts Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. There is always a beer tasting round thanks to the Theakstons brewery, although a slight technical hitch meant that the answers weren’t counted. This was a shame really as helpfully the answers were actually written on the drinks so this might have been the one and only round that we actually did any good in.

Ian Rankin and whisky

I know everyone says it but this really is one of the friendliest festivals ever. For a bunch of people who spend their time thinking of murder, death and crime most of the time, the people at this festival are some of the nicest you will ever meet.  Where else would you get to discuss whisky with Ian Rankin (Laphroaig is one of his favourites if anyone wants to send him some, mine too by the way!) or talk shopping with Eva Dolan?

 

Of course for us readers the real bonus to this weekend is the sheer amount of books on offer. Strangely I actually heard a couple complaining that their goody bags had too many books in them. Clearly these people are not friends of mine, and frankly I worry for their mental health. There is no such thing as too many books. All in all TOPCWF is really one of the best weekends in the world, and I am sure a few tears are shed when it’s over and we all have to go back to mundane real life.

Whilst I am never going to start watching spot porn, or be the kind of woman that owns going out bras, I am definitely the kind of woman that is going to be back in 2018. Especially as Lee Child is rumoured to be the next programme chair!

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Marked for life – Q and A with Emelie Schepp BLOG TOUR

Today I’m delighted to welcome Emelie Schepp to acrimereadersblog. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Emelie’s great new novel Marked for Life. This is the first in a trilogy set in Sweden featuring public prosecuter Jana Berzelius.

Thanks for joining me Emelie, I thought Marked for life was a great novel dealing with some very harrowing events. What was the inspiration behind Marked for Life?

Thinking of a good story it is not always about how a victim was murdered, it is the characters and the interaction between characters that readers remember. And in my debut novel MARKED FOR LIFE I wanted to write about a woman that was odd. But I did not know how odd she was about to be until I read an article about child soldiers. In 2012 there was a huge debate about child soldiers after the viral movie “Kony 2012”.  The movie was about Joseph R. Kony who is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) a guerilla group that formerly operated in Uganda. He has been accused by government entities of ordering the abduction of children to become child soldiers. Over 66 000 children became soldiers. As I read the article I remember starting to question myself: “What happens when a child is forced to be a solider? And what if that solider wants to be a child again? Is it even possible?” I also started to think about what would happen if there were child soldiers in Sweden. If I wanted to use the child soldiers in my novel, where in Sweden would I find these children? I know it sounds very strange, but I had to find children that no one would miss, nor search for. Abducting a child in a playground leads to a media storm and I  did not needed the abduction to take place in secret, without anyone knowing.  

One evening as I watched the news I saw a truck with a container that had overturned on a highway. And when the police arrived at the scene they found several refugees in the container. They had not been registered at the border. They were illegal. No one knew they were in Sweden. So, I went down to the port of Norrköping and looked around. When I saw all the thousand containers I realized that anything could be hiding in them, including children, that’s how I come up with the story about Jana Berzelius. 

Do you have a ‘day job’? Or do you write full time?

I have now sold almost one million copies of my books in 29 countries around the world, so I am lucky to be a writer full time today!
Can you tell us what a typical working day looks like for you? 

I usually get up at 06.15, making coffee before waking up my kids and getting them to school. Then I sit down in front of my computer and write. The time between 8 am and 12 am is my writing time. I usually never answer my phone or any e-mail, I just write. At 12 I have lunch with my husband and he usually walks me through my author schedule – travels, signing-tours, book-fairs, and such. I am very blessed to have my husband working full time with me. We are partners in crime, business, and love. 

After lunch, I read the text through, and do some editing. Around 3 pm, me and my husband go for a walk or run, discussing the plot, a character, or a scene. 

At 4 pm, our kids come home from school and then we help them with homework or drive them to their soccer, or tennis practice. 

After dinner, or when our kids have fallen asleep, me and my husband work for a couple more hours. Then we always end the day watching a tv-series or a movie. 

How would you spend a perfect afternoon away from work?

For me, the idea of an “extra” day is simply too good to let pass by. I have tried so many times but I am really bad at doing nothing. If it was a sunny, warm afternoon, I would definitely spend the afternoon with my husband and kids, preferably we would have a picnic on the beach. 

A picnic on the beach sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon to me! Are you an avid reader yourself? If so, which authors do you find yourself returning to time and again?

Yes, I am an avid reader. My favourite authors and recommended reads are Jo Nesbø’s Phantom, Lars Kepler´s The Sandman and Roger Hobbs’ Ghostman. 

I’m a big fan of Jo Nesbo too, I haven’t read any Roger Hobbs though so will look out for him. Finally, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on next?

Right now, I am reading, editing and polishing the fourth book in the series about Jana Berzelius and it is called Daddy’s Boy. The book will be available in Sweden August 21, 2017. Hopefully it will be available in UK in a couple of years. I am really looking forward to having Marked for Revenge and Slowly We Die available in UK and I do hope that readers will enjoy the first in the series: MARKED FOR LIFE.

Thanks very much for joining me Emelie, I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Emelie Schepp’s Marked for Life is out 6th July (HQ, £7.99)

Find out more at her website http://www.emelieschepp.com

Instagram @emelieschepp

Twitter @emelieschepp

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