The Wilderness Retreat was one of my latest Netgalley reads. The main character of Bella waves her son off to university before she heads of to Sweden on a wellness retreat, a gift from her sister. She arrives in the luxurious surroundings in the hope of making headway with her latest musical composition. However some mysterious notes under her door are just the start of a downward spiral that will leave Bella and the reader not knowing who to trust.
The Wilderness Retreat was a good read that I really enjoyed. There was a big cast of characters that all played their part in creating an intriguing background for the main character of Bella. She was one of those where you find yourself on the one hand shouting at them for making stupid decisions and on the other you have absolute sympathy for them having ended up in such a terrifying situation.
This was an atmospheric story that was full of twists which I didn’t see coming. The fact that all the story takes place in one remote cottage gives the whole thing a real locked room feeling. You know that the guilty party must be one of the guests but just like Bella you are left not knowing who you can trust and who not.
The setting in the middle of a deserted forest adds to the disconcerting feeling of the book. We see everything through the eyes of Bella so the claustrophobic feel is intense with no other viewpoints to give any kind of clarity on her thoughts. It’s not a fast action high body count story, but the tense atmosphere throughout will keep you turning the pages.
I thought this was a really good read that a fascinating group of characters, throws in a sense of unease and impending doom and mixes it up with crime and cover ups. Definitely worth a read.
I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of The Other Half by the publisher Faber who promised it was an incredible debut and they weren’t mistaken!
The Other Half starts with Rupert’s birthday. It’s his 30th and he is hosting a black tie event complete with champagne and cocaine, the venue is McDonalds on Kentish Road. The morning after the party Rupert’s girlfriend Clemmie is found dead on Hampsted Heath. Detective Cauis Beauchamp is called in to investigate. He soon finds out that when it comes to crimes of the wealthy secrets are well hidden.
The Other Half is the debut novel by Charlotte Vassell and I can safely say it is one of the best books I have read in a long time (and I have read a lot of superb books) It is a really fun read with a great mix of comedy threaded through the crime story. Some of the one liners in the book are absolutely whip smart, the type that suddenly hit you a second after you have read it.
There is a great range of characters in this story although very few were actually likeable. To say they were flawed would be rather an understatement. Rupert was a typical narcissist who believed that his wealth meant he was not only above the law but above basic morals. He completely lacked self-awareness, and almost seemed to believe that every thing he did he did for love.
I did however like the character of Cauis, having recently been dumped he is on a a mission of self-improvement. His attempts at healthy eating and conquering a hill make a nice break from the champagne swilling, cocaine sniffing party set.
The writing style was sharp and punchy. The short fast sentences along with the tightly woven chapters and the quickly changing points of view made it a really fast paced read that was an absolute page turner.
I would highly recommend The Other Half and look forward to reading more from Charlotte Vassell.
Today I am absolutely delighted to welcome Jonathan Peace to the blog. Jonathan’s latest novel is Cut and Shut thie third in the series.
Thanks so much for joining me Jonathan. Firstly can I ask have you always been a writer? Pretty much. Since school when we did our first creative writing after reading a chapter of The Hobbit, I loved the sheer joy of making stuff up. Anything could happen, I was in control. As I grew older I would spend more and more time writing stories – some of these were done by playing with my Star Wars action figures and then jotting down what happened. After falling in love with movies I wanted to write screenplays so I did that for some time, but always eventually came back to wanting to write a book. There were lots of bad stories. LOTS of them, and several false starts on novels, but the urge was always there and whenever I could I would have another stab at it. In all I’ve been writing for about 40 years but it was only in the last three that I truly took it seriously, treating it as a job and not just a fun hobby.
You have some fantastic lead characters in your novels, are they inspired by people you know? Thank you. People seem to have really taken to Louise, Karla and Beth in my Louise Miller novels, and I’m really glad. I’ve always enjoyed writing female characters, inspired I guess from watching such iconic leading ladies such as Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and many more. All of my stories have featured strong women and taking a look, I guess this is from being raised by my aunt (whom I call my second mum). A headteacher in Ossett back in the 80s and 90s, she worked really hard but was also there for myself and my cousins (whom I think of as my brother and sister). She taught me a lot about a person’s courage, strength and morality, as did my sister, and I think that each of my main three characters all possess a little of that.
No character is a direct port of anyone I know or have known in real life, however thinking back, I believe I went to school with someone called Louise Miller. No one has been in touch yet though but I’m waiting…
Can you tell us what a typical working day looks like for you? Until recently I’ve stuck to the same schedule every day for about 5 years. Up at 4am (thanks to the cats). Feed them. Have a snooze with them on the sofa for an hour with lots of belly scrunchies, then at my desk by 6am. I would aim to write 6 pages (around 2’200 words) a day, and do a little research for the next book so that when the time came to write it, I would have a basic outline done which I could follow. Sometimes those six pages would be finished by lunch and I’d binge watch a show (my current vice is Star Trek: The Next Generation which I’m up to Season 5 now). I might do a little more research or work on an outline, but I’d be pretty much done.
But then the world went belly-up (and not wanting cute scrunchies like the cats), prices rose and everything became a struggle. As I suffer from anxiety and depression, the stresses really affected me just after starting book four and it all slowed down, and it became obvious things couldn’t continue the way they were. So I had to go back into full time employment, which I am happy to say I started last week. My plans for writing and releasing three books a year has had to change as at least for the next year my focus has to be the day job but thankfully my publisher is very understanding and agreed to slow the releases down. As you know the third book has just come out and the fourth was supposed to have been handed in January 1 for a May release. Until now I have never missed a deadline in anything I have done – ever – so this was pretty cutting for me, but I realise that mental health has to come first, and while I could just pump out a book in a month, it would be crap, and not what readers should expect.
I now try to get one or two pages done a day. The plan is to hand it in to Hobeck in May for release later in 2023, but realistically I’m leaning more towards a book a year now. We’ll see.
I think alot of people will be able to empathise with that and the importance of mental health can never be underestimated. How would you spend a perfect afternoon away from work? My wife and I would go to the Trent Lock near where we live. It’s a wonderful pub/restaurant on the banks of the River Trent. We’d have a lovely meal, go for a walk along the riverside and then go home, snuggle on the sofa with our two cats and watch movies. We’re very nestled, Lucy and I.
Sounds a lovely way to spend time. Can you tell us a little about what you are working on next? As I mentioned above, I’m working on book four of the Louise Miller series. I’m on the fifth or sixth draft now. Draft four was complete and finished – about 104K words – but I wasn’t happy with it at all and cut it down to 20K that I was happy with and started again. When I got to 40K I let Hobeck read it because I was really struggling. Writing a book whose central theme is about depression and anxiety when you are having an episode of your own is not something I recommend.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a book? I’m going to sound like a real arsehole now but it really is as simple as: just write it. 1 page a day. 10 pages a day. It doesn’t matter how much you write. It doesn’t matter what method you use to write it – pen & paper, typewriter, PC, tablet or even into your phone. It doesn’t matter if you plan it all out in advance or just wing it as you go along. What matters is that you write it. Also, stop talking about writing a book and just write it. For too many years from my 20’s right up into my 40’s I told people I was a writer. That I was writing a book, or a screenplay. I would sit in the pub in Ossett with a notebook and pen – “look at him, he’s a writer!” What a dick. In 30 years of writing, I said I was writing dozens of different books or scripts. I finished one screenplay which got optioned, and another that I was commissioned to write. I finished one fantasy novel written for tabletop games company. 30 years; two scripts, one bad fantasy novel. It wasn’t until 2019 that I stopped talking about being a writer and just got on with writing and now I have three books published.
What advice would you give to someone who has written a book and wants to publish it? Don’t be in a rush. If you have just typed THE END for the first time – do not send this to anyone. Not an agent and certainly not a publisher. It isn’t ready. You’re not ready. Edit it. Then rewrite it. Then edit it again and rewrite it again. Then get some feedback from people you trust – not your parent’s or spouse who will feel obliged to say it’s good – but someone who understands the genre you have written in and can give honest feedback – not just catch all the typos you left in there, and the grammatical errors – but notes on plot, structure, pacing and character. Ideally get an even number of people to read it. If more than half of them pull you up on a single point, then it probably needs looking at. If only 1 or 2 people don’t like something, then that’s down to subjective taste. In this age of ease of self-publishing thanks to places like Medium, Barnes & Noble Press, Lulu, Ingram Spark, Apple Books and, of course, Kindle Direct Publishing, it is all too easy to rush ahead and get your book published. You don’t have to suffer the pain of submitting to agents or publishers, waiting months for a response which is usually no response at all. You can bypass the gatekeepers who are just looking for the next celebrity to pen their memoir or children’s book or jump on the latest genre trend (selling a celebrity’s book is easy; a newcomer not so much). So don’t rush. Make sure it is in the best shape it can be, and then decide how you want to release it. Having a publisher in your corner is great, and I can’t recommend Hobeck enough if your book is in the crime, thriller or mystery genre. They tackle all the dull stuff of cover design, editing and layout, plus all the hassles that dealing with the monolithic juggernaut that is Amazon entails. That’s not to say you can’t do that yourself as an indie author. My wife does, and does it very successfully – but it really is a 24hr a day job.
That sounds like very good advice! What is your favourite crime novel of all time? Up until deciding to turn one of those unfinished books I mentioned earlier into a crime novel, I hadn’t read a single piece of crime fiction other than a few John Grisham’s (which are more thriller than crime). So the first thing I did was read several of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books, and then I found Lin Anderson and her Rhona MacLeod series. I fell in love with her writing and have been working my way through her books and am now on the fourteenth, Time For The Dead. It has taken a couple of years to get to this point, and I’ve a couple of books left, so I’m hoping to finish the series this year. I’ve also got a few Peter James books and a historical crime series called The Napoleonic Murders by Armand Cabasson waiting to be read.
Some great options there and you are in for a treat if you haven’t ready Peter James before! Thank you so much for answering my questions Jonathan, and I look forward to seeing book 4!
If you want to find out more about Jonathan and Cut and Shut, visit the other stops on the blog tour:
I am a huge fan of Vanda Symon so was really excited to join the blog tour for her latest novel Expectant, the 5th novel in the author’s Sam Shepherd series.
In Expectant the New Zealand town of Dunedin is devastated by the callous murder of a pregnant woman. Detective Sam Shepherd must find the killer before they strike again. However there is an added complication as Sam is heavily pregnant herself and about to head off on maternity leave. It soon becomes clear that someone is targeting pregnant woman and Sam finds herself as the hunted as well as the hunter.
Expectant was another superb read that kept me on the edge of my seat. The writing is as always spot on, and the short chapters with punchy sentences make it a fast read that is difficult to put down. The plot will keep you guessing and even when you think you’ve cracked it there will be another cog thrown into the mix.
The story in this felt like it was slightly lower paced than her previous ones. This gave it a sense of authenticity when the central character was about to give birth, but still kept the intrigue and the page turning suspense that we’ve come to expect from a Vanda Symon novel.
I love the character of Sam, she’s clever and sharp and funny, yet still makes daft decisions and goes off on mad tangents without always thinking of the consequences. It was nice to see her settling down a bit and I enjoyed how the family and friend dynamics are changing throughout the series. Whilst this can be read as a standalone I’d recommend reading the full series first because they are such good novels.
Expectant was another superb read by a writer who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.
Find out what others thought of the book by visiting the other stops on the tour: