Sunday, 30 September 2018

Bloody Scotland 2018

I can't believe it's already been a week since Bloody Scotland! I think it's taken me this long to recover, hence I'm only just getting round to posting about it now! This is really an excuse to share my photos - although they 're not that good, apart from the first two which I borrowed from the lovely Kelly Lacey, which are fab.

The Gala Opening of Bloody Scotland 2018 was held in the beautiful Church of the Holy Rude, where we drank Bloody Scotland gin cocktails and learned that Liam McIlvanney was the worthy winner of this year's Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize for his novel The Quaker.

After that, we headed up to Stirling Castle to start the torchlight procession down to the Albert Halls. This is one of my favourite parts of the weekend, such a great atmosphere.

After getting something to eat, we headed back to the Albert Halls to hear a two hour set from the fabulous Fun Lovin' Crime Writers, the band comprising Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville, Luca Veste and Doug Johnstone. An excellent way to spend a Friday evening, and Luca doing Britney was a  particular highlight!

After an easy Saturday morning, I went to hear Frank Gardner talk about Ultimatum, the second book in his Luke Carlton trilogy. Always an engaging speaker, Frank entertained a packed house with book talk and politics.

From there, it was back up the hill to the Cowane Hospital Grounds for the annual Scotland vs. England crime writers football match. Typically, this was the only time it rained in the whole weekend. But it didn't last long, and we soon forgot about it with more cocktails from the Stirling Gin pop up bar. Oh, and the football, of course! The final score, and I'll say it quietly, was England 6, Scotland 3.

Back down Spittal Street and into town (my step count for the weekend was brilliant!) for Michael J Malone's pop up launch of his new book, After He Died. And the sun shone for it.

A wee coffee and cake with lovely crime writer Caro Ramsay, her husband Alan, my bestie Pam and the fabulous Doug Sinclair, who is just finishing his first book. And the Loving Food cafe was gorgeous!

Then an evening of back to back events, starting with 'Local Crimes for Local People' with Margaret Kirk, Hania Allen, Neil Broadfoot and Charles E McGarry. These authors have chosen to set the books outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow - in the case of Neil Broadfoot's No Man's Land in Stirling itself - and they talked about the reasons behind that, their inspiration, writing habits and planning, or lack of in the case of Neil!

Gorgeous and talented Neil Broadfoot

After that, the 'Come Hell or High Concept' panel with Gordon Brown, Will Carver and Doug Johnstone, and admirably chaired by Jacky Collins, who had stepped in at the very last minute. This was a really fun panel, with lots of laughter, but at the end of it, none of us, authors included, knew what high concept meant! But all the books featured sound fab, so perhaps when I've read them, I'll have a better idea!

My final event for Saturday was a Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast recording - a special featuring 'Would a Crime Writer Lie To You' which was in no way based on a game show of a similar name. Joining podcast hosts Steve Cavanagh, Luca Veste, musician Stuart Neville and game host Mark Billingham were crime authors Denise Mina, Sarah Pinborough, Will Dean, Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre and Abir Mukerjee. All of them told outrageous truths and lies - Chris Brookmyre watching Swedish porn with Ian Rankin, and the Dalai Lama telling Abir he was fat were my two favourites. An hysterically funny night.

After a much needed lazy morning and lunch with relatives I headed to 'Word of Mouth, Page by Page' with three authors, all at different stages of their writing careers but who have all seen huge success with their books. Jo Spain, Elly Griffiths and Sarah Pinborough were all very entertaining and the snippets from the books sounded great.

Then it was off to talk 'Crime That Goes Bump In The Night' with CJ Tudor, Alison Belsham and Luca Veste. All three have written about the darker side of crime, sometimes gruesome, sometimes scary. I've read Alison's The Tattoo Thief and will be reviewing it on Thursday as part of the blog tour, but I can't wait to get into The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor and Luca's The Bone Keeper. And I finally got my (very poor) selfie game on.

Fabulous and funny Luca Veste

Talented Alison Belsham

Gorgeous CJ Tudor

My final event was Carry On Sleuthing: Murder at the Knickerage, a comedy crime play from the mind (be very afraid!) and pen of fantastic author Douglas Skelton. The actors were authors Caro Ramsay, Michael J Malone, Douglas himself, Teresa Talbot, Alex Gray, Lin Anderson, Neil Broadfoot and Gordon Brown, all doing a fine job of humiliating themselves in the name of comedy. Really, they did a fabulous job and brought the full house down. It was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

I am not a crime writer, nor even an aspiring one, but as a huge fan (stalker) and (fairly new) blogger, this was a weekend full of my people. It's one of the highlights of my year. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and the authors so tolerant and accessible. And fun. It was great to see old friends, make new ones and learn new things. Bob McDevitt, you, your team and the army of volunteers are magicians. I can't imagine how much work it takes beforehand and behind the scenes, but it all runs perfectly. Don't know how you all do it, but THANK YOU! My only regret was that I couldn't get to everything!

Bloody Scotland 2018 book haul

Roll on Bloody Scotland 2019!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

The Janus Run by Douglas Skelton

I'm always delighted to read new work by Scottish writers, but when it's by one of my favourite authors, who has done something completely different in his new book, then it's off the scale exciting!

The Blurb:

"Bullet-ridden, bold, brilliant." Neil Broadfoot

When Coleman Lang finds his girlfriend Gina dead in his New York City apartment, he thinks nothing could be worse... until he becomes the prime suspect.

Desperate to uncover the truth and clear his name, Coleman hits the streets. But there's a deranged Italian hitman, an intuitive cop, two US Marshals, and his ex-wife all on his tail. And trying to piece together Gina's murky past without dredging up his own seems impossible. Worse, the closer he gets to Gina's killer, the harder it is to evade the clutches of the mysterious organisation known only as Janus – from which he'd long since believed himself free.

Packed with plot twists, suspense and an explosive climax, The Janus Run is an edge-of-the-seat, breathtaking thriller – NYC noir at its finest.

The Janus Run was published by Contraband on 20th September 2018.

My Review:

If you're not aware of Douglas Skelton, where have you been? As well as writing the huge collection of books mentioned below, he's also authored one non crime non fiction book, written articles in magazines and newspapers, appeared in TV documentaries, is one quarter of the very funny Four Blokes in Search of a Plot (find them on Facebook), and the mastermind behind (and often in front of) the hysterical Carry On Sleuthing series of comedy crime plays (details also on Facebook).

But with this latest work, The Janus Run, he has gone in a completely new direction, hopping over the water to the United States. The result is an action packed, fast paced thriller that doesn't let up for a minute.

The prologue gives us a taste for what's to come, before we join Coleman Lang as he wakes up to find his girlfriend dead in the bed next to him. He is immediately the prime suspect in her death, and sets out to both prove his innocence, and find Gina's true killers. He is forced to to take an unexpected partner in this quest, and progress is hampered by the fact they are being pursued by a collection of colourful characters.

I loved this story, from the beginning to the hugely satisfying climax. I tasted Lang's grief, although for me it was more acute for Austin Lomax (who we discover is a man full of secrets). 'And so he sat there, alone in a pizzeria, a cup of coffee going cold at his hand, staring at a picture on a tablet while Billy Joel sang about an Uptown Girl on the MP3 player.' Such a sad sentence.

Gina is a real presence throughout the story, but there are other strong women featured, which was great to see. I loved Rosie Santoro - a determined, no nonsense woman who isn't afraid to go after what she thinks is right. But I can't forget the guys. Our hero, Coleman Lang, is not only gorgeous but certainly a man of mystery, but we see the layers start to peel away. My other favourite male character, for very different reasons, was Nicky Bruno. His singing made me think of the moments in the horror film, when the child's voice start singing the nursery rhyme... Read the book and you'll get what I mean!

But it's almost unfair to highlight individual characters because the whole cast is so rich, and so beautifully written. As is the whole story. It was easy to forget that this wasn't written by an American author. For me, at least, it was completely authentic. But there are hints of Skelton's dark humour throughout. I loved his description of a grey sky 'as dull as a Brit TV show on PBS.'

The action begins on the first page and doesn't let up until the last. Bullets fly everywhere, there's blood and guts all over the place and the blistering tension is ramped right up until the thrilling  climax.

This change of direction has been a success - this book is a triumph. I can't recommend it highly enough. I don't know if we'll hear more about Coleman Lang, but there was certainly that option. Whatever, I'm excited to see what Douglas comes up with next, whichever side of the pond it's on!

You can buy The Janus Run from Waterstones and Amazon.

The Author:

Douglas Skelton, shortlisted for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2016, is a writer who specialises in the darker side of things: he's a former journalist who has published eleven true crime books. In 2011 he made the leap to writing crime fiction, beginning with the hugely successful series of Davie McCall thrillers and continuing with the Dominic Queste series: The Dead Don't Boogie and Tag - You're Dead.

You can find out more by visiting his website, or by finding him on social media.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The After Wife by Cass Hunter #blogtour

I am really delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for this brilliant book - I was pretty wrung out by the time I finished it, and haven't stopped thinking about it since. Before I tell you my thoughts, here's a bit about the book.

The Blurb:

A surprising and emotional story starring an unforgettable heroine, for fans of Together, The Summer of Impossible Things and The Time Traveler's Wife.

When Rachel and Aidan fell in love, they thought it was forever.

She was a brilliant, high-flying scientist. He was her loving and supportive husband.

Now she's gone, and Aidan must carry on and raise their daughter alone.

But Rachel has left behind her life's work, a gift of love to see them through the dark days after her death.

A gift called iRachel.

The After Wife was published by Trapeze on 22nd March 2018.

You can buy it from Waterstones, Amazon and other good bookshops.

My Review:

Oh gosh, what a book! I'm not sure where to start. This is not my usual kind of read, but I was intrigued by the blurb. I wasn't disappointed but it fair put me through the emotional wringer!

Rachel is a gifted scientist working, with her socially awkward lab partner Luke,  on a secret AI project when she dies suddenly. Her husband and daughter Chloe have to confront their loss, but Rachel has put something in place which she thinks will help them - iRachel. But it must be kept absolutely secret, which is made difficult by Aidan's mother coming to stay, and the curiosity of Chloe's friends.

Artificial intelligence fascinates and terrifies me in equal measure. The scientific leaps we have made are amazing, but the fact that we live in a time where the development of something similar to iRachel is not far off is downright scary.

Initially, I thought Rachel to be very selfish, both in life and death. Many of the decisions she made had a negative impact on her family, and she used emotional blackmail to put her plans in place following her death. She forced Aidan and Luke, who have an obvious dislike of each other to work together. I thought her plan might prolong the grieving process for Aidan and Chloe. And I can't imagine the pressure of keeping such a huge secret!

Each chapter is written from the point of view of one of the main players - Aidan, Chloe, Luke, Aidan' s mother Sinead and iRachel. Their grief, confusion, frustration and anger are exquisitely described - I was close to tears several times. And as iRachel revealed things about her creator, my opinion of Rachel began to change.

Aidan and Chloe are initially mistrusting and wary of iRachel, but we see them warming to her, and this is brilliantly and carefully written. But for me, the best character is iRachel. We see her growing, evolving, learning, almost like a child. She begins to feel things that she doesn't expect it understand, and it's beautiful to read. Her interactions with Sinead are particularly affecting.

The ending hit me way harder than I thought it would - in fact it completely undid me and I sobbed. But I would have liked it to finish there, without the last two or three pages, but I completely got why they were there.

This book defies categorisation. It's part sci fi, part love story, part family drama. It's about love, loss, grief, friendship and hope. But for me, it's about what it means to be human, and to be accepted. This is an outstanding book which will stay with you long after it's finished, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Thank you to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to join the tour, and to the author  and publisher for my review copy.

The Author:

Cass Hunter was born in South Africa and moved to the UK in 2000. She lives in North London with her husband and two sons. She is an avid lifelong learner, and works at a London university. Cass Hunter is the pen name of Rosie Fiore, whose novels include After Isabella, What She Left, Babies in Waiting and Wonder Women.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Tainted Vintage (Dvorska & Dambersky #1) by Clare Blanchard #TheTaintedVintage @CBCrime @fahrenheitpress

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog blitz for this fabulous book by Clare Blanchard, the first in a new series set in the Czech Republic. My thanks to Emma at damppebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to Clare and Fahrenheit Press for providing my review copy.

The Blurb:

In the small Czech town of Vinice the mayor has been found dead in his wine cellar.

Detectives Jana Dvorska and Ivan Dambersky are called to the scene and soon realise that despite appearances, Mayor Slansky’s death was most definitely not from natural causes.

Almost immediately, the close-knit community closes ranks to try and brush the unexplained death under the carpet with the minimum of fuss.

Dvorska & Dambersky are drawn deeper and deeper into secrets that many hoped would remain buried forever and they’re forced into pursuing an investigation where their own lives are put in danger.

The Tainted Vintage is the first book in a wonderful new series set in and around The Czech Republic, an area rich in history, literature and culture that still remains largely unexplored by contemporary crime fiction fans.

It was published in eBook and paperback formats by Fahrenheit Press on 10th July 2018.

You can buy The Tainted Vintage from Amazon UK or US.

My Review:

I read a lot of crime books, but they have almost always been set in the UK or the US, with a bit of Scandi Noir thrown in. So I was interested to read a book set somewhere completely different, an area that I know nothing about.

Following the sudden death of the mayor, Dvorska and Dambersky are called in to investigate. It is clear to them that the death is not from natural causes, but nobody wants to listen.  Convinced there is more to the story, the two detectives begin an off the books investigation.

Dvorska and Dambersky seem to be an odd couple at first. Dvorska certainly has very little time for Dambersky initially. Although she knows little about him, she views him as lazy and shambolic, and so we do too. But as her opinion of him changes, ours does too. I found myself cross with Dambersky, or worried about him, or sad, because of how I viewed him through Dvorska, and I think this is down to great writing.

There is a large cast of characters, some of whom are distinctly unlikeable, but they are all brilliantly described. The sense of place and scene is very evocative - I felt claustrophobic in the cellar. The descriptions of the  village and surrounding areas are very vivid, and the author's love for the country shines through her writing. I was very jealous of Dvorska and her cabin.

The story certainly went in directions that I really didn't expect. It refers back to a difficult period in the country's history. There are some sad elements to it, with a few horrifying ones, and the author has provided a few shocks along the way.

I found The Tainted Vintage easy to read, but it totally managed to keep me hooked. I found myself keen to discover what had happened next, and the book has expanded my knowledge or rather my lack of knowledge, of the Czech Republic and its recent history. I engaged with the two main protagonists, Dvorska and Dambersky, and look forward to seeing them again in the future.

The Author:

Originally from the North Yorkshire coast in England, Clare Blanchard spent half her lifetime in the Czech Republic, where her books are mainly set. Inspired by Nordic noir, where the settings are often like another character in the plot, she writes crime mysteries and other fiction, usually with a historical twist. She loves beautiful landscapes and architecture, cross-country skiing, the wine of South Moravia, and of course Czech beer. When she’s not being literary she knits funky socks.

You can find out more by visiting her website, following her on Twitter or checking out her Facebook page.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Space Police: Enemy at the Cat Flap by David Blake

I was delighted to have the opportunity to read another book in Space Police series via the Reviewers Request Group in The Book Club on Facebook. Thanks to them and David for my review copy.

The Blurb:

It’s the 25th Century and the President of Earth is about to be assassinated.

Meanwhile… The Mayor of London’s cat has gone missing, and it’s up to Capstan and Dewbush to find it. But when they discover an ancient cat flap that for centuries has been used as a gateway to another planet, what starts off as a bog-standard missing pet case soon becomes something altogether more sinister.

This, the fifth in the brand new Space Police series, is a hilariously funny Sci Fi space comedy that's just perfect for fans of Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, and the Space Team books.

My Review:

Hurray! My favourite intergalactic crime fighting duo are back! I adore this pair, particularly sweet naive Dewbush, the 25th century Penfold to Capstan's Danger Mouse (sorry, haven't come up with a better comparison yet).

I have come to truly love this series, and this is another brilliant addition to it. It gave me a good giggle, and who doesn't need that occasionally?

What can I tell you without spoiling it? Not much, really - you'll just have to read it! Cats feature heavily, although not as you know them - I hope! It's a little bit saucy in places. The President of Earth is compromised. And Gavin gets drunk. And that's all I'm going to say. Oh, except that my favourite 25th century social media platform, Slaptwat, gets a cameo.

It's brilliantly bonkers and utterly ridiculous, and I loved it. It was a joy to read, and fair brightened up a couple of grey rainy days. All the characters are well described, as are their surroundings. The author has a knack for writing the utterly absurd as if it were completely normal. And as I have mentioned in a previous review, I think it's genius to write a comedy series set in a future where humour is outlawed.

Highly recommended for anybody looking for a good laugh and who enjoys the ridiculous, and do check out the rest of the series.

You can buy Space Police: Enemy at the Cat Flap on Amazon.

You can read my reviews of some of David's other books by using the links below:
Space Police: The Final Fish Finger
Space Police: The Toaster that Time Forgot
Space Police: Rise of the Retail-Bot

The Author:

David Blake is married and lives in London with his young family.

When not writing he spends his time attempting to persuade his wife that she really doesn't need to buy the entire contents of Ikea, even if there is a sale on. And when there are no items of flat-packed furniture for him to assemble he enjoys writing, base-jumping, and drawing up plans to demolish his house to build the world’s largest charity shop.

For more information, visit David's website.

These Lost & Broken Things by Helen Fields

I am thrilled to be on the blog tour for this historical thriller from Helen Fields. This isn't a genre I go to very often but I knew He...