Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Things We Learn When We're Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

This had been on my TBR pile for a long time, so I was delighted to finally get the chance to read it.  Big thanks to Charlie for my review copy and even bigger apologies to him, as it took me much longer than I thought it would.

The Blurb

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is about how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, but how we can sometimes get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.

It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN, because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… or does God have a higher purpose after all?

Despite that, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a book about memory and how, if we could remember things slightly differently, would we also be changed?

In HVN, Lorna can at first remember nothing. But as her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that, maybe, she can find a way back home.

The Things We Learn When We're Dead was published by Accent Press on 26th January 2017. You can purchase it from Waterstones, Amazon and other good bookshops. 

My Review:

I was intrigued by the blurb for this one as soon as I saw it. And also by the author revealing there was a nod to the Wizard of Oz in his writing. First of all, I love the cover - it's fun and funky - but don't let the rocket mislead you into thinking this is a sci-fi story. There's a bit of that, but that's not what this book is about.

This is an original story - I certainly had never read anything like it before. On the day of the 7/7 bombings in London, young trainee lawyer Lorna is knocked over by a car in Edinburgh. She wakes up in Heaven, which turns out to be a spaceship. Lorna doesn't meet many of the crew, but she meets the captain, a tracksuited, ponytailed God, and his assistant, the wonderfully irreverent Irene.

Lorna is understandably confused and unnerved. How can this be Heaven when it's a spaceship? Why is she there? can she get back home? Nobody will tell her - God just says there is a reason. Lorna has no memories when she arrives, but begins to remember things after a while, slowly at first but then they come tumbling back quicker.

The story jumps between scenes on the spaceship and Lorna's memories, some recent, some from her childhood. You do need to keep focussed to follow everything, but we learn about Lorna's life through these memories. Her parents, her brother, early family holidays, her best friend Suzie, part time job, past loves. This was a brilliant way to look at Lorna. We see she's not perfect, but I found her very real, and beautifully described. Her colleagues at the HappyMart are a colourful bunch, and best friend Suzie is an absolute hoot and is one of my favourite characters.

The other character I particularly enjoyed was Irene, who looks after Lorna when she first arrives in Heaven (or HVN, to be more accurate). She's fabulous, and I had a really clear picture of her in my mind.

I've found this hard to review, without giving away anything. It's a unique way to explore someone's life, the decisions she makes and the effects they have. The whole time Lorna is trying to recover her memories, she has a feeling that Suzie was angry at her. She is also confused as God and Irene say that she walked in front of the car deliberately. She knows she wouldn't do that.

I can't say much more - you really need to read it for yourself. Charlie Laidlaw has written a funny, poignant tale of love, loss, friendship and second chances. I really enjoyed it, and have no hesitation in recommending it. 

The Author:

Charlie Laidlaw was born in the west of Scotland and is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. He has been a national newspaper journalist and worked in defence intelligence. He is married with two grown-up children. You can visit his website here

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Janus Run book launch

So it would appear that a week is my default time for reporting back on book events, which is too long frankly, but, you know, life. And adulting. And alcohol was involved again - this time I was dragged to the pub after the event. Dragged, I tell you, dear reader! And at my age, recovery takes longer! But it was such a brilliant night for a fantastic book, I'm still going to talk about it.

Anyway, last Thursday evening saw the Glasgow launch of The Janus Run by Douglas Skelton. It was a busy night in Waterstones on Argyle Street, as we gathered to see Douglas being grilled by fellow crime writer Neil Broadfoot. Now these two are firm friends, not that either of them would admit to it, and the banter (and insults) between them was fabulous and funny.

The Janus Run is the seventh novel from Douglas, but the first set outside of Scotland. In fact all the way over in the USA, New York specifically.  So it was something very different for him, but he is steeped in American films, and basically wanted to write an action movie in a book. I, for one, think he's achieved it.

Here's a wee clip of Douglas talking about the book.

He explains that it is about people not necessarily being who you think they are. He used himself and Neil as examples. He pointed out that we might see him as a debonair (he forgot some of us actually know him!), gregarious chap, but he's actually quite shy - hmm. And while Neil has the 'whole Jason Statham thing going on', he's more like 'John Inman on HRT'. Just to be clear, those were Douglas' words, not mine!

Neil asked him how he managed to capture the energy and pace of New York. Douglas has visited once for four days, and otherwise has used Google Maps, but he still worries about his accuracy. The American mafia also plays a big part in this book, but Douglas loves mafia movies and also watched a couple of documentaries and used these as the basis of his research.

Although some of his previous books haven't had that much dialogue in them, he found all the dialogue in this one easy to write. He tends towards humour in his writing, and has to tone it down for this book, but it's still there.

Douglas was asked what his favourite part of the writing process was - he quipped that it was the royalty cheque! He tends to work visually, and doesn't plan. It doesn't work for him. He gets bored if he tries to plan, and figures if he's bored, then the reader will be too. There is violence in The Janus Run, and a huge body count, but it's never terribly explicit. As he pointed out, this is very different from Neil's books which are like 'snuff movies on paper'!

He was asked if there would be a follow up to The Janus Run. This could be a possibility, as the book ends in such a way that the story could continue, anywhere in the US. But it will depend on sales - so get buying, people! In the meantime, up next for Douglas is the publication of his next book Thunder Bay, which will be out in March next year. It is set on a fictional Scottish island, and is darker as more thoughtful than most of the other books he's written. More details nearer publication day.

It was a brilliant night, and even included wine! But not the promised crisp, I noticed. The Janus Run is a fantastic, fast paced, action packed thriller, and if you haven't read it yet, I urge you to remedy that at the earliest opportunity. You can find buying links below, together with the link to my review of the book on this blog.

You can purchase The Janus Run from Waterstones, Amazon and other good bookshops. My review can be found here.

He almost smiled! Yay! 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

The Dark Place by Stephanie Rogers

I was intrigued by the blurb for The Dark Place, and am delighted to be on the blog tour for this fab book. Huge thanks to the author, Manatee Books and Tracy Fenton for inviting me to be involved and for my review copy.

The Blurb:

When you look at those you love, what do you see?

When Issy, young mother and beloved daughter, seemingly kills herself her family is devastated.

Believing she would never leave son Noah willingly, Jon and Mel determine to discover what really happened to Issy. As they and the rest of the family struggle to come to terms with tragedy, Jon and Mel start to realise Issy's secrets come from a very dark place...

The Dark Place was published by Manatee Books on 27th September 2018. You can purchase it from Amazon

My Review:

Oh gosh, I think this book broke my heart several times!

We meet 19 year old Issy briefly in the first chapter when she comes home from university. She sees her mum and her little boy, who is cared for by her parents in term time. Then she tells her mum she's heading out before dinner, and never returns. What initially appears to be an accident turns out to be something very different...

The rest of the book details Jon and Mel's desperate search for the reason behind Issy's decision. They are supported by Mel's sister Pam and her husband Justin, Jon's best friend, who loved Issy like she was their own. The story is told from Jon and Mel's viewpoints, in alternating chapters, with the occasional chapter from someone else's point of view.

As a parent myself, I can't imagine how awful it must be to lose a child. It's every parent's worst nightmare. Jon and Mel's pain is raw and real, and exquisitely described. They each deal with it differently, and learn things about themselves and their relationship along the way. But I also need to mention Greg, the lorry driver, who goes through his own pain, and was a standout character for me.

The more they find out about Issy's life, the more her parents  realise that they didn't really know her. And what they discover, aided by a kind and diligent police officer, is truly horrific. As they finally face the truth, they must decide what to do, what action they should take.

This is a beautifully written tale, with emotions described perfectly. It made me want to cry, reading their pain. I worked out some of what happened, but not all. This is a story of a broken family, where one person's actions will impact on everyone close to them for years to come. And as a reader, I am still thinking about it now. A quick word of warning though - The Dark Place does touch on a number of difficult, sensitive issues that might be upsetting to some. But a brilliant read.

The Author:

I have always lived in Yorkshire, migrating a whole three miles over the border from South to North Yorkshire and have always loved reading. As a kid, I was always reading when I should have been doing something else and nothing has changed (uncooked or burnt dinners being commonplace in my house – cooking’s overrated anyway). For most of my adult life I’ve worked as a dog groomer, interspersed with bouts of working as a musician, playing drums and saxophone, which has taken me to Germany and Israel. They’re not that compatible really, dog grooming and music – dogs hate the noises saxes and drums make (well mine do; or maybe it’s how I play them.) I have been and always will be, unashamedly, a rock chick.

After ignoring the urge to write for a long time (too busy, no time, kids to feed, books to read) I finally did a creative writing course with Writers’ Bureau, which I loved. I’ve written two thrillers, which is my favourite genre to read, and a couple of children’s books. I’ve also sold short stories to Take-A-Break’s Fiction Feast.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Sex Drive by Stephanie Theobald #BlogTour

I don't often read non fiction, factual, books but like to keep things fresh by ringing the changes. With a catch line of 'On the road to a pleasure revolution', and a note from the publishers describing it as 'One woman's road trip across America in search of her lost libido', it was clear that Sex Drive wasn't going to be my usual kind of read.

The Blurb:

Arriving in New York with a failing relationship and a body she felt out of touch with, Stephanie Theobald set off on a 3,497 mile trip across America to re-build her orgasm from the ground up. What started as a quest for the ultimate auto-erotic experience became a fantastic voyage into her own body. 

She takes us from ‘body sex’ classes with the legendary feminist Betty Dodson to an interview with the former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who was fired for suggesting that masturbation should be talked about in schools. Along the way, we are immersed in a weird, countercultural America of marijuana farms and ‘ecosexual sexologists’. 

Sex Drive is a memoir about desire and pleasure, merging sexuality and spirituality, eighteenth-century porn and enlightenment philosophy. A new sexual revolution has begun – and this time round, it’s all about the women.

Sex Drive was published by Unbound on 18th October 2018. You can purchase it from Waterstones, Amazon UK and US, and other good bookshops. 

My Review

Well, where to start? With the basics, I think -  I love the cover. It's bright, eye catching, and evokes a sense of freedom. 

This is a memoir with a difference. It covers a short period of the author's life when, unhappy with herself, she sets out to find out more about her body, particularly her genital area, and to rediscover her sexuality. Mainly through masturbation. 

I would not describe myself as prudish, and who wouldn't want to be more in touch with their own body? So I wasn't offended by the escapades in the book, but I certainly had my eyes opened by them. I was touched by how open and honest the author is about her own memories, feelings and experiences. She shares things that many of us would consider to be private, and it's really refreshing. This isn't a book for everyone - it's very descriptive and explicit, but never titillating. Theobald writes frankly, openly and with good humour. 

Her search for her libido encompasses all manner of experiences and she interviews many women, and men, considered to be experts in their particular fields. She takes part in a masturbation workshop, visits a BDSM sex party, goes for an ecosexual walk in the woods and meets a RaĆ«lian princess who believes the alien Sky People want us to have more sex, to name but a few of those experiences. As well as relating her adventures, Theobald also quotes from history, literature, medicine and science, which meant I learned stuff along the way. 

I found this book to be incredibly interesting, entertaining and educational. And eye opening. A breath of fresh air. I  didn't agree with everything I read, but that's fine. It didn't make it any less of a book. The only small thing I struggled with was the pretty consistent use of the word 'cunt'. It's not a word I'm particularly comfortable with, and I'm not used to hearing it from a woman. Perhaps not as broad minded as I thought I was!

As I said earlier, this is not a book for everyone, and definitely not for the faint hearted or easily offended, but I feel it would be an entertaining and beneficial read for both women and men interested in finding out more about female sexuality and pleasure. 

Huge thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the tour, and Unbound for my review copy. 

The Author:

Stephanie Theobald is a British journalist, novelist, public speaker and broadcaster known for her playful and thoughtful work around sexuality and feminism. The Times described her as as 'one of London's most celebrated literary lesbians' and she writes regularly for the Guardian, the Sunday Times and Elle UK. She is the author of four novels, most recently A Partial Indulgence (2010). She lives between London and Los Angeles. You can find out more by visiting her website

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Death on the River by Clare Chase #BlogBlitz

I loved the first book in this series, Murder in the Marshes, and was really keen to read this, the follow up. Huge thanks to the author and Noelle Holten at Bookoutre for inviting me to take part, and for providing my review copy.

The Blurb:

Meet Tara Thorpe – she’s Cambridge Police’s newest recruit… but her dark past is never far behind her. Perfect for fans of Faith Martin, LJ Ross and Joy Ellis.

When a body is pulled from the dank and dangerous fens on the outskirts of town, everybody assumes it was a tragic accident. But Detective Tara Thorpe, newly joined and determined to prove herself, suspects there’s more to the story.

Tara is desperate to investigate further, but her supervisor  Patrick Wilkins has other ideas. He would rather die than let this ambitious upstart show him up – even if it means some digging in Tara’s secret past to keep her under his thumb. After all, it’s not like he can report her – everyone knows that his boss Detective Garstin Blake and Tara have a history…

When another body is found, it becomes clear that there’s a killer on the loose. Could the murders be linked to the secrets that Tara has been keeping from her team… and can she solve the case before another innocent dies?

An unputdownable page-turner that will keep you hooked until the very last page!

Death on the River is published by Bookoutre and was released yesterday. You can buy it from Amazon.

My Review:

Death on the River follows on from the first Tara Thorpe book, Murder on the Marshes, but takes place four years later and Tara is now a police officer.

Tara is contacted by the sister of the late author Ralph Cairncross who believes there was foul play involved in her brother's death, which has been ruled as accidental. But it seems there is no evidence to support her claim. Cairncross  had some strange ideas about life and death, but had a small band of very loyal young supporters.

Against her better judgement, Tara agrees to investigate further. It was great to see that she has lost none of the tenacity we saw when she was a journalist. She has a feeling when something isn't right, and pursues it until she finds out  the truth. This means she frequently butts heads with her immediate supervisor Wilkins, who is just waiting for her to fail. He is a thoroughly horrible character and I know that because he's so well written. As are all the characters, actually. They are a colourful bunch, but the standout for me is Philippa - I could hear the bitterness in her voice!

Although this is a follow on novel, it works brilliantly as a standalone. The case is completely new anyway, and Tara's history with Blake is explained. and although his personal situation has got more complicated, he sometimes struggles to be completely rational with Tara. I was pleased to see there was still a wee frisson there.

It's beautifully written, with the often foreboding countryside playing an active part in the story. The plot is satisfyingly complex and interesting, the pace is maintained and I certainly didn't see the ending coming. Oh, and I'm a teeny bit in love with Kemp!

I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this.

The Author:

Clare Chase writes mysteries set in her home city of Cambridge and is fascinated by the location’s contrasts and contradictions. She’s worked in diverse settings – from the 800-year-old University to one of the local prisons – and lived everywhere from the house of a Lord to a slug-infested flat. The terrace she now occupies presents a good happy medium.

As well as writing, Clare loves family time, art and architecture, cooking, and of course, reading other people’s books. She lives with her husband and teenage children, and currently works at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Clare’s debut novel, You Think You Know Me, was shortlisted for the Novelicious Undiscovered Award 2012, and an EPIC award in 2015. It was also chosen as a debut of the month by Lovereading.

You can find Clare's website and blog at

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Shadow Man by Margaret Kirk

Earlier in the year, I was asked to be a reader for the Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize, and was lucky enough to get to read a varied selection of books. Shadow Man was one of them.

The Blurb:

A gripping Scottish crime thriller from the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing competition 2016.

Two sisters

Just before her wedding day, Morven Murray, queen of daytime TV, is found murdered. All eyes are on her sister Anna, who was heard arguing with her hours before she was killed.

Two murders

On the other side of Inverness, police informant Kevin Ramsay is killed in a gangland-style execution. But what exactly did he know?

One killer?

As ex-Met Detective Inspector Lukas Mahler digs deeper into both cases, he discovers that Morven's life was closer to the Inverness underworld than anyone imagined. Caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, is Lukas hunting one killer, or two?

Shadow Man was published by Orion on 2nd November 2017. You can purchase it from Amazon, Waterstones and other good bookshops.

My Review:

The story pretty much opens with the murder of Morven Murray who was just about to get married, and the story follows the subsequent investigation. Occasionally amongst the chapters are shorter italicised passages, written from the point of view of the murderer, giving us glimpse into his or her mind. I really liked that.

I found Mahler to be an interesting chap. He seems slightly aloof, distant from his colleagues and sometimes a bit abrupt and insensitive when questioning witnesses. I liked him though, but he doesn't seen that popular with his team, and he clearly has history with Karen.

The characters that crop up in the investigations are all clearly drawn and I particularly felt for Anna Murray. I loved that The story is set in an around Inverness, as it's an area of Scotland I know and love, and the scenery and surroundings are always well described. There was always enough going on to keep me interested, and the tension built up well towards the end. I had an idea who the culprit might be, but only right near the end.

Shadow Man is written in the present tense throughout, which is not something I am used to, and it took me a while to settle into it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be looking out for further work by this author.

The Author:

Margaret Morton Kirk is a writer living and working in the Scottish Highlands. Runrig fan, chocoholic and mad cat lady, she writes crime fiction with a twist and was runner-up in the 2015 ‘Bloody Scotland’ Crime Writing Festival short story competition.

'Shadow Man', the first in a series of crime novels set in Inverness and featuring ex-Met DI Lukas Mahler, won the 2016 Good Housekeeping First Novel competition.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Without Rules by Andrew Field #blogblitz

I am delighted to be shining a spotlight on Without Rules and its author Andrew Field today on the opening day of the blog blitz. Thank you to Emma at damppebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part, and to the author for my review copy.

The Blurb:

When a professional hitman turns up at Candy’s World to hide, China Mackie discovers her plan to flee from her abusive father has tragically backfired. A gruesome bloodbath has left four people dead on the streets of a northern city centre on a cold wet Sunday morning. China knows she’s next to die. Unless she is more ruthless than everyone else. She must improvise fast. Seduce her father’s assassin. Plead her case so he helps her escape in a fight to the death where rules don’t matter but the consequences do.

Publishing Information:

Published by Boomslang on Monday 15th October 2018 in eBook and paperback formats.

Purchase Links:

Andrew Field’s online bookstore
Amazon UK
Amazon US

My Mini Review:

The story has a whole range of colourful characters, which are well described. Many of them are really not very nice guys, and this is clear in the writing. China is a very sympathetic character, with one hell of a history, whilst Jak is interesting and enigmatic. Would have loved to learn more about him.

The book went in a direction I didn't expect, and the ending was a surprise to me too. An interesting read.

The Author:

Andrew Field has spent most of his working life as a PR and marketing consultant helping raise the profiles of others. Now the roles are reversed as he steps into the spotlight as the author of Without Rules, a crime thriller about vulnerable people forced to do bad things to escape evil people. “Authors, by the nature of what they do, are relatively introverted. They work in isolation. Inhabit imaginary worlds of their own creation. They can spend ages staring at a computer screen bringing their characters to life. Then they have to become a different person to promote their work and market themselves. Writing is the easy part compared to the marketing, especially when crime fiction has become a very crowded marketplace.”

“From my point of view, professional PR people operate best from behind the scenes. They should never become the story otherwise you’re deflecting attention away from the messages you’re trying to communicate,” says Andrew. “The New Labour experiment, for example, was doomed the minute Tony Blair’s media guru Alistair Campbell generated his own headlines. Bragged about ‘spin’.  Believed his own hype. Ditto Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci’s 10-day tenure as the shortest-serving White House communications director in history - and his “off the record” expletive-ridden rant about his colleagues in Donald Trump’s White House.”

As a PR, Andrew memorably handled Boddingtons Bitter during its “Cream of Manchester” heyday, developing innovative sports and cultural media partnerships with newspapers and TV stations for the beer brand - but also PR’d a fashion entrepreneur who was a convicted armed bank robber and a property developer who did eighteen months prison time for blackmail. “Having a diverse range of clients keeps it interesting. They are all different but the core requirement is to be seen as a believable and trusted information source ready to take advantage of PR opportunities as and when they arise. As a novelist, you look to do exactly the same with your work and yourself.”

“The catalyst for Without Rules was a friend testifying against her father in an abuse case. Although the prosecution was successful, she can never really escape the consequences of what happened to her. She has to find a way of coping for the rest of her life while he was sentenced to two and half years.”

Andrew says crime fiction has a duty to try and educate and as well as entertain. “The memorable books are the ones you're still thinking about 48-hours after you finished reading.”

Andrew lives, works and plays in Manchester, England, Europe, with his partner, Catherine. He has been a trade journalist in Southampton in his youth. He owned a PR agency in the nineties and early noughties and is now an independent PR, marketing and publishing consultant looking forward to the challenge of becoming the story with the publication of Without Rules.

Social Media Links:


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Wife's Secret by Kerry Wilkinson #blogblitz

I'm so excited to be opening this blog blitz, and on publication day too! I have wanted to read Kerry Wilkinson for ages, and this gave me the perfect opportunity. Huge thanks to the author and Noelle Holten at Bookoutre for inviting me to take part and providing me with my review copy.

The Blurb:

Charley Willis was thirteen years old when her parents were killed in their family home and she was found hiding in a cupboard upstairs.

Fifteen years later, Charley is marrying Seth Chambers. It should be the happiest day of their lives, a chance for Charley to put her past behind her, but just hours after the ceremony, she is missing.

No one saw her leave. No one knows where she is.

One thing is for certain…Seth is about to discover he doesn’t really know the woman he just married. And his nightmare is only just beginning.

A totally gripping psychological thriller that will keep you reading until the very last jaw-dropping twist.

The Wife's Secret is published today by Bookoutre. You can purchase it from Amazon UK or US, iBookstore, Kobo or Googleplay.

My Review:

I was really looking forward to reading this and, happily, I wasn't disappointed.

Charley's parents were famous - wholesome TV hosts loved by the nation - until they were murdered when Charley was 13. She is taken in by older sister Martha, the wild child of the family. Years later, she is marrying Seth, in a low key ceremony which is perfect for them. But then it all begins to go wrong.

I really liked Seth. He seems to be a nice guy, down to earth, 'normal'. A guy enjoying his wedding day to the woman he loves. And then she disappears. Did she leave? Was she taken? Seth is understandably confused and upset, and his bewilderment is well described.

I can't say much more about the story without giving any spoilers. What I can tell you is that this is a family centred drama, told in the past and present. My opinions of Charley changed as I moved through the book, and learnt more about her. I loved Martha - she is brave, strong, passionate and fights for what is right.

This is a tight, well told story. All the characters in the cast are fully described, and I had strong reactions to a couple of them, which stayed with me after I'd finished reading. The tension mounts as the story progresses, and there are plenty of 'OMG' moments as we learn more. And as we learn things, so does Seth. I really felt for him, and would love to know what was happening a couple of years on from the end of the book!

This was my first experience of Kerry Wilkinson's writing, and I can't wait to read more.

The Author:

Kerry Wilkinson has had No.1 crime bestsellers in the UK, Canada, South Africa and Singapore, as well as top-five books in Australia. He has also written two top-20 thrillers in the United States. His book, Ten Birthdays, won the RNA award for Young Adult Novel of the Year in 2018.

As well as his million-selling Jessica Daniel series, Kerry has written the Silver Blackthorn trilogy - a fantasy-adventure serial for young adults - a second crime series featuring private investigator Andrew Hunter, plus numerous standalone novels. He has been published around the world in more than a dozen languages.

Originally from the county of Somerset, Kerry has spent far too long living in the north of England, picking up words like 'barm' and 'ginnel'.

When he's short of ideas, he rides his bike or bakes cakes. When he's not, he writes it all down.

You can find out more by visiting Kerry's website or following him on Facebook.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Ed's Dead by Russel D McLean

I'm delighted to be reviewing Ed's Dead, a standalone novel by author Russel D McLean.

The Blurb:

Meet Jen. She works in a bookshop and likes the odd glass of Prosecco... oh, and she's about to be branded The Most Dangerous Woman in Scotland.

Jen Carter is a failed writer with a rubbish boyfriend, Ed. That is, until she accidentally kills him one night. Now that Ed's dead, she has to decide what to do with his body, his drugs and a big pile of cash. And, more pressingly, how to escape the hitman who's been sent to recover Ed's stash. Soon Jen's on the run from criminals, corrupt police officers and the prying eyes of the media. Who can she trust? And how can she convince them that the trail of corpses left in her wake are just accidental deaths?

A modern noir that proves, once and for all, the female of the species really is more deadly than the male.

Ed's Dead is published by Contraband (Sarabrand), and was released on 1st March 2017. You can buy it from Waterstones, Amazon UK and US, and other good bookshops.

My Review:

I have been lucky enough to read this a couple of times, and it's a firm favourite of mine. It's full on, full of action and tension, but it all begins with an accident.

Ed's a complete dead loss, and like Jen, I'd be really fed up with him. Other than that, Jen has a normal, actually quite boring, life. I loved her  - she's very down to earth and practical. Normal. Relatable. She's also a bookseller, which I would love to be, so there's a win right there. But then there's this accident, a catastrophic one, and the decision she makes immediately afterwards changes her life forever.

From that moment on, the action doesn't stop. And the tension builds, as chaos and violence surround Jen wherever she goes. Some of the violent scenes are quite graphic and gruesome, but there is a strong vein of black humour running throughout. One of my favourite scenes is Dave and Jen 's trip to Loch Lomond - it's pretty gory, but made me laugh out loud (wait though, that might just be me)! You'll just need to read the book to find out what I 'm talking about!

But alongside this, there are some real moments of poignancy and sadness. And whilst some of what happens to Jen is extreme, it's not too hard to imagine how making one wrong decision can cause things to snowball, and send everything spinning out of control.

This book is also a masterclass in characterisation. Every single person who features is brilliantly drawn - I could see them in my mind. And the same goes for the scenery - so descriptive, a real sense of place. I could absolutely imagine this on the big screen.

I loved everything about this book, I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to review it. It's the first of Russel's books I've read, and I know, having heard him speak about it, that it's very different in tone from his earlier work. But this has made me want to read more of his stuff, so the previous books are now on my wishlist.

The Author:

Russel D McLean was born in Fife, and moved to Dundee where he studied philosophy at the University of Dundee. His speciality was philosophy of mind, but after he discovered the difficulty of funding a PhD he fell into the disreputable company of the booktrade.

Russel's path to publication started at sixteen when he submitted his first full length novel to Virgin Publishing New Doctor Who Adventures. The novel was summarily rejected and he spent the next fourteen years perfecting his style before finally switching genres and writing dark crime fiction. His first paid credit was in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in 2004 and his first novel, THE GOOD SON, was released in 2008.

He has since been published in the US, translated into Italian, French and German, and was nominated for best first PI novel by the Private Eye Writers of America.

He spent over a decade as a bookseller in Dundee and Glasgow, writing at night. These days he writes full time from his office in a Gothic Monstrosity somewhere in Glasgow, supplementing his fiction work with editorial work for a variety of clients, a lot of events chairing, and just about anything that pays the bills. For two years (2014-16) he wrote a monthly crime fiction column for the Scottish Herald. And yes, he really did once share a flat with a cursed mask.

You can find out more by visiting Russel's website, or by following him on social media.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Tidelines Book Festival

So, it appears that it's taking me a week to recover from and  write up my festival experiences! I really need to up my game - particularly as there was a lot less alcohol involved this time!

Anyway, last Sunday I spent a brilliant afternoon and evening in Irvine for the last day of the fab Tidelines Book Festival, which takes place in the lovely Harbour Arts Centre.

My first event of the afternoon was Alex Gray, interviewed by Theresa Talbot.

Only The Dead Can Tell is the 15th, and latest book in the DI William Lorimer series, and focuses on the issue of people trafficking, with Lorimer now heading up the Major Incidents Team (MIT).

After reading a little from the book, Alex talked about her good relationship with Police Scotland, and its Chief Constable, Ian Livingstone. This has enabled her to research her books very thoroughly, and for this one this involved  meeting the actual head of the MIT.

Alex talked about her writing routine - she writes every morning and edits what she wrote the day before. She is not much of a plotter and doesn't keep notes - everything is in her head.

She deliberately wrote William Lorimer as an ordinary man, who has ordinary things happen to him, because ordinary people are interesting. And it's certainly a plan that worked. Book 16 in the series is pretty much done and Alex has the idea for number 17.

You can purchase the ebook from Amazon or pre order the paper back from , or other good bookshops.

After a short break for liquid refreshment, it was time for an hour in the company of Pat Young, who spoke to a packed room. Pat is always a joy to listen to - she is enthusiastic and open.

Her third book, One Perfect Witness, has just been released and is a standalone, following her series of two - Till The Dust Settles and I Know Where You Live. In all her books, someone disappears. She likes to think 'What If?' and wants readers to think 'What would I do?'

Till The Dust Settles opens in New York, and Pat was inspired to write it after watching three separate TV documentaries about the 9/11 tragedy. The title comes from the infamous dust that came down following the explosion after the impact of the plane into the tower. For the title of the second one, Pa Pat took inspiration from something closer to home. She had arranged for a delivery of books to be sent to a pick up point near her home in France. The man who ran the pick up point denied he had ever received the books (he had), was very aggressive towards Pat and actually physically assaulted her husband, and they had to involve the police. When her husband had to go away shortly afterwards, Pat realised that awful man knew where she lived, and the title was born.

The new book, One Perfect Witness, was inspired by a book she found on a French campsite charity shelf. It was a tourist guide for the area she was staying in, and contained a note and some money from a woman to her grandson. This got Pat wondering why someone would give away an item which contained money, and the book grew from there. And it sounds fab.

Pat talked about loads of other stuff, often had us in hysterics and the hour was over all too soon. Oh, and she had the most gorgeous shoes on!

You can buy One Perfect Witness from Waterstones, Amazon and other good bookshops.

Following another wee break, I headed back in for the launch of Douglas Skelton's brilliant new book The Janus Run. This was just a wee half hour session and was full of fun and laughter. Douglas was interviewed, or rather insulted, by friend and fellow crime writer, Neil Broadfoot, and generally heckled by the packed house. But it was all good natured fun, and it was clear how popular Douglas is. I'm not entirely sure what we learnt about the book in that half hour, but it was a fantastic event! The Janus Run is Skelton's first foray over the pond to the USA, and features protagonist Coleman Lang, and a colourful cast of characters including mob figures, cops and US Marshals. Neil Broadfoot describes it as 'Bullet ridden, bold, brilliant' and it's a perfect

My review of The Janus Run is here. You can buy it from Waterstones, Amazon and other good bookshops.

We didn't have time to head out for dinner, so ate in the HAC bar, and can highly recommend it. It was really lovely.

The final event of the day, and the festival, was a performance of Carry on Sleuthing: Murder at the Knickerage. I had only seen this a week earlier, but it had some additional scenes, and a slight change of cast, and was just as funny, if not funnier than the first time round. As is often the case, some of the unscripted moments were the best - Trump the horse (John Coughlan and Pat Young) collapsing in an undignified heap, and twins Tim and Tom (Michael J Malone and Theresa Talbot) completely losing it. The Carry On Sleuthing plays - there are two so far, with a third on the way - are written and directed by author Douglas Skelton, who also.presents them and plays several parts - his Farquhuar on this one was a particular highlight. You can find details of performances on Facebook.

The full cast for this show was Douglas Skelton, Caro Ramsay, Michael J Malone, Theresa Talbot, Pat Young, Alex Gray and John Coughlan. I couldn't take good photos because of where I was sitting, so I'm hugely grateful to Ellie Petrie and Rob Hannah for allowing me to use their pictures

Photo credit: Rob Hannah

Photo credit: Rob Hannah

Photo credit: Rob Hannah

Photo credit: Ellie Petrie

Photo credit: Ellie Petrie

Photo credit: Ellie Petrie
I can't go without mentioning what a joy it was to finally meet David Mclaughlan, local man, writer, general wordsmith and long time Facebook friend, along with his lovely wife Julie.

I had the best time, and would like to thank all the Tideline organisers and fabulous volunteers.

Buying links for books not already featured:
Keep Her Silent by Theresa Talbot - Amazon
No Man's Land by Neil Broadfoot - Waterstones, Amazon
The Suffering of Strangers by Caro Ramsay - Amazon
After He Died by Michael J Malone - Waterstones, Amazon

Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Tattoo Thief by Alison Belsham

I'm so pleased it's come round to my stop on the blog tour for this fantastic book. As soon as I read the blurb for The Tattoo Thief I knew I had to read it, and jumped at the chance to be part of this tour. Huge thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me, and to the publisher for my review copy of the book.

The Blurb:

A policeman on his first murder case
A tattoo artist with a deadly secret
And a twisted serial killer sharpening his blades to kill again...

When Brighton tattoo artist Marni Mullins discovers a flayed body, newly-promoted DI Francis Sullivan needs her help. There's a serial killer at large, slicing tattoos from his victims' bodies while they're still alive. Marni knows the tattooing world like the back of her hand, but has her own reasons to distrust the police. So when she identifies the killer's next target, will she tell Sullivan or go after the Tattoo Thief alone?

The Tattoo Thief is published by Trapeze and was released on 3rd May 2018.

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

My Review:

This is Alison's first crime thriller, and it won the Pitch Perfect competition for new crime writers at the 2016 Bloody Scotland Festival. It's easy to see why. This is one hell of a genre debut and I raced through it in two days. Original, exciting, and just a wee bit gruesome. At Bloody Scotland this year, I was lucky enough to meet Alison and hear her talk about the book at a festival event.
Firstly, I have to say I really like the cover - it's very striking and dramatic. This is the second cover. My ARC had the previous, equally stunning black and red cover, but my bought copy has this one.

Francis Sullivan has recently been promoted to Detective Inspector at a relatively young age, this is his first case and his boss is just waiting for him to fail. His immediate subordinate Rory Mackay feels he should have been promoted to DI in place of Sullivan, so isn't keen on working for him. Antagonistic Mackay tries to oppose his boss, but also begins to recognise his wisdom and skil. I found Sullivan really interesting. He seems quite innocent, despite his job and senior position. He lives a quiet life and has a strong faith, in which he usually finds support and solace.

The first body is found by tattoo artist Marni Mullins, who I adored. She's a woman in a man's world, gutsy, with a no nonsense, no bullshit attitude. But she has a dark history and is not a fan of the police. Can Sullivan change those views?

I was delighted to find that the book was set in Brighton. I lived there for several years, and knew many of the places mentioned. It remains one of my favourite places, and offers a real eclectic mix of people, activities and places. The perfect setting for this story.

We are thrown headfirst into the story with a gruesome first chapter from the point of the view of the killer. It took my breath away. From then the story is told from four viewpoints - Francis, Marni, Rory and the Tattoo Thief. I particularly enjoyed the chapters from the perpetrator (I hate to imagine what that says about me!) because they gave me an insight into a skewed, off kilter mind. They are quite gory and bloody, mind. Didn't bother me at all, but worth mentioning.

After this fab opening, the pacing is perfect. The story zips along, it's full of action and the tension builds towards a brilliant climax. And there are a few OMG moments. It's clearly been very well researched, and the author's acknowledgements provide some details about that. 

This was a fantastic read, and I recommend it to anyone who likes their crime a wee bit on the dark side. I was excited to hear there's to be a follow up, and am waiting impatiently.

Oh I forgot to say, I'm a little bit in love with Thierry, but don't tell anyone, eh?

The Author:

Alison Belsham initially started writing with the ambition of becoming a screenwriter and in 2000 was commended for her visual storytelling in the Orange Prize for Screenwriting. In 2001 she was shortlisted in a BBC Drama Writer competition. Life and children intervened but, switching to fiction, in 2009 her novel Domino was selected for the prestigious Adventures in Fiction mentoring scheme. In 2016 she pitched her first crime novel, The Tattoo Thief, at the Pitch Perfect event at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and was judged the winner. After signing with agent Jenny Brown, The Tattoo Thief was bought by Trapeze books and published in May, 2018.

Her Last Breath by Alison Belsham

I loved the Tattoo Thief, the previous book in this series, so was super excited to read this Her Last Breath. And it didn't disappoint....