Liz Currently Loves….The Secret Place by Tana French.


Publication Date: 28th August 2014 from Hodder and Staughton.

Thank you to the author and publisher for the advance reading copy via netgalley.

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

Firstly I should apologise to all Tana French fans who now have a bit of a wait for this one, its possible I should have delayed a little before reading and reviewing it, but really would you have waited? Nobody who has ever read anything by this author would have waited even a second…impossible. If you get the chance to read novels of this calibre early you don’t hesitate…

When it comes to writing emotional, evocative and magnificently character driven crime novels nobody does it better than Tana French. And I do mean nobody – as far as putting haunting magical words on the page goes, Ms French has the lead by quite a wide margin. The sheer beauty of the connections between one story and the next gives this series a unique power…There is no single main character, there are many, all interconnected, any one of them briefly mentioned in one novel can take front and centre in the next. You never know who you will meet up with again, at what time and in what way. Intelligently constructed and yet feeling as if they just simply happen, there is a creative talent to it that is as yet, for me, unrivalled in the world of Crime Fiction. Which as we know is a wide wide world…

This time we enter the closed, claustrophobic atmosphere of a girl’s boarding school – sometime ago a handsome and popular boy from the opposite school was found murdered in the grounds – after a flurry of activity the case went cold and it seems as if his killer will never be found. Enter Holly Mackay (who you may remember featuring in another story when she was younger) bringing a new clue to the attention of Stephen Moran, a police officer she knows. Stuck in Cold Cases, Stephen determines to get involved with the murder squad, and this may well be his way in. What follows is a tense and massively addictive story, where time is of the essence if a murderer is to be unmasked. Using a taut stretch of time within the school in present time and flashbacks to the past, Ms French weaves her web around you once again and trust me you will be trapped within it.

Relationships. Always so well drawn in this world have, if possible, achieved an even greater depth here.  The two groups of friends are stunningly well imagined – as the author unravels the sheer unknoweable quality of the bond and rapport that teenage girls develop and then often lose, this was absolutely fascinating. It took me back to the friendships of my youth, that utter surety that nothing will ever part you and you will live in each others pockets for eternity. And those moments where the cracks appear…life after all moves on and people change. When you start keeping secrets, even from each other, the centre cannot hold, and this is very much at the heart of this story. The Secret Place has many meanings…which one will be yours you will have to discover for yourself.

There isnt really very much else I can say. I could wax lyrical over the sheer genius of how things unravel, but that would give too much away. I will however say that I was one very happy reader at the reappearance of Frank Mackay – a character I adore with head and heart. And as I read the previous novels before I was a reviewer I would say that its the perfect excuse to re-read the lot and that is exactly what I intend to do. So if you have yet to discover the absolute inventiveness and enchantment of this novelist watch this space…

Brilliant doesnt cover it. Nothing does. Its unlike me to be lost for words….but I am.

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Author Interview: Tamar Cohen The Broken.

0dbbf5816c36a2847029c14edf5836c6Tamar Cohen


My book of the year so far has been “The Broken” by Tamar Cohen, totally addictive reading, one of those you just cannot bear to put down. As part of her blog tour I was very lucky to get to ask her a few questions and here is what she had to tell me.


Tell us a little about how the story started for you?


How do these things ever start – with me cynically plundering my friends’ lives for inspiration! Seriously though, the germ of the idea came from a time when my kids were young and we were firm friends with a few couples all with young kids, and then one of those couples split up, and it caused massive ructions within the group. It’s amazing how something like that makes you question your own relationship and can de-stabilise an entire social network. Obviously we all swore blind we’d stay neutral and remain friendly with both partners, but as their split became more and more bitter, it was increasingly hard not to take sides. I really wanted to explore that idea of being drawn against your will into someone else’s unraveling relationship – and being me it also had to have a suitably dark twist on it, obviously!


Were your sympathies with any one character in particular?


I think my sympathies shifted as the book went on. It was interesting, after writing three first person books, to do a third person one, from the alternating perspectives of Josh and Hannah. When I was writing from Hannah’s point of view, I really felt for her, but the next chapter I’d be writing from Josh’s and my sympathies would be with him. But I also felt at various times for Dan and Sasha. Divorce is a horrible business, and nobody comes out unscathed.

How difficult was it to write a break up so realistically and yet give it a hidden element?


Sadly, I’ve witnessed enough break ups that writing about divorce came quite naturally. So that wasn’t the hard part, but trying to weave the emotional realism into the structure of a psychological thriller, ratcheting up the tension at the same time as building up the emotional quotient was much trickier than I’d anticipated.


Do you believe in Happy Ever After?


Wow, Liz, that’s a bit of a sucker punch question you’ve sneaked in there! I guess the answer is I believe we make our own happiness. I don’t believe someone else can make our happiness for us, and it’s too much of a responsibility to expect them to. So, in Dan’s case, he’s moving from one woman to another with this romantic notion that everything will be perfect, whereas I think we always take ourselves with us from one relationship to the next, so if we don’t work on ourselves we’re just going to end up repeating the same patterns. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got – it’s a cliché but it’s true.

Physical book or e-book?


Nothing beats a physical book with a cover you can stroke, and pages you can turn down. But I’m not so much of a purist that I won’t stock up my Kindle before going on holiday.


 One Book you recommend to everyone


This last year it’s definitely been Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. I absolutely loved that book. To me it’s got everything – fabulous writing, complex characters and a tight plot with tension that builds and builds until you can’t sleep until you’ve found out why she’s in the dock and what’s going to happen to her.

Favourite thing to do on a lazy Sunday.


Now the weather’s finally showing signs of picking up, I’m going to vote for a long, drawn-out barbecue with friends. Sunshine, tasty food, good company and a chilled bottle of wine close to hand. Perfect.


Something you wish you were good at but are not.

Crikey, where do I start? I suppose recently I’ve been wishing I was good at running. Now I’ve hit a certain age, all my friends who were previously couch potatoes like me have started joining running clubs and signing up for marathons and fun runs and 5Ks and 10Ks and I’m feeling very inadequate. But every time I try to run anywhere I end up slumped against a tree or a lamppost gasping for breath. I just don’t think I have the Running Gene. Or at least that’s what I tell myself!


Thank you so much!



Thank you to the author and publisher for the review copy.

Best friends tell you everything; about their kitchen renovation; about their little girl’s schooling. How one of them is leaving the other for a younger model.
Best friends don’t tell lies. They don’t take up residence on your couch for weeks. They don’t call lawyers. They don’t make you choose sides.
Best friends don’t keep secrets about their past. They don’t put you in danger.
Best friends don’t always stay best friends.

Its very hard to put into words how TOTALLY addictive this read was…every time I put it down it called to me to come back, to the point that I actually got quite grumpy when I had to do mundane things like making sure I fed the children….Grumpy. Thats how good it was.

Take two married couples – best friends – spend the majority of their time together, help out with each others kids, close as any friends ever were. Then split two of them up and set them at each others throats – what would you do? Could you choose one over the other? This is what the author explores here and it is absolutely fascinating, brilliant and evocative reading. As one couple struggle to hold their own marriage together in the aftermath of an untenable situation, you will not be able to look away. And not everyone is telling the whole truth..

Cleverly constructed to give you hints and nuances of each individual’s situation and thoughts, you will find your sympathies wavering between one person and the next, often feel like you would like to lock them all in a room somewhere and throw away the key, but mostly just be desperate to know what the heck is going on. The characters are amazingly real, popping off the page and into your head at random moments, telling you their side of the story, inducing either sympathy or outright rage and generally messing with your social life. Be prepared to put that on hold for the duration…

Dare I say this is the best book I’ve read so far this year? I think I do dare, although its up against some stiff competition. 2014 is looking to be one heck of a reading year…

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The Kill by Jane Casey – The way to make me one HAPPY reader.


Publication Date: 5th June 2014 from Ebury Press.

Thank you to the author and publisher for the review copy.

Maeve Kerrigan is used to investigating murders.But this time a killer has struck far too close to home…
When a police officer is found shot dead in his car, DC Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent take on the investigation. But nothing about the case prepares them for what happens next: a second policeman dies . . . and then another . . .
The Metropolitan Police struggle to carry out their usual duties, but no one knows where or how this cop killer will strike again. While London disintegrates into lawlessness Maeve’s world starts to fall apart too. For if the police can’t keep themselves safe, how can they protect anyone else?

The fifth adventure for Maeve Kerrigan already – seems like only yesterday I started that journey and these days a new Jane Casey book is always one of the highlights of the year for me, so when this one dropped through my letterbox I promised myself that the weekend would belong to Maeve and Derwent. As it happened only a couple of hours overall was required which should tell you just how addictive these books are – plus of course there is my huge literary crush on Derwent, a character who, if he came to life, would be fighting us off as I know I am far from being the only one. Hey he would love it! And I’d win….

In this instalment, police officers are dying and there appears to be no rhyme nor reason to it – no-one is safe, not even Maeve’s nearest and dearest and the fact that I don’t believe Ms Casey would be adverse at any point to killing off one of our favourite characters kept me right on the edge of my seat. Add to that some of the ongoing threads of Maeve’s story starting to come to a head, and Im surprised I didnt suffer more than the odd papercut in my desperation to keep turning the pages.

Crime fiction being one of the most popular genre’s, it is hard to keep things fresh and new, keep the reader involved in the characters and the story but in this case it seems almost effortless. There is a beautiful ebb and flow to these novels overall, not just in this particular story but as an ongoing tale – with each new book you sink deeper into this world and each time there is something new to learn about the characters, their motivations and their relationship to each other, all influenced and impacted by what has gone before. On top of that each one has its own complete story within whichever current mystery is being unravelled – you can actually pick up any single one and not feel like you are missing anything. There is a subtlety to the writing that lets you know the things you need to know without the use of endless exposition and “previously on” type paragraphs that can take a constant reader out of the equation – in that respect these are perhaps some of the most cleverly constructed crime novels out there. I’m not constantly thinking “I KNOW this already I’ve read them all for heavens sake!” but equally I’m reminded gently of what has led us here. That is not easy to achieve – I know, I read a lot of crime fiction.

I often see these described as Police Procedurals, and I guess thats a fair description if you are looking solely at the basics. But personally I dislike that tag for the Kerrigan series, it gives the impression that this is “by numbers” writing. It is anything but – it is the art of creating a group of characters, putting them into varying and often dangerous situations and letting them live. It just so happens that in this case they are Police Officers, but thats not all that they are by any means, and there is nothing generic or standard to be found here. Jane Casey has a humerous and realistic touch that just makes everything brighter and more substantial. Magic on the page yet set in the real world.

I love Maeve. I love that she’s a bit useless sometimes but also intuitive, loyal and lovely. I ADORE Derwent with every fibre of my being despite the fact that as a woman I should probably often frown at his antics and show some disapproval. But hey, I’ve always been one for the bad boys. Surrounding them are many more authentic and often enigmatic characters, none of which you would want to be without – and here we are full circle to earlier in my review – edge of the seat stuff!

Anyway, I guess you can say I kind of liked this one. Now I’m going away to deal with my Derwent withdrawal. Sigh.

5 bright shiny stars plus an extra gold star just because.  Go read them now. Go on…I promise you won’t be sorry.

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Author Interview: Sarah Lotz – The Three.


One of THE books of the year for sure is “The Three” by Sarah Lotz – a wonderfully addictive read and one I barely put down. I was lucky enough to get to ask Sarah a few questions and here is what she had to tell me.



Tell us a little about where the story started for you.



I’m flight-phobic, and for years I’ve wanted to write a novel exploring this. I started by writing the opening scene, in which Pamela May Donald experiences – in real time – the plane in which she’s travelling losing control and plummeting out of the air. I thought that facing one of my fears and writing it out might be cathartic, but it had the opposite effect and gave me nightmares for weeks.



It is very addictive reading – did you always intend it to be in a “documentary” style?


I initially planned to write it using a ‘traditional’ third-person narrative. But as I started experimenting with the main characters’ voices, I realised this approach just wasn’t working, and needed to find a different way into the story. Plus, I really admire the oral history route Max Brooks took in World War Z, and love the concept of unreliable narrators. I hoped that this would add another element to the novel. Of course, the danger is that an unconventional approach can be alienating to some readers, which I absolutely understand, but I couldn’t have written it any other way.



Did you have a favourite character to write?


Yes, Paul Craddock, who becomes the guardian of his niece Jessica, one of the three crash survivors. On the surface, he’s cynical and snarky, embittered from years of failing at his chosen career. Underneath, he’s deeply vulnerable – more so than the majority of the other characters, I think. I identified with him quite a lot, so he was great fun to write.


The way the world reacts to the events feels very authentic – Is there a general fascination with the unexplained ingrained in us do you think?


I think it’s human nature to want to make sense of seemingly mysterious events, which is why there are so many disparate theories out there attempting to explain or debunk everything from 9/11 to the Bermuda Triangle. And it goes without saying that the quest to understand the most fundamental mystery of all – why we’re here – is the basis for many religions and philosophies. What really interests me is why so many people choose to believe in theories that are more left-field, rather than accepting alternative and scientifically proven explanations for various phenomena.


 Is there more to come set in this world?


Not in this specific world, but I can’t say more without spoilers!

A book you’ve read recently that captured your imagination.


Erk. Can I pick several? Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters, which will be out in May, is beyond chilling and superb. M R Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts injects new life into the walking dead genre. And as I know you’re a fellow Sarah Pinborough junkie, I’m going to pick The Language of Dying, which is extraordinary and made me weep.

Something you wish you were good at but are not.


Cooking. I’m terrible at it, but I’m very greedy and love food.

Dream job that doesn’t involve writing.


Precision/stunt driver. I love cars and driving (I basically have the soul of an eleven-year-old boy).


Thank you!




They’re here … The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many … They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to­­–
The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 – 2012)

Four disasters. Three Survivors. A message to change the world…

Yes well. For those of you who were hanging out on Twitter a few days ago if I say “What Sarah Pinborough said” you know you have to immediately add this to your reading list right? If you missed that absolute little gem, sorry, you’ll have to make do with my random rambling. I will attempt to write a more articulate review nearer publication…or I may just leave it at this…

So you know when you finish a book and then sob quietly into your pillow thinking “WHY did I read it, now I can NEVER read it again for the first time?”. There is that. And you know when you are reading a book and you have to keep going back and reading sections again because they are so delicious? Yep there is that as well. And very occasionally a book captures your imagination SO much that you look up half expecting to see Kay Burley on Sky News trying desperately to interview random passers by about an event from the book? Yep got that a lot as well…

Here we go then. One dark day, four planes crash for different reasons on different continents…from the wreckage of those planes emerge three survivors. All children. One woman who briefly survived leaves a message…and what follows is a series of events that really will change the world. Told as a “book within a book” in an expose style we get an absolutely addictive narrative mixing up interviews, articles and letters from various people involved in the aftermath of that day…and watch open mouthed as the world goes mad. Conspiracy theories are rampant and its all so terribly realistically scary, hence my many “Kay Burley” moments…

And creepy children. My achilles heel. See I do NOT get scared by books, movies, random noises in the night but show me a child who is creepy and I’m behind the sofa immediately. But ARE they “creepy”? Or is it just me? It MIGHT be just me. Its probably just me…right? Read the book. Its probably just you….

Imaginative, intelligent, brilliantly written, giving any mind an intense work out of the kind that extends into your dreams (or nightmares) and takes over your life for a while, this is absolutely one NOT to be missed. When you can, grab a copy, find a day that is YOURS, find yourself a corner and enter the world of “The Three”…it may be closer than you think…

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Author Interview: Juliet West – Before The Fall. Happy Publication Day!


One of the most evocative and emotional books I’ve read this year “Before the Fall” comes highly recommended from me – and I was lucky enough to get to ask the author a few questions all about it and here is what she had to tell me.


Tell us a little about the background, how you came across the events that “Before the Fall” is based on.



In the mid 1990s I was working as a journalist in London, and helped research a ‘true life’ newspaper feature about a soldier’s wife who’d had an affair with another man while her husband was fighting in the First World War. The affair had ended tragically, leading to a murder trial in 1918. Although the case was reported in the press at the time, all the police and inquest documents were later locked away under the government’s 75-year secrecy rule. The documents became public again in 1996.


Long after I had finished working on the feature, I found that the tragedy continued to haunt me. Even a decade later I was still asking myself questions about the case. Why had this ‘respectable, sober and hard-working’ woman taken such a dangerous risk? How had the upheaval of the First World War transformed her life and affected her decision-making? I hoped that, through fiction, I could explore the period and attempt to put the true story into context.



My sympathy for Hannah during reading was very up and down – how do you feel about the choices she made, without giving too much away?



I feel the same, and I think this is why I found the book so interesting to write. Without ambiguity or moral dilemma – without jeopardy – what is the point of a novel? And if a character has flaws, that character is likely to be more believable. The novelist Deborah Moggach has talked about ‘testing the limits of sympathy’, and this is an idea I find fascinating. We may not agree with Hannah’s choices – we may hope or feel that we would have acted differently – but who can truly say how they would have acted when faced with similar pressures?


The more I researched the novel, the more I was struck by how radically women’s lives have changed over the last one hundred years. Life may not be perfect for British women today, but we do have access to health care, contraception, maternity benefits and social housing (and we have the vote, of course). In 1918, the average woman had none of these luxuries, and in this context, I think it’s easier to make sense of the impossible situation that Hannah found herself in.



Was the experience of putting it on the page very emotional?



It was upsetting at times, yes. And during my research I read so many devastating stories which brought home the impact of the war on families from both sides of the conflict.


While I was writing the novel, a part of me dreaded reaching the end, because I knew those final chapters would be very difficult to write. In the first draft, I chickened out and narrated the ending using the contemporary newspaper reports, police statements and official documents. This seemed more dispassionate – a way of distancing myself from the tragedy. But in the next draft, with the encouragement of my agent, I did write those final scenes. It was hard to convey the emotion without tipping over into sentimentality, but I hope I managed to get the balance right. The documents are still included, but they are edited versions.


I should also mention that Before the Fall is a fictionalized account of the true story, and although it’s based closely on real events, I have changed all the names. I felt this gave me greater freedom to explore the characters’ personalities, and also to invent new characters, for example Hannah’s best friend Dor.



Favourite author/comfort read?



As you can tell, I’m not particularly drawn to comfort in fiction! I enjoy Richard Yates, Arundhati Roy, Helen Dunmore. For comfort, I think it would have to be Jane Austen or Laurie Lee.



 Any writers that have influenced you?



So many! As well as the authors mentioned above, I’d add Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Zadie Smith, Colm Toibin and Zoe Heller. I’m also a huge admirer of Alison MacLeod, who was one of my tutors on the creative writing MA at Chichester University.



Favourite thing to do on a lazy Sunday.


I have three children and my husband works weekends, so I can’t remember the last time I had a lazy Sunday! But my fantasy Sunday would be to sit in bed drinking coffee and reading until ten, then I’d potter around the garden for a couple of hours, eat Sunday lunch with all my family, and finally spend the rest of the day watching the Mad Men season 6 episodes which are stacked up on the TV hard drive. Bliss!


Thank you so much, Liz, for inviting me to talk about Before the Fall.



1916. Across the channel, the Great War rages; in London’s East End, with her husband away fighting, Hannah Loxwood struggles to hold everything together. But when Hannah takes a job in a cafe, she discovers a glimpse of freedom away from her needy young children, her spiteful sister and desperately ill father.
While the conflict drags on, Hannah battles with the overwhelming burden of ‘duty’. She has sacrificed so much for a husband who left her behind, a husband who may never come home. Then, when she meets Daniel – thoughtful, intelligent, quietly captivating – Hannah finds herself faced with the most dangerous of temptations.

This is a wonderful novel, beautifully evocative of the time and place and absolutely heartbreaking in very many ways, I was enthralled throughout.

When Hannah’s husband goes off to war, she is left with her two young children to live with her Sister and Brother in Law. Needing to find additional income, she takes a job in a nearby cafe – where she meets Daniel and from there her life changes forever.

As a picture of war torn Britain this is extraordinarily fascinating…the background and the claustrophobic atmosphere of life in general is brilliantly captured. Most of all the sense of what life was like for women then – especially those whose husbands were in the trenches – is compelling and emotional.  Young men not at war are viewed suspiciously no matter what their circumstances and soldiers wives are expected to behave in a certain way – all adding to the pressure cooker that Hannah is about to fall into.

I was back and forth on my sympathies in this story – the characterisation is so realistic I almost felt as if I was sitting in judgement upon Hannah as much as her peers were. With temptation in her path and no sign of her husband returning you can hardly blame her for feeling that there was a better life worth living – and risking everything for. As the storytelling ebbs and flows you will one minute be right with her and the next begging her to stop, before she goes past the point of no return. The supporting cast of characters are all well drawn and equally alluring, and give an eclectic mix of differing viewpoints that add to the overall ambience and beauty of the tale.

I can’t say too much more without spoiling it – what Hannah decides and where it takes her I leave you to discover for yourself. Safe to say I had a few tears at the end and on an emotional level this one will stay with me for a long time.

An extremely addictive, passionate and poignant read, based on a true story, this is yet another excellent debut to look out for in 2014.

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Author Interview: Kerry Wilkinson – Reckoning.



So the week of interviews continues and today its the turn of Kerry Wilkinson (who makes me giggle a lot) talking about Reckoning, the first in the Silver Blackthorn trilogy and a darned good read. I know because I’m lucky enough to have read it already. Its out tomorrow so don’t hang around! Here is what he had to tell me.



Tell us a little about the inspiration behind the story.


When I was young, I read a Doctor Who serialisation named The Time Warrior. In it, a sontaran has crashed in Britain’s middle ages and is trying to repair his spaceship. In order to get the parts he needs, he’s providing technology and weapons to the locals who think it is magic. That was the first time I thought that one person’s technology is another’s magic. It nestled with me for a long time and, after I started to write books – my crime series – I wanted to try creating something else. Silver’s world is in regressing future, in which there is little to no electricity and society is moving back towards a medieval-ish scenario. With that, there are all sorts of technological bits and pieces left around: some that work, some that don’t. I really like that mix of old and new.


Silver is wonderful – a bit of a geek – was she fun to write?


Fiction, be it books, movies, television or whatever, frequently throws up heroes who are too perfect. In real life, people learn through making mistakes and education. I think all of my characters, be it Silver here, or Jessica, Andrew, Jenny or anyone else in my crime novels, are flawed people. Silver messes things up, but never the same thing twice. She’s brave and knows where her abilities lie. I actually think that’s perhaps the most-important personality trait to have. It’s not about being brilliant at everything – nobody is – it’s finding out what you’re good at and pushing that as far as you can. I actually think the whole “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” advice is dreadful. If you’re no good at something, ditch it and find something you can do. Everyone’s good at something.


In Silver’s case, she’s a 16-year-old girl and isn’t going to be able to fight off big strong men. She has to figure out how to make things work around that – to make brains triumph over brawn. So, to finally answer the question (!), yes she was fun to write. It’s easy to cheat when you’re writing a book – this character overpowers that character and they’re free – but I tried not to do that. Almost everything that happens to Silver happens because she’s made it that way.

Do you have the whole story in your head or are there still things you don’t know?


I always plot everything out chapter by chapter before I actually start writing and that’s where the story can take its twists and turns. Sometimes, though, things take their own course. I don’t want to spoil too much but, by the end of Reckoning, Silver has a bit of a gang around her. That was never really meant to happen but the characters and their stories took on a bit of a life of their own. It made the trilogy as a whole so much better, because there’s depth, rather than it simply being Silver’s tale. That said, the broad plot that links through the three books never changed from when I first thought of them. The very final chapter of book three is exactly what was in my head when I thought about how things would end. It’s the smaller parts within the stories that sometimes change.


 Can you tell us a little about whats next for Silver and co?


I don’t want to spoil too much but Renegade is a different type of story to Reckoning. My agent called the trilogy a trilogy a “British odyssey”, which I kinda like.

Book you wish you had written?


Probably the Harry Potter books. I love the idea that all of it is happening under the noses of our “real” world. The characters are so great, too. Azkaban is excellent but my favourite of the seven is Order of the Phoenix, largely because of how Umbridge is such a magnificently horrendous creation. It’s far easier to come up with a character that readers love as opposed to hate – properly hate – and she embodies that.

Any strange habits?


I wouldn’t call it a habit but my fingers and toes are incredibly flexible. I can do all sorts of weird things, such as pop my thumb out of joint without touching it.

If you ruled the world one thing you would change…


I’d ban rain. I’m sick of it. And wind.


Thank you so much!



Thank you to the author and publisher for the review copy.

In the village of Martindale, hundreds of miles north of the new English capital of Windsor, sixteen-year-old Silver Blackthorn takes the Reckoning. This coming-of-age test not only decides her place in society – Elite, Member, Inter or Trog – but also determines that Silver is to become an Offering for King Victor.
But these are uncertain times and no one really knows what happens to the teenagers who disappear into Windsor Castle. Is being an Offering the privilege everyone assumes it to be, or do the walls of the castle have something to hide?
Trapped in a maze of ancient corridors, Silver finds herself in a warped world of suspicion where it is difficult to know who to trust and who to fear. The one thing Silver does know is that she must find a way out . .

So, more dystopian YA and I just can’t get enough of it especially when it is as well written and addictive as this one turned out to be – with a flowing imaginative tale of a world moved on.

We’ll get the immediate and obvious comparisons to Divergent out of the way first – yes, in this novel, when children reach a certain age, they take the “Reckoning” which puts them into one of 4 groups in society and decides their place, what type of work they will undertake, amongst other things. And that is where the similarity ends – this is very much its own tale of adventure and what an adventure it was!

Silver Blackthorn is one of only a few chosen to become an “Offering” to the King. Considered to be a high privilege, and bringing great benefits to the families of the chosen, still if you are an offering your life as you knew it is over. No-one knows the true nature of what it means as those chosen are not seen again. When Silver arrives at Windsor, and comes face to face with her King, she begins to realise that all is not well and she is going to have a fight on her hands simply to survive..

Things I loved about this one: The setting. It is in the UK and therefore all the more real to me – and also the premise for why the world is as it is now – authentic and not at all beyond the realms of possiblity. Then there is Silver herself – she’s a tomboy, a bit impulsive, fairly brave most of the time but definitely not the first choice you would necessarily make as a saviour of others. Technology is her thing – she is savvy, has taught herself everything possible, and is actually a bit of a geek. I loved her – she was a perfect “foil” for the world she inhabits and as she discovers the truth behind the propoganda, you are dragged along happily in her wake as she attempts to unravel the impossible.

There are quite a few nods to the things that “work” in this genre – the dual possible love interests (although this is very low key for the moment Silver has far to much to worry about to be thinking about boys!) the dictatorship of a seemingly benign “government” and a few characters who are not what they first appear. Its all done extremely well however and the supporting cast of characters all offset our heroine beautifully and keep you right on the journey with them.

Overall this is a great example of its kind – I DO however have a complaint. I finished this one, came out of the book daze, looked around me and realised I’d have to wait to find out what happens next. WAIT? Well we all know how good I am at THAT. Sigh. Mr Wilkinson may not be able to see me but I tell you now…I’m glaring.

Top notch. Recommended!

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Author Interview: Laurence Walker – Under a Russian Heaven.


Published by 280 steps

Laurence Walker works in London as an energy journalist. He spent a number of years working in Russia and the former Soviet Union. His work-related travel – which has taken him to places as diverse as a coal terminal in Russia’s Arctic Circle and the tobacco fields of southern Kyrgyzstan – and the people he’s met along the way have provided inspiration for his fiction writing.

I recently was able to read “Under a Russian Heaven” and also lucky enough to be able to ask the author a few questions. Here is what he had to tell me.



Tell us a little bit about how the story started for you.


The story pretty much came to me all in one go, with the writing process simply expanding on my initial plan, albeit with a few twists and turns. I’d wanted to set a noir-style novel in the seaside town of Hastings, but as I considered the settings more, I felt by placing the lead character in Russia (for part of the story at least) I could better express his feelings of isolation and paranoia.

How influential has your travel experience been on your writing?


Time spent abroad was certainly influential for this book, in terms of giving first-hand descriptions of the various settings. But I don’t think the storyline owes that much to my own experiences.


I do tend to come up with story ideas while I’m travelling, probably because I often end up visiting foreign countries on my own. I have more time sitting alone in restaurants, lost in some back street, delayed at an airport terminal or just staring at the hotel ceiling, to observe and think about these places, and the things that could potentially happen there, than I do at home.

Are your characters based on anyone you met in real life?


The “Charlie” character is based loosely on a couple of people I know, as is the shady “Slava”. Other than that, they are purely fictional.

Are you generally a fan of Noir novels yourself?


I am, although I came to noir novels via the films. I’ve had an interest in film noir for years, and an evening lazing in front of a film like “Out of the Past” or “The Asphalt Jungle” is always an evening well spent. I read books from a variety of genres, but it’s always a bonus if there’s a touch of noir, and at least one femme fatale.

Can you tell us anything about your next project?


It’s set in Central Asia, and involves a serial killer, a bit of political intrigue, and some dark, moody places and characters.

Best book you have read lately


Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s one of those books I should have read years ago, but never got around to. For some bizarre reason, I kept telling myself since the year 1984 had already passed, the novel wouldn’t be so relevant. I wish I’d read it earlier.

First thing you would rescue (apart from family and pets) from a burning building.


I guess it depends on what the building was, but assuming we’re talking about my own house, with the exception of my wife and two young sons, there isn’t much that can’t be replaced. I’ve got some antique, first edition books that I’d want to hold onto if possible, although I doubt I’d risk my life for them. The bulk of my CD collection was stolen a few years ago, so I suppose much of the damage has already been done… It’d perhaps be a good excuse to begin life afresh, in a new town or country.
3 people alive or dead you would like to go for a drink with.


A very difficult question, as the list is potentially endless. However, to be sure of a good evening, I think I’d like to have a drink with Winston Churchill, who’d no doubt be full of interesting anecdotes. And I’d like to meet with any number of writers – from Chaucer to Chandler. I’d decide who closer to the time. Finally, I’d be interested to meet with some direct ancestor from the distant past, so I could see what character traits – if any – are handed down the ancestral line and to what extent the things that make me tick are simply inherited. Would we choose the same beer at the bar, or laugh at the same jokes? I haven’t listed anyone living, as there’s still some chance I could meet them anyway.


Thank you so much for taking the time.


Set in Russia and in the English seaside town of Hastings, Under a Russian Heaven follows James Eastaway, a young Englishman working as a teacher in a provincial Russian city, whose carefree life as a fledging expat spirals out of control after he meets the beautiful daughter of a local businessman.

A short sharp and intriguing read – clever pacing and a distinct “noir” feel to the prose gave a wonderful atmospheric touch to proceedings, putting me in mind of classics of years gone by.

James was a compelling character, all the more so as his life spirals out of control, I was fascinated as I watched things develop. The author keeps you right in the moment always, often using dark ironic humour to achieve this.

The settings are extremely well described, making you see the people and the places in your minds eye and adding to the overall ambience of the reading experience.

All in all an accomplished and clever story – I would love to read a longer length novel by Mr Walker – the only negative of this one for me was that I would have liked more.

Recommended – particularly for fans of Modern Noir.

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Author Interview: Gilles Petel author of Under The Channel.



Available now from Gallic Books

I was recently lucky enough to get the chance to ask Gilles Petel some questions about his wonderful noir novel, here is what he had to tell me.


Tell us a little bit about where the idea came from.
I lived in England for 4 or 5 years and I was looking for a plot to write a novel that takes place in London. I already had John Burny’s character but it wasn’t enough to write a whole tale. One day I read in an English newspaper some surprising news: a Russian spy had been murdered in a luxury London hotel. I had my plot! I just had to change some details. Fiction can’t copy reality. The Russian spy became a Scottish estate agent. The murder happened in the Eurostar (because I caught that train every 3 weeks!). And then I created Roland’s character, the French lieutenant. All those details, Burny, a murdered spy, a train under the channel, Roland and of course London were quite enough to start to build a novel.
Roland really is a wonderful character – is he based on anyone you’ve met in life?
I never met Roland in real life! He’s a pure invention. I probably put in him details I observed on many people. A character comes rarely from a single person. As many authors I like to condense or to compress many characters in a single one. I likely have a wide imagination. And you can add the source of the many novels I’ve read over 30 years!
Do you have a particular favourite character from the book aside from Roland?
I really love Kate! She’s a free woman. She lives as she has decided. I think she’s a strong woman. She knows what she wants. In the same time she’s absolutely sexy or at least I imagine her like that. Of course she’s not what we call a good person (she’s unfaithful), but nobody’s perfect!
Can you tell us anything about your next project?
It’s difficult to speak about a novel I’m still writing. I just can say it’ll be finished in a few weeks.
Any writing habits?


I use to write my novels in the morning and sometimes very early in the morning when the town is silent. But I find my ideas (I mean the characters, the plot, details of the events) in the evening or late at night with one or two shots of whisky.
If you could live anywhere in the world…


I think I would likely go back to Istanbul where I lived when I was 24 years old. Or maybe back to London, which I still love very much.
3 people alive or dead you would love to go for a drink with.

–          Balzac

–          Beckett

–          Jacques Audiard ( French film maker)


Thank you so much for taking the time!


When the body of a Scotsman turns up on board a Channel Tunnel train at the Gare du Nord, Parisian detective Roland Desfeuillères finds himself in charge of a murder investigation. Roland decides to travel to London – and not just in order to progress the inquiry. It’s also a chance to escape his troubled marriage. Arriving in a city gripped by the financial crisis, Roland immerses himself in the victim’s hedonistic lifestyle, as he searches for the motive behind the crime. But the longer he walks in the dead man’s shoes, the more Roland discovers about himself . .

This was a wonderfully quirky and sometimes quite dark tale, driven by some beautifully drawn and intriguing characters and with an eye definitely cast towards the ironic side of life. Its not a long read but its a darned good one, mainly I think because Roland Desfeuilleres is SO much fun to follow along with – his actions and reactions to situations thrown at him will have you sometimes laughing and sometimes shaking your head in disbelief.

When a body turns up on the Channel Tunnel train, Roland decides he wants to pursue the killer onto the streets of London – kind of falling into the investigation as a way of escaping his desperately troubled marriage to a rather difficult (well I thought she was difficult!) woman. As he attempts to find out more about the victim, he finds himself more and more aware of himself and his life.

The start sucks you in as we meet the murder victim still very much alive – in a brilliantly humerous set of events that see him eventually get on that train for France. Unfortunately for him, he is not going to make it to the end of his journey. Enter some eclectic french characters including Roland and we are off on a wonderful reading journey. Back in good old England we have another magnificently drawn bunch of people and at the heart of all this sits Roland – a character I shall miss very much now this tale is at an end.

Terrific and evocative, I recommend curling up on a rainy afternoon with this one and letting it transport you into other lives.

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Liz Currently Loves….This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers.


Available Now from St Martins Griffin.

Source: Purchased copy.

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

I could not speak when I finished this one. I absolutely had no words, it was one of those books where I absolutely lived every single moment, felt every single emotion and basically got dragged along in the wake of an extremely disturbing yet absolutely compelling story.

First a warning. This novel may use as its backdrop that age old and extremely popular premise, the Zombie Apocalypse, but that event is nowhere near what this book is actually about. If you want a horror/adventure story with zombies blazing a trail through a myriad of hapless survivors, with a machete wielding wise cracking superhero type leading a small group through the wildernesss, look away now and pick up something else. Or you know, stay a while and meet a girl for whom the zombie apocalypse is merely a distraction in a world she no longer wants to be a part of..

Sloane is preparing to die on the day the world goes mad. Instead she finds herself caught up with a small group of survivors who would actually like to live, trapped in one place, hoping for rescue. She is the heart and soul of this tale as she watches and waits for her moment, struggling to understand both herself and those around her. It is truly fascinating and completely addictive reading as things start to unravel, the group starts slowly losing sanity and hope, and the danger lurking within the walls becomes untenable, so much more frightening than anything on the outside.

It is perhaps strange to call a story that is basically about despair, beautiful. And yet it was. Hauntingly so – Ms Summers uses a peculiarly wonderful prose and has an absolute talent for putting you in the heads of her characters – even the ones merely described. Sloane is on the outside looking in, she does not fear death like the others, she has completely different motivations for everything she does. It gives an added depth and honesty to proceedings, a realism and authenticity to an unlikely situation that will hit you where it hurts and make you take a moment to consider life with all its pitfalls.

I would love to say more, particularly about the pure emotional overload of certain events within the story, those times when I lost my heart, cried big fat tears and occasionally held my breath waiting to see if…if. But I cannot because to do so would give too much away and that I cannot do. I can tell you without prevarication that I loved this one, absolutely and completely. And I will be reading everything this author has ever written. If you want a zombie thriller leave this alone. If you want an absolutely alluring and bewitching tale of the human condition, of the fight to find something to hold onto, of how we as human beings cope, or not, in the face of impossible odds, then this will give you all that and more. And in a Young Adult novel as well. What more is there to say?

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A Future Imperfect Blog Tour: Book 3: Rising Leviathan : Review


It’s the year 2096. Maybe world peace is possible, just a few years from the 22nd century! The Russian president boldly hosts a summit of the three superpowers in the world—America, the Islamic Caliphate, and the Chinese-Indian alliance. So much promise, so much hope, but the Russian president…dies.
Was his inexplicable death murder?
One moment world peace was in sight, now world war seems unstoppable. Will the Russian Bloc erupt in civil war, an international war, or both?

So we come to the third book in the “After Eden” series – a series that has grown on me substantially since I read “Thy Kingdom Fall” a while ago. I was not fond of the religious elements of that book it has to be said, but I was still highly intrigued by the premise and caught up in the wonderful writing. Since then however, as the story progressed with Stars and Scorpions and here we are now with Rising Leviathon, I have been more and more immersed in the story, the ebb and flow of it and the terrifically imagined imperfect future…

This is a multi-stranded tale to be sure, with an ever deepening mythology, terrific characterisation and a premise that is not ALL beyond the realms of possibility when you look at our world as it is today. In a future where technology is king and religious persecution almost normal, anything can happen. And often does. Add in the science fiction elements, and you have a blinking good thriller.

One thing I do love about these is while they are all interconnected and the story weaves its way throughout you could pick up any one of them and find a great story in its own right. Every single book has given me something a bit different and a different love – in this case my favourite part of the story involved a wonderful character – Athena – and I also enjoyed the focus shift in the middle of the book which gave it a whole new dimension. I don’t really want to speak too much to plot details, this is an intricate and brilliantly woven tale, with many aspects and a lot of “pause for thought” moments, the type of story that thrills and excites you but also gives you real things to consider about life.

Another thing I love is the plethora of strong female characters and role models – not that easy to do well these days it seems. And I am a fan of the intricacy of the tale, the way the characters all slot into place, the simple yet complex storytelling that draws you into that world in subtle and imaginative ways. Clever.

Overall an enthralling and compelling story and Im sure there MUST be more to come. Please. Right Mr Dragon?

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