Latest Reads: The Late Show: Michael Connelly

Publication Date: Available Now from Orion

Source: Review Copy

Renée Ballard works the night shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing none as each morning she turns her cases over to day shift detectives. A once up-and-coming detective, she’s been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.

But one night she catches two cases she doesn’t want to part with: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting. Ballard is determined not to give up at dawn. Against orders and her own partner’s wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night. As the cases entwine they pull her closer to her own demons and the reason she won’t give up her job no matter what the department throws at her.

I can’t  speak for everyone but I love it when an author I’ve been following for years and years suddenly turns around and gives us something new – and what a something new it is, with The Late Show featuring Detective Renee Ballard. Working the night shift (referred to as The Late Show) in a kind of punishment come harassment type way having annoyed a colleague by daring to bring a complaint, Renee is tough as they come and takes no prisoners – I loved her bull at a wall attitude and her determination to get things done despite being constantly sidelined.

Michael Connelly has created a very different atmosphere with The Late Show – there’s a dark and disturbing ambience to it, with a lot of the action taking place in the pre dawn hours, this is a different type of policing altogether – coming into a case but never seeing it through to fruition. Until the night we meet Renee however who finds a strange kinship with a victim of a beating and determines there and then not to let her down..

Renee herself is the heart and soul of this novel – you learn a lot about her just through her attitude, her actions and her relationships with those around her. She is tough, yes but also flawed, not all her decision making is sensible and her life away from the unit is somewhat quirky. Mr Connelly builds a whole other world around her, paced to perfection with a hugely authentic edge and a practical addictive prose that keeps you up through the night – I didn’t want to leave this book shift until Renee did – although this takes place over several days and nights the feeling is of one long, intense and beautifully intriguing set piece. I could almost imagine it being filmed, West Wing style with one camera following Renee through the murky twists and turns of her cases, never panning away.

The mystery elements are clearly Connelly – twists and turns and tiny little nuances that turn into hugely important clues and reasons – he has an incredibly realistic eye towards character building and there is not one thing that rings false or unlikely – which makes it all the more hard hitting when the big moments come.

Overall I thought this was pure pure excellence on the page. I honestly and sincerely hope that we see Renee many times over, doing what she does best, I want to know more about her and all the others I met within the pages (I loved the lawyer incidentally watch out for him) and I definitely want to see her bring her unique way of working to more night time incidents – it is, after all, always darkest just before dawn.

Highly Recommended.

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Behind Her Back Jane Lythell Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Head of Zeus

Source: Review Copy

The second StoryWorld novel set in the glamorous, pressurized world of a live London TV station.

StoryWorld is the nation’s favourite morning show, and producer Liz Lyon wants to keep it that way. Her job is to turn real-life stories into thrilling TV – and keep a lid on the cauldron of conflicts and resentments that constantly simmers off-stage.

In this gripping novel of power, rivalry and betrayal, Jane Lythell draws on her experiences of working in the heated world of live TV. Liz Lyon must balance the monster egos at work with the demands of her teenage daughter – and the man she’s just started dating – at home. It’s all in a day’s work

The first novel in this series, Woman of the Hour was absolutely gripping, taking us behind the scenes of live television and introducing us to Liz Lyon, a character whose day to day issues resonate with us all.

In Behind Her Back Liz is back from holiday to face yet more shenanigans in the workplace all the while juggling real life and family – and once again it is gripping and has a really authentic edge to it that keeps you involved throughout.

I love the way the characters are developed here, making you love and hate them, rooting for Liz all the way as she chooses her battles and faces down new people in it for the money. Lori is a great addition to the cast, adding to the balance Liz has to try and find – keep the ratings up, keep the staff happy (and I was pleased to see my fave Fizzy back feisty as ever) all the while keeping that balance in her own life. Behind Her Back is like the best tv drama but unfolding on the page.The writing and plotting is superb a hugely satisfying reading experience.

I loved it – and the last one – definitely recommended by me, something a little different and endlessly fascinating.

I have one copy to give away – if you tweet me @Lizzy11268 and tell me why you fancy it I’ll put your name into the actual hat I use to draw these things!

Happy Reading!

 

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When Chris Whitaker interviewed Neil White…From the Shadows….

So after Chris and Matt last week I rather stupidly asked Chris to have a chat to Neil, whose new novel, From the Shadows, comes out this week (and you probably shouldn’t miss it)

I’d apologise for what follows but seriously it wasn’t my fault…

(Handy links to the books after this – which are both brilliant and worth having despite it meaning that these two are loose in the world…)

Over to them then. And I’ll be hiding over there when Emily, Katherine, Rod and Steph come after me..

 

 

Chris: Okay, so I know you have a book to promote (the highly acclaimed From The Shadows) and we could talk about that. I could tell you that I’m a huge fan, from Cold Kill to the Parker brothers to the incredible Lost in Nashville. But instead I thought we’d give the people what they really want. A glimpse at the man behind the myth. The tough northerner with a heart of gold. The ‘sexiest man in crime writing’ (though Rod Reynolds has a lot to say on this subject). Let’s do this…

If you could sleep with any fictional character, who would it be? Personally, I’d find it easier to list characters I wouldn’t sleep with, but topping my list is Lori Anderson from Deep Down Dead. (I’m aware I’ve now given Steph Broadribb a wonderful mental image to use when writing the next in the series. You’re welcome, Steph).

Neil: Could talk? Could? No, do tell. I expect a certain degree of fawning here.

Any fictional character? I’m tempted to say Eve, because pulling an apple seemed to get them both straight down to it and saves all that messing around wooing, going to restaurants and stuff, but I don’t want to get into the whole “fictional” thing, creation or evolution.

But no, I’m going to choose Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. I just like that danger. Will she break my legs? Won’t she break my legs? Now, that is what you call a frisson.

Chris: Good choice, I love a bit of S&M too.

It was great catching up at Harrogate. I used my time there to pitch book 3 ideas to Katherine Armstrong (editor) and then watch as she willed the ground to open up and swallow her. I’m not good at pitching. I can never get my ideas across in the way I’d like. I once pitched a love story to Joel (former editor) about an adult film actress that falls in love with a washed-up children’s entertainer. Joel just swallowed nervously and said ‘I have some concerns’. What’s the worst story idea you’ve ever had/pitched?

Neil: Whoah, S&M? Steady lad, we don’t any of that stuff and nonsense up here –adjusts flat cap – although you can probably get a good sting from a well-swung black pudding.

I hate pitches etc, because a great idea can be ruined in the telling, and an ordinary idea can be made thrilling in the telling. Thinking back, nothing particularly comes to mind because I don’t think I’m an ideas man. I speak to writers who are buzzing with ideas, who could (and do) write a short story a week. I’m a ‘one idea a year’  man. I don’t think I’m particularly creative like that.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to go through the pitch routine. I sent a completed manuscript to my first publisher and they liked it. If I had to go through a “pitch an idea” process, I’d still be a full-time lawyer with unpublished manuscripts on my floor.

Chris: Bonnier like to keep a close eye on me for some reason. Possibly because I tend to deliver a completely different manuscript to the one I originally planned. And yeah, totally agree on the ruined-in-telling view, I think if I’d have pitched All The Wicked Girls first they might have laughed at me.

I’ve written two standalones now, and book 3 will likely be another. As you’re beginning a new series I wondered which you prefer writing, and if you find it easier returning to characters you know well. On the flipside have you ever tired of a character but felt compelled to keep writing the series?

I can’t remember who said it but apparently the way to earn money as a writer is to write a crime series. If so, can you lend me money? I did ask Katherine for more but she kept shaking her head and mumbling something about Wilbur Smith.

Neil: No money in a standalone? Tell that to Harper Lee. Or John Grisham.

I’m torn, to be honest. When I first started out, my intention was to write a series of standalones but where the same characters popped in and out, like a community of characters. Once I started the second, however, and the main characters in the first were mentioned, I found myself wanting to import them more, so the series developed.

I do think a series has a finite end, and the trick is to spot it. I’ve written one crime standalone, Beyond Evil, but ironically I wanted that to be a series but a change of publisher brought an end to that. For the moment, I’m writing a series. If later on, I decide that the series has run its course, or needs a break, I’ll do something different.

The advantage of writing a series is that you get rid of all of that planning the characters in the first book, where you iron out their background, and it helps with crafting a story as you end up fitting the idea into a pre-existing template.

What I would say is that you should never write with money in mind. If you write for the bandwagon, it will have rolled out of town by the time you finish it. Just write something you’re proud to put your name to, as you’ve done. Both your books are fabulous, beautifully-written, and winning the acclaim they deserve.

And if I lent you the money, you’d just blow it on some wild stock market gamble. I’m sticking it under my mattress.

Chris: I was so pleased you enjoyed All The Wicked Girls. I had a tricky time with it, and looking back now I think it was partly down to feeling like I was out of my depth. Writing in the first person, as a teenage girl from Alabama, and setting it during the Satanic Panic of the mid 90s, maybe it was a bit mad. But I could see it all so clearly, those characters and that town, it became a story I had to tell, regardless of my background.

I’m a big fan of Mike Thomas, and with him being a former policeman I find there’s a level of authenticity to his novels that goes beyond research. And I find the same to be true when reading your books.

From The Shadows follows defence lawyer, Dan Grant, as he looks into a murder case. How much does being a lawyer help when writing crime? And not just technically, do you feel your job enables you to better understand the (criminal) characters you write about?

Neil: I don’t know about understanding the criminal character, because the sort of criminals who end up in the pages of a murder novel, and I don’t mean mine but generally, are unique and complex. No one sets out to write the great shoplifting novel. As a day to day thing, being a criminal lawyer can be as mundane as the next job, although there is often a lot of comedy in the most mundane, but the sort of murderer who makes us want to read crime novels are once in a career people for most criminal lawyers.

What being a criminal lawyer does do is make you realise that there are no depths to human cruelty. If you want to see the sick and twisted, read the papers, visit a courtroom. Don’t tell me something is far-fetched. I’ll find something worse in real life.

It helps in other ways too, perhaps ways that are hard to measure. For instance, I was a prosecutor for most of my legal career, and that involves assessing often quite emotional cases in a cold, dispassionate manner, looking for whether there is enough evidence to prosecute, often weighing a number of different strands together. To be able to look at things objectively is a great help when reading through my own stuff when I’ve done the first draft, as well as juggle the strands in my head, and that is something the day-job might have helped with.

It gives me a headstart too when it comes to legal and police procedures, in that my research doesn’t have to start at base camp.

The downside is that it can me mentally-draining, which is why I took a step back from it a couple of years ago and don’t appear in court as often as I used to.

Chris: I feel like there’s been a run of serious questions (who’d have thought that?) so I shall end with something a little more lighthearted.

If you had to kill one person, and pin the blame on another, who would you choose?*

I would kill my Amazon 1-star reviewers, and pin the blame on my Goodreads 1-star reviewers.

*You can’t kill people that say ‘can I get a…’ in coffee shops. We just wish them ill.

Neil: I don’t want to kill people who say, “can I get …..” in coffee shops. I just want to stamp on their feet really hard, just to jolt them from their oh so coolness.

Queue-jumpers are getting it though. The same as those people who tut behind me in the supermarket queue because all they’ve got is a bit of cheese and some milk and I’ve got a full basket, and I’m expected to step aside to let them go first. I’m sorry, but don’t they realise that if they didn’t tut and edge forward, maybe, just maybe, I’d volunteer my space. But no. Every tut and attempt to catch my eye makes me empty my basket a little more slowly. I might even puncture a hole in a packet, or rip off a barcode, so that someone has to go fetch another one. And yes, I will have a bag, and I’ll struggle to open it, so clumsy with my hands, tut tut, and laugh and roll my eyes at you as you slam the Next Customer Please divider on the belt.

Yeah, even if I don’t kill you, I hope your milk turns as you’re waiting….

Thanks you two – I think. Anyway onto the important stuff…

About the Books:

 

He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .

Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.

When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.

But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.

Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost . . .

Read my review.

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Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer goes missing.

Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .

Read My Review

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Happy Reading!

 

Ones to Watch in 2018 – The Perfect Girlfriend Karen Hamilton

Publication Date: March 2018 from Wildfire

Source: Review Copy

Juliette loves Nate.
She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him.

They are meant to be.
The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing.
Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.

She is the perfect girlfriend.
And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

There’s a new spate of psychological thrillers in town – where things are mixed up a bit and the main protagonists are not all sympathetic characters stuck in an untenable situation – sometimes the main protagonists ARE the untenable situation as is true with Juliette, the star of “The Perfect Girlfriend” and what a star she is.

Obsessive – Yes. Brilliantly engaging – Yes. Really quite scary? Yes absolutely, also occasionally witty, always focused, also actually has a real beef, Nate isn’t exactly the most reliable or the nicest of men. Still, you know, she wants him back and boy will she do absolutely anything to achieve that goal.

I loved it – Juliet not withstanding, the book flows outwards in a fascinating, page turning fashion, the underlying titbits about  life in the air are endlessly enthralling brought to beautiful life by Juliette – who whilst using them as a means to an end also gets somewhat caught up in it. I loved how she related to other people, both those she was using and those that just came into her line of sight – her inner thought processes are often hilarious but bang on the money so even though she’s obviously nuts its that kind of nuts that you really relate to.

I won’t give away anything about how she gets on or whether her obsessive and perfectly formed plan works out – but you’ll have a hell of a reading time getting to that answer, a lot of fun and a lot of insightful probing of human foibles and how we are formed – The Perfect Girlfriend resonates on more than one level.

But mostly it is all Juliet – Passionate and determined she will pull you along with her, in fact I spent most of the read wishing for her success – I can’t think of anything more appropriate for Nate than to be forever locked into her sphere of gravity – but whether or not my wish was granted you’ll have to read to find out.

Yes I know you shouldn’t root for the stalker. But in this case I simply couldn’t help myself.

Incredibly addictive, should come with a “Do Not Disturb” sign even though you’ll end up disturbed in quite another sense – The Perfect Girlfriend is the perfect lazy reading day experience.

Recommended.

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Happy Reading!

Getting to Know You with Robert Eggleton – Rarity From the Hollow.

Kicking off another round of my “Getting to Know You” features, today with Robert Eggleton, author of Rarity from the Hollow.

Tell us a little about your current novel, what readers can expect from it..

Rarity from the Hollow is my debut novel. In a nutshell, it’s a story of victimization to empowerment. The protagonist, Lacy Dawn, begins the adventure as an eleven year old most unlikely savoir of the universe. She lives in an impoverished hollow in West Virginia with a war-damage father and a worn out mom. However, her genetics have been manipulated for millennia. When a threat to the survival of the economic structure of the universe becomes imminent, an android is sent to Earth to recruit and train her to fulfil her destiny.

Lacy Dawn doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first. Based loosely on Donald Trump’s rise to political power, she negotiates the best deal by insisting that her parents be cured of their mental health disorders. Once her team has been assembled, it travels to planet Shptiludrp (Shop Until You Drop) a giant shopping mall and the center of universal governance where she meets Mr Prump (Donald Trump) and Mr. Rump (Bernie Sanders).

The adventure is filled with tragedy, comedy, and satire. The original © on the story was 2006 by a press that went defunct a month after its release. Dog Horn Publishing in Leeds, a traditional small press, picked up the project in 2012 and produced an Advance Review Copy (ARC) that circulated for several years before the final version was published in December 2016. The ARC was awarded Gold Medals by two major review organizations and was named one of the five best books of 2015 along side of Revival by Stephen King and The Martian by Andy Weir. Its political allegory is much more obvious now that Donald Trump has become a household name. Without political advocacy except to sensitize readers to the huge social problem of world-wide child maltreatment, the story addresses many issues that are being debated today, such as immigration, the refugee crisis, exploitation of underdeveloped territories for minerals, extreme capitalism vs. democratic socialism…. The backdrop of the story is adult literary science fiction, but there are elements of horror, paranormal, and romance.

Author proceeds support the prevention of child abuse.

Where did you grow up and what was family life like?

I grew up in an impoverished family in West Virginia, similar to the Earth setting for the novel. Also similar to the story, my father had war-related PTSD with night terrors and temper outbursts when intoxicated. I’m the oldest of four children. My loving mother did the best that she could to protect and feed us. I began working odd jobs, cutting grass, shoveling snow…as a child and began paying into the U.S. Social Security fund at age twelve after getting a job cleaning an stocking shelves at a drug store. At the time, pharmacies were the paperback marts of many small towns. That’s when I started reading fiction by borrowing novels off of the store’s shelves and returning them in same-as new condition. My father caught our rented house on fire by smoking while laying on the couch a year later and was killed. I was at work at a gas station, a second job, at the time and the rest of the family had gone to visit my grandmother – nobody else was hurt in the fire. Afterward, we moved into a housing project where I lived until I graduated from high school.

Academic or creative at school?

Frankly, looking back, I think that I was mostly dissociative during my public school years. I was there physically, but missed out on a lot of basic education because I was not there mentally – “spaced out.” In the eighth grade I won our school’s short story competition. That’s when my aspiration to become a rich and famous author began. In college, one of my poems was published by the West Virginia Student Anthology. A couple more were published in alternative zines, and I’ve written stories and poems for as long as I can remember, but I rarely shared them with others, especially not with peers at school. Academically, I barely got through high school but snapped out of my funk in college where I graduated above a 3.0 g.p.a., and began to perform in graduate school where I graduated with a perfect 4.0.

First job you *really* wanted to do?

During childhood, before food stamps were available, I was the primary bread winner for my family. I “really” wanted to do each and every job for which I would get paid. I’ve worked all the way through school and really wanted to do well at every job even after my family became eligible for food stamps and public housing. As the oldest, I would buy new clothing, not Goodwill, and presents for my siblings and mother. After college, I accepted a job as a drug counselor for adolescents who had been court-committed to treatment. That was the first job that I really wanted to do for reasons beyond fiscal.

Do you remember the moment you first wanted to write?

Growing up, my family didn’t have the money to buy toys for us kids, for a television, telephone, or to go to the movies. For entertainment, I began writing short stories, sometimes on flattened paper grocery bags. In grade school, I can’t remember which grade, I shared one of my stories with a gas station attendant who worked across the highway. With a big smile after he had read my story, he said that he loved it. From that point forward, I really wanted to write.

Who are your real life heroes?

Not counting those great people who I admire, like Rosa Parks and M.L.K., Abby Hoffman, J.F.K, Georgia O’Keefe, John Lennon, Mark Twain…, my biggest real life hero would be my grandmother. I’ll tell you why. It was her integrity and strength in sticking to convictions. Mattie was a fundamentalist Christian (I’m not) who read the Bible every day. She went to church every time that its doors were open. The way she read the Bible, it was a sin for a woman to cut her hair. Mattie’s hair was never cut. She wore it in a bun on top of her head. When we kids would beg her to, she would release it – all the way to the floor and two feet beyond. After television became available, she wasn’t sure about them. She considered whether or not to watch television would be a sin for nine years before she permitted my uncle to buy her one, and then mostly watched religious shows. Her son, another uncle of mine, was put in our state penitentiary when he was fourteen years old for being a back-seat passenger in a car owned by the father of one of his friends and which had been taken without permission — joyriding. My grandmother wrote him a letter every day for those nine years. Since the mail didn’t run on Sundays, that meant that my uncle got two letters from her on Monday. From the day that I remember meeting her until Mattie’s death, I never heard or curse, or express any bigotry, anger, or even an unkind word to or about another human being. She raised her children with the same values. That’s why I ended up with the most wonderful mother anybody could hope for despite the adversities that she faced. Mattie is my real life hero.

Funniest or most embarrassing situation you’ve found yourself in?

In 1990, I was placed on the agenda to make a speech to a joint committee of our State Legislature about the status of juvenile services. West Virginia has a beautiful Capitol building with old trees in the surrounding lawns – the home for lots of squirrels and pigeons. It was one of my first of several similar speeches, so I was a little nervous. At the time, finding a parking spot was a challenge, so I’d left home early. By the time that I’d parked my car, time was getting a little tight. I rushed to the East Wing. On the way, a pigeon pooped on the right shoulder of my suit jacket. I glanced into the meeting room on my way to the restroom to clean it off – it was packed, at least a couple hundred people in the audience. I made the speech with a huge and very obvious wet spot.

DIY expert or phone a friend?

I’m definitely a phone a friend type of person. My wife is highly active when I’m writing, for example. We’ve been married for forty-five years. Rita is the most knowledgeable person that I’ve ever met. As I mentioned before, I missed out on a lot of basic education, so I bug her all the time despite spell check.

Before YouTube, I would usually ask more that one friend if I was uncertain about something, including how to fix an engine, washer…. Today, I always search the internet for instructions and information before initiating an action about which I’m unsure. For example, our dishwasher just broke down. It looks like the water inlet valve went out. I’ve never worked on a dishwasher before, so I’m still searching for info before I spend $45 on a replacement valve.

Sun worshipper or night owl?

I used to love the sun. The beach was my favorite vacation spot and the only time that I totally relaxed. Ten years ago, a small spot on the side of my nose was diagnosed as basal cell skin cancer. I figure it was from working construction on the weekends off from my in-the-office jobs, but, today, I’m less fond of the sun.

When I’m writing, since I’ve retired – I was a children’s psychotherapist most recently – I will sometimes stay up all night working on something. But, between projects I keep regular hours.

A book that had you in tears.

Push is the 1996 debut novel by American author Sapphire. It was a real life story about an illiterate sixteen year old girl living in Harlem who was pregnant with her second child after having been raped by her father. Twelve years after its release, Push was turned into a movie, Precious, that won two Academy Awards. I knew that I shouldn’t, but I read the book after seeing the movie. While there were moments of kindness and positives as a special teacher and others helped Precious, overall this was a depressing story, especially when she was diagnosed with HIV. Worse, while the book never reaches closure, in real-life, Precious died of the disease.

Precious was inspiring for me. While I wanted Rarity from the Hollow to sensitize readers to the huge social problem of child maltreatment, I also didn’t want to write anything nearly as depressing as Push. While I appreciated this masterpiece, it pushed me in the opposite direction. I decided to write something that addressed this social problem, but through a comical and satiric adventure — something that was fun to read. Something that people would remember to help needful kids because the enjoy reading the novel.

On this topic, the ARC of Rarity from the Hollow was awarded two Gold Medals, the first of which gave me a special sense of pride in achieving my goal: “…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only instead of the earth being destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, Lacy Dawn must…The author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…Eggleton sucks you into the Hollow, dunks you in the creek, rolls you in the mud, and splays you in the sun to dry off. Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” http://awesomeindies.net/ai-approved-review-of-rarity-from-the-holly-by-robert-eggleton/

A book that made you laugh out loud.

Every book written by Kurt Vonnegut made me laugh out loud. He’s another one of my heroes like we talked about before. I was flattered when a book critic of the Rarity from the Hollow ARC found: “…In the spirit of Vonnegut, Eggleton (a psychotherapist focused on the adolescent patient) takes the genre and gives it another quarter turn….” http://electricrev.net/2014/08/12/a-universe-on-the-edge/

One piece of life advice you give everyone.

Maybe you’ve heard this before. This advice was given to me by my aunt after I had been picked on at grade school one day: “Bobby, don’t let the butt holes get you down.” This advice has served me well ever since.

About the book:

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage — an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It’s up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy, comedy and satire. A Children’s Story. For Adults.

“The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in years.”

—Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former editor for Reader’s Digest

“Quirky, profane, disturbing… In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.”

— Evelyn Somers, The Missouri Review

. “…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse…tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…profound…a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” — Awesome Indies (Gold Medal)

“…sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…a brilliant writer.” –Readers’ Favorite (Gold Medal)

“Rarity from the Hollow is an original and interesting story of a backwoods girl who saves the Universe in her fashion. Not for the prudish.” —Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author

“…Good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” — The Baryon Review

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Happy Reading!

Latest Reads: Two Nights Kathy Reichs

Publication Date: Available Now from Bantam

Source: Netgalley

Meet Sunday Night, a woman with physical and psychological scars, and a killer instinct… 

Sunnie has spent years running from her past, burying secrets and building a life in which she needs no one and feels nothing. But a girl has gone missing, lost in the chaos of a bomb explosion, and the family needs Sunnie’s help. 

Is the girl dead? Did someone take her? If she is out there, why doesn’t she want to be found? It’s time for Sunnie to face her own demons because they just might lead her to the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

Two Nights is a fast, furious and engaging read with some dark and currently relevant themes running through the narrative – I blasted my way through it in a few hours, totally gripping.

Very different from the norm for Ms Reichs, whose authentic forensic detail in her Temperance Brennan novels has held me in thrall for years – but the trademark quality writing is here, alongside her sharp and intelligent eye for building characters and making you care about them. Sunnie Night is divisive, intelligent and driven – as a reader you get on board with her incredibly fast, her background is highly intriguing and one can only hope that we’ll meet her again in future novels.

In this one however she’s on the trail of a missing girl, lost during the chaos of a bomb attack, the plot is taut and clever, with some crackling dialogue and a strong sense of reality. As a lover of thrillers this one hit the mark for me, its also true that I’m a fan of authors changing direction every now and again and giving us a peek into another area of their creativity, that has certainly been achieved here, with some beautifully unexpected forks in the road from A – B keeping things entertaining.

Whilst the plot was excellent it was the character that kept me reading and randomly growling at people who tried to get my attention – Sunday “Sunnie” Night is one to watch. Put expectations aside and dive right in. You’ll have a very good reading time.

Recommended.

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Latest Reads: The Dying Game Asa Avdic

Publication Date: 2nd November from Randomhouse UK (Windmill books)

(Available Now on Kindle) 

Source: Netgalley

Oh, it’s really quite simple. I want you to play dead.’ 

On the remote island of Isola, seven people have been selected to compete in a 48-hour test for a top-secret intelligence position. One of them is Anna Francis, a workaholic with a nine-year-old daughter she rarely sees, and a secret that haunts her. Her assignment is to stage her own death and then observe, from her hiding place inside the walls of the house, how the other candidates react to the news that a murderer is among them. Who will take control? Who will crack under pressure? 

But as soon as Anna steps on to the island she realises something isn’t quite right. And then a storm rolls in, the power goes out, and the real game begins… 

I really loved The Dying Game but I think it might be a little divisive considering the blurb which leads you to expect a kind of ode to Christie’s “And Then there were None” –  which I suppose given the isolated setting and the actions there it kind of is – but this is also a dystopian novel, set in an imagined future where wars have changed the landscape and Sweden is under the implied rule of a mysterious intelligence service. So go into it with no judgement and you’ll find a terrifically atmospheric hybrid of mystery and political thriller.

We hear mostly from Anna and Henry – two people who know each other and have a kind of “will they won’t they” relationship that is teased throughout. Anna is suffering PTSD, the reasons for this are only half told but it’s obvious that she is an intelligent yet tortured human being. Henry meanwhile is all cold lines and cleverness, I enjoyed reading their differing points of view as the plot developed.

The island portions are somewhat creepy – there are obviously political machinations at play and perhaps nobody there is quite as they seem. The author plays on various fears very well here, layering possibilities and putting the characters into difficult circumstances, especially Anna who comes to realise that her role there is not what she had prepared for.

The background is well imagined if a little loose on detail – I was especially engaged by Anna’s relationship with her Mother and daughter – and I genuinely didn’t know where it was going until it ended up there which is always a plus for me.

Its a bit like a horror movie on the page with people disappearing and the reader never seeing the full picture, even really with the resolution – but I found it to be a proper page turner and therefore I would definitely recommend it especially if you are looking for something different and unusual.

I’ll look forward to this authors next book with some anticipation see if she can keep that edge of creativity that made this book work for me. Thoroughly enjoyable especially if you just go with the flow.

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Latest Reads: The Forever Ship Francesca Haig

Publication Date: Available Now from Harper Voyager

Source: Netgalley

Elsewhere exists. Cass, Piper and Zoe must race to prevent the Alpha’s from destroying what might be the only salvation for the Omegas and an end to the discrimination that comes, for them, with existing. But while they struggle to change the world, Cass must also overcome her grief and loyalty to her twin if she is ever to be free.

The Forever Ship completes this trilogy which began with The Fire Sermon and continued with A Map of Bones – I’ll be sorry to see the back of Cass, Piper et al I’ve lived this journey with them and a brilliantly engaging and thought provoking one it was too and the lovely Ms Haig puts a pitch perfect finish on it.

In this finale, the battle to save Elsewhere is the main focus along with ever changing loyalties and Cass still trying to come to terms with her relationship with Zach – twin and Alpha – who has been an extraordinarily difficult challenge.

I’ve come to know the world built here really well – the Alpha and Omega twins, one perfectly formed the other with flaws and the author has delved deep into human nature here, throughout the narrative, in a beautifully plotted battle where its not so much one of good v evil but of this compromise v that compromise and how far we would go to preserve ourselves.

The characters are formed and authentic, Cass is divisive and tortured by her visions, her journey from that first page of The Fire Sermon to this last page of The Forever Ship has been one full of twists and challenges, utterly riveting and beautifully described.

I don’t really want to give anything away – but Francesca Haig has created a dystopian reality that is very believable, as our world teeters on the brink of who knows what, one can perfectly well imagine a future such as she describes – even the more fantastical elements of it.

Overall The Fire Sermon trilogy has been a most terrific reading experience – and that melancholy, cleverly thought out finale just put the icing on a very delicious cake.

Highly Recommended.

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All the Wicked Lucky Ghost’s (or something) with Chris Whitaker and Matthew Blakstad

So in another of my author match making modes I recently put the brilliant Matt Blakstad together with the equally brilliant Chris Whitaker and asked them to have a chat about their respective novels – Yes I’m sorry about that I should have known better – so to offset that which you are about to read you could also read my review of All The Wicked Girls and Lucky Ghost which, frankly, are a lot more likely to sell the books to you. Be afraid, be very afraid…

Over to them then. It’s their title by the way…

TWO AUTHORS TALKING A BAG OF SHITE FEATURING CHRIS WHITAKER AND MATTHEW BLAKSTAD

Chris: I recently read the brilliant Sockpuppet and thought it was one of the most accomplished debuts I’ve come across in a long time. Now, I know that you have a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy from Oxford, which has had me worrying I may come off as a bit of a simpleton during this discussion, so with that in mind I’ve worked hard on coming up with a number of intelligent, thought provoking questions…

Have you always been interested in puppetry? If you could slip your hand inside any puppet, living or dead, who would it be?

Matthew: Bless you for your kind words. You know that I am – like every other vertebrate on the planet – and a number of the more literate invertebrates – a huge fan of Tall Oaks.

Anyway, thank you very much for your perspicacious and well-thought through questions. My interest in puppetry began at an early age when I realised that, by simply sticking a hand inside my sock and attaching two buttons, I could have a friend who’d actually talk to me and never pants me in the boys’ toilets. Even if he couldn’t say his ‘G’s very clearly. Sadly, even my sockbuddy turned against me when he began a dalliance with a pair of orange boxers, but we’ll draw a veil over that episode. Let’s just say, there’s a reason why I have gone sockless since the age of 12.

If I could slip my hand inside any puppet today, it would be Donald Trump who is a puppet of Vladimir Putin ha ha did you see what I did with my sharp political satire – oh hang on I just imagined what it would be like sticking my hand in Donald Trump excuse me while I apply wire wool to my entire right forearm.

While I’m doing that, tell me: why this obsession with tall oaks particularly? Why not Oak Saplings? Or even Medium Sized Oaks? Why do you continue to put out this heightist propaganda?

Chris: Ah thanks, pet. Actually there was one particular guy that hated Tall Oaks so much he gave it a good old savaging. That was the first really bad review I got and I remember feeling quite down about it. Generally I’m thick skinned, and always tell my editor to be brutal as I can take it, so I really hated the fact that I was bothered by this. But looking back now I suppose it’s because writing a book, no matter the subject, is intensely personal, just you and a page and a million hours of agony. So an attack on the book felt a bit like an attack on me, which I can now see is totally ridiculous. It’s not possible to write a book that appeals to everyone, and I’m certain I wouldn’t want to. Tall Oaks mixes crime and humour, which I always knew was a bit of a risk. Rough with the smooth and all that.

I also turn to my Twitter group (made up of fellow Bonnier debutants) for support and we’ve since started a 1-star club, each 1-star is a badge of honour. I’d invite you to join but I’ve checked your reviews and you don’t have the necessary credentials. Congrats (I suppose).

I know as a writer failure/criticism is par for the course, but have you found it tough? How do you cope with it?

I think my heightist propaganda is actually more a general sizeist propaganda, and I guess it stems from my own insecurities. I wanted to call it Giant Cock Oaks but the sales department weren’t keen.

Matthew: I guess one-star reviews are a fact of life. Even Shakespeare and Jane Austin have them. And if you think I don’t have any, you haven’t looked at my GoodReads. My favourite? ‘Couldn’t finish it. I hated all the characters. Bleurgh.’ Which is at least clear and to the point.

And I have an UNPOPULAR OPINION about this. I think it’s good to read all your reviews, good and bad. Yes, of course it’s hurtful when people slam the book you’ve sweated over for years, but they’re entitled to negative feelings about a book they paid good money for. Reading the stinkers gives you a thicker skin, and sometimes an unexpected insight about your work. We write for an audience, and it helps to know what people think – even if they sometimes express it in the rudest way you can imagine. And of course NO WAY should we change the way we write, on the say-so of some random on the internet.

It’s not easy, though, facing the slings and arrows. Writing’s an insanely lonely pursuit. Even the amazing things – like getting published – bring a dose of the terrors. I guess it’s fear of being exposed as a fraud. NOBODY tells you about all this angsty stuff in advance. Maybe published writers don’t like to complain about their good fortune in case everyone who wishes they were them all decide to punch them in the nuts. Which would be fair enough.

As you say, other writers are life-line. I’ve met some amazing people since I was published. You and Liz, of course (phew: very glad I remembered to say that before I got in trouble). I’m also part of a fantastic collective called the Prime Writers. Mainly, the group of people I studied with at Faber

Academy have been a constant source of support. We still meet up once a month, 4 years after the course ended – to bitch and gripe and comment on each others’ work. Several of us have publishing deals, including the excellent Molly Flatt, who you know because we all share an agent. Her The Charmed Life of Alex Moore is coming out next year from Pan Mac and it’s going to be MASSIVE.

Which leads me to an actual question: what book are you most eagerly anticipating in the coming months, and why?

Chris: Bleurgh! Welcome to the club, Matt. I totally get what you mean about being exposed as a fraud. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like a ‘real’ writer, whatever that means. Whenever I’m amongst a group of authors I always feel like the least qualified there, so I do lots of nodding and smiling and drinking. I lie about having read the classics, and by classics I mean any book over five years old, and I know it’s only a matter of time before someone calls me a charlatan and burns one of my books.

I’m about to begin thinking about book 3, which leads me to thinking about the writing process. I still don’t plan at all, which I’m going to try and work on. I tend to just sit down and start writing. I’ll know the end, where I’m heading, but how I get there is the part I most enjoy, fleshing out characters and feeling like I know them a little better each time I sit down to write. I find the process difficult though, especially so with book 2. I find it hard to switch off, I don’t sleep well and will often lie in bed running over the story, which can be exhausting. I also find the balance tricky, having a day job and a family and trying to prioritise my time. It’s something I aim to get better at, I’m just not sure how.

How do you do it? There’s some masterful plotting in Sockpuppet and Lucky Ghost, so I’m guessing there’s some detailed planning involved. How do you balance work and writing and relaxing? (I’m really hoping you have a magic formula, and that it involves recreational drugs.)

As for a book I’m really looking forward to, The Confession by Jo Spain, which I believe is out in January. I’ve heard very good things and am a huge fan of hers. I also wait patiently for John Hart to write another. It takes him a while (lazy/rich) but I love him so much I’d happily rummage through his recycling box, I imagine even his shopping list is a thing of beauty.

Matthew: Ooh, I’ll check that one out, thanks.

You’re very kind to complement my plotting. I wish I could say I had a magic formula but I really don’t. I usually start with a rough outline – 2-3 pages covering what I think the main beats of the story will be, plus some character notes – but this always turns out to be wrong. I seem to need this kind of starting point, but for me (and it sounds like for you, too) the true magic of writing fiction comes when you start to improvise and surprise yourself. I love throwing characters into situations even I don’t know the way out of, or pitting them against one another, and simply seeing what they’ll do. They invariably end up taking the story in a far more interesting direction than I could have plotted out in advance, and I have MUCH more fun along the way.

Of course this means my first drafts are alway a steaming, toxic mess, but that’s the point of a first draft. And it’s why novelists really, really need to enjoy editing. Because that’s at least 50% of the process.

Speaking of writing a draft, what stage are you at on the next book? Any teasers you can share about the book?

Chris: Yes on the dog shit first draft, mine are so bad that I usually get the urge to start something new when I’m nearing the end.

As for book 3 I’m not sure. I have a couple of ideas and they’re both quite big in scope, I just need to psyche myself up to get started as I know it’s going to be tough again. There’s something terrifying about staring at a blank page, but equally it’s the part I find most enjoyable. Sometimes I still can’t believe I get paid to write stories, it’s genuinely my dream job and if it wasn’t hard I’d worry I was doing something wrong.

How about you? Next up?

Matthew: You know what, Chris, I reckon the fact that you agonise so much is a big part of why your writing has so much rawness and fizz. It’s a shame the gestation has to be so painful, but take it from me, they’re beautiful babies. I hope you get to feel like a proud Dad once they’re out in the world.

For myself, I have a few irons in the fire at the moment, and it’s taken me a while to figure out which of them to work on next. There’s more to come in the series that started with Sockpuppet, and I thought that one of those would come next – but instead I’ve found myself compelled to write a standalone book about the fake news phenomenon, and the way we’re being slyly targeted with information designed to mould our feelings and beliefs. It’s shaping up to be a very different kind of book, though I’m still not 100% sure which direction it’s taking me in. Still, I’m excited to be here for the ride.

In the meanwhile, very best of luck with the launch of All The Wicked Girls. I know it’s going to be YUGE, as The Donald would say.

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Early one morning, blogger Alex Kubelick walks up to a total stranger and slaps him across the face. Hard.

He smiles.

They’ve both just earned Emoticoin, in a new, all-consuming game that trades real-life emotions for digital currency. Emoticoin is changing the face of the economy – but someone or something is controlling it for their own, dangerous ends.

As Alex picks apart the tangled threads that hold the virtual game together she finds herself on the run from very real enemies. It seems only one person has the answers she seeks. Someone who hides behind the name ‘Lucky Ghost’.

But Lucky Ghost will only talk to a young hacker called Thimblerig – the online troll who’s been harassing Alex for months.

Will Lucky Ghost lead Alex and Thimblerig to the answers they seek – or to their deaths?

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer goes missing.

Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .

 

Latest Reads: Age of Assassins R J Barker

Publication Date: Available now from Orbit

Source: Review Copy

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN . . .

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.

Age of Assassins is pure energy on the page – a banging brilliant fantasy novel in a year where there are a fair few banging fantasy novels coming out, this one stands out.

I couldn’t put this damn book down once I picked it up – Girton Club-Foot, apprentice assassin, does not allow for such a thing as he and his mentor hunt for an, erm assassin. In a cleverly developed and endlessly intriguing plot the pair of them sneak around in plain sight, trying to save the heir to the throne in a land that is on the edge of all sorts of disasters, meeting new friends and enemies along the way and basically dragging you, the reader, on an adventure of epic proportions.

I’m a lover of fantasy when it is so very brilliantly character driven, Girton is one of my favourite characters ever in this respect – he’s so beautifully grumpy, wonderfully witty and whilst I’ve seen others refer to him as disabled I never ever saw him that way because he didn’t. His boss and kindly (occasionally) mentor Merela is also hugely engaging and as a pair they were a delight to read about.

The world building is also beautifully done, understanding coming to you via plot developments and character dialogue for the most part rather than endlessly complicated description – another thing I love because you just absorb it along the way. The political landscape is clearly divisive, setting our main protagonists up for all sorts of ups and downs that you just live right along with them. The writing style is a bit rock and roll, Age of Assassins is a heady mix of mystery, thrills and pure classic fantasy, forget your Game of Thrones for a bit, pick up this instead.

There is so much to love in Age of Assassins, I’m not even going to spoil one second of it for you. Just go get it and throw yourself in there, its a rich, rollicking, rush of a read that will make your head spin. Bring on book 2. I stand ready.

Highly Recommended.

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