I am delighted the Annie Murray has agreed to visit my blog as part of her Love Book Tours blog tour. It is for the publication of her novel, Mother and Child, published by Pan Macmillan. You can follow the whole tour.
The author was born in Berkshire and read English at St John’s College, Oxford. Her first ‘Birmingham’ novel, Birmingham Rose, hit The Times bestseller list when it was published in 1995. She has subsequently written many other successful novels, including A Hopscotch Summer, Soldier Girl and the bestselling novels Chocolate Girls and War Babies. Annie has four children and lives near Reading.
The Excerpt from Mother and Child
‘Breakfast,’ I murmur to myself. ‘Eat.’ I am trying to think of my body as someone else’s, an objective thing that I have to look after, like a pet tortoise. My phone goes off as the smell of toast is drifting through the kitchen. Ange, the screen says. God, when did I last speak to Ange?
‘Jo? How’s it going?’ She sounds really, really nervous. Dear old Ange, so perky and kind, so distant now, someone from a completely different life – my different life. I suppose it’s my fault, but that’s how it feels. ‘Oh, fine.’ I wander into the living room. It’s all one room knocked through, light streaming in at each end. Feeling the pile of the carpet under my toes, I realize I haven’t put any shoes on or even socks. ‘Did you know we’ve moved?’
Of course she doesn’t know. ‘Oh?’ Startled. ‘Have you? Where to?’ ‘Hollywood.’= ‘Hollywood? What – you mean, America? Film stars?’ ‘You know, near Wythall, down near Ian’s mom. Seemed a good idea. We only got here yesterday.’ Does my voice sound normal? I can’t tell any more. I’m trying to sound light and cheerful – heaven knows what I actually sound like. Probably shrill and a bit crazy. ‘Just getting settled in. I’m going to see Dorrie in a bit.’ ‘Good for you.’ Ange sounds awkward and not really like herself either. I’ve become one of those people who others are not sure how to talk to or what they can say.
Say the right thing. ‘You’ll have to come over.’ It would be great to seeAnge, wouldn’t it? To have a friend, a life. I can’t rememberwhen I last saw her – has she deserted me or was itme who did the damage?‘Yeah,’ she says. I hear a small sound, her dragging ona cigarette. ‘Yeah – hey, I’ll be over to see you soon,chicky.’I leave it a beat. ‘Who says chicky?’Ange lets out a relieved snort of laughter. ‘Soon, yeah?’Nothing definite then. She’s cautious, hurt, I think. Atiny window must be opening in me if I even realize now,how I’ve shut everyone out.
Alex Gray is one of my ‘go to’ authors. I enjoy her DI William Lorimer series of crime novels very much over the years, so when I went to choose a book from my TBR pile recently, I chose Keep the Midnight Out.
The story starts when Lorimer and his wife are on holiday. Lorimer finds the body of a red-haired young man washed up on the shore of the beautiful Isle of Mull. This rather interferes with the Lorimers’ tranquil holiday away from the gritty streets of Glasgow.
The body has been bound with twine in a ghoulishly unnatural position and strongly reminds Lorimer of a murder that was never solved twenty years old in Glasgow. Then he was a newly fledged detective constable and the case has haunted him ever since. Now he is a Detective Superintendent and determined to ensure the connections are made.
As local cop DI Stevie Crozier takes charge of the island murder investigation and Lorimer does try to avoid stepping on her toes. But as the similarities between the young man’s death and his cold case grow more obvious, Lorimer realises that there could be a serial killer on the loose after all these years.
As the action switches between the Mull murder and the Glasgow cold case twenty years earlier, Lorimer tries desperately to catch the cold-hearted killer.
I enjoyed this book, but it was not one of my favourites. I found the idea of identical styles of sadism occurring twenty years apart and never during the intervening period too much of a stretch for me. I thought the likelihood was that the perpetrator would have been drawn to act with more frequency. That said, there were plenty of credible red herrings. If you enjoy a good ‘whodunit’, Keep the Midnight Out is a good read.
Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing and is the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland international crime writing festival. Married with a son and daughter, she lives in Scotland and is currently writing the next book in the Detective Lorimer series.
If you follow my blog, you will know that my preferred genre for novels is crime. However, you will also know that I do stray and I had heard such excellent things about this debut novel by Patricia M Osborne, House of Grace.
House of Grace is the first novel in a family saga trilogy and centres on the life of Grace Granville. The novel starts in England in the 1950s when we meet the sixteen-year-old Grace and learn that all she has ever wanted is to become a successful dress designer. She is talented and industrious and dreams of owning her own fashion house. Grace spends her spare time sketching outfits. Her father, Lord Granville, sees this frivolous activity as nonsense and wants to groom her into a good wife for someone of his choosing.
When Grace is about to leave Greenemere, a boarding school in Brighton. She’s blissfully unaware of her father’s plans when she embarks on a new adventure. The quest includes a trip to Bolton’s Palais where she meets coal miner, Jack Gilmore, her friend’s cousin and Grace’s life is never to be the same again.
I very much enjoyed my travels with Grace through two decades as she struggled with family conflict, poverty and tragedy.
House of Grace is a beautifully written novel. It captured my interest: kept me awake at nights when I didn’t want to stop reading and really made me think carefully about the attitudes and social stresses many families endured as recently as the 20th Century.
I have no doubt that House of Grace would make an excellent book group read and I highly recommend it.
Patricia M Osborne was born in Liverpool and spent time in Bolton as a child. She now lives in West Sussex. Apart from novel writing, Patricia writes poetry and short fiction. She is a regular delegate at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Her poetry and short stories have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing with University of Brighton. Patricia has recently become Poet in Residence at a local Victorian park. House of Grace is her first novel.
The most recent book of the month in my book group was The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell. The author won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for her screenplay The Wedding Gift. Recently she took a break from screenwriting when she moved to LA with her two children. The Death of Bees is her first novel.
The Death of Bees centres around Marnie and her little sister Nelly. The girls have always been different. Marnie leads a life of smoking, drinking and drugs; Nelly enjoys playing the violin, eating cornflakes with Coke and reading Harry Potter. But on Christmas Eve, the sisters have to join forces and put their differences aside. And when Lennie, the old guy next door, starts to get suspicious. He cares for them during their parents’ absence but it’s only a matter of time before their terrible secret is discovered.
This novel gets off to an explosive start and I had great hopes for it. Unfortunately, that hope evaporated quickly and the story became quite pedestrian quickly. I think the book would fare better if considered as a YA or cross-over read. It is certainly an easy read, but I did not enjoy the book very much. It has some most unpleasant scenes that I did not enjoy and the story was too predictable to make these scenes worthwhile.
With regret, I cannot recommend The Death of Bees.
I am thrilled that John Simmons has agreed to visit with me as part of the blog tour by Love Book Tours about his novel Leaves published by Urbane Books.
You can follow the whole tour.
Ophelia Street, 1970. A street like any other, a community that lives and breathes together as people struggle with their commitments and pursue their dreams. It is a world we recognise, a world where class and gender divide, where set roles are acknowledged. But what happens when individuals step outside those roles, when they secretly covet, express desire, pursue ambitions even harm and destroy? An observer in the midst of Ophelia Street watches, writes, imagines, remembers, charting the lives and loves of his neighbours over the course of four seasons. And we see the flimsily disguised underbelly of urban life revealed in all its challenging glory. As the leaves turn from vibrant green to vivid gold, so lives turn and change too, laying bare the truth of the community. Perhaps, ultimately, we all exist on Ophelia Street.
When I wrote the first version of Leaves I was straight out of university. I was proud of it but it was put aside, not completely forgotten, for 40 years. The passage of time meant that I could now look at the novel in a fresh light – and I realised that I could take advantage of the fact that I was now looking back on a time past.
So I introduced a new character, the narrator, who is looking back on the formative events from 1970. I found that this changed the tone in an interesting way and gave me a completely different perspective on the events that I had written about in my youth. As one reader said to me “Ah, you’ve written a historical novel”. Not my original intention but, if so, I could vouch for the authenticity of the period details.
Leaves is about a young man living in a north London street. A child’s murder hastens the community’s decay. I was drawing on a location I knew well from growing up in north London but the story was purely from imagination. I found it useful to anchor the story in the reality of the passing seasons, reflecting that sense of a community’s decay through nature itself. In an important way the structure of the seasons was the inspiration for the novel – the story and the characters developed after that structure was established.
That taught me the need for structure in novel-writing. I’ve now had three novels published, with a fourth nearing completion in draft form. Each of them has a clear structure, each written with three parts that are set in different periods of time. This has shaped the novel, in an obvious way, but it has also helped with the development of characters – for example, in The Good Messenger, the character introduced as a nine-year-old in Part 1 becomes a young man of 24 in Part 3. In what ways has he changed, and how has he remained the same?
With Leaves the changes in the characters happen over the course of a year, but the narrator looking back provides a reflective voice. Perhaps because I’ve got older, this reflective tone has become my natural writing tone. But what I hope makes Leaves interesting is that you understand the younger man through the eyes of the same man when he is much older. In a strange way it adds urgency to the storytelling, the sense that time is always moving on.
I’m a writer and consultant with a background in the world of identity and branding. I was a director of Interbrand until 2003 when I co-founded 26, the writers’ group, and Dark Angels that runs residential writing courses in remote retreats. These came out of a number of books on the relationship between language and identity, including “The Dark Angels Trilogy” – We, Me, Them & It, The Invisible Grail and Dark Angels.
In recent times I have also written fiction, first Leaves published in 2015, Spanish Crossings in 2017, with The Good Messenger in autumn 2018. These books are all published by Urbane.
I first met Peter Robinson almost ten years ago when I was studying crime writing at an Arvon Course in Moniack Mohr near Inverness in Scotland. he was a most instructive tutor and entertaining raconteur. I have since read many of his books and still consider his advice to be integral to my own crime writing.
The Hanging Valley is only the fourth novel in Peter’s long series of DCI Banks books. I have read several of them. This one starts with a truly gruesome description of a corpse found in a hanging valley in Yorkshire. The faceless corpse is discovered in a tranquil, hidden valley below the village of Swainshead. When DCI Alan Banks arrives, he finds that no-one is willing to talk. His frustration only grows when the identity of the body is revealed. For it seems that his latest case may be connected with an unsolved murder in the same area five years ago.
This case takes Banks from the author’s original home in Yorkshire, England to the author’s adopted home of Toronto, Canada. This affords the reader some interesting descriptions of that lovely city and allows Banks to interview an important witness to the earlier crime.
Among the silent suspects Banks must interrogate are the Collier brothers, the wealthiest and most powerful family in the area, who are on friendly terms with the police hierarchy. Inevitably, they start using their influence to slow down the investigation, Banks finds himself in a race against time.
This is a clever novel, but I would expect no less of Peter Robinson. If you enjoy beautifully written, clever, crime fiction I think you will enjoy The Hanging Valley.
Peter Robinson grew up in Yorkshire, and now divides his time between Richmond and Canada. Peter has written twenty-four books in the Number One Bestselling DCI Banks series as well as two collections of short stories and three standalone novels, the most recent of which is Number One bestseller Before The Poison. Peter’s critically acclaimed crime novels have won numerous awards in Britain, the United States, Canada and Europe, and are published in translation all over the world.
Urbane Books has a marvellous new novel coming out by Clio Gray and the author has arranged a blog tour with Love Books Group and has agreed to visit me today. I am delighted. You can follow the full tour here:
Lukitt Bachman is waiting in his Lanterne de Mortes, a Tower of the Dead, in the middle of a cemetery. He’s had a complicated life: son of a Herrnhuter Brother thrown out of his sect; help-meet to a pastor; sailor; fisherman; boar-hunter; and student and lecturer, exploring the varied histories of the Knights Teutonic and the bone-chapels their descendants left behind them. He has become an assassin and a murderer, learned the terrible highs and lows of friendships made and lost, and is awaiting now his last remaining friend to set him free so he can put right past wrongs. As Lukitt is let loose on a world gone mad, can this avenging angel finally find solace for his soul?
Clio is a British author, born in Yorkshire, spent her later childhood in Devon before returning to Yorkshire to go to university. For the last twenty five years she has lived in the Scottish Highlands where she intends to remain. She eschewed the usual route of marriage, mortgage, children, and instead spent her working life in libraries, filling her home with books and sharing that home with dogs. She began writing for personal amusement in the late nineties, then began entering short story competitions, getting short listed and then winning, which led directly to a publication deal with Headline. Her book, The Anatomist’s Dream, was nominated for the Man Booker 2015 and long listed for the Bailey’s Prize in 2016. Clio has always been encouraging towards emergent writers, and founded HISSAC (The Highlands and Islands Short Story Association) in 2004 precisely to further that aim, providing feedback on short listed stories and mentoring first time novelists, not a few of whom have gone on to be published themselves. Clio published the critically acclaimed Scottish Mysteries trilogy with Urbane Publications and Archimimus is her new historical thriller for 2019.
Lukitt Habakkuk Bachmann.
A complicated name. A complicated life.
A complicated beginning.
Father: Nethanel, migrant worker, member of the Herrnhuter Brethren who were a little too protestant for the Protestants, exiled from their origins in Saxony; some migrating as far as Greenland and the West Indies; others, like Nethanel’s clan, settling closer to home by the Voralberg Mountains in Austria.
Mother: Trudl, farmer’s daughter, same farm on which Nethanel turned up one summer: fruit-picker, weed-hoer, vegetable-cutter, tattie-hoiker, hay-scyther.
Neither noticing each other – unpretty peasants working side by side with Trudl’s brothers and Nethanel’s Brethren – until Trudl faints in the milling barn from the heat, from the dust that has clogged up nostrils and throat, when Nethanel puts his lips to hers and breathes her back to life.
Stolen moments then, bodies uncomfortably aware of each other, sunny autumn evenings twining themselves together in the laundry pool, on its dappled green banks.
Unforeseen pregnancy, hasty marriage.
Trudl’s father throwing them both out on their ears.
Herrnhuter Elders more forgiving, until Trudl’s swollen belly could not be hidden and sums were made, behaviours condemned. Elder Zebediah calling Nethanel a fool and his new wife a whore, causing them to leave the Herrnhuter.
I first met Amit Dhand last year at Swnawick Writers’ Summer School and was delighted to see him return in August to run a short course there. He also took part in an evening event with fellow crime writers, Simon Hall, Sophie Hannah and poet Alison Chisholm. Last year, I read, and reviewed on this site, his debut novel The Streets of Darkness. So I was looking forward to his second novel, Girl Zero.
The story starts with a most distressing scene and is relentless in its manipulation of the readers emotions. I do not like to give away spoilers, and have no intention of doing so here, suffice to say, Dhand’s hero, Harry Virdee, comes close to breaking point on several occasions. I must say that, although I enjoyed Streets of Darkness if anything, I enjoyed Girl Zero even more. It was a beautifully contructed novel with many satisfying twists as required by a satisfying thriller.
A.A. Dhand was raised in Bradford and spent his youth observing the city from behind the counter of a small convenience store. After qualifying as a pharmacist, he worked in London and travelled extensively before returning to Bradford to start his own business and begin writing. The history, diversity and darkness of the city have inspired his Harry Virdee novels.
Thae author continues to work as a fulltime pharmacist, in case his writing success is just a flash in the pan. I don’t think he needs to worry too much about that!