Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

220px-peter_robinson_20100328_salon_du_livre_de_paris_1Those of you who read my site will know that I particularly enjoy the crime and thriller genres. I also have a lot of time for Peter Robinson, whom I find to be one of the most generous and entertaining writers. So, to you it will come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his book Bad Boy. It is the nineteenth in Peter’s Inspector Banks series.

Thriller aficionados have long applauded Peter’s succession of thoroughly authoritative crime novels, in which the very human Banks has been one half of a team with Annie Cabbot.  It is interesting, because for a large part of the novel, his usual main character, DCI Alan Banks, is on holiday in the USA and quite unaware of the problems and crimes affecting his patch in Yorkshire.bad-boy

In Bad Boy, Banks’s impulsive daughter Tracy has fallen under the spell of her flatmate’s handsome boyfriend, who turns out to be a very dangerous individual with, ultimately, the police on his trail. The dazzled Tracy goes on the run with him, and the grim events that follow turn into a nightmare.

Neither the setting nor even the characters that make Peter’s work so satisfying, but the plotting of a Swiss-watch precision. By the time Banks returns to the UK, jet-lagged and fractious, a series of crimes have beset his colleagues. I will avoid any spoilers, but suffice to say, when Tracy takes her flatmate’s boyfriend to her father’s empty house to hide out, it transpires not to be her best idea.

The reader is treated to a masterclass in the organisation of narrative, all too rare in a field that now trades in the messiness of modern life rather than cohesion. That  is not to downloadunderestimate the centre of gravity in Robinson’s books that is his doughty copper, DCI Alan Banks, whom the reader meets on the pages of Peter Robinson’s books is the thing and Bad Boy is a very good read. DCI Alan Banks has made it to the small screen in the form of Stephen Tompkinson, however, those who love books know where the master of crime may be found.

Valerie Penny

The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell

ruth-rendellThe most recent book of the month for my book group was The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell. The author, Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE, who also wrote under the pseudonym, Barbara Vine was an acclaimed English crime writer, known for her many psychological thrillers and murder mysteries and above all for Inspector Wexford. Although this is a genre I enjoy, I had never read any novels by Ruth Rendell, so I was pleased to have an excuse to read The Water’s Lovely. This is a stand alone novel and not one involving Rendell’s most famous character, Inspector Wexford.

The story starts about a dozen or so years ago when Ismay’s younger sister Heather, then aged 13, drowned their stepfather in the bathtub while Ismay and her mum were out shopping. Or at least that’s what Ismay assumes: she and mum have been acting on the principle that, if you do not talk something through, then it is easier to deny it. Besides, the cops and everyone else assumed it was an accident. Now Ismay and Heather live in the downstairs of the family home; upstairs, mum, driven bonkers by the death and its aftermath, is tended by their Aunt Pat.

Back to the present day, Ismay’s boyfriend Andrew is a snobbish spoiled brat, and psychologically abusive of her; nonetheless, she’s completely infatuated with him. Heather, by contrast, has just begun a wonderful relationship with Edmund. Ironically, Edmund only ever asked her out on a date in order to dodge the ghastly Marion, whom his hypochondriac mother was trying to match make with him. Almost every character in the novel is self-serving or self-engrossed, a ninny, or is pompously self-deluding, weak, or airheads, or even downright criminal and potentially murderous. Furthermore, by the end of the novel, all of those characters, from deficient to vile, get what they wanted, or at least some part of it.The only people for whom there are no happy endings are the two we like and respect: one of whom is a murderess.ruth-rendell-book

I found this book a bit depressing in its portrayal of the characters. The Water’s Lovely started out fine, lots of promising elements including a long-ago mysterious death hidden by the family and never discussed, a sociopathic blackmailer, the foreshadowing of old people to be bumped off for money, an incriminating cassette tape moving from hand to hand, as well as an emotionally abusive relationship escalating, a killer on the loose and a loving couple whose happiness might be destroyed by an explosive secret. Still, none of the strands of plot fully developed. The end twist did not surprise me either.

I am sure I will read other crime novels by Ruth Rendell in the future, but as an introduction to this author, The Water’s Lovely was a bit of a disappointment.

Valerie Penny


No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub by Virginia Ironside

This book was on the list for our book group recently and, with the amusing title, we were virginia-ironside-booklooking forward to reading No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub by Virginia Ironside. Many of our members were familiar with the columns she writes in newspapers too.  No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub is written in an epistolary style, as if the reader was reading the narrator’s journal. The style enveloped the reader in the narrator’s head quickly and easily.

Marie Sharp may be a little creaky in the bones as she heads toward the big 6-0, but she’s fine with it. She is not interested in  parasailing or taking Italian language courses nor will she welcome comments about suggesting she join a gym. Marie has done it all: drink, drugs, sex and rock and roll. She has already led an exciting life: She came of age in the 1960s, after all.  So her friends don’t tell Marie to take a gourmet cooking class, and whatever they do, they shouldn’t tell her to join a book club. Marie has a new grandchild and a new man on the horizon, all she wants to do is make the most of what she considers the most interesting stage of her life.

virginia-ironsideNobody thinks 60 is old, but Marie thinks it is time to let go of dreams of love, forget about manners and plans. I found this attitude rather depressing and old fashioned. Parts of the book are funny and it is well-written. However, the book bored me. After my initial interest in the idea and format, the lack of plot and constant reference to sixty being old, I found that the book became tedious. I found No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub to be a collection of dated ramblings by a self-absorbed, unremarkable narrator. The title tickled me, but No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub did not tickle my fancy. I have not read any other books by Virginia Ironside, and on the basis of this, I will not be looking for others.

Valerie Penny



10 ways to break through writer’s block instantly by guest author Maja

This article first appeared in Business in Rhyme published on 26 December 2016 at


Writer’s block: a detrimental feeling that many of us encounter at least once in our writing life when you simply can’t pull yourself together and produce some satisfying work – at least in your own eyes. You feel lack of inspiration, like you have nothing to say and your imagination simply doesn’t exist.

But let’s think about it for a second – who is actually ‘blocking’ us in writing? Is there a concrete block standing on your keyboard, preventing you to type? Who is making us feel that our ideas are not worthy, that we are not creative? We are. We are the only ones standing as an obstacle to our creating.

And though this term is very popular, a modern notion coined in 1947 by Dr Edmund Bergler, a famous Austrian psychiatrist, I don’t truly believe in writer’s block.

I believe that we often fall in monotony, where we are caught by inertia – just like in a river stream. We might find ourselves in yellow, muddy waters and if we long for fresh, clear flow of ideas – we need to swim, move, get out of or change the conditions that clog our thinking.

One thing that years of writing taught me is that you can’t force it. It’s like pedaling upstream – you soon get tired, out of breath and strength, but you haven’t actually made any progress.

Better way than forcing your writing is provoking your writing. This is where your power and control lies. There are many ways you can stir up your imagination and here I will share some of the practices I use to find my way to writing:


1.When you struggle with writing, do something completely the opposite.

I have noticed when I’m not completely in my ‘writing mode’, leaving that aside and doing other activities that are on my TO DO list can be enough to jumpstart my inspiration. This maybe due to subconscious feeling of worry are we going to do everything planed for that day: simply giving us time again for writing when you have the feeling you’ve accomplished your objectives for the day, can be enough for a productive writing session.

2.Free write for 10 minutes to get rid of monotony

Just write without thinking. How you progress, new and exciting ideas will start to appear. Give yourself a chance to play with words and enjoy – you will much more appreciate your writing and the creative process. Here on the blog are many creative exercises you use can as a prompts and inspiration pointers to instantly break any writing barrier.


This might be more applicable to non-fiction writing, but anytime I’m not focused or I have maybe to many ideas, I perform a research on the similar subject. I find this to be very beneficial in terms that similar work I encounter can serve as a guidance on which topic to write or not – or give my own opinion on something that is stereotyped and could use a new input. Getting insight on what other people are doing on similar topic is always helpful.


4.Indulge in some art

Listen to some music or visit art exhibition  – I have found this to be one of the most helpful ways for me. By listening to my favorite bands or just looking at some of the De Chirico paintings as an instant recentering for me. On Pinterest I have even a board ‘Surrealism’ which I often use as my favorite muse.

5.Limit yourself

Set some rules: Start with what if clause or focus on using specific words. It has been shown that limited creative freedom can have a positive impact on generating new ideas as it provokes you to think differently.

6.Leave unfinished sentence

This is fun and clever thing to do. You just leave out there a word to linger and next time you have to deal with it  – it will hang on the tip of your tongue, tickle until you figure out what to write!

7.Return to your favorite authors, phrases, quotes that you like

Lately I have been writing, by hand in separate notebook poems and quotes that I like. It helps me with that feeling of insecurity sometimes I have about my writing. A simple encouragement that you can give yourself and easily destroys doubts is reading and believing in words of your favorite authors.

8.Go on a date with yourself

As said in the beginning, we are the only ones blocking ourselves in doing what we love. And why does it happen? Maybe it’s a message, a sign that we need rest, that we need more attention and time to be kind towards ourselves, destress and restore creative energy. So make room in your schedule to spend time with yourself, doing what makes you feel good -pamper yourself. Your creativity will come rushing back to your arms, making you eager to write again.


9.Do some squats or go for a walk

Physical exercise makes your heart beat faster, supplying your brain with oxygen. It helps with brain fog we sometimes experiences and your thinking becomes clearer. Going for a walk helps with your senses where change of scenery offers insights to new possibilities and opportunities.

10.If nothing else works – eat some chocolate!

But not any chocolate – with at least of 75% of cocoa, as some researches have found that consumption of cocoa flavanols results in an acute improvement in visual and cognitive function, giving your brain more power to deal with difficult tasks. So eat your way through writer’s block. 😉

The Balance of Guilt by Simon Hall

simon-hall-photoThe Balance of Guilt is a brilliant title! This is also a well paced and clever crime novel by Simon Hall. I would expect no less! Another of Simon’s novels, The Dark Horizon is also reviewed on this site at

In The Balance of Guilt TV reporter, Dan Gloves becomes embroiled in a mystery, notwithstanding that he is injured and in hospital when the matter breaks. The story is set in and around Exeter, a part of the country the author knows well and the perspective of a TV reporter is interesting and original when considering a crime novel and the relationship between Glover and the police, particularly Detective Adam Breen affords different ways to set expectations for thethe-balance-of-guilt reader.

In The Balance of Guilt a terrorist outrage in a sacred building shocks the UK. The country is transfixed by the bombing, a radical Islamic plot is suspected, a secret service double-cross is muted, and a murderous cover-up suspected. Throughout this, television reporter Dan Groves lies unconscious in a hospital bed so the reader becomes increasingly intruiged as to what part he could have in the murder. It seems incredible that he might be able to assist in solving the problem as he was unconscious when the scandal broke.

I really enjoyed the relationships that develope between Groves and his daft dog, his camera man and Adam Breen. Simon Hall has created a realistic scenario that is frighteningly topical. In The Balance of Guilt, Simon Hall has a neatly created murder mystery. Simon Hall, is best known as the BBC’s Crime Correspondent in the South West of England. He is also the author of The TV Detective novels and regularly teaches Creative Writing. Indeed, I first met Simon at The Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in 2015. In his novels he describes some of the remarkable events he has witnessed in his time as a television reporter.

Valerie Pennyswanwick outside



Cross and Burn by Val McDermid

bloody scotlandAs a writer I am in awe of both the quality and quantity of Val McDermid’s novels. As a reader I revel in both. Several of her books including Torment of Others and The Skeleton Road are reviewed on this site: and I bought Cross and Burn the last time I met Val at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers’ Festival in Stirling, Scotland, 2016. It is the eighth book in her series about Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. Tony Hill is a forensic psychologist and Carol Jordan is a police Detective Chief Inspector who team together in order to solve particularly brutal crimes of all kinds.

Their relationship is ambivalent and hovering between close and distant. Still, they are a great pair for the reader even though they cannot seem to work out their important to each other personally. Ms. McDermid  manages this personal part of their story with admirable restraint. This is the first book where  Hill and Jordan are separated due to the events of McDermid’s book, The Retribution. In Cross and Burn, Jordan is trying to move on after a personal loss, she is not working and refuses to have anything to do with Tony Hill. Meanwhile, Hill is struggling to go on with his life cross-and-burnwithout Carol in it. But when Tony is suspected as a serial killer it is Carol Jordan who must come to his rescue. She is still angry with him, but she knows he is innocent and out there is the real killer.

Paula McIntyre, familiar to readers of the series, takes center stage as she tries to determine who is killing women who look just like Carol Jordan. Hill and Jordan, although in this book,the story is more about the people who worked with them, their team, and the sudden disbanding of that. Everybody has to move on after that, whether they want to or not. It was interesting to have McIntyre’s character fleshed out more in this book: also to watch Tony and Carol find some new ways to proceed in the world and to deal with the glimpse into the notion that while they are valuable, the world still goes on around them and without them.

Cross and Burn, although self-contained, and can be read alone, but follows on directly from the previous book in the series, The Retribution, in which disposable supporting characters were either murdered or mutilated at the hands of another savage killer of women. I did not enjoy Cross and Burn as much as most of McDermid’s other crime novels. That val-mcdermid-photodoes not make it a bad book, just slightly less awesome than most. Val McDermid desrves her place as a No. 1 bestseller whose crime novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies.

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. She writes full time, She is married and McDermid and her wife and divide their time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.

Valerie Penny






Editing – Mediorce Book -vs-Best-Seller by guest author L.K.Kelley

lk-kelley-pic-3This article by L K Kelley was published on 19 June 2019 and first appeared in

Reading has always been my very favorite thing to do all my life.  But, since e-books have appeared, the book world of books has exploded, and competition is everywhere! Everyone writes today. That’s easy to see based on the thousands upon thousands of books published every day.

When I was first asked to edit a book for another author (before I ever began writing books), I had no idea what went into it.  Once I started, I had to make up my own rules.  I did a bit of research on editors, and discovered that everyone of them had their own way of doing editing.  Well, that left me to come up with my own method. I have always been a stickler for the way I read, and it seemed that editing a book was no different. I worked with the author directly.  After all, the book is the author’s idea and story. I was just there to make it read better, and correct errors.  As I learned, along with the author, the best way to do it, my rules actually came very easy to me. Thus, I began to edit books as a freelance editor.  I, now, not only am an author, but I also edit books for other authors, and am still a Freelancer.

After quite a while editing, I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the difference between a mediocre book and a best seller comes right down to editing. The former has little to no editing, while the latter has been edited.  Now, I know that some authors just don’t have the money, but if you are going to be serious about writing books, blogs, articles, and even websites, you need to have an editor.

Now, the reason for needing an editor is very apparent. The biggest thing other readers and I noticed while reading, is that the number of books with little editing, if any at all.  I even have read some excellent stories, but make not mistake…readers are VERY lk-kelley-pic-1sophisticated, and while they enjoy reading books, the grammatical errors, bad spelling, duplications, and especially the wide use of the improper use of “I and me”,  can turn them off of the book.

Let me use the analogy of TV and Movies, because the concept is the same.  Everyone has heard  editing in these. You have even heard of leaving “clippings on the editing floor”.  Every movie or TV series has multiple editors.  Without them, no movie or series would be worth watching, because there would be too many errors in them alon. And, while a scene may be really great, it adds nothing to the progress of the story, so they delete it out in favor of a more important scene.

Well, this is the way it is with books.  Books were the forerunner of TV and Movies.  They have always been edited. However, in this case, the editing is within the written word instead of on a screen.  It uses the “mind screen” within your head as a reader and most especially, a writer.  When we write, it is our responsibility to draw a picture within another’s mind.  But, if the words are spelled wrong, or used incorrectly, then that picture will be hard to form, and therefore, the book isn’t really very good even though the idea is pretty good. Oh, it might have a good concept, but it will lack grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.  I know all of you have had this happen.  You begin a book, and keep trying to read it, but for some reason, you just “can’t get into it”.  So, what’s wrong? It’s a great idea, but something is missing.  As you read you consciously, or subconsciously, read misspelled words, or incorrect grammar. Perhaps you read the same paragraph twice, only to discover it really is in the book twice!  Or, the characters are almost, but not quite easy to picture.  That is just poor grammar.  When a book is full of these, and believe me, I read them all the time, and most especially in e-books, the reader just shuts the book, or exits out of it on a digital reader, and won’t try reading it again.  The reader feels a bit cheated, because he/she has bought a “dud”.

A publication – of any kind – must have correct grammar and spelling first.  This makes or breaks a book.  It is extremely possible for a writer to have a great story.  Unfortunately, if the person does not know grammar or has poor spelling, it’s harder to sell a book. The next thing is duplication.  Duplication shows up in many e-books these days.  An author does not want this, because it is very clear that the person did not even read their own book. And, in many cases, they are in such a hurry to get their book(s) published, they just let them go the way they are. It tells the reader that you are not really serious about writing, so they question why should they waste their time reading a book that not even the author cared enough to write it correctly.

lk-kelley-pic-2Two of the biggest no-nos in writing are:

  • Ending a sentence in a preposition
  • The huge and improper use of “I and me”

The second one is the biggest and improper use of these. It will truly ruin a book for readers.  No matter what, these two things must be used correctly! The biggest surprise for me is how it has grown exponentially – especially since e-books have exploded on the scene.  I have addressed these in another blog.

Remember…the difference between a mediocre book and a best seller is not the idea,  or a great story.  It is simply a matter of editing. So, why don’t more people use them?  It comes down to money.  Many have friends who want to help them, but they are not editors, and while some may be very good with words, they are still not editors. It’s a very nice thing, but it’s never a good idea unless the person has time and knows their grammatical skills. Every editor has his/her own prices, and not all of them are totally out of reach.  Some are reasonable. Others are higher.  For instance, one may charge by the word, while another, in my case, charge by the page.  How to find one?  Ask for references. Just like anything else you do in life, this is no different.   You would never build a house, remodel, or even replace flooring without at least 3 references. This is exactly the same thing, only you are choosing a service. But, you must do your research.  If you know of a local writer who uses one, ask them. Most writers support each other.

If writing is something you like to do on the side, and it’s really not a priority for you, then that is one thing.  However, if you are a serious writer, you NEED to use an editor.  Many large Publishing Houses have their own in house editors.  That’s something that Independent authors and some publishers just do not have.  While some do have access to an editor, most do not keep them “on staff”.

So, it all boils down to one question you must ask yourself as an author:

How serious are you about becoming an author?

If you are truly serious, you need an editor to make your book read the very best. Why dolk-kelley-pic-4 you think books are turned into movies?  Because they had an editor! Turn your mediocre novel into a best seller, and use an editor!  You will truly be glad that you did!

L K Kelley is a generous, experienced author who is willing to share her experience with other writers. She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and adopted by Curtis and Jerry Smith. Her hometown from the age of seven months was Fort Smith, Arkansas. She is also a Freelance Book , Article, and website Editor. She loves to read anything, and everything, but most specifically that which has to do with the Supernatural World and Romance, it is that genre she writes. Her trilogy, White Wolf Prophecy receives 5* reviews.

LK Kelley lives in Barling, Arkansas, USA which is a suburb of Fort Smith, AR. She has been married for 40 years to Wes, and it feels as if it’s only been a month. They have one daughter, Laura, who lives in Colorado.

Dark Side of the Moon by Les Wood

les_wood-270When a publisher I know sent me a copy of a couple of his company’s recently published books to review, I was very pleased. The first novel that I read was the debut novel by Les Wood, Dark Side of the Moon. Les is a Scot who lives in Barrhead and previously won the Canongate Prize for New Writing and the McCash Prize for Poetry, so it is no surprise that Dark Side of the Moon has merit. It is a comedic crime story set in Glasgow, Scotland, in which the reader cannot help but root for the criminals. The police never come into it!

The criminals are introduced individually, one chapter at a time. This makes it very clear where they fit into the group, but it does make the setting of the story somewhat drawn out. There is also a specific, detailed story about a baby that is most unsatisafactory in its lack of detail or focus. However, this does foreshadow part of the conclusion of the novel.

The leader of the group, Boddice, is said to be losing ground among the local crimelords as foreignors move in. The reader is told about this but, the alternative forces of evil do not affect the progress of the crime. However, apparently, in order to re-establish his kudos in criminal society, Boddice puts together his hapless band of baddies to help him steal the most valuable diamond in the world, known as the Dark Side of the Moon. dark_side_of_the_moon_cover-270

The plan seems plausible and the group each has their part to play, except for Leggett who has been dispatched for trying to out-wit Boddice. Of course, no plan runs true and this one is no exception. There are more twists than in a challah and as the group reach for success, the significance of the lucky talisman Boag acquired becomes clear.

The idea of this novel is good. The story is amusing and the Glaswegian criminals convincingly portrayed. Unfortunately, there are a few loose ends in the story and the middle of the tale loses its focus a bit. Nevertheless, it is worth reading and is a worthy debut novel.

Valerie Penny

The Trouble with Mattie by Mary A.Berger

the-trouble-with-mattieI first read a novel by Mary A. Berger, The Message, last year and reviewed it here . When the most recent edition of her first novel came out, I was pleased to receive a copy. I enjoy Mary’s style of writing.

The Trouble with Mattie is actually the first book in her series, although each of the novels stands alone perfectly well. Set in the hills of western North Carolina, The Trouble with Mattie is the story of the youthful, dynamic, comical, and recently widowed Mattalie Morgan In this adventure, Mattie finds herself removed into roomimg house, Autumn Leaves, after a spell in hospital. Mattie has already suffered the death of her husband, so it is her step-daughter, Eva, who arranged this move with no concern for Mattie’s happiness.

Mattie has doubts about Autumn Leaves which she finds are shared by another resident, Clare. So Mattie decides to investigate, and that is when the fun begins. She discovers that, although the facility is managed by Mr Reemes, the owner is a Wynn Prescott.

Eva retreats for a glamorous vacation rather than tending to Mattie’s well-being. Mattie, however, explores and tends to the well-being of others, including her friend Faye who is neglected by those at Autumn Leaves after she has a stroke. Then Mattie discusses things with Clare and decides to take matters at the rooming house into her own hands and stir things up a bit, much to the chagrin of Messrs Reemes and Prescott!mary-a-berger

While Eva is retrieved by another resident, Jed, Mattie’s nephew, Scott discovers the budget for Autumn Leaves on line. Mr Reemes does not come out well from the revelations in the accounts. Meanwhile the true extent of Eva’s duplicity is revealed and Jed has the joy of telling Mattie how Eva is to be punished. The story ends well for Mattie and Jed too.

The Trouble with Mattie is another neatly crafted story by Mary A. Berger. The novel tells the story of a gentle mystery with some good description and realistic dialogue. If you enjoy a good mystery, I recommend The Trouble with Mattie.

Valerie Penny




Structure by guest author Allison Symes

This article was first published on 24 Novermber 2016 at—creating-worlds/structure.

I used to be frightened of the thought of story structure.  It seemed too formal, too allison-symes-pic-2technical etc.  I’ve found it helpful to think of it as the “edit where I check the story makes sense”, which I appreciate is something of a mouthful!

But just checking that the world of my story is logical (even magical worlds  have rules) and that I am consistent within that, by checking the characters are coming across the way I meant them to do so – now that I’m not frightened of and I find it reassuring when I find, yes, the story does make sense.  I can then “relax” a little bit and focus on editing for grammar, spelling, can I improve the way I’ve expressed things (and the answer to that one is always “yes”!!).

I do at least three edits on a story – I ensure the structure is right first, then move on to copy editing and improving the way I’ve written what I have before having a gap and then coming back to the story with fresh eyes.  If at that point I’m happy with it, I send the allison-symesstory off.  The gap is crucial.  It’s the only way I’ve found to really come back to a piece of work and read it as a reader would.

Allison Symes is an author who writes fairytales with bite, especially novels and short stories.