Blog Tour for ‘SOOT’ @danvyleta and published by @orionbooks #CompulsiveReaders

Wishing ‘Soot’ every success on its blog tour and with the publication. I’m really pleased to be contributing today with some content into the characters of the novel, and the world they inhabit. With thanks! Check out the tour list below for other fabulous contributions from the book loving community.

Book Blurb

Welcome to a world where every desire is visible, rising from the body as a plume of Smoke. A world where bodies speak to one another and infect each other with desire, anger, greed. It is 1909 and this world stands on a precipice – some celebrate this constant whisper of skin to skin, and some seek to silence it forever.

Enter Eleanor, a young woman with a strange power over Smoke and niece of the Lord Protector of England. Running from her uncle and home, she finds shelter in a New York theatre troupe.

Then Nil, a thief hiding behind a self-effacing name. He’s an orphan snatched from a jungle-home and suspects that a clue to his origins may lie hidden in the vaults of the mighty, newly-risen East India Company.

And finally Thomas, one of the three people to release Smoke into the world. On a clandestine mission to India, he hopes to uncover the origins of Smoke and lay to rest his doubts about what he helped to unleash.

In a story that crosses continents – from India to England’s Minetowns – these three seek to control the power of Smoke. As their destinies entwine, a cataclysmic confrontation looms: the Smoke will either bind them together or forever rend the world.

I. The Story


Imagine a symphony made up of distinct themes and melodies.
It starts with a young woman, Eleanor, afraid that the long reach of her uncle will at last discover her in her Canadian exile and summon her home. She has a ‘talent’—a special relationship to the Smoke—that she fears others will want to put to use. Then she meets a playwright, a master of the new art of Smoke Theatre, and he offers her shelter within his troupe.
Then there is Nil—No-One, Nothing—a thief and confidence man, getting by on his wits. His latest mark is the New York City branch of the mighty East India Company, a trading corporation that controls the Indian Raj and is one of the dominant economic powers in this world after the ‘Second Smoke’, for they hold a monopoly on the only substance that can supress the Smoke. Nil is an orphan who does not know where he was stolen from when still a young child. He suspects that somewhere in the Company vaults slumbers the truth of who he is.
And then there is Thomas, hero of Smoke, who has travelled to India to learn what really happened in the revolution he helped to start ten years ago. He meets the Singhs, a local couple who themselves are revolutionaries of sorts, dreaming of freedom from Company rule. Will what Thomas finds lay to rest his guilt and doubts about what he helped to unleash?
These three melodies soon begin to intertwine, tying together events in North American and on the Indian subcontinent, and leading back to Britain, that sundered, Gale-haunted ‘Isle of the Smoke’, where the Smoke-affirming North of Minetowns and the Smoke-denying South under the stewardship of its Lord Protector are fighting over the country’s future.

About Dan Vyleta

Dan Vyleta is the author of four previous novels: Pavel & I, which gathered international acclaim and was translated into eight languages, The Quiet Twin, which was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, The Crooked Maid, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and winner of the J.L. Segal Award, and the critically-acclaimed Smoke.

His is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. After growing up in Germany, Dan left to attend university in the US, where he completed a PhD in History at King’s College, London.

He lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Praise for Dan Vyleta

‘For once both comparisons (with Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights) are apt . . . this is a novel that stays in the imagination long after it has been read’

  • The Guardian

‘It’s detailed, multi-layered and feels authentic – and might just win over historical fiction fans too’

  • The Pool

‘Mr. Vyleta writes with intricacy and imagination and skillful pacing’

  • New York Times

‘Vice is made visual in Vyleta’s sprawling, ambitious novel, a Dickensian tale tinged with fantasy’

  • Entertainment Weekly

‘One of the most original and enthralling books I have read in a long time.’

  • Shelf Awareness

Beast by Matt Wesolowski

I’m very pleased to be part of this Blog Tour for ‘Beast’, with thanks to the lovely Anne and Orenda Books.

Beast will unveil a darkness from which you may never
return…

The Blurb

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East ’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘ The Vampire Tower ’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged cult, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong ’. However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, and the tragic and chilling legend of the Ergarth Vampire…

My thoughts…

This is, in a nutshell, brilliant storytelling. It’s the fourth book in a series of similarly presented books: ‘Six Stories’, ‘Hydra’ and ‘Changeling’. I haven’t read any of the other books, so ‘Beast’ is my first taste of Matt Wesolowski’s work. I am hugely impressed, what a dark and addictive read. It’s one of those books that would work brilliantly as an audio-book (just checked and I can see the first are all available on Audible – so I’ll be adding them to my collection soon), as it’s designed around a series of six interviews for a podcast. I must admit, I’m only a minor book blogger, and I don’t completely understand the more commercial blogging world, so I found the concepts running through this book fascinating, and particularly as a social study of our ever-modernising world. It also contains the central theme of power and the impact social media has on people, and considering the awful news about Caroline Flack this week, the resonances are incredibly disturbing. This awful power-play for importance and ‘deemed’ value is very scary, and as a parent slightly terrifying. I’m currently in a room with a teenager who is flicking through her phone, and I have no idea what’s going on in her mind and on her phone screen (she’s 17, and we’ve had many discussions and I am 99.9% sure she is honest, caring and compassionate to others).

But back to ‘Beast’ which is built around the brutal murder of a blogger in a site connected with the legend of a local vampire, and considering she was beheaded, it builds questions and fear from the local community. Her crime is solved, and the perpetrators imprisoned, so when a new question arises, a new interest in her cases emerges. This introduces our online journalist Scott King and we follow his investigation via six reports. It’s clear I have missed something about Scott’s personal life from the previous books, but it by no way affects the read, it does make me want to order the previous three books pretty pronto though.

I really do recommend you pick up this book, it’s addictive and underneath the witness accounts there festers a dark and gothic tale of elusive, satanic behaviour waiting to inflict pain and misery. There’s also the valid and current debate of our modern society and its narcissistic and needful personalities thriving in the world of social media and the consequences of this. I was hooked from start to finish. Loved the mystery, the darkness and the debate it raises.

Highly recommended!

The Author

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is
an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in
horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- an
US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End
of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller

The Publisher

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher
and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four ’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been shortor long-listed for the CWA Daggers. Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international
literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen,
Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.
http://www.orendabooks.co.uk
@OrendaBooks

‘The Woman Downstairs’ by Elizabeth Carpenter

I’m delighted to be on the blog tour for ‘The Woman Downstairs’ with thanks to Orion Fiction and Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers.

Published by Orion on 6th February 2020

The Blurb

Can you ever really know your neighbours?

When human remains are found in a ground floor flat, the residents of Nelson Heights are shocked to learn that there was a dead body in their building for over three years.

Sarah lives at the flat above and after the remains are found, she feels threatened by a stranger hanging around the building.

Laura has lived in the building for as long as she can remember, caring for her elderly father, though there is more to her story than she is letting on.

As the investigation starts to heat up, and the two women become more involved, it’s clear that someone isn’t telling the truth about what went on all those years ago…

My thoughts…

‘The Woman Downstairs’ is a story told by two women, Sarah and Laura. The book is split into two parts, and once you begin to read part two it’s practically impossible to book this book down!

Sarah is training to be a journalist, whilst trying to support herself and her teenage son after splitting from her husband. We find her in a new relationship with the elusive and questionable Rob. However, her ex-husband Andy is also popping in and out of her life.

Laura, on the other hand, has led an isolated life, looking after her ailing father. After her father died, she had to build the confidence to find employment and meet new people. She soon attracts attention, from new colleagues and a past school friend. Her life soon changes and there’s the potential of a relationship… but it soon it becomes clear that maybe she’d have been safer staying at home!

These two women’s stories overlap in the book’s central mystery of a body found in a ground floor flat.

For me, this read took its time to get to the addictive stage (this is by no means a negative comment), but when it did, wow, it completely hooks you in. What a page turner! It’ll also make you think more carefully about those around you, about what are truths and what could be lies. Who is hiding behind a ‘mask’?.

With embedded themes of appearance and reality, this is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery thriller that wraps its hooks into the readers and demands you keep turning its pages.

A thumbs up from me!

The Author

Elisabeth Carpenter lives in Preston with her family. She completed a BA in English Literature and Language with the Open University in 2011.

Elisabeth was awarded a Northern Writers’ New Fiction award and was longlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize (2015 and 2016) and the MsLexia Women’s Novel award (2015). She loves living in the north of England and sets most of her stories in the area, including the novel she is writing at the moment. She currently works as a bookkeeper.

Published by Orion on 6th February

#blogtour ‘Never Look Back’ by A.L. Gaylin

It’s lovely being on the blog tour for ‘Never Look Back’ with Compulsive Readers – thanks to Tracy and Orion Books.

She was the most brutal killer of our time. And she may have been my mother…

Blurb

When Robin Diamond is contacted by true crime podcast producer Quentin Garrison, she assumes it’s a business matter.

It’s not.

Quentin’s podcast focuses on a series of murders in the 1970s committed by a teen couple and Quentin has reason to believe Robin’s mother may be intimately connected with the killings.

Robin thinks Quentin’s claim is absurd. But is it?

Robin knows her mother better than anyone. Or does she?

My thoughts

This story is told via a split narrative of letters to ‘my future child, Aurora Grace’ from Alice Cooper throughout the year of 1976 and the central dual perspectives of Quentin and Robin with some supporting points of view as the story develops. Quentin being a true crime podcast producer, and Robin, whose mother Quentin suspects could be one half of the infamous Inland Empire Killers. The significant issue here, is both the Inland Empire Killers both died in a fire.

I was thoroughly fascinated reading this book; the inclusion of the letter form worked brilliantly and told the events of the story from a completely different time-frame perspective. It’s gripping, addictive and thoroughly entertaining.

This is one of those great reads, that steadily lays trails of information and points of view for the reader to piece together. I really enjoyed the diverse group of characters who are all caught up in some awful events and the steady climb to the big reveal.

A highly recommended character driven, compulsive psychological crime thriller. Read it! I’m certainly going to be working my way through Gaylin’s back-list. Huge thanks to the author and publishing team for inviting me to join in the chat about ‘Never Look Back’.

About the author
Alison Gaylin is the award-winning author of ‘Hide Your Eyes’ and its sequel, ‘You Kill Me’; the standalones ‘Trashed’, ‘Heartless’, ‘What Remains Of Me’ and ‘If I Die Tonight’; and the ‘Brenna Spector’ series: ‘And She Was, Into the Dark’, and ‘Stay with Me’. A graduate of Northwestern University and of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she lives with her husband and daughter in Woodstock, New York

Check out these other great blogger posts

January Reading Wrap-Up

Well, what happened to January? It disappeared as quickly as 2019! I finished 9 books this month, and four seasons of ‘The Mentalist’ – my new TV obsession.

First up is ‘The Snowdonia Killings’ a debut crime series novel by Simon McCleave introducing DI Ruth Hunter. A promising start, I’ve a blog post with a full review if you’re interested in finding out more. 3.5 stars

‘Killing Beauties’ by Pete Langman is an historical read about female spies and the wider network during Cromwell’s 17th century world of secrets and lies. 3 stars.

‘Dreamland’ by Nancy Bilyeau was a really enjoyable read, there’s also a blog post on this one. This book is an adventure and a murder mystery; it’s about first love, loss, addiction, power, corruption, and the battle for independence. 4.5 stars

‘Eros Element’ by Cecilia Dominic – a fantasy steampunk inspired adventure. It was okay for a little escapism. 2.5 stars

‘The Last Day’ by Andrew Hunter Murray is all bleak, apocalyptic and dystopian – uneven narrative issues for me, but lots of positives. 3.5 stars

‘The Foundling’ by Stacey Hall is one of my top reads this month. I loved Hall’s first book, ‘The Familiars’, and this one is even stronger. Built around the many ‘foundlings’ left in London’s Foundling Hospital; this is a story of despair, hope, isolation, lies and family bonds. 5 stars.

‘The Duke’s Desire by Erica Ridley was a review read, and it’s pretty much as you’d expect – a fiesty historical romance with the expected HEA. 3 stars

‘Six Wicked Reasons’ by Joe Spain was a great thriller, whodunit book and centres on a very dysfunctional family governed by a narcissistic patriarch. 4 stars.

Finally, ‘The Rose in Winter’ by Sarah Harrison – not really for me, I found myself disengaged several times. 2.5 stars

#NewBookAlert – the YA fantasy ‘The Stars We Steal’ by Alexa Donne, published today 4th Feb by #TitanBooks

Publishing today is ‘The Stars We Steal’ by Alexa Donne. It’s a new standalone, set in the farthest reaches of space and earth is remembered as ancient history. Described as a sci-fi romance that ’embraces the idealism that true love exists under the most cutthroat of scenarios’.

Blurb

Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, has only one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?

But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love, Elliot, returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one who got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies and past regrets.

My thoughts

This is a charming and entertaining YA fantasy read, set in space many years after the earth is made uninhabitable by an environmental disaster. It’s also charming, as it’s a reinvention of Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. The tragic relationship between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth is brought to life again through Princess Leo and Eliott on-board a spaceship.

If you’re unaware of Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ then in a nutshell, it’s about second chances and regrets of the past being healed; it’s a beautiful love story. In Alexa Donne’s version love is at the heart of this narrative too. ‘The Stars We Steal’ begins with a space version of a marriage mart, where Leo is being forced to attend to attract the attention of a potential husband. It some becomes clear that there’s trouble ahead, particularly when she meets Elliot, and their past bitterness causes new conflict.

This YA fantasy book will suit readers who enjoy an enemies to love story line; Sci-fi, (although there’s not too much of this in the action, it serves more as the setting) a bit of political intrigue and plotting, with a large dash of adventure.

Out now from @Titanbooks

Also out today is ‘Double Feature’ by Donald E. Westlake – publishing for the first time in 40 years! I’ll be chatting about this book soon.

The movie star and the movie critic – how far would they go to keep their secrets buried?

‘Dreamland’ by Nancy Bilyeau

I read ‘Dreamland’ with the Pigeonhole reading community and loved the entire journey; there’s something extra special about shared reading. We also had the author join us, always a treat, and the additional bonus on Nancy’s Bilyeau’s photographs from research and modern day Coney Island.

The Blurb:

The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal, and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamor of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything… even murder.

Extravagant, intoxicating, and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class, and dangerous obsession.

My thoughts:

This is a novel that explores excessive elitist lifestyles, of people living in privileged bubbles where wealth monopolises their lives but also sucks out their humanity.

Our perspective is through the eyes of one of the privileged class, Peggy, a young daughter from the wealthy Batternberg family – but Peggy is a protagonist who fights against the claustrophobic and restrictive life of a woman in an elite class. Peggy is very modern and desires independence and freedom from the controlling and watchful eyes of her domineering family.

Counteracting this is the world of Coney Island and its working class, liberal community. Both are set side by side on the coastline and the contrast couldn’t be sharper. I loved the backdrop and historical detail in the story.

There’s a lot going on in ‘Dreamland’, there’s the story of a young woman’s fight for independence; the story of the wealthy elite’s battle in a changing world to keep their archaic and blindness to reality and, the inner corruption and brutality this world creates wrapped up in a brilliantly crafted murder mystery read.

I found myself immersed Bilyeau’s deliciously vivid prose and into Peggy’s world; following her journey to leave the privileges of her class and make something of herself and into a dangerous path through Coney Island and Dreamland. This book is an adventure and a murder mystery; it’s about first love, loss, addiction, power, corruption, and the battle for independence.

Thoroughly recommended read for those who enjoy historical fiction and mystery genres.

‘The End of Magic’ by Mark Stay and ‘The Foundling’ by Stacey Halls – reading with the PigeonholeHQ community

I really enjoy reading with the Pigeonhole community – I guess that might sound rather strange, but it’s nothing to do with pigeons. It’s a book reading club. I read on my app, but you can use your desktop computer. So, in a nutshell, it’s like a digital book group, sharing a book and chatting in the margins with other readers. Another great aspect of this, is the author often joins in, adding images and documents. Check it out at http://www.thepigeonhole.com

Two recent reads are the above two books: ‘The Foundling’ and ‘The End of Magic’. Both of them very different, but incredibly good fun to read.

‘The End of Magic’

Blurb:

Sander Bree is a royal mage. Steeped in privilege, he lives a cushy life advising the king on matters of court and politics, yet still complains that he’s stuck in a rut.

Rosheen Katell is a freelance mage and, with Anzu her griffin, she’s worked hard to build a reputation as a trustworthy truth seer. She never lies, never kills. 

The source of their power is the Lapis Moon in orbit above. Very soon, that magic will be gone, changing their lives and their world forever. Sander must keep a promise that would have been difficult enough with magic, but is a suicide mission without it. Rosheen is forced to side with a murderous warlord, and her once-solid principles are tested and found wanting. Both will be set against one another in a war unlike anything the world has seen before, in this sweeping fantasy of magic’s ending.

My thoughts…

Mark Stay’s ‘The End of Magic’ is a hugely enjoyable magical romp with conflicted characters; mythical and magical creatures; a truly villainous villain and the battle to save magic in a rich and creative fantasy world. What makes this book a joy is the wit and humour which laces the story together; it’s also a twisty interpretation of the genre. Our ‘heroes’ are certainly flawed but we find ourselves connecting with them despite this. At the heart of this story, is how a catastrophic natural event changes everyone’s fates and offers each character choices and ultimately redemptive paths, if they so choose. Blood thirsty, battle fuelled and with an epic disaster to face, this is a great read!

If you like a darkly witty spin to your fantasy reading then I’d highly recommend ‘The End of Magic’.

‘The Foundling’ by Stacey Halls

Blurb:

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed Stacey Halls first novel, ‘The Familiars’, so I was very excited to read ‘The Foundling’, particularly so when it appeared on the Pigeonhole Book Club.

I was captivated from the opening pages. I’ve been interested in the Foundling Hospital since I visited the museum in London quite a few years ago now. If you’re not aware of it, the Hospital was founded by Thomas Coram in 1739 to help care for babies at risk of being abandoned. At that time, it was estimated that a thousand babies a year were being abandoned – Halls novel begins with a young mother taking her baby to the hospital to be cared for until she could reclaim her. Sadly, many babies were never reclaimed, but our protagonist never forgets her baby and works tirelessly to raise the funds to collect her child. However, a twist in the tale causes more suffering and builds the story of Bess Bright, born to poverty but with a good heart and determination to do right by her child in a harsh and cruel world.

Part historical drama, part mystery, this is a very moving and dramatic story inspired by a mother, who is forced to abandon their child, in an attempt to give their child a future. This novel also addresses the flawed way the mothers would leave tokens behind for their babies, so they could be identified and matched upon re-claiming. In the London Foundlings Museum you can see some of the tokens on display; it’s truly heartbreaking. These tokens were often pieces of material cut from the babies clothes, half being kept in the hospital records and the other given to the mother. In the novel, Bess Bright leaves half of an engraved heart with her baby and this becomes the novels central mystery. This is also the story of another woman, the widow Alexandra, trapped by circumstance and trauma; when her world collides with Bess’s, the story begins in earnest.

I would highly recommend ‘The Foundling’, it’s a beautifully written story that tugs at your heartstrings throughout. It’s a story of two women, born into different worlds, of different tragedies but both connected by their journeys. The story is told via alternating first-person points of view, so you are able to piece together the story and also understand both the women and their different perspectives. Hall balances the darkness and the light enough to provide the right balance for the reader.

Beautifully written, compelling and heart-wrenching. Highly recommended read.

So, if you fancy an online reading group, then do take a look at The Pigeonhole.

A look at some of my favourite books of 2019

Overall, I read 203 books in 2019, not as many as 2018 but I’m still really happy with that, particularly as I set a goal of 80. The sad thing is, I have about 200 still on my TBR and 2020 is looking like another good year for publishing…so the lure of adding to my bookshelves will be undeniable and irresistible. Thank you to all the publishers and publicists who have sent me books to read and chat about; I’ve loved being a part of the lovely blogging community this year and look forward to another year of talking books in 2020.

When I talk about books, I am very conscious of the subjectivity of the reader. I strongly believe that each story calls to different people for different reasons. I won’t review a book negatively just because I don’t agree with some subject matter, or how it’s handled, or the meandering pace etc. I think every book has value for someone and every writer has put their heart and soul onto the pages, and that is no easy task. I will always respond to a book that hasn’t worked for me, by highlighting the story, themes, setting and characters, to inform others who might be interested. I see very negative, quite angry reviews that have caused other people not to read that particular book, and I find this sad. It’s like the movies isn’t it, a bad critical review by no means will suggest you won’t like it. Kindness, thoughtfulness and care with our words is always the way forward. For me, particularly as I have gotten older is… I just simply enjoy a good story. I like to jump into my imagination and bring the words on the page to life. A story calls to different people for different reasons, and I don’t care if you’re 50 years old and love YA books… just enjoy and read away! So, let’s chat about some of my favourite stories.

In no particular order, and for no particular reason, other than doing a damn good job of being my escape from reality: my most memorable reads of 2019.

A double whammy from my favourite crime series by Jane Casey. ‘Cruel Acts‘ was published this year and I was incredibly lucky to receive an arc of ‘The Cutting Place‘ before it’s 2020 publication. If you haven’t read any Casey, her Maeve Kerrigan series featuring DI Josh Derwent is a must if you enjoy character driven crime books. I thought ‘Cruel Acts’ was brilliant for plotting and character developments, but ‘The Cutting Place’ topped it! Absolutely loved this one. I’m a great fan of book series with long-term relationship plotting and the central duo of Kerrigan and Derwent is a huge focus in the latest read; I was glued to the pages until the final word. I’m looking forward to the audio book release next year, as the narrator, Caroline Lennon, is brilliant. Highly recommended. Begin with ‘The Burning’ and see the writing go from strength to strength. 5 stars reads.

Laura Purcell’s gothic novels ‘The Silent Companions‘, ‘The Corset‘ and ‘Bone China‘ were all firm favourites. I do enjoy gothic fiction and it’s great to not have to draw from my classic collection.

M.W.Craven’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw series, starting with ‘The Puppet Show‘ and following with ‘Black Summer‘. Smartly and intricately plotted crime reads with a cracking crime solving team.

Dark Matter‘ by Michelle Paver – I loved this incredibly well-written ghost story about a man embarking on an Arctic Expedition that soon becomes a nightmare. There’s recently been a BBC Radio 4 reading, which is well worth a listen.

Perfect Kill‘ by Helen Fields – I’ve been reading these books from the beginning, so it’s great to return to loved characters and this is also a great crime read in itself. Highly recommended series.

Broken Souls‘ by Patricia Gibney is the D.I. Lottie Parker series; this is book seven in the series. Always enjoyable crime reads with plenty of family and relationships drama.

Tracy Chevalier’s ‘A Single Thread‘ was a surprise favourite, and I found it an very moving account of Violet Speedwell, and her endurance to find a place for herself as one of the many surplus women left after the war.

Platform Seven‘ by Louise Doughty was another unexpected winner for me. I loved this supernatural mystery read about loss, abuse and redemption.

Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose Trilogy – my favourite of the three is ‘The Winter Rose‘ featuring Sid and India, two characters pushed to the extreme and are drawn to each other constantly despite terrible hardships. Great historical fiction.

Katie Welsh’s Sarah Gilchrist books, ‘The Wages of Sin‘ and ‘The Unquiet Heart‘ were also firm favourites. I discovered these books by chance and I really loved the historical setting and the ease of the story-telling.

Spin the Dawn‘ by Elizabeth Lim, was one of my favourite YA fantasy reads this year. The first in the Blood of Stars series and a magical fantasy centred around Chinese culture and pulling on the Mulan idea. Fun.

The Museum of Broken Promises‘ by Elizabeth Buchan was a beautiful story of Laure, the owner of a very different museum. We are taken into the past to uncover what happened to her in 1980s Prague, with the awful backdrop of the Cold War.

It was also great to read the final book in the Fawkes and Baxter series by Daniel Cole, ‘Endgame‘. This series began back in 2017 with ‘Ragdoll‘, the gruesome case of a body found stitched together from six different victims. The middle book in the series being ‘Hangman‘.

Ambrose Parry (a writing duo) published their second novel featuring Dr. Will Raven, called ‘The Art of Dying‘. These are great books, set in mid 1800s Edinburgh. Enjoyable, atmospheric historical crime reads.

We Hunt the Flame‘ was another top YA fantasy read by Hafsah Faizal and is the first book in the Sands of Arawiya series. Rich, immersive language and inspired by ancient Arabia, this is an epic adventure read.

Georgina Clarke’s ‘Death and the Harlot‘ and ‘The Corpse Played Dead‘ were great – really good stories, set in 1759 and featuring Lizzie Hardwicke a prostitute who gets drawn into crime solving to save herself.

Pamela Ford’s ‘To Ride a White Horse‘ was another of those books that just tells a great story. Lovely Sunday afternoon read with a cup of tea in hand.

I loved Naomi Novik’s ‘Uprooted‘ a fantasy book about a young girl who joins forces with the Dragon, a Wizard to protect her land from an evil, enchanted forest. Thrilling and magical.

The Murder of Harriet Monckton‘ by Elizabeth Haynes comes highly recommended for those who enjoy piecing together events surrounding the murder of a young woman. The novel is told via potential guilty parties and is based on a real murder.

Daisy Jones and the Six‘ by Taylor Jenkins Reid was great – I loved the interview style of this book and piecing together the actual events and feelings in this story of a rock band and one Daisy Jones!

Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series comes highly recommended if you like witty historical investigative fun, with a dash of slow-burn romance. The series begins with ‘A Curious Beginning‘ and this year I read the recent release ‘A Dangerous Collaboration‘. Pure ‘over the top’ entertainment.

Elly Griffiths is another of my go-to authors and her Ruth Galloway books always are good, solid enjoyable reads, this year the 11th in the series came out, ‘The Stone Circle‘.

I loved ‘Where the Crawdad’s Sing‘ by Delia Owens for its wonderful world of the marshes and for the Marsh Girl that lived there. You also get a crime and a court-room drama, but it’s the natural world of the novel that stars for me.

Katherine Arden’s ‘The Winternight Trilogy‘ was a winner for me, I loved this Russian folklore inspired series of books, beginning with ‘The Bear and the Nightingale‘ – all these books are enchanting adventures and I loved each one. Perfect for a cold winter night by the fire.

Not a physical book, but the ‘West Cork‘ podcast was also a highlight; this is a podcast series that explores the investigation of the actual murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Ireland, back in 1996. A brutal crime that is still being investigated today. This podcast is a fascinating and additive insight into the events, the investigation and the suspects.

Well that’s it for books that drew me into their worlds for 2019. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2020! Happy New Year! May it be healthy and happy! Leigh X

SHADOW by James Swallow and published by @ZaffreBooks #CompulsiveReaders #blogtour

Published 12th December by Zaffre

Blurb

A ruthless far-right terrorist is broken out of captivity.

A mysterious scientist with a terrible secret is abducted.

A lethal contagion threatens millions of lives across Europe and the Middle East.

Ex-M16 officer Marc Dane faces a deadly race-against-time to stop a devastating attack before a new kind of weapon is unleashed…

My thoughts

This is the fourth book in the Marc Dane action thriller series. It’s my first read of this series… although that really didn’t seem to matter at all.

This book doesn’t mess about, and you are hurtled into an action packed opening, swiftly moving between two high pressured and dangerous situations. It’s a relief (and great plotting) to calm down as we are introduced to people on a smuggler’s ship and the plot develops and deepens; it’s not long before the tension and action creeps back. I don’t read that many action thrillers, but I was drawn easily into the story. The central characters of the book series were introduced well and with enough background information to easily pick up who these people are and what has lead them to this point. Marc Dane, our lead and Ex-M16 officer, and Lucy Keyes, Ex Delta Force and now a private contractor with Dane, are brought into a kidnapping case and are soon off on a dangerous mission.

‘Shadow’ is an action thriller novel that is driven, well-researched with engaging lead characters that work aplenty to hook the reader into a dramatic plot of kidnapping, terrorism and mass destruction as a new threat is uncovered. Thank goodness Marc Dane has at least 9 lives; he’s literally leaping constantly into dangerous situations! Keyes is not much better, so they’re quite a pair. It’s one of those novels where you need to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride. I had a great time reading this. Dane’s character make-up is along the lucky lines of characters like Bond, Bourne, Reacher and Ryan and it’s dramatic action fun. I think the difference here with some lighter reads, is the book is very well researched, I found it easy enough to pick up unfamiliar subject areas of the military, technology, digital and terrorism. The world building and descriptions of the landscapes were also really atmospheric and detailed. The scene on the Icelandic tundra made me turn my heating up!

If you are looking for an incredibly pacy, very well-written action thriller read, that is tense, full of drama with non-stop action moments – then join Marc Dane and Lucy Keyes in ‘Swallow’.

Author

James Swallow is a New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author and script writer with over 750,000 books currently in print around the world. He was nominated for a BAFTA for his writing on the acclaimed video game DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION. His new novel and Marc Dane thriller Rogue is coming in May 2020.

Follow James on Twitter @jmswallow

Previous books in the Marc Dane series: Nomad, Exile and Ghost.