Is It Just Lockdown That’s Driving Children Towards More Challenging Books?

Recent studies have shown that children are reading more challenging and longer books during the lockdown. They’ve been checking out longer texts and novels on more challenging topics than ever before.

While you might think that kids would be less inclined to read with schools closed and so much technology at their disposal, they’re actually reading more books and ones that involve more complex ideas and plot points.

That’s a great thing: reading can help kids with everything from increasing their vocabulary to helping them to learn more about different cultures and experiences. It’s an important part of life and it can be really vital for kid’s development.

Fantasy novels topped the list of books that kids read during the past year, with Rick Reardon’s The House of Hades coming out on top. Other popular titles included Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and The Hate You Give. As you can see, the titles are predominantly fantasy. The Harry Potter title was an obvious one; that series is like comfort reading. However, that particular book marks the point in which the series turns from a cheery children’s saga into a darker, more complicated set of books.

So, it’s clear that children are enjoying more complex books over the past few months. Obviously, this study doesn’t reflect every child in the world, but it does give us a unique insight into how kids are reading and what’s going on in the world of children’s literature.

While I agree with the study that the amount of extra time they had during the lockdown has contributed to their improved reading habits, I also think that there are other issues at play here.

For example, I think that the fact that kids couldn’t go outside and learn by playing made them want to enter into an imaginary world. While TV shows can help, there’s no better way to transport yourself to a fantasy world than reading a good book.

So, I think that the lockdown has definitely impacted on the choice of books that kids read. However, I also think that there are other factors that have pushed kids into the arms of more complex and challenging novels.

For example, I definitely reckon that the recent social situation has pushed kids to read more widely, and to choose books that explore a more diverse range of topics. The Hate You Give, in particular, is about racial inequality. Considering the BLM protests and recent increased media focus on the murders of innocent black individuals at the hands of the police (it’s been happening for decades, but it’s only really since 2020 that they’ve been the focus of public outrage and extensive, critical media coverage), it’s clear that these factors have influenced children’s choices.

Also, another thing to remember is that while kids choose what they want to read, it’s often the parents and other relatives who buy books for them and help to influence their choices. After all, they’re the ones that have the money, particularly when the kids are too young to have their own jobs or earn significant pocket money.

Therefore, I feel like the recent social unrest has also been, at least partially, responsible for the change in children’s reading habits. It’s led their parents to provide them with a wider variety of reading materials on different topics. The increased focus on diversity in today’s society, which is frankly long overdue, is driving parents to purchase a wider range of authors and topics.

That’s how it goes with both younger kids, as their parents and guardians tend to purchase their books. Older children and teenagers tend to be exposed to more TV and have access to their own cash, so they’re even more likely to be influenced by factors such as social change. Therefore, it’s understandable that young adult books such as The Hate You Give are more popular now.

I also reckon that another issue that’s changed the way children read is what I’m terming ‘screen fatigue’. After months of having to do their schooling online and spending hours everyday staring at screens, I think that many kids are probably sick and tired of staring at screens. I don’t have kids myself, but I do know a lot of people who do, and I know that between virtual schooling, playing video games and watching endless TV, they’re a bit tired of screens.

They all want to play outside and spend time in the real world. That’s why I think that books, particularly longer books, are more popular with kids right now. Children want to spend more time doing cool stuff, but between poor weather (it’s the UK) and the quarantine restrictions, they’ve been stuck indoors with limited options. Long books give kids a unique opportunity to dive into a new world and stay there.

With shorter books, you don’t really get the chance to immerse yourself in the novel’s setting and plot before it’s all over again and you have to start a new book. That’s why longer, more complex books and series are ideal when you’re looking to get away from it, which today’s kids definitely are.

Ultimately, I think that the lockdown has definitely had a major impact on children’s reading, and adult’s reading for that matter. It’s changed all of our lives in so many different ways, and I’m sure that it’s affected our reading habits- I know it has changed mine. However, I think that as the world is changing and kids are being exposed to more turmoil and social change from a young age, there are other factors that have impacted on the reading habits of kids in 2021.

The Patient Man Review: The Gripping Tale Of A Deadly Small Town Crime Spree

With a nomination for British Book Awards under the Crime/Thriller Book of the Year category, it’s safe to say that Joy Ellis’s latest novel, The Patient Man is turning heads, and it’s easy to see why.

Set in modern times, the book is a gripping thriller that captures your attention from the off and keeps it right the way through to its intense conclusion. From the first chapter, it’s clear why the awards committee decided to nominate this intense thriller for this prestigious accolade. It’s an almost timeless story that is unsettling and almost frightening, adding a tinge of excitement to the reading experience without going too far.

Ellis is up against some stiff competition for the award, with household names such as Lee Child and Ian Rankin also nominated. She’s also the only writer on the list whose book was launched by an independent publisher, which just shows that indie publishing houses are definitely worth checking out. There are some awesome independent publishers out there offering incredible content, and while some, like the wonderful Urbane Publishing, have sadly closed, there are still plenty of them out there.

The Patient Man is one phenomenal example of a book from an independent publisher that’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a combination of police procedural and serial killer thriller that perfectly encapsulates the terrors of a murderous psychopath with the challenges of small town policing. As such, it’s clear why it was nominated for this award and if it doesn’t win, then that will be a very big shame.

From the very beginning of the book, the tension is palpable in this fast-paced thriller. It begins with a dream, in which DI Jackman’s nemesis, serial killer Alistair Ashcroft , AKA the novel’s namesake patient man, returns to the picturesque English countryside town of Saltern-Le-Fen. As if it was a premonition, suddenly Ashcroft returns and begins terrorising Jackman and his team. He’s been gone for a long time, but he’s been hatching an evil plan to torment the village and get back at Jackman, his nemesis, through the people and places he loves.

While Ashcroft’s crime spree is unfolding, there’s a break-in at a local gun club, and it quickly becomes apparent that the crime is linked to the deranged serial killer. Minor farmyard thefts, including the abduction of some pigs and the attempted theft of red diesel also take up the team’s time, and there could potentially be a link between them and the serial menace. The crimes are soon connected to a small local family of uneducated individuals, who quickly start their own vendetta against Ashcroft after he dupes them.

Luring specific members of Jackman’s team to the scene of his crimes, Ashcroft makes his crime spree personal. He also targets Jackman’s girlfriend and photographs him at his home and workplace, which adds an immensely creepy edge to novel’s plot. Ashcroft is both a typical insane serial killer and an inventive psychopath, so while he does have some traditional tropes, he’s also incredibly unpredictable. Thanks to the author’s skilful handling of the character and plot, you’ll never know what’s around the corner and always be kept guessing. 

The author crafts unique and bold characters that enhance the novel’s tension. Ashcroft is a psychological bully, and he launches a campaign of terror that is both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Ellis keeps readers enthralled and ratchets up the tension by showing the reader different perspectives, so that we see the violence play out at close quarters and then watch the madness unfold afterwards from all angles.

As well as Ashcroft, the police team are also a bunch of relatable, two-dimensional characters. Ellis shows the reader just enough personal insight into them to make the reader invest in them emotionally, without filling the novel with erroneous back-story. That means that you’ll feel all of Ashcroft’s menace and evil deeds as if they’re real, and become very invested in the story. Ellis puts the reader firmly on the side of the police, giving the novel some interesting twists and unique coincidences to keep us guessing.

There is one thing that surprises me a little about The Patient Man. In this day and age, where everyone carries a glorified tracking device in their pockets and CCTV monitors our every move, I find it difficult to believe that Ashcroft could live for so long without getting caught. Even though he is hiding out in a small fen town, I still find it a bit weird that he was able to stay underground for such a long time.

Still, I can allow for a little creative licence; after all, it would be a pretty boring novel if the serial killer were caught immediately! Ellis is an amazing storyteller, and she keeps the narrative on a knife-edge from page one through to very end.

So, if you’re a big fan of crime fiction and gripping books that merge modern serial killer troupes with traditional English police fiction, this could be the ideal summer read for you.

In all, with its sleek plotting and witty dialogue, The Patient Man reads like a hardboiled American thriller. The novel has a sophisticated and slick plot with a humble and homely setting, which is a unique and intriguing combination. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to readers who love all types of crime novel and want to read a compelling thriller that will keep them guessing.

Rick R. Reed Interview: “My writing style varies from project to project”

With more than 50 titles to his name and a string of high-profile awards, it’s safe to say that Rick R. Reed has made a smash in the literary world. He talks to me about his career so far and his next exciting project.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. How did you come to write so many different novels?

I have always been a storyteller and have always been fascinated by and comforted by the written word. I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid and have been doing so professionally since 1991, when Obsessed, my first novel came out from Dell.

My writing style varies from project to project, but I prize simplicity in prose and showing and not telling. I believe fiercely in my characters and making them sympathetic and/or fascinating to read about. I’ve often been told even my evil characters are compelling. My style comes from wanting to NOT draw attention to myself, but creating what constitutes a movie in the reader’s mind. After all, every book (every piece of art, really) is a conspiracy between the creator and recipient.

I’ve written so many books (40+ at last count) because I have yet to run out of stories I want to tell and characters whose lives I want to delve into.

What is your background in writing and how did you become a professional writer?

I have a degree in English with Creative Writing emphasis. As I said above, though, I have always been passionate about telling stories and have been writing since I was a child. This use of my imagination, along with voracious reading, has provided my writing “education” as much as my formal, university-set training. I became a professional in 1991 when I got my first agent and was picked up by Dell, a major publishing house.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good books and how do you incorporate these into your work?

Creating characters who are real in the reader’s mind. Showing and not telling, ie expressing feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams and more through action and dialogue, rather than simply informing the reader. A good story that has a beginning, middle, and end.

A satisfying conclusion. That doesn’t have to mean a happy ending, but it does mean that when the reader closes one of my books, he/she/they come away feeling their expectations have been met and they’re glad they came along on the journey with me. Between the lines, something that resonates as universal with readers regarding the human condition.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

My favorite writers are Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell. These three women capture a kind of dark, quirky mindset that resonates with me and inspires me to write about obsessed people on the fringe.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

Inspiration comes from all over—dreams, news items, snatches of overheard conversation, other books and movies. I write most every day and always in the morning, when I’m at my best. I usually aim for 1,000 words per day.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I guess it would have to be the great Patricia Highsmith, mentioned above. I’d love to do a crime-based novel with her.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My next book releases on May 3 from NineStar Press. It’s called Wounded Air. This is what it’s about:

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Huge thanks to Rick for answering my questions. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Lost Souls Review: An Thrilling Modern Mystery You Won’t Be Able To Put Down

Hot on the heels of the amazing and engaging Serpentineis John Kellerman’s latest novel, which he created in collaboration with his son, award-winning playwright Jesse Kellerman.

Part of the Clay Edison series, Lost Souls follows the intrepid coroner as he deals with a case of a baby’s dead body, found decomposing under a stage at a Berkley University park.

The park in question, known as People’s Park, is due to be demolished and turned into a dormitory complex. However, as the building crew come to tear down the park’s infrastructure, including the stage, a bone is discovered.

The bone turns out to be the entire skeleton of a young baby, wrapped in a blanket and clearly old. The discovery turns the park into a political playground, with the University on one side and organisations fighting to protect the park, which they believe to be a Native American burial site, on the other.

In the middle, Edison and his team are trying to uncover the identity of the infant whose remains were under the stage. They find out that he’s a boy, and then they uncover a match for his DNA. This discovery, made early in the novel, takes Edison to a prison cell where a violent white supremacist is in denial about the child, and his kids refuse to acknowledge their previously unknown sibling.

At the same time, Edison is contacted by a wealthy tech entrepreneur, who thinks that the remains might be those of his long lost sister. He’s never met her, and he doesn’t remember ever having done so, but he has a snapshot of his mother and a baby long before he was born. His mother is now dead, and he’s desperate for some kind of closure on the subject. So much so that’s he’s gone to desperate lengths and, so far, found nothing. His father, who doesn’t speak to anymore, has let slip that the child was a girl, but he doesn’t know much more about her.

The remains at the park are not the tech wizard’s sister, but Edison, who has his own little baby girl at home, agrees to take on the case to help find out what happened to the child in the picture. Through the case, which he takes on privately, he comes up against silence, bureaucracy and the FBI, all of which takes him on towards some shocking discoveries.

All the while, the fight over the park and the potential building of the dormitory is reaching fever pitch. Tensions boil over and violence ensues. Edison also receives personal threats, leading him to fear for the safety of his family. While the plot has a lot of twists and turns, it remains enticing and easy to follow. If anything, the multiple plot points help readers to feel engaged in the story.

Thanks to the narrative skills and extensive experience of the writers, Lost Souls is an eye-opening tale that teaches readers a lot about American policing and the process of managing cases. As an English woman, I didn’t realise that American coroners have so much power, and that they act as a combination of pathologist and police officer. Clay Edison is certainly not like the fuddy duddy English pathologist type character that you see in a lot of British crime novels.

Instead, he’s a hardened yet compassionate officer who understands people and has a lot of experience handling individuals in many different painful, dangerous or generally difficult situations. The two Kellerman’s deftly entwine his personal and professional lives in the novel, giving just enough insight to make the issues he’s dealing with at work seem so deeply personal and painful to the protagonist.

As well as Edison, there are so many incredible, believable characters in this novel. There’s the tech mogul, who is both dedicated to finding out more about his long lost sister and disillusioned that his past attempts have all led to dead ends. Also, there is the family of the white supremacist, who are intriguing and more than just the typical stereotypes that you see in many thrillers. Instead, they’re two-dimensional figures who are clearly a product of a very messed-up upbringing and who really enrich the story.

The characters are backed up by punchy dialogue that sounds realistic yet slick. The police characters are all witty enough to keep the novel moving but not so much that they seem corny or completely fake.

One of the few criticisms I have of the novel is that some parts of the storyline, namely Edison taking on a private case, feel a little forced. It seems a bit unbelievable that a busy coroner, in the midst of a hectic investigation and barely sleeping because of his young daughter, would jump so readily at the chance to take on yet more work. The case appears unsolvable, and there while the character of the tech businessman is portrayed as slick and persuasive, I wondered a few times whether a busy public official would stoop to taking on a private job. I also wondered about the legalities of doing so; while Edison doesn’t agree a fee, in the UK such a practice would definitely be frowned upon, if not a definite breach of rules.

However, that’s a minor grumble, and given that it is a book, and not real life, I suppose I can give the Kellerman’s a bit of artistic license, especially since it makes the novel that much more enticing. It’s fascinating to watch the two cases unfold alongside one another, and between them the two entwine to carry the plot through to its dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

Ultimately, Lost Souls is a fascinating addition to the Clay Edison series and incorporates all of the best parts of John Kellerman’s storytelling abilities with the fresh ideas and innovation of his son Jesse. This is a gripping thriller that should definitely be added to your summer reading list. It’ll make the perfect read for when you’re relaxing out in the sun and want to enjoy a fascinating crime caper.

Happy 5th Birthday To The Dorset Book Detective!

It’s insane to think that the Dorset Book Detective, my little blog where I rant and rave and recommend my favourite reads, has turned 5 years old today!

Over those 5 years I’ve had loads of fun reviewing new books, interviewing amazing authors and generally just sharing my thoughts on crime fiction, thrillers, mystery novels, pastoral texts and, once, a cookbook.

I’d just like to say a massive thank you to all of the authors, publishers and book publicists who’ve supported my blog since it began. Also, most importantly, a huge thanks to my readers and followers, who’ve made this blog so fun to write for and manage.

In the future, I’m hoping you’ll get to enjoy even more of the content you love the most. I know the top 5 lists are many people’s favourites, but if you’ve seen something you like and want to see more of on the Dorset Book Detective, or you think there’s something the blog is missing, then feel free to reach out and I’ll consider your ideas.

Thanks again to everyone who’s supported my blog over the past 5 years, and here’s to another 5 more!

Gary F. Bengier Interview: “My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write”

Gary F. Bengier talks to me about his latest novel and how he came to define his writing style.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing futuristic novels?

I think that a writer must count his ‘reader attention coins’ carefully, rewarding the reader enough to keep turning pages, while expending the coins in measured amounts to pursue objectives beyond entertainment. My overarching objective with Unfettered Journey is to pass on a particular view, a philosophy of life that might offer a path to purposeful existence to some. But few readers want straight-up philosophy, so only there did I spend reader attention coins. To balance that need, I eschewed other contemporary literary flourishes and techniques (non-chronological storytelling; unreliable narrators; flights of literary prose about scenery, etc.) that might slow the story pace, and otherwise tried to tell a story filled with rich characters you might love, with a tight, action-packed plot.

The themes of Unfettered Journey are universal, dealing with the human condition. The futuristic setting avoids many details about our existence that might age the story. This future is a hard-science view, with details that I hope will stand up to the reality, though none of us can know the nonlinear future.

Please tell me about your career background and how you draw on it in your writing.

Prior to taking up writing, I had a successful career in Silicon Valley. When I retired from that, I had the freedom to pursue passion projects; further education (astrophysics, mathematics, and philosophy) and writing were two. My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write. I had the chance to participate in a broad spectrum of exciting technologies—computer peripherals (hard drives, printers, computer screens), chip design software, bioscience, scientific equipment design, streaming video over the Internet, and the Internet as a marketplace. These gave a respect for the hard work to build technology. It makes me somewhat jaded by grandiose promises by many futurists. But it does not cause me to give up trying to realistically guess our future worlds.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

Let me focus my answer of just this book, Unfettered Journey. The philosophical ideas behind the novel had been percolating in my head for thirty years, and the novel story and characters for over a decade. That is the inspiration’s long gestation.

The hard work of writing the novel took only three years. That process was a blend of free association thinking and planning. I like to plan, so I outlined the novel—only a skeleton at first, then with more detail as the story became clearer to me. Then I roughed out the scenes. Along the way, my characters began to wake me up at night, to whisper in my ear (“No, I won’t do that…”). That’s when the writing truly became a lot of fun. The interaction of characters and story, in a roughly planned structure, then allowed me to dive deep into my experiences, dredging up gems of ideas that fit the scenes perfectly. That experience is one joy of writing fiction. I think the extended creative process left me blissfully free of any writer’s block.

What books do you read yourself and how do they influence your writing?

I read across a broad set of topics, virtually everything, from nonfiction science, physics, philosophy, history, economics, and politics; to fiction both classic and contemporary. My favourite fiction writer is William Faulkner, because of the universal themes that he explored through his books set in the fictitious Yoknapatawpha County. In the process of writing Unfettered Journey, I read many writing craft books, attempting to improve my style, and often read craft suggestions followed by writing some scenes, then repeating the process to burnish the language. Now I am happy to set those aside and return to the stacks of ‘to be read’ books waiting on my credenza.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My focus this year is on the international launch of my novel. The French translation recently launched, and the Italian translation will be released next month. Then the German and Spanish editions are not far behind. I’ve had a blast working with my translators, and have learned much about the challenges of making a ‘transcreation,’ which is a literary translation that captures the nuance of the language and culture while reflecting the essence of the novel.

Who is the audience for Unfettered Journey?

The question raises a challenge for my novel, because it does not neatly fit into any genre category; it is truly a cross-genre book unlike others. While the novel is speculative fiction, sometimes grouped into sci-fi, this is a very different sort of novel, outside the usual boxes. Both men and women have found the novel thrilling. Everyone loves my powerful female characters. These are real people, people that you can relate to, people that you can like. It is for the intellectual reader, someone who is comfortable thinking about deep questions. But Unfettered Journey is simultaneously an adventure novel, as the characters confront social injustice, and the difficulties of living with and without modern technology. The story traces a long arc, and I hope will leave my readers thinking about these questions long after they have closed the cover.

Huge thanks to Gary for answering my questions: it’s been fascinating to find out more about your work and future plans.

Inventive Book Storage Solutions For Your Online Purchases

Buying new books is fun, but it does leave you stuck with the age-old issue: where to put them all.

As book sales have soared throughout the lockdown, many of us now have loads of texts in our homes.

In many cases, we’ve not got enough shelving and storage solutions to put them all on.

You can sell or donate your old books, but if you’ve got a massive To Be Read pile or you just don’t can’t let go yet, then you’ll need to consider book storage options.

Of course, all of this could be alleviated with a Kindle, but frankly, there’s nothing quite like the experience of reading a paper book. Some people I know love their Kindle, but if you need to have physical copy of a book, then you’ll also need a physical place to keep your collection.

If, like me, you’ve been buying loads of books online during the lockdown, you’ll need some storage solutions.

Things will only get worse now that non-essential shops, like bookstores, have reopened, and you might find your home overrun with books!

While a large bookcase might seem like an obvious choice, it’s not always doable. They’re expensive and can be tough for people to assemble and move, particularly if you’re on your own.

The alternative, stacking your books up in piles all over the floor, isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing or good for your precious tomes.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to store your books. If you hate doing DIY and don’t want to be making bookshelves all the time, here are some ideas.

Crates

Crates might seem like an industrial solution for storing your books in a garage or attic, but they’re actually also useful for displaying them too. They give your space a tidy and utilitarian look. My housemate gave me some plastic crates she had spare, and I love storing my books in them. They’re great for large books, like hardbacks. If you get the crates with the slats in the sides then you can read the titles through the sides, making it easier to find your favourites whenever you want to.

Clear Storage Tubs

Another way to view all your books easily without keeping them in piles on the floor is to store them in clear plastic tubs. You know the kind; they’re the best friend of students everywhere. The kind you can buy from Wilko or B&M for really cheap. You can stack them up on top of each other and then cover them with a pretty throw if you’re keeping them somewhere they can be seen. Then, when you want your books, all you have to do is take the throw off and you can see the contents of the box really easily and find the title you want to read. These tubs are a cost-effective and easy way to store your books and you can hide them under throws and even use them as a table for small items on top, so they’re a unique and versatile solution to your book storage issues.

Ladders

It might seem a bit like a dumb Pinterest idea that’d never really work in real life, but ladders actually can hold books if you get the right one and prop it against a wall. I’ve seen a few people do it and it’s pretty cool. Plus, you can customise ladders and make them unique and cool. For example, if you get a wooden ladder then you can paint it in awesome colours or even cover it in wallpaper. I’ve also seen people wrap fairy lights around the sides of ladders to make a really funky style for their unique shelving solution. Using a ladder is also cheaper and easier than assembling a bookcase. It also means you can repurpose your shelving as a ladder if you get tired of it. Although, if you’re going to use it in the long run then it’s probably best if you bolt it in place to keep it secure or put a back onto the ladder, so your books don’t keep falling off it.

Drawers

Sounds weird I know, but hear me out- storing books in drawers is easy and great for if you have a spare chest that you don’t use. After all, people keep CDs and DVDs in drawers in entertainment units, so why not do the same with your books? It’s a great way to display your books, as you can put them all spine up, then find the one you want without having to rummage about too much. Also, it’ll keep your books safe from too much dust, which is good if you like to keep them pristine. If you put too many books in drawers that aren’t suitable for them then they can become heavy and hard to open, so try picking drawers that are on runners. The ones you have to drag out tend to get heavy and unwieldy. It also helps if you pick a pieces of furniture that’s made from good solid wood; a cheap, flimsy piece might break under the weight of your books.

Floating Bookshelves

If you like the idea of shelving but don’t have the space for a massive freestanding bookshelf, then you could try using floating shelves that attach to walls. They’re usually pretty easy to hang, although they usually need nails which might be a problem if, like me, you’re 1. Bad at DIY and 2. Living in rented accommodation where you can’t just put up shelves if and when you want to. However, if you live in your own home and are handy with a drill then floating shelves on the walls could help you display your favourite titles without taking up room precious floor space.

Buy A Small Bookshelf

Another solution for if you don’t fancy buying and assembling a full size bookshelf is to consider getting a small, freestanding one. Often they come fully assembled, particularly if you buy them second hand. I got a small spinning bookshelf from a charity furniture store a few years ago and it’s now one of my favourite possessions. It’s great for storing my books, and it spins round, so I can see them in all their glory. Spinning it round is also really fun, so that’s an added bonus!

The Top Five Travis McGee Novels For Fans Of The Seafaring Sleuth

After discovering the amazing Louis L’Amour through watching Westerns, I fell back into my love of crime fiction, but managed to find a series that was adapted and features my new favourite actor.

This time, it’s the Travis McGee books by renowned thriller writer John D. MacDonald.

Another recent find I learned about through my newfound love of Sam Elliott movies, MacDonald’s droll seafaring sleuth appealed to me for a number of reasons.

For one, Travis McGee, known as Trav, lives on a barge called the Busted Flush. That’s an amazing name, and I’ve always wanted to live on a boat myself, so the series immediately caught my eye.

Also, the character is witty in the hardboiled manner, and clearly modelled on classic pulp fiction detectives such as Philip Marlowe.

Elliott plays him in a film named Travis McGee, and there was also an earlier film adaptation featuring Rod Taylor.

I’ve only seen Elliott in Travis McGee, and it’s safe to say that, while a good watch, the film does nothing to prepare you for the incredible wit and dry worldliness of the books. These novels are full of insightfulness and deep descriptions of the baseness of the human condition.

MacDonald, the author of this intensely gripping series of books, was already a prolific thriller writer before he created McGee, but the creation cemented his reputation as a creator of innovative detective stories.

The series protagonist, McGee is a bit different from traditional private eyes, but in many other ways he’s also incredibly similar.

Unlike many hardboiled private detectives, he doesn’t really style himself as such. Instead, he views himself as a ‘salvage expert’, who will find whatever you’ve lost in return for half of it.

He calls himself retired, stating that instead of retiring at 60 like others, he’s taking his retirement in chunks. He works when he needs money, then he takes some time off until he starts running low on funds.

While all this might make him sound like a glorified beach hippy, he’s as fast-talking, hard-hitting and generally unconventional as any other hardboiled private sleuth.

He’s also a smooth talker who’s great with women, and who frequently finds himself entangled with questionable ladies. When it comes to violence, McGee isn’t afraid to use it and is handy with his fists, but he has a moral compass like many hardboiled private eyes, which often leads him into questionable situations.

So, if you’re looking for a crime fiction series that offers something a little bit different, then MacDonald’s Travis McGee series could be the perfect choice for you.

Many of the newer editions of these books, which were first published throughout the 1960s to the 1980s, come with an introduction by Lee Child, so there’s even more of an incentive to read them.

There are more than 20 novels featuring Travis McGee, each one including a different colour in the title. All of them show the detective uncovering a new and more ingenious case, with a cast of phenomenal, often oddball characters.

These books are often overlooked by hardboiled crime fiction fans, who focus on the traditional names. If you’re looking to check out this series, then here are my top five picks.

5. The Dreadful Lemon Sky: In the early hours of a perfectly ordinary morning, Travis McGee is awoken by an old girlfriend with a favour to ask. She requests that McGee stashes her suitcase, which is filled with $100,000 dollars of suspicious cash. She asks him to keep it safe for two weeks, and to send it to her sister if she’s not back by then to collect it. In return for this simple favour, McGee can keep $10,000, which is less than his usual fee of half the loot, but the job is much simpler than his normal commissions. He reluctantly takes on the role, and after two weeks he goes snooping around to see why his friend still hasn’t returned to collect her case of cash. He learns that she’s died in what’s described as an accident, but McGee isn’t so sure. Feeling upset about his friend’s death, the sleuth sets out to uncover who staged the accident and is led into the seedy underbelly of organised crime. MacDonald keeps the reader guessing throughout this novel, which is why I enjoyed it so much.

4. The Empty Copper Sea: A wealthy businessman disappears off his luxury boat, and the accident is blamed on the vessel’s captain. He’s believed to have fallen overboard and drowned, and as the captain is accused of being drunk in charge of the cruiser when his employer went over the side. Van Harder, the captain of the boat, is a proud man who wants his reputation restored to him. He’s convinced that his boss is alive and well, and has gone into exile in Mexico to hide his unscrupulous business dealings and ill-gotten gains. Harder goes to his old pal Travis McGee, and asks him to help him prove that the accident wasn’t his fault and that his boss faked his own death. Seeking to prove his friend to be a capable seaman, McGee goes off in search of the missing man, and soon uncovers a tale of deception, deceit and devious financial dealings. This is the book that was the basis of the TV movie Travis McGee, which starred the iconic Sam Elliott, with the location moved from Florida to California. The film doesn’t do the book justice; while Elliott makes an excellent smooth-talking sleuth, he doesn’t quite embody the deceptive beach bum energy of the real McGee. The character is supposed to disarm women and adversaries with his deep tan and languorous demeanour. Once they’re suitably disarmed, he is able to extract their deepest secrets. Elliott is too much the hero to play McGee, and the script lacks the dry edge that MacDonald uses in all his books. Don’t let that put you off from reading The Empty Copper Sea: it’s a truly spectacular story that any hardboiled detective fiction fan will enjoy.

3. A Deadly Shade Of Gold: When an old friend of McGee’s drops by and asks to see him, they agree to meet at the man’s motel room. He left after breaking up his relationship and ruining the life of a young woman, and now he seeks redemption by cashing in on his scheme to make money from gold statues. After stating his plan to his old friend, they agree to another meet up. When the private eye arrives, he’s greeted by the sight of his pal’s murdered corpse. All that’s left behind is his old friend’s vengeful ex- girlfriend and the ancient Aztec idol that leads to a lot of trouble. This is the first book in the series to feature the enigmatic playboy economist Meyer, who features in later novels as McGee’s friend who often helps him to recover valuable items for his clients. This novel takes the reader from the Florida beaches where he lives on his houseboat to the expatriate society in Mexico as he searches for other icons in the series.

2. A Nightmare In Pink: Like all good hardboiled private detectives, Travis McGee was in the army. When the sister of an old friend from his days in service, who got injured when he stayed behind while McGee was on leave, comes to him for help, the professional finder feels compelled to assist her. Her fiancé has been murdered in what the police claim was a normal mugging, but she suspects differently. The murdered man was digging in some unsavoury places and seemed to have uncovered a scandal at his real estate firm, and a lot of money has gone missing. Just as McGee is getting nearer the truth, he’s sedated and trapped in a mental hospital. MacDonald keeps the thrills coming in this fast-paced and innovative thriller, which goes from simple search to gripping crime thriller in just a few short chapters.

1. The Deep Blue Goodbye: As I’ve said over and again, the first book in a series is always a great place to start. In this case, The Deep Blue Goodbye is an amazing place to begin, and makes for a perfect introduction to Travis McGee, beech bum extraordinaire, and his unique way of life. He’s got Miss Agnes, which might be the only Rolls Royce in the world to have been made into a pickup truck. He’s also got the Busted Flush, and his whirlwind life on board her. When his dancer friend, Chookie, introduces him to a friend who’s been raped and had an unknown treasure stolen from her by a two-bit smooth-talking conman, he sets out to recover the treasure. Quickly, McGee discovers the depths of the conman’s depravity, and his sense of morality kicks in and he begins a desperate, nationwide search for this rapist turned thief.

Jane Hobden Interview: “I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking”

Crime writer and former paralegal Jane Hobden talks me through her work and how it’s evolved into her latest novel, Guilty.

Tell me about your books. What drew you towards writing psychological thrillers?

I have always loved thrillers whether it be crime, suspense or psychological.  Basically, I write something that I would love to read.  I like to be kept guessing until the end or have something that I didn’t expect happen. 

What is your background and how did you get in to writing?

My background is in criminal law where I worked as a paralegal.  I really enjoyed that job – every day brought something new.  I have spent a lot of time in Courts and Prisons preparing a persons’ case for trial including meeting a wide range of clientele who, in most cases would be absolutely terrified of the process and the fear of facing a prison sentence.  I find that it brings both the best and the worst out in people. 

I first started writing in 2011 at a time when I was in a job that I didn’t particularly like.  I found that it helped with my work stress levels having something to focus on.  My first book The Hartford Inheritance I self-published in 2014.  Since then, I’ve changed jobs and as with most people, life has been too fast paced to be able to concentrate on writing anything new save for a dystopian future YA book that my kids could read.  Then Covid-19 happened and we had no option but to slow it all down.  That’s when I started writing again – this time a crime thriller. 

Please tell me about your books. What sets them apart from other similar novels?

Guilty strays far from the traditional one-dimensional thriller.  I want the reader to not know who is guilty until the very end.  I’ve tried to show the assault from different viewpoints, allowing the reader to sympathise with each emotion that the characters feel.  I want the reader to consider if they would behave in the same way. 

Tell me about the books you write. Where do you find your inspiration?

I’ve always had a ‘healthy’ imagination shall we say.  I love crime dramas.  As my husband would say, unless there’s a dead body in a tent, Jane wouldn’t turn the TV on for it.  I love the thrill of it.  I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking.   I don’t think I’d be able to write in any other genre. 

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I’m definitely reaching for the stars here but I’ve got to say J K Rowling.  What she created in Harry Potter is nothing short of a phenomenon.  A book loved by children and adults alike.  The detail involved.  So much thought goes into every single one of her characters and every storyline leads in a different direction.  She’s definitely my idol. 

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’ve already started my next novel, which has the working title Beneath Ground.  Another psychological thriller but this time I’m dealing with Stockholm Syndrome. 

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

One of the books I recently read was a book by a debut author called Abigail Dean.  The book is called Girl A, I’m sure most people have heard of it by now.  It is absolutely amazing.  I loved it from cover to cover and read it in days.  I’m very much looking forward to her new book, which is due for release in the summer I believe. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Hannah, for reading and reviewing Guilty.  It really means a lot for someone of your calibre to get involved. 

Massive thanks to Jane for answering my questions: I’m very excited to review Guilty in the coming weeks.