Non-Fiction Bank Holiday Reads To Get You Feeling Informed

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A couple of weeks ago I had a rare whole week to myself. I treated myself to a week away from work, told everyone to fuck off and took myself and a good book to a posh marina for an ice cream and a quiet read.

The book in question was Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. A friend of mine had lent me the book but I hadn’t made time for it; what with the reviews I do I always have a huge stack of books just waiting to be read.

Making time to read some non-fiction was awesome, and I really enjoyed it. The book is incredibly descriptive and provides unique insight into a jumbled and disruptive White House. What impressed me the most was the fact that, despite my adoring the escapism that fiction offers, I truly enjoyed my foray into non-fiction.

Which got me thinking: for the Bank Holiday, when everyone has plenty of time on their hands, maybe now is the time to be checking out the latest non-fiction awesomeness. There’s so much going on in the realm of non-fiction, with the current political landscape bringing forth a wide variety of commentaries and historical books looking to showcasing the similarities. There’s a book called The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump, which aims to find poetic meaning in the President’s ramblings, a book that aims to educate those who want to find out more about British policies called How Britain Really Works: Understanding the Ideas and Institutions of a Nation, and, for those seeking real insight on American politics, Hillary Clinton’s biography, which will offer you more education and knowledge than anything even remotely Trump-related.

For those who aren’t so politically minded, there are a lot of biographies and autobiographies out there right now too, although Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which promises to be fascinating, won’t be published until November. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay looks set to be a great, funny exploration of the trials of a Junior Doctor which would make for intriguing reading. Also, major celebrities such as Russell Brand, Bruce Dickinson and Robert Webb have autobiographies out so that you can find out more about your favourite celebrity no matter what you’re preference.

So as you stretch out on the last day of your Bank Holiday relaxation, why not check out some non-fiction and educate yourself before you return to the drudgery and mundanity of normal life.

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Fred Shackelford Interview: “There’s something to be learned from every writer’s style”

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For those of you who fancy reading an exciting new author interview this Bank Holiday I spoke to Fred Shackelford, author of the innovative thriller The Ticket, to find out more about what makes him tick!

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

The Ticket has a plot-driven style. I attempted to write a page-turner with lots of twists and turns to move the story along at a quick pace. The plot revolves around a missing lottery ticket that will become worthless if it expires, so the tension mounts as the deadline approaches. The character development emerges primarily through dialog. The book’s style is dark because I created several very sinister characters that readers will love to hate. However, other characters are more sympathetic – perhaps even heroic.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I’m an attorney who writes legal memoranda and briefs, so much of my professional writing is in a somewhat dry, technical style. However, some intriguing cases do inspire my creative thoughts. I’ve enjoyed venturing into fiction writing with The Ticket, as I have far more freedom in terms of style, vocabulary and subject matter in my role as a novelist. I draw on my past when I develop composite characters that possess traits that I’ve seen in people I’ve actually met.

With regards to the books you read, do you have any particular favourite writers or series?

My favourite author is John Grisham. When I began reading The Firm years ago, I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it. Coincidentally, Grisham and I live in the same county in Virginia, and I was fortunate to meet him one time in a local bookstore when I dropped in to sign a few copies of The Ticket. The owner invited me into a private room, where Grisham was busy autographing a huge stack of books.

I also enjoy the Henry Spearman mystery series by Ken Elzinga, who writes under the pen name Marshall Jevons. Elzinga’s protagonist is an amateur sleuth who solves crimes by applying economic analysis. Other authors of interest are John F. Jebb, III, Alden Bigelow, Janet Martin and Mary Morony.

How important do you believe variety in reading material is for a writer?

That’s very important. There’s something to be learned from every writer’s style, even though in rare cases the lesson is how not to write!

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

I developed the basic theme of The Ticket from a newspaper article about an unclaimed lottery jackpot. I tried to imagine an interesting scenario to explain why someone might wait until the last minute to cash in a winning ticket. When I experience writer’s block, I often take a break and stop trying to force an idea onto paper. Sometimes it helps just to walk outside and watch the world go by.

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

I think it would be fun to work with Charles Dickens. I love the rich imagery in the text of A Christmas Carol. It would be a treat to get advice from such a creative author.

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

I may try to write a screenplay based on The Ticket. The formatting and style of a screenplay are markedly different from a novel, so it would not be easy. But writing my first novel wasn’t easy either, so we’ll see how it goes. Many readers have encouraged me to write a sequel to The Ticket, but it’s more likely that my next book will be a stand-alone novel. I’ve been mulling over some plot ideas. Some of them involve buried treasure, but that theme is a cliché, so I may have to come up with something more imaginative.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I hope everyone who reads this interview will rush out and buy a copy of The Ticket!

Thanks to Fred for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Fred and his work HERE.

 

 

 

Dead If You Don’t Review: A Realistic Police Procedural For Thrill Seekers

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Having previously reviewed- and loved- Peter James’ novel Need You Dead, I had high hopes for Dead If You Don’t, the latest in the world renowned DCI Roy Grace series.

Enjoying a football game with his recently discovered son in an attempt at father-son bonding, Grace is drawn into a horrific crime as the son of an established businessman and compulsive gambler is abducted. Racing against time, Grace and his team work to uncover both the kidnappers and their motives, exposing many of the father’s secrets in the process.

Exploring the issue of child abduction, James handles the crime sensitively, and the novel is both realistic and tense, dragging the reader along as Grace works tirelessly to uncover the truth and rescue the child before it’s too late.

As in the previous novels in the series, James’ expert research shines through, and the author’s strong understanding and knowledge of police procedure and the UK’s legal system ensures that readers get a realistic glimpse into the life of a top London detective.

One thing I don’t quite get is the names; James’ characterisation is excellent as ever, but I couldn’t stop laughing at key character named ‘Kip’, and, perhaps even better, ‘Mungo’, Kip’s son and the kidnap victim. Somehow these ridiculous names make it hard for me to take the narrative entirely seriously, particularly when Mungo is snatched.

Despite this minor drawback, I find the novel as engaging as any of James’ books. Both his standalone novels and his DCI Grace books have a sort of compelling charm and fast paced narrative that propels the reader through and has them hooked to the very end.

As I turned the final page I was utterly spellbound by James’ exquisite storytelling and exceptional characterisation. This is a great modern police procedural that keeps you hooked until the nail-biting finale.

 

The Top Five Best Inspector Alleyn Novels For the True Golden Age Fan

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After my recent review of Money in the Morgue, the latest novel by Ngaio Marsh, which was finished by Stella Duffy, I decided that it was high time I did a top five list for my favourite Inspector Alleyn novels.

Cerebral, scholarly and dependable, Alleyn is a strong, proud policeman who is committed to solving often impossibly complicated crimes. Class, race and sexuality are all explored, with Marsh, a renowned New Zealand novelist, using her detective books to make numerous statements. I was an avid Marsh reader when at University, and over the years I have found many favourites, which I am really happy to share with you! Perfect for Golden Age fans looking for something new, or an avid Marsh fan looking to see what I think, there is something for everyone in my list of my favourite books featuring this stoic, intellectual detective.

5. Opening Night: Marsh is renowned for her novels focusing on the theatrical market, and Opening Night is a really good example of this. There’s a murder of a actor backstage on opening night at a London theatre, leaving Inspector Alleyn to look into the crime. Marsh understands the competitive, gossip-ridden world of theatre intimately, and as such her theatrical novels are works of genius that readers, whether they are fans or new arrivals to the bandwagon, will enjoy.

4. Vintage Murder: The leading lady of a travelling theatre troupe circumnavigating New Zealand is suspected of killing her husband at her own birthday party. With Inspector Alleyn in attendance, something goes horribly wrong during the celebrations and her pudgy, not particularly attractive husband and theatre manager is bludgeoned to death is particularly theatrical style. As Alleyn digs deeper into the victim’s marital and theatrical lives, he   finds a tangled web of secrets, lies and affairs of the heart that baffles and mystifies, keeping the reader guessing until the very end.

3. Death And The Dancing Footman: Partially set in my native and beloved Dorset, this fascinating novel portrays a malicious millionaire’s attempt to cause chaos by inviting a selection of ardent enemies to a house party for his own amusement. When the fun stops and a member of the party turns to murder, Alleyn is called in to find the culprit from among this seedy cast of characters and draw out the culprit and their motive. Another example of how class and business are used by Marsh to convey the very worst of human nature, this is a character study as much as it is a work of genius detective fiction, making it a great read for Golden Age fans looking for an exceptional example of work from this seminal period in the history of Crime Fiction.

2. Death In A White Tie: I’ve always enjoyed novels that explore the class divide, and this is an exceptional example. As the social season begins, the high-class members of London society are descending on the city’s most fashionable hotspots. Amid this excitement a blackmailer lurks, seeking to profit from the secrets and sins of the rich and famous. Alleyn, set on finding the fiend and bringing them to justice, invites an old friend, Lord Robert Gospell, to help him in his quest. When a body is discovered in connection with the case, Alleyn is drawn into a complicated and intriguing case that delves deep into the highest echelons of London society.

1. A Man Lay Dead: I am a big believer in reading the first novel in a series first, and whilst this isn’t always the case, in this case it is a really good idea. A murder at a country house party during, ironically enough, a game of ‘murder’, begins Inspector Alleyn’s first published case. A complicated plot including Russian’s, secret societies and class politics keeps the intrepid Chief Inspector busy as he navigates the complicated lives his suspects. A true Golden Age thriller, this is a great starter for a new Marsh reader, as well as a good re-read for a hardened fan.

Rose Gold Review: Another Chilling Dystopian Novel

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Hot on the footsteps of Blue Gold is the follow up,  Rose Gold, and as part of author David Barker’s blog tour I reviewed this latest dystopian climate change novel, which is perfectly topical given the current political landscape.

Following on from the events of Blue Gold, Barker’s latest novel depicts the later years as earth battles its biological issues, and man seeks a new solution on the moon, of all places. Focusing the action of Sim Atkins, whose life is turned upside down by revelations that threaten his family and his future, the novel explores his determination to right wrongs and stop deadly terrorism before it is too late.

With Sim’s former partner Freda called back into service in order to assist, the pair is driven into a web of secrets, lies and deceit. Skilful navigation and nerves of steel are required to ensure success, which could be vital for the future not just of them, but of the human race as a whole.

My previous criticism of Blue Gold revolved around the slightly clunky dialogue and Barker’s tendency to launch information on his readers, which is often hard for them to digest easily (also known as info-dumping). I am very pleased to say that Rose Gold alleviates both these issues, to a certain extent, although the dialogue remains a little old fashioned.

However, this appears to be Barker’s style, and whilst it isn’t to everyone’s taste he certainly has the great skill of crafting dynamic, multi-dimensional characters that will never go out of style. Combined with the author’s superb plotting, which sees Sim’s fraught backstory expertly weaved into the larger story, and you get a really intense thriller that keeps you hooked from the get-go until the final line.

As I finished Rose Gold and contemplated the novel, I was impressed by Barker’s expert creation of an unique dystopia; his books are an unflinching representation of human nature at its most base and greedy, and in today’s political and social climate, with Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement and many pondering the future of our planet, the timing could not be better.

 

 

Christine Gabriel Interview: “I love everything about dark fiction”

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This week I invited Christine Gabriel to talk me through her work and how she has come to define a unique writing style that appeals to her vast readership, including Iron Man. 

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

Great question! What most people don’t know about me is that I can successfully write in multi genres. Dark fiction is what I chose to put out as my debut novel. I love everything about dark fiction, and how you can entwine it with reality to the point that you can’t determine what’s real, and what’s fiction. It’s so much fun!

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

I’ve been in the marketing field for almost 15 years. With my marketing knowledge, I was able to approach publishing houses with what I could do for them. They loved that I could help market my own book, along with their own efforts.

Then I signed with a publishing house – which shall remain nameless – and was terribly disappointed by their marketing/communication efforts, so I recovered my rights, and decided to move on.

One afternoon, I happened to be surfing Twitter, and saw PitMad was trending. Curious what Pitmad was, I decided to investigate. That’s when Pandamoon Publishing caught my eye. I sent them an email and have since been with them for over 5 years! What a happy ending, right?

Tell me all about the Crimson Chronicles series. What was your inspiration?

A good friend of mine, Stephanie Gerold, had asked me if I would write her a book about vampires. I gave her a firm no. Vampires were way overplayed at this point. Well, she kept asking, and I finally caved in. I agreed to write her a book – but without vampires (Shh, I did put ONE vampire in the book, just for her, and darn it, he ended up being everyone’s favourite character.)
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How do you draw on your own experience when writing?

I was bullied all through high school, so I spent quite a bit of time in my bedroom, writing amazing stories I could escape into. I use a lot of that experience in my writing. If I’m having a rough day, or if writer’s block hits, I think back to those dark moments in my life. I use those experiences in a positive way to help me write better and write more. It’s such a rush when you see the shock on your old classmate’s faces when they see you, and how you’ve changed. They’re even more shocked when they see what you’ve accomplished – especially when they told you would amount to nothing.

Have you done any other work that you are particularly proud of?

I’m currently working on a Women’s Fiction novel titled Real Men Don’t Cry. This book has made me go through an entire box of Kleenex already, and I haven’t even finished it yet. It’s going to be a good one.

What’s next for the Crimson Chronicles series? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

There are quite a few exciting things happening with the Crimson Chronicles Series. Though I can’t release any information yet, just know it’s super exciting, and fans will love it! One thing I can share with you is that Crimson Forest will be available as an audio book this fall!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

There are a few new books I’m super excited to see released this year. Meg Bonney will be releasing her second book in the Everly series – Rosewood Burning. Her first book was phenomenal.

Another book I’m looking forward to is Nola Nash’s debut novel, Crescent City Moon. I’m a huge fan of New Orleans, and voodoo – so this book is right up my alley!

Anything you’d like to add?

I love connecting with my readers and fans. Interacting with them is what makes this worth it for me. If I can help someone escape their reality, even if just for a short period of time, that’s why I write. I do this for you guys!

Many thanks for answering my questions, it has been a pleasure having you on my blog.

 

The Retreat Review: A Real Nail Biter With a Gripping Finale

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As part of author Mark Edwards’ book tour I review The Retreat, a haunting thriller that really stays with you.

I’ll level with you here: this isn’t the sort of book I’d usually read. From the cover, it looks like the kind of book I wouldn’t even think twice about if I saw it in Tesco’s or Waterstone’s while I was browsing the latest best sellers in search of a new favourite.

After all, heartbroken mothers and missing children have been done to death. I always hate the overly sentimental thrillers, and from my first impression of it The Retreat was exactly that. However, once you move past the age-old premise you find a riveting thriller that packs a punch and leaves you with more questions than answers.

The novel centres around Julia Marsh, a heartbroken woman who has spent the last two years grieving the tragic accident that lead to her husband drowning in front of her in a local river. Her eight-year-old daughter Lily is still missing, following the incident, and is presumed dead.

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Now living alone, Julia finds herself unable to move on, convinced that Lily is still alive. Despite this her pleas for help go unanswered by the authorities, who are convinced that Lily could not possibly be alive, and with dwindling resources Julia finds herself in a perilous position. Forced to find unconventional means of staying afloat, she gets more than she bargained for when she creates a writer’s retreat and invites complete strangers into her home and, by extension, her life.

Alternating between first and third person, past and present tense, the novel is a shock to the system, and each chapter is designed to leave you questioning everything you had previously thought.

This show-stopping novel is a tour de force that reaches its shocking climax and leaves the reader in both amazement and wonder. I found this incredibly hard to put down even once I’d finished, and had the ridiculous urge to start again just to keep the experience going. As such I would thoroughly recommend giving The Retreat a go, even if you’re not mad keen on psychological thrillers.