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Book Review: Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie #BURNEDANDBROKEN Blog Tour

Mark Hardie’s debut crime novel Burned and Broken marks the promising start to a new contemporary crime series covering issues with a good dose of realism in its seaside setting of Southend.

The charred body of an enigmatic policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found in the burnt-out shell of his car on the Southend sea front.

Meanwhile, a vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

As DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell from the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve the mystery of their colleague’s death, dark, dangerous secrets begin to surface. Can they solve both cases, before it’s too late?

There’s an immediacy to Mark Hardie’s writing which quickly pulled me in and before I knew it, I was immersed. His world isn’t the Southend I know from day trips out of London with ice cream and amusements on the front: the treats in Burned and Broken are far less innocuous and the amusements are hidden away behind painted facades, while the seafront feels an altogether bleaker and more lonely place to be for the residents of the town. That’s because Burned and Broken focuses on the world in which the police live and work: it’s a world where alongside the routine work and investigation, regulations, checks and procedures, personal worries and concerns, there is neglect and abuse, broken relationships and homes, and damaged people, complaints and attacks, corruption and dysfunction, drugs and death, mental health issues and neglect, and violence easily triggered. There’s an intricate balance of sorts and when the cracks begin to show as the cases are investigated, I wondered if ultimately it would topple, and what would be the fallout. Read more

Book Review: Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson #Rupture Blog Tour

Iceland is on my must-see list of places to visit and as every reader knows, when you can’t afford to physically go somewhere, the next best way to travel is by book. Which is why I jumped at the chance to read my first Dark Iceland novel. Rupture is actually the fourth book in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series but you’ll be able to read this as a stand-alone quite happily. However, you probably won’t be able to leave it there if you realise, as I do, that you’ve found a new nordic noir series in Ragnar Jónasson’s books.

1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjörður. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all…

In nearby Siglufjörður, young policeman Ari Thór tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He’s assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjörður in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

I love books like Rupture which have a myriad of story strands in them; as well as trying to solve the individual crimes, I get to try and figure out where any connections are before the author weaves them all together. In Rupture, I had my work cut out, not least because there’s one cold case, a virus outbreak, and a number of seemingly unrelated crimes in the capital city. I admit that I also had to flip back to check who some of the characters were, and their relationship to each other a couple of times because of how quickly they were introduced one after the other. And then about halfway in, something clicked and I flew through the rest of the book, eager to see how it all worked out.

Though initially the cast list felt large for the size of novel Rupture is, it does also mean that there’s a good mix of different characters from all walks of life, giving a sense of what Icelandic society is like. You get a feel for the rhythm of the characters’ lives and can imagine them continuing on with those after you close the pages on them. And I’ve always liked the idea of characters doing that, whether or not anyone’s there to read them. I enjoyed how differently policeman Ari Thór in the north-east and reporter Ísrún in Reykjavik work, and yet manage to work at solving a case together. They’re both interesting characters and it was good to get an idea of not only their working lives but their home and family situations too. It made them easier to engage with and root for in their investigations. Read more

Book Review: Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb #DeepDownDead Blog Tour

You’re going to want to clear some reading time before you open the covers of Steph Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead because once you crack it – and the whole can of worms inside – open, you are not going to want to put it down until you know that bounty hunter Lori Anderson has her man. And a hot bath, a cold drink, and a whole lot of downtime – although I’m not convinced Lori knows what that is. But even if she doesn’t, you’ll no doubt need all of those once you finish reading Deep Down Dead.

Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong.

The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past. Not only is JT fighting a child exploitation racket operating out of one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Winter Wonderland, a place where ‘bad things never happen’, but he’s also mixed up with the powerful Miami Mob. With two fearsome foes on their tails, just three days to get JT back to Florida, and her daughter to protect, Lori has her work cut out for her. When they’re ambushed at a gas station, the stakes go from high to stratospheric, and things become personal.

I really like how Steph Broadribb weaves in the backstory of Lori’s past while setting up the story that unravels in Deep Down Dead. I got a real sense of where Lori had come from, what she’d left behind in that past life and what she’s still carrying with her. You see how JT came into her life, how much he changed it and her, and get a real sense that there is unfinished business between them.

Left without a sitter, this single mum is forced into taking her daughter on the job with her. Lori’s frequent use of the terms Momma, sweetie and sweetheart irritated me while reading but you can forgive these in light of the situation and mounting pressures. Taking your kid to work rarely works out that well for either parent or child but here it is, unsurprisingly, an unmitigated disaster, ramping up the time-sensitive sense of danger that accompanies the child exploitation case in which Lori quickly finds herself embroiled. Read more

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper #TheDry Blog Tour

A small farming town in south-eastern Australia suffering from one of its worst recorded droughts, its townspeople desperate to survive and still feeding off speculation and suspicion; what looks like a double murder-suicide stirring up memories of another tragic event some twenty years previously; and a returning police detective, former best friend to the dead man, all combine to make up Jane Harper’s riveting debut novel, The Dry, out later this week.

I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

Sometimes when you read a novel’s prologue, it makes little sense until you reach the end of the book; elsewhere, it feels superfluous or a cheat, a way to pitch you into the story before retreating to more prosaic backstory in the first few chapters. None of these is the case with the memorable prologue for The Dry: it quickly sets the scene and situation in a few hard-hitting and effective lines, and behaves more like a heads-up to the reader. Pay attention, it says, you’re going to need to keep up because I’m not going to repeat myself or waste words or time and you’ll need your wits about you for this one. In the space of a page, you feel the heat of the drought, the farmers’ desperation, the sense that here is a town and its people brought to the brink, evidenced by the grim aftermath of an apparent double murder-suicide.   Read more

Joanne M Harris #Runemarks Blog Tour

Joanne Harris is one author whose books I always buy when they come out, so today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for the new edition of Runemarks, her fantastical tale of magic, adventure and Norse mythology. It’s been re-edited, and comes with a new introduction and a gorgeous cover by Andreas Preis, who also designed The Gospel of Loki.

It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

Want to read some? Great! Because from 21 November to 3 December, book bloggers are posting extracts from Runemarks (details of all participating blogs below). Yesterday was the turn of bookmagpie.uk and today it’s mine. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…

No one knew much about Red Horse Hill. Some said it had been shaped during the Elder Age, when the heathens still made sacrifices to the old gods. Others said it was the burial mound of some great Outlander chieftain, seeded throughout with deadly traps, though Maddy favoured the theory that the place was a giant treasure mound, piled to the eaves with goblin gold. Read more

Book review: Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Death at the Seaside, Frances Brody’s eighth novel about 1920s sleuth Kate Shackleton. Death at the Seaside may be Kate’s eighth outing but it was my first introduction to her and Frances Brody’s novels, and I have to confess that what primarily attracted me to the book was its setting of Whitby. For that reason alone, I was keen to read it. Here’s what it’s about:

Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton feels like she deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.

Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.

Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.

And they say nothing happens in August . . .

Initially I may have been drawn to reading Death at the Seaside by Kate’s choice of Whitby as her holiday location but Kate Shackleton very quickly won me over in her own right. She is, indeed, as the book blurb says, a tenacious woman, and I had a lot of fun following her around my favourite Yorkshire seaside town, albeit the one of almost a hundred years ago. I particularly enjoyed Kate’s observations and asides, and felt that she was the kind of woman you would want as a friend or on your side, at the very least. In situations where I would have let my temper get the better of me, she handles everything with a wry smile and polite firmness, and dashes off annoying situations as if they were flecks of dust. She’s sparky and full of life, and strides out to meet it full on. She’s not a woman prepared to settle, unlike her friend, Alma. Kate knows her own mind and, at a time when Europe has been badly shaken by war and her own young husband was one of those who didn’t make it home, she seems remarkably full of hope for the future. Read more

Mavis Cheek #DogDays Blog Tour

I’m delighted to welcome Mavis Cheek to the blog today. Mavis is the author of sixteen novels and she’s joined me today to chat about Dog Days, the second one to be reissued as an ebook by Ipso Books. Dog Days is a novel about a woman who quits an unhappy marriage and starts over with her young daughter and Brian, the doggy Dad substitute she’s agreed to buy her. I cheered, laughed, cringed, winced and chuckled my way through it as Patricia attempts to manage her new life, home and job with well-meaning friends setting her up on dates, the neighbour’s monster rabbit, Bulstrode, proving irresistible to Brian and Patricia, despite all the progress she makes and intelligence she possesses, singularly failing to read some people and social situations. It’s full of truths and sharp observation about life and dating post-divorce but it’s told with plenty of warmth and humour.   

Hello Mavis, and welcome. We’re usually all about the squirrels here at Nut Press but in honour of Dog Days being released, let’s talk Dog. And specifically Brian. He’s almost a doggy antihero. What made you choose him for your family?
Brian was a comic device for the story – and I enjoyed writing about him – as you say – he became almost a person – certainly a character – and it was nice writing about someone who was even more downtrodden than Patricia. Those anti-characters are great fun to invent.

Patricia freely admits to not being a dog person and only gets Brian because her ten-year-old daughter Rachel asks for a dog to make up for her parents’ divorce. Do you think she protests too much and is a dog person at heart, in the same way that she tries to persuade herself that she’s happier on her own with only Rachel and Brian for company, when in fact she’s a more sociable being than that?
I think Patricia is exactly like me – thinks she’s not a dog person but is always the one who ends up holding the mutt’s ear and stroking their nose and being kind to them. When my daughter and her boyfriend came to stay with their dog, dog and I would be sitting in the kitchen at some ridiculously early hour, me with tea, he with a mournful look, and I’d just hold his ear. And my dog walking friend arrives with her dog who promptly sits on my foot and gazes at me in rapture. It’s very seductive. Read more

Untouchable Things Blog Tour: Interview with Tara Guha

I’m thrilled to welcome author Tara Guha today to talk about her debut novel. Untouchable Things is an excellent if unsettling psychological thriller about a disparate group of people brought together by an enigmatic host who stages themed soirées for them all. It was the winner of the Luke Bitmead Bursary in 2014 and is published by Legend Press.

Hello, Tara, lovely to have you here!

Hello and lovely to be here!

Untouchable Things is such a great ensemble piece about these people, who meet as the Friday Folly: but can you tell me where it all started? Was it with an idea you wanted to explore or did one or more of the characters pop up, demanding that their story be told?
I think the idea and the character of Seth arrived hand in hand and are in a sense two sides of the same coin. I wanted to examine the impact of a highly charismatic person on a group of people, and through that explore the workings of groups themselves. What parts of myself do I need to hide to be accepted into a group? How far would I compromise my own values to remain in a group? So I suppose the true answer is that the idea was the driving force, and Seth the means of executing it.

In many ways, it feels as if Seth auditions each member of the Friday Folly, but how did you assemble your cast of characters?
Hmmm, it’s almost ten years since I started writing Untouchable Things and I’ve lived with these characters for so long it’s hard to remember that somewhere along the line I imagined them into existence! Rebecca came along very early, as did Michael: one character who is glad to get swept into Seth’s orbit, and another who struggles hard against it. Almost all the characters started with a predominant character trait, and from that I fleshed out their backstory and worked out how hard I could push them. Lots of people ask me if the characters are drawn from life; the answer is that there is some of me in almost all of them (Jake perhaps being the exception), along with a mish-mash of character traits I’ve encountered over the years – and a healthy dollop of imagination. Read more

Author Interview: Stephanie Butland #TheOtherHalfofmyHeart blog tour

My guest today is author Stephanie Butland whose wonderful first novel Letters to my Husband I reviewed hereToday Stephanie’s stopping off on her blog tour for her second novel, The Other Half of My Heart, which came out last Thursday. Here’s what it’s about: 

“It smelled bittersweetly of sourdough, and there was the trace of hot, fresh bread in the air. She took a deep breath and unlocked the door”

Fifteen years ago Bettina May’s life’s veered off course in one disastrous night. Still reeling from the shock of losing everything she thought was hers, Bettina opens a bakery in a village and throws herself into the comfort of bread-making.
She spends her days kneading dough and measuring ingredients. She meets someone. She begins to heal.
Until someone who knows what happens that night walks into Bettina’s bakery. In the pause of a heartbeat, fifteen years disappear and Bettina remembers a time she thought was lost for ever . . .
Can she ever go back?

Welcome to the Nut Press, Stephanie, and congratulations on book two!  
Thank you! It’s lovely to be here.

Second novels can be notoriously troublesome for their authors. Did The Other Half of my Heart cause you any heartache along the way, and how did you deal with this?   
It was a little bit tricky – but largely because I did the equivalent of starting your homework at 10pm on a Sunday night… I’d done a lot of research and thinking – but I sat down on 1 January with 13,000 words and a deadline of 1 March! I wrote 50,000 words in January and although it was brilliant, in many ways, I won’t be writing a book that way again.

The main character in your book, Bettina, opens a bakery which goes some way towards helping her recover from a traumatic event in her past. There’s something about the smell of freshly baked bread, and the process of breadmaking itself, the kneading of it and allowing it to rest in between times, before it (hopefully) rises in the oven, which makes it a wonderful comfort food. Was this behind you choosing a bakery for her?
Absolutely. At an early stage I went to see a baker named Andrew Smith (www.breadandroses.co.uk) and as he talked about bread I understood that it was much more than something you mix up, put in the oven and eat. A loaf of bread is an ancient alchemy of flour, salt and water; the making of it is an ancient act, even if you do use a mixer! Bettina needed to heal, and she needed to be patient, because she was never going to heal quickly. Bread saved her in a way that nothing else would have.
Read more

Author Interview: Helen Lederer #HelensLosingIt Blog Tour

Welcome to the final stop on Helen Lederer’s Losing It Blog Tour! You’ve read the review, Losing It was launched last Thursday and is currently out in the world in a bookshop near you, so now it’s time to talk to its author. I’m thrilled to welcome the lovely Helen Lederer to the Nut Press today.

I now know which Millie favours but what about you, Helen: Margarita or Mojito, followed by a bottle of wine, or no messing around and straight to a bottle of wine? Mojito can be festive and slow down the inevitable graduation to a bottle of plonk when one starts realising the cost of the individual cocktail and the item taken to get the pith of a fruit into a glass… give me the WINE!

Millie has an humiliating episode in a hotel lobby thanks to some shapewear. Should we squeeze ourselves into those things, or let it all hang out (while still being fully dressed, obviously!) and embrace the bodies we have? Well a certain ballast underneath a dress for evening wear can enable getting out of the house at times? But I say no to the girdle on top of waist clincher and corset… what if one was in a car accident – what would the paramedics make of it all? Read more

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