Tempted By … Live and Deadly: The Holdout by Graham Moore

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One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?

‘Ten years ago we made a decision together…’

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.

Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.

The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

Today’s Tempted By… was a no-brainer for me, to be honest. As an ex-lawyer, any books set in a legal environment are automatically appealing but it was the reference in this review by Mary Picken on her blog, Live and Deadly, to one of my favourite films that sealed the deal.

“A sort of reverse 12 Angry Men.” It wasn’t really going to take anything more than that to persuade me that The Holdout was a book I needed to read. 12 Angry Men is one of my favourite films and if you haven’t seen it, you need to go and watch it immediately. Henry Fonda gives one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen as the single juror trying to turn the minds of the other eleven jurors, who are convinced of the defendant’s guilt. It was nominated for three Oscars, so I’m not alone in thinking it is brilliant. How, therefore, could I resist a book that is being touted as  12 Angry Men on adrenaline.

Besides, Mary says that this is a belter of a legal thriller and, if there is any blog that I trust to know her thriller onions, it’s this one. Live and Deadly focuses on crime and thriller books, and she reads an awful lot of them, so she knows what she is talking about when it comes to judging a thriller. When she tells me a book is nicely paced with some good twists and turns, I am going to believe her and it is definitely one I am going to pick up. I am really looking forward to reading this when it gets to the top of my TBR pile.

If you are a lover of crime and thriller novels, Mary’s blog is one that you should be following. She is a prolific poster, reviewing all of the top new releases plus loads of great books from smaller, indie publishers that you may not otherwise come across, so this is the place to discover those hidden gems in crime fiction. She has a real knack for concise but precise reviews, so if you prefer a succinct reviewing style that really boils down the salient information, rather than my long, often inane, ramblings, this is the blog for you. Plus, she is one of the loveliest, kindest and most supportive bloggers on the scene and I love her to bits. You can find Mary’s blog here.

If this post and Mary’s review has made you eager to pick up a copy of The Holdout (and why wouldn’t it have?), it is available in hardback, audio and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

 

Tempted by… Between The Pages Book Club: Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph

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Ten years ago, Jess’s mother was murdered by the Magpie Man.

She was the first of his victims, but not the last.

Now Jess is the star of a YouTube reality series and she’s using it to catch the killer once and for all.

The whole world is watching her every move.

And so is the Magpie Man.

Today’s Tempted By… is a book I picked up after reading a review by Gemma on her blog, Between The Pages Book ClubI don’t read huge amounts of Young Adult literature (probably because I’m a middle-aged adult!), but Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph sounded like a book that would appeal to all ages.

This book was recommended to Gemma by a fellow blogger and, as good books always are, Gemma’s subsequent recommendation appealed to me for a number of reasons. Gemma’s review makes it sound like the kind of book you can’t put down, and I really like the premise of a girl using a reality TV show to hunt down the killer of her mother. It sounds very different to anything I have come across before, and I am intrigued to see how the plot plays out. I think the blurb is really clever at being enticing without giving too much away!

I like the thought of the plot being terrifying, who doesn’t enjoy a good scare from time to time, and Gemma says that she didn’t guess who had done it, so the mystery sounds complex too. When an admired blogger gives a read five stars, calls it one of her books of the year and tells you she read it all in a day, it is definitely something I want to pick up!

Make sure you pop over and check out Gemma’s review of the book and her blog in general. I really love the quote she has at the top of her homepage, it is a sentiment I could not agree with more!

Are You Watching? is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Guest Post: The English Wife by Adrienne Chinn #GuestPost

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Two women, a world apart. A secret waiting to be discovered…

VE Day 1945: As victory bells ring out across the country, war bride Ellie Burgess’ happiness is overshadowed by grief. Her charismatic Newfoundlander husband Thomas is still missing in action.
 
Until a letter arrives explaining Thomas is back at home on the other side of the Atlantic recovering from his injuries.

Travelling to a distant country to live with a man she barely knows is the bravest thing Ellie has ever had to do. But nothing can prepare her for the harsh realities of her new home…

September 11th 2001: Sophie Parry is on a plane to New York on the most tragic day in the city’s history. While the world watches the news in horror, Sophie’s flight is rerouted to a tiny town in Newfoundland and she is forced to seek refuge with her estranged aunt Ellie.
 
Determined to discover what it was that forced her family apart all those years ago, newfound secrets may change her life forever…

Today is publication day for this marvellous sounding book by Adrienne Chin, and to celebrate I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by the author which tells us more about the setting for her new book.

Magical Fogo by Adrienne Chin

Off the northern coast of the rugged island of Newfoundland, in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, a magical island named Fogo sits at one of the four corners of the world. Just outside of the outport village of Fogo, you’ll find Brimstone Head, a jutting climb up prehistoric rock from the top of which you’ll look out to a horizon, at the end of which you’ll fall off – according to the Flat Earth Society. Brimstone Head isn’t signposted – you’ll find it at the edge of the town, on the other side of the local football field. It’s just one of the many odd and magical places you’ll find all around Newfoundland and its outlying islands like Fogo.

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Brimstone Head

My second novel, The English Wife, is a timeslip story set in World War II Norwich and contemporary Newfoundland. I’m a native Newfoundlander, although I’ve been in the UK for thirty years, and I had always wanted to set one of my novels in this ruggedly beautiful place. I spent a month in the spring of 2019, travelling around the island, visiting relatives and researching inspiration for the fictional outport village of Tippy’s Tickle. Which is what brought me to Fogo, a short ferry ride from Twillingate on “The Rock” (as the locals call the island of Newfoundland).

Off the ferry, I headed across the island to the fishing outport of Tilting where I stayed in a old sea captain’s house overlooking the small harbour. Irish settlers arrived in the 1730s, building houses and fishing rooms around the harbour to support the fishery.  It has a rare collection of traditional structures, and the oldest Irish cemetery outside of Ireland, and this contributed to it being designated a Registered Heritage District in 2003. 

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Tilting

Down the road, just outside of Joe Batt’s Arm, you’ll find the Fogo Island Inn, a stunning piece of modern architect inspired by the fishing huts (called “stages”) on stilts all around the Newfoundland coast. Run as a social enterprise by the Shorefast Foundation, founded by local businesswoman Zita Cobb, I made sure to have lunch there while I was on the island. With a view out to the North Atlantic, with humpback whales spouting and icebergs drifting by, it was a lunch to remember. Oh, and if you’d like to hear how Joe Batt’s Arm got its name, here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAVG7IoO6C8

Fogo Island Inn & Joe Batt’s Arm

A short walk past the old cemetery in Tilting and along the coast, I came upon one of the four small artists’ residences dotted in remote spots around the island – another venture of the Shorefast Foundation. What a place to write a novel, with a view over the crashing waves, nothing but Greenland far beyond the horizon!

Artist’s Residence & Fogo Island Coast

Thank you for that quick tour around the setting for your new book, Adrienne, I can’t wait to read it.

if you like the sound of The English Wife, it is out today and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Adrienne Chinn was born in an old paper-making town in Newfoundland, and grew up in rural Quebec and Montreal. She retraced her English father’s footsteps back to England, where she now lives and works as a novelist, design lecturer and interior designer. She is a regular interior design lecturer in the UK and China.

When not writing or designing, Adrienne can be found puttering in her Sussex garden, trawling the Marrakech flea market, or in the queue at Gatwick heading off somewhere new.

Connect with Adrienne:

Website: https://www.adriennechinn.net

Facebook: Adrienne Chinn Author

Twitter: @adriennechinn

Instagram: @adriennechinn

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 but yet it lurked on my TBR unread for many a long, shameful year. Then I discovered I was not alone! Another much-admired book reviewer on Twitter came out as a fellow shirker, then slowly, more and more of us came out of the shadows and owned our ignominy publicly. We then decided to do a buddy read of the book to put our chagrin firmly behind us.

The read started at the beginning of April, and slowly people began to drop out. I totally understand why this happened. This book is not an easy read. Mantel uses a narrative construct that is not easy to navigate and is a little confusing until you get used to it, which makes the book a read that requires concentration and application, it is not something you can just skim. Unfortunately, this read started just as we were entering lockdown in the UK in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we were all trying to adjust to this completely alienating new reality and, for many, this was not the time to be tussling with this tome.

I actually felt the opposite. Reading has always been my respite in times of trouble and, during lockdown, I escaped even deeper into fictional worlds, consuming novels at a record rate (I have now read 90 books this year.) Being able to lose myself in a book that demanded my full attention was a welcome distraction from the terrible news that was hitting us day by day, and it returned the novel rewarded me tenfold.

I have always been fascinated by the Plantagenet and Tudor periods of history, and have read a lot of historical fiction set in this period, but Mantel’s book goes way beyond anything I have read before. She dives so deeply into the psyche of Cromwell, revealing to us the whole panoply of life in Tudor England through his eyes, that it feels like a lived experience. The book is written in the present tense, as if you are actually in that time, and it is very effective. Her writing gives the man a humanity that is missing from his portrayals in a lot of history books, and it has given me a totally different perspective on his role in this period.

Her research is obviously extensive and meticulous, and she feeds the book with exquisite detail and texture that is just delightful to absorb. This is a book that you can actually FEEL through all of your senses. Although it is slow moving, it is curiously addictive. Every time I picked it up I felt transported and was loathe to put it down and return to the real world. I was so absorbed that this monster of a novel felt too short, and I am so glad that there are two other novels coming for me to enjoy. I haven’t started them yet, as I am still revelling in the afterglow of the first book and am going to delay the gratification of starting book two until I can bear it no longer.

I know this book is not going to be for everyone. Some will find it too ponderous, and the slow richness of the writing that I adored will be the very thing that discourages others. Mantel’s prose and use of ‘he’ to refer to Cromwell throughout, rather than calling him by his name, can be confusing at times (particularly as there are so many Thomases in the book) and requires a level of concentration that can prove tiring, especially when you are going through a time of stress. It is a book that needs a particular moment, a particular frame of mind to appreciate. I think she is a writer that may seem to lack some warmth for some people, focused as she is on the historical detail, her writing can come off as dispassionate, which may be this books downfall for some. I can understand why people might fail to engage with Cromwell as protagonist to a degree that they cannot care about his story. But, if you can get past this, there is no doubt at all that this book is a masterpiece of historical fiction that will give the persistent reader a whole new insight into this period of history.

I bloody loved it and I owe huge thanks to Jules Swain for finally getting me to pick it up.

If you would like to give it a go yourself, you can buy a copy of Wolf Hall herealong with books two and three of the trilogy, which are all out now.

About the Author

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Hilary Mantel is the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize for her best-selling novels, Wolf Hall, and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. Wolf Hall has been translated into 36 languages, Bring Up the Bodies into 31 languages, and sales for both books have reached over 5 million copies worldwide. She is the author of fourteen books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and the memoir Giving Up the Ghost. In 2014 she was appointed DBE.

Connect with Hilary:

Website: https://hilary-mantel.com

Facebook: Hilary Mantel Author

Tempted by … Syllables of Swathi: The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

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Knowing the truth will destroy her.

Keeping it secret will destroy him.

It’s Livia’s 40th birthday and she’s having the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding she never had. Everyone she loves will be there except her daughter Marnie, who’s studying abroad. But although Livia loves Marnie, she’s secretly glad she won’t be at the party. She needs to tell Adam something about their daughter but she’s waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together.

Adam wants everything to be perfect for Livia so he’s secretly arranged for Marnie to come home and surprise her on her birthday. During the day, he hears some terrible news. He needs to tell Livia, because how can the party go on? But she’s so happy, so excited – and the guests are about to arrive.

The Dilemma – how far would you go to give someone you love a last few hours of happiness?

I know the blog has been a little quiet recently, apologies. There is a lot going on to process, isn’t there? Anyway, today I’m back and reviving one of my favourite features on the blog, Tempted by…, where I feature a book I have been encouraged to buy by a review or feature from a fellow blogger. A chance to support authors and bloggers in the same post, what’s not to love about that?

So, here is a copy of The Dilemma by B. A. Paris that I went out and bought after reading this review by the lovely Priya on her blog, Syllables of Swathi.

Aside from the very striking cover (love the juxtaposition of the bright yellow against that gorgeous blue), what tempted me to pick up the book was the tantalising idea of two people keeping big secrets from one another within the confines of an intimate relationship. As soon as I read the review, I was dying to know what these devastating secrets could be and how the couple had managed to conceal them. Plus, Priya’s suggestion that the reader could either love or hate the main characters also really drew me in and made me wonder what side of the divide I might fall. I love a domestic thriller; sometimes the simplest plots are the best, and most filled with tension. I often find that the minimising of distractions from a wider circle of characters and more sprawling experiences ramps the tension right up, and it sounds like this one might be a prime example of this scenario in action.

Priya’s blog is one of my more recent discoveries, I think I have been following her for around a year now, but I am always impressed by the thoughtfulness of her reviews, and her friendly but professional approach. Her reviews are always easy and entertaining to read, and her blog is very attractively set out and easy to navigate, which is always a joy. She has a really nice mix of books and genres on there, and I am always eager to see what she has coming up. If you haven’t come across her blog before, do please go over and take a look. You can find her at http://syllablesofswathi.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you would like to get you hands on a copy of The Dilemma after reading Priya’s review, it is out now in hardback, e-book and audiobook formats, and will be published in paperback in September. All formats can be ordered here or via your preferred independent bookseller.

Blog Tour: Son of Secrets (The Indigo Chronicles #2) by N. J. Simmonds #BookReview

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This has been a long time coming, but today I am delighted to be finally taking part on the blog tour for the second book in the Indigo Chronicles Trilogy by N. J. Simmonds, Son of Secrets. Huge thanks to the author for inviting me to take part and for supplying me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Ella has been waiting for Zac for three years. She’s convinced he’ll return for her, but fate has other plans. When Josh is thrown back into her life, Ella has a choice: step back on to her rightful path, or wait for the one who dared her to rebel.

But Ella’s not the only one missing Zac. Luci has been searching for her blue-eyed boy over two millennia and will stop at nothing to get him back. Even if that means hunting down the only girl he ever loved.

From Tuscany 5BC to 17th century witch hunts, Ella, Zac, Luci and Sebastian’s lives have been forever intertwined. The time has finally come to complete the circle.

In a fight against destiny – who will win?

I’ve been waiting a very long time for this book. So long, in fact, that I had to go back and re-read the first book in the Indigo Chronicles, The Path Keeper, to remind myself what had happened. I’d forgotten how good it was, and it whetted my appetite for the new one.

And, boy, was it worth the wait. I can say, hand on heart, without a shadow of doubt that the author exceeded all my expectations with the second book and it is even better than the first. There is so much going on in this series, so many themes to unpick, history to explore, so much subversion of expectation that it will excite and entertain the most sophisticated reader of any age.

For those who haven’t read the first book (and, if not, I suggest you do first, it is excellent and this book will provide a much richer reading experience if you have), it picks up three years on from the events of the previous book. Zac has not reappeared and Ella is trying, quite unsuccessfully, to make some kind of life for herself without him. Then a face from her past reappears and she realises that maybe fate has not finished with her yet and there is still a path to happiness available to her. At the same time. a new character appears to shake things up, and she has been waiting for Zac too.

As in the previous book, we are given flashbacks to other points in history that have influenced the place all the characters find themselves in in the present. It is hard to describe without giving away any spoilers, but the lives of the main characters are all intertwined, and their fates have been through the centuries. The author has obviously done her research, the scenes that occur have their basis in real events from history and her descriptions of them are rich in detail and sensation, bringing them to life on the page. If you come away from reading this book with the desire to do some more research into some of them, I will be surprised.

The base story of the series is a passionate love affair between two young people who are kept apart by powerful forces and circumstance beyond their control, but the strength of their love for one another keeps them fighting to reunite against the odds. These are the standard building blocks for many stories. What sets this series apart, aside from the quality of the writing which I will come to later, is the uniqueness and audacity of the particular plot machinations that keep this couple apart, and the complex themes that pepper the narrative to make the reader really think and question. This is so much more than just a love story.

The author has created a world that, firstly, uses an outlandish premise at its heart, and this was explored in detail in book one. This second book has taken that premise and elevated it to another level. It is very hard to go into in any detail without giving anything away but the author has taken some fundamental suppositions about the theories of good and evil, the way we perceive and understand them, the stories we have been told to explain their existence through time and completely turned them on their head. What is what we know is all untrue? What if the opposite were true and the lies had been spun as a means of maintaining power and control over people who threatened the status quo? Trying to work through the connotations of the story will make your head spin, but set your brain alight with thoughts and questions and have you racing through the pages to get more information.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the way it explores feminist issues, the imbalance of power between the genders and the various ways that society has tried to suppress feminine power through the ages, and why. Lots of books have strong, female characters, but this one is quite strident and overt in its exploration of these issues, and has one of the best characters I have ever come across in young adult fiction to demonstrate this, and she isn’t the main character. She actually shows the main character up a little and makes you want to shake Ella and urge her to take control of her life and stop swaying in the winds of fate or doing what she thinks others or the universe expects. Actually, this is Ella’s real journey, I think, and I am interested to see what comes out of this in book three.

I know some of this is a little unclear, but it is very hard to describe the brilliance of this novel without giving away any spoilers. Let me just summarise. As well as having a cracking base story line of a doomed romance between two passionate people kept apart by monumental tribulations, this book is an exploration of some fascinating, historical events that demonstrate how the cause of female empowerment has been fought and opposed throughout the centuries, and how it still continues today. Having just watched the Jeffrey Epstein documentary at the same time as reading this, I have been left with a very unsettled feeling and a sense of wanting my daughters to understand their history and the difficulties they are still going to face in a world that has treated women as lesser than for centuries. There is also a fascinating subversion of our understanding of good and evil that plays into this, and the whole thing blends into an entertaining and complex novel that is one of the most intense and thought-provoking novels I have ever read. Cover this with the gloss of exquisite prose, and you are left with a book that is pure joy to read.

A quite stunning piece of work.

Son of Secrets is out now and you can buy a copy, here.  The first book in the Indigo Chronicles series, The Path Keeper, is available by following this link.

Please do check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour as well:

SON OF SECRETS blog

About the Author

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N J Simmonds is the author of fantasy series The Indigo Chronicles – she also writes Manga comics and is one half of Caedis Knight. Her stories are magical, historical and full of complex women, page-turning twists and plenty of romance. Originally from London, she now lives with her family in the Netherlands.

Connect with the author:

Website: http://njsimmonds.com

Facebook: N J Simmonds Author

Twitter: @NJSimmondsTPK

Instagram: @njsimmonds_author

Spotlight: Paramedic Chris by Tim Parsons

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I don’t often feature children’s books on the blog, but I am doing so today for a good reason. Britain’s emergency services are in the news frequently these days as we all come to appreciate how much they do for us and how they are putting themselves on the frontline in these worrying times. So it seems like a good time to talk about this fantastic series of books by Tim Parsons, designed to educate children on the work of paramedics and the Ambulance Service.

I think it is easy for children to understand what doctors and nurses do, they are the ones we see often on the news on in TV shows, but children are less likely to understand what paramedics are, although they may be the first people sick and injured individuals see if an ambulance has to be called. The author of these books, Tim Parsons worked as a chaplain to the Ambulance Service, and the books are based on genuine cases, making them informative and realistic.

With the Paramedic Chris books, Parsons hopes to spread the message for children to learn the correct ways to call an ambulance and not abuse the system, as well as how to love and care for one another. “I am hoping readers will be made aware of how hard my colleagues work within the ambulance service and can share respect to one another as a result,” he says.

There are currently three books in the series, Paramedic Chris, A Helping Hand and A Sorry Bully, each aimed at 4 to 10-year-old children. You can find out more about the books and where to buy them at Tim’s website – https://timparsons.co.uk

 

Have Sunday Brunch with me! @jaffareadstoo #sundaybrunch #sundaybrunchwithjaffareadstoo #recommendations #bookblogging

Today I am delighted to be the guest of Jo from Jaffa Reads Too on her Sunday Brunch feature. If you’d like to know more about my taste in breakfast beverages, who my literary heroes are & why I started blogging, please pop over & check out the feature. And why not have a look around the rest of Jo’s fabulous blog while you are there?

Here’s the link:

http://jaffareadstoo.blogspot.com/2020/03/sunday-brunch-with-jaffareadstoo-julie.html?m=1

Songbird by Karen Heenan #BlogTour #GuestPost (@karen_heenan) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #Songbird

Songbird

I’m happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Songbird by Karen Heenan. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read and review this book for you, but instead I have a fantastic guest post from the author. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for providing the guest post for me to share with you.

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Bess has the voice of an angel, or so Henry VIII declares when he buys her from her father.

As a member of the Music, the royal company of minstrels, Bess grows up with in the decadent Tudor court, navigating the ever-changing tide of royals and courtiers.

Friends come and go as cracked voices, politics, heartbreak, and death loom over even the lowliest of musicians. Tom, her first and dearest friend is her only constant but as Bess becomes too comfortable at court, she may find that constancy has its limits.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Now, Let me share with you Karen’s experiences and advice on the publishing process.

‘Get out of your own way’ by Karen Heenan

I’ve been a writer for most of my life. I learned to read young, because I had mother who, if interrupted when she had her nose in a book, would say, “Unless you’re bleeding, it can wait until I finish this chapter.”

It made me desperate to know what was inside those covers. Not long after I learned to read, I realized someone wrote those books, and unlike my aspirations to ballet, which required toe shoes and lessons and talent, I could learn to be a writer. It still took talent, but more than that, it took hard work, and lots and lots of reading, which was no hardship.

For a long time, writing was something I did in secret, for me, that got me through my early teens and then kept me going during years of office work that drained the light from my soul. I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t had the outlet of writing during those times, but I don’t think I’d be happy.

The idea of writing for publication was scary. It was unnecessary; I wrote for myself. Letting other people—strangers—read my writing seemed like being naked in public. I didn’t need the exposure. I did it for myself. That was enough.

Until one day, it wasn’t. I decided to submit my book (an earlier version of Songbird) to see if I could get an agent. In 2015, after a period of rejection—I didn’t keep count of how many times I heard the word “no”, but it was a lot—I got an offer. The agent suggested changes to improve the book, and I made them, all the while thinking, “How dare you!”  because obviously, in my eyes, my book was perfect.

It wasn’t. After a year, the agent and I parted ways, Songbird returned to my hard drive, and I spent a few years licking my wounds. In the fall of 2018, I rewrote the entire book, realizing—surprise!—that the agent’s comments were not only valid, but she’d gone nowhere near far enough in her suggestions. I cut 15,000 words without losing a character or a scene, and even added an epilogue.

One more try, and I then would give up. 

While I was working on the dreaded query letter, I saw something interesting on Twitter: there were a lot of book pitches in my feed. It was a pitch contest. Pitch your book in 280 characters or less. Agents and publishers like your tweet to express interest.

Hmm, I thought. Interesting, but I’m not ready. I don’t even have a query letter. I’ll try again next time.

I went upstairs to clean the bathroom, then came right back down, typed a quick pitch into my phone, and closed my eyes. What was the worst thing that could happen? I did it twice more before the end of the day, resolutely not looking at responses until it was over.

And there were responses. Only three, but still. Two were agents, and one was a small publisher. I responded to each, sending a query letter (which I quickly finished), and the requested samples. One agent still hasn’t responded, another wanted rewrites I wasn’t comfortable with (changes that would have altered my style and voice too much), and the publisher was interested in the book as it was, with only standard, non-painful copy edits and tweaks. 

I signed a contract in February, 2019, and my book came out in November.

The moral of the story: get out of your own way. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

Thank you for sharing that, Karen, good advice for those fledgling writers amongst us!

If you would like to read Songbird for yourself, it is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for more great content and reviews:

Songbird Full Tour Banner

About the Author

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Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia. She fell in love with books and stories before she learned to read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams – which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband.

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Desert Island Books: The Edge by Dick Francis @felix_francis #BookReview #racingcrime #thriller #crime #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals @VIA_Rail @ExploreCanada #TheCanadian #CanadaByTrain #VIARail #ExploreCanada #bucketlist

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Tor Kelsey, an undercover agent for the Jockey Club’s security service is involved in the attempt to rid racing of one of its most notorious villains, Julius Apollo Filmer. The court however, does not go along with their beliefs, but Tor knows that to let Julius even suspect the service are still on his tail would mean certain death for a number of witnesses.

Meanwhile, several racehorse owners have planned a luxurious train trip across Canada, with race meetings fixed for every major city. Julius Apollo Filmer and Tor are on the passenger list. The beautiful journey through the Rockies gets uglier by the minute and Tor finds himself pushed to dangerous limits to defeat Filmer’s wily scheming.

I can’t remember exactly when I read my very first Dick Francis novel, but I know it was some time early in my horse-mad, teenage years. I know that it was lent to me by my friend, Mary, and that the first one I read was one of his books featuring racing detective, Sid Halley. I also know I was hooked from that very first book and quickly raced through his back catalogue. I then waited eagerly each September for his latest book to come out and bought every new one in hardback. He wrote 44 thrillers before his death in 2010, the later ones with his son, Felix, as co-author. Since his death, Felix has continued to write racing thrillers under the Francis name, and I have continued to buy them.

I have huge nostalgic affection for these books, as Dick Francis was one of the first authors I discovered for myself, without the books being parentally approved, and he was an author that was just my own. No one else in my family was particularly a fan, I didn’t have to share the books with my sisters (who never took care of my books properly- remember the Freya North book you left in Australia, Catherine? Remember the book you dropped in the bath, Rebecca?), these were just mine.

Do you want to see my Dick Francis shelf? Of course you do, here it is:-

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Anyway, of all of these excellent books, The Edge is my standout favourite. I must have read it at least a dozen times over the years. In fact I could probably recite it off by heart by now, but I never get bored of it and it was a no brainer as one of my Desert Island Books.

The blurb of this book singularly fails to do the plot justice, so I will try and explain to you what exactly is so marvellous about it, even to people who are not remotely interested in horses or racing.

Although Dick Francis is dubbed the king of the racing thriller, his books are about so much more than horse racing. His plots have involved stories centring around reporters, photography, gold mines, movie-making, wine experts, air taxis, art fraud, diamond dealers, authors, medical experiments, hurricane-chasing and toy making, amongst many other subjects, all of them meticulously researched. To say that he writes racing thrillers does not do his imagination justice, and The Edge is one of the best examples of this diversity in his writing.

The book follows Jockey Club investigator, Tor Kelsey, a man who works undercover investigating racing crimes. When the Jockey Club believes the biggest villain in racing might be plotting a major sting, Tor is sent on the trip of a lifetime across Canada to try and discover and foil his plans.

So far, so ordinary. However, there are things about the book that make it a cut above the average thriller. Firstly, it has the topsy-turvy plot device of the reader knowing who the villain is from the off, but both the investigator, and the reader, not knowing what crime he is planning and having to find this out together. Secondly, the action is set mostly on a glamorous train travelling coast-to-coast across Canada with the elite of the racing world, plus their horses, aboard. There is also a murder mystery being acted out on board for the entertainment of the passengers, so there is fun in trying to work out which parts are the real mystery and which are part of the entertainment. There is also a love interest sub-plot for added spice. A huge cast of great characters, descriptions of a great train journey visiting some of the amazing sights of Canada, and a gripping mystery plot which delivers continual twists and turns and highs and lows – what’s not to love?

This book has a special place in my heart. It has also inspired one of my top Bucket List destinations which I blogged about here (picture below might give you a clue!). Having read it again, I am also struck by how well the book has stood the test of time, despite it being 30 years old and not featuring cell phones, the internet or other modern equipment. There are not many crime books that I can read over and over and still enjoy, despite knowing whodunnit, but all of Dick Francis’s books fall into this category and this is the best of the crop IMHO. Definitely a keeper.

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The Edge might be difficult to get your mitts on new now, but try your local library or you should be able to track down a copy in some format here. Sorry, there is no way I am lending out my copy, no matter how much you beg!

About the Author

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Richard Stanley Francis (31 October 1920 – 14 February 2010) was a British crime writer, and former steeplechase jockey, whose novels centre on horse racing.

After wartime service in the RAF, Francis became a full-time jump-jockey, winning over 350 races and becoming champion jockey of the British National Hunt. He came to further prominence in 1956 as jockey to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother riding her horse Devon Loch, which fell when close to winning the Grand National. Francis retired from the turf and became a journalist and novelist.

Dick Francis was widely acclaimed as one of the world’s finest thriller writers. His awards include the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for his outstanding contribution to the crime genre, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Tufts University of Boston. In 1996, Dick Francis was made a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master for a lifetime’s achievement and in 2000 he received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.