Blog Tour: Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry #Extract

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I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the Don’t Turn Around blog road trip for Jessica Barry’s new book, which will be published on 15 April. Over the next ten days, bloggers will be hosting extracts from the book, as well as other author features, leading up to publication of the book. I am delighted to be able to share Chapter 1 of the book with you today. Thanks to Graeme Williams for inviting me to be part of the tour and to the publisher for allowing me to share the extract with you today.

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Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America.

Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

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Now for the extract from Chapter 1 of Don’t Turn Around:

 

PROLOGUE

The smell hits her first: burnt rubber and gasoline. Then the pain

comes. The roar of blood in her ears, the gurgled strangle of her breath.

She squints out of the splintered windshield. For a split second, she

can’t remember where she is. When she does, fear rushes over her, a

black, suffocating wave.

And then she hears it: a long, shivering scrape of metal against

metal.

She sees a face at the window.

It’s him.

He’s outside, and he’s trying to get in.

 

LUBBOCK, TEXAS—

322 MILES TO ALBUQUERQUE

Cait kept the engine running.

She’d had the Jeep since college, bought it used the summer before her freshman year with the proceeds of hundreds of hours working retail at Richland Mall, and sometimes it acted up. Normally, she didn’t mind. She relished popping the hood and peering underneath, knowing more times than not that she would be able to fix the problem. Her father had her out in the garage from the time she was six. But at this particular moment, there was no way in hell she would risk the engine stalling.

Outside, there was a glitter of frost on the lawn. The house wasn’t what she was used to, though by now she knew that she should expect anything. Usually, the places were cramped and run- down, cinder block apartment buildings or chipped- stucco bungalows, in neighborhoods where she wouldn’t want to linger after dark.

There was one place about a month ago, on the outskirts of Abilene, that was tucked behind the railroad tracks on Route 20. She drove straight past it the first time, despite the number 22 painted clearly on the side of the mailbox. No way someone lived there, she figured— it wasn’t much more than a shack, and it looked abandoned, the windows boarded up, a rusted- out pickup truck squatting outside, tires long gone. She followed the road another quarter mile, watching for the house, but there was nothing but empty farmland. She double- checked the address: it was right, though she’d known that already. They didn’t make mistakes

about things like that back at the office. So she turned around and parked outside the shack, and sure enough, a girl who didn’t look a day over eighteen ran out from behind the house and climbed silently into the Jeep. Cait could still picture the girl’s nervous smile, the long shining braid that fell down her back, the halfmoons of dirt nestled beneath her fingernails.

But this place was different: a McMansion in a modern development, complete with a two- car garage and a light- up reindeer on the lawn. One of the tasteful ones made of wire and tiny white lights, not the inflatable kind her parents used to stick on top of their house back in Waco, two sagging reindeer pulling a bloated Santa across the roof. The house itself was built of red brick and topped with a series of peaked roofs, and there was a small paved path curving up to the imposing front door. Property was cheaper here than in Austin— most places were cheap compared to Austin— but this was definitely the house of someone who wasn’t shy with a few bucks.

It threw her off a little, this house.

Cait scanned the street for any sign of movement. The windows on the houses were squeezed shut, and the only light came from the pretty streetlamps that lined the sidewalk. A child’s red tricycle lay in a driveway, forgotten until tomorrow. She pictured a plump- cheeked toddler riding up and down the sidewalk, legs pumping, little fingers clutching the handlebars, wind rushing past as she sped up, shrieking with joy or terror, or maybe both.

The road had emptied out pretty quickly once she was out of Austin’s sprawl, and soon it was just her and a few fellow travellers driving along the long, flat, endless road. The view didn’t change much, just empty plains stretching out as far as she could see, briefly interrupted by the green of watered lawns and neatly plotted houses that signaled a town.

Eight hours later, and here she was, waiting. She shifted in her seat, scratched an itch, stifled a yawn. She’d need to get coffee once they were on the road. She didn’t want to stop until they were clear of the city.

She checked the clock on the dashboard: 12:10. Pickup had been at midnight, but she’d gotten there a few minutes early, just in case. She’d been waiting for a while now. It happened sometimes. People got nervous, had second thoughts. If they changed their minds, they were meant to give her a signal: flick the lights three times quick, and she’d know they weren’t coming. Two flicks meant there was trouble and she should call the police.

So far that night, there’d been nothing.

She wasn’t worried, at least not yet. She scanned the road again. All quiet in Pleasantville. Every car tucked up in its garage, every person tucked up in bed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught something. One hand gripped the wheel, the other the gearshift. This could be it. Her heart pounded in her chest.

She watched a possum slinking under a thick hedge and shuddered. She’d grown up with possums, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hate them. They were cute enough as babies, but when they were full- grown, they were mean little suckers. Still, a possum wasn’t going to give her any trouble.

Eyes back on the house. Still dark, still nothing. The clock read 12:15. She’d give it another five. They weren’t meant to linger. Lingering attracted attention. If one of the neighbors happened to get up to use the bathroom and see a beat- up old Jeep parked out front, they’d call the cops quicker than a lightning bug in July. And nobody wanted the cops involved in something like this. You never knew which way they’d swing.

One of the curtains in the house twitched, and a moment later, a light came on downstairs. This was it: now or never. She straightened up in her seat and wiped the mascara smudges from under her eyes.

Get ready. As soon as she gets in the car, you’ve got to go.

A few seconds later, a blond woman wearing a pressed white shirt and khakis emerged. She had a bag slung over her shoulder that looked expensive. Actually, her whole person looked expensive— slick and golden and whistle- clean. Cait watched the woman lock the door behind her, hesitate, check again that it was locked.

Sweat pricked at the small of Cait’s back. Comeoncomeoncomeon.

The woman stole glances at the neighboring houses and hurried down the path.

Cait reached over and swung the passenger door open from the inside. The woman’s face appeared.

“Hi, Rebecca?” Cait made sure to smile when she said the woman’s name. It was important to put them at ease as quickly as possible. The woman nodded and climbed in. Her smell filled the Jeep, cotton and vanilla and sandalwood. “I’m Caitlyn,” she said, though the woman would have known that already. “But you can call me Cait.” The woman nodded again and pulled her bag tight to her lap. “The seat belt comes from the back,” Cait said, and the woman frowned before reaching behind and snapping the belt into the clasp. She stared straight ahead, through the windshield, at the deserted suburban street.

Cait shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb. “Do you have a phone?”

The woman blinked.

“A cell phone,” Cait prompted. Sometimes they got nervous and froze. She had learned to coax them. “If you do, you need to turn it off.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “Why?”

“GPS.”

The woman’s frown deepened. “Is that really— ”

“Yeah, it is. Sorry, I know it seems a little extreme, but— ” She left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air. Both of them knew that these were extreme circumstances.

The woman fumbled around in her bag and pulled out her phone. Cait kept one eye on the road and watched until she’d switched it off.

“How long will the drive take?”

“About six hours. Maybe a little less. There’s bottled water in the back if you want it. Help yourself.”

Rebecca hugged her bag tighter to her chest. “I’m fine, thank you.”

In the rearview mirror, Cait saw a light snap on in a neighboring house and a face appear at the window.

Take it easy. Just drive normally; don’t read anything into it.

“Are you close with your neighbors?” She kept her voice casual.

Rebecca looked at her, surprised. “Not really.”

Cait’s eyes were locked on the rearview. The curtain fell back across the window, the light flicked off. She let out a sigh. “It looks like the kind of place where you’d all be friendly. Block parties, that kind of thing. Is there a neighborhood watch?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Good.” She’d run into trouble with neighborhood watches in the past. Give a guy a fake badge and a pinch of authority and things could go sideways fast. The rest of the houses stayed dark. No cars on the road, either. They were almost out of the development. It would be easier once they got on the major roads. “Do you mind if I put the radio on? It helps keep me awake.”

The woman shook her head. Cait reached over and clicked on the dial. The drone of a talk radio host filled the Jeep— the great scourge of Texas. She flicked through the stations until she landed on the local Magic station. The crooning voice of Billy Joel came through the speakers, singing about drinking alone. She left it on. She figured she couldn’t go wrong with Billy Joel.

The house was on the southeast side of Lubbock, so they had to pass straight through downtown to get to Highway 60. She turned onto Broadway and drove past a banner hanging in the window of a local law firm: WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN! NO WIN, NO FEE! There were stoplights every other block, and all of them seemed to turn red as soon as they got close, plotting together to keep them within the city limits.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Cait muttered, hand tapping the wheel. She didn’t like how quiet it was. That was the hardest part about these night drives: the quiet. It was easier to blend in if there were other signs of life.

A man dressed in a Santa hat walked past holding a filthy cloth in one hand and a sign in the other: HUNGRY, PLEASE HELP. He knocked on the window as they waited for the light to change. Cait tried to wave him away, but he mimed the action of cleaning and started wiping the cloth across the windshield, leaving streaks of grease on the glass. She glanced over at Rebecca, who was cowering in the passenger seat, knuckles white on the straps of her bag.

Cait rolled down the window and shoved a couple of dollar bills at him. “Thanks for the sterling work.” He took them with a tip of an imaginary hat and shuffled off just as the light switched to green. “You okay?” she asked Rebecca.

Rebecca nodded, but her jaw was set tight and she was staring straight ahead, her eyes glassy and unseeing. She hadn’t so much as blinked since leaving the house. “Almost out of Lubbock now,” Cait said.

The wide double lanes were lined with the cash- and- carries and the megachurches and the little Mexican restaurants advertising Taco Tuesday, just like every other town in Texas. Occasionally, a neon- lit billboard would flood a sickly light down on them, conjuring up strange, flickering shadows. The Christmas lights were out— multicolored stars and pale blue snowflakes, an angel strung high above the avenue, her wings sparkling gold— and the signs in the shopwindows advertised half- price champagne and cheap diamond bracelets.

Cait hated Christmas. It was amateur hour for drinking, full of awkward office parties and old guys looking to cop a feel after one too many whiskeys. Her old manager had insisted on hanging a sprig of mistletoe at the edge of the bar, and every time she’d go to open the champagne fridge, there’d be some guy lurking, hoping to try his luck. There was a new manager now, a woman, so maybe it would be different, though given that the staff uniform involved mandatory crop tops and Stetsons, she wasn’t holding her breath. At least the tips would be decent.

She stretched, winced. Her back was killing her already. She’d been driving for hours, pushing through rush hour traffic out of Austin and on to 183. She’d lived in the city for eight years and every year it seemed to get worse, the roads thick with pickup trucks and beaters and shiny new sports cars, clogging up the city’s arteries, strangling its heart.

Friends talked about leaving the city. They said they couldn’t take the traffic anymore, or the ever rising rents for ever shittier apartments, or the Tesla charging stations that had sprung up like dandelions and were perpetually full. It was all talk, though. No one ever left. Where would they go? Someplace like this?

They passed Church’s Chicken and the Eleganté Hotel. The city was starting to lose its grip a little, pockets of land stretching wider between buildings and the buildings themselves growing longer and wider. Cait saw Rebecca’s shoulders inch away from her ears and the grip on her handbag start to loosen.

Finally, they saw the sign for the Lubbock city limit. “We’re out,” Cait said. “The hardest part is over now.” Rebecca cracked a smile.

They drove through Littlefield, past a John Deere dealership and a sign advertising vacancy at the Plains Motel. She’d done this stretch a couple times before— once with a sweet- faced college kid who spent the whole time cramming for her biology exam, and another with a woman from Odessa who wept for most of the journey.

That had been a tough one. But there had been worse.

Some of her clients— those who had jobs flexible enough to allow them a few days off, or partners who weren’t breathing down their necks— stayed within state lines, and she ferried them to Austin or Dallas or Fort Worth. Most went to New Mexico, where the rules weren’t so strict. It was a longer drive but quicker in the long run. Lubbock was in a dead zone: a five- hour drive no matter what direction she drove. It was the client’s choice. Tonight she was heading west.

She glanced in the rearview. There was a tractor trailer behind them. She stepped on the gas, and its headlights receded. No tail that she could detect. She allowed herself to relax a little. It was always most dangerous nearest the home. The more miles they had under their belts, the safer they would be. Until they got to where they were going, of course, but that was a headache she wouldn’t worry about until morning.

Cait had left in a hurry— late, as always— and hadn’t managed to get dinner. Hunger was mixed in with exhaustion, gritting her eyes and making her bones heavy. A cup of coffee and maybe a slice of pie would be enough to keep her going. “Do you mind if we stop once we’re over the border?”

Rebecca’s head snapped toward her. “Why?”

“I need a cup of coffee. I’ve been on the road since six o’clock.”

The corners of her pretty mouth turned down. “I guess. If you need to.”

“Thanks. It’ll be quick, I promise. I know you’re nervous, but we’re out of the danger zone now.”

“How do you know?”

“Ninety percent of all incidents occur within the first ten minutes of the journey. Most of the trouble I’ve seen has happened right outside the front door. Now that we’re out of Lubbock, it should be smooth sailing.”

Rebecca nodded but didn’t look convinced. She had the kind of profile that belonged on a Roman coin, all straight nose and firm jaw. Patrician. Cait smiled at her own description: it was good, she should write it down. Maybe she could use it.

In the meantime, she needed to work out that piece she’d been writing about labor conditions at the organic farm outside of Austin. The editor had been requesting the copy for weeks, but she hadn’t been able to land it. Not that he had much of a right to complain considering how much he was paying her, which was nothing. Still, she couldn’t risk pissing him off. It was rare that someone gave her a chance, especially these days.

A sign announced that they were leaving Littlefield. They were edging toward the desert now. Pretty soon there’d be nothing but scrub and sky. Her stomach rumbled. She couldn’t get to Clovis fast enough. It would be her last chance to get a decent cup of coffee that night.

She glanced over at the woman sitting next to her. “You comfortable? You want me to put the heat on or anything?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Just let me know. It’s supposed to get down to the twenties tonight. They’re saying it might even snow.” She reached out and patted the dashboard. “Don’t worry, she’s good in the snow.”

Rebecca gave her a weak smile. “That’s good to know,” she said, before turning her face back toward the window.

So she wasn’t a talker. That was fine. There was plenty of time for that.

*******************

If this has whetted your appetite for the book, you can pre-order a copy here. 

Make sure you now head over to Susan Hampson’s blog, Books From Dusk Till Dawn for Chapter 2! The rest of the chapters and other content will be shared over the course of the week as detailed on the tour poster at the top of the post.

About the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS.

She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London.

She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman.

Connect with Jessica:

Facebook: Jessica Barry

Twitter: @jessbarryauthor

Instagram: @jessicabarry9

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

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It’s time for March’s Desert Island Children’s Book and I can see a theme forming in my last three choices. I was obviously obsessed with reading about the lives of other young girls living in other times during my own formative years. This time we have come forward in time and closer to home to read about the three Fossil sisters living in London in the first half of the twentieth century. I am talking about Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.

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Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are sisters – with a difference. All three were adopted as babies by Great Uncle Matthew, an eccentric and rich explorer who then disappeared, leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia.

The girls grow up in comfort until their money begins to run out and nobody can find Great Uncle Matthew. Things look bleak until they hit on an inspired idea: Pauline, Petrova and Posy will take to the stage.

But it’s not long before the Fossils learn that being a star isn’t as easy as they first thought…

I was never a particularly girly girl growing up. I did have ballet lessons for a while, but it was never a passion for me, so a book about three girls who attend a stage school wouldn’t be the first book you would have picked out for me to fall in love with. I was much more of a tomboy like Jo March or Kate Carr, so I could relate to them much better. But Ballet Shoes is no ordinary book about girls who love to dance, and the Fossils are no ordinary sisters and I absolutely adored this story.

The three Fossil sisters, Pauline, Petrova and Posy are not really sisters at all, they were all rescued by an eccentric explorer on his travels, brought home to London at different times and put in the care of his great-niece in a rambling house on the Cromwell Road (at the very furthest end from the museums of South Ken!) to form their own little, ragtag family. Great Uncle Matthew (or GUM as they refer to him) then disappears for a decade, leaving the family is worsening financial straits, until they are forced to take in lodgers to help make ends meet, and the girls are taken in as charity cases at the local stage school until they are old enough to start making money on the stage (which can happen from the age of 12!), whether they like it (Pauline) or not (Petrova, my personal heroine).

This is what makes this book so marvellous. The eclectic group of people who come to live in their home and help them out (the retired teachers who help educate them, the dance teacher who gets them into the school, Mr Simpson who takes tomboy Petrova under his wing, Nana who is always there with words of wisdom or scoldings to keep their feet on the ground.) It is such an interesting sounding life, full of fun and challenge, that I defy any child not to wish they could be one of the sisters, even for a short while.

Every single aspect of the book charmed me. The descriptions of the plays they auditioned for, their simple holidays, the ‘beavers’ prepared by the two teachers (you’ll have to read it to find out what these are), Pauline’s diva-like behaviour when playing Alice, Posy’s impressions, the vows, the costumes, the descriptions of auditions for the movies, applying for licenses to work. It was all exotic and fascinating and such a world away from what being a child was like for me – it has the truly transportive qualities of all appealing literature, as well as being relatable enough for a child. The fact that this book has remained so popular throughout the years means I was not alone in feeling this way about it.

Having just re-read my extremely battered copy of Ballet Shoes for the purposes of writing this post, I can say that I enjoyed it now as much as I did back then. It has lost none of its appeal for me over the years, and I am still as much in love with the Fossils as I love back then. At the very end of the book, the author wonders which of the girls the reader wishes they could be. My answer remains the same now as it was back then. Petrova every day of the week, but especially on Sunday.

Ballet Shoes is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Noel Streatfeild was born in Sussex in 1895. Her father, a clergyman, was vicar of St Leonard’s-on-Sea and then of Eastbourne during her childhood. She was one of five children and found vicarage life very restricting. At a young age she began to show a talent for acting and was sent to the Academy of Dramatic Art in London, after which she acted professionally for a number of years before turning to writing. The author of over 80 books, she won the Carnegie Medal for her book Ballet Shoes and was awarded an OBE in 1983. Noel Streatfeild died in 1986.

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Friday Night Drinks with … Kim ten Tusscher

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Happy Good Friday, everyone! A lovely long holiday weekend -not that this means quite the same in these restricted pandemic times – but hopefully you will all enjoy some rest and relaxation, and hopefully a bit of sunshine if we are lucky! I am happy to be kicking off Easter with some Friday Night Drinks with author… Kim ten Tusscher.

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Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’ll drink a fresh, tropical mocktail. Something with a coconut flavour is always nice. I don’t drink alcohol myself, because I don’t like the taste, but don’t let that stop you from ordering whatever you like.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Somewhere calm and quiet. Most times when I’m in a café, there is so much noise that I can’t follow the conversations and that would be such a shame being in this amazing company. So preferable a nice and quiet pub or an outside terrace.

Sounds great. The older I get, the less noise I can stand! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I would love it if Robin Hobb could join us. I’m a big fan of her stories and she’s a huge inspiration. I have so many questions about how she writes, her characters, and her world. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to her at a few Worldcons and I recognized so much of what she told. I always wonder if we have a lot in common. But that might be wishful thinking. 😉

I would also invite Peter Jackson. The movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” had a huge impact on my life. They inspired me to make costumes, which resulted in being part of several movie projects myself (for example “Born of Hope”, “Ren: The Girl with the Mark”, and “Hunter’s Prey”). The films introduced me to Tolkien’s vast world and I devoured the stories. When I started writing myself, the stories naturally had to be fantasy. And of course, I’d hope I would end this night out with plans to film one of my stories. One can dream, right?

I would absolutely love to meet Peter Jackson. The Lord of the Rings films are some of my favourites, and one of the greatest achievements in cinematic history, IMHO, he has so perfectly brought Tolkein’s world to life. The scene at the end of the Battle of Helmsdeep in The Two Towers where Theoden rides out with Aragorn to face the Uruk-Hai and the Rohirrim pour down the valley is my all-time favourite. I must have seen it thirty times and it makes me want to cry every time still! Bernard Hill is also a genius. And what an amazing score by Howard Shore!

Anyway, enough of my LOTR fangirling! Now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m very busy finishing a new book. “Storm” is the final installment of the “Tales of the Downfall”. This is an epic fantasy series about a world that is almost coming to an end. Lilith (a dragon shapeshifter you might already know from “The Lilith trilogy”) is one of the main characters, but I love to write from multiple angles, so you meet many new characters. Like Nighram, a young refugee, and Kiril, a general who is struggling with choosing the right side in the war and the fact he is losing his sight.

I write in Dutch, but I’m getting my stories translated into English. So as well as finishing Storm, we are also working on the English edition of the first part of this series: “Blood“.

How I started this series is a great story. Lilith was also the main character in “The Lilith trilogy”. When I ended that series I actually wanted to leave her alone (she really deserved a quiet life, you know) and never write about her again. But fans kept asking what would happen next. For years I told them I would never write a new series about her. I didn’t even have the time, because I was already working on something else.

But the readers kept asking and eventually I started wondering about Lilith myself. And thus this new story emerged. I’m so happy my readers kept begging because the Tales of the Downfall turned out an amazing story to write. High stakes, emotional events, and challenging to write… I’m really proud of how it turned out.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

I have had so many proud moments. Finding a publisher, the English translations, doing interviews, or being part of panels at Worldcons and festivals… But I am most proud of my latest book Blind. I have been through a tough period where I doubted everything I did. Blind was the first book I’ve finished after regaining my confidence.

My biggest challenge was trusting my own voice. Since I started writing people gave me advice on how I should do things to be successful. I’m positive that most of these people meant well, but looking back at their suggestions, they gave the signal I should change myself to meet the reader’s expectations. One of the things they told me was getting a pen name. Reasons were: women can’t write fantasy… Dutch people can’t write fantasy. In different words: I had to hide who I am to succeed. Fantasy is a genre that is not taken as seriously as it should in the Netherlands, so I always felt the need to defend my decision to write it. I am a very chaotic writer and I thought I had to change that to become better at it.

It took me more than 10 years to realise that I am really good at this craft and that I don’t have to change a thing about myself or the way I write.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I already hinted at my biggest dream. *gives Peter Jackson a shy look.* I would love, love, love to see my stories being adapted to a movie or series. I love working together with people who are artists in other fields besides writing and see how they visualise my characters and world. And of course, a movie adaptation goes hand in hand with a bestseller, guest appearances all around the world, getting in contact with readers, and hopefully having an impact on others in the same way my favourite stories impacted me.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Of course the release of Blood. I believe this story can catapult my international career to the next level.

But the publication of Storm is even more exciting. Finishing a series is a huge thing. I’m thrilled to craft an end to the story and I can promise you: it’s going to be epic. Writing often is magic. All these clever solutions and how everything ties together… Even I am surprised by how this story is going to be. I can’t wait to share it with the readers.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Traveling is something I love to do, too! My husband and I went on a camping trip to the Southwest of the USA some years ago. The most amazing place we visited was Bryce Canyon. That scenery is just out of this world. We arrived late in the day, so we drove to a look-out point to take a quick look at the view. But we decided to do a short hike straight away. It was just too gorgeous to go back to the tent without exploring a bit more.

We are planning a vacation to West Canada at the moment. But on top of my bucket list is a multiple-day dog sledding trip in Finland or Norway. Camping in the wild, building fires at night, and seeing the Northern Lights. That would be so awesome!

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’ll tell you something really weird about me. So weird, I haven’t met anyone who experiences this too. I have this – how shall I describe it? – it is almost a phobia for old, used metals, especially silver, copper, and gold. I’m so engrossed when I have to touch such an item. So you don’t have to be afraid I will take something out of your jewelry box ;-). And I love cake, but if I have to eat it with a fancy decorated, antique, silver fork, the cake will taste not as good as when you give me a plain stainless steel one.

Have you read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson? It’s an amazing series with a very creative magic system that uses metals. They drink potions with flakes of metals in them to be stronger and faster and manipulate their surroundings. I could handle that. But when Vin swallowed an earring from one of the other characters… Yikes!

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

How can I say anything else but the books by Robin Hobb? She is a master in creating amazing characters who feel so incredibly real. They are lovable (although you might scream at them sometimes out of frustration 😉 ), flawed, and intriguing. Most fantasy worlds I read about I wouldn’t want to live in, but I would book a trip to the Six Duchies or take a cruise up the Rain Wild River any day.

Start with Assassin’s Apprentice and keep reading until you’ve read all 16 books. They are definitely worth it.

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The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is despised.

Raised in the castle stables, only the company of the king’s fool, the ragged children of the lower city, and his unusual affinity with animals provide Fitz with any comfort.

To be useful to the crown, Fitz is trained as an assassin; and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. But his tutor, allied to another political faction, is determined to discredit, even kill him. Fitz must survive: for he may be destined to save the kingdom.

I am not a massive reader of fantasy but I do like to dabble from time to time and chatting with you tonight has made me fancy a bit of fantasy, so I will give it a go. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one? 

I’m sorry, I’m of no help here.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Sleep until late tomorrow. Then go on a hike and enjoy a picnic. And if there are no limitations to what I can wish: find a natural hot spring or warm stream to take a swim. Are you in? When I get home I’ll probably do some writing. I can get really grumpy if a few days pass without working on my stories.

Always in for a swim in a hot spring! Thank you so much for joining me this evening, I have really enjoyed our chat and feel inspired to dip in to some fantasy books and movies again now!

Kim ten Tusscher is the author of the Lilith Trilogy, which has been translated into English and can be purchased here.

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Inferno at her breath. War under her wings. With two men whispering mayhem in her ear, which way will she turn the bloody tide?

Lilith has only ever lived with anger and destruction. The sole dragon shifter known to humankind, she despises her life as an instrument of terror at the hands of a prophetic sorcerer. Finally fleeing years of abuse, she’s distraught when she’s captured for stealing food and forced to answer to a bitter king for her crimes.

Her former abductor Kasimirh believes fervently in his righteous calling. And though he’s lost his dragon, the sorcerer’s relentless quest to convert the heathens must go on unopposed. And if the king does not yield to his army, he’s prepared to sacrifice all the royal subjects like lambs to the slaughter.

Desperate to finally break her bond to the determined prophet, Lilith vows to stand against her merciless master and stop his savage quest with equally relentless brutality.

Can she extinguish his tyrannical reign before the realm falls to his bloodshed?

This bundle contains Bound in DarknessBroken in Twilight and Born in Light.

You can read a preview of Bound in Darkness on Kim’s website: http://kimtentusscher.com/english/ If you subscribe to her reader’s tribe, you’ll receive a preview for Blood very soon and you’ll get a free e-copy of City of Illusions.

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You can watch the book trailer for Lilith here.

Kim ten Tusscher (1979) started her professional career as a documentary photographer. In all her projects, she looked for similarities between people and tried to invalidate prejudice.

Writing proved a better way to express herself. In her stories, she combines well-written worlds and characters with great emotional depth. She doesn’t avoid intense subjects. Her stories became her window to the real world.

Kim is also an avid reader. Her taste in books ranges from epic stories like the Riyria Chronicles to the more grim A Song of Ice and Fire. Her favourite reads are the stories by Robin Hobb. What these books all have in common are morally grey and thus convincing characters.

You can connect further with Kim via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Blog Tour: Staying Out for the Summer by Mandy Baggot #BookReview

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I am delighted to be one of the blogs kicking off the tour today for Staying Out for the Summer by Mandy Baggot. Happy Publication Day, Mandy! My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part and for providing me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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After a summer of staying in, it’s time to let your hair down and escape to Greece!

For Lucie Burrows, it’s time to embrace Greek life and put the past behind her! Having spent the summer of 2020 battling a global health crisis, Lucie Burrows is looking forward to a summer out of lockdown.

When best friend, Gavin, finds them the perfect Greek escape Lucie finally starts to think this summer might just go without a hitch.But after a landslide puts the village into a local lockdown, Lucie is thrown together with Michalis Andino, the super sexy village doctor. It’s not quite the holiday she had planned, but things could certainly be worse.

As Lucie relaxes into the Greek way of life, she begins to wonder whether this lockdown might just end in a new life, a new love…

Like me, you’ve probably been wondering how authors are going to deal with the pandemic crisis that has gripped the world for the last twelve months in their writing. I think there are going to be three ways of going about it. Firstly, people can set there books in some kind of world, either pre- or post-pandemic, where the crisis is not mentioned at all and life carries on as if it never happened, secondly it could be mentioned just in passing but largely ignored, or thirdly the author can deal with the issue head on and fully incorporate it into their writing. I have seem some discussion about what readers are going to be looking for in this regard, and I have seen mixed responses with some saying they are not ready to read about the pandemic in fiction yet because they turn to books to escape it, and some saying they would be happy to see books reflecting the reality of what we have been through. Horses for courses.

In her latest book, Mandy Baggot has firmly taken the third route and put a nurse and a doctor in the aftermath of the pandemic firmly at the heart of the story and has not shied away from exploring what these people have been put through over the past twelve months and how they are dealing with it. I think this is a very brave move, because there are people who are just not going to be ready for books that contain any reference to the difficulties the world has faced recently, especially those that are otherwise a light-hearted romance, but personally, I really enjoyed this book and felt that Mandy dealt with what could be a tricky subject with grace and compassion and honesty, whilst still retaining her trademark warmth and humour in a way that demonstrated great skill in her craft.

I love Mandy’s books for the escapism they provide, and this one is no different. Here she transports nurses Lucie and Gavin to the sun-drenched shores of Corfu, where they are taking a well-earned break from the stresses they have been under working in the NHS throughout 2020. But it is not that easy to relax whilst the after effects of the pandemic are still washing around the world. Doctor Michaelis has returned from the Greek mainland to his small home village in Corfu for similar reasons, not expecting to find romance with someone who really understands what he has been through, but fate always has other plans in romance novels!

Michaelis and Lucie are both great characters with lots of heart and some issues to work through, and they had fabulous chemistry. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them, as they got to know each other. I also absolutely adored Gavin and Michaelis’s sister, Nyx, who were larger than life and great fun to read. Mandy has also provided a fantastic cast of supporting characters, worthy of any greek tragedy or an instalment of the ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ franchise, and the whole book is a performance a maximum drama, whilst still exploring some difficult issues sympathetically. I think the author has struck a great balance here between humour and pathos.

We all need a bit of escapism at the moment, and many of us long for those warm beaches and blue seas. Unfortunately, the world has not moved on maybe as far as Mandy imagined when she was writing this book, and foreign travel is going to be merely a memory for a bit longer I fear. So, this kind of armchair travel might be our only option for a while, and I for one will take it as the alternative for now. I know some people may feel like they don’t want to read about a world that is currently only wishful thinking, but I welcome the change of scene, even if it is only imaginary.

I admire Mandy for writing about the world as it actually is, rather than how we might wish it could be. I know not everyone will agree but, if you are a fan of Mandy’s books and are looking for that armchair escape, without shying away from our new reality, this is the book for you. A light, romantic, honest novel with a bittersweet kick.

Staying Out for the Summer is out in ebook format today, and will be published in paperback on 10 June and you can get a copy here.

Make sure you check out some more reviews on the rest of the blog tour:

Staying out for Summer Blog Tour 1

Staying out for Summer Blog Tour 2

About the Author

Mandy Baggot

Mandy Baggot is an international bestselling and award-winning romance writer. The winner of the Innovation in Romantic Fiction award at the UK’s Festival of Romance, her romantic comedy novel, One Wish in Manhattan, was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year award in 2016. Mandy’s books have so far been translated into German, Italian, Czech and Hungarian. Mandy loves the Greek island of Corfu, white wine, country music and handbags. Also a singer, she has taken part in ITV1’s Who Dares Sings and The X-Factor. Mandy is a member of the Society of Authors and lives near Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK with her husband and two daughters.

Connect with Mandy:

Website: http://mandybaggot.com

Facebook: Mandy Baggot Author

Twitter: @mandybaggot

Instagram: @mandybaggot

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Blog Tour: A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen #BookReview

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I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen. my thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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He’ll never speak of the evil they did…

A former Swedish ambassador lies dead in his swanky Mayfair flat. With his tongue torn out and placed on a Bible. Competing theories swirl. A religious maniac? A psychopath? The truth is far darker than either. DCI Stella Cole’s search for the killer takes her to Sweden. There, she discovers a horrific chapter in the country’s history that throws the case into turmoil. And then more people start dying.


Teaming up with Swedish cops Oskar Norgrim and Johanna Carlsson, Stella pieces together Ambassador Brömly’s shocking past. And discovers the killer’s motive.

Meanwhile, Stella’s personal life is about to take a significant turn as her boyfriend, Jamie, suggests a change in their relationship. But as Stella tries to process what it means, she makes a fateful decision.

Why won’t the dead stay buried?

On the other side of the Atlantic, a kid practising BMX stunts over water finds a skeleton on a lake bed. When the victim is revealed to be a British cop, the FBI ask for assistance. Stella’s arch-enemy from her own department gets the case. She flies to Chicago and soon discovers the murderer’s identity.

The scene is set for a showdown in Sweden as DI Roisin Griffin pursues her vendetta against Stella all the way to the north of Sweden during the annual festival of Midsommar.

Although this is the fifth book in the series by Andy Maslen featuring DCI Stella Cole, it is the first one that I have read and it is obvious from reading this book that Stella has had quite an eventful career already and there have been some explosive goings on in her past that I really need to go back and read about. However, the fact that I haven’t read the previous books did not detract from my enjoyment of this book at all, it just made me want to go back and catch up! The author fills you in on everything you need to know to keep up with the plot here but, events from previous books feed quite heavily into parts of the story here so, if you are going to dive into the series, it would probably make sense to start from the beginning with Hit and Runwhich I have just downloaded to my Kindle.

The book opens with a very dramatic murder scene, so you know from the beginning that this is not a series for the shy and retiring. A Swedish ex-diplomat has been murdered in a very brutal way, and it is clear from the beginning that this is a complicated case which involves investigation across international borders. I loved this aspect of the case, as we follow Stella on her trip to Sweden to track down the killer in the victim’s homeland. It leant a different slant to the standard crime novel to see how international police forces work together across borders to solve a case, and to see how policing differs across countries.

The motives behind the case gradually become clear and are very shocking, and they touch on a topic which is very relevant to modern discourse in some circles but horrifying to most of us. The case is based on real events that happened in Sweden, but which I had no idea about until I did some investigation after reading this book. I absolutely love it when books teach me something I didn’t know before, just in the course of reading a piece of fiction, and the author gets this story across extremely effectively in this novel, really making you think about the issue and how it is relevant today. Reading around the subject taught me lots of things about a practice I had no idea was so terrifyingly widespread and ideas that we need to make very sure never gain traction again.

At the same time as she is in Sweden investigating the murder, Stella’s colourful past threatens to catch up with her as an arch rival doggedly pursues a line of enquiry which she hopes will bring Stella down. This also involves travelling to another jurisdiction and co-operating with a police force in another country, so the book is filled with action and interest. There was a huge amount of tension and urgency and threat in this book which made it one of those novels that is absolutely impossible to put down. There is no real let up in the impetus, so the reader is compelled to keep turning the pages from beginning to end, until you are at the final page before you know it. The sign of a really great, gripping thriller.

Stella Cole is not your ordinary DCI in the Met police. She is, to paraphrase Liam Neeson, in possession of certain skills that make her a formidable opponent. She has a healthy regard for the law, but also for stretching it to its limits when called for, in the mould of all great maverick cops in literary history, and a joyous disregard for her own safety that means the reader never quite knows what she is going to do next. It keeps her superiors, her adversaries and the reader on their toes throughout, and makes her a delight as a protagonist. I definitely want to read more about her and what drives her, and am very glad that I have four previous novels in the series to go back and enjoy.

For me, this series is a great discovery and I am grateful that blogging has allowed me to come across this author and this series. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of detective thrillers who like a feisty protagonist and an author who isn’t afraid to push the envelope and deal with some hard issues. But I’d say start at the beginning, which is where I am will be going back to as soon as I can.

A Beautiful Breed of Evil is out now as an ebook and in paperback and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit some of the other marvellous blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

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About the Author

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Andy Maslen was born in Nottingham, in the UK, home of legendary bowman Robin Hood. Andy once won a medal for archery, although he has never been locked up by the sheriff.

He has worked in a record shop, as a barman, as a door-to-door DIY products salesman and a cook in an Italian restaurant.

He lives in Wiltshire with his wife, two sons and a whippet named Merlin.

Connect with Andy:

Website: www.andymaslen.com

Facebook: Andy Maslen

Twitter: @Andy_Maslen

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#BloggerInTheSpotlight – Julie from A Little Book Problem – @book_problem

Today I am being grilled by Joanne over on Portobello Book Blog on all things reading and blogging. Why not come and join us?

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I’m so happy to be sharing this post today as it’s been a long time since I had anyone take part in my Blogger Spotlight. If you are a book blogger and would like to take part, do get in touch. I’m delighted to be joined by Julie who blogs as A Little Book Problem. Do pop over and have a read of her fabulous reviews if you don’t already follow her.

Thanks for agreeing to take part in my Blogger in the Spotlight feature Julie. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

Hello! I’m Julie, 48 years old, mum of two, former lawyer, aspiring writer and blogger. Not sure what else there is to know about me really! Apart from I am a proud Yorkshire woman and notable short-arse.

What books/authors did you enjoy as a child?

I was of the generation where Enid…

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Karen King

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It is time to grill another romance writer about why they write what they write and what inspires their love-filled stories. Today, I am delighted to be chatting to author… Karen King.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I write heartwarming, feel-good romance novels set in gorgeous locations such as Cornwall and Spain. My heroines are usually feisty and independent and definitely not looking for a permanent relationship. I’ve had eight romance novels published, the first one Never Say Forever, was originally a pocket novel for People’s Friend but is now republished by Headline Accent. Since then I’ve had seven more romance novels published and have a contract with Headline Accent for three more. The first one, One Summer in Cornwall, will be published on 29th April, and is set in Port Medden, the little Cornish town where The Cornish Hotel by the Sea is set. I’ve really enjoyed writing about some of the favourite characters and bringing in new ones. I’ve also written two psychological thrillers for Bookouture, the first one, The Stranger in my Bed, was out in November and the second one will be out later this year.

Why romance?

I’ve been a published author for over thirty years and started out writing romance, photo stories for Jackie magazine, and short romance stories for magazines like Patches and Loving. Showing my age here! Then I moved onto writing for children’s magazines, and children’s books but I always wanted to write a romance novel so am delighted to have achieved that dream. I’m fascinated by how people get together, how they decide that someone is the right person for them. I enjoy writing about relationships, although we know that there is going to be a HEA with a romance I find it really interesting to write about the hero and heroine’s journey until they realise and finally admit that they love each other.

What inspires your stories?

It can be anything, an overheard conversation, someone I see in the street, a beautiful location.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

There are so many, too many to choose a favourite. Margaret Mitchell, Catherine Cookson, Danielle Steele and Penny Vincenzi are old favourites of mine, current ones are Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Sue Moorcroft, Mandy Baggot and Heidi Swain.

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

I think Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me? it’s funny, romantic and the characters are so credible.

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Lexi wakes up in a hospital bed after a car accident, thinking she’s twenty-five with crooked teeth and a disastrous love life. But, to her disbelief, she learns it’s actually three years later – she’s a super-toned twenty-eight-year-old, her teeth are straight, she’s the boss of her department – and she’s married to a good-looking millionaire!

She can’t believe her luck – especially when she sees her stunning new loft apartment. And she’ll definitely have a fantastic marriage once she gets to know her husband again. He’s drawn up a ‘marriage manual’, which should help.

But soon she realises her perfect life isn’t all it seems. All her old friends hate her. A rival is after her job. Then a dishevelled, sexy guy turns up… and lands a new bombshell.

What the **** happened to her? Will she ever remember? And what will happen if she does?

Which romantic hero or heroine would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

Oh gosh, I can’t think of anyone. Sorry. Can I take my very own romantic hero, my hubby Dave, and send us both on a Caribbean cruise, stopping off for a few days in Barbados?

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

I love the RNA. It’s such a warm, friendly organisation, the support from the other authors is fantastic. I’m the blog coordinator and enjoy reading all the different blogs, there’s such a lot of information there. It can be a bit frantic at times trying to organise everything -especially in February and March when we have Romance Reading Month and the RNA Awards. The RNA team is fantastic though, and everyone pulls together.

The best thing I’ve gained from the RNA is a three-book contract with Accent Press, which led to a contract for three romance novels for Bookouture, and now another three for Headline Accent. I love to tell the story of how I arrived at my first RNA conference with a synopsis for a romance novel, the second conference with that novel sold and a contract for two more, and for my third conference the book was on sale in the lobby!

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

Stop faffing about and get writing! Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, get it down and then you can edit it.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

One Summer in CornwalI will be published on 29th April. I’d wanted to go back to Port Medden for a long time, and give Marcus, the chef who only had a brief mention in The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, his own story so was delighted when Headline Accent said they would be interested in publishing it, and another two books. I often scroll Pinterest for inspiration for my characters and when I spotted a photo of a woman on a motorbike I had Hattie (my heroine) then I threw in a parrot that swears (inspired by a friend’s parrot) and an inheritance and there was my story.

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When Hattie is made redundant and evicted from her flat in one horrible week, she needs time to rethink. Her Uncle Albert left her and her father each half of Fisherman’s Rest, his home in the Cornish town of Port Medden, so this seems the perfect place to escape to until she can figure things out.

As Hattie stays in the cottage, clearing it out, tidying it up and getting it ready to sell, she starts to find her feet in Port Medden and making a new home here begins to feel right. If only her dad didn’t need a quick sale and things weren’t complicated by her unwelcoming neighbour Marcus . . .

One Summer in Cornwall will be published in ebook and paperback formats on 29 April and you can pre-order it here.

About The Author

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Karen King is a multi-published author of both adult and children’s books. She has had eight romantic novels published, one psychological thriller with another one out later this year, 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, and several short stories for women’s magazines. Her romantic novel The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an international bestseller, reaching the top one hundred in the Kindle charts in both the UK and Australia. Karen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenking.net/

Facebook: Karen King Author

Twitter: @karen_king

Instagram: @karenkingauthor

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Book Review: Under The Bridge: Book 1 -Liverpool Mystery Series by Jack Byrne #BookReview

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2004

The discovery of a body in the Liverpool docklands unearths long forgotten secrets. Reporter Anne McCarthy is keen to prove herself and dives into the case with abandon. There she finds Michael, an old Irish caretaker who knows far more than he’s letting on and may have
a connection to the body.

Vinny Connolly is starting a postgrad degree, researching Liverpool’s migrant history and a burgeoning Scouse identity. But Vinny has been neglecting his own family history and stranger Michael might know about
his father’s disappearance in the 70s.

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Escaping poverty in Ireland and fresh off the boat, Michael falls in with Wicklow boys Jack Power and Paddy Connolly, who smuggle contraband through the docks, putting them at odds with the unions. While organisers rally the dockworkers against the strikebreakers and rackets. A story of corruption, secret police, and sectarianism slowly unravels.
But will the truth out?

As the conflict heightens, Michael questions the life sprawling out ahead of him, while in the present, Anne races to solve the mystery, but is she prepared for what she’ll find?

I was asked if I would review this book by the publisher and was provided with a digital copy of the book for this purpose. My thanks to the publisher, I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This book is a interesting mix of social history and murder mystery that provided a fascinating insight into cultural and social tensions in the Garston and Speke areas of Liverpool in the 1970s. It is really obvious from the writing that the author is passionate about presenting an authentic portrayal of the period and the area, and has done a lot of research into the time period; this shines through in the writing.

The book is a dual timeline story. The first timeline involves reporter, Anne, who is chasing down a story on the identity of a skeleton uncovered on a building site in the docks area of Liverpool in 2004. Her investigation takes her into the world of union activity around the docklands in the 1970s and criminal gangs that were active at the time. Her ferreting around in this history leaves her up against some people who would rather the past stay buried. At the same time, her friend, Vinny, who is working on a social history of Irish immigration into Liverpool post-war, fears the skeleton may uncover secrets that are too close to his own family history.

The second timeline takes us back to the 1970s and the life of Michael, an Irish immigrant who is drawn into the criminal world when he first arrives in Liverpool, until a dramatic event at the time leads him to reconsider the path he is on. When Anne meets Michael in the present, he becomes the key to unlocking the skeleton’s identity.

The dual timeline works really well, and I found the accurately researched and portrayed history of this time and this area of Liverpool really interesting. For anyone interested in social history, and who enjoys books with real historical fact woven into a fictional narrative, this book will be really appealing. It made me go off and do some further reading about one particular event that is referred to in the book, which is always a sure sign that a book has grabbed my attention. The mystery aspect of the book is also really well done and kept me turning the pages from beginning to end.

The one thing that let this book down a little was the characterisation, particularly of Anne and Vinny in the modern day. They just didn’t feel completely developed, to the point that I didn’t really become invested in what was happening to them or in their relationship. This was not true of the characters back in the 1970s, they were much more alive and vibrant on the page, and may these sections of the book more appealing. It really felt like the author was much more enthralled by the historical aspects of the story than the modern day, which gave the book a little bit of an uneven feel. Richer, more honest development of the younger characters was needed for this book to be a standout.

Overall, this was a really engaging mystery novel, with a strong sense of time and place that would make an excellent read for anyone who is interested in social history and likes this kind of fact-based fictional telling of it.

Under The Bridge is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jack was born and raised in Speke Liverpool, (Paul McCartney lived in the street behind him for a while) although his parents first lived ‘Under The Bridge’ in Garston, and all his family goes back to Wicklow in Ireland.

The Liverpool Mystery Series will be four novels. Under The Bridge is the first. He is writing Fire Next Time now, and The Wicklow Boys will follow next year. You can find The One Road prequel a collection of short stories on Amazon.

Connect with Jack:

Website: https://jackbyrne.home.blog/

Facebook: Jack Byrne

Twitter: @Jackbyrnewriter

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Book Review: Almost Damned by Christopher Leibig #BookReview

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Defense attorney Samson Young has an uncanny ability to get even the so-called worst clients off the hook, as he ably demonstrated in Almost Mortal. In Almost Damned, little does Sam know that his most challenging cases are all leading up to one monumental trial, in which he will lay before the Court the visceral complexities of good vs. evil.

As Sam navigates his cases in Bennet County, it becomes increasingly apparent that his clients-old and new-are surprisingly interconnected, especially when old clients rise from the dead. Literally. He and his office are besieged by death threats and mysterious invitations, each one a clue that compels him to dig deeper into his own past. With each new discovery, Sam leads himself and his team deeper into a nether world in an attempt to bring redemption to his toughest clients of all-the descendants of the biblical Fallen Angels who have been walking the earth as humans for centuries, unable to find peace.

Almost Damned is the second book by Christopher Leibig featuring defense attorney Samson Young, following on from Almost Mortal. I am grateful to publicist Sabrina Dax for inviting me to review the book and to the author and publisher for providing me with copies of both books for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Regular readers of the blog will know that legal thrillers are one of my favourite genres and I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur, having read pretty much every author of note over the years. However, I have never read one like this before. Christopher Leibig has combined the legal thriller genre with a paranormal twist to come up with something quite unique and intriguing.

Although Almost Damned can be read as a standalone, I would recommend reading Almost Mortal first, as it sets up events for the second book and will give you a great understanding of Samson and his past and why he finds himself in the position as lawyer for the Fallen Angels. It will also ease you in to Christopher’s style of writing, which is elaborate, complex and detailed and requires a certain level of concentration.

When you pick up the books, they seem quite thin, but they pack a huge punch. The world the author has built is rich and elaborate, mixing historical flashbacks and esoteric ideas with the very modern and immediate world of law. It is a juxtaposition that could be an uncomfortable jumble, but the author sorts through it with confidence and panache. However, it does require attention from the reader to keep up, this is not a quick easy read.

I thought the author’s portrayal of the legal world was very accurate, showing the hurly burly and every day jumble that legal defence practice is. Some books have lawyers focusing on one case at a time, with leisure to pursue every lead to their hearts content. This isn’t the reality. In reality, lawyers juggle dozens of cases all at once, jumping from one to the next in the blink of an eye and having to have recall of all the facts at their fingertips. This really comes across in the writing here, and I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book.

When it comes to the other aspect of the novel, the trial of the Fallen Angels in front of a jury of Archangels, here we are reaching the heights of philosophy and religious dogma, and it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some of the ideas explored here are an intellectual reach, and had me pondering what he was saying for a long while after I had finished the book. It is a bold and brave idea to explore, and he carries it off very well, but I did wonder how he came up with it. It would not be a genre blend I would ever have contemplated attempting but it does make for a very fascinating and individual read.

I don’t think these books will be for everyone, they are a densely-packed mix of ambitious and elaborate ideas with frenetic activity, lavish language and numerous characters, all with more than one name. They require attention while reading, not an idle way to pass a lazy afternoon, but reward the reader with a new and beguiling world to explore. I would recommend them to someone who is always on the hunt for that outlier novel that pushes the boundaries of what has been done before.

Almost Damned will be released in ebook and paperback formats on 1 April and you can pre-order it here. The first book in the series, Almost Mortal, is out now and you can get it here.

About the Author

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Christopher Leibig is a novelist and criminal defense lawyer who lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia. His first two published books, Saving Saddam(a 2008 novel about the trial of Saddam Hussein) and Montanamo (a 2010 novel about Guantanamo Bay detainees being housed in a small Montana town’s prison) were published by Artnik Books in London. Saving Saddam was re-released in 2014 under its original American title, The Black RabbitChris also has several published short stories – Secret Admirer (The Cynic on-line magazine 2004) Coldcocked (Skyline magazine 2004), Fly (The Cynic on-line magazine 2009), Intervention (Traveller’s Playground Press 2014), and Paradise City (Traveller’s Playground Press 2014). The Black Rabbit, MontanamoIntervention, and Paradise City are also available on audiobook by Audible.

Chris’s law firm, the Law Office of Christopher Leibig, represents individuals charged with or being investigated for serious criminal offenses throughout Virginia and in Washington. DC. His firm has received numerous awards and recognitions, including inclusion in Washingtonian Magazine’s Top Lawyers in Criminal Defense every year since 2011. Chris has also published numerous articles on criminal defense and related politics – including in the Huffington Post and The Examiner – and appeared as a legal expert regularly since 2009 in print and television media – including Fox News, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. In recent years Chris has regularly handled high profile criminal cases in the DC area and travelled abroad to speak to law schools. Since 2012, Chris and his colleagues have lectured on criminal defense throughout Virginia, and in Scotland, Ireland, Trinidad, The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Denmark.

Connect with Christopher:

Website: https://chrisleibig.com/

Facebook: Chris Leibig

Twitter: @chrisleibig

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jo Jakeman

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Time for another tipple with a guest from the publishing world and tonight I am sharing Friday Night Drinks with author… Jo Jakeman.

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Welcome to the blog, Jo, thank you for taking the time to chat to me. First things first, what are you drinking?

A large glass of red wine. 19 Crimes of course because, you know, crime writer!

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

There’s a bar I’m quite fond of frequenting on a Friday evening that’s just on the sea front and within staggering distance. They do the most amazing sea food which I like to wash down with a Dark and Stormy cocktail. Bring a coat though, it can get a bit chilly when the sun sets.

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That looks absolutely delicious, you’ve made me hungry! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Claudia Winkleman, Ryan Reynolds. They both seem incredibly funny and down to earth.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Just finishing up the line edits for Who Killed Oscar Lomas? which is the book that will be coming out in January 2022. It’s about a woman, called Beth, who refuses to believe that her husband died by suicide, despite all evidence. I’m often moved by that strength families have – that insistence that they know better than the police in the face of all the evidence because they know their loved one wouldn’t have died by suicide, or know that their daughter wouldn’t have run away. Is it faith? Stubbornness? Or is there some sort of bond that we can’t explain?

Really interesting ideas to explore. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

I’m proud of so much (not in a braggy way!) but getting a book deal was amazing. Selling in America, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Greece… Every time I see my book in a shop it gives me a thrill. But I think the thing that makes me the proudest and makes all the knockbacks worthwhile, is when I hear from a reader that my book meant something to them, that it helped in some little way.

The biggest challenge has been dealing with the self-doubt. When the book doesn’t storm the charts or you see an amazon review saying that they didn’t like the book, you doubt yourself. And when I’m full of self-doubt I find it hard to be creative. Book 2, Safe House, was a slog because I was second guessing myself all the time.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I want to be a Sunday Times best seller. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does. It is validation, it’s all that hard work paying off. And it means I might be able to afford a holiday next year.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

This is between us, yeah? I’m a little bit ahead of schedule now seeing as so much has been delayed because of COVID. So, I’m doing a bit of research for a novel set in the 1950s. I was left a few boxes of letters and diaries of a family friend called Moyra, and I’m writing a story based on them. It’s a lot harder than writing my modern day thrillers as there are actual facts and dates to contend with but I am loving it. I feel so lucky to have access to these resources.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Right now, I’d settle for anywhere warm. I was born in Cyprus and I have a soft spot for a Greek island, so I’d love to do some island-hopping and cross some others off my list. Kefalonia and Ithaka have been my favourites so far.

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That look beautiful, Kefalonia is definitely high on my bucket list. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m addicted to cold water swimming. I was in the sea on Christmas day wearing an elf hat!!

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Brrr! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid.

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Everybody knows Daisy Jones and the Six.

From the moment Daisy walked barefoot on to the stage at the Whisky, she and the band were a sensation. Their sound defined an era. Their albums were on every turntable. They sold out arenas from coast to coast.

This is the story of their incredible rise: the desire, the rivalry – and the music.

Then, on 12 July 1979, Daisy Jones and the Six split up.

Nobody knew why. Until now…

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink a pint of water before bed, and makes sure there’s bacon in the house for tomorrow morning’s bacon-buttie.

Perfect. After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I wake up to a gorgeous sunny day, so I walk the coastal path with my husband and kids round to a secluded cove where I have a quick dip in the sea then back home for a barbecue and a couple of beers.

Jo, thank you so much for joining me this evening, it has been a real pleasure.

Jo’s latest book, Safe House came out in paperback in January, and you can buy a copy here. It is only 99p on Kindle until the end of the month. Charlie has been recently released from prison after providing a false alibi for the man she loved. Now living in a remote Cornish village, with a new identity, she wants to put the past behind her but someone knows who she is. And they don’t believe in second chances.

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SHE LIED TO PROTECT A KILLER. NOW THERE’S NOWHERE LEFT TO HIDE. . .

The morning after a great storm, a woman arrives in a remote Cornish village.

But Charlie, as she now calls herself, steers clear of the locals and keeps a low profile – because she has a terrible secret.

Recently released from prison after providing a false alibi for the man she loved, Charlie wants to move on and start afresh. But someone, somewhere, is watching her, determined that she will never get that second chance.

Jo Jakeman was the winner of the prestigious Friday Night Live Award at York Festival of Writing where she was also shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter for the novel that would become her debut. This book was shortlisted for Best Revenge Novel at the Dead Good Reader Awards.

Born in Cyprus, Jo worked for many years in the City of London before moving to Derbyshire and changing careers.

Following completion of a Creative Writing course with Curtis Brown Creative, Jo has used her experience of family and work life to write stories which challenge readers to think past the respectability of domestic facades.

Her novels are published by Harvill Secker in the UK, Berkley in the US and Random House Canada.

Find out more about Jo and her books on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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