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15 Seconds #BookReview

Posted on 19th June 2012 in #bookreview

15 Seconds

by Andrew Gross

I have read and loved several books by Andrew Gross, dating all the way back to his James Patterson collaborations, and can so far I’ve enjoyed them all!

15 Seconds is based on the age old premiss of how quickly your life can change; and often for the worse.

It is a fast paced story with Dr Henry Steadman as the poor sod stuck in the middle of it! I thought his character was great, I alway fall for the ‘just too good to be true, handsome, charming and rich’ types in books and Dr Steadman was no exception.

Excellent characterisation is really what makes books work for me and this book has it in spades. You can’t help feeling for Carrie, her first day back to work after a personal tragedy and she ends up with a difficult decision – does she go out on a limb to help someone she’s never met or does she take the easy route and go along with her colleagues. Fortunately for Dr Steadman she is a ballsy girl! As for Hofer, urgh he made my skin crawl!

The lovely Andrew Gross is on twitter and as I said to him the other day, “I am loving this book but hating it at the same time”, I hope he understood what I meant… I loved it because it was fast and exciting with believable characters but I hated it because it had that ‘watching a car crash’ thing about it, where you know the situation is going to get a whole heap worse but there is nothing you can do to stop it!

I loved it.

An Interview With The Author: Alison Bruce

Posted on 3rd May 2012 in #bookreview/ Crime Fiction/ Interview An Author

Having recently read and loved Cambridge Blue, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to interview the author; Alison Bruce. I found her answers to be refreshingly honest and genuinely interesting; she offers some great tips and suggestions for anyone hoping to be published.

If you have any questions for Alison, please add them in the comments section and am sure she will be happy to respond :)

Q1. When did you write Cambridge Blue?

Cambridge Blue was the second detective novel I wrote, I started it in 2001, was unhappy with what I first wrote, so I threw it away and started again. I’m guessing it was somewhere around 2005 when I finished it properly, and it was 2006 when I signed my first fiction book deal. The hardback of Cambridge Blue was published in 2008 and then the paperback in 2010.

Q2. What are the best and worst things about being an author?

When you are writing a book and you’re never completely sure that you will get it published, that can be a bit depressing. Once you have a book published the next worry is whether you can do it again. Most of the downsides to writing go on in my own head! The most exciting thing for me has been the number of people who are getting in touch asking me when a book will be out, I find it amazing to hear from people on the other side of the world who are reading and enjoying the Goodhew series.

Q3. There is a theory that every writer has an uncompleted novel tucked away in a drawer – do you? If so, why did you abandon it and do you think it will ever see the light of day?

I think that theory is especially true when you consider that it is said that most authors’ first books are largely autobiographical. Writing can be a fantastic way of giving ourselves therapy after we’ve been through personal traumas, but I reckon it would be hard to get a novel published that read like a thinly veiled true story. Of course that does happen, but I think the odds are more in your favour with a book that includes original characters, concepts, plotlines etc.

When I started my first book I had obviously read quite a few books and took the naive view that writing one probably wouldn’t be that tricky. It was much, much tougher than I expected and yes, I did start with a semiautobiographical plot.  Luckily I have a big fan of crime fiction and chose to embed my experiences within a much darker murder story.  And finally, in answer to your question, no it is not tucked away in a drawer, but was published in 2011 as The Calling, the third DC Goodhew novel.

Q4. Who would you say is your biggest literary influence?

I’m not sure I have just one, I’m definitely as influenced by films and music as by books, as far as I’m concerned they are all means of communicating stories.  I grew up on the classics, Christie, Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh and Patricia Wentworth.  This was at the same time as listening to doo-wop and Rob Orbison and watching TV imports like Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels and every classic movie I could.  I have a long-standing affection for Jane Eyre which I read every couple of years.  I love Harlan Coben’s, Linda Barnes’ and Lisa Gardner’s books, and British writers including Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Mo Hader, Stephen Booth and RJ Ellory, whose book A Quiet Belief in Angels is one of the most stunning I have ever read.

Q5. I love DC Goodhew, did his character come to you all at once or did it change as you wrote?

When I started writing my first book I had an idea but no plans to write a series.  The protagonist was a young woman who is stalking her ex-boyfriend and anonymously reporting him to the police. I needed a detective to follow-up on this thread of the story and included a young DC named Gary Goodhew, when I needed the police to be involved again I wrote him into that chapter too.  Goodhew’s role grew rapidly and along the way the book developed into The Calling as it is now.  I was crying as I wrote the last couple of pages and the only character I couldn’t bear to leave behind was Gary.  That was the moment I realised I was writing a series!

Q6. His grandmother is wonderful, I wish I had a grandmother like her! Was she based on anyone you know?

Visually I imagine her as a younger Honor Blackman.  She’s a sharp thinker and glamorous in an assured way.  She’s obviously a strong woman and supportive of Gary but I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if it turned out she’d had a few wild years in her youth.

Q7. You are fantastic at crime fiction, do you see yourself sticking to this genre or is there a different style that you fancy taking on?

Thank you.  I write the occasional short story that’s not totally crime, but 3000 words seems to be the maximum I can write without feeling like it’s time for a murder.  On top of that I have so many crime novels in my head that I doubt I’ll ever run out of crime books I’d like to write.  I have worked on a couple of screenplays and I’d love a project like that.

Q8. Which do you prefer:

– Wine or beer?  I’m not a big drinker but maybe the odd glass of white or rose, and once in a while a bottle of Sailor Jerry!

– Cats or dogs?  Was dogs, now cats.  I grew up with dogs but have ended up with three cats and I love them.

– Mac or pc?  I know how to use a PC better than a Mac, but I have a Mac and love it, I just need to get to grips with the hotkeys to get faster!

– Tea or coffee?  Tea, tea, tea!  Love it, can’t write without it.  I’ve never actually had a cup of coffee…

– Morning or evening?  Night time, from 9pm until whenever.  I have written through the night many times and often come back from gigs in the small hours (my husband’s a musician).

– Harry Potter or Northern Lights?  Harry Potter, the films though because (shock, horror, am I the only one) I haven’t read the books.

Q9. Who is your favourite author?

I don’t think I have one, some individual books are fantastic and I love Ed McBain and Dashiell Hammett, but if pushed I have to point out there’s only been four times when I’ve read every crime novel an author has written and the culprits are : Agatha Christie, Harlan Coben, Conan Doyle and Sue Grafton.

Q10. There are lots of aspiring authors out there and it’s well known that being ‘spotted’ by an agent or publisher is difficult; how did you get your big break?

When I finished my first book I went to a writing event where the guest speaker was a top agent for crime fiction, I approached him afterwards and he agreed to read my book.  He was very keen and gave me excellent advice on developing the series. If you can get good professional advice then take it, he wasn’t the agent I ultimately signed with, but his observations were hugely helpful and came with the benefit of years of experience in an industry where I was just trying to get my first opening.

It was a couple of years later before Cambridge Blue was completed and by then the first agent I had approached had gone off the boil. In addition I also realised the importance of having an agent who seemed like somebody you would still want to work with in 20 years time and I decided that it would be a good idea get out to events where I could meet publishers and agents face-to-face.

I made the shortlist of 8 agents and approached them all. Many agents will be getting a huge number of proposals sent to them each year. In my personal opinion it is a really good idea if they can put a face to a name.  What’s even better is if they know from meeting you that you will be an author that will enjoy going to events and promoting their work.  When you do approach an agent it’s also good to know who you think your readership will be and how you would describe your work in terms of genre and sub-genre.  Sometimes I hear people say “but it’s not really like anyone else’s book”, fact is though that every book needs to have something different in order to get published, but it can’t be sold if the bookseller doesn’t know where to put it on the bookshelves.  Ultimately it may be marketed in a way that is not what you expected, that doesn’t matter, it’s just really good to show that you have a market in mind and you understand that publishing is a business about selling books not just producing art.

Q11. Where and how do you prefer to write?

I started answering these questions sitting at a table in a holiday camp in rain-swept Hemsby as my husband’s band was doing a gig.  I’m finishing it in Carrington’s Cafe in Ely.  I’ve written on a train, a tube, a boat, in the car, under a table, lying on floor, the trampoline, the bed.  Sometimes I even sit on a chair and write at a desk.  I’m not a hugely fast writer and I have a lot of other time constraints so when it comes to the crunch I just do it wherever and whenever I can in order to get the story down.

Q12. How long did each book take you to write?

I had the idea for The Calling in 1989 and it finally came out in 2011.  I’m hoping that’s the last time I spend 22 years between having an idea and seeing it published!  It took me a long time to work out exactly the right way to do it and in the end I had piles and piles of notes, then when my daughter was a month old I made the decision to finally finish it, that was in 2000 and I finished at the start of 2001.

I started Cambridge Blue in 2001 and I suffered from the notorious Second Book Syndrome.  I wrote, threw away, re-wrote, threw more away and carried on like this until I think I threw away about quarter of 1 million words to get the final 95,000.  By then it was the start of 2006.  Book 2, The Siren, and book 4, The Silence, were both written comfortably within a year.

Q 13. What is your best cure for writers’ block?

Just like writing itself I suspect everyone has their own triggers for writer’s block and equally their own solutions.  For me I have discovered that nearly every case of writer’s block is when my subconscious if telling me that what I’m about to write won’t work for one reason or another.  Sometimes that means revisiting the scene and trying to tell it from another character’s point of view, or maybe starting the scene from a different point or even scrapping it entirely.  Usually when I have identified my underlying concern the writer’s block just disappears.

Q 14. What sort of child were you at school and did your English teacher have you pegged as a future author?

Mostly I was quite quiet at school, I lacked the confidence to speak out in class and was frequently told off for daydreaming.  By far my best subject was maths and although I liked English I certainly didn’t excel at it.  I remember I had an English teacher called Mr. Howe and when we were about 15 years old we had to sit our mock exams.  The long question was ‘Write About The Journey’ and I imagined I was held up in a traffic jam on the way to work and described the fascination of the drivers in the queue as they approached and started rubbernecking the scene of the accident.  Mr. Howe held back my paper until last then announced to the class that there was one paper he refused to mark, he handed it back with the words, ‘I don’t know what you think you’ve written here, but I was disgusted.’

That’s probably the only time when a schoolteacher conveyed to me that I  have the ability to write with  impact!

Q15. When I finish reading a book that I’ve loved I almost feel a bit bereft as I miss the characters in my life. How do you feel when you’ve finished writing one?

As I reach the end of writing a book I always find that my writing speed and hours both increase dramatically.  It’s quite typical to have at least 2 overnight writing sessions in the last week.  With the last book I was at my desk almost 40 hours the last 48.  I finished, went to bed, woke up with a headache, went down with a cold a few days later and all in all felt completely burnt out for about a week.  I seem to do this to myself at the end of every book and it’s not because I’m cramming, it’s just that when the end is so close the words just flow into my head… If only they would do that at the very start of the book.

Emotionally the feeling is very similar, I have a huge high that lasts a couple of days then a more subdued feeling for the next couple of weeks as I realise that I have to say goodbye to that set of characters in order to work on something else. For an author writing a series they have the opportunity keep all the characters they care about the most, even if the character is initially intended for only one book it is always possible to write about them again if you really want to.  Readers of the series will notice a character who appears briefly in Cambridge Blue making another brief appearance in The Silence.

Q 16. Where do you get the ideas from for your crimes?

I don’t know, I’m not saying that lightly, I’ll have a thought then find my brain jumping around between a whole series unconnected ideas and drawing them together into one story.  Lying in the bath helps.

Q17. I’ve only lived in Cambridgeshire for 5 months and am still finding my way around, if I go into Cambridge and look for the places mentioned in your book will I find them (are they real)? A kind of ‘Cambridge Blue Murder Tour’ if you will!

In 2010 I spoke at the library in Downham Market and one of the ladies in the audience particularly liked Cambridge Blue, she belongs to a U3A reading group and suggested that it should be their reading choice.  She has now organised a Cambridge Blue Book Walk and this week I will be joining them as they follow the route of the crimes and investigations featured in the book. I use fictitious addresses for murders (I figure that no one wants to read a novel and find out that the murder victim was found slumped across their own kitchen table), but apart from that I aim to give the reader a Goodhew’s eye view of the real city, it is his favourite place in the world and as a boy growing up there he would have experienced it totally differently to most.

Q18. What is the best/worst job you’ve had?

I’ve had a crazy number of jobs, plenty of admin jobs, taxi driver, IT manager, DJ, electroplater, project manager, dress-maker, film extra, (useless) bar worker etc, etc and every Monday I used to dress as Andy Pandy to run promotions at the local bowling alley.  I stopped after 3 months when I was finally told that the outfit was see-through when I stood in front of the fluorescent lighting on any of the lanes.  Hmmm.  Probably not my best job, but not my worst either.  Being a mum is fab but I never feel as though that counts as a job.  I love working in a creative field, love mental challenges, love working under pressure.  I hate being bored.

Q19. What is your favourite TV show?

The Mentalist.  I love the scripts, characters and neat one liners… oh, and that Simon Baker’s OK too.

Q20. You know yourself better than I do (obviously!) what question should I have asked you?

Turning the tables on me?  You crafty woman, this question asking lark is tricky!

Here are a three quickies about writing…

Any favourite books on writing you’d like to recommend?

Story by Roger McKee,

How to Write a Blockbuster (Teach Yourself Creative Writing) by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly,

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande and

Novel Writing: 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall.

What favourite tips have you been given?

Just don’t give up is probably the best but I also like When you write let your heart lead your head, but when you edit let your head take charge.

What advice do you have for debut authors?

Ask questions and talk to other authors.  After slogging away for what feels like forever you secure you first book deal, but that doesn’t mean you instantly feel confident at events or with the writing of the next.  Virtually every author has been in the same boat and I think you will find plenty happy to share tips, give encouragement and almost certainly learn from your writing experiences too.  If you can get to know other authors with the same agent, publisher or who are local to you.

The Gary Goodhew Series

Cambridge Blue

The Siren

The Calling (paperback July 2012)

The Silence (hardback July 2012)

All published by Constable (UK) and SOHO Constable (US)

Her true crime books Cambridgeshire Murders and Billington, Victorian Executioner are both published by the History Press.

For more details, see or follow @alison_bruce on Twitter

Sister #BookReview

Posted on 29th April 2012 in #bookreview/ Sister


Sister by Rosamund Lupton.

I was bought this book for Christmas and have stoically put off reading it because it has been so acclaimed, that may sound odd but it makes sense to me! I like to read books and judge them for myself rather than having a preconceived expectation.

That said, this book IS worth all the hype. It is beautifully written. It does touch you. The prose throughout the whole book is just lovely and poignant, it is incredibly clever the way that sometimes you feel you are reading a story and then suddenly it hits you in the face that the book is talking to you, and makes you look at yourself in a new way.

That makes it sound preachy and predictable, it truly isn’t. An example of such a passage would be:

Before this, I’d confidently assumed myself to be a considerate, thoughtful person, vigilant about other people. I scrupulously remembered birthdays (my birthday book being annually transcribed onto the calendar); I sent thank you cards promptly (ready-bought and waiting in the bottom drawer of my desk). But with my numbers on your phone bill I saw that I wasn’t considerate at all. I was conscientious about the minutiae of life but in the important things I was selfishly cruel and neglectful. 

Out of context it probably doesn’t hit home as hard as it does when woven into the excellently written story. And it really is excellently written, it is a story based on one person’s desire to find the truth about the death of her sister, about her need to prove that she knew her sister and that their connection was real. It exposes a lot of emotions and touches on hidden family frailties while still being an engaging crime thriller. I don’t use the ‘a real page turner’ words lightly, but it was one. I loved it.

I don’t want to give away any of the story, as that would spoil it for you, but I do urge you to read it; even if you read it as I did – fully prepared to be scathing! I am quite confident that you will love it within the first few pages.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson #bookreview

Posted on 19th March 2012 in #bookreview/ Andrew Davidson/ the gargoyle

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

This is an astounding book.

I wouldn’t have bought this book, it was bought for me, and I’m so glad it was. I really need to get out of my comfort zone with books, I tend to go for crime dramas time after time so I love it when someone plonks something new in front of me; especially when the book then turns out to be as good as this one.

There is a scene where one of the main characters is burnt in an accident, it is incredibly descriptive, captivating yet revolting. A terrifying and believable insight into how horrific it must be.

The story seems to weave between fantasy and fiction but in a very engaging way. I can’t even begin to do it justice in this review. I can’t peg it in a genre, I can just say that I loved it.

I loved the madness and passion of the female character, her story on its own was fabulous and a wonderful concept. I yearned to have her drive when I read it.

I made me cry, cringe and keep on reading. Lovely book, very long, a bit odd at times but absolutely steeped in romance.

As ever, I’m not telling you the story; you need to read the book and discover it for yourself 😉

Tuesdays With Morrie #bookreview

Posted on 19th March 2012 in book review/ mitch albom/ tuesdays with morrie

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

I bought Tuesdays With Morrie because I was so touched by The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

It is another tiny little book which rips through your defences and leaves you blubbing – I read most pages with a running internal monologue of ‘I will not cry, I will not cry’ I failed miserably.

Don’t let that put you off it, it is a fabulous book.

I don’t know how Mitch Albom manages to put some much genuine emotion into his words but boy do they pack a punch.

A book that makes you look at yourself and not always like what you see, but then shows you how easy it would be to change the view.

Go read it!



The Five People You Meet In Heaven #bookreview

Posted on 19th March 2012 in book review/ five people you meet in heaven/ mitch albom


The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

Tiny little book.

I bought my copy in New York because I loved the rough unfinished edges on the pages. I didn’t know anything about it, just liked the feel of the thing.

When I read it I was blown away by how much it affected me.

This book takes you on a short but soul enhancing journey.

You HAVE to read it. That is all.

Cambridge Blue by Alison Bruce #bookreview

Posted on 14th March 2012 in #bookreview/ alison bruce

I really enjoyed this book.

This was a given to me as a gift and I’m so pleased that it was as I’ve never read anything by Alison Bruce before and I’m always over the moon when I find a new author whose work I enjoy reading.

Now I need to find myself a copy of Siren!

The main character, DC Goodhew, has a brilliant mind which he has to try to restrain in order to keep within the rules; and the law!

He is an engaging character, with many quirks and eccentricities as befits the role.

I loved the descriptive walks through Cambridgeshire, it has made the town really come alive for me and I will enjoy looking out for some of the places mentioned in the book.

I thought it was well written, had clever twists and turns with lots of loose ends to unravel and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Like all my reviews, I don’t want to spoil the story for you so I’ll let you find that out for yourself when you read the book!

The Drowning Pool #BookReview

Posted on 7th March 2012 in #bookreview/ Ghost story/ Syd Moore


By Syd Moore

I’ve just finished reading The Drowning Pool and want to post the review while it is still fresh in my mind.

I don’t want to give away the story itself in this review, instead I want to focus more on my opinions of the book. This is, essentially, a ghost story. Not my usual genre but a book that I really enjoyed nonetheless. In fact I would say that after reading it I think I’d be more inclined to pick up a ‘ghost story’ in the future.

I was initially drawn to it as it is based in Leigh on Sea in Essex which is quite near to where I used to live so I thought I would enjoy some of the local references and folk-lore; which I did.

I liked the way that relationships were built within the story, they were believable and engaging – I found myself caring about the central characters.

I liked the way that the suspense was built too. There was one morning in particular when I was reading this book that I scared myself witless thinking I could hear noises downstairs! Yes I said morning, it was broad daylight!

Spooky and engaging – gets a thumbs up from me.

Romantic Disappointment #OneDay

Posted on 6th November 2010 in book review/ david nicholls/ one day

If you haven’t already read ONE DAY – please be aware that this blog post is one dirty great big #spoiler – you’ve been warned.

I heard that One Day by David Nicholls was meant to be a great romantic novel.

It had all the right components, ‘2 people, 20 years, one day’ – bit of bad timing, separation, both each wanting the other, not brave enough to confront it, ending up with other people – but would they, could they end up together? It was all there. It had promise.

I like a bit of romance. Don’t usually read romantic novels as a rule but secretly I’m a sucker for romantic nonsense. I adored the ‘staring intensely’ in Twilight, all that gazing into each other’s eyes *sigh*.

I actually bought this book for my stepmum, who has read it and now given it to me to read. I probably would never have bought it to read myself.

So I geared myself up for a soul searching read that would sweep me off my feet in a flurry of unrequited love, steamy moments, aching hearts and  pent up emotions. Fully expecting a book so drenched in perfect romance that I would look at my own relationship and say ‘meh’.

Having finished the book I am cross. Yes, cross. Romantic my arse. I waded through the first few chapters, they were the build up, the bits where the couple ‘missed’ each other. The girl clearly adored the boy. The boy was a bit arrogant, a serial shagger who invested too much time and money into women, wine and coke.

The girl had a ‘safe’ but unsatisfactory relationship with someone else.

The boy ended up marrying someone and having a baby.

All the while they kept in touch – yet never quite actually acknowledged that they wanted each other. WHY?!

There was a glimmer of hope at one point where the boy did actually acknowledge that it ‘had always been the girl, always had, always would be’ but by the time that came I was already a bit miffed at quite how long it had taken him to realise – and that he’d only realised it once his tv career had faded, he’d stuffed up a million other relationships and got a failed marriage under his belt.

But, just to add insult to injury, when they do finally get it together. They can’t conceive which puts a strain on their relationship.

And then, ready for this?

She dies.

Yes, she dies, leaving him a mess at age 40 something.

Where is the bloody message in that?!

Rant over.

I did however think it was well written – maybe it was my expectation of the book that was at fault rather than the book itself?

Life’s too short huh.

Kafka On The Shore – book review

Posted on 17th June 2010 in #bookclub/ Haruki Murakum/ Kafka On The Shore/ review

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakam

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, having never read this author before, but something drew me to it and I have long since learnt that when a book ‘talks’ to you, you need to pick it up!

The story gently pulls you in and before you know it your world is torn between the two main characters and their separate, but softly interwoven tales. The prose is at times breathtakingly beautiful and utterly spellbinding, if ever a page-turner could be also be gentle then this is it.

The first character is Kafka, a 15 year old boy who’s enigmatic yet apparently uncaring father seems to have filled his head with all manner of dark omens and seemingly bizarre facts and prophecies. A troubled childhood and a missing mother and sister leave Kafka being raised by a man who seems unfamiliar with children and their needs. Unsurprisingly Kafka runs away from home and his tale varies from being that of a 15 year old runaway to a deeper, prophetic tale of a much older soul on a mysterious quest.

Just when you are immersed in this tale and eager to read each new page, you encounter that most frustrating of all things, a chapter introducing a new character! Although the temptation is to rush through the pages until you can return to the original story, you quickly find yourself enchanted by the old man Nakata and his simple life.

Nakata lives life at a gentle pace. He lived through a world changing event and emerged from it alive yet mentally impaired and with the unprecedented ability to communicate with cats. Now this fact alone will make some love the book and some discount it, however it is surprising superfluous to the story itself and is one of the many obscure yet fascinating side arms to the main story. Nakata seems to be utterly defenseless and bewildered by the world and yet strange things happen when he doesn’t get his way and through a combination of vulnerability and the odd premonition of raining fishes he somehow always achieves his aims.

Haruki Murakam creates two very strong, very different yet believable characters for the reader to care about which is no mean feat in itself but in addition to this, you will find that you also care about the librarian (whether they are male or female matters not), about the truck driver, about the girl and even the rock!

Kafka On The Shore takes you from a simple love story, through to a journey of self-discovery, past a deep and thought provoking look at human nature and sandwiched in between each layer you will find a fantastical otherworldly experience, which for some reason doesn’t seem out of place. By the end of this book I cared deeply for Nakata and wasn’t sure whether I was half in love with Kafka or wanted to mother him – either way strong emotions had been evoked.

This book has it all, love, sex, relationships, danger, omens, prophecies, imaginary shelters in the woods, murder, intrigue and talking cats – really could you ask for any more?

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