Tag Archives: #MustReads

First Blood by Angela Marsons #BookReview @WriteAngie @Bookouture #BreakingNews #TeamKimStone #FirstBlood #Surprise

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Today I’m over the moon to be sharing my review for a very special book…….First Blood by Angela Marsons, it’s the PREQUEL to the Kim Stone crime series!!!!!! “What? How did I not know about this book”? I can hear Angela Marsons fans shouting. Bookouture decided to do something very unusual and keep this book top secret until publication day, (naughty Bookouture, but what a brilliant idea) which means you can grab a copy of this fabulous book right now, but before you head off to get your copy, here’s my review, along with the book description………

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In the darkness of a cold December morning, Detective Kim Stone steps through the doors of Halesowen Police Station.  She’s about to meet her team for the first time.  The victim of her next case is about to meet his killer…

When the body of a young man is found beheaded and staked to the ground in a secluded area of the Clent Hills, Kim and her new squad rush to the crime scene.

Searching the victim’s home, Kim discovers a little girl’s bedroom and a hidden laptop.  Why is his sister relieved to hear he’s dead – and where is the rest of his family?  

As Kim begins to unearth the dark secrets at the heart of the case, D.C. Stacey Wood finds a disturbing resemblance to the recent murder of Lester Jackson.  But that’s not all Stacey finds …

She’s convinced there is a link between the victims and a women’s shelter run by Marianne Forbes, Lester’s niece. A child of the care system herself, Kim knows all too well what it means to be vulnerable. Could Marianne be the key to cracking this case?

With the killer about to strike again, Kim is in deep water with a rookie squad.  Inexperienced Stacey is showing signs of brilliance but struggling to hold her nerve and, while D.S. Bryant is reliable and calm, D.S. Dawson is a liability. With his home life in pieces, his volatile behaviour is already fracturing her fragile new team.

Can Kim bring Dawson in line and pull her crew together in time to catch the killer before another life is taken? This time, one of her own could be in terrible danger…

Discover where it all began for Kim and her team. An absolutely heart-stopping mystery thriller that will keep you glued to the pages, reading late into the night.  Perfect for Kim Stone fans and new readers to the million-copy bestselling series.

A detective hiding dark secrets, Kim Stone will stop at nothing to protect the innocent.

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Oh, my giddy aunt I can’t believe that Angela Marsons has finally written the VERY book I’ve been fantasying about,  First Blood a PREQUEL to the Kim Stone books, yes you read that right!!!!!! Anyone who follows this series will love this book. As a huge fan I’ve watched Kim and her team (and surrogate family) evolve and grow into living, breathing characters. I’ve always wondered about the previous years, and what forces bought  Kim, Bryant, Stacey, and Dawson together, well here Lie all the answers in First Blood the exciting and riveting prequel. **a word of warning** you will struggle to put this book down, forget about eating, drinking, sleeping, and work, this book will consume your every waking moment.

As per Angela Marsons she doesn’t hang about in drawing the reader in, from the promising and shocking prologue to the very last page the author keeps you firmly in her clutches. We first meet Kim as she’s seconded to Halesowen, or rather she’s forced upon them after being transferred from West Bromwich, after a communication issue with a chauvinistic senior officer! Kim’s newly gained  team are full of reservations, about working with her, sadly for Kim her reputation proceeds her, she’s known for being difficult, lacks social skills, and is considered  bloody-minded. 

Their first case together sees them hunting a serial killer, that kills their victims in the most savage way, besides finding a killer, they also have the added challenge of being a new team. It was interesting to see how the dynamics between the team shifted as their strengths  and weaknesses became clear. Bryant is solid and dependable, Stacey is keen and passionate about her work, Dawson ambitious, lazy and rebellious. As for Kim she has to learn to work as part of a team, rather than being a ‘one-man band’, which takes some doing especially when you don’t trust or like people! 

As the plot develops and the team close in on the killer, the book takes a dark turn, one that’s horrifying, and unsettling, and yet you have to read on, racing on to the dramatic conclusion. First Blood is peppered with chapters narrated by an unknown voice, the fury that radiates from these chapters is palatable, It’s seldom I feel any sympathy towards a serial killer in a crime thriller, but Angela Marsons has managed to do just that, I found myself questioning my own moral compass. A small part of me had a small amount of  respect for this killer, even though it conflicts with my own thoughts on murder, at the same time I struggled to summon up any sympathy for the victims. 

As you would expect with any good crime thriller,  it’s very well written (but we’re talking Angela Marsons here, so I expected nothing less, she sure knows how to draw the reader in.  There are more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, the tension ramps out with every turn of the page, there are gory crime scenes (not for the fainthearted), brilliant characters that immediately draw you in, misdirection at every turn. In fact, it’s the perfect crime thriller read. Without a shadow of a doubt Angela Marsons has written another best seller, highly, highly recommended.

Gone by Leona Deakin #BookReview #Gone @LeonaDeakin1 @HJ_Barnes @PenguinUKBooks #MustReads

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Gone, a debut Psychological  thriller from Leona Deakin.

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Four strangers are missing. Left at their last-known locations are birthday cards that read:

YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME.

DARE TO PLAY?

The police aren’t worried – it’s just a game. But the families are frantic. As psychologist and private detective Dr Augusta Bloom delves into the lives of the missing people, she finds something that binds them all.

And that something makes them very dangerous indeed.

As more disappearances are reported and new birthday cards uncovered, Dr Bloom races to unravel the mystery and find the missing people.

But what if, this time, they are the ones she should fear? 

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I was sent a card in the post wishing me a “happy first birthday’ which immediately had me intrigued, but then reading the greeting inside YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME.DARE TO PLAY? I must admit intrigue turned to excitement, like a fool I’m always the first to volunteer for a ‘dare’ but as they normally end in tears, I had my reservations about this one! That’s not the case for the four missing strangers in Gone by Leona Deakin, they jump in feet first with no thought of the consequences of playing a game they know nothing about! Despite my initial reservations Gone turned out to be a dark, psychological thriller, with lashings of intrigue and suspense.   

I must admit to begin with I wasn’t certain that Gone was a book I would enjoy as there are two simultaneous stories that run alongside each other, the first focuses on the missing persons, the other on a disturbed child called Seraphine. There are also several characters that are introduced to the reader fairly early on in the book, but once I had them sorted in my head, I found it a difficult book to put down as curiosity got the better of me. This isn’t your ‘typical’ missing person case, no one’s  been kidnapped or taken against their will, in fact the people who have disappeared seem to have gone voluntarily, leaving behind families, friends and family, without a backward glance. Why? How are they connected? How are they singled out? Are they victims or are they something far more sinister? What are the rules of the sick, twisted game? Are all questions Dr. Augusta Bloom a Psychologist who frequently works with the police and Marcus Jameson who worked for MI6 are intent on finding the answers too. 

I did feel the author barely scratched the surface of the main protagonists characters, but to be honest it didn’t matter one iota as my interest very much lay with the missing people and their story’s. Although in main the story is a hunt for the missing people, I found the most intriguing part revolved around the people who were invited to play.  It came as no surprise to find out the author is a psychologist, her knowledge shines through as she explains the psychological aspects of the game, and gets inside the heads of those playing. These are the characters I found this most intriguing, the most disturbing, and yet the most fascinating. 

With an imaginative plot and a fascinating psychologist-cum-private detective Gone made a refreshing change from most books in the genre, and although some may not enjoy the slower pace of this book, I would urge you to give it a go especially if you enjoy books featuring psychopaths that involve profiling (I found these bits a fascinating read). Although I guessed the ‘twist’ by the halfway mark, I still enjoyed how the author brought all the threads together.  A word of advice to those who fill out those inconsequential social media questionaries, Gone will definitely make you think twice about filling them out in the future, however harmless they may seem! Despite the slow start Gone turns into an accomplished first novel, and I’m looking forward to reading further books by Leona Deakin. 

  • Print Length: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Transworld Digital (9 Aug. 2019)

Buying link:   Amazon UK 🇬🇧

My thanks to Penguin publishing for my Arc of a Gone in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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DEGREES OF GUILT BY HS Chandler @HSCINKPEN #BookReview #DegreesOfGuilt @OrionBooks #MustReads @Helen_Fields

Good morning today I’m sharing my review for Degrees Of Guilt by H S Chandler aka crime thriller writer Helen Fields. If you love a legal thriller this book is unmissable. Read on for my thoughts……..

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When you read this book, you will think you know every twist in the tale.

Maria is on trial for attempted murder.

She has confessed to the crime and wanted her husband dead.

Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide her fate.

She embarks on an illicit affair with a stranger, and her husband can never find out.

You will think you know who is guilty and who is innocent.

You will be wrong.

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Nothing in life is ever black and white, there are shades of grey that blur our opinions, our thoughts, it’s one thing hearing the facts, but what about the untold story? What hidden truths could change a guilty verdict around or vice versa? Degrees Of Guilt by H.S. Chandler is a thrilling book where your opinion of the guilty, in this case Marie who freely admits to killing her husband, will sway at almost every chapter. This has to be one of the most exciting, complex, and compelling legal thrillers I’ve read for a long time, it’s the definition of a page turner. Rather like the jury, you find yourself living and breathing Marie’s trial, separating the layers of fact from fiction and hoping you make the right decision, guilty or not guilty? It’s up to you to decide.  

With a stellar of an opening chapter Degrees Of Guilt pulls you in to Maries’s story at first she appears cold and rational, But then as the story deftly unfolds we learn more about Marie’s complex life with Edward, nothing is as it first appears, is Marie telling the truth? or is her story one that’s been fabricated to gain sympathy for her wrongdoing’s? I couldn’t help but feel some empathy for her character, even though at times I had my doubts if she really was as innocent as she claimed to be.  The novel is an intricate web of lies, secrets, manipulations, and deceit which make this story a constant, head spinning guessing game, right up until the last chapter you are never sure where the truth really lies. 

Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide Marie’s fate, at first she’s a reluctant participate, she’s nervous, timid, her life is very different to Marie’s she’s a wife and mother who life centres on her family, but as Marie’s trial reveals shocking details of her marriage she realises she has far more in common with her than she first thought. I found it fascinating to see how the mixed bunch of jurors first assumptions of Marie changed throughout the story, their opinions and feelings constantly shift, so you are never sure which verdict they will choose. Marie’s story is intense, alarming and uncomfortable,  which some readers find upsetting.  The author depicts the claustrophobic feel of the courtroom and the animosity of the jury towards the accused and their peers perfectly. 

The setting of a courtroom for most of the novel adds a palatable sense of claustrophobia and trepidation, a ploy that’s guaranteed to keep you reading and will make you reluctant to put this novel down even for a few minutes. Degrees of guilt is part domestic noir infused with a believable and heart wrenching courtroom drama, oozing with tension and mystery. HS Chandler knows how to keep the reader’s attention with a complex plot, intriguing characters, and a couple of curveballs I never saw coming until they hit me in the face! A superb book that I would highly recommend to those who love domestic noir wrapped up in a courtroom drama.

  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Trapeze (16 May 2019)

Buying links:  Amazon UK 🇬🇧      Amazon US 🇺🇸

My thanks to Meggy over at https://chocolatenwaffles.com/, for her fabulous review that convinced me to read this book. 

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When Darkness Calls by Mark Griffin #Review @themarkgriffin @LittleBrownUK

Today I’m sharing my review for When Darkness Comes, the debut crime thriller from Mark Griffin, if you are a fan of dark and gruesome crime thrillers then this one’s definitely for you.

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***The first book in a bestselling new serial killer series***

Holly Wakefield works for the NHS as a criminal psychologist specialising in serial killers. She has particular reason to be good at her job – but she keeps that to herself.

When DI Bishop from the Met Police approaches Holly to investigate a recent killing, Holly is horrified by the dismembered bodies and the way they have been theatrically positioned. More shocking still is when the pathologist reveals this is not the first time she has seen these mutilations. It means a serial killer is out there, and they’re going to kill again – soon.

Holly is used to chasing serial killers. But this killer has something in common with Holly that she’s kept hidden for as long as she can remember. And for the first time since she was a child, Holly is forced to face the darkness of her past…

The first thriller in a gritty and gripping new crime series starring forensic psychologist Holly Wakefield. For fans of Patricia Cornwell, Val McDermid, Robert Galbraith and the TV’s Luther and Line of Duty.

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When Darkness Calls by Mark Griffin opens with a tantalising first chapter, definitely a promising start for a new crime series by Mark Griffin featuring forensic psychologist Holly Wakefield. I’m a huge fan of crime thriller series (in case you hadn’t already guessed) something guaranteed to make me pick up a book is one that  features a serial killer add in a forensic psychologist in the shape of Holly Wakefield (forensic psychology is another subject that fascinates me) and it was a book I just had to read.  When Darkness Calls is definitely one for those who enjoy a crime thriller that’s veers to the dark and gruesome, it’s compelling with many a nail biting scene to keep the most hardened crime thriller riveted.  

Holly Wakefield, is a criminal psychologist who specialises in the study of psychopaths and serial killers, some of whom she works with at a London psychiatric hospital. Holly is given the chance to work as a profiler with Detective Inspector Bishop and his murder squad. Their investigation begins with the discovery of an elderly couple murdered in their country home and it leads them to discover a trail of deaths stretching back more than 20 years. Holly is a refreshing protagonist for a crime thriller, she’s a walking, talking sickopedia, of serial killers and their macabre crimes, it’s clear she is committed to her job, she’s driven, and she’s quirky, but beneath the veneer are some very dark secrets that Holly would prefer to keep hidden. 

One of the things that makes this book such a compelling read is the author’s clever ploy of using Holly’s unhealthy obsession with serial killers as part of the plot  she relates details of infamous killers, their motives and their methods to the ongoing investigation which I found fascinating, this give the reader an insight into the unknown serial killer, as well as making this crime thriller all the more disturbing. The investigation takes a very dark and seriously twisted route, as Holly and Bishop chase a serial killer who is one sick individual, a master of control, manipulation and domination.  

There aren’t many books that make me grimace, some of the crime scenes and autopsies are graphic and pretty gory to say the least, but in the author’s defence they never feel unwarranted. When Darkness Calls is perfectly paced, it’s a dark tale (definitely my kind of read), with compelling characters, there’s a palatable sense of terror that permeates each page of this well thought out crime thriller. Did I mention this is the author’s debut novel? Well it is and what a fabulous start to this author’s writing career, in my opinion Mark Griffin is a new and exciting voice in the crime thriller genre and I will definitely read the next book in the series without hesitation. Highly recommended by me.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Piatkus (1 Nov. 2018)

Buying links:  Amazon UK 🇬🇧   Amazon US 🇺🇸

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#BehindTheBooks with #Author Angela Marsons @WriteAngie @Bookouture #KimStoneSeries

Today I’m thrilled to have  author Angela Marsons take part in my latest feature #BehindTheBooks. The author writes the “Kim Stone” crime series, and as anyone who follows my blog will now it’s one of my favourite crime series EVER. Read on for my interview with the awesome Angela Marsons…..

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Hi Angela I’m thrilled to have you visit the book review café, tea or coffee?

Tea, please. A big cup of hot sweet tea. It’s what I exist on.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Kim Stone series?

Yes, it’s a series about a Detective Inspector based in and around the Black Country in the West Midlands.  I am currently working on book 11 of a 16 book contract and surprisingly the character still seems to have a lot to say.

Dead Memories is the latest book to be published, it’s the tenth book in series, did you ever think when you published Silent Scream it would end up being a long running series?

I was originally signed for 4 Kim Stone books and I thought that I wouldn’t see that out. I had visions of my publisher, Bookouture, sending me the ‘sorry we made a mistake’ email and we can’t continue your contract for the 7 people that bought your book!! Yes, I had seven guaranteed sales from family members. So, after Silent Scream was published and it went to #1 (due in no small part to the blogger/reviewer support it received) I was asked to sign for 4 more and a few books later I signed for a further 8 books. There is no publisher I would rather be on this journey with than Bookouture as they gave me the opportunity to share my stories after many years of rejection.

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How many more books in the series can we look forward to? 

Although I’m contracted to write 16 books I’ve always said that I’ll keep writing them as long as people want to keep reading them.

Do you spend a lot of time researching for your books? 

The research is one of my favourite parts of the process. I always buy factual books about the subjects that I’m planning to cover and crack open a new notepad and box of bic original pencils to start the project. I still love learning but the key is not to put in everything you’ve learned but to choose only what’s relevant to the story and that will particularly interest the reader.

After years of writing relationship based stories, you turned to crime, what made you decide to change direction?

I have always loved to read crime but never thought I could write a crime book due to the twists and turns needed. When I sat down to write Silent Scream it was an act of rebellion. I decided to write the book I wanted to write with the character that was screaming in my head, based in my own area and not a big city. I totally expected to reach 30K words and hit a brick wall but it was at that point that the pencil took on a life of its own and I couldn’t write it quick enough.  Much of the plot grew organically as I wrote and the twists and turns occurred to me during the process which was incredibly exciting. I still write each book in the same way. I have a vague idea of where I’m going but I don’t plan.

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You received numerous rejections on your road to success, what advice would you give to would be authors in a similar position?

My first piece of advice would be to never forget what compelled you to write in the first place. When faced with rejection it’s easy to forget the love of words or making a good sentence or developing unique characters. Whatever it was that drove you to do it, keep the love for the process alive. Also, I would always advise new authors not to share their work too early. It’s easy to get excited and to seek validation for your first couple of chapters but any comment, positive or negative,  can affect the rest of your journey with the story. I always think of the first draft as my sandpit, it’s my time to make the book whatever I want it to be and only once I’ve reached the end do I share it with anyone.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Oh my goodness, there have been so many WOW moments. Things I never even dreamed could happen. It might have been my first Amazon #1 or seeing the books on supermarket shelves or my first foreign rights deals but I think it would have to be hitting the 3 million sales mark. I can’t even count that high and the number is unfathomable to me. I’m proud of each and every sale.

I’m a big fan of the “Kim Stone” book covers, did you get any say in choosing the cover? 

I love the covers too but no I don’t get any say in choosing them. This bothered me at first but I now trust Bookouture to do their bit and they trust me to do mine.

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Once you finished writing a book whose the first person who gets to read it?

Always my partner Jules who works closely on the books with me. As I handwrite the first draft the process is slower at that stage. As I write Julie types the chapters so that when I get to the end of the first draft the chapters are typed and ready for me to get cracking on the second draft.  As I’m working on the second draft I’m printing and Jules has her red pen and gives me advice and points out things I might not have noticed.

Do you ever get writer’s block? And if so how do you get over it? 

I normally only get writers block if I’m trying to force the story or one of the characters in the wrong direction. In Silent Scream the ending between Kim and Lucy was going to be very different and I actually couldn’t write it because the original plan no longer felt right due to the relationship that had developed between them.  If I’m struggling to find creativity in a particular area of the book I’ll often move to a scene that I’m dying to write. Normally that will be a scene filled with emotion or conflict.

How do you cope with negative reviews? 

I try not to read them but it’s hard when a new book comes out. The nerves never go away so each time a new book is released I want to know what people think of it and it’s not always easy to read. Luckily I’ve learned to grow a thicker skin and as long as there are some folks that like the book I try to focus on that.

You are a big champion of book bloggers, how have they helped you?

When Silent Scream was first published neither myself nor Bookouture had any idea how it would go. It was their first crime book and they were still a relatively young publisher so we all just kind of crossed our fingers.  When the book went out to reviewers and bloggers they not only shouted about it, they shouted loudly. They reviewed and shared their reviews and recommended it to anyone who would listen. I have no doubt that the book would not have been anywhere near as successful had it not been for the passion shown to it by reviewers and bloggers.  But more than that – most authors feel like frauds. Most of us think that if a book is loved that it was a fluke and we’ll never be able to do it again. The response I received from bloggers and reviewers and the way they took Kim Stone to their hearts gave me the confidence to think I could do it again

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And finally what’s next for Kim Stone?

She will continue to fight for the underdog with her loyal team. She will continue to be obnoxious but with a good heart and I promise that nothing is going to happen to Barney (a question I get asked a lot).

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Angela Marsons is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of the DI Kim Stone series and her books have sold more than 3 million in 3 years.

She lives in the Black Country with her partner, their cheeky Golden Retriever and a swearing parrot.

She first discovered her love of writing at Junior School when actual lessons came second to watching other people and quietly making up her own stories about them. Her report card invariably read “Angela would do well if she minded her own business as well as she minds other people’s”.

After years of writing relationship based stories (The Forgotten Woman and Dear Mother) Angela turned to Crime, fictionally speaking of course, and developed a character that refused to go away.

She is signed to Bookouture.com for a total of 16 books in the Kim Stone series and her books have been translated into more than 27 languages.

Many of her books, including Blood Lines, Dead Souls, Broken Bones, Fatal Promise and Dead Memories reached the #1 spot on Amazon on pre-orders alone.

Buying link to the #KimStone series 🇬🇧

Buying link to the #KimStone series 🇺🇸

 

 

 

#FourFeetUnder By Tamsen Courtenay @TamsenC_writer @unbounders #Recommended #TrueStory #Homeless

Today I’m sharing my review for a very different book from my usual reads, Four Feet Under by Tamsen Courtenay. It’s the untold stories of the homeless living in London, this has to be one of the most powerful and poignant books I’ve ever read.

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Tamsen Courtenay spent two months speaking to people who live on London’s streets, the homeless and the destitute – people who feel they are invisible. With a camera and a cheap audio recorder, she listened as they chronicled their extraordinary lives, now being lived four feet below most Londoners, and she set about documenting their stories, which are transcribed in this book along with intimate photographic portraits.

A builder, a soldier, a transgender woman, a child and an elderly couple are among those who describe the events that brought them to the lives they lead now. They speak of childhoods, careers and relationships; their strengths and weaknesses, dreams and regrets; all with humour and a startling honesty.

Tamsen’s observations and remarkable experiences are threaded throughout. The astonishing people she met changed her for ever, as they became her heroes, people she grew to respect. You don’t have to go far to find these homegrown exiles: they’re at the bottom of your road. Have you ever wondered how they got there? 

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This is probably one of the most difficult books I’ve ever chosen to review, it’s definitely not one I would consider to be an enjoyable read, far from it, in fact It’s heartbreaking, shocking, and disturbing, as I turned each page I found myself grateful for the small things I take for granted, hot water, heating, clean clothes, the love of my family, the list is endless. Four Feet Under is a powerful and moving insight into the day-to-day lives of some the unfortunate people who through tragedy, misfortune and bad decisions have found themselves living on the streets of Britain, displaced, dispossessed and destitute. This book deals with complex issues such as drug use, prostitution, and mental health issues although very upsetting but it also gives an incredible insight into the homeless.

Four Feet Under a collection of stories told by the homeless, Tamsen Courtenay presents them in such a way the voices and personalities of the people she interviews shine through, they answer questions with honestly and despite their desperately sad stories and the circumstances they find themselves in, there are humorous moments amid the heart breaking ones. Some of the  stories challenge our own assumptions, others show how easily homelessness can happen through bad luck, misfortune, or making a wrong decision. Harsh treatment by impoverished authorities is also a common theme, some of the homeless featured aren’t considered not to be “enough of a hardship case” to qualify for help, despite them having serious medical problems.

As I read Four Feet Under there were so many stories that deeply affected me Charisse, who walked out on an abusive relationship, Jane and Kenny, a couple in their 60s who sleep beneath the Waterloo Imax cinema, Jade born to a teenage mother and a father who’s a paedophile and a pimp, were just a few that broke me.   Despite the hardship and the brutality many have suffered on the streets, their resilience is incredible and inspiring.

In the past I have given money to the homeless but is that enough? If anything, this book made me realise “yes” they need money to live day to day, but they also need a smile, a kind word, a cup of coffee, anything to make them feel less invisible than they already are. Tamsen Courtenay writes in a sympathetic and non judgemental way,  she doesn’t sugar the atrocities of the people she has interviewed, it’s the harsh reality for the people who live “Four Feet Under”. Although this book will not bring about big changes, the author has given the homeless a voice, a chance to share their fears, dreams and more importantly their stories, something they miss living on the streets where conversation is limited. This book has left me with a massive book hangover, but for all the wrong reasons, I can’t help wondering what happened to the characters in the book, and I’ve a feeling their stories will stay will haunt me for a long time to come. Highly recommended.

  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Unbound (23 Aug. 2018

Buying link:    Amazon UK 🇬🇧

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#BehindTheBooks with Karen Sullivan @OrendaBooks #BookPublisher #TeamOrenda.

Today I’m thrilled to have the fabulous Karen Sullivan pop by the book review café and take part in my latest feature #BehindTheBooks. Karen is the owner of Orenda Books and I’m sure most book bloggers would agree Karen publishes some of the most compelling books I’ve had the pleasure to read. I hope you enjoy this feature as much as I did putting it together……

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Good morning Karen I’m so excited to have you finally visit the book review café, first thing first tea or coffee? 

Coffee all the way. I don’t speak to anyone in the morning until my Nespresso machine has done its business! Being Canadian, I never really ‘got’ the tea thing, and shhhhhhh don’t really like it!

What made you decide to set up a publication business?

I was an author for years (non-fiction), and got a bit bored writing about the same things (raising children, emotional health, discipline, nutrition, etc.), particularly as my boys got older. I took what was ostensibly a one-day-a-week job in a little independent, writing jacket copy and advance information sheets/press releases, etc. It soon turned into more than full time, and when my boss was sacked and a new group of shareholders brought in, who clearly didn’t understand the ethos of the list or the company, I decided it was the to leave. It took me 24 hours to decide to start Orenda Books, and I haven’t looked back!

What genre of books do Orenda Books publish?

We publish literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers, about half in translation. What defines the list is the superb writing!

What makes Orenda Books unique from other publishers?

That’s a good question. It’s a small list, and our authors come from 14 countries around the world, so there is immediately a big international element to Orenda. We work hard together, as Team Orenda, and all of my authors are as approachable and engaged as they are talented. My goal was to publish beautiful, unforgettable books … and create a brand identity that would mean readers picking up the next Orenda book, regardless of its provenance or genre, on the basis that they KNOW it will be good. We work super hard at all stages of editing to make sure that happens! We really believe that if someone wants to buy a physical book, they want something gorgeous. So we have great covers, and use excellent-quality paper, with neat little design touches; for example, a little ornament or illustration in the runnings heads.

 

 

What would you say has been your biggest success so far?

I think getting this far is probably my biggest success! It’s a crowded, noisy market, and it’s not easy being a little guy! In terms of books, Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series has been far and away our bestselling titles, with over a million copies sold in various territories around the world. Amanda Jennings, Matt Wesolowski, Louise Voss, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Lilja Sigurdardottir, Thomas Enger and Antti Tuomainen have also been strong sellers. All of them have done well, really!
We publish a lot of debut authors, and it can take some time to get them established, but sales are up across the board for everyone! One of the nice things about being small and working so closely with authors is that we build very strong relationships. We are completely committed to all of our authors, and growing them with the company, regardless of how long that might take.

Which brings me to my next question, What has been the biggest challenge?

 The biggest challenge will always be trying to compete with the big players. We don’t have the marketing budgets that they do, or teams of creatives, and can’t generate the same type of hype for books. Sometimes I want weep when I see heavily hyped books getting all the attention (and publicity and sales) when I know that ours are much, much better! I also struggle with the growth of the 99p digital publishers, who are doing great damage to the industry as a whole … the value that books are perceived to have, an author’s ability to earn a living. As a matter of principle, we refuse to discount without a retailer-supported promotion, but it is very hard to compete against publishers offering books so cheaply. But we chose to play with the big boys, so we have to get on and do it. I give a lot of books away, but I do get frustrated when people are always want everything free or cheaply. I feel a huge weight of responsibility for my authors, and they have to be able to eat! I wish sometimes book buyers would understand how hard it is to do this. If they don’t support independent publishers, buy their books, and actively choose them over some of the over-hyped big-company titles, a lot of fabulous books will never be published and we will lose the vibrancy of the community, the variety of literature available. This has become one long rant!

You must get hundreds of submissions from authors, how do you choose which books you will publish? 

 

 

We get so many submissions, it’s almost terrifying! We have a reader who has worked with from the very beginning, and she knows exactly what will excite me! So she acts as a filter, and gives me a yes, no, maybe response, and a full report for every book. She has NEVER been wrong yet! Sometimes I may revisit a ‘no’, but I haven’t ever seen anything that she has missed. Then it comes to me and my editor, and we both read it. So the process is long … particularly because we are so busy with the day-to-day running of the company and keeping books going through. If I absolutely LOVE a book, I might offer for it. But the list is tiny, though, and we can’t publish that many new titles a year … having made a commitment to existing authors to grow them! I sometimes read fantastic submissions that are just a little to close in style or plot to something we already publish. One thing I definitely want to do is make sure that every single book/author is completely different. So we might have several police procedurals or psychological thrillers, but they share nothing apart from their genre or sub genre.

If I sent a book I wrote to you how long would it take you to review and respond?

I’m almost embarrassed to say that it could take six to eight months … just because of the sheer volume!! And we do like to read everything!

What would put you off reading my book I sent to you?

Poor spelling, a cliched plot or characters. Weak writing. A submission letter that isn’t personalised (i.e., Dear Sirs).
Lots of things can be fixed in books (and are) but an author needs to be a great writer to be published here and bring something fresh and distinctive.

If you accepted my book how long is the process from accepting a manuscript to final publication? And what does the process involve? 

 

 

Usually about a year, but it depends upon what time of year it’s signed. What we do first is a structural edit … loads of editorial notes that send the author back to his/her writing desk to get the bones of the book … the plot, characters, timeline, continuity, atmosphere, setting. It might go back and forth several (or even dozens of) times before it’s ready for copyediting. This is the line edit, and the copyeditor always finds more things that need addressing, and the prose is polished at this stage. The author then answers queries and checks the edits to make sure he/she is happy. During the process, we write a blurb, commission a jacket, get it up for pre-order, pitch to the sales teams around the world, discuss marketing and publicity approaches, etc. Once the book is in good shape, it is typeset. We usually print uncorrected proofs at this stage (about five/six months before publication), and these go out to the press, booksellers, other authors for jacket quotes, the sales teams, and some of the bloggers. The book is then proofread by author and an outside proofreader. Then a couple of months before publication, we print the final book! It takes a while…

You have some fantastic covers for your books, how do you choose a cover?

We have the MOST AMAZING jacket designer – Mark Swan. I give him a detailed brief … basically what the book is about, the kind of images we might be looking for, or the approach … and he delivers a series of roughs. It’s honestly VERY hard to choose. He is a genius! Sometimes the jacket we choose doesn’t meet with the approval of the retailers, so we go back to the drawing board. Usually there is another rough in the bunch that fits the bill. Jackets DO have to stand out, and we spend a lot of time getting them right.

Are there any books you are publishing this year you are really excited about?

Hand on heart, I am absolutely thrilled to be publishing every single book on the list. Quite a few authors are on their third or fourth books, and they just get better and better. It’s such a delight … a source of huge excitement … to get this list of books out there to readers. I am probably as nervous and excited as the authors themselves. In terms of new authors, however, we have a WONDERFUL book from Norway, A Modern Family, by Helga Flatland, who we are calling the Norwegian Anne Tyler. It’s so exquisitely written and moving … and it will resonate with anyone who has EVER had a sibling! It’s out in June. We’ve also got Paul Burston’s new psychological thriller, The Closer I Get, which revolves around the world of social media, where a follower becomes a little obsessive. These are authors who are new to Orenda. Others are making their return with books that quite simply smash it out of the park!

 

 

As for the marketing of your books, what have you found works best for Orenda Books?

A combination of things! We do a lot of giveaways, and Anne Cater organises the most incredible blog tours (sometimes with over 80 bloggers involved in each), which really give a book a nice headstart with some fabulous reviews and a great buzz. We do promotions with retailers, and place ads in online sites and in some print media (a lot more in the USA/Can than here). We are very active on social media, and have just started our ‘Orenda Books at Bedtime’, which is a series that goes out every Sunday night at 8pm. An author reads from his/her book from the comfort of their own home, and it’s really taking off. I absolutely think that the best marketing imaginable is to get authors in front of readers, so the ‘online’ intimate bedtime story is definitely a good way to do that. Our authors did over 300 events last year between them, including loads of festivals, and most also took part in our Orenda Roadshow, where we visit four bookshops across the country in four days. We have big launches, and parties, and try to make readers and anyone who reviews our books or shares the book love feel like part of the team. Our book trailers have been a surprising success. We also have a newsletter that goes out via the Crime Lounge every couple of weeks!

Can you tell us a little about a typical day at Orenda?

I don’t think there is any typical day! One day I might work from 7am till after midnight on edits, or I might spend a whole day trying to organise events, pitching for festivals. I might have sales meetings, or be on the road with authors for days on end! We could be preparing books for press … chasing up praise and getting the final cover designed. Spending time on social media, checking sales figures, writing a press release or jacket copy, reading submissions, crying at cash flow, rewriting metadata for online retailers (particularly for ebooks), coming up with strategies for marketing or publicity, looking at reviews for blog tours, in the press, on goodreads or Amazon. Talking to the sales team, or Sophie, who helps with PR. Updating the website. Working out why something isn’t selling as well as expected, perhaps, and finding ways to give it a boost. Talking to my editor, West Camel, and Cole, my son, who now works for us as an assistant everything! I’m getting a little better at delegating. There are hundreds of emails every day, too!

I am up at seven, get my youngest off to school, and then work well into the night (stopping to cook dinner!). I go to lots of launches for authors from other publishers, too, and am away a LOT a book fairs, author events, festivals, international sales conferences, etc. Every day brings something new and maybe that’s partly why it is so much fun. Although there are a lot of extremely boring administrative tasks, I can always do something else if I start to lose my mind!

 

 

One final question can you sum up Orenda Books in five words?

Well, our little ‘tag line’, which I thought up in about 20 seconds when I started the company is: Beautiful Readable Unforgettable. I’m not sure I could actually top that! Just Team Orenda?
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About Orenda Books

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Karen with author Thomas Enger

Orenda Books was founded by publisher Karen Sullivan in late 2014 to specialise in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, about half in translation. The company has fast made a name for itself, being shortlisted for the IPG Nick Robinson Newcomer Award, shortlisting for and winning a clutch of awards, including CWA Daggers, Authors’ Club First Novel Award, the Petrona Award, the Glass Key and the Dead Good Reads Awards. Karen was also named as a Bookseller Rising Star for 2016.

My thanks to Karen for taking time out of her hectic schedule to take part in this feature.