Book Review : Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge

The Blurb : 1960s New York, and Emma Bowden seems to have it all – a glamorous Manhattan apartment, a loving husband, and a successful writing career. But while Emma and her husband Jonathan are on vacation at the Hamptons, a child drowns in the sea, and suspicion falls on Emma. As her picture-perfect life spirals out of control, and old wounds resurface, a persistent and monotonous voice in Emma’s head threatens to destroy all that she has worked for… Taut, elegant and mesmerising, Don’t Think a Single Thought lays bare a marriage, and a woman, and examines the decisions – and mistakes – that shape all of our lives.

Diana Cambridge is an award-winning journalist. She has written for many national newspapers and magazines, gives regular writing workshops, and is a Writer-in-Residence at Sherborne, Dorset. She is Agony Aunt to Writing Magazine. She lives in Bath. Don’t Think a Single Thought is her first novel.

Buy it here : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Think-Single-Thought-Diana-Cambridge/dp/199978099X

Review
In Don’t Think a Single Thought, Diana Cambridge serves up a heady Manhattan cocktail of glamour, mystery and intrigue, with a twist of danger on the side.

It’s a character led novel that follows the life of Emma Bowden, who has more than a whiff of Daisy Buchanan about her; beautiful but vain, shallow and utterly self-absorbed, fragile and haunted by the past. I found Emma largely unlikeable yet completely relatable – her depression clinging to her like lint to a dark suit, keeping her mired in a haze of pills and isolation; Emma kept me fascinated from first to last page.

The dark undercurrent to this book – that is, the unexplained deaths of several small children, always in Emma’s orbit – is perfect for the pre-forensics and criminal psychology era in which the book is set. But were all these ‘accidents’ mistakes or murders? The reader must decide.

Don’t Think a Single Thought is a rags-to-riches story, but it’s no fairy tale and don’t expect a happy ending.

I loved this brilliant book : it gets five shiny stars and an unreserved ‘highly recommended’ from me.

 

In conversation with
author Julie Newman

Julie was born in East London but now lives a rural life in North Essex. She is married with two children. Her working life has seen her have a variety of jobs, including running her own publishing company. She is the author of the children’s book Poppy and the Garden Monster. Julie writes endlessly and when not writing she is reading. Other interests include theatre, music and running. Besides her family, the only thing she loves more than books is Bruce Springsteen.

To date, Julie has published two novels with Urbane Publications, The Kindness of Strangers (April, 2018) and Beware the Cuckoo (May, 2017); I caught up with her as she is about to launch her third novel, Cast No Shadow, which publishes on 26th September 2019.

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BH: Julie, welcome, and thank you for making time to talk about life, writing and your books. I recently read your debut, Beware the Cuckoo – and loved it, although it was a tough read in places, given the subject matter and the incredible honesty of your writing. Can you tell me a bit about writing your first novel and your route to getting published, please?

JN: Beware the Cuckoo was a result of a conversation with a friend about Operation Yewtree and subsequent convictions. At the time she was working with some women who had experienced grooming. I spoke to them while writing Cuckoo and it was at their request that the explicit sections were included. They felt, in their words, that ‘the media coverage had desensitised the issue’. When completed I approached some agents but only received rejections, however one of them said my writing was good and suggested I looked at some of the indie publishers who were not so risk averse. One of them was Urbane and Matthew Smith offered me a contract straight away.

BH: Since then of course, you’ve enjoyed success with The Kindness of Strangers – which has excellent reviews – and you’re about to launch Cast No Shadow, your third novel. What can readers expect? Tempt us with the blurb.

JN: Samantha is a journalist who longs to crack the big story that will launch her career. In a search for her ‘big break’ she comes across a little reported story in India of an hotelier – Amit Joshi – accused of rape but exonerated when ‘he’ is revealed as a she.

Samantha believes there is more to the story and begins to investigate, helped by her colleague Gregory, whose brother Simon works for the British High Commission in Delhi.

But as more pieces of the story come to light Simon is found brutally murdered. When Gregory travels to Delhi to discover what happened to his brother he goes missing. With the authorities seemingly unable to help, Samantha must head to India to search for Gregory and discover the truth behind Amit’s story and Simon’s murder.

Thrown into a dark underworld with danger at every turn, Samantha discovers it is not just the truth that is under threat, but her very life.

BH: Wow, sounds gripping, Julie – it must have taken a great deal of research. In a few words, how would you sum up the book’s key themes?

JN: Gender, equality, western ignorance. There are instances in the book where assumptions are made about the characters. I hope I have demonstrated that you need to look beyond the stereotypes and preconceptions in order to understand not just others but yourself and society too. I also hope I have shown what a wonderful country India is.

BH: What inspired Cast No Shadow?

JN: I read a news item about a successful business owner. A ‘man’ who was revealed as a woman after being accused of a crime. In this instance the deception was just because it was easier as a ‘man’ to own a business. I thought it was a good starting point, but in Cast No Shadow the reason for the deception is a matter of life or death.

BH: I note that you’re a busy Mum of two – how do you dovetail writing with family life? Do you have a particular routine?

JN: I am busy, however I can no longer blame my children for that; they are 23 & 25 now. My writing day begins in the morning, around 7-30. I am definitely more productive in the mornings. Other commitments – where possible – I schedule for the afternoon.

BH: Are you working on a new book at the moment?

JN: I am. It’s too early in the process to reveal anything about it, other than to say it is something very different; not a thriller.

BH: Name the last three books you read.

JN: The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris. Normal People by Sally Rooney. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.

BH: And the last three feature films?

JN: I’m more of a theatregoer so sometimes I’m a bit late to the party where films are concerned but they were: The Favourite. Green Book. Bohemian Rhapsody. I am going to see Blinded by the Light this week as I love Bruce Springsteen.

BH: Finally, Julie, what are your three top tips for fledgling authors who are at an early stage in their writing journey?

JN: Every writer should read, and write every day, anything. Just get words on the page. Always keep a notebook with you as you never know when inspiration will strike. And be persistent, especially with yourself.

BH: Julie, thank you so much for chatting to me – really appreciate your time and insight, and good luck with Cast No Shadow, which is now available to pre-order here : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cast-No-Shadow-Julie-Newman/dp/1912666502/

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Follow Julie on Twitter @Julesmnewman
or check out her website https://julienewmanauthor.com/

Also by Julie Newman:

Beware the Cuckoo https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beware-Cuckoo-Julie-Newman/dp/1911129910/

The Kindness of Strangers https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kindness-Strangers-Julie-Newman/dp/191158376X/

Book Review : No Way Out by Cara Hunter

No Way Out is the third book in Cara Hunter’s brilliant DI Adam Fawley thriller series and it’s been creeping up my #TBR list all summer.

It was worth the wait and Fawley fans will not be disappointed. It’s New Year 2018 and we return to Oxford where Thames Valley Police are tasked with investigating a devastating house fire that has claimed the lives of several family members, including two small children.

With Quinn disgraced and demoted, DI Fawley is ably supported by DS Gislingham (Gis), while DCs Somer and Everett make a welcome return to complete the male/female dynamic.

From the outset, there are too many questions and no forthcoming answers, but one thing’s for sure; the fire was no accident and the deaths look like murder.

Running alongside the crime, we see Fawley struggling with his own demons – namely the recent and painful disintegration of his marriage. This adds a layer of poignancy as wife Alex floats, spectre-like, in and out of Fawley’s life – in an almost dreamlike way that was very intriguing.

During the first half, I found this book a little harder to grip than the author’s first two volumes; simply because I didn’t know who I was rooting for within the Esmond family. Later however, several cracking twists emerge which pick up the pace and make for a twisty second half and a shocking and very satisfying ending.

The combination of the authentic, relatable investigating team mixed with the intricate plot, makes for another gripping read as Cara Hunter serves up just enough familiarity but with a collection of thrilling new twists.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/No-Way-Out-Fawley-Thriller/dp/0241283493/

 

 

Rain Walking

 

 

 

 

Dog stands by the door, feet planted, tail still
While I put on wellingtons and a mac
Dog’s eyes say: ‘Terriers hate the rain; don’t you know nuffink?’
Collar and lead on, we set out
Past the village store, open all hours
Past the house with the broken gate
Where lives a woman with a broken heart
Past the post box, unleashing love and hope
And bills (but nobody wants those)
And to the footpath, muddied and brown
Moving through fields of overripe wheat
Looking up I feel the kiss of clouds
As rain, fine as sea spray
Mists my nose, cheeks and eyelids
Field after field, until dog and I are bound for home
Each wetter than a paper boat

 

 

16.08.19 Beverley Harvey

 

Book Review : Beware the Cuckoo by Julie Newman

Blurb: They were reunited at his funeral, school friends with a shared past. A past that is anything but straightforward. A past that harbours secrets and untruths.

Karen has a seemingly perfect life. An adoring husband, two wonderful children and a beautiful home. She has all she has ever wanted, living the dream. She also has a secret.

Sandra’s once perfect life is rapidly unravelling. The man who meant everything to her had a dark side and her business is failing. To get her life back on track she needs to reclaim what is rightfully hers. She knows the secret.

As the past meets the present, truths are revealed – and both women understand the true cost of betrayal.

Review : In this dark thriller, Julie Newman skilfully weaves a tale of intrigue and suspense. The narrative spans several decades, mainly the recent past and the seventies, and the key characters are three schoolgirls and one sinister and wealthy businessman.

Overall, ‘Beware the Cuckoo’ is the story of one woman’s struggle to outrun a lifetime of misery and abuse at the hands of not only a male perpetrator but a bullying and monstrous woman. To say much more would spoil the plot, but at the mid-way point, there’s a subtle shift in tone as we focus more on the recent past and themes of blackmail, financial skulduggery and revenge smoulder throughout the action.

I found the character of Karen terribly sad and her story a tough read in places, particularly some of the detailed descriptions of her abuse at the hands of Bill.  There are no laughs in this book, but if you like a twisty and unpredictable read, you’ll get much out of this novel and I’m looking forward to reading other novels by Ms Newman.

Beware the Cuckoo – OUT NOW

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beware-Cuckoo-Julie-Newman/dp/1911129910/

Watch this space for exciting news of Julie’s forthcoming release ‘Cast No Shadow’ published by Urbane on 26th September 2019

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Book Review : Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

I loved Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech and was excited by the idea of the deliciously titled Call Me Star Girl which has been creeping up my TBR list since it launched. I was not disappointed.

Two words: Obsessive Love. For this is what Ms Beech’s brilliantly written, poignant and just plain creepy novel boils down to; the ripple effects of what can happen when people love too much.

Call Me Star Girl is a captivating story with a timeline that spans one fateful Night. Cleverly, the author manages to weave in a lifetime of pent up struggle and emotion, told through the eyes of Stella, a mid-twenties radio presenter, and her mother Elizabeth. It’s a story about love, obsession, secrets, shadows and regrets.

Events take place during Stella’s last ever radio show, with flashbacks that span both her own lifetime and her mother’s. This is a book about women for women with the nature of mother/daughter relationships at its heart. The male characters are indeed pivotal to the action but we scarcely care what they think, and they win little to no affection.

I loved Louise’s narrative style; its lack of flowery prose is just right for me as it is evocative, rather than descriptive. I read one review that had described the book as repetitive and in some parts it is, but in a deliberate and artful way that illustrates how Stella’s life is spinning out of control and the desperation she feels, with much of her inner dialogue reminding me of someone who suffers from anxiety or OCD.

Regards plot, there are myriad twists and turns and you’ll find your sympathy vacillating from one character to another as the facts emerge and overall it makes for a tight and tense read.

The ending is shocking, utterly unpredictable – and absolutely right. I loved it.

Published by Orenda and out now https://www.amazon.co.uk/Call-Star-Girl-Louise-Beech/dp/1912374633/

Eden Interrupted: the wait is over

#Review: “Another beautifully crafted piece of life drama by the talented author of Seeking Eden. I’m in awe of this writer’s ability to see into the minds of such a diverse cast…I loved every page. This is a compelling page turning read, a must to take on holiday.”

Source: Waterstones  https://www.waterstones.com/books/reviews/isbn/9781912666386#review-121868

 

Happy Publication Day to me! Eden Interrupted finally launched today. It’s been a long time coming. My publisher, Urbane, has had an incredibly busy year and I’ve been happy to wait my turn. Today the wait is over.

So how does it feel to unleash Book Two? Short, official answer; pretty cool, thanks. Longer view? A bit flat and somewhat of an anti-climax. This time there’ll be no big launch party spent guzzling champagne with my beautiful friends and family; well, you only write your debut once…

It’s nerve wracking, too. Will anyone like it? Will anyone review it? Will anyone even read the darn thing?! There are no guarantees, except that it’s out there in the ether now, and I feel as naked as a bare lady on a nudist beach – but more about my holidays later.

So what can readers expect of Eden Interrupted? First things first: it’s the sequel to Seeking Eden so readers will have a better experience if they’ve read the latter. That said, it makes perfect sense as a standalone novel – but possibly without the depth in some storylines.

There are several familiar faces, but – plot spoiler alert – not everyone from Seeking Eden makes it across to Eden Interrupted. In addition, there are plenty of exciting new characters on the block; like Chloe, a forty-something divorced mum, with an angst-ridden teenage son. Poor Chloe is trying to juggle a new business, a new house and a new relationship – never mind Jake’s grand scale teenage meltdowns.

At the other end of the village, we meet Nigel and Rosemary Bradshaw, and their six year old daughter Iris. But there’s more to this family than meets the eye.

At least we can rely on Ben and Lisa for some light relief…can’t we? Just don’t mention the M word to Lisa…

Finally, Martin and Jan take the plunge and move to Eden Hill after a dramatic life event forces their hands – but as is usually the case, it’s not all plain sailing for them either.

To all the people who have pre-ordered the book – and to those yet to be persuaded, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you enjoy it as much as readers loved Seeking Eden. And if Eden Interrupted isn’t quite your bag, tell me (seriously, get in touch), but if it is, tell everybody and please consider leaving a review on Amazon, however brief.

Thank you to all the kind people who have supported me throughout the writing of both books; you know who you are – and I’ll never forget it.

Happy Reading… xx

Book Review: The Grass Below by Mark Mayes

Having read and enjoyed another of Mark Mayes’ novels, The Blue Box, I expected The Grass Below to come alive with original and stylish prose and to contain an element of fantasy or magic. But whilst the former is true, his latest novel is filled with a gritty and visceral realism that at times left me breathless.

The book tracks the story of Alex Wright, a timid dreamer of a boy raised in lower-middle class suburbia in the 70s. Mayes’ observations of the times are scarily accurate and will certainly raise a knowing smile of familiarity for readers of a certain age (me being one of them).

We soon learn that young Alex spends his time with a local gang of lads, but that he is often the butt of the joke due to being overweight and overtly shy. From the outset I felt that Alex was tolerated rather than embraced by the other boys. He is also bullied mercilessly by an older boy from a local thuggish family – and it is this sense of victimisation that forms one of the book’s overarching themes: Alex’s quest for truth and justice as a middle-aged man, single, childless and with no real career to speak of. This is the story of the worm that turned as Alex goes ‘home’ to right the wrongs of the past and to free himself of the guilt and shame and the ‘loser’ status that has always followed him.

The balance of the action is fifty-fifty between Alex the boy and Alex the man, and although there’s real darkness in the story, its telling is so vivid that – as in life – there are flashes of hilarity, too. For instance, an all-night drunken bender with the ‘old gang’ when Alex returns home will have you reading through your fingers with fascination and discomfort.

Throughout, there’s real tension and pace; I had a terrible sense of dread, whilst willing Alex on to do whatever was necessary to right the wrongs of the past. The ending is shocking and very satisfying and kept me guessing to the bitter end. The writing is immaculate and veers between anecdotal reminiscence to stream of consciousness chaos as Alex falls deeper down the rabbit hole in his search for the truth.

Overall The Grass Below is a brilliant follow up to Mark Mayes’ debut – and I personally preferred it.

 

Book Review: The Fish That Climbed A Tree by Kevin Ansbro

Where to start with the literary feast that is The Fish That Climbed a Tree? I was attracted by the reviews but wasn’t sure the book would be for me as (generally) I like to keep it real. BUT – and here’s the clever part – this fantastical tale of an orphan’s journey from young boy to adulthood was utterly believable and the characters became so real to me that I was wholly invested in them and their respective plights from the get-go.

Ansbro sets out his stall immediately, opening on the grisly murder of the Reverend Ulysses Drummond and his fragrant, butterfly-magnet wife, Florence. The pair are killed by grotesque assassins who are the stuff of nightmares and I found them utterly terrifying; yet somehow, the author manages to inject wit and humour into even the bleakest of scenes.

The couple are survived by their ten-year-old son, Henry, an awkward and high-functioning child, who gets shipped off to his grandparents’ and sent away to school. We then chart Henry’s progress as he encounters a cast of beguiling characters. Look out for benign Bertie, the loathsome Sebastian (whom readers will love to hate), the lubricious Amber and doting father-figure/landlord, Mr O’Connor.

Throughout, the violence is shocking but never gratuitous, driving the plot at a cracking pace and ensuring that the reader is rooting for Henry every step of the way. The Magical Realism aspect arises from Ulysses and his celestial friends (see entertaining cameos by Voltaire and Darwin) as he follows his son’s journey, unable to rest or play with the other angels until his son is safe.

All the characters fascinate, but it was Henry who stole my heart and I found the ending very satisfying. I loved the author’s narrative style; rich in metaphors and similes – and the way in which he wove together the astral plane of the spirit world with the earthly land of the living.

To summarise, Kevin Ansbro’s clever and multi layered third novel is a joy from first to last page. The Fish That Climbed a Tree may have been my first foray into Magical Realism, but I doubt it will be my last.

Out now on Amazon in Paperback & Kindle:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fish-That-Climbed-Tree/dp/1912014327

 

In conversation with writer
Cara Hunter

Cara Hunter is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling crime novels Close to Home and In the Dark, featuring DI Adam Fawley and his Oxford-based police team. Close to Home was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and Cara’s novels have sold more than half a million copies worldwide. Cara’s third novel, No Way Out, is out soon. Cara Hunter lives in Oxford, on a street not unlike those featured in her books.

 

Gripping, fast-paced and tense are just some of the adjectives that leap out of the many reviews garnered by Cara Hunter for her thrilling DI Adam Fawley police procedural series. Already a firm favourite in our house, the drama centres on DI Fawley and his Oxford-based police team. Cara’s Debut, Close to Home, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and her novels have sold more than half a million copies worldwide. I caught up with Cara ahead of the launch of No Way Out, (Penguin, Imprint: Viking, Publishing: 18/04/2019).

BH: Cara, many congratulations on the success of Close to Home and In the Dark. I’ve read and hugely enjoyed both novels and I’m excited about Book Three in the series No Way Out. You must be delighted with the reviews and the speed with which the series has caught fire.

CH : I’m a bit overwhelmed to be honest! It’s been an amazing couple of years. It was about this time in 2017 that the great and unfailingly generous Ian Rankin was kind enough to give me a quote for the cover of Close to Home, and now I’m up alongside him in the short-list for Crime & Thriller book of the year in the British Book Awards. It’s like a dream come true.

BH: Close to Home was your debut; can I take you back to your first forays into fiction. Where did the idea for the Fawley series come from and how long did it take you to write Close to Home?

CH: There’s a nice story about that. My husband and I were on holiday in the Caribbean, and I was reading my usual stack of crime books. And each time I’d finish one (I read really fast – the legacy of doing English lit at university) I’d invariably chuck it on the sand and say ‘It was good, but the ending was a bit disappointing’. And in the end he just turned to me and said ‘Why don’t you write one of those things yourself?’. And so I did! By the end of that holiday I had a synopsis, and it only took a few months to write – it was amazingly fast once I got going.

BH: Cara, you write about police procedure and the operations side with great authority and insight. Where does your inside track come from?

CH: When I had my first meeting with my (now) editor at Penguin, Katy Loftus, one of the first things she said was that the book felt so authentic I must have spent hours talking to actual police officers. At which point I laughed out loud and confessed I hadn’t talked to anyone! All the research had been done online, or had seeped into my brain from all the crime I watch on TV. But I agreed with Katy that it was probably a good idea to check before we went live (!), and since then I’ve assembled a fantastic team of pro advisers, including a DI, a former forensic scientist, a QC, a doctor and a forensic psychiatrist. They read the first draft of each book, and they’re also on hand in the early stages when I’m planning the story, in case there are any procedural or legal issues that are crucial to the plot. I’ve learned so much from them – and I’m sure the books are better as a result.

BH: In your books Oxford is more than just a setting; it’s like another character or cast member, even. Can you talk about the relationship you have with the City?

CH: I came here as a student, and now I’ve returned, many years later, to live here. I think your university town always has a special place in your heart – it’s like your second home. I certainly feel that way. And I set Close to Home only a few hundred yards from where I live – ‘close to home’ in every sense.

BH: No plot spoilers please, Cara – but what can readers expect from No Way Out?

CH: No Way Out returns, in many ways, to the territory of Close to Home. It’s centred on an Oxford family, outwardly happy and perfectly ‘normal’, who are struck by an appalling tragedy in the opening pages, when their house is devastated by a fire. After that the book unfolds in two parallel strands – the police investigation led by DI Adam Fawley that moves forward in the present, and a series of flashbacks that take the reader into the family’s past, and finally reveal what really happened. We also see more of Adam and his wife Alex, who love each other very much, but are struggling with a terrible fault-line in their relationship that threatens to tear them apart. I found writing those scenes really emotional.

BH: DI Fawley is very charismatic, and has great depth, including his own ghosts and tragedies: Who would you cast to play him in the TV series?

CH: I have the most immense soft spot for him! He’s strong and intelligent but he also has his weak spots and his vulnerabilities. As for who would play him, I still can’t decide. The person who I think looks most like him is actually Mark Carney (would you believe) the Governor of the Bank of England. Perhaps he could be tempted to a change of career!

BH: Now that would be a radical career change – although I’m sure Mark Carney has to act from time to time. Dare readers hope for a fourth book…and beyond?

CH: I’m in the final throes of work on ‘Fawley Four’, which is called All the Rage. And I really love this one. I’m contracted for five at the moment, so there’ll definitely be one more after that, and hopefully more!

BH: Finally, Cara, what are your three top tips for fledgling authors at an early stage in their writing journey?

CH: The first is to just write. Like everything else, you’ll get better at it the more you do it. So if that novel idea just isn’t coming, or you get bogged down in a cul-de-sac, just put it aside and write something else. A short story, a blog post, anything. Just keep exercising that creative muscle. The second is to share what you’re doing with other people. It’s tempting to keep what you write to yourself, but if you want to be published there will come a time when you have to share it, and it’s better to have got used to receiving feedback before you get to the stage of agents and publishers, who can be very direct (though, of course, for the right reasons). The last is to persevere. Writing is really tough. You spend a lot of time alone, it’s hard work, and even when the book is done getting it published can feel like an uphill struggle. The important thing is to keep going. If you want it bad enough….

BH: Cara, thank you so much for making time to chat to me in the middle of your busy launch period. I wish you continued success with the Fawley Series – and can’t wait to find out what happens next!

You can read more about Cara Hunter at :
https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/130642/cara-hunter.html
https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B077YKNJGN

You can also sign up to the new newsletter (just launched this week!) to get sneak previews, book recommendations, interviews with my pro team, and exclusive content https://www.penguin.co.uk/newsletters/carahunter/