Mark Novak’s greatest mystery might just be his own …

Private Investigator Mark Novak’s relentlessness as an investigator has been his professional calling card and curse, but the one case he has couldn’t bring himself to pursue is the one closest to his heart: that of his wife’s death.

Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

Returning to the scene of her murder, a country road outside Cassadaga, Florida, he uncovers disturbing leads that show how her murder might be connected to Novak’s own troubled youth in Montana.

The investigation leads him back to the mining towns of Montana which he thought he’d left behind forever. On returning, he discovers there are more than just bad memories to be found when you go digging up the past. Novak faces an adversary more frightening than he’s ever known, and a secret that has wended its way through his entire life: from the caverns beneath Indiana to the abandoned streets of a southern gothic town to the darkest corners of the Northwest. Novak is about to discover that evil and heroism are inextricably and tragically linked.

Another engaging and entertaining read courtesy of Michael Koryta, this time around we follow Mark Novak in Rise the Dark, a continuation of the private investigator series.

There’s an underlying darkness to Rise the Dark, believe it or not, filled with subtle references to the supernatural and a sophistication that helps make the book an uncomfortable read at times. Koryta doesn’t do easy; this complex plot is immaculately delivered and although I didn’t feel as one with the leading character or the storyline this is still a book to be savoured.

This isn’t the first Michael Koryta book I’ve read and it certainly won’t be the last. I always look forward to his next title and from past experiences I prefer the darker, more sinister, more chilling titles. Think So Cold The River, a book that still remains high in my top five books of all time! It’s always going to be difficult for an author to top his own book in my eyes but Koryta is consistently good at delivering high quality products.

One thing I would say about this book is that it is easy to imagine the book as a short television series or film. It has all the hallmarks of a gripping thriller. A private investigator who will rest at nothing to avenge his wife’s murder, a villain who is as evil and psychopathic as they come – he really is a nasty bit of work! – and a reunion with loved ones from his past that have a certain inevitability.

Another top notch performance from Koryta, you’ll find him in the supernatural and chilled isle in most good supermarkets, he is after all a master of both! I look forward to the next title.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Hodder & Stoughton (25 Aug. 2016)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1473614570
  • ISBN-13:978-1473614574
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Bullseye by James Pattereson & Michael Ledwidge

Bullseye by James Pattereson & Michael Ledwidge

As the most powerful men on earth gather in New York for a meeting of the UN, Detective Michael Bennett receives intelligence warning that there will be an assassination attempt on the US president. Even more shocking, the intelligence suggests that the Russian government could be behind the plot.

Tensions between America and Russia are the highest they’ve been since the Cold War, but this would be an escalation no one could have expected.

The details are shadowy, and Bennett finds false leads and unreliable sources at every turn. But he can’t afford to get this wrong. If the plotters succeed, the shockwaves will be felt across the globe.

A joint collaboration between James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, Bullseye is a quick and effortless read. With a heady pace and storyline that develops quicker than a speeding bullet I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was an entertaining read as I struggled through my long indoor bike rides at the gym. Although I’ve read a few James Patterson books in the past I’ve not read any of the Michael Bennett series so it will be interesting to take a look at the earlier novels and compare old and new.

More often than not, any storyline that involves the White House or a standing United States President always piques my interest and I simply can’t resist, Bullseye is no exception and I for one am glad I gave it a shot – excuse the pun!

Characterisation is interesting. I really enjoyed following Michael Bennett’s progress throughout the book, workload and his family troubles – caused mainly by children – I mean anyone with 10 children are going to have a trying day at the best of times! Mary Catherine’s character sounds too good to be true, a nanny turned partner who takes on so many children? Wonderful – I did want to learn more about her in the novel but unfortunately she isn’t in the storyline a huge amount but what there was of her I enjoyed. Similarly Father Seamus who although in a couple of scenes his humour and personality shone through, I’d definitely like to learn more about him and his relationship with the family as a whole!

The storyline itself was good and you never really knew who would end up paying the ultimate sacrifice at the end and who was involved in the plot to kill the US President but everything is tied up nicely in the end. It did get a little complicated in the beginning with a number of arcs running alongside the main storyline and protagonist, it took me a while to distinguish between the two assassins, but maybe that’s my simplified brain at fault!

Would I read another Michael Bennett book? You bet. Enjoyable, entertaining and a very quick read, you can’t ask for much more than that.

  • Hardcover:368 pages
  • Publisher:Century (28 July 2016)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1780892721
  • ISBN-13:978-1780892726
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Elizabeth Black is a hero. She is a cop who single-handedly rescued a young girl from a locked cellar and shot two brutal kidnappers dead. But she’s also a cop with a history, a woman with a secret. And she’s not the only one.

Redemption Road by John Hart

Redemption Road by John Hart

Adrian Wall is finally free after thirteen years of torture and abuse. In the very first room he walks into, a boy with a gun is waiting to avenge the death of his mother. But that is the least of Adrian’s problems.

He was safer in prison.

And deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen. It is not the first to be found.

This is a town on the brink. This is Redemption Road.

Redemption rɪˈdɛm(p)ʃ(ə)n/the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

Everyone needs a little redemption at one point in their lives, fortunately for us John Hart is at hand with his latest novel Redemption Road, a story about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with her torment, her past and her strained relationship with her father. A woman struggling to conquer her demons, the book charts her fight to come through her trials and tribulations and seize her life back.

I remember reading Iron House five years ago, a book I remember fondly to this day, I remember being mesmerised by John Hart’s storytelling and magnificent characterisation. There are few books that have that lasting effect on you but as an author John Hart is right up there with the best of them.

Redemption Road is well paced and incredibly brutal; in fact the book is rather unforgiving. I briefly mentioned characterisation above and this book is no exception. Elizabeth Black is damaged and her past slowly catches up with her as the greater story unfolds. An interesting character, Elizabeth is a protagonist that will divide opinion. Some will love her, some will hate her, for me she had a wonderful balance of right and wrong, good and evil. It’s all about survival and protecting those she holds dear. With a colourful history that has helped shape her become the cop she is today, Lizzie will stop at nothing to find the truth.

Along with a host of interesting characters, Crybaby Jones was possibly my favourite character of the book. An ageing lawyer who hasn’t left the sanctuary of his big house for a decade or more, he as a character, had so much to offer the book. Even though Jones wasn’t in the book as often as the main protagonists he left his mark with emotion and passion. For me, whenever he was involved in the storyline the book was the stronger for his appearance, he certainly left his mark with me.

The story moves along at a fairly rapid pace, there’s so much to take in and the pace slows every once in a while due to the complexity of the storyline but the pace takes nothing away from a magnificent book. Reading the first chapter I knew I was hooked, a book that causes your heart to miss a beat, not once but twice in the first chapter, you know you are with some certainty on to a winner.

Another breath-taking story from a master storyteller, Redemption Road is one not to be missed.

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (5 May 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848541813
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848541818
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The Beauty of the End

The Beauty of the End

Top 6 Psychological Thrillers

I hadn’t realised until I put this list together that the authors are all women! There are some brilliant books out there at the moment – fiction, yes, but be warned – the twisted, dysfunctional relationships portrayed are not far removed from real life. That, perhaps, is part of their appeal… It’s something these and many other women write about so well

  1. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Surprising, damaged characters, clever plot, twists I didn’t see coming.

  1. I Let You Go – Claire Mackintosh

I loved everything about this book – the believable characters, the emotional pull, a brilliantly twisty plot and phenomenal ending. Oh, and it’s brilliantly written too.

  1. The Book of You – Claire Kendal

A compelling read – so creepy and disturbing so that you have to keep reading until you know how it ends…

  1. Afterwards – Rosamund Lupton

I have read this so many times. The writing is beautiful, lyrical even. The story is moving, the emotions so real. It’s about ordinary people – and a terrible crime.

  1. Kind of Cruel – Sophie Hannah

This was the first book of Sophie’s books I read. I remember devouring it – I just had to find out what had happened.

  1. Killing Me Softly – Nicci French

Another page turner… Gripping and disturbing.

Credit: The Beauty of The End by Debbie Howells is published by Pan on 14th July.

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NYPD Red 4

NYPD Red 4

In a city where crime never sleeps, NYPD Red is the elite task force called in when a case involves the rich, famous and connected. Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald are the best of the best – brilliant and tireless investigators who will stop at nothing to catch a criminal, even if it means antagonising the same powerful people they’re supposed to be helping.

When a glitzy movie premiere is the scene of a shocking murder and high-stakes robbery, NYPD Red gets the call. In a hunt that takes Zach and Kylie from celebrity penthouses to the depths of Manhattan’s criminal underworld, they have to find the cold-blooded killer – before he strikes again.

My first foray into the NYPD Red series, NYPD Red 4 is an incredibly fluid and entertaining read. From the very first page until the very last there’s no pause in the action. The pages flow effortlessly from one to another, the narrative easy on the eye and the various sub plots all adding to a terrific experience.

Of all the books I’ve read this year I’d have to say that this has been the easiest to read by far and one that was incredibly hard to put down. Even the lure of a warm bed late at night couldn’t tear me away from the book.

With rain lashing down outside, the book was the perfect companion. Characterisation was perfect and the main protagonists worked well together but it was the narrative that won the day for me. I can’t do it justice in these few paragraphs but when a book works it works. James Patterson and Marshall Karp have the makings of a wonderful partnership, they’ve combined for the entire series, a series I hope they continue. Although I haven’t had the chance to read the first three in the series I felt right at home with NYPD Red 4 but I’ll definitely seek out the other three if the standard is half as good as this book!

The main story – Elena Travers’s murder – is quickly usurped with multiple thefts of expensive hospital equipment from hospitals in the district and the Mayor has called in team Red to investigate. Detectives Zach and and Kylie have their work cut out for them but it’s not the only thing the pair have to deal with in this book. Both are enjoying trouble on the home front and it appears to be an almost impossible task of juggling the home life with an ever increasing work schedule, it all adds to the unique flavour of NYPD Red.

So there we have it, without going into too much detail NYPD Red 4 is a wonderful and effortless read. A great book for a summer vacation or one to wile away the hours if the weather just happens to be rather inclement outside, either way you can’t go wrong.

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Arrow (19 May 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0099594447
ISBN-13: 978-0099594444

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Blake and Avery and how their relationship has developed through two books.

I first had the idea for Jeremiah Blake, my inquiry agent (the prototype of the modern private eye) about 14 years ago. I was in the midst of a huge non-fiction tome about World War One, and writing a detective novel with a made-up plot seemed unbelievably alluring. I knew exactly where I wanted to put him: in London in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, when the chaotic, morally easy-going Georgian era gave way to the more uptight, energetic Victorian one, and when London became the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in the world.

The Printer's Coffin by MJ Carter

The Printer’s Coffin by MJ Carter

I knew from the start that my protagonist would be working class, self-educated, and clever, too clever not to see through the injustices and prejudices of his period, yet forced to kowtow to his social superiors in order to make a living.

It was a good nine years until I actually got round to writing my first mystery, The Strangler Vine. By then I’d decided that I wanted to write about the Thugs —the gangs of murderous bandits who haunted the roads of India in the 1820s and 30s, befriending, then strangling, unwary travelers. So the book had to be set in India which I reckoned was a good place for a sort of origins story. At the frontiers of the British Empire people from unconventional and modest backgrounds often found opportunity and reinvented themselves. I decided that Blake (he now had a name) had come from a lowlife criminal background and had been transported to India when very young by the East India Company. There he had been spotted by the Company’s intelligence department and trained up to be a spy.

Then I realised that not knowing anything about India might be a bit of a problem. I couldn’t be an omniscient narrator because I would never know enough. I couldn’t write from Blake’s perspective because I felt he needed to be mysterious and inscrutable. I couldn’t use an Indian character because again they’d know more than I ever could. I needed someone to tell the story who was new to India and a bit clueless: my ignorance could be his ignorance. Problem solved.

That was how Blake’s sidekick William Avery came about. He was a young provincial gentleman-turned-soldier, naïve, conventional and full of the prejudices of his class, but with a hidden, less straightforward side: a secret passion for books, an instinct for taking care of others, an eye for a telling detail.

The strange thing was that Avery’s voice, which started out as a response to a structural need, came to me at once: he seemed easy to write, maybe because he was so fallible and reminded me a bit of me. Blake came slower. Taciturn, cool, revealing very little about himself, but with a big hinterland that could only emerge slowly, I found it much harder to get him right.

The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter

The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter

I’d planned to kill Avery off at the end of The Strangler Vine, but as I wrote the book, I realized that I’d written a real, awkward and—I thought—touching relationship that I wanted to develop. I liked the notion of the older working-class man leading the younger posher subordinate—a relationship unusual and not altogether approved of in Victorian England. At the start Avery feels utterly humiliated by Blake and hates him. But gradually he begins reluctantly to admire him and ends by feeling intense loyalty to him. Blake, meanwhile, has convinced himself he needs no one, especially not a silly, innocent young officer. But his long suppressed humanity is brought out by Avery, whom he comes to recognize maybe ignorant and innocent but is utterly honest and loyal.

In the second book, The Printer’s Coffin, the two meet in London after three years apart. Avery still nurses a powerful admiration for and loyalty to Blake. I think he regards him as the older brother/father mentor he never had, though he disagrees with many of Blake’s views. He hopes they will pick up where they left off, but both have changed. Blake is cool and difficult, and even angrier and at odds with Victorian society. He is determined to keep the world at bay. Avery meanwhile has been traumatized by his experiences in the Afghan war, and his marriage has not been a success. Ironically, it seems to me, each one needs the other more than ever.

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

The rich are different. But fate is blind.

Down-on-his-luck artist Scott Burroughs would usually take the ferry back to New York from Martha’s Vineyard, but he is unexpectedly offered a spare seat on the Bateman family’s private jet. Then just minutes after take-off, the plane crashes into the ocean and of the eight passengers and three crew, only Scott and the Batemans’ small son, JJ, are left alive.

The extraordinary nature of their survival, combined with the fact that David Bateman was CEO of a populist TV news channel, means that Scott will not be returning to anonymity. Along with the orphaned boy, he is engulfed by a maelstrom of speculation, which soon overtakes the official investigation into the tragedy.

Who else was on the plane? Was there a bomb, a missile? Who is Scott Burroughs?

As the chapters drive towards their heart-stopping conclusion, weaving with ever-increasing suspense between the shocking aftermath of the crash and the intimate backstory of each of the passengers and crew members, Noah Hawley creates a searching, thrilling novel of love, fame, wealth, art, entertainment and power.

When a book sets out its stall before the turning of a page, your expectations are high, and in this case fully justified. A plane has crashed minutes after taking off at Martha’s Vineyard with only two survivors, but that’s the only thing we know before we begin reading. What follows is a masterclass in plot weaving, tension building and a narrative that begs you to read until you drop. Before the Fall is arguably one of the best books of 2016 and we’re only half way through the year.

Slowly but surely we are introduced to the passengers on the plane, each one given the opportunity to tell their own story in their own unique voice. We discover why they are on the small plane and their connections to each other, what makes them tick and the skeletons they carry.

As you’d expect the main protagonist is Scott Burroughs a failed artist and a recovering alcoholic but the great thing is that he is so damned likeable! We discover what sent his life spiralling out of control and what it took for him to attempt to rebuild his life but you are left with no doubt at all, Scott Burroughs isn’t there quite yet. He’s damaged but it’s this fallibility, his weaknesses that make him so endearing, you want him to succeed at all costs. When you have a vested interest in a character like Scott then the author has clearly done what he set out to do, engage with the reader.

The other voices are introduced one by one and with each new addition we get to know a little more about what went on in those 16 minutes. The pacing is on point and incredibly well paced, I loved this approach. Along with the protagonist and passengers are investigating officers and journalists and it was one of these journalists that almost got the better of me! A close friend of David Bateman the news anchor is determined to attack Scott Burroughs in any way possible. A shock jockey he uncovers secrets and blends the truth with a rather sizable portion of fiction, make believe, and the viewer’s love it! Noah Hawley has created a character that you’ll find it rather easy to despise and that remained for the entire book. Job done!

Can’t fault this book, absolutely loved it, my only wish was that it didn’t end so suddenly, I wanted to keep reading and find out what happens in the future – you can’t have everything! A terrific read, superb plotting and a tension filled narrative, Before the Fall is a must read for 2016. Highly recommended.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Hodder & Stoughton (9 Jun. 2016)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1444779753
  • ISBN-13:978-1444779752
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End of Watch by Stephen King

End of Watch by Stephen King

The cell rings twice, and then his old partner in his ear… ‘I’m at the scene of what appears to be a murder-suicide. I’d like you to come and take a look. Bring your sidekick with you, if she’s available…’

Retired Detective Bill Hodges now runs a two-person firm called Finders Keepers with his partner Holly Gibney. They met in the wake of the ‘Mercedes Massacre’ when a queue of people was run down by the diabolical killer Brady Hartsfield.

Brady is now confined to Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, in an unresponsive state. But all is not what it seems: the evidence suggests that Brady is somehow awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.

When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill’s heroic young friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.

The clock is ticking in unexpected ways …

Both a stand-alone novel of heart-pounding suspense and a sublimely terrifying final episode in the Hodges trilogy, End of Watch takes the series into a powerful new dimension.

Stephen King is back in his safe haven of terror writing, no one frankly does it better and this genre, although plentiful, there’s always room for one of writings most creative and elegant writers. End of Watch marks the third and final novel in the trilogy featuring retired detective Bill Hodges, or Kermit as he is affectionately called.

Rumours, Suspicions and evidence – or lack thereof – play into the hands of Bill Hodges who has always suspected that Brady Hartsfield’s catatonic state is a sham, suffering from a brain injury there’s no possible way the killer can continue to impart his will on others is there?. Not one to quit Hodges begins to wonder if the rumours circulating from Brady’s hospital wing about his powers of telekinesis are true. Can he really have a hold on people from a distance using his mind? Only time will tell and it looks as if it’s up to Hodges to provide the answers.

Although not my favourite of King’s writing, that honour lies with the imperious The Stand, Pet Cemetery and 11.22.63, the book serves as a sumptuous finale to the trilogy for the narrative is luxurious and impressive. King clearly knows his stuff and he knows how to write, engaging both characters and readers at the same time, allowing said reader to escape into a world of literary fiction and imagination.

End of Watch serves as both a conclusion and a standalone, so if you haven’t read Mr. Mercedes or Finders Keepers do not fear all will be revealed – although as I’ve always said read the series in order if you can, it adds a great deal of depth and back story. What I love about King is his storytelling and ability to bring the history of the two earlier books together in a natural and unforced way. He doesn’t delve too deeply, the balance between the past and present is spot on but what you do get is a sense of history, Brady’s history. A killer at a very young age he really hasn’t stopped but when you’re the offspring of a drunk mother and a father who died early in his childhood his upbringing was less than perfect. However, Brady might well feel a little different to you and me – he is after all a sociopathic killer.

Mind control, suicide, technology and a liberal helping of horror and the supernatural End of Watch has just about everything a Stephen King fan could desire. A desire for revenge and control, Brady Hartsfield is incredible as Kermit’s nemesis. Dark, brooding and manipulative I just loved his darkness, maybe I’m the one who should be afraid!

  • Hardcover: 368 Pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (7 Jun. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1473634008
  • ISBN-13: 978-1473634008
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George Blagden as Louis XIV. Photograph: Canal Plus/ BBC

George Blagden as Louis XIV. Photograph: Canal Plus/ BBC

Versailles, 1667. Haunted by the trauma of the Fronde as the nobles of his court begin to rebel against the monarchy, Louis XIV in his 28th year in a Machiavellian political move decides to make the nobility submit by imposing a definite move of the court from Paris to Versailles, his father’s former hunting lodge. Trapped by their king’s “invitation”, the nobles of Paris gradually come to see the castle as a gilded prison and soon even the most humble courtiers of the king begin to show their viciousness as the alcoves of secrets, politics and war are manoeuvred through, revealing Versailles in all its glory and brutality.

Set against a backdrop of power, love, betrayal and war, Versailles examines a defining period of French history. A ruthless leader, King Louis XIV will stop at nothing to achieve his vision of creating the most beautiful palace in Europe and seizing absolute control of France and his enemies.

The cast is an international roster with Brit George Blagden (Les Misérables, Vikings) playing the Sun King. Despite being filmed in France, the series was shot in English and written by English writers, including co-creators David Wolstencroft (Spooks) and Simon Mirren (Waking the Dead), with a British actor playing King Louis XIV.

Opulent, lavish and rather saucy, BBC 2’s new period drama hit our screens this week – original airing on Wednesday nights with a repeat performance on Saturday nights at 1055pm – and commanded a rather disappointing set of viewing figures, just 1.8 million.

Touted as the most expensive TV series ever made in France, Versailles cost a reported £2.1m per episode, more than twice the average cost of an episode of Downton Abbey and given its lavish production values and stellar cast it will come as no surprise that this wasn’t a cheap production for French company Canal+ – only time will tell if it was worth the gamble. They seem to think so as a second season has been confirmed.

One scene stole the show for me, Louis out riding alone, dismounted and stood overlooking his father’s hunting lodge, the final setting for the palace. A pack of wolves begin to creep ever closer to the King, Lous turns and begins to reveal his sword, ready to fight his corner. The tension was palpable, even though you knew he’d survive the encounter. Gripping stuff.

Louis XIV & The Wolves. Photograph: Canal Plus/ BBC

Louis XIV & The Wolves. Photograph: Canal Plus/ BBC

The great thing about Versailles – the drama – is that there is so much history to explore, to take advantage from. From Louis XIV’s long serving butler, to the Queen’s black baby there are few secrets at court and Canal+ appear to have done a rather splendid job of morphing fact and fiction here. Relationships are intense, the erotic nature of the period certainly explored – on numerous occasions – but for me the greatest gift a series such as Versailles can give us – an education. There are liberties – of course there are – but like any book loosely based around fact or history – this series will make you want to know more, before you know it you’ll be using google to see what’s real and what isn’t.

Louis XIV (GEORGE BLAGDEN) , Nymphe (ALEXIA GIORDANO) - (C) Canal + - Photographer: Canal+

Louis XIV (GEORGE BLAGDEN) , Nymphe (ALEXIA GIORDANO) – (C) Canal + – Photographer: Canal+

You’ll discover relationships, mistresses, cousins wedding cousins and of course trysts that you never knew existed! The only issue I had with the first episode is that apart from Louis XIV there were no other stand-out performances from the main body of cast members, none that made me want to keep watching. That said, I am keen to see where the story takes Claudine, played by Lizzie Brocheré who is keen to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a female doctor, rather than be seen as a witch.

Claudine, played by Lizzie Brocheré

Claudine, played by Lizzie Brocheré

Education in a woman in those days was certainly frowned upon! The first episode was confusing in parts and the writing and delivery, well I’ve seen and read better! With all that said if Versailles can keep the viewers happy in future episodes, season 2 which begins filming shortly should prove quite interesting.

Given the nudity and rather explicit sex scenes the first episode has garnered just two, yes two, official complaints to ofcom – remarkable in its own right. The scenes are indeed rather fruity with more than a passing reference to nudity paid. Not for the faint hearted and certainly not a drama to watch with your parents, it is wonderfully shot and the colours maginificent.

So there we have it, a decent start for BBC 2 but not a patch on Wolf Hall – a six part adaption of Hilary mantel’s novels – which began with 3.9 million viewers last year. Only time will tell if the characters are engaging enough to keep the viewers happy. It’s certainly no Tudors – my favourite BBC Period drama – a solid start but not spectacular.

The complete series (all 10 episodes at 520 minutes) is now available to buy on DVD and also Blu-ray.

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The Pigeonhole – A Closer Look

On June 3, 2016, in Article, Books, by Milo

The Pigeonhole is a made-for-mobile digital book club. Its books are delivered in instalments straight to a reader’s virtual bookshelf on The Pigeonhole website or iOS app. Here, The Pigeonhole’s commissioning editor Sarah Ream talks about the challenges and joys of serialising a novel.

Though I never imagined I’d work in a tech start-up, I’m now a year into my role as commissioning editor at The Pigeonhole, a made-for-mobile digital book club. I started my career in traditional publishing, and when I took a job in 2008 as an editor of a poetry website, I assumed it would be a temporary break from print. Even back then, despite happily editing poetry online, I didn’t give digital books much thought – I only found out what a Kindle was years after I should have done, and I didn’t read a book on a smartphone until 2012. (For the record, it was a PDF of an ineffectual how-to-get-your-baby-to-sleep book; no nifty app involved. There was no nifty app to be had.)

When I began at The Pigeonhole, I naively thought that there wouldn’t be much contrast between print and digital publishing in terms of commissioning, developing and editing books. Surely it was just the end format that differed?

But I soon learnt that approaches differ from the outset when editing books for a mobile readership. The Pigeonhole strives to curate dynamic, real-time, collective reading experiences. Synchronising readers by drip-feeding them a book is key to this; we serialise all our books in instalments (which we call staves) that are delivered straight to our readers’ phones, tablets or laptops via our app or website. We let readers to talk to each other – and the author – via an in-text comments function, and we also pepper the text with mixed-media extra content (think interviews with the author, artwork, videos, links and playlists). So we don’t simply judge the success of a title on how many subscribers it attracts; we also care deeply about how readers interact with it.

When deciding which titles to serialise, and how to serialise them, I give careful consideration to how a book will be read. It’s not just about whether the book is good or not – will serialisation actually benefit the text and its readers? Are there natural stave breaks or cliffhangers to build tension? Will the book spark discussion? Is the author keen to chat to readers? What extra content will best enhance the text? How long should the staves be and how often should readers receive them? Dickens’ readers may have been willing to wait for monthly instalments of The Pickwick Papers, but we’ve seen that daily staves – particularly for novels – are more likely to spur conversation and lead to higher completion rates than staves delivered weekly. Yet that doesn’t mean that readers only want swift, easy reads: we’ve had swathes of people committing a month to reading hefty titles such as Moby-Dick and Middlemarch in short daily instalments.

The Sacred Combe

The Sacred Combe

One of the thrills of my job is working with other publishers to serialise their books on our platform. It’s a fantastic way for them to find a new readership for their authors, breathe new life into a backlist title or boost the buzz around the launch of a print edition. We particularly love helping to launch debut authors, so we’re very excited about our upcoming serialisation of The Sacred Combe, Thomas Maloney’s first novel, which was published in hardcover by Scribe UK in May. The publishers’ pitch hooked me – the story centres around Samuel Browne, a young Londoner who, after his wife leaves him, finds a strange job advert tucked inside a volume of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and soon takes up a post in the library of a remote manor house, Combe Hall. There he is tasked with a seemingly hopeless and rather nebulous quest, and he begins to uncover the secrets and troubled family history of the Hall’s residents.

The novel is a gift of a book for The Pigeonhole. It divides elegantly into twelve, well-paced staves – each around twenty minutes’ worth of reading, with plenty of revealed mysteries and the odd cliffhanger. It also lends itself wonderfully to speculation and discussion. Jim Perrin has called the book ‘a bibliophile’s delight’, and it is, with gorgeous descriptions of old books and frequent nods to other literature. (The title itself is taken from John Fowles’ Daniel Martin.) When I first read the book, I noticed a number of these allusions and quotations – some obvious, others embedded more quietly, and I particularly loved the parallels with J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (a copy of it appears in the book, in fact). But I was sure I was missing other references, and I was excited by the idea of having multiple readers enjoying the book together, noting sections that reminded them of other books, discussing the twists and turns of the plot and having the author weighing in on their thoughts.

If the book was a gift, so was the author; within a day or two of meeting Thomas Maloney, he had sent me over a long list of suggested extras that were spot-on. Without giving too much away, they range from sketches through to snippets of birdsong, from photographs that inspired the setting to notes and links about paintings, books and poems alluded to in the text. As I suspected, there were plenty of allusions I hadn’t picked up on my first read. But we were careful not to be over-explanatory, and we didn’t aim to comprehensively annotate the book. Rather, we hope the extras will sound as echoing notes, drawing readers further in to the beguiling, beautiful world of The Sacred Combe – and encouraging them to talk about it with each other.

The 12-part Pigeonhole serialisation of The Sacred Combe begins on 2 June. Subscribe at for just £2.99. The first ten Pigeonhole readers to send us a link to their Goodreads review of the book after the serialisation will receive a Cocoa Runners gift box.

The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney is published by Scribe (£14.99).

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Burning Angels by Bear Grylls

Burning Angels by Bear Grylls

A prehistoric corpse entombed within an Arctic glacier, crying tears of blood.

A jungle island overrun by rabid primates – escapees from a research laboratory’s Hot Zone.

A massive seaplane hidden beneath a mountain, packed with a Nazi cargo of mind-blowing evil.

A penniless orphan kidnapped from an African slum, holding the key to the world’s survival.

Four terrifying journeys. One impossible path. Only one man to attempt it.

Will Jaeger. The Hunter.

It was about this time last year that I’d had the opportunity to read Ghost Flight (Will Jeager #1) by Bear Grylls and I remember the book fondly. The book was entertaining, thrilling and the action non-stop from start to finish – Burning Angels is more of the same. If you like your action heroes knowledgeable, tough and determined then read on, Burning Angels is for you!

The book follows on immediately after Ghost Flight and although this can be read as a standalone I would advise you to pick up the first book in the series to get a flavour for the series and its main protagonist. Burning Angels does standalone well but upon reading I was certainly glad that I already knew a lot of the backstory. Bear imparts this information well throughout and it never felt like repetition but to get the most out of this adventure you should go back to Ghost Flight, I don’t think you’ll be sorry!

Will Jeager is back with a vengeance, back with a bang and still on the hunt for his missing wife and son. Following pictorial evidence there is no longer any doubt that they are still alive, it’s more a matter of what condition he’ll find them in and if they can be found. Held captive somewhere in Africa we follow Will’s desperate adventure to save his family and save the world from a Nazi hell-bent on changing the world forever, killing thousands and thousands of innocent people with a super virus and following Hitler’s own vision for the future.

When I reviewed Ghost Flight last year I remember writing :

Held captive on a remote island in one of the world’s worst prisons, renowned for its brutality and an authority determined to inflict severe torture on enemies of the state, Will Jaeger is facing certain death. But let’s face facts, we know he’ll escape or there wouldn’t be a story but the opening chapters are so engaging that I had a vested interested in the protagonist.

And to be honest as soon as I picked up Burning Angels I was immediately transported into Will’s world, he’s such a likeable character. The same can be said about his team in this book, although we don’t spend a great deal of time with the rest of the gang, it’s mainly Jeager and Narov this time around and one thing I did like was the way Grylls had softened Narov ever so slightly. Adding a new dimension to her personality has worked well and has made her a little more endearing! I still wouldn’t cross her mind, she’s one tough cookie who stands for little or no nonsense but her back story is filled out well and certainly made their relationship that more enjoyable.

With a combination of high octane adventures, Bear’s own unique experiences and characters you’d end up wanting to fight alongside – even if only fictionally – Bear has another hit on his hands with Burning Angels. Incredibly quick to read with a flowing narrative, I can’t wait for the next in the series. There’s bound to be another one isn’t there?!

  • Hardcover:416 pages
  • Publisher:Orion (2 Jun. 2016)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1409156850
  • ISBN-13:978-1409156857
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Vivoactive HR Activities

Vivoactive HR Activities

I have to admit I hadn’t planned on writing a review of the new Garmin Vivoactive HR but so many people have asked me my thoughts I decided to write a mini review. I’ve had the watch for a month now and overall I’m very happy with it. Like all new items of technology there are a few issues with the watch but for me this is a huge step up from Fitbit’s Surge (I had to send that back twice due to poor battery life). I charged the watch up to 100% on day of receipt and a week later the watch was showing 39% left – incredible considering I used it for runs utilising GPS and swimming sessions.

In fact battery life is incredible. I can go 10 days without fear of the battery giving up the ghost, I think it might have been as low as 25% and I charged it up so 12 days battery life isn’t out of the question. This beats Fitbit’s Surge hands down in my opinion where I was lucky to get 4 or 5 days.

Vivoactive HR - Sunlight Reading

Vivoactive HR – Sunlight Reading

The size is good and comfortable on the arm. Although it is completely waterproof I do take it off for showers just to give my arm a small rest (not that it’s needed!) a lot smaller than the Surge. Design is great and using IQ you can upload numerous watch faces to make it look different day on day or hour on hour!

Apps are good and I’m sure more will come soon but the best fun I’ve had with it this week is the weather app. Predicting rain in 69 minutes garnered a laugh from colleagues and when it did rain they were all impressed! I do have a couple of issues with the watch however. The screen isn’t bright indoors and you have to get the angle right to read the information clearly so this needs to be improved. The screen is trans reflective which means it uses the ambient light and because of this it will sometimes appear dim particularly indoors. Garmin have now updated the system software to Version 2.40 and you can increase the backlight to level 9 and that has definitely helped.

Vivoactive HR - Predicting Rain

Vivoactive HR – Predicting Rain

When I first had the watch – probably for the first week or so – automatic recognition of activities wasn’t working for me. However the watch now recognises the activities and they show up in your calendar.

I have completed 3 swimming sessions with it and the tests have been great. The screen swipes worked effortlessly in and out of the water, the wet screen causing no problems at all. In fact I saw no lag or difficulty in using the watch wet. The Vivoactive HR measures strokes and swim distance and you can also have laps so you know if you’ve had a break or not. If you are using indoors then make sure you go to settings and select the size of your pool, a number of people have commented unusual distances but selecting the correct pool length is key for indoor swimming.

As you can use the watch both indoors (treadmill) and out calibrating the watch is important. When I first had the watch I ran on the treadmill without calibrating and the results were terrible but I discovered my error and following a couple of runs outdoors and the initial 15 minute calibrating walk the treadmill results have improved. The GPS appears to be very accurate, quite often you find when analysing the maps that the tracking doesn’t quite run down the street on the map but on the runs I’ve done, including intricate and small road runs the gps has handles it perfectly.

So far so good, thoroughly enjoying this watch – certainly the best wearable I’ve owned.

For those looking for a guide on what size band to order please find the measurements below. The regular band (the one I have) has a lot of give and I have 7 holes left over so plenty of room for scope!

Regular Band for a wrist circumference between 5.39 –7.68” / 137–195 mm
X-Large Band for a wrist circumference between 6.38–8.86” / 162–225 mm

There are four coloured replacement bands available and once I manage to actually get my hands on one or two I’ll report back on how easy they are to replace, how much they cost and the colours available. I’m struggling to find them available in the UK at the moment, no one wants to sell them! Not good!!

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The Hanging Club

The Hanging Club

A band of vigilante executioners roam London’s hot summer nights, abducting evil men and hanging them by the neck until dead.

– The gang member who’s abused vulnerable girls.
– The wealthy drunk driver who’s mowed down a child.
– The hate preacher calling for the murder of British soldiers.

As the bodies pile up and riots explode across the sweltering city, DC Max Wolfe hunts a gang of killers who many believe to be heroes.

And discovers that the lust for revenge starts very close to home …

A thoroughly entertaining read, the book flows well from beginning to end, full of intrigue and murder, DC Wolfe returns for another challenging case in The Hanging Club.

A very simple but clever concept – no idea why this hasn’t been done before – it doesn’t take long for this this book to scream into life. Videos suddenly begin appearing online, not your average youtube video mind you, there’s no Michael Buble or cover artist in site. Someone’s hanging people and posting them for others to enjoy what turns out to be a gratifying revenge kill. One hanging follows another and it becomes apparent very quickly that the victims who turn up in Tyburn aren’t that nice.

The victims have a dark and unsavoury past and once this becomes apparent to a public hypnotised by the killings the police are fighting a loosing battle, especially with the press corp who appear to be supporting the group of vigilantes responsible. DC Max Wolf certainly has his work cut out for himself and only time will tell if he can get through to the end safely and find those responsible.

With each kill comes additional information and subtle clues. The police can’t find the kill zone and have no idea where these hangings are occurring. What they do discover rather quickly is roughly where the bodies will pop up – but that really doesn’t help their cause initially.

This is the first Max Wolfe book I’ve read and although it would be better for continuity purposes if I’d read the previous adventures I didn’t feel as if this fact hindered my enjoyment at all. Max is a great character and a determined one at that. He has his fair share of scrapes in The Hanging club, that’s what protagonists are fore aren’t they?!

The pace is good and the introduction of numerous supporting characters is well thought out, not once did I feel that a character was introduced just for the sake of it. I can’t wait to read the next DC Max Wolfe, he’s found a new fan in this reader that’s for sure.

Hardcover: 416 pages

  • Publisher: Century (19 May 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780892373
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780892375
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Die of Shame by Mark Billingham

Die of Shame by Mark Billingham

Every Monday evening, six people gather in a smart North London house to talk about addiction. There they share their deepest secrets: stories of lies, regret, and above all, shame.

Then one of them is killed – and it’s clear one of the circle was responsible.

Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner quickly finds her investigation hampered by the strict confidentiality that binds these people and their therapist together. So what could be shameful enough to cost someone their life?

And how do you find the truth when denial and deception are second nature to all of your suspects?

From the maker of Tom Thorne comes a standalone, ladies and gentlemen I introduce Mark Billingham’s Die of Shame. The book has a totally different feel from his Tom Thorne series, I’d be interested to know more but for me – as I read the book – I just had a feeling the author has tested himself with this book. I can’t quite put my finger on it!

A complex story centred around a group of addicts – who meet once a week – the book flits between Then and Now. It’s a complex start but once you get your head around the time shifts and numerous characters the story develops incredibly quickly and fluently.

One thing you can always depend on with Mark Billingham is the narrative and his ability to sell a story, Die of shame has both in spades and then some. We have Mark’s one liners, his humour and his talent for weaving a story from seemingly nothing into something incredible. The story is told from two perspectives, a murder investigation with DI Nicola Tanner and the eclectic group of addicts, both very different viewpoints but they morph together well and because of this following the murder investigation in real time is a delight.

As I mentioned above the start is complex and because of it the first few chapters are a little slow but once things start to fall in place there’s no holding this story back! Plotting is strong and the slow release of information from the Monday night group brilliant. The balance between giving away too much or too little has never been a problem for Mark in any of his books and once again he’s hit the nail on the head with this one.

The characters are powerful, their backstories enlightening and for the first time in quite a while no one completely stole the show for me which is quite unusual. You’ll suspect everyone at one stage, it’ll take a while before you know who’s been murdered and even longer for it to all make sense but make sense it does. I’d like to see Nicola Tanner developed at a future date but for Die of Shame she works very well.

A fascinating read with powerful stories of addiction yet at the same time, a yin to the yang I guess, weakness is as an overriding and invisible force throughout and something that everyone in the group has in possesses. Another great read from Mr Billingham.

  • Hardcover:448 pages
  • Publisher:Little, Brown (5 May 2016)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1408704838
  • ISBN-13:978-1408704837
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