An Evening at Headline’s #RoofTopBookClub #NewVoices2019

new voices

Last night I was privileged to attend a super event; Headline Books’ #NewVoices2019, at Carmelite House in London. Having read three of these brilliant books already I knew it was going to be a good evening but it surpassed my expectations. It was disappointing that Dominic Nolan couldn’t attend, but the other five authors more than made up for it!

Lovely Hannah Beckerman introduced our authors.  I know Hannah won’t mind me saying that she has her own debut novel, If Only I could Tell You coming from Orion on 21st February, which is available for pre-order through these links and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy just as soon as I can.

If Only I Could Tell You

if only i ccould tell you

Audrey’s family has fallen apart. Her two grown-up daughters, Jess and Lily, are estranged, and her two teenage granddaughters have never been allowed to meet. A secret that echoes back thirty years has splintered the family in two, but is also the one thing keeping them connected.

As tensions reach breaking point, the irrevocable choice that one of them made all those years ago is about to surface. After years of secrets and silence, how can one broken family find their way back to each other?

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After Hannah had interviewed our authors and we’d been given the opportunity to ask questions it was time to mingle, chat and enjoy a drink or two. It was lovely to meet Harriet Tyce, Richard Lumsden and Sarah Davis-Goff because I have so enjoyed their books. I’d have loved to meet Emily and Rhik directly too, but with a specific train to catch to transport me back to Lincolnshire I had to dash off. I didn’t even get chance to sign up to the Roof Top Book Club newsletter so I shall be chasing that up today.

Let me tell you a little bit about the books featured.

The #NewVoices2019 Books

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Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

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Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…

Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.

Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.

I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.

Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.

I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.

But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….

Blood Orange is available for pre-order here and you can read my review of Blood Orange here.

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis

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A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.
Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

The Girl in the Letter is available for purchase through these links. I was delighted to come away with a copy of The Girl in the Letter in my goody bag.

I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder

i never said i loved you

So new (as Rhik hasn’t quite finished writing it fully so please don’t take this cover picture as the final version – I took it on my phone!) I don’t have other details to share except I Never Said I Loved You announces the arrival of a funny, raw and powerful new voice on the subject of depression, masculinity and coming-of-age.

A hilarious and deeply effective memoir from a man who opened up for the first time on an unlikely backpacking trip with his mother in Thailand …

(And my goodness does that sound an interesting place to start after what was said yesterday evening!)

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Last Ones Left Alive

Remember your Just-In-Cases. Beware Tall Buildings. Watch Your Six

Raised by her mother and Maeve on Slanbeg, an island off the west coast of Ireland, Orpen has a childhood of love, rockpools and stories by the fireside. But the stories grow darker, and the training begins. Ireland has been devoured by a ravening menace known as the skrake, and though Slanbeg is safe for now, the women must always be ready to run, or to fight.

When Maeve is bitten, Orpen is faced with a dilemma: kill Maeve before her transformation is complete, or try to get help. So Orpen sets off, with Maeve in a wheelbarrow and her dog at her side, in the hope of finding other survivors, and a cure. It is a journey that will test Orpen to her limits, on which she will learn who she really is, who she really loves, and how to imagine a future in a world that ended before she was born.

Last Ones Left Alive is available for pre-order here. You can read my review of Last Ones Left Alive here.

Past Life by Dominic Nolan

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Waking up beside the dead girl, she couldn’t remember anything.
Who she was. Who had taken her. How to escape.

Detective Abigail Boone has been missing for four days when she is finally found, confused and broken. Suffering retrograde amnesia, she is a stranger to her despairing husband and bewildered son.

Hopelessly lost in her own life, with no leads on her abduction, Boone’s only instinct is to revisit the case she was investigating when she vanished: the baffling disappearance of a young woman, Sarah Still.

Defying her family and the police, Boone obsessively follows a deadly trail to the darkest edges of human cruelty. But even if she finds Sarah, will Boone ever be the same again?

Past Life is available for pre-order here. I think it looks a corker.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden

six loves of Billy Binns

I remember my dreams but not where they start.
Further back, I recall some of yesterday and the day before that. Then everything goes into a haze.
Fragments of memories come looming back like red London buses in a pea-souper.
Time plays funny tricks these days.
I wait for the next memory. I wait and I wait.

At 117 years old, Billy Binns is the oldest man in Europe and he knows his time is almost up. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what love feels like one last time. As he looks back at the relationships that have shaped his flawed life – and the events that shaped the century – he recalls a life full of hope, mistakes, heartbreak and, above all, love.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns is available for purchase through these links. You can read my review of The Six Loves of Billy Binns here.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to read any of these you’re definitely missing out. There’s some wonderful reading to be had here.

I really enjoyed the New Voices Event. I’m looking forward to returning to Carmelite House for another event soon. They are always brilliant!

Wishker by Heather Pindar

wishker

I’ve been privileged to read another of Heather Pindar’s wonderful children’s books published by Maverick in the past so I was delighted when Val sent me Heather’s latest book, Wishker, for review.

I adored Heather’s Froggy Day and reviewed that book here.

Wishker is a purple band early reader and will be published by Maverick on 8th April 2019. You can pre-order it here.

Whishker

wishker

Mirabel just wants zoo animals for pets and ice cream everyday but everyone always says ‘no’!

When a rufty-tufty cat comes to town, Mirabel gets her wish… but will she be happy?

My Review of Wishker

Mirabel is fed up because no-one lets her have her way.

Once again Maverick Books have produced a wonderful children’s book from Heather Pindar. Wishker is a perfect size for young children to hold and either read with an adult or independently.

Text is laid out clearly and effectively so that children can see exactly how speech should be presented. I thought the range of punctuation was very skilfully handled so that question marks, exclamation marks and ellipsis are naturally exemplified enabling emergent writers to see how they might be used. There’s a super use of language too with a little word play in ‘Purr-haps’ and great onomatopoeia, but with accessible and familiar vocabulary to give children confidence in their own writing and reading. The questions at the end of the book enable adults to check children’s understanding and they provide a lovely opportunity for adults and children to discuss and share together.

There’s a clear moral to the story too with Mirabel learning that you have to be careful what you wish for and not to be too greedy.

However, those educational elements aside Wishker is a smashing children’s story in its own right. There’s a great plot, with humour and relationships woven through it. The illustrations by Sarah Jennings are simply wonderful. They are bright, colourful and interesting. I can see that they would afford lots of opportunity for counting, identifying and sharing.

I thought Wishker was a smashing children’s story.

About Heather Pindar

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After growing up in Yorkshire, Heather studied German at university, and then settled in London for many years. She recently moved with her partner David to live in Guildford where she can spend more time cycling and walking, and riding her cheeky grey horse, Finty.

Heather has over twenty years’ experience as a teacher; she currently works part time in a Primary School in South London. She finds the children’s brilliant imaginations and love of stories are her biggest inspiration for writing picture books.

You can follow Heather on Twitter @HeatherPindar.

Horrid Henry’s Mischievous Mayhem by Francesca Simon

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I only recently discovered Books2Door when they got in touch to see if I’d like to review some of their children’s books. I have already reviewed a Books2Door supplied book by David Walliams here and today I’m thrilled to be able to review the 10 book box set Horrid Henry’s Mischievous Mayhem by Francesca Simon.

Horrid Henry’s Mischievous Mayhem is available for purchase here. Books2Door provide a fast and effective service with children’s books at great prices.

Horrid Henry’s Mischievous Mayhem

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Be horrid. Be VERY horrid!

The naughty schoolboy is back in 10 utterly wicked, totally brilliant Horrid Henry books!

Children everywhere will enjoy the mayhem caused by the most horrible schoolboy ever!

Sure to provide laughs, squirms and screams as Horrid Henry causes chaos at home and at school.

Titles in this collection:
• Horrid Henry and the Bogey Babysitter
• Horrid Henry’s Stinkbomb
• Horrid Henry’s Underpants
• Horrid Henry Meets the Queen
• Horrid Henry and the Mega-mean Time Machine
• Horrid Henry and the Football Fiend
• Horrid Henry’s Christmas Cracker
• Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman
• Horrid Henry’s Jolly Joke Book
• Moody Margaret Strikes Back

My Review of Horrid Henry’s Mischievous Mayhem

Horrid Henry certainly is just that – horrid!

I’ve never read Horrid Henry books before so I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t realised quite what an obnoxious lad he is. Children will love him! Horrid Henry does all the things we all wish we could do at times, from tormenting our siblings through our friends to our teachers, so that reading these stories it’s a bit like living vicariously without suffering the real effects and consequences. When Henry cuts Peter’s hair for Halloween it reminded me of the time I cut all the hair off my sister’s doll, rendering her name change from Blondie to Baldy, so that I think adults reading these stories with, or to, children will find as much to enjoy as do the youngsters.

I thoroughly enjoyed the imaginative elements to Francesca Simon’s writing and especially Henry’s attempts to make money. Despite the cunningly despicable behaviour Henry demonstrates, rarely does he get all his own way and frequently he’s sent to his bedroom as a punishment so that there’s quite a high level of morality in these stories. That aside, I like the independence of spirit Henry displays too when he takes his version of positives out of situations. He is completely irrepressible.

The language in the books is at a perfect level for children to read independently and I can imagine them reading by torchlight under the bed clothes in the same way Henry does. Tony Ross’s illustrations provide a brilliant extra layer of humour and I thought the alliterative names were super (not least that there is a Linda and Steve)!

This collection of ten books offers weeks of bedtime stories and entertainment. I have to confess I actually liked the Jolly Joke Book best as it transported me back to the daft jokes of my childhood and made me think of my lovely Dad who always enjoyed a joke. I may be very very late in life to be discovering Horrid Henry but I’m a glad I’ve discovered these stories to share with my great-nephew. Super fun.

About Francesca Simon

fransesca simon

Francesca Simon spent her childhood on the beach in California and started writing stories at the age of eight. She wrote her first Horrid Henry book in 1994. Horrid Henry has gone on to conquer the globe; his adventures are published in 27 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide.

Francesca has won the Children’s Book of the Year Award and been a judge for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. In 2009, in one of the proudest moments of her career, Francesca was awarded a Gold Blue Peter badge.

Francesca is also a passionate ambassador for children’s literacy and is a trustee of the World Book Day charity. She lives in North London with her family.

You can find out more by visiting Francesca’s website and keep up-to-date with Horrid Henry here.

You can also follow Francesca on Twitter @simon_francesca.

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

blood orange

Later this week I’m off to Headline’s #NewVoices2019 event where I’m so looking forward to meeting Harriet Tyce, author of Blood Orange. My enormous thanks to the lovely folk at Headline for sending me a copy of Blood Orange in return for an honest review.

Blood Orange will be published by Headline imprint Wildfire on 21st February 2019 and is available for pre-order here.

Blood Orange

blood orange

Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…

Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.

Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.

I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.

Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.

I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.

But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….

My Review of Blood Orange

Alison has the seemingly perfect life, but appearances can be deceiving.

Oh my goodness. What a debut from Harriet Tyce. If I’m honest, I was expecting a competent and interesting read. I hadn’t quite anticipated such a fast paced, intricate and pulse elevating experience. I felt quite breathless reading Blood Orange and, unusually for me, couldn’t begin a new book immediately until what I’d just read sank in and I’d recovered. It’s no exaggeration to say that Harriet Tyce made my veins tingle the closer I got to the end of the book. It’s a corker!

The plot is just brilliant. Yes, I guessed a couple of elements, especially in the subplot of Madeleine, but I also had some surprises along the way too; indeed, some of the writing is genuinely quite shocking. Occasionally explicit, I found Blood Orange spellbinding reading, so that I was removed from my comfort zone and transported to a world I’m so glad is far from my own experience. It was the insidious attitudes of those who should know better that I found so affecting and disturbing. It’s not possible to say more without spoiling the read, but, trust me, it’s a cracker of a story.

I abhorred Alison’s reckless behaviour, her affair with Patrick and her drinking, but by the end of Blood Orange I was entirely on her side. Harriet Tyce has created an scarily compelling character in Alison who is complex, totally flawed and utterly believable. As the novel reaches is climax I was willing her on. What is such a triumph is the ambiguity surrounding Alison, Carl and Patrick. Harriet Tyce shines a laser light on morality, revealing it in all its horrors and yet leaves the reader reeling, unsure of their own position and opinions.

Harriet Tyce’s prose is hugely affecting. Although there isn’t a vast amount of description, as she understands perfectly how much is needed to create a scene, I found it cinematic and vivid. It was more like watching events unfold as a kind of bewitched voyeur than actually reading a narrative. It felt a little as if I were in the scenes with the characters like an out of body experience. I think this is what I found so addictive about reading Blood Orange. I was as manipulated by the writing as any of the characters in the book.

Blood Orange is a fabulous book. It entertains, certainly, but even more it disturbs and unsettles the reader too. The themes of trust, passion, obsession, truth and relationships seethe in a claustrophobic maelstrom of compelling writing. I thought it was outstanding.

About Harriet Tyce

harriet tyce

Harriet Tyce grew up in Edinburgh and studied English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University before practising as a criminal barrister for the next decade.  After having children she left the Bar and has recently completed with distinction an MA in Creative Writing – Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia. Blood Orange is her first novel.

You can follow Harriet on Twitter @harriet_tyce and visit her website for more details.

Crime Around the Fireside with Alison Bruce

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Regular Linda’s Book Bag readers know that I am involved in the Deepings’ Literary Festival which takes place from 23rd to 26th May 2019. It’s the second such festival and you can find out more and book tickets here. We have a brilliant line up of authors and a mix of events to suit everyone so do take a look. Tickets are going fast!

I was fortunate to attend several events at the first festival held in 2017 (which you can read about here). Also at that festival I was thrilled to be able to interview Alison Bruce, author of both non-fiction books and the DC Gary Goodhew crime books set in Cambridge. You can also read my review of Alison’s Cambridge Black here.

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On Tuesday this week we had the the first of our run-up events to this year’s literary festival; Crime Around the Fireside with Alison Bruce which was held in the Waterton Arms.

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After a quick committee photo we joined others around the fireside to listen to Alison tell us all about her writing.

Alison latest book, the stand alone psychological thriller I Did It For Us has just been released by Little Brown imprint, Constable, and is available for purchase through these links. As Alison couldn’t say too much about I Did It For Us as she didn’t want to spoil the read, I thought I’d just tell you a bit about it before saying more about the evening:

I Did It For Us

i did it for us

From the first time I saw them together I knew it felt wrong. I didn’t like the way he touched her or the self-conscious way he played with Molly and Luke. Joanne saw none of it of course. So I did it to prove to her that she was wrong. I did it for us.

Emily’s instincts tell her that best friend Joanne’s new boyfriend is bad news. Emily fears for Joanne. Fears for Joanne’s children. But Joanne won’t listen because she’s in love. So Emily watches, and waits . . . and then she makes a choice.

But Emily has a past, and secrets too. And is she really as good a friend to Joanne as she claims?

Now doesn’t that sound brilliant?

Although she didn’t want to spoil the read, Alison did say that the inspiration for I Did It For Us came in a flash when she was attending (as many of us have and do) Crime in the Court, and that the time scale from that first visualisation of the book to it being signed was a mere 10 days.

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Alison is the most amazing speaker and held us captivated throughout the evening. Given that I am supposed to be finishing my own languishing novel this year, albeit in a different genre, I was fascinated to hear about Alison’s writing process and experiences.

Sharing how she first thought of the perfect way to murder someone on her way to work Alison explained how her first book took around five years to write and over time she has probably ditched about 250,000 words. She had originally decided to divide her first book in to 12 chapters but it subsequently became 91 and she advised new writers to consider how we often read in short chunks on e-readers so short accessible chapters fit the bill perfectly. Interestingly, when Alison bins her writing she leaves it there. She doesn’t rewrite it or save it for another part of her work.

In Alison’s experience the second book is the hardest to write because the initial ideas have been used and links need to be consistent in a series of books. It was interesting to find Alison’s first completed book actually became the third in her DC Gary Goodhew series as a result of her meetings with agents and her publisher. I was heartened to find Alison thinks a writer’s ‘voice’ becomes embedded and second nature after about 100,000 words – there’s hope for me yet!

Alison is very much a plotter. She writes so many notes and checks details personally so that the actual writing of the books is now easier for her. I’m not sure I’d go wandering around alone at 1AM in insalubrious places just to see how threatening it might be for a character though! In fact, Alison is so passionate about the accuracy of her writing she has done everything from drawn sketches on location, through finding her own Home Office pathologist to call on for technical details to studying for a degree in crime and investigation.

Alison also suggested that new writers might try different ways of approaching their writing. She has tried dictating in her garden shed, writing hidden under a table at an event, using a computer and writing longhand. She’s even completed over 9,200 words in 24 hours with a deadline looming though I’m not sure she’d recommend that approach too often!

It was a really entertaining and interesting evening listening to Alison talk about criminology, writing and the publication process. I left feeling doubly inspired. Firstly Alison has made me want to progress my own writing and, excitingly, I can’t wait to read I Did It For Us!

About Alison Bruce

alison bruce

Alison Bruce is the author of eight crime novels and two non-fiction titles. Her first novel, Cambridge Blue (2008), was described by Publishers Weekly as an ‘assured debut’ and introduced both detective, DC Gary Goodhew, and her trademark Cambridge setting. She went on to complete the DC Goodhew series with a further six novels before writing the psychological thriller I Did It for Us.

Alison Bruce was born in Croydon and grew up in Wiltshire before moving to Cambridgeshire in 1998. Alison worked as an electroplater, taxi driving and band promoter and spent ten years working in the IT industry before leaving to concentrate on completing her first novel.

Alison is a proud supporter of local libraries and is the patron of Lakenheath Library in Suffolk. Alison teaches creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

You can follow Alison on Twitter @Alison_Bruce and visit her website.

The Good Teacher by Rachel Sargeant

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My enormous thanks to Rachel Sergeant for inviting me to be part of the launch celebrations for the paperback of The Good Teacher, and to Finn Cotton at Harper Collins for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. Not only do I have my review of The Good Teacher, but I also have an extract to share with you today.

Published by Harper Collins imprint, Killer Reads, The Good Teacher is available for purchase through these links.

The Good Teacher

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Even the good have to die.
A beloved teacher is murdered and left in a ditch beside a country lane. His wife is found beaten and gagged in their suburban home.

Even the best schools have secrets.
New detective Pippa Adams learns that the teacher ran a homework club for vulnerable pupils. But what did he really teach them?

Even the perfect family has something to hide.
When Pippa scratches the surface of the school community, she meets families who’ve learned a shattering lesson. And finally uncovers the good teacher’s darkest secrets…

An Extract from the Good Teacher by Rachel Sargeant

Thank you, Linda for letting me stop off at your blog on my tour for The Good Teacher. I’d like to share some of chapter three. Bartholomew Hedges is a man with a lot on his mind, and DC Pippa Adams visits a crime scene:

Across town Bartholomew Hedges climbs down his ladder. He can’t work. He tells himself it’s the heat, but knows it isn’t. The fair weather is his friend, kind for completing the exterior paintwork. The Lord shines the sun on him. He should be getting on; the customer has started asking questions. Bartholomew can’t blame the dormer roof for much longer.

As he replaces his brush in the paint can, some of the white undercoat slops onto the patio. He scoops it back in with his palette knife and removes the rest of the stain with white spirit. He sprinkles more spirit on his hands and wipes them down with the rag from the pocket of his shorts.

His fingers aren’t clean, but pale like a white man’s. He needs a wash down with soap and water. But he doesn’t want to go into the house as the customer’s wife is at home. She might ask him why he’s stopped again.

He sits on the edge of the patio. The step down to the lawn is low and his paint-flecked knees come up high in front of him. The grass is yellow, even though he’s seen the owners using a sprinkler every evening. He’s heard them talking of having it re-turfed – as soon as the decorating’s finished. He sighs. Perhaps he should tell them that God will replenish their lawn long before Hedges House Painting Services retouches their eaves.

He’s surprised they gave him the contract at all. He knows the man didn’t want to and he can’t blame him. As far as he was concerned Bartholomew had already proved himself unreliable. In February he’d been due to start on their dining room – a big job to take off the Anaglypta wall covering, cross line it and paint over in mushroom gold. Bartholomew had to cancel at two weeks’ notice when he couldn’t find his steam stripper. It would have taken a month of God’s sacred Sundays to scrape off Anaglypta without a steamer.

The machine disappeared from the back of his van one night, but there’d been no sign of a break-in. Had he forgotten to lock the van? Convincing himself that it was his own foolish mistake, he hadn’t gone to the police or contacted his insurance company. Back then, the possibility that someone else could get hold of the van key hadn’t crossed his mind. Bartholomew wipes his chin with his forearm and wonders whether that suspicion had been in his head all along but he’d chosen to ignore it. February? Were the signs already there?

He shuffles along the patio edge to his toolbox. Underneath his Thermos flask of Cherry Tango is his Bible, wrapped in a plastic bag. He longs to take it out, ask it the questions, and seek solace. But he can’t touch it until he’s washed his hands.

The same passage comes into his mind. It’s been there almost constantly for three weeks now. Proverbs 10: 1: “A wise son makes his father proud of him; a foolish one brings his mother grief.” The words have been pressing against his brain ever since he saw his own son, Saul, being … doing …

He shivers. The fear comes back and he thinks of Job 20: 16: “What the evil man swallows is like poison.” Is Saul evil? Every day he prays for a sign, for the Lord to reassure him. Bartholomew needs to know that the evil lies elsewhere, not in a boy like Saul. Again and again he’s asked Saul why he did it. Saul says it’s like falling into cotton wool. It lets him find a warm and happy place that he wants to keep going back to. Where did Bartholomew go wrong? He’s found comfort from a life of faith. Why hasn’t Saul found it there, too?

A scenes of crime officer dusts a bedside locker while another hunts through drawers. I look at the unmade double bed that the Brocks must have been dragged from in the night. The room’s simply furnished – a large pine wardrobe and matching dressing table – again tidy, no lipsticks or perfume bottles in sight.

The second bedroom looks like an advert for an office suppliers. A black swivel chair slots underneath a desk as if it’s never been used. Even the few sheets of printed papers on top lie in a perfect pile. A plastic dust sheet covers the computer. The blotting pad looks fresh and a single ballpoint pokes out of a pen-tidy. The only incongruous item is a birdcage complete with a bell and a seed hopper under the desk. Two forensic officers come in behind me, so I leave them to begin a detailed search.

Whereas the rest of the upstairs appears sterile, the third bedroom is a surprise. Three walls are bright yellow and the fourth displays a magnificent hand-painted circus scene. Trapeze artists fly across the red and white striped backdrop of the big top. Clowns juggle silver hoops and two white horses rear up at each other. It must have taken someone days to complete. In the middle of the room is a large cot with a clown motif mattress, but no bedding. The drawers of the nappy changing unit next to it are empty.

I go downstairs, psyching myself up for the next round with Matthews.

He’s on his mobile, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. “No, ma’am, nothing of interest so far. They’ve bagged up a few bits and pieces.”

I wander into the kitchen. Dave, the forensic scientist, kneels at the opened back door, scraping at a broken pane of glass. I look beyond him into the garden. Typical new-estate small, the paved patio is surrounded on three sides by conifers.

Two familiar figures come round the side of the house and I smile in relief. “Anything interesting?” I call.

“Hi, Pippa, good to see you. Nothing out here,” PC John Whitton says, coming towards the doorstep. “But Forensics pulled some clothes out of the washing machine. They want to check whether anyone’s tried to wash away evidence.”

“Unlikely though,” PC Kieran Clarke says. “It’s a towel and a few men’s shirts and trousers, probably the husband’s. We won’t find any bloodstains. All his blood is spread across Martle Top.” He gives a half-hearted chuckle.

“The relief’s missing you already,” John says. “So how are you getting on in CID?”

The thought of my day so far makes my insides clench but I manage a breezy “Fine”. Trying not to sound desperate, I say how glad I am to see them again and go back through the kitchen.

(I’m sure that will have whetted your reader appetite. I’m delighted to be sharing my review of The Good Teacher too.)

My Review of The Good Teacher

Pippa Adams has just joined CID, but it isn’t necessarily easy to fit in.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Good Teacher, because it is an interesting and entertaining murder mystery without the gratuitous and graphic violence that sometimes spoils these stories for me. I thought The Good Teacher was really well plotted and I enjoyed making the connections in the story alongside Pippa, finishing the book with a sigh of satisfaction. Rachel Sargeant has a brisk, lively quality to her writing that makes the plot zip along effortlessly.

I found Pippa a cracking character. The reader is drip fed aspects from her past and reading The Good Teacher has left me wanting to know more about her. She’s set up perfectly for a very satisfying series and I found her multi dimensional and engaging. I loved her nickname Agatha after Agatha Christie and actually, I could imagine Agatha Christie thoroughly appreciating the way The Good Teacher is written because there are many resonances with her own style. Rachel Sargeant understands that readers sometimes need less gore and more depth of character.

I also really enjoyed the themes explored. Rachel Sargeant encourages the reader to think about the difference between appearance and reality, about the dynamics of race, family, gender and authority, and about identity, grief and loyalty. I think there is huge potential for Pippa Adams in the future.

The Good Teacher isn’t a high octane police procedural, but I enjoyed it all the more for being a measured and compelling first book in a series that I will be following with great enthusiasm and interest. The Good Teacher is a smashing book and very well worth reading. I really recommend it.

About Rachel Sergeant

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Rachel Sargeant is the author of Kindle Top Ten bestseller The Perfect Neighbours. She is a previous winner of Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been placed or shortlisted in various competitions, including the Bristol Short Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in My Weekly and the Accent Press Saucy Shorts series. Rachel grew up in Lincolnshire, spent several years living in Germany and now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

To find out more you can follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelSargeant3, visit her website and find her on Facebook.

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The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

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I’d been hearing such good things about The Cactus by Sarah Haywood that I broke my own self-imposed Netgalley ban and successfully requested a copy of the book, only to discover when I was sorting out some unread books from my TBR that lovely Alice Herbert at John Murrays and Two Roads Books had already sent me a beautiful hard backed copy a year ago and I had bought another copy when it came out in paperback! Consequently, I thought it was about time I got round to reading The Cactus and reviewing it.

The Cactus is available for purchase here.

The Cactus

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It’s never too late to bloom … People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself.

Age 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. And things can only get worse … at least in Susan’s eyes.

My Review of The Cactus

Susan enjoys life on her own controlling terms, but life has a habit of misbehaving.

I so enjoyed The Cactus because every word I read could have been spoken by someone I know well. As a result, The Cactus made me grin inanely the whole time I was reading – or rather, listening to what Susan had to say, as it seemed as if she were speaking directly to me in conversation. I found it very funny and, ultimately, quite moving too.

The Cactus is a brilliantly ascerbic insight into Susan’s life told with the wit and intelligence of a modern Jane Austen in Sarah Haywood’s writing. I thought it was so entertaining. Cleverly plotted, in The Cactus Susan has to learn that life may not always conform to her stringent, and to her, perfectly logical, demands. She cannot simply rearrange things for the best possible outcome as she might the cacti on her desk. The analogy between her personality and the cacti was so perfect. I didn’t much like the prickly, forthright, and occasionally vindictive Susan initially even if I found myself agreeing with her more often than I might like to admit, but the more she ‘spoke’ to me, the more I came to love her. And I genuinely do find it difficult to think of Susan as a character in a fiction and not a real person. She’s such a striking and vivid individual. I actually felt quite envious of her at times. I’d love some of that unwavering confidence in her own self-worth and rightness that she displays in the early part of the story. Indeed, it is evidence of the quality of Sarah Haywood’s writing that I didn’t like her protagonist at all to begin with but I couldn’t stop reading about her. I felt compelled to find out what happened to Susan.

The plot of this novel is so believable so that the themes of identity, relationships, nature and nurture, belonging and isolation in The Cactus elevate it from an amusing and entertaining read to a book that also shines a light on what makes us who we are. Along with cacti, Sarah Heywood illustrates that people also have the ability to thrive and bloom given the right conditions.

I suspect Susan’s character will divide readers of The Cactus, but I thought she was brilliantly depicted, utterly believable and I adored meeting her through Sarah Heyward’s adept and accomplished writing. I really recommend The Cactus.

About Sarah Haywood

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Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. After studying Law, she worked in London and Birkenhead as a solicitor, in Toxteth as an advice worker, and in Manchester as an investigator of complaints about lawyers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University, and lives in Liverpool with her husband, two sons and two ginger cats.

You can find out more by visiting Sarah’s website, finding her on Facebook and following her on Twitter @SarahxHaywood.