The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon – Blog Tour Review.

About The Book

Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…

Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…

Rich with atmosphere, humour and a dark, shocking plot, The Ringmaster marks the return of passionate, headstrong police officer, Sam Shephard, in the next instalment of Vanda Symon’s bestselling series.

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. This is the second book in the Sam Shepard series, the previous being the wonderful OverKill. I enjoyed that book a lot but liked this one much more. Sam has moved with her friend to Dunedin and is a detective with the local force. She had a run in with her new boss before she started and he is determined to make her suffer. But, she has the backing from others in the team, he is one of those people who always needs someone to bully.

Sam is such a likeable character, I think one of the reasons I like her so much is because she is completely normal. She drinks, sometimes heavily, eats the wrong food, makes mistakes, has amusing dreams and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She has a great relationship with her father but a difficult one with her mother. Every time her mother featured with her ‘frosty nostril’ it made me smile. I could picture the scene so clearly.

Even though the main investigation concerns the murder of a university student, there is also a very sad investigation that involves a circus and a series of threats to Sam. But none of them dominate the story. It is Sam’s personality, the way she approaches each of the cases and her new position that the novel focuses on. And it works brilliantly. I hope that the rest of the series will be published by Orenda, I’m hooked. 

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech – Blog Tour Review.

About The Book

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…
Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.
Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.
Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

With echoes of the Play Misty for MeCall Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

My Review

Louise Beech has been my favourite author who doesn’t write crime fiction for a few years and with this novel she has made a successful transition into my favourite genre. But whilst this is a crime novel, with a huge amount of tension, she still managed to tug at my heart strings.

Stella is the star of local radio, but she decided to quit the job she loves. Before she leaves she wants to know the secrets that her listeners have. And in return she will reveal hers. 

Well, where to begin… The three people who feature in the novel all have a connection to the murdered woman and her unborn child who tragically died with her. The connection is revealed throughout the novel, but mainly during one chapter when secrets are revealed and this part of the novel broke my heart a little.

It’s dual narrative and dual time frame. At first it was difficult to have any sympathy for Elizabeth. I found her selfish and struggled with the way that she neglected Stella. But as I read, I realised that she was the one who suffered more. Stella had Sandra, the woman who raised her, Tom and her friends through work. She had her listeners who she felt she a had connection with. She was also somebody you wouldn’t mess with, I was cheering when she dealt with the school bully. Elizabeth had nobody.

I had never considered what it must be like for somebody who works in the radio. To talk to people but have no contact. To be surrounded by people but be alone. To pick a playlist. I found this fascinating, wondering how the playlist was picked. Were they favourite songs that had some meaning or were they just songs that were played as the book was being written? Whichever, the playlist that is playing throughout this book is a good one.

There is the crime in this novel, but not in the conventional way with a police investigation. This is all from the people who knew the victim or in the latter part of the novel from Bob Fracklehurst who regular readers of Louise’s books will know very well. 

There was more than one victim, most of Stella’s story  left me feeling sad. How she could touch so many people and not realise how much she had an impact on them. This became more evident when Bob appeared and you could see how she affected people. Even the ones she never really knew. 

In this novel there is a lot of tension, there isn’t as much violence as in other crime novels but it is gripping. It is about a crime but mainly it is  about the small group of people who are connected to it. Louise Beech has written another stunning novel, she has proved that she can write in different genres and is an author who has never failed to deliver. 

Welcome To The Heady Heights by David Ross – Blog Tour Review.

About The Book

Welcome to the Heady Heights …

 It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever.

Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light-entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks’, and now dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. Together, they make the finals of a televised Saturday-night talent show, and before they know it, fame and fortune beckon for Archie and The High Five. But there’s a complication; a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC known as The Tank are all on his tail…

A hilarious and poignant nod to the elusivity of stardom, in an age when making it’ was ‘having it all’, Welcome to the Heady Heights is also a dark, laugh-out-loud comedy, a heart-warming tribute to a bygone age and a delicious drama about desperate men, connected by secrets and lies, by accidents of time and, most of all, the city they live in.

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. Welcome to the Heady Heights was a refreshing read and just what I needed after some I have read recently. It takes place during the heatwave in 1976, a summer I remember well, in Glasgow. Archie, the lead character was a brilliant creation. Working class, widowed, out of work, caring for his father, and he has conversations in his head with Jim Rockford from the TV show The Rockford Files. He also has dreams about his future as a pop group manager after convincing  Heady who is the host of a talent contest that they can do it. The minute that Heady was introduced I imagined him looking like Tony Angelino from Only Fools and Horses. For those who don’t know him he was a night club singer who changed his appearance completely for his stage act. I imagine though that the similarity ends there. 

It isn’t only about the talent show scene. There is focus on the lifestyle of the working class. The alcohol and chip shop meals consumed. The larger than life characters and the untouchable wealthy. There is a journalist who refuses to stop asking questions and there is a female police officer who refuses to just be there to make tea. It’s very funny, and with the help of google at times in translating some of the Glaswegian slang it made an entertaining read. But alongside the humour there is also sadness. Archie’s loyalty to his father and the memories of his wife especially. It is a long time since I’ve read anything like it. 

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl – Blog Tour Review.

About The Book

In 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In a great haste, she escapes to Sweden, saving herself. Her family in Oslo, however, is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, who helped Ester get to Sweden. Their burgeoning relationship ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.

And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…

Written with Dahl’s trademark characterization and elegant plotting, The Courier sees the hugely respected godfather of Nordic Noir at his best, as he takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in an exceptional, shocking thriller.

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I have read a few books that are in someway connected to WW2, but never one that is set in Norway. In honesty, I am ashamed to admit that I never had any idea about Norway’s involvement in the war. The book is set both in 1942 when you are introduced to Ester and Gerhard and 1967       when Ester is determined to get answers. There are also very brief chapters that are set in 2015.

This is a book where you need to concentrate a lot when reading. The period that it is set in change for each chapter and there were occasions when I had to check which I was reading about. But when 1942 was left behind I found it much easier to read, and all the questions I had were answered. 

Ester was a character I loved. She is Jewish, and a courier who is working with the resistance. When she witnessed her father being taken away by the authorities and his shop closed I was a little surprised that there wasn’t further focus on this. I has expected the novel to be about the atrocities committed. But the novel focuses on Ester’s determination to find out what happened to her friend and trying to find out how and why Gerhard is still alive 25 years later. It also gives some insight into what happened behind the scenes during the war.

It was increasingly fascinating how the the story connected, and what happened to them in the years between. Especially with Ester, this novel could have just concentrated on her life journey from Norway to Israel. Whilst there wasn’t a lot of focus on what happened to her family, you do get to see the effect it had on her. How it never left her. I imagine this to be a true reflection of what it must be like for descendants of loved ones who were taken away.

Inborn By Thomas Enger – Blog Tour Review.

About The Book

When the high school in the small Norwegian village of Fredheim becomes a murder scene, the finger is soon pointed at seventeen-year-old Even. As the investigation closes in, social media is ablaze with accusations, rumours and even threats, and Even finds himself the subject of an online trial as well as being in the dock … for murder?

Even pores over his memories of the months leading up to the crime, and it becomes clear that more than one villager was acting suspiciously … and secrets are simmering beneath the calm surface of this close-knit community.

As events from the past play tag with the present, he’s forced to question everything he thought he knew. Was the death of his father in a car crash a decade earlier really accidental? Has his relationship stirred up something that someone is prepared to kill to protect?

It seems that there may be no one that Even can trust. But can we trust him? A taut, moving and chilling thriller, Inborn examines the very nature of evil, and asks the questions: How well do we really know our families? How well do we know ourselves?

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. Having enjoyed Thomas Enger’s series of books featuring Henning Juul I was looking forward to reading this standalone YA/ adult fiction  novel. My feeling was that it was more adult fiction than YA. 

Even, the lead character is only one of the voices. There is also his mother Suzanne, who is to put it mildly, not much support to him or anybody else, and a police officer Yngve. Yngve was a character who I adored. I loved his approach to the investigation, how he tried to support Even whilst wondering if he was responsible for the murders that had taken place. But most of all I loved his conversations with his recently deceased wife Åse.

Because it is YA there is less detail than usual about the killings but it’s believable. The small town community that is stunned by the deaths, the suspicion regarding Even, the gossip and abuse on social media and the self imposed isolation caused by computer gaming. 

There are many twists, I didn’t have a clue whether Even was guilty or innocent. I couldn’t even work out if he was the accused or a witness in the court scenes. Or if he wasn’t guilty, who was?

It is a completely different novel to the ones that are from the Henning Juul series but it is just as good.