I am so excited Vera is back on the television.After having loved and read all of Ann’s books and watched all of Vera’sepisodes, never has the North East looked so mesmerizing and creepy at the same time. Brenda Blethyn was on the Jonathan Ross show last night talking about how she came into acting rather late and when she got the part of Vera, this middle aged dumpy and bedraggled woman,and worried about why they had cast her. She plays the part so well and I see her every time I pick up a vera novel now (and I don’t just mean on the cover)
It was a real honour to film a piece for local television (ITV Tyne Tees) this week in order to launch the new booktrail site and to talk more about the locations featured in Ann Cleeves novels. Ooh how I wished we’d had time to go to Tyne Valley, Amble and all the rest – but even just on the Quayside, around the corner from the Church where Harbour Street opens and the Lit and Philwhere Vera praises as a haven for every booklover (true) On tonight’s episode, we see Vera and Joe talk to a waiter/manager on an open balcony overlooking the Tyne (Brave). In the winds the North East has had recently, nearly everyone is wearing Vera style macs ( or they should be)
Vera pet you bring so much enjoyment tothe television screens and having bumped into you in various places in and around Newcastle (there was a pop up Fairground on the Town Moor where Vera films a few scenes and Brenda spoke last night on Jonathan Ross’s show about how they’d filmed the entire sequence only for a woman to come out of the nearby toilets, spot her and shout ‘ Vera!!’
Now if I hadn’t been with my mother that day, this is just the kind of thing she would have done. Everyone loves Vera.
So – ITV tonight 8pm. Vera Day is announced. Enjoy!
2000s, 1982: Siglufjörður: a quiet little fishing village until a policeman is shot in the dead of night
Why a booktrail?
Siglufjörður is unique in Iceland for being the only village accessible by a tunnel to the world outside. Life in the village is good and peaceful but when a policeman is shot at one night, at a deserted house, the sense that something bad is lurking amongst this close knit community. Policeman Ari Thor is joined by his old boss Tomas, who has been recalled from a move to Reykjavik to get to the bottom of what is going on.
That’s just the problem however for the deeper they delve into the case, the more it looks as if local politics are involved and a newcomer to the village, could have brought with her, bad remnants from her past.
Meanwhile, in an psychiatric ward, not far away, some one is starting to talk…
Place and setting
Siglufjörður is the place, safe and protected from the outside world where if something comes to break that peace, the result can be more deadly and more threatening than most. The town rather like the cover of the novel itself is dark and foreboding, the snow covers the village and muffles what really goes on behind those pretty closed doors. The community starts to unravel, threats are made and the biggest threat could be hiding in plain sight.
With a policeman shot, in a country where violence is practically unheard of, the effects are shattering. Gun ownership on the island is not uncommon as they are traditionally a nation of hunters after all, yet this has never been heard of before and so unsettles many.
Ari Thór has an uphill struggle on this hands as he knows everyone in the village, everyone knows him, yet no one seems to be talking. And a desolate house on the outskirts near to the tunnel holds the darkest secrets yet. A newly installed Mayor is making his presence felt, making a mark on the town, and a newcomer to the village has a secret no one knows about.
Meanwhile, with the chilling Icelandic winds,a voice can be heard…of someone locked in a psychiatric ward, seemingly against their will. Chilling as to what they reveal and whether those in the small village of will hear what could tear them apart
A small town, suffocating secrets, and a chillingly disturbing denouement
This man is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. How he writes so poetically and evokes so much in so few words is just outstanding. The book comes in at just over 200 pages but the world created within it is every bit as perfect asyou could imagine. The sheer beauty of the Icelandic setting, an insight into a community now linked to the rest of the island by a tunnel, the dark foreboding of a policeman’s shooting and hidden secrets make for one heck of a novel. Ragnar grew up reading and translating Agatha Christie and ti shows for the adept plotting, the sense of fear and foreboding and hiding the killer in plain sight are masterstrokes that I’m sure the great lady herself would be proud of.
There’s even time for very well developed characters in the local policeman Ari Thor, his family life and that of new characters too. The overall effect is one where you can literally see them, hear them, see their breath in the chilling Icelandic air. And sense that you are in a very unique place indeed.
Once I found out just what the ramblings of the person in the psychiatric ward was all about – well…..
A lovely note too is added at the end where Ragnar prints a small passage that his grandfather wrote about the chilling yet beautiful period where the sun disappears behind Siglufjörður’s mountains. A lovely and poignant end to a story his grandfather would be proud of.
The list this year for the Richard and Judy WHSMITH bookclub is really impressive and we review the second batch of four in brief to help you choose your next read from the list.
England – Sussex
The Bones of You
This is the ultimate – you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors kind of novel. The one where you’re thinking some people have the most perfect lives until you realise differently. The village life in England seems perfect, the fact that the missing girl has a nice family life, people go horse riding together etc
This is more of a character study than a booktrail book but it’s the family insight was what got me. What you think you see and what actually exists. How appearances can be deceptive. It’s a bit like Lovely Bones too as the dead girl Rosie talks to you the reader from time to time and describes events that Kate, a neighbour and friend is finding out.
A man praying on lone female drivers in LA – and acting as a Samaritan is the ultimate monster really when you thin about it. someone who seems to want to help and then does the exact opposite.
I think what made it even more of a thriller was the fact that the locations – LA and the Santa Monica mountains are the very palaces that would be scary to drive through on your own. I think everyone not just women is scared of something happening like this. The hunt for the person responsible is a real thriller andthe reveal of the victims and how and why this is being done… wellwhen you read about Carter Blake and the ways he sets about tracking down the Samaritan was a road trip that was very violent in place and sickening to a large extent but the thriller thread wove all the way through for me.
Not so much a booktrail but a novel all about family, ghosts of the past and people. A house opens up it doors for a viewing and the woman who lives there guides him round with each room revealing a secret or two as well as many memories. The house transports her back to her early life and the fifty so years she’s lived in the house. As well as the boxes of possessions, she’s packing away the memories and nostalgia as well and this is harder to let go off. Some are nice memories to recall whilst others not so much.
Edwina is not the only one with a claim to this house though – others in the family tell their story and the house suddenly takes on more colour, fabric of their lives and the tears and holes within
The house is a major character itself and written with the wit, charm of Jenny Eclair, this is a real winner for me. I could hear her talk as I read the book and am sure this really gave it the edge!
Europe – in a forest..
Our Endless Numbered Days
It was the fairytale aspect of the story which got me in the first place. The idea of the Hansel and Gretel cottage in the middle of the forest where a girl is taken by her father to live. The forest is huge and dark and they have to find food by foraging like animals, killing and hunting to survive. The Girl, Peggy is only 8 and has been told by her father who is a survivalist, that the end of the world is nigh. There are still people who live like this in America – who prepare for the end and the hut is going to be their salvation. Life is good fora while but the reasons for his rift with his wife and the hardship of having to life so basic, the mindset of the father himself becomes even more harsh and difficult. The story is told by Peggy as she grows up and I was shocked at the end. This was a dark fairytale with lots of hidden meaning and a reason not to go into the woods anytime soon.
The Richard and Judy book club is a great book club where the two broadcasters choose books that they love and champion. My favourites have often been on there and Dinah Jefferies book last year was a particular book that I was so pleased got the extra recognition it deserved.
This year, a few of my favs have again appeared on the list and once again I’m excited to see them in pride of place in WHSMITHS when you walk in the store. Here’s the top four- well for me at least. I’d love to know what you think!
A gem of a novel I think for the sheer novel premise of a girl and a boy meeting by chance in various scenarios throughout time. There are three different outcomes to what happens and theexciting part about it is that this could be all our lives. One moment, one split second can change the way things pan out and sometimes we’re not even aware of the choices. Cambridge for the setting has that feeling of people fleetingly coming into each others life with the university and the transient nature of life there. A real gem of a book. Great to see on the list.
The Quality of Silence
I love this book. Quietly unassuming but oh so powerful. I mean the narrator is a deaf 10 year old who sees sounds and feels sounds to describe the world around her. Her dad tells her stories and she remembers falling asleep with ‘ his fingers still making the words in front of my eyelids” The father has gone missing in the Alaskan wilderness and so the mother and ten year old Ruby go in search. the darkness, the unknown mixing with the insular world of a little girl lost. It was a haunting read and I felt the chill of the snow and saw the blackness of the landscape stretching out in front. What an evocative read!
England – Northumberland
In a Dark Dark Wood
Not that I’m biased in any way but there’s something exciting about reading a book based in a place that you love. And Kielder Forest, Northumberland, stars as that place in this book about a group of girls who haven’t met for years since school, back together for a hen do.
One guest has a bit of a backstory with the bride to be it would seem and doesn’t know the other guests so getting together in a remote house in the middle of the woods where there is no phone
may not be such a good idea? Great for the story though as this was creepy and I did not guess the end! Talk about building the creepiness as if every turn of the page was the tap of a tree branch on a window at night.
England – Cornwall
A year of Marvellous Ways
So sweet, heartwarming and I just love Marvellous! Marvellous by name and Marvellous by nature. She lives life as she wants to, quietly in a creek in Cornwall. She isa lovely woman living her life beside the river, telescope in hand waiting for something but she’s unsure as to what. Her landscape is her world and I loved the way her surroundings are evoked and are part of her everyday.
I awoke dazed, looking up through a portal to a star-drenched sky. And beyond the stars bands of milky light stretched out to the hush of infinity.
There’s a place mentioned (a fictional setting) that becomes a place you will never forget once you find out its significance and her view of her home landscape.Drake, a soldier, comes into her life and theirs is a very special relationship of salvation, redemption and hope.I would describe this as magical realism and quirky Cornwall legends.
There’s four more in the list. Reading them as we speak…..Four more treats in store.
1948 – True story of a cat found and smuggled on board HMS Amethyst, all through the eyes of the very cat himself.
Sea cat Simon knows that cats have nine lives and it’s the first thing he remembers his mother telling him. With this heartwarming start, Blackie or Kitty as he is sometimes called remembers his mothers kind words and the kind heart of the humans who take him under their wing and feed him on Stonecutter Island, who takes him onhis ship – George the human who becomes his saviour and experiences life on board a very long journey at sea. With his new human friends and more experiences than anyone could ever hope for, even for a cat wit nine lives, this is a story trough the eyes of a small but very adventurous little kitten.
Place and Setting
From the shores of Stonecutter island(on the map above) in Hong Kong, a small kitten is found and rescued by a British sailor who smuggles him aboard HMS Amethyst.
Imagine the noise and the chaos from the eyes of a small cat:
“The Quayside is an assault on all my senses”
His world is changed in an instant – from a lonely existence where he doesn’t know what happened to his brothers and sisters, and where fear is his only companion. Now George a sailor offers him a sardine (fish can come in tins don’t you know), and a chance of a new life.
But a cat has to explore and on the ship, this brings new challenges such as judging distances close to so much water, avoiding slippery surfaces, the resident dog and finding the resident mice. But he thinks its rude to wake up his human friend and so cuddles up on the edge of the bed and dreams of moths instead.
“And then the pre-dawn Cacophany, also human in origin that started up long before the sun peeked over the horizon.”
When disaster strikes, Seacat Simon learn about survival in many other ways and about war and chaos. The human world he sees as not being too different to the troubles of cats but the way they deal and struggle is very much the same. His only wish is to abide by the sailing code and the code that sailors see cats as lucky. When the ship arrives in the Yangtse river, history unfolds and we learn of what it means to be in enemy territory on every level.
A very poignant tale of a emotional event in history told in a very clever way.
If you’ve ever thought what a cat might think and do then this is the book for you. How can you be sure that it likes the name you’ve chosen for it? I’d be careful if I were you as they have a strong opinion on the subject if Simon is anything to go by. Cats keep sailors safe he is told and so as he starts to live life more comfortably on the ship, his confidence grows and he speaks of joining the crew which I found hilarious!
This cat has some attitude and then some! It’s a lovely true story and very inventive to tell I thought the eyes of the cat! Life is all about order and routines he says. The day he describes as his first kill, and the day she meets Peggy the dog…..
This is such a charming read with a serious back story that it really has to be read to be believed and appreciated. The story of the Yangtse river incident is heartbreaking and even more poignant from the eyes of a cat. Oh and the ending! No spoilers here but it’s emotional.
Lynne Barrett Lee evokes the war and the fate of the Amethyst in a way I’ve not seen before and it was a joy yet a heartbreaking one at that to read.
Literary journey around the world part 2 – more countries to cover and more adventures to be had:
If you’ve ever wanted to feel as you’re standing beside an iconic figure in history as he makes that history, then how about meeting Harold Carter and being one of the first into the tomb ofTutankhamen ?
I really enjoyed this book for the mix of fact and fiction. Much of it was based on real people and certainly real places and the iconic moment of discovering the tomb, revealed as if being there yourself, was just a very memorable reading experience. I love stepping back in time and seeing an event or a person as it might have happened and this was particularly real I felt. A book to read and immerse yourself in. I had no particular interest inEgyptian history as such before reading this book but this was an eye opener!
The South Atlantic
How to Be Brave
Two stories woven together in a very creative and clever way. A mother showing concern and love for her daughter who is sick, tells her the story of the girl’s grandfather who was adrift at sea. By telling her the story, they forget momentarily their own anguish but bring themselves closer to the grandfather and his bravery. The overall theme is survival and hope in the most extreme circumstances – lost in an illness or the ocean, the feeling is the same but bravery and the power of hope can help them all.
The sense of adventure with this book was breathtaking. Holidaying up a mountain retreat with your best friends? It might be in the wilds of nowhere but you’re with people you know and trust right? Isolation can b both relaxing and frightening at the same time and this for me ramped up the tension. A retreat sounded great, even if I’ve never done yoga myself, yet the twists and turns Ifelt with this book made me think as if I have now.
This was a novel I was not expecting. Not from the blurb or the general information out there on the web. I’d heard of ‘the twist’ but was still not expecting the one that came.
Written by a former detective, this gave it added gravitas but was especially clever was the way we followed Jenna and judged what she did and what she was doing without thinking of the bigger picture. Jenna is trying to escape but from what exactly? She settles in Wales and lives an isolated life but sometimes silence can be deafening. This book was one of Richard and Judy’s summer picks for 2015 and was reviewed on Loose Women so everyone was talking about it and still is!
Remember those books that you read as a child where you could pick the end or the turn of events? Where you felt you had a part to play in the fate of the characters? This is thegrown up version of that idea – the Sliding Doorsof the book world – where you go literally on a journey with the characters and see how things could have turned out had they happened differently. I loved the style of this, the idea and the way it was written. It was one of the most involving novels I’ve read in a long while and stands out for being very different and a real treat. It’s on the Richard and Judy picks for 2016 and very well deserved!
2000s: How lovely is it to spend Christmas with Carole Matthews. She has chocolate!
The third book in the chocolate lovers series sees a Christmas themed book more Christmassy than Christmas itself. The Chocolate Lovers Club is bigger and better than ever. Lucy has been managing the shop Chocolate Heaven for nine months now and it’s the place to meet for her and friends Nadia, Chantal and Autumn.
There are chocolate recipes to discover, some more traditional than others. And for the friends, a boyfriend, a former fiance and the chance of finding new love all wrapped up with a huge Christmas bow!
Place and Setting
What can we say – this isa walk underneath a chocolate fountain. Even in the end notes, Carole writes of her ahem ‘ research’ for this novel such as a tour with the Chocolate Ecstasy Tours. She’s even had a chocolate weekend or two at the Three Ways House hotel in Mickleton. They have chocolate weekends!!! The friends she’s met -rather like those in the book have bonded over a love of chocolate and like love she says, it seems to be a universal language.
In London, the chocolate shop is in the city where the Christmas spirt is alive and well. The crowds are out in Oxford street and Hamleys is buzzing with kids and more kids. However the four friends spend their time, chatting, and just getting through their family and romantic entanglements.
“Chocolate Heaven is still a place of refuge to all of us in times of need, A little corner of this earth that wraps up in in cosiness, comforts us and feeds us chocolate. Hurrah! Long may it thrive.”
The outing to Keswick is where both Carole’s and the girls spiritual home is.Cumbria cottage is in the village, it still hashigh street like the villages of old. A traditional time gone by. “It was pretty stone buildings ”Nadia doesn’t think she has seen anywhere quite so lovely. “ The Lakes isa place to rest and relax when you need to escape the buzz of London if only for a while.
And Bruges – the home of chocolate on the continent. There’s a Christmas market and a myriad of chocolate shops like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
“Bruges looks flipping fabulous in its festive garb.”
This is a warm feeling of a novel. A mug of Hot chocolate topped with marshmallows and sugar sprinkles. Never is it sickly sweet however yet it gives you the same feeling – tasty, warm, and very inviting. And afterwards you sit back with a huge smile on your face and this book is so realistic on the chocolate front that I swear I had a chocolate tash as well.
It goes without saying that you have to eat chocolate whilst eating this book or at least have some to hand as you’ll be racing out that door to get some when you start reading. I’d read the other books and had experienced that before so I was prepared. Well it would be rude not to I thought.
Carole’s writing is always warm and friendly and I enjoyed meeting the friends again. This is what true friendship is all about – laughs, support through troubled times and advice aplenty. I loved Lucy who goes all out to get new recipe ideas and her trip to Bruges! Well that had me chuckling.
These friends have been through a lot together and what a wonderful way to wrap up their story with a Christmas bow. The next book is out early next year and there’s a new development! Can’t wait.
2000s: Two years after To Catch A Rabbit, Sean Denton is back and Doncaster has another challenge.
Sean Denton is no longer a PSCO but a fully fledged police officer, a constable if you will, and is training and working hard in his home town of Doncaster. He ends up working ona case which is developing ion the estate where his father lives. A young muslim man has been found murdered and racial tensions are high. Added to this is the fact that the infamous Chasebridge killer has been released from prison. Then there’s chloe, recently released from prison and living in a bail hostel in York. Times are changing and not everyone is able to adapt to their new situation. Yorkshire is not the quiet place you may think it is.
Place and setting
Doncaster is the literary stomping ground of Helen Cadbury and this time she takes us to an even darker side and delves into racial tensions together with the anger and frustration in a working class community and its problems.
Doncaster may also be Sean Denton’s patch but when he is called to solve a crime on the very estate where his father still lives, he is in a unique yet difficult position towork amongst the residents in an area he knows as an insider whilst working as an officer of the law.
Chasebridge Estate is the focal point for the story and there is a Clean Up Chasebridge campaign to help try and sort out the area’s problems. The estate has many problems such as suspected drug dealers and other criminal activity. Tensions are high and neighbours mistrustful of each other. A killer returned to their midst is not going to be well received.
Sean understands better than most the idio-syncrancies of these people, his people and has the trust of many of them. He still cares for the place and so has a fine line to walk in protecting and bringing justice to the killer. The estate is a melting pot and Sean has to be careful about how much he stirs up what’s inside.
Meanwhile in York, a young lady by the name of Chloe Toms has been released from prison and is now living in a woman’s bail hostel and she is struggling to cope with life outside. So much has changed since she was locked up, the world has moved on and that someone however has not forgotten and now she has to deal with someone who seems to be out to get here. Her life is one of a new beginning but in a new strange and alien world and so her journey towards normality of sorts is not going to be easy.
Yorkshire – both Doncaster and York itself showcase a range of characters with working class communities and a past and present which could clash if they are not careful.
This has been a good year for all things crime. Criminally good in fact as the variety of books with all things ghoulish and deadly have been the highlight of booktrailers everywhere. Those who are brave enough to venture into places with literary links to lurid tales that is.
Let’s go on a little adventure….with some highlights from 2015
Neighbour against neighbour, nobody feeling safe to walk the streets. Then the vigilantes step in…
Eva Dolan came onto the booktrail radar for a crime novel that was so much more than a crime novel. This hit me right in the stomachwith its gritty realism and devastating sense of realism. A hate crimes unit in Peterborough and the nature of the crimes and the investigations which follow. This really stood out for me for the premise, the reality of the situations described in the novel, the sad reality of present day cities in and around the UK and for the fact that this is not a subject often written about in fiction– gritty gritty stuff.
This was a real gem to find. Not just because the author is from the place she writes about and the events in the book are based on true fact, but that it all comes together in such a unique way. Banktoun is fictional yet is based on Haddington near Edinburgh and SJ perfectly captures the sense of small town Scotland, its idiosyncrancies and the shocking events which follow. The sense of isolation and that chilling moment in the woods with someone watching will stay with me for a long time. Can’t wait to see what she writes next!
Now I’m really proud of myself for reading this scary one. I mean folklore and curses etc often give me the heeby jeebiesto use a technical term so this book based on the Manx Halloween and a dare that went very very wrong was just the thing I probably should not have read at night. I ended up reading it into the early hours, so the chills and the atmosphere went sky high. A car went past at 3am and the dancing lights on the window almost made me scream. Thus book was that good as I was totally and utterly transported to the night of Halloween and the Manx spirits. I’m still singing the haunting song…”Jinny the witch flew over the house…” even now and am very careful about how I leave footprints in the snow when leaving a house.
Daniel Pembrey was a gem to discover. He already had a trilogy under his belt so I was able to really delve into his AMsterdam and discover the dark truths of life there. A policeman who lives on a boat, the Dutch whose seafaring ways are in their blood and a murky world of power and politics and the grim reality of human trafficking. Henk Van de Pol was a fascinating man to meet, his work in the city’s police force despite his retirement was personal – this fight was personal. Daniel has captured the best and the worst of the city and made Henk one of the most intriguing characters I’ve come across in a long while.
Sarah Ward you deserve a medal quite frankly for having even acover for your book that made me shiver. What is it about trees at night? Open the pages and there’s kidnappings and recriminations with the case taking the police back to 1978 and a suicide thirty years on connected to that date in history. There were more twists and turns with this novel than I will reveal here but it was chilling as the title suggested and I was left with a feeling of shock and awe at the denouement and the ending.
As well as being a blogger with bite, a Petrona Judge and an all round fabulous friendly person, I was privileged enough to be an early reader of this cracking crime novel and I’m excited that she is now on the Derbyshire part of the Booktrail literary map.