Downfall (Joel Williams 4) by Margot Kinberg

Did he fall or was he pushed?

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While playing truant from school, a teenage boy climbs the scaffolding on a nearby construction site, and falls to his death. The police investigate, but there are no suspicious circumstances and no apparent motive for anyone to have wanted to harm Curtis, so it’s filed as a tragic accident. Two years later, Joel Williams, ex-cop turned University professor, is carrying out research along with two colleagues into a for-profit organisation that provides schools for young people viewed as at-risk. This organisation, Second Chance, runs the school from which Curtis truanted that day. As Joel and his colleagues dig into the organisation’s records, they notice some odd discrepancies that start them wondering if there might have been more to Curtis’ death than had been thought…

I shall start with my usual disclaimer: regular visitors will be well aware that Margot and I are long-time blog buddies, so you will have to assume that there may be a level of bias in this review, but as always I shall try to be as honest as I can.

This is Joel Williams’ fourth outing, so his character is well established by now. His police background means he still has contacts on the force, so when he finds himself involved in investigations, his old colleagues are generally happy to have him help out. As a result, the books have a good mix of being part police procedural, part amateur detective, while still feeling realistic and credible. Joel is no maverick – he works with the police, handing over any information he finds promptly, and leaving the serving officers to carry out formal interviews, arrests, etc. Joel is also pleasingly normal, with a stable home life, and a job that he enjoys.

In this one, there are two connected strands. At the same time as Joel is researching Second Chance, another organisation is offering to make a substantial donation to the University of Tilton where he works, in return for being allowed to set up a permanent research facility on methods of providing services designed to keep troubled young people from ending up in jail. So we see Joel struggling to decide whether such organisations can really be run with the best interest of students at heart, or whether corners will be cut in pursuit of profit. His research into Second Chance and the events of the story will feed into his eventual decision whether to support the new initiative. I found this aspect of the book particularly interesting because I worked for some years in a not dissimilar for-profit organisation and struggled with some of the same questions, though fortunately none of our pupils or colleagues were murdered!

Because of the research angle, the book takes us off campus this time, giving us a wider picture of Philadelphia with its mix of affluent and more deprived neighbourhoods. As Joel and his fellow researchers look into Second Chance, we get some insight into how organisations like this are funded and monitored, and Kinberg gives an even-handed picture of the benefits and potential pitfalls of these kind of semi-detached facilities. And she doesn’t lose sight of the fact that at the heart of the story is the tragic death of a young boy, allowing us to see the effects of this on his mother and friends.

Margot Kinberg

Another interesting story from Kinberg that, partly because of the age of the victim, felt a little darker to me than her last book. In truth, I had a good idea of whodunit from fairly early on since the pool of suspects isn’t large, but the interest of the book is more in watching how Joel and the police go about getting enough evidence to prove that Curtis was killed and to make a charge stick. One that has enough of the police procedural about it to appeal to fans of that genre, but with the added element of Joel’s amateur involvement allowing it to retain a feeling of the traditional mystery novel too. Recommended, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Joel’s investigations in future novels.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….After another short rest, Curtis finally made it to the third floor. It hadn’t been easy, but he was fifteen – old enough to get all the way to the top if he’d wanted to. He finally reached the beam he’d been dreaming of sitting on – perched like a bird over the city street below. When he got to the beam, he slowly straightened up and prepared to walk to the end of it. He knew he could do it: all it took was concentration. Foot in front of foot. He focused carefully and started moving. Then he heard it again – that same noise he’d heard earlier. He stopped for a moment but didn’t hear anything. Still, he couldn’t help feeling like someone was watching him.
….All of a sudden, the world spun out of control as Curtis felt a hard push from behind and lost his balance. He scrabbled frantically to grab something – anything – to keep him from falling…

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….Seated with Stuart and Brent Tarleton in the cool shade of the porch of Tara, her father’s plantation, that bright April afternoon of 1861, she made a pretty picture. Her new green flowered-muslin dress spread its twelve yards of billowing material over her hoops and exactly matched the flat-heeled green morocco slippers her father had recently brought her from Atlanta. The dress set off to perfection the seventeen-inch waist, the smallest in three counties, and the tightly fitting basque showed breasts well matured for her sixteen years. But for all the modesty of her spreading skirts, the demureness of hair netted smoothly into a chignon and the quietness of small white hands folded in her lap, her true self was poorly concealed. The green eyes in the carefully sweet face were turbulent, wilful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanor. Her manners had been imposed upon her by her mother’s gentle admonitions and the sterner discipline of her mammy; her eyes were her own.

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….It would be easy to blame the Chernobyl accident on the failed communist system and the design flaws of Chernobyl-type reactors, implying that those problems belong to the past. But this confidence would be misplaced. The causes of the Chernobyl meltdown are very much in evidence today. Authoritarian rulers pursuing enhanced or great-power status – and eager to accelerate economic development and overcome energy and demographic crises, while paying lip service to ecological concerns – are more in evidence now than they were in 1986. Could the nuclear Armageddon called Chernobyl repeat itself? No one knows the answer to this question. But there is no doubt that a new Chernobyl-type disaster is more likely to happen if we do not learn the lessons of the one that has already occurred.

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….So we two poor terrestrial castaways, lost in that wild-growing moon jungle, crawled in terror before the sounds that had come upon us. We crawled, as it seemed, a long time before we saw either Selenite or mooncalf, though we heard the bellowing and gruntulous noises of these latter continually drawing nearer to us. We crawled through stony ravines, over snow slopes, amidst fungi that ripped like thin bladders at our thrust, emitting a watery humour, over a perfect pavement of things like puff-balls, and beneath interminable thickets of scrub. And ever more helplessly our eyes sought for our abandoned sphere. The noise of the mooncalves would at times be a vast flat calf-like sound, at times it rose to an amazed and wrathy bellowing, and again it would become a clogged bestial sound, as though these unseen creatures had sought to eat and bellow at the same time.

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….“Yes,” I said, “every single Blainer is the crème de la crème by virtue of our outstanding education. But a depraved novelist claimed that this epithet applied only to a small coterie, the pupils of one particular teacher. And in a salacious misrepresentation of our beloved school and its irreproachable staff, she portrayed that teacher as a promiscuous adulteress who was prepared to prostitute her pupils. Pupils whose prepubescent sexual fantasises she described in sordid detail.”
….I had to clutch a nearby gilt salon chair for support, and to let my pulse slow down. I pride myself on my self-control, but this is a wound that will never heal.
….A lady sitting nearby leaned forward eagerly: “Please, Shona Fergusovna, may we have the name of this book and its author? In order that we may avoid it, of course.”

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 153…

Episode 153…

The drop in the TBR continues for the sixth week in a row – down 1 to 218! OK, maybe not the biggest dive in the world, but still…

Here’s another batch of some that are teetering on the edge…

Short Stories

Courtesy of Pushkin Press via NetGalley. The only Chekhov I’ve read is one short, and pretty dire, detective story, (though I’ve enjoyed performances of some of his plays), so I’m hoping this collection will convince me his reputation as a master of the short story is deserved…

The Blurb says: New translations of the greatest stories by the Russian master of the form.

Chekhov was without doubt one of the greatest observers of human nature in all its untidy complexity. His short stories, written throughout his life and newly translated for this essential collection, are exquisite masterpieces in miniature.

Here are tales offering a glimpse of beauty, the memory of a mistaken kiss, daydreams of adultery, a lifetime of marital neglect, the frailty of life, the inevitability of death, and the hilarious pomposity of ordinary men and women. They range from the light­hearted comic tales of his early years to some of the most achingly profound stories ever composed.

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Crime

Just published, the latest in Margot Kinberg’s Joel Williams series. Many of you will know Margot through her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

The Blurb says: They Said It Was a Tragedy. They Said It Was an Accident. They Lied.

Second Chance is a Philadelphia alternative school designed for at-risk students. They live on campus, they take classes, and everyone hopes they’ll stay out of prison. And then one of them dies. When Curtis Templeton falls from a piece of scaffolding near the school, it’s called a tragic accident. A damned shame. A terrible loss. And everyone moves on.

Two years later, former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams and two of his colleagues do a study of Second Chance for a research paper. When they find out about Curtis’ death, they start asking questions. And no-one wants to answer them.

The search for the truth takes Williams and his research partners behind the scenes of for-profit alternative education – and straight into the path of someone who thought everything would stay buried.

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Fiction

This has been sitting on my Kindle since March 2013, from back in the good old days when the Booker used to showcase Commonwealth talent rather than being just another small cog in the American cultural domination machine. I don’t really know why it’s taken so long to reach the top of the heap, because it sounds very much my kind of thing…

The Blurb says: Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize & Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

A powerful, taut and intense tale of a friendship overshadowed by betrayal, set against the tawdry hopes and disappointments of a post-apartheid South Africa.

When Laurence Waters arrives at his new post at a deserted rural hospital, staff physician Frank Eloff is instantly suspicious. Laurence is everything Frank is not-young, optimistic, and full of big ideas. The whole town is beset with new arrivals and the return of old faces. Frank re-establishes a liaison with a woman, one that will have unexpected consequences. A self-made dictator from apartheid days is rumoured to be active in cross-border smuggling, and a group of soldiers has moved in to track him, led by a man from Frank’s own dark past. Laurence sees only possibilities-but in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, his ill-starred idealism cannot last.

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Scottish Crime

Courtesy of Severn House via NetGalley. I read surprisingly little Scottish crime (too many of them portray a grim, violent, gun-totin’, gangster-ridden culture I don’t recognise) so this will be my introduction to Caro Ramsay’s work. I can only hope it’s better edited than the blurb, which I’ve copied exactly from Goodreads…

The Blurb says: When a six-week-old baby is stolen from outside a village shop, Detective Inspector Costello quickly surmises there?s more to this case than meets the eye. As she questions those involved, she uncovers evidence that this was no impulsive act as the police initially assumed, but something cold, logical, meticulously planned. Who has taken Baby Sholto ? and why?

Colin Anderson meanwhile is on the Cold Case Unit, reviewing the unsolved rape of a young mother back in 1996. Convinced this wasn?t the first ? or last – time the attacker struck, Anderson looks for a pattern. But when he does find a connection, it reaches back into his own past . . . 

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Past Tense (Joel Williams 3) by Margot Kinberg

The sins of the past…

😀 😀 😀 😀

past tenseWhen the foundations are being dug for a new performing arts building at Tilton Univerity in Pennsylvania, the building crew are shocked when they discover a skeleton buried there. Forensic tests show that it belonged to a young man and dates from around forty years earlier. Back in the early ’70s, Bryan Roades was a student at the University. Inspired by the great Woodward and Bernstein investigation into the Watergate affair, Bryan hoped to emulate them by becoming a campaigning journalist. He was preparing a story on women’s issues for the University newspaper, focusing on the Women’s Lib movement and how some of the debates of the time were impacting on the female students. Some of the people he approached, though, didn’t want to see their stories in print, but Bryan was more interested in the greater good (and his own advancement, perhaps) than in individuals’ rights to privacy. When he disappeared, the police could find no trace and most people thought he’d simply done that fashionable thing for the time – gone off to ‘find himself’…

This is Margot Kinberg’s third Joel Williams book, but the first I’ve read. Regular visitors will be well aware that Margot and I are long-time blog buddies, so you will have to assume that there may be a level of bias in this review, but as always I shall try to be as honest as I can.

Joel Williams is an ex-police detective now working as a Professor in Criminal Justice in the fictional university town of Tilton, PA. He still has lots of contacts with his old colleagues in the police department and can’t resist using his inside knowledge of the University when a corpse turns up on campus. But he’s not one of these mavericks who works it all out on his own – we also see the police procedural side of the case through the two detectives who are investigating it, and Joel promptly hands over to them any information he finds. I like this way of handling the ‘amateur detective’ aspect – too often, the reasons for amateur involvement stretch credibility too far, and many authors fall into the cliché of having to make the police look stupid in order to make the amateur look good. But here Joel’s investigation enhances the police one rather than detracting from it.

As someone who is tired to death of the drunken, dysfunctional, angst-ridden detective of fiction, I also greatly appreciated Joel’s normality and stability. He has a job that he enjoys and is good at, he stays sober throughout and has a happy marriage. But he also has a curious mind, especially when it comes to crime, and an empathetic understanding of the people he comes across in the course of his investigation.

margot-kinberg
Margot Kinberg

The small-town setting and the rather closed society of the University within it gives that feeling of everyone knowing everyone else’s business – a setting where privacy is harder to come by than in the anonymity of a big city, and is more treasured for that very reason. Kinberg uses this well to show how people feel threatened when it looks like things they’d rather stay secret might be about to come into the open. The time period adds to this too, and Kinberg makes excellent use of the changes we’ve seen in society over the intervening period – many of the things people were concerned about being revealed back in the ’70s don’t seem like such big scandals today, but could have destroyed careers and even lives back then. And as we learn more about the people Bryan was proposing to write about in his article, the pool of people who may have been willing to take drastic action to stop him grows…

In style, the book mirrors the Golden Age crime – a limited group of suspects, clues, red herrings, amateur detective, etc. And, of course, the second murder! But it also has strong elements of the police procedural, with the two detectives, Crandall and Zuniga, sharing almost equal billing with Joel. There’s a little too much grit in the story for it to fall into ‘cosy’ territory but, thankfully, it also steers clear of the gratuitously gruesome or graphic. I’m not sure how well it will work for people who enjoy the darker, more brutal side of crime fiction, but an intriguing and interesting story for those who prefer the traditional mystery novel. Just my kind of thing, in fact, and I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read. Recommended – and well done, Margot!

NB I won a signed copy of the book in Margot’s competition. Aren’t I lucky? 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 94…

Episode 94…

Oh, dear! The TBR has leapt up 4 to 180 this week! How did that happen?? A couple of NetGalley publishers did a clear-out, I think, and I suddenly got approved for two books I “wished” for ages ago, before I became the Mistress of Willpower you all know I now am. Then Amazon reduced the price of a couple that were in my wishlist, so they almost don’t really count, right? So, as you can tell, I am entirely innocent in the matter!

Still, here are a few that will be dropping off the TBR soonish…

Factual

henry VCourtesy of the wonderful Yale University Press, who are doing everything they can to fill the many, many gaps in my knowledge of history. Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

The Blurb says: Shakespeare’s centuries-old portrayal of Henry V established the king’s reputation as a warmongering monarch, a perception that has persisted ever since. But in this exciting, thoroughly researched volume a different view of Henry emerges: a multidimensional ruler of great piety, a hands-on governor who introduced a radically new conception of England’s European role in secular and ecclesiastical affairs, a composer of music, an art patron, and a dutiful king who fully appreciated his obligations toward those he ruled.

Historian Malcolm Vale draws on extensive primary archival evidence that includes many documents annotated or endorsed in Henry’s own hand. Focusing on a series of themes—the interaction between king and church, the rise of the English language as a medium of government and politics, the role of ceremony in Henry’s kingship, and more—Vale revises understandings of Henry V and his conduct of the everyday affairs of England, Normandy, and the kingdom of France.

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Fiction

the schooldays of jesusCourtesy of NetGalley. I was really quite underwhelmed by Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus, describing it as a hollow egg, with a thick shell of heavy symbolism but containing little profundity. But oddly, I couldn’t resist this new one – a follow-up. Perhaps it will fill in some of the blanks left by the last one. Perhaps. We’ll see…

The Blurb says: When you travel across the ocean on a boat, all your memories are washed away and you start a completely new life. That is how it is. There is no before. There is no history. The boat docks at the harbour and we climb down the gangplank and we are plunged into the here and now. Time begins.

Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky. But it’s here too that he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of.

In this mesmerising allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a parent, the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our lives.

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Crime

the methods of sergeant cluffCourtesy of the British Library via MidasPR. I loved the recent reissue of Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm, so am delighted to have got my hands on this one. A more modern crime classic than many of the BL series, set in Yorkshire in the ’60s, the book is again introduced by the criminally expert Martin Edwards… 

The Blurb says: It is a wet and windy night in the town of Gunnarshaw, on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. The body of young Jane Trundle, assistant in the chemist’s shop, is discovered lying face down on the cobblestones. Sergeant Caleb Cluff is not a man of many words, and neither does he play by the rules. He may exasperate his superiors, but he has the loyal support of his constable and he is the only CID man in the division. The case is his. Life in Gunnarshaw is tough, with its people caught up in a rigid network of social conventions. But as Cluff’s investigation deepens, Gunnarshaw’s veneer of hard-working respectability starts to crumble. Sparse, tense, and moodily evoking the unforgiving landscape, this classic crime novel keeps the reader guessing to the end.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Other news…

Exciting news about forthcoming books from bloggie friends! How am I ever supposed to get control of my TBR when I’m subjected to constant temptation???

First Lady of the KeysDue out 1st September 2016, from Lucy Brazier, better known as PorterGirl. This is a revised version of her earlier book, Secret Diary of PorterGirl. Lucy says…

“First Lady Of The Keys is a reworking of my debut novel, Secret Diary Of PorterGirl – so if you bought that one, you will probably feel a bit hard done by if you fork out for this one too. There are significant changes, however, and new characters (including a love interest for Deputy Head Porter) as this has been re-written to be the first in a series dedicated to the adventures of Old College. We even find out Deputy Head Porter’s actual name. Apparently characters have to have names. Pah.”

I did fork out for the first one, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the book has changed anyway. A love interest?!? Cor! Whatever will the Dean say??

The Blurb says: As one of the most ancient and esteemed establishments of the academic elite, Old College is in for something of a shock when it appoints its very first female Deputy Head Porter. She struggles to get to grips with this eccentric world, far removed from everyday life. PorterGirl, the proverbial square peg in the round hole, begins to wonder quite what she is doing here.

PorterGirl – First Lady Of The Keys is a touching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, glimpse into a world that is usually reserved for the upper echelons of society. Whether she is chasing after naked students, drinking copious amounts of tea or getting embroiled in quaint, polite murders, Deputy Head Porter is never far from adventure.

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past tenseDue out 1st November 2016, from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. This is the third novel in Margot’s Joel Williams series, but excitingly the first to be published on Kindle, making it much easier to get hold of for those of us on this side of the pond. A paper version will be available too, of course, for those who prefer it.

With its academic setting, and I’ve been promised that Joel Williams is neither an alcoholic nor an angst-ridden maverick with swearing issues, I’m very much looking forward to this one!

The Blurb says: A long-buried set of remains…a decades-old mystery

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones. For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site. When the remains are linked to a missing person case from 1974, Williams and the Tilton, Pennsylvania police go back to the past. And they uncover some truths that have been kept hidden for a long time…

How much do people really need to know?

It’s 1974, and twenty-year-old Bryan Roades is swept up in the excitement of the decade. He’s a reporter for the Tilton University newspaper, The Real Story, and is determined to have a career as an investigative journalist, just like his idols, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He plans to start with an exposé article about life on the campus of Tilton University. But does everything need to be exposed? And what are the consequences for people whose lives could be turned upside down if their stories are printed?  As it turns out, Bryan’s ambition carries a very high price. And someone is determined not to let the truth out.

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Now, if you could all please stop writing books for a while, my TBR and I would be most grateful!

 

In a Word: Murder – An Anthology edited by Margot Kinberg

Writers red in tooth and claw…

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I have a hard and fast, unbreakable, cast-iron rule that I do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, review books written by people I know, because the review will inevitably be biased. Fortunately, since it’s my rule, I can ignore it whenever I choose. 😉

So when I heard that my blogging buddy Margot Kinberg from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist had edited an anthology of crime stories, and that it also included a story from another blogger I occasionally chat with, Sarah Ward from Crimepieces, AND that it was for an excellent cause…well, it seemed like the appropriate moment for my first ever…

Blatantly Biased Review

 

in a wordIn a Word: Murder is an anthology of short stories on the theme of authors and publishers. The book is dedicated to the memory of Maxine Clarke and proceeds from sales will go in aid of the Princess Alice Hospice, which cares for people with cancer and other illnesses living in a large part of Surrey, south west London and Middlesex. I never got to know Maxine but I hadn’t been blogging for long before I became aware of the impact she had had on the crime fiction blogging community under her blogging name, Petrona. So much so that there is a blog (Petrona Remembered) specifically set up in her memory and an annual Petrona Award for best Scandinavian crime fiction translated into English. Many crime bloggers speak of her often, with great affection, and credit her with introducing them to Scandi crime.

But what of the anthology itself? Well, in my totally biased opinion, this is a real fun collection. Ranging from very short to reasonably long, each story concentrates on the (hopefully fictional) lengths writers and publishers, and in one case musicians, will go to get their works in front of the public. (In fact, after reading these stories, I was frankly too scared not to review the book…)

Maxine Clarke (www.petronaremembered.com)
Maxine Clarke
petronaremembered.com

Margot herself has contributed two fine stories – one featuring Joel Williams, the detective who appears in her books, and the other a standalone with a blackly humorous twist about what happens when the author/publisher relationship breaks down (I’m hoping it’s not autobiographical). Sarah’s story is great fun, involving French cafés, omelettes, wine, books, mystery, humour and a little touch of romance – my dream evening in fact.

Other contributions range from light to very dark, providing plenty of variety and contrast. Amongst the authors I don’t know, the standout for me was Martin Edwards’ story The Killing of Captain Hastings – blogging, crime writing festivals and an author who writes ‘cosy’ crime about a detective who loves cats. Funny and with a lot of affectionate ribbing of the world of books and self-promotion, this made me want to go to the next Whitby Fictionfest…

“She’d already attracted admiring glances from the local author of a fantasy in which vampires rampage across the North Yorkshire Moors, as well as a literary agent from London whom she’d never seen sober, and a couple of disreputable-looking sci-fi writers.”

Buy it because it’s in a good cause…then read it because it’s good fun! Highly recommended!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link