A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden is the first installment of The Outlands Pentology.
I was very lucky to have been sent a copy of this book by the author in return for an honest review.
A Touch of Death is a science fiction, dystopian fantasy novel and when I first read about it I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it but I was wrong. I really enjoyed reading the book as it featured many aspects that I really like. Including good character development, crime, drama and anticipation.
I have said in many posts before, one thing I really enjoy in a book is good character development and I found that this book really had that. I really liked the main characters of Nate and Catherine and found their growing relationship to be very interesting. There was something very realistic about how it naturally grew from hatred to friendship. They work together as a team and you can see how each of their strengths and weaknesses work to complement each other.
I tend to stay clear of science fiction fantasy novels as many book are not believable and that comes with the territory but I felt that even although their world is nothing like reality it somehow felt as though it could have been. As I continued to read I felt completely immersed in their world and felt as though I was on the journey alongside them. This I would put down to the writing and the concept. The writing in this book is excellent and really made this book as good as it is.
The book does feature many tough ‘scenes’ as the title suggests and is full of twists and turns which kept me engaged and wanting to see how the characters responded and reacted.
One thing I would say however is the last section of the book I felt to be rushed on a little and having spent so long on the rest of the adventure this result could have been explored further. in saying this there were some real tear jerking moments in the ending which added some real depth to the book
Overall, I would recommend this book and I will definitely be adding the rest of the books to my TBR pile.
Many thanks, Caitlin x
(PS please feel free to like, comment and share x)
This weeks author Q&A features Douglas Lindsay, author of ‘Song of the Dead’ (the first in the DI Westphall series).
I reached out to Douglas Lindsay to see if he would possibly be able to answer a few of my questions, which he said yes to. Thank you very much for doing so Douglas Lindsay, much apprecieted! my questions and his answers are as follows;
1. What made you want to become a writer?
I’ve always been a daydreamer, a fantasist. I remember reading Walter Mitty in school, and thinking, isn’t everyone like this? Why is this even a character in a story? So, I’d always thought about writing, but I hit my twenties and got a job in an office. Time passed. Then I married a diplomat, we moved to French-speaking Africa, I didn’t speak French, I mentioned to Kathryn that I could become a writer, she foolishly agreed, and that was twenty-five years ago. Kathryn’s still a diplomat, still waiting for the pay-off of me being a writer. On the plus side, I just made butternut squash, chili and crème fraiche soup for lunch, which I wouldn’t have done if I was working in an office.
2. Did you have any specific inspiration to write ‘Song of the Dead’?
Not in terms of story. I decided to write a new, first-person detective series, so the main influence, or non-influence, was my other first-person detective series, DS Hutton. Hutton is an alcoholic, foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed, opinionated, melancholic, PTSD-afflicted reprobate. I try to make him roguishly attractive, but I suspect plenty of readers just think he’s a bit of a dick. So, my basic starting point for Westphall was that he wasn’t Hutton. He doesn’t swear, he doesn’t sleep around, he’s calm, he’s reflective. He is melancholic, but all my leading characters are melancholic. The way the narrative develops then really stems from the character. Slow, measured, stopping to think on a regular basis.
The idea of the fellow turning up having been declared dead twelve years previously just came to me out of nowhere. Sounded intriguing, and that was all I had when I started writing the book, trusting myself to come up with a decent explanation along the way.
3. What did the process for writing this book look like? Did it involve much research?
Zero research. We’d just arrived in Estonia, where Kathryn was posted to the British embassy. I loved Tallinn. Straight off the bat, felt at home. We were there three years, and I’d move back in a shot if circumstances allowed.
I wanted to set the book there, but was aware that I really didn’t know the place. So, I used the narrative of an outsider arriving fresh in the country, and we see it through his eyes. It allowed me to be unfamiliar. It did get picked up and translated into Estonian, so hopefully I did a decent job in not offending anyone, or sounding naïve about the local culture.
4. This book has a lot of tough subjects (inc. loss, grief, suicide, crime), were these difficult to write about? And did you find it difficult balancing these within the book?
I find the melancholia really easy to access, very natural to write. There’s no reason for it. No childhood trauma, no PTSD. We all are the way we are, I guess, whatever that is. The story of Dorothy, which is really a small, sad, standalone tale detached from the main narrative, comes from me imagining what I’d do differently with my life if I was suddenly tossed back to university, and thinking through logically how bad that has the potential to be.
It’s interesting though that in the main narrative, there’s not a huge amount of grief, or sense of loss. We don’t really care about the victims, as we don’t particularly get to know them. That’s fairly common in my books. I like the detachment from real life, which is why the narrative is infused with the fantastical.
5. The book has two main settings, Scotland and Estonia, why did you choose to write with two setting and why these specifically?
Well, I’ve explained Estonia. It just felt like home. And the other place that feels like home is Scotland, of course. Since 1992, I’ve only lived there for two years, but the sense of place never leaves you. Those two years were spent living in Dingwall, and I have a lot of family up in that area, so I know it well. Not being a big reader of my fellows’ crime novels, I’ve no idea if there are any other detective series set in Ross-shire. I decided not to be bother checking. Just in case. The Highlands in general are such an extraordinary area to use in literature, and being based in Dingwall, does give scope to use such a huge swathe of the country. Again, no research, so I’ve no idea what area of the Highlands detectives out of Dingwall would cover. Maybe there aren’t even detectives in Dingwall…
6. This book is written in first person, was this a conscious decision?
It’s limiting, of course, in the sense of reporting the narrative of the story. You only ever know what the main detective knows. You can’t have things happening over there, somewhere else, where the detective isn’t. (Unless you cheat, and have third-person chapters, which in fact I do with DS Hutton, but decided not to do with Westphall.)
I do find first person very easy to write, however. Hutton, actually, is much easier than Westphall, because he’s so unfiltered. So, that was partly it, but it was also the issue I referred to previously. Setting the book somewhere with which I was so unfamiliar, if it had been written in the third person, I really would’ve had to get to know my town and the country a lot better. But I enjoyed the first person, stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect, so I didn’t feel like I was cheating in not researching. The narrative felt very natural.
7. I found DI Westphall really interesting, refreshing to have a character who isn’t perfect (eg fear of flying), did you find it importantthat he had flaws?
The flaws are the interesting bits. I also don’t see fear of flying as a flaw, by the way. It’s common sense! That was the downside of living in Estonia, the three-hour flight, which always seemed to last so much longer, back to the UK. I’d’ve driven every time if it had been practical.
The early Bond novels were a big influence on my writing. I remember always being more interested in Bond, his character and his flaws, than in whatever international espionage story he ended up involved in. I could’ve read three hundred pages of Bond being bored in London. And the man in those novels was so much more flawed that Connery or Moore ever were. I guess, now with Daniel Craig, they make him a little more human. But I remember a scene where Bond’s in the Caribbean, flying through a storm in a passenger plane, and he’s terrified, and I thought, that’s more like it.
8. Was ‘Song of the Dead’ always going to be part of a series?
That was always going to be publisher driven. Could I find one in the first place, and what would they like to do with it? I publish a lot of books myself through Amazon, but I wrote this one with intent of finding someone else to do it. It was initially picked up by Freight Books, and when they folded just before they were due to publish the second in the series, it was taken on by Mulholland/Hodder. They wanted three off the bat, but sadly it doesn’t look like they want any more. Unless something happens (in terms of sales or TV rights, neither of which seems likely at the moment), Westphall is probably done.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Get on with it. It’s very easy to get bogged down in detail, to find reasons why you end up not writing much, or to give in to not feeling it on any particular day. I always think you should try to write through the bad days, hope that something comes out of it. You can always rewrite, and if ultimately you have to bin something because it’s bad, then it’s no different from not writing it in the first place. Better to get something down. The story will always grow and develop in the writing.
When you’re done, always, always, always print the book off and read it out loud. And try to do it in a day or two. It doesn’t just help with dialogue, but it really helps spot repetition, general typos, and even plot holes.
Then repeat at least once more, if not a couple of times. It gets boring, but it really helps the final polish.
10. Would you like to share anything else about ‘Song of the Dead’?
I like it. That isn’t always the case. I’m not, for example, particularly fond of the second Westphall book, BOY IN THE WELL. It was unusually a struggle to write, and I never really lost the sense of it not working. If I ever see a good review for it, I think, wow, dodged a bullet there. On the other hand, the third book, THE ART OF DYING, is my favourite of my own crime novels. Think it works really well.
I took the title of Book 2 from the REM song, and for Book 3 from the George Harrison song. Neither book is in any way related to the songs. I have no idea where the title for Book 1 came from. Must just’ve appeared in my head one day.
I loved reading this so I hope you have too! Thanks again to Douglas for taking the time to answer them! I would highly recommend reading this book for yourself but if you want to see my thoughts on this book I have written a previous blog post on it (check it out here!)
Many thanks, Caitlin x
(PS please feel free to like, comment and share x)
The Magpie Society is a YA mystery novel written by Zoe Sugg and ‘Jinxed’ author Amy McCulloch.
First of all, I was really excited to read this book as I have previously loved some of Amy McCulloch’s other books and I will say I enjoyed reading it. I did find myself eagerly reading on but I will say I didn’t love how the book ended which kind of hindered the reading experience.
I liked the writing style and the switch between Ivy and Audrey viewpoint throughout the book. I feel it gave both characters depth and time to develop within the story. The use of the podcast transcripts is something I really liked, almost as if I was listening to it myself and allowing you to know exactly what the characters are reacting to. It was also interesting to learn after reading that the two authors were Audrey and Ivy in the sense that their viewpoints were written by one of the authors throughout.
I thought that a lot of the characters in the book are interesting and suited to a YA novel. The introduction of someone as new to the school as the readers are so we get to learn about the school through a character who has been there for years and one only a few weeks.
The book ended on a cliffhanger, which suggests a book will follow however I feel that the book itself didn’t answer any of the questions it set out. It was almost as if I read the full book for nothing. I like a cliffhanger but I felt like too much of the story resulted in this. For example, who the magpie Society is? This I can understand being a cliffhanger but the full premise of the story, what happened to Lola?, I feel that this should have been explained more. The book was leading up to this answer as we see Audrey and Ivy investigate and explore but we don’t learn anything else as it seemed to end right in the middle of a scene. In my opinion, I don’t think the book answered enough of its questions. Maybe if the second book was out already and I could have immediately read on it would have been ok, but I don’t think a book should rely on another that much even if it is a series.
Overall, I would say that I enjoyed the process of reading it and will likely read the second once released to find out all the answers from this book but I was left frustrated at the lack of resolution in this one. I would maybe recommend waiting for the second one to be released so you can find out more without the disappointment of waiting.
Many thanks, Caitlin Dermidy
(PS please feel free to like, comment, follow and share 🙂 )
Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters is a YA fantasy novel that centres around a character named Shady Grove and ghosts risen through a fiddle.
“If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.
Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness. But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets. In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing. “
I was unsure whether I would like this book when I first received it in a Book Box Club subscription but I am glad to say I was wrong. I did really enjoy this novel. It was filled with mystery, paranormal and great characters. It is a book filled with an eerie atmosphere with sprinkles of romance intertwined. I felt like I constantly had to see what was happening. The book also featured a crime that was committed and Shady Grove using the fiddle to try to find out the truth. I really liked this aspect as it is part of the typical genre I would choose of a crime and the investigators but it looked at it in a unique way. Having a teenage girl look for the truth which lay with ghosts of those lost to her world.
One thing I really liked about this book is that it dealt with some great and occasionally tough topics. It didn’t shy away. It featured an LGBTQ+ storyline with a love triangle, the topic of loss was prominent in this book, friendship was a big topic also. Loss being one of the main topic in this book as it features both with the living and with the ghosts brought to the front with Shady Grove fathers fiddle. I think the writing in the book dealt with this really well and it showed how different people can react to loss in different ways and that is ok.
I really enjoyed the writing style of Erica Waters, it allowed the reader to really feel apart of the story and feel themselves become lost in the atmosphere and setting of the book itself.
The characters in this book were charming and added to the story well. Shady Grove was a well developed character who I loved learning about and following her on her ‘quest’. However, I would say even although I liked the other characters, they didn’t have a whole ot of depth. What I mean by that is that we knew who they are but not how they became to be that. I still liked them but I love characters with backstory. But that is a personal opinion and I may think that, but you might not. So I recommend reading it and seeing what you think.
Overall, I really liked this book and would recommend it. I think a lot of readers would enjoy it as it features topics from many genres (crime, mystery, fantasy, romance etc)
Halloween is the perfect time of year to read some classic novels, mystery, thriller and horror!! And with halloween being celebrated a little differently this year its a great time to delve into some other realities!.
Some great Halloween reads include;
Dracula by Bram Stoker. (You have probably dressed up at Dracula at some point but have you ever read the book?)
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (another classic that should be on your tbr list!)
Monsters by Sharon Doger (a book based on the life of the above author Shelley, check out th)
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (A popular series of the same name was based on this novel)
The Shining by Stephen King (or the majority of Stephen Kings books)
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (a dark fantasy childrens novella)
The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (A gothic novella)
The Witches by Roald Dahl (Childrens fantasy novel)
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Horror novel with a film of the same name)
Any of these books are a great choice and can be classed as classics or popular fiction. I would say that even if you don;t have/want to read these options any horror, mystery or crime books isn’t a bad choice!
Have a great halloween and stay safe !
Many thanks, Caitlin x
(PS please feel free to like, comment and share! Don’t forget to check out Eva’s Instagram !)
The Spider and The Fly by Claudia Row is a true story about a reporter and her unique connection with a convicted serial killer.
I stumbled across this book whilst browsing the shelves at a local book store when I was travelling in San Francisco. It caught my eye when looking originally because of its cover, which generally is the case when looking in a book store, which is simple yet intriguing. Once I had read the blurb I felt I had to buy it.
I tend to read the same genre, crime fiction (which I am going to venture from) and although this is a crime novel it is nonfiction. For that reason I decided to give it a go, well that and it sounded really good.
When i started reading I realised I had made a good choice. It shows Claudia Rowes experiences and connection to this serial killer whom she talks with for over 4 years. How it shows the darkness inside, what motivates people, how people connect and how a serial killer and a reporter can forge this unusual connection.
The story of Kendall Francois is an interesting one and seeing this reporter show a different side to it is something I enjoyed. Kendall Francois was convicted of killing 8 women in 1998, and stashing their bodies in the house he shared with his mother, father and sister.
Claudia had many questions about this crime and set out to find answers. She may have found more about herself than she was expecting.
I really enjoyed this book and reading how the connection grew, and changed throughout their correspondence. I think the book was written in an engaging manner and kept you wanting to read on and felt almost poetic. Chapters varied in sizes but were generally fairly short which is something I like as it excited me to read on. I thought it was well written and although it is a true story had the feel of a fictional book. I would say at times it felt a bit all over the place but it didn’t necessarily bother me. I mean it would have enhanced the experience a little if it was structured in a more ordered way.
The book isn’t really a book of suspense (which the title may suggest) but more about the writers journey throughout, understanding more about herself and others. Even though it it isn’t your typical “true crime” book, I almost enjoyed it a little bit more as it gave a different perspective. The perspective of how another’s actions can affect your own (although maybe to the extreme, not everyone has years long connection to a serial killer)
Just thought I would mention where I picked this book up. This book I got when I was in San Francisco and popped into Green Apple Books on the Park. This was a great little bookshop with both new and used books. This one I got was used, yet it was almost as good as new!
Overall, I would recommend this book! Especially if your interested in psychology. I wouldn’t go into this book expecting it to be centred on the crimes committed as it is more about the reporters connection to the serial killer and how that takes her on her own journey.
Many thanks, Caitlin x
(Ps feel free to like and comment, share your own opinion.)
This month’s book box club theme is Moonlit Melodies and as usual features a book and bookish goodies that relate to this theme.
As well as the featured book you also received a bunch of great goodies! This included a #midnightsnack cookie as well as a moon child sticker pack. The sticker pack features stickers including shooting starts and moons. You also received a phantom of the opera pouch and access to The Bookshop Band album which features songs inspired by books including Alice in Wonderland. A cute door hanger was also featured which is very cute, and a heating eye mask by spacemasks.com. as well as all of that you also received an exclusive book box club pin badge!
The featured book this month is ‘Ghost Wood Song’ by Erica Waters.
The book is a young adult fiction novel.
Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.
But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.
In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.
I am really excited to read this book, if I’m honest it wouldn’t have been a book I would have picked up myself but that’s the reason I love this subscription box! It allows me to explore genres and authors I wouldn’t therefor experience! You also get access to a Spotify playlist which features all the songs referenced in this novel which I think it really unique!
Again I would highly recommend this subscription box!
Elen Caldecott is a childrens and YA author who wrote The Short Knife, a book I previously wrote a review on.
I got in contact with Elen and asked if I could possibly ask some questions on her career as a writer and on her book ‘The Short Knife’. Not only did she respond quickly, she also said yes! I appreciate when anyone takes the time to answer some of my questions and I can’t thank Elen enough!.
1. What made you become a writer and primarily with children’s books?
I’ve written since school. It was always a hobby and a passion. I had a fantastic teacher who encouraged me early on. Books for young people are pacy, challenging and fun. When I started writing them, it felt like home.
2. What gave you the inspiration to move on from children’s books to writing a YA novel? 3. Was there a reason you decided to set the ‘The Short Knife’ in the past and would you write more historical fiction?
I started writing it with language as the main inspiration. I wanted to write a book that was in English, but inspired by Welsh. I didn’t have a plot in mind, I had a voice in mind. I decided the most interesting time to write about, given that I wanted to write about Welsh meeting English, was when English first arrived in the British Isles. That meant it had to be a historical novel, and, given the complex nature of that meeting, it had to be a book for slightly older readers.
4. Were you particularly influence by any other authors or novels to begin your career orspecifically to write ‘The Short Knife’?
I love to read – I always have. So, I rely on other writers to fuel my reading. I learn so much from other writers. In the case of TSK, Catherine Johnson’s ‘The Curious Tale of the Lady Caribou’ was influential, in the way that she gave herself permission to imagine the lives of people who are quite shadowy in the historical record.
5. What process and research did you have to follow and conduct in order to write ‘The Short Knife’?
I did a lot of research on the language. I retranslated a dictionary of Welsh idioms and played with Welsh grammar. I also researched the time period, with visits to experiemental archaeology sites like West Stow Anglo-Saxon village.
6. Regarding your book, ‘The Short Knife’, was it a conscious decision to make the main protagonist a female with a strong, resilient personality?
I always wanted to tell women’s stories, yes. Not just Mai’s, but the female community she is surrounded by.
7. We see the story flip between two different times in Mai’s life before they catch up to each other, what made you write it with the two timelines rather than just one?
The plot of the book is based on an old legend of Hengist and Vortigern. That legend ends with a massacre. So, I knew that the finale of the book would have to happen with that dramatic event. However, I didn’t want Mai’s story to finish in that spot. So, by mixing up the timelines, I was able to give her a much longer epilogue than is usual.
8. To me, this book spoke about identity and language and this was one way I felt manypeople could relate to, was it originally going to feature those themes or did they happen naturally during the writing process?
It always was about language. I wanted to experiment with languages, more than anything. But identity is so often tied up with language so that ended up become an important theme organically.
9. Do you plan to write any more YA novels?
I might. I don’t know. That’s not what I’m working on right now, but who knows after that.
10. Do you have any advice for an aspiring author or writer?
Be curious. Experiment. Play. Words are a tool, in just the way that clay, or paint, or musical notes are the tools of other artists. Don’t be afraid to mess about with words – sometimes what you do will be awful, but sometimes you’ll make magic.
I loved all of these answers and I felt it gave me further insight into being a writer, the process of writing and of the novel itself. The link to Elen’s website is: http://www.elencaldecott.com/
if you havent read this book yet I recommend you do! Not only is it a great book, it was written by a gret author!
The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott is an adventure/ historical fiction novel that is set in 454AD, as the Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain.
This historic novel follows the main female protagonist names Mai and we follow her journey through the dark ages and facing Saxon Warriors. It is full of the mysticism of early Britain and we get to delve into the world of Mai.
We start the book with Mai, Haf (sister) and her Tad at their farm when Saxon warrors arrive and the family must flee. we follow their journey to the british camp on the hills and are given an insight into how Mai is feeluing and how she copes with the change. We see her struggle wwith her new situation and wants to leave. She continues in the British camp until she finds herself in trouble and ends up in a dangerous Saxon Camp. in a world where speaking your mother tongue is deadly she must learn Saxon words in porder to survive. but will this be enough?
I also liked the character of Mai in this book. As the protagonist we follow her journey through her experience with the dark ages and Saxon warriors as she become a strong independent woman. We also get to see her relationships with others including her sister Haf and how this effects her and the outcome of her life which I felt added another dimension to the character. She is only young yet we see her go through so much which adds strength to her character. We see her become strong and resilient in a world that doesn’t appreciate who she is.
This book was also a lot about Identify and language and we see how Mai’s is affected as she is forced to speak a language that isn’t her own. She loses part of herself when she can no longer speak her mother tongue and throughout the book we see how this effects her. How much she misses to be able to speak her own language. At one point she tears up after having heard her mother tongue spoken freely which shows the importance of her language is to her.
Generally, I don’t enjoy books that are set far in the past and I can’t say I would have picked this up if I hadn’t received this in July’s Book Box Club subscription box. Saying that, I enjoyed this book and was fully engaged from the beginning. Throughout the book I noticed saying to my self ‘just one more page’ a lot, which to me is a good sign!
Overall, I would recommend this book (even if you are not usually a fan of historic fiction like myslef). It is full of adventure and with a strong female lead you constantly want to read on. even though it features a complex character it is easy to read and enjoy and is almost poetic in its writing.
Book Box Club is a book subscription service where you can choose from different packages: Book box club subscription, purely books and Tales by Mail.
I received the original book box club subscription box where you receive a gift wrapped, new YA novel, access to the online book club and a selection of themed goodies. Purely Books is the monthly subscription where you receive the featured book and access to the online book club. Tales by Mail is the bi-monthly book subscription and podcast for ages 8-12 year olds)
The theme for July was Magical Talents.
The featured book this month was Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy. This novel is a historical fantasy novel set in 19th century Denmark where magic is a deadly gift. When Marit’s best friend Eve is adopted by a famous dancer, Marit draws upon her powers to get a job with the wealthy family in order to watch over her. But Marit has a secret motivation: her father died while working in the family’s mine, and she has reason to believe he was murdered. She begins t investigate her fathers death but as she goes further to the truth more danger arises. Magic may be the only thing that can save her – if it doesn’t kill her first.
After receiving this book, I was first drawn to the book cover and illustration as it I quite simplistic in its elements yet detailed. I read this synopsis and to me it sounds like its going to be a good book and I can’t wait to read it. Let me know in the comments if you have read this book!
Alongside this featured book you received some themed goodies. These were a Splinters of Scarlet adjustable ring by Lisa Angel, a magic bottle water flask with artwork by Girl and Type as well as a Joanna magnetic bookmark by TJ Lubrando. You also received golden alethiometer lip balm by Mad about Nature and Magical Studies Notebooks by Book Box club.
All these goodies are related to the theme and are of great quality. The are all curated and chosen for the box and regularly use small businesses and artwork from small artists which I think is great. An ideal way to promote small businesses!
You also receive an invite to the online book clubhouse to take part in a discussion alongside the author of the featured book. This is a unique feature and one I think is great. You get the chance to read and maybe discover an author then have the opportunity to meet the author, ask your questions and make new friends with the exclusive invite to the book box clubhouse!
I really love this subscription box and would highly recommend. I have written previous blog posts on the subscription box if your curious to what was in some of the previous boxes. The link to the book box club website is: https://www.bookboxclub.com
Many thanks, Caitlin x
(PS please feel free to comment, like and share this post)