Review: He Will Be Mine by Kirsty Greenwood

He Will Be Mine

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I am a huge fan of Kirsty Greenwood. Her previous book Big Sexy Love was one of my top reads in 2017 and I’ve been actively trying to foist it on pretty much everyone I’ve ever met. I was therefore very excited/nervous when I heard there was a new book coming. Could it possibly live up to expectations?

Well yes it did. He Will Be Mine, is an absolutely hilarious story about following your heart, believing in the fantasy and going after what you want. It’s touching, it’s romantic and it’s a whole lot crazy. Basically it’s the perfect bit of escapism. I loved it.


THE BLURB

The brand new full-length standalone romantic comedy from the bestselling author of Big Sexy Love!

Nora Tucker is an admin assistant from a tiny English village.

Gary Montgomery is Hollywood’s hottest new star.

After seeing him on the silver screen, Nora believes that Gary is her soulmate, her one true love, the man she’s supposed to grow old and wrinkly with. She knows it sounds nuts, she knows it’s completely crazy. But sometimes love is crazy, right?

Only… how on earth is this Plain Jane introvert supposed to get to Los Angeles, infiltrate Gary’s inner circle AND convince him that they’re meant to be? Throwing herself into this mission might be a tall order but it means Nora can stop thinking about that one awful day, two years ago, when everything in her life fell apart…

With the help of a sunny Californian weather girl, a super hot but super grumpy script writer, and a very passionate Adam Levine tribute act, Nora is about to try the impossible and let fate decide her future…


Thoughts

As a long time fan of Kirsty Greenwood the wait for a new book by her has been almost unbearably long but He Will Be Mine was definitely worth waiting for. It’s laugh out loud funny, a whole lot crazy and pretty much the perfect bit of escapism for these difficult times. I read the whole thing more or less in one sitting as I just couldn’t put it down.

The premise of this book is pretty unusual, 20 something woman working as a virtual admin assistant in a small village in England decides a famous Hollywood actor is her soul mate and heads off to LA to convince him of that fact. It sounds completely unbelievable and a bit nuts, but somehow Greenwood makes it work. Yes there are some ridiculous scenes and possibly a few too many convenient coincidences but they’re so funny it’s easy to just go with it and enjoy the ride.

Main character Nora Tucker is surprisingly relatable for a crazy stalker and there’s something very likeable about her. Her somewhat hermit lifestyle, working from home, staying in reading romance novels and eating junk at the start of the story is probably very relatable to many of us living in lockdown right now and I could definitely see myself in her. There are tragic reasons why Nora lives the way she does and I really felt for her. I will admit to struggling a little with the “famous actor is my soulmate” thing but other than that she seems like a normal, nice and down to earth person. And while her trip to LA is for a slightly crazy reason I loved the way it opened her up, gave her new experiences and led to some self discovery.

Her adventures in LA are absolutely wonderful and often had me laughing out loud or cringing with embarrassment for her. I loved the way the city is portrayed in the story. I’ve never been but the author really brought it to life and made me want to book tickets to go immediately. I also loved the different characters Nora meets along the way. Some have bigger parts than others and some are on the quirky side but all of them are memorable. It was also fantastic to catch up with a couple of characters from one of Greenwood’s previous books and there’s a cameo from an actual famous Hollywood actor in there too that made me giggle.

I loved that as well as the chapters from Nora’s pov we also got to hear Gary’s side of the story. I loved the similarities between them, the near misses and how his chapters often mirrored hers. It kept me wondering if maybe, just maybe they were in fact meant to be and it wasn’t all in Nora’s imagination. It’s definitely a story that keeps you guessing and there are more than a few unexpected twists along the way.

As always Greenwood’s writing is wonderful, the story is pacy and full of humour and heart. If you can’t tell by now I absolutely adored it and am seriously considering reading it again. I just hope we don’t have to wait so long for her next book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People

Anxious People has all of the things I love about a Fredrik Backman book. Wonderful writing, memorable characters and a lot of emotion and depth. However I have to confess to being a little disappointed by it. It may just have been poor timing on my part but there was something that didn’t quite work for me. I still enjoyed it but I didn’t love it.


The Blurb

A poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix up their own marriage. There’s a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in a motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

Humorous, compassionate, and wise, Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious of times.


My Thoughts

Unpopular opinion time, I didn’t love this book. I didn’t dislike it either but as a huge fan of Backman it was definitely disappointing.

It may have been a case of wrong book at the wrong time (it probably wasn’t the brightest idea to read a book titled “Anxious People” at the height of a global pandemic) but many of the things I usually love in Backman’s writing I seemed to find a little bit irritating. There’s a lot of foreshadowing and the narrator talking directly to the reader, telling us what the story is about and isn’t about, what’s important and what’s not. I have to admit to wanting them to just get on with the story but I was in a fairly impatient and irritated mood so that’s on me. I also struggled a little with the multiple points of view and jumps back and forward in time. I think I was expecting more of a straight story so it threw me off a bit when I got something completely different. I found it difficult to keep track of characters and how the various storylines linked together. I lost focus and found my concentration wandering.

Despite these niggles though there is a lot to like in the book. There’s a wonderful mix of different and quirky characters and I absolutely loved the way they developed over the course of the story. There’s a real depth to them and many of them are not what they first seem. It definitely highlights the theme that you can’t judge people based on appearances and you never really know what struggles other people are facing. I also loved the way the author played around with my own unconscious biases and expectations. I had more than one ah! moment when I realised I had made completely wrong assumptions based on my own preconceived notions.

Backman’s writing is as brilliant as always with lots of humour, great dialogue and some poignant and heartfelt moments (yes I cried). I wasn’t entirely sold on the switches from police interview to narrative as I found the change in style jarring but I did love the interview chapters. I felt like they brought the story to life. I probably would have preferred it if the story was told a little more simply and had more of a focus on one series of events rather than jumping around as it felt a little muddled to me.

Overall however it is still a good read and one I’d recommend to any Backman fans.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

November TBR: All About ARCs

Hello all,

And Happy November! I really don’t know where this year has gone.

A new month means a new TBR and hopefully a chance to do better than I did in October when I only managed to read 4 of the 10 books on my list. I’ve been working a lot of long hours so it’s been more a case of me not having the time than wandering off list. I’m actually counting the books I did manage to read as a win as there were some brilliant reads amongst them and they managed to shift me out of the reading rut I’d gotten stuck in.

Over the last few days I’ve actually been thinking about what books I’d like to read in December and over the Festive period (when I may finally get some time off) and I think I’m going to pick up some older books that have been sitting on my bookshelves for years (yes I may at long last read ACOTAR or Mistborn – more on this coming soon). With that in mind, I’ve decided November is going to be all about ARCs. My NetGalley shelf has been getting a little out of control, and there are some fantastic sounding books sitting on it waiting to be read so that’s what I’m going to focus on. I’m hoping if I can make a dent in my shelf and get a little ahead I can make December a read whatever the heck I like month. All the books on my November TBR are therefore advance copies I received via NetGalley.


November TBR

There is one book that I’m going to carry over from my October list, Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco. I’ve had it on my Reading Next list for weeks and fully intend on getting to it soon. I also have the latest in the Stillhouse Lake series, Heartbreak Bay, and Namesake the final book in the Fable duology. I read Fable earlier this year and very much enjoyed it so I’m very excited to read the conclusion, there was something of a cliff hanger. It will also be good to finish a series.

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins is actually one of my most anticipated books of the year. I loved The Binding, it was so different and had such wonderful writing, that I’ve been eagerly anticipating the next book by the author. With me finally starting to enjoy fantasy and sci fi again (I didn’t read any for months) I’m also hoping to finally read Seven Devils and The Court of Miracles. I’m very late in picking up both but I thought it was better to read them when I was in the right frame of mind rather than forcing myself through.

As someone with a weird obsession with Japanese fiction I’m also very excited about Lonely Castle in the Mirror. It just sounds so different from anything I’ve read before. Finally, to round out my list I have The Game by Luca Veste and The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean. I loved Luca Veste’s previous book so have high hopes for The Game. This will be my first book by Will Dean but I’ve heard loads of good things about his writing so I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.


So that’s my November TBR, it is looking a little light on rom coms and contemporaries so I’m fairly certain there will be some deviation, no doubt for the latest Bromance Bookclub but fingers crossed I make it through the majority of this list.

Have you read any of these books? Any I should be particularly excited about or that I should be moving to the top of my list? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy reading ❤

WWW Wednesday: 21st October 2020

The WWW Wednesday meme is hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words and is a great way to do a weekly update on what you’ve been reading and what you have planned.

WWW Wednesday

To take part all you have to do is answer the following three questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

He Will Be Mine

I’m kind of between books yet again, as I finished one on Monday and decided to take a little break before starting my next read. I am fairly certain however that next up will be He Will be Mine by Kirsty Greenwood. This will be a pretty major diversion from my October TBR and I’m not sure could ever be described as a spooky read but I can’t resist. Greenwood is one of my favourite writers and this story about a regular everyday woman who decides a famous Hollywood actor is her soul mate and sets out to convince him of that sounds like so much fun.


Recently Finished

Poisoned

Two books finished this week with the first the Snow White retelling Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly. As a big fan of Donnelly’s previous book Stepsister and retellings in general I was really looking forward to this story but I’m afraid it didn’t quite work for me. It wasn’t a particularly bad read and I loved the feminist spin the author put on the original story and how she wove in a few characters from different myths. I did however find main character Sophie frustrating and a little too much. I also found my attention wandering at times, it may just have been the wrong book at the wrong time but I am a little disappointed by it.

The second book finished was not on last week’s reading next list but was on my October TBR so it’s all good. After finishing a YA fantasy I was in the mood for a more grown up ghost story/mystery and The Lost Ones by Anita Frank fit the bill perfectly. I actually received an advance copy of this about a year ago and have attempted to read it on a couple of occasions but could never really get into it. This time however I slipped into it with no problems at all and found myself completely absorbed in it from pretty much the first page. It’s a fairly slow paced read and it is on the predictable side but I absolutely loved it. It was so atmospheric full of intrigue and the writing is just wonderful.


Reading Next

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked, #1)

Given my wandering off track last week there’s no change to my reading next list as I’m still hoping to pick up The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E Schwab once I finish my current read. It’s one of my most anticipated reads of this year and I’m a big fan of Schwab but I have to admit I’ve been putting it off a little due to the fear it won’t live up to expectations. I’m also hoping to pick up Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco soonish so I may try to get to that one too.

My next book club book is Found by Erin Kinsley so I should probably think about trying to pick it up soon. Not gonna lie, I’m not especially excited at the prospect.


Have you read any of the books on my list this week? Any others you’d recommend? As always please feel free to leave comments and links below.

Happy Reading 🙂

WWW Wednesday: 14th October 2020

The WWW Wednesday meme is hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words and is a great way to do a weekly update on what you’ve been reading and what you have planned.

WWW Wednesday

To take part all you have to do is answer the following three questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Poisoned

I’m technically between books at the moment as I just finished one and wanted a break before starting another. I’m fairly certain however that my next read will be Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly as I’ve just realised it’s publishing next week (I have seriously got to get on top of my ARCs). I absolutely loved Donnelly’s previous book Stepsister so I’ve been really looking forward to this one. Plus, it’s a retelling of the Snow White and I am a big fan of retellings. Fingers crossed it lives up to expectations.


Recently Finished

The Devil and the Dark Water

Two books finished this week, with the first The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton. This was one of my most anticipated reads this year and for the most part it did not disappoint. It’s not as complex as Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (no notebook was required) but it’s still a very twisty tale that really keeps you guessing.

If I had one criticism it’s that I wish it had leaned a little harder into the horror aspects of the story. There are some creepy moments in the story but I feel like Turton could have gone a little further. It is a great read with intriguing characters and a stunning ending but not quite the 5 star read I was hoping for.

The Ghost Tree

The second book finished was The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry. I received an advance copy of this a month or so ago via NetGalley but it was only available to read on the app which is not great so I decided to wait until I could buy a copy.

I’m a big fan of Henry’s writing and I think this ranks as one of my favourites. I more or less read the whole thing in one sitting, I just could not put it down. It’s an 80s set monster in the woods story that’s more gore fest than spooky tale. It’s maybe a little on the tropey side but it was a lot of fun to read.


Reading Next

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked, #1)

If I manage to finish Poisoned I think I’ll probably switch back to my October TBR and The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E Schwab. It’s currently sitting on the arm of my sofa calling my name so I don’t think I’ll be able to resist for long. I’m also hoping to pick up Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco soonish so I may try to get to that one too. I also have my RL book club on Friday so there’s a possibility they’ll come up with a book I want to read. I think my days in book club are numbered as out of the 10 books so far I’ve only liked 1 (although to be fair I didn’t read 4 of them).


Have you read any of the books on my list this week? Any others you’d recommend? As always please feel free to leave comments and links below.

Happy Reading 🙂

Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

Title: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

Author: Abbi Waxman

Genre: Contemporary

Pages: 351

Source: Bought

My Rating: 3 stars


The Blurb

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.


Thoughts

Unpopular opinion time, I didn’t love this book. I mean, I wanted to and based on the synopsis and all of the glowing reviews I was pretty positive going in that I would but it just didn’t work for me. It may just be a case of poor timing, I was in a grumpy mood, but I found myself becoming increasingly irritated by it and the more I read the more irritated I got.

In theory it should have been the perfect read for me, quirky characters, a bookshop setting, lots of literary and pop culture references, a cat and a little bit of romance. And there was definitely a lot to like but there was something about the writing style and the tone of the story which rubbed me up the wrong way from the very start. Yes the characters are quirky and eccentric but it feels like it’s trying too hard. I think it’s supposed to be funny but it wasn’t really my sense of humour so I found it a bit dull and by the end was left wondering what the point of it was.

I guess it’s supposed to be about Nina’s development from anxious introvert to someone who puts themselves out there with other people but to be honest I never really bought the anxious introvert thing so it didn’t seem like there was much development. If I’m being brutally honest I didn’t even like Nina that much. Anxious and introverted just seemed to mean rude, inconsiderate and judgemental (there’s some serious book snobbery). Someone who has a wide circle of friends, is out every night of the week and seems to like being at the centre of things doesn’t sound very introverted or shy to me and she had no problem standing up for herself or speaking her mind. I expected much more of a loner, not a social butterfly.

The story itself did have promise. Nina discovers she has a whole family she didn’t know about and meets them while simultaneously getting to know quiz team rival Tom who is inexplicably (she’s nothing but horrible to him) interested in her. If there had been a little more depth or emotion I think it could have been a really good story but the tone remains upbeat and quirky throughout which I think sort of spoiled things.

The switches in perspective from one paragraph to the next also confused me. The majority of the story is from Nina’s pov but every so often it’d switch to Tom or one of the other characters, usually in the middle of a chapter with no indication. It’d take me a few seconds to figure out what’d happened by which time we’d be back to Nina.

I’m also not sure I saw the point of cat Phil other than to go all out on the stereotype of bookish spinster with cat. And having Nina imagining what he was saying just seemed silly, like pretty much most of the things she imagined.

As for the romance, it felt a little tacked on and lacklustre. There wasn’t any real chemistry between them and she was so rude to Tom I honestly couldn’t see why he bothered.

There were a few nice moments, I liked a couple of the secondary characters and I do love a book with lots of literary references but I’m afraid on the whole it was a bit of a disappointment.

WWW Wednesday: 7th October 2020

The WWW Wednesday meme is hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words and is a great way to do a weekly update on what you’ve been reading and what you have planned.

WWW Wednesday

To take part all you have to do is answer the following three questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

The Devil and the Dark Water

At long last I’m finally reading one of my most anticipated books of the year, The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton. I started it on Saturday and despite some cat drama over the last couple of days am more than halfway through and absolutely loving it.

On audio, I’m listening to Jeaniene Frost’s Twice Tempted. This is actually a re- listen and I probably should have picked up one of the audio’s that’s been lurking unlistened to on my phone but I was in a paranormal romance kind of a mood and I just love these books.


Recently Finished

The Survivors

Only one book finished in the last week but it was a good one. Jane Harper is one of my favourite authors and is one of the few on my autobuy list and her latest book The Survivors did not disappoint. There’s something incredibly engaging about her writing and her descriptions of both place and characters are so vivid they draw you into the story.

I absolutely loved the Tasmanian setting (another part of Australia I’ve learned more about) and the story kept me guessing. Overall a great read and one I’d recommend.


Reading Next

I posted an October TBR last week so I’m going to stick with it and pick up either The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E Schwab on The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry. I’m a big fan of both authors so deciding which one of these to read first is going to be tough.


Have you read any of the books on my list this week? Any others you’d recommend? As always please feel free to leave comments and links below.

Happy Reading 🙂

Spooktober 2020 TBR

Hello lovely people, can you believe it’s October already? I can’t. This year has both dragged and flown by. I guess living through a global pandemic creates some kind of time distortion field. Anyway, in the grand honored tradition (started last year when I forgot to do a Fall TBR), October means it’s time for a Spooktober TBR (yeah I forgot again).

I’ve been struggling to read pretty much anything that’s not a romcom or contemporary recently but I’m feeling pretty excited about dipping into some creepy tales this month. There have been a lot of exciting new releases in the last couple of months and I’ve managed to get my hands on some advance copies too so by combining these with some of the backlist titles that have been lurking on my bookshelves for way too long I think I’ve managed to come up with a pretty good list. I’ve got ghosts, magic, monsters, murder, the devil and maybe even the odd zombie.

So without further ado…


MY SPOOKTOBER TBR


Seriously, how good do these look? Narrowing it down to just 10 was not easy and there is a 50/50 chance I’ll make some substitutions but I’m hoping I can get to most of them. Have you read any of these books, if so what did you think? Any others you’d recommend? Leave comments and rec’s below.

Happy reading and don’t have nightmares.

Ali x

Extract: The Rhino Conspiracy by Peter Hain #BlogTour @MuswellPress @PeterHain @Brownlee_Donald

Today I’m excited to be taking part in the blog tour for The Rhino Conspiracy by Peter Hain. Described as “An epic tale of corruption, collusion, and courage set in contemporary South Africa“, Hain’s insider knowledge of politics and activism infuse this timely thriller.

Read on for more details of the book and an extract to whet your appetite…


About the Book

The Rhino Conspiracy

In the last decade more than 6,000 rhinos have been killed in South Africa. Relentless poaching for their horns has led to a catastrophic fall in black rhino numbers. Meanwhile, a corrupt South African government turns a blind eye to the international trade in rhino horn. This is the background to Peter Hain’s brilliantly pacey and timely thriller. Battling to defend the dwindling rhino population, a veteran freedom fighter is forced to break his lifetime loyalty to the ANC as he confronts corruption at the very highest level. The stakes are high. Can the country’s ancient rhino herd be saved from extinction by state-sponsored poaching? Has Mandela’s “rainbow nation” been irretrievably betrayed by political corruption and cronyism?


Extract

PROLOGUE

The butt of the high- powered rifle had the old familiar feel, nestling against his shoulder as he crouched in the safari park.

In recent years his shooting had been mainly rabbits. Also guinea fowl – they were terribly difficult to get a clear shot at. But he was by far the best of all his friends. When they all went out for a weekend’s shooting, if anyone was going to get a guinea fowl it would be him.

His eye was still in.

Amongst his circle these days, he was something of a legend. Over a cold Castle or Windhoek beer after a shoot, his friends would pull his leg about his ‘mysterious’ past. But he would never let on, never say what he used to do.

But, now into his forties, he was fretting about his accuracy – whether he could stay rock steady during those vital seconds when the target came into view, exactly as was required.

It was one thing downing a bird, quite another a person.

He hadn’t done anything like this for nearly a quarter of a century.

That seemed a lifetime ago. And then of course, at the very pinnacle of his military career, he hadn’t needed to squeeze the trigger. Mercifully his had been a quite different duty on the momentous day when Madiba took the first steps of his long walk to freedom.

Then the Sniper had been holed up from dawn in the Cape winelands overlooking the secure Victor Verster compound in which Madiba had been incarcerated for the last few of his twenty- seven years in prison.

The Sniper, tall, muscled, especially around his shoulders and arms, had been a young man in the South African Army, renowned as one of its most proficient, when his commandant had suddenly summoned him one day in early February 1990 on direct instructions from the office of President de Klerk.

The mission was a special one, not the usual offensive attack, but one of defensive protection for the old gentleman who held the future of the nation in his hands. The newly revered one, transformed from the terrorist ogre his parents had always spoken darkly about. ‘If they ever let him out, his people will push all us whites into the sea,’ he remembered his dad repeating in his thick Afrikaans accent.

But that was then. On this special day, nothing must go wrong, could go wrong. The walk to freedom had to occur. His orders were very specific and very humbling: spot any potential assassin or assassins and shoot them, or otherwise the nation, which had been so perilously poised on the brink of civil war and financial meltdown, might be dragged back to the cliff edge – then to tumble over into murder and mayhem.

The Sniper had found a good spot amidst all the fynbos and aloe in a large clump of boulders. From there he had both a clear view of Madiba’s prison compound, the gates through which he would walk and, more importantly, any vantage points from which a shot could be fired at the great man.

From early light when he had scrambled into position – having scouted the spot late the previous evening, returned to base, eaten and grabbed some sleep – he had his binoculars trained on the surrounding landscape.

In the hills by the roadside he looked continuously for anywhere an assassin could be. There were certainly enough of them out there. Extremists, neo- Nazis, white fundamentalists, nutty ideologues: all sorts amongst whom there could be danger on the big day.

The Sniper knew exactly where to look – because he knew exactly the sort of place someone trained like him would choose, camouflaged in the stony scrub, dried out by the searing heat of the summer now just at its peak.

But the problem was the nutter might not have been trained like him. Might not be a professional. Might be a wild card, an opportunist, in some ways much more difficult to anticipate. Perhaps even a martyr, not too bothered about escaping, just doing the horrendous deed, come what may.

That was the real nightmare.

Which was why he had an African spotter, down below, much closer to the prison gate, binoculars searching intently, scrutinising everyone, everywhere, without revealing his true purpose, a permanent smile diverting attention from laser eyes and the concealed microphone under his shirt front through which he could mutter to the Sniper above.

The Sniper scoured the terrain, watching, waiting. First a few arrived, then more, then a swelling crowd, boisterous, starting to toi toi, to sing, expectantly, ecstatically.

It was joyously chaotic. And that was the problem. It was almost anarchic. TV outside- broadcast vans had rolled up by the dozen for live coverage. Reporters were talking to camera or interviewing anybody remotely authoritative, or even mildly interesting, just to fill programme space. More and more people were arriving. Cars and vans were parked up anywhere, everywhere they could find space.

And then the allotted time came and went. Through his earpiece the dreaded news that there was a delay – a long one. Madiba was ready, but his wife Winnie had self- indulgently been delayed at the hairdresser’s. Keeping her man, keeping the nation, keeping the whole world waiting for hours.

Typical, the Sniper thought. The woman was trouble, had been a real menace with her incitement of the young comrades into ‘necklacing’ and thuggery.

The Sniper knew nothing of the decades- long ordeal she had been through: the banning, beating, banishing by the old Special Branch. He had no comprehension of how she had had to bring up their two girls from toddlers to women amidst all the brutal attempts at humiliation. No understanding of the burden she carried as the wife of the globally heroic freedom fighter. He had no sympathy for her. She was just spoiling things for the man he was charged with protecting – protecting at all costs.

He sipped at his water bottle, the liquid now as hot as the sweat running all over him, as he lay prone among the rocks, seeing everything.

Then a cavalcade swept down towards and through the gate. ‘She’s arrived – about bloody time,’ a guttural clipped message came through his earpiece. ‘Copy that,’ he acknowledged.

Stretching a little to ease the aches not even his ultra-fitness could stem, he focused hard, scanning constantly.

The chanting was reaching a crescendo. This was impossible: how could he possibly do his job in the swirl of figures down below?

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, his spotter croaked excitedly in the earpiece, ‘I can see Madiba now, boss. He’s walking to freedom, boss. But I can’t see through my binocs any more, boss. They’ve misted up. Sorry, boss, can’t stop crying, boss. Never, ever thought I would see this day.’

The Sniper recalled that amazing moment. His mission then was to target the assassin. Now it was to be the assassin. How ironic.

Yet, just as his duty then was to protect Madiba, now he passionately believed he was protecting the legacy of Madiba.


The first text stated shortly, the second imminent. Minutes later his phone flashed and buzzed again.

Although he knew it was coming, the meeting had been too important to drag himself away, the information to which he had been confidentially exposed too alarming, the task that followed too serious.

Now he had just eight minutes as he jumped up, said his goodbyes and hastily headed for the exit across the bare wooden floorboards, passing the real- ale handles on the bar top to the Clarence pub, to begin hurtling down Whitehall, not sure he would make it.

He had to get there on time. It was crucial. If he failed there would be all manner of repercussions. And he didn’t want that. Although noted for his independence of spirit, he prided himself for being conscientious, and didn’t take liberties with his obligations to vote when required.

Bob Richards kept himself reasonably fit in his late fifties. A regular gym goer, he didn’t do fitness heroics but ate carefully and was in much better shape than most of his colleagues, male or female. He had observed them – almost all of them – fill flabbily out, not just from age but from fast food and caffeine grabbed between incessant meetings or media interviews or events. And from stress: stress and pressure, all the time on a treadmill of commitments.

But he wasn’t used to running a distance and was soon out of puff. He kept glancing at his watch, worrying. The minutes ticked by, beads of sweat surfacing on his brow in the cool evening as he darted between startled pedestrians on their way home from surrounding government offices.

Past Gwydyr House – the Wales Office, and around two hundred years before, the venue for dispensing compensation to slave owners after the abolition of slavery. That always tickled him. Compensation for the owners? What about the slaves?

And all the time his mind was pulsating at the haunting briefing he’d
been given – and the responsibility he must discharge to honour the values, the traditions for which he had once campaigned.

Even if he could keep up this pace, he wasn’t sure he would make the deadline. He was slowing visibly as he lurched past the grey, gaunt Ministry of Defence building, with its tunnel under Whitehall. Four minutes to go.

He ducked left into 1 Parliament Street to avoid traffic- light delays across the road to the Palace of Westminster, and dodged left past the security officers, who immediately recognised a familiar face, pressing a button and waving him through the normal visitor barrier.

Now he could hear the rasping bell ringing, summoning him insistently. Down the stairs. Around the corner. Doors opening automatically. Across the courtyard. Panting up more stairs. Pushing through another set of doors.

Past the Despatch Box coffee shop and across the Portcullis House atrium. Nobody paying a blind bit of interest – sprinting adults, mostly well out of shape, normal for these voting moments. Sweating like mad, down the escalator. Spotting a few others desperately running as well.

Quickly. Don’t even think you are knackered. Just keep going.

Through a corridor joining the modern building and the old palace. Left under an arch into the open courtyard where the smokers congregated. Then right, pressing open the door, his pass not needed because a vote was on, clambering up winding stairs, pushing past gossiping colleagues coming the other way, having completed their duty.

Muttering to himself: ‘Out of my bloody way!’

On his left, the Leader of the Opposition’s office. On his right, first the Foreign Secretary’s, then the Prime Minister’s office.

Seconds to go, back of the Speaker’s Chair just ahead, figures pouring out of the Noes Lobby to his left. On the right a doorkeeper poised, ready for the summons.

‘Lock the doors!’ The doorkeeper, catching sight of him but determined nevertheless to carry out her duty on time, began to wrench the doors closed.

He burst through the narrowing opening, catching his shoe and tumbling to the carpet of the Ayes Lobby.

He had made it. Only just. Utter relief. His vote might be vital, for his party whips weren’t sure how many defectors might be in the other lobby.

But what a way to run a bloody country.


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About the Author

Peter Hain is a politician who as a teenager, newly moved to the UK from South Africa, was a leading activist in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. A documentary about the central role he played in the Stop the Tour campaign 1970 was released by BT Sport in December last year. He then went into politics becoming a cabinet minister for Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Since standing down as an MP in 2015, he has sat in the House of Lords and still lives in his former constituency of Neath in Wales. He has written numerous works of non-fiction but this is his first thriller


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Bloody Scotland: 2020 McIlvanney Prize Finalist Blog Tour Q&A with Ambrose Parry #blogtour @BloodyScotland @Brownlee_Donald @ambroseparry

Today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Bloody Scotland blog tour with a Q&A with Ambrose Parry, author of one of the four books shortlisted for this year’s McIlvanney Prize.

Those who follow this blog will know that Bloody Scotland is one of my favourite bookish events of the year and even though it can’t go ahead in its usual format this year I’m very excited that they’ve organised a whole raft of online events that are available for free (details of all events and tickets can be found here). I’ve volunteered at the event for the last two years so I’m really going to miss the Friday night torchlight procession through the streets of Stirling, getting to see some of my favourite authors and the wonderful atmosphere but I guess going virtual means I’ll finally make it to Crime at the Coo (tickets usually sell out in minutes).

One of the first events as always is the award of the McIlvanney Prize to the Scottish Crime Book of the year. This year’s finalists are Whirligig by Andrew James Greig, A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone, Pine by Francine Toon and The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry aka Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman.

I’m a pretty big fan of Ambrose Parry and the Raven, Fisher and Simpson series so I was thrilled to be asked to do a Q&A with them as part of the McIlvanney Finalist blog tour. Before I get to the questions however I should probably tell you a little about the book.


About the Book

The Art of Dying (Raven, Fisher, and Simpson, #2)

Edinburgh, 1850. Despite being at the forefront of modern medicine, hordes of patients are dying all across the city, with doctors finding their remedies powerless. But it is not just the deaths that dismay the esteemed Dr James Simpson – a whispering campaign seeks to blame him for the death of a patient in suspicious circumstances.

Simpson’s protégé Will Raven and former housemaid Sarah Fisher are determined to clear their patron’s name. But with Raven battling against the dark side of his own nature, and Sarah endeavouring to expand her own medical knowledge beyond what society deems acceptable for a woman, the pair struggle to understand the cause of the deaths.

Will and Sarah must unite and plunge into Edinburgh’s deadliest streets to clear Simpson’s name. But soon they discover that the true cause of these deaths has evaded suspicion purely because it is so unthinkable.


Q&A

The Art of Dying has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize at this year’s Bloody Scotland. Can you tell us a little about it and the inspiration behind it?

The inspiration for the series was the scientific discoveries of the mid nineteenth century, focusing on the life of James Young Simpson and the discovery of the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in Edinburgh. The Art of Dying takes place in 1849, two years after the discovery of chloroform and is based on a real historical character, Jane Toppan, a serial poisoner who killed huge numbers of people without arousing suspicion. This was mainly because she was a woman and women were considered to be too meek and intellectually defective to be killers; less often suspected and therefore escaped detection.

This is the second book in the series and the second you’ve written together. Did you find that your writing process changed this time around? Was it easier or did it present different challenges? 

It would be fair to say that we are getting better at it but there are still moments when we disagree. We generally defer to each other with respect to our areas of particular expertise. Marisa rarely argues with Chris regarding matters of plot and Chris rarely argues about medical history.

There are some wonderful characters in the series with a number of them based on real (and somewhat well-known) people. How do you balance the fictional with the real and do you feel a pressure to get those based on real people “right”? 

The interplay between the real and the fictional is challenging. Historical fact is important, but this is also a work of fiction where the story has to be exciting, gripping, something that you want to read. History without the boring bits. Our fictional characters are often people mentioned in the biographies written about Simpson but little else is known about them. For example, one of our main protagonists, Will Raven, initially works as an apprentice to Dr Simpson, which was a role that existed at the time. Where details are in short supply, we fill the gap.

We do however feel a huge responsibility to accurately reflect the real historical characters and events that are depicted in the books. What is really fascinating is that some of the most outlandish scenes in the books are the ones that are true.

I absolutely love the detail of Edinburgh at that time and find the medicine both fascinating and terrifying. You must have done a lot of research. How do you decide what events and details to include? Is there anything you wish you’d included but didn’t? Any particularly strange or surprising discoveries? 

When we first start discussing a book, we look at what was actually happening at a certain time and decide to build a story around that. In the Art of Dying, our starting point was an accusation of negligence levelled at Dr Simpson by his colleagues (true, although the accusation was unfounded). Our protagonists attempt to clear his name and, in the process, uncover a number of suspicious deaths that lack a satisfactory explanation.

We usually manage to fold in a number of true stories and events along the way but unfortunately, they don’t always fit in. Hans Christian Andersen once attended a dinner party at Simpson’s house where inhaling ether was part of the after-dinner entertainment. Andersen was appalled, he thought it “distasteful, especially to see ladies in this dreamy intoxication, they laughed with lifeless eyes…it was a wonderful and blessed invention to use in painful operations but not to play with.” This occurred before the events in the first book so we couldn’t use it. Because Simpson was so renowned, he crossed paths with many interesting people which makes him such a great subject to write about.  

What was surprising was that the two most important scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century (anaesthesia and anti-sepsis) had close links to Edinburgh. Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in his dining room at Queen Street, and Joseph Lister began his anti-septic experiments while working for Simpson’s nemesis James Syme (Lister went on to become Syme’s son-in-law).

When you started writing The Way of All Flesh, did you know it would be the first in a series? If so did you have a definite idea of how long it would run and the direction it would go or do you take it a book at a time? 

Chris always thought that The Way of All Flesh would be part of a series. There are just so many stories to tell, so much material to work with. Simpson lived until 1870 and we are currently writing about the early 1850’s so we have a way to go.

I believe the next book in the series, A Corruption of Blood, is due to be published next year, can you give us any hints about the story and what’s next for Will and Sarah?

Will and Sarah are both trying to sort their lives out (professional and personal). Sarah is beginning to doubt that she’s got what it takes to pursue a career in medicine and Will is trying to forward his career by making profitable allegiances. The decisions they take are forcing them apart, but they have to work together while investigating the disappearance of a child and the death of one of Edinburgh’s most prominent citizens.  

COVID-19 is having an impact on all of our lives right now. Are you finding it’s affecting your writing? 

In many ways writing is what got us through lockdown, and we are grateful for that. Having something to get on with has been enormously valuable. But trying to be creative in the midst of a global pandemic has been challenging and we also miss the other aspects of the job – book shop events and festivals. The fun stuff.

Bloody Scotland like many book festivals has moved online this year. Are there any events that you’re particularly looking forward to? 

All of them. It’s going to be so much easier to see them all this year, particularly Crime at the Coo which is usually sold out in about 5 minutes. Chris is usually participating, Marisa never gets in. Also looking forward to the never-ending panel on Sunday 20th September at 11am – rolling discussion with huge number of participants. What could go wrong?

It’s a tough market for debut authors at the moment. Do you have any advice for those starting out? 

Just do it. And when you’re happy with your manuscript take advantage of events like Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland where you get access to agents and commissioning editors in the flesh.

Finally, can you tell me what you’re reading right now or is there something you’ve read recently you’d recommend? 

Reading has been curtailed of late as we have been finishing the new Ambrose Parry novel but there have been some fabulous books read in the earlier part of the year: Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee, A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone and Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller. All fantastic and highly recommended.


About the Author

Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Scotland. Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels. Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which their first collaboration, The Way of All Flesh, was based.


The tour continues…