My Summer Holiday Recommended Reads

Here it is as promised – my indie/small-press summer holiday recommended reads list.

bag-801703_1280I’ve picked three of my favourite authors who are either with independent or small publishing houses, or are self-publishing. I’d like to introduce you to their books, all of which I’ve personally very much enjoyed. Then, to add an extra dimension to the list, I asked each author to recommend an indie novel they’ve enjoyed reading, creating a little ‘pay it forward’ momentum (and giving me a few more holiday reads for this summer).

Here we go.

Julie recommends:

Second Chance, by Dylan Hearn

One crime, four people and a secret that could shake the world to its foundations.

Second Chance cover - front onlyFour lives become linked by a student’s disappearance: a politician looking to put integrity back into politics, an investigator hoping to atone for past mistakes, a data cleanser searching for a better life while haunted by his past and a re-life technician creating new lives for old souls.

But it soon becomes clear this is no ordinary case, and in the pursuit of the truth, long-held secrets risk being revealed.

Set in the near future where everybody is connected and death isn’t final, this is the story of how far those in power will go to retain control, and the true price to pay for a Second Chance.

Julie says: I haven’t read dystopian novels for years. Brave New World and 1984 (courtesy of school reading lists) had made their mark on my adolescent years under the shadow of the cold war atomic threat, and I’d never gone back. Having connected with Dylan Hearn through the blogosphere, I awaited Second Chance, the first book in The Transcendence Trilogy with curiosity.

Second Chance didn’t disappoint. It’s a real page-turner and it kept me engaged right to the end and then surprised me in a way I hadn’t seen coming, not even a little bit. The near-future setting is well imagined, effortlessly blending recognisable components with new technologies and scenarios which have a logical foundation in the modern day. The individual character narratives are set out in scenes which weave together confidently, steadily mapping out the landscape and subtly revealing motivations and ambitions, before pulling together in a taut and visceral climax.

My biggest criticism of some suspense/thrillers is that they draw you in, only to let you down at the last minute with a flabby ending – not so here. Second Chance satisfies, right to the last page.

Second Chance is available on Amazon:

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Second-Chance-Transcendence-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00I0945TA/

US: http://www.amazon.com/Second-Chance-Transcendence-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00I0945TA/

Dylan Hearn is online and blogging at Suffolk Scribblings: https://authordylanhearn.wordpress.com/

Did I say trilogy? If you enjoy Second Chance, you’ll be pleased to know that Absent Souls is also out and – let me assure you – is every bit as pacy and compelling as Second Chance. Familiar characters acquire greater depth as their narratives develop within a theme of trust and betrayal in a tale rich with political and moral corruption.

Second Chance and its sequel, Absent Souls are tightly-woven sci-fi/dystopian tales layered with intelligent political, social and moral reflection. I can’t wait for Book 3!

Dylan Hearn recommends:

Green Zulu Five One by Scott Whitmore

Green Zulu 51 (and other stories from the Vyptellian War) is a set of short stories set in a future world where one of old Earth’s colonies finds itself embroiled in a war with a relentless alien aggressor. Each story takes on an aspect of the war from a particular character’s perspective (a pilot, a soldier, a diplomat) but the further you read the more you realise that these aren’t just perfectly formed short-stories but form part of a larger narrative whole. The influence of today’s conflicts on this book are clear, with once clear reasons for war becoming ever more vague as the years roll on.

Julie recommends:

The Paradise Trees by Linda Huber

He had found exactly the right spot in the woods. A little clearing, green and dim, encircled by tall trees. A magical, mystery place. He would bring his lovely Helen here… This time, it was going to be perfect.

The Paradise Trees coverWhen Alicia Bryson returns to her estranged father’s home in a tiny Yorkshire village, she feels burdened by his illness. Her hometown brings back memories of a miserable and violent childhood, and Alicia worries that her young daughter Jenny’s summer will be filled with a similar sense of unhappiness.

The town is exactly as she remembered it, the people, the buildings, even the woods. But Alicia’s arrival has not gone unnoticed.

There is someone watching her every move. Someone who has a plan of his own. Someone who will not stop until the people he loves most can rest together, in Paradise.

Julie says: Alicia’s homecoming fills her with discomfort, as dark childhood memories begin to surface. All the while a person identified only as ‘The Stranger’ lurks somewhere within her circle of new acquaintances, sights firmly set on both mother and daughter – and not in a good way.

The Paradise Trees is a well-crafted and creepy thriller which ratchets up the tension and keeps the reader guessing right up to the last few pages with a coterie of ‘likely suspects’. The writing is fluid and the characters well-drawn. I particularly liked the way Linda Huber handles the discomfort – and even disgust – that Alicia feels, having to care for the father she despises. There are some exquisite touches in these scenes. Later in the book (no spoilers!) the author expertly builds a growing sense of panic and peril into the scenes which move towards the climax.

The Paradise Trees is Linda Huber’s second novel. I haven’t yet read her first, The Cold Cold Sea, a story of every parent’s nightmare, the disappearance of a child. Another twisty, psychological story, it looks equally as compelling as The Paradise Trees and is high up my reading list.  Linda Huber is also about to publish her third novel – The Attic Room.

The Paradise Trees is available on Amazon:

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Paradise-Trees-Linda-Huber-ebook/dp/B00BU2NGQM/

US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BU2NGQM/

Linda Huber is online and blogging at http://lindahuber.net/

Linda Huber recommends:

Out of the Tower by Alison Grey

Described by the author as ‘a detective story of the emotions’. Jemima Forbes is seven when a mysterious event occurs and her father and uncle disappear from her life. She felt neglected by her mother and ignored by her father but she was close to her uncle. She spends her growing years obsessing about the disappearance of her uncle and when she is old enough, leaves home to try and find out what happened.

Julie recommends:

The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin

CR The Seneca Scourge 1 (2) Resize 4Dr. Sydney McKnight, a young physician caught up in a deadly influenza pandemic, joins forces with a mysterious new research virologist whose arrival coincides with the virus’s advent and whose presence raises more questions than answers.

As Sydney’s distrust of the man grows, she’s determined to learn the truth. But what she finds will plunge her into danger and change her life forever.

Julie says: The Seneca Scourge is a fast-paced medical thriller with a knockout ‘gasp’ moment that I for one, didn’t see coming, despite the clever scattering of clues within the narrative.

Carrie Rubin has set her almost shockingly prescient story in an environment she knows well, the world of medicine and hospitals. This credibility adds a very persuasive dimension, not just in terms of medical terminology, but in the creation of a believable setting and – in the shadow of the recent Ebola epidemic – a fascinating atmosphere of pandemic threat.

I enjoyed Sydney’s growing sense of unease about her new colleague’s behaviour. Carrie Rubin lets the reader see just enough to make us wonder about the man; it’s finely judged. But all is not as it seems and further revelations take the story in an unexpected and bold direction.

The Seneca Scourge is well plotted and the characters well-drawn. The pace builds and builds and doesn’t let up. It’s a very satisfying read.

The Seneca Scourge is available on Amazon:

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Seneca-Scourge-Carrie-Rubin-ebook/dp/B009BJ3BZ2/

US: http://www.amazon.com/The-Seneca-Scourge-Carrie-Rubin-ebook/dp/B009BJ3BZ2/

Carrie Rubin is online and blogging at The Write Transition: http://carrierubin.com/

Carrie Rubin is about to publish her second novel, which I’ve earmarked as a definite for my reading list, as soon as it’s available. Called Eating Bull, it’s a thriller about a lonely and obese teenager, who shoots into the limelight when a headstrong public health nurse persuades him to sue the food industry. It has a terrific cover design, which you can check out on Carrie Rubin’s website – but that’s all I know for now!

Carrie Rubin recommends:

Murder Under Construction by Maddie Cochere

Described under the moniker ‘cozy mystery’, this is from the Two Sisters and a Journalist series of light and breezy reads. Jo Ravens is thirty-two, divorced, and stuck in a rut. She wants two things in life – a new career as a private investigator and to lose the sixty pounds she packed on after her divorce.

* * *

Sometimes it’s hard to find your way around the indie/self-publishing space. There are so many books and you don’t have the benefit of Richard & Judy, the Costa Book Awards or The Times Bestseller List, to help you choose. I just hope this little list has spotlighted one or two books that take your fancy and might become a Holiday Read for summer 2015.

Ahem. There’s always Singled Out too of course… 😉

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On a summer reading list – and an unfortunate omission

Bookshop chain Waterstones (no apostrophe these days, harrumph) has announced its Book Club Summer Reads this week. The list is varied and for avid readers, promises a luscious literary experience across the coming months.

Unfortunately, my debut novel, Singled Out, has – I can only presume, in some hideous accidental oversight – been omitted from this list of good and great summer reads of 2015.

I can’t begin to understand how this ghastly blunder could possibly have happened. I am dumbstruck. I can but apologise, because this incomprehensible failure means that instead of a simple ‘click to buy’ from a colourful e-mail landing in your inbox, you’re going to have to embark on a hunt for Singled Out, trailing through the Amazon, all by yourself.

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxIf you’re into sinister tales taking place in delicious settings, your search for Singled Out will reward you with a gripping read. It’s a gritty psychological story about one woman’s struggle to overcome her demons and snare a dangerous stalker. It all takes place on a summer holiday for singles in Turkey, where strangers come together and nobody is quite who they seem.

Yes, you read that right. Summer… summer holiday. Hey, you guys at Waterstones…. summer holiday! Wouldn’t this alone qualify for a place on your Book Club Summer Reads list? Wouldn’t it? No?

Oh.

I know. It’s hardly selling in its thousands. It won’t make you book-business guys rich – at least, not overnight. But what about when the bidding war breaks out over those options on a movie or a TV mini-series – when world-renowned production companies are fighting over the rights and A-listers are begging for a role? Maybe then? What was that you said? Cloud-cuckoo land? Oh, don’t be mean, guys. Don’t hit me when I’m down.

Fair enough, I can’t deny it; demand has been, well, modest. The truth? Singled Out has yet to attain three figures in the Sales column – but it’s close, it is. Sort of. Close-ish. But just think what a place on that Book Club Summer Reads list would have done for it. And I’m not just saying this out of blatant self-interest either. I think I could safely argue that, with a little display ingenuity, there’s a profit to be had for any bookshop from my modest literary endeavours. What about those magic tables – the ones that everyone, but everyone, makes for when they come through the doors? Imagine for a moment, how appealing that sultry sunset on the cover of Singled Out would look on one of those tables by the entrance – the one that says ‘Hot New Authors’ or better still ‘Sizzling Summer Holiday Reads’ perhaps. Imagine all the book-buying money-spending hands that would reach out for it.

Yes, that would work.

But hey, the list is written, the emails are out and it’s too late for all that business. So all I can do is grumple away under my breath and shake my metaphorical fist at the Book Club selectors. It gets it off my chest a bit at least.

So, friends, followers and readers – an apology: I’m sorry you’ll have to go a-hunting for Singled Out. I’m sorry you won’t ever find it at Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, or even your quirky little independent bookstore. I’m sorry it’s only on Amazon and that – for the time being at least – you’ll have to go further than Amazon’s Top 100 lists to track it down. But if you look, you’ll find it. It’s there for your Kindle (a perfect medium, if ever there was one, to take with you on your… holidays), and for the traditionalists amongst us, it’s there in paperback too.

As for the Waterstones Book Club recommendations, I cannot tell a lie. Notwithstanding that single sloppy omission, it’s a great selection. If you’re an avid reader like me, it’s worth a look – and it’s worth a few of your pennies/cents (only the ones you’ve got left after you’ve picked up Singled Out though).

Meantime, I hope you’ll forgive my shameless opportunism. When I got that Waterstones Book Club email this morning, I just couldn’t resist it.

Just one more thing… of course… Singled Out is available to purchase on these and all other regional Amazon sites:

What’s my genre?

Notebook 03

One of the things I struggled with when preparing the framework text for query letters/emails, was genre.  I’m a marketer in my current day job, so I understand perfectly well why it’s helpful for agents and publishers to be able to classify a book according to what category or categories it falls within.  Amongst other things, genre (and, by the way, sub-genre and sub-sub-genre) will point to a likely audience, set expectations as to the content and style, and drive decisions on cover design, marketing and promotion.

Knowing your genre means you can pinpoint authors whose books bear similarities to your own – although whether you indicate same to agents in your submission material is a matter of fierce debate here and there on the interweb.  Either (i) do it because it helps the agent figure out where you might sit in their talent stable or (ii) don’t do it because it makes you seem cocky and pretentious and you should let them be the judge. No help there then.

Inevitably for every mainstream genre, there are gazillions of sub-genres, and sub-sub genres, and it’s up to you how far you navigate the tributaries, to arrive at a label which adequately categorises the novel you’re writing.

What follows here is not some great rambling on the whys and wherefores of genre – if you’re looking for guidance in categorising your own writing, Google is your friend.  There is already more help out there than you can possibly need in an entire literary lifetime.  This is about me and my genre, and how I got there.

The first issue was the question of literary vs commercial.  Commercial books – apparently – sell in large volumes to an audience which may not be sufficiently discerning – apparently – to mind that books in this category may – apparently – not be all that well written.  In commercial fiction – apparently – the plot is the only thing that matters. Everything else (characterisation, setting, sensory detail, realistic dialogue, linguistic style, grammar…) is inconsequential relative to the plot.  It may therefore have been thrown together and served up as a literary and linguistic dog’s dinner – and – apparently – nobody minds.

Literary fiction, on the other hand, is all about the quality of the writing, and how poetic, evocative or mesmerising it is.  And the plot?  Who needs plotting when the writing, line by line, word by beautiful, witty, well-chosen word, is such a sublime joy to read.  Apparently.

For those of us who fall somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous (no, I’m not getting drawn on which is which, thank you very much) there is a wealth of options for that first level categorisation, amongst which Quality Commercial, Mainstream Literary, Literary-Commercial Crossover, Book Club, or even more specifically, ‘Richard & Judy’, and my personal bête noir, LitLite.

I vacillate between Quality Commercial and Book Club for Singled Out.  Books which end up on book club reading lists tend to offer plenty of scope for discussion around moral dilemmas, character qualities or shortcomings and so on – and I like that.  And Quality Commercial?  I don’t see what’s wrong with cherishing the vision that I’ve written something which might be simultaneously popular/saleable and well-written.  An agent or publisher will probably put me straight one of these days.

Next, there’s the subject and content of the story.  At the high level, is it a romance or a thriller?  Is it science fiction or magic realism, chic-lit or crime?  Is it humorous or historical, fantasy or satire, politics or parody? Is it erotic, domestic or dynastic?  And… breathe.  Yes, if you’ve looked into this, you’ll realise as I did, there are myriad ways to slice-and-dice for genre.  There’s a crime in my story, but it’s not, technically speaking, a crime novel – there’s no mystery (well, not much mystery) and no police (ah, almost no police).  There is a little romance and an erotic moment or two (no sniggering at the back please), but not enough to make it a romance and certainly not enough to position it on the same shelf as Fifty Shades of Naughty.

Having read several (too many?) blog posts and articles, I think I’ve got there.  The genre I’ve concluded best fits Singled Out is Psychological Suspense. Theoretically this is a crime fiction sub-genre – but that’s as close as it’s going to get to crime.

The elements which characterise psychological suspense include the following:

  • Psychological suspense may use crime as a pretext for investigating psyche and personality, but the story is about the context of the crime, rather than the crime itself.
  • There’s often no mystery as to who committed the crime – what psychological suspense is interested in is not whodunnit, but whydunnit.
  • Psychological suspense is about the mind of a criminal – and the other people involved.  There will be insights, observations and reflection, from all sides of the house.
  • Psychological suspense stories are often told from multiple points of view – from inside the minds of protagonist and antagonist alike.
  • The overarching mood is one of dread or malignity – a sustained suspense embedded with moments of heightened tension, rather than a build-up to one massive peak.
  • Psychological suspense stories often feature psychologically damaged central characters such as sociopaths, or people with weaknesses, phobias, a tragic past, the weight of guilt or shame bearing down.
  • The reader can see what’s happening before it happens – they watch, seemingly helpless.  I liken it to the reader banging soundlessly on a window, trying to attract the attention of a character, who walks innocently towards some terrible scenario or event, content in the company of the person the reader knows to be dangerous.
  • Interestingly, psychological suspense is often ambivalent when it comes to ethics and justice.  There are moral ambiguities, few happy endings or easy solutions; and the baddies don’t always get what they deserve.

I’m fascinated by stories like this – they’re the ones I go to when I’m looking for a good read, and so it felt good to be writing one, even though it’s not what I set out to write.  I started out to pen a wry dissection of the comings and goings on a singles holiday. But when I realised this amounted to not very much and would bore a readership to tears, the landscape shifted.  And that’s when I begun to learn how much I loved writing about bad stuff happening and dark, damaged psyches.

Hey ho, happy days.