Managing the TBR pile

A few bloggers were posting last year about their efforts to manage their To Be Read (TBR) piles. I considered a post then but ti seemed a better use of my time to actually write some reviews! As well as a TBR ‘pile’ I have a second type of TBR which is my ‘read but yet to be reviewed’ pile which is equally frightening!

I wrote a roundup post at the end of 2016 which reviewed where I was with my outstanding reading. I have to confess that I’m not necessarily showing much progress! On a sort of positive side the number of books arriving from publishers has dropped off dramatically. Moving house hasn’t helped and the occupiers of our old house may be getting into crime fiction books, I was really busy with work in the first half of 2017 so I neglected my blog and the contacts at publishers change so it’s easy to drop off a specific list.

To be honest it’s not really an issue, it isn’t as if I will run out of books to read. The only problem I really see is that if, as a blogger, you’re not reading the ‘next big thing’ you can lose a new term of reference that becomes commonplace  (like comparing a book to Gone Girl, which is still unread on my Kindle).

So my plan to keep up in 2018 is this:

At the end of the year I cleared into a box enough physical books from my ‘to read bookcase’ so that there was no longer a stack of books beside it, everything is now on the bookcase, including the books I was given for Christmas. I will read books in the order in which they arrive and if there are any gaps when there are no new books I’ll pick one up from the bookcase. I’m averaging a bit over a book a week which means one book on my commute and part of another book in the evenings or weekends, and it’s better if that book is a hardback as I don’t like to shove them in my work bag.

As far as reviewing goes I’m aiming to keep to reviewing a book as soon as I’ve read it. If I can do that and occasionally write a review for a book from the read but yet to be reviewed pile I should feel under less pressure. Which is all well and good but I couldn’t manage last year!

So how am I doing (I realise we’re not a full month in to 2018 yet)?

I have read:

The Fear Within which arrived on 30th December and reviewed it here
The Ice which was a birthday gift from July and as a signed hardback I wouldn’t take out of the house – still needs reviewing
A Song From Dead Lips which I treated myself to just before Christmas I reviewed here
Turn a Blind Eye – 2018’s first #bookpost I read and reviewed here

Currently reading:

The Photographer, which I got as a NetGalley is my current read.
At the same time I’ve also started reading The Silent Companions which was a Christmas present.

Next to read will be:

A Darker State which is the third in the Karin Müller series and arrived earlier this month.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright which I received as a NetGalley

Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb which I received as a free download when I signed up to Lounge Books.

Perfect Remains by Helen Fields which I bought on a Kindle offer.

The Hangman by Daniel Cole which I received from Netgalley.

I went to the Headline “New Voices 2018′ event in Bristol during the week and came home with tow books, The Tall Man by Phoebe Locke and The Wolf by Leo Carew.

So this should take me through to the end of Feb and let’s ignore the fact I might have asked for one or two books that haven’t yet arrived.

Let’s see how I manage sticking to this!

So how do you manage your arrivals and keeping on top of your ‘to read’ books?

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Turn A Blind Eye – Vicky Newham

Title – Turn A Blind Eye

Author – Vicky Newham

Published – 5 April 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of the books that got a mention in my look forward to 2018 and I’m thrilled that I got a copy so early in the year.

The book is set in East London and embraces the diverse multi-cultural aspects of the communities there. When the body of a head teacher is discovered in her office by a colleague at Mile End High School Detective Inspector, and former pupil, Maya Rahman is keen to lead the investigation, even though this means cutting short her leave to do so. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept, suggesting, if nothing else, that the murder was premeditated.

Like any good police procedural the book follows the pattern of increasing body count, increasing pressure on the team and a number of possible suspects. The setting of the school provides quite an enclosed environment which narrows down those potentially involved to a rather limited pool. With her own history at the school Maya takes on a determination to solve the murder and to protect the reputation of the school – two things which don’t always require the same action!

The pace varies through the book to give some fast-paced and intense scenes, balanced by the necessarily slower parts of the investigation and more introspective scenes for the main characters. Of the characters it’s Maya that we come to know best with a number of scenes taking place in the past, filling in important aspects of her backstory. Maya’s scenes are told in the first person, making them seem more immediate and bringing the reader closer to the character. She is a Muslim (although seemingly not a particularly devout one) of Bangladeshi origin, at the beginning of the book she suffered a loss but she’s anything but the traditional dysfunctional detective.

There are two other points of view used in the book – Steve, the teacher who finds the body at the beginning of the book, and Dan, a new DS unexpectedly thrust on Maya as a new colleague, who is an Aussie and has left his young family behind to work in the UK. There’s quite a lot of police detail and although I’m a fan of police procedurals I am tempted to think that this might be a case where the reader doesn’t need to know too much about different systems and acronyms.

Drawing on her own experiences teaching in the area the author paints a vivid picture of live in an inner-city school and some of the issues that they face – whether that be from dealing with the multi-cultural aspects of the students and their families or the wider pressure on performance and reputation. The book touches on a number of social issues, both specific (such as forced marriage) and the more general issue of what happens when different cultures collide in the same environment and how it can feel to be an outsider.

Vicky has set herself a huge challenge in writing in such personal detail from the perspective of a character from another culture. Authors are obviously doing this all the time, after all their job is to make things up, but there are going to be some people who will be able to read this with a much more informed eye that I can. I think the shame is that there aren’t many authors bringing a range of cultural experience to the genre. It will be interesting to see how the series develops in the future and which characters make it into the second book.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can follow Vicky on twitter and her detectives have their own twitter account too. You can see another review of Turn a Blind Eye on Liz’s blog.

1star1star1star1star

A Song From Dead Lips – William Shaw

Title – A Song From Dead Lips

Author – William Shaw

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime fiction

If you follow my blog you probably know that I’m a huge fan of police procedurals. It was only when I read (and loved) The Birdwatcher that I discovered William Shaw had also been writing a police procedural series and just before Christmas I treated myself to the first three books (book no. 4 is the most recent to be published).

Set in London in the late 1960s (the book opens in 1968) the series is ‘Breen and Tozer’; Breen is DS Cathal Breen and Tozer is WPC Helen Tozer. Breen is a member of the Marylebone CID and not its most respected officer. Tozer is assigned to work with him as a Temporary Detective Constable at a time when WPCs were expected to do nothing much more than make the tea.

The initial case Breen investigates is the discovery of a young woman’s naked body in an alley close to Abbey Road. The investigation, both to identify her and to find her killer, proceeds quite slowly but the lack of pace doesn’t feel like an issue. The book is a pleasure to read and as Breen works on the case a number of other threads come in to play and we also find out more about Breen as a character. He is certainly one of the more enlightened members of the CID and that, perhaps, has something to do with his lack of friends in the force. He’s willing to give Tozer an opportunity and listen to her point of view where other colleagues only subject her to sexist jibes. Of course their relationship isn’t all plain sailing but compared to much recent crime fiction it’s refreshing to have two characters who may have their flaws but also manage to be likeable. The book does speed up and there’s a good, old-fashioned car chase and an exciting climax.

This is the London of The Beatles and the White Album, of hippies and John and Yoko, “Rivers of Blood” and anti-Vietnam protests. Shaw captures the feeling as effortlessly as he did the desolate setting of The Birdwatcher. The details are skilfully dropped into the story and I can’t be the only person to have read the book and have had some ‘I remember that’ moments. Writing about a past that your readers may remember feels like a risky choice but I can’t imagine that Shaw has made errors in the setting, it feels absolutely real.

Shaw uses the plot to highlight political issues of the time, and not necessarily those you might be familiar with. One of the characters is from Biafra and I now know more than I did when I started the book about the struggles in Nigeria / Biafra at the end of the 1960s. The theme of ‘outsiders’ and their treatment is also a strong one throughout the story and unites most, if not all, of the threads.

If I do have a quibble (and I gave this 4 stars rather than 5) it’s around the resolution of the main plotline. But I can’t say anything more without giving the game away! Having looked at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I think this is just me.

Regardless of this I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series and finding out more about how the relationship between Breen and Tozer develops. A cracking start to a series!

1star1star1star1star

The Fear Within – J S Law

Title – The Fear Within

Author – J S Law

Published – November 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the follow up book to Tenacity (now called The Dark Beneath) by J. S. Law. So there are two burning questions – did James suffer from ‘Difficult Second Book Syndrome’ and is Dani (Dan in Tenacity) Lewis still the kick-ass maverick that she was in the first book?? I’m pleased to say that the answer to the first certainly appears to be ‘no’ and I’m not left in any doubt that the answer to the latter is a resounding ‘yes’.

The book is set a few months after the end of Tenacity/The Dark Beneath and Dani has not long returned to active duty. After an action packed opening the main plot is Dani’s investigation into the disappearance of Natasha, a young woman who has gone missing from HMS Defiance. It quickly becomes clear that what could be someone who has just not turned up for work is actually something more sinister. As the investigation moves forward the timeframe shifts between Dani’s timeline and the months leading up to Natasha’s disappearance and her experience on the ship. Although the destroyer is less claustrophobic than the submarine in the first book, the confines of a warship present their own issues for the crew and especially for a young woman fresh out of training. An advantage in the shift of the main location is that Dani gets to work more closely with her colleagues which gives more insight into her character.

This seems more complex than the first book with multiple threads that intertwine. It links back to its predecessor because Dani is still determined that there was more to the case she solved and this provides a longer story arc that could potentially carry on over more of a series.  There’s a lot of reliance on coincidence, on people knowing each other, which in another setting might push the credibility, but with a naval one it’s difficult for an outsider to doubt its authenticity.

With its unusual setting the author has the opportunity to give readers something a little different to the run of the mill police procedural and he certainly grabs that opportunity with both hands. This is at the thriller end of police procedurals and at the gorier end too, there are no punches pulled here. As with the first book the author is hard on his heroes and even harder on the villains and victims. You need a strong stomach for some of the scenes and while in the first book there could have been criticism of his treatment of women, the men seem to suffer equally here. Dani, with her sense of justice and relentless determination to seek it at all costs goes some way to counterbalance the bleakness.

The Fear Within will make sense if you read it without having read the first book but it would make a whole lot ore sense to read the series in order.

Many thank to the publisher for the review copy, you can see another point of view on Kate’s blog.

1star1star1star1star

The Confession – John Grisham

Title – The Confession

Author – John Grisham

Published – 2010

Genre – Legal thriller

I’ve read a little less in 2017 than in recent years and there haven’t been any particular books that stood out as a ‘five star’ read but by the skin of its teeth this book gets that accolade. Apart from anything else it’s a book that’s haunting me – it’s a number of days since I finished it but I can’t shake off some of the aspects and issues that the book brought up.

Although written some years ago it feels like a particularly timely read and in fact the situation in the US may be worse now than it was when the book was published.

Donté Drumm is four days from execution in Texas for a murder he was found guilty of committing nine years earlier. On the Monday morning Travis Boyette, a serial rapist who is on parole, approaches a priest in a small town in Kansas confessing to the crime for which Donté is due to be executed. Reverend Keith Schroeder knows nothing of the case but when he researches it as quickly as he can he can see the obvious short-comings of the case against the young black boy accused of killing a white woman. Keith must decide what he will do and what he will risk – will he believe the man in front of him and attempt to stop the execution.

In Texas Donté’s passionate lawyer, Robbie Flak, is trying every last option that his team can put together to get a stay on the execution, no matter how unlikely the chances of success.

As the time scheduled for the execution approaches tension on the streets of Donté’s hometown increases as this becomes a clearly divided race issue.

The book offers tension at every turn – will the priest risk committing a crime and aide Boyette to cross the state line, will anyone be able to save Donté, will the tension in the town boil over. And as the present-day story unfolds the reader also finds out more about Donté and his arrest and subsequent confession as well as the damage to his sanity as he spends years on death row.

The book deals with two social issues – the first is the railroading of an innocent black man into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit and then the acceptance of this by those in authority over evidence that contradicts it. The other is the use of the death penalty and the possibility of making the most unthinkable error.

It also touches on grief, I’ve been careful to avoid spoilers and this isn’t one, the family of the murdered young woman see the execution as their right and may not be willing to find that the years they’ve spent hating one person were mis-placed.

The characters are brilliantly well executed (if you’ll excuse the pun). The cautious priest, the zealous lawyer, the damaged young black man, the loathsome felon, the corrupt politicians – they call came to life on the page.

Grisham is known for his activism in trying to exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners and this isn’t appealing to everyone. I’m not sure if there have been any changes in the application of the death penalty since the book was published but it’s a relief that it’s an issue we don’t have to contend with in the UK. Not a cheerful read but one that will make you think and a pacey, twisting thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

1star1star1star1star1star

Crime fiction events in 2018

It’s time to put my 2018 events listing together. Remember this isn’t all literary events (there are plenty of lists of those and there must be hundreds of events) but it is a list of the main dedicated crime fiction events taking place in the UK.

I aim to maintain the list and update it as dates are confirmed so do let me know if there’s anything I should add.

January

Nothing uncovered so far – perhaps we’re all busy reading!

February

23 – 25 February – Granite Noir – Aberdeen
This is the second year for this crime writing festival featuring some of the most celebrated talent from the Nordic Noir scene alongside Scotland’s own Tartan Noir authors.

24 February – Crime at the Castle, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland
This looks like a fascinating one-day event.

March

1 March – Noir at the Bar, Edinburgh
An evening event, number 7 in the series. Check the FB page for info on this and more events – https://www.facebook.com/NoirattheBarEd/ 

March – Deal Noir – Deal
TBC

April

6 – 8 April – Quais du Polar – Lyon
I can’t see yet that a programme has been published for 2018 – the festival is free, a short flight from the UK and much of the content accessible for English-speakers.

11- 15 April – Books by the Beach, Scarborough
Not a dedicated crime fiction event but this does get a good contribution from crime writers.

May

17 -20 May – Crimefest – Bristol
A four-day convention drawing top crime novelists, readers, editors, publishers and reviewers from around the world, with headline appearances from Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver.

June

8 – 10 June – Alibis in the Archives, Gladstone Library, Hawarden, Flintshire
An event run in association with the Crime Writers’ Association and The Detection Club the programme should be published shortly.

16 June – Bodies from the Library – British Library, London
A one day conference with an exciting programme of discussions, presentations and panels on the Golden Age of Detective Fiction Writers.

28 – 30 June – Captivating Criminality, Bath
The fifth UK conference from the Captivating Criminality Network, ‘Crime Fiction: Insiders and Outsiders’, will examine the ways in which Crime Fiction as a genre is able to incorporate both traditional ideas and themes, as well as those from outside mainstream and/or dominant ways of thinking.

July

19 – 22 July – Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – Harrogate, Yorkshire
Four days of Europe’s biggest come writing event, this year Lee Child is the chair of the Programming Committee.

August

3 – 5 August – Bute Noir, Bute
The third year of this small but growing festival on the Isle of Bute.

17 – 19 August – St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Weekend – Oxford
The 25th year of this unique conference – https://www.sthildas.ox.ac.uk/content/2017-st-hildas-mystery-and-crime-conference 

August – Margate Bookie, Margate
Date and programme TBC but previous years have seen a dedicated crime fiction session.

September

21 – 23 September – Bloody Scotland – Stirling, Scotland
Scotland’s festival celebrating crime writing – bringing together leading Scottish and international writers, showcasing debut voices and encouraging new writers.

15 September – International Agatha Christie Festival – Torquay, Devon
The festival is now a biennial event however there will be a one-day celebration of Agatha Christie’s birthday in Torbay on Saturday 15th September 2018. The next 5-day festival is scheduled for 11th-15th September 2019.

13 – 16 September – Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, Norwich, Norfolk
The Noirwich Crime Writing Festival is an annual celebration bringing together superstar crime authors, exciting new talent and fans of all things crime fiction.

29 – 30 September – Morecambe & Vice, Morecambe
The second year for this event, programme due out in March.

October

October – NOIRELAND, Belfast.
No news yet on a 2018 event.

November

16 – 17 November – Iceland Noir, Reykjavik
More details due before the end of 2017 (!!)

December

All busy shopping for books …

Crime fiction I’m looking forward to reading in 2018

This is a personal look at the books I’m looking forward to reading next year. There are a few debuts, a few series that I really should catch up on and the climax to one specific series that I just can’t wait for!

First on the list must be Turn a Blind Eye by Vicky Newham which is due to be published on 5 April 2018. I first met Vicky not long after I started blogging and we have been friends since. When I first met people as a blogger I seemed unusual in being someone who was only interested in reading books with no desire to become a writer myself. Over the intervening years I’ve seen many of these bloggers become published authors (people like Sarah Ward, James Law, Steph Broadribb) and it’s been a long wait for Vicky! The good news is that she will be published by HQ books (part of Harper Collins) so she should get lots of publicity and support. They’ve already done a great job on the cover! 

The book does sound intriguing too “When the head teacher of Mile End High School is found brutally murdered, DI Maya Rahman is called in to the East End community – an area buzzing with energy, yet divided by its own multiculturalism. Maya must battle ghosts from her past and navigate East London’s cultural tensions to find the perpetrator before they kill again.”. As a fan of police procedurals this is right up my street and Vicky is bringing in an extra dimension with a Bangladeshi female detective and a Tower Hamlets setting.

Not only did HQ by the rights to two books but TV rights sold to Playground Entertainment so fingers crossed that this develops into something we get to see on screen too.

Next on the list is another debut – this is Strangers on a Bridge by Louise Mangos and is due to be published in August 2018 by HQ Digital, again part of Harper Collins. Louise is another debut author that I’ve met at a number of crime fiction events. Despite having an agent she made her ‘pitch’ to HQ via a tweet when they were asking for authors to do just that and following the tweet they made contact with Louise and she subsequently signed to them. Who says social media is all bad?

A psychological thriller the blurb is ‘While running near her home in Switzerland, English-born Alice stops a man jumping from a notorious suicide bridge. He mistakes Alice’s euphoric relief as budding affection, and he begins to stalk her.’ While the premise sounds intriguing I definitely don’t read enough books set in Switzerland so I’m looking forward to a bit of armchair-tourism too.

I didn’t post a roundup of my reading highlights  for 2017 – there were a couple of reasons for this. First my blog was pretty neglected in the first half of the year with a house move coinciding with a period at work that was both busy and stressful. I’ve done about the same amount of reading as I normally would but it’s been too time-consuming to get all the reviews posted on my blog. But I also felt that there weren’t any absolutely ‘five-star’ standout books in what I’d read. I did ask around on Facebook for some suggestions of what I might have missed and I’ve also had a look at many of the other ‘best of 2017’ lists. Taking all of this into account and scouring the lists on Crime Time I made sure to ask for Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke for Christmas and I’m pleased to say that Santa did his stuff. The only hold up may be the fact that as a hardback I shan’t want to take it to work on the train as I like to keep my books in pristine condition!

I’ve always tried to read books in the correct series order and if I have started a series from the beginning I don’t want to skip a book and miss something important. There are a couple of series that I’ve got behind on and I really need to catch up. I feel a particular affinity to these as I read and reviewed the debuts on my blog. Firstly there’s Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome series. I’ve read the first three books in the series but missed out on the fourth and can see some reviewers have already received copies of the fifth book, so I need to get myself the two missing titles and squeeze them in to my reading next year.

1. Someone Else’s Skin (2014)
2. No Other Darkness (2015)
3. Tastes Like Fear (2016)
4. Quieter Than Killing (2017)
5. Come and Find Me (2018)

Another series that I have followed from the beginning is David Mark and his Aector McAvoy series. I miss reading about Aector and I must catch up. More for the shopping list…

1. The Dark Winter (2012)
2. Original Skin (2013)
3. Sorrow Bound (2014)
4. Taking Pity (2015)
4.5. A Bad Death (2015)
5. Dead Pretty (2016)
5.5. Fire of Lies (2016)
6. Cruel Mercy (2017)
7. Scorched Earth (2018)

There is a third set of books to add to this and I did make an exception and read some of this series out of order. It’s the Nic Costa series by David Hewson. When David stopped writing this series set in Italy I didn’t feel any pressure to fill in any gaps but with a new book due out in 2018 I shall have to get my skates on to catch up. I have posted reviews on my blog for The Fallen Angel which was the last Nic Costa novel and Carnival for the Dead which was a spin off from the series. You can read more about David’s announcement on his blog.

There is also a series coming to an end which although I shall be sad to see it finish I am REALLY looking forward to reading the final instalment. This is the Frieda Klein series from Nicci French. I wasn’t sure how a move from standalones to a series of eight books would work but I shouldn’t have worried. The series has been excellent – one you really should read from the start to get the most out of the books. But July will see the final book published and I shall be rushing to read it because I would hate to see a spoiler!

 1. Blue Monday (2011)
2. Tuesday’sGone (2012)
3. Waiting for Wednesday (2013)
4. Thursday’s Children (2014)
5. Friday on My Mind (2015)
6. Saturday Requiem (2016)
aka Dark Saturday
7. Sunday Morning Coming Down (2017)
aka Sunday Silence
8. Day of the Dead (2018)

So what have ai missed? What books are your must haves or must reads for the next year?