What If? by Caroline Johnston

There’s a scene early on in Caroline Johnston’s Young Adult novel What If? that made me realise this story has more to it than I’d expected.

Featuring what looks like a teenage girl daydreaming on the cover, I was expecting a story about relationships and maybe some romance and if that’s what you’re looking for then you won’t be disapointed.

I have a confession to make, back in the 1970’s, after moving from the big city to the Shetland Isles, having no TV and a hyperactive imagination, I read everything I could get my hands on. Everything. I snatched Bunty magazine off my sister, read several terms at Malory Towers and would happily have read Mills & Boon if I’d known it existed.

Over the years my reading habits became somewhat filtered until now my default easy read is a Lee Child. But that does sometimes get a bit boring…

I’m sharing the stage with Caroline Johnston at Cumbernauld Library in September and thought it was only polite to find out a bit more about her and what better way to find out about an author than to read their book!

The heroine of the story: Rachel Anderson (Love that last name 😉 ) is encouraged to audition for the school play and it was as I read her initial lines that I got a sense of something powerful in the story. It’s such a simple premise: What if we asked: what if?

I love “what if” questions. What if we could solve world hunger? What if we could develop faster than light travel? What if we could travel in time… Okay, maybe I’m heading way off genre here.

It took me a little while to find my teenage girl groove, but once I did the story sucked me in and I got caught up in what was a pretty funny comedy of errors.

If you don’t enjoy young adult stories heavy on relationships and with a hint of romance then What If? probably isn’t for you. But if you do, then I recommend it.

What If? can be bought as paperback through Caroline Johnston’s website where you can also find out more about the author. Also available on Amazon in paperback and ebook:

Finally, if you’d like to meet Caroline in person, book your free ticket to Murder, Mystery and More on 16th September at Culture NL’s website.

Killer’s Crew by Wendy H Jones

Just how many ways can one kill their boss? Wendy H Jones makes no secret of her fictional detective’s desire to find ever more gruesome ways to do away with her Chief Inspector.

Killer’s Crew is the fifth book in the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries series and the first book I’ve read in the series. I really should have read book one first, but as the sixth book in the series was about to be released (and is now available) and I’m going to be sharing a stage with Wendy at Cumbernauld Library in September, I was keen to get caught up in the story.

Turns out DI Shona McKenzie is as tough as they come, taking no cheek from anyone, but enjoying a fair bit of banter with her team.

Killer’s Crew finds her dealing with the discovery of a corpse found hanging from a ship in Dundee while filming is taking place for a movie. The cast provide ample scope for enquiries until one by one, the body count starts to rise…

As if a suspected serial killer isn’t bad enough, Shona also has to deal with the local Russian Mafia, dastardly solicitors and the boss that she’s secretly planning to dump in the Tay river.

My greatest frustration with all crime fiction is that I never manage to work out who done it! Killer’s Crew was no exception, I was reeling at the end trying to work out what I’d missed.

If you like snappy dialogue, gruesome murders and some tongue-in-cheek humour then I recommend Killer’s Crew.

You can buy all of Wendy’s books direct at her website or from Amazon:

If you’d like to meet Wendy in person, book your free ticket to Murder, Mystery and More on 16th September at Culture NL’s website.

Finally, if like DI Shona McKenzie you occasionally fantasize about killing your boss, you may want to check out Wendy H Jones’ free ebook: DI Shona McKenzie’s Guide to Killing Your Boss

All good clean fun, but remember, don’t try this in the office…

Lydia’s Song – an interview with author Katherine Blessan

Just over a week ago I reviewed Lydia’s Song by Katherine Blessan. Today I’m interviewing the author…

Katherine, thanks for joining me here today! What sparked the idea for the novel?

The first time I went to Cambodia in 2006 I was staying with a family in Ratanakiri province and while there, I was resting on a hammock on their porch. A servant was sweeping underneath me and I remember feeling embarrassed by this. Suddenly the essential idea for the plot for Lydia’s Song hit me, almost like divine inspiration. I started the novel at that time, although it was just the beginning and needed a lot of fleshing out from my own experiences in Cambodia together with the research I had to do in order to make it authentic.

I found the NGO descriptions believable and entirely consistent with my own experience. Did you work for an NGO while in Cambodia?

Yes, both times I did. I went to Cambodia initially for 6 months with the organization Cambodia Action to work as a TEFL teacher, and the second time I went for two years and worked for an international school called Logos International under the wing of a Christian NGO called Asian Hope.

I found parts of the story, Song’s experiences as a sex slave, harrowing. How were you able to write this?

It was emotionally difficult, but strangely, this was the part of the novel that I was able to write most quickly as the narrative force of the story was highest at this point so drove me forward.

One of the things that really struck me while reading about Song’s experiences was the banality of the life as a prostitute, that once initially traumatised, it became almost normal. Is this what it is really like for young girls and women?

Whilst I don’t know this for a fact, I can imagine that this is true as psychologically humans do adapt to the most difficult of situations.

I don’t want to give the story away, but there is a point where Song has a chance to escape and she fights against it… Do some girls or women choose to stay where they are if they are offered a chance to escape?

Prostitution is almost always a result of violence or abuse at some point. If women ‘choose’ to remain prostitutes it would usually because financially they see no other way, or if young girls, then because they’re being coerced or manipulated in some way. According to NGO Soroptomist.org “90 percent of prostituted women have been physically abused as children, 74 percent have been sexually abused by a family member, 50 percent have been sexually abused by a non-family member, and 75 percent have drug problems, damaging factors that further remove the “choice” from the equation.” (http://www.soroptimist.org/trafficking/prostitution_faq.html)

Why write a novel about child sex trafficking?

Good question! Because this is the idea that I felt compelled to write. Secondly, to highlight the injustices of this endemic problem.

How much time have you spent in Cambodia?

I was there for 2 and a half years altogether, first with one organization and then, after completing a PGCE in the UK, with the other.

And finally, are you writing another book?

I am indeed, although my second novel has been on hold for a year whilst I’ve been writing a feature length screenplay of Lydia’s Song! – watch this space for developments there. I also write a few short stories in response to competitions and try submitting them to various places – an interesting but not always fruitful task!

Thank you Katherine! Lydia’s Song is available from all good bookshops and also from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback. If you would like to read a sample, you can do so below.

If you enjoy stories that give you insight into another culture, that contain real characters and deliver an emotional kick, then I recommend Lydia’s Song.

About the Author

Katherine tweets @kathblessan
Check out her website at: http://www.katherineblessan.com/

As well as writing, Katherine works as an English and Creative Writing tutor and an Examiner, together with juggling parenting and volunteering in the community. She is married to Blessan – yes, her surname is his first name! – and they travel widely and love to meet new people. Katherine lives with her family in Sheffield, UK.

Other stories by Katherine Blessan include:
• ‘A Heart on Fire’ – a love story inspired by Chariots of Fire. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Fire-Katherine-Blessan-ebook/dp/B06XD2D2FV
• ‘Travels by Wheelchair’ was shortlisted in a Patrician Press competition in 2016 and published in an anthology. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Refugees-Peacekeepers-Patrician-Press-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01MUG2YIV/
• ‘Beyond her Scream’ – a story of a mother-daughter relationship strained by the effects of FGM. Short Story Beyond Her Scream from cutalongstory.com

Lydia’s Song – a book review

I was in tears by the time I’d finished this novel. Katherine Blessan has written a deeply moving story of a young girl’s experiences of being sold into sex slavery in Cambodia.

Lydia’s Song is not a book I’d have normally chosen to read. Neither thriller, nor crime fiction, nor mystery, yet containing elements of each of these that eventually hooked me in to the point where I finished the last half of the book in one sitting, desperate to know how it ended.

The novel starts from Lydia’s point of view, looking back on her time working for a Non Governmental Organisation in Cambodia. I found the beginning slow going initially as it could almost have been a romance as Lydia (the Westerner) develops a relationship with Radha (the Cambodian). I don’t read romance generally, so struggled with the start. Yet even in this, it was fascinating reading about the daily life in Cambodia and I enjoyed that insight. I worked abroad for a time myself, also for an NGO and could relate to some of the struggles and incidents.

Lydia finds a young Cambodian girl in her garden one night – the Song of the title. Song has effectively been orphaned and the story gently shows the developing relationships between Lydia, Song and Radha. Until it all goes wrong…

This for me is where the story really started to come alive as Katherine Blessan manages to create a sense of realism in her descriptions of a child being made into a sex slave, without titillation or eroticising the experience. Harrowing is one word I want to use, yet, because of the way the story is structured, there is a sense of hope throughout.

If you enjoy stories that give you insight into another culture, that contain real characters and deliver an emotional kick, then I recommend Lydia’s Song. If you would like to try it out, a sample is available below.

Available from all good bookshops and also from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

About the Author

Katherine tweets @kathblessan
Check out her website at: http://www.katherineblessan.com/

As well as writing, Katherine works as an English and Creative Writing tutor and an Examiner, together with juggling parenting and volunteering in the community. She is married to Blessan – yes, her surname is his first name! – and they travel widely and love to meet new people. Katherine lives with her family in Sheffield, UK.

Other stories by Katherine Blessan include:
• ‘A Heart on Fire’ – a love story inspired by Chariots of Fire. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Fire-Katherine-Blessan-ebook/dp/B06XD2D2FV
• ‘Travels by Wheelchair’ was shortlisted in a Patrician Press competition in 2016 and published in an anthology. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Refugees-Peacekeepers-Patrician-Press-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01MUG2YIV/
• ‘Beyond her Scream’ – a story of a mother-daughter relationship strained by the effects of FGM. Short Story Beyond Her Scream from cutalongstory.com

Out of my comfort zone

Book reviews… I became obsessed with getting as many as I could back at the beginning of the year, hoping I could maybe reach 1,000 for Fallen Warriors. At the same time I’ve realised that I should make an effort to review the books I’m reading and take more of an active part in the community that blogs about books generally.

This summer I’ve arranged to be part of a Meet The Author event at Cumbernauld Library on 16th September 2017, from 2-4 pm. With me will be Wendy H. Jones, winner of Books Go Social Book of the Year 2017 and author of the DI Shona McKenzie crime series and The Daggers Curse, a young adult novel; and Caroline Johnston, author of What If? a young adult novel.

We’ll be interviewing each other as part of the event and so I am reading both Wendy and Caroline’s latest novels in preparation for the event. I’m planning to review both books this summer.

Also, I’ve just finished reading Lydia’s Song, a novel by Katherine Blessan and will be posting my review of this tomorrow.

I have to say, these are not novels I would normally have chosen to read and I’m finding myself out of my comfort zone with genres I’m not familiar with, yet the stories are hooking me in and delivering an emotional punch that is the hall mark of a good story for me.

Tune in tomorrow for my review of Lydia’s Song…