Tag Archives: S.J. Bolton

Save a Bookstore: Buy a Book (or Two, or Three)

Tomorrow June 25th is Save a Bookstore Day, with its own Facebook event page and a very clear agenda: on Saturday, all of us who love our local bookstore, will go out and show our love by buying a book at that bookstore — or an armload of books, if the pocketbook allows.

Not sure where your local bookstore is? Check out Indiebound’s helpful bookstore searcher, mark your routes, grab your kids, and get yourself out to the bookstore tomorrow. Be sure to pick up Tolstoy and the Purple Chair for all the book lovers you know — or for anyone looking for ideas on the meaning of life — and why not grab S.J. Bolton’s latest thriller, Now You See Me, for great summer reading? I also recommend Phil Rickman’s The Bones of Avalon, for a great Tudor mystery; Geraldine Brooks’ beautiful Caleb’s Crossing for compelling historical fiction; and Otto Penzler’s wild The Big Book of Adventure Stories, perfect for reading on the beach, in between dips into the water and trips to the ice cream stand.

Bookstores provide flavor, life, and pleasure to our towns, cities, and villages — don’t let them disappear, falling victim to the economy, the internet, the UPS delivery guy. Buy food local, and buy books local. Just imagine what lengths our local bookstores might have to go to, if we don’t go out tomorrow and next week and the week after, to pick up a book or two. What happened in Russia could happen here….

Midsomer Murder Madness in May

I have a new mystery addiction and it is on celluloid. Fans of the charming British crime novel, wherein murder and mayhem shake up a docile and lovely English country village (think of Martha Grimes’s Richard Jury when he’s spending time in Long Piddleton or Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in St. Mary Mead) will love Midsomer Murders, a marvelous production of the BBC. Featuring the unflappable John Barnaby, Detective Chief Inspector in Midsomer County, his intelligent wife and adoring daughter, along with a variety of young and charming sidekicks, the series has been described as the “Law and Order of the British Countryside” — but it is much more fun than Law and Order, offering insider views of British country life; and reveling in prods at the British class system as well as age-old traditions like cricket, hunting, and hen parties (bachelorette parties, apparently); and even providing some insights into the social and political history of the British Isles (and Empire). I don’t have BBC on my TV but luckily my local library once again came to my rescue: it carries five seasons of the marvelous Midsummer Murders!

How did I find out about Midsomer Murders? I had the privilege of meeting author S.J. Bolton a few weeks ago. As readers of this blog know, she is a writer I greatly admire and when I heard she would be in NYC visiting from her hometown outside of London, I quickly sought out some of her time so that we could get acquainted. Not sure what to expect (after all, she writes chilling thrillers about the evil that lurks in even the most quiet of communities), I am pleased to say we hit it off right away, chatting away about how she became a writer (she just sat down and did it, found that she liked doing it and could do it, and then when others thought what she did was good, she has just kept on with it), how she changed from the rural settings of her past books (Sacrifice, Awakening, and Blood Harvest) and moved to London in the latest, Now You See Me; and how she uses Brtitish folklore and history in crafting her mesmerizing plots. And Bolton talked about the landscapes she uses in her books, including those particularly lovely — and very typical British towns — similar to towns and villages portrayed in Midsomer Murders.

What is Midsomer Murder Mysteries?” I asked. And she enlightened me. Now I enlighten you, readers. Set aside an evening a week to turn on the telly — just make sure the DVD player is loaded up with Midsomer Murders — and all will be well.

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Chills and Thrills: S.J. Bolton Reigns Supreme

I’ve written about the great S.J. Bolton before, both on The Huffington Post and here on my site, www.readallday.org. I’m back to tell you all: Blood Harvest, is now out in paperback! Reap it now and you will sow hours of great reading.

In Blood Harvest, Bolton introduces us to an isolated Yorkshire village rife with strong but disturbing traditions. One of the traditions, kept secret by all, is the disappearance of little girls. When a number of tiny corpses are found, the new vicar of the village starts to look deeper into the history of his parish, while a crippled psychiatrist tries to help a crazed young woman who is certain her dead child is still speaking to her. Blood Harvest is grim, wiping away any security the characters try to find in science, religion, love, or family, and leaving everyone — readers included! — vulnerable to terror. But alongside the chilling scenes of human depravity, there are also scenes of great humor, touching humanity, and resounding heroism, making Blood Harvest a moving and wonderful read.

As good as the news of the paperback release is, I have even better news: Bolton has written another great book and it is coming out in June. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Now You See Me. Now You See Me, Bolton’s fourth novel, is further proof that this dame of chills and thrills reigns supreme. Bolton has again created memorable characters (and brought back two unforgettable characters from her first novel, Sacrifice), immersing her characters (and us, her lucky, lucky readers) in a plot that is suspenseful, intelligent, and absolutely satisfying in its ultimate climax and conclusion. When I finished Now You See Me at two in the morning, having started it at nine in the evening and then read straight through, I was panting and crying and sighing, all at the same time. I wanted to start re-reading it immediately: I’d become addicted to the writing, the characters, and the story.

Bolton switches up her locations in Now You See Me, placing us smack into London and not in the bucolic locales of her previous novels. But as in her earlier books, Bolton takes her cues from British folklore, mythology, and history, using the facts and fictions surrounding the notorious Jack the Ripper to build a modern-day saga of dysfunctional families, cast-out children, and long-held desires for vengeance coming to most bloody fruition.

In all her novels, Bolton plunges into the depths of the human soul and comes up with what is good and beautiful to be found there, and also what is foul and horrible. In Now You See Me, the foul and horrible are both the source of more horror and born of earlier foulness: what goes around, comes around. Yet in the end, Bolton offers readers some form of redemption, allowing us to see the possibility of a clean slate, a new life, and an end to bloodshed.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: S.J. Bolton is the reigning queen of thrillers, creating works that are smart, scary, and very, very satisfying. Long may she reign and write.

Great Summer Mysteries

I finished off my summer vacation the same way I always do, by reading through a pile of mysteries. I read a number of great mysteries this summer, some of which I’ve already written about, including City of Veils and the great thrillers of S.J. Bolton. I want to add in three more: Star Island by Carl Hiassen, a writer I always enjoy; The Weaver and the Factory Maid by Deborah Grabien, who has created a series linking charm, ghosts, and music; and The Blackpool Highflyer by Andrew Martin, a gem of a book discovered thanks to an email from a Readallday reader.

Star Island by Carl Hiassen is another one of his crazy rides through Miami.  We are accompanied, as usual, by wacked-out, drugged-out, burnt-out, or sold-out  screwballs. Lucky for us readers, the fabulous and previously-seen character of Skink, ex-governor of Florida and current Everglades commando, makes a comeback as a stabilizing but definitely skewed force of justice and equity.  The novel, as always, is powered by a full-blown, wholly accurate, and laugh-out-loud funny satirizing of popular culture; this time, Hiassen uses his particular genre of satirical literature (“sat-lit”) to expose and ridicule the making of the teen pop star, or rather the making of an image and un-making of a person.  Paparazzi, parents, pariahs, peach-fuzzed wannabes, and piranhas all play a role in the creation that is Cherry Pye.  When Cherry’s double (used to cover-up her drug-addled sallies and subsequent forays into rehab) is kidnapped, Skink gets involved, heart and soul, and no one is safe until the pie has been cooked and set to cool. Lovers of Hiassen will love this latest addition to the oeuvre of Southern Florida eccentricity, greed, and justice, and new readers will be hooked on Hiassen’s unique brand of sat-lit.

For something completely different, try the first in Deborah Grabien’s ghostly fun “Haunted Ballad” series,  entitled The Weaver and the Factory Maid. Grabien’s novels are love songs to England, mixing up great olde English atmosphere with eclectic tidbits of from English history, music, and theater.  Starring two beautiful, witty, and intelligent contemporary lovers, one of whom can see and feel and hear moments from the past — especially emotionally charged and exciting moments — and the other who is gifted in music-making and period-reconstruction, Grabien develops her plots easily, seducing her readers with humor and ghosts and problems to be solved.  Her books are hard to put down and completely satisfying when finished.  In The Weaver and the Factory Maid, Ringan has been given an old cottage and tithe barn in exchange for a debt owed, and together with his lady love Penny, discovers the place is haunted with star-crossed lovers from the past.  Ringan’s music and Penny’s intuition will bring more questions than answers, until the final chilling resolution of love labour’s lost.

Another series set in England but dispensing with all that is ghostly, unexplainable, or musical, is The Jim Stringer series of novels by Andrew Martin.  His novels revolve around the trains and railways of the early 1900s.  Jim Stringer is a fireman, loading coal to keep the engines of his beloved trains moving along, with vague hopes of becoming a driver, hopes matched by his witty and gutsy wife’s more defined aspirations to middle class security.  In The Blackpool Flyer, Jim and “the wife” (as he always refers to her)  must cope with the fall-out after a train Jim is firing is sabotaged and a passenger dies.  The Blackpool Flyer is filled with charming details of mill town life, sprinkled with details of early anarchists and growing awareness of workers’ rights, and fascinating with facts about the trains that connected the towns, and brought hundreds of workers to the sea — Scarborough or Blackpool — for their one week of vacation.

Miami and all its vices; England and all its charms; trains and all their thrills: read one or read all, you will be satisfied.

S.J. Bolton: The New Queen of Thrillers

I’d like to dub a new queen in the realm of thrillers: S.J. Bolton. Bolton’s Sacrifice was published in 2008, Awakening was published in 2009, and Blood Harvest came out in July of 2010. Three great novels in three years: I can only hope for more, and on the same schedule. Bolton is an addiction and I want more. The good news is that all her novels can be read again and again, with more to find in each reading.

All of Bolton’s novels feature strong and smart female characters, and you could call Bolton’s books thrillers for intelligent women. But Bolton’s audience cannot be limited: everyone, male or female, will love Bolton. There is nothing not to love. Endowed with the ability to write beautiful prose that packs a punch, Bolton also creates intriguing characters (good and evil), and twists them all together in chilling and clever plots. Her novels are lush with creepy British atmosphere (Bolton draws on her extensive knowledge of British folklore, mythology, and history), heavy with ideas that set the mind humming (fate, destiny, and the roles played by women and men in the unfolding of both), and vibrant with fast-paced action that alternates between subtle and amplified.

Bolton is also blessed with an innate sense of pitch and rhythm. She knows just how long to hold the suspense in an unfurling scene; she knows just how tightly to wind up her characters — and her readers — before allowing everyone a moment of release and contemplation. It is the mix between thought and action, a mix calibrated perfectly to engage both sides of the readers’ brains — the analytic side and the thrill-seeking side — that makes Bolton’s novels so gratifying.

In her novels, Bolton plunges into the depths of the human soul and comes up with what is good and beautiful to be found there, and also what is foul and horrible. She is a writer especially attuned to the problems of the outsider struggling to find her place in the world. Bolton’s heroines are different, one from the other, but they are all outsiders of firm moral character and strong heart. In fact, Bolton’s heroines do what Bolton does: strive for excellence while blazing their own, very unique paths, to doing the right thing, the right way. Bolton does her thing — writing thrilling novels — her own way and she does it magnificently.

In Sacrifice, Tora Hamilton discovers a corpse preserved in the peat of her Shetlands Island backyard. This is no bog body from centuries past but a much more recent victim of murder — and a very sick murder at that. Tora, an outsider to the Shetlands, is told by the police to leave the investigation to them. But the dead woman has recently given birth and Tora, an obstetrician and a woman trying hard to get pregnant herself, cannot let her death go. The only sympathetic ear that Tora finds is of police detective Dana Tulloch, herself an outsider in more ways than one. Together the two women find clues linking the murder to Norse runes, ancient Shetland myths about powerful trolls, and the strange, isolated birthing island of Tronal.

In Awakening, Bolton creates a thriller fully steeped in the Gothic tradition (dark stormy nights, haunted houses, gloomy cellars, decaying churchyards) and tops it off with fascinating information about everything from snakes to religious sects to scripture. Again her heroine is an outsider. Clara is a veterinarian with bad facial scarring who prefers the company of animals to that of humans. But when her adopted village becomes overrun with snakes, Clara is drawn into saving villagers and snakes, and finds herself in very serious danger, not all of it reptilian. With all of that, plus occasional winks of sly humor, hints of burgeoning passion, echoes of lost faith, and acts of great heroism, Awakening is simply a great read (and I think my favorite, so far — new Bolton coming out in 2011).

In Blood Harvest, Bolton inserts a number of outsiders into an isolated Yorkshire village rife with strong but disturbing traditions. One of the traditions, kept secret by all, is the disappearance of little girls. When a number of tiny corpses are found, the new vicar starts to look deeper into the history of his new parish, while a crippled psychiatrist tries to help a young woman of the village who is certain her dead child is still speaking to her. Blood Harvest is the grimmest of the three novels, wiping away any security the characters find in science, religion, love, or family, and leaving everyone vulnerable to terror. But alongside the chilling scenes of human depravity, there are also scenes of great humor — the flirting between the vicar and the psychiatrist — and of resounding heroism, making Blood Harvest a moving and wonderful read.

Coronation called for: S.J. Bolton is the thriller queen, writing novels that are smart, scary, and very, very satisfying.

Awakening by S.J. Bolton: A Great Book

Awakening by S.J. Bolton is a thriller fully steeped in the Gothic tradition (dark stormy nights, haunted houses, gloomy cellars, decaying churchyards) and topped off with fascinating facts and information about everything from snakes to sects to scripture.  With all that plus its occasional wink of sly humor, hints of burgeoning passion, and inspiring heroics, Awakening is a must-read book for this summer, perfect for rainy days on the porch or sunny days out in the grass.  Just watch out for the snakes you may begin to see everywhere, even in your dreams.

Clara Benning is a young vet working in rural England; scarred from an early age both physically and emotionally, Clara prefers the company of animals to humans.  When nearby humans find themselves suddenly besieged by venomous snakes, they call on Clara’s expertise, and Clara cannot ignore their pleas for help.  She comes through, again and again, with intelligence, caring, and bravery.  Will those traits be enough to save the villagers, and herself, from slithering snakes, avengers from the past, and insanity posing as piety?

What I loved about this book, in addition to its fast-paced but layered plot, compelling characters, fascinating facts, and great atmosphere — set in rural Dorset, Bolton creates the vivid atmosphere of what at first glance appears to be a lovely small English village but soon reveals itself to as a place where deceit, treachery, and greed conspired in dark acts and darker secrets — was Bolton’s psychological probing of revulsion.  People have been repulsed by Clara her whole life, due to facial scarring she received as a child.  Taunted and tortured by other children, stared at by strangers, and teased by hooligans, Clara has learned to shut herself off and to exist in a world of work, sleep, and running.  She prefers to run very early or very late in the day, when she can be assured of her solitude, and she chooses to work with wild animals, again shielding herself from the public eye.  Snakes, like Clara, are also a source of revulsion: Bolton subtly creates a parallel between the hunted snakes and Clara’s hiding of her face.  Only when she dares to raise her eyes and face the world, and save whom and what she can, does she shed the serpent of fear inside of her, and allow the snake of enlightenment to move forth. She becomes awakened to her powers, both inside and out.

Clara explains her work saving animals with a simple line: “all lives, even tiny, secretive, short ones, have a value and a purpose.”  Clara herself leads a very secretive life but there is no doubt of her value or purpose: she is a force of honestly, goodness, and reliability (much as snakes are forces in nature for balance and equity), even though she herself can’t see how special she is. By the end of this magnificent thriller, all readers will see what Clara is made of — and all of us will be hurtling through the pages to discover if what she’s got is good enough.

I read Awakening the first time through at breakneck speed, I was so excited by Bolton’s plot and characters and ideas.  Having finished it, I started right away to reread the novel.  On my second time round, I read slowly, taking the time to appreciate and even more fully enjoy the amplitude of Bolton’s craftsmanship and the fulfilled ambitions of her marvelous story telling.