Read-along fun

I absolutely love being a reviewer. One of these days it will be my full time, full paying job and I’ll be able to spend all my time reading books and writing about them. But enough begging to any newspaper editors that might be reading, let’s get back to the point. In the little under a year that I’ve been writing this blog I have been in contact with, worked with and even become friends with some fantastic indie authors. As well as widening my social circle it has completely changed reading for me, it’s like going through the looking glass. It’s one thing to read a book and have the author as a removed entity you know very little about beyond a scour of their Wikipedia page (my obsession with Sylvia Plath an exception to this obviously). But it’s another to get to know the person behind the story, and finding out their inspirations, their process and the little bits of them that go into their work.

On this note, some of you may remember me reviewing short story collection ‘Crime, Conflict and Consequences’ by Heather Burnside (@heatherbwriter) a short while ago, and mentioning she is two thirds of the way through a crime trilogy, and I was desperate to read it. As luck would have it ‘A Good Thriller’ group on Goodreads have just hosted a read-along of the first instalment ‘Slur’ with Burnside available to respond to any questions and comments along the way.

If you’ve never experienced a read-along with an author I suggest you try and find one immediately (maybe we’ll be lucky enough to have Burnside do one for the next book in her series ‘The Gangster’s Grip’!). If you’re anything like me you’ll have many thoughts, comments, (constructive!) criticisms and questions about a book as you’re reading. Of course book groups are great for discussing these sorts of things, but it’s always more satisfying to have a definitive answer from the person whose mind the book sprung from. So eager for this experience I joined the group and devoured the book. Although in the end, with life getting in the way, I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I liked, but I got enough from it to appreciate the way it enriches the reading experience.

Slur follows best friends Julie and Rita as they deal with suspicion and harassment from friends, the police, and some more shady characters, following a rowdy-turned-tragic night out. Right from the start, Burnside is very good at setting a scene and making characters feel familiar and relatable. Because of this she manages what all authors strive for, the reader feeling like they’re observing the scene for themselves (despite the story’s events happening in the very same summer that I was born and that being impossible for me – cue some hasty maths from people who have read the book).

This empathy soon comes at a disadvantage when things go from bad to worse for Julie. The novel as a whole is very intense and frustrating, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. While you may know what the conclusion will be a few chapters in, getting there is quite a journey with a couple of the famous Burnside twists along the way.

Frustrations aside, Slur is a fantastic easy read that allowed me to finish it in a handful of commutes, almost missing my tube stop a few times along the way. My one complaint I had regarding character development, (which to be fair I am a bit of a stickler for) I was able to have assuaged by the author, explaining their thought process behind it. For spoiler’s sake I won’t go into detail, but how often can you say that an author personally talked you through an issue you have with a story? It really gives you confidence as a reader that plot developments aren’t just forced in for convenience, and it probably gives authors a boost as well, knowing they have fully thought out their work and have an opportunity to share that with their audience.

If you are interested in how the read along went, with a few comments from yours truly sprinkled along the way then check out the thread here. As usual it is better to have read the story first (which I urge you to do anyway!) but be assured the Goodreads community are very considerate of any potential spoilers if you haven’t read the book yet.

So when any of my three, count ‘em – three! jobs ease up a little, (all of which incidentally feature a disappointing lack of book chat), I’ll be straight on to the next book of the series. I’ve already heard good things about, so while I won’t have Burnside reading along with me this time, I’m sure it will still be an enjoyable experience.

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