Book Reviews · Interviews

Book Review and Author Interview with Helen Smith


17669963Invitation to Die – Helen Smith
Publisher – Thomas & Mercer
Release Date – 14 May 2013
Rating – 3/5
Source – Sent over by the author, Helen Smith… thank you!
Synopsis –

Twenty-six-year-old Emily Castles is out of work… again. So when famous romance author Morgana Blakely offers her a job helping out at a conference in London, Emily accepts. Just as eagerly, American blogger Winnie Kraster accepts an invitation from Morgana to attend as a guest, not realizing she has, in effect, accepted an invitation to die.

As a cast of oddball characters assembles at the conference hotel, grievances, differences, and secrets begin to emerge. When Winnie goes missing, and then is found murdered nearby, Emily begins to suspect that someone involved with the conference is responsible. Could it be one of the organizers, one of the authors, a member of the hotel staff, or even the supplier of the chocolates for the conference gift bags? Emily teams up with guest speaker and eccentric philosophy professor Dr. Muriel to find out.

I will preface my review by saying that mysteries aren’t ususally my thing.  I’ve only read a handful and those have been of the gore/scare tactic variety  rather than purely mystery.  I won’t slate this book because it was entertaining and Helen’s characters were some of the most hilarious I’ve read in a while, but I also have to give an honest review… though after reading Invitation to Die I’m afraid I might be bumped off!

Invitation to Die had enormous potential and the makings of an entertaining “whodunnit” and while it did entertain I felt that something was missing.  To my own discredit, I can’t tell you what that something missing was, exactly.  Part of my issue was the end of the book–it felt really rushed and I wanted more… more pages… more Emily… just more explanation even.  The conclusion felt a bit rushed to me.  To be fair, Invitation to Die was originally issued as a Kindle Serial so maybe knowing that threw me off a bit?

I also got the hint that there was a backstory to heroine Emily Castles; Smith drops in little clues about Emily’s relationship with Detective Rory James and Dr Muriel among other things that I didn’t get at all.  I’m assuming that’s because I’ve not read either of the short stories (Three Sisters, Showstoppers) featuring Castles.  As a standalone novel, Invitation to Die could have done with a bit more backstory on Emily.

Enough negativity!  Helen Smith’s writing style is very easy to read and enjoy.  She’s very clear and concise without seeming sharp but also doesn’t dither away on little details and “fluff” in her writing.  There’s nothing worse than a writer going on for paragraphs about the “dewey morning” or what-have-you.

And the characters–whoo wee!  I Loved (that’s right, big L!) the writers in the RWGB, particularly Zena and Nic, the hotel manager, had me in fits.  I currently work in the conference and events industry so it was fun to read a book based in a setting that I’m (very) familiar with–minus the murdering.  So far, anyhow.

As a special treat, Helen has stopped by The London Diaries to offer her insight on book bloggers, negative reviews and also gives probably one of my most favourite “six word stories” ever!

What do you think of book bloggers and their place within the publishing process?  Are they a “necessary evil” or do they provide worth?

I love book bloggers! They’re an invaluable resource for readers and, because they are willing to review a much wider range of books than most newspaper critics, they are incredibly helpful to writers, too.  Book bloggers build trust with their readers over a long period of time. When they recommend a book, their readers know whether or not they’ll like it. Book bloggers have been very good to me over the years, providing many honest reviews of my books. They certainly provide worth.

Do you read reviews of your books on blogs, Amazon, Goodreads etc?  If so, how do you deal with negative reviews?

I do look at the reviews, particularly when a book has just been published and I want to know how it’s being received by readers. Many readers will post a review on Amazon or Goodreads based on their personal tastes and whether or not the book has met their expectations, rather than assessing the book on its merits, which is what a professional reviewer or a book blogger would do, so it’s best not to take those kinds of reviews to heart. When I see a negative review on one of those sites I remind myself that not everyone can like every book.  What’s important is that the person leaving the review has been kind enough to buy the book and give it a try. I’m always grateful for that!

Where did you get the inspiration for Invitation to Die?

For the past couple of years I have I hosted an event called The Literary Cabaret at the Bloomsbury Festival  – I invite authors to read from their work and intersperse the readings with songs and music from our house band. It’s great fun! It gave me the idea of setting a book in Bloomsbury because it has a great literary heritage. In a traditional mystery like Invitation to Die, you need to bring lots of disparate characters together and keep them in one place. Last year I attended a mystery writers’ convention called Bouchercon in the US and thought that writers would make good suspects, especially if the victim was a blogger who had left poor reviews of some of their books. I didn’t want mystery writers in my story – they would all try to solve the crime! Instead, I decided to bring some romance authors together for a conference in Bloomsbury and have a murder take place there.  I thought there would be plenty of opportunity for humour in a story like that.

Is there more in store for amateur sleuth Emily Castles?

Yes. I have just finished the second full-length novel in the series. It’s called Beyond Belief and it’s set in Torquay. Emily and Dr. Muriel attend a conference of philosophers, psychologists and self-professed sceptics, as well as mediums, hypnotists and TV psychics who have gathered in Torquay to discuss the nature of belief. Celebrated magician Edmund Zenon offers £50,000 to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal that weekend.  When a psychic predicts that a murder will take place, Emily is hired to investigate.

Who was your favourite character to write in Invitation to Die?

Oh, that’s a difficult question to answer. I can honestly say that I like all of them. I love Emily and Dr. Muriel, my two main characters. But I also enjoyed writing about the romance novelists who are all larger than life. In fact, I find it difficult to write villains because I end up liking all my characters. And as for putting any of them in jeopardy… that’s tough, too!

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing the third full-length Emily Castles mystery. It’s set at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Emily is hired to work for an experimental theatre company. She finds herself in danger as the distinctions between real life and performance begin to blur.

And finally, a question I can’t help but ask everyone!  Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”).  What would be your six word story for your life so far?

The secret of life is this:

Invitation to Die is out now and is available from most online retailers including Amazon UK and others.  For more information on Helen Smith or her other books, check out her lovely website.

steph2

If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1.  Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

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