Saturday 31 July 2010

Keren David - Author Interview

We had planned to publish author interviews so when the chance arose we were delighted that Keren David, author of When I Was Joe, agreed to an interview. We have both read When I Was Joe and published reviews of it finding it excellent. She is shortly to have a second book published, the sequel to When I Was Joe, entitled Almost True.

Keren worked as a journalist and as a messenger girl for a national newspaper and she had several roles in journalism including reporter, a political correspondent, a news editor, a comment editor, feature writer. She lived in the Netherlands for eight years and worked in Amsterdam as editor in chief for a photographic agency. She grew up in Welwyn Garden City and has lived in London, Glasgow and Amsterdam. In 2007 she moved back to London and decided to try to write a book. She took a course in Writing for Children at City University which was tutored by Amanda Swift.
While on the course she had the idea of writing about witness protection and two years after starting the course When I Was Joe was published.

At the end of When I Was Joe it has a brief description of yourself. It says you had two ambitions, to write a book and to live in London. I am surprised about the living in London. What is behind that ambition?

It’s a bit of a family joke. I never seem to get my wish to settle down in one place.
I grew up in a small town in Hertfordshire. London was the big exciting city, just half an hour away on the train, so near but yet so far. I always wanted to escape to the city. But, whenever I’ve lived in London, something’s always intervened to take me away. So I lived in London in my twenties, then Scotland for a bit, came back to London got married, bought a house… then a few years later we moved to Amsterdam. Now we’re back in London, but still not really settled…who knows how long we’ll stay!

You grew up in a small town in Hertfordshire but When I was Joe is about knife crime, something more associated with inner cities. Why did you choose to write about knife crime?
Well, I’ve not lived in Hertfordshire for many years. At the moment I live in north London and my children are at schools in Haringey and Hackney. Knife crime seems close to home, although luckily it’s not something we’ve experienced.
When I Was Joe wasn’t originally meant to be about knife crime, the focus was meant to be more about false identity. But I was writing in the spring of 2008 and it seemed as though every day another teenager was dying on the streets of London and it crept into the book more than I’d expected.

I have heard that you like to write in cafeterias and places like that rather than at home. Why is this?

Ideally I’d have an office at home, but at the moment I have to make do with the dining table, which I find very distracting. So I’m always on the lookout for new places to work. I’ve concluded that I work best when my time is limited – so little bursts of energy at cafes works well.

Having been a journalist do you feel this has changed your approach to writing stories and has it made it easier at all?

It made it very natural to me to write about newsy subjects such as crime, politics and justice and to adapt real life cases into fiction. At times I was lifting words from real crime reports or politicians speeches and putting them into the book, much as I would as a journalist.
Journalism also affects my style – on newspapers, you learn not to waste words.

In When I Was Joe you touch on many subjects that affect young people, not only knife crime but single parenting, young mothers, bullying, relationships, self harm and others. Would it be rude to ask if any of these issues are of personal significance to you at all?

Not rude at all - it’s funny that no one’s asked before. The only issue in the book that I have particular personal experience of is growing up in a family where one sibling is disabled. My brother isn’t Ellie - although her phenomenal determination and competitive spirit was based on him - and I’m certainly not Claire, but I do know that feeling of some else’s special needs driving an entire family. I liked the idea of writing a book where one sibling comes out from the shadow of the extraordinarily impressive disabled person.

And another, perhaps too personal question, why did you make Tyler Catholic rather than set him in your own Jewish community?

I wanted Tyler to go to a school outside his immediate neighbourhood, but I didn’t think he was bright enough to have won a place at a highly competitive academically selective school. So I thought of a faith school. I didn’t really want him to be Jewish because that would have raised all sorts of awkward issues around taking a new identity, and there are hardly any Jewish secondary schools in London anyway. And I didn’t want to be a ‘Jewish’ writer - I might explore that one day, but I wanted to resist that label at the beginning of my writing career.
In writing When I was Joe and particularly Almost True I got very interested in Catholic ideas about sin, prayer, confession and hell. I wasn’t sure if I’d got it right - I was extremely chuffed when it turned out that the editor who acquired the book is a Catholic. I’m still amazed that I’ve written a Catholic novel! In the book I’m writing now there’s a strong Muslim character.

(For personal reasons I tried to, politely, pursue this a little further as I felt it didn't address everything I was trying to understand)

It was just that I felt that if he had been Jewish and then have to take on a non-Jewish false identity - to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb - then that issue would take over from all the others, that the strange feeling of pretending not to be Jewish and what that meant to him, would have been too dominant, in a way that would unbalance the book and could make it harder for readers to identify with. Jewish identity is a complex and subtle matter - too much for me to deal with in a book about taking on a new identity. (And my thanks go to Keren for her patience)

Tyler has to enter the witness protection scheme in When I Was Joe. How much research did you have to do about the scheme or did your experience forearm you?

I knew quite a bit about witness protection from my years as a news editor, and I did some research looking for details of actual cases to work in. I drew in particular on the case of Danielle Cable who went into witness protection as a teenager after her fiancé was stabbed to death. I also talked to a barrister who had worked with protected witnesses.

Almost True, coming out September, is the continuation of When I Was Joe which finished without a happy ending. How much can you tell us about Almost True without giving spoilers to either of the books?

In Almost True, Ty is on the run and plunged into danger, again and again. He’s under even more pressure than he was in When I Was Joe and at times he’s not sure what’s real and what isn’t. He finds out many secrets from the past, he makes a new friend, and meets people who become very important to him. And there are questions for Ty and others about when they should be loyal to a friend, and when they should betray that trust. I can’t promise a happy ending.
Oh, and to answer the question that everyone asks: Yes! Ty and Claire do meet again!

I understand there is another book in the pipeline. What can you tell us about it and when can we look forward to seeing it?

I’m working on a book called Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery. It’s about an ordinary 16-year-old girl who wins a jackpot of eight million pounds. The idea came when I started imagining what it would be like if my teenage daughter won a huge amount of money. On the one hand, great - on the other, what a nightmare for parents! It’s much lighter than the first two books, more of a rom com than a thriller. I’m missing the violence! The plan is that it’ll be out by September 2011, but first I have to finish it.

You can keep up to date with Keren by following her blog at
Our reviews for When I was Joe can be found:- Maryom's , TheMoles
Our reviews for Almost True can be found:- Maryom's , TheMoles

Buy Almost True or When I Was Joe at Amazon

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Wishful Thinking by Ali Sparkes

Be Careful What You Wish For
review by Maryom

Kevin goes out one day with his Gran and accidentally brings home a Celtic river god - Abandinus. Ignored for many, many years, Abandinus decides he will help Kevin out and grant his wishes. In return, Abandinus would like a shrine and a spot of worship, - and some more followers. A shrine is found - on sale among the ornaments at the garden centre - but as Kevin and his friends, Tim and Gracie, try to boost Abandinus's following through the internet, things begin to go wrong. Having wishes fulfilled isn't as much fun as they thought and stranger, less friendly gods and goddesses start to show up - including the evil Arimanius, a god from the Underworld.

This story starts out as a weird but humorous encounter with an ancient river god with lots of very funny dialogue, that I insisted on sharing with anyone within earshot, but with the awakening of Arimanius, the menace increases - at first gradually but building to a great run-for-your-life climax. Whether funny or frightening, it's a gripping read the whole way through, with a twist right at the end which hopefully will lead to a sequel. A book that I'm sure will appeal to both boys and girls.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Oxford Children's Books
Genre - Children's 9+

Buy Wishful Thinking at Amazon

Monday 26 July 2010

The Life You Want by Emily Barr

Searching For A Better Life
review by Maryom

Tansy Harris is dissatisfied with her humdrum life as wife and mother. When she finds herself slipping into old drinking habits and contemplating having an affair with her son's teacher, she feels she needs a shake-up. So, an out-of-the-blue e-mail from an old friend now living in India, asking for help in an orphanage, seems like the answer to her prayers. But although India lives up to her expectations, her friend seems rather elusive and, until it's too late, Tansy doesn't realise what her role at the orphanage really is.

I was rather pleasantly surprised with this book. The cover had somehow led me to expect a lighter weight, fluffy chick lit novel, which may be why it's waited so long on the 'to be read' pile. It turned out to be an excellent read. Emily Barr gets us inside Tansy's head, shows her longing for how life was before marriage and children, for something more than 9 to 5 routine and the school run. Despite being little blinkered and at times rather naive, Tansy is an engaging heroine, one I could easily sympathise with. A page-turner sort of book, light and easy reading but not mind-numbing.

'The Life You Want' is the second part of Tansy's story and, although the ending of the first book, 'Backpack', is fairly clear, not so much is given away that I wouldn't backtrack and read it. I wonder if there's likely to be a third installment?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult fiction

Buy The Life You Want from Amazon

Saturday 24 July 2010

Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St John

Laura Marlin - "Ace Detective"
review by Maryom

Orphan Laura Marlin has grown up in children's homes and never realised she had any relatives. Then, out of the blue, she is sent to live with her uncle in Cornwall. Here she discovers a freedom she's never had before but with the one warning from her Uncle - 'Don't go anywhere near Dead Man's Cove!'. Laura is a great reader of detective stories and this warning just acts as encouragement to investigate. She's also curious about her new friend, Tariq, the shopkeeper's son - why is he hardly allowed out of the shop? He seems to understand what she says, so why does his father claim that Tariq cannot speak English? And who is the mysterious bird-watcher who seems to be spying on her uncle's house?

Exciting adventure story with many of the ingredients that went into the Famous Five stories - a Cornish fishing village, an unknown uncle with mysterious habits and a tendency to wander the countryside after dark, a strange boy who disappears, a housekeeper who asks too many questions, an old smugglers tunnel - but without the somewhat dated attitudes. Laura is a bright, engaging heroine, full of insatiable curiosity and almost fearless, especially when accompanied by her new dog, Skye.

Dead Man's Cove is the first in a series of four adventure stories with Laura Marlin, 11 year old 'ace detective' and will be published on 5th August 2010

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Orion
Genre - Children's

Buy Laura Marlin Mysteries 1: Dead Man's Cove from Amazon

Thursday 22 July 2010

Selkie by Gillian McClure

Reviewed by Gerry(TheMole)

"Delightful" I said and was asked "what more is there to say?". Well a whole lot if we are going to be properly fair. We bought many books for our two daughters when they were younger and I am pleased we didn't come across this at the time! Why? Well it's easy - If this had been in the shop we would have spent even more time trying to decide which book to take and it was bad enough without even more excellent choice!

Gillian McClure did the illustrations in the book as well as the words and to say that the pictures are excellent could be construed as saying the words are less than excellent and vice versa. The truth is there is an excellent balance between both.

Peter is living with his granny who tells him about selkies - seals that can change to human beings. Peter rescues a selkie from a fisherman's net and this leads him to a new friendship and an adventure.

The pictures are frequent and are beautiful and sweetly drawn and placed close to the text to which they apply. This makes it an excellent read and talk about book that involves both reader and child. The text is simple enough to be followed by the younger child, although this is not a first reading book. Personally I believe that teaching reading is the role of the school and should be supported by the parents and so I would not look for a first reader in a book like this.

A delightful book, beautifully drawn, well scripted and well put together as a parent-child reading experience.

TheMole's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Plaister Press
Genre - Children's 2 and upwards (They will love it even as they grow older)

Monday 19 July 2010

The Cat Kin by Nick Green

Unleash Your Inner Cat.
reviewed by Maryom

Both Ben and Tiffany have seemly insurmountable problems - Ben and his Mum are being harassed because they won't sell their flat to a property developer.
Tiffany's brother has MD and has been in and out of hospital for years with little hope of a cure, until his mum tracks down a new drug, Panthacea, on the web, which seems to work wonders.
They both find themselves accidentally signed up for Mrs Powell's strange martial arts class -Pashki. Here they gain the ability to move with cat-like stealth, to leap from tree to tree, to see and hear more clearly but events take a more sinister turn when they discover a link between the property developers and the drugs company and Tiffany is torn between wanting to stop the drug producers and not wanting her brother to fall ill again.

This is an immensely enjoyable action story but with a serious side. The younger reader would read it for the adventure whereas for the older reader Nick Green explores themes which will give them something to stop and think about - the way in which property developers can ride rough shod over the wishes of residents and all the questions raised by having a possibly terminally ill child, the tensions between Tiffany's parents over his treatment and the ethics behind how and where drugs are produced. Don't be put off though it's not all doom and gloom.
A book which can be funny, scary or moving, or all three at once.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Strident
Genre - Children's (8+)

Friday 16 July 2010

Angel by L A Weatherly

Never Trust An Angel!!
Reviewed by Maryom

Alex has spent his life tracking down and killing Angels until the day his mysterious CIA contact sends him in search of Willow.
Willow thinks she's just an ordinary girl even if she's a bit geeky, knows how to strip and rebuild a car engine and can see the future. But a chance 'reading' for a classmate starts up a chain of events that has her running for her life, having to trust Alex to help her escape from the Angels. Despite their wings and glowing aura, these Angels are far from the normal perception of 'angelic' and Willow turns out to be the only person who can stop their plans for mankind.

I'd heard a lot of talk about this book, publicists building up the hype and so forth, but I was still surprised at the nature of the story. It's an action-packed thriller with Angels who are more like alien invaders than heavenly beings.
An absolutely compelling book, by turns tense, romantic, scary, with settings from hot-baked desert to forested mountains.
My only marginal niggle is with the ending. Although the story so far is rounded off, it's obviously 'to be continued' which is always a frustration.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Usborne
Genre - teenage (14+)

Buy Angel from Amazon

Thursday 15 July 2010

Glitter by Kate Maryon

Riches to Rags
Reviewed by Gerry(TheMole)

A story of riches to rags in a fairy tale fashion that will delight the 9-12 year old girls it is aimed at.

Libby is at a 'posh' boarding school enjoying the luxuries of life with her friends of a similar social group when the credit crunch strikes. Libby's dad is fixated with academic success and won't tolerate Libby following her dream. Libby has to adjust to a state school and to seeing her father every day instead of occasionally and has huge problems in adjusting - but not as big a problem as her father.

This book will certainly be an emotional roller coaster for it's young readers as they follow Libby trying to make new friends, learn about her mother and learn about herself but it is a roller coaster they are sure to enjoy the ride on.

I would recommend this to 9-12 year old girls and it would make an ideal present.

TheMole's review - 5 stars (for its audience)
Publisher - Harper Collins
Genre - Children's (Junior Chick Lit?)

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Stop Me by Richard Jay Parker

Do you forward email?
Review by Gerry(TheMole)

I found this book really enjoyable, readable and unputdownable despite the synopsis. The synopsis for this book leads you to believe this book is about email circulating from a killer. As an ex-IT manager I had contradictory feelings about this book. The first was 'how was the author going tackle a book which was hinged around such a technical subject?' and the other was 'how much is email going to actually figure in this story?'.

The synopsis tells us about eleven deaths and emails circulating in advance announcing the victim and inviting recipients to forward this email to ten friends in the hope that someone will accidentally return the email to the killer and so prevent the death. The book, however is about celebrity - the celebrity that serial killers want and that they attract. It's about the celebrity that people seek in some of the darker web sites. It's about ego and perceived power.

Leo was at a restaurant with his wife, Laura, when she slips out to the toilet and disappears from his life. He is questioned about her disappearance by the police as an email from the killer circulates describing her as the next victim. He is released from custody and police enquiries into him stop after a year but he realises he is still being watched and he sets about trying to find out anything he can. He has lost all confidence in the police and anything he finds, or that happens, he will keep to himself.

The story is fast paced as Leo rushes, almost blindly stumbling, along a path trying to find what has happened to Laura - hopefully leading to justice?

This book is not a whodunnit although we don't know who did do it. We find out during the course of the book and when we do, we get a surprise. Or should that be surprises?

Did I enjoy this book? Yes, I most certainly did and while technology is used as a tool the author makes only one claim in IT that I would challenge. He refers to an 'untraceable email address'. It is amazing how little the average person can do on the web that cannot be traced if the tracer has the authority of international law. But is this a REAL factor in the story? No because in this case it would still not be traceable to a single person and if the word 'untraceable' was omitted this error would not have occurred.

Is this the best crafted novel I have read? Well I have to say, honestly, it is not badly crafted although not the best - but it is also Richard's first novel and as a first novel it is very good. He writes about dark web sites and internet celebrity and the celebrity that serial killers seek with confidence that reflects something of an understanding of people and I felt I learnt from this.

I would definitely recommend this book to thriller readers and maybe even whodunnit readers.

TheMole's review - 4 stars
Genre - Crime, Mystery & Thriller

Monday 12 July 2010

Dead Boy Talking by Linda Strachan

As life slips away
Reviewed by Maryom

There seems to be a rush of books on knife crime at the moment presumably due to its news topicality. This one brings a story from a different angle - that of a teenage boy, Josh, stabbed and possibly, presumably, bleeding to death. The story of a teenage boy who carried a knife with him 'just in case'. As he lies there, he thinks back over the events that have led him here - 'Was it only yesterday morning when everything started to go wrong?' - not really, as things have been moving towards this point, with a dreadful feeling of inevitability, for months if not years.

I was totally hooked from the very first sentence - "In 25 minutes I will be dead" - but it must have one of the most stunning, shocking opening pages of any book I've read with an amazingly powerful scene as Josh lies there in the alley, not really believing what has happened to him, watching blood pumping out counting down the minutes he has left to live. I could almost FEEL the knife as it slid in and his incredulity that THIS had happened TO HIM.

The book alternates between Josh in the here and now and the events leading to this point as seen by him and others. Listening in on Josh's thoughts is incredibly poignant as he thinks of the plans he had had for the future, of turning his life around, maybe going to art college. Josh realises that his friends have problems too with which they've coped far better than he has. He is at times a rather shallow, self-centred and even self-pitying teenage boy but perhaps a more realistic character for it. A book that will definitely make you stop and think.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Genre - Teenage

Saturday 10 July 2010

The Blue-Eyed Aborigine by Rosemary Hayes

Reviewed by Maryom

This book is split into 2 distinct halves - the first based on known facts surrounding a mutiny in 1629 onboard the Batavia, a trading ship sailing from Holland to Java with cargo and passengers, the second following conjecture about what happened after some of the mutineers were marooned on the Australian coast and the sightings, many years later, of blue-eyed aborigines living in the area.
The story starts on board the Batavia, 8 months into her voyage and sailing near the coast of Australia. Following the grounding of the ship on a reef the crew mutiny, setting up camp on a nearby island and abandoning passengers on another, far more inhospitable, nearby. The events are seen through the eyes of cabin boy,Jan Pelgrom, caught up, almost unwittingly, in these events by following his immediate superiors in the ship's crew. Later, when a rescue party arrives, some of the mutineers are hanged but Jan and another are abandoned on the Australian coast as a lesser punishment.
I found the first part of the story to be far more engrossing. Rosemary Hayes captures the dreadful shipboard conditions that were probably quite common at the time, the smells and dirt, the cramped sleeping quarters, the atmosphere of fear and distrust felt amongst the Batavia's crew and later Jan's unthinking siding with the mutineers. The second part didn't grab me so much - maybe everything happened too easily for the marooned sailors.
I found myself a little bit undecided about this book - mainly because I wasn't sure of the target age group. The language and writing style seem pitched at a fairly young reader while the events depicted, sometimes savage and violent, seem targeted at an older readership. Taken all together though, a very interesting account of these events.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher Frances Lincoln
Genre - Historical Fiction (12+)

Thursday 8 July 2010

Firebrand by Gillian Philip

Fantastic Fantasy
Review by Gerry(TheMole)

It is easy for fantasy to become formulaic - Hero becomes the centre of the universe goes out and saves the world/planet/universe. Gillian Philip clearly hasn't read the formula and brings a new life to fantasy and it's writing.

As the sixteenth century comes to an end we meet Seth for the first time at a witch burning, watching with a cross bow in his arms waiting for his moment to shoot the 'witches' before the flames engulf them. Scene changes and we learn of Seth's history. The second and unwanted son of the MacGregor clann, he has been returned to the clann because of the actions of his mother and he feels unwanted and at odds with everyone in the clann. Determined to not be accepted, he fights with everyone and is semi feral. Clearly after a chapter or two we will return to the witch burning - or at the end of the book. Seth has a brother, Conal - but by a different mother and the two brothers develop a bond of love and loyalty. Conal is the older and inherits the leadership of the clann when their father is assasinated. Kate, the Queen, then contrives to exile them to the full mortal world to extend her power base.

Seth is what many of us see ourselves as:- loyal, angry, powerful, pivotal, wise, honest, passionate and so much more and this makes it easy for the reader to identify with him and share his adventure with excitement.

We don't return to the burnings where we expect and although crucial to the story there is still much to tell beyond that. I like to know how many pages there are in the book so turned to find out. In doing so I saw the title of book 2 - 'Insurrection'. This enabled me to see what was going to happen. But it didn't. Gillian didn't apply the formula instead the plot twisted and turned and gave surprise right to the end.

There is death and violence throughout the book and I found none of it in bad taste but I did get a surprise. It is a long time since I read a book where I felt choked about any death but Gillian did this to me in Firebrand - I thought I had become inured to such things.

When compared to the themes of Gillian's books Crossing The Line and Bad faith then Firebrand truly shows the range and scope of this gifted author. Insurrection please? NOW!

I have seen a copy of intended artwork for the cover and would DEARLY have liked to share it but (a) I don't know if it's the final version and (b) I don't have permission. But let me say that it is a striking cover that complements the story and is the most striking of Gillian's books so far.

TheMoles's review - 5 stars
Publisher Strident
Genre - Fantasy

Firebrand (Rebel Angels Series) is published on 13th August 2010 and can be purchased from Amazon amongst many other outlets.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Inside My Head - Jim Carrington

Read and reviewed by TheMole for Nayu's Reading Corner. An interesting read but the ending was a bit abrupt for me.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Dead Wood by Chris Longmuir

Don't Go Down To The Woods
Reviewed by Maryom

Young women are disappearing in Dundee but the police seem unaware of a serial killer out there, hunting down more victims - until bodies are discovered in woods outside the city, the site of a series of murders several years before. Among the victims is the daughter of local gang baron Tony Palmer and he intends to take his own revenge before the police can track the killer down. Who will get to him first?

It took me a while to settle into this plot. There seemed such a lot of characters to be introduced to and I was wondering how many of them were really necessary to the plot. But stick with it past the first 30 pages or so and the story starts to take shape and the tempo improves to a chase against the clock to discover the murderer from a long list of suspects.
There are so many characters that some inevitably feel sketched in rather than fully developed - but I particularly liked the portrayal of the family man/human side of gangster Tony Palmer. This is my sort of crime novel - without much blood and gore and without having to probe inside the killer's twisted mind - though not necessarily to everyone's taste.
Chris Longmuir is a comparatively new author - this novel won the Dundee International Book Prize for new writers in 2009 - and I look forward to reading more from her.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher Poloygon
Genre - Adult Crime

Friday 2 July 2010

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez

Mathematical Serial Killer
Reviewed by Maryom

An Argentinian maths student arrives in Oxford on a year's scholarship and finds lodgings with an elderly widow, Mrs Eagleton - till the day he arrives home to find her murdered. Also on the scene is renowned mathematician Arthur Seldom who has received a note with the words 'first of the series' and a mysterious symbol, possibly the start of a mathematical sequence.
A second murder quickly follows and it appears that the killer is challenging mathematicians, perhaps Seldom specifically, by his actions. Can they predict where he will strike next from the notes he leaves? Is he taunting them? or hoping to be caught?

At just under 200 pages this is a very short book but one packed with suspense and the twists and turns you'd expect of the best murder mysteries. An intellectual puzzle in a slightly Agatha Christie style rather than a high body count, gory psychological thriller - personally I prefer murder mysteries this way. Well written, well characterised and extremely well plotted, right down to the last page plot twist.
Since I've read this, I've discovered that there is a film of the book. From the trailer it appears to be full of conspiracy theories - the book isn't! If it's not too late, read the book before you see the film.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Abacus
Genre - Adult Crime