Friday 29 June 2012

Tamara Small and the Monsters' Ball by Giles Paley-Phillips

A Shadow In The Dark?

Review by The Mole

When Tamara can't get to sleep the monsters come and get her. They take here away to the Annual Monsters' Ball where they dance the night away.

Once again Maverick have come up with the goods in the form of a bright and cheerful picture book emblazoned with lots of bright colours and monsters that you could fall in love with.

The story to go with it is easy to read and humorous to entertain the youngest of readers or adults as they share the reading while also being in simple rhyme that has a rhythm that children will enjoy immensely. Perhaps a story to read when the shadows seem to threaten and they need to be explained?

Publisher - Maverick Books 
Genre - Children's Early Reader, Picture book

Buy Tamara Small and the Monster's Ball from Amazon (pre-order till September 2012)

Thursday 28 June 2012

The Tea Lords by Hella S Haasse

 review by Maryom

'A novel of Java' says the sub-title of the edition I read, but it isn't a tale of native culture or ancient Indonesian traditions rather one of late 19th century colonial expansion by the Dutch.

Rudolf  Kerkhoven is part of an extended Dutch family with interests in Java. His parents have already left Holland and leased land on which to establish a tea plantation. Having finished his studies, Rudolf goes out to join them. His life appears to be totally mapped out for him; - his parents decided which technical courses he should follow as being of most use to the family business and they have positions within the family enterprises lined up for him. Rudolf has other plans though - he doesn't want to stay as a subordinate but to strike out on his own - rather literally - to clear back the jungle and establish his own plantation, run his way.

As I read I felt rather removed from the emotion of the story - too often told what Rudolf says or thinks rather than hearing it in his own words or seeing things through his eyes. In part possibly due to this, I didn't find him particularly sympathetic character - he always seemed to be arguing with his family, convinced that his way was always right and that the family were in some way favouring his brothers. His only redeeming feature was his love of the country with steep mountain sides covered in impenetrable vegetation - so very different from his native Holland.

 The Tea Lords is, without doubt, a fascinating account of Dutch colonialism in Java - a phase of history of which I knew absolutely nothing. Unfortunately the writing style totally failed to grab me.

This book was drawn to my attention by  Iris On Books and the Dutch Lit Month 2012 running on her blog where an ongoing discussion of The Tea Lords is currently (June 2012) taking place. Other readers seem to have enjoyed this book more than I did, so it's worth checking out their thoughts.

Maryom's review -  3.5 stars
Publisher - Portobello Books
Genre - historical, translated fiction

Buy The Tea Lords from Amazon

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Toby's Room by Pat Barker

Review by The Mole

The story starts in 1912. Elinor and her brother, Toby, are also best friends and share secrets. While Elinor is at Slade art school and her brother studies medicine close by, she meets Kit and Paul and the 4 of them are to find their lives touching throughout the forthcoming war years. The story then skips forward to 1917 and Toby is reported 'Missing, Believed Killed' and Elinor has difficulty accepting this. Someone must know for sure what happened.

The first half of the story hinges around Elinor and her determination to become an accomplished artist, despite the dependence others seem to place on her; Toby when he's seriously ill; her mother when the news of Toby is delivered; Paul when he returns from France, injured. During this part of the story we encounter some of the truly horrific facial injuries that soldiers actually sustained during the first world war.

The second half of the story is Kit's back story. Kit worked as a stretcher bearer under Toby's command on the very front line and is the most likely person to know what happened to him. Suffering a facial injury and dreaming (or are these nightmares?) under the effects of morphine for his pain we learn of the horrors of the front line and the sheer terror Kit lived under.

While all the horrors painted by Barker come through clearly and impact the reader, that impact is not presented in the stomach churning way that it could turn squeamish readers off, more that they make you think that 'yes, there must have been many people that were maimed in this way and had to live with it after the war' whether that injury was bodily or mental.

A book that is extremely riveting and thought provoking covering issues that many people won't be comfortable with but in a way that makes it totally acceptable. Also, despite, great loss in the story this is not really a tear jerker as it manages to stand to one side on all these issues.

So many books I have read lately I have not 'enjoyed' - but what does that mean? A happy ending? A happy getting there? But that's not required to feel it was a great read, one you couldn't put down and were hankering to get back to and that you end up glad you read and continue to think about after you have finished it. This was certainly one of those books.

Publisher - Penguin
Genre - Adult Historical Fiction

Buy Toby's Room from Amazon

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Lowdham Book Festival

A few months ago I had the delight of reading ML Stedman's d├ębut novel The Light Between Oceans - a wonderfully atmospheric and engrossing tug-of-love story - so when I heard the author would be appearing at the relatively local Lowdham Book Festival I told The Mole we had to go! I also suggested he read the novel first - which he did.

The event was billed as Coffee and Cake with debut novelists Rachel Joyce and ML Stedman to be chaired by Alison Barrow from Transworld Publishers and held in the slightly unusual but very beautiful St Mary's Church. As it turned out, due to hold-ups with the train bringing ML Stedman and Alison Barrow, the audience started on the coffee and cake before they arrived - an excellent way to keep everyone happy and occupied while waiting for the vagaries of transport.

The real event started with Rachel Joyce and ML Stedman reading short teaser sections from their respective novels and then chatting to Alison Barrow before throwing the discussion open to the audience. Topics covered included the authors approach to writing, how and where to get their thoughts into words, striking a balance between the creative world and the real one, the route to publication, future novel writing plans. A comment of ML Stedman's that particularly struck me was how she sees her novel as a chrysalis (while working on it) now turned into a butterfly heading out among readers and coming back with their thoughts of what the book meant to them or how they saw the characters.
I normally go to events involving an author whose work I've read and loved, I suppose in the hope of gleaning extra insight into their novels or them as a person. This time there was an author who had deeply impressed me - and one of whom I knew nothing. The extract from and talk of Rachel Joyce's novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry have whetted by appetite enough that I now intend to track it down and read it.

Both books are published by Transworld.

The event still has a few days to run and the timetable shows that the events are varied and include a cooking demonstration by the kind person that provided the cakes for this event.

Read The Mole's review and/or mine

Monday 25 June 2012

The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

The Blurring of Right and Wrong
Review by The Mole

Tom Sherbourne came through the first world war unscathed and carries the scars of guilt and the horrors he endured. He has joined the lighthouse service to get away from people and to heal although he meets Izzy and they marry and return to the remote lighthouse, Janus,
 where Izzy longs for a child. Shortly after her third miscarriage a boat washes up with a dead man and a baby wrapped in a ladies cardigan and Izzy persuades Tom to do the 'wrong' thing for once.

What is 'right' and what is 'wrong' though?

If you want a tale of bunnies with a happy ending and justice for all then may I recommend that this is not the book for you - try Beatrix Potter either The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies or Peter Rabbit. It is the story of a moment's decision that has to be lived with for the rest of life.

Everyone of the characters came to life for me. First there was Tom who I wanted to shake and say 'no, no, no!' almost from the word go and at several points in the story. I felt both his and Izzy's pain and dilemma and understood them.When we met Hannah I could see her viewpoint and understand her but I wanted her to see what that decision would do and was doing. Gwen... well I didn't really get her that well, I would have expected at least some real loyalty but both sets of grandparents were so true to life, and the police men with their mixture of humanity and ambitions. In fact the entire cast of characters leapt out at me and that made the final chapter even more difficult. This chapter is one of the longest nine pages I have ever read. Before embarking on chapter 37 I strongly recommend having a box of tissues at hand. A BIG box. And if you normally weep easily get a friend to hold your hand while you read it.

Maryom and I have debated the ending... it was the ending she wanted but not the one I expected although having finished a few days ago I can reflect and look back at it and say that there could not be a better ending.

A story of life, love, prejudices and natural justice. I highly recommend this book to... well anyone really.

Maryom reviewed this book as well.

Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult fiction

Buy The Light Between Oceans from Amazon

Friday 22 June 2012

My Family and Other Freaks by Carol Midgley

Review by Maryom

Danielle Dench is desperate to attract the attention of  dreamy, delicious Damian - but not in the cringe-making way she does when a smelly dog-related accident gets her the nick-name of Dench the Stench. That's not at all the sort of image she was looking for! As if that isn't enough, her family are all weird; her parents are still in 'lurve' (at their age!); her little sister likes playing dress-up and make-overs with the dog, and big brother Rick has a bedroom that smells like a wrestler's bottom!
These aren't all of her problems though - her parents have a little surprise for the family and Simon the dog seems to be getting increasingly out of control. Life seems to just line up things for schoolmates to make fun of!

Written in the form of Danielle's diary, My Family and other Freaks is a brilliantly hilarious look at the trials and tribulations of teenage life - from unrequited love to embarrassing parents and troublesome pets. A book that will have you laughing out loud - unless you're hissing at the villain, Danielle's arch-rival Treasure Cavendish with her expensive clothes, perfect hair and day-glo orange skin. Yes, you can tell where the plot is leading but after all it's a teen romcom so a happy ending is guaranteed.

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - Quercus 
Genre - teen, real-life, comedy,

Buy My Family and Other Freaks from Amazon

Thursday 21 June 2012

Crossing Over by Anna Kendall

review by Maryom

Roger has a gift that he would rather be without - when in pain he can cross over to the land of the Dead. This skill is something that his bullying uncle makes him use to make money - contacting the recently deceased for their relatives, rather like a face-to-face seance. It isn't a way of life that Roger likes but when he has to fend for himself, he has no idea of what else he may be able to do. Via a job in the Royal laundry he is discovered by the Queen who decides his gift may be just as useful to her in her attempts to gain control of the throne and power she feels is rightfully hers.

For a lot of the book there's very little 'fantasy'. The action takes place in a vague historical setting with an unusual matriarchal structure. There's a lot of royal politics and plotting - death by poison, treaties sealed in the bedroom - before the real 'fantasy' begins. Roger is very much an average teenager, has no real idea what he wants to do with life, imagines himself in love - or in lust might be more accurate - with almost any pretty girl he meets and even the Queen herself and - of course - overlooks the girl who loves him!

 Even so I found it to be an enjoyable read and although a YA book it's written in a way that should appeal to older fantasy readers - a lot of fantasy does of course follow a teenager growing into their powers. The ending rounds off but leaves it clear that more is to follow ( I knew that though as this book was part of a 2 book competition win). I feel book 2 of the series will start in with more fantasy from the start - watch this space as I'll be reading it soon!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Gollancz

Genre - Teen/YA Fantasy

Tuesday 19 June 2012

A Cool Head by Ian Rankin

Short but not Sweet
review by Maryom

Gravy likes to help out his friend Benjy whenever he can by keeping things safe for him, hiding them in the cemetery grounds where he works. But then one day Benjy turns up with a gun in one bag, a huge stash of cash in another - and a bullet in his chest. Gravy finds himself caught in a web of gangland intrigue with several 'hard men' trying to recover the money, each with their own personal reasons to cover up events.
A Cool Head is one of the Quick Reads series but at just over 100 pages it manages to pack is as many twists and turns as many a longer novel. The plot is satisfyingly complex. The characters are convincing and well-developed, even if some are a little stereotypical - the gangland boss who owns a scrapyard for easy disposal of  incriminating evidence; the 'going straight' brother running a casino.

An ideal read if you're looking for something short and snappy.

This is yet another book I picked it up through Bookcrossing and it's sat on my TBR pile for a year or more - glad I've got round to reading it at last!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orion

Genre - adult crime thriller, may appeal to older teens/YA

Buy A Cool Head (Quick Reads) from Amazon

Monday 18 June 2012

Savita Kalhan - Author Interview

Today we're delighted to welcome Savita Kalhan author of teen thriller "The Long weekend" - a dark, disturbing tale of the consequences of accepting a lift from a stranger.

 We are very pleased to have the opportunity to pose a few questions to Savita today.


Many readers have described The Long Weekend as frightening. We have both read it and both found it an exciting adventure. How did you see this book as you wrote it?
I wasn’t really sure where the book would go when I first began it. Sam’s voice was very clear; the scenario was very clear; I knew it would be a dark read, but beyond that nothing was very clear.
In hindsight I think I was trying to achieve a combination of all those things really – although the adventure aspect to the story is supposed to be more frightening than simply exciting. Early on when the manuscript was submitted, I was asked whether I would consider turning it purely into a kidnap/adventure story and remove the references to the abuse entirely. I decided that I couldn’t do that. It felt like ripping the heart out of the story. I wanted the book to be an exciting, frightening, thrilling read that would be memorable – particularly to teens.
You created a totally plausible scenario for the children to trust a stranger - is this something that you see as a real risk? And is this a fear that you have ever had?
The scene where the boys get into the stranger’s car had to be very plausible – the whole story hangs on that moment. Sam and Lloyd behave in a way that kids can sometimes behave  – acting on impulse, without thought; they make an assumption, which ends up having terrifying consequences.
Children are trusting by nature. They are easily distracted, manipulated and bribed. That innocence makes them easy prey. So, yes, I wanted to make the scenario entirely plausible for that reason. Although I didn’t set out with this as my aim, I do want kids to think before they act, especially with Facebook and other social media opening a wider world to them. So it is a real risk, and certainly a fear that I have had, both as a child and as a parent.
Do you think that children take the risk that strangers can present as seriously as they should and do you think fiction can help?

Kids get lots of lectures and talks from their parents, from school, from visiting police officers, about the risk that strangers can present. They would probably never think themselves stupid enough to get into a stranger’s car, or follow where a stranger might lead them, and by stranger I mean a child abuser. But we all know that it happens. I don’t know how much fiction can help, but I do know that many teachers have commented that The Long Weekend is better than any school talk on stranger-danger might have been in bringing to life the real dangers.
Sam tucks the knives from the knife block into his rucksack but when he needs the comfort of a weapon he never considers them - was this something you chose or your editor suggested and why?
No one has ever asked that question before, and it’s a good one! Yes, you’re right. Just before Sam leaves the house after freeing Lloyd, he does put the knives in his rucksack, and that rucksack stays with him until the end of the story. And, yes, he never thinks of taking one of the knives out his bag when he is need of a weapon. The reason is that it does not occur to him at all. Sam is eleven years old, a small kid, terrified, running for his life, burdened by the knowledge that Lloyd has been abused and that it’s all down to Sam to get them out of there. He hates their abductor with all his might – but to use a knife? A potting fork, a giant marble, anything else, he considers, but never to stab the man with a knife. He didn’t think of the knives because the knives were not an option for him.
When did you first want to be a writer and what was the influence that brought this desire about?

I love books and I love reading. I wrote stories when I was much younger, but then I stopped writing, although I never stopped reading. When I was living in the Middle East in a country where  access to books was extremely difficult, I began writing again. It started out as a bit of fun between a friend and I. We were reading a lot of fantasy epics, which were very difficult to smuggle into the kingdom, (no kindle then!), and we became frustrated with the quality of the stories and the writing. We decided to write one together – only I ended up writing them and my friend ended up reading them. That’s how it started. When I returned to the UK my focus changed – the nature of my writing, although still dark, became rooted in real, contemporary situations.
You were about ready to go into publication with a second novel before Frances Lincoln were taken over and we believe you are now looking for a publisher again for it. Can you tell us anything about the story?
Well, the takeover of Frances Lincoln Books by Quarto and the subsequent decision to axe the Teen/YA division was heart-breaking. Not only was a wonderful list of books axed, authors contracts cancelled, but some amazing, forward-thinking, and very skilled editors lost their jobs. The teen/YA market is expanding, not shrinking, so Quarto’s decision is extremely short-sighted.
Yes, I am now looking for a new home for my latest novel. It’s called Amnesia, and it’s about a fourteen year old boy who wakes up in a hospital bed with no recollection of how he got there. He soon realises that he has no memory at all – he does not even recognise his mother, or even his own reflection.
Thank you  so much for asking me to do this interview!

Thank you for visiting and talking to us.

We've both read and been enthralled by The Long Weekend - read our separate reviews hereThe Mole ; Maryom 

If we've whetted your appetite you can see a trailer for it here and read more on Savita's site.

Friday 15 June 2012

A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil by Christopher Brookmyre

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?
review by Maryom

When two inexpertly disposed-of dead bodies are discovered  DS Karen Gillespie feels like she's returned to her schooldays. Not only was one of the bodies a class mate but the two chief suspects were as well... and the celebrity lawyer that one of them persuades to help for old times' sake ....and the pub landlady that the lawyer tries to pump for information and other things. The clues to the murderer's identity are not going to be found by the normal processes of forensics and interrogation of suspects but by delving into the shared past of these characters. While DS Gillespie uncovers a trail of corruption in the local planning department, it seems that more hinges on what these people got up to back in primary school.

Despite the whodunnit crime novel set up most of the story is told in flashbacks to the characters' schooldays - sometimes funny, sometimes painful look back at childhood and the influences it has on later 'grown-up' life.
If you like your humour dark and twisted, you'll love this - the opening scenes of totally inept body disposal were some of the funniest things I've read in ages.

Warning - a lot of the language throughout is robust, colourful or crude, depending on your viewpoint - maybe to be expected in the fumbling idiots trying to dispose of the bodies in the opening scene but not so much from a group of  5 year olds just starting at primary school.

This book has been sitting on the TBR pile for a long long while. Having read and immensely enjoyed Brookmyre's All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye, I bought this one for my hubby, who decided it wasn't his kind of thing (!) and I've been meaning to read it myself ever since. So glad I did!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Little, Brown
Genre - Crime, humour

Buy A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil from Amazon

Thursday 14 June 2012

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

review by Maryom

 Twenty-two year old Grace Winter is one of three women standing trial for their actions while adrift on a lifeboat, following the sinking of  the liner that was carrying her and her newly-wed husband home to America. At first the women appeared to be among the lucky ones to get a place in a boat but as the anticipated rescue doesn't arrive the occupants realise that not all of them will survive - how can you decide who will live and who die? From refusing to pick up other survivors to distributing the meagre rations to calling for volunteers to abandon the over-crowded, under-equipped lifeboat - where should one draw the line?

 The novel starts excellently - with Grace standing open-mouthed in the rain remembering doing the same in the lifeboat when desperate for every last drop of fresh water. I thought this really captured the changed attitude of someone who had lived through the dreadful ordeal of being adrift without food or water, and not knowing if they would survive.. Rogan also manages through Grace's diary to convey how the world appears to have shrunk to the limits of the lifeboat while at the same time the boat itself appears as only a speck on the ocean.

On this first reading though, I found myself a little disappointed by the unfolding of the story and its conclusion. Somehow I expected something more/different. Perhaps I read it rather too quickly - I was pulled along by the writing style and very much wanted to know what had happened to the survivors. But I found myself expecting a climax that never came. Yet having reached the end, I wonder if I'd misread the story. In the last few chapters, Grace came over as a far more manipulative person than I'd imagined her to be which casts a whole new light on events. Had I been taken in by Grace as so many within the story had? This is definitely a book I will re-read - I'm just not sure how easy it will be to reach a firm conclusion even then.

Publisher - Virago
Genre - Adult Fiction, Literary

Buy The Lifeboat from Amazon Maryom's review - 4 stars

Wednesday 13 June 2012

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

 review by Maryom

When the battered body of Irini Asimakopoulos is found at the bottom of a cliff on the Greek island of Thiminos, all her neighbours are quick to jump to the conclusion of suicide. With the right sort of (monetary) consideration the police are persuaded to write it up as an accident but then Hermes Diaktoros, a stranger to the island, arrives from Athens intent on a fuller investigation. No one knows quite who he is or who he represents - he's not police, and won't say who exactly he's investigating on behalf of beyond the enigmatic 'higher power'. The accident/suicide begins to look increasingly like murder - but if so, who is the culprit? Irini's lover Theo, her enraged husband Andreas or maybe even the corrupt head of the local police? Diaktoros sets about discovering the island's secrets, righting its wrongs

I must admit to never having heard of Anne Zouroudi before I noticed an up-coming event with her in our local Waterstones, but that encouraged me to get the library to order in this copy of the first of her 'Greek Detective' series. The Messenger of Athens is an old-fashioned whodunnit rather than a crime thriller and Hermes Diaktoros is rather like Hercule Poirot - clearing up the mystery by talking to people and uncovering all their hidden thoughts and actions. I think I've grown used to a faster-paced, full of action thriller as I found the quiet pace rather too slow.
What I did love though was the atmosphere. Almost all the events - even in flash back - take place 'out of season' when the island is bleak, windswept and often cut off from the mainland by rough seas - a place far removed from the sunny idyll seen by tourists.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre - Adult Crime, Whodunnit

Buy The Messenger of Athens (Mysteries of/Greek Detective 1) from Amazon

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Lascar by Shahida Rahman

A history not to be proud of
Review by The Mole

Ayan and his brother, Kazi, are orphans raised by missionaries until they are too old for the orphanage and are turned out onto the street. After trials and tribulations they establish a rice farm while Kazi also plants a betelnut tree. Things go well until Kazi develops a tumour from chewing betelnuts. Without enough money to pay for a doctor for him, Ayan signs on as a Lascar - paid to do the dirty work below decks on ships as his father had before.

This is not an exciting adventure story, a romance or a murder mystery although it has elements of all of these in it. It is a fictional history and while it is doubtful that everything that happens could ever all happen to one man, it is totally plausible that each part of the story did happen to someone. In fact the way the story is presented and explained I am sure it did and frankly I feel ashamed that anyone, regardless of nationality, could ever treat people in this manner.

Having said all of that, I am extremely happy that I read it. Incidents highlighted here - many of cruelty, some of love, some of friendship, of loyalty and kindness - are told in language that brings each story to life and touches the reader. A very good read that will be 'enjoyed' by people that care. Care about who they are and about other people as well.

Just one warning though... the proof reading and editing is less than perfect but this in no way detracts from the story and message that this book contains.

Publisher - Indigo Dreams Publishing
Genre - Adult Historical Fiction - but I'm sure younger readers would find it of interest too.

Buy Lascar from Amazon

Monday 11 June 2012

Jane McLoughlin - Author Interview

Neither Here Nor There
When the kind people at Our Book Reviews allowed me to write a guest blog during the week of At Yellow Lake’s publication, I thought a good idea might be to talk about being an American writer working primarily in the UK.

This doesn’t put me in a unique position, of course. Some of Britain’s most accomplished and celebrated writers for children, Meg Rosoff and Patrick Ness, to name but two, are American. And go to a SCBWI British Isles conference, and you may wonder if children’s writers are the latest secret weapon sent over by the United States to implement its cultural takeover of the UK. (We are—but keep that under your hat!)

If asked about my nationality, describe myself as a US citizen who’s a long-time UK resident. I’m not yet a UK citizen, primarily because I haven’t bothered to fill in the vast amounts of paperwork, or cough up the exorbitant fees, that are necessary to become a citizen proper. I’m also not over-keen on the “oath of allegiance” that’s required. In fact, even as a child, reciting the US “Pledge of Allegiance” made me feel a bit queasy and dishonest. Binding loyalty to Queen or flag—I’ll pass on both!

However, even though I’ve lived in the UK half my life, and have strong links with family and friends in the US, I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about the distinctions between the two countries in terms of writing for children. My sense of identity is a little bit wonky; my cultural connections to both the US and the UK seem diluted and blurred. I worry that my characters all speak in a sort of mid-Atlantic accent, neither British nor American. I wonder if I could ever really capture life in a British school, even though I actually teach in one. At the same time, the world of the American school—the sports stuff, the cars, the lockdowns, the prom—is totally bewildering to me. The last American teen I had a real connection to was myself—and that was a long time ago!

So—does this long-term cultural disorientation make writing easier, or more difficult?  On the one hand, I don’t feel totally at home in either place, and I wonder if my lack of deep connectedness makes my writing ring false. On the other hand, what’s wrong with being disconnected, especially if you’re writing for teenagers?

Isn’t the world of the child or teenager one that’s riddled with disconnections? Their bodies and outlooks are changing at an astonishing speed. They are often confused by the conventions and expectations of schools and society. The world of adults might as well be a foreign country to them.

It’s possible, then, that being unsure or unsettled is a positive thing for writer. Feeling slightly awkward and out of place might help bring us closer to the uncertain worlds and often unstable lives we are trying to convey. 

Neither here nor there—maybe it’s not a bad place to call home.

Jane McLoughlin's book "At Yellow Lake" has just been published but Maryom has already read, enjoyed and reviewed it and we wish Jane every success with her debut novel.

Friday 8 June 2012

Ed Hogan - Author interview

Posted by Maryom

Today I'm extremely pleased to welcome Edward Hogan to the blog. For anyone who hasn't discovered his work yet, he's the author of two adult novels, Blackmoor and The Hunger Trace, and a teen story, Daylight Saving - all set very firmly in my home area of Derbyshire.

 I love novels where I can pin down a location - I grew up surrounded by DH Lawrence story settings, have checked Google maps to plot Isabel Dalhousie's walks through Edinburgh and ordinance survey ones to locate Iain Banks' Gallanach, a fictitious town set in a very real location. So when I thought I'd recognised the place down the road in The Hunger Trace, I had to ask....

 Did you set the story in actual physical locations or blend several places to create a necessary landscape?  The wildlife park is fairly obviously based on Riber Zoo near Matlock and there are lots of references in your novels to local Derby 'landmarks' (such as the neon Co-op cow that illuminates the sky line). It's not a secret that you grew up near Derby, but you've lived in other places too. Are they not as inspiring? Might a future novel be set elsewhere?

It's definitely a blend of places.  Some of the spaces are very real, but I could never work with a totally real village or town because I have a seriously bad sense of direction.  It's quite extraordinary, and I probably need to get it checked out!  I can't follow directions or maps, and I often remember streets the wrong way round.  Drum Hill Wildlife Park is based quite heavily on Riber Castle as a location, but none of the characters are based on those people associated with it.  The idea of a wildlife park on a hill, and the animals breaking free and roaming the village, was the first image I had for the book.  There were several animal escapes and break-ins at Riber in its later days.  I read about expensive tortoises being stolen, and rare deer being butchered and dragged off in the night, and wallabies breaking out.  I couldn't ignore that!  Eddie Hallam, who ran Riber in its early days, when it was more of a conservation park, really helped me with research.  He's incredibly knowledgeable about animals and animal welfare, and he asked me to point out that nobody in the novel is based on him!!
   In terms of Detton, the village in The Hunger Trace, it has a little bit of everywhere.  For the benefit of those who live in Derbyshire, that would be Little Eaton and Duffield, Belper, Morley Lane and Breadsall.  Matlock Bath is mentioned by name.  Some places are entirely fictional, too.  Once I've got the main locations, I tend to draw little maps and floorplans to help me get the space right, and conquer this confusion I have. 
   As for future novels, I've lived on the south coast for a while now, and I find that the sea is gradually making its presence felt in my writing.  But the voices I hear in my head are often Derbyshire ones.

In both The Hunger Trace and Blackmoor the plot twists round its setting almost inseparably. Which comes first, the story or location? Did one have to shape itself round the other? Did you think 'I want to set a novel in a wildlife park or a coal mining village' or did the story development necessitate such a setting?

I suppose I do come up with locations quite early in the process.  With Blackmoor, I was really taken by this idea of a village with dangerous pit-gases bubbling up under the surface.  It seemed like such a rich metaphor for the 'return of the repressed' in terms of the characters and their secrets, and also for the unfinished political business of coal-mining.  I may even have overdone it a bit!  Location is often about a feeling, for me.  How does a place feel?  I guess, when you look at all the ancient stories, they're often about cursed kingdoms etc.  Maybe that's where it comes from.
   Also, the idea of community is very interesting to me.  

Your latest novel Daylight Saving is aimed at teens. Is this a permanent departure from adult fiction? Was it always intended to be a teen novel or did it just pan out that way? - after all, Blackmoor has a central teenage character but wouldn't fall into teen/YA fiction.

I am currently working on ideas for both YA and adult stories.  Daylight Saving was a pleasure to write because the idea just arrived in a real burst, and I wrote it quicker than I've written anything before or since.  I had my character, Daniel, and a girl coming out of the water at the sports holiday camp, and it was a case of unravelling the mystery.  I'd been reading quite a bit of YA, because there are so many interesting writers doing unusual things, so I was conscious, quite early, of the fact that it was a YA novel, but I didn't think too hard about that aspect.  I just tried to do justice to the idea and the characters, like I do with any book. 

Your motto is, according to your publishers web-page, Double Your Failure Rate. What do you mean by this? It doesn't seem a very positive attitude..

Ha!  It's quite positive, really.  It's sort of sales speak, and it's a bit tongue-in-cheek.  It's just a way to remind myself that writing a novel is a process, and you might have to do it wrong many, many times before you do it right, and that's fine.  Reminding myself of that helps to pick me up when I feel discouraged.

Blackmoor was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize and won the Desmond Elliot Prize. I've just heard that The Hunger Trace has been nominated for The Encore Award - aimed specifically at second novels. It must be extremely rewarding and exciting to see your work acclaimed in this way....

It's lovely, and I'm very grateful.  I've been extremely lucky to get published and get a bit of recognition, but I'm just a beginner, really.  Prizes will come and go, and it's important to remember that the main joy of being a writer, I reckon, is sitting at your desk and making things up.

Many thanks to Edward for visiting us today and taking time out to answer questions. I'm looking forward to his next offering - maybe a tale of Derby folk on a trip to the seaside?

To find out more about Edward Hogan visit his Simon&Schuster author page  
Read Maryom's reviews; Daylight SavingBlackmoor, The Hunger Trace,

Thursday 7 June 2012

The Vampire of Highgate By Asa Bailey

Modern Day Legends
Review by The Mole

Kathy is a college student living with her adopted parents when she starts having dreams of her sister, Amber, and feels a compulsion to go and find the sister she has never known. It's a journey of discovery in which her family try to protect and help her - by hiding from her what she needs to know to protect herself.

The story is built around a modern(ish) legend of vampires at Highgate cemetery and placing Vampires pretty firmly as the bad guys -  where I like to see them. The plot leaves us looking over her shoulder and saying to her... "But that's not right - and you should know!" but we are also left in the dark as to why she doesn't... until almost the last minute that is.

A very enjoyable read that will still, I'm sure, appeal to readers who like their vampires as the good guys although here they are very undoubtedly bad. Kathy is a character that you will grow to love quite quickly perhaps because she is abused by both friends and family although we don't really get to know any other of the characters - which is just as well as, being a vampire book, they disappear at a rate of knots!

The readers who will like this are a well established group but if you do like the vampires bad then you will enjoy it too.

Publisher - Hodder Children's
Genre - Teen Fiction, Vampires

Buy The Vampire of Highgate from Amazon

Wednesday 6 June 2012

After Brock by Paul Binding

 review by Maryom

18 year old Nat Kempsey has been missing on the Berwyn mountains for 5 days. Home safe after a police helicopter rescue, Nat's adventures have rekindled memories of his father Pete's similar experience back in the 70s - but the reasons behind the two events couldn't be more different. Infatuated by his charismatic but volatile friend Sam, Pete had gone along on a midnight dash looking for UFOs- a trip that was to end in physical and emotional disaster- the memories of which he's tried to repress. Under the probing of a local journalist it soon becomes apparent that Nat's disappearance was maybe not so accidental.

The Berwyn mountains are a strange other worldly place associated in Welsh myth with the entrance to the underworld Annwn. For both Nat and Pete the ascent of the cliff by Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall to reach the open moorland above represents a physical and emotional high. Here they discover a place to be at peace with oneself and at one with nature - the world waiting for them after the descent is not so kindly or forgiving.

After Brock is an interesting, enjoyable read from a 'new-to-me' author, dealing with teenage relationships with peers and parents, the struggle of finding oneself among conflicting opinions and 'becoming a man'. Both Pete and Nat are portrayed at turning points of their lives; the time spent in the mountains being almost a rite of passage into adulthood. It look me a while to 'warm' to either of these characters though my sympathy for Pete increased as the true nature of his devastating loss became apparent.
A lot of the story is told as a flashback to Pete's teenage years and there's rather a nostalgic look at the 70s - at an era I thought I remembered, but, from the amount of things that surprised me, obviously not too well. One thing left me really puzzled though - where have all the UFOs gone? I haven't heard of any for years!

Maryom's review -  3.5 stars
Publisher - SerenBooks

Genre -  adult fiction

Buy After Brock from Amazon

Friday 1 June 2012

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul

Who Did It?
 review by Maryom

One quiet morning Halland leaves his house, walks across the square and is killed by a shot from a hunting rifle. Is it an accident? Someone taking a pot shot at a deer? Or was someone deliberately out to kill him?

This novella is a murder mystery with a difference - not a 'whodunnit' but an exploration of bereavement. Although there is a detective trying to puzzle things out, events unfold not from his perspective but from that of Halland's partner Bess. Like the fjord that ripples in constantly changing blues and greens, the simple telling of her story hides uncharted depths. So many small everyday items and events remind her of Halland and their life together, that she feels she's living in perpetual flashbacks. The reader learns about her estranged daughter, rarely seen in the past 10 years, her unsympathetic mother, the ex-husband who after all these years still feels hopeful that they can get back together again. And Halland's little personal and financial secrets all come tumbling out of the closet too....

At one point Bess comments that her mother had the ability to repeat words in a way that completely changed their meaning - and that's how I felt at times as I read, that so many of the phrases and sentences could be interpreted more than one way. I'm not sure if this was in part down to translation - although smooth and readable I wondered if some nuances might have been lost - or if it was deliberate. I'd love to read this with a like-minded group to be able to bounce ideas around and hear their conclusions. This is in a way an interim review - I want to re-read The Murder of Halland in the light of things disclosed later in the book to see if I can to a firm conclusion.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

 Buy The Murder of Halland from Amazon or check out Peirene's website for offers and subscription deals.