Wednesday 30 April 2014

Toby's Room by Pat Barker

 review by Maryom

"Pat Barker returns to the First World War in Toby's Room, a dark, compelling novel of human desire, wartime horror and the power of friendship.
When Toby is reported 'Missing, Believed Killed', another secret casts a lengthening shadow over Elinor's world: how exactly did Toby die - and why? Elinor determines to uncover the truth. Only then can she finally close the door to Toby's room. Moving from the Slade School of Art to Queen Mary's Hospital, where surgery and art intersect in the rebuilding of the shattered faces of the wounded, Toby's Room is a riveting drama of identity, damage, intimacy and loss. Toby's Room is Pat Barker's most powerful novel yet."

When this first arrived with us it was read and reviewed by The Mole  but I'd always intended reading it myself. With other -unreviewed books piling up, it took a while for me to get round to it - and when I did I wasn't overly impressed so I didn't put up my own thoughts. Then, earlier this week, I read a review of it on  Beauty Is  A Sleeping Cat blog as part of this year's Literature and War Readalong, so I've decided to chip in with my bit after all.

Elinor and her brother Toby are closer than normal siblings; a dangerous closeness that leads to incest and guilt which shadows Elinor's life afterwards. Via art school and medical training, the story moves forward to WW1 and Toby's death. The details of it aren't made public and Elinor is determined to find out what precisely happened. Meanwhile, she's accepted a position drawing and documenting the surgery involved in facial reconstruction which brings her into contact with mutual friends who might hold the key to Toby's death.

Despite all the praise lavished on it, this wasn't a book that grabbed me at all. I couldn't really grasp where the story was going; first it seemed to head one way, then move off at a tangent.  Was it meant to be a story of family secrets or artistic development or the horrors of war? Perhaps this randomness is more like 'real' life than fiction - but it failed to capture me because of it.
A lot of the characters also fell flat, seeming rather two-dimensional and hollow. Elinor particularly, though torn between closeness and repulsion for Toby, mainly came over as cold and unfeeling, and I just didn't care what happened to her. In checking links etc for this review I've discovered that several of the main characters, Elinor, Paul Tarrant and Kit Neville, appeared in a previous book by Pat Barker, Life Class set at the Slade School of Art and I wonder if not having read that has made a difference to my reading of Toby's Room.
I didn't think there was too much of a mystery about what happened to Toby - maybe there was for Elinor but not for me, picking up the clues as I read along.
All in all, it just left me rather unmoved and uncaring.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Penguin

Genre - adult, WW1

Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Lying-down Room by Anna Jaquiery

review by Maryom

In the sweltering heat of a Parisian summer, Commandant Serge Morel is called to an unusual murder scene - to the casual eye, the elderly victim, Isabelle Dufour, could almost seem to have died peacefully in her sleep - if it weren't for the too-carefully arranged body, and the heavy grotesque makeup and bright red wig worn by the deceased.
It's a crime scene short on clues - the only possible lead is a pile of religious pamphlets found on the victim's bedside table and attention is soon focussed on the distributors - a middle-aged man accompanied by a mute teenage boy - who seem to have been targeting elderly women.Why would anyone have anything to fear from such a pair? Looking for the answer leads Morel and his team to the remote countryside of Brittany and back in time to the days of Soviet Russia.

The Lying-down Room is an interesting and enjoyable start to a new crime series - set in Paris and 'starring' Commandant Serge Morel, a quiet 'thinking' detective who creates origami sculptures to relax and focus his thoughts. He of course has problems of his own (what fictional cop doesn't have?) - his elderly father, slipping rapidly into senility; a long-term relationship with a married woman; and the return of a woman from his past - in addition to under-funding, under-staffing and a boss more interested in statistics and looking good on TV than diligent police work.
Both characters and plot-line hooked me almost from the first page. The story is unusual without descending into depths of blood-letting and gore; the characters well-rounded although I suspect they, particularly the minor ones, will develop more over the coming books. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more in this series.
Mixing police procedural with insights into the perpetrator's head lets the reader get a step or two ahead of the police, while an increasing body-count ups the tension. Only one quibble - the title somewhat points the reader in the direction of the guilty party.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adult,
crime, police procedural, 

Buy The Lying Down Room (Serge Morel 1) from Amazon

Monday 28 April 2014

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

review by Maryom

"Imagine a world without sleep. A world driven to the brink of exhaustion. A waking nightmare."

 We've all had that odd night when, no matter what, we couldn't get to sleep and know how shattered we'd feel the next day. But imagine a world where no one can sleep - not just for a single night but ever! That's the dystopian scenario of Kenneth Calhoun's debut novel Black Moon. The world has been overcome by insomnia - no one knows how it started or why but gradually the signs have been spreading and now the majority of people can no longer sleep. Here and there a lucky few still have to knack of falling soundly asleep - but they quickly learn to disguise this for nothing enrages the sleepless like the sight of someone sleeping! Without sleep, and, as importantly, without dreams, hallucinations take over, all normal behaviour ceases, all concepts of humanity are eroded.
Through this nightmare setting, we follow the stories of a few individuals;  Biggs, one of the few sleepers, in search of his insomniac wife Carolyn; Lila, another sleeper, sent to a supposed safe haven by her parents before they themselves lost all sense through lack of sleep; Chase and his friend Jordan who thinks there's money to be made with sleep-inducing drugs stolen from a drug store; and Felicia, Chase's ex-girlfriend, who works at a sleep study centre - maybe somehow the people who've studied lack of sleep for so long can now find a cure for it.

Black Moon is a hard-to-describe novel, a literary-zombie-dystopian mix that takes the reader into a speculative world where the most precious commodity is something we all take for granted - sleep. 

I heard about this book through Twitter (in fact it's a Twitter-competition-win) and was intrigued by the concept - what would happen if I couldn't sleep at all?  Insomnia is something I've never really suffered from - being kept awake by babies is different, as I'd have been happy to sleep if given the chance - but I've read of sleep deprivation being used as a torture/interrogation technique so the psychological effects must be deeply disturbing. I'm not sure whether the author answered my curiosity in this regard. Although the sufferers are shown wandering zombie-like through the background, the story concentrates on those who haven't quite reached this dreadful state. I think, being too used to encountering this kind of scenario in sci-fi reading, that I'd expected a more cut and dry ending, whether an upbeat 'miracle cure found' or no hope 'we're all doomed' one. Events didn't pan out the way I expected and I was left feeling wrong-footed, as if I'd been missing something all along.

Black Moon is a thought-provoking and intriguing read, even if it doesn't give quick, easy answers to the problems it raises. It's a novel for my re-read pile, this time using hindsight and knowledge of the ending to point me in the right direction.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
ogarth Press

Genre - adult, dystopian,

 Buy Black Moon from Amazon

Friday 25 April 2014

The Lovely Book for Wonderful Women by Lehla Eldridge

Review by The Mole

This is one of those gift books that is a token of love or friendship. Each page has a different suggestion of something to do to cheer yourself, or perhaps someone else who needs a lift. Bright strident colours adorn each page and sometimes a simple life goal: "Find something you are good at, enjoy it and make lots of money out of it." Clearly a tongue in cheek message but something to bring a smile to the reader's face.

Most of these messages are things I have seen female Facebook friends share with each other so there has to be a fair amount of appeal to these ideas but I know that it won't appeal to all women. But if your wife/friend/relative is this kind of person then this book is very likely a good idea for a present.

Publisher - Pinter and Martin
Genre - Adult, Gift book

Buy The Lovely Book for Wonderful Women from Amazon

Thursday 24 April 2014

Seventeen Coffins by Philip Caveney

Review by The Mole

We met Tom Afflick in Crow Boy when he suffered a time slip while visiting Mary King's Close and went back to the time of a plague in Edinburgh. He hasn't settled back comfortably into daily life and is haunted by memories so persuades his mum to let him revisit Mary King's Close. But the Close holds no answers and when visiting The National Museum he falls and strikes his head, once again causing a time slip.

This time he finds himself in 1828 and seeks lodgings in Tanner's Close after befriending Jamie, a vagrant. He survives by doing odd jobs for Billy and Will, a couple of Irish chaps who have offered him a roof but keeps slipping to alternative pasts and futures as he waits to return to his own future. But despite the danger he is in in 1828 (and there is plenty!) he is also being pursued across time by one of the characters from his time in Mary King's Close - and it's not to wish him well!! And once again Tom develops an affection for one of the girls he meets in history but the word 'love' is not used, which will please the boys. Poor old Tom certainly knows how to go for impossible friendships.

Who hasn't dreamed of going back in time and changing or accounting for a little bit of history? Well Tom creates such a paradox in this story and it's marvellously done. In fact is it 2 paradoxes?

 Another excellent story from Philip Caveney and this one is even better than Crow Boy as there is even more action but just as much history. Aimed at 9 and older this will appeal to both girls and boys. I thoroughly enjoyed this one as much as Crow Boy. If you haven't read Crow Boy then be warned that there are spoilers in this one - so get a copy of Crow Boy.

Publisher - Fledgling Press
Genre - Children's, historic, thriller

Buy Seventeen Coffins from Amazon

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

 review by Maryom

"Flocks of birds are hurling themselves at aeroplanes across America. Thousands of people die. Millions are stranded. Everyone knows the world will never be the same.

On Reese's long drive home, along a stretch of empty highway at night, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won't tell them what happened.

For Reese, though, this is just the start. She can't remember anything from the time between her accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: she's different now. Torn between longtime crush David and new girl Amber, the real question is: who can she trust?"

Adaptation is an unusual story in that it mixes sci-fi and conspiracy theories with teen romance and Reese's struggles to come to terms with her sexual orientation; so you could see it as a bit of something for everyone, or it could be that some readers are going to find bits of it more interesting than others. For me, it was very enjoyable. I liked the mix of teen relationship issues and government cover-ups, as Reese tries to work out her feelings for Amber and David, or goes out with long-term friend and conspiracy theorist Julian to search for evidence to back up his claims.
The pace seems a little uneven at times with the action scenes being fast and dramatic, and the relationship issues less so, but all in all it pulled me in and kept me reading.
My main gripe would be that, as so often, this isn't the whole story. Although the story finishes at a logical point, there's a sequel, Inheritance and also an ebook novella, Natural Selection, which tells Amber's side of the story.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hodder Childrens
Genre - YA/ teen, sci-fi, conspiracy theory, teen relaionships

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin

Review by The Mole

Darkus is a somewhat remarkable 13 year old boy. His father, a private investigator, is in a coma for some inexplicable reason and Darkus is waiting and hoping to see him wake from the coma. He has been studying his father's case notes and is sitting beside the bed discussing the cases to try to wake him. When he does finally waken then there is no-one there to witness it and he goes missing. And so the weirdness starts as, using his father's case notes, Darkus tries to stop the secret organisation called The Combination. The Combination has gained control of an ancient book containing a power that enables them to manipulate people, ordinary people who read a best selling book called The Combination, and have them commit crimes they would not normally contemplate.

Alan and Darkus Knightley - the father and son team - are two characters I just couldn't warm to. Alan has a personality that is flat and charmless yet arrogant and Darkus is no better for most of the book despite the naivety that he also shows - although towards the end this does improve. The real characters in this book are Uncle Bill - the head of a top secret police unit - and Tilly, Darkus's step sister.

Don't misunderstand though, I did enjoy the book and I'm sure the characters will develop in later books as the team investigate other crimes - hopefully still with Tilly's help and Uncle Bill's of course.

Publisher - Bloomsbury
Genre - Children's fiction

Buy Knightley and Son from Amazon

Monday 21 April 2014

Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash

Review by The Mole

"A deeply humane, piercingly funny, and already widely acclaimed new short story collection that features men and women we all know or might be.
The stories in Tom Barbash's evocative and often darkly funny collection explore the myriad ways we try to connect to one another and to the sometimes cruel world around us. The newly single mother in 'The Break' interferes with her son's love life over his Christmas vacation from college. The anxious young man in 'Balloon Night' persists in hosting his and his wife's annual watch-the-Macy's-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-floats-be-inflated party, while trying to keep the myth of his marriage equally afloat. The young narrator in 'The Women' watches his widowed father become the toast of Manhattan's midlife dating scene, as he struggles to find his own footing.
The characters in Stay Up with Me find new truths when the old ones have given out or shifted course. Barbash laces his narratives with sharp humour, psychological acuity, and pathos, creating deeply resonant and engaging stories that pierce the heart and linger in the imagination.

I generally prefer anthologies of short stories by different authors but this collection of stories really has a great harmony and style that works tremendously well. Summing the collection up is not easy which is why I have borrowed the publisher's synopsis. Overall its appeal comes from the continuity of style and the way that the approach to the theme differs so much with each story, yet it manages to be one complete collection.

David Mitchell is credited as saying that his favourite "...was always the story I'd just finished." and I certainly found that my favourite was the last in the book - "The Women". Or perhaps it was just such a perfect story to finish on? Or was it "Somebody's Son" because I found myself pondering it long after I'd moved on? Although the mother we see in "The Break" is someone we all know even if not quite to the same extreme. Or was it...? Perhaps I don't end up with a favourite after all but this collection will certainly go onto my shelf as I'm sure there is more enjoyment to be got from it on a re-read.

A really great read and the stories are short enough for coffee time reads although whether you will concentrate on anything else after, I don't know.

Currently available in kindle and hardback but shortly to be available in paperback.

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adult Short Stories

Buy Stay Up With Me from Amazon

Friday 18 April 2014

Fatal Act by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

After an argument a woman, an actress, storms out of the house of her boyfriend, a famous producer, and drives away in her Porsche only to die in a head-on collision with her boyfriend's van whose driver has disappeared. The question has to be asked as to why this has been referred as a murder investigation? A second actress dies and the common factor appears to be the producer. When the producer's son is murdered then there can only be one name in the frame, surely?

Returning for her sixth investigation, Geraldine Steel once again leads us through the routine encumbered by a boss who has decided who is guilty and wants no time wasted on pointless enquiries. At the same time her sergeant is constantly pushing her opinions and her 'sister', Celia, is trying to get her to maintain her social life and Nick, an inspector that shares her office, is trying to get her to go on a date. Chaos continues to surround Geraldine when DS Peterson - her sergeant from before her move to the met - phones to go out for a drink creating a temporary oasis of calm.

I really did like the way this incident with Peterson is mirrored in "Cold Sacrifice" which is the first DS Peterson mystery; it manages to add a degree of continuity to both stories. I have to say that early on I had figured a feature of the killer - I suspect we are supposed to - but the story is about finding out who and how Geraldine gets to the killer.

Geraldine is one of my favourite fictional detectives and this mystery does nothing to diminish her status. A great read with a twist at the end that I won't even hint at! (Check the murder count - ooops).

I really enjoyed this book and it is sure to please whodunnit readers and Steel fans wherever they may be. We were recently part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Fatal Act and Leigh talked about browser history

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Buy Fatal Act (A Geraldine Steel Mystery) from Amazon

Thursday 17 April 2014

Shattered by Teri Terry

review by Maryom

Shattered is the last  instalment of Teri Terry's gripping dystopian trilogy set in a not too distant future, where the standard punishment for offending teenagers is to be given a new start with their minds wiped clean - Slated. This is what happened to Kyla, but for some reason some of her memories have leaked back, leaving her with broken, disjointed glimpses of her past. I don't want to say more for fear of plot spoilers - if you've read Slated and Fractured  you know what's happened so far, and if you haven't I'd just completely ruin them for you.
Now, with a new look and a new identity, Kyla is off to the Lake District trying to behave as anyone of her age would - and, in fact, must according to government regulations - staying in an approved girls' hostel and signing up for an apprenticeship scheme. She's also on a journey into her past - meeting her 'real' mother of whom she has no recollection - and discovering, as her memories return, that there are more surprises in her past than she'd ever imagined possible.
As the last in the trilogy, the plot is bound to head for a grand showdown between good and evil, exposing the bad guys and with everyone living happily ever after....isn't it? Well, some of those elements are there but maybe not in quite the way you'd expect. There are more twists and turns, more doubt about who's on the good side and who on the bad, and the tension doesn't let up until the very end. Kyla is still full of doubt about who to trust, reason pulls her one way, feelings another. I could see that the author had faced some hard choices about how Kyla's story should end and I'm glad she didn't go for the easy way out - even though I'm not sure all readers will agree with me.

Shattered, in fact the whole trilogy, is a fantastic thriller but also touches on some interesting ideas about punishment and rehabilitation, and how a person's character is formed - is it 'hard-wired' from birth or capable of being changed for good or bad through circumstances? - making it an excellent choice for readers looking for something entertaining but thought-provoking.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orchard Books

Genre - Teenage Dystopian Thriller

Wednesday 16 April 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E Smith

review by Maryom

Despite living in the same apartment block, in the normal course of events Owen and Lucy would never have met. He lives in the basement with his newly-widowed father, the building's superintendent; she lives up on the 24th floor, with her rarely present jet-setting parents. But fate decides to take a hand in the form of a power cut - and when two people are stranded together in a lift, they can't help but say hello.With both of them left 'home alone', they decide to spend the rest of the blackout together and start out on the first steps to falling in love.
Having thrown them together, fate then decides to tear them apart - Lucy's parents insist she joins them in London, where she learns that they're to relocate from New York to Edinburgh; Owen meanwhile sets outs on a roadtrip across the US with his dad - echoing the one his parents took when they first met. They try to remain in touch through postcards and the odd e-mail but circumstances seem really set against them.

Despite starting with one of my most dreadful nightmares - being stuck in a lift - this is an absolutely delightful read. Yes, it's unashamedly romantic fiction, but without being gushy and sentimental, and although aimed at the teen market, I really enjoyed it.
It's not without it's darker, sadder side - Owen's mother has recently died and both he and his father are still trying to come to terms with their loss and grief. Both are in limbo - unable to come to terms with what's happened and move on with their lives - and so the road trip idea takes shape as a way to say 'goodbye' and look to the future. Their closeness is something that Lucy has never experienced - her parents have always been happy to leave her and her brothers in the care of nannies when younger or alone as they grew up - but in Europe she discovers a new family bond.
I loved the author's previous novel  This Is What Happy Looks Like and The Geography of You and Me is another irresistible romantic read.

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline  
Genre - rom com, teen/YA 

 Buy The Geography Of You And Me from Amazon

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Betrayed by Jacqui Rose

Review by The Mole

Bunny Barker has dark secrets - secrets she won't share even with Del, the man she loves, and outside of Claudia, her protector and helper, she trusts no-one - not even Del.

In the criminal underworld Del is king but the Russians and Teddy, a corrupt police officer, want to dethrone him. He needs the trust and support of those he loves.

When I read this book it brought to mind Black Widow by Jessie Keane but only as far as genre - that's where the similarity ends.

The story starts feeling very disjointed in a few harrowing scenes of murder and child abuse - scenes that may anger the reader or horrify - but sadly these things do happen - but the author manages to stop early enough without giving the detail to titillate the perverted and cause the rest to put the book in the incinerator but the reader knows how those scenes will end. The story then jumps and becomes what the book is about. There is an element of farce involved... this is no story of well organised gangs controlling everything day-to-day - it's a story of taking each day as it comes without planning and without really thinking about tomorrow and what the consequences might be.

The farcical element really makes this book something very special with almost EVERY character at one point or another wanting to 'put the hit' on one or more of the other characters and no-one is exempt from it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and might even describe Rose as the 'Janet Evanovich of the bad guy world'.

The reader does become involved and appalled, not only at the beginning but by other scenes too, and let's also include 'page turner' as it's well deserving of that one too - but overall it's a great fun read with bad guys bumping into each other all over the place.

Oh, there's boats, helicopters and bullet proof cars too!

Publisher - Avon Books
Genre - Adult Crime, Thriller

Buy BETRAYED from Amazon

Monday 14 April 2014

Cynan Jones - Author Interview "The Dig"

"It’s an extraordinary example of the kind of ruptured power that the weakly cruel get off on."

Today Cynan Jones 'visits' the blog to talk about his latest book "The Dig" and the contentious matter of badger baiting...

The Dig is shocking, at times horrifying, so what inspired you to write it?

I wanted to write about the way we try to create a safe space for ourselves – physically, emotionally – and how an external force can break into it. Generally, I look for some allegorical vehicle that will carry along a narrative about what people go through. In the case of The Dig, the deep, sheltered place of a badger sett provided the allegory. Once you choose to write about a subject, you can’t back out. The processes of lambing and capturing are unavoidably visceral and physical. The language and story had to defer to that.

Country life as depicted seems very harsh - not the pastoral idyll of holiday brochures or glossy 'country' magazines. Do you think yours is the more accurate representation?

Having lived here all my life (barring the odd couple of years in cities) I know that it is. There’s an industry built on fictionalising the countryside as an aspirational place. Even the phrase ‘country life’ comes with a rosy-cheeked, rustic-kitchened kind of condescension.

It is idyllic. But that’s balanced with a bleakness sometimes (which, contrarily, I also find compelling). You spend all night in a freezing cold lambing shed, the rain hammering. Then in the morning, the rain passed, you turn the lambs out in the top field and the wide view of the bay is breathtaking. It’s all about balance.

So, the harshness and isolation of Daniel's life are more a reflection of his personal circumstances?

Lambing is a tough time physically. He’s using the immersion of that, the demand of it, as a mechanism to keep going, and we should feel throughout that he’s running out of steam. Life, as it were, is not harsh or isolated so much. But – as with a number of lifestyles – farming entails a massive requirement at times. Given Daniel’s circumstances, and what he’s trying to navigate, that requirement and his emotional state is a brutal combination.

Many of the scenes in The Dig, from lambing to badger baiting, are very hands on.  How much, and what sort of, research do you do before writing?

I generally do a lot of research. It’s the writer’s responsibility to do what they can to make sure the facts they’re using are right. No doubt I’ll muddle something sometime but it won’t be because I was lazy, or made assumptions.

Having helped through lambing, those details were simply there. In terms of the capturing and baiting scenes, I spoke with Gordon Lumby of Dyfed Badger Watch and Rescue who confirmed many of the things I found out about people involved in the ‘sport’. I researched dog breeding, dog training, trapping, the releasing of mink, all sorts. Written accounts – mainly historical – of badger digs. (Sometimes whole villages would attend after church). I created fake profiles on forums to talk with baiters and fighting dog breeders. Often, I wished I hadn’t.

I’ve been asked numerous times whether I’ve been badger digging. No. It’s abhorrent. The scenes are accurate because I’ve experienced the processes that surround the act. You don’t have to have dug a badger, but you have to have dug, and you have to have been in the woods that time of the morning.

The badger baiter also provides an in-demand service, ridding farms of rats which are definitely seen as expendable vermin. There seems to me to be a thin line between which animals fall into this category, and which don't; the government with its cull is certainly trying to put badgers in it. Do you think they should be? Are there any easy answers to the badger/TB question?

I’ve had some fairly harsh swipes from all angles (threats from diggers, comments from cattle farmers, anger from environmentalists who assume I’m glamorising the ‘sport’). From the start I’ve avoided being drawn into this question. It’s not what the book is about.

I personally feel the cull is lunacy. It simply has no grounding, and the science – which I researched quite hard at the time – doesn’t stack up. (They tried – and abandoned - the cull in Wales a few years before attempting the same thing in England. I’m not sure how aware people are of that). However, the book is about people and I deliberately avoided a political remit.

Something I commented on in my review was the attitude of the boy taken along digging for badgers by his father; his feeling that he had to join in, to pretend he was enjoying it even, otherwise he'd be seen as weak and childish. Do you think this is how such barbaric 'sports' are perpetuated?

I think we all– to varying degrees – want to be accepted. Another boy might go along to a football match with his father, or go for a bike ride. But this boy’s father digs badgers.

I fear it’s not how the thing is perpetuated however. I’m afraid it’s simply perpetual. There will always be people who do this.

The one thing I couldn’t navigate during the work was why anyone is drawn to badger digging. Like it or not, I could accept there was a thrill to the fox chase, or the ‘frenzy’ of ratting, and a personal achievement to shooting on target. But badger digging is an inane bullying. The excuse is often ‘it works the dogs’. It’s an extraordinary example of the kind of ruptured power that the weakly cruel get off on.

The badger baiter is a very brutal man whereas Daniel the farmer is caring and compassionate to both his animals and the land he farms. Is it too simplistic to see these men in terms of good versus evil? Or reading too much into things to see Daniel as some form of sacrifice?
While I prefer to let the reader decide whether something is right or wrong, good or evil, there is a definite pitting of one force against another. I tried to show both characters simply as they are, but their actions are good, and are bad. That arch element to the story (what some have called the ‘mythic’) was very deliberate, and I pushed the language at times to reflect that. Given that, yes, I’ve implied a sacrificial motivation. But what exactly is Daniel sacrificing himself for, or because of?

Do you ever consider the possibility of manipulating the story to bring it to a 'happy end'? Would that have been too unrealistic?

The story is God. Once you’ve set out a set of circumstances and drop determined characters into them, you have to be true to the way things would play out. The Dig went through a number of rewrites. It was, at one stage, a much broader book (90,000 words or so, and, in fact, two connected short novels really), but I cut 60,000 words to focus on the collision between Daniel and the badger baiter. An ending played out further in a previous draft.

Do you ever find that characters want to take events into their own hands? Particularly did you find that once created Daniel and the badger baiter were bound to clash?

I try to know what I am going to write before I get pen to page. To know that, I have to know the characters. Those characters are then capable only of actions authentic to themselves. Daniel had to go and investigate the sound he hears. So yes, the two men are bound from the start to clash. The Dig is essentially a narrative of collision.

Since I read The Dig, I accidentally came across this quote from Big Sur by Jack Kerouac which I thought summed up that one brief moment of complete happiness for Daniel -  “On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars - Something good will come out of all things yet - And it will be golden and eternal just like that - There's no need to say another word.” A pure coincidence or were you aware of this piece?

That’s pure coincidence, and the first time I’ve seen it. But one thing that recurs when you work on the right book is coincidence. It’s extraordinary sometimes what happens, how many things feed in – almost to keep urging you along, to tell you: you’re doing the right thing. Mostly, you’re not trying to deliver some huge original insight, you’re trying to communicate something many people acknowledge but perhaps can’t articulate quite. It’s likely then that other writers hit the same notes for things that are universally felt. And that’s because they’re true.

I know you've been busy on your next book, so can you tell us a little about it?

The next book is (very) different from The Dig. Granta have just read a first draft. I would have held back longer before showing it them as I knew the book was far from ready. But as it’s so different I needed to know it was the right thing to work on. We’re pretty sure it is.

Thanks for visiting today Cynan and best of luck with your future projects - we'll certainly be eagerly awaiting them.

Bits and pieces that may be of interest;
Author's website
Our Reviews: The Dig
               Everything I Found On The Beach
               Bird, Blood, Snow
               The Fart (short story)
and previous interviews - re Everything I Found On The Beach
                                Bringing Down the Giants - reworking the Tale of Peredur; Bird, Blood, Snow

Friday 11 April 2014

The Accident by C L Taylor

review by Maryom

When 15 year old Charlotte is knocked down by a bus and ends up in hospital in a coma, her mother Sue is convinced it cannot have been the tragic accident that everyone else claims. Reading through her daughter's diary, Sue finds an entry that she's sure supports this. She feels that if she can find out WHY Charlotte took the dreadful action she did, she can be convinced that everything is safe now and come out of her coma. She discovers that she really had very little idea about her daughter's life - what she was doing when out in the evening or who her friends were - but also that Sue's own past, in the shape of an abusive, manipulative boyfriend, is catching up with her with devastating consequences.

The story is told in two alternating parts - the present day with Charlotte lying in a coma and Sue's diary from 20 years ago, so Sue's struggle to convince others that Charlotte is not a random accident victim is interleaved with her own story of a love affair rapidly turning sour. For a while there seems to be no connection between the two but gradually all is revealed...

While I found this a quick read, that I whizzed through to find out who did what and why, sadly it didn't really grab me. The characters all seemed a little too over the top to feel real and therefore for me to care about. Although there's a general consensus of opinion that parents have no idea what their teenagers are getting up to, this too seemed taken to extremes - both Sue and her husband Brian seemed  to have been wilfully blind to their daughter's behaviour, letting her come and go at all hours without questioning where she'd been.
As the narrator, Sue seemed full of contradictions - maybe these were in part down to her PTSD and paranoia, but she just didn't ring true. I never felt in any doubt that Sue was right - although she goes off at odd tangents, leaping to wrong conclusions on the slightest of evidence, her overall premise that something had caused Charlotte to step in front of the bus never seemed in doubt.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins (Avon)

Genre - adult,
psychological thriller

Buy THE ACCIDENT from Amazon

Thursday 10 April 2014

Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe

review by Maryom

 Following her mother's death, Sue Bowl leaves her father and his new girlfriend Ivana and goes to live with her Aunt Coral in the old family home, Green Place. Sue would be happy living anywhere away from the loving couple but Green Place, filled with an increasing number of eccentric oldies, turns out to be the ideal place to pursue her love of writing, and her part-time job at Toastie cafe the ideal place to pursue love itself - the house is rambling, decaying, lacking in heating and possibly haunted; her aunt has too many debts, an Imelda Markos style passion for footwear and a secret attachment to her lodger Admiral Avery Little; and among the coffee machines and bread-buttering Sue falls for the attractions of the cafe owner's son Icarus.

Campari for Breakfast is a delightfully quirky coming of age tale about finding love and finding oneself. There are family secrets to be unearthed and a ghostly visitor to be braved, while the house threatens to crumble down and desperate ways are sought to save it.
 The story is told mainly in the first person as entries in Sue's diary and her character shines through as charming and naive, though at times seeming much younger than her 17 years, with many a misspelling and misconstruction in her narration.

I absolutely adored this. It's light, funny and sad by turns, but overwhelmingly full of Sue's belief that one day she'll find love and begin to live decadently, sipping campari for breakfast!  It's difficult to categorise but a great read for anyone (young or not so young) who enjoyed Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle but, with Sue's rather overblown literary efforts and her determination to set things right, I was also reminded of Flora Post and Cold Comfort Farm.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - teen/adult/crossover fiction, coming of age

Buy Campari for Breakfast from Amazon

Wednesday 9 April 2014

The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan

"A stolen baby. A murdered woman. A decades-old atrocity. Something connects them all..."

review by Maryom

When a new born baby goes missing from Ballyterrin hospital, everyone at first assumes that it's just a one-off incident. Then a pro-abortion campaigner goes missing and is found dead - gruesomely.  She had plenty of people who objected to what she was doing, had even received death threats, but would anyone have actually carried through on them? Could there somehow be a link between the events? With no good leads to follow the police are still stumbling in the dark when another baby is taken...and a pregnant woman goes missing. There must be a link somewhere, but where..
All these baby-related cases are a bit close to home for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire whose personal life is in turmoil with an unexpected pregnancy- and no clear cut answer to the inevitable question Who's the father? 

The Dead Ground is the second of Claire McGowan's "Paula Maguire" thrillers - set in the Northern Irish border town of Ballyterrin where Paula grew up and to which, after years in London, she's now returned as a forensic psychologist working with a special 'missing persons' unit of the local police. I really enjoyed the first of the series The Lost with a strong female lead, and police and personal plot lines that complemented each other. Happily The Dead Ground continues in this way, proving to be another excellent page-turner, even though I guessed the culprit and motive before the police team did - sometimes I wish I could just step into a book and tell the detectives who to question and what to ask!  Paula's personal life and problems again twist round the police investigation - while she tries to come to terms with her unplanned pregnancy everything at work seems centred round babies too!

 Events unfold from Paula's point of view as the investigation progresses, so there's none of the 'getting inside the killer's head' which I'm too squeamish for. Don't mistake this for cosy crime though. The story opens with a particularly disturbing scene of IRA retribution but although the violence is at times gruesome it always seems relevant and necessary to the plot - not merely thrown in gratuitously.

In Paula and the police team she works with, McGowan has created some great, realistic characters; people that I feel I'm coming to know, with their good points - and bad. I'm really enjoying this series and looking forward to the next book, to the un-folding of some of the personal plot line and, most importantly, discovering who the father of Paula's baby is!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - adult crime

Paula Maguire Book 1; The Lost

Tuesday 8 April 2014

The Maharajah's General by Paul Fraser Collard

review by Maryom

After fighting in the Crimea - under one alias - Jack Lark is heading to India under another. In the filthy army hospital after the Battle of the Alma, Jack recovered from his battlefield wounds but James Danbury didn't. Never one to let an opportunity slip past him, Jack takes on Danbury's identity and rank, and sets out for Bhundapur to take up his new posting as a captain in the 24th Foot regiment - where Jack soon finds himself at the heart of a different sort of conflict.
 In keeping with the policies of the British East India Company, the commanding officer in Bhundapur, Major Proudfoot, has his eyes very firmly set on taking control of the local Maharajah's kingdom, and both sides are threatened by bandits lead by the fiercesome fighter The Tiger. Jack, of course, is also under the threat of having his deception exposed, and his loyalties are further torn by an independent young Englishwoman and  an exotic Indian princess. When the trouble really kicks off, which side will Jack support?

As might be expected from the first Jack Lark novel The Scarlet Thief, The Maharajah's General's is an action-packed swashbuckling sort of adventure - filled with the clash of cold steel in skirmishes and hand to hand fighting.
Jack is a charismatic hero, striving to better himself through unorthodox means - and one for whom the stifled society of the British enclave has no time. Jack has come to acknowledge that his talent lies in warfare - to a certain extent in planning and strategy but primarily in killing. Unfortunately he can't wait for the normal route to advancement but 'helps' himself along the way by adopting others' identities - with the threat of discovery always hanging over him. This time there's a more caring side of him is on show; he's less self-serving and concerned only with his own advancement but torn between loyalties - the Maharajah who befriended him, and his countrymen who are out for his blood - and, although influenced by the attraction of the Maharajah's daughter, also showing an appreciation for the arts and culture of the society his superiors seek to crush.
Unlike The Scarlet Thief which was set against the real events and battles of the Crimea, The Maharajah's General is a fictionalised amalgam of the sort of events which happened all over India in the mid-Victorian era, so while not factually true it gives a good feel of the period, of British policies and Indian opposition, within the framework of a compelling, page-turner story.

For an introduction to Jack Lark and his world read this special blog post from the author, Paul Fraser Collard

Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher - Headline 
Genre - Historical fiction, action adventure, 

 Buy The Maharajah's General (Jack Lark 2) from Amazon

Monday 7 April 2014

The Maharajah’s General - Blog Tour

Introducing the Maharajah’s General
(Author Contribution by Paul Fraser Collard)

The Maharajah’s General is the second instalment in the Jack Lark series and sees Jack journey to the wilds of India as he seeks to find a new life for himself on the vibrant and colourful fringes of the Empire.

I knew from the very start that I wanted my series to feature a new setting in every novel. By doing this I could take my readers on a wonderful journey across the British Empire that was at the height of its powers in the middle of the nineteenth century. Jack had survived the slaughter that was the Battle of the Alma, the opening battle of the Crimean War, and so I cast my eye around to find a suitable home for a young rogue with ideas far above his station. It was tempting to leave him in the Crimea and let him find his way into the events that surrounded the siege of Sevastopol which could include the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the raw courage of the Thin Red Line. But I had to stay true to my concept and so I decided that, like many a young and ambitious Victorian officer, Jack would seek his fortune in India, the most charismatic and colourful jewel in the British Empire’s crown.

At this time the British government had handed the control of the entire country to East India Company, a mercantile company whose driving motivation was the creation of profit. Backed by politicians eager to see the boundaries of Empire pushed back as far as was possible, the EIC was able to adopt an aggressive series of policies to satiate their need for the acquisition of power. Prime amongst these policies was the Doctrine of Lapse introduced by Governor-General Lord Dalhousie in 1848 that allowed the EIC to annex any independent kingdom where the ruler died without an heir.

When I first read of this policy I knew it would make for a dramatic and fascinating backdrop for a historical novel and so the central plot for the Maharajah’s General was put in pla
ce. Adding a ruthless British political officer to the mix along with a charismatic Maharajah, a beautiful Indian princess and a beguiling English rose and I had all the ingredients that I needed for Jack’s second story. When British ambition clashes with Indian pride, Jack faces some difficult choices that will test his loyalty to its very limits and, when political posturing turns to war, Jack will have to choose on which side he will fight. For there is no place to hide and when the two forces clash Jack has to take his place on the front line, his ambition to prove himself propelling him to the very heart of the action no matter where his personal feelings might take him.

Many thanks for that Paul  - and keep watching the blog for the review of the book.

Friday 4 April 2014

Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown

review by Maryom

Greenvoe is the only village on the small Orcadian island Hellya - and this is the story of its people.
It's a place where time seems almost to have stood still - a place of farms and fisherman, one shop, one hotel, a school, a manse, a 'big house' and a pier to link them to the outer world. It's inhabitants for the most part have lived there all their lives, some never leaving the island at all - the notable exceptions being the 'traditional' incomers of minister and school teacher. A place where a once-a-year visit from a travelling salesman laden with exotic silken goods is an event. But times are changing and the outside world has discovered the usefulness of such a remote place.

 Greenvoe is not just one single tale but an interlinked series within a greater one; the Skarf, fisherman turned writer, reads his history of the island to his neighbours in the bar of an evening; the minister's elderly mother faces an imaginary court each day, that calls her to account for her supposed sins; the island's womenfolk gossip in the shop like a Greek chorus; ancient initiation rites are held in the dead of night; and always in the background is the sea, the light reflecting off it, its tides governing the flow of life on land and sea. So the writing changes - sometimes hard and factual, sometimes lyrical and poetic.

I first discovered George Mackay Brown's work long ago when I was a teenager, drawn by a somewhat romanticised vision of these windswept islands off the north of Scotland "where the endless ocean opens". I think back in the 1970s when this novel was written, his work was more widely known, with dramatisations on  TV and such, and I think it's rather a shame that its somehow been forgotten. It was great to go back and re-discover it through this new-to-me book.

Maryom's review - 5 stars  
Publisher - Polygon 
Genre - literary, adult fiction

Buy Greenvoe from Amazon

Thursday 3 April 2014

Leigh Russell - Blog Tour - Author Contribution

Leigh Russell
The second part of today's Fatal Act blog tour is an author contribution on the impact a writer's internet history could have on their life... it bears thinking about.

A writer's (worrying) browsing history - all in the name of research

Whenever possible, I prefer to conduct my research by talking to real people. Whether I'm seeking guidance from a professor of forensic medicine, a police detective, or someone working in WH Smith's, so far everyone I have approached has been really helpful. Many of the details included in my books are barely noticeable. Nevertheless, they are important, because they help create an illusion of reality.

A market trader in one of my books has a stack of banana boxes in her front room. Only someone working in a market would know that these are the boxes favoured by stallholders, because they are strong. Although readers might not be conscious of that tiny detail, the scene would seem authentic to any market trader reading the book. This is just one example of the care I take to create the illusion that the world of my books is real.

Like anyone involved in writing, I also research on the internet. It never ceases to amaze me how much detailed information is readily available online. In fifteen easy steps, with pictures, you can learn how to handle a gun. You can find out how to blow up a car, or rob a safe, or how to obtain fake documents.

Browsing the internet feels safe, but in reality the activity is a two-way process.  Recently a man was, quite rightly, prosecuted for posting a racist comment on twitter. If the comment had been made in a pub the speaker might well have been punched in the face, but he certainly wouldn't have ended up in court. We've probably all said something offensive, in private, but posting an offensive comment online is very different. It's out there in the public domain and you can't take it back, or claim to have been misunderstood.

So what is the position with browsing histories on computers? What I do at home is my own affair. It's no one else's business. My browsing history is private, and hidden from other people. At least that's how it seems. But it remains accessible to anyone who wants to look for it. Even if it's deleted, the information can be retrieved. Like leaving invisible traces of your DNA just by breathing when you enter a room, every search you make on a computer leaves a footprint, some of which might, potentially, land you in trouble.

Of course it's possible to click on an unsavoury website by mistake. Although it may not be not easy, it's possible. But what about a browsing history that shows its user has regularly searched for questionable material? From poison to paedophilia, guns to gambling, torture to terror, homicide and horror, murder and misery, drugs trafficking, people trafficking, my browsing history includes research into many seedy and illegal activities.

Writing this post has started me wondering... What if someone put a writer in the frame for a crime that involved material the writer was researching? The police might reasonably treat the writer as a suspect. Perhaps, on balance, it's safer to carry out research by speaking to real people!

And now I'm off to delete my browsing history on my computer, as fast and as far back as I can...