Friday 27 February 2015

Seed by DB Nielsen

Review by The Mole

The story is billed as "Twilight meets A Discovery of Witches" - neither of which I have read. The synopsis however had me interested:

Seventeen-year-old twins Sage and Saffron Woods who become embroiled in a thrilling quest when an artefact, long sought after, suddenly reappears in present day southern Iraq – a land long considered the cradle of civilization, ancient Mesopotamia. With its unearthing, a centuries-old conflict is reignited; a conflict that takes the sisters from the British Museum to Paris to the Vatican Secret Archives and the catacombs in Rome. In a race against time the twins discover not only deeply hidden secrets of the ancient world but embark on a journey of self-discovery and coming of age that uncovers their own passionate feelings for unearthly immortals.

With no "magic" and no vampires I was curious where the comparison came from.

The story is not truly about the twins, but about Sage, with Saffie sort of helping, supporting, defending and goading Sage onwards. The plot has huge potential in my opinion but sadly lacks an editor.

When Sage first meets Gabriel she becomes like a gushy, silly teenager - but one that is worse than I have ever seen, heard of or read of before. I started to get the opinion that this was not meant to be a normal very naive reaction by a teenage girl to a very attractive man - but that the author was trying to add another layer and an editor could have helped with that.

At other times we are rewarded with historical facts (I assume they are facts but I haven't checked them) and this kind of thing tends to happen frequently in modern "quest" thrillers - but here it felt like they were coming like machine gun bullets with little time for the reader to assimilate them in to order or relevance. Relevance? Yes,at times it felt like the author was showing off her knowledge - although this is probably unfair comment. Once again a good editor should have been able to assist.

RANT OVER! Putting those issues to one side, I did keep reading. Why? Because overall the book was entertaining, intriguing and had that something that holds the reader's attention.

By the end of the 400+ pages it seems that relatively little has happened except the development of the characters, Sage becoming more aware of her own role, and the development of the relationship - both personal and quest-wise - between Sage and Gabriel. But what of Saffie? And her parents? You can feel that there is something more going on with all of them. We don't end on a cliffhanger and we have made no real discoveries about artefacts or what to do with them - but still I read on.

This is a very good story that YA readers will enjoy - despite the complete absence of sex. (I hope that's not a spoiler.)

Publisher - LBLA Digital
Genre - YA fantasy

Thursday 26 February 2015

Touch by Claire North

review by Maryom

Imagine that by taking hold of someone's hand, you could become them, could jump from body to body as you wished, and stay there for as long as you liked, from seconds to years. This is what 'Kepler' and others like him can do. Now someone has decided that it's time to stop him - but its easier to evade an assassin if you've some idea of who sent them and why. So begins a game of cat and mouse as Kepler tries to track down the person behind it, while trying to avoid those pursuing him.

This latest novel from Claire North is a mind-stretcher in the way that The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was. The author takes one of those throwaway 'just imagine' or 'what if' scenarios that we all have from time to time and weaves a compelling thriller around it - with Harry August, it was re-living the same life several times; with Touch it's being able to move from body to body.
The thriller aspect is fast-paced, action-packed, full of twists, turns and deviousness. It starts with the 'bang' of a murder and Kepler running for his life, and carries on at this breathless pace; as a game of hunter and hunted it's up there with the best of spy thrillers.
The sci-fi 'just imagine' aspect is well thought through, and gives the reader plenty to think about - the morality of being able to take over another person's body, with or without their consent; the impact such action has on both host and 'guest' - maybe it explains those minutes of forgetfulness that we all experience from time to time, maybe it accounts for long-term memory loss, but for the 'guest' there's the choice of taking over another person's life completely - almost cradle to grave - or of drifting from one host to another, never putting down roots, or having family and long-term friends. It has its advantages though - for a few short minutes, Kepler can be anyone he wants - football player, actress, president....

I loved Harry August but there's something just a bit more satisfying about Touch, making it a 'must read' whether you're a sci-fi lover or not.

Maryom's review - 5 stars

Publisher - Orbit
Genre - Adult, sci-fi, thriller

Wednesday 25 February 2015

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

review by Maryom
The Death House is a children's home with a difference - all its inmates have been brought there to die. Identified as 'defective' by a blood test, they are forcibly taken from their families and brought to this house on a remote island. Now all they can do is wait, watched over by an uncaring Matron and her team of nurses and teachers. At the first signs of illness, children are whisked away to the sanatorium - from which there is no return.
As the oldest in his dorm, Toby has become something of a father-figure to the younger boys, helping them cope with anxieties while stifling his own emotions and hiding behind a shell of being 'hard'. He lives mainly in memories of the time 'before', doesn't mix much with the others and spends his nights rambling through the House alone. Then a new inmate arrives.....and changes everything. New girl Clara breathes new life into the Death House - her life may be limited but while there's still time, she wants to experience as much as she can - from climbing trees, or sneaking out of the grounds to falling in love. Under the influence of Clara, Toby learns to accept life, whatever terms it's offered on, and enjoy it while he can.

The Death House is, for want of a better description, a dystopian story of doomed love - and to be honest, it wasn't what I was expecting; I think I'd expected more of a thriller twist to events. A lot of the 'messages' contained within it are ones we can all relate to - embrace life while you can, don't let fears about tomorrow hinder what you do today - but overall it left me feeling uncomfortable.

 While I was reading, I was absolutely engrossed but even as I read the closing paragraphs I was starting to feel just a little let down. There's no explanation given for the mysterious illness or the necessity of quarantine; in retrospect it feels like the author had a good idea but didn't know where to take it. The direction it does go felt rather like a get-out and didn't satisfy me. My main criticism though would be of the underlying morals behind various events; there were several points where I wanted to step in and say "don't do that! You've not thought it through, it's just plain wrong!"

The strange thing is, I really enjoyed this story while I was reading - the setting and atmosphere are great, the characters believable, the growing romance tender and heart-warming - it's only thinking about it afterwards that I'm having reservations.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars 
Publisher - Gollancz
Genre - Fantasy

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Hold The Dark by William Giraldi

review by Maryom

Wolves have been circling and stalking the remote Alaskan village of Keelut, and taken three young children. While some accept it as a painful fact of Alaskan life, Medora Slone, the mother of the third child, thinks differently. With her husband Vernon away with the US army, she decides to enlist the help of wolf expert Russell Core to track down the wolves and bring back the remains of her son. Core may be familiar with wolves but the snow-bound horizons of Alaska are completely alien to him - and he finds things far worse than wolves lurking around Keelut.

Hold The Dark attracted my attention as I'd just finished Cecilia Ekback's Wolf Winter a tale of wolves, snow and murder set in an isolated community in 18th century Swedish Lapland. This time the action is set in the bleak Alaskan winter, in another remote, insular community but in the present day. Beyond weapons and transport, modern life hasn't made a great impact on Keelut; it feels like a place outside of civilisation, a place with its own rules and laws, that still holds on to older ways and traditions, and that keeps its secrets closely hidden. But the horror that's about to be unleashed there is timeless and the swath of violence that spreads through this tiny community wouldn't seem out of place in a large city.
It's without doubt a gripping read, unfolding in unexpected ways with the ending proving as unexpected as you could want. Just occasionally I felt the author was trying a little too hard to impress with his writing style or technical knowledge, which jarred me out of the atmosphere, but for the most part I was fully immersed in both the 'otherness' of Alaska's barren landscape and the revelations of the story.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Monday 23 February 2015

Mainlander by Will Smith

 review by Maryom

 Jersey isn't a very large island, it's the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else and everything they're up to, where locals are apt to close ranks and incomers will always feel left out. Certainly schoolteacher Colin Bygate feels this way - and every time he gives his name, people know him for the Mainlander he is, and he feels it just a little bit more.
 When he first married a local girl, he fell in love with the place but now it's beginning to feel claustrophobic. Brooding over an argument with his wife, he interrupts a possible suicide attempt by one of his pupils, and although he drives the boy home, he then goes missing. Colin feels the matter should be investigated but neither the school nor the boy's parents seem bothered. Their unconcerned attitude strikes Colin as bizarre and, despite the risk to his career and marriage, he persists in trying to track down the boy.
 But Mainlander isn't just Colin's story. There's his dissatisfied wife Emma, flash hotelier Rob de la Haye, with whom she once had an affair, and Louise, who had a one-night stand with Rob, has now been dismissed from the hotel and is looking to add a little blackmail to her pay-off. Add to them a couple of petty crooks looking to make a quick buck on a cosy, crime-free island and you've got half a dozen plot lines crossing each other, coming together, moving apart, joining up again; sometimes quite comical, sometimes nail-bitingly tense.

The book's blurb concentrates on Colin so when the story started spinning in different directions, I was at first a bit wrong-footed and left wondering where the story had leapt to, but ploughing on I began to get a feel for it; it's almost like having several inter-related short stories unfolding at the same time - a bit like Love, Actually or Robert Altman's Short Cuts. This all of course makes it difficult to pin down what style of book this is or what it's about - comedy? thriller? incisive look at a troubled marriage? A bit of all, at one point or another.

There's always the risk as well with a multitude of storylines and characters that the reader might find some more interesting than others - I know I did. Both Colin's and Louise's stories held me more than the others, both ending in tense, dramatic circumstances. Rob, on the other hand, provided light relief, though with his obnoxious attitudes and total lack of  redeeming features, and I was just waiting for him to get his comeuppance.

You might be aware of Will Smith (the British version, not US) as actor and writer from The Thick of It, and this is his first novel, set far away from Malcolm Tucker and Whitehall politics. It's good, mainly well-written, though the dialogue is often better than the narrative and the action better than more introspective passages, and I'm intrigued to see what he will come up with next. I've hesitated and quibbled over the star-rating but gone for a slightly generous 4, as I feel it's a re-readable book.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Fourth Estate
Genre - adult fiction,

Friday 20 February 2015

The Long Dry by Cynan Jones

 review by Maryom

 One hot summer morning, Gareth wakes early and goes to check on his ready-to-calf cows - and discovers one has gone missing over night. Feeling restless, she'll have wandered off, as they do, pushing her way through hedges and  fences, probably heading for the nasty boggy bit of the farm, so before she can come to any harm, Gareth goes in search of her.  As the day gets hotter he tramps up hill and down, over fields lying parched after a long drought, and his thoughts turn on the problems of his relationship with his wife, the happier early years of their marriage and his plans for the future.

If you heard a novel described as "the story of a man looking for a cow", you'd probably not be rushing to read it - but give it a chance, think of Gareth as a rural version of Leopold Bloom, pursuing his odyssey not through Dublin's paved streets but alongside the hedges and fences of a Welsh hill farm. As the day progresses, the reader slips into the thoughts of Gareth, his wife Kate, hiding her secrets back in the farmhouse, teenage son Dylan angry "out of habit" and young daughter Emmy who sees fairies and dead people. This is one of the strengths of Jones' writing - that he can bring to life such a diverse range of feelings and emotions; first I felt Gareth's version of how his marriage is sliding on to the rocks - then saw events from Kate's completely opposite standpoint; when two boys are faced with the dreadful task of killing an injured rabbit, I felt not just there, but part of them, willing them on but appalled at the same time; I even felt I understood the bafflement of a cow just delivered of a still-born calf.
This is Cynan Jones' first novel and is set in the landscape that's become familiar to me through his later work - Everything I Found On The Beach and The Dig. There's the same grit and grimness underlying the beauty of the landscape, the same feeling of inevitable anguish. It's not all doom and gloom - there's light relief from the teenage son, with his delight in driving the transit van, and the mass 'attack' of the ducks on the nearby seaside town - but moments of joy seem short-lived and over-shadowed by sorrow to come.

Originally published by Parthian  The Long Dry has now been re-printed by Granta as part of a matching set of all three of Jones' novels.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Granta Books
Genre - Adult literary fiction

Thursday 19 February 2015

My Life as a Goldfish by Rachel Rooney

Illustrated by Ellie Jenkins

Winner of the CLPE Poetry Prize, this is Rachel Rooney's second collection of children's poetry. There are jokey poems, story poems, some of a single verse and some with 10 or more. Some will make the reader think and some just to make you laugh.

Do you remember those Monday mornings when you tried to convince your mum you were too ill for school. Or the excitement of the museum gift shop? What about that teacher who you could never get away with anything with? They are all captured here in fun filled pages along with many more laughs, thoughts and experiences.

"Magic" is the shape poem that is quoted in the synopsis on the back of the book as well as on several websites although I have to admit that I like the title poem best, which is also 'shape'. It uses essentially just 6 words to convey the life and terrors of being a goldfish.

A really lovely collection of more than 50 poems aimed at the younger reader with added nostalgia for the older reader.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's poetry

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Cecilia Ekback - guest post

Last week I had the delight of reading and reviewing Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback - a murder mystery set in eighteenth century Swedish Lapland. Today I'm delighted to welcome Cecilia to talk about the inspiration, setting and meaning of Wolf Winter.....

The expression ‘wolf winter’ in Swedish (vargavinter) refers to an unusually bitter and long winter, but it is also used to describe the darkest of times in a human being’s life – the kind of period that imprints on you that you are mortal and, at the end of the day, always alone.  The old Nordic religions talked about fimbulvetr, ‘the ’large winter,’ that preceded the destruction of the world. It took place when Fenrisulven, the ‘wolf of the wolves’, had eaten the sun…

My father was my best friend. The period preceding and just after his death was my wolf winter. As he lay dying, I interviewed him about his life. He died and I continued speaking, with my grandmother, her sister, their friends, my mother... WOLF WINTER came out of those conversations. Thus the book was not as much an idea I had carried around with me for a long time, as a reaction, or a riposte, to a life event. I became very interested in ‘place’ – setting – in the largest sense of the word and the impact it had on people, versus ‘heritage’ – how many things do we not chose, but that are just there, in us, inherited from generations and generations.

Blackåsen Mountain does not exist as a physical place, but its nature is something I remember from my childhood: a combination of the places and memories I have from Hudiksvall, where I grew up, Knaften and Vormsele, the two small villages in Lapland where my grandparents lived, and Sånfjället, a mountain close to the Norwegian border, where our family had a cabin. Blackåsen is the embodiment of what I felt like growing up in the north of Sweden. It represents the fear, the doubts, the religious fervour, the loneliness and the need to fit in and to belong.

I began writing with the idea of several characters passing through their wolf winters at the same time. I wanted 'place' - the mountain - to be a character in its own right. Blackåsen Mountain watches the settlers. It doesn't care. It is dispassionate. It has already seen many of them come and go and it will see many more come and go after them. I brought this ‘place’ down onto the characters and let it impact them to the fullest. The characters and the plot grew out of the idea and the setting.

Monday 16 February 2015

Weathering by Lucy Wood

review by Maryom

After thirteen years absence, Ada has returned to her childhood home, an isolated old house nestling in a valley, to scatter her mother's ashes. Her plans are to clear out the house, sell it and then leave -  putting her past firmly behind her. But as she and daughter Pepper start the mammoth task of tidying up they find themselves taking root, settling back in to this lonely place that Ada once couldn't leave quickly enough.

 For her daughter Pepper the house is like a treasure trove. Used to moving around from one rented property to another, she and her mother haven't put down roots, haven't acquired all the belongings and memorabilia that go to make up a home. Now, in this crumbling old house, she finds a life-time's accumulation of things and an instant connection with her grandmother Pearl.
Pearl herself isn't quite ready to leave her home and hangs around in ghostly form, sorting through her old photographs, dabbling in the river and keeping a watchful eye on Ada and Pepper...

Weathering is a hard novel to pin down. The ambiguity starts with the title - is 'weathering' something you do? riding out the storm, surviving momentous upheaval; or something that's done to you? the erosion and scars left by time and weather - and continues throughout. There's a curious combination of the solid and realistic - the crumbling house, swollen river, banks of snow - with the otherworldly in the form of Pearl's ghost - is she really present and talking to her daughter and granddaughter, or just a figment of imagination?

 It's a story about the relationships between mothers and daughters, about belonging and home, in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, with beautiful prose that slips into poetry. At times I wanted to slow my reading right down to absorb the words and savour each sentence, re-reading them before moving on. Closely observed, minutely described, it captures mood and emotion, conjures the feel and touch of river and snow with writing that puts the reader so firmly THERE in the landscape that I expected to see snow banked outside my windows or river rushing over the lawn.

I feel like I've struggled to find the words to do this wonderful book justice. It was a total delight to read and I can't praise it enough. Like Pearl slipping into the flow of the river, just immerse yourself in it and be carried along on its currents.

I don't normally fuss much about the covers of books - the important stuff is after all inside - but this one seemed worth a mention and the rather flat picture above doesn't capture the delicate embossed image, so here's another detailed photo.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre - adult literary fiction

Other reviews; Bii's Books

Thursday 12 February 2015

The Dangerous Game by Mari Jungstedt

 review by Maryom

Jenny Levin has had a meteoric rise from gangly schoolgirl to super-model. Now she's coming back to her 'home' island of Gotland for a photo shoot at a hotel on the remote Furillen peninsula, with her lover, top fashion photographer Markus Sandberg. All their plans for these few days go awry when Markus is savagely attacked, and left for dead. The attack seems to be random and motiveless but further attacks and threats lead Detective Anders Knutas to the conclusion that someone is targeting members of the fashion industry...but who? and why?

Jumping in part way through a series is never the best way to get acquainted with characters - and The Dangerous Game is the eighth outing for Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and his colleague Karin Jacobsson, so I had a lot of catching up to do on their private and professional life! Due to this, the story seemed very slow to start but persevering through the opening chapters I found the story starting to grab me.
I also worried at first that the author was a little over-awed by the glamour of the fashion industry but, reading on, this turned out to not be the case. It's seen primarily through Jenny's eyes and she, flying high at the start of her career, still sees only this intoxicating side of the fashion industry, but her position as a highly desirable, sought-after model is contrasted starkly with that of Agnes, whose career abruptly ended when her desire to stay thin led to anorexia.This I thought gave a nice balance and introduced the dangers of obsessing over appearance without preaching.

Unfortunately though, as the story evolved the list of possible suspects grew smaller and, as the reader, I knew things the detectives didn't, which made it easier for me to pinpoint the villain - even the final twist came as no big surprise. Overall I didn't find it as dark as some Nordic Noir thrillers, but more of a comparatively cosy Midsomer Murders style whodunnit.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre- adult crime Nordic Noir

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Second Life by S J Watson

 review by Maryom

Julia has a seemingly perfect life - the lovely house and caring family that most aspire to - but she's about to put it all at risk. When her sister Kate dies in mysterious circumstances, Julia finds herself trawling internet dating sites for clues to Kate's last movements. Soon though she finds herself attracted to one of the men she meets there....and living a double life.

Now, S J Watson's debut  Before I Go To Sleep was a stunner - and left wondering how he could ever follow it. BIGTS had a special 'hook' -  the mere thought of waking up each morning with a memory wiped clean is terrifying  - which is missing this time. Second Life is, should I say, a 'normal' thriller - but even so it's brilliant!

It starts a little slowly and it's not obvious at first which way the plot is going (and I'm not going to tell you) plus, in the way of the best thrillers, some truths only come tumbling out of the woodwork at the very end. But give it a chapter or two and it will have you hooked - much as Julia is!

 I got the impression from the very start that Julia was a little bit bored with her safe respectable husband, the guy who 'saved' her from her younger more wayward self, so she was ready and willing to stir things up a bit and get some excitement back in her life. What she finds, though, is an obsession or addiction taking over her life, leading her on to increasingly risky behaviour that could end up with her losing everything and everyone she holds dear. I was reminded in part of Deborah Kay Davies novel of obsession True Things About Me but Second Life has an additional hook - who killed Kate? was it an almost motiveless attack or did something more sinister lie behind it?
 I'm glad to say that Second Life lived up to all my expectations - a tense, mesmerising thriller that you'll want to read in one sitting, with an ending that stunned me!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre- adult psychological thriller

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Losing It by Helen Lederer

review by Maryom

50-something Millie has problems - she's divorced, in debt and over weight. When she's asked to front an ad campaign for a new diet pill she thinks she may have found the answer to two of those, if not all three - surely if she were thinner she could find at man to take her to the cinema at least? Life isn't that simple of course and when the weight doesn't instantly drop away poor Millie finds herself harassed and harangued into all manner of 'helpful' activities from jogging to tantric sex ....

Losing It is the debut novel from comedian and actor Helen Lederer, and, as you'd expect from someone who's served their time in TV comedy and stand up, it's an incredibly funny book, packed full of ludicrous situations just waiting to trip heroine Millie up. However you describe it - chick lit for grown-ups/almost-oldies or Helen's preferred mid-lit - it's a delight to read. Although the emphasis is definitely on the comedy, the author shows enough perception and insight for the characters to ring true. Heroine Millie is someone the reader can easily empathise with; she's a mid-fifties singleton, with worries about her finances, her weight, and her daughter's career and love life, but still naively optimistic - even if we've not quite been there, these are all feelings we can relate to. Millie's attempts to get her life, and weight, back in order lead to the most cringe-making moments imaginable.
Anyone who regularly reads my reviews knows that in between the deep literary works and the nail-biting crime thrillers, I like some 'down-time', something lighter but not mind-deadening, and I think Helen Lederer is going to be a great addition to my favourite chick-lit authors - Sophie Kinsella, Hester Browne and, err, Matt Dunn. I loved Losing It and I hope there'll be further follow-up adventures for Millie soon.

If you want to hear more from Helen Lederer about Millie and Losing It check out our Q+A with her, part of a blog tour celebrating the book's launch.

Maryom's Review - 5 stars
Publisher - Pan Books
Genre -chick lit, humour,

Monday 9 February 2015

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

review by Maryom

Blackasen Mountain is a remote virtually uninhabited area of Swedish Lapland. Summers are brief and winters harsh. In 1717 a new family of settlers arrive in this inhospitable place; Paavo, who wants to put as much land between him and the sea as possible, his wife Maija and their two daughters, Frederika and Dorotea. Wolves and bears roam the land, and when Frederika discovers the dead body of one of their neighbours, wild animals are easily blamed. Maija isn't convinced though - to her, the slashes on the body look more like the work of a sword or rapier than a clawed foot. Enlisting the help of the priest, another comparative newcomer, Maija refuses to let the matter go ....but in a place where people can go for days without seeing their neighbours secrets are easily hidden and hard to expose.

Wolf Winter takes the whodunnit murder mystery and transports it to a time and place far removed from the modern urban landscape. In the early eighteenth century the far north of Sweden is remote and empty; a place where life itself is a struggle against the vagaries of the weather and the loss of a harvest can mean starvation. In the long, hard, dark winter, wolves howl at the doors, fear and loneliness build and the barriers between 'modern' logical beliefs and old pagan traditions break down. It's an atmosphere in which the supernatural is easy to believe in, and Frederika's visions of wolves are as believable as the real animals.

 In the best tradition of murder mysteries, there's an abundance of suspects - despite the unpromising sparsely populated nature of the area. The indigenous nomadic Lapps, whose traditional grazing grounds are now being parcelled out to settlers as farms, are viewed with suspicion by the incomers and are the automatic suspects for anything untoward, but all of the settlers seem to have arrived at Blackasen with secrets or running away from something; from involvement in political or court intrigues to Paavo's fear of the sea or what we would see as post-traumatic shock in men returned from war. Maija's poking about uncovers all manner of things that people would rather have kept hidden!

Add to this the amazing descriptive passages capturing the endless days of Blackasen's brief summer or the incredible fury and power of a raging blizzard and it all makes for a very special book.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, historical crime

Friday 6 February 2015

Helen Lederer - Losing It - Blog Tour!

Helen Lederer, actor and comedian, is soon to add author to her CV with her first novel "Losing It" to be published next week (12/2/15) - a laugh-out loud comedy about 50-something Millie, who desperately wants to lose her debts and some weight, and hopes fronting a diet-pill campaign is the answer to both worries.... 

So, as part of her blog tour, we took the opportunity to ask Helen some questions about writing, comedy and tantric sex.....

Firstly - I'm old enough to remember the days of Naked Video and the first showings of the Young Ones and Ab Fab, but how would you briefly sum up your career ....
You've obviously written comedy material for stage and TV before, how different is settling down to write a full length novel? 
Well the early monologues for Naked Video were co-written, it has to be admitted, by wonderful Ian Pattison who wrote Rab C Nesbit. We had such fun writing them – his style was outrageous and SO RUDE! My character was a precursor to the Bridget Jones type and the first single women with half a brain to be found musing with a filo fax. I’m proud  of that and thank you for remembering Naked Video !  My career began after I did stand up comedy –and as de- railing as it was, it was a great way to learn how to write sparsely but with content  in order to attempt to induce laughter! Writing the novel was an amazing adventure. I’d write for ten hours at a stretch and forget to breathe - sadly I was able to make regular trip to the fridge –just as Millie would. I loved the freedom to venture inside the bitter private negative head space - as  well as describe places and people -in a way stand up would not allow – no time you see!

.... and was this something you'd toyed with before, maybe slaved over in secret for many years, or something that popped into your head almost ready-written?
 I always used to write –in fact I have a teenage file which has the word ‘anthology’ written on it. I used to write poems a lot and read them out loud to people (or  ‘over share’ as we might describe it now) I abandoned  three novels before Losing It was born - and I’m glad I did  - now I am in the zone. 

Will this mark a permanent move away from acting and stand up?

I’m hoping to write the next book as soon as I finish in Hollyoaks, but when you get the call – you get the call – I might turn up on stage again. 

With a 50-something heroine, Losing It falls into a genre that I like to call 'chick lit for grown-ups'. Do you think that's a fair description of the genre? Do you have a better way to describe it? 
I love the term chick lit for grownups. I labelled it  ‘Mid Lit’ as this is  a shorter  way of copying Chick Lit – but differentiates  itself  from ‘Granny Lit’ – as that role has as yet not happened to me and I’m not sure what Granny Lit gets up to…Knitted Thongs… ? Noooooo 

I found Millie to be someone I could easy empathise with, and, however bizarre they are at times, her experiences always ring true. Did you base her and what happens to her on personal experience? 
Yes –always. I did  attend a tantric  sex couples workshop where the straddle was demonstrated ( I was writing about it!)  – and yes, I was invited to take a herbal diet pill for money and strangely I’m still not slim  …

Do you think today's average 50/60 year old is looking for more from life than previous generations? That we're no longer prepared to be written off as old and past-it?
Definitely! We are closer to our own offspring in lifestyle –we tend  not to favour a twin set and a perm and  we rarely wear sensible shoes. We look and act younger and offer value in the work place – as well as socially. Life is for living in the fast lane.  

Do you have plans for any more novels? Perhaps some further adventures for Millie...
Oee yes!! I know this area now and I can’t wait to start the next book – it’s called ‘Extra Time’

Thank you Helen for taking the time to join us today and best wishes for this and future writing projects. 

Next week Maryom will be reviewing Losing It but meanwhile catch up with the blog tour so far

Thursday 5 February 2015

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

review by Maryom

Divorced couple Lulu and Gerald have lived almost side by side on the island of Mallorca for the past 50 years; Lulu at her welcoming, guest-filled hotel Villa Los Roques, Gerald in quieter style at his farmhouse C'an Cabrer among his olive and lemon trees. The incident which ended their relationship caused a rift between them which could not be healed, so despite their proximity, they've rarely seen or spoken to each other in all that time. Their story starts at its end and unwinds backwards to its beginning - almost like a film shown in reverse - through the complex relationship between their families, to the event that altered their lives and shaped their futures.

 The Rocks is a story of love and betrayal played out over three generations against a backdrop of sun, sea and, yes, sex in the Mallorcan village of Cala Marsopa, once a remote, off the beaten track spot which changes through the 1960s as the tourist-trade booms and the stark beauty of the island is 'developed' as a holiday destination; the pleasure-seeking lifestyle of Lulu and guests, more in tune with the new influx of visitors, contrasts sharply with Gerald's deep attachment to his land. It's a place I've never visited but, as when I read Helen Walsh's The Lemon Grove, I felt myself to be absolutely there - swimming off the rocks or strolling along dusty lanes and through olive groves.
Against this wonderful backdrop, the lives of Lulu, Gerald and their families play out, and from the way little accidental happenings shape events, generally for the worst, it's almost as if the old Greek gods were behind the scenes pulling the strings. 
 The story develops in an unusual way by starting in the present, 2005, and moving backwards to 1948, evolving in a thriller-type way with the big reveal saved till last. As the reader travels back in time, they uncover the failed relationships and doomed love affairs that tie these two families together; the characters are obviously fully aware of what has happened, but the reader is in the dark and I was constantly intrigued by the hints dropped of what happened in, say, Algeciras or why Gerald abandoned his plans to trace Odysseus's route home from Troy to Ithaka.
It's a story of misunderstandings, mishaps and failures in relationships, which doesn't sound like a good read - but it is! An excellent one, in fact.
Right now it's a great way to lose yourself somewhere warm and sunny far away from February's cold and damp, but for me at least, it will be a book to come back to, even though I know the ending(or beginning), to trace the intricate plotting and see how the jigsaw pieces fit together.

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - Heron Books (Quercus)
Genre - Adult

Wednesday 4 February 2015

The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher

review by Maryom

The year is 1946, WW2 is over, but the Germans have won and now occupy London. Once a highly decorated British war hero, John Henry Rossett has now been assigned to the Office of Jewish Affairs, and put in charge of rounding up Jews and packing them onto trains for deportation. A man who's abandoned hope after the death of his wife and child, he goes about his work unthinkingly, with his eyes blinkered, not wanting to know what happens once the trains leave. Then one day his conscience is sparked by Jacob, a young Jewish boy found hiding in an empty house. Unable to leave him to his fate, Rossett resolves to get the boy to safety, but as word gets out that Jacob knows the whereabouts of a treasure in gold or diamonds, it seems like most of London is in pursuit of them.

Starting from the alternative historical standpoint of a German victory leading to the occupation of Britain, Schumacher weaves a tense thriller around a change of heart for a disillusioned man and his attempts to save the life of one young Jewish boy. Alternative history is always fascinating with its exploration of what might have happened if..... and as you might expect in any occupied country, people are divided between collaborators, resistance and those who just try to get on with their lives and ignore wider events - till his conscience is stirred, Rossett definitely falls into this latter category. Even when he decides to save Jacob, it isn't clear what his motives are - a humanitarian gesture or an interest in the 'treasure'?
Perhaps it isn't the right way to approach a novel, but I wondered at times why Schumacher had chosen a fictional London as the setting - with a few changes to names and locations the story could easily have happened in a real occupied France. It's a more straightforward action-adventure than  Owen Sheers' Resistance (set in a German occupied remote Welsh valley), lacking some of the emotional and moral ambiguity, but it's highly entertaining with the action moving along quickly, and Rossett barely escaping from one dangerous situation before plunging into another.
The supporting characters are nicely nuanced; the Germans not all bad -and with a surprising amount of humour about them; the English not all good - with several claiming to support one side while secretly helping the other, and leaving Rossett with no one he can really trust. There's enough ambiguity in the ending to leave the way open for a sequel, maybe even a series, in which case I'd hope to read more of Rossett's back story, to flesh him out from the slightly enigmatic figure I found him to be.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins
(William Morrow/Harper360)

Genre - adult,
thriller, WW2, alternative history

Monday 2 February 2015

Refrigerator Cake by Dickson Telfer

Review by The Mole

This is Telfer's second book of short stories which, in my opinion, is every bit as good as "The Red Man Turns To Green" - his first collection.

With some stories being just a page or two (I do NOT count Sinkho, which is just a title, as a story - sorry) while others run to 20 or more then this is very much a varied collection.

Short stories are not defined by their length but by their content and that is, once again, as varied as their length.

There is the dog walker who finds the ideal place to walk his dog - but looks can be deceptive. There is the funeral where the widow learns about refrigerator cake, or the chap who's good at his job although he hates it or "Hot Cakes" - what does that mean?

The subjects are very varied and there really is something to suit everyone, although with they all suit everyone? Personally I found The Panini Thief left me a little uncomfortable - but I enjoyed it none the less.

Another excellent collection from this author who seems to really know what the readers want from a short story.

Publisher - Fledgling Press
Genre - Adult short stories