Monday 30 November 2015

The Lone Warrior by Paul Fraser Collard

review by Maryom

Jack Lark has earned his army discharge papers and is now free to live his life as he chooses - but India still has adventures and danger left in store for him. While he's waiting for a boat back to England, Jack gets involved with the rescue of a young woman, Aamira, from an exclusive gaming club, and escorting her half way across India to her home in Delhi lands him smack in the middle of trouble, as their arrival coincides with the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny. Despite his army discharge, despite the danger, Jack can't help but join in the fight to restore British rule....
This fourth Jack Lark story finds our hero still in India just as the Mutiny of 1857 breaks erupts. As a fighting man, one who's extremely good at his 'job', Jack isn't going to run away and hide, but feels he must join in with the defence of the British colony. Increasingly though, he finds it difficult to take the attitudes of many Army officers - towards the men under their command, their defeated enemies and the actual fighting itself. Although as capable a "killing machine" as ever, Jack's beginning to be sickened by the aftermath of battle, the personal tragedies he sees and ultimately by what he himself does. As always, Collard writes in a style that captures that allows the reader to feel there in the action, to share the tedium of laying siege for months under the burning Indian sun, the fear and daring of battle, the automated response that shuts down Jack's emotions but, increasingly, his disgust at his actions and those of the officers around him. By the end of this adventure he's definitely a sadder, wiser man, more mature in his outlook on life and, in my opinion, a better man for it. 

There's more than a touch of James Bond about Jack as this story opens - with him stalking into a gaming club, looking every inch the sort of man who belongs there, but having a very different purpose in mind to the other customers. Even his exit, fighting his way past guards and servants with a beautiful young woman to protect, has that same dangerous, glamorous vibe to it ...and I wonder if this is the way Jack's story will now unfold....

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - adult historical adventure

Friday 27 November 2015

Run Alice Run by Lynn Michell

review by Maryom

Alice Green has settled into a drab, middle-class existence far from the exciting life she'd envisaged as a teenager. Her marriage has deteriorated into silent co-existence, and her job in a run-down library is monotonous and undemanding. She feels invisible - who would remark on such a dull person making their way down the street, or out of a clothing store with a bag full of unpaid-for goods? For Alice craves excitement and thrills, wants to feel the blood pounding through her veins, and this is how she goes about it. It turns out though, that she's not as invisible as she thought for, returning home one day she's met by police waiting outside her door. As Alice is led away to the police station, her younger self appears before her, wanting to know how she got from teenager full of such promise to mousey housewife with nothing to look forward to .....

 Run Alice Run is a look at life from the disappointing standpoint of middle age. Alice is caught in a mid-life crisis; her dreams have fallen by the wayside, her future looks bleak. Instead of going out and buying a fast car or taking up bungee jumping, Alice turns to shop-lifting for the thrill it brings; it's really though a plea for help.
Reaching her teenage years in the 1960s, Alice expected all the world to be open to her, but her parents are still stuck in the mindset that expects a girl to marry well and settle down with children. Despite her education, this has rubbed off on Alice more than she realises - and her life revolves around the men in her life, always putting them and their work first, above her own feelings or needs. She gradually slips into conforming with others' ideas, letting them shape her life. I'm not sure though how much I'd say this was down to the general perception of women at the time, and how much was due to Alice's personality - she does at  times seem rather too placid and willing to put others before herself.
Even though at the end there's a hope that Alice may free herself from her dull life, it's still really due to someone else's actions, and I wondered if, sadly, it was too late for Alice to reinvent herself.

 Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Inspired Quill
Genre -adult,

Thursday 26 November 2015

Tinder by Sally Gardner

 illustrated by David Roberts
review by Maryom

Otto Hundebiss is tired of war, has seen too much of "man's inhumane heart" but still refuses the hand that Death offers him. Instead he wakes up in a forest, where a half-beast, half-man creature gives him boots to walk in and a set of dice that will tell him which path to follow...and so he sets out on an adventure. He falls in love with the beautiful Safire, is imprisoned by the sinister Lady of the Nail, and although he wins his freedom, can Otto save Safire from an arranged marriage?

Using the phrase "illustrated folk tale" to describe this will conjure up images of a brightly-coloured fairy tale for children - don't be mistaken, for Tinder is nothing like that! Folk tales were once much scarier and darker than the sanitised versions put out for children today and Sally Gardner has taken Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinder Box story back to those darker origins. Otto and Safire represent the pure-of-heart innocents struggling against the powers of hate, revenge, and jealousy, personified by truly terrifying characters, not the Pantomime-style villains of younger children's fiction; the Lady of the Nail and the scheming Mistress Jabber will send shivers up and down your spine, and the werewolves just plain horrify you! The writing is compelling and atmospheric, and doesn't pull punches;  werewolves are hungry, blood-thirsty beasts, and war isn't glorious but filled with violence, rape and death.  Through Otto's dreams we see flashbacks to the past that haunts him, the horrific things that happened to his family, and the guilt he still carries.  As I said, it's not a pleasant children's bedtime story.

  The mood throughout is menacing and chilling, and David Roberts' excellent illustrations  - in black and white with vivid splashes of blood red - echo and even increase this mood.

What age group would I say it was for? Teens and onwards, with no upper limit. Although it's published as a 'children's book', I found it enthralling enough to consider it readable by adults with a taste for the fantastical and bizarre.

Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Indigo/Hachette
Genre - folk tale, teen +

Recipes for Love And Murder by Sally Andrew

review by Maryom

Tannie Maria isn't happy when the Klein Karoo Gazette decides to cut her recipe column and replace with an agony aunt advice section. So, as a firm believer in the healing properties of a nicely cooked dinner or a slice of delicious cake, she sets about combining the two, and helping people with their emotional problems through the medium of food. Then someone who wrote to her for advice is found murdered ...and Maria realises not every problem can be solved through culinary skills ...and that occasionally a little snooping may be necessary..

A sort of cross between Mma Ramotswe and Miss Marple, Tannie Maria is a new addition to the ranks of amateur female sleuths. Feeling she has more insight into the deceased woman's life than the local police, she persists in 'interfering' and, along with her colleagues from the Klein Karoo gazette, she uncovers evidence they might have missed but manages to get herself tangled in a deadly situation. In between her exploits unmasking the murderer, Maria continues to offer love, and culinary, advice through her newspaper column - but while she's bringing about happy-endings for those around her, can she find her own with the police's Lieutenant Kannemeyer?

The setting is the sunburnt, sweltering arid Klein Karoo area of South Africa; an area of mainly white and coloured people but still with racial prejudices and bigotry. Add this to the story-line of  domestic abuse and murder it seems odd to call it a gentle, almost light-hearted, tale - but it is, in fact at times when two suspects, one in a wheelchair and one with heavily bandaged and plastered arms, go chasing after a third, the plot almost descends into farce. After rather a lot of dark Nordic noir style crime novels, it's like a breath of fresh air or a blast of that hot African sun! It's certainly one to recommend to fans of Alexander McCall Smith's No1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

Food certainly plays an important part in Maria's life; she believes that there are few problems that can't be solved by the right food. The recipes are described briefly as she cooks and as I read I was wondering if I'd be able to find anything similar on the web - so I was delighted to find several of them included at the end of the book. From mutton curry and tamatie bredie (a South African stew) to her Karoo farm bread, chocolate cakes and honey toffee snake cake (a shape, not an ingredient!), and the buttermilk rusks that Maria hardly ever leaves home without, there are plenty to try out at home.

 Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Canongate
Genre - crime, adult fiction

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Derby Book Festival - 2016 Launch

by Maryom

 Waterstones Derby was the setting last night for the launch of the second Derby Book Festival - to be held next June, 3rd to 11th.
The event opened informally with a chance to browse the store, say hello to friends who volunteered last year and to indulge in mince pies and mulled wine (it is almost Christmas after all). The audience was then addressed by Liz Fothergill, chair of the organising committee, who told us how delighted everyone had been with the success of last year's festival and announced some of the highlights of the coming year's.
The festival will be opened with two poetry events; Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, will appear at the Cathedral, accompanied by her 'favourite court musician' John Sampson, while Derbyshire's Poet Laureate, Helen Mort will be performing her poetry at an event held at Deda.

Other highlights include an event celebrating the bicentennial of Charlotte Bronte's birth with Claire Harman, who has recently published a new biography of the author, and Tracey Chevalier, who has edited and contributed to a new collection of stories, Reader, I Married Him, inspired by Charlotte Bronte's most famous work, Jane Eyre.
As last year, events will take place in a variety of venues across the city, including some new ones. There will be writing workshops, story-telling sessions, a children's book trail and, of course, author appearances. To coincide with the Festival a book of short stories is being collated through the English-as-Second-Language course bringing together tales from Derby's immigrant community, focusing on their journey to the UK, leaving behind family, friends and homes, and the trauma and cultural shocks encountered both on the way and once arrived here.

Something I'm particularly excited about is the event with local novelist Jo Cannon, who was present last night to read an extract from her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, set in the heatwave of 1976. Her book isn't published till January but you can download a first chapter sampler here.

The evening was closed by a few words from David Williams, representing major sponsor Geldards Law Firm; a humorous and entertaining address in which he stressed why it's important for us, as companies and individuals, to support cultural initiatives in the current economic climate.

2016's Derby Book Festival will be 3-11 June, and the full programme will be announced in April.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Claire McGowan: The Silent Dead Blog Tour - author contribution

Today as part of the blog tour to accompany the publication of her latest thriller, The Silent Dead, we're welcoming Claire McGowan to talk about "Writing the Unknown"....

When I’m teaching creative writing, a question that often comes up is whether people are ‘allowed’ to write something. Can you write a character who’s a different gender or age group to you? What about race or economic background? Can you convincingly use a dialect or vernacular that you don’t know well? Are you allowed to write about things you haven’t experienced?

My answer is usually – of course, you’re allowed to write about anything. You don’t have to ask for permission in fiction and it’s not homework. We can make up whatever we like. But I do understand the anxiety that comes from writing something you haven’t gone through yourself. This seems to be so widespread that authors routinely hide their gender with pen names or initials. I’m writing a series about a forensic psychologist who works with the police. I’m not hugely familiar with these worlds, and sometimes I feel unsure about the details – what colour are the walls in police stations? What do the offices smell like? And so on. However, these details can easily be checked by wangling a station visit or researching the procedural processes.

What’s more difficult is to write about emotional situations you haven’t been in. I feel qualified to write about Northern Ireland and the Troubles (I was sixteen with the Good Friday Agreement was signed and living near the border), as I know I have an experience of that time which can’t be challenged. However, I’ve now taken my character to a place where she has a baby, and I don’t have children. I like to think I can imagine it – but I can also get things wrong. A writer friend who has children recently kindly pointed out a small mistake I’d made, which I wouldn’t have known unless I’d been around small children a lot. So there’s always the option to have things checked. I think this anxiety about permission can really hold writers back – so my approach would be write now, and ask questions later. You can always correct it!

Monday 23 November 2015

Matt Haig - author event

by Maryom

Christmas came early to Nottingham last Friday - out in Market Square the festive lights were switched on, and on the top floor of Waterstones Nottingham, Matt Haig arrived as one of the many stages of his "Sleigh Bell Dash" tour to promote his latest book, A Boy Called Christmas. It was actually his third event of the day, the first two events were in schools and had included Chris Mould, the illustrator, with one of those events being in front of 300 children. Matt seemed to be finding it a long day and he had yet to catch his train back to London - so don't think it's an easy life for authors on their tours.

The book is effectively part of Father Christmas's 'backstory' - sparked when Matt's son asked what Father Christmas was like as a boy.

Nikolas's father goes away leaving him with his evil aunt Carlotta. Carlotta is not a nice person and doesn't have a nice word to say about Nikolas's father and eventually drives Nikolas to set out to find his father.

Being a children's book it has all those things you associate with Christmas .... reindeer, elves, pixies, and exploding troll heads.... and is also written with humour. The Mole finds many children's books a bit corny on the laughs front but the readings that Matt gave had him smiling with genuine amusement. And those readings... he offered the younger members of the audience choices and went along with their selection. Happily the audience chose exploding troll heads.

Matt Haig is nothing if not versatile as an author having written books for children and books for adults- some to make you laugh others of a totally serious nature and a lot that fall in between somewhere such as The Humans.  I discovered him many years ago in a holiday cottage which had a copy of The Last Family in England - a dog's-eye view of a family falling apart. My favourite is probably The Radleys the story of abstaining vampires living 'undercover' in an English suburb.

A signing followed - with the audience buying copies for themselves and what appeared to be Christmas presents for young friends and relations - while working his way through signing a stack for the store, he said he'd once signed a thousand in an hour!

Friday 20 November 2015

Crime Author Event - Tim Weaver and M J Arlidge

by Maryom

Another week, another set of crime authors at Waterstones Nottingham, and unfortunately another set of traffic problems. We weren't quite as horrendously late this time but the two authors had taken to the 'stage' and were introducing themselves and their books. The standard pattern of events is to follow this by readings from the authors' latest novels, but last night the authors had 'rebelled' and refused. MJ Arlidge said instead he'd treat us to some of his worst reviews - which certainly raised some laughs from the audience, although to be honest if they were aimed at something I'd written, I'd have been devastated.
Both authors are 'new to me', but not newcomers to the genre - Tim Weaver's What Remains is the sixth book of his series 'starring' investigator David Raker, while MJ Arlidge and his detective DI Helen Brace have reached book 4, Liar Liar. While Arlidge writes about serial killers - some actually based on real life mass-murderers - Weaver's series seems a little unusual amongst crime novels for featuring not gruesome murders but disappearances - his characters will get into a tube train or go out into the garden...and simply vanish!
 The questions from the audience brought up some interesting answers - both authors have come to writing as a 'second career' - Tim Weaver was previously a magazine journalist writing mainly about games, so it was probably quite logical that one audience question was how his novels would translate as a game; MJ Arlidge came to writing via TV - starting out as a screen-writer for Eastenders and Monarch of the Glen, and moving on to crime series, in both writing and producing capacities/roles.
Although both favour working to fairly strict 9 to 5 routines, their approach to writing differs - Arlidge prefers to plan meticulously - knowing what will happen in each chapter and crucially how things will end, before starting to flesh things out. Weaver prefers a more 'winging it' plan of attack - starts with the disappearance, preferably something striking to grab the reader, and maybe knowing the why and how things will end, but otherwise happy to let events unfold as he writes.
The answers at times strayed beyond what was strictly being asked but this informality and spontaneity is something I love about author events, and why I'll happily go along and see an author several times. 

Thursday 19 November 2015

The Silent Dead by Claire McGowan

review by Maryom

Five people, four men and a woman, have gone missing from the area around Ballyterrin, near the Northern Ireland/Eire border. All were members of a breakaway Republican group, all suspected, tried, but not convicted, of having planted a bomb which killed sixteen innocent by-standers. Perhaps they've decided to leave the area completely - though for all five of them to do so on the same day seems unlikely - but then bodies start to turn up..... and DI Guy Brooking and his missing persons unit realise they're looking at kidnapping and murder. Who could be behind this increasingly grisly series of deaths - another branch of the Republican movement, one that's now more interested in promoting the peace process and legitimate political careers? Loyalists looking for revenge? Or maybe someone with closer links to the bomb victims?

This third book of the Paula Maguire series sees her caught up in an unusually disturbing case, one which raises issues about punishment and retribution. Popular opinion considers the missing five as terrorists, holding them responsible for a dreadful crime, placing a bomb on a busy high street; should they be entitled to police protection? Wouldn't the world be safer without them?  As the fifth anniversary of the bombing approaches, with the unveiling of a memorial planned, DI Guy Brooking and his team are working against the clock to find out who is responsible for these disappearances.
 Despite being seven months pregnant, and absolutely everyone she knows advising her to take things easy, Paula is convinced that as a forensic psychologist she can play a helpful role in finding the kidnappers and, of course, it helps distract her from the problems of her private life - small things like having a baby in a few weeks time and not being able to name the father, and the ongoing search for her 'disappeared' mother. 
 Set against the backdrop of modern Northern Ireland, Claire McGowan tells a story that will hook you with its twists and turns, but leave you wondering about the deeper issues behind it. It portrays a town still trying to come to terms with its past during the years of the Troubles but trying to build a lasting peace,despite having once been on opposing sides. This is seen through Paula's eyes, with her mother never having been officially accounted for, and through the long terms effects on the bomb victims' families, for whom nothing will ever be the same again.

This isn't a story that's easy to read or one for the squeamish - there are graphic descriptions of the injuries caused by a bomb blast that will upset anyone - but at its heart lies a interestingly knotty moral dilemma. The missing five haven't been found guilty of the crime they're accused of - is it right for others to take justice into their own hands? What do you think?

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

Paula Maguire 1; The Lost
Paula Maguire 2; The Dead Ground

Tuesday 17 November 2015

The Pale House by Luke McCallin

review by Maryom

In March 1945 Captain Gregor Reinhardt finds himself back in Sarajevo after a two year gap. He's got a new 'job', having been moved to the Feldjaegerkorps elite branch of military police, but still has his old conflict between duty to Germany and determination to do right. He's no happier with the attitudes of high-up Nazis running the country and the war, but is increasingly frustrated that there doesn't seem to be anything he can do about it.
Sarajevo is in complete turmoil. Russian and Partisan troops are advancing on the city, refugees fleeing out of the path of the fighting, the German forces are moving out, and their local supporters the Ustase feel free to do whatever they wish. In this chaos, who's going to notice a few extra dead bodies? Well, Reinhardt does. First, in the hills surrounding Sarajevo, he comes upon evidence of a massacre of civilians - but in the same location are other bodies that he believes don't quite 'belong' there. Then five mutilated bodies turn up within the city, again in curious circumstances that alert Reinhardt's policeman's instincts. Even in the midst of so many other atrocities, Reinhardt isn't going to let these past without investigating, and finds himself on the trail of a lucrative scam being run by some of the German troops.
I read the first of this series, The Man From Berlin, back in August, just as The Pale House, book two, came out and, apart from forgetfulness, I can't think why I haven't read this sooner. Reinhardt is a man trying to keep his ideals in a world where precious few of them are left; one of those 'good' men who find themselves caught up in something they don't approve of but powerless against the might of authority. Therefore, the massacre of civilians by the army is something he can do nothing about, but whenever it is possible  he's determined to see justice. Reinhardt's investigations lead through the streets and alleyways of this old city, from theatrical evenings in the company of a beautiful woman to the grim cellars of the Ustase's headquarters, The Pale House, where people disappear without trace.
Although his past is explained, mainly through flashbacks, I feel it probably IS necessary to read The Man From Berlin first to understand both Reinhardt, with his mix of honour and patriotism that pull him in opposing directions, and Sarajevo and its people.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult historical crime whodunnit World War 2

Monday 16 November 2015

Paperweight by Meg Haston

review by Maryom
Stevie is counting down the days to the anniversary of her brother's death. She has special plans for how to mark the day but her father's concern for her health might have stopped them. He's arranged for her to receive treatment at an eating-disorders clinic in the New Mexico desert, where, isolated by geography, cut off from communications with friends or family, her life and eating patterns will be strictly supervised, day and night. Stevie has plans though to outwit them, to escape and 'celebrate' the way she'd always intended.

Paperweight is an emotional, thought-provoking book - the story of a teenager so overwhelmed by guilt, grief and feelings of worthlessness that she doesn't know how to continue.  Stevie's life has been spiralling downwards for some time. First her mother abandoned their family with seemingly no explanation, then Stevie got dragged into a destructive relationship with Eden, a girl she met at a writing seminar, and now Stevie is carrying additional guilt about her brother Josh's death.

It's an odd sort of book to use the word 'enjoyed' about, but I did. It presented Stevie and her problems in a way that made me sympathise with her, understand WHY she wanted to carry out her 'remembrance' plan, while still hoping she could be stopped. Stevie isn't always a comfortable,'nice' person to be around - which I think made her seem more 'real' - and she contrasts with some of the other girls at the clinic who she herself despises for trying to be pleasant and cheerful.
Without doubt it's an 'issues' book - about eating disorders, how events can work as catalysts to bring them on, how they can hopefully be cured - but the way it's told, by leaking Stevie's back story bit by bit, makes it engaging and readable.

Maryom's Review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hot Key Books
Genre - teen/YA,

Friday 13 November 2015

Between Here and Knitwear by Chrissie Gittins

review by Maryom

This collection of twenty-two, seemingly autobiographical, stories link together to build a single tale of a girl growing from childhood, through the teenage and adult years of wanting to escape from the restrictions of home and build a life of her own, to the time when roles are reversed and she now has to care for her parents into their old age.
Each story takes a moment - often of little importance in itself but which still marks a changing point in the direction life takes. The early ones are short memories of childhood, of running away and discovering a clutch of curlew eggs hidden on the moor, or of arguments between sister and brother, filled with references to the games and toys of the early 1960s. As she moves through adolescence, a family crisis looms, with her mother's nervous breakdown and frequent admissions to the local psychiatric hospital; a confusing time for all the family, not helped by health professionals who seem unwilling to explain what's happening. The years pass, the daughter and son move away to make their own lives but find themselves called back to help as ill-health now begins to wear at their father too.

 The writing style is sparse, economical with words and emotion, but still evokes an echoing feeling in the reader. The stories show the love between children and parents, and that between the parents themselves. My favourites were Power of Eternity and Upright Chair both of which deal with the difficult task of preparing the family home for sale, marking a very definite end of an era. Each story is complete in itself, and can without doubt be read as a stand-alone piece of writing, but I think the power of the collection comes from reading them together from beginning to end, seeing the overall narrative arc, how the relationship between children and parents changes over time, and the responsibility for taking care moves from one generation to the next. 

Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult, short stories

Thursday 12 November 2015

A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

 review by Maryom

"Inspector Lynley investigates the London end of an ever more darkly disturbing case, with Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata looking behind the peaceful fa├žade of country life to discover a twisted world of desire and deceit.
The suicide of William Goldacre is devastating to those left behind. But what was the cause of his tragedy and how far might the consequences reach? Is there a link between the young man's leap from a Dorset cliff and a horrific poisoning in Cambridge?
Following various career-threatening misdemeanours, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is desperate to redeem herself. So when a past encounter with bestselling feminist writer Clare Abbott and her pushy personal assistant Caroline Goldacre gives her a connection to the Cambridge murder, Barbara begs DI Thomas Lynley to let her pursue the crime."

 First off, I'd better admit this is the first DI Lynley novel I've read. I've seen him - and side-kick Havers - on TV though, so I felt confident enough to jump into the series this far through and be able to pick the personal story line up without any worries. And it felt just like catching up with old friends - apart from a little oddness about hair-colouring (TV's Lynley is dark-haired, the books' version fair), Lynley and Havers are as seen on TV; he's upper class, debonair, slightly restrained in everything he does; she's scruffy, over-enthusiastic and likely to be led astray by that enthusiasm.
The story doesn't start with a dead body but about three years before, when William Goldacre finds himself driven to suicide - so the reader gets to know a lot about the characters who will eventually find themselves being questioned about murder. His family are certainly an odd bunch of people, all with seemingly twisted relationships, and dominated by the mother, Caroline, who through a combination of flattery and lies manipulates her husband, ex-husband, two sons and daughter-in-law into doing actually what she wants; only William's girlfriend seems able to resist her. This same mix has managed to gain Caroline a foothold in Clare Abbott's life - moving up from cleaner, to PA - where she tries to exercise the same control. Clare isn't so easily won over though.... I don't know if this is typical of Elizabeth George's story development but it certainly worked well here. I liked getting to know the characters well and get a feel for what might lie behind the mysterious death of Clare Abbott and, at times, would have liked to point Havers in the right direction rather than have her flounder about missing things that seemed apparent to me! That aspect aside, I really enjoyed it.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, crime

Wednesday 11 November 2015

The Butcher Bird by SD Sykes

review by Maryom

Oswald de Lacy is still trying to find his feet as new Lord of the Manor. Somershill has been as badly affected by the Black Death as anywhere else; fields lie fallow for want of men to plough them, houses sit empty where the inhabitants have died, and the villeins and tenants who once followed their lord's bidding without question are starting to understand the power they now have, particularly demanding that Oswald pays higher wages. As if these troubles weren't enough, a baby is found dead and thrown into a thorn bush. The villagers immediately suspect this is the work of the Butcher Bird - a huge bird seen above Somershill's fields, and rumoured to have been loosed by grieving villager John Burrows from the grave of his wife. Oswald is quick to discount such superstitious thinking, but if the Butcher Bird isn't to blame, then who is? Soon though Oswald is side-tracked by other problems, as his widowed sister's step-daughters run away to London, and he finds himself entangled by the charms of their aunt Eloise....

The Butcher Bird is the second of the Snowshill Manor mysteries, following on from Plague Land, set in the fourteenth century in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death, and with Oswald still trying to come to grips with his new position, while solving another murder.

As third son in the family, he'd been destined for the Church, raised in a monastery, and has no inkling of how to run his estate - he could do with a quick course in both farming and 'human resources'. His villagers and servants seem to hold him in little regard, and, if possible, the women in his family value him even less! Whatever Oswald wants to do, they set out to find a way to outwit him.
I'd feel sorry for Oswald, constantly exasperated by them, if he wasn't the one with all the (theoretical) power. The peasants of his manor aren't free to stay or leave as they please, and, by law, wages are set at a low, pre-plague figure. Many are sneaking away, leaving the countryside and heading for town, hoping for a better life there.
Oswald's women-folk are stuck with him though! They're restricted by laws and custom from so many things, and have so very little choice about what will happen to them in life. They each have a way to try to get round these restrictions - Eloise relies on physical attraction, sister Clemence bullies and nags, and his mother deflects all arguments through silliness. It's funny at times to read, but the reality of women's lives wouldn't have been so humorous.

Like Plague Land, this works well as both crime and historical novel; it's as twisty-turny a whodunnit as any contemporary crime novel while capturing the flavour of the period without over-loading the reader with historical facts and figure.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, historical crime

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Christopher Fowler: London's Glory Blog Tour - Author contribution

To celebrate the launch of "London's Glory", a collection of short stories about the detectives Bryant and May, we are delighted to welcome Christopher Fowler's blog tour and take the opprtunity to put some questions and learn the true future of this great pairing of characters.

 Before Bryant and May you had success with a few other books including "Roofworld".  These books were either short story collections or stand-alone novels but then you come up with a series of 15 books about an unlikely pairing of detectives.  Where did you get the idea of such an odd couple as Bryant and May from?

I wanted to create two Golden Age detectives in a modern setting. I made Bryant & May old to
dispense with the ageism that suggests only the young can do their jobs well. Older characters bring a lifetime of experience. I started with a matchbox label that read "Bryant & May - England's Glory". That gave me their names, their nationality, and something vague and appealing, the sense of an institution with roots in London's sooty past. You have to remember that London has only just been lit up. Before the mid-1980s it was a city steeped in shadows which bred criminality. We lost something when the lights were turned up and the CCTV was turned on, and I try to recapture that lost sense of the sinister.

 There is a psychic element in many of  the cases - did you develop these psychic themes as deeply as you would like or did editors hold you back? Or, perhaps, the opposite?

Amazingly I’m still working with the same editor and he never holds me back! I sew threads of ideas throughout the novels that I like to return to, and one of them is that DS Janice Longbright and her mother are psychic, which I’m able to explore in a non-supernatural, realistic way, in ‘The Burning Man’. I think there should always be a hint of the unknown in the stories…

Did you plan on them becoming such a long series?

I hadn’t expected the series to last so long at all. In fact, the first book was written as a one-off. The idea of a couple of elderly, grumpy detectives clearly didn’t sound very appealing to my former publisher, so I took the book to someone who understood what I was getting at, and have been there ever since. It seems to have worked and the detectives have a growing number of fans, which delights me.

I particularly enjoy making them behave like experienced adults and immature children. I think heroes are often boring simply because they have to be appealingly young – well, Bryant & May don’t have to be; they’re as esoteric, eccentric, bad-tempered and weird as the villains, who in most books are more interesting than heroes.

In "The Burning Man" we are presented with a scenario of the end of the series and I, for one, was gutted. What made you decide to bring the series to an end?

I haven’t! There is, as with all the mystery novels I most admire, a sleight of hand going on with clues hidden in several earlier volumes. I love showing that something is utterly impossible, and then revealing how it can be done. Just one reader has worked out what I’m up to, and I may have to kill him. I don’t write the books to be read in sequence, by the way; in fact I think they’re more fun if you mix them up. Perhaps ‘On The Loose’ and ‘Off The Rails’ should be read together, and ’77 Clocks’ is the odd one out, being set in a different period.

London's Glory treats us to a chance to follow their antics once again in a group of short stories - will there be more stories from before "The Burning Man" to follow?

I think if it turns out there’s a market for them, then yes. Publishers always tell you not to write short stories as readers don’t like them, but that’s a red rag to a bull to me, and just makes me want to write more. Conan Doyle’s consulting detective inspired many other authors to tackle stories beyond the accepted canon. Adrian Conan Doyle picked up his father’s mantle, accompanied by John Dickson Carr, for ‘The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes’, based on twelve unexplained cases mentioned by Holmes, and did two more volumes…

You have returned to stand-alone and short story books - do you a plan for a replacement of Bryant and May? 

See above – they’re not leaving yet! In fact the next full-length novel, ‘Strange Tide’, is out in March.

If you had to be judged on just one of your books and could choose which it was to be - which would you put forward?

Without question it would be Paperboy, because it’s my life. Well, that and the sequel Film Freak. But if they’re about who I am, then Bryant & May are about how I’d like to be.

Monday 9 November 2015

Crime Author Event - 6th November

 by The Mole

A regular feature in the Waterstones Nottingham calendar are "crime panels" where 2 or 3 crime authors talk about their work. The latest panel brought together three local authors - Steven Dunne, Stephen Booth, and Glenis Wilson.

Steven Dunne has written five thrillers starring DI Damen Brook and they are set mainly in Derby. His latest book is A Killing Moon. Stephen Booth's long-running Cooper and Fry series takes place in the idyllic setting of the Peak district and runs to 15 books - the latest being The Murder Road. Glenis Wilson, as well as literary and romantic novels, has turned to crime in the world of horse-racing; her latest, Dead On Course is out in December.

Due to traffic we arrived a little late but were still welcomed with a smile and we settled in quietly at the back. The event was under way and we had missed the formal introductions but a cross author Q&A was in full swing with Steven Dunne leading the session.

We have seen Steven Dunne a few times at events in Nottingham and Derby, and Steven Booth was a guest at the Derby Book Festival but we hadn't encountered Glenis Wilson before although she is part of Nottingham Writer's Studio

Each author then read a short passage from one of their books and surprisingly Steven Dunne chose to read from Deity and not his latest book. Stephen Booth read from The Murder Road. All three authors read about the discovery of a body and The Mole found Deity to be chilling to the point where it's one book he probably wouldn't pick up - although he would be happy to read Dunne's other books.

Steven Booth explained how in Corpse Road Cooper and Fry visit Hartington and Booth takes the opportunity to mention that Dunne's Damen Brook lives there but they choose not to visit. Product placement or what?

The floor was opened up to questions and a very open audience took the opportunity to pose questions without any reservations - normally the audience can be rather shy.

A book signing followed with coffee and wine available as we chatted about the books and the event with the authors and the organiser - Dan. Dan does have a last name but we were shown and discussed a precedent where it wasn't used. Another great event Mr Donson - thank you.

A really excellent evening's entertainment with fascinating people.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths

review by Maryom

It's November 1951 and Brighton is getting ready for Christmas with lights along the prom and panto in the pier theatre - even the weather is getting in the mood with snow blanketing the town. For DI Edgar Stephens and his team, the snow isn't welcome at all - it's merely hampering the police's efforts to trace two missing children. Thirteen year old Annie and best friend twelve year old Mark had been playing on the street with other children, rehearsing one of the rather gruesome fairy-tale inspired plays that Annie used to write, but in the few minutes it took to walk to the sweet shop they had disappeared. When their bodies are discovered, with a trail of sweets seemingly pointing to them, the immediate suspect is the shop-owner, but to Edgar the whole scene seems reminiscent of the tale of Hansel and Gretel. He seems surrounded by too may leads, and too many suspects - the young teacher who encouraged Annie's writing? the neighbour who allowed the children to perform in his converted garage? or maybe there's a link to a previous murder, many years before, in which a child star appearing in the panto Babes in the Wood was killed?
Edgar's friend, and war-time colleague, Max Mephisto, in Brighton playing evil villain Abanazar in Aladdin, comes to his help with behind the scenes theatre gossip but, as a stage magician, feels that somehow the investigation is being distracted in the classic "smoke and mirrors" way...

Oddly, I've been to a couple of  Elly Griffiths 's events, really enjoyed them and left feeling I really must read her books - but not got round to it! I'd intended to pick up this new series at the beginning - but again I've failed, and jumped in at Book2. Although I'll go back and read the first, The Zig-zag Girl, this second stands well alone. The back story is explained enough for a new-comer to understand, though I'd guess there are spoilers for book one in there, but really this story stands on its own. It unfolded in a way to keep me hooked - first the desperate search for the children, then the sad discovery of their bodies, with insights into possible motives and suspects revealed gradually, as and when discovered by the police, but not deliberately with-held by the author (I hate that!). Set in the 1950s there are obviously a lot of modern methods unavailable to DI Stephens and his colleagues - but in some ways this can lead to a more engrossing story; the answer isn't found by an anonymous scientist in a lab but by old-fashioned observation and deduction.
There's also an intriguing personal story going on for Edgar Stephens, which I won't divulge but which has me wanting to know what will happen next in his life. In this respect, I think readers ARE going to be teased - with Edgar being led in a direction they won't want him to go!
I'm now a confirmed Elly Griffiths fan and my only regret is not having made the effort to read her work before - but on the plus side, there's lots waiting for me to discover and I don't have to wait for a new book to be published.

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

Wednesday 4 November 2015

The Stars Seem So Far Away by Margret Helgadottir

review by Maryom

A girl sailing alone over the Northern seas outwits pirates, another guards the seed bunkers established by her father, a boy stumbles across a former astronaut now living in a wrecked plane ..... through the eyes of five different survivors, Margret Helgadottir shares a bleak vision of a dying Earth, devastated by global warming, where only the polar regions are still habitable.

 In this dystopian future, people have fled North and built new cities on Svalbard and Greenland, but even here life is difficult. Plague and famine attack the remaining population, families become separated and, for most, life is just about surviving from day to day. Only in The Green Land, as it's now known, does a ray of hope remain - there are seed banks, artificial animals and enough remaining civilisation to put together a space flight...

At first this seems like a collection of short stories, but gradually they begin to merge into one bigger tale. The picture painted is of a devastated Earth, where all other life has died, and only Man survives - and even Mankind is hanging on by its collective fingertips! Seeing the effects of global warming brought to life in this way, gives them an immediacy that scientists statements often lack. The characters and their stories will hook you but the underlying message about environmental change can't be ignored.
I'm not sure whether this is aimed at teens, adults or both. I really enjoyed it, loved the writing style and world-building, without felling it was aimed at anyone younger - but, with the major characters all being in or around their teens, I still feel younger ages groups would enjoy it.

 Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Fox Spirit
Genre - sci-fi, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, adult/teen crossover

Tuesday 3 November 2015

The Shoeshine Killer by Marianne Wheelaghan

review by Maryom

This second in the Scottish Lady Detective series, sees Louisa Townsend in Fiji for a police conference - but getting mixed up with murder. When a new acquaintance is killed, Louisa isn't convinced the local police are asking the right questions so wants to help out - but not only do the Fijian police not want her help - they also think she could be a suspect!
With Louisa sidelined from the official investigation, this is more like an amateur detective story than a police procedural. She's forced to do things on the sly, without any of the resources available to the official investigation, although she does have the assistance of one of the local Fijian police, Constable Makareta, who's actually supposed to be keeping an eye on Louisa's movements.

In her first 'outing', Food of Ghosts, Louisa was trying to get to grips with the customs of the Pacific Island  Kiribati; this time she's equally adrift by being away from home on Fiji. It certainly doesn't come over as the idyllic paradise I've always assumed it to be - it has as many drug-dealers and prostitution rackets as any gritty European crime setting, and the weather seems just as wet (though undoubtedly hotter). This is though a lighter sort of crime novel - more Midsomer than The Bridge - with some decidedly comic moments in between the deaths; over all it's a fun, enjoyable read rather than a grim psychological study.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Pilrig Press
Genre - crime

Monday 2 November 2015

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

Review by The Mole

Oy Yew is a young waif who cannot remember where he came from or what his name is. He wanders the streets living off the smell of a bakery while not being noticed. One day, however, he is noticed, by children who catch him and sell him to Jeopardine, a factory owner. Oy now finds out what it's like to be noticed, to be spoken to and to have people who are concerned for his welfare, albeit only other waifs. It's not long before he is sent, along with a couple of other waifs, to work in the factory owners house.

When waifs reach a certain height they are released from service and sent "home". But in this household because food is scarce and accidents are rife it takes a long time for the waifs to reach the required height - if they live that long.

Jeopardine soon notices that Oy is different to other waifs and takes a special interest in him. Then accidents start to threaten Oy but somehow Oy seems to live a charmed life. 

Oy Yew is a story described as crossover aimed at 9 to 90 and it certainly works (although I'm not 90 yet!). A story of slavery, abuse, treachery, kindness and friendship also steeped in adventure, suspense and danger. It encapsulates much that is bad in the world and contrasts that with so much that is good.

The main characters are the waifs who are all aged in the 7-12 age bracket (although age is not something they discuss - it's height that matters) and they are a mixed set of girls and boys, some likeable some positively not so. For the younger capable reader this has everything they could want in a book, for the older reader it works equally well.

As book 1 of a trilogy called The Waifs of Duldred (Duldred is Jeopardine's estate) we can reasonably safely assume that all will not go as the waifs have planned at Duldred.

Longlisted for the Times/Chicken House prize for children's fiction - I thoroughly enjoyed this well crafted story.

When I come to write these reviews I always wonder have I said enough? Is there more I should add? With this in mind let me finish with these words.... read this book!

Publisher - Mother's Milk Books
Genre -
Children's/Adult crossover,  dystopian