Book Giveaway!

Snakeskins by Tim Major

20190513_172732 (1)Set in an alternate timeline, where a mysterious meteor shower known as “The Fall” hit Britain in the 1800s, leaving behind a lasting impact on the inhabitants of a nearby village and its descendants, Snakeskins is an intriguing exploration of what it means to be human and the absolute corruption of power.

As a result of the impact, a subsection of the British population known as “Charmers” now have skin shedding ceremonies every seven years, where they produce a conscious but very brief clone of themselves known as a Snakeskin, giving the original extended youth and lives. The snakeskin then dusts back into the atmosphere. But what are they really? Fully realised people or ghostly copies of their original? With Caitlin Hext’s first shedding ceremony coming up, a right of passage for charmers, she finds herself naturally curious to find out more.

This is an intriguing SciFi conspiracy novel which, as with all good SciFi, uses high concept ideas to explore prescient issues about our society’s treatment of people, and it’s bloody good too. From high powered political games, to everyday bullying it covers society’s complex push and pull in shaping its institutions for the benefit of the few.

Thanks to my friends over at “TitanBooks I have a copy of this to give away. All you have to do is head over to Instagram or Twitter and do the following:

Instagram: @HebrideanReader  Follow and Like the Snakeskins post, and comment on why you would like a copy.

Twitter: @HebrideanReader Follow, Like and Retweet the competition tweet.

The competition is open until 10pm on Wednesday 15 May 2019 when I will pick a winner at random. The competition is open to UK/Ireland/US and Canada only. Good luck!

April showers allow reading for hours

April Reading Round-Up

This is a bit of an unfair month; nothing I read was a particular DUD, although there were a lot of “average” reads. However nothing fell below 3 stars (out of 5). That said, there were a lot of very specialised genre books, so bare in mind that although I enjoyed them all, they are definitely not all for everyone.

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The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was my surprise of the month. An impulse pick up from the Library display, it felt like Kismet and it was. Orlean is a staff writer for the New Yorker, who previously wrote the Orchid Thief, which I’ve heard of but yet to read. In The Library Book she re-discovers her love of libraries through her son’s school project and sets her journalistic eye on the history and depths of the Los Angeles Central Library which suffered a cataclysmic fire in 1986.

Part History book, part mystery investigation and part sociology study of the Microcosm of the Library’s clientele, no description can do this book justice. Try and tell someone what it’s about and it just sounds archaic, but like the libraries it waxes lyrical about, it 20190411_085121has hidden fathoms. It’s beautiful; atmosphere and quotes dripping from every page, and not only have I not stopped talking about it since I read it, but I’ve immediately had to go out and buy my own copy. Seriously, give it a try, if you love books I dare you not to fall further in love with libraries and librarians after reading this.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies, curated by Scarlett Curtis

A collection of essays from activists, actresses, and women wanting to shout their autonomy from the hills, FDWP is a must read for anyone beginning their Feminist journey, or simply wanting to shore up their battle weary heart after another day of fighting the patriarchy. As with all essays, you may not agree with everything written here, but the book makes clear that you don’t have too. Everyone’s interpretation of Feminism is going to be slightly different, and each is equally valid. It’s about listening to all view points, educating yourself on experiences you may not directly 20190404_152104have had and supporting other women in their own battlefields, and all the proceeds go to Girl Up a United Nations Foundation Initiative, so you’re helping others while reading!

I found it inspirational and funny and I think if you come to it willing to learn then you’ll definitely gain something from it.

Snakeskins by Tim Major

I’m not going to say much about this, because I have book giveaway and fuller review coming later in the month – but it’s definitely worth it. An excellent and intriguing Sci-fi novel which deals with themes of humanity, empathy and power and which I could not predict even down to the last couple of chapters.

Death Sentence by Stuart Moore (Published 2 May 2019)

I have an Avengers itch that needs scratched (It’s not on in the cinema here until the 24th of May. Avoiding spoilers is HARD), so this came along at the right time. Thanos is my Ultimate villain right now and so getting a book looking at his internal motivations has the same feel as reading a serial killer psychological study…who says Marvel fans take things too seriously?

This book is NOT set in the cinematic universe, but it is close enough to scratch that itch for me. Having suffered a final defeat at the hands of the Avengers Thanos begs his beloved Mistress Death for a final chance to prove his devotion and she puts him through an afterlife walkabout that steadily reveals hidden depths to Thanos and his motivations, as well as some welcome cameos from more heroic characters.

The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson (Published 15 May 2019)

Trembling with excitement, Bertha Watt sets out on the adventure of a lifetime: her and her mother leaving behind their old life in Aberdeen to meet up with her father in Oregon and start a new life full of promise and opportunity and, if she behaves herself, a pony. Facing several boring days crossing the Atlantic onboard a ship, she and her new friend, Madge, decide to set up The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency. Along the way, Bertha befriends Johan, a 3rd class passenger with a desperate passion to reunite his family. But something even more ominous is lurking over the horizon: It’s April 1912 and Bertha, her family and her friends are sailing to America aboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

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The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson is a tale of two halves. The first; a look at the innocent and nostalgic childhood from the early twentieth century – both that of the privileged, and the heavier responsibilities of those in poverty. The second half is wrought with tangible horror and heartbreak, as the ending that you almost forgot was looming comes to fruition. Littleson has done her research, and although the narrative is fiction, all the characters are based on true-life passengers aboard the doomed Ocean liner with some of the more out there twists and turns being based on fact – truth is often stranger than fiction after all. An excellent introduction to the Titanic for younger readers.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Macarenhas

In the 60s four female scientists make a landmark breakthrough that will transform the world – Time travel. But their paths soon diverge as one of them has a shakey temporary reaction and is unashamedly pushed out in order not to tarnish the project. Meanwhile, in the present a mysterious and unidentified dead body appears in a locked room, but without any way to identify it how can the case be solved.

I am a SUCKER for Time Travel. It doesn’t need to make sense for me, I just love the different narrative options it can open up for a story – it feels like a sandbox of possibilities for me. So when this fell through my letterbox courtesy of my monthly book subscription I was giddy. It was a dark exploration of how power corrupts and that we should be careful what we wish for, alongside a healthy dose or mystery thriller, and female lead to boot. My only complaint was that it felt a little like it was playing it safe to appeal to the mainstream market and that it could have let loose and gone even darker.

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Alison is a high flying London Barrister deep in a guilt ridden affair and who’s family life is falling apart, her husband Carl systematically pulling away and taking their daughter with him. When Alison is handed her first murder by her lover, things start to come to a head. But who is really manipulating who and can Alison find her way back from the brink to the life she really wants?

It’s a typical mystery thriller, well-written but fairly predictable, and with a messy alcoholic female protaganist. A must read for anyone who loved Girl on a train and Anatomy of a Murder, but still a mystery thriller by numbers.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos (Published 7 June 2019)

Le Sigh. I enjoyed The Farm; it was a good read but it simply didn’t live up to expectations. It was sold as a feminist almost dystopian tale, and while all the main characters are complex women, it is much more focused on current world issues which we’re grappling with and moral and ethical questions around surrogacy and potential exploitation. While these are interesting and prescient topics and the characters were engaging and well written, the ending felt like a cop out. I’m not sure it ever really reached a conclusion. I was happy for the outcome for most characters, but it felt like it dodged the overarching issues and complexities in order to wrap everything up in a nice little bow, without ever truly delving that deeply into the issues of exploitation and racism that it hinted at.
A good read but not as world shattering as had been implied.

Supernatural – Children of Anubis by Tim Waggoner

I’m a Supernatural Fan. For a brief period I was even part of the Fandom. I’m on my third full rewatch and I will absolutely feel like something is missing when the show ends next year (God help me, those boys BETTER get a happy ending!..although I’m not holding out much hope), so I jumped up and down with excitement when I was offered this for a preview, and I did enjoy it. But it did not feel like a Sam and Dean story.

20190422_163153Introducing a new monster after so many seasons is impressive, and this story, which is set during season 12 introduces a family of Jackals, a monster that has generally stayed off the radar of hunters by not rocking the boat and only harvesting after natural deaths. However they do rub Werewolves up the wrong way, and this unfortunate pack find themselves in a town already marked as the territory of a particularly aggressive pack of werewolves. So begins a turf war which is essentially a bloodier version of Westside Story, or Romeo and Juliet to go back to the original. And Turf wars Definitely attract the attention of hunters. So enter Sam and Dean and a couple of other fan favourites, but the story still belongs to the Jackals. And it’s engaging, and the characters are excellent so I’d definitely pick up another one. But that still doesn’t mask the disappointment that this wasn’t a story focused on Sam and Dean, despite some illuminating flashbacks.

All My Colours by David Quantick (Published 16 May 2019)

Todd Milstead is a jackass; barely tolerated by a few close friends who love his whiskey more than him and loathed by almost everybody else, his arrogance and self-satisfaction mark him for a comeuppance well overdue. Until one night when he discovers that he can recall a book, word for word, that no one else has ever heard of – the titular All My Colors. Being a wannabe writer who, until this moment hasn’t managed to construct enough narrative to fit on a napkin, Todd decides that this is his chance, and while fending off an acrimonious divorce sets about writing the next Great American Novel.

All My Colors is the latest novel from David Quantick, who this time takes a twisty look at the Publishing industry and the pain of trying to write something, sometimes anything, that might help you leave a mark. In this case it comes with a high price for Todd and his long suffering friends, proving a cautionary tale at chasing your dreams at any cost, and serving up an end reminiscent of an episode of Tales from the Crypt – weird but deserved and with a cackley twinkle.

All My Colors is dark and twisty and has a horrible protagonist, even in his nicer moments and so-called reformation. While the end feels a little bit too rushed and the atmosphere is all over the place, it carries enough threads of curiosity through it to keep you turning the pages and wondering how they can all be tied together.

 

 

A Titanic story for young readers

The Titanic Detective Agency – Book Review

Trembling with excitement, Bertha Watt sets out on the adventure of a lifetime: her and her mother leaving behind their old life in Aberdeen to meet up with her father in Oregon and start a new life full of promise and opportunity and, if she behaves herself, a 20190417_172015.jpgpony.

Facing several boring days crossing the Atlantic onboard a ship, she and her new friend, Madge, decide to emulate Holmes and Watson and set up The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency. They quickly stumble across two intriguing mysteries, one involving treasure and another involving a mysterious family with a shady father. Along the way, Bertha befriends Johan, a 3rd class passenger with a desperate passion to reunite his family. But something even more ominous is lurking over the horizon: It’s April 1912 and Bertha, her family and her friends are sailing to America aboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson is a tale of two halves. The first; a look at the innocent and nostalgic childhood from the early twentieth century – both that of the privileged, and the heavier responsibilities of those in poverty. The second half is wrought with tangible horror and heartbreak, as the ending that you almost forgot was looming comes to fruition.

Littleson has done her research, and although the narrative is fiction, all the characters are based on true-life passengers aboard the doomed Ocean liner with some of the more out there twists and turns being based on fact – truth is often stranger than fiction after all.

It’s a challenging introduction for its target audience of 8 to 11 year olds. One which focuses on the humanity involved in the maritime tragedy, but it’s all the more worthwhile for this focus, The Titanic Detective Agency doesn’t shy away from the horror and lasting impact the accident had on the few survivors.

It’s well written, engaging and doesn’t talk down to younger readers. More than that it brings a hundred and seven year old tragedy to life. And just look at that cover – it’s beautiful!

 

All My Colors – Review

Todd Milstead is a jackass; barely tolerated by a few close friends who love his whiskey more than him and loathed by almost everybody else, his arrogance and self-satisfaction mark him for a comeuppance well overdue. Until one night when he discovers that he can recall a book, word for word, that no one else has ever heard of – the titular All My Colors. Being a wannabe writer who, until this moment hasn’t managed to construct enough narrative to fit on a napkin, Todd decides that this is his chance, and while fending off an acrimonious divorce sets about writing the next Great American Novel.

After all, if no one else can remember the book, then surely it’s his for the taking? And that’s when the weird starts.

IMG_20190416_205803_984All My Colors is the latest novel from the writer of Veep and The Thick of It, David Quantick, who this time takes a twisty look at the Publishing industry and the pain of trying to write something, sometimes anything, that might help you leave a mark. In this case it comes with a high price for Todd and his long suffering friends, proving a cautionary tale at chasing your dreams at any cost, and serving up an end reminiscent of an episode of Tales from the Crypt – weird but deserved and with a cackley twinkle.

Titan Books is promoting this to fans of Chuck Palahniuck and I can’t think of a more appropriate comparison. All My Colors is dark and twisty and has a horrible protagonist, even in his nicer moments and so-called reformation. While the end feels a little bit too rushed and the atmosphere is all over the place, it carries enough threads of curiosity through it to keep you turning the pages and wondering how they can all be tied together. Has Todd really witnessed what he thought he witnessed? Is he going mad? Or is something more malevolent at work? And will it all be worth it in the end?

I was provided a copy of All My Colors for a fair and honest review. I’d give it about 3 and a half stars (out of 5). It’s not average, but it’s not shot to the top of my must read lists either.

March reading round up

Sal by Mick Kitson
Sal and her little sister Peppa have suffered for years at the hands of their step-father. But with a new horror threatening Peppa’s innocence, Sal decides that enough is enough and they’re leaving. The 13 year old Glasgow girl takes matters into her own hands and her and Peppa flee for a life in the Scottish hills fuelled by Youtube survival videos and a desire for safety.

Sal is an undervalued hardened, traumatised and big hearted heroine, who’s love for her sister is her guiding star. Kitson nails the voice of a young survivor who takes solace in her own capabilities for survival and creates one of the most wonderful protaganists. It’s a slim book which packs a punch and gut punches you at the everyday ordeals our children are having to face while also proving optimistic and is one I’ll be recommending to people for a long long time.

The Burning by Laura Bates
Anyone who likes to dismiss the lives of teenagers as playground politics NEEDS to read this Young Adult book. Anna and her mother pitch up in a small Scottish town with no background and new names. In the course of settling into a new life Anna begins researching the witch hunt of a woman who lived in her new home over 200 years earlier. But what she finds dovetails horribly with her own past which begins to catch up with her.

This is the first generation that has had to

deal with persecution by internet and the humiliation that entails, but the drive to persecute women for their mistakes is as old as time and Bates manages to weave a powerful and gripping novel that deals with misogyny, social media and the hazards and challenges of being a modern teenager trying to navigate a world with no guidance or understanding from previous generations. It really is a must read for everyone.

On the front line with the Women who Fight Back by Stacey Dooley
Stacey Dooley may have risen to fame this year thanks to her warm performance on Strictly, but she has long been a journalistic force to reckon with. Down to earth, direct and endlessly empathetic she has shone a light on issues in some of the most dangerous places in the world and humanised the people experiencing things beyond our imagination. She brings this same warmth and curiosity to this book about some of the most incredible women she has met and the horrors that they have survived and overcome.

It’s a lovely book that is easy to read in style and challenging in content but focuses, appropriately, on the women she has met rather than on herself (although fans of Dooley won’t be disappointed either.)

Blindness by Jose Saramago
I love dystopian fiction. I’m not sure why. I don’t think I’m a masichist, but I do enjoy thought experiments on how people might react if everything is flipped on them without any warning. In Blindness, a contagious disease which causes sudden blindness suddenly pops up and spreads rapidly and indiscriminantly around the world. What follows is a horrific look at how quickly structural respect and authority breaks down and how dependent people would become on the fickle kindness of individuals. It’s engrossing and predictably tragic in some places but still manages to introduce glimmers of hope towards the end.

The Reckoning by John Grisham
I loved this, right up until the end. Grisham is a master at weaving stories full of humanity and compelling characters but presenting them in analytical case study type ways. In The Reckoning, popular farmer Pete Banning gets up one day, calmly goes about his business and then walks into his local church and executes local pastor Dexter Bell. What follows is a character study of a community and time period to try to ascertain what possible motive there could be for such a cold killing. And it does keep you gripped, right up until the big reveal which I found a massive let down.

Without giving any spoilers, I think I understand how in the time period and location the motive might have proven scandalous, but in this day and age and after such a tightly wound pre-amble, it felt senseless and unnecessary and simply not worth the destruction the crime wrecked through the family and community. This may have been the point – how senseless it was, but given the time spent building empathy for Banning and the horror felt by his family at the reveal I think we are meant to be as shocked as them. I wasn’t, and it undid any intrigue and sympathy I did have for the characters. I’ll still read every Grisham I can get my hands on though!

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans
Mattie is an aging suffragette, still full of passion but pushing a cause that society has lost interest in, so she channels her energy into setting up the Amazons. A local girl’s group aimed at demonstrating first hand that the attendees can be intelligent, capable and ambitious.

Mattie is a loveable barging train of a character who can’t understand the complex emotions in the characters around her, even when they are directed at her, but is full of heart and good intentions. It’s a nice novel about what happens to protestors once their fight is deemed over, and they’re not ready to walk away.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis has spent some time moving around the US Government departments that no one understands and identifying the essential and completely underestimated services they provide. It is clear that while it might be frustrating, but acceptable that the average US citizen does not understand these agencies, the terrifying reality is that the current administration does not understand them, has no interest in understanding them, and is slowly and irrevocably descimating them and that thousands of hidden essential services they provide.

There is a general feeling that the world is burning right now with Global Politics and the erosion of human rights, but what this does is provide the evidence in greater detail that any collapse may come not just from intentional destruction but from nonchalant brushing under the rug of issues that just aren’t “sexy” enough.

Sherlock Holmes Vs Dracula by John H Watson
According to a forward by Watson, Holmes actually ended up investigating and helping to take down Dracula and was a key protagonist during the events of Bram Stoker’s tale, but thanks to Van Helsing’s ego his contributions were erased from history, except in this “re-discovered” account.
It’s written as a Sherlock Holmes novel, with the concise style and sudden leaps of ‘logic’ and follows the story of Dracula, slotting in Holmes and Watson were they can reasonably be expected to have an impact. It’s a neat little read, although my pleasure was mitigated by the understandable restrictions on how much Sherlock can actually effect. In the end he basically washes his hands of it saying “job done” despite Dracula still being at large, but as a thought experiment it is good fun.

The Secret Island by Enid Blyton
Peggy, Nora Jack and Mike run away from abusive and neglectful guardians and set up a new life for themselves on an island in the middle of a lake. With farming and survival skills what follows is a nostalgic look at an extended game of playing house, whereby the children prove how much more capable and better off they are when left to their own devices.

This was my favourite book as a child and I recently picked it up again as we were looking at Children’s Books in my book club. The cover has long been falling off it, and I remember how I used to finish it and flip to the start to begin again. For nostalgia’s sake I still love it, but I think we can all agree that a lot of Enid Blyton just doesn’t sit comfortably anymore. Full of privileged children exhibiting spoilt behaviour and horrible levels of toxic masculinity, it may send lovely big messages but the more subtle messages it sends mean I will not be reading this to my children. Even if I will still keep my old battered copy and occasionally re read it.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Siddhartha was a tough read. I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist texts recently and really enjoying them, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Siddhartha was simply playing with his privilege.
It follows the story of a man looking for meaning and enlightenment in the time of the Buddha and plays a little like an ancient Forrest Gump, but with a less likeable lead. It’s short, and there are some interesting Buddhist principles in there but it wasn’t the most engaging tale.

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
I was desperate for something funny and ridiculous, so a buddy comedy where Barak Obama and Joe Biden go off to solve a murder case seemed perfect and I sat down ready to laugh with two beloved characters. It. Was. Awful. Biden was portrayed a jealous jilted partner simpering after Obama who was distant, egotistical and dismissive. Neither was likeable and the plot was barely there. I wasn’t expecting it to be realistic to the President and vice-president – obviously. But given the success the internet had with generating a funny and warm bromance between the two through meme wars, I did expect them to be a little…nicer. And to like each other a little more. Shouldn’t have bothered finishing it.

Pick of the month: Sal by Mick Kitson

Dud of the month: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

February Reading Round Up

One of these days I will get one of these out on time…For now, I count four days into March pretty good going (I’ve just started TWO new jobs, so the fact I remember any of my passwords for this site, let alone what I read last month, is a bloody miracle!)

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When they call you a terrorist : A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

Patrisse Khan Cullors grew up in a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles and witnessed first-hand the structural oppression and institutional racism upon which America, and most western countries are built on. It’s no wonder that she grew up inflamed and ready to fight for freedoms that the privileged take for granted, such as the right to support, care and love and the right not to be removed from your bed in the middle of the night by police teams in full riot gear on a fishing expedition.

What is surprising is that she grew up fighting for these things from a place of love rather than hatred. The atrocities to which she, her family and her community have been subjected, which she details in searing, harrowing detail, would be enough to fill up anyone’s fuel tank with anger, but Khan-Cullors has found ways in which she can process. This then forms the basis and the ethos of the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement which she co-founded and which believes that until everyone has equality, no one has equality.

When They Call you a terrorist is a memoir of two halves, albeit they flow together seemlessly. In the first, Khan-Cullors details her experiences growing up, from kind and loving parents who were fighting simply to keep their heads above water against overwhelming forces trying to push them under, to a brother punished horrifically for daring to be a black man with a mental illness. In the second, she describes the rolling snowball that became the Black Lives Matter movement and all it stands for. This is an absolute must read.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Viewing the events of the Trojan wars and Odysseus’ adventures from Penelope’s point of view, Atwood’s re-examination of the myths of ancient Greece is a clear influencer on the more recent Circe by Madeline Miller. The novel gives ancient myth a feminist slant as the ‘quiet’ and ‘obedient’ trope of Penelope as the doting wife is flipped on its head and she is given agency over the events which have historically been done to her as well as a modern critique of the crimes waged against women by men trying to protect their egos. It provides a fantastic and interesting new entry point to well known tales which allow you to engage critically in the classics.

Bookshop memories by Patrick Bruskiewich

A very short play based on an equally short story from George Orwell about his memories of working in a bookshop. Sardonic and insightful, you will either recognise the customers Orwell describes, or identify with them. An entertaining and thoughtful assessment which will hopefully provide you with a little more empathy for your own local book wranglers, in particular second hand bookshop owners.

And the Rest is History by Jodi Taylor

An Argumentation of historians by Jodi Taylor

The Long and Short of it by Jodi Taylor

I am now up to date on this series, including all the short stories, so those of you that are not interested in the St Mary’s Chronicles series will be relieved to know that these will not be appearing on any further round up lists (until the next one is published or I decide to re-read them that is!)

But for this last grouping I have one description – OUCH. And the Rest is History is a brutal entry into the series whereby it opens with a glimmer of hope as Ronan approaches St Mary’s with the offer of a truce and then everything rapidly goes downhill from there, leading to long lasting and heartbreaking repercussions. I’m not sure I can stand much more heartbreak for Max, and in the author’s note for An Argumentation of Historians, even Taylor jokes that her publishers begged for something a little cheerier; which thankfully she delivers. It is still tinged with sadness after the events of And the Rest is History, but it is a much happier edition and a return to more of the carefree spirit exhibited in earlier books.

And the Long and Short of it is a lovely series of, mostly, comedic one shots which generally happen around Christmas time and should be read interspersed with the full length novels (there are helpful guides online to show where to read them in the series). There is no requirement to read them, but events in these stories are occasionally referred to in the novels so they do fill in some blanks.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

Detective Harry Hole is your typical grumpy, anti-social detective struggling with personal and professional issues which are exacerbated by alcoholism. In some ways it’s as though Nesbo got a list of detective story clichés and ensured he ticked off every last one of them, but Hole is still entertaining.

In Nemesis Hole is assigned to the investigation team for a series of bank robberies which include the death of a bank teller (hence Harry’s presence despite specialising in 20190224_123903murders). At the same time, an old girlfriend who recently made contact is found dead on the very night that she and Harry meet up and he blacks out. After her death is ruled a suicide, Harry sets out on his own private investigation, as much to reassure himself that he didn’t do it as to find the true culprit.

Nothing is truly surprising in Nemesis, although it is a decent read and I’ll certainly continue to read Jo Nesbo books, but it feels rather like brain popcorn: light but moreish.

 

 

The Librarian by Salley Vickers

Sylvia Blackwell is starting out on her career as a Librarian and accepts the post of Children’s Librarian in East Mole. She is young, enthusiastic, and eager to set out on the adventure of life. Unfortunately, at the same time as she has life-changing impacts on the children of the village, she also begins a passionate and ill-advised affair with the local married Doctor. Both Sylvia and her lover seriously underestimate the power of small town gossip.

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There was nothing offensive about The Librarian. Perhaps that was the problem, it felt very safe and a little twee. The characters were not particularly endearing, either for their virtues or their transgressions and I found myself rather underwhelmed by the whole thing. The doctor that Sylvia begins her affair with is completely unlikeable, and so Sylvia becomes unsympathetic as it becomes hard to identify what she sees in him to risk so much. Even she doesn’t seem that keen on him most of the time, and seems to find the idea of an affair more enticing that the actual event. This shakes the foundations for sympathy which might have existed otherwise.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Mr Hancock is a small shipping merchant. Angelica Neal is a London Escort who is trying to maintain her independence and resist the lure back into her Madam’s house. One night in 1775 one of Hancock’s captains returns having exchanged his boat for the corpse of a mermaid which Hancock is forced to begin displaying in an attempt to recoup his 20190204_132623.jpgloses. Finding himself in London social circles which he has never experienced, and which make him feel deeply uncomfortable, Hancock and Neal are thrown together and begin a friendship and, eventually, a romance which is shaken to the core when Hancock brings the curse of a second mermaid down on them.

I was so looking forward to this. For a long time. And I really struggled with it. So much of the book is told from Angelica’s point of view, and until about three quarters of the way through she is pretty shallow and unlikeable. Hancock, while nice is bumbling and naïve. The writing is fantastic and the atmosphere is tangible, but it’s not always a pleasant atmosphere to be so immersed in. Characters are well drawn, but rarely sympathetic. The last quarter when Angelica and John finally start communicating is a little more enjoyable, but it takes effort to get there.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

In a dystopian future, where the elite and last survivors of humanity have moved to a resource sucking Earth-orbiting Space Station operated by the shady CIEL and it’s once-a-celebrity leader Jean de Men, Christine is a Skin Graft artist who has become disenchanted with humanity and idolises the rebel and heretic Joan de Dirt. Meanwhile Joan and her soul mate have survived the geocatastrophes that destroyed Earth and now roam its barren landscape trying to survive.

I love Sci-fi. I love dystopian sci-fi. And I LOVED the concept of this book, but I was so lost with this. I  felt like I was reading a really complex poem in glass in a hall of mirrors. I glimmered snatches of plot and bits of character, especially around Joan (everyone else was pretty obscure) but mostly it was filled with grandiose motifs and ruminations on philosophical lessons in snatches and grabs making it very hard to hang my interest on any one thing. I’m not totally beyond metaphysical books, but this one felt fairly incomprehensible and rather nightmarish. By reviews online it seems to be a bit of a marmite book, either getting 5 stars or scoring lowly, so it’s a book that some will love, but I loathed.

 

Pick of the month: When They call you a Terrorist

Dud of the Month: The Book of Joan

Thank you to Canongate books for When They call you a Terrorist and The Book of Joan which I was sent in exchange for an honest review.

The God of All Small Boys – Author Interview

As the last stop for the Book Blog tour for The God of All Small Boys (review posted below) I have the immense privilege of being able to publish an interview with Joseph Lamb, the author.

I have interviewed authors before in a previous career as a journalist, and with some of them it’s like wringing blood from a stone. Not Joe. He was gracious, funny and provided more than I could have hoped for. So please find below what I think was a great interview – entirely due to him! And if you enjoy it, or the review has whetted your appetite, then you can get a copy of The God of All Small Boys at local bookshops or at Cranachan Publishing’s own website here.

https://spark.adobe.com/video/4c5FsjETiJbea/embed

Where did the inspiration for The God of All Small Boys come from?The book began life as a short story, which I wrote in the mid ‘80s, about a few slightly fictionalised events from my own childhood.
I’d always felt that it could stand being expanded into a full length novel, but, thanks to one thing and another, it wasn’t written until 2014 for the Dundee Great War Children’s Book Prize – for which it became one of only three shortlisted.For the extended novel, I suppose my inspiration was simply my own family. Many of my immediate family make an appearance in the book, and the characters of James Gunning and Christina ‘Teeny’ Robbins are named after my maternal Grandparents – who would have been around the same age in 1917.At the risk of sounding cheesy – it’s a bit of a love letter to my family.
What sort of research did you do for The God of all Small Boys?
A ton! 
As a professional actor (which I was for around 30 years) I wrote a lot of Historical Dramas which played all around the country. What I very quickly discovered was that, if you get something wrong – someone will notice. So, whenever I write anything at all, (even non-historical) there is usual some sort of research required.For The God of All Small Boys, being set just over 100 years ago, there was an awful lot of research to be done. Within Lochee (a part of Dundee where the bulk of the book is set) I spoke with The Headmistress and ex Headmaster of St Mary’s school, I also spoke with the resident priest in St Mary’s Church, as well as the Manager of the Lochee swimming baths. Some of the incidents in the book (False-Line payday!) are taken directly from somethings which happened to my grandmother! I had to research the make-up of the Camperdown Mill (of which the Chimney remains, and some of the buildings (now flats)), the cost of stamps, where trams ran to, the placements of rail and tram depots that don’t exist anymore, when gas lamps went out of fashion, what kind of cars existed in 1917 (and how much they cost)…

Here’s a thing…
At one point in the book, it is mentioned that a soldier called William Hill was killed on June 12th. This was included as, when looking at the casualties in Dundee for WWI, I found the grave of that very soldier. It struck at me, because June 12th is my birthday. I felt it fitting to commemorate him in the story.

But, one thing that I would urge anyone looking to write historical literature – don’t put all of your faith in one source. Literally, right up to the very last fine-tooth edit, I had a particular type of match box mentioned (and really nicely illustrated by my daughter , Charlotte). But, (and I don’t know why I did this), I decided to check this matchbox again, and found more sources stating it was not in use until 1930… so I had to change the type of box and Charlotte, thankfully, was able to illustrate the new one – unfortunately, we both think that type of box is not nearly as interesting to look at than the one I first had.

In the book, James and his friends have to face a great deal of tragedy, loss and trauma, how important is it to include these themes in children’s fiction?

I felt that, in a book about WWI, it would be remiss of me not to include the harsh realities of war, as seen from the children’s point of view. (And the difference in reaction from those who did not have a parent off fighting in it.) I also think that it is something of a dis-service to avoid such topics as, sadly, these things still happen. Even in some of the classics these themes are found: Gandalf falling to the Balrog, Aslan sacrificed by Jadis, Fred Weasley, Severus Snape, A great many rabbits in Watership Down. Charlotte, scuttling into the shadows across her web…
Realistic fiction should never be afraid to touch on these subjects, as children will always know when they are being ‘spoken down’ to.

James and his friends live a childhood that very few children will be able to recognise these days, with freedom and independence, but they pay a steep price. Do you think children you don’t experience this kind of childhood are missing out or are they better off now?

I honestly feel that there is something missing from childhood these days. And the perceived lack of independence, unfortunately, has not shown any sign of ending such tragedies. There is an argument to be made, I suppose, that social media is (ironically) responsible for this, and that children don’t need a physical hang out to call their own to be with their friends, as they can have exactly that in a gaming chat room, or whats app group, or any number of others. But, to me, nothing has ever bettered lying on a patch of wild grass, in the blazing sun, and reading a pile of comics with my pals. Yes, we did a number of stupid things, but they were experiences to treasure. I worry that children are losing those opportunities.

If you could predict where the children end up after the book finishes, where do you see them?

Ah well…
The sad truth is that they would probably both eventually have been conscripted into the army during the 2nd World War, as they would only be in their early 30’s. Ever since I wrote the first draft of The God of All Small Boys, a kind of sequel has been buzzing around my head, but I always see it as being set a good 10 years on (around 1927), but I haven’t developed anything on it. What I will say is, James does go to WWII, becomes an officer, takes a bullet in the nose (sideways on) and marries Teeny. Billy becomes a policeman – and might not actually have to go to WW2 because of that.
I suppose, if TGoASB does well enough to warrant it, (and Cranachan are interested) I could always flip the scenario and have Billy coming to live with James for a while! J I feel that one would be more of a romp, however!

What drew you to Cranachan Books as a publishing house and how have you found the experience of working with a smaller publisher?

Since The God of All Small Boys was shortlisted I took a leap of faith and decided that maybe I could find someone interested in publishing it. What I was determined was, if possible, that the publisher should be based in Scotland. (I’m a very proud Scot!) I actually became aware of Cranachan through a tiny article about independent Scottish publishers. I went to their website to find it ‘under construction’ and so kept an eye on it every day until it was open for business. I wrote to them immediately and the rest, as they say, is history!

Here’s the thing about Cranachan. There’s a little hashtag that you might see every now and again of #ClanCranachan. Now, for most other, big-name publishers, that might be a frivolous little phrase, but, with Cranachan, it’s a truism. The amount of support from the authors, given to the other authors, is staggering. On a personal level, it wasn’t until I worked with Anne Glennie that I realised some dreadful habits I had developed in my own writing and I can’t thank her enough for her belief and trust in both my story and my development to bring TGoASB to life.

As anyone who is looking to be published should know, you don’t go into this game for fame and fortune. And I doubt that a ‘larger’ company would have given the time Anne did. It has coloured my way of writing, and (being ridiculously loyal!) I would rather see my work put out by Cranachan than anyone else… I just hope I can repeat the process with some of the other manuscripts I am developing. (Obviously, without quite so much direct input being required!) 

Are you able to tell me anything about what your next writing project will be, or what you would like it to be?

Well, as The God of All Small Boys was written in 2014, I’ve had a lot of time to develop and draft out a few ideas. I have around five or six full manuscripts – two of which I am going through again using what I learned during my time editing TGoASB with Anne. Another which is slightly more YA in theme (Vikings!) and a Sci-Fi/Spy comic trilogy which isn’t really in any way historical, but I’m hoping Cranachan will maybe look to be publishing some lighter titles in the future! I am also putting some ideas together for… something I can’t really talk about! 

Where was your favourite den as a child?

Exactly where it was in The God of All Small Boys!

Who are your writing influences?

Without doubt, Ray Bradbury. But unless you are Ray Bradbury, I don’t think many companies would publish anything written in his style these days. (Which I see as a sad indictment.) He had a fluidity of prose which could read like poetry at times. (I strongly recommend The Halloween Tree to anyone. I literally read this every year at Halloween.) Others who I think may have influenced my style would be Isaac Asimov, Lewis Carroll, CS Lewis and, to a certain extent, Stephen King. (And a touch of Ed McBain). Read them ALL!

What is your writing process like?

Because, like most writers, I also have a job, it can be a very slow process. I also have two young boys in the household (Murray and Finlay) who are always needing taxied to football or swimming etc, etc – so my time to write is quite limited. But insofar as the process itself is concerned I usually have some sort of vision of what the ‘end’ looks like. Then I wonder how it might all have started, and then I fill in the space in between! I can knock out a 1st draft quite quickly. (And if I have one piece of advice to give to any aspiring writer it is this… Just WRITE!) I don’t worry about mistakes or word count until I have the full story out, because it is too easy to bog yourself down worrying about craft and losing focus on the story. 
Get the story down first, and then fix it. (Because you can’t fix a story you haven’t written!)

What was the first thing you remember writing? Were you pleased with it?

I always wrote daft little stories when I was young, but when I was around 14 (1977) heavily influenced by Star Wars, I wrote a small novella called “Rebellion” – populated by some of my friends, including dear ol’ John McLintock who appears in everything I’ve ever written.. and (spoilers!) dies in most of them! It was set in my own school and was very sci-fi. I remember the story, but unfortunately the book which I created has gone missing through the years. What’s worse was… I re-wrote it… and that went missing too!

Did I like it? Yes… I do have a very soft spot for it. Maybe I should revisit it again?

If you were to recommend one book to someone, what would it be?

The God of All Small Boys by Joseph Lamb  (ahem…)
It has to be Alice in Wonderland, closely followed by the Narnia Chronicles, closely followed by The Halloween Tree.
These books have been with me all my life, and I’m not a bit sorry for that.
(BUT, if you can find copies of the ‘Nigel Molesworth’ books by Geoffrey Willans and  Ronald Searle, get them!)

(I know, I know, that’s more than one… but that’s a total Sophie’s Choice question!!)