Monday, 28 February 2011

Book Review: Few are Chosen by M T McGuire (The K'Barthan Trilogy)

Few Are Chosen (The K'Barthan Trilogy)I was offered this book for review and although YA fantasy isn't something I'd usually consider my thing I took a look at the reviews and seeing mentions of Harry Potter and Hitchhikers Guide, which I have read and seriously enjoyed, thought maybe I should give it a go.

The Pan of Hamgee has been blacklisted and on the run for years, quite a feat as others only manage it for a matter of months under the oppressive regime in K'Barth. Having eyes in the back of your head probably helps keep you out of the clutches of ruler Lord Vernon and the equally ruthless Resistance - that and a massive yellow streak. Without much choice in the matter he ends up as getaway driver for a criminal gang, a job he excels at. While life hasn't been comfortable for The Pan for a long time it starts to become more and more curious when his landladies and an old man start making oblique references to another resistance movement and he lays his hands on a mysterious thimble. The first part of the book sets up The Pan's life and current position, and the second part really introduces the mystery and magic.

This book creates a whole new universe with a range of species all of its own, those species having their own appearances and characteristics, all well described by the author. I'm always slightly concerned about fantasy novels, with whether I'll remember lots of strange names or lose the plot. In this case K'barth is about as close as it gets to a name with lots of Xs and Zs and no vowels, and some of the names are brilliantly comic so no problems on that count. It is well edited and I only spotted a couple of typos I'll pass on to the author.

The Pan is a lovely character, he is abundantly clear that he is a coward and has no grand illusions about himself, but people around him (and gradually the reader) see something special in him. Being so down on himself makes him all the more likeable. I really enjoyed the way his relationship with his scary Swamp Thing boss developed and the change in The Pan after he starts questioning things.

I would say this book is probably most suitable for tweens and younger teens but even in my early 30s I still really enjoyed the read. It is left on a real cliff-hanger and I definitely want to carry on  reading the series.

Format - Kindle
My Rating - 4*

Friday, 25 February 2011

Book Review: Model Agent: A Thriller (Jaclyn Johnson, codename Snapshot series) by Sean Sweeney

Model Agent: A Thriller (Jaclyn Johnson, code name Snapshot series)Ok, I have to admit it, I like thrillers but what really made me take notice of this book was the strapline on the cover "If Bond had boobs..." It made me laugh and having downloaded and read the sample one-clicking the book was a no-brainer.

Jaclyn Johnson is a CIA agent who has been brought up by the State, after her Government official parents died in the September 11th attacks. When 46 people are killed in Boston after drinking poisoned water she is put on the case. She is partnered up with a senior agent and they quickly home in on the most likely suspect, a man who is trying to bring the world to war over water.

One of the things I loved about this book was the number of strong women in positions of power. It makes such a refreshing change especially within a spy thriller. Another is that Jaclyn is strong and beautiful and also happens to have a disability. Sean, I take my hat off to you, providing inspiration for kids with handicaps is something close to my heart (and if my choice of language isn't PC enough for some readers sorry, but as the parent of a disabled child semantics are the least of my daily concerns) and we need more mainstream books, films and tv shows prepared to show people with impaired sight, hearing, mobility and so on in challenging roles, rather than just there to tick diversity and equality boxes. Now off my soapbox and back to the book....

We get to understand a good bit about Jaclyn and her motivation but the other characters aren't treated in quite such depth - fair enough as she's the eponymous heroine. If I had one criticism it's that the villain of the piece, Chillings (suitably named for a man who invents a bottle that keeps liquids cooler for longer) is deranged but I don't really feel sure about what has driven him to the point he's at. It appeared to be pure and simple greed but as the story progressed I became a bit unsure whether that was his only motivation and why wealth was so important to him. Perhaps I missed a key clue to this or need to apply my imagination a little more.

This isn't a short book and I've still managed to read it in less than a day, despite spending a lot of that day in bed with the flu. It is a great, fun, pacey spy romp. I thought Jaclyn's gadgets were brilliant and although I'm not a big Bond fan could imagine her kit attracting Q's attention. It was a far lighter read than other books in the same vein but more enjoyable for it. The book is well written, and I had no issues with formatting or typos which often pop out at me in e-books. The teaser for the sequel - Rogue Agent - will have me keeping my eyes open for it's release.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Book Review: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

BirdsongThis is another of those books I have approached cautiously, having seen lots of critics rave about it, but then finding really mixed reviews online. I decided to borrow it from the library towards the Borrowed Book challenge rather than buy it, in case I felt the same way about this as I did The Accident.

This book is an historical saga that moves around in time from 1910 to the 1960s and 70s. The book opens in 1910 where Stephen Wraysford is a young man in France on business. He falls for his host's wife, Isabelle, and their affair has dramatic consequences for the whole family. We next catch up with him during the Great War where he is fighting in the trenches and trying to find sense in what is happening. Decades later we meet Ruth, who is trying to find out about her Grandfather through an encoded diary.

The author writes in a very descriptive manner, which in some places I found wonderful and moving, although in others it was maybe a little too wordy. The descriptions of the events of World War I and the deaths and injuries are graphic and disturbing but nowhere near as disturbing as it must have been to have lived through it so it felt totally warranted. Ruth's musings about her life in the 60s and 70s provide an interesting contrast to what previous generations had experienced having lived through two World Wars, and it also made for a comparison between what was demanded and expected of Isabelle and Ruth as women living in such different eras.

This book ticked so many boxes for me that my concerns were not warranted and I'm so pleased recent experiences with literary best sellers didn't put me off.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Free e-book thriller - The End of Marking Time by CJ West

CJ has been giving away copies of The End of Marking Time on Amazon's kindle forums. I just received my copy of the book and the accompanying email pointed out he is aiming to give away a huge 50,000 copies. Here's part of CJ's email to put you in the picture about the book and the giveaway:

Want to know about this thriller before you open it?

I like to say it is “a modern 1984 meets Prison Break”

Michael O’Connor is trapped in a Plexiglass cube facing a darkened window. He speaks to you as if you know him because he believes you’ve been watching him for months and are tasked with deciding his fate. The mystery of this book is not only who Michael thinks you are, but who is behind the window and what fate they will choose for Michael.

(57) 5 star reviews can't all be wrong.

"... West has brilliantly portrayed a world gone crazy where the rule is there are no rules, or are they.  Crime fiction meets science fiction in this awesome thriller." 10/10
--Book Bitch

"Powerful, thought provoking and massively entertaining...

I loved this book and the way it made me root for someone who I knew I shouldn't like."

If your friend has sent you a version that’s incompatible with your e-reader or computer, you can request your own .mobi, .ebpub, .lrf, or .pdf, by sending a request to me: authors (at) 22wb dot com.

You may also mention this giveaway on your blog or any social media page.


CJ West

So if it sounds like your thing drop him an email. It's a book I'm looking forward to reading and will hopefully be reviewing here soon.

Embracing Twitter

Ok, I've finally gone and done it. For the longest time I've avoided Twitter but I have taken a look and set myself up an account at last. I am TCBookedUp and I'm planning on using it for letting people know what reviews I'm posting, the latest on author Q&As, what I'm reading and all those other little thoughts about books that don't warrant a whole post on here. I'd love it if you'd follow me, and let me know where to find you on there so I can do the same.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Book Review: Tranquillity Initiative by Joan Meijer

Tranquillity InitiativeI was offered a copy of this book for review, and having looked at a review on thought it sounded like an interesting read. It is a medical thriller, where millions of lives are being threatened by a group of terrorists.

The story opens on an American Air Force base in Turkey, with preparations underway for a bombing run on Astrakhan. However these are not conventional bombs. An under-pressure President, keen for re-election and hoping not to get mired in another unwinnable war,  has authorised the use of anthrax bombs which are deployed and create devastation. Germ warfare finds it's way to the USA though, as two of these bombs are stolen by terrorists and smuggled into New York.

In the second part of the book the terrorists manage to open one of the bombs, unaware of the contents, and release the spores of anthrax close to Times Square. When an unheard of cluster of cases starts to trickle into local hospitals CDC doctor Cassandra Williams, fresh from investigating the outbreak in Astrakhan, is sent to Manhattan to investigate. Once the terrorists realise they hold a weapon of germ warfare they start to plot the demise of potentially millions of people. In the meantime a secretive group within the US Government is determined to prevent the revelation that the nation has been using such weapons on its enemies.

The third part of the book races to a dramatic climax as Cassandra, working with Senator Richland Powell, attempts to prevent the attack while at the same time preparing for the consequences should they fail.

I found this book a riveting read, from the political machinations to the effects of anthrax on the body and  the likely implications of such an attack on a major metropolis. The story is told from a range of viewpoints which allows the author to cover a lot of territory but when moving from one to another it was kept clear whose perspective it was. This is in contrast to some books where it isn't always obvious at the start of a new chapter where you are. The third part of the book really picked up the pace and I found it hard to put down, wanting to find out whether the terrorists would succeed.

I found myself liking Cassandra and Richland but did feel that their characters didn't really come alive for me until the third part of the book. I think with such a range of viewpoints it would have been hard to develop all the characters in great depth but would have liked to know more about them in particular earlier on.

All things considered I really liked this book, it was a worrying glimpse at what could happen if the conventional rules go out the window, without being a complete doomsday scenario that wipes out mankind.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Author Q&A with Peter Jordan

This week I've been chatting to an author who is geographically about as far away from London based Helen Smith as you can get, Peter lives in New Zealand and is the author of IVRRAC. Thanks to Peter for taking time out to do this, now let's find out more!

When did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing

I cannot remember a time since learning to write words on paper that I have not been interested in writing fictional stories. I guess what pushed me to really get into writing was wanting more stuff to read than I was able to get from the town library. I started an exercise book of short stories when I was around 9 and kept going from there. I still have that book and I may go back to it for inspiration when I finally use up the twenty odd unfinished stories on my computer.

How would you describe your books and style?

This is a very difficult one as most of my stories are different styles. One thing they do have in common is the twist and turns, or as I describe it, the rollercoaster ride. I enjoy taking the reader for a journey, whether expected or unexpected. IVRRAC has a few unexpected turns and many expected. I think the reason why this occurs is my writing style, the story even surprises me in the first draft.

I am also a mainstream author even though I am a Theological student. I know God gave me the gift and inspiration to write how I write, so I make no excuse for my books being for the everyday post modern individual. I write to entertain, so the more people that read them and enjoy them, the happier I am.

When you write do you have a particular routine you follow, and what do you find the most difficult part of writing a book?

I write in drafts, it all depends on how long a story is in production to how many drafts. Any new ideas would only be in two drafts but one’s that have been started, stopped and then restarted can have more. IVRRAC was published on its fourth draft. BOAS is now on its fifth and final draft. Once the final draft is completed the editing begins. First I go through editing copy and moving things around if they don’t work for me, but this is usually already done between drafts. I also check continuity at this point and the grammar errors my feeble English can pick up. I then apply my findings to the text. Once that is done it is off to the professionals or designated editors and beta readers. I then edit as per their comments (if I agree) and once that is done it is formatting time and publishing. The hardest part for me is editing the text once the errors have been found as this is more mechanical than creative. My children’s detective book is at this stage and has been there for quite a few years.

Another habit of mine is to write descriptive text while out and about. For instance the description of the majesty of the mountains surrounding Trentsworth at sunset from Simon’s window was actually the sun setting behind the Southern Alps from my window of a motel unit in Mount Cook Village.

Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of its own as you write?

I start usually knowing only one character and what he/she is doing for the first few paragraphs. I hardly ever have a purpose in mind but allow that character to bump into other characters and slowly let the story develop as it goes. This is why all of my books will have more than one draft, the first draft is just to see what happens. Sometimes the characters become boring and the story ends there.
IVRRAC started with an exercise I gave myself of describing a murder from the murderer’s point of view. After the murder I started writing about the sentence which turned out to be a new technique by a firm whose acronym name was about twelve letters long. I never finished this draft as it got too unbelievable before the main twist was announced. It wasn’t until four years later that I attempted the project again, this time with romance in mind. Each draft the acronym got shorter and I finally ended up with IVRRAC.

I love being surprised and thus if I had to write knowing the middle and end I would stop writing. I write to be entertained by the characters I write about. This is also the reason why my first drafts are so short, I am too impatient to find out what happens to bother with descriptions. I still remember sitting by Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown writing IVRRAC Draft 2 and suddenly realising who Kyndrea was. It is one of the more predictable twists to the story, but it came to me suddenly as it does now to the first time reader. Yet I know now the story would not work without it, but it was not at all planned.

Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken?

I have attempted to be traditionally published and was determined to be that way as I wanted confirmation I was a worthy author. However in 2008 I had an ex UK newspaper editor and traditional non-fiction author staying at my backpackers and he consented to read my book. His comment was that it had to be published and that boosted my confidence to try again. However this was also the time of the credit crunch and the news was reporting that all publishers had closed their doors to non-agented writers. Upon looking up agent’s websites I discovered that due to the economic environment no agent was accepting new clients. So I came to the conclusion that it was going to be either self publish or not be published at all. As I already had a business set up I included a publishing arm which I felt at the time was required to get a good cheap on-demand printer. It also made tax a lot easier in New Zealand. If I do make money from my books, I will look at assisting other authors with my publishing company.

The worst thing about this route is I have to organise and pay for any promotions and that it is more difficult to get mainstream reviews on the book.

If this isn't too much like asking a dad which of his children he likes best, which of your characters is your favourite?

BOAS is one of my favourites because he’s just plain silly. But at the moment, and this view will change as more books are written, I would say Janine in IVRRAC. One of the reasons is how Janine developed through the draft sequence. She didn’t even exist in the first draft (neither did the leading lady, Kyndrea) and in the second and third draft she was only in two scenes, for those who know IVRRAC, they were the black tie dinner and coffee machine scenes. Yet now she has a pivotal role in the conclusion of the book. The reason being my first copy editor said I needed to double the size of the book because there was so much detail not told. I can’t remember if she suggested Janine but I knew straight away that Janine could be more rounded than she was and add to the plot at the same time. I guess it is because she developed in front of me rather than just always being there I have more of a soft spot for her.

What do you like to read and do you have any other passions?

I read all sorts of books. I grew up on science fiction and comedy. I loved Douglas Adams as he did both and I have a large collection of Terry Pratchett books. I read biographies of people that I am interested in and presently, due to my studies, I read a lot of Christian Theological books. I have a passion for humanity, our failings and triumphs. I am studying Theology to become a minister in the church so I can tend to people’s hurts and help them on the journey with God. I love photography and nature, I enjoy living in South Canterbury which is the location  of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook - Aoraki, and many others in the Southern Alps.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?

I am working on a black comedy called BOAS. It is a book about an unusual superhero and how he came to be. I originally wrote it at University (instead of studying) and had my friends on  the floor in laughter. This book was written slightly differently to most of my books as I knew that the middle of the book would have the hero become this superhero and thus there was a direction I needed the characters to go in. Now I am working on the fifth draft trying to get even more humour into the story. This is totally different to IVRRAC which was based in a believable context, BOAS is, on purpose, totally unbelievable. Characters say things which no person would normally utter, but are hilariously funny. Even the concept of BOAS himself is totally ridiculous but it works, you just have to leave your brain behind when reading this book. It is not a book to take seriously, it is a book to sit back and read for a good laugh and totally ignore reality.

Peter tells me BOAS is provisionally due for release around the middle of this year, and having enjoyed IVRRAC and loving the sound of the new book I'll be keeping an eye out. You can find Peter's blog for IVRRAC here. and for BOAS here. Thanks again Peter, fascinating answers!

Book Blogger Hop & Follow Friday

It's my favourite day of the week again, no work until next week, a couple of memes to join in with and I've got a new author interview for you. Unfortunately I won't be out to play next Friday, visiting family, so I'll just have to make the most of it this week!

Parajunkee hosts Follow Friday, providing a great feature each week and getting book bloggers together. This week's question is :

If you are a fan of Science Fiction what is your favorite book? If you haven't read Science Fiction before...any inkling to? Anything catch your eye?

Got to admit Sci Fi isn't really my thing, although I'll dip a toe into any genre if I find a book that tempts me. In the past I have read a few Iain M Banks novels but they didn't set my world on fire. If it makes any sense I don't mind books with a leaning towards to sci-fi but I'm not into the full on ones.

Book Blogger HopThe Book Blogger Hop isn't available on as I type, so more of that later. EDIT: The post has finally appeared and this week's question is - What book(s) would you like to see turned into a movie?

That's a hard one, there are lots of books with good plots for a film but how well they convert over I don't know. I could see Mary McDonald's No Good Deed making a good film with someone like Matt Damon playing Mark Taylor. With the recent taste for nostalgia I could see Richard Wilde by Mary Fitzgerald making a good family saga type film too.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Book Review: The Accident by Ismail Kadare

The AccidentI have just finished reading this book and it was one of the most painful experiences I have had in a long time. If it wasn't for the fact it was the first book I was reading towards the Borrowed Book challenge I don't think I'd have bothered to finish it. I had picked this up in the library because I had seen positive reviews and I was aware it had won the Man Booker International prize. The plot sounded promising so home it came with me.

The book is in three parts. The first part was very good. I like the narrative style and the way the story was unfolding. There is an accident that kills lovers Rovena and Besfort, and the driver of the taxi they are in when they die provides a strange report of how he lost control when he saw them in the rear view mirror trying to kiss. The official reports set up a mystery to be solved and I was looking forward to getting behind the relationship and finding out what had happened.

It went seriously downhill in Part 2 where a mysterious investigator pieces together their last 40 days together and recreates them from both his and her viewpoints. It is a very strange relationship that has somehow lasted for years. The style becomes fragmented, skips around following trains of thought and moves about through the period of their long affair and became very hard to follow or even understand. Part 3 was meant to explain what happened to the couple but ultimately the book ends with far more questions than answers.

Besfort remains a complete mystery to me, and while I had slightly more understanding of Rovena's character and emotions I didn't really "get" her. The blurb also says that the destructive relationship "mirrors the conflicts of the region" they come from - the Balkans. That is something I have only a passing knowledge of, so I feel like I missed that aspect of the book completely.

I think there are 3 explanations for why I didn't enjoy this book 1) I'm not smart enough to appreciate it 2) The author wrote it in such a way to intentionally disorient the reader and mirror the emotions the couple may have felt as they battled through their relationship or 3) it's just not very good. As it has received acclaim and won major prizes I suppose it isn't 3) and I'd rather it wasn't 1) so in conclusion I think the author achieved 2) very well but it didn't make for an enjoyable read for me. Any references to the Balkans were too oblique for me to have even felt like I learnt anything about the region. I think I might head back into my comfort zone with whatever I read next.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Book Review: King's X Episode 1: Visions by Stephen Harper

King's X Episode 1: Visions
I bought this novella having seen it promoted on Amazon's kindle forum and finding the synopsis really interesting. It is the first in a series of four, and skips between the modern day and the late 13th and early 14th century. It is listed as a crime and mystery thiller, and I'd say it certainly lives up to the mystery tag!

In the present Detective Wendell Book has lost those he loved and had to watch his father's decline into madness. He works vice and his partner thinks he is too soft on the runaways they encounter. When Molly appears in his life her story is too familiar to Book, making him re-examine memories he's been avoiding. In the past we find out a little about the start of a love story between Khali and soldier Sebastien, and she is used to try and extract information from him that he won't reveal under torture. Clearly there is a link between the stories, and a great mystery to be revealed about the King's X, but this first book is the hook that draws the reader in.

This book has grabbed me and I'm going to have to work the subsequent novellas into my reading schedule some time very soon. At the start the story skips around quite a lot, both in time and in which characters are being followed, but I didn't find it hard to keep the threads straight at all. I found Book a particularly interesting character and really want to know more about Khali and Sebastien, as well as finding out what the mystery is. I suppose that all points to a very sucessful first installment.

I thought this was really well written and I liked the author's style. There was a certain economy with descriptions that allowed the narrative to move quickly, yet still giving enough of a sense of the surroundings and events. A final plus point, it has clearly been well proof-read and edited and so I had none of the little niggles that often crop up, particularly in e-books. I'm so glad I downloaded this and if I didn't have another couple of books on the go and others in my TBR list that ought to have been read by now I would probably go straight through the rest of the series. Big thumbs up from me!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Book review: Impeding Justice by Mel Comley

Impeding JusticeThis book was one of my kindle bargains, as I write it is available at the bargain price of 49p, and it is proof that cheap does not necessarily equate to poor quality.

DI Lorne Simpkins has been on the tail of The Unicorn for 8 years but her attempts to capture him have been thwarted. The chase becomes really personal when he kills her partner and then kidnaps her teenaged daughter. The book spans a period of few days and starts with action and mantains that, and a large degree of tension, right through the book. In some places the violence, although not always explicitly spelt out, might be uncomfortable for some readers.

It is a good pacey thriller but unlike some books in the genre Lorne's character is well developed. She's a tough woman who may not have been getting her work/life balance quite right, and we see her grappling with how to be a good wife and mum while still doing the job she is clearly devoted to.

As a slight negative there were a few issues with formatting, with words running together and similar, but I understand since I purchased the e-book there has been an update. I'll be requesting the free update from Amazon and hopefully those issues will have been ironed out.

This was a really good read and I'll be looking out for the sequel which I believe is due soon.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Author Q&A with Helen Smith

This is my first author Q&A, so a big thank you to Helen Smith for agreeing to be my guinea pig and for taking the time to answer the questions! Helen has written the novels Alison Wonderland, Being Light and The Miracle Inspector and a short story, Three Sisters, which is the first in a comic mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Emily Castles. You'll find reviews for Being Light and Three Sisters on my blog. But now, on with the questions!

When did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing?
I loved reading when I was a child. Books had such a profound affect on me that I always wanted to be a writer. I started off reading all the children’s classics like the Narnia books, The Borrowers, Enid Blyton, and so on. Then I went on to Agatha Christie. My mother used to take me to the library and I’d get out six books at a time. I used to re-read my favourites over and over again. But it was the authors themselves who inspired me to become a writer – I wanted to be like them.

How would you describe your books and style?
Most of my books are quirky and off-beat with a literary style. However I have just written the first story in my new comic mystery series, Three Sisters. It was a deliberate attempt to write a cheerful, entertaining book that wasn’t too strange.

When you write do you have a particular routine you follow, and what do you find the most difficult part of writing a book?
I ought to be more disciplined. It’s a good idea to aim for 1,000 words a day – though I can write more when it’s going well. Some days I do considerably less, and I feel miserable. The planning part of the process is the hardest, where I’m trying to work out the characters and what the book is going to be about. Once I start writing, I find it very enjoyable – so long as I’m making my daily word count and it’s going well. My favourite part is the editing part of the process because that involves looking back at what I have written, and polishing it. I can spend hours taking a word out and then putting it back in again. It’s quite self-indulgent because by this stage I will like what I have written and I’ll be pleased with it – the equivalent of polishing the knobs on a dresser that it has taken me two years to make from scratch in the garden shed.

Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of its own as you write?
Yes, I know how it starts, how it develops and how it will end. Whenever anyone asks me, I claim to plot my books but I don’t have a very detailed outline written down – just an idea of the shape of a book. Certain characters usually demand more space and attention than I had originally been planning to give them, like naughty children, and they become favourites of mine.

Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken?
My first four books were traditionally published. When the first two novels went out of print last year I decided to get the rights back and publish them myself. It was very gratifying to see them brought back to life, and to find new readers for them.The main problem with self-publishing is that you have to do all the marketing yourself – it can be very time-consuming. I have just signed to a mainstream publisher so I’ll be able to leave the design and marketing of my novels to them, and continue with writing, which is what I enjoy most. However I’ll probably continue to self-publish my Emily Castles mystery series because I’m planning to write short stories that will function a bit like episodes in a TV series – and I’ll be able to get them out quickly by publishing them myself.

If this isn't too much like asking a mum which of her children she likes best, which of your characters is your favourite?

My first novel was Alison Wonderland. I’ll always love Alison – she’s a grumpier version of me, and she’s the reason I got published. I love my daughter, and she’s the best thing in my life, but giving birth to her was very painful (as you'd know - I know you're a mum as well). Getting published was the most wonderful pain-free thing that has ever happened to me, and Alison made that happen.

What do you like to read and do you have any other passions?
I usually read literary novels, comedies, mysteries and autobiographies/biographies. I try to avoid anything that is too dark or upsetting. As for other passions, I like travelling, and I like knitting – though I don’t do much of either these days.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
I’m writing the next story in my Emily Castles mystery series and I’m writing an adaptation of a Muriel Spark novel for the stage. I have also been invited to participate in a storytelling event in London called YARN. I’m going to tell a story about a new character I have been developing, a time-travelling friend of mine called Araminta who has mysteriously disappeared. The event takes place on 20th February so I need to hurry up and work out what I’m going to say!

Thanks again to Helen, and if you want to know more about her and her books please take a look at her blog

Follow Friday, The Book Blogger Hop and a busy Friday!

I'm now well into the habit of joining in Follow Friday, hosted by and the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by, so as it's Friday again (where do the days go?) here we are -

 This week's question is:

What is your favorite romance hero-type? Stereotype wise. Do you like the strong silent type or the brute macho man?

Personally I like the strong silent type, smart but with a few muscles thrown in, is that just greedy of me?

Book Blogger Hop
As I write this the Book Blogger Hop for this week isn't yet available, I'll update later. Edit: Here we go!

This week it's more an activity than a question:

"Tell us about one of your posts from this week and give us a link so we can read it (review or otherwise)!"
I've had a blog first this week, my first Question and Answer session with author Helen Smith, as mentioned below. I really enjoy her writing so please take a look..

And in other news, I've made a start on Shellyrae's Borrowed Book Challenge Friday morning our local library holds a story and song group for the under 5s so took my little one along and picked up The Accident by Ismail Kadare while I was there. That'll be my next book once I've finished reading Impeding Justice by Mel Comley.

Finally, I'm excited to be able to do my first (and hopefully not last) author Q&A with Helen Smith. I'll be posting that a bit later today, and I hope people enjoy it and find it interesting.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerHaving achieved such critical acclaim this is a book I've been meaning to get round to for quite some time. I had been putting it off as I have found such highly praised books a disappointment in the past.

The book is based in Afghanistan and revolves around Amir and his relationships with his father Baba, and their servant's son Hassan. Amir and Hassan have been brought up together but their relationship is marked by the divide between their different castes. Amir's relationship with his father is also not entirely easy, the young boy constantly try to win his father's approval. The local kite fighting tournament provides Amir with a way to make his father proud, but the events of that day change things forever.

After the Russian invasion Amir and Hassan move to the US, where they have to start over and rebuild their lives. Despite the passage of time and his successful adaptation to life in another country Amir still seems tormented by the past and eventually returns to try and right the wrongs.

This book is one of extremes, joy and sadness, trust and betrayal, rich and poor, peace and war. Some of the issues tackled are quite sensitive and I should have found it very moving, but unfortunately I just could not warm to Amir. I couldn't see his relationship with his father and the cultural influences as mitigating the way he treated Hassan and found him unsympathetic. His attempts to find redemption were only partially successful to me. I also found some of the plot predictable which lessened the impact.

That said I found some of the descriptions beautiful and highly evocative and I find Hosseini's style far more accessible than some literary fiction. It was also interesting to read about Afghanistan before the most recent conflicts and the state of the places familiar to Amir afterwards, and to discover more about a country that has only really received attention because of wars.

Finishing the book I was pleased that I had read it and did like it, but it certainly isn't a 5* book for me.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Book review: Three Sisters by Helen Smith

I was very pleased when I received an email a couple of days ago from Helen Smith, asking if I would like a copy of her new short story for review. It's just gone live on Amazon so this review is a hot off the press type thing! I read her book Being Light back in December and really enjoyed both the story and her style so it took all of a second to ping a message back saying Yes please! This (longish) short story is an introduction to amateur sleuth Emily Castles, who will be featuring in a mystery series.

In this story Emily is going to a Bonfire Night party at a neighbouring house, hosted by the inhabitants who are performance artists of various sorts. Emily is mourning the recent loss of her dog and sees the invite as an opportunity to socialise, but in the course of the evening she finds herself investigating a murder that may or may not have occured.

While we don't learn a huge amount about her background Emily is an interesting, quirky character and I'm sure we'll gradually discover more in the series. Despite the mention of a boyfriend he's possibly in the past, and although she knows her neighbours it is in a typical suburban passing kind of way. She comes across as a slightly solitary but very inquisitive individual. The other characters range from the harassed mum of three to the doctor of ethics via Hungarian performers and form a colourful cast.

From the beginning I was amused by the imagery used, for example describing fireworks as "like Midget Gems suspended mid-rinse in a toddler's open mouth" Comical but very graphic. I was also very pleased to see how well formatted and proofread it was - some of my recent kindle reads have been somewhat lacking on those fronts. I found myself laughing often, and the darker humour as the story progresses is the sort of thing I enjoy but may not be to everyone's taste. Emily's wanderings round the house and gardens as the story developed really drew me in and when I had to take a break from reading I found myself weighing up the story so far and debating with myself about what might happen. In short I thought this was a great read from start to finish and will be looking out for the series.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Borrowed Book Challenge 2011

In a strange coincidence after blogging about the campaign to save libraries this morning I came across the book'd out blog and Shelleyrae's 2011 Borrowed Book Challenge. I'm going to try and borrow and read 12 books, my goal is to a Borrower Be. I love my kindle too much to read loads of tree books! I haven't got a full list yet, but my first one will hopefully be Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (once it comes back next week) It's a great idea and will motivate me to keep to my new resolution to visit the library more.

Read so far:

1) The Accident by Ismail Kadare, Feb '11

2) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes, Feb '11

3) Silent Scream by Karen Rose, Mar '11

3+) Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mar '11 (I'm not counting it as it's only a short story)

4) The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Mar '11

5) The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Apr '11

6) Blue Shoes & Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith, May '11

7) Solar by Ian McEwan, May '11

8) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jul '11

9) The Accidental Father by Greg Williams, Jul '11

10) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Dec '11

11) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Dec '11

12) The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Dec '11

Save Our Libraries Day

With government cuts biting across the board one of the areas where a lot of authorities are trying to make savings is their libraries. Apparently around 400 branches are being threatened with closure, so today events are being held in a number of libraries in a co-ordinated day of action.

Now I'm lucky, my local library has just been renovated and is looking great, and here in Devon no library cuts are planned. I have to admit I'm a sporadic library user at best, especially since I got my kindle, but I want my daughter to be able to appreciate and enjoy libraries the same way I do. We've made a good start, joining in with the stories and songs for the under 5s group run in the library, and I intend to make visiting and picking new books a habit as she gets older. As a kid I loved wandering along the racks searching for a book to excite me and take me somewhere new, as I got older I'd ask my mum to take me so I could look at the reference books to help with school projects, generally it was a place I loved to visit. Our new modern library is welcoming and bright, with no scary librarians ruling with an iron fist so even better!

Despite the fact there is no immediate threat in my area I think from now on I will try and support my library by using it to borrow books for myself on a regular basis, I'd hate to find myself in the position of lots of other people who'll be protesting today at some point in the future. Libraries are such an important resource, especially for less well off families, so good luck to those taking part in events today. Here is an article with more details and an interactive map for those who are interested in what is going on where.

Friday, 4 February 2011

It's Friday!

Yeay, Friday is the beginning of my 5 day weekend and the day the Book Blogger Hop and Follow Friday pop up on my radar.
Book Blogger Hop
The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books I love finding new book blogs, there are hundreds of participants. This week's question is:

What are you reading now and why are you reading it?

I'm reading Traitor's Gate by Mary Fitzgerald at the moment. It's a historical adventure, based in Chester during the English civil war. I love historical fiction and haven't read any for a while, and recently read and adored another of Mary's books, Richard Wilde, so thought it looked a very good choice.

To find out more about Follow Friday visit host parajunkee Again it's a good way to find other book bloggers. This week's question over there is:

What is the book you are currently pushing?

I'm not pushing any book in particular but I think there are a lot of indie and small press authors who deserve a lot more attention. People who don't look beyond the big publishers are missing out on some wonderful books!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Book Review: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle BookIn my quest to read more of the classics I picked this book to see if the Disney tale most of us are familiar with is true to the original or not. First off, it's been a while since I saw the Disney animation but I'm pretty sure it didn't strictly follow the book. That wasn't a big surprise at all. However what I hadn't realised is that The Jungle Book is actually a number of short stories and songs or verses.

The most familiar is the first, Mowgli's brothers, about the man cub raised by wolves who has to take on his sworn enemy Shere Khan. The next one is The White Seal. In this story Kotick the seal dedicates himself to searching for a new home for his fellow seals, one where they aren't living with the threat of man. The third is Rikki Tikki Tavi, about a young mongoose of the same name who takes on cobras to protect his adopted human family. Next comes Toomai of the Elephants which relates the experience of a young boy from a long line of elephant handlers who has a unique bond and a one off experience with the elephant his father handles. Finally come Her Majesty's Servants, which recounts the overheard conversation of a group of Army animals.

The language in places is archaic, and elsewhere exotic, reflecting the settings of the stories and Kipling's background. Throughout the stories the animals are given human traits and the tales are moral stories, reflections on human society or both. I don't think they would be an easy read for a young person primarily because of the language used, particularly in Mowgli's Brothers, but they do make wonderful stories I fully plan on reading my little girl when she's bigger. There are parts that might make some people uncomfortable, such as Mowgli's killing of Shere Khan and the aftermath, so I'd urge caution if you are thinking of these stories for very young children.

I particularly enjoyed Rikki Tikki Tavi, as the mongoose hero is such a lovely, funny character, and the conversation between the Army animals, as they discuss their different fears and strengths is wonderful. I have no doubt I will be going back to The Jungle Book and dipping into the stories on their own rather than reading them all in one go, and no doubt I'll be looking to add more Kipling to my kindle. A note of warning though - the free version is very poorly formatted, with no clear breaks between the stories and verses which I found confusing when I didn't expect it to be more than one story, and will make navigating in future more difficult. If formatting is a bugbear for you I'd suggest getting another version.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Book Review: March Into Hell: Book Two ( The Mark Taylor Series) by Mary McDonald

March Into Hell: Book Two (The Mark Taylor Series)It wasn't that long ago that I read Book One in the series, No Good Deed, which I had really enjoyed. Therefore I was pleased I didn't have to wait too long for the next installment. As a brief precis Mark Taylor is a photographer who owns a camera, purchased in Afghanistan, which provides him with pictures of tragedies, followed by detailed dreams that mean if he intervenes in time he can stop them happening.

In this book we find Mark has been able to start over after the life changing events of book one, he has a new home, business and business partner, but things aren't going well with girlfriend Jessie. He is still using the camera to save lives and unfortunately for him becomes the centre of media attention when a journalist notices a pattern to various Good Samaritan acts being carried out. One particular save brings him within the sights of a cult leader who wants his power. The book is pretty action-packed, working it's way to a dramatic end but one that (I'm hoping) leaves scope for further Mark Taylor books

Mark is a great character, with plenty of positive characteristics but also enough flaws and self-doubt to make him believable. I liked the developing relationship with Jim, his tormentor in the first book. While this book is quite dark and with some graphic descriptions of how the cult treats it's victims this was offset by the relationships between the two men, Jessie and Mark's business partner Lily.

Book two spends a little more time contemplating the nature of the powers the camera has and where the powers come from. Mark finds himself thinking he is being tested by God but it is never made implicit whether the camera is some sort of divine apparatus or whether there is another explanation. This was one of the aspects I found really interesting in the first book so this reflection pleased me but I'm also happy that the reader isn't given a definite answer as to the source of the powers.

I found the first book more thought provoking, probably because of the coverage of the treatment of enemy-combatants in a post 9/11 world but this is a worthy sequel and I'll be waiting for news of further installments in due course!