Tuesday 28 June 2011

Book Review: Cold Hillside by Martin Cooper

Cold HillsideSimon Coltraine is a professional songwriter and musician who left the family home in Dorset to make his way in the music world in London. Older brother Giles is a bit of a wheeler dealer with fingers in various pies. Simon knows from experience that maybe not all of those pies are legitimate ones but when details of Giles' life begin to unravel after his death he discovers his brother was in deeper than he ever thought.

The book is written largely in the first person, from Simon's viewpoint. I quite enjoyed this, bringing a greater immediacy to the events. From the very beginning the story jumps around in time and whilst we are given little glimpses of the grand scheme it is only later in the book that the bigger picture starts to become clear. I did find I needed to pay proper attention and at the start, getting to grips with names, found myself flicking back once or twice to make sure I was getting things right. However I think as a result I appreciated the approach as I started to have Ahhh moments, when I could see where it was all going.

The book provides very descriptive and, possibly because it is partly set in a county I have a degree of familiarity with, I found some of it very vivid and so close to my own thoughts and experiences. Although the author sets the scenes well he doesn't employ the flowery, gushing prose some authors love, and which I'm generally not keen on especially in this type of book.

I found the crime story interesting and quite topical, but liked the balance with Simon's gradual discovery of his brother's seedy past and the details of their personal histories, including Simon's music career as a fiddler. By the time I had finished the book the ends were nicely tied up and I wasn't left with any nagging questions. I'm not great at classifying books but I felt that this was a successful merger of a crime novel with a literary style, and really enjoyed the read.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Sunday 26 June 2011

Book review: Clutter-free Home Living: The How-to Guide by Eugenia Orr

Clutter-Free Home Living: The How-To GuideI picked this up a few days ago as a freebie, and a well timed one at that as I'm in the process of reorganising my storage!

This is a very short book which started promisingly. I definitely fitted into one, maybe two, of the categories of clutter types the author identified, and as such I was looking forward to ideas on how to tackle my problem areas. As it happens there were more reasons for why you should declutter than actual tips and ideas on how to go about it.

I already knew far more about how to deal with paperwork than is covered in the book, so was disappointed with that, and the ideas for decluttering your wardrobe were basically common sense. I did pick up one good tip though, and as Monkey is always bringing home new paintings from nursery I have already started putting that one into practice.

There is also a section on how to maintain your clutter free home with things to do daily, weekly and monthly but for me it was completely unrealistic. I simply don't have time to do things like empty every bin in my home daily, as the saying goes Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.

As a freebie it was ok, had I paid for it I would have been a bit miffed to get maybe 20 mins reading and one idea.

Format: Kindle, freebie
My Rating: 2*

Saturday 25 June 2011

Fezariu's Epiphany by David M. Brown

Fezariu's EpiphanyI'm quite picky about which fantasy books I choose to read but the synopsis for this book caught my attention and had me wondering about Fezariu's story: - "The White Oak, Clarendon’s oldest brothel, lured and destroyed men by the thousands. Fezariu was different. He had never been drawn by the White Oak’s vices but the brothel had still ruined him when he was just a boy.

Salvation came in the form of the Merelax Mercenaries – Elenchera’s most prestigious hired hands. They gave Fezariu the chance to escape from his past. Immersed in the world of dangerous assignments in the colonies Fezariu longed to forget everything about his childhood but only in facing the past would he ever be free of it."

Fezariu's childhood is marred by a series of deaths and upheavals, and he becomes convinced that he is the cause of these tragedies. Sadly for him childish misapprehensions cause him a lot of angst and completely change the course of his life. He sets his mind to becoming a mercenary, to gain respect and a replacement family. However he discovers the past isn't that easy to forget and has to try and face it in order to move on.

This is a well written book and although before starting it I was a bit tentative about whether my latest foray into fantasy would be a sucess I found myself absorbed in the world the author has created. The story covers a period of decades and mainly covers key points in Fezariu's life. I thought the author's use of his letters to childhood companion Alycea, detailing his experiences during the years that aren't specifically covered, were a clever way of filling in the gaps and enhancing the story. I found in Fezariu a character I empathised with, and enjoyed his relationship with his closest friends and colleagues.

I will admit though that I did struggle a little with all the different places mentioned, trying to figure out if they were towns, countries or something larger. It didn't greatly affect my reading experience but I would have appreciated a map so I could see how they related to one another.

This was a very enjoyable read, and I can definitely say this is the sort of fantasy novel I like!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Friday 24 June 2011

Book Review: Return to Crutcher Mountain by Melinda Clayton

Return to Crutcher MountainThis book is the sequel to Appalachian Justice, which I read and was moved to tears by not so long ago. It went without saying that I was going to read the second book, which was released in print on Wednesday, slightly earlier as an e-book.

In this book we catch up with Jessie, who was rescued by Billy May Platt from her abusive step-father. Jessie is now in her 40s and still coming to terms with her childhood and the loss of her adopted mother. She is now living in LA, and has been a huge sucess in her career. In order to fulfil Billy May's dying wish she has become involved in a project providing an outward bound experience meets respite care facility for children with additional needs. A series of strange events bring Jessie back to Crutcher Mountain and force her to face her past.

The story is told from two viewpoints, Jessie's and Robby's. He is a young man staying at the facility, he has Downs syndrome and provides a very honest, quite amusing view of the world and what is happening. I liked his straightforward insights and thought using his naive perspective meant the parts he narrates really cut to the chase and was refreshingly blunt and uncomplicated. Where Robby sees black and white Jessie sees things in an array of greys and has recruited more than one therapist to try and help her move forward while trying to avoid looking back.

Althought this is a sequel there were enough recaps of the story in Appalachian Justice for it to stand alone, but I think having read the first book I got more from this one having already connected with them. As the story unravels we discover a lot more about what happened to Jessie before she was found by Billy May, and both she and the reader make a lot of new discoveries.

This is an emotional whodunnit, as I not only wanted to know who was behind the strange happenings at the lodge but I was also concerned with what would happen to Jessie and Robby and was invested enough in the characters to care about them both. There were plenty of revelations as the book reached its climax, the most shocking of which I definitely didn't see coming.

Although the sequel didn't quite have the same emotional impact on me as Appalachian Justice this is another excellent book by Melinda Clayton, and I would happily recommend them both.

Format: E-book, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Author Q&A with Melinda Clayton

Melinda is the author of Appalachian Justice, and its sequel Return to Crutcher Mountain, her second novel, which has just been released. Appalachian Justice has the rare destinction of being one of very few books to make me cry so Melinda joins an elite club on that count!

Product DetailsMelinda is a licensed psychotherapist and freelance writer living in central Florida. Her vast experience working in the field of mental health gives her a unique perspective on human behaviours and she likes to explore this dynamic in her writing.  She has published over twenty articles and short stories in various print and online magazines, and is currently in the dissertation phase of an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration. 

Product DetailsAppalachian Justice and Return to Crutcher Mountain are available in ebook and print from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and from the publisher at VanillaHeartBooksAndAuthors.com

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

I was really young, around eight or nine, when I read Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. I absolutely loved that book. I’m not sure exactly what about it made me decide I wanted to write, but ever since then I’ve always had that goal. I started out a few years ago by writing mental health-type articles for print and online magazines. I went from that to short stories, and finally to novels.

How would you describe your books and style?
One reviewer likened my style to that of Jodi Picoult, which was very flattering. I think maybe that was because I like to cover psychological issues in my writing. I want my characters to face the same struggles many of us face, and I want them to be defined in shades of gray. Their choices don’t come easily.

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 always write best in the morning. If I miss that window, I’m sort of lost for the day. The most difficult part is getting stuck – what most people call writer’s block, I suppose. It tends to happen to me right before a crucial chapter. I’ll know exactly where I want to go, but won’t be sure how to get there. I usually have to mull it over for a few days before the path becomes clear.

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

I do tend to know the beginning and the end, but don’t know the details. I’ll know the situations I want the protagonist to face and have a good idea of how it will end, but won’t know all the specifics of the journey. That comes to me as I write, and I sometimes have to go back and change things if the journey takes me somewhere I hadn’t expected.

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

I’m published through an independent publisher, and it’s been a wonderful experience. When I first finished the manuscript for Appalachian Justice I spent nearly a year querying agents, getting nibbles, finding out the agent who was working with me was no longer there...it was very time consuming and very frustrating. Then I queried Vanilla Heart Publishing and I’ve been thrilled with the outcome.

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

Oh, that’s a hard one! In Appalachian Justice it has to be Billy May Platte. I think maybe she’s a once in a lifetime story. I’m not sure if that’s because that was my first book, or if it’s just that people, including me, can’t help but fall in love with Billy May.  

In Return to Crutcher Mountain I think it’s a tie. I identify with Jessie because we’re close to the same age. I understand the struggles she faces because I spent so many years working with survivors of abuse. But I love Robby, too. He’s a ten year old boy with Down Syndrome who sees the world as is, without the filter of political correctness.  

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

For contemporary fiction, I love Anita Shreve, Barbara Kingsolver, and Elizabeth Berg. For classic works, I’m a fan of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. But my guilty pleasure is true crime. I think I’ve read just about everything Ann Rule has ever written. I’m fascinated by the way the personality develops. What makes a person make such awful choices? I haven’t found any answers, but I do enjoy reading it.

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

Return to Crutcher Mountain has just come out as an ebook and is due out in print on the 22nd of June. I have a couple of ideas for my next book but may have to take a break for a few months to do my dissertation research. If I start writing, I’ll neglect my research!

A big thank you to Melinda for taking time out to answer my questions. If you want to know more you can find her at at authormelindaclayton.xanga.com, and she can be friended on Facebook at Author Melinda Clayton.

TFI Friday!

Any regular visitors know what Friday means here at Booked Up - Blog Hope and Follow Friday time! I love these two memes, it's so interesting to hear other people's thoughts and recommendations. Before I get started though, later I'll be posting an author interview with Melinda Clayton, author of Appalachian Justice and recently released sequel Return to Crutcher Mountain (review on that coming later too) And, having passed the 150 follower mark last week I'm planning a 200 follower giveaway. I've got 5 authors on board already, with e-books from a range of genres to be won. Watch this space for more info as I get closer to that next milestone!

Over at Parajunkee.com the question is : In light of the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer...let's talk about fairies. What is your favorite fairy tale or story that revolves around the fae?

This is easy for me, I don't read many books including fairies, and it's been a long time since I read any fairy tales (still on nursery rhymes with Monkey) so it has to be Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon I wasn't sure it would be my thing but I thought it was great and gave it 5*

Book Blogger HopNow over at crazy-for-books.com a question I'm not sure of the answer to: When did you realize reading was your passion and a truly important part of your life? I'm really not sure, I've always read a lot and can't imagine not having books to turn to when I have time. My mum tells me that as a small child if we were out and about and I was getting bored she could pick up any catalogue or flyer and give it to me and I'd be happy as larry. As a kid the family all called me Bookworm so I suppose I must have realised early on how important the company of a good book can be.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Book Review: Not With A Bang by A. Andrew Tantia

Not with a BangSo, imagine you're a guy, sat in a fairly average garden, with another guy. You've got a bit of a lawn, some trees, sounds ok so far. But what if Earth has been destroyed, this garden is the biggest chunk left and the human race has bascially had it? That's what John and Robin are facing in this comic short story. They are floating in space, protected from the atmosphere by a field generated by their spaceship's computer MAL(made me think of HAL in A Space Odyssey) The two are on the edge of despair until MAL comes up with a plan. Their predicament takes on biblical proportions, but will they be able to save mankind?

This short story took me less than an hour to read, perfect for the train trip home, and had me amused. There isn't a lot of time to flesh out the characters although strangely I felt like I got a good sense of MAL, the computer.

It's a clever little take on a story that is familiar to most of us and unlike a lot of short stories I've been reading recently the author brings the plot to a pretty definite conclusion, without too many lingering questions. This book definitely made me think of Hitchhikers and Red Dwarf, so if they are your cup of tea it's worth a look.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 3*

Monday 20 June 2011

Book Review: Seranfyll by Christina Daley

SeranfyllI don't generally read a lot of books that are suitable for 10 years + , but when I saw the synopsis of this book with its suggestion that fans of Harry Potter would enjoy it (I love HP) I thought I should definitely give it a try.

13 year old Rain lives in the kingdom of Yoan and is a slave in the service of a good master, but one who has racked up serious debts. Her life looks like it's taking a turn for the worse when she is sold to a slave trader and separated from sister Snow. Locked up at a slave market she sits like a piece of meat for sale, but is then bought along with several other young slaves by a drunk and eccentric young lord with a reputation. The others fear him, having heard he rides a winged horse and is the devil, and flee from the manor after he grants them their freedom. However feeling sorry for him Rain stays. Only one other slave, Coal joins her, more to protect her from Lord Domrey Seranfyll than for any other reason. Life at the charmed manor is a revelation for the new inhabitants, but all the good is outweighed for Rain by the continued separation from her sister.

I thought it was a wonderful world the author had created, and up to about the age of thirteen Celestria would have been my idea of heaven. While the language used and events in the book are suitable for the younger end of the audience it didn't feel like it was dumbed down or patronising. As well as the obvious comparison to Harry Potter it also brought to mind Disney's Fantasia with it's enchanted brooms and buckets. It held definite appeal for me, but probably wouldn't be so much of a fit for those who like their fantasy a bit darker.

The three main characters are very different but all well written, and I hope it's not too wrong that I have a bit of a crush on Domrey! The menacing Lord Morgrav provides a dose of chilling nastiness and a good foil for Lord Seranfyll. I particularly liked the way the author has made Domrey  a supporter of the abolition of slavery, and worked that into the plot, and her note at the end got me thinking more about the issue in the wider context.

I found the book well paced, drawing me into the story quickly and other than a handful of typos there's not really anything negative for me to say about this wonderful charming (and charmed) book.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 5*

Sunday 19 June 2011

Book Review: If You Go Into the Woods by David Gaughran

If You Go Into The WoodsI recently read and reviewed another of David's books, and with Monkey having a nap I thought it was the perfect time to take a look at this book at around 16 print pages long.

This book comprises two short stories. The first, the story of the title, introduces us to the world of 8 year old Jiri. He lives near a forest which has captured his attention. Although he is afraid of the dark recesses of the forest he wants to see the birds he hears high in the trees. When he finally plucks up the courage to take a look the dark becomes the last thing on his mind.

The second story, an e-book bonus, is The Reset Button. Linus Eriksson is divorced, living in a one bed batchelor pad and allowed only very limited custody to his son. He unfortunately seems to be completely forgetable to everyone he meets.

Both are written with a wonderful economy with words and a simplicity that I appreciated. I love the way the author sets up so many questions in the course of each story, making them thought-provoking and ensuring you don't stop thinking about the book when you put it down.  I also love the cover, probably because Jiri isn't the only one with a thing about birds. I loved this book, and came away from it feeling a similar way to The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto, which I recently reviewed. I can't fully explain it but it made me smile.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 5*

Saturday 18 June 2011

Book Review: Dust on His Soul by Jason Blacker

Dust on His SoulAs you might have seen on my About Me page I'm particularly keen on real life or fictional stories about historical events in other countries. Dust on His Soul ticked the boxes for me, being about a fictional character but inspired by Stephen Biko and based on what was happening in 1970s and '80s South Africa. While I'm a bit young to clearly remember coverage at the time I thought I was pretty aware of what happened under apartheid.

Stephen Bankulu's parents Paul and Cynthia are involved in the ANC, trying to improve the situation of families in Soweto under a racist regime that sees their people virtually enslaved. They try and keep their activites, and the tensions of living in South Africa at the time, away from their son so that he can enjoy his childhood. However they are unable to do so and Paul's activism has serious consequences for his family. Fast forward fifteen or so years and Stephen is imprisoned at the notorious Robben Island, on a charge of treason. This is Stephen's story, one of hope and despair, life and death.

The book moves between Stephen's youth and his time at the prison, and as the book progresses the reader is able to see how the course of his life is influenced by the ANC, at times for the better, and at others for the worse. It gives a graphic portrait of the stark divisions between people divided only by their skin colour, and paints a dreadful but no doubt realistic picture of the abuses inflicted by one race on another. It doesn't make for comfortable reading but nor should it.

I have to admit I'm having a hard time knowing how to rate this book. It started well and I was keen to read on to find out how Stephen ended up in prison. The author uses some amazing imagery and there is a lot of descriptive writing. However towards the middle of the book I felt I didn't really have an emotional connection with the characters. Perhaps the level of descriptive writing was getting in the way of progressing the story and it was taking away from the emotion of the unfolding events. Around the half way point I might have given it just 2* but...I carried on reading and although there was no  change in style the pace seemed to pick up and I found myself feeling more involved in the story. By the end of the book I was welling up as events reached their climax. Putting it down I felt like I had really had my eyes opened and that it is the sort of book that I will still be thinking about in the future.

As I also had issues with some of spelling and punctuation I think I would have to give this 3 stars in the final analysis. This is the sort of story that needs to be told and read, and I was pleased that ultimately I came away from it feeling moved and with a greater understanding of what ANC members faced.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 3*

Friday 17 June 2011

Book hop time

Phew, I survived working on a Friday, it was a bit of a shock for me, been a long time since I've done that and boy was it rubbish still there when everyone else was sloping off early. Glad to be home and relaxing now.

Book Blogger HopFirst up the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer at crazy-for-books.com. Today's question is How many books are currently in your TBR pile?

I'm not exactly sure but it's over 100, which should keep me going for a while! Fortunately most of those are e-books otherwise I'd be in trouble.

Over at parajunkee.com the it's genre wars! What's your favourite genre and which book in that genre made it your favourite?

I'm not sure I have a stand out favourite genre, I do love a good thriller but also I'm a big fan of historical fiction. I've been reading adult fiction since I was about 12, my parents would let me read anything I could lay my hands on, and I can't think of one particular book read back along that has led to me preferring either of those two. Silence of the Lambs is one that stands out for me though.

I'm looking forward to doing some hopping to see what other people's answers are, and would love to read your comments. Have a great weekend everyone! TC

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Book Review: Peter and the Vampires by Darren Pillsbury

PETER AND THE VAMPIRES (Volume One)This book is the first in the Peter and the Monsters series, and comprises four short stories or novellas: Peter and the Dead Men, Peter and the Vampires, Peter and the Changeling and Peter and the Swamp Monster.

Peter is ten and has just moved from California with his mum and 2 year old sister. He has been uprooted, torn away from his friends and made to move in with the grandfather he has never met. The house is huge and spooky sounding, with plenty of places off limits to Peter, including the basement which is not to be entered on pain of death! He quickly meets his new neighbour Dill, who thinks he's streetwise and savvy, and considered a bad influence by Peter's grandfather who doesn't want around him. The town they move to has some seriously weird things going on, as you can tell from the titles of each story within the book, and Peter's grandfather knows far more about what is going on than he lets on. As well as dealing with starting a new school and making new friends Peter ends up with plenty of other things on his mind, and dealing with all these incidents soon cements his friendship with Dill.

As well as the monster stories there are undercurrents based around the boys' family lives. From the start there is some mystery about what has happened between Peter's parents, and Dill's dysfunctional clan made me sympathise and feel more understanding towards him. There is also clearly more going on with Grandfather than is revealed in this book, and the hint of a curse is also present. There are two more books in the series, again divided into shorter stories, and I'll be interested to see where those threads go. What I really want to know is what is going on in the basement!

With the two main protagonists being just ten, and with the tone being scary and a bit disgusting without being too graphic I can see tweens enjoying these stories, but at 30 odd I found myself laughing in places, and picking up my reading pace as the stories reached a climax. The way the kids spoke, the things they worried about and the terms they used reminded me of being a kid again, and it was great!

This was a really fun read, and although it took me a minute to wrap my head around how the books within the book worked once I got it I thought it worked nicely. I also thought it was well formatted and proofed so was a well-presented end product. No doubt I'll be revewing Peter and the Werewolves and Peter and the Frankenstein in the future.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Sunday 12 June 2011

Book Review: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

The LakeI noticed this book on Netgalley with a note that a portion of the proceeds will go towards Japan Disaster Relief, so if nothing else it caught my eye for that. I like fiction set in Japan and China but in the past have read mostly historical rather than contemporary fiction.

I was glad when I finished the book and went online to get all the details to do this review that I hadn't re-read the blurb as it gives away one of the key points of the plot and would have been a real spoiler if my memory was better. Chihiro moves from the small town she was brought up in to Tokyo after the death of her mother. Her parents were unmarried and did not have a conventional relationship, she the mama-san of a club, he a prominent businessman, Chihiro pigeonholed by others on the basis of her parentage. Tokyo is to be a fresh start and an escape. The book tells the story of her growing relationship with the man she sees looking out of her window, whose past holds a dark secret.

The prose is simple and beautiful, the story of the young couple and his friends is sweet and sad, and it was refreshing to read a story where the relationship develops slowly and cautiously, isn't based on looks and passion and where are a different, more comfortable partnership is the key to happiness. They are no poster couple for the romantic ideal. The characters are all quirky and complicated.

I'm not sure whether this was a long novella or a short novel but it took me less than 3 hours to read. It certainly didn't seem like a full length novel. I can't put my finger on why but something about this book had me entranced and I'll be looking up other works by the same author.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 5*

Saturday 11 June 2011

Coming Soon Book Review: The First Victim by J B Lynn

The First VictimAs a teenager Emily Wright was able to escape from the serial killer dubbed the Baby Doll Strangler. However unable to escape the memories of her captivity she flees her small town home after graduating and builds a new life in the big city. Fifteen years later, when her father is seriously injured in an accident, she reluctantly returns to care for her fifteen year old sister. The old fears son creep back and any suggestion she is just being paranoid is dismissed when one of her sister's school friends is left on their lawn, dead. Deputy Bailey O'Neil is on the case, but their shared history colours his view. Between them and the two FBI agents on the trail of the killer they need to figure out his identity before he can kill again.

The story is mostly told in the third person, with some first person narrative from the viewpoint of the killer. This makes for very creepy reading, and finding out what Emily went through makes her fears seem very reasonable. She is a very likable character who has tried hard to find the strength to build her life again, and has become a successful career woman who stutters in the face of her high school crush and the memories her old home holds.

This isn't a particularly long book, and I raced through it, but that was largely because I didn't want to put it down. The reader is pitched into the action fairly early in the book and it's pretty relentless, although interspersed with details of the tentative relationship between Emily and Bailey which provides some light relief.

Parts of the plot were a bit predictable, but some of the turns I didn't see coming. The only thing I felt was missing was a real explanation of why the killer did what he did. We are given an idea of his logic but not what happened that affected him so much he would turn to murder, which would have completed things nicely. The story flows well and overall I really liked this thriller.

Format: ARC, anticipated release date 13th June 2011
My Rating: 4*

Friday 10 June 2011

Book Review: Truth of the Python by Paul Vitols

Truth of the PythonThis book is described as a literary thriller, and with the book having a historical element it caught my attention. Set in Vancouver in the early 1990s hypnotherapist Philip Dozier is treating university student Greg Brodie for an embarrassing personal problem. During the course of their sessions Greg regresses 25 centuries and it seems in a previous life he was Greek philosopher Pythagoras. He also acts a channel for a being that knows Philip's secrets. Both men become obsessed with the past, Greg convinced he is on earth to continue Pythagoras' work and Philip concerned about his historical connection with Greg and repaying karmic debts.

This is a well written book that covers some very interesting territory. I particularly liked a lot of the parts set around 500BC, reading about the different civilisations, their religious beliefs and the life of Pythagoras. I also found the present narratives enjoyable, and felt a degree of concern for Greg. However I found it hard to warm to therapist Philip, especially as his behaviour became less moral, and although she wasn't a major character I felt more empathy for his wife.

While I was keen to read on to find out how the men were linked, and to discover more about the entity Greg channels there were parts that were overly philosophical for me. It's not a topic I know a great deal about, I found myself a bit out of my depth and those parts dragged a little for me. I was happier once I got back to the more straightforward accounts of the past and present. Overall though the style, while it had a literary bent, didn't make for a hard read.

This was a thought-provoking story with an element of suspense, and although it didn't hook me in quite the same way as other thrillers, it was a good read that has been well edited with no noticeable typos.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My rating: 3*

Author Q&A with Tom North

Last month I read and reviewed Puttypaw, a YA fantasy that I really liked. Its author, Tom North, has kindly agreed to do a Q&A with me, but first a bit about him: 
Tom North lives in Oxford where he enjoys the refreshing and perpetual rain. He is in his mid-thirties. This, he has discovered, means that small white hairs grow out of his earlobes when he’s not looking. He spends a lot of time climbing rocks. He is the world’s worst snowboarder. Fact. Tom wrote Puttypaw, his first novel, in response to a dream about a cat that was stuck in a cellar. No, really, he did. He loved every minute of it. (Writing the novel, that is. Not the dream. The dream was weird.)

Tom has published a collection of nine short stories called Sketches of an Ending which has been likened by one reviewer to using a blowtorch to penetrate the surface of human emotions. This was, despite appearances, a compliment.

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

These things always seem to go the same way with me. For example, I love the sound of acoustic guitars and always have. So I spent most of the first twenty three years of my life (excluding the years in which I dribbled, cried, threw tantrums and had to get adults to help me with my personal hygiene - which, thinking about it, comprised most of the first eighteen) picking up people's guitars with the expectation that I would immediately play like Hendrix. I didn't. But then one day I sat down with a friend's guitar and book of songs and was hooked. After that I played for two hours a day for three years solid, and gradually weaned myself down to sane levels of practice over time. I still play a lot now - but not when I'm writing, for some reason. Anyway, writing went the same way. I have always loved reading, and always had the expectation that I'd be a writer at some point. Every time I opened a book I'd think, "I'm going to do this." The rest was very much a case of waiting for the motivation and the right time. When I was thirty-ish I borrowed a friend's laptop and rattled off a short story. It was called The Snow Demon and I was convinced that it was a masterpiece. In actual fact it turned out that; a) it wasn't and, b) it was the first of well over twenty short stories I have since written. I still haven't dared show anyone the first ten short stories. They're not brilliant, but they were great training.

How would you describe your books and style?

Most stories I write have three main ingredients: a fantastical element, an underlying reference to death and at least some pitiful attempt at humour. The proportions vary but I love fantasy. Not so much in the "I smote Scarinth, scourge of human-kind and guardian of the netherworld, with the double bladed Sword of my Elders, and he was right upset about it" sense, but more by using weird events and odd situations to put characters in places where we get to see what they're made of. Sometimes it's a talking pear tree or it may be an unusual storm or sometimes (rarely) it's missing altogether. The idea is that the strangeness of the situation allows us to get an idea of what the character is thinking much better than under normal circumstances (in which they'd be thinking about tea or when to walk the dog or something). Writers like Neil Gaiman and Haruki Murakam use this device a lot and although they're very different authors with different agendas, it works the same way. In one of his short stories Murakami has a man helping a giant frog to battle the worm that causes Tokyo's earthquakes. It works because it's weird and interesting and the man responds to it in a very human and realistic way. In Puttypaw I have gigantic talking cats - which may very well be imaginary - because the way they interact with the main character, Toby, highlight what's happening in his head. Especially because we're never sure if they're fictional or not (okay, obviously they're fictional, but I mean within the confines of the book) they put the focus onto the journey his character has to go through. And the humour is inevitable. It's because I think I'm funny, despite having been told, repeatedly, that I'm not.

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

The only routine I have is that I have to listen to music when I write, especially if I'm "splurging", by which I mean writing as quickly as I can anything that comes into my head as a first draft. On a good day I can splurge two thousand words and perhaps keep about eight hundred or so. I can never, ever, work and listen to music unless I'm writing fiction, because the music breaks my concentration. But for some reason when writing the music just helps keep my conscious mind out of the way so that the rest of me can get on with the job. Sometimes I worry about what crawls out of my subconscious onto the page. There have been moments where I've re-read a passage and thought, "Where the hell did that come from?" It's almost therapeutic. Some days I splurge, some days I obsessively delete, nitpick, cut and paste, and so it progresses. I tend to write in episodes, like scenes in a film. Short stories are a scene each, but the one-and-half novels I've written were written out of order: one day I'd write a bit of the beginning, the next a bit of the end, and then somewhere in the middle. The most difficult bit is getting all of the scenes to join up smoothly into a novel with one overarching and consistent narrative style.

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 write the end first. That way I know where everything is heading (roughly). The rest I make up as I go, one idea leading to another. But because I know where all the paths lead, everything I write on the way heads in the right direction. That way of doing things seems to make sense to me. I have tried repeatedly to plan out where a book will go, but my brain doesn't work that way, sadly. I tend to find that the ideas for another section come when writing one of the others and so it progresses in stages.

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

This is going to be a rant, I'm afraid. You'd probably better move on to the next section unless you've just finished writing a novel and want to know what it's like trying to get published. I am self-published. The best thing about self-publishing is that it is the antithesis of the worst thing about traditional publishing. My experience of traditional publishing is ghastly. I'd like to say from the outset that I am NOT thin skinned. I can deal with rejection. I do it professionally in my day job and if people read my book and decide that they don't like my writing that's fine. That's how it should be. One agent very kindly wrote to me saying that she thought that my writing was very strong but the subject of Puttypaw was too weird for her. That's brilliant: even though it's a rejection, it's a positive. It was also an exception in that she replied quickly and personally and had bothered to read my submission. What bugs me is that the guys involved with traditional publishing are rude. Not, you understand, that the individuals are ever actually anything other than polite and pleasant, but the nature of the process itself is rude. It's like playing the lottery very, very slowly. I have sent Puttypaw to three publishers and perhaps fifteen agents in the last year and a half. Most replied immediately with a polite "It's not for me" email but without having even read a word of the novel. This is itself extremely irritating but, for some reason, accepted as normal. As I write, though, there are three publishers and two agents who simply have not even replied to acknowledge receipt of the book. I now expect not to hear unless I phone them up to ask why. This is normal and very frustrating. To illustrate the horror that is trying to get published traditionally, here's the most positive experience I've had:

I sent a letter to an agent politely asking whether I could submit my novel to them (which they stated I should do on their website). I waited for three months without response. I eventually phoned up and did a bit of a sales job and she said, "Oh, didn't we respond? Why not email over the first chapters?" I did and waited for three months for a response. Nothing. So I had to phone up again and was told, somewhat tersely, that I had been emailed a rejection. I hadn't, and told her so, and there the conversation ended, leaving me feeling aggrieved but mainly phlegmatic. Two weeks later I received an email apologising and saying that my book had been put in discard pile by accident and that she had read my chapters and they were interesting and could I please forward the rest of the book? GREAT! I sent it over. And another three months elapsed and I phoned again. This time I had just pre-empted an email and we had a very nice conversation in which the agent was very encouraging but said that she had decided, on balance, not to take it, but that she enjoyed it and I should keep at writing. Fine. But the whole thing took nearly a year. And all the while my book had been sitting on my hard drive, unread by anyone.

So the best thing about self-publishing is that people actually read my books. The worst thing about self-publishing is that everybody, their dog and their dog's friends and their dog's friends' families are doing it with no vetting process (if the use of the word 'vetting' isn't strange in the context of novel-writing dogs). Unless you are lucky or particularly pushy, you'll quickly drown in anonymity. You rely on people leaving reviews and recommending your book to their friends. And you rely on luck - a public review in the right place at the right time followed by downloads that get you into the charts. An author acquaintance of mine likened it to being struck by lightning. You can do things to improve your chances of being struck, but at the end of the day it's back to waiting for lady luck. So I'm still playing the lottery, it appears, but now much faster, with a lot more tickets. And I'm being read!

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

This is an easy one. It's Theroros. I have an unpleasant sarcastic streak which I inherited from my father. I try to keep a lid on it and restrict the mickey-taking so that I still have a few friends who are willing to speak to me. Mostly it works but it's a constant effort and occasionally I'll come out with something horrific for which I later have to apologise. My friends think that I don't have a working social filter. Actually I do but it has a hell of a job to do and sometimes it simply breaks down, with disastrous consequences for my social life. It's probably not an accident that with Theroros I invented a character who was completely free to say whatever he wanted. I absolutely loved writing his bits. I spent most of that time chuckling and rubbing my hands with evil glee, possibly venturing the occasional snigger. I spent hours thinking, "Would it be nastier if he said it this way, or if he phrased it like this?" Of course Theroros has an ulterior motive for his behaviour and perhaps he isn't all bad (or actually isn't bad at all), but he still represented carte blanche to be as unpleasant as I wanted, even if it was only to two fictional characters. It was bliss. This makes me sound like a complete weirdo, doesn't it? (TC's note - nah, sounds like fun actually)

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

At the moment I am working on another novel which is sort of an investigation into how men like to distance themselves from emotional attachment and the consequences of this if they pursue it to the logical extreme. As usual with me it involves some very odd things happening which are a counterpoint to the emotional state of the main character. I probably can't go into it too much right now but it involves a terrible, terrible pun, being hunted by a strange, dark beast, a wound that will not close, a man traveling the world escaping from precisely nothing, and ultimately a realisation that it's never too late to let go and to simple accept things as they are. I think that this has probably been sufficiently vague a description that you'll never want to read it. I'm about 16,000 words in, and most of them are ones I want to keep. And I'm really, really enjoying writing it! Again, I find myself chucking at the occasional passage and feeling pleased with various bits of phraseology. So even if nobody ever reads another word of my work, at least I'm keeping myself amused.

Thanks to Tom for taking the time to do this, especially as I know he is abroad and probably out to be out enjoying himself, not slaving over a computer!

If you want to find out more links to both Puttypaw and Sketches of an Ending in all of their formats are available through Tom's Goodreads profile and his website.

Tom's Goodreads profile:
Tom's Smashwords profile: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/tomnorth
Tom's website: http://puttypaw.com
Tom on Facebook:
Tom on Twitter: @Puttypaw

Friday fun

This week has whipped past again, and I've managed to review a few books and will have another author Q&A later, from Puttypaw author Tom North. As it's Friday it's meme time.

Over at parajunkee.com this week's question is: Q. The magic book fairy pops out of your cereal box and says "you and your favorite character (from a book of course) can switch places!" Who are you going to switch with?

Hmm, this is familiar, last time a variation on this question came up I thought of one of the women from a Jane Austen novel first. I don't really have a favourite character from a book to be honest.

This week the book blogger hop is being hosted by lorisreadingcorner.com and the question is:

“Who is the ONE author that you are DYING to meet?

Book Blogger HopOoh, this is a good one! I've read a lot of Clive Cussler and seen him involved with TV shows about diving to discover ship wrecks, so as a diver I think he'd be great to chat to about books and scuba!

Thanks for visiting the blog, please leave a comment even if it's just saying hi, and have a great weekend,


Wednesday 8 June 2011

Book Review: My Ninjas: Choosing a Martial Arts School by Nick Roberts

Learning a martial art has long been one of those things on my To Do list, partly for exercise and partly for self defence, but I'm afraid it's one of those things that I've never quite got round to doing (yet) One of the reasons - not knowing where to start. This short book is a guide to finding a suitable school, written by a martial artist who has around 18mths experience and so has the beginners experience fresh in his mind. The book is available from Smashwords and the description reads: "Many people dream about learning martial arts. When they finally take the plunge, they often jump in blindly, without being able to articulate exactly what they hope to get out of their training. This book helps students clarify their own training goals while providing objective ways to evaluate schools and questions for potential teachers."

Cover for 'My Ninjas: Choosing A Martial Arts School'

I found a lot of useful information in the book, such as the difference between self defence and martial arts training and it made me think about the sort of school and teaching methods I would personally be comfortable with. In fact more than making me think about it I came away with some definite ideas about what questions I should ask and what I should be looking for should I ever manage to get my backside into gear. Some of the topics covered would never have crossed my mind so it was a bit of an education.

I think I would have found it even more helpful if perhaps the lineage section had included details of the main styles in groups with information their key features, so I could narrow my search for schools knowing I would rather pursue one style over the others. A brief glossary would also be very handy.

If you are thinking of starting out in martial arts I think you could find this book very handy indeed. I feel a bit mean only giving it 3* but that is more reflective of the fact it's a non-fiction guide than the quality of the book itself.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 3*

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Book Review: Baby Jane by M A Demers

Baby JaneLately I've read a couple of books that encompass elements of the supernatural or spiritual so I was interested to read the description of this book, which hinted at a crime thriller with a twist.

Claire Dawson is looking for a new start in the home she has brought for renovation. She has a past she is trying to get over but it doesn't look like things will go smoothly when she finds human remains within the walls of her house. Detective Dylan Lewis arrives to investigate and the two immediately find themselves unintentionally winding each other up. Claire is determined to give the victim the dignity of a name and decides to help the investigation along to ensure justice is served. The house has more secrets than just a body within its walls though, and when Lewis' grandmother Ta'ah, a Coast Salish medicine woman, hears about Claire's story she gathers the elders and goes to the property to deal with the demon within it. Claire's continuing involvement in the case brings her into repeated contact with Lewis and the sparks between the two are all too obvious, but the potential conflict of interest further complicates matters.

I loved this book and found it a compulsive page turner. The first chapter had me hooked, with plenty to read on for in order to answer a bunch of questions. Written in the third person the story is told from a few points of view, which allows the reader to get a good background and feeling for the main characters. I really liked Claire and Dylan, but at times wanted to bang their heads together. I also found the details of Ta'ah's role and beliefs fascinating. It has made me want to go away and read more about the Coast Salish people.

As far as the whodunit went the suspects were fairly clear early on, but the supernatural or spiritual element makes it stand out from a lot of other thrillers. I did wonder whether the presence of demons in the story might make it too far fetched for me, but actually in the context of the beliefs of the Coast Salish peoples it made it even more interesting. I also found the historical element, going back to what was happening in Germany before WWII, a clever element.

I'm not sure there is much I can give as a negative, it was well-paced, the main characters were well drawn and had a range of issues that made them flawed and human, and the plot had something to separate it from the crowd. I thought it was a great read and would happily recommend it!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 5*

Monday 6 June 2011

Book Review: Hell of a Salesman by Timothy Brooks

Hell of a SalesmanThis book was described to me as a comic memoir, fictionalised (to protect the innocent?), of the author's time working in recruitment in London.  As an "an accurate depiction, and searing indictment, of life in a modern sales company" I was interested to see whether sales work was really as tough as I've always imagined it to be.

Tim has completed university, worked a few jobs and decided it is time to knuckle down and earn some serious money. He decides a sales job is the best way to achieve that goal and starts looking for a job. The book takes us on his journey through torturous interview to his new job at Haywood Fryston and follows his career as he progresses as a salesman. The book presents a picture of a testosterone filled, demanding environment where to be successful you probably need to check your conscience at the door.

Told in the first person from Tim's viewpoint I found him an amusing narrator and warmed to him and his honesty. Some of the characters are truly odious but no doubt not uncommon in the circles the book is set in. I also really felt for poor new boy Jerry. Parts had me chuckling, especially the daft sayings of the managers, but behind it all is a tale of morality and it is more than just an amusing memoir. While it did end at a point where he had a bit of an epiphany, at the end of Tim's first year of a three year stint, I found the ending a little bit abrupt and was hoping for more.

I found this book really enjoyable, and found myself racing through it and staying up late to read "just a bit more" Let it serve as a cautionary note to anyone who thinks there is easy money to be made in sales!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Sunday 5 June 2011

Book Review: Tag by Simon Royle

Tag (The Zumar Chronicles)As with fantasy sci-fi hasn't been one of my favoured genres in the past but I'm being open minded and the synopsis for Tag sounded great so I thought it was worth a look. Set 100 years from now, Jonah Oliver is called in to do some pro-bono work for UNPOL, formerly INTERPOL. He is an arbitrator and is asked to interrogate a prisoner who has requested him by name. That prisoner, Jibril Muraz, makes some astonishing revelations, showing up Jonah's life as a web of lies and pulling him into the battle to save the lives of 6.3 billion people.

The future isn't all that different from now , but the world has seen what seems to be a credible evolution of current technology. Unfortunately one of the biggest changes to technology has been the introduction of the dev stick, basically storing a person's identity and ripe for abuse by Big Brother types. I would describe Tag as futuristic rather than sci-fi, it seems like a worrying plausible future rather than anything too fanciful. There is plenty of new jargon (mostly quickly understandable) and nations no longer exist, replaced with various geographics on Earth, Mars and the Moon. The author has created an amazingly detailed future!

The Tag law is coming up for a Popvote, where everyone has to electronically cast their ballot. The Tag law extends the concept of the dev stick by having it implanted into the individual, further increasing the ability of the authorities to monitor their every activity. It's a scary prospect, and with the failure of the introduction of ID cards in the UK not so long ago it shows one possible future route we should all be trying to avoid.

I thought the plot was great. It was relevant and thought-provoking, and the cast of characters provided some interesting dynamics. I really like Jonah, who tells most of the story from his point of view, and Jibril who is a major figure in the movement against the Tag law. The pace accelerated towards the end, with a lot of tension created as the reader waited to find out if the cleansing of billions of people considered to be inferior could be prevented.

However Tag is quite a long book, and I found it a bit slow at the start. It took me a while to get into it and I think a tighter edit, removing some of the parts that were more tell than show, would have been good. Sometimes, with the descriptions of characters in particular, I like a bit of room to build my own picture of them and too many details stiffle that. There were also a few typos I noticed, although not so many that I found them distracting.

The concept is great and I almost felt like I could see the future. This book is a bit sci-fi and a bit crime thriller with a dash of romance, and with a bit of tweaking could be really very good indeed.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 3*

Book Review: Transfection by David Gaughran

TransfectionAs regular readers might have noticed I'm a bit of a short story fan, and I've read a few scientific based books in the past that I've really enjoyed so Transfection looked like a good bet for me. It is a short story, around 23 pages of real life book, so took me very little time to read.

Dr Carl Peters is a biologist who has sacrificed a lot to his research and has been struggling with funding.  When there is a suggestion that GM food is linked to cancer suddenly the money comes rolling in and he is on the up. However when he discovers the reason for it he's labelled crazy and is soon on a downward slope again.

This story touches on some interesting topics, and I would have happily read more should the author have chosen to expand on the themes. However for the length I was impressed that I felt sympathy for the Dr and everything he goes through in the course of the book, the character was obviously developed economically but well. I went through a range of emotions as I read, as the book ran the gamut from amusing to sinister. While the story is only short the author has obviously spent a lot of time in creating a polished product.

This was a really good quick , well written and I'm pleased to have more by the author on my kindle, to be read and reviewed at a later date.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*