Monday, 22 May 2017

A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN AND A DARK ANGEL



In Virginia Woolf's extended essay, A Room of One's Own, she poses the idea that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. In Woolf's day this was absolutely true since women had very little they could truly call their own, including time to pursue their own interests or even be an individual separate and distinct from their spouse or children. Nowadays, things may be different.
It's true that having money or another source of income gives one the time and freedom to write. That's why so many writers have to wait until they retire from other day jobs in order to have enough time and headspace to write fiction. But having  a room of one's own might be highly overrated.  Maybe some writers are spoiled for space or just maybe the way we write and the milieu in which we need to do it have drastically changed.



I recently went to a reading by the prolific Scandinavian noir crime writer, Jo Nesbo, who was promoting his latest novel, The Thirst. Nesbo has sold an incredible 26 million copies of his books . When asked about his favourite place to write, he confessed that even though he has an incredible office in his Oslo condo, with floor to ceiling windows that overlook the ocean - equipped with state of the art tech equipment and lighting - he finds it's the only place he can't write. Instead he frequents a small, local coffee shop. There he covertly listens in to conversations and finds inspiration for plot ideas and characters in the rush of people that come and go.
I absolutely understand. I have a nicely set up office with framed copies of all my book covers around me. It's comfortable and quiet, but I often have trouble writing there. It's just a little too claustrophobic and isolated. Eventually I have to get out among people. The odd or complex behaviours, bizarre conversations and the everyday kaleidoscope of life somehow helps me write. I remember on one particular occasion I sat next to two guys who were actually firing someone from a job. I could barely contain myself while listening to all the doublespeak, the cold, calculated logic and sickening platitudes they were laying on this poor guy. All the while I was expecting him to stand up and deck them both. It didn't happen, but I'm sure I'll find a place for this somewhere in one of my books.  
So here are some famous authors and their favourite workplaces:

  • Agatha Christie liked to lounge in a large Victorian tub, eat apples and write.
  • James Joyce lay in bed on his stomach wearing a white coat and wrote with a blue pencil!
  • D.H Lawrence wrote beneath the shade of a tree. He said the trees were "like living company."
  • Gertrude Stein wrote in the driver's seat of her Model T Ford.
  • John Le Carre wrote many of his books during his 90 minute commute to work from Buckinghamshire.
DARK ANGEL, a review

Joanne Froggatt as Mary Ann Cotton

I was interested to see this ITV/PBS drama that brings to life the career of infamous British poisoner, Mary Ann Cotton and I have to say I have very conflicting feelings about it. 
When I wrote my novel, THE SAVAGE INSTINCT, I spent months researching the life and trial of Mary Ann Cotton. I read newspaper accounts from the era and several biographies of her life. I finally made the decision that Cotton, her "career" and her trial would provide a backdrop to a fictitious story that focused more on the impact of the trial on Victorian society at the time. In particular on the life of a childless woman on the edge of sanity. 
The Cotton case was sensationalized in the newspapers. The idea that a woman, and in this case, a working class woman, would actually go against all feminine ideals and murder her own children as well as her husbands and possibly her mother, caused great upheaval in an extremely patriarchal society. 
The real Mary Ann Cotton. Slightly less glamorous!
 This idea was completely absent in the PBS drama. While Joanne Froggatt gave a chilling performance as Cotton, she seemed too sympathetic and overly glamorized. At 2 hours 45 minutes the production seemed to hurtle through Cotton's many crimes at express speed. For viewers who have no prior knowledge of the case this proves very confusing and at times unintentionally funny. All we know is that when Mary Ann gets out the "Teapot of Death" and mixes a bit of arsenic into the tealeaves, SOMEONE'S GONNA CROAK!!
Mary Ann Cotton's real teapot from the collection at Beamish Museum.
The movie offers very little in the way of an explanation of her motives or her effect on the community in which she lived. It also totally ignores the trial. Cotton didn't have any counsel to represent her at first and then when she did, he was incompetent. This was definitely a missed opportunity. Given a lot more time and a greater attention to detail, it could have been a great adaptation of an important trial.
Let me suggest the following. If you want to know more about Mary Ann Cotton, read THE SAVAGE INSTINCT instead!!

Monday, 27 March 2017

CHILDHOOD IMAGININGS

BAMBURGH CASTLE: " King Ida's castle, huge and square,"
I just finished working on a very harrowing novel that dealt with some tough social issues so, while I let that book sit for a few weeks before I make final revisions, I like to move away from harsh reality and step back in time to the magical world of imagination and myth.
I'm working on a Middle Grade/Young Adult novel set within the rich folklore and mythology of North Eastern England, my birthplace. I was inspired by a quote from a book written in the early 19th century by Walter White who travelled through Northumbria and the borders. He visited the remote Farne Islands and quotes the words of a 7th century contemporary of St. Cuthbert's:
In the northernmost reaches of England, near the wild Northumbrian coastal islands we encountered the Farne Devils. Clad in cowls, and riding upon goats, black in complexion, short in stature,
 their countenances most hideous, their heads long - the appearance 
of the whole group horrible. Like soldiers they brandished in their 
hands lances, which they darted after in the fashion of war. First the sight of the cross was sufficient to repel their attacks, but the only protection in the end was the circumvaliation of straws,
 signed with the cross, and fixed in the sands, around which the 
devils galloped for a while, and then retired, leaving us 
to enjoy victory and repose.
This new book is inspired by the incredible castles at Bamburgh and Lindisfarne in the old Kingdom of Northumbria. Since I spent my childhood sixty miles south in Durham City, I visited these places as a child and later as an an adult. I remember being struck by the mysterious castles perched on rocky crags above remote and untouched beaches. They sparked something in my imagination  I knew sooner or later I'd have to explore and use in a story. Hence The Flamebearer was born.
LINDISFARNE CASTLE
So many of the books I enjoyed as a child were set in haunting, strange, mysterious - even bizarre places. Here are a few of my favourites. Perhaps they'll remind you of your favourite childhood stories or maybe you'll be tempted to look them up again and read them to your children or grandchildren.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS


Who can forget the bizarre dream world of Lewis Carroll's famous character Alice. Like walking into a strange dream or hallucination where everything is just slightly off kilter and a person can grow bigger or smaller just by nibbling a piece of cake or drinking a mysterious drink. This is a world of transformations where a screaming baby turns into a squealing piglet, where chess pieces take human form, where courtiers become playing cards, and a pet kitten becomes a queen. I remember being so struck by this book I made paper cutouts of all the characters and re-enacted the scenes against hand-drawn backdrops! Slightly obsessive!



MOOMINLAND MIDWINTER

This haunting story by Finnish writer Tove Jansson is set in a dark, lonely winter world. Young Moomintroll suddenly awakes to find himself alone, while his family family rest in the deep slumber of their annual hibernation. Unable to get back to sleep he wanders through his house which seems strange and unfamiliar with its covered furniture and unseen creatures under the sink. Outside he discovers a world he's never encountered where the sun barely rises and the ground is covered with cold, white powder. At first he's scared and angry until he meets Too Ticky and Little My, a strange little creature who sleds down snow hills on Moominmamma's silver tray and skates with their kitchen knives as blades. In this book winter is personified as The Lady of the Cold, who freezes squirrels with one look from her eyes. A magical book!



THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Set on the bleak Yorkshire Moors and the dark, forbidding Misselthwaite Manor, this classic children's story features Mary, a grieving orphan sent to live with her uncle since her parents died of cholera. Mary is a sickly, sour child used to being waited on by servants in the lush, tropical surroundings of a large colonial home in India, so the cold, bleak landscape of Yorkshire comes as a shock to her. Soon Mary begins to explore her surroundings and discovers the beauty of nature with the help of friendly housemaid, Martha, groundsman, Ben Weatherstaff and Martha's outdoorsy brother, 12 year old Dickon The two become great friends and work together on a hidden garden that belonged to her deceased aunt, Mrs. Craven. They also discover her young cousin, Colin, confined to a wheelchair and deprived of fresh air for years. Together the two children secretly nurse him back to health while cultivating the beautiful secret garden. This is a touching novel of love and compassion.



MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs

The most recent of my recommended books for children but enjoyed by adults. This story brilliantly intertwines vintage photographs with a thrilling story to create a creepy and strange atmosphere. After a horrifying family tragedy, sixteen year old Jacob journeys to a remote island off the coast of Wales where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As he explores the abandoned rooms he discovers the strange children, pictured on the set of vintage photographs given to him by his deceased grandfather, may still be alive and do actually possess strange and dangerous powers. The story becomes a fast-paced mystery as Jacob races to help the children who are threatened by a ruthless enemy.

There isn't enough room here for the other great children's books I could have mentioned. Maybe I'll do that in a later post. Meanwhile - back to the drawing board and time to step back into the world of the dark Northumbrian coast!!




Monday, 30 January 2017

SNOW WALKING AND MORE GREAT READS





I've finally made a vow to keep going with my morning walk schedule regardless of the winter weather outside. And despite the challenges of walking outside at temperatures of -22C and lower, I've discovered snow walking can be fun, beneficial and incredibly beautiful.

It takes twice as long to dress up for the weather with extra leggings, thermal socks, snow boots, wooly hat, scarf, parka, hood and thick mitts, but I have this theory that plunging through the park or climbing a snow hill dressed like a yeti, burns at least three times the usual calories for a walk. The only trouble is that we've also been experiencing some higher than normal temperatures more recently and that means the snow turns to ice which then makes it feel like you're walking on an ice rink.




For many writers, a quiet walk outdoors is the best way to think of new ideas and sort out plot problems, and winter has a certain sleepy, silent magic about it that seems more inspirational than any other season. To write a novel you need to do a whole lot of thinking before you even sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard, and once you're into the first draft you need to take breaks and think about the way the story is developing. Tearing yourself away from that screen and plunging out into the fresh air is the best way to go.
Since winter is a great time for a quiet read by the fireside, I've highlighted a few more great books I've enjoyed recently:



THE PURCHASE by Linda Spalding

Set in Virginia, 1798, this Governor General's Award winning book explores the indignities of slavery from a unique perspective and shows how one man's single impulsive action can create ripples that affect the lives of multiple generations of his family.
This is the story of Daniel Dickinson, a Quaker from Pennsylvania, whose wife has passed away and left him alone with five children to raise. He hastily marries a fifteen year old orphan and sets off with his entire family and his few meagre belongings to forge a new life across the border in Virginia.
At first life is tough, the family buys a plot of land in a tiny community and begins to establish a life there, but when Daniel goes to market one day and encounters a slave auction he is horrified. A firm abolitionist, this spectacle goes against all his values and beliefs. On impulse he buys the boy but is completely unaware how this action will resonate with his family through the decades, leading to conflict, passion and tragedy.
This story is a complex exploration of emotions, morals and the struggle to maintain one's beliefs in a changing world. The characters are well drawn, memorable and imperfect which makes them all the more intriguing. Also the author conveys the hardships of life on the American frontier with unsentimental but beautiful, spare prose that will keep you reading to the last page.



HUMAN REMAINS by Elizabeth Haynes

This suspense filled thriller is made even more compelling by its imperfect narrator and its exploration of a major societal problem - the epidemic of loneliness suffered by people forced through circumstances beyond their control to live alone, unloved and unnoticed by their community. Most often they are seniors, but sometimes they're younger - possibly suffering from mental illness, depression or some other crippling problem.
Anna, the main character, is one such person. A police analyst with a busy job and an aging mother to check in on, Annabel is socially awkward, has poor self-image and is a loner at work. She lives alone but doesn't see herself as lonely. When she discovers her neighbour's decomposing body in the house next door, she is shocked that no one, including herself, noticed the woman's absence. When her colleagues show a lack of interest in the case, she takes it upon herself to investigate and discovers a disturbing pattern of such cases, leading her to believe that something is not right and this can't be a coincidence. But as Anna gets chillingly close to the solution, she reveals her own vulnerability in the depths of her depression and puts herself in danger.
This was a refreshingly different take on the usual police procedural thriller, mainly due to the originality of the characters and the complete believability of the situations portrayed. Reading it, one is reminded of one's deepest fear - of being completely and utterly alone and uncared for - invisible to the people around you.



THE WONDER by Emma Donoghue

Another novel by the author of the wonderful Room, this novel is definitely as compelling. Set in the  19th century, this is the story of an English nurse who is brought to a small Irish village to provide objective observation of what is thought to be a miracle: an 11 year old girl who lives and thrives without touching a morsel of food. Tourists already flock to the small cabin to see little Anna who lives, according to her family and the local priest, on manna from heaven. Lib, a veteran nurse from Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch on the girl, but soon finds herself fighting for the child's life, together with a journalist sent to cover the miracle.
As with all Donoghue's books, this is an in-depth psychological exploration of the motivation of diverse individuals - each with their own agenda. This story begins slowly but picks up pace so that it becomes impossible to put down as the stakes are raised and Lib must make a choice to do as she's told or to defy the orders she's been given and possibly put herself in danger. Ultimately this leads to a gripping life or death scenario with an innocent child at the centre.

HAPPY READING!

Monday, 12 December 2016

HAPPY HOLIDAYS and A FEW GREAT READS





So winter is already here in full force which means the holidays are closing in on us. Maybe it's time to consider some of the delights and aggravations of the season. Check these out:

  1. Fir trees decked with pillowy white snow - a delight to the eyes! πŸ˜€πŸ˜€
  2. Driveways covered with icy snow - a pain in the ass (and lower back)!  πŸ‘ŽπŸ‘Ž 
  3. Cosy evenings spent around a crackling fire equals "I love you." πŸ’—πŸ’—
  4. Endless days spent inside because it's -25 outside equals "I'm sick of your face. Let's get the f*** out of here." πŸ‘ΏπŸ‘Ώ
  5. Aahh - the spicy deliciousness of cinnamon and nutmeg and delicious holiday baking. πŸͺπŸͺ
  6. Owww - the bloated gassiness of gluten and sugar on your overloaded holiday gut. 😀😀
  7. Raising a glass of Christmas cheer with friends and loved ones. πŸΈπŸ·πŸ˜€πŸ˜€
  8. Raising all the ancient gripes and grudges after too much Christmas cheer with friends and loved ones. 🍷🍷🍢🍹🍺🍻😑😬😑
  9. Laying out the cookies and milk for Jolly Old Saint Nick.
  10. Opening yet another bottle of Scotch for boozed up old Uncle Nick.
  11. Turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings - a Yuletide feast fit for a king! πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
  12. Turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey pie, turkey risotto, turkey tacos - let's get our asses to Burger King!
  13. πŸ˜€πŸ‘David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing Little Drummer Boy
  14. πŸ‘ŽπŸ˜Elmo and Patsy singing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

On a more serious note, here are some great reads to occupy all that extra time over the holidays:

THE UNDERTAKING by Audrey Magee




This powerful account of a German soldier caught in the nightmare of the Eastern Front is told with such precise and unsentimental language it reveals all the horror, violence and futility of war.
Peter, an ordinary German soldier, fights for survival in a war engineered by Nazi elitists who regard him only as cannon fodder to fuel the massive German war machine. Seizing on the opportunity to get ten days' "marriage leave", he marries a woman he doesn't know so that he can escape the Front and assure her of receiving his pension should he die. After an awkward first meeting, love unexpectedly blooms between the two strangers and Peter returns to the Russian Front determined to return to his Katharina.
The story follows Peter through the unimaginable horrors of the Russian front where soldiers ill equipped to deal with the frostbite, hunger and disease are driven to commit unspeakable acts of violence. Katharina's story also unfolds as her spineless father is so caught up in his ambition to ingratiate himself into Nazi high society that his own family falls victim to the self-serving Nazi elite.
Magee's cool, detailed prose and ultra-realistic dialogue make this a fast but utterly disturbing read and a damning account of yet another aspect of World War 2.

SMALL ISLAND by Andrea Levy




A multi-award winning novel, this wonderfully human account of Jamaicans coming to England during and after World War 2 is told with tender emotion and sparkling wit. Levy tells a story of false hope, disillusionment, racial discrimination and the power of love, through the voices of four very different narrators: Queenie, a farmer's daughter turned landlady who disregards her neighbours' disapproval and offers accommodation to Jamaican immigrants; Hortense, a proud, well-educated Jamaican teacher who arrives in London with a broken heart and one suitcase, to an entirely different welcome than she expected; Gilbert, Hortense's kind but disillusioned husband who struggles to make a life for them in a hostile city; Bernard, Queenie's missing husband who returns after horrendous war experiences in India.
Levy skilfully steers this unlikely group of individuals through unexpected twists and turns while dealing with important social issues in a way that is never heavy-handed. An incredible, compelling read.


And if you're looking for a good suspense novel set in a snowy small town, check out LILAH, one of my own novels. 



Beautiful and mysterious Lilah arrives in sleepy little Silver Narrows one snowy night and journalist, Nick Hendricks is soon caught in her spell. When he begins to investigate a string of tragic disappearances from the past he soon realizes there are guilty secrets lurking beneath the town’s cozy exterior and somehow Lilah is connected. But he’s unprepared for the nightmares that emerge from his own past as well as the shocking discoveries he makes about the town and Lilah, the woman he thought he knew.



HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL OF YOU! AND HAPPY READING!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

JOURNEY TO A STORY


Major apologies for the long time gap between posts! My time has been taken up with revising my new novel. The whole process takes a long, long time from the inception of the idea to the time it's sent out on submission to publishers. This new book (working title, MATTIE WAS HERE) was born from a scene I conjured up many years ago of a woman deliberately losing her husband on a second honeymoon. I imagined her slipping away from him and hiding in a narrow alleyway to watch him panic as he realizes she's gone. That's all I had.


The question then arises - why would she do that? What would cause her to do something so cruel. For years I sat on that idea until I finally worked out a story that begins with "the scene". It became a story of twins - two inseparable girls - living with their single father until he can't manage any more. They're then forced into the foster care system only to be shunted around from one place to another until one of them disappears, leaving the other determined to find her. This was a tough story to write since it deals with issues of unresolved grief in children taken away from the only home they know and moved around from one temporary placement to another until their personal identity is gradually stripped away from them. It also deals with the sexual exploitation of the most vulnerable and powerless in our society who fall prey to opportunistic predators lurking in malls and other public places to lure them into lives of slavery.


Writing a book like this requires careful research of real cases. I'd say the book took over a year to get to the first draft and in that time I read about many sad cases of kids who were moved between placements up to 100 times a year - often at a moment's notice, of kids overmedicated by unscrupulous carers, or lured by promises of clothes and beauty treatments and food into lives of prostitution - some tattooed by their "owners" so they could never forget who was in charge of their lives. I also read about kids who, through the power of their own will and determination to get an education, triumphed over the odds and became successful. Yet despite their victory they still carry scars.

Revising a novel means going over it many times for different purposes: to check out the story structure; to check out each character's development; to check out consistency of timelines, verb tense, voice; to check out language use for freshness and creativity as well as syntax (sentence structure); to check out authenticity of dialogue; to check that your "world" or setting is fully developed so the reader can imagine the place and time and has enough information to enter that world; to fine tune the mood and atmosphere; to carefully test the pacing (too fast? not fast enough? climaxes at correct places?).

It's a lot of work, but it's a relief when it's done. After that you wait! For the agent to approve it then send it out to publishers. Then you wait again!! For the publishers to deliberate for a long time.
And if they don't take it, you publish it yourself!! I'll keep you posted.

REVIEWS
In previous posts I've reviewed books, but I thought I'd do something different this time and share some top rated Netflix series for all you Netflix junkies out there. These are series I've watched and enjoyed:


  • DR. FOSTER: an amazing mini-series from the UK about a female doctor who suspects her husband is having an affair. Intense and breathtaking in its pace and starring the brilliant Suranne Jones, you'll be addicted to this tense revenge drama.

  • 30 DEGREES IN FEBRUARY: a brilliant award-winning series from Sweden about three separate groups of people who go to Thailand to escape the grim Swedish winter. Shy, plump Glenn who wants to find a wife so he can fulfil his dream of having children; Maijlis, the long-suffering aging wife of wheelchair-bound Bengt who longs to escape his cold, cruel abuse to enjoy skindiving in exotic Thai waters; workaholic mother Kajsa, recovering from a stroke, who brings her daughters, Joy and Wilda to live in a tropical paradise. This series is startling, heartwarming, funny and utterly addictive.


  • AMERICAN CRIME (SEASON 1 and 2): This brilliant and gutsy crime series stars the wonderful Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton. Rotten Tomatoes describes it as follows:Raw, emotional portrayals of diverse characters in dire pain, mashed up with chilling narratives and a gutsy attitude make American Crime a must-see. This is character-based crime. The story of the victims, the perpetrators and their families. It never shies away from the in-depth exploration of everyone's perspective. Each season features a self-contained story, but an original twist is that the same actors portray totally different characters, which is further testament to their amazing talent.
HAPPY VIEWING!!

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Thursday, 15 September 2016

DOGS and DATING



I've recently changed writing gears to work on a more lighthearted project, inspired by a chance moment in my life when I went out with a friend to walk her dog, a cute, woolly little mutt. As we strode down the leafy path, I was amazed at the number of people who stopped to chat and generally fawn over my friend's dog. In that short walk we met more new people in half an hour than I had in several years, and some of them were hunks! My friend and I are both married, but it didn't take much of to stretch our imagination and ponder the question: Could walking a dog help you meet the man or woman of your dreams? And that's how THE DOG WALKERS' DATING CLUB was born.
The main character, LILY, is a self-professed dog hater after some traumatic dog-bite incidents in her childhood, which lends the book a more interesting dynamic when she decides to take on a puppy in the hopes of improving her chances of meeting someone to love. She wrestles with her new responsibilities but learns a lot about people and life as she struggles to fit a new puppy into her life .

I can relate to Lily, since I've never really been a "pet person", though we took on a puppy in later life after my daughter begged for one. That's when Bella, the "shorkie" came into our life and I realized the challenges and benefits that come when you have a pet in your home. The house training, the walking, the feeding, the behavioural quirks, the puddles on the floor, the chewed Kleenexes and all those other irritations are all mitigated by the unwavering love, loyalty and devotion of your dog, which inevitably becomes a member of the family.
In the novel Bella becomes "Baby", a tiny but major intrusion into Lily's almost perfect life.
The first couple of chapters are available for preview on Wattpad so you can read them for free! Check it out right HERE.  

To celebrate the ideas in the book I'd love to hear about your crazy or funny dog stories or see your doggy pics and videos. Either leave a comment on my blog or contact me through my website HERE. if you ask me, I'll feature them on my blog. Just send me the details.

FEATURED BOOK REVIEW:

THE ART TEACHER by Paul Read

As an ex-teacher I was interested to read this gritty story of an ex-rock musician who struggles with his fallback teaching career. Working as an art teacher in an inner city secondary school, Patrick Owen feels stuck in a rut he can't remove himself from. Separated from his wife, his young son and his beloved music, he barely tolerates the students who show little interest in art or anything else he tries to get across to them. The result is that he's merely putting in time, staying under the radar until something better comes up. All that changes when a difficult student causes a problem during class that Patrick can't ignore. When he finally snaps, he becomes the boy's number one target which draws him into the dangerous world of  the local gangs who terrorize a nearby housing estate. In his efforts to help a female student caught up in the conflict he's drawn directly into the line of fire and soon finds himself at the centre of media scrutiny as well as trapped in an untenable position which he can't seem to escape.
Read's experience as a teacher really shows through in his tense descriptions of classrooms disrupted by troubled students and the absolute helplessness of teachers with no support from the higher-ups. Though Patrick is at times an arrogant character with very little empathy, one can't help feeling sorry for the way he's trapped in a career he hates. He seems to float through life unmotivated and unable to climb from out of the pit he's dug for himself. Perhaps that explains the questionable choices he makes when it comes to the war he unwittingly provokes. In his mind any change in routine is good - even if it means he lives in utter fear rather than total boredom. The plot moves very quickly, compelling the reader to keep going just to find out how far Patrick will go, how many lies he'll tell and how much he's prepared to sacrifice to get himself out of the mess and reunite with his young son. Though there is a surprise turn of events at the end I had already guessed it beforehand and found the ending a bit rushed . Other than that this was a good read.
*I received a free Kindle copy from Legend Press in return for an honest review*.
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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

SUMMER MUST-READS: Part 2





Well, it's just past the mid-point of August when we're all trying to savour the last weeks of summer. Take more walks, go to the beach, sit on the deck or patio and enjoy the sun - with a good book in hand, of course. I've reviewed a few more books you might be interested in reading. They're mainly suspense/thrillers, because I needed to be in that mode to complete the book I've working on. Thankfully I've finished the first draft. Now the tough part comes when you ask yourself if it's really any good and what it needs now to make it work in terms of story, language use, world building etc. etc.
Anyway, hope you like these books:



ARMADILLOS by P.K. Lynch

This slow-burning story of Aggie, a young girl who escapes her Texas backwoods home by simply opening the door and walking away from years of chilling and deliberate abuse, is one that gradually settles itself into your bones and compels you to read on no matter how depressing the situations the main character  inevitably lands in. Aggie, because of her poor, deprived background, is doomed to stumble from one risky, marginal situation into another. And all the while she's haunted by the guilt of leaving her sister JoJo but driven by the idea that the world must have something else to offer her and maybe she'll find somewhere to belong. Eventually she lands in a "family" of sorts - a squat populated by a crazy collection of misfits and runaways. There she befriends Freak, a whacked-out self-cutter and "The Beast Woman" who fashions odd knick-knacks out of old tires and gives dignified burials to armadillos found as roadkill - an obvious metaphor for Aggie and her tireless drive not only to survive, despite all the abuses hurled against her tough shell, but to confront the abuse she endured at the hands of her father and brother. The author relates the horrors of Aggie's life with effective, unsentimental detachment that makes it all the more powerful. Though I enjoyed the book and the characters I did feel something was a little "off" and when I discovered the author was Scottish and had only visited Texas, I realized the voice of the characters and the whole "feel" of the setting didn't have quite the authenticity it needed. Despite this I would recommend the book as very compelling and well written.
I received this book from Legend Press in return for an honest review.



SLEEP by Nino Ricci

Nino Ricci burst onto the Canadian literary scene with his first novel, Lives of the Saints, which won the Governor General's Literary Award as well as many others. Since then he's gone from strength to strength with a whole run of prizewinning books. I must say, however, this latest novel is better than anything I've read of his. I was initially drawn to the cover which features a compelling painting by my favourite artist, Alex Colville. It's a brooding, menacing picture and Ricci's story uses this ominous sense of danger in his story of David Pace, a man who seems to have it all - brains, successful academic career, happy family. We soon discover the irony of his last name. Pace - which in Latin means peace, is the total opposite of David's personality. He's a man at war with himself due to a rare sleep disorder that scrambles his brain and causes him to submit to an ever more powerful cocktail of drugs to keep a lid on the utter chaos inside him. As sleep haunts him and eludes him, his world gradually unravels and his choices become increasingly destructive in his quest to shake himself free of the effects of the disorder. The only thing that seems to calm him is to hold a gun. So begins a downward spiral that leads him to make terrifying choices in the gradual destruction of his life. The pace of Ricci's story is intense, as he delves into the turmoil of David's mind, and portrays him often as a loathsome and deceptive person with no scruples. At the same time making us aware of his helplessness in the face of his disorder. This is definitely not a breezy beach read, but an intense, compelling experience that only flounders when it comes to the ending. One is left with the idea that Ricci couldn't think how better to finish it. Despite this, the book left a great impression on me.



THE WICKED GIRLS by Alex Marwood

This fast-paced page-turner is the story of two women who first met on one fateful day when they were both eleven. At the end of that day they were both charged with murder. Fast-forward twenty five years, journalist Kirsty Lindsay is sent to a seedy English seaside town to report on a series of gruesome murders of young women. There her investigations lead her to interview carnival cleaner, Amber Gordon. It's the first time these two women have met since the darkest day of their lives twenty five years ago. When each woman realizes the implications of this meeting and the very different lives they're leading, they're both gripped with the fear of trying to keep their wicked secret hidden from those they now love, and all amidst a terrifying murder hunt that comes way too close for comfort.
The characters and setting were so well-drawn that I was immersed in the lives of these people and the way their lives intertwine both in the past and the present. The author controls the movement of the story in a way that compels you to keep reading and I have to say, the ending was one of the best I've read in a long time. A great book!



THE BONE CLOCKS by David Mitchell

David Mitchell's books have been nominated for the Man Booker prize and this book was rightfully named as one of the top ten fiction books of its year by Time and several other influential magazines.. The Oprah magazine called it "A time-traveling, culture-crossing, genre-bending marvel of a novel," a great description of this wildly ambitious book that spans time and distance, yet manages to put forward some simple truths about the human condition. Though the book has also been widely criticized by readers who preferred Cloud Atlas, Mitchell's other famous novel, I loved it simply because I found it entertaining, moving in parts and very beautifully written in others (though there are definitely some sections that could have been edited more).
The title refers to one thread of the story - the idea of immortality and the lengths human beings will go to to avoid our ultimate fate - to become a dead sack of bones after a prescribed term of life. In other words, our countdown (or clock) begins the moment we are born. I found that it's really more a story about love, heroism and the power of the human soul. The story follows the life of Holly Sykes who we first meet as a fifteen year old. 
Holly is a sensitive child who was once contacted by voices she called "the radio people". As she journeys away from her old life, she's unaware that she's caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics and their enemies.  After a fight with her mother about her boyfriend, Holly slams the door on her old life and sets out on a journey that will last a weekend, but will result in the disappearance of someone she loves. This mystery leaves her family scarred and will reverberate through the decades affecting even those not yet born. As with Mitchell's other book, the story shifts to other characters, A Cambridge scholar, an Iraq war reporter, a middle-aged "has-been" writer. All become connected to Holly in some way and all have a part to play in the invisible war that rages on the edges of humanity.


HAPPY READING!!