Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Woman in the Picture - Katharine McMahon

Set in London in 1926, this novel features Evelyn Gifford, who we first met in an earlier novel by Katharine McMahon, The Crimson Rooms. Now one of the first female qualified solicitors, Evelyn’s brother was killed in WWI and she is living with her young nephew and his mother Meredith. Two cases dominate the storyline; one regarding disputed paternity and another regarding union strikes. In her personal life, too, Evelyn faces challenges, decisions and conflicts, with the chance of happiness with a man who admires and loves her, and yet the lure of a past lover returned.

The Woman in the Picture is another beautifully written historical novel by Katharine McMahon, with super characterisation; it’s wonderful to revisit Evelyn and discover her current endeavours – though this novel can certainly be read without having read The Crimson Rooms. The narrative offers a compelling portrait of a time when a female lawyer was unusual and the preconceptions and judgements Evelyn therefore faces from others in the profession and from the general population.

The story moves along at a good pace, both the legal matters and the romantic aspects are intriguing and held my interest. The author has a skillful and elegant way with language and incorporates convincing authentic period detail. I think anyone who enjoys well-written historical fiction with an engaging, intelligent plot and an element of romance, and in particular if you like to read about a strong, independent female central character, will find a lot to love in this novel.

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Jamie Baywood - Author Guest Post - Getting Rooted in New Zealand

Today I am very pleased to welcome author Jamie Baywood to the blog with a guest post. Jamie is the author of Getting Rooted in New Zealand.

Guest post by Jamie Baywood

It was always my dream to live abroad when I was growing up in California. I had bad dating experiences in California and read in a New Zealand tour book that the country’s population has 100,000 fewer men than women. I wanted to have some me time and an adventure. New Zealand seemed like a good place to do so. Although I intended to have a solo adventure I ended up meeting my husband a Scottish man in New Zealand.

I consider myself an accidental author. I didn’t go to New Zealand with the intentions of writing a book about my experiences there. I had funny experiences that I had trouble believing were true. I wrote the stories down to stay sane. I wrote situations down that were happening around me and shared them with friends. The stories made people laugh so I decided to organize the stories into a book and publish in the hope of making others laugh too.

One of the first people I met was Colin Mathura-Jeffree from New Zealand’s Next Top Model. I had no idea who he was or that he was on TV when I meet him. He is friends with my former flatmate. We had a steep staircase that I kept falling down. Colin taught me to walk like a model so I wouldn’t fall down the stairs.

In New Zealand, I had a lot of culture shock.  One of the most memorable moments was learning the meaning of the Kiwi slang word “rooted.” One night I was brushing my teeth with my flatmate and I said, ‘I’m really excited to live in this house because I have been travelling a lot and I just need to settle down, stop traveling and get rooted’. He was choking on his toothbrush and asked me if I knew what that meant because it had a completely different meaning in New Zealand than it does in the States.

I had the opportunity to write and perform for Thomas Sainsbury, the most prolific playwright in New Zealand. I performed a monologue about my jobs in the Basement Theatre in Auckland.  The funny thing about that experience was Tom kept me separated from the other performers until it was time to perform. I was under the impression that all the performers were foreigners giving their experiences in New Zealand.  All of the other performers were professional actors telling stories that weren’t their own. At first I was mortified, but the audience seemed to enjoy my “performance,” laughing their way through my monologue. After the shows we would go out and mingle with the audience. People would ask me how long I had been acting. I would tell them, “I wasn’t acting; I have to go to work tomorrow and sit next to the girl wearing her dead dog’s collar around her neck.”

I love making people laugh more than anything else. I feel very grateful when readers understand my sense of humour. I plan to divide my books by the countries I’ve lived in. My next book will be about attempting to settle in Scotland. 

Getting Rooted in New Zealand book description:

Craving change and lacking logic, at 26, Jamie, a cute and quirky Californian, impulsively moves to New Zealand to avoid dating after reading that the country's population has 100,000 fewer men. In her journal, she captures a hysterically honest look at herself, her past and her new wonderfully weird world filled with curious characters and slapstick situations in unbelievably bizarre jobs. It takes a zany jaunt to the end of the Earth and a serendipitous meeting with a fellow traveler before Jamie learns what it really means to get rooted.

About the author Jamie Baywood:

Jamie Baywood grew up in Petaluma, California. In 2010, she made the most impulsive decision of her life by moving to New Zealand. Getting Rooted in New Zealand is her first book, about her experiences living there. Jamie is now married and living happily ever after in the United Kingdom. She is working on her second book.

Getting Rooted in New Zealand is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon:

Jamie Baywood can be followed on the following sites:

Friday, 18 July 2014

Mortal Bonds - Michael Sears - Author Guest Post

Today I am very pleased to share with you a guest post by author Michael Sears, whose new novel Mortal Bonds is published on 17th July 2014 by Duckworth.

Michael Sears on storytelling, family, his writing inspirations, and reading

I come from a family of storytellers. There were five children and to get any attention in that crowd, you had better have a good tale to tell. My father left me both his sense of humor and his heart, but it was my mother who fed my love of reading and language.
            She was a powerful story teller and still is; it is her voice that is most heard at a family gathering. My cousins tell about a time when she was visiting and in the middle of telling a good yarn, a paper napkin, too close to the dinner candle, burst into flame. Without pausing for as much as a deep breath, or missing a beat in her story, my mother poured her water glass over the conflagration, doused the fire, and wrapped up the whole mess in another napkin. They were all in awe of her.
            The various adventures of Freddy the Pig, in a series of two dozen or so books by Walter R. Brooks, introduced to me the idea of character, despite the fact that the few humans in the stories barely spoke. Freddy, Jinx the cat, and the cow, Mrs. Wiggins were all sharply drawn, complex characters with points of view, strengths, and weaknesses that made them distinct. They were talking animals, but they were more human to me than the Hardy Boys, who I could never keep straight. Frank was the older one, right?
            One of the many benefits of being an avid reader, is that when your nose is deep in a book, parents think you are working and leave you alone. I was not excused from chores or having to do homework, but they couldn’t insist that I play with my little brother while I was reading.
            I remember sometime in high school telling my father that I was reading War and Peace and he asked me, “Why?” “Because it is a challenge,” I answered. “It is the longest book I have ever read.” I don’t remember much of the story, but I do remember that it was very long. It was a challenge.
            But a few years later, I was a lifeguard for the summer at a private club on a deserted stretch of Fire Island. The only access was by boat, or a mile hike along the beach from the next club, which was much fancier and had a ferry that ran to it (that was my daily commute). The club would get very busy on the weekends, but there were many days during the week when I was the only person there – all day. I couldn’t shut the beach down unless the weather or surf conditions warranted, so I sat there and read. I read all of Shakespeare that summer. Imagine the thrill it was for me to read aloud Henry V, or Lear, or Prospero, seated on a tall lifeguard’s chair, with the constant roar of breaking waves as background. It was a glorious summer.
            I don’t understand writers who claim not to read. Not every reader has a book in them, but every writer must know what has gone before, if only to avoid the most common mistakes. Being a writer, now with two books published and a third due out next year, places me on a great timeline that stretches back for millennia. Like Homer, and the various writers of the tales of Gilgamesh or Beowulf, I am also a bard. A storyteller.

Michael Sears’s Mortal Bonds, the follow-up to Black Fridays, marking the return of financial investigator Jason Stafford in a sensational story of fraud, murder and redemption will be published on 17 July 2014 by Duckworth Publishers.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Fire and Brimstone - Colin Bateman

I have read, and really enjoyed, many of this author's previous novels over the years, I love his writing and storytelling style. I think most if not all of them I read before I started book blogging/reviewing so I can only say that I enjoyed them so much and recommended them here there and everywhere by word of mouth. The first ones I read were Cycle of Violence and Divorcing Jack. You might have seen or heard of the film version of the latter novel too, featuring David Thewlis. As well as the novels featuring Dan Starkey, of which this (Fire and Brimstone) is one, I've  read and enjoyed some of the novels in the 'Mystery Man', bookshop-based series as well as others by this author.

Anyway, getting on to Fire and Brimstone properly, this is another entertaining and bumpy ride along with Dan Starkey. Dark, at times bleak and sad, at times very funny and witty indeed, sometimes violent, occasionally possibly near the knuckle to some (topics include drug wars, religion, and abortion), but the story is always very very readable and the author always keeps you wanting to turn the pages. 

This time around, Dan, now a private investigator, takes on the job of tracking a missing person, the daughter of a billionaire. Alison Wolff was last seen at a party, where terrible tragedy occurred. Has she been kidnapped, is she still alive? It's up to Dan to find out, and inevitably as per usual he gets up to his neck in it all, finding fresh and deeper trouble at each turn, this time getting mixed up in religious cults and drug gangs. Amazingly, for those who have been with them throughout the series of novels, Trish is still around despite everything. 

I love the dark humour, the writing style, the intrigue and twists in the story,  the close calls and near misses, the sharp, witty dialogue, and I'm always curious to find out what Dan Starkey will get involved with next. Do give one of his books a try if you've never read one before, ideally I'd recommend starting with an earlier novel, if for example you wanted to follow Dan's path from the start, though it's not a prerequisite for reading this one, but I think it does add to the enjoyment if you know the background. I think this is an author whose books you can get addicted to, and I'm always pleased to see a new one appear.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel via bookbridgr for an honest review. 

Author links - twitter @ColinBateman | website
Published by Headline

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Thirst - Kerry Hudson - Blog Tour

Today I am very pleased to share a guest post by author Kerry Hudson, whose second novel Thirst is published by Chatto & Windus on 17th July 2014.

I reviewed Kerry's debut novel here - Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice-Cream Float before he Stole my Ma.

Writing rituals by Kerry Hudson

It’s no secret that I travel a lot. Even when theoretically based in London, my recent years have been punctuated by short trips here or there, sometimes for writing work – as happened recently when I was writer in residence in Seoul for a month – or sometimes just because my wanderlust became irrepressible.

Photo by Nick Tucker Photography
So how do I keep writing? With different routines, environments and demands on my time? Well I have my little ‘writing rituals’ built up, without even realising it, as I wrote my books. In the last few years I’ve come call quite a few writers friends (I knew none when my first book came out) and what strikes me is, though we usually have strikingly different lifestyles and often write very different timescales for book delivery, there are commonalties in those writing rituals.  

Here are the most popular writing rituals:

Get some Freedom…yes the time kind but hopefully that’s been carved out already by making writing a priority, by explaining to family, friends and partners why it’s an important part of your life. But in this instance, I mean Freedom that’s the app that turns of the internet. No sneaking to Twitter of Facebook to look at Gifs of kittens when you get bored, no giving up your story halfway through to check your Amazon sales rank. Nothing. Just you and the page and the beautiful silence of returning to circa 1993.

Accept that sometimes you’re writing when you’re not…some people go over their impending scenes in the shower, some on long drives at night time. I favour long city walks, plugged into some good music, a hot cup of coffee. Whatever city I’m in, I walk until hunger or achey limbs force me back to the land of the living. Inevitably something comes ‘unstuck’ on those walks though. I learned to accept that not all writing time is spent at your desk but I take care to conscious about this and stay with the story whatever else I’m doing.

Shake your ass…or whatever part of your body you’d like to, but do exercise. I try to never go a day without. Yoga is popular amongst writers because we are all terrified of end up as hunchbacks without it (my whole body clicks like a percussive instrument when I stretch and that’s *with* regular yoga). I also run, swim laps or just go for that long walk above every day. This is without a doubt – except, you know, WORDS – the most common writer’s practice…do it for your posture, to stop you from going mental or because you believe defined abs sells more books but it’s a good, healthy practice to get into.

Booze and coffee…I got very fond of hot-toddies made with lime while I was in Vietnam finishing my second book Thirst. Some writers like to write in the pub, some have a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge as incentive (dangerous game, that one). A glass – note, singular – at your elbow seems to act as a ‘loosener’ and a treat all at once. And it goes without saying coffee is the lifeblood. I don’t have kids and keep my own schedule (which involves more sleep than the average tranquilised kitten needs) but coffee spikes my adrenalin beautifully, keeps me going when I feel ‘on it’ and boost me when I’m feeling ‘very much not on it’.

Revisit the well…writers read, I think this goes without saying. But most of the writers I know make time for other culture. They are excited by good music, telly, theatre, art and photography. Me? I’m a film junkie and music obsessive. When I need to refresh myself I go to the cinema, see a photography exhibition or go to a gig. Art informs art and I’ve lost count of the amount of time I’ve come home after seeing something beautiful determined to try to honour my ideas and make something as good as it can be.

Words….yes, those too. I find setting a number of words a day the best technique and the most prolific writers I know also do this. Some set themselves a certain time target  – one uses the ‘Pomodoro Techinique’. Others write longhand or dictate and then type up. Many, myself included, use Scrivener for redrafting while lots stick with post-its. There are lots of different techniques for getting the words on the page and then making those words into something you might want other to see, but ultimately this is the most important ritual of all. After all, writers write.  

About the novel

The beginning of a relationship is usually all about getting to know one another, sharing stories far into the night, comparing experiences, triumphs and heartaches, until we know each other inside out.
Not so for Dave and Alena. He’s from London, she’s from Siberia. They meet in a sleek Bond Street department store in the frayed heat of high summer where she’s up to no good and it’s his job to catch her. So begins an unlikely relationship between two people with pasts, with secrets, they’ve no idea how to live with — or leave behind. But despite everything they don’t have in common, all the details they won’t and can’t reveal, they still find themselves fighting with all they’ve got for a future together.
Thirst is the heart-wrenching, life-affirming second novel from Kerry Hudson, whose debut Tony Hogan Brought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma was one of the most talked about UK debuts of 2012 and was shortlisted for an array of prizes, including the Guardian First Novel Award and the Sky Arts Awards.