Friday, 27 November 2015

Run Alice Run by Lynn Michell

review by Maryom

Alice Green has settled into a drab, middle-class existence far from the exciting life she'd envisaged as a teenager. Her marriage has deteriorated into silent co-existence, and her job in a run-down library is monotonous and undemanding. She feels invisible - who would remark on such a dull person making their way down the street, or out of a clothing store with a bag full of unpaid-for goods? For Alice craves excitement and thrills, wants to feel the blood pounding through her veins, and this is how she goes about it. It turns out though, that she's not as invisible as she thought for, returning home one day she's met by police waiting outside her door. As Alice is led away to the police station, her younger self appears before her, wanting to know how she got from teenager full of such promise to mousey housewife with nothing to look forward to .....

 Run Alice Run is a look at life from the disappointing standpoint of middle age. Alice is caught in a mid-life crisis; her dreams have fallen by the wayside, her future looks bleak. Instead of going out and buying a fast car or taking up bungee jumping, Alice turns to shop-lifting for the thrill it brings; it's really though a plea for help.
Reaching her teenage years in the 1960s, Alice expected all the world to be open to her, but her parents are still stuck in the mindset that expects a girl to marry well and settle down with children. Despite her education, this has rubbed off on Alice more than she realises - and her life revolves around the men in her life, always putting them and their work first, above her own feelings or needs. She gradually slips into conforming with others' ideas, letting them shape her life. I'm not sure though how much I'd say this was down to the general perception of women at the time, and how much was due to Alice's personality - she does at  times seem rather too placid and willing to put others before herself.
Even though at the end there's a hope that Alice may free herself from her dull life, it's still really due to someone else's actions, and I wondered if, sadly, it was too late for Alice to reinvent herself.

 Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Inspired Quill
Genre -adult,

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Tinder by Sally Gardner

 illustrated by David Roberts
review by Maryom

Otto Hundebiss is tired of war, has seen too much of "man's inhumane heart" but still refuses the hand that Death offers him. Instead he wakes up in a forest, where a half-beast, half-man creature gives him boots to walk in and a set of dice that will tell him which path to follow...and so he sets out on an adventure. He falls in love with the beautiful Safire, is imprisoned by the sinister Lady of the Nail, and although he wins his freedom, can Otto save Safire from an arranged marriage?

Using the phrase "illustrated folk tale" to describe this will conjure up images of a brightly-coloured fairy tale for children - don't be mistaken, for Tinder is nothing like that! Folk tales were once much scarier and darker than the sanitised versions put out for children today and Sally Gardner has taken Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinder Box story back to those darker origins. Otto and Safire represent the pure-of-heart innocents struggling against the powers of hate, revenge, and jealousy, personified by truly terrifying characters, not the Pantomime-style villains of younger children's fiction; the Lady of the Nail and the scheming Mistress Jabber will send shivers up and down your spine, and the werewolves just plain horrify you! The writing is compelling and atmospheric, and doesn't pull punches;  werewolves are hungry, blood-thirsty beasts, and war isn't glorious but filled with violence, rape and death.  Through Otto's dreams we see flashbacks to the past that haunts him, the horrific things that happened to his family, and the guilt he still carries.  As I said, it's not a pleasant children's bedtime story.

  The mood throughout is menacing and chilling, and David Roberts' excellent illustrations  - in black and white with vivid splashes of blood red - echo and even increase this mood.

What age group would I say it was for? Teens and onwards, with no upper limit. Although it's published as a 'children's book', I found it enthralling enough to consider it readable by adults with a taste for the fantastical and bizarre.

Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Indigo/Hachette
Genre - folk tale, teen +

Recipes for Love And Murder by Sally Andrew

review by Maryom

Tannie Maria isn't happy when the Klein Karoo Gazette decides to cut her recipe column and replace with an agony aunt advice section. So, as a firm believer in the healing properties of a nicely cooked dinner or a slice of delicious cake, she sets about combining the two, and helping people with their emotional problems through the medium of food. Then someone who wrote to her for advice is found murdered ...and Maria realises not every problem can be solved through culinary skills ...and that occasionally a little snooping may be necessary..

A sort of cross between Mma Ramotswe and Miss Marple, Tannie Maria is a new addition to the ranks of amateur female sleuths. Feeling she has more insight into the deceased woman's life than the local police, she persists in 'interfering' and, along with her colleagues from the Klein Karoo gazette, she uncovers evidence they might have missed but manages to get herself tangled in a deadly situation. In between her exploits unmasking the murderer, Maria continues to offer love, and culinary, advice through her newspaper column - but while she's bringing about happy-endings for those around her, can she find her own with the police's Lieutenant Kannemeyer?

The setting is the sunburnt, sweltering arid Klein Karoo area of South Africa; an area of mainly white and coloured people but still with racial prejudices and bigotry. Add this to the story-line of  domestic abuse and murder it seems odd to call it a gentle, almost light-hearted, tale - but it is, in fact at times when two suspects, one in a wheelchair and one with heavily bandaged and plastered arms, go chasing after a third, the plot almost descends into farce. After rather a lot of dark Nordic noir style crime novels, it's like a breath of fresh air or a blast of that hot African sun! It's certainly one to recommend to fans of Alexander McCall Smith's No1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

Food certainly plays an important part in Maria's life; she believes that there are few problems that can't be solved by the right food. The recipes are described briefly as she cooks and as I read I was wondering if I'd be able to find anything similar on the web - so I was delighted to find several of them included at the end of the book. From mutton curry and tamatie bredie (a South African stew) to her Karoo farm bread, chocolate cakes and honey toffee snake cake (a shape, not an ingredient!), and the buttermilk rusks that Maria hardly ever leaves home without, there are plenty to try out at home.

 Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Canongate
Genre - crime, adult fiction

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Derby Book Festival - 2016 Launch

by Maryom

 Waterstones Derby was the setting last night for the launch of the second Derby Book Festival - to be held next June, 3rd to 11th.
The event opened informally with a chance to browse the store, say hello to friends who volunteered last year and to indulge in mince pies and mulled wine (it is almost Christmas after all). The audience was then addressed by Liz Fothergill, chair of the organising committee, who told us how delighted everyone had been with the success of last year's festival and announced some of the highlights of the coming year's.
The festival will be opened with two poetry events; Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, will appear at the Cathedral, accompanied by her 'favourite court musician' John Sampson, while Derbyshire's Poet Laureate, Helen Mort will be performing her poetry at an event held at Deda.

Other highlights include an event celebrating the bicentennial of Charlotte Bronte's birth with Claire Harman, who has recently published a new biography of the author, and Tracey Chevalier, who has edited and contributed to a new collection of stories, Reader, I Married Him, inspired by Charlotte Bronte's most famous work, Jane Eyre.
As last year, events will take place in a variety of venues across the city, including some new ones. There will be writing workshops, story-telling sessions, a children's book trail and, of course, author appearances. To coincide with the Festival a book of short stories is being collated through the English-as-Second-Language course bringing together tales from Derby's immigrant community, focusing on their journey to the UK, leaving behind family, friends and homes, and the trauma and cultural shocks encountered both on the way and once arrived here.

Something I'm particularly excited about is the event with local novelist Jo Cannon, who was present last night to read an extract from her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, set in the heatwave of 1976. Her book isn't published till January but you can download a first chapter sampler here.

The evening was closed by a few words from David Williams, representing major sponsor Geldards Law Firm; a humorous and entertaining address in which he stressed why it's important for us, as companies and individuals, to support cultural initiatives in the current economic climate.

2016's Derby Book Festival will be 3-11 June, and the full programme will be announced in April.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Claire McGowan: The Silent Dead Blog Tour - author contribution

Today as part of the blog tour to accompany the publication of her latest thriller, The Silent Dead, we're welcoming Claire McGowan to talk about "Writing the Unknown"....

When I’m teaching creative writing, a question that often comes up is whether people are ‘allowed’ to write something. Can you write a character who’s a different gender or age group to you? What about race or economic background? Can you convincingly use a dialect or vernacular that you don’t know well? Are you allowed to write about things you haven’t experienced?

My answer is usually – of course, you’re allowed to write about anything. You don’t have to ask for permission in fiction and it’s not homework. We can make up whatever we like. But I do understand the anxiety that comes from writing something you haven’t gone through yourself. This seems to be so widespread that authors routinely hide their gender with pen names or initials. I’m writing a series about a forensic psychologist who works with the police. I’m not hugely familiar with these worlds, and sometimes I feel unsure about the details – what colour are the walls in police stations? What do the offices smell like? And so on. However, these details can easily be checked by wangling a station visit or researching the procedural processes.

What’s more difficult is to write about emotional situations you haven’t been in. I feel qualified to write about Northern Ireland and the Troubles (I was sixteen with the Good Friday Agreement was signed and living near the border), as I know I have an experience of that time which can’t be challenged. However, I’ve now taken my character to a place where she has a baby, and I don’t have children. I like to think I can imagine it – but I can also get things wrong. A writer friend who has children recently kindly pointed out a small mistake I’d made, which I wouldn’t have known unless I’d been around small children a lot. So there’s always the option to have things checked. I think this anxiety about permission can really hold writers back – so my approach would be write now, and ask questions later. You can always correct it!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Matt Haig - author event

by Maryom

Christmas came early to Nottingham last Friday - out in Market Square the festive lights were switched on, and on the top floor of Waterstones Nottingham, Matt Haig arrived as one of the many stages of his "Sleigh Bell Dash" tour to promote his latest book, A Boy Called Christmas. It was actually his third event of the day, the first two events were in schools and had included Chris Mould, the illustrator, with one of those events being in front of 300 children. Matt seemed to be finding it a long day and he had yet to catch his train back to London - so don't think it's an easy life for authors on their tours.

The book is effectively part of Father Christmas's 'backstory' - sparked when Matt's son asked what Father Christmas was like as a boy.

Nikolas's father goes away leaving him with his evil aunt Carlotta. Carlotta is not a nice person and doesn't have a nice word to say about Nikolas's father and eventually drives Nikolas to set out to find his father.

Being a children's book it has all those things you associate with Christmas .... reindeer, elves, pixies, and exploding troll heads.... and is also written with humour. The Mole finds many children's books a bit corny on the laughs front but the readings that Matt gave had him smiling with genuine amusement. And those readings... he offered the younger members of the audience choices and went along with their selection. Happily the audience chose exploding troll heads.

Matt Haig is nothing if not versatile as an author having written books for children and books for adults- some to make you laugh others of a totally serious nature and a lot that fall in between somewhere such as The Humans.  I discovered him many years ago in a holiday cottage which had a copy of The Last Family in England - a dog's-eye view of a family falling apart. My favourite is probably The Radleys the story of abstaining vampires living 'undercover' in an English suburb.

A signing followed - with the audience buying copies for themselves and what appeared to be Christmas presents for young friends and relations - while working his way through signing a stack for the store, he said he'd once signed a thousand in an hour!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Crime Author Event - Tim Weaver and M J Arlidge

by Maryom

Another week, another set of crime authors at Waterstones Nottingham, and unfortunately another set of traffic problems. We weren't quite as horrendously late this time but the two authors had taken to the 'stage' and were introducing themselves and their books. The standard pattern of events is to follow this by readings from the authors' latest novels, but last night the authors had 'rebelled' and refused. MJ Arlidge said instead he'd treat us to some of his worst reviews - which certainly raised some laughs from the audience, although to be honest if they were aimed at something I'd written, I'd have been devastated.
Both authors are 'new to me', but not newcomers to the genre - Tim Weaver's What Remains is the sixth book of his series 'starring' investigator David Raker, while MJ Arlidge and his detective DI Helen Brace have reached book 4, Liar Liar. While Arlidge writes about serial killers - some actually based on real life mass-murderers - Weaver's series seems a little unusual amongst crime novels for featuring not gruesome murders but disappearances - his characters will get into a tube train or go out into the garden...and simply vanish!
 The questions from the audience brought up some interesting answers - both authors have come to writing as a 'second career' - Tim Weaver was previously a magazine journalist writing mainly about games, so it was probably quite logical that one audience question was how his novels would translate as a game; MJ Arlidge came to writing via TV - starting out as a screen-writer for Eastenders and Monarch of the Glen, and moving on to crime series, in both writing and producing capacities/roles.
Although both favour working to fairly strict 9 to 5 routines, their approach to writing differs - Arlidge prefers to plan meticulously - knowing what will happen in each chapter and crucially how things will end, before starting to flesh things out. Weaver prefers a more 'winging it' plan of attack - starts with the disappearance, preferably something striking to grab the reader, and maybe knowing the why and how things will end, but otherwise happy to let events unfold as he writes.
The answers at times strayed beyond what was strictly being asked but this informality and spontaneity is something I love about author events, and why I'll happily go along and see an author several times.