Monday, 15 June 2015

Review: 'Morgrim's Wood' by Carrie Ann Lahain

Imagine the worst thing that could happen to you then tell yourself that you have to `move on'. Clichés can be cruelly euphemistic. Morgrim's Wood is the place Pamela German chooses to escape to so that her home can be transformed in her absence. Only then, can she come to terms with her grief. But in the family cabin in the woods, she is reminded of childhood memories that hint at clues she has missed until now. Clues that will lead her back to her daughter, Kate. Mysterious? It is. Packed with original and likeable characters, an evil that must be defeated, and centred around a personal story of courage and enlightenment, 'Morgrim's Wood' kept me (happily) prisoner for a couple of days. I love the magical kingdom, the time shifts, the battles. It reeks of imagination. No glaring errors here, either. I like an author I can read with confidence. More please.






Monday, 8 June 2015

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel



I should mention first of all that I bought Station Eleven after reading a review on one of my favourite blogs: https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/









It starts obliquely.  Nothing much happening apart from a middle-aged actor going through multiple mid-life crises and messing up his lines, before collapsing on stage.  Who would have guessed that it would turn out to be an end-of-the-world story? 

I would have said that I didn’t like post-apocalyptic as a genre.  But there is something more to Station Eleven than the gruesome demise of the human race, and I was delighted that Mandel didn’t go in for vicarious deathly detail.  Instead, she follows the survival of diverse groups of people who have made it through the epidemic and created various kinds of communities.  Some are more appealing than others.  All are leftfield and (in my opinion) perhaps a little esoteric. 

What really drew me in were Mandel’s observations.  A world without electricity, juxtaposed with the desire to flick a switch, just to bring back the memory of what it felt like to flood a room with light.  An obsession with travel and telecommunications -  in the new world there are children who have grown up not knowing about the miracle of the Internet, who gasp at the implausibility of rockets to the moon. 

And, there is ‘Station Eleven’ – Dr. Eleven and his psychedelic comic book story of a spaceship drifting in a parallel universe, its inspirational close-ups and bubble language building from the past and influencing the future in the most unpredictable of ways.  Its slogan and epitaph ‘survival is insufficient’ (borrowed from an episode of Startreck).

Like any good story, there are characters you care about.  Their hopes and aspirations cruelly shattered by the epidemic.  Mandel creates a retrospective poignancy with remembered lives set against a bleak future.  Many questions are raised about what it is that should be kept from the past and shared with the children growing up in the future.  The intimation that there will be a future is deeply consoling.

One of the most interesting reads so far this year.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Review: 'The Black Hours' by Alison Williams

I must say that I was gripped by this book.  There are parts that are so suspenseful that I had to sneak off and hide so that I could finish a chapter in peace!  The character of Matthew Hopkins is remarkably drawn and I note at the end of the book that Alison Williams did a great deal of research into the subject of witch hunting in 17th century England before writing this book.  Hopkins is both evil and almost childlike in his actions.  He never fails to justify his beliefs with logic that, to him, is water-tight.  His victims are helpless in the face of his practised undermining of their defence, and we are made to feel the intensity of their suffering and the terrors that await them.  The settings are beautifully drawn, the characters absorbing, and the story all the more devastating for being based on fact.  If you like great writing with archetypal heroes and villains portrayed with skill and sensitivity, this book is for you.  More, please!







Sunday, 31 May 2015

My French Life this week



Sunday 31st May

A downpour at nine this morning hindered my energetic leap into the garden for my regular jogging experience.  I like to run round the garden when I can.  I don’t like to wear lycra in public.  Why do I like to run?  It gives me something to tell my doctor when he asks whether I do any exercise and it helps me sort out my muddled mind.  Oh, and I can listen to music I enjoy without my two teenage sons’ unwanted comments.  

This week has been extra muddled because, apart from running a (shockingly unsuccessful) promotion on one of my books, which I fear has a misleading title and an inappropriate cover, not to mention a mere three (glowing) reviews, I have a teenage son who is revising for his Baccalaureate, another who isn’t (torture, torture), and a husband who has to fix the digibox connection that was broken as a result of the removal of bindweed from the satellite dish and cables.  It was my fault.  I apologised. Click on this link if you like reading about the difference between signal strength and signal quality: What?  I did, and it has led me round in several circles, all of them leaving me none the wiser.

Other highlights this week have included three visits to the Mairie to sort out planning applications for my sister’s house in the next village; catching a lizard who was hiding between my younger son’s mattress and bed base (remembering at the last minute that lizards can’t fly and taking it downstairs into the garden), and, finally, beginning to watch Game of Thrones with my husband, after the boys have gone to bed.  Oh, la la!  Episode five (and maybe six) of series one tonight.  Cushions plumped and corkscrew handy.  Who needs a digibox!





Which one can fly?  Answer: neither.


Happy Days!

Monday, 18 May 2015

New and ON SALE at 99p until May 30th. Revised, and with additional chapters: 'The Undertaker's Son'. Martha is lucky. Financially independent, young, and ready to start a new life in France. If only she could find the right man! But other, darker forces are at work, and life in Charente Maritime is not the idyll she thinks it is. This is romance with a very dark twist.

One of the beautiful things about publishing your work on Kindle is that it is possible to re-publish at any time.

I'm not talking about cutting corners in the first place, knowing that you can fix mistakes later.  That would be counter-productive in so many ways.  The process of writing a novel is many-layered and, at times, crushingly dull.  When the fifth draft has been approved by beta readers, sent to a professional editor, edited and revised, there is formatting, proofreading and, inevitably, a final reading (or two) by the author, just to make sure everything is as it should be.

So why would I re-publish a novel that took the best part of a year to bring to Kindle readers the first time around?

Well, there are two reasons.  The first is that I have (surely?) improved as a writer over the past eighteen months, so back in March when I spent an afternoon re-reading 'The Undertaker's Son' because I had nothing else to read at the time, I noticed things I didn't like.  Once I'd finished, I had various ideas that would not disappear until I'd explored them fully.  Should I add another chapter about Claude Cousteau?  Did I like the ending enough?

Two months later, having taken a lot longer than I imagined (fellow authors will know that this is not unusual), and having gone through the same stages of checking and double-checking as I did with the original version, I pushed the 'publish' button.  A few hours have elapsed, and I have just received an email from Amazon to say that my new edition is 'live'.  I've checked it again (obviously) and it looks fine.

Oh, I said there were two reasons, didn't I?  The second is that I want to bring out a paperback later this month.  I still like to hold a physical book in my hands, and I want it to be absolutely perfect, if it can be (probably not possible in the real world...but I have to give it a go!).

Anyway, if you have already bought 'The Undertaker's Son', Amazon will send you the updated version free of charge - you just have to ask.  And thank you for buying it in the first place!

If, however, you think you might like to read the description and/or the first chapters, just click here:




And thank you for looking.  No, really!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Review - The Ways of Mud and Bone by Carrie Ann Lahain

I loved the title and was intrigued by the subject matter: An American point of view on the struggle of the allies during the Great War. Lahain paints a picture of an American community divided by politics, neighbour set against neighbour, with violence never far beneath the surface. Add to this the outbreak of influenza which strikes without discrimination, and you have a small town in meltdown.

France seems almost like an adventure to Meryl, her sister and her friends. She is inspired by a desire to care for the casualties of war and sets off for the front to do what she can. Needless to say, the reality of battle is a shock to the volunteers, even though they believe themselves to be ready for such a challenge. Meryl struggles with the consequences of a world turned upside down, which will never be the same again. She is sensitive and intelligent, unsentimental and pragmatic. Relationships in this novel are subtle, understated. We have to read between the lines, sense the meaning of simple gestures. But against the horrific backdrop of chaos and death, in action scenes that are all too realistic, there is still room for hope.

I read a little everyday, often sneaking off to find out what happened next, wanting a sliver more to mull over. I held the dwindling pages (I bought the book, but I see it is available on Kindle too), and wished that Meryl’s story could continue. Highly recommended – a literary gem.

I see that the Kindle version is only 99p for the next few days.  Not to be missed, I say!


Saturday, 2 May 2015

Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.






I’ve read everything by this author (except The Bone Clocks, which is on my list), and so I knew that I would have to have my wits about me with this most ambitious work.  (I’m still trying to come to terms with all the intricacies of Cloud Atlas, a most epic piece of writing, which I have read twice and will probably read again at some point.)

The setting for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is Japan, which is a place Mitchell goes back to time and time again, having lived there with his Japanese wife before eventually settling in Ireland.  This time we are sailing into Nagasaki harbour to rendezvous at Dejima, a small trading post. We arrive on a Dutch ship at the end of the 18th century.  International trade between Japan and the rest of the world is limited. 

Our understated protagonist, Jacob de Zoet, is an honest man, a trader employed by the Dutch East India Company who is given the task of validating the accounts concerning the merchandising of goods in Dejima.  He soon finds himself amongst liars and thieves, eager to influence him in any way they can.  At first, de Zoet seems naïve, but he bides his time and does not stumble into the traps that are set for him. 

Love is a central theme, too.  Realism is the order of the day, but romance often bubbles up to inspire us.  Jacob talks about a girl he has left behind, and obsesses about a midwife he meets in Dejima during a hilarious set-to with a chimpanzee called William Pitt. 

The plot is intricate, the characters many and complex – far more than seems necessary at first.  But, please, persevere – it’s worth it!  Mitchell involves every level of society, with a Shakespearean eye for detail. The dialogue is ubiquitous and complicatedly Pinteresque, peppered with asides and minute observations that give an immediate sense of place or emotional insight. There is horror, murder, betrayal and double-dealing.  There is humour when you least expect it, often in the form of farce and, more often than not, involving William Pitt, who is there at the beginning and still around at the end of this epic adventure.

When I came to the final pages, I’ll admit that I thrilled at the idea of a momentous conclusion.  Time slowed as I devoured each word, not wanting my enjoyment to end, imagining scenarios that I suspected were too cliched for a Mitchell masterpiece.  What happens?  Ah, you wouldn’t want me to tell you, would you?  Suffice to say, if you love literary genius, you won’t be disappointed.