‘I’m a racist
Man At The Helm
by Nina Stibbe
Remember Judy Blume?
Self-publish monthly prize
OOPS! Big drop in rainfall.
THE POPE RECOMMENDS week ending 27 November 2015
CHILDREN write to Santa Claus and, with a bit of adult nudging, they also write to the Pope. Here’s the answer to a publisher’s prayer. Sales guaranteed around the world, thanks to promotion from Catholic pulpits and the appeal of a best-loved author.
The two previous books (for adults) by Pope Francis are both bestsellers. Walking With Jesus and The Church of Mercy scored big on advance sales and have held their appeal. Their Jesuit publisher, Loyala Press, Chicago, is now preparing Dear Pope Francis, his first book for children, but it will not be in time for Christmas. Release date is March 2016.
It contains the Pope’s answers to 30 letters from children, selected from 259 submissions in 26 countries. And I’m sure the 229 kids whose submissions were unsuccessful will value their nice rejection letter from the Pontiff.
Some of the kids sent drawings and these are included, nowadays a mandatory feature of children’s books. It was not always so. My earliest book memory is sitting on Dad’s knee at age 4 mesmerised by witches and giants, fierce dragons and valiant princes. His copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, maybe preserved from his own childhood, was a thick tome of small print and not a single picture. The words and my blossoming imagination created the love of fiction that has enriched my life.
Picture books, however, is what parents usually seek. This Christmas, for ages 3 and up, one of the most vivid is Blue Penguin by Petr Horacek. Of equal appeal, I recommend Robin’s Winter Song by Suzanne Barton. Reading aloud, of course, does not necessarily demand illustrations, as I found with Messrs Grimm. Here’s another selection of tales for ages 4-8 that also depends on the wonder of words: Mousedeer by Charles Bryce. Apart from the digital download, which is all one needs for read-aloud, there is a paperback version at Amazon.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
PEACE, GOODWILL AND MURDER week ending 20 November 2015
CHRISTMAS is coming, the season of peace and goodwill and – for crime fiction fans – a time for murder and mayhem! The Christmas setting for whodunits remains strong, for the same reason Dickens (maybe) pinned his ghostly Scrooge tale to the time of year when people are most friendly and generous. Nastiness and Christ’s birthday are total opposites.
Why this should inspire authors is a subject for psychology, but it sure attracts readers. One of my favourites is Kill Him Sweetly, by Ann Morven. It is among her early short stories and has stood the test of time and Christmases Past. It's available at the major ebook sites. Amazon has it on Kindle and in a paperback anthology (Crime Please!). Smashwords offers it in all digital formats.
Whodunit and Howdunit puzzle master, Christopher Fowler, gets into the seasonal killing mood this Christmas. Read all about it by the man himself at
Mary Higgins Clark gives readers a Christmas treat in Silent Night, details online at
Departing from these recent authors, Christmas murder mysteries have been a top attraction for a century or more. There is no shortage of titles for readers keen enough to seek them out. Golden Era favourites appear in a top quality anthology for collectors by the Folio Society. Superbly printed and bound is The Folio Book of Christmas Crime Stories
In seeking your Christmas murders, there is lots of help from fellow addicts who have made lists. I guess the most comprehensive must be Danna at the Cozy-mystery website. There you'll find enough information and alphabetical authors to keep you busy right up until Christmas. The link: http://www.cozy-mystery.com/
Other lists can be found at several more websites. One of the best is Mystery Sequels. http://mysterysequels.com/10-new-christmas-murder-mystery-novels-to-read-this-holiday.html
To round off, take a look at The Billings Gazette, which lists Christmas themed whodunits and thrillers: http://billingsgazette.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/christmas-themed-whodunits-adventure-stories-add-thrills-and-chills-to/article_06d2dab1-4bed-5461-bf6a-4bf86bb263ef.html
Or, for pageturners with a Christmas theme, the specialist blog is at
Happy reading! from Cathy.
BURIED TREASURE FOR WRITERS week ending 13 November 2015
NOVELISTS doing research invariably pounce on odd or intriguing facts to colour their stories. I've found this is particularly the case with historical novels. There's no denying our ancestors were a weird bunch.
In their hunt for this buried treasure writers come up with endless barbs to prick our interest, but one gave me an especial jolt – as it must have done for author John Ivor. It became the inspiration for his best-selling Run Maggie Run, an adventurous odyssey of a child in the 1830s (adults only). His grim discovery in this supposedly enlightened past era was that Scotland hanged children as young as 7 for petty theft.
Outrageous indeed, but today it becomes the seed of an entertaining tale with these opening lines:
A finger of sunlight poked through the grime of courtroom windows, polished
Authors are a ruthless breed! They murder zestfully to supply their detectives with a brainteaser. They show no mercy in destroying a romance just so they can patch it up again before the final page.
I'm glad they do, or reading would become the dullest of pastimes. Three cheers, then, for dusty archives where lie the hidden snippets that sustain Fiction's most vital ingredient -- reader interest.
On the Internet a few sites list remarkable truths, many of them no doubt a potential spark for writers. For example, who could not fail to invent a thrilling plot on viewing 10 Strange Facts About Historical Villains. Or to spread the oddities even wider: 40 Weird Historical Facts.
Some websites resurrect the mood of a print genre made famous last century, Ripley's Believe It Or Not. I point to the fascinating Crazy Facts From The Past. And, just to round off the incredible, you can find R-rated historical 'facts' also. There is no limit to the surprises lurking in humanity's records of years gone by.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
ENIGMATIC ISLAND week ending 6 November 2015
I QUOTE: Rich in humour, full of insight and humanity, Elephant Complex is a very fine tribute to this enigmatic island nation.
Smaller than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army,
This is fiction based on fact, a mix of humour, nostalgia and humanity. Again the characters intrigue, and there is no escaping elephants or Buddhists or terrorists or chuckling confusion. This literary gem highlights the world’s big human comedy. In historical Fort Frederick, the Colonel trembles in his rage; the nuns pray; while an innocent army child strives to understand that baffling species, the Adult. The kid is a bigger problem than militant Japan.
Because of its 150-year rule, which ended after World War 2, Britain still enjoys a special link with Sri Lanka. Tea plantations and cricket are the bestknown legacies, but there is a vast array of Sri Lankan authors who write great books in the English language. I suppose one might call them Grandchildren of Empire. From their upbringing and their nation’s history they have inherited inimitable voices. From thrillers to romance, mystery or historical tales, their creations hold unique appeal. You’ll find some of them at goodreads.com but for instant names the most direct route is Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_literature#Sri_Lankan_and_Sri_Lankan_diaspora_authors_who_write_in_English
ARE BEST COVERS BEST SELLERS? week ending 30 October 2015
IT is said you can’t tell a book by its cover, but the cover undoubtedly sells a book. The artwork serves to attract and the jacket blurb entices. And recently the lure has become a bestselling author’s name in bold type bigger than the book’s title.
Cover fashions change. The early paperbacks (remember Penguin?) featured only title and author. So did hardbacks once upon a time. It’s interesting to view some of the covers once regarded as the best. Would they catch your notice on today’s crowded book shelves?
Readers can view ‘the 50 coolest book covers’ at Shortlist Magazine. Nowadays some of these might not catch a second glance. At cnn.com, ‘the ten greatest book covers of all time’ includes many without any picture at all.
Personally I like a cover that sets the mood of the book, preferably with an image. Of course, the enjoyment of a book, once a reader delves into it, owes nothing to its cover. Here are some surprisingly good recent reads I recommend:
MURDER ON THE ORIENT ESPRESSO *****
ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 *****
MAN OF WAR *****
Happy reading! from Cathy.
The Booker #!*%+≠„ Prize week ending 23 October 2015
POOR MUM, she cannot bring herself to read her son's prize novel, because of all the swear words. For the self-same reason, neither can I and so must forgo reviewing A Brief History of Seven Killings. Even devoid of the cusswords, for me this year's Booker winner holds scant appeal – it's about Jamaican gangsters and, in any case, it is not written in the English language.
THE EIGHT CURIOUS CASES OF INSPECTOR ZHANG *****
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Explore the forest week ending 16 October 2015
SANTA’S sack will be heavier this Christmas, due to an unprecedented surge back to traditional books. The trend had been growing since last year, coinciding with a slackening in demand for ebooks. Last Thursday, October 8, confirmed the British book industry’s return to paper and solid covers. Dubbed ‘Super Thursday’ the day marks release of Christmas titles, which in any year make up 30 percent of sales.
This year, super day saw the launch of 383 hardbacks. Although including the usual coffee table photo books and a splurge of celebrity memoirs, they also sparkled with the gift appeal of top fiction. Readers who have been awaiting a new Robert Harris tale will find it on sale now. Amy Childs delights as ever, Sue Perkins has another cheerful memoir, and battle guru Bernard Cornwell takes on the Vikings. There is also Bill Bryson’s first travel account in 15 years, toplisted in the favourites forecast by the Daily Telegraph.
The BBC was quick to spot the movement back to hold-in-hand paper at a time when one third of Britain’s bookstores have closed during the ebook revolution of the past 10 years. It noted, however, that the physical books this Christmas remained in the usual categories of brandname fiction and celebrity biography.
My own conclusion is that traditional books, like diamonds, are forever. Super Thursday 2015 reminded me of this and the fact that a good book never goes out of fashion. Publishers with a quality backlist find it outsells the Christmas ‘new releases’ year after year. This is because these long-lasting titles have proved their excellence beyond doubt. Christmas shoppers seeking a good book to read or to gift would be well advised to explore the forest of existing favourites. Try these.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
The Mystery of the Dagger Awards week ending 9 October 2015
THE Crime Writers Association, British based, has gone gaga over mysteries set in the United States by non-British authors. Its coveted Dagger Awards, just announced, all take readers to American thrills and mysteries. This to me is a mystery in itself, because I have always found British crime fiction differs immensely from its US counterpart.
Readers can check out the winners for themselves, but briefly they are as follows:
Karin Slaughter, US author, for Cop Town set in Atlanta.
The judges make their choice on the worth of the books. I just find it odd they could not find a British creation to reward. Does this spell the end to foggy London murders or slaughters in an idyllic village? Hardly. These traditions are set forever.
I have just read a British author’s collection of locked-room puzzles to rival the best of Sherlock Holmes. Stephen Leather’s detective succeeds by pure deduction. The structure is strictly British: impossible crime, clues presented via observation and interrogations, then the solution. However, Leather’s detective is Chinese and domiciled in modern Singapore. The Eight Curious Cases of Inspector Zhang is a treat for whodunit readers.
I enjoyed every one of the eight ‘impossible’ mysteries. My favourite is the one set in England, where homicide spoils a convention of Mystery Writers and fools the local cops. Inspector Zhang helps them unravel the riddle while discovering how ebooks shatter the traditional publishing trade.
The Zhang murder puzzles are widely praised: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eight-Curious-Cases-Inspector-Zhang/dp/9814625000
The CWA Dagger winners are at http://thecwa.co.uk/news/cwa-dagger-awards-winners-announced/
Happy reading! from Cathy.
The path to war week ending 2 October 2015
Fiction’s greatest poisoners week ending 25 September 2015
What makes a human? week ending 18 September 2015
Because of a pen name
It was a poem and it appears in The Best American Poetry 2015. Now it is an industry talking point and, best of all, has garnered wide publicity for the young man and, naturally, for the American poetry anthology. But even more amusing are the varied reasons voiced by people who disapprove the deception. Three cheers for Mister Hudson, alias Yi-Fen Chou.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
How to sell a million books on Facebook week ending 11 September 2015
AUTHORS who self-publish yearn for the mass exposure of social media. With so many people following your book blurb, there is the prospect of big sales as readers click-click-click to view your masterpiece. So here’s the sure way to do it . . . conjure up a miracle!
The truth is Facebook gets zero sales for the average author. Ask an expert. Writing on DigitalBookWorld, Michael Alvear explains the futility of this means of promotion. He says it is time wasting, costly and disheartening.
“Facebook gets you closer to book sales in the same way that jumping up and down gets you closer to the sun,” he concludes after extensive and calculated schemes to release the anticipated magic. His report and convincing evidence is at http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/why-facebook-cannot-help-you-sell-books/
What sells best on Amazon?
Reading is healthy
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Grand festival in Edinburgh week ending 4 September 2015
THE Edinburgh Book Festival, just concluded, was loaded with an array of fabulous treats for authors, booksellers and readers. This renowned event seems to get better each year. David Robinson, reporting for The Scotsman newspaper, gives an informative roundup. Author Howard Jacobson, writing for The Independent, had some amusing encounters.
Another famous author, Kazuo Ishiguru, is faring even worse with The Buried Giant, his first novel in ten years. On Amazon UK, this fantasy set in ancient Britain has so far attracted 27 one-star (‘hate it’) ratings. Personally I found it unreadable. Not everyone condemns it though. It just goes to show how the world enjoys a vast population of folk with different opinions!
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Stars in the jungle week ending 28 August 2015.
NEW authors tend to get lost in the melee of brandname favourites and the fierce marketing that their own creations fail to attract. So it’s good to welcome, once again, the Guardian newspaper’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ listings. The contest invites readers to vote for their favourite book of the year, and the nominations for 2015 give a varied and promising choice.
The shortlist of six has only one big publisher. All the books are relatively unpromoted yet deemed to be brilliant. Out of curiosity, I checked them out in the Amazon jungle to see how their ratings there compare to the Guardian votes. All attracted 5-star reviews (‘love it’) and none got a 1-star (‘hate it’).
An Amazon 5-star rating is not always a reliable guide to a good read, because of organised raves by publishers or friends of the author. There is, however, the opportunity to sample a book free and that is why so many readers now turn to Amazon when deciding whether to buy.
My Amazon comparisons showed the Not The Booker shortlist attracted no ‘hate it’ reviews. One gaining 25 ‘love it’ reviews also had one 2-star (‘don’t like it’), which to me helps confirm the honesty of opinions on Amazon. Often my own favourite reads include 1-star rejections! Love it? Hate it? We all have personal tastes.
The Guardian does a good job in presenting the top choices of its readers. Its shortlist for 2015 contains a variety of styles, themes and locations, and is an authoritative pointer to some of the best new writers. Here is how the shortlist authors fare in reader reviews on Amazon:
Kirstin Innes – Fishnet (Freight Books): 80 Guardian votes, 25 Amazon 5-star.
Kat Gordon – The Artificial Anatomy of Parks (Legend Press): 74 Guardian votes, 17 Amazon 5-star.
Oliver Langmead – Dark Star (Unsung Stories): 70 Guardian votes, 3 Amazon 5-star.
Paul McVeigh – The Good Son (Salt): 63 Guardian votes, 25 Amazon 5-star.
Tasha Kavanagh – Things We Have in Common (Canongate): 61 Guardian votes, 25 Amazon 5-star, 2 Amazon 2-star.
Melanie Finn - Shame (Weidenfeld & Nicolson): 58 Guardian votes, 6 Amazon 5-star.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Four sparkling reads week ending 21 August 2015
WORLD GONE BY *****
THE ANATOMY OF DECEPTION ****
A BETTER QUALITY OF MURDER *****
AND CHIMNEY SWEEPS COME TO DUST ***
Happy reading! from Cathy.
How to outguess Agatha Christie week ending 14 August 2015
THERE is a vital clue, heavily stressed, halfway through most of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. So concludes a commissioned study of her 66 crime novels. But there are several other ways to guess who dun it before Poirot or Miss Marple choose to name the killer.
This year, 125th anniversary of the famous author’s birth, is drawing increased attention to her prolific output. That’s the reason for investigating clues the famous author unknowingly revealed in most of her books. Or so the study discovered. Armed with this information, readers can tell at an early stage whether the murderer is male or female. Another peculiar find was that female killers were usually more despicable than murderous males! See if you agree with the text sleuths! Or have they swallowed too many red herrings?
The Booker grab
Stevie Marsden at University of Stirling, Scotland, took the trouble to investigate after five of the six books shortlisted last year came from Penguin Random House.
Its marketing coup lies in the submission rules.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Bye Bye Booker week ending 7 August 2015
EVEN before the United States pushed into the Booker Prize last year, I had lost faith in its worth as Literature’s flagship. The Booker longlist for 2015, just released, confirms its demise. An onslaught by US publishers destroys its original purpose, which was to seek the best authors in Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth.
In recent years, controversial winners dimmed my annual anticipation. Now this prize has succumbed to the power of big global marketing. When wealth becomes the criterion for great literature it’s time for readers to look elsewhere. Sure there are great American authors, but they should not be allowed to swamp the very different brit-based cultures that have permeated the Booker since it began in 1968.
Without the Booker, where should readers browse to find the best of the best? Dare I say Amazon, where you’ll also discover the worst of the worst? It remains the world’s leading showcase for books of all kinds. It just demands one’s stamina to search and sample.
Meanwhile it seems I’m not the only literature lover to criticise Booker’s cross-atlantic sea change.
Five-star British courtroom drama
THE REDEEMED *****
Happy reading! from Cathy.
E.L. Doctorow joins the immortals week ending 31 July 2015
DEATH happens, but great novelists live on through their creations. Now joining the immortals is EL Doctorow, pictured left, sadly departed at age 84. News of his passing drew regrets from around the world. In particular I liked the comment from President Obama, himself a talented author: “His books taught me much.”
Family tree thrills
Doubtless inspired by his professional searches, he turned to creating unusual murder mystery thrills. I’ve just read The Blood Detective which introduces his intriguing chaser of killers, delightfully different.
I have solved many a fictional murder in company with various sleuths, and I’ve also delved into the delights and despairs of ancestry search. The two are remarkably similar in the way one follows the clues. Dan Waddell merges the two brilliantly.
The tension in Blood Detective strengthens when the cops find a link to London murders dating back more than 100 years. Not only do they have to catch a killer, they must guess who-and-where for the next likely victim.
The puzzles stay strong – surprisingly even in the dark oceans of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Census Returns, and other dusty social records. I found the narrative enlightening and engrossing, with scattered thrills and a nailbiting finish.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Winners and losers week ending 24 July 2015
THE MIDWIFE’S TALE *****
SIX GRAVES TO MUNICH ****
A MAN LAY DEAD **
Bulls inspire literature week ending 17 July 2015
BULLS attract a special mania. Long ago, people worshipped them, and they’re still regarded as semi-sacred in some parts of the world. The bullfight therefore has become a special theme for many great writers and artists, such as Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Orson Welles, Goya, and – of topical note – Mario Vargas Llosa. The Peruvian Nobel laureate, 78, when interviewed by Bill Hillman for The Los Angeles Review of Books, revealed that the corrida “has a certain influence in the building of my personality — my ideas, my sensibilities”.
Here’s a link to the recent interview, which includes some vivid insights into the great author’s outlook on life and literature. His work extends through many genres, from thrillers to historical to murder mysteries. Among adaptation as movies – a sure sign of popular appeal – are Captain Pantoja and the Special Service and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Perhaps his most famous novel is The Time of the Hero.
But there’s more to bulls than the bullring, a truth that four-legged Ferdinand taught me as a child! Bill Hillman himself wrote a book advising runners how to survive that annual street race with bulls in Pamplona. Sales probably dropped off after he got gored last year. What about bulls and murder? Ah, now there’s a great idea, and a female author makes it exciting fiction in Blood On The Wind – also an intriguing lesson on the global breeding trade. Originally published in Ellery Queen Magazine, Ann Morven’s whodunit takes bullfighting (and a weird variation of the art) to the Australian Outback.
Maybe the oldest bull thriller features the Minotaur of Greek mythology, a maze-dwelling monster battled by Theseus. I remember reading that tale as a child. I’ve been scared of bulls ever since. I guess that’s why I love reading about them from the safety of an armchair
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Ride the magic carpet week ending 10 July 2015.
It also provides a getaway that meets your mood of the moment. This can be romance, adventure, thrills, a good laugh, or whatever shape and style happens to appeal. It is the best value entertainment, a book.
Just looking at the authors pictured on this page, I can name many countries they conjure up to delight readers in a variety of genres. My favourite, mystery, sets puzzles in interesting places ranging across the globe. The whodunit diva Ann Morven, herself well travelled, will take you to the Scottish Highlands (The Seventh Petal) or the Borneo jungle (That Lovely Feeling) or the remote southwest corner of Australia (Murder Piping Hot, The Right Royal Bastard). Of course, there’s England too (The Killing of Hamlet), a land perfect for brain-teasing crime tales.
Fancy going back 190 years? John Ivor is your travel guide and spinner of suspense. Join his heroine Maggie, aged 9 and on trial for murder. Run Maggie Run begins her exciting odyssey to womanhood while travelling from top to bottom of the world. She tangles with pirates in the Canary Islands and is sold to slavery in Brazil. Her love of books gives her a wisdom that’s sometimes catastrophic!
For feel-good holiday humour, I recommend Bryce McBryce. The land he takes you to is Sri Lanka in British colonial days when it was named Ceylon. The stories contained in Brat reflect the twilight of the Raj in the years before World War 2.
To climb aboard the Fiction Express, just click on a portrait appearing on the right of my blog.
The scope is endless and the rewards as vast as the reach of your web browser. Here are some more suggestions, described briefly by fellow book enthusiast Christie Hickman.
Happy reading and happy holiday! from Cathy.
Share my crime shelf week ending 3 July, 2015
THE REDEEMED *****
THE HOLLOW MAN ***
THE RECKONING *****
A MAN LAY DEAD **
SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES *****
Bunk and bliss week ending 26 June 2015
Another thing about this month, trivial yet interesting, is the number of famous authors born in June. Of the moderns I’ve found JK Rowling, Ken Follett, Patricia Cornwell, Joyce Carol Oates, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Colleen McCullough and Val McDermid. From an older era are George Orwell, Dorothy L. Sayers, Pearl S. Buck, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Hardy, WB Yeats and (shudder) The Marquis de Sade.
Rockabyte baby . . .
The report in Britain’s Independent newspaper is both interesting and alarming. I just hope mums and dads read through to its final paragraph. This warns of brain damage.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
The immortal Holmes at 93 week ending 19 June 2015
In retirement he has become an avid beekeeper and lives in an isolated Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son Roger. In the role played by Ian McKellan, 76, Holmes is unable to let go of his past as he tries to solve the one case that defeated him.
First created 130 years ago by Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), Holmes has become fiction’s most immortal character. Since Doyle’s copyright expired 1980, scores of writers have had a go at stories involving the great amateur whose reason solves crimes that baffle the police. And, in film and television, more than 100 actors have played the role. These include some you’d never suspect – such as John Gielgud, John Cleese, Peter Cook, Raymond Massey, Roger Moore and even Leonard Lemoy of Mister Spock fame.
The vast budgets devoted to Holmes perpetuation are ironic given the fact that Doyle got only £25 (about $50) for all rights to the first Holmes mystery, A Study In Scarlet (1886). Like many a famous author, he struggled initially to find a publisher. He was exploited by Ward Lock & Co for several years but eventually became the biggest thing in crime fiction and claimed more lucrative earnings. The reading world could not get enough of the Victorian crime solver.
Not even Doyle could kill off his creation, which he tried to do in 1893 by plunging him to death over a waterfall in The Final Problem, locked in the arms of arch criminal Moriarty. Outraged readers created such a fuss that Doyle had to resurrect his detective by writing The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Now he’s resurrected for the umpteenth time, in old age, one can only wonder how a 93-year-old brain is going to cope with the intricate clues. Actor McKellan, himself getting on a bit, has no qualms about that.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Share my crime shelf week ending 12 June 2015
MASTER GEORGIE ****
PERFECT PEOPLE ***
THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COMPOSER AND HIS JUDGE ***
ALPHONSE haunted the garrison school because it was there.Ā
So begins The Spirit of Waterloo, by Bryce McBryce, a comedy short where Wellingtonās ghost confounds a regimental padre in the 1930s twilight of Empire. The Iron Duke has come to check that British playing fields still produce brave lads, but his eerie antics scare everybody.
With the Colonel at a loss, Wee Charlie, age 7, steps in as the army’s Forlorn Hope. It is a delightful short story. It is also a chapter in a more lengthy comedy on the British Raj titled Brat.
This humorous McBryce treatment is one way to look at the great general who changed the world on July 18, 1815. Another is the grim, authentic account of the battle by Bernard Cornwell. In Waterloo the author of the Sharpe series of military fiction has turned his skill to a definitive non-fiction account of Napoleon’s defeat, and how the opposing generals contended.
His research for the four-day bloodbath included first hand reports by low rankers as well as senior officers and crowned heads. Fools and heroes play out a panorama over 350 pages. The author contributes his own experienced analysis of the conflict and its aftermath. Best of all, this book is pageturning as a Sharpe novel.
London meanwhile is marking the 200th anniversary in its own memorable way.
How many people know the origin of Wellington’s nickname as the Iron Duke? It has no bearing on Waterloo. After he became prime minister, the hero was so unpopular he shielded the windows of his house against stone-throwing mobs by installing iron shutters. (I got that from Bernard Cornwell’s book).
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 6 June 2015.
In search of Eden week ending 29 May 2015
His great land of dreams” is The Great Southland, nowadays called Australia, where next week, on June 1, the locals will commemorate their happy progress. The Whites and the Blacks have much to be thankful for, much to regret, and a whole lot more to think about in a nation founded on conflicting ambitions. It is these contrary desires that make for entertaining history.
John Ivor relates the story of the first humans in Java’s Dream, a novelette about a couple who defy cannibalistic tradition. They were the first dream chasers. Available Kindle edition, or other digital.
Captain Striver follows in time, 40,000 years later, and is a fictional autobiography of James Stirling. Against impossible odds, his vision created the Swan River Colony, a democratic pattern for Australia’s eventual ending of the convict settlements. Available Kindle edition, or other digital.
The above stand-alone works precede four stand-alone novels set in the 1830s where, again, mortal yearning causes the discords and the ironies of history.
The plots were waiting for me, commented John Ivor, himself a migrant to his great land of dreams. He lives with his family in the forested hills of Kalamunda, near Perth, Western Australia. “The real history is both shocking and intriguing. All I had to do was invent hero, heroine and a few other characters to relive everything.”
And, of course, delve deep into colonial records, old news sheets (some handwritten) and pioneer diaries. His four romantic adventures featuring Swan River Colony are:
Run Maggie Run. A girl aged nine escapes Scotland’s hangman, pretends to be a boy and finds herself among strange gentryfolk seeking an Eden in the unexplored Great Southland. In paperback or digital.
No Kiss For A Killer. A coward hunts his father’s murderers in the newformed Swan River Colony. A teenaged girl, determined to stop him, gets trapped in a massacre. In paperback or digital.
Amateur Rebel. Maggie tries not to fall in love with Jeremy, who is romantically pursued by a rich widow. Magistrates commit murder, a missionary is mistaken for the Rainbow Serpent incarnated to end White settlement, and Maggie could lose her head -- literally.In paperback or digital.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
O brave new bookworld! week ending 24 April 2015
Mind you, the annual LBF awards for 2015 tended to ignore authors, one tradition that sticks! Accolades went to publishers around the world and associated commercial factions. But the persistence of self-published authors was never more triumphant. Here they were in glorious spectacle, displaying their goodies, chatting with marketeers and editors, and consolidating a presence that will swell for years ahead.
The LBF has always been about publishing rather than writing, but the 2015 bookfest showed that self-published authors have finally (and magnificently) gatecrashed the event. Making trade contacts is the main value of the LBF rather than winning awards. There are plenty of these offered elsewhere for authors, most recent being the Dublin Literary Awards.
The shortlist for this lucrative prize, just announced, includes ten international books – three translations among them. It is now a truly international event. Translations rarely appeal to me, but the judges reckon they have spotted rare talent. I won’t quibble about that because, after all, the wonderful words in the Bible are a translation of translations of translations!
Yet another trend in the brave new bookworld is that an author has donated half a million pounds of his earnings to help struggling bookshops in Britain and Ireland. Incredible, but it’s happening. The writer is US crime novelist James Patterson who nowadays has morphed into a robotic brandname using 20 other authors. His £500,000 donation to boost physical book stores is, of course, a marketing budget that will doubtless boost his own titles too. And why not? Authors have for years been prodded and bullied by their publishers to do sales tours. Here’s one so deservedly wealthy he can sit back and fund his own publicity in any quirky manner he chooses.
Some more details concerning my above comments . . .
Happy reading! from Cathy.
The grip of multiple murders 17 April 2015.
Famous authors filled the screen of my laptop . . .Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, Thomas Harris, Jeffrey Deaver, Tami Hoag, James Patterson, Kathy Reichs, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Kellerman, Tess Gerritsen and on and on. Most of them are American and it seems that the serial killer must have especial appeal in the United States, but not exclusively.
Britain’s two most famous writers of crime fiction dabbled in serial murders also. The first adventure pairing Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, A Study In Scarlet, was a puzzle over serial suicides. Arthur Conan Doyle, however, preferred to have Holmes solving less prolific deaths. The appeal in his stories is solving a baffling mystery rather than blood spilling.
Agatha Christie? Yes, her cozy village killings usually concern a single homicide, but she, too, dabbled in serial slaughter. The one that springs to mind is Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp in The ABC Murders. Another is Ten Little Niggers – nowadays retitled as the more politically correct Ten Little Indians.
I did not view every one of Google’s 360 serial killer titles so can’t say whether Doyle and Christie are there. Nor another British author known for cozies but who has also penned a notable cozy involving serial murders. The Seventh Petal, by Ann Morven, is different from the norm in that her sleuth is neither famous detective nor police, but a bumbling amateur folk singer. The serial killer strikes in an isolated book club who gather for a weekend at a creepy Highland castle. The mystery is challenging, the denouement thrilling. Highly recommended! It is available from Amazon and other online retailers in paperback, Kindle, or in all digital formats at Smashwords.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Laughter and the war books 10 April 2015
Expect more than 1914-1918, because one war, however ‘Great’, is not enough for the scribblers. The aftermath and settlements of the 20th century’s first world war led dissatisfied nations to World War 2, and thereafter to the Korean War, the Vietnam War and all the horrors still flaring in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Ironically, this week being Easter’s aftermath, peace on Earth seems to be a forlorn impossibility for the ever hopeful, ever baffling human race.
It is also a week in which two notable releases revisit the shores of Gallipoli and the suicidal April landings of 1915: GALLIPOLI by Richard van Emden and Stephen Chambers, and a new edition of Alan Moorehead’s landmark work of the same name.
Strategically sound to war planners, the Dardanelles disaster came about through muddles, mistakes and the interference of Fate. These always seem to crop up in the histories of conflict, and make grim yet fascinating reading. But war writings are not always gruesome. When catastrophe calls, people take refuge in humour. Wikipedia discusses the phenomenon at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_humor#Books. One of my favourites in this genre follows the travails of a boy puzzled by adult weirdness during British preparations for war in the 1930s. BRAT by Bryce McBryce is a fun read with many a startling truth about the way folk behave. It’s a paperback original, described as ‘a literary gem’, and is also available in digital format.
Reviews of the Gallipoli books mentioned above are a feature of the current Spectator magazine.
Some recent reads:
JANUARY WINDOW *
The BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS *
FLASHMAN AND THE SEAWOLF ***
ALL MY ENEMIES ****
A CAPITAL CRIME ***
WEEK ENDING 27 JANUARY 2015:
I still nominate my public library as the place I’ve most frequently found a new favourite. The other method I recommend is a hard slog on the Internet – browse and sample. When I do this I skim past the five-star reviews and read the one-star hates. At least one can be (almost) confident that the haters are being honest. The sad truth for readers is that it is never enough to rely on heaped praise. Likewise, the dismal reality for authors is that it is never enough to write a great book.
Marketeers control the big publishers and smaller ones weep when brilliant books get lost in the literary cosmos. So it’s interesting to learn a few tips from professional publicists. Twitter and Facebook figure prominently in their advice on getting noticed. I suppose one could accept these as multiple word-of-mouth, yet all I have ever spotted there myself is bestselling trash.
So it’s back to browse and sample for me, and a prayer my local library won’t disappear to government cost-cutting.
And here’s a thought: Google your favourite authors, particularly those long dead. I have done this in the Internet ocean and often discover a gem I never knew about, and easily fished from its dark cave.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 March 2015
Slow payers rewarded
The verse appears below, but booksellers thinking of using it should be warned it did not always work. It fast became a literary collectable, and all too often regular payers became deliberately delinquent in order to receive a copy.
THE RUBAIYAT OF ACCOUNT OVERDUE
Awake! Depression with its long long blight
Oh Bibliophile, if thou canst not aspire
Think, in this battered caravanserai
Then, my beloved, write the check that clears
I know that cash is scarce as scarce can be,
HAPPY READING! FROM CATHY, WEEK ENDING 20 MARCH 2015
Good reads forever free
Some of my recent reads and what I thought of them:
AN EMPTY DEATH ****
A RED HERRING WITHOUT MUSTARD *****
THE OXFORD MURDERS **
China plans to invade the US
How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
Where did your love of storytelling come from?
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Who are some of your favorite authors influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How do you find or make time to write?
What are some day jobs you have held?
Did you try to get traditionally published?
Your free map to the gold
This is a sad situation, and it changes readers too. Like gold seekers of old, we’ve become prospectors ever hopeful of a rich strike. Accepting, as the Economist states, that ‘chapter and purse’ is the new norm for ambitious scribblers, where do we readers unearth the ‘nonpreneurs’ who simply choose to write a good book and lack the time or skill to promote it? Well, the new norm for hopeful readers is to browse, browse, browse. And always read a sample before you buy, because reviews are unreliable (tastes differ) and blurbed praise usually purchased.
This said, I am surprised on recalling my own book prospecting triumphs. Yes I plod wearily through the online offerings but recently I have discovered a seeming Eldorado. It delivered three authors previously unknown to me who now are favourites. Where is this golden seam? No, it is not my local bookshop, which shelves only mass publicised A-List titles. It is my local public library. Librarians, god bless ’em, can still spot a good book without being overwhelmed by the force of commerce.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 20 February 2015.
Are you bookworm, webgrub or telebug?
Comparing these numbers with my own book munching, I’d have to report a regular weekly consumption of 28 hours (more or less), which takes me far ahead of every nation canvassed. But then, my contribution towards a national figure would be averaged drastically downwards by all the zeroes from non-readers. Similarly, top-ranked India has an awful lot of non-readers to lower the national bookworm average.
Furthermore, by asking around (especially teenaged relatives) I find that book readers have become a cultural minority shadowed by television and the internet. In Britain, per capita reading for pleasure totals only 5.3 hours a week. The United States is slightly better, yet still a disappointing 5.7 hours. It makes me wonder what the book world will look like two generations from now.
If you want to view the aforementioned worldwide survey of pastime preferences and compare them to your own intake of books, television and internet, get ready for a shock.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 13 February 2015.
As newspapers do, it was written many years ago and filed away in a News Corp archive awaiting Colleen’s demise. The intro called her plain and overweight, revealing the obit writer’s sexist view of female celebrities. Times have changed. Readers responded to Colleen’s obituary in their own critical fashion. Informed sources said the obituary writer died some years ago. Nobody at the paper realised it might offend in the year 2015.
History still matters
History suggests the answers. The History Manifesto, a study by historians Jo Guldi and David Armitage, highlights the consequences of historical ignorance. It is not likely to be read beyond learned circles, which is why I re-state the value of fiction authors in reminding the world what happened before.
Reading a review of the work by Guldi and Armitage, I was both amused and alarmed by mention of Thucydides, an author 2400 years ago. I quote this comment on his account of the Peloponnesian Wars, which he presented as a warning to future decision makers:
He described how an ill-conceived foreign adventure – the disastrous attack on Syracuse – triggered the climactic phase of a long power struggle that not only destroyed Athenian democracy but also sapped the power of the Greek city states, laying the peninsula open to foreign domination. In our own day, after a year of national mourning for the men who marched away in 1914, we might raise our eyes to take in the bigger historical picture and the haunting parallels with the lost grandeur of Greece: an international conflict that exploded out of the blue in 37 days, which was sustained for four blood-soaked years by the intransigence of national leaders and from whose suicidal destruction Europe never recovered. We may not share Thucydides’s idea of a universal ‘human nature’, but his proclamation that history matters still has resonance today.
Fresh from the Amazon jungle
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 6 February 2015.
Our language has many bright colours
Many images have become cliched through overuse. Every reader has at some time found sleep like a baby, blind as a bat, white as snow, busy as a bee . . . vivid when first invented, they now signpost a lazy writer. The acknowledged master of metaphor and simile is PG Wodehouse, whose humour continues to please readers half a century after his death. Among my favourites is an instant description of Lord Emmsworth ‘prowling like an elderly leopard’. Or a woman who ‘looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say when’.
Where Shakespeare gives us ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, PG imagines a character who ‘felt like a man who, chasing rainbows, has had one of them suddenly turn and bite him in the leg’. He specialized in complex humorous portrayal, even in private letters. For example: ‘Things,’ he told a friend, ‘are beginning to stir faintly, like the blood beginning to circulate in a frozen Alpine traveller who has met a St Bernard dog and been given a shot from the brandy flask’.
My musings turned to these and similar figures of speech this week while I was reading one of Alan Bradley’s earlier novels, The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag. He is rather good at creating amusing images. He has someone ‘nodding like a demented woodpecker’, and others ‘queueing like crewmen on a sunken submarine for their turn at the escape hatch’.
Even more enjoyably complex was this one: ‘She made a noise like a distressed passenger at the rail of the Queen Mary on a November crossing of the North Atlantic’. And I quickly grasped a puppeteer’s thespian skill when ‘a rich, mellifluous flow of words came forth as if he had a wooden organ pipe for a larynx’.
Yes, I enjoy Alan Bradley’s whodunits, and his underage sleuth Flavia -- one of the most original and destined to live forever. In this book she is only ‘10 getting on 11’. This delightful character, who narrates each story in Bradley’s series, has been entertaining adult readers for less than six years since the first title appeared in 2009. Bradley was 71 when he launched himself (and his precocious child) into murder fun with The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie. His reliable ingredients are zany characters, a baffling murder, and crisp interaction and dialogue. The author’s really clever bit is getting grown-ups to enjoy his child heroine. But then, Flavia is something of a genius and always manages to outsleuth the professionals.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 January 2015.
A January 25 murder is announced
Ah woe is me, my mother dear!
There are two more verses describing his heartbreak after Jean Armour’s parents denounced him and took her to a distant town, away from scandal, for the birth of twins. ‘Bonnie Jean’ was just one of many loves of the passionate poet, and later his wife.
How does she figure in a modern murder mystery? I’d say rather brilliantly. Author Ann Morven presents a baffling plot and lots of Scottish tradition in Murder Piping Hot. This whodunit, however, is not set in Scotland but in Australia, where a Burns Night Dinner is fatally disrupted. Seeking the killer, folksinger Sheil B. Wright challenges pedantic police inspector Sheryl Holmes, descendant of the great Sherlock.
There are tantalising clues and some red herrings as the amateur outsleuths the professional. Overdrawn at the bank, overweight on the scales and nudging forty, Sheil is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly and traumas of the heart. She finds clues in an old Scottish lovesong and smutty verse by Robert Burns which actually exists. I loved it (not the smut, the unfolding plot).
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 23 January 2015.
Faith, Hope and Lotsa Luck
Amazon ‘sales’ are up but profit down. At Smashwords, home of self-publishers, founder Mark Coker reports a great year past and a hopeful one ahead. Meanwhile the New York Times Book Review currently carries an essay denouncing digital commercialisation, where culture has been ‘destroyed by thugs’. Humble readers can only continue to have faith that writers will go on writing, and good ones come to their notice. How we enjoy them is a matter of personal taste. Hardcopy, digital, audio? Take your pick.
One advantage for readers is the ease of browsing and sampling books nowadays, thanks to the Internet. The same tools advantage small publishers in presenting their titles to the world. On that note I lay aside my crystal ball and invite book lovers to taste the offerings on this website. Just click ‘BOOKS’ in the menu bar above to view the goodies we have available.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 16 January 2015.
Forever popular, but why?
A Puzzling Paradise
The Accidental Apprentice *****
The Last of Days
A God In Every Stone ***
A MORTAL CURIOSITY *****
The Looking Glass War **
Berlin Noir *****
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 2 January 2015.
Did Jesus exist?
Raphael Lataster lectures in Religious Studies at Sydney University and his book is There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. It is one of many featuring the linchpin of Christianity. Previous works by numerous other writers have presented other theories about Jesus Christ, but largely accepted that there was such a person. He is described variously as a sage, descendant of Aliens, anti-Roman revolutionary, philosopher, deluded martyr and so on. They’re all interesting up to a point, mainly because Christianity – from the time of the Roman Empire -- has shaped the planet we know.
The first book like this I ever read was during my Sunday School days (yes, long long ago). It was by Albert Schweitzer: The Quest For The Historical Jesus. But if this topic interests you the most compelling series I’ve come across is by the recently late Laurence Gardner. His special research was into the bloodline of Jesus, naming present day descendants, and claiming Jesus survived the Crucifixion and died years later in Syria.
For readers who like non-fiction mysteries there’s an endless array of books about The Good Book, and getting to grips with Jesus Historical and Jesus Mythical is compelling stuff.
Happy Reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 December 2014.
PM sets creative ideal
Instead of giving it all to Steven Carroll’s sensitive historical fiction, The World Of Other People, he awarded half to Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road To The Deep North. Both novels are about World War 2. For reasons best known to themselves, the dissenting judges and others have accused Abbott of making the event a ‘sham’. They can’t accept that the Prime Minister has the right to name his own award winners. The judging panel, however, is only there to recommend, not determine.
At least Abbott can’t be accused of political bias. Richard Flanagan is a rampant leftie. It’s good to see the surfing, cycling prime minister of Australia separates politics and art. And he is the author of four books himself. The London-born migrant’s best known work is Battlelines, published 2009, “a frank analysis of the way forward for the Australian Liberal Party’. His love of books is revealed in this work, too. He advises young people to read the classics, Shakespeare and the Bible, because “literature is a light for the soul”. It’s a nice thought, and I reckon it applies to all books, whatever takes your fancy.
Merry Christmas and happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 19 December 2014.
Some recent reads
Company of Spears ****
SHADES OF MURDER *****
Wycliffe and the cycle of death **
Falcons of Ice and Fire ****
False Impressions **
Political adventure tops world poll
READERS voted a dashing hero their alltime fiction favourite last week, topping Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Gruffalo and many others. Francis Crawford Lymond is the protagonist in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, set in 16th century Scotland.
He is an outlaw, nobleman, poet and soldier in The Game of Kings, a worldwide bestseller. Francis battles to prove his innocence and restore his honour with the help of an array of wonderful characters – some real, some invented. The result is a saga of treason, political intrigue and romance, brilliantly researched and written with this author’s unique flair.
The poll, which attracted voters from all parts of the globe, was part of Book Week Scotland (November 24-30) run by the Scottish Book Trust. Readers were asked to choose the best character ever in a book by a Scottish author. There are so many literary contenders they form an ocean of talent, and the response by readers showed a healthy awareness of this.
Popular scribblers such as Ann Morven (whodunits), Carol Ann Duffy (romance), Muriel Spark (humanity) and Val McDermid (crime) fell behind as counting proceeded. Masters of the pen also overtaken included Alexander McCall Smith (humour), John Ivor (adventure), Ian Rankin (crime), Rabbie Burns (poetry) and Robert Louis Stevenson (thrillers).
Selections varied widely, from Dennis The Menace to Jekyll And Hyde, Doctor Finlay to Oor Wullie, Irvine Welsh to John Buchan, to Sir Walter Scott. Every one of them is a favourite and all have an army of supporters. Was this competition really logical? No! It wasn’t meant to be, either, it was a celebration of literary wealth aimed at stirring a love of reading.
When the survey began, Philippa Cochrane of the Scottish Book Trust explained: “We decided to open it up to poetry, children’s literature, even Gaelic writing.” Picking a character was a new task. Last year in a similar event, readers voted for a book title – the winner was Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.
There was no time limit on when the characters were created. That’s what I like to hear, because a good character and a great story last forever. Two personal favourites I have mentioned before happen to be contemporary: Sheil B. Wright (mystery), the bumbling female sleuth invented by Ann Morven; and Flashman (historical fiction), an army cad immortalised by George MacDonald Fraser. In reporting the winner, The Scottish Book Trust also listed the Top Ten.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 December 2014.
Hate it or love it? Market faces a real Poirot puzzle
The United States and Britain are the major markets for novels in the English language, and Amazon the biggest online retailer. The Amazon reviews by readers who bought this resurrection of the great detective have been mixed.
Author Sophie Hannah has excelled in reviving an Agatha Christie favourite, yet one-star ‘hate-it’ reviews so far exceed the five-star ‘love-it’ in America (out of 265 reviews: 24% hates against 21% loves).). In Britain, where cozy murder mysteries are most popular, the Amazon reviews show 27% loves to 20% hates (out of 167 reviews).
On other Amazon sites, the sales are too low to indicate any particular trend. To me the figures shown above reaffirm that Americans prefer their crime-fiction hardboiled in the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but the large number of disapproving Brits is surprising. It could even indicate a change in national reading tastes since Agatha Christie popularised the brain-teaser genre.
Sophie Hannah’s rebirth of the great detective is baffling and brilliant. Her Poirot is exactly Poirot, convincing in every way, arrogant as ever, perceptive as only he can be. She has also nutted out a classic murder mystery worthy of Agatha. Its untangling is clever and devious.
‘Why didn’t I spot that?’ I asked every time Poirot pointed out a clue that had been available to the reader.
In addition to this, Hannah has invented a narrator who is both perfect for the job and peculiar enough to appeal as himself. The perfect Catchpool is a blend of Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings – providing police info and serving as a foil to Poirot’s insight. The peculiar Catchpool is a homicide detective who funks murder scenes. Show him a dead body and he scoots for the door, even forgetting to arrange the Morgue pick-up. His talent is creating crosswords and recording Poirot antics in a pleasant manner, like this:
“Do you see the trees, Catchpool?”
BACK TO THE BOOK REVIEW: There is a long denouement that, frankly, I would not wish to attempt in digital format. Sometimes the printed paper pages of a book are easier to absorb than onscreen reasoning. In an era of short perception fed by television and the Internet, perhaps this lengthy resolution is a reason for so many ‘hates’ of a prime whodunit. The complex solution is worth the mental plod because this triple murder is a mystery ranking with Fiction’s most famous. I just loved the book and I’m hungry for more!).
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 28 November 2014
Horror with a political aim
Her book is called Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found. My verdict? The scholarly work is both fascinating and nightmarish. Frances says that decapitation is ‘the ultimate tyranny’. It is a trophy that appeals to psychopaths – and occasionally to politicians or other people with a political aim. The author is a research fellow at Durham University in England and her work explores the political and cultural essence of beheadings.
Women lead mystery award
Run by the Crime Writers Association in Britain, its guide for judgment is an author’s entire work. Following the voted longlist, professional judges have now selected the five finalists, four of these being women. See what I mean?
The winner will be announced early December, but if you’re not already familiar with the Final Five you can investigate their creations online. (One of the blessings of www). Here they are, anyway:
Sharon Bolton has been dubbed by The Times as ‘the High Priestess of English Rural Gothic’. Bolton has written eight crime novels and is the author of the Lacey Flint series.
Elly Griffiths’ novels feature protagonist Ruth Galloway, the Head of Forensic Archaeology at the University of North Norfolk. Her inspiration for the series came when her husband gave up his city job to become an archaeologist.
Mari Hannah has published four books to date and is the author of the DCI Kate Daniels series. A former Probation Officer, Mari lives in Northumberland where her novels are set.
James Oswald has written four books in the Inspector McLean series and first found success as a self-publishing phenomenon. Set in Edinburgh, his crime novels contain supernatural elements.
Mel Sherratt is the author of what she calls ‘grit-lit’ – crime, psychological thrillers and suspense. She has achieved huge success by self-publishing her five books.
Add the following to view the longlist: MC Beaton (Constable & Robinson), Tony Black (Black and White Publishing), Phil Rickman (Corvus), Leigh Russell (No Exit Press), Neil White (Sphere).
Some of the above are new to me and I’ll be taking a look at their work. Meanwhile my longstanding favourites remain Caroline Graham, Ann Morven, PD James and (recently discovered) Hannah Dennison. All women! Some of the blokes rate highly too, however. I recommend Stuart MacBride (gritty Aberdeen), Peter May (closeknit Hebrides) and Philip Kerr (nasty Nazis). Hey, those male authors are all Scottish. Guess I’m biased again.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 14 November 2014.
Military shambles led to victory
Anzac Fury by Peter Thompson describes the brave yet futile landings in Greece, subsequent retreat and the infamous 1941 Battle of Crete. This Aussie historian has delved into the military muddles and terrible tactics to analyse the political and personal faults. Also the personality clashes. Churchill was obsessed with striking at Germany’s underbelly from the Mediterranean. The wartime politicians and generals strangely persevered despite repeated stuff-ups and full knowledge of the remote chance of success.
However, this particular boondoogle led to Hitler’s defeat. While victorious, Germany’s almighty parachute division was destroyed in the effort and never recovered.
For more Anzac histories see the wide selection at http://www.booktopia.com.au/books-online/non-fiction/history/anzac-history/cHBB-p1.html
The inspiring Irish
Famous ghost stories
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 Nov 2014.
So just what are these everlasting elements that make immortal fiction? We find them most easily in Greek, Norse, Asian and Biblical myths. Also in fiction’s bestsellers. They are the situations and emotions personally familiar to the human race.
This week I came across two modern works that reflect this rather well.
The first cleverly picks up the story of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. In this original tale from Ancient Greece, Orpheus wins back Eurydice from Death by enchanting the demons of Hades with his music. And then, calamity! The modern novel, A Song For Ella Grey, by David Almond, uses similar ingredients of Love, Life and Death. It’s a good read.
The other example is a straight rewrite of ancient oral tales, Mousedeer. A collection from Southeast Asia, each story holds a moral message. This is perfect for parents to read aloud to children aged, say, 4 to 8
And it kills
Nobel Prize? No thanks
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 31 October 2014.
Loving and learning
Great Scot! Fiction idols contend
Hey! You’re not allowed to read that book
Even more ridiculous is the banning of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The reason: Dressed as a boy, Viola falls in love with Duke Orsono. And a dictionary was banned in California for including sexual definitions. Little House on the Prairie was banned for racist attitude towards Redskins (oops, I mean Native Americans). And Tarzan for shacking up with Jane before marriage.
An article in The Christian Science Monitor drew my attention to these forbidden texts. Its magazine section named 30 of them, mostly in the United States, and it makes for an entertaining read. The Washington Post meanwhile listed ‘the 10 most challenged books ever’. The New Yorker magazine also published an essay on banned books.
Why all this coinciding interest in writings that failed to meet universal approval? It was Banned Books Week, an annual event by the American Library Association to highlight the dangers of censorship in a free world.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 10 October 2014.
Some recent reads:
How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
The theme is familiar – from powerless poverty to fabulous wealth. The hero and heroine could be any of us hungry for a better life, just as the jacket blurb promises.
The book’s structure follows the suggestion of its title, with chapters divided into advice -- such as Move To The City, Get An Education, Don’t Fall In Love -- , and so on. Each relates an episode towards the ultimate goal and its pitfalls.
The Curious Incident at Claridges
It was pleasing to meet the middle-aged amateur sleuths – an army officer and his crime novelist wife. Their respective professions provide much of the light humour.
Speculation on evolution and the origin of humans comes from the author’s hard research and a bibliography of scientific experts. A mix of nationalities in the expedition, and their conflicting personalities, add to the tension.
A serial killer spreads nationwide panic when victims, or bits of them, appear chopped and packaged for sale on supermarket shelves. I liked the hero, a lowly detective sergeant who suffers strife from his superiors and his girlfriend and his scarred stomach stabbed 23 times in the line of duty.
This is a long read. Structure and pace hold nicely. Sometimes funny, sometimes gruesome, entertaining to the sizzling end.
The Blunders of Britain
The definite No saw only four electorates out of 32 voting for separation from the United Kingdom. These were Dundee, Glasgow and the near-Glasgow regions of North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire. This sounds reassuring but in nearly every area the margin was close. I was delighted when my ancestral Isle of Lewis voted resoundingly No, but concerned that so many voters elsewhere backed the losing Yes camp.
Saving Britain from breakup, the two million No votes outvoiced 1.6 million Yes to avoid calamity – 3.6 million people deciding the fate of Britain’s 60 million! And now comes the aftermath.
Following this near dismemberment the United Kingdom faces years of internal politicking in a backlash from the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and England. These have greeted the new favours promised to Scotland with demands of their own.
Westminster’s blunder was neglecting to see the danger until almost too late. The UK parliament held all the logic for a No vote, yet failed to voice it strongly enough to be heard by jingoistic Yesers.
Nationalist Alex Salmond’s fantasy was itself a blunder because his illogical vision left Scotland still dependent on the British pound with no longer a say in its control; and still depending on British trade and the Union’s market of 60 million people (add Customs Duty) compared to Scotland’s domestic market of a mere five million.
He dreamed a cash-strapped European Union admitting yet another member to prop up (think France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain); he imagined a Defence Force conjured from nothing; tax income to equal Scotland’s present share of massive UK earnings; a Health scheme without existing generous funding; Education ditto; Pensions too; and his naive belief was that the rest of Britain would write off Scotland’s share of UK National Debt.
In short, the Salmond cart was hitched before the horse. He promised to negotiate the above national needs with recalcitrant Westminster only after a Yes vote. The amazing thing is that so many Scots accepted his illogical and belligerent rant.
The whole concept of Scotland leaving the Union was a bad idea allowed to ferment, a blunder allowed to happen. Britain has experienced others, of course, perhaps smaller in scale. While browsing I stumbled upon a whole book of British blunders. They make an entertaining study by political engineers Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. The Blunders of our Governments is a razor-sharp diagnosis of flawed government. Its message holds true beyond Britain to democratic nations everywhere.
Fictional blunders make good reading too. I recommend Run Maggie Run by John Ivor. His Scots heroine endures a maelstrom of mistakes in her odyssey to womanhood.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 September 2014.