Wednesday, 16 January 2019

LAUGHING INTO 2019

Happy New Year to everyone and hope you're all looking forward to a great year of reading! I thought I'd start the year off on a lighter note with some book recommendations that will get you in a happy mood to face the rest of the winter.
After a steady diet of psychological suspense, I felt the need to switch things up and find some humour out there. Hope you find something here that will appeal.



ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson writes with the kind of sly, ironic wit that makes the characters burst out from the pages of this complicated and multi-voiced crime novel. This is the second book that features ex-army, ex-cop, ex-private eye and newly retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie, who naturally can't stay away from the world of crime. When he travels to the Edinburgh Festival with his actress girlfriend, he witnesses a violent road rage incident in which a timid writer of "jolly English" crime novels becomes an unlikely hero by throwing his laptop at the antagonist and scaring him off. The incident sets off a string of brutal murders which inevitably draws Jackson Brodie into the mystery and gets him into a whole lot of trouble before resolving the case.
What makes Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books stand out is her character-driven writing, and the hilarious, self-deprecating humour that makes the reader laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the human condition. While it's not a classically structured crime novel, Atkinson's sparkling wit more than makes up for any structural shortcomings.
By the way, if you enjoy this book, I'd highly recommend her other Jackson Brodie novel, Case Histories as well as Started Early, Took My Dog.



BORN INTO IT by Jay Baruchel

Normally I don't feature non-fiction books in my blog, but I had the distinct pleasure of attending An Evening With Jay Baruchel at my local bookstore. One stop on Baruchel's promotional tour for his new, quirky and hilarious book, Born Into It, an entertaining treatise on extreme hockey fandom.
Known for his edgy and offbeat film roles in Tropic Thunder, Million Dollar Baby, This Is the End with stars such as Seth Rogan and James Franco, Baruchel is also a talented writer and director. I also discovered that he's a charismatic, funny and engaging speaker especially when it comes to one of his burning passions - hockey and his team of choice - the Montreal Canadiens. Baruchel sees hockey as something more than a sport - it's a uniquely Canadian political and cultural institution. He also rediscovered his love of hockey in later years as a way to come to terms with the turbulent relationship he had with his troubled and drug-addicted father. An outsider since he was a kid, Baruchel also found hockey gave him a way to feel like he belonged to something bigger than himself - a family of sorts, united in their love for the team and the game. Hearing him read the section entitled Why I hate the f***ing Maple Leafs (a nod to the fierce rivalry between the Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs) was enough to make me buy the book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves crazy, wacky humour from a guy who always stays on the edge.



Happy Reading!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

BACK TO BLOGGING

It's been at least six months since I wrote a new blog post, so I thought I'd better get back to it before it's too late.
I've been reading lots and writing even more. The good news is that I've been doing major revisions on one of my novels, which has finally caught the attention of a publisher. But - more on that in later blogs!!
I thought I'd ease back into the blog by highlighting some great books I've read that I hope you'll enjoy too.
Here goes:



THE CURIOSITY by Stephen Kearns

This debut novel tells a powerful emotional story while posing profound questions about scientific ethics and how far science should go in playing "God."
Dr. Kate Philo embarks on a scientific project run by the egotistical Dr Erastus Carthage, a man more interested in money and self-promotion than actual scientific discovery. They travel to the Arctic in search of small plankton-like creatures frozen in the ice, with the intention of bringing them "back to life" with groundbreaking new techniques that have worked on other expeditions. In the process, they uncover the body of a human frozen and preserved in the ice. Heedless of the possible consequences, Carthage insists they transport the body back to Boston where they successfully "reanimate" him and discover he was Jeremiah Rice,  a former judge who remembers everything about his life until he plunged into the Arctic waters in 1906.
News of the Lazarus Project soon spreads resulting in a media frenzy and massive protests by religious fundamentalists. In the meantime, Kate tries to reconcile the importance of the scientific discoveries with the realization that Jeremiah is a vulnerable human being, transported into a bustling future he can barely understand. Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, their relationship intensifies and soon Kate is questioning where her loyalties lie and how she can protect Jeremiah from exploitation.
This well constructed story is told from several viewpoints, though I found Kate's and Jeremiah's the most interesting and convincing. Jeremiah's quest to understand modern technology was very believable and made for some gently humorous moments. In the end the story makes clear that though humanity may have advanced further in terms of having more "toys" at our disposal, we have still essentially remained the same greedy, egotistical, compassionate, curious, loving creatures we always were.



THE SECRET SCRIPTURE by Sebastian Barry

For me, the main attraction to Barry's books is his glorious prose. His books are so lyrical and filled with gorgeous language you almost forget you're reading a novel. This particular story is centred around Rose McNulty, approaching her 100th birthday as a long-time resident of the soon-to-be-closed Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. Dr. Grene is charged with assessing the residents to determine who can return to the community, but when he comes to interview Rose, his fascination grows as he attempts to discover why she was actually admitted and - in the process come to understand some difficult truths about his own life and relationships. Told from both Rose and the doctor's point of view, the haunting and poignant story of Rose's life emerges, though Dr. Grene's research of hospital records unearths a different version of events. Rose's own story, hidden under the floorboards of her room tells of Ireland's changing character, the dominance of the Catholic church and the terrible power wielded by priests and the patriarchy over a young, uneducated, impressionable girl forced by poverty and ignorance into circumstances she cannot control. Barry also focuses on the haziness of memory and how truth can be a fluid, changing thing that is impossible to determine.



THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton

If you're looking for a quick read that also qualifies as a page-turning psychological thriller, this book  will definitely work for you. Told from differing points of view this is the story of Jean Taylor, recently widowed and now being interviewed by go-getter journalist Kate about her husband, an accused pedophile who dodged child kidnapping charges several years earlier. Jean was always the dutiful wife, turning a blind eye and always staying loyal despite her husband's growing addiction to "nonsense" on the internet. But now he's dead she doesn't have to keep her mouth shut any more. The story jumps back and forth between the various players and slowly uncovers the truth about Jean's life,  her husband and herself.
A well-written page turner that poses some interesting questions about loyalty, duty and control within the close confines of a marriage.

Monday, 2 April 2018

IS IT SPRING YET? AND SOME RIVETING READS.


I'm sure many people across North America and Europe are asking themselves when Spring is actually going to arrive. From snowstorms in the most unlikely places to extreme and unrelenting cold, the prospect of warmer weather is exactly what we're all longing for.

Though I did manage to get away to the sun for a week in lovely Los Cabos, Mexico it was painful to come back home to another 2+months of freezing cold.




Over the next couple of frigid months I stumbled across a few terrific books you can read on these last cold nights before spring. Here goes:

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J FINN



After reading a couple of disappointing psychological/suspense thrillers, it was a refreshing change to read one that's skilfully - at times, beautifully written. A.J. Finn's debut novel is impossible to put down once you've entered the narrow, messed-up prison of Dr. Anna Fox's life. The plot is as dark and twisty as the best Hitchcock movies, the language smooth and the suspense intense. The real tour de force in this novel, however, is not the surprise ending - which I predicted quite early on in the novel - it's the absolutely in-depth portrayal of a brilliant but depressed, alcoholic woman afraid to step outside her front door. A woman torn between crippling fear and the moral imperative to do what's right after witnessing a terrible crime. A woman so muddled by alcohol and prescription medications that she can't even trust her own recollections. I was surprised to discover that A.J Finn is actually the pen name of Daniel Mallory, an executive editor at Morrow, the publisher of the book. I could be sarcastic and say it helps to know people on the inside, but this book is so well written I'd like to think it would have been published if the author hadn't been an insider. A great book!

FAITHFUL PLACE by TANA FRENCH



Another masterful suspense/crime thriller by the great Tana French. Set in Dublin in the first decade of the new millennium, it's the story of undercover cop Frank Mackay. A guy who pulled himself out from the poverty stricken tenements of Dublin and escaped the clutches of his abusive parents. He's forced to return and face them again when the suitcase belonging to Rosy, his missing first love turns up in an abandoned house on his childhood street. Twenty years before they were planning to run off together to England. The story then follows Frank's quest to find the killer. With its incredible characterization, authentic dialogue and major plot twists and turns, this is a book that can't be put down once you've started it.

THE NEWS OF THE WORLD by PAULETTE JILES


This historical Western tale is a small but gorgeously written story filled with vividly realistic settings and unforgettable characters. After the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through Northern Texas giving live readings from national and international newspapers to audiences hungry for any news of the outside world. During one of his stops he's asked to escort a ten-year old orphan back to her extended German family. Orphaned by Kiowa raiders, she was adopted by the tribe. She's lived with them so long she embraced their lifestyle and doesn't want to leave. 
When the captain meets her she refuses to communicate and mourns the loss of her Kiowa mother. He reluctantly agrees to take her and embarks on the long and dangerous trek. What follows is a beautifully rendered account of how he wins her trust. Forced to dodge all kinds of trouble to reach the end of their journey and facing many dangers, the girl becomes attached to this wise and grandfatherly figure and he begins to worry about what lies ahead of her when she's returned to her aunt and uncle.
The author hails from San Jose, Texas as does the Captain who recalls the old days there as a dreamy, sepia tinted place of grand mansions and old Spanish families. Based on real case studies, the author presents a riveting study of the behaviour of captive children adopted into Native American tribes. Interestingly, the majority did not want to return to their original families and if they did, the results were often tragic.

On the subject of suspense fiction, my romantic suspense novel LILAH has a new cover more fitting to the mystery genre. Designed by Adriatica at adriaticacreation.com.. Check out her gorgeous covers!






Thursday, 21 December 2017

THE TRUE WINTER WONDERLAND



You hear that song everywhere. Tinkling in the background as you fight your way through throngs of holiday shoppers laden with bags of fuzzy socks, foaming bath balls, and pricey charm bracelets. When you comb the racks for that last minute 70% off Christmas Home Decor even though you don't need that one more Santa on skis or that cute laughing snowman or that set of plastic antlers that would look great as a centrepiece trimmed with tea lights and ivy. It's infiltrated the drug store, so you can register it even with blocked up ears when you're hawking unmentionable substances into a kleenex as you load your basket with cough syrup, Tylenol and camomile tea.
The Forks Market, Winnipeg
It's that song everyone knows but has learned to ignore - a form of Yuletide white noise. It's Walking in a Winter Wonderland! Written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith, this classic "Christmas Song" been recorded by over 200 different artists from Clay Aiken to Billy Idol!

But it's not until you step into a true winter wonderland that you understand the magic  the original writers had in mind 84 years ago. Winter can be magical. On a recent walk through The Forks area in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, I felt that sense of wonder. Check out these pictures taken on a warm (for Winnipeg -1C is warm!) Winnipeg afternoon.
Winnipeg has miles of skating trails along the rivers and through the riverside parks. If you work downtown you can actually skate rather that drive or cycle. It's peaceful, beautiful and therapeutic.
A beautiful view of the Forks Children's Playground, with the Canadian Human Rights Museum in the background. A powerful reminder of the darker aspects of Canada's history of human rights.
The early stages of construction the beautiful Ice Castles that stay on display throughout the winter. At night they're lit up in a rainbow of colours and you can walk through them, climb on them, have a picnic if you're dressed right!
What better than walking through the winter woods on fresh snow!

Or sitting by the window with a hot cup of coffee waiting for the snow ploughs to come and dig you out!
Or marvelling at the way hoar frost looks like spun sugar on bare tree branches! 

Or wrapping up to take a sleigh ride through the forest!

Well that's my ode to winter in Winnipeg! Hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and a prosperous, peaceful New Year filled with new, exciting books.


In the meantime I'll leave you with one of the best renditions of Winter Wonderland by the smooth and suave Dean Martin.



Monday, 20 November 2017

A TRIP TO ITALY

Sorry for the delay in blog posts. I was away in Europe last month, travelling through Italy. Though I loved the ancient grandeur of Rome, I have to say I fell in love with the less touristy south. In the towns and villages of Calabria you get a much more authentic Italian experience and you're not jostling with crowds of thronging tourists all vying to take the best selfie in front of some iconic statue or monument. Here's a list of my favourite things about Italy:



  • COFFEE - whether it's espresso, cappuccino or latte - it's always rich, delightful and best way to drink it is standing up at the counter of some gorgeous pastry or gelato shop.

  • EVENING SHOPPING - in the Southern towns, the shopping centres are pretty dead during the day but at night it's like a carnival. Everyone's out, dressed in their finest. From oldest to youngest they come out to shop, eat gelato, grab an evening meal or drink coffee on outdoor patios. It's a wonderful, festive atmosphere.

  • THE SANDWICHES - or pannini. We ordered a sandwich at a tiny cafe in Cosenza and the store owner lovingly cut the bread, shaved the meat and cheese and assembled it with careful precision, oblivious to the other customers who waited patiently. The result was the freshest sandwich I've ever tasted!

  • COSENZA OLD TOWN - Cosenza is a beautiful city in Calabria. There's a pleasant and bustling modern town area, but the old town is breathtaking. Haunting and beautiful, it sits on the other side of the river, Winding, cobbled streets and the decaying grandeur of its buildings show that this was an important centre in the past. 

  • THE HOTELS - Many of the hotels are independently owned and there are few large chain hotels. We stayed in some beautiful places which were all immaculately clean and relatively inexpensive, particularly the Civico 27 Guest House in Cosenza which had an incredible common area and balcony with a breathtaking view of the city.

  • THE MOUNTAIN VILLAGES AROUND COSENZA - Cosenza sits in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. Ski towns like Camigliatello Silano are undiscovered gems, off the major tourist grid. This gorgeous mountain town just happens to be the porcini mushroom capital of Italy as well and the food stores are amazing. Fit for any gourmet traveller.

  •  BEACH RESORTS NEAR ROME - About 75 kms from Rome are lesser known beach resorts, popular with Romans who want a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We stayed at the Oasi di Kufra, a gorgeous beachfront hotel in Saubadia. It was inexpensive and looked out onto a vast, sandy beach where we watched incredible sunsets and sunrises from our balcony.
WRITING NEWS:


I've been working on a TV adaptation of my YA trilogy. I've always thought it would make a great movie or TV series and many readers have reinforced that idea. I'll keep you posted with any updates.

QUICK READING RECOMMENDATIONS:

THE UNINVITED GUESTS by Sadie Jones



A witty, dramatic and clever Edwardian story set in a rambling, rundown mansion. It's Emerald Torrington's 20th birthday and preparations are underway for an elegant supper party, but an accident nearby causes a group of mysterious and unwelcome survivors to seek shelter at the ramshackle manor. What follows is a thrilling, surprising and delightfully dark story.

Monday, 25 September 2017

MOVING OUT, MOVING ON



How do you say goodbye to a house? When you've created and shared so many memories within its walls, it's hard just to close the door and turn your back.
We recently moved out of the house we'd lived in for the past fifteen years and after a horrendous week clearing out all the furniture, knick-knacks, keepsakes and junk a family accumulates in that length of time, I wandered around the empty rooms and remembered. My son studying for hours on end at his desk to earn his bachelor's and Master's degrees and the many photos and keepsakes that celebrated all his volunteer and political work. My daughter sketching her first clothing designs at her drafting table under the bedroom window and the curving staircase she walked down in her grad gown and her wedding gown. The living room, dining room and family room where we celebrated birthdays, graduations, engagements, special holidays and get-togethers with friends and family.



 The deep bay window that was a perfect spot for a Christmas tree and the best place to watch the snow fall on the front lawn with its towering birch tree. Then the basement that served as a party central, a great place for the kids to hang out with friends, an amazing place to watch a movie and finally as a perfect suite for my son to stay until he moved into his own place.
Though I'm already settled in our new house, I realize the old house has become part of our family history. Another layer of memories and experiences associated with that particular, special place.
 I guess I was more philosophical about the move because I'd just finished my last novel, MATTIE WAS HERE, which is all about foster children who are bounced around from one placement to another, eventually traumatized by the chronic impermanence, the sense they don't belong anywhere and the lack of history and family roots. Though I haven't published this book yet, I did find a great cover for it should I decide to self-publish it. Check it out here

Here's a quick rundown of the story:

Traumatized by a childhood spent moving from one foster home to another, Anna Holt must revisit her painful past to find her lost twin sister, Mattie, while struggling with the unfamiliar challenges of love and intimacy with Guy, a man whose seemingly perfect family holds its own dark secrets that just might be tied up with Anna's troubled past and her sister's disappearance.

Anna is a great teacher. She can relate to the troubled kids who’ve fallen through society’s cracks because she’s been there herself and through sheer force of will she survived. But not without scars. She loathes small talk, fears intimacy and has no roots - no family. She’s a stone-faced liar and a compulsive shopper on the verge of bankruptcy.
When she meets Guy, a young prof and the son and business partner of a wealthy education guru, she can finally have a real family and live the lifestyle she’s dreamed of by moving in with him.
Anna’s damaged but she doesn’t reveal that to anyone – especially Guy. She endured violence, neglect, drug abuse and sexual exploitation in a string of foster homes but she always swore to protect her more vulnerable sister, Mattie. To hold onto her and keep the predators at bay. But when they reached their teens, Mattie drifted away and befriended Loni, a troubled, violent and manipulative drug user, shoplifter and prostitute. Anna fought to save Mattie but finally lost track of her.
Now Anna can’t enjoy her new happiness with Guy because memories of Mattie haunt her, drawing her to painful places from her childhood: crowded group homes, cheap motels, riverside hooker hangouts and a seedy downtown music store run by a suspected pimp and sexual trafficker who’s begun preying on one of Anna’s own students and has something to do with Mattie’s disappearance.
Anna must sort through a tangled web of memories to find her sister while negotiating the unfamiliar challenges of love and intimacy with a man whose seemingly perfect family holds its own dark secrets that just might be tied up with her own troubled past. 

Watch out for news on this new novel. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, 22 May 2017

A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN AND A DARK ANGEL



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



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

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

Joanne Froggatt as Mary Ann Cotton

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