Friday, 28 February 2014

Help! A Bear is Eating Me!

Reviewer: Kelly Jarosz, co-founder of Zurich Writers Workshop (

What We Thought: Marv Pushkin is the kind of guy who nearly runs you off the expressway with his Range Rover and then screams at you for being in his way. Now he’s trapped under said Range Rover in the Alaskan wilderness, slowly being eaten by a black bear. Maintaining consciousness with prescription painkillers, beer and campground snacks, he rants about how his predicament is everyone’s fault but his own.

I felt bad laughing out loud at Marv’s arrogant, misanthropic commentary on the world, but I did. A lot. At the same time, author Mykle Hansen expertly plays Marv’s lack of self-awareness. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more of Marv’s ranting, he lets slip a clue into his sad origins, and I almost pitied him. Then in the next sentence he gloats about knocking down a man with prosthetic legs, and I rooted for the bear to finish him off already.

You'll enjoy this if you like: The Black Knight scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Avoid if you dislike: Irredeemably arrogant, bigoted protagonists; politically incorrect humor; absurdism

Ideal accompaniments: Beef jerky and a can of Budweiser.

Genre: Humour, Bizarro fiction

The Fall of the Empire by Zoe Saadia

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel (

What we thought: powerful, action-packed and imaginatively based on historical fact.

I love historical fiction that sweeps me back to times I know nothing about; that allows me to experience life as it was then, and The Fall of the Empire – the final book in Zoe Saadia’s Rise of the Aztec series – does just that.

Set in the Tepanec Empire (today’s Mexico), it begins with the trader, Etl, overhearing a band of soldiers planning to overthrow the emperor, and the pretty, smart and determined Tlalli – a girl who is plotting her revenge against the emperor.

The turmoil is intriguing, and had me switching sides from chapter to chapter. The battles are captivating and the story, with its great drama and unexpected twists, moves forward to a historically-accurate conclusion.

The characters are so well-drawn that we feel we are there, with them, trying to stay alive in a situation they have no control over. And when, at the end, we have to leave Etl, Tlacaelel, Tlalli and the others, it feels like saying goodbye to real people.

With its characters blended from real and imagined people, its accurate historical fact, and a pace that never flags, I would highly recommend this book (and the entire Rise of the Aztec series) to fans of pre-Columbian historical fiction.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: action-packed adventure stories of revenge and survival, featuring warriors, traders and emperors.

Avoid if you don’t like: stories about Aztecs and slaves.

Ideal accompaniments: Corn tortillas stuffed with roasted grasshoppers.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Closure by Gillian E. Hamer

Reviewer : Francis Guenette

What we thought : Closure is the second of Hamer’s books that I’ve read and I admit to being hooked on her writing style. She crosses genres with consummate ease. In Closure, Hamer moves the reader between two very different storylines – a mother trying to unravel the mystery of her young son’s ability to relate, in great detail, his life in another time and place with another family and a police investigation into an increasingly complex serial killing in Northern Wales.

Paranormal meets police procedural with a bang! But Hamer manages so much more than this. She takes us inside the heads and hearts of her characters. Closure is an absolute page turner because of this – the reader can’t help but care about what is going to happen.

Another aspect of Hamer’s style that I highly endorse is her ability to take the reader right to the brink of the gruesome action and then pull the shade down, let the reader take a deep breath and use his or her imagination do the rest. If you’ve ever read a novel where the author did not get this part right – forcing the reader to go through the gory details over and over – then you’ll know just how special Hamer’s writing is.

And if all of that wasn’t enough to hook a reader, this author manages to convey a sense of the beauty, mystery and ethereal quality of the special place she has chosen to set her work. You will not read one of Gillian Hamer’s books without seriously considering some holiday time spent touring Wales!

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Canadian writer, Alistair Macleod, Silent Witness, Barbara Erskine.

Avoid if you don’t like : Wales. Or believe in reincarnation.

Ideal accompaniments : Dublin Bay prawns, Welsh rarebit and Ribena.

Genre : Crime, paranormal.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Bronze Box by Amy C Fitzjohn

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter (

What we thought : With my love of crime writing and archaeology, this book drew my interest as it has a foot in both themes. It started with an ‘Indiana Jones’ theme, and continued at a similar high impact and pace throughout.

When an ancient artefact, The Bronze Box, is stolen and a leading archaeologist is murdered, Dr Sasha Blake, fresh out of Uni, finds herself innocently tied up in the enquiry, recruited to discover the truth by a shady organisation called The Agency. On her tail is an international criminal who is known only as The Libyan.
Sasha has a personal motivation, the victim was both her mentor and lover, and when she is thrown together with ex-spook, Tom Sheridan, her world turns into a nightmare as she is dragged through a series of lies, secrets and danger that lead to an ancient brotherhood who protect the secret contents of The Bronze Box.

I enjoyed the book, loved the details, history and customs of Bulgaria (especially as I’ve visited Varna and the Black Sea area) that were brilliantly described and very well researched – and think the author managed to combine the past and presents storylines very well. Not an easy task as I’m aware from my own writing. The pace maintained throughout and held my attention right through to final scenes and the aftermath, and I found the characters well-formed and believable.

Negatives? Characterisation in terms of motivation puzzled me at times and I think the dialogue could have been polished to sound more natural in some scenes.

Fitzjohn is a competent writer, and for a debut novel, this was a huge achievement. I’d recommend this to anyone with the same interests as mine looking for a new name in high-octane thrillers.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Kate Mosse, Dan Brown, Barbara Erskine

Avoid if you don’t like : Ancient brotherhoods, archaeology and sinister plot twists.
Ideal accompaniments : Beef Stroganoff and a glass of claret wine.

Genre : Thriller

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A.A Logan

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter (

What we thought : I picked this up on a hunch after reading glowing praise about the book on Goodreads and I'm really glad I took a chance on it. There is some wonderful writing here that took me right back to my teenage horror phase when King, Herbert, Koontz and Hutson were all I would read. But there’s another edge here, that borders on black comedy, and a style of writing that puts me in mind of an early Cormac McCarthy.

A great hook at the start of the story with wonderful descriptions of a car crash that had catastrophic impact on the lives of every single person involved. Thomas Ford is an excellent lead character but equally the mad McCallum family and the devious Lorna play a big part in bringing this gruesome tale to life. I thought the dialogue was excellent throughout , the characters and their motivations real, and the action scenes were vivid and shocking and everything you could ask from this genre.

Negatives? And I’m being critical. Maybe pacing at some points dropped off for me. Some areas I felt were over padded and more than once I found myself skimming flashbacks and tangents about cats and cars to get back to the story and the action. It's a fine line and for me a lot of the tension in the climax scenes was lost due to extraneous detail.

But this is a cut above a lot of writers of this genre, and I’m amazed the author hasn’t bagged himself a traditional publishing deal, there is much to commend here and I enjoyed the journey into this dark world.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Shaun Hutson, Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King

Avoid if you don’t like : Dark themes and gore.

Ideal accompaniments : Vodka sours and Irish Stew.

Genre : Horror


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

 Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel (

What we thought: A cliché perhaps, but "unputdownable"!

1348 and the Black Plague disembarks on the English shores. The narrator, Camelot – itinerant peddler of bogus holy relics – is making his way north and inland to try and outrun the plague. Along the way, believing in safety in numbers, Camelot is joined by various other misfits. Each group member has a story to tell, a secret to hide, a lie to conceal. Over the months they travel, eat, sleep and face disaster together, they learn more about one another until each secret is revealed in turn, often with dire consequences. Finally, it is revealed that one of them masks the darkest secret of all; a curse far worse than the pestilence they are struggling to flee.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: tales of medieval intrigue, mild fantasy and plain good storytelling.

Avoid if you don’t like: violence, squalor and death.

Ideal accompaniments: A hearty mug of ale with freshly slaughtered and baked swan.

Genre: Historical Fiction

The Chase by Lorna Fergusson

Review by Catriona Troth, author of Ghost Town

What we thought:

At the height of the 1980s, a middle-aged English couple, fleeing tragedy back home, make a new life in an hunting lodge in the Dordogne – a landscape on which humans have left traces since Neolithic times. But the grief that Annette and Gerald should share is driving a wedge between them instead.

The Chase explore the way grief and guilt affects people differently. Because we weave between the points of view of Gerald and Annette, it is almost impossible to avoid feeling some sympathy for both of them, even when they seem hell-bent on misunderstanding each other.

Fergusson deftly evokes the atmosphere of the late 1980s.  Her Dordogne is inhabited with an array British ex-pats mixing uneasily with their  French neighbours, both aristocratic and peasant.  The misunderstandings between the couple are mirrored and magnified by the misunderstanding within the little community.

Interspersed through the story are vignettes from the history of this ancient land: a stone age cave painter, a knight from the Hundred Years War, an aristocrat on the cusp of the Revolution, a German soldier corrupted by the power of Occupation. In each vignette, Fergusson’s language changes, subtly reflecting the period she evokes.

The blurb for the Chase describes the book as ‘Joanne Harris meets Daphne du Maurier’, but the books this most evoked for me are The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (for its evocation of the English in France in the 1980s)  and Unless by Carol Shields (for its exploration of the nature of grief).

You’ll Enjoy This If You Like:  Carol Shields, Patrick Gale, Alan Hollinghurst

Avoid If You Don’t Like: Gently paced stories focused on internal journeys rather than external action; stories of well-heeled English ex-pats in France

Ideal Accompaniment: Confit of duck, chateaubriand au trois poivres, a glass of Pomerol

Genre: Literary Fiction

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What should have been. Helmer and Henk. The twins. But Henk has been dead for thirty years, Helmer is alone and their father is bedridden and dying upstairs. Helmer is alive, he’s in control of everything – the farm, the house, his father – everything except his life. Then Riet, Henk’s ex-fianceé, asks if her son might stay awhile.
The prose, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer, is precise and sparse. It’s apt, reflecting a novel of frustrations and could-have-beens. The setting, in the rural Netherlands countryside is depicted with similar accuracy and cool observation. The weight of the past and the unrealised future lie over this book like low cloud.
But wait!
Firstly, it is not depressing, more thoughtful and considered. Reminded me frequently of the paintings by Dutch masters – how much can be evoked by an apparently simply rendered scene. Secondly, an atmosphere of place permeates the mood of the book.
As well as the location, the passage of time influences the ambience. Seasons, routines, life and death, cycles and ticking clocks all play a role, but whether tragic or comic is up to interpretation.
There is dry humour, achingly lovely description and a deft touch any writer could learn from, not to mention the use of symbolism and metaphor. The ending is a surprise and challenges the reader’s conviction that nothing can change.

I looked up the Dutch title and it seems to say 'Above is Stillness'. I find this a far better title – ambiguous, reflective and not what it first appears.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Graham Swift's Waterland, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, JM Coetzee and John Gardner.

Avoid if: introspection and reflection ain’t your thing.

Ideal accompaniments: Gin Rickey, pea soup and Gerald Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality

Genre: Literary fiction

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

Reviewer : Ananda & Marina (This Chick Reads blog)

What we thought : WOW! Now this is what I call a powerful book! And not only that, it’s probably one of the best historical books I’ve ever read (right next to
Pope Joan and Mistress of Rome.)

Now those of you who have read ‘Spirit of Lost Angels’ ( read my review
here) know that Liza is a wonderful story teller and is so thorough in her research. She’s also very (VERY) good in creating kick ass heroines who are devoted to their country (France), who are willing to make a sacrifice for their loved ones and have BIG hearts.

In‘Wolfsangel’ Liza takes us to France during World War II. In the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne we get to witness not only the cruelty of the German Officers but also see the lives of the villagers, their sacrifices and struggle. We’re transported to one of the toughest times human history has seen, being led by Celeste and the events in her life. Once again, Liza created a lovable character, a heroine we can all look up to, brave yet human, with one of the biggest challenges ahead of her. Two paths, one leading to the German officer she develops strong feelings for, the other towards the call to fight for her country.

And once again we see the angel talisman she inherited from her mother … the source of her strength and the symbol of all the sacrifices the women in her family made.

For a limited time, This Chick Reads are running an International Giveaway to win either a signed paperback or two e-books. For the full review of Wolfsangel and your chance to enter please click HERE

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Karen Maitland, Kate Mosse, Sarah Waters

Avoid if you don’t like : War stories set in France

Ideal accompaniments : Brie on a crusty French stick and a deep red Bordeaux wine

Genre : Literary Fiction

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter (

What we thought : A fellow crime writer (thanks Sheila Bugler!) recommended this book as I'm known as a crime writer with a love for mixing crime with a dollop of paranormal - and thought I might enjoy the read. And she was right! 

It's a move away from the Nordic crime wave of recent years, but it carries its own solid appeal. Twists and turns in what, on the surface, seems to be a simple child abduction case, while on a separate track, we're taken to a remote island where things clearly aren't what they seem. 

I had a few picky issues with a couple of plot points, where the danger and intrigue seemed forced somewhat (no, no, don't head off to that abandoned factory just as its dropping dark and you’ve seen dead people!) but there wasn't too much to worry me or detract from my enjoyment (and I find I am becoming more and more a fussy reader!) I engaged with all the main characters, and despite guessing early on one of the twists, I found the denouement satisfying and chilling I equal measures. It's always a delight to meet a new author you really like, and this is one I shall return to I hope.

Reading up on the Icelandic author, I can a lot more books (especially Last Rituals and Ashes to Dust) to add to my To-Be-Read pile!

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, David Hewson (The Killing Novel)

Avoid if you don’t like : Nordic crime, remote islands and cold weather.

Ideal accompaniments : A double shot of Russian vodka, pickled herrings and a nice, hot sauna.

Genre : Crime, Noir

The Black House by Peter May

 Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter (

What we thought : The second book I've read of Peter May's Lewis trilogy (unfortunately I've read them out of order!) and my favourite so far. Getting to know the main character, Fin Mcleod, both as a youngster and as a present day detective, added another layer to the novel, which I adored.

The location was again stunningly described, and the attention to detail when describing local characters and customs, added another level of expertise to what was already a gripping crime investigation.

When a copy cat murder draws Fin back to his childhood home in the Shetland Isles, he finds himself drawn into a messy investigation which transports him back in time to examine aspects of his own childhood that he'd long since buried.

I'm quite new to Peter May's writing and I'm so glad I discovered his work through one of my Triskele colleagues, Kat Troth. Having now read and enjoyed both The Black House and The Lewis Man, I very much look forward to the final novel in the trilogy - and then moving on to his latest novel, Entry Island.

Hugely recommended!

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Ann Cleeves.

Avoid if you don’t like : Scotland. Scottish islands, traditions or folk.

Ideal accompaniments : A wee dram of an 18 year old Malt.

Genre : Crime


Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Butterfly Storm by Kate Frost

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter (

What we thought : Sophie Keech leaves England, and a difficult relationship with her mother, to begin a new life in Greece after a holiday romance with Alexos.

Alexos's family run a restaurant together and it's not long before the attraction of sunshine and new language begin to fade, and Sophie finds herself confused and overwhelmed by the Greek family traditions. Especially Alexos's over-powering mother, Despina. Sophie finds herself losing grip on her own dreams and increasingly controlled and smothered by his family, and her frustrations reach
boiling point when it's clear Alexos can't see a problem.
When her mother is injured in a car crash, that kills her current boyfriend, Sophie is glad to escape Greek life and travel back to her mum's new home in East Anglia. Here, despite her fractious relationship with her mum, Sophie finally finds the space and peace she craves. 

Torn between two worlds, and with a whole load of complications added to the mix, which life path will Sophie choose?

Kate Frost is an accomplished writing, with strong, believable characters and a style that hooks you right into the storyline. This is a story of tangled families, betrayal and choices that will make you look at your own life from a different perspective.

Highly recommended and a bargain at only £1.99 for Kindle.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Jojo Moyes, Alison Bacon, Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Avoid if you don’t like : Greece, Greek food, Greek traditions, Greek men!

Ideal accompaniments : Feta salad washed down with a pint of English cider.

Genre : Contemporary

Monday, 3 February 2014

Ghost Town by Catriona Troth

Reviewer Chris Curran

Ghost Town is a fascinating exploration of the Coventry riots of 1981 and the events leading to them. Catriona Troth handles her material with a subtle touch and doesn’t flinch from showing the tensions and conflicts within communities and families as well as those outside.

As in all good fiction the heart of the story is an intimate account of the impact of these events on a small group of characters, particularly Maia and Baz. They meet when Maia comes to help out in the homeless shelter run by Baz. This is populated by the sad dregs of Thatcher’s Britain: those who’ve lost jobs that should have been for life, the ex-soldier trying to keep up appearances, as well as the long time rough sleepers and drunks. If this makes them sound like an amorphous mass of stereotypes nothing could be further from the truth. It’s one mark of the quality of Troth’s writing that each soon becomes a vivid individual.

Baz is also a talented photographer helping to organise an exhibition by local artists from the British Asian community. The exhibition provides an excuse for neo-Nazis and skinheads to mount demos and spread racist discord. When Baz is forced into the role of informal spokesperson for the exhibition, his own mixed race heritage is highlighted and he realises that he and anyone associated with him is in danger.

As the story develops, and the atmosphere in the town reaches boiling point, Troth keeps the reader guessing with an intriguing mystery, as Baz and Maia realise they are under threat from someone with a very personal grudge against them. But is it a figure from Baz’s past or someone else they have angered more recently?

As the back stories of the two main characters are revealed it becomes clear that these also have a huge impact on their present day lives. In Maia’s case it’s a friendship from her recent past that has changed everything. During the course of the story it’s brought brutally home to her just how great will be the challenges she must face for the whole of her future life.

In contrast Baz is scarred by a trauma from his childhood that has powerful reverberations in the here and now of the racial conflicts in his home town.

Ghost Town works as both a vivid record of a recent historical event and as a cracking good read.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: The 80's and Two Tone and Coventry.

Avoid if: Tough subjects such a racism, riots and prejudice alarm you

Ideal accompaniments: Cider and black

Genre: Literary Fiction

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

A clever package with a nihilistic core
Reviewer: Gabrielle Mathieu

What we thought: Perhaps, as one reviewer said, dystopian fantasy and literary fiction are not that compatible. The characters, Oryx and Crake, that together transform the world from a dystopia to a post-apocalyptic disaster, remain enigmatic throughout. (We have only Oryx’s word that she wasn’t a part of Crake’s plan.) Our narrator, Jimmy/Snowman, seems too caught up in his own misery and pursuit of unfulfilling pleasure, to display much curiosity about the inscrutable Crake, and though he’s fixated on the details of Oryx’s early exploitation as a child-prostitute, other details of her remain unexplored.

In intriguing dystopian fiction, we experience the narrator’s fight vicariously, as he or she fights against the odds to survive an unjust and violent society. However, it would be difficult to know which of the three central figures could earn our sympathy here. We’re given needlessly detailed backstory about child prostitution, at a level of detail that is almost exploitative in itself, but there’s no hint of how it affected Oryx. Her character remains implausible, almost a parody of the submissive Asian woman. Does she identify with animals herself; is that why she teaches Crake’s genetically engineered humanoid creations to treasure animals. If so, it’s ironic, as most animals in this book are themselves genetically created mutations that are dangerous. (Snats-part snake and part rat.). The insipid dialogue that Snowman keeps reenacting in his head (oh, honey) is supposed to be her voice, but it’s annoying after a while.
Speaking of Jimmy/Snowman and Oryx, I’ve read that this book is referred to as a love story. How exactly does a puerile obsession with an eight-year old prostitute become love? It’s also difficult to explain the adult Oryx’s attraction to Jimmy, when Crake, his best friend, is already her lover. Is that perhaps Margaret Atwood’s point: that the future is so bleak that what passes as friendship is hours of shared web-surfing, watching executions and child pornography, and what passes as love is passionless sex with a mysterious woman who seemingly has no interior life, judging from her trite conversation.

If the relationships function to expose the nihilism of modern life, a life built on consumption and escapism, the nihilistic core does nothing to propel the dystopian novel forward. In the end, what do I really care what happens to Jimmy/Snowman, an exhausted, self-indulgent sad sack who sits around clad in various sheets. (I fail to see why the sheets survived, but no other clothing can be found.) Nor is there much to engage me with the Crakers, the green-eyed perfect race that Crake engineered. With their waving blue penises and their purring, they are too freakish for me to care about their fate much.

What I really want to know is why Crake did what he did, and how much Oryx was a part of the plan. And I really want to know why Crake would do what he does at the end.

That unfortunately, is never answered. Even in a nihilistic world, his actions make no sense.

I admire the novel’s cleverness and the world-building. I understand how that came to be too much for some people, because there was such a strong anti-science basis, but I still enjoyed it. The Jan. 6th, 2014 New Yorker issue has an interesting article about a firm in China that is researching the genetics of human intelligence. They have four thousand employees. As Ms. Atwood says, her work is not necessarily science fiction. The ability to genetically splice organisms will leave us with many complex and difficult choices. On that level, the novel succeeds for me. I just wish it had a stronger and more comprehensible set of characters and motivations.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Speculative fiction, Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, the Sonmi section of Cloud Atlas

Avoid if: you’re squeamish about genetic-engineering or child prostitution, you’re easily depressed, you dislike multiple timelines

Ideal accompaniments: reconstituted chicken nuggets, whisky with Irn-Bru and The Plastic Ono Band

Genre: Speculative fiction, literary fiction