Monday, 30 June 2014

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman
Published by Headline
17th June 2014
Hardback Edition



You ask me if I can forgive myself?  I can forgive myself for many things.  For where I left him.  For what I did.

And so begins The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, a haunting story of family, the other world, and a search for hidden treasure. 

Neil Gaiman has done it yet again, and written something that is like no other.  The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains was first published in All New Tales in 2010.  This new version, fully illustrated in colour, by Eddie Campbell is the first time it has been published as a stand-alone story.

This is not a long book, just 74 pages in total but that doesn't mean that you don't get a full and thought-provoking story because you do.  It tells the tale of a man, a small man, but a man no-less and his search for gold on the Misty Isle.  He bids Calum MacInnes, a man who has been to the isle before, to be his guide in his quest.

As the book unravels, we learn both more of the narrator and his companion and of how their paths are intrinsically linked by an earlier fate.  As with many tales, what goes around, comes around and the balance of karma is restored at the end of the story.

I love Scotland, and I love the Isle of Skye, where my ancestors landed as Vikings many centuries ago.  This is not a fairy tale for children by any means but a book for grown-ups; a tale of travel and darkness with pictures of all kinds.  On the 4th and 5th July, Neil Gaiman will read this story to two audiences at the Barbican and Usher Hall, accompanied by the illustrations from the text, and a new underscore by the FourPlay String Quartet.  I envy those audiences the performance that will befall them.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Into The Trees

Into The Trees by Robert Williams
Published by Faber & Faber
3rd April 2014
Hardback Edition


Harriet Norton won't stop crying.
Her parents, Ann and Thomas, are close to insanity and only one thing will help.  Mysteriously, their infant daughter will only calm when she's under the ancient trees of Bleasdale forest.
The Nortons sell their town-house and set up home in an isolated barn, secluded deep in the forest.   They are finally approaching peace when one night a group of masked men comes through the trees, ready to upend their lives.  With their new-found security under threat, the Nortons desperately try to recover what they've lost - risking family, friendships and love in the process.


Into The Trees is an interesting book as it's more the tale of four individual people who just happen to be connected by one event.  The story begins with Ann and Thomas and the birth of their second child Harriet.  She does not stop crying, or screaming.  They have not slept.  They cannot sleep.  The doctors say it will pass but they don't know what to do or try next.  One evening, Thomas takes Harriet out in the car for a drive, a long drive.  He ends up in Bleasdale forest, and for the first time in forever, Harriet stops crying as the trees surround her.  Thomas repeats this experiment again, and again, finally bringing Ann in to witness this event too.  He then comes up with a plan - to build a house within the forest.

So far, so good.  The plan works and the family are happy; sort of.  Then one night, Harriet opens the door to a group of masked men who want Thomas to take them to his bank so they can rob it.  He obeys.  This event then turns the lives of this family, one of the criminals, and those who befriend the Nortons, upside down. 

Raymond is a recluse.  He is a larger than normal, and deemed slower than normal, individual who has reached the conclusion that to remain outside of society is the best way to live.  He walks, and works, within Bleasdale forest, and becomes friends with Thomas and his family - until the night of the robbery that is, when he becomes pushed aside.

Keith is a chancer, a bully and an alcoholic.  He beats his wife, his children have no manners and he suffers from 'small-man syndrome'.  The night of the robbery is also going to change his life, in more ways than one.

I did enjoy Robert Williams' book.  It's an interesting read.  I initially though it was going to be a sort of thriller novel, but it's not.  In my opinion it's a study of social behaviour.  Of how events can ultimately change people, relationships and lives and whether or not we can control our destinies.


Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne
Published by Simon & Schuster
13th February 2014
Hardback Edition


Berlin, 1937.  The city radiates glamour and ambition.  But danger lurks in every shadow...

Anna Hansen, a bride-to-be, is a pupil at one of Hitler's notorious Nazi Bride Schools, where young women are schooled in the art of being an SS officer's wife.  Then, one night, she is brutally murdered and left in the gardens of the school.  Her death will be hushed up and her life forgotten.

Clara Vine is an actress at Berlin's famous Ufa studios by day and an undercover British Intelligence agent by night.  She knew Anna and is disturbed by news of her death.  She cannot understand why someone would want to cover it up, but she soon discovers that Anna's murder is linked to a far more ominous secret.

With the newly abdicated Edward VIII and his wife Wallis set to arrive in Berlin, and the Mitford sisters dazzling on the social scene, Clara must work in the darkness to find the truth and send it back to London.  It is a dangerous path she treads, and it will take everything she has to survive...

I've not read anything by Jane Tynne previously (she's written 4 other novels) but as this one features Diana and Unity Mitford, it was recommended that I do as I'm a huge Mitford admirer.  What can I say? I really enjoyed it.

The historical content in this novel is huge, let's not pretend otherwise.  If you know nothing about Nazi Germany prior to reading The Winter Garden, you will come away with an understanding of the way life was for people in Germany prior to the start of the Second World War.  As a former History teacher, for me this was an added extension of my own knowledge, and I loved the book for that.

Clara Vine, the central character, is a successful actress, but also an undercover agent for Great Britain and she manages to involve herself in the apparently random death of a bride at one of the Bride Schools that were set up in Germany at the time.  Little does she know where this interest will take her.  And of course, being a spy, who can she really trust?  Interspersed with this are the real life characters who made up Hitler's entourage, plus his foreign admirers, including the Mitfords and Edward VIII and his new bride Wallis Simpson, all ready to add a bit of glamour to Nazi Germany.

This is the second book featuring Clara Vine, the first being Black Roses, and I'm now off to hunt this one down.  If you like historical thrillers, then this one will be right up your street.


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

p.s. I've changed the format slightly on this review - what do you think?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Sacred River

The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace
Published by Simon & Schuster
24th April 2014
Paperback Edition


The Egyptians had written their magic for the dead.  But Harriet wanted assistance now.  It was life she longed for…
Harriet Heron’s life is almost over before it has even begun.  At just twenty-three years of age, she is an invalid, over-protected and reclusive.  Before it is too late, she must escape the fog of Victorian London for a place where she can breathe.

Together with her devoted mother, Louisa, her God-fearing aunt, Yael, and a book of her own spells inspired by the Book of the Dead, Harriet travels to a land where the air is tinged with rose and gold and for the first time begins to experience what it is to live.  But a chance meeting on the voyage to Alexandria results in a dangerous friendship as Louisa’s long-buried past returns, in the form of someone determined to destroy her by preying upon her daughter.

As Harriet journey's towards a destiny no one could have foresee, her aunt Yael is caught up in an Egypt on the brink of revolt and her mother must confront the spectres of her own youth.


‘Oh, Lord, what is that?’
     Louisa, out in the fog with a pair of scissors, explored the soft obstruction with the toe of her show.  A rag, she decided.  A cloth dropped by Rosina from a window, back in the summer.  Stooping to pick it up, feeling for it on the brick path, she gasped.  The thing was warm under her fingertips.  She crouched down and peered though the vapour at a yellow beak, jet plumage around a glassy eye.  It was a blackbird.  Newly, beautifully, dead.
     The fog was sour on her tongue.  It tasted of iron and smoke mixed with a primeval dampness, made hr eyes water and her cheeks sting.  Enveloped in the yellow cloud, Louisa could make out nothing.  Her own garden might have been a limitless place stretching to eternity in all directions or it might have shrunk to the very spot where she stood.
     All over London, birds had been dropping from the sky – thudding on to the leather roofs of carriages, falling down chimneys and splashing into lakes in the great parks under the gaze of statues.  Everyone said that they were an omen although there was no agreement on its meaning.  Louisa wouldn’t allow this one to be an omen.  She would rid them of it.
     Pulling on a glove from her pocket, she made herself pick up the bird.  It was light for its size, all feather and quill and claw.  Balancing it on her palm, she made her way along the path to the wall at the end of the garden and stretched out her arm to toss the corpse into the mews.  As she did so, she felt a scrabble of claws, sudden and intimate against her wrist.  The creature lurched, unfurled its wings like a black umbrella and vanished into the morning.


This is Wendy Wallace’s second book in a trilogy of Victorian novels.   Focusing on three very different women, she weaves an intricate tale of life, love and strength starting in London and culminating in Egypt.  The principal character is Louisa.  Suffering to breathe in the fog-filled air of London, she longs for change and begs her doctor to recommend that she go to Egypt, county of her dreams.  As this is the Victorian era, of course she cannot travel alone, so to accompany her are her mother and her aunt.  Both are very different people but agree to go with Louisa.

On the boat to Alexandria, we meet a whole host of characters who are to feature again later on in the story; newlyweds Mr and Mrs Cox, the dashing artist Eyre Soane and upon departure, a mysterious man with a piano.  Aunt Yael decides that she will not journey down the Nile with her sister-in-law and niece, so remains in Alexandria to do God’s work, leaving Harriet and Louisa to travel alone to Luxor. 

Wendy Wallace entwines the lives of these three very different women into this tale of discovery.  All three find a new purpose and sense of life outside the rigidity of their environment in Victorian London.  This is a tale of being able to escape from the binds that tie you, of being able to breathe fully and to take chances and risks that you may never have imagined before.  It is also a reminder that the past can sometimes come back to haunt you, with horrendous consequences. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, set in the beautiful country of Egypt which Wendy Wallace depicts so distinctly.  I liked the way that she manages to separate the stories of the three women, yet at the same time, keep them together.  I’m looking forward to the next chapter!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cozy Classics: Huckleberry Finn & Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Jack and Holman Wang
Published by Simply Read Books
22nd May 2014
Board Book Edition

Jack and Holman Wang are back with more classic board books in their Cozy Classics range of books.  If you aren't familiar with them, they are board books made up of 12 beautiful needle-felted images and 12 accompanying words so that children are encouraged to tell a story simply through the beauty of a picture. 
I love the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and remember avidly watching the television series when I was a child.  My girls (who are 5 and 7) also love these books.
I think these books are perfect for anyone with young children who aren't quite ready to read the original versions themselves yet. And with images this detailed and beautiful, you don't really need words, do you?
Happy Reading
Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Ammonites and Leaping Fish

Ammonites and Leaping Fish - A Life in Time by Penelope Lively
Published by Fig Tree
10th October 2013
Hardback Edition

In this charming but powerful memoir, Penelope Lively reports from beyond the horizon of old age. She describes what old age feels like for those who have arrived there and considers the implications of this new demographic. She looks at the context of a life and times, the history and archaeology that is actually being made as we live out our lives in real time, in her case World War II; post war penny-pinching Britain; the Suez crisis; the Cold War and up to the present day. She examines the tricks and truths of memory. She looks back over a lifetime of reading and writing. And finally she looks at her identifying cargo of possessions - two ammonites, a cat, a pair of American ducks and a leaping fish sherd, amongst others. This is an elegant, moving and deeply enjoyable memoir by one of our most loved writers.

This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age. And a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise - ambushed, or so it can seem. One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority; you are a native now, and know what goes on here.  That, and the backwards glance - the identifying freight of a lifetime.  A lifetime is embedded; it does not float free, it is tethered - to certain decades, to places, to people.  It has a context; each departure leaves a person-shaped void - the absence within a family, the presence lost within a house, in a community, in society itself.  We go, but hang in for a while in other people's heads - something we said, something we did; we leave a ghostly imprint on our backdrop.  A very few people go one further and are distilled into a blue plaque on a building.  I began on a spring morning in the Anglo-American Hospital in Zamalek, which was a residential suburb on Gezira, the island in Cairo's Nile; 17 March 1933.  Elsewhere, things were going on that would lead to turmoil in North Africa in a few years' time; my parents' lives would be affected, and mine, but they were comfortably oblivious that morning, and I was tucked up in a crib, the feet of which stood in tin trays of water, because there had been instances of ants getting at newborn babies.
Towards the end of my own stint I find myself thinking less about what has happened to me but interested in this lifetime context, in the times of my life.  I have the great sustaining ballast of memory; we all do, and hope to hang on to it.  I am interested in the way that memory works, in what we do with it, and what it does with us.  And when I look around my cluttered house - more ballast, material ballast - I can see myself oddly identified and defined by what is in it: my life charted out on the bookshelves, my concerns illuminated by a range of objects.

These, then, are the prompts for this book: age, memory, time, and this curious physical evidence I find all around me  as to what I have been up to - how reading has fed into writing, how ways of thinking have been nailed.


I really enjoyed this memoir by established author Penelope Lively.  Originally titled Dancing Fish and Ammonites, it appears to have been re-named Ammonites and Leaping Fish.   At the grand age of 80, she has decided to look back on her life, and focus on the elements that made it what it is.  She begins by recounting her childhood - her days growing up in Egypt, of the Second World War breaking out and the tensions caused by the Suez Crisis.

The book is divided into four section: Old Age, Memory, Life and Times and Six Things.  Lively discusses how she uses memory, and how that features in her writing.  This isn't a plodding, heavy-handed look back at a life that has been well-lived, but rather like having a chat with your grandmother about her memories.  Penelope Lively 'chats' to the reader rather than spending page after page going into great reams of details about an event or moment of her life.  There is enough information to keep you satisfied, rather than too much to leave you bored to tears.  My favourite section was where she looks back on the books that have made up her life, both good and bad for over 8 decades.  The final chapter focuses on those artefacts that are important to Lively herself, including, a leaping fish and two ammonites!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 16 June 2014

And We Stay

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Published by Delacorte Press
28th January 2014
Hardback Edition



When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.

This inventive story, told in verse and in prose, paints the aftermath of tragedy as a landscape where there is good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.

There are rumors the day Emily Beam arrives at the Amherst School for Girls - in January, halfway through her junior year.  She doesn't look like the other girls, who look like girls in magazines.  She doesn't sound like them, either, and she wears different shoes.  As she sits on a bed she's never slept in, in the first room she's ever shared, Emily announces to the tall, curly-haired blonde standing by the window that she's come from Boston.  This isn't a lie.  It is where she's stayed for the past month.
     K.T. nods and looks down at Emily's feet. "What shoe size do you wear?"
     "Seven," Emily says.
     K.T. walks over to her closed and digs out a pair of navy-blue clogs with wooden heels.
     "Here," says K.T. "Wear these."
     Emily takes off her rubber-soled Mary Janes.
     "They'll be a size too big," K.T. says, "which will make it tough to walk on those little pebbles out there, but at least no one will talk shit about you."
     As Emily slips on the clogs, K.T. takes the black Mary Janes and drops them - clunk, clunk - into the steel trash can.
     "You can wear your pj's to class if you want," K.T. says. "A lot of us do."
     Emily takes in her roommate's casual elegance: the untucked white button-down, the people cashmere cardigan, the necklace of turquoise beads, the brown suede boots with scuffed toes. Emily looks down at her new giant feet. "I have to go to the bathroom," she says.
     "Do you remember where it is?! K.T. points. "Just at the end of the hall."
     In the bathroom, Emily sweeps her long hair up into a messy ponytail, which is the style here, she's noticed.  In the morning - her first day of class - she'll wear the Harvard sweatshirt she got in Boston.  As far as boarding schools go, Emily has no idea how Amherst School for Girls ("ASG," K.T. calls it - like ask but with a g) compares.  Boarding school?  It wasn't even in the realm of possibilities; it wasn't even on the radar screen.  And by the time Aunt Cindy convinced Emily's parents that it was necessary, ASG was the only school that would take her, and that was only because there was an extra bed since K.T.'s prior roommate, Hannah, had been expelled for sneaking out late at night to meet townies.


I really enjoyed this novel by Jenny Hubbard, set in Massachusetts, America, primarily at Amherst School for Girls.  Emily Beam has started the new term there following the tragic death of her former boyfriend Paul.  It has been decided by her family that she is better off starting a new life for herself, rather than returning to her previous school where Paul killed himself in the school library.

At Amherst, Emily stands out.  She neither looks, dresses or speaks like any of the other girls and can often be found writing frantically in her room rather than talking of her past to any of her new school friends.  Will they discover who the real Emily Beam is, and why she has had to move so far away from home?

Luckily for Emily, a previous pupil with an interest in poetry is her saviour both in and out of school.  Emily Dickinson was born and raised in Amherst and thanks to the school's French teacher, who sees something of the poet in Emily herself, the spirit of Emily Dickinson captures and moves Emily to write more and more poetry to express how she feels.

The story weaves both back and forth, telling of Emily's life in the here-and-now at Amherst, but also of her previous life, and of her relationship with Paul and what led up to his suicide.  Jenny Hubbard tackles some very relevant themes in this story of love and heart-break and mixes it in with some beautiful poetry too. 


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Thursday, 12 June 2014

A Sixpenny Song

A Sixpenny Song by Jennifer Johnston
Published by Tinder Press
5th June 2014
Paperback Edition

Not every death is a tragedy.  Note every silver lining is intact.

Annie’s father is dead.  She isn’t sorry.  A rich and domineering man, his chief passion was money and, long ago, when his lovely, fragile wife died suddenly, he sent Annie to school in England, and tried to ensure that her mother was never mentioned again.

But at last his tyranny is over.  And so Annie leaves her London life and goes back to Dublin, to the family house she hates, and discovers that now, just when she thought she was free of her father, he has left her the house and intends her to live as he would have wished.  Does she dare to defy him one more time?  And who can she trust to tell her the truth about her mother’s life and death?

Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye;

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,

The birds began to sing;

Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?

She hadn’t really liked him very much, Dada (he preferred it if she called him Father; to him Dada was an untidy name for a man of his standing).

The king was in his counting house,

Counting out his money…

From the tip of his head, black hair slightly streaked with silver the last time she had seen him, which she would have to admit was ten years ago, to the toes of his highly polished shoes he looked immaculate, handsome, a man of class and wealth.  Which, of course, he was.  He liked things to go his way; his word was law, and always what he thought was the best for you.
     ‘I only want what is best for you.’
     How many times had she heard those unanswerable words?
     And now he was dead.  She wondered if he had ordered his death as he had ordered everything else in his life.
     She hadn’t been back here for over ten years.
     She had been barely eighteen when she had left Dublin.  She had just thrown some stuff in a suitcase and set off as so many others had done down the years and indeed still do for their various reasons.  Her reason had been freedom, her destination London.  From London it had appeared to her she could survey the world; she would be able to make decisions, her own decisions, not her father’s.  Dada had a scheme mapped out for her.  He had wanted her to follow him into the money world.  He wanted her to move with grace and confidence among the wheelers and dealers and eventually marry one of them and consolidate their assets, their two worlds.  He had sent her to school in England a couple of years after her mother had died, when she was barely twelve years old and too young to fight her corner. ‘I only want what is best for you,’ he had said, when he had dropped the bombshell. ‘Your mother and I have only ever wanted the best.’


Booker-shortlisted author Jennifer Johnston has a number of acclaimed novels under her belt, and I feel that A Sixpenny Song should be no different.  Annie’s estranged father has died, and as the only child, she has to return to Dublin for the funeral and to settle his assets, as well as deal with ‘wife number two’.  Annie hasn’t been home for ten years, she hasn’t had a reason to.  She’s very happy with her life in London, working in a bookshop, which is a far cry from her father’s dreams of the life in finance that he set out for her.

Annie’s beautiful, but fragile mother, Jude, died when she was ten years old.  Annie doesn’t remember that much about her, or her death.  Returning home, she meets gardener cum handyman Kevin, and his aunt Miss Dundas.  Both of them knew her mother, though in very different ways, and through them, Annie starts to learn more about her mother and the tragic events surrounding her life.

But can Annie make a new life for herself in Dublin or will the ghosts of her past continue to haunt her?  This may only a short novel, but it is beautifully written and captivated me instantly.  Perfect for reading on a summer's evening.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Twitter giveaways

I'm sure I'm preaching to the converted here, but Twitter is a great place to be if you're a book addict like me!  I say this, because not only is it a great way to actually chat to your favourite authors (unless of course, like mine, they are no longer around!) but it's a brilliant way to catch up with other book blogs (and bloggers) and get your hands on some very, usually exclusive, prizes!

So far on Twitter I've won...

a signed copy of Follow me Down by the fabulous Tanya Byrne from Headline books.

an Alexander McCall Smith audiobook courtesy of Hachette Audio.

and the first six, yes six books in the Morganville vampire series by Rachel Caine, courtesy of @zoenerd

Lucky, lucky me!

Now I've already had one giveaway on here, for a signed copy of The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull and I'm hoping to have some more very soon so keep an eye out over here for details and if you want to follow me over on Twitter, I can be found at @georginatranter

In the meantime, I'm off to finish Robert Williams' book Into The Trees....

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 9 June 2014

Humble by Nature

Humble by Nature: Life, lambs and a dog called Badger by Kate Humble
Published by Headline
27th February 2014
Paperback Edition



Kate Humble has always loved working with animals, so in 2007 when she and her husband Ludo get an opportunity to leave London life behind them and take on a Welsh smallholding, they jump at the chance.  Three years later, Kate hears that a nearby farm is to be broken up and sold off.  Another farm lost; another home for a young farmless farmer gone.  Desperate to stop the sale, Kate contacts the council with an alternative plan - to keep the farm working at to run a rural skills and animal husbandry school alongside it.  Against all odds, she succeeds.
In Humble by Nature, Kate shares with us a highly personal account of her journey from London town house to Welsh farm.  Along the way we meet Bertie and Lawrence the donkeys, Myfanwy and Blackberry the pigs, Biscuit and Honey the goats, a dog called Badger, his unladylike sidekick Bella and a whole host of newborn lambs.


We didn't want to buy a farm.  We only wanted a field.  Or even part of a field - just a few more acres.  We had thought that the four acres we got when we moved to the Wye Valley in the winter of 2007, to a house that sits on a Welsh hill overlooking English woods and fields, was enough.  In fact, at the time, it seemed a daunting amount of land for which to be responsible.  We had come from London and twenty square feet of terraced garden, hemmed in and over-looked on all sides, and although we had both grown up in the countryside, this was the first time in our adult lives that we had owned a piece of land that couldn't walk around in less than a minute.
     We had no connection with this part of the country and knew no one.  In the minds of lots of Londoners Wales is 'too far' - another country with not enough motorways and a language with no vowels and unpronounceable words.  We had braved the 'wild west' a few times before, crossing the border at the Severn Bridge and winding through startlingly pretty countryside to places like Crickhowell and Brecon to walk in the Black Mountains and Brecons.  Having grown up in rather flat, manicured Berkshire, the wild, stark grandeur of mountain scenery was bewitching.  I loved - I still love - the breathless climbs that bring you puffing and grinning (quite hard to do at the same time) to a summit that reveals another whole range of tracks and peaks and possibilities.  Like our tireless mongrel Badger, I could walk all day.


In her debut book, Kate Humble tells of how and her husband Ludo make the decision to move from London to Wales to buy a ramshackle farmhouse with four acres of land.  Having decided that they can both work outside of the city, they put in an offer on a property that is recommended to them, and after many hiccups along the way, find themselves living in the Welsh countryside.  This is an honest account of their journey, including the many pit-falls that they come across along the way, as they strive to build a new life for themselves, whilst still maintaining jobs that are mostly based in England or abroad.

I have to say, I did smile when Kate first buys some chickens, to which Ludo tells her are enough pets for the time being.  Then along come the ducks, then the donkeys, then get my drift!  It's easily done though - we did exactly the same thing here, and ended up at one point with over 100 animals to care for!

It is the plight of a nearby farm that turns Kate's story from that of her own home, to that of another family.  When they hear that the farm of 100 acres is to be sold off in parts, they step in and buy it, in order to turn it into a business venture.  But, as Ludo points out 'One series of Lambing Live does not make them farmers'.  We then follow their journey through the planning applications and council meetings until the farm is finally theirs - and then they have to decide how to run it!

Kate Humble's story is one of determination, life and death, and what can happen when one couple make a random decision that ultimately changes their lives.


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Friday, 6 June 2014

In conversation with Alex Marwood

Today I am in conversation with Alex Marwood, bestselling crime author of The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door.

As an already established author, what made you change both your name and genre of writing (Alex has previously written under her real name of Serena Mackesy)?
Publishing’s a funny old game. I guess I’m a bit of a cross-genre writer, in that I’ve always been interested in women and the things that affect them, but I’ve always – even in my first novel – been a bit crimey, because women are, in fact, affected by crime in many ways beyond being shallow objects tortured by fictional serial killers for the reader’s gratification.

Anyway, back in 1999, when The Temp, my first novel came out, was the height of Bridget Jones fever, and everyone was scrabbling about to find ‘the next BJ’. Sadly, a lot of people had mistaken BJ for fluff, rather than the sharp, intelligent satire it is, so they’d decided that all woman writers had to be packaged like fluff to ride the wave, Now there are many, many what one would loosely call chick-lit authors whose skill and emotional incisiveness I really admire – Lisa Jewell, Chris Manby, Jenny Colgan, Jojo Moyes, Rowan Coleman for starters – but my books really didn’t thrive, packaged like that. So rather than change what I do, I basically decided to change my name. So I’m in the interesting position of having been a debut bestselling author twice, now. I wouldn’t even bat an eye about doing it again. I want to make a living, not be recognised at parties.

Do you use your experience of journalism in your crime writing?
Of course. It’s inevitable. I spent 15 years of my life in and around newspapers, and I can’t help thinking like a journalist. I’m always looking for the angle, wondering if there are links between seemingly unrelated things, trying to hunt down the ‘real’ story. Journalists get a lot of things wrong, but they also get a huge amount right. But of course, the nature of news is that it’s always the bad things that make the headlines!

The Wicked Girls is one of my favourite crime reads.  It reminded me of the James Bulger trial.  Is there a connection to that story and yours?
Of course. You couldn’t write a British book about child murderers without thinking about that case. Certainly, a factor in how The Wicked Girls  came out was the fact that, as I was thinking about how to write the book, I received one of those round-robin emails that often come from people one would have thought knew better, demanding Thompson and Venables’s permanent incarceration/ lynching. I’m not saying that there is a redeeming feature about this case, or denigrating the Bulger family’s appalling distress, but they were 10 years old, for God’s sake. Ten-year-olds may well have a strong sense of right and wrong, but their understanding of possible consequences of their actions is a lot more iffy. I did want to get that across, raise the subject for discussion.

Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
Strap your armour on: this is one of the toughest ways to make a living, in terms of parlous income and blows to the self-esteem, and you might as well get used to that as quickly as you can. Read, read, read, read, read. Re-read things that have affected you, so you can see how it was done. Go through your manuscript and delete 90%  of your adverbs. Don’t sabotage yourself by thinking that people will overlook your spelling and grammar because your story’s so brilliant.

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
Oh, everywhere. Things I read, things I see, people I talk to, memory, nightmares. Writers never truly switch off. As a journalist, the most common phrase out of my mouth was ‘ooh, there’s a piece/column in that’. As a novelist, I guess it’s ‘ooh, I wonder what happened next?’.

What are you working on next?
I can’t talk about it much, as it’s in early stages and I don’t really know where it’s going to go. But it’s about family secrets, family lies and a long-past death that still colours the narrator’s life every day. The working title is Hide and Seek, but I’m sure my editor will come up with something better!

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
Oh, gosh now there’s the Cloud, I don’t have to grab my laptop any more! Probably  the cat, though he has a catflap and can probably look after himself. Oh, I know – my asthma inhaler.

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
Stephen King – partly because I totally owe him one after he championed both The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door, but mostly because he is, and always has been, my writing hero.

Dr John Stonehouse – one of the dearest friends of my life, who died suddenly of cerebral malaria about five years ago, He was the most intelligent, and the most interesting, person I have ever met. He was an entomologist, and we made friends at a dinner party when he produced a handful of red kidney beans from his pocket and spent half an hour talking me through the differences between each one. I’ve never met anyone before or since who can make red kidney beans interesting. I still miss him, every day.

Rebecca Chance – bonkbuster novelist, feminist and glamorous loudmouth. Because there’s never a dull moment when she’s in the room.

Dorothy Parker – she may have been a tragic old drunk, but by god she could make a party go with a swing.

George Eliot – because I love her novels, because she was one of the great advancers of women’s rights by walking the walk, because she lived a life that completely disregarded the straitlaced mores of the time, and because, if you tried to patronise her, she would go completely Casaubon on your arse.

Alex's new novel, The Killer Next Door, comes out as a paperback in the UK in June and the US in late October. Stephen King called it ‘scary as hell’. No, he really did! Alex was dizzy for days!
Happy Reading
Miss Chapter x



Thursday, 5 June 2014


Smart by Kim Slater
Published by Macmillan Children's Books
5th June 2014
Hardback Edition


'I found Jean's friend dead in the river. His name was Colin Kirk. He was a homeless man, but he still wanted to live.'

There's been a murder, but the police don't care. It was only a homeless old man after all.

Kieran cares. He's made a promise, and when you say something out loud, that means you're going to do it, for real. He's going to find out what really happened. To Colin. And to his grandma, who just stopped coming round one day. It's a good job Kieran's a master of observation, and knows all the detective tricks of the trade.

But being a detective is difficult when you're Kieran Woods. When you're amazing at drawing but terrible at fitting in. And when there are dangerous secrets everywhere, not just outside, but under your own roof.


It just looked like a pile of rags, floating on the water.

Jean sat on the bench with the brass plaque on.  It said, In Memory of Norman Reeves, who spent many happy hours here.

The plaque means Norman Reeves is dead, but it doesn’t actually say that.

Jean held her head in her hands and her body was all jerky, like when you are laughing or crying.  I guessed Jean was crying and I was right.

“He was my friend,” Jean sobbed.

I looked around but Jean was alone.  People round here say Jean is cuckoo.  That means mental.  She used to be a nurse that delivered
babies.  She still knows loads of stuff she learned from the medical books but no-one believes her.

“Who?”  I said.

Jean pointed to the rags.

I went up to the edge of the embankment to look.  There was a stripey bag half in the water.  I saw a face with a bushy beard in the middle of the rags, under the ripples of water.  One eye was open, one was closed.

I freaked out.  The sea sound started in my head and I ran right past the bridge and back again but there was nobody to help.  I’m not supposed to run like mad because it can start my asthma off.

“When the sea noise comes in your head,” said Miss Crane, “It is important to stay calm and breathe.”

I stopped running.  I tried to stay calm and breathe.  I used my inhaler.

Jean was still crying when I got back.

“He was my friend,” she said.

I picked up a long stick and took it over to the water.  I poked at the face but not near the eyes.

“What are you doing?”  Jean shouted from the bench.

“I’m doing a test to see if it’s a balloon,” I said.  It felt puffy and hard at the same time, so I knew it was Jean’s friend’s head.

“Is it a balloon?”  shouted Jean.

A woman with a dog was coming.

When she got near I said, “Jean’s friend is in the river.”

She looked at me funny, like she might ignore me and carry on walking.  Then she came a bit nearer and looked into the water.  She started screaming.


I really enjoyed this debut YA novel by Kim Slater.  Kieran is special, he is smart.  Not everyone thinks so, least of all his mum's boyfriend Tony, and his son Ryan, who spends all day playing Call of Duty.  They don't like Kieran and treat him very badly.  Kieran spends a lot of time alone in his bedroom where he writes down everything he sees and remembers in his notebooks.  He wants to be a Crime Correspondent for Sky News so when he discovers a body in a river he is intent on finding out what happened to him.

We know from the start that Kieran has special needs.  It is inferred, but never said, that he might be autistic.  He also has a wonderful talent for drawing exactly what he sees, and it is this skill that leads him into trouble.  He adores the artist L.S. Lowry and talks about his paintings and what they represent.  Kieran's mum tries to protect him, both from the outside world, and the terrors within his own house, but when you are working every hour you possibly can, sometimes you just aren't there when you are needed most.

Smart is a funny, but moving, tale of one boy and how he fits into society.  Full of lots of different characters, like homeless Jean, the dreadful bullies Tony and Ryan, and Kieran's new friend at school Karwana I thought this was a great read.


Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 2 June 2014

All The Things You Are

All The Things You Are by Declan Hughes
Published by Severn House
27th February 2014
Hardback Edition



Danny Brogan burned his future wife’s family to death when he was eleven years old...

Knocking on forty, with her youthful dreams of being an actress in dust, there's no doubt in her mind suburban wife and mother of two Clare Taylor has settled. A wild week in Chicago may have shaken things up a bit, but as she turns her key in her Madison, Wisconsin home on the eve of Halloween, she knows that what happened with her ex-boyfriend was nothing more than a distraction, that this is where her life is.

Except it's all gone. The furniture gone, the house stripped, her husband Danny, her daughters, all gone; no message, no note, nothing. Outside in the dark, searching for a sign, she steps in one: the eviscerated body of the family dog.

By dawn the next morning, her (as far as she knew, mortgage-free) home has been foreclosed against, one of Danny's childhood friends lies dead in her backyard, and Clare is caught up in a nightmare that began with her husband on Halloween night, 1976, and that reaches its terrifying climax thirty five years later.

Sunday, October 23

Danny Brogan burned his future wife's family to death when he was eleven years old.  Whether by accident or design, he's not entirely sure, or at least that's what he's always told himself. It was probably no great surprise that as a result he should develop a morbid fear of fire, nor that this fear should stay with him throughout his life.  Fear is a man's best friend, or so the song goes, and Danny carried his fear of fire, just as he carried his fear of the friends that were with him that night, until it sometimes looked like the twin burdens might overwhelm him.

     No one really knew what he had done except his freinds Dave and Gene and Ralph, and even they differed on the details, and while that had all promised never to tell, there was always the fear that they might.  Not at first, not in the immediate aftermath, the whole city in shock, the church services and processions of mourning, the burial of the dead, the tiny white coffins.  Not in the following weeks or months, the surviving child placed in foster care and then with adoptive parents miles away, the burnt-out house demolished and rebuild until you'd never know there'd been a fire there at all.  Not in the years after that, as junior high gave way to the high-school riot of sports and studies and hormones, Brains, Emotions and Muscles vying daily for supremacy, like in the old comic book advetisement.  No one ever said a word.  It was as if it had never happened, as if their childhoods had never happened, as if memory was no longer necessary.  The furture was the only game in town: the next exam, the next football game, the next pretty girl.  Who cared what happened when they were kids?

This is the first Declan Hughes novel that I have read.  The premise is this: Clare comes home from a trip away to find her house empty - no husband, no children and no possessions.  Outside, the family dog is dead, and not from natural causes.  There is nothing to indicate where they are, or why they have had to leave.  Clare is left totally in the dark.

What then happens is real back-and-forth novel, telling Clare's present day story, Danny's 1976 tale, and something else in between.  Obviously I can't tell you too many of the details here as that would spoil the plot! 

I did get a little over-whelmed in parts, there are lots of characters in All The Things You Are and with so much too-ing and fro-ing I did get a bit confused in places.  What I will say is this, stick with it, once you've worked out who is who (or who you think they are), then Declan Hughes starts to really work on his plot and you are drawn in to the story.  The underlying factor is this: we all have the ability to turn outselves into what we want to be, to create our own image, but no matter who you really are, reality and the truth are always out there to be found; if someone wants to do so badly enough, and for Danny and Clare, there is someone out there who wants to do just that. 


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x