Sunday, 29 September 2019

Blog tour: Hey, Sherlock! by Simon Mason

I'm hosting today's stop on the 'Hey, Sherlock!' blog tour. I'm delighted to have a fantastic guest post from author Simon Mason to share with you all. 

"In March 2012 I decided to try to write a crime novel featuring a teenager.

Why crime? Because of the interest: it’s obvious that human beings are deeply interested in wrong-doing. Also because of the story-telling: the best crime novels exemplify what I call ‘the ancient art of literary hypnosis’ – as practiced by other writers interested in crime such as Homer, Dostoevsky and Stephen King – that mesmerizing story-telling which will not let you go. I admire it very much, and I wanted to try it myself.

Why teenager? Of all the astonishing things in the world – the 2012 Olympics, say, or Triple Heart Bypass, the Chrysler Building or Trump – teenagers are the most astonishing. Human exploding devices bursting out into the world in great starbursts of attitude and inventiveness and fantasy and humour.

Why Garvie Smith? My mother, who is a therapist, would have something to say about the fact that a polite, unassuming, modest, conforming sort of person such as myself should have been drawn to the phenomenally lazy, spectacularly rude and often frankly infuriating Garvie Smith.

(Luckily she’s registered blind and hasn’t read the books.)

Actually, the idea for a super-bright, super-lazy, super-infuriating boy came from a friend of my son. I don’t mean he gave me the idea, I mean he was the idea. Between the ages of thirteen and nineteen he really did nothing at all. But he was probably the smartest person I’ve ever met.

It occurred to me that super-bright, super-lazy sixteen-year-old boys – the sort who can’t be arsed to do anything, who wag off school and slouch down to the kiddies playground to pass round a spiff and almost-empty half bottle of Glenn’s vodka – are very well represented in life but not in literature. They’re not great role models, it’ true. They’re anti-heroes.

But my hunch was that, actually, we relish anti-heroes – we positively cheer them on in their bad behaviour. Let’s face it: the word is full of stupid figures of authority, and who hasn’t wanted to tell them to their face that they’re stupid? Who hasn’t fantasised about just not bothering to do that interminably boring piece of work assigned to us some humourless superior? Who hasn’t wanted to tune out quite large parts of the world from time to time?

And I also had a hunch that if a very bright, very lazy boy got interested in something – a murder, for instance – he might just prove to be a little bit brilliant in working out what the police weren’t able to. Although he might arse it up completely for the official police effort, the case might get solved.

So Garvie Smith slouched into my imagination, and – upright, unbending, humourless – along came DI Raminder Singh too, the Sikh detective unfortunate enough to be the ‘official police effort’. Well, I feel sorry for him.

And in this way I arrived at my own variation on the classic detective duo (Holmes and Watson, Starsky and Hutch, Morse and Lewis): Garvie and Singh, a difficult teenager and an uptight Sikh.
What could possibly go wrong?"

Hey Sherlock blog tour banner

'Hey, Sherlock' is out now, published in the UK by David Fickling Books. Don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the blog tour and come back soon to read my review of the book.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Review: Wonderland: An Anthology edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane

Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 17th September 2019

Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland, in an anthology that bends the traditional notions of Lewis Carroll's classic novel.

So, it's time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or... But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you're already there, can't you see?

'Wonderland' is an anthology of short stories inspired by 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. I didn't need to know anything else about this book to know that I desperately wanted to read it. Although I'm not always a huge fan of short stories and I will always prefer to read a full-length novel, they were fun to dip in and out of and interesting to see the authors' takes on the original Alice.

The anthology blends together stories which fit into a myriad collection of genres, from horror to fantasy to historical. Some were much better than others but I always find with short stories that although you don't always connect with every single one, there's usually something for everyone.

There are some really great writers included in 'Wonderland' such as M.R. Carey, Mark Chadbourn, Genevieve Cogman, Jane Yolen, Juliet Marillier, Lilith Saintcrow, James Lovegrove and Catriona Ward. Each have given their own unique take on a different aspect of the classic novel.

My favourites were:

1. Wonders Never Cease by Robert Sherman
An intriguing take on how the Alice story never really ends. There's always a different Alice with a different ending, some happy, some sad.

2. Good Dog, Alice! by Juliet Marillier
I really loved this story. A blue door reveals a magical world that may provide a solution to Dorothea's problem. This one crept up on my slowly because initially you think it's going to be a sweet story about childhood with birthdays and puppies but then it morphs into something much darker and twisted.

3. About Time by George Mann
Lucy thinks that she is past childish pursuits, such as her adventures in Wonderland but when she visits to say goodbye, she finds an unexpected visitor. I thought this story was a brilliant twist on the age old terror of the monster hiding under the bed. The ending really made me smile.

4. The White Queen's Pawn by Genevieve Cogman
This is probably one of the shortest stories in the anthology but there is such a creepy feeling to it that it really got under my skin and I couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards. 

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Literary Landmarks: The Agatha Christie Mile

I love visiting literary landmarks and places that have inspired great writers so for my birthday this year, one of the things I did was walk the Agatha Christie mile at Torquay in South Devon. The map below can be picked up from the Tourist Information Bureau at the harbour in Torquay and provides you with a list of 12 landmarks you can spot along the way.

The Agatha Christie Literary Trail map
The Agatha Christie Literary Trail
Although I've been to Torquay many times before, I've never retraced the steps of the Queen of Crime, so it was exciting to see all the sites that Agatha would have visited when she was alive. 

Directly behind the Tourist Information Bureau is the bronze bust of Agatha Christie that was created to commemorate her centenary year in 1990. It's absolutely beautiful and was made by a Dutch sculptor called Carol Van Den Boom-Cairns.

Agatha Christie bust
Agatha Christie bust
Agatha Christie bust plaque
Plaque of statue unveiled in 1990
If you walk to the top of Beacon Hill and then go a little bit further on, the majestic Imperial Hotel stands just ahead of you. The hotel featured in 'Peril at End House' and 'Sleeping Murder' and was famously frequented by Agatha Christie herself. 

The Imperial Hotel at Torquay
The Imperial Hotel, built in 1866
On the way back down the hill, you pass the Royal Torbay Yacht Club, where Agatha's father Frederick Miller was a member.
You can also see some stunning views of Beacon Cove. In Agatha's day it was known as the Ladies Bathing Cove. She swam here frequently and once nearly drowned when she was 13.  

Beacon Cove at TorquayBeacon Cove at Torquay

Sadly the Pavilion is closed at the moment but this is the site of Agatha's engagement to her first husband Archie Christie.  
The Pavilion at Torquay
The Pavilion
As you stroll along the seafront, you can see the Princess Gardens which were featured in The ABC Murders. The Princess Theatre also hosts the official Agatha Christie Company tours each year.

It's also nice to walk to the end of the Princess Pier and back again. It was built in 1890 and was a favourite spot of Agatha's. She roller-skated on the Pier when she was a child.

The Princess Pier at Torquay
Princess Pier
As you walk back along the seafront to the train station, you pass The Grand Hotel. This was where Agatha had her honeymoon with Archie Christie on Christmas Eve 1914.

The Grand Hotel at Torquay
The Grand Hotel
There are a few other stops on the literary trail. You can visit Torquay's railway station, as well as the Torre Abbey gardens where there is an Agatha Christie Potent Plants Garden. I'm also hoping at some point to visit the Torquay Museum which is home to the Agatha Christie Gallery.

Have you walked the Agatha Christie Mile? If so, which landmarks did you enjoy seeing?

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Top 10 Agatha Christie books

2019 has been the year that I've discovered the genius and ingenuity of Agatha Christie, the undisputed Queen of Crime. I really don't know why it took me so long to actually pick up one of her books because I love whodunits and murder mysteries. Every year I watch the BBC TV Agatha Christie adaptations and last Christmas I also read 'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton which was AMAZING. In the notes at the end of the book, he said that he had always wanted to write a mystery as clever as Agatha Christie, so I think that sparked my desire to read the original novels. I started with 'And Then There Were None' which I absolutely loved and then decided to make a list of all of Christie's books which I faithfully hunted for in the library every week (with the help of my Dad!)

I've had a wonderful time binging on all of her stories, as well as watching as many TV adaptations as I could and visiting some of the famous Agatha Christie literary landmarks. The books have given me hours and hours of pleasure and in the future I'm looking forward to rereading them all over again.

I thought I would compile a list of my top ten Agatha Christie books but it's been so hard to narrow it down. I keep on changing my mind! I'm sure everyone has a different selection of favourites but after lots and lots of thought, I'm going to share mine. This is in no particular order as that would have been impossible to do!

Poirot's very first case and one featuring a wealthy heiress, a murder and a locked room mystery. Hercule Poirot is at his detecting best in this ingenious story which is an absolute classic.
Roger Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study. Who could have done it? Wickedly clever! About two-thirds through I had a crazy suspicion about who the murderer was and it turned out to be right...which believe me, surprised me too as I never normally guess right. Even then, the ending was still gasp-worthy and audacious, making me want to go right back to the beginning to read the book again.
Another Poirot mystery featuring a family in a small English village where anyone could be the murderer. I was completely wrong-footed the whole way through and the story kept me on the edge of my seat.
Absolutely fantastic! A totally engrossing read with twists and turns at every corner. Definitely one of the best Agatha Christie books I’ve read. Several deaths, a murder or two to investigate and a whole host of intriguing suspects (including one that I really didn't want to be guilty!)
The patriarch of an affluent family is poisoned and found dead. Suspicion falls on his various family members, including his much younger widow, any one of whom could have wanted him dead. Agatha Christie said that this was one of her favourite books to write and it's not hard to see why.
Poirot's very last case where he returns to Styles with Hastings by his side. Even though Poirot is at the end of his illustrious career, he still has his 'grey cells' working and he's still cleverer than any other character I've ever come across. The great detective remains great until the very end.
When I started reading this book, I was surprised about the change of direction that Christie seemed to have gone in. A happy marriage between a wealthy heiress and the man she meets didn't seem like it would lead to death and destruction. However, the twist when it comes is diabolical. You have to just keep on reading.
The only Miss Marple mystery to make my top 10 but it's a good un'. When a murder is announced in the newspaper of the small town Chipping Cleghorn, it's handy that Miss Marple is around to help investigate. I made a guess early on about who I thought the murderer was and then was proven completely wrong when they turned up dead. Hmmm. I decided I didn't have a clue who was responsible for the crimes and so made an outlandish, wild guess and it turned out to be right!
All the key ingredients are there in this Poirot murder mystery aboard the famous Orient Express. After a man is found murdered on the train, the question is which of the passengers is the guilty party? Everyone seems to have an alibi and someone seems to want to pin the crime on Poirot himself. I loved everything about this book, including the fact that I didn't have a clue how the story was going to conclude.
A small island off the coast of Devon and ten strangers who end up stranded together with a murderer on the loose. This is classic Agatha Christie from start to finish. You won't be able to put it down.
So many wonderful books from one author! I love the fact that Agatha Christie wrote such a colossal number of novels and short stories because it's meant that I've been able to binge on and devour her entire back catalogue. I need recommendations now for other books in a similar style. I've read 'The Hunting Party' by Lucy Foley and 'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton but if anyone knows of clever whodunits by other authors then please let me know.
Have you read any Agatha Christie books? If so, what are your favourites?

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Review: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 3rd May 2018

He is a broken, wild thing, his heart’s nature exposed by his beastly form. Long ago cursed with a wretched existence, the Beast prowls the dusty hallways of his ruined château with only magical, unseen servants to keep him company—until a weary traveler disturbs his isolation.

Bewitched by the man’s dreams of his beautiful daughter, the Beast devises a plan to lure her to the château. There, Isabeau courageously exchanges her father’s life for her own and agrees to remain with the Beast for a year. But even as their time together weaves its own spell, the Beast finds winning Isabeau’s love is only the first impossible step in breaking free from the curse . . .

This book first came to my attention a long time ago. The beautiful cover initially caught my eye, then I read the blurb and put it on my list of books that I had to read. It's taken me this long to get hold of a copy so I was extremely excited to stumble upon it in my local library.

It's no secret that I love fairy-tale retellings. I can't get enough of them. What was intriguing about 'The Beast's Heart' is that it takes the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast and retells it from the point of view of the Beast himself. So instead of the story being told by the female characters, events are shown through the eyes of the Beast, as he tries to break the curse set upon him.

All of the key and familiar elements of the story were present. A tired traveller arrives at the Beast's home and spends a single night under his roof, picking a beautiful rose before he leaves which he plans to give to his youngest daughter Isabeau. The Beast has dreamt about Isabeau and is desperate to meet her, so he fools the old man into sending him his daughter. In return, he will grant the old man his freedom. Isabeau duly arrives at the Chateau and recognising his loneliness, agrees to spend a year with the Beast. During that time, she is afforded every luxury, as magic weaves its way around their lives and the Beast tries to win her love to free himself of a fairy's curse.

The Beast is a character that I've always liked because although he at first seems monstrous to the eye, he actually has a heart of gold. He's consumed by his loneliness which makes him desperate for company and longing for love. Glimpses are shown of his past and hints given about the reason for his transformation but personally I would have liked to have found out more about his family history. Maybe a few occasional flashbacks to the events that led him to his present situation. I loved seeing him evolve though and learn to become less 'beast' and more 'man'.

One of my favourite things about the book, was the fact that not only do we get to see things through the eyes of the Beast, but we also get to watch Isabeau's family through the Beast's magic mirror. Her two sisters who have been left behind, initially seem rather lazy and discontented but Claude and Marie soon start to change their attitudes and turn their lives around - discovering just how satisfying it can be to learn to cook and keep house. In the process, they enjoy their own romances which develop throughout the course of the story.

I really enjoyed 'The Beast's Heart' but I might possibly have liked it more if I hadn't also recently read 'A Curse So Dark and Lonely' by Brigid Kemmerer (read my review here). The latter is one of my books of the year and was such a perfect retelling with a twist of Beauty and the Beast, that Liefe Shallcross's book paled a little in comparison. Saying that, you can never have enough interpretations of fairy-tales and this one was enchanting and magical, lulling me with a promise of happy ever after.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please considering purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Review: American Royals by Katharine McGee

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 5th September 2019

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren't just any royals. They're American. And their country was born of rebellion.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America's first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she's breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn't care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there's Samantha's twin, Prince Jefferson. If he'd been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

This was a fantastic read. It is an imagining of what America would be like today if instead of being President, George Washington had been made King. His descendants would therefore be sat on the throne today. It is a book that will appeal to you if you're Royal Family obsessed, can't stop reading all the news about Harry and Megan or even just love scandal, romance, gossip and a touch of intrigue. 'American Royals' has it all.

The story centres around the Washingtons - Princess Beatrice, the heir to the throne, Princess Samantha, the spare and the wild child and her twin brother Prince Jefferson. The book focuses on telling the story from the female characters point of view, so there is also Daphne Deighton who wants to finally win Jefferson's heart and climb back into the court's favour, as well as Nina - a commoner who has grown up with the Royal Family but never quite felt like she fit in.

My favourite character in the book was Beatrice and her struggle to reconcile what she truly wants with the needs of the Crown. She has a pre-destined role to play that she has been groomed for since she was young. She has to make a lot of sacrifices along the way and often struggles between her head and her heart. I enjoyed seeing her start to grow in self-confidence and exert herself more as she carries a lot of pressure and expectation on her shoulders. As well as Beatrice, Nina was an intriguing character because she is on such familiar terms with the Washingtons but at the same time, always feels like she's on the fringes. It was interesting to see how her involvement with them had an impact on other areas of her life and how she isn't entitled to the same level of protection from the eye of the media.

I enjoyed this book so much. Light, fun and a real pleasure to read. I actually thought it was a standalone but the way that it ends leaves a lot of things unresolved, so I sincerely hope that there is more to come.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please considering purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.
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