Tuesday, 29 March 2022

I'm reviewing Haven't They Grown...

...by Sophie Hannah. A fascinating read.

This book was a selection for my village book club.  I've never read any of Hannah's books before but I am very much aware that she writes the new series of Poirot stories along with her own Culver Valley series of detective novels.

If you read this blog regularly, you'll be aware that I'm avid Agatha Christie fan and that Poirot is one of my favourite sleuths.  Have I read the new Poirot books - err, no not yet.  But I do have them in my kindle library and I now intend to get around to them very soon.

Haven't They Grown is listed on Amazon as a thriller.  I think that is a bit of a misnomer, it's much more a mystery story than a thriller, in my humble opinion.  But what a riveting read it is!

The day after I collected the book from my book club, I thought I would just check out the first couple of pages whilst I was having a cup of coffee after lunch.  I was already more than half-way through another book and wanted to finish that before I properly started Haven't They Grown.  Thinking I would be reading Hannah's book for no more than ten or fifteen minutes I just delved in.  Two hours later, my coffee was stone cold and I was well on my way to being half-way through the story.

The novel centres around two families who were once great friends.  Twelve years have passed and, at the opening of the story, the families are estranged from each other, but that doesn't stop Beth from popping round to the house to see what might be happening in the lives of the members of the other family.  What she witnesses truly shocks her and puts a very interesting spin on that well-used comment from relatives about how 'children have grown' - or not, as in the scenario set out by Hannah.

I immediately warmed to Beth, her husband and their two children Zannah - a savvy teenager - and Ben.  Beth is the driving force in her family and it's Beth that is the avenue through which the reader is able to follow the mystery to its conclusion.  The plot twists and turns like a whirling dervish and I have to say that the conclusion, whilst very satisfying, was not quite what I expected when I first picked up the book.

I found the narrative voice easy to read and completed the book in two sittings.  It's not often that a book captures my attention to that extent - but I always love it when they do!  As for the book that I was originally reading, yes I have finished that one, too.

Haven't They Grown is a great read and gets a full recommendation from me.  

 You can also find this review on Amazon, Goodreads and Bookbub and you can find other reviews on this blog Here  Here Here and Here

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Off my Beaten Track...

Early morning view from my hotel
…in Ponte Delgada on the northern coast of Madeira today.  Come and join me as I take a stroll around the village...

With a total population of 250,000, most of whom live in or close by Funchal, anywhere else on the island is Smallville.  I arrived yesterday - a long and painful day.  But then, planes and me don't really get on.  Enough said, I think!
According to the info in my hotel room, the island has been inhabited since the middle of the 15th century.  But archaeological evidence suggests the Vikings got here first, some 500 years or so earlier than the Portuguese.  I'm just exploring my surroundings today.  So come stroll with me.  Who knows what we might find! 
Right outside my hotel is a narrow road, and I take a left and head down the hill.  I've already checked the map, and my planned circular route will take me down to the port, then up the mountain to the village, then down towards the north shore and then up again and back to my hotel.
The tiny port is right at the edge of the Atlantic.  A short stretch of black volcanic rocks to protect the inner reaches from the potentially fierce tides of the sea.  There's no beach.  Just a sheer wall of rock that disappears into the raging water.  Who knows how deep it reaches.  As I look up, the wall stretches to the sky, almost obliterating the mid-morning sun.  The bright white stucco of the church is greyed in the shadow.  I make a mental note to come back and explore the interior and the history of the building before I leave.
As I walk along the winding and climbing road, I pass gardens full of plants that I recognise, not from English gardens, but from shops and florists.  It's late October.  Here, the plants, succulents and cacti that we would buy already potted for a small fortune at home put in a sunny window and wait for the next eight decades for them to flower, grow freely and wildly in people's gardens.  Rose bushes are still in full flower, as are the hibiscus, and the hydrangeas have done their best, but that stunningly blue sky of the petals is still just discernible.
The village, which perches half way up the mountain, is almost deserted.  There's a small all-purpose shop and café combined, a petrol station, a small school and a hard wear store and that's about it.  The few houses seem to be indiscriminately dotted about wherever there is a level place to build.
I meander downhill towards the north coast.  The view is just one vast expanse of sea.  There is no beach, just a random strewing of rocks and pebbles in various shades of grey, from ash-white to black.  The sea is ever-present, too.  It is relentless in its assault on the sheer walls of volcanic rock.  Yet the sound of the ebb and flow of the water has a soporific effect on my mind. 
Church and rooftops
As I pause in the sunshine for lunch, I'm joined by a lizard.  He's observing me - perhaps in anticipation of a dropped morsel of food.  Or maybe not.  I think lizards eat insects primarily.  Nevertheless, he sits there, watching.
By the time I get back to my hotel, the sun has moved around, and I head down the hill to the port.  The white stucco of the church is gleaming, and the stunning decoration inside is a marvel to see.  Dedicated to the 'Good Lord Jesus', the church dates from the 16th century.  Inside, the walls are decorated with typical blue and white tiled panels, and the murals on the upper walls and ceiling have to be seen - photographs just don't do them justice.  The altarpiece is very much of the Baroque style.  The interior is also very cool - the afternoon temperatures are in the mid-twenties, and that's way too much for me in October!

You can read more about my travels on the island of Madeira Here 

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Please welcome, friend and author, Steve Eston...

...to the blog this week.  Hi Steve, thanks for being here and tell me, what is the story behind your story in our recently published anthology...

Thank you Angela for inviting me to your blog.  I’m honoured to be here.  It’s a feeling not dissimilar to how I felt a little over a year ago when Allan Hudson asked me if I would be interested in contributing to an anthology that eventually became Autumn Paths.
I remember being both delighted and daunted by the invitation.  When I saw the list of authors, I almost ran the other way.  I’m exaggerating, but only a little.  Everyone on the roster had much more experience than I did.  On top of which, I was the only one writing fantasy and science fiction.  I felt somewhat the impostor (an affliction that seems to run rampant with authors).  In the end, though, it was just too enticing an opportunity to pass and the project quickly became a highlight in my writing venture.
When it came time to decide which story to submit, I was hoping that one of the many projects I had under development would fit the selected theme.  I went through the list, but you’ve guessed it: nothing felt quite right (vive Murphy’s Law!).
At this point, I remembered some readers telling me that they wanted to learn more about the System of Garadia, the futuristic world where my latest science fiction novel, Deficiency, took place.  All right, let’s be honest.  What the readers asked for was a sequel...  I honestly didn’t see that coming, and as a result, none was planned (things have changed slightly since then).  Still, the anthology provided an opportunity.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing Deficiency and quickly started looking forward to coming back to the System of Garadia. One of the reasons I enjoyed this project so much was the characters. Of the wide cast, my favorite was an intrepid woman named Eltaya. She only plays a secondary role in Deficiency, but I knew she would be coming back. In the novel, we learn that her family is missing and we see her use some nifty technologies.
And there it was, the premise for Red Stars: ”On a far away world, a woman is looking for her lost family”.
Like most of my stories, I started with a short first draft and added details and layers with the next five or six iterations, almost tripling the length of the text.  I know that many authors write a long first draft and then pair it down.  Stephen King, in his book “About Writing”, proposes the following formula: 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%.  That doesn’t quite work for me.  For Red Stars, I went through the story nine times, and although I reduced its length significantly by the end, I still continued to polish and add details until that last version.
Red Stars touches on the sense of self, while playing with memories, real versus fabricated.  It also explores a particular technology that is both terrifying and limitless in its possibilities.  As the author, I can frankly say that I do not understand everything about it yet.  I probably never will.
This was a challenging story to write, but also very rewarding.  I’m grateful for the anthology, because it probably would not have been written otherwise.  I hope readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
You can follow Steve on his Website Facebook Twitter and on Instagram   

You can sign up to his newsletter Here

You can get his books on Amazon

A copy of Autumn Paths is available Here and you can read more about the anthology, the other authors, and their stories Here  Here  Here and  Here

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Please welcome, friend and author, Maria Dziedzan...

...to the blog this week. Hi Maria, and thanks very much for being here today. Tell me what is your latest release...

MD  Bread and Salt, this is the third in the My Lost Country series of books.

AW What first got you into writing and why?
MD  I have wanted to write since I was a little girl.  I finally managed my first novel when I took early retirement from teaching.

AW  You write historical fiction.  Is it all imagination or do you do research?
MD  I do masses of traditional academic research and I also use anecdotal material from friends and family.  And then, I use my imagination to spin my tale.

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you dabbled with other genres, short stories or flash fiction?
MD  Yes, I belong to Fosseway Writers and we have written a collaborative novel, Burning Old School Ties and we also produced a collection of Gothic stories called The Brinwade ChroniclesI have dabbled with short stories and flash fiction, although the novel is my first love.

AW Famous authors such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas had a special space for writing. Do you have a writing shed of your own?
MD  I have a study above the garage and a more wi-fi friendly space on the large landing.  It’s less private but my husband bought me a beautiful oak desk so there are compensations.

AW  And finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead, or a character from a book, who would it be and what would you discuss?
MD  It would have to be Shakespeare.  I would try not to ask him the silly question of where do you get your ideas from!  I think I might just let him talk.
AW  Thanks Maria and I have to confess that, if I were answering that queston, I would give exactly the same answer!

about the author... Maria was born in Lincolnshire and studied Philosophy at Nottingham University before becoming an English teacher.  She taught for several decades in Nottinghamshire and then retired from teaching to focus on her writing.
When Sorrows Come is her first novel and it won The Big Bingham Book Read in 2015 and was one of the finalists for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award in 2016.
Driven Into Exile is the second book in Maria’s My Lost Country series and is linked to the first novel by its minor characters.
The sequel, Bread and Salt, was launched in November 2018.

about the book...
1947.  Boatloads of displaced persons arrive in Britain, stateless and penniless.  The Ministry of Labour finds them somewhere to live and a job... but takes away their freedom of choice.
Will Natalya and Taras be able to stay together while trying to navigate the rules of this strange land?  And, left behind the Iron curtain, how will her two young sisters cope with the NKVD's* bullying?  Will they manager to avoid the deportations and summary executions?
Unable to communicate with one another, the three sisters live in hoipe of one day being re-united, but will this ever be possible?

*NKVD - The People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, a federal agency of the Soviet Union established in 1917

You contact Maria Here  and you can follow her on Amazon, on her Website  and on Facebook 

You can get the books, in print or e-format, on Smashwords and on Amazon

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Come stroll with me...

Photo by Michael Mulkens
...through the ancient Norman town of Falaise. It has a fascinating history and is connected to some people whose names have lived through the centuries...

I'm camped in the town of Falaise today and, as is my usual habit, I'm taking a look at the town before I decide how long I want to stay - I think it might be quite a while.  The municipal campsite is situated to the north of the grounds and ancient walls of the old fort, which sits on a craggy outcrop, thereby giving a strategic advantage to the inhabitants.  When you've got the river l'Ante trickling past the bottom of your pitch and an uninterrupted view of the fortifications and the castle… Well, what's not to like about that?
According to my dictionary the word falaise, means cliff or inland outcrop or crag.  Looking at an aerial photograph of the town it's easy to see why the castle was sited where it is and how the name came about.  The modern town is sits around and at the side and to the north of the ancient fort.  Although there is evidence of pre-historic settlement in the area it was between the first and fifth centuries that Falaise and its outlying areas began to become established settlements.  The castle that can seen and visited today was built between the twelfth and thriteenth centuries and replaced an earlier fortress - but more about that in a moment.
From the campsite it's an easy walk into town, through Port Philippe Jean and then take a right.  A short distance through the modern buildings - unfortunately Falaise suffered severe bombardment in the 1939-45 conflict - will bring you to an imposing statue in the centre of a large open square.  A knight holding a standard, on his destrier en pose rampante, to use heraldic terminology, and looking every bit the commander of whatever battle scene was envisaged by the sculptor.  Check out the plaque and you'll find the statue is of Guillaume le Conquérant - William the Conqueror.  Yep, that's right he's the Norman guy who crossed to England in 1066 and it was here in Falaise in the original fort in 1035 that William was born.
A short walk and a right past the stunning Gothic church, Église de la Trinité, takes you onto rue Rollon.  Rollon is the French version of the old Norse name of Rollo.  So, I'm now walking along a street named after a Viking who invaded what was then referred to as Frankia.
Église de la Trinité and rooftops from the fort
Rollo became Count of Rouen, married Poppa of Bayeux and it was his son, William Longsword, and grandson, Richard the Fearless, who shaped the Duchy of Normandy.  Having checked the family tree it means that Rollo is William the Conqueror's great-great-great grandfather.
I've decided to save visits to the church and the fort for another day, so I'm just heading into the town centre for some provisions.  Rue Rollon bleeds into rue Trinité and thence into place Belle Croix.  There's very little of the original historic town left.  Falaise was so fiercely fought over during Operation Overlord, that two-thirds of the town was destroyed before it was liberated in August 1944, by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division.  And that's only a fraction of the history of this small provicial town.

If you want to read about more of my travels you may wish to join me in Bar-sur-Seine or in the Cévennes