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  • Title: The Blood Acre
  • Author: RJ Mitchell
  • Publisher: Matthew James Publishing Ltd
  • Publication Date: 12th September 2019

Copy received from damppebbles blog tours for review purposes.

Description:

Fresh from his exploits in The Shift, Constable Angus Thoroughgood finds himself assigned to Community Policing in the crime-ridden Briarknock area of Glasgow — an area known for its horrific drugs problem, violent petty crime, and unemployment. It’s also home to The Creepers, a notorious team of housebreakers whose reign of terror must come to an end.

However, it’s not just The Creepers that Thoroughgood must contend with. Working with his partner Harry Currie, the Scottish detective must battle corruption within the force and work to stop a plot that would destroy cities across the North of England, discovering a fabled piece of Glasgow criminal folklore along the way — the Blood Acre.

My Thoughts:

I have to admit that this author and his series were entirely unknown to me when I first heard about The Blood Acre, something about the description appealed to me and I wanted to find out more.

Short chapters mean readers move quickly through the pages as the story unfolds. The setting was well described by the author and he clearly knows his way around Glasgow, bringing it alive on the pages for his readers to experience. This coupled with the atmospheric writing really made the book quite a vivid read, especially when it came to the crimes that were committed and the investigations of them. You just have to look at the opening chapters for the level of detail you can expect throughout. These scenes were fascinating and so intriguing. I can’t say that my knowledge of safe-cracking was ever extensive, but after reading this, I feel like I understand better what they do in the films with the plasticine looking stuff and how delicate they need to be with the other compounds they use.

Although this is part of a series, I found that I was able to read this without having read the previous books. I got to know Thoroughgood and his partner Harry Currie through the narrative and witnessed the dynamic between them, and watching them work together made for an interesting read.

I do love seeing local dialects popping up in the narrative, it adds a sense of the location and is often a wonderful tool to bring the characters to life. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that will sit and try to work out how certain words will sound in the accents from the book … so it was great to see that here, although I do wonder if readers may have some difficulty translating them/ navigating around them as some Scots words can be a little tricky.

About the Author:


Robert James Mitchell was brought up in Stirling. Mitchell was initially detailed beat duties out of the former Blackhill Police Office and then Baird Street Police Office in the former ‘D’ Division, or the North, as it was known to all the men who served in the division. In January, 2007, while recovering from an appendicitis, Mitchell decided to write the first draft of ‘Parallel Lines: The Glasgow Supremacy‘, drawing heavily on his own experiences and featuring the characters of Detective Sergeant Gus Thoroughgood and DC Kenny Hardie.

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/spitfiremedia

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rjmitchellcrimewriter/

Website: https://rjmitchellauthor.co.uk/

I’ve decided to make today a Celebrating Indie Publishing day, sometimes there are just so many brilliant indie books that I won’t have a chance to squash them all in on Fridays. So I’m sharing a review of a book I discovered by chance. Today’s post sees a delve into the world of a historical novel, WWII to be precise. The book in the spotlight is The Knife-Edge Path by Patrick T. Leahy, published by Amsterdam Publishers in 2019.

  • Title: The Knife-Edge Path
  • Author: Patrick T. Leahy
  • Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers
  • Publication Date: 6th December 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Driven by destitution in war-torn Berlin, a beguiling woman is cornered into accepting a precarious role in espionage to keep from being thrown out on the street.
As Geli Straub becomes the seductive Mlle. Simone Miroux, on orders to discover whether SS officer Kurt Langsdorff is all he seems to be, her plot to betray him falters on conflicted feelings. Drawn past the point of no return into his life, she cannot sell him out.
How, then, is she to save him without shedding the identity of the woman who deceived him, and on whom her life depends?

My Thoughts:

All too often espionage tales feature a lead character that goes deep undercover, risks everything for the good of their country … willingly. But The Knife-Edge Path is different, here we have a protagonist who is left with little choice but to take on a guise and act as a spy for the SS.

Geli Straub plays a dangerous game when she “agrees” to become Mlle. Simone Miroux for an SS officer to spy on one of their own. Asking favours of her new SS friend is dangerous, and initially she thinks nothing of using her connections for information, cigarettes … whatever it is that she might need. However, the life of a double agent is a precarious one, never knowing who’s watching and if everyone is who they say they are. For Geli/Simone this is only one aspect that is making life difficult. Whether as Frau Straub or Mlle. Miroux, she is a target of suspicion, her motives are questioned and her life is in danger.

Delving into the world of WWII espionage, the author takes readers on a journey filled with intrigue and danger as his characters face perilous situations and risk everything for what they think is right. As she gets to know SS officer Kurt Langsdorff, Simone Miroux sees there’s a side to him that is at odds with his SS facade and develops feelings for him that she knows she shouldn’t have, clashing with her mission and potentially putting everything as risk.

The writing is everything I would look for in a book set in this era, crisp details of the characters and their lives, the unnerving feeling of danger lurking ahead, the harrowing details of atrocious acts carried out in the name of the Third Reich and above all, it’s hugely emotive.

Celebrating Indie Publishing today sees a review of Heleen Kist’s latest book, Stay Mad, Sweetheart, a thought-provoking read that has readers shouting and cheering in equal measure.

  • Title: Stay Mad, Sweetheart
  • Author: Heleen Kist
  • Publisher: Red Dog Press
  • Publication Date: 13th November 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

There’s a fine line between innocence and guilt. An even finer line between justice and revenge.

Data scientist Laura prefers the company of her books to the real world – let alone that cesspit online. But when her best friend Emily becomes the victim of horrific cyberbullying, she makes it her all-engulfing mission to track down the worst culprits.

Petite corporate financier Suki is about to outshine the stupid boys at her firm: she’s leading the acquisition of Edinburgh’s most exciting start-up. If only she could get its brilliant, but distracted, co-founder Laura to engage.

Event planner Claire is left to salvage the start-up’s annual conference after her colleague Emily fails to return to work. She’s determined to get a promotion out of it, but her boss isn’t playing ball.

As the women’s paths intertwine, the insidious discrimination they each face comes to light. Emboldened by Emily’s tragic experience, they join forces to plot the downfall of all those who’ve wronged them.

But with emotions running high, will the punishments fit the crimes?

My Thoughts:

Heleen Kist is a hugely talented writer who never shies away from the harsh realities and uncomfortable truths. In Stay Mad, Sweetheart, Kist offers readers a glimpse into the world of a devastated friend who will utilise every skill she has to track down those responsible for tormenting her best friend online, and ultimately pushing her to commit suicide. Cyberbulling is something we are becoming more and more aware of in recent years, and so seeing how data scientist Laura approaches her investigation is fascinating, her frustrations at things never being straightforward or easy are understandable and realistic.
But Laura isn’t the only character that readers follow, the narration comes from the perspective of Suki, another hugely intelligent character. Through Suki, readers see another side of Laura, the side of a client who is frustratingly busy and unable to engage in the discussions necessary for the successful conclusion of the biggest deal of Suki’s corporate financial career. And there’s also Claire who is trying to pull off a conference, against impossible odds, and juggle things as best as she can to prove she deserves a promotion and the recognition that comes with all of her hard work. The lives of these three women are linked, and like many women they face hostility, discrimination and sexism.

Through her writing, Heleen Kist ensures that readers are engaged constantly, but they are also furious and horrified at what they read. The characters are ones that many will connect with, will perhaps recognise from their own circles of friends or family, but most importantly, these characters are ones that readers cannot help become invested in.
The plot is emotive, immersive and utterly compelling. It forces readers to think and has them pondering the dangers of social media, the ramifications of mob mentality when it comes to the frenzied activity we witness across the various platforms. It reminds us that sexism and bullying exist in many workplaces and situations, and it is totally unacceptable.
Revenge and justice are vastly different, and there is a fine line between them. In chasing for justice, what happens when you become so focused that it borders on obsession? When do the actions of the pursuer become unacceptable and too like those they are pursuing? Kist throws so many questions to her readers, asking them to stop and think about everything they read and look around at the world around them.

A hugely engaging and powerful read, one that I think will have people talking for quite some time, and would be perfect for book groups.

Welcome to another Celebrating Indie Publishing post! Today I am thrilled to indulge another of my great interests, true crime, with a review of Krays: The Final Word.

  • Title: Krays: The Final Word
  • Author: James Morton
  • Publisher: Mirror Books
  • Publication Date: 14th November 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Think you know everything about the Krays? 

Think again.

Britain’s most notorious gangsters as you’ve never seen them before.

Britain’s most infamous criminals: the Kray twins. The extent of their activities has always been uncertain. But now, it is time for the conclusive account of their story, from their East End beginnings, to becoming the kingpins of London’s underworld.

This objective account, compiled by best-selling crime author and criminal lawyer James Morton, cuts through the conflicting versions of their stories and answers burning questions still being asked, 50 years after their infamous conviction. How was the clergy involved in evading police action? What was Charlie Kray’s true position with his brothers? Just how many did they kill?

Featuring an in-depth discussion at the supposed claims they killed up to 30, and a deep dive into the death of champion boxer Freddie Mills, The Final Word compiles all previous accounts and then some to find the truth behind their legendary status.

This is the Krays – all facts, no fiction.

My Thoughts:

There have been so many books published about the Krays over the years, each proclaiming to give an insight into the gangland legends that were Ronnie and Reggie Kray, but many are sensationalist or controversial, so I was keen to read this and see what James Morton could offer.

Before getting into this book, I looked up the author to get an idea about who he is and what his background is to get a feel for what sort of book I was embarking on. As a best-selling crime writer, criminal lawyer and the ghost writer for Frankie Fraser, I felt that I was in safe hands with James Morton.

The examination of the lives of the Kray brothers is fascinating and feels to steer away from the usual sensationalism that is rife in many true crime books. Whether this is down to Morton’s time as a lawyer or his own personal writing style, it makes this much easier to read and feels somewhat more authentic.

Exploring the impact these two men had on society as well as the criminal world, Morton also gives information about how the brothers rose to the heights they did and the route they took, the people they were involved with and what brought about their eventual downfall.

I am thrilled to share a review with you today of Sam Blake’s latest thriller which she will be discussing at this First Monday Crime on 2nd December at City University London. Details about the panel and how to book your free ticket can be found on the First Monday Crime website.

  • Title: Keep Your Eyes on Me
  • Author: Sam Blake
  • Publisher: Corvus
  • Publication Date: 2nd January 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

You won’t be able to look away

When Vittoria Devine and Lily Power find themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to New York, they discover they both have men in their lives whose impact has been devastating. Lily’s family life is in turmoil, her brother left on the brink of ruin by a con man. Vittoria’s philandering husband’s latest mistress is pregnant.

By the time they land, Vittoria and Lily have realised that they can help each other right the balance. But only one of them knows the real story…

My Thoughts:

As a fan of Sam Blake’s Cathy Connolly series, I was keen to see if she could grab my attention with a new set of characters and have me writing off an entire day at the weekend to just read a book, and she pulled it off with impressive ease.

From the moment I started reading Keep You Eyes on Me I was hooked, I loved how the plot was twisting and weaving, I was intrigued by the characters and began to care what happened to them. Blake crafted two incredibly fascinating female characters that readers cannot help but become invested in, their happy lives have been disrupted and rather than sit back and wallow, they take matters into their own hands and do something about it … well for each other.
A chance meeting in the airport, has Lily and Vittoria sharing pleasantries as they sit together and they end up sitting together on their flight, chatting more personally, both letting slip just how fraught their situations are. It’s not long before the women come up with a plan to try and put things right.

Where Sam Blake’s writing really shines is by crafting situations and scenes that you can see playing out in your head as you read. The vivid details woven into the narrative gave me a great image of the bookshop, the intricate pieces of jewellery, and even had me looking up paintings for an idea of whether they looked like I imagined. She creates supporting characters who are so well defined and sculpted that readers feel sympathy towards their plights, or anger at their lack of morals.
And the plot, what a whirlwind packed with tension! I was absolutely gobsmacked while reading parts, so clever and so subtle at times, I was caught off guard when things didn’t pan out the way I thought they might.

A brilliant read that kept me guessing and entertained throughout!

Today I am thrilled to share a review of a book that I’d followed eagerly on Twitter. I first heard of this book in 2018 when I happened to spot a tweet by a local author, I had sporadically read blog posts with local connections by her and was quite intrigued by the idea of her book. Witchcraft is something intrinsically woven throughout Scottish history, but the majority of the tales seem to be concentrated in the central belt of the country, with little mention of anything near Aberdeen. But with research and a determined outlook, Ailish Sinclair has taken the stories of three of these accused women and crafted it into a story.

  • Title: The Mermaid and the Bear
  • Author: Ailish Sinclair
  • Publisher: GWL Publishing
  • Publication Date: 16th October 2019

Copy purchased via amazon.co.uk

Description:

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

My Thoughts:

The moment I heard about this book I was intrigued, I do love a historical read and if you throw in a tale with some witchcraft, well you’re pretty much guarantee to grab my attention. The publication date couldn’t roll around quick enough for me and so on 16th October it magically arrived on my kindle and I instantly started reading.

Readers meet Isobell as she flees for her life under the cover of darkness with her brother and friend, and their escape brings them to the safety of Scotland. There they have jobs waiting for them, safety and a new lives, which all seems idyllic in the setting of a castle surrounded by woodlands, lochs and a stone circle.
As a young lass finding her feet in a new place, Isobell soon finds an ally in the cook, Bessie Thom. Through her chats with Bessie, readers find out more about the Laird and the Manteith family. And the more Isobell finds out about the elusive Laird and his son, the more she comes to like them, and indeed a chance meeting with Thomas Manteith sets in motion events that change everything.

With beautifully flowing narrative, it’s not difficult to get caught up in the story. Rich, atmospheric descriptions bring the scenes alive, readers can see the delights that Bessie and Isobell create to serve at the feasts, can feel the crispness of the cool air and waters of the loch.
The characters are brought to life so well, each of their individual personalities become so real as they develop from being mere names on a page. I found myself becoming infuriated by the actions of some, feeling appreciation for others, and will admit that I did find a fondness towards others.

This wonderful magical tale then takes a deviation towards the darkness and from here Sinclair’s research and writing really shines. Her portrayal of 16th century Scotland is entrancing, and the details of the witch-hunts taking place in that time are fascinating. Taking inspiration from events that took place in Aberdeen during this time, Sinclair has highlighted a horrific world where power wielded over innocent people under the guise of religion or witchery. The actions of those heading up the hunts were deplorable, but at the time, this was accepted as the “norm”, there was little understanding of things fell outside these parameters.

Although there is a romantic arc to the plot, there is so much more to this book and I would urge any fans of historical fiction involving tales of witchcraft to look into reading this book.

I am delighted to welcome you to another Celebrating Indie Publishing post and share an interview with a lovey and interesting author. Today’s author sitting squarely in the spotlight is Chris Parker, someone with an impressive back catalogue and equally fascinating life.
Read on and see what you think!

Chris Parker is a specialist in Communication and Influence. His fascination with the power of words and how they can be used to create intrapersonal and interpersonal change began in 1976. It became a lifelong study that has underpinned almost four decades of work in a variety of professional roles and contexts. A Licensed Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Chris is a highly experienced management trainer, business consultant, lecturer and writer. He has more lines on his face than most and is afraid to read them.

Faith, the thrilling final book in the Marcus Kline trilogy, published in September 2018.

What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?

That’s a challenge to answer because there are so many things I love about being an author!
I really enjoy every aspect of the writing process, from idea conception to editing the proofs. I love the relationship you can build with a creative and committed publisher – and working with Kerry-Jane and Matthew at Urbane Publications is just a delight! To date, Matthew has published seven of my books and every one has been a collaborative and positive experience.
I absolutely love the challenge and thrill of the blank screen or the empty sheet of paper before I begin writing. I see that space as an invitation to explore and create. I also very much enjoy the diversity of my writing work. I’m lucky enough to spend my time writing novels, poetry and non-fiction, and I find them all equally rewarding in very different ways. 
Overall, though, if I have to select my most favourite thing about being an author, it is the countless opportunities it provides to research and learn about people and things that I would, otherwise, have never encountered.
Most recently, as research for my new novel, ‘Monk’, I was fortunate enough to spend several days at The West Midlands Police Dog Training Centre, learning how to train dogs to the highest possible level.
For the Marcus Kline trilogy of novels, I spent literally hundreds of hours learning from a highly experienced former Detective Chief Inspector and one of the country’s leading QCs.
Beyond the fiction, I have studied, learnt from and written books with, or about, some amazing experts. For example, I co-wrote ‘Campaign It!’ with Alan Barnard, who is one of the world’s leading authorities on campaigning communications, and ‘The Brain Always Wins’ with Dr John Sullivan, a highly experienced Clinical and Sports Psychologist. In-between writing those two books, I spent four years studying three of the best restaurants in Britain and came to know some unbelievably talented and motivated people. 

So, I guess the short answer to your question is: My favourite thing is the learning that writing enables and the brilliant people who have welcomed me into their world and who have inspired me enormously.

What’s your least favourite thing about being an author?
Identifying my least favourite thing is easy – although, I do have to say it is a thing that does also have a positive side. It’s this: I still get angry with myself when I read some of my published work and realise that I could have written it better. I hate the feeling that I’ve let down my publisher, my audience and myself. On a positive note, though, if I can recognise errors that I previously couldn’t, it does mean that I have improved as a writer.

If you could have written any book what would it be and why?

‘Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller. I think it’s as close to perfect as it’s possible to get. I have long been of the opinion that writing a necessary and brilliant first chapter in a novel is about as difficult as anything can be for a writer. The reason for this is, that if the chapter is vital, characters and/or the narrator will refer to the events that happen in it as the book progresses and the plot unfolds. Given that, you probably don’t need the chapter in the first place! Conversely, if the chapter isn’t vital it won’t be referred to and, therefore, is unnecessary. ‘Catch 22’ not only has a vital and engaging first chapter, it has my favourite opening sentences of any novel.
They read:
‘It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.’
I would be thrilled if one day I could get close to starting a novel as well as that.

How do you spend your time when you are not writing?

I am one of those very lucky people who is living a life doing what he loves!
I lecture part-time at Nottingham Trent University. I teach on undergraduate and postgraduate courses, focussing primarily on Sport and Leisure Management. My particular area of study is interpersonal and intrapersonal communication and influence.
On a personal note, I have been studying and practising Malaysian martial arts and meditation since the mid 1970s. They are both still part of my daily routine.
Most important of all, I spend as much time as I possible can with my wonderful wife, Mairi.

Do you have a set routine for writing? Rituals you have to observe? i.e specific pen, silence, day or night etc.

Whenever possible, I write early in the morning immediately after my first meditation session of the day and late at night before my second meditation session. However, sometimes my schedule allows me to go into what I think of as ‘writing camp’ for six or seven weeks. Then I focus full-time, without distraction, on writing whatever manuscript I’m working on. I really enjoy the intensity of ‘writing camp’, but my brain is always ready for a rest once it is over.
Beyond scheduling, the only other answer I can offer is that I have a Dupont fountain pen that I am hugely fond of and that I use on a daily basis. I always have a notebook with me and I take every chance I get to handwrite rather than type.

What’s on the horizon?

I have just signed a contract with Urbane to write my book on interpersonal communication and influence. It is called ‘The Power of Words’. Essentially, it’s a distillation of my forty-plus years of study, practice and teaching on the subject. It will be a practical, easy-reading and, hopefully, engaging book that will be of value to anyone who needs to influence others positively, powerfully and ethically.

Finally, if you could impart one pearl of wisdom to your readers, what would it be?

Ha-Ha! I really don’t think I have anything I dare offer. So instead, if I may, I will quote the very wonderful Middle Eastern mystic and martial artist, Epiah Khan. He wrote many things that have influenced me profoundly.
One of his sayings is:

‘Treat your name as a verb
  rather than a noun;
whenever you say or hear it
remember you are a work in progress.’

I’ll offer that as a ‘pearl of wisdom’ from a much wiser source than me.

Can you tell me a little about your latest book? How would you describe it and why should we go read it?

My new novel, ‘Monk’, the first in The Dark Steps Series, published by Urbane Publications, has been described as a ‘compelling, clever and page turning thriller in the best traditions of Dan Brown and Michael Byrnes’.
I would say it’s a fast-paced thriller based on historical and religious facts and secrets. It incorporates plot twists to the very end. It is filled with interesting characters, including some amazing dogs. There are some challenging relationships. There’s plenty of action and, ultimately, it addresses an issue of worldwide significance.
It’s a story I first developed in the early 1990s. Matthew Smith and myself talked about it quite a few years ago. Now it’s here. And I have to say, I’m delighted with the result. For me, at least, it’s definitely been worth the wait. I hope readers think so, too.

My thanks to Chris for taking part today and being so open about his life, his writing and thoughts.

 

  • Title: The Crown Agent
  • Authors: Stephen O’Rourke
  • Publisher: Sandstone Press
  • Publication Date: 7th November 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:
In 1829, disillusioned young doctor, Mungo Lyon, is recruited by the Crown to investigate a mysterious murder and shipwreck off the coast of Scotland. His adventures lead him on a pursuit across the Scottish countryside, to kidnap and treason, an unwanted trip to the West Indies, an insurrection and love.

My Thoughts:
I can see why Stephen O’Rourke won a a short story competition in 2012 when he used the basis for this story as his submission, and I am mightily glad that he went on to write The Crown Agent in all it’s glory. This is a stunning book, the plotting is superb, characterisation is brilliant and I loved the style of writing.

Every so often, there’s a book that blows you away and I admit, I have been pretty lucky recently as there have been a few books that have stopped me in my tracks and pulled me in to discover the worlds inside their covers. The Crown Agent is one of those books, while I read it I was very aware of how invested I was in the story, feeling a great intrigue about the characters and their schemes, wondering what was going to happen to our disillusioned protagonist and how would he get out of this seemingly impossible situation!

Dr Mungo Lyon becomes involved with an investigation of murder and shipwreck on behalf of the Crown after those in the medical profession find their reputations blackened after the fallout of the body snatching escapades of Burke and Hare. But he has no idea of the danger that lies ahead on his journey, nothing is as it seems and help comes in the most unlikely forms. Weaving through the Scottish countryside, readers are treated to some wonderfully atmospheric scenes, and the vivid descriptions allow crisp mental images to form of the barges used, the rugged terrain and the ports of call along the way. I found myself carried off with the descriptions, I could imagine it all so clearly and it had me keen to go off and look up images online to compare.

Historical tales are always fascinating when they cover aspects I’m not always overly familiar with and I have to say that I felt I’d learned something from reading this book. Although this book is a work of fiction, a lot of research has gone in to making it fit the period of the setting, and making the characters feel authentic and realistic. The plotting is clever, the writing is crisp and O’Rourke sets a pace that keeps readers turning pages as they devour the information to find out the fate of Dr Mungo Lyon.

I think this is a book that fans of historical fiction will be desperate to get their hands on!

I am so utterly thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on Barbara Henderson’s latest book today. I first discovered Barbara’s books back in 2017 when I fell in love with her writing in Fir for Luck, absolutely entranced, she managed to transport me to the mind of a twelve-year-old girl at the time of the Highland Clearances in Sutherland, and since then I have eagerly awaited news of each new book that Barbara writes. Today is publication day for Black Water, the latest bookish wonder that Barbara has crafted, and I think audiences of all ages are in for a treat!

  • Title: Black Water
  • Author: Barbara Henderson
  • Illustration : Sandra McGowan
  • Publisher: Pokey Hat (an imprint of Cranachan Publishing)
  • Publication Date: 31st October 2019

Copy received from author for review purposes.

Description:

Down by the coast, black water swirls and hides its secrets…

Dumfries, 1792. Henry may only be thirteen, but he has already begun his training in the Excise, combating smuggling like his father does. But when a large smuggling schooner is stranded nearby, the stakes are high —even with reinforcements, and the newly recruited officer, a poet called Robert Burns.

Musket fire, obstructive locals, quicksand and cannonballs —it is a mission of survival. As it turns out: Henry has a crucial part to play…

My Thoughts:

If you didn’t get an idea from the introduction above about how excited I was for this book, then let me say once again, how much I absolutely adore Barbara Henderson’s writing and the tales she weaves. The intriguing description promised a tale of excitement, adventure and a young protagonist who would learn along the way that life can be a tricky balancing act.

Henry is a young lad keen to make his father proud and be seen as a responsible, trusted … and his training in the Excise is slowly culminating in a career that will see him follow in his father’s footsteps. He fights an internal battle with seeking praise and acknowledgement from his father, he needs this to feel a sense of worth at times, he wants his father to see his as a young man making decisions, taking action … not just a foolish young boy who should be seen and not heard. This exploration of Henry’s character is done with great care and sensitivity, reminding readers that the mind of a thirteen-year-old is a complex and confusing place at times. Henderson takes readers right into the moment, giving them a wonderful insight of what it’s like to be Henry as he grows in confidence, learns vital information and becomes, ultimately, more sure of himself.

The spellbinding details that are woven throughout the exciting story give you a real treat, you can smell the briny air of the beach, you can hear the squelch of the sodden sand, and experience the trepidation of the men and the horses as they carry out their mission.
As the story builds, the level of adventure and pace increase. This goes from an exciting story to an intense read that you cannot put down. You need to know what happens next, you need to know whether Henry and the excisemen succeed and what becomes of that poet called Burns.


Guest Post:

What does a writer do on book launch day?

7.00 alarm goes. I go down in my pyjamas, throw some clothes over and walk the dog. There has been a hard frost and the city looks magical and spooky, with fog hanging low. The frozen spiders’ webs are particularly gorgeous.
8.00 A hundred little tasks before everyone is safely out of the door to school and work. Oldest is home from uni and appears, bleary-eyed, just as everyone else is leaving. I head out to shop for baking ingredients.
10.00-13.00 Most of the morning is spent on making and decorating biscuits for the launch: I’ve set my sights high: I want to make tail-less horse biscuits to represent Grey Meg from Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, as well as spooky smuggling schooners for Black Water. I use up the rest of the dough on wee anchors which work out surprisingly well.
14.00 After proof-reading a university essay for oldest, I take her to the train. I’m on my own.
14.30 Following the next dog-walk, it occurs to me that I should probably prep some dinner and get out of my pyjamas
15.30 Gathering props for the launch: a lantern, smuggling barrels, a hobby horse and an antique teapot and nautical telescope. The next conundrum: how on earth am I going to carry all of this down to Waterstones.
16.30 Dressed and showered, I begin to field some social media. To my utter consternation, there are several messages from key players at this evening’s launch. Traffic is a nightmare! Don’t think I’m going to make it. Flight’s been cancelled… My stomach knots.
17.15. Like a glittering pack-horse, I set off, carrying biscuits, props and goodness knows what else. It’s a horrible night Will people show up? Most kids are going to be guising or at school discos. My stomach knots again.
18.00 The event is supposed to start and people are filtering in. Eek, our Burns performer is not in yet, although, mercifully, the chairperson has arrived. I walk along the rows, chatting to all in an attempt to distract them from the fact that we’re running 15 minutes late.
18.15 Phew, ready to go. Actor and fellow Cranachan author Joe kicks off with his recital. Alongside Richmond Clements, whose graphic novel of Tam O’Shanter is launching at the same time, it’s not too stressful. A few questions between us before I read an extract of Black Water and get the audience to smuggle some contraband across without the Exciseman noticing. Some more questions, some more poetry, and then we’re done. There are signing queues! Actual signing queues!
20.00 The evening is far from over! All 14 #ClanCranachan authors, managers and some partners are heading out for a meal. It is so rare to get us all together; what a privilege to hang out with these guys and be part of this wee family!
22.30 When I get home, the fire is on and there are flowers and a card on the table. I am, officially, the luckiest girl alive!  

One of the things I love most about this feature is that it brings my attention to books that I might not have normally picked up or discovered otherwise, and today’s book is one of those. Tam O’Shanter is a tale that I’ve always been aware of, indeed I heard about it at school when I was young, various aspects of it woven into other stories and popular culture but the presentation of this book really intrigued me. Adapting the work of Robert Burns and turning it into a graphic novel makes it infinitely exciting, vibrant and accessible for younger readers.

  • Title: Tam O’Shanter
  • Author: Robert Burns
  • Adapted by: Richmond Clements
  • Illustration : Manga artist Inko
  • Publisher: Cranachan Books
  • Publication Date: 31st October 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

When Tam has one too many drinks on a big night out, his journey home turns into a terrifying ordeal as he runs into witches, warlocks—and the devil himself—in the local graveyard… Will Tam live to tell the tale?

This vibrant and appealing adaptation of Tam O’Shanter brings one of Roberts Burns’ best-loved works, and the Scots language, to life for a new generation through the medium of Manga.

My Thoughts:

I’ve been aware of the tale of Tam O’Shanter for years, but never actually read it fully, so when I heard that Cranachan Books were publishing a Manga style graphic novel of the tale, I was really intrigued. Would this make reading the story easier? Would the storytelling be improved with the illustrations?

As I read through the book, I was thrilled to see it come to life through the vibrant and fun artwork, the Scots language flows well and carries the reader off on the exciting adventure that Tam and his trusty mare embark on. The beasties and ghouls that Tam sees on the ride home after a skinful of drink intrigue and worry him. But our intrepid and inebriated hero soon calls out and draws attention to himself when he calls out to the dancing witch, Nannie. The ensuing chase towards the River Doon sees Tam fleeing for his life and brings about the reason for Maggie losing her tail.

I enjoyed exploring the story, finding out details that I’d not known before. The vibrancy of the illustrations makes the story easier to read and understand, the Scots language is often hard to interpret written down and so the artwork by Inko gives great context to allow readers to grasp what’s happening even if they don’t fully “get” what the words are telling them. I raise my hat to the the team behind this publication, it’s fun and accessible so that youngsters might feel an excitement at learning a tale from Burns, unlike the dread I and some of my classmates felt at school when we learned we were to study Burns. The language was like wading through treacle and we didn’t have the wonderful illustrations like these to capture our attentions.

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