"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Friday, January 31, 2014

40 Below at Ice on Whyte

At the Ice on Whyte Festival Wednesday, January 29/14, my friend Kim and I checked out the amazing ice and snow sculptures.  The one above is my favourite and I believe it won a prize.  After seeing and photographing all the sculptures, we went indoors - thankfully, dang it was a cold evening!  

 It was in this large heated tent we were delighted to listen to a few of the contributors to the book 
40 Below Edmonton's Winter Anthology. 

The 40 Below anthology is a collection of short stories, verse and poem by local authors and was released for publication November 2013.  Of course I got autographs from those I could catch.  I felt kind of bad for catching Garry Garrison (pictured uppermost above) as he was taking his grandchildren around with his wife to see the ice sculptures.  He was a good sport and signed his contribution in both our books.  He'll have to get used to being famous now!

Announced that evening was the upcoming sequel to 40 Below to be published November 2015. They are accepting winter related submissions from the entire province this time.  For more information, visit their site:  40 Below Project.  40 Below is available at local bookstores or by order via their website.

This is Not A True Story, It's a Love Story - Winter's Tale

This trailer has captured me.  Oh, now I have to read the book!!!!  

Book Quote of the Day

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Unexpected Surprise in an Email Today!!!

Woo hoo!  I just received an unexpected email from Jac Wright, author of The Reckless Engineer.  I am the lucky winner of an Amazon gift card for participating in the blog tour for the release of his mystery novel, The Reckless Engineer.  You can catch my review here:  http://shirley-mybookshelf.blogspot.ca/2013/12/the-reckless-engineer-by-jac-wright.html.  

The Reckless Engineer has a new take on the traditional mystery novel, involving the field of engineering.  Here's a portion of my review to whet your appetite:  

Jac Wright gathers together a group of possible suspects but you will likely not guess who did the deed and framed Jac.  That twist comes at the end and you realize Wright had dropped cleverly disguised hints all along.  I love to see that ability, especially in a new to me mystery author.

Engineering is not commonly found in mysteries.  You find writers, police officers, elderly spinsters, journalists with cats, and a myriad of others but never before have I come across engineers in this genre.  Jac Wright intends to change that with this series, of which The Reckless Engineer is the first.  He brings to the series his own personal knowledge as an engineer, expounding upon situations in his realm of experience thus introducing the mystery enthusiast to an entirely new and interesting facet to the genre.  If you're a mystery lover sleuthing out something new, check out Wright's series, engineered to reaffirm your love.

 You can order your copy here.  


Friday, January 24, 2014

Perfect by Rachel Joyce (the title speaks of destiny)

Author:  Rachel Joyce
Published:  January 7, 2014
Publisher:  Random House
Pages:  400
Genre:  General Fiction
Edition:  Hardcover
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher and TLC book tours in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Receipt thereof bears no influence over my opinion nor this review.

A spellbinding novel that will resonate with readers of Mark Haddon, Louise Erdrich, and John Irving, Perfect tells the story of a young boy who is thrown into the murky, difficult realities of the adult world with far-reaching consequences.
Byron Hemmings wakes to a morning that looks like any other: his school uniform draped over his wooden desk chair, his sister arguing over the breakfast cereal, the click of his mother’s heels as she crosses the kitchen. But when the three of them leave home, driving into a dense summer fog, the morning takes an unmistakable turn. In one terrible moment, something happens, something completely unexpected and at odds with life as Byron understands it. While his mother seems not to have noticed, eleven-year-old Byron understands that from now on nothing can be the same.
What happened and who is to blame? Over the days and weeks that follow, Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Unable to trust his parents, he confides in his best friend, James, and together they concoct a plan. . . .
As she did in her debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce has imagined bewitching characters who find their ordinary lives unexpectedly thrown into chaos, who learn that there are times when children must become parents to their parents, and who discover that in confronting the hard truths about their pasts, they will forge unexpected relationships that have profound and surprising impacts. Brimming with love, forgiveness, and redemption, Perfect will cement Rachel Joyce’s reputation as one of fiction’s brightest talents.

My Thoughts:

2014 looks to be the year to discover fabulous authors.  Perfect is the third book I've fallen in love with this year!!!  Short Leash by Janice Gary, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, and now the fabulous Perfect!  It's as if it was destined to be so, after all did you catch the title?

Perfect is the second novel by Rachel Joyce who soared to author famedom with her debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I've yet to read).  It grabs your attention immediately and never lets go.  The story is initially revealed from the perspective of 11-year old Byron.  Alternate chapters tell the story of a middle age man, Jim, whose OCD and mental illness hinder him in almost every aspect of his life.  

If you've read Room by Emma Donaghue (or recall childhood, for that matter), as experienced by a fictional five year old, you'll understand how children read the nuances of life and relationships as it affects them, but they do not seem to have the ability to see another person's perspective.  It is with this innocent view we see the story unfold.

Byron's family appears to be the epitome of perfection.  They live in a big beautiful house, Byron's mother drives a luxury car, the children attend a private school. But all is not as it appears to be.  The event that happened one foggy summer morning on their way to school threatens it all.  Byron worries that his father will find out.  He worries about his mother.  Will the police come?  Is someone criminally responsible if they are unaware something terrible has happened and they are at fault?

Fear and trepidation weigh heavily upon Byron as he concerns himself over the difference an additional two seconds makes during a leap year.  A lot can happen in two seconds and what if those seconds never happened.  Would the event that altered his perceptions and changed his role from child to that of perceived protector for his mother have happened?

On the other hand, another life is fraught with mental health challenges.  Jim has struggled with depression and OCD for many years, and at the age of fifty he is trying to fit in.  He works at a supermarket where his job entails wiping down the tables and he's very good at keeping them clean.  At home, he has a ritual wherein he must greet inanimate objects and follow a particular routine.  If he doesn't, he fears something terrible will happen.  Routine and rituals keep his world together.

As Perfect progresses we gain an intimate insight into these two main characters.  Their lives seem so separate but they do converge and when they do it is in an unpredictable manner and nothing seems so perfect now.  

Joyce's ability to develop a scene, painting a picture complete with landscape, town life and flawed characters pulls the reader directly into the plot.  I was quite happy being there too.  If you enjoy JK Rowling, Mark Haddon, John Irving, to name a few, you will enjoy the world of Rachel Joyce.  In fact, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Perfect right now.  Fair warning, tissues may be essential to the experience.

Meet the Author:
Rachel Joyce is the author of the international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. She is also the award-winning writer of more than twenty plays for BBC Radio 4. She started writing after a twenty-year acting career, in which she performed leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company and won multiple awards. Rachel Joyce lives with her family on a Gloucestershire farm.
Connect with Rachel on her website,racheljoycebooks.com, or on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (wow!)

The Golem and the Jinni
Author:  Helene Wecker
Published: December 31/13
Publisher:  Harper Perennial
Pages:  512
Includes: Epilogue and P.S. section (about the author, about the book, read on)
Edition:  Trade Paperback
Genre:  Fiction, fantasy, historical fiction
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher for the purpose of this review.  Receipt thereof does not influence this review nor my opinion.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.
Struggling to make their way in 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbors while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

My Thoughts:

I don't typically read fantasy but when The Golem and the Jinni arrived at the bookstore, it caught my attention.  I had recently read Night Circus by Morgenstern (considered fiction with definite fantasy elements) and loved it but for whatever reason I didn't buy The Golem and the Jinni at the time.  Recently TLC Book Tours announced a book tour for this same novel and, remembering my desire to read it, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Golem and the Jinni is a mythical and magical tale.  A Golem was made by its creator in the form of a woman to be a companion/wife for a man (Schaalman) travelling from Europe to America in the late 1890s.  

"Give her curiosity....  And intelligence.  I can't stand a silly woman.  Oh... and make her proper.  Not .... lascivious.  A gentleman's wife." [requested Schaalman]

"I'll try," he said. "The results may not be as precise as you might wish.  One can only do so much with clay."  Then his face darkened. "But remember this.  A creature can only be altered so far from its basic nature.  She'll still be a golem.  She'll have the strength of a dozen men.  She'll protect you without thinking and she'll harm others to do it.  No golem has ever existed that did not eventually amok.  You must be prepared to destroy her."  (pages 4-5)

When Schaalman dies aboard the ship, the golem, Chava, is left alone... a stranger in New York.  

Ahmad, is a jinni, a creature of fire and magical abilities.  Centuries previous Ahmad was imprisoned by a wizard, an iron cuff upon his wrist, in an intricately etched copper flask.  He is accidentally released from his prison within the flask by a tinsmith but the cuff remains and keeps him imprisoned without the ability to use the full range of powers he possesses.

Upon his release he confronts Arbeely who had freed him, demanding to know the whereabouts of the wizard who had imprisoned him.

"He trapped me in human form!  Tell me where he is!" (page 21)

"Of the many types of jinn [Ahmad] was one of the most powerful and intelligent.  His true form was insubstantial as a wisp of air, and invisible to the human eye.  When in this form he could summon winds, and ride them across the desert [the Syrian desert was his home].  But he could also take on the shape of any animal, and become as solid as if her were made of muscle and bone ... but his true nature was always that of a jinn, who were creatures of fire.... he never stayed in any one shape for very long." (pages 22-23)

When the two creatures, Jinni and Golem, meet by accident in the strange land they form a friendship.  In their union they share a bond recognizing in each other their true identity, two outsiders unique in their origins and abilities.  "... if I hide away forever, I'll go mad.  And neither of us should have to give every night over to our fears."  The idea had been building in his mind as he spoke, and now he said, "Come walking with me instead."  (page 206)

And so it began. Ahmad and Chava found a solace in their loneliness as they walked the streets together at night, neither of them needing to sleep.   Until one day the Golem's creator comes to America with evil designs.

Helene Wecker is a magician with words, weaving a fantastic tale of mythology in historic New York.  You can almost hear the panic in a man's voice who, upon seeing the jinni said, "What are you?.... I can look at you," the man said.  "There's no death in your face."  His tone was hysterical, his eyes so wide the whites shone.  He grabbed at the front of the jinni's coat and shouted up at him.  "I can see you!  You're made of fire!  Tell me what you are!" (page 208)

Or feel the pain as the jinni is put in confinement within the flask, a slave to the wicked wizard who captured him.  "There was a horrible sense of diminishment as the wizard's spell gathered and compressed his being, banking his essence to the merest spark.  Slowly the flask drew him in --- and time slowed to an elongated instant, full of the taste of metal and a wild, searing anguish." (page 438)

Such imagery!  Throughout the entire book (as if the quotes included herein aren't proof enough), historic New York and conversely the desert of Syria unfold like a motion picture, full of colour, life, danger and toil.   The plot is unique, tying the mythology of two cultures together in one in a tale where the characters own the story.  I am absolutely wowed by this incredible novel!  You simply must read it!!  I hope one day to see The Golem and the Jinni in theatres.  What an exotic and fantastic film that would be!

About the author:

Helene Wecker received a BA from Carleton College in Minnesota and an MFA from Columbia University in New York. A Chicago-area native who has made her home in Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York, she now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter. The Golem and the Jinni is her first novel.
Visit Helene at her website, helenewecker.com, connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849

“With me poetry has not been a purpose, but a passion.” 

Did you know that there are 55 pages of works on Goodreads  attributed in some form or another to this great author?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish

Our Love Could Light the World
A collection of stories
Author:  Anne Leigh Parrish
Published:  May 2013
Publisher:  She Writes Press
Pages:  202
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the author and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Receipt thereof bears no influence over my opinion nor this review.

You know the Dugans.  They’re that scrappy family down the street.  Their five children run free, they never clean up after their dog, and the husband hasn’t earned a cent in years.  You wouldn’t want them for neighbors, but from a distance, they’re quite entertaining.
Kirkus Reviews calls Our Love Could Light The World “a successful collage of linked stories set in a rich, dysfunctional world” using “the Gothic tropes of Southern literary fiction.”  Set in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Our Love Could Light The World has been compared to the works of Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, and Elizabeth Strout.  Our Love Could Light The World was a finalist in the 2013 International Book Awards.

My Thoughts (*warning spoiler alert*)

Our Love Could Light the World is a story of mayhem.  You probably know families like this or at least different aspects of the dysfunctional family, the Dugans.  The mom, Lavinia, works supporting her injured husband, Potter, and their five children.  Little effort seems to be made on Potter's part to offer discipline and guidance to their children.  He finds the bottle to be a comforting friend and pain killer.  The five children all have challenges of their own which only add to the motley of issues.  Lavinia, on the other hand, does it all.... at least she tries.   Until one day when she decides all of it is just too much....isn't something she's cut out for. She's fed up with all the hi jinx, the stress of supporting a household alone, and she leaves.  That's it.  One day she just doesn't come home.  She moves in with her boss whom she later marries.

"She's not coming back," Patty said. [Potter's sister]

"You don't know that." [Potter]

"It's not what I know or don't know that counts.  It's what she knows and if I had to guess, she made up her mind a long time ago." (page 24)

A myriad of other characters join the cast and I found it difficult to keep them straight.  When the eldest daughter has a birthday party thrown for her, the number of people now included in the story offered a confusing read.  There was Potter's sister, her boyfriend,  and Potter's new girlfriend who throws a huge fit and police become involved.  Names became confused but maybe that's not the author's fault.  Perhaps it's because I just didn't care.  Sure I could empathize to a point but I didn't find a personal attachment to any of the characters, so you throw in a few more and I'm just not interested.  Sigh.

This novel has earned accolades, such as a nomination for International Book Awards Finalist, which I congratulate Anne Leigh Parrish for.   There were entertaining moments and there were times when I wanted to shake a character to bring them about, like the father who spent more time drinking and watching television than looking after his family, and I get it.  This isn't a rosy picture...not a perfect family... and that can be entertaining.  Families aren't perfect.  They may appear to be on the outside but a family is made up of imperfect people.  The Dugans are an exaggeration of the lack of perfection.   

There is one message in all this that I believe author Anne Leigh Parrish is trying to convey and this is a bit of a spoiler; it's that we mustn't take our loved ones for granted.  

"Lavinia kept her eye on Potter until he turned her way once more.  She tried to recall his exact expression later, and each time hoped it conveyed his constant love for her.  In her honest moments, which still came in the early hours, she knew it had shown only surprise." (page 192)

Lavinia never seemed truly happy wherever nor with whomever she was.  She seemed to like the idea of others being in love with her but I'm not sure she ever really loved.  And that is really quite sad.

Anne Leigh Parrish’s debut novel, What is Found, What is Lost, is forthcoming in late 2014 from She Writes Press.  Her first story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, (Press 53, 2011) won a silver medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards.  To learn more, visit her at www.anneleighparrish.com

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Short Leash by Janice Gary

Short Leash
Author:  Janice Gary
Published:  August 2013
Publisher:  Michigan State University Press
Pages:  246
Format/edition:  Trade paperback
Genre:  Memoir
Source: A complimentary copy was provided in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Receipt thereof bears no influence on my opinion nor this review.

Author's website: janicegary.com

It’s hard to believe that a walk in the park can change a life – let alone two – but for Janice Gary and her dog Barney, that’s exactly what happened.
Gary always walked with a big dog by her side and had ever since being attacked on the streets of Berkley as a young woman. For years, she relied on her beloved Husky to help her navigate the world on her own. Then he succumbed to canine cancer, leaving Janice alone and vulnerable once again. Enter Barney: a goofy, gangly stray Gary discovers wandering loose in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot. With biscuit-sized paws and a big, blocky head, the pup promises to grow into her biggest protector yet. And he does – but after an attack by a vicious dog, Barney becomes overly protective and barely manageable. Walking him anywhere becomes almost impossible; but walking without him is unthinkable.
It’s only when Gary risks bringing Barney to a local park on the Chesapeake Bay that both their lives change forever. There, Janice faces her deepest fears and discovers the grace of the natural world, the power of love and the potency of her own strengths. And Barney loses the leash of his own fears. Beautifully written, Short Leash is a moving tale of love and loss, the journey of a broken soul finding its way toward wholeness.
My thoughts:

We have two little dogs, so little they think their rightful place is on your lap.  They are accepting, loving, forgiving, quick to snuggle and give kisses.  They perform tricks, "protect" their people, keep the bed warm and our hearts full.  They're ecstatic to go for walks but just as happy to lounge with you as you curl up with a blanket and a book.  They are in turn hilarious as they play with their food, bring a shoe in greeting, or take flying leaps to greet you.  I love them to bits.

Short Leash is the story of one such love, a mutual admiration society consisting of a petite lady and her large lab/rottweiler cross whose delight in the simple pleasures of life can teach so many of us a valuable lesson.  

At nineteen Janice is attacked on a dark street.  Years later foggy nights, footsteps behind her, the rustle of leaves, the dark, or being alone on a street terrifies her.  Justifiably so.  She still feels a victim.  She's tried therapy but the best therapist she finds is a large black dog with an eternal grin and a penchant to explore.

Our relationships with our pets aren't just that of master and servant, owner and owned.  They are very much a part of the family and, in most cases, are our best friends, our confidants, and our most loyal companions who will never let us down.  For Janice, Barney is all that.  Their daily walks, on a short leash because Barney has issues with other dogs, allow Barney the much desired adventures and slowly pull Janice beyond her comfort zones.  She explores new trails, reluctantly at first, with Barney in the lead.  As he explores sights and scents, Janice notices the changing hues in the leaves, the new berries and flowers, the beauty in the sky overhead.  She begins to see things differently and the short leash she has self-imposed upon herself slowly lengthens.  Where fear once was, peace now resides.

Gary's writing flows like liquid gold, spilling over the pages in an illustrious fashion.  The imagery of her words and phrases conjure up the scenes and transport you to her side.  You are with her on the walks, you travel back in time as she recalls scenes from her past, tragic and pleasant, allowing you to get to know the whole person she was and is.  As Gary grows through her experiences and situations, you can feel it as tangible as the soft fur of a puppy. She truly has a gift.

When you look upon the photo of the two of them below, Janice Gary and her beloved Barney, the love and adoration is so very evident.  That's what dogs do for you.  That's the face of peace and true happiness.  Barney was instrumental in bringing that face forward.  Together they found their paths.


Meet the author: 
Janice Gary is the author of Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance, which was chosen as a “Groundbreaking memoir” by Independent Publisher and a New Pages “Editor’s Pick”.  She is the recipient of the Christine White Award for Memoir and the Ames Award for Personal Essay. As a writing coach, she helps others writers find their unique voice and stories. In between her work and appearances for Short Leash, she blogs at janicegary.com.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why a Traditionally Published Author Chose Indie Publishing - a Guest Post by Author Julie Coulter Bellon

There are so many roads to publishing in today’s world and I’ve been privileged to be both a traditionally published author as well as dip a toe into the indie published world. Both experiences have taught me a lot. When I was first trying to get published, I submitted my manuscript to the three publishing houses that I felt were my top three. Over the next few months I received three rejections of my work and I was heartbroken. I took it personally, like my writing wasn’t good enough, and I shoved my manuscript under my bed where it gathered dust for a year. After that year was up, however, and I’d had some distance from the situation, I started really looking at the rejections and the suggestions they’d made to make my manuscript better. Then, I was talking to another author friend and she encouraged me to finish the changes and submit again. Which I did. And within ten days of submission I had more than one offer of publication. It was my dream come true. I ended up traditionally publishing six books and the great thing about being traditionally published, (besides the fact that I felt validated that someone believed in my work and thought I was a great writer), is the team of experts you have behind you. I had editors and cover designers that made my book look good. I had a marketing team that got me on television and into bookstores for booksignings. They provided things like ARCs and bookmarks and advertising so I could build my fanbase and get my name out there. Of course there is a downside. As an author I didn’t get to choose the titles or covers for my books. Some changes were made to my books that I didn’t really like, but were done anyway. And my royalty percentage wasn’t what I really wanted and it took almost two years from the time of submission for my book to get on the publication schedule and into stores. Of course I looked past all that when I saw my book arranged in a display pyramid when I walked into the book stores. Or when I was doing booksignings next to some of the authors I’d always been a fan of and owned all their books. But then the indie publishing wave came along and I grabbed my chance. My publisher had said they weren’t interested in my next work, so I was free to do what I wanted with it. Since I had worked as an editor, I had some friends who were editors, I found a cover designer, and I started looking into what I needed to release the book on my own. It was a huge learning curve wearing all the hats of a marketer, editor, and cover designer, but I loved the end product. And so did my fans. With indie publishing, I’m able to get my books into the hands of my readers quickly. I get to choose the covers, the way the book is edited, and the title. I get a much higher royalty percentage. It seemed like such a great opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands and haven’t regretted it. I’ve published four titles independently and the first book in my Hostage Negotiation Team series, All Fall Down, won the RONE award for Best Suspense/Thriller. So, for me, being traditionally published first was a great foundation for me in learning the business and how to put out a great product. I found some of the greatest and most loyal fans with those first six books. And I got the validation that I needed that I was a good writer and a publishing company wanted my work. But, in indie publishing, I feel like I’ve been able to spread my wings a bit more and put out a product that is totally me---something near and dear to my heart. I’m so grateful that my fans have stuck with me through this journey and I hope they will for many more years to come. I have some exciting novels coming out that I know you’ll like, and of course, the final book in the Hostage Negotiation Team series is coming out in May. If you want to know more about me and my books, you can visit my website at www.juliebellon.com I also blog at http://ldswritermom.blogspot.com where I review some of my favorite TV shows, books that I’ve loved, and offer writing tips. I hope you’ll check me out!


My sincere gratitude to Julie for taking time out of her very busy schedule to write this fabulous article on the benefits of both traditional and indie publishing.  Now I know you'll want to check out her books!  Here are a couple of hers that I've been privileged to read.

I've reviewed both these books on this blog.  Time Will Tell and Pocket Full of Posies.  Please click on the titles to read the reviews.  Julie has several more titles to her name.   Feel free to visit her at www.juliebellon.com for more.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

London's West End: Vibrant or Violent (A Guest Post by M.G. Scarsbrook, author of the mystery Dream of the Dead)

It's no secret I love a good mystery. I enjoy a good plot with twists and turns and suspense that keep me guessing until the end.  Some of my favourite mystery authors are British (Agatha Christie, B.C. Beaton, Reginald Hill to name a few).  I'm excited to share today a guest post from a new to me British author M.G. Scarsbrook.  Scarsbrook has a new mystery, Dream of the Dead, the debut in a new detective series West End Murders just released and I invited him to write a guest post about the setting he chose for this novel.  I am rather enamoured with London myself (though in day dream format for now) so I found this quite interesting and hope you will too.  
Be sure to check out the links at the end of the post where you can purchase this exciting book!

London’s West End:  Vibrant OR VIOLENT?
By M. G. Scarsbrook

My debut mystery novel Dream of the Dead is the start of a new detective series based in the West End, London’s world-famous entertainment district. Like the Oxford colleges of Colin Dexter, or the racecourses of Dick Francis, the charming theatres of the West End might initially seem an unusual environment for a crime novel. It’s certainly an exuberant, expensive, exhilarating area. But is it dangerous? After all, anyone who knows London tends to think of the West End as a pleasure ground for the masses. The colossal shops of Oxford Street and Regent Street. The glitzy restaurants of Soho and Covent Garden. The tourist magnet of Leicester Square. And, of course, the gorgeous theatres of St Martin’s Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue. Hardly a place teeming with criminals.
Or so it would seem...
Yet take a guess at which area of London also has the highest crime rate? Guess which part of the capital you are most likely to become a victim of violence?
That’s right. The West End. 
Many famous places typically thought of as being in ‘London’, from touristy sights like Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, or 10 Downing street, to prestigious universities, billion-pound corporate headquarters, and five star hotels, are actually located in the borough of Westminster. This borough also contains the priciest office space in the world to rent (£100 per square foot). And a Grade 1 listed home recently went on sale here for £250 million. By any standards, Westminster is a desirable, world-class location.
It’s also a bit dodgy. According to an official report, it also has more violent crime than England’s second largest city of Birmingham.
Wait a minute. Are you sure?
Yes, it's true. The UK Peace Index, a report from the Institute for Economics and Peace, puts Westminster 12th in the UK for most violent places to live (Birmingham is 19th on the list). Crime figures from the Metropolitan Police also show that 8,288 violent acts against the person occurred in 2012, including more than 2,000 robberies. For 2013, on a monthly basis, Westminster has by far the highest crime levels in London, with a crime rate of 20.46, more than double the second most crime-ridden borough (Islington at 9.97), and far more than notorious areas like Tower Hamlets, Newham, and Lewisham. Furthermore, within Westminster itself, the most dangerous ward is the West End – and by a vast margin. Its monthly crime rate of 127.28 puts the West End almost ten times higher than many other places, such as Knightsbridge at 14.13, or Abbey Road at just 4.62. The West End, almost by itself, is largely responsible for the inflated levels of crime in Westminster. 
Now hold on. Before you think twice about those theatre tickets you’ve just booked, we do need to put this in context. Although street gangs are sometimes known to commute to the West End to deal drugs, rob, and mug people, most of the offences there derive from another source.
Drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.
The West End has a massive concentration of bars and nightclubs, and most of the offences committed in the area relate to the alcohol-fuelled, midnight antics of drunkards, such as anti-social behaviour and violence against the person. We also need to remember that this is a busy area, too, with a high footfall. Extremely high. London is the most visited city in the world, and many people are attracted to the West End during their trip to the capital. More than 200 million people visit the area every year. No other borough can boast such popularity. Also, despite the high levels of violence, Westminster saw only one murder in 2012 – that’s right, just one – and homicide rates have fallen dramatically and consistently across the whole city every year since 2003.
So, while the West End isn’t exactly a den of thieves and cut-throats, there is certainly a trace of blood amongst all the glitter, too. Indeed, since its inception, the West End has always been a ‘colourful’ part of London.
During the 1600s, the streets and squares of the West End were built to hold the palaces of aristocracy and gentry. Opulent theatres, exotic shops, and refined gambling houses all sprung up to service the bored ladies and gentlemen. Eventually, as playwrights, prostitutes, and swindlers also plied their business in the area, the reputation of the West End declined, and aristocrats scurried away to calmer and more prestigious parts of the city. Nevertheless, their venues of entertainment remained, and the district soon embraced even bawdier forms of amusement, too, which held greater mass appeal. More theatres, more taverns, more brothels, and more coffee-houses arrived. An entire district, devoted to pleasure in all its myriad forms, was now open to all.
The West End was born.
Indeed, the streets soon became jubilant to the point of lawlessness, increasingly known as much for the spectacle of their playhouses, as for their duels (Sheridan fought one on Henrietta Street), and their bare-knuckle boxing matches (the oldest pub in the area, The Lamb and Flag on Rose Street, was originally called the ‘Bucket of Blood’). At the top of St Martin’s Lane, the Seven Dials district also became a notorious slum, even providing the inspiration for Hogarth’s famous painting ‘Gin Lane’.
Given this wild history, perhaps it’s no surprise the West End attracted the stern attention of the authorities. 

In 1749 the West End produced England’s first professional police force. Operating out of the magistrates court on Bow Street, just a short walk from Drury Lane and the Royal Opera House, the ‘Bow Street Runners’ were the first organisation of men formally employed by the central government to fight crime. Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, is credited with creating the revolutionary organisation, although it was under his brother John Fielding that it grew into an effective force to patrol the whole capital. The ‘Bow Street Runners’ are widely considered to be the forerunners of the modern police force in Britain. Indeed, the copper buttons on their uniforms gave rise to the colloquialism of ‘coppers’, a nickname still used for the police today! 
While the manic excitement of the West End has always needed the law to prevent it tearing a hole through civilised London, perhaps the biggest challenge for the area came in more recent times. In 1974 the market in Covent Garden, arguably the heart of the West End, was closed due to congestion and moved to Nine Elms. The old and vacant buildings left in its stead were gradually redeveloped into shops and entertainment venues. But without the same levels of people passing through the area, the following decade lurched into a post-market wasteland. The tube station was even shut on Sundays because no one wanted to go there. Likewise, Leicester Square spent most of the 1980s mired in the squalor of tramps, hustlers, and drug dealers. Thankfully, not much of this slump is visible anymore, yet only in the last two decades has the area really cleaned itself up…
Nowadays the resurgence of the West End is staggering. The tube station in Covent Garden is only likely to be shut due to overcrowding. Gangs of crushing tourists are far more prevalent than thugs leering in the shadows. A brief stroll through the area reveals brightly lit signs, family-friendly squares, a plethora of shows, chain shops, designer boutiques, and trendy restaurants set within characterful lanes and cobbled alleys. Once again the West End is the centre of commerce, creativity, and adventure in London – the most lively area of the city, and perhaps the entire country. But a darker, lawless past and present is never too far beneath the surface shine, either. Such dynamic tension drives the action behind any narrative. Despite first appearances, then, the West End provides the natural environment for any fictional tale, and is the perfect setting for a crime story, especially a detective novel like Dream of the Dead.

Where to Buy The Book:

About The Author:
M. G. Scarsbrook is the author of three novels and the editor of four literary collections. Since 2011 his books have sold more than 20,000 copies worldwide and been translated into five languages. English editions of his work are sold in paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats at all major online bookstores. A member of the prestigious Crime Writers' Association and the Society of Authors, he lives in the UK and is working on the next book in the West End Murders series. To learn more, please visit his website: www.mgscarsbrook.com

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Look What the Publisher Sent Me!!!!! Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie

I am so excited to read Not Quite the Classics!!!  It made my day when this book showed up in my mailbox.  Did I win a contest on Facebook?  I think so, I don't know for sure, but I am thrilled none the less!!  Thank you Penguin Canada Publishers!!!

In case you don't know who Colin Mochrie is, I've included a brief video.  He's such a hoot!!!!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pocket Full of Posies by Julie Coulter Bellon

Pocket Full of Posies
Author:  Julie Coulter Bellon
Published: October 2013
Publisher:  Independant
Pages:  210
Genre:  Romantic suspense
ISBN 9781492990918
Source:  a copy was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

*all photos, book summary and author bio are courtesy of Julie Coulter Bellon's blog and/or author website, used with permission.

They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer . . . 

Hostage Negotiation Team member Bart Gutierrez is shocked to find Lucy Aguayo, a girl he knew as a teenager, working for the deadly Castillo drug cartel. This revelation uncovers a secret in Bart's family so big it forces him to accept a dangerous offer: infiltrate the cartel to keep his family safe. Once inside the cartel’s headquarters he discovers that a large-scale attack on America is imminent and the only way to prevent it is to bring Lucy in on his plans---and hope she doesn’t betray him. 

Lucy Aguayo has become a key player in the Castillo cartel, but not for money or power---she's on a mission of vengeance for her father's murder. Just when she gets a chance to bring down the cartel leader responsible, Bart Gutierrez appears, stirring up buried feelings and disrupting all her plans. But as the enemy closes in from all sides, Lucy must choose between being free from her past or finding justice for it. Can she give up everything she’s ever worked for and reach for something more? 

My thoughts:

If you're looking for a novel that is quick to read by virtue of its compelling plot and writing, then you should check out author Julie Coulter Bellon's newest novel in her Hostage Negotiation Series, Pocket Full of Posies.

Oddly, I don't recall reading how this novel got its title.  I thought I'd find something along the lines of the children's verse:  "Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies, hush a, hush a we all fall down."  My imagination took me on a different kind of adventure but I readily admit I like where Bellon took this plot with a drug cartel, a reunion of old friends who find they're in love, and some very dangerous secondary characters like a hezbollah leader and terrorists.  There are some tense moments when lives are in danger and you just can't put the book down, not for a minute.  This is one of those read as you stir, while you eat, in the tub kind of books that we all love!

I noticed a few editing oversights but they do not distract from the experience of reading this novel.

Available on Amazon.com

Meet the author:

Julie is married with eight children and ten published books. She loves to travel and her favorite cities are probably Athens, Paris, Ottawa, and London. She would love to visit Hawaii, Australia, Ireland, and Scotland someday. She loves to read, write, teach, watch Castle, The Blacklist, and Hawaii Five-O, and eat Canadian chocolate. Not necessarily in that order.

Honestly, when does she find the time?

First Book of the Year!! Happy New Year Everyone!

Another year has begun today and I was able to sleep in!  What a delight after a month of being up at 3:15 am to work at the hour of ridiculous (5:30 am).  You see, I work in a bookstore and supervise the team in charge of putting out product, signage for promotions, changeovers and such.  It's early but you get used to it and for a month, it's not too bad.

Raclette (courtesy of Amazon)

How was your New Year's Eve?  We spent it together, most of us, enjoying Raclette, eating chocolate and munchies and playing cards.  I, however, being a tired woos, was falling asleep playing cards so I gave up and went to bed at 10:30 and was woken just in time to bring in the new year with family.  It was a delightful evening and a few friends stopped in briefly to wish their new year greetings.  We did the countdown with a local tv station, cheered, hugged and kissed and the merriment ensued without me as I retired to bed.

Today it is cloudy, threatening more snow and the roads are slick (at least they were last evening, so I don't expect they've miraculously changed for the better.).  We have a lot of snow but it is warming at week's end to highs of -1 and -7 Celsius, Thursday and Friday respectively, with a risk of freezing rain Thursday.  We've had more freezing rain this winter than I've ever seen in the last 13 years we've resided here in the Edmonton area.  Rather treacherous for walking and driving. (I got the cleats for my boots, it's that bad!)

When Sheila at Book Journey posted a 1st Book of the Year join in, I decided now would be a perfect time to read a book I've wanted to read for two years.  It's Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.   It's the story of a young orphan, Liesel, and her love for books, a love that begins with acquiring a book left behind at her brother's graveside.  In her foster parents' home, a young Jewish man stays hidden from the Nazis during the beginning of World War II.  Oh, the possible ramifications if he were found. It is also about a love of books and words during a terribly tumultuous time in history. I invite you to watch the extended trailer below with an introduction by the actress who plays Liesel.

It is 1939.  
Nazi Germany. 
The country is holding its breath.  
Death has never been busier, 
and will become busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger finds her life changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden int he snow.  It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.  So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read.  Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times.  When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish man in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
(from the book cover)

I'm so excited to be able to fit this book into my reading schedule... finally.  The movie of The Book Thief is out in theatres now and I can't wait to see it but first I must read the book!!  Are you the same way? Must you read first before watching the movie?

What is your first book of the year?


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