North Wales Folk Tales for Children

For anyone, young or old, who knows dragons do exist and not just in their dreams…

The Opinionated Reader

31297500Title: North Wales Folk Tales For Children

Writer: Fiona Collins

Publishing House: The History Press

Date of Publication: May 2nd 2016

Rating: 4 stars

”…under the stone, two dragons are curled up, fast asleep. All day, they sleep, but at night they wake, and then they fight. Their battle destroys your tower each night.”

Wales, lovely, mysterious, mythical Wales… A land of heroes and gods, a place where myth and history walk hand-in-hand only to be lost in times unrecorded, misty and shadowy. This beautiful little book is dedicated to the Northern part of Cymru, home to the legendary area of Snowdonia and Ynys Môn and to three World Heritage sites.

Σχετική εικόνα

(Porth Dafarch Cove, Anglesey)

Known once as the Kingdom of Gwynedd, North Wales has an endless wealth of traditions and folklore. We will meet a giant and a giantess who fight over a hammer. A clever boy named Gareth (…Wales…

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‘The Last Dragonslayer’ by Jasper Fforde

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The Last Dragonslayer novels by Jasper Fforde

While Thursday Next lives in a parallel universe, The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world of myths, illusions and modern magic.  Orphan Jennifer Strange, a practical teenager, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management with eccentric magicians who create irregular spells.  But magic and dragons are losing power and Jennifer discovers evil King Snodd IV wants to grab the Dragonlands, 350 acres of prime real estate.  She dislikes the King’s greed and so does the last Dragonslayer, an old wizard named Brian who controls dragons with an ancient sword.  Helped by her cool friend Tiger Prawns, and a metal-munching Quarkbeast with frighteningly sharp teeth, Jennifer rallies to protect the Dragonlands.  Meanwhile, wizard Brian is hatching a secret plan.  Jennifer doesn’t realise she is part of that plan.  This is the first book in the Last Dragonslayer/Kazam Chronicles by Jasper Fforde and I loved reading their vital quest.  Suitable for 12 years and up, the second and third books are The Song Of The Quarkbeast and The Eye Of Zoltar.  There will be a fourth book in the series but at this stage only working titles have been released; possibly Humans vs Trolls or The Strange And The Wizard or The Great Troll War.  Guess we’ll just have to wait for the next quirky edition!

Author Jasper Fforde

Publisher Hodder & Stoughton UK

Movie by Mallinson Television Productions on Vimeo screened by Sky1

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

The Last Dragonslayer Jennifer Strange

‘A Garden of Lilies’ Tales from Judith Rossell

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Page 39 “Peregrine was a disobedient child…”

With a knowing smile, this Victorian-style book of manners is reminiscent of the period of parenting when misbehaving children were given orders and told dire consequences would ensue if they did not obey.  Despite warnings, when a child in this book ignores an instruction, there is an aftermath of great magnitude.

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Page 28 “Jesephany and Keziah were unruly and wild…”

In “A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds – by Prudence A Goodchild” children’s author and illustrator Judith Rossell has produced an atmospherically illustrated and tightly written volume.  She has also mastered the art of a left-right jab, hitting with swift endings which leave the reader breathless.

Each punchy short story closes with a judicious moral.  For example, Isadora daydreamed too much during her chores.  One day she daydreamed while idly brushing her hair.  Let’s just say she didn’t get to finish the task.  “Moral: For hair that’s glossy, clean and bright, Two hundred strokes, both morn and night”.

After Isadora’s tale, there is what appears to be a lovely page entitled “Care of the Hair” with a recipe for making Soft Soap which “…will improve both the texture and colour of the hair” until things get a bit nauseating.  Apart from kitchen scraps, the mixture must boil for hours until it forms a clear, thick jelly.

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“A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds” by Prudence A Goodchild (author Judith Rossell) ABC Books Australia

Basically the stories are about kids being kids and the 21st century reader should see the endings for what they are – a sample of Victorian etiquette and psychology which we would not dream of using on children today.  Right?  Okay, explain that to your child and laugh.

This slim book is approximately sixty pages (with attractive binding and colour plates) and scattered throughout are “Interesting Facts” and helpful hints like An Economical Recipe for a Plain Cake, A Useful Compass, Parlour Games and my personal favourite, An Album of Sea-Weeds.  I will work on drying and pressing seaweed during my next holiday!  Hmm, would seaweed smell like that starfish I once brought home?

In closing, I will give a shout-out to Mr Lindon of Woolloongabba, Queensland (Page 45) who grew a giant marrow.  I think he must have read the book’s suggestion To Grow a Giant Marrow which signifies “A Garden of Lilies” is indeed a versatile volume!

I cannot give you a childproof safety rating but I think it is suitable for a sliding age scale and my own rating is 5-star.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Judith Rossell — Biography

Judith Rossell is the multi-award-winning author-illustrator of the bestselling Stella Montgomery series (Withering-by-Sea, Wormwood Mire, A Garden of Lilies and forthcoming Wakestone Hall).  Judith has written thirteen books and illustrated more than eighty, and her work has been published in UK, US, Germany and translated into more than twenty languages.  Before beginning her career in children’s books, Judith worked as a government scientist (not a mad scientist, a normal kind of scientist) and also for a cotton-spinning company (which made threads for T-shirts, denim jeans, mops and teabag strings).  Judith lives in Melbourne, Australia with a cat the size of a walrus.

ACCLAIM FOR WITHERING-BY-SEA AND WORMWOOD MIRE:
Indie Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Industry Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
CBCA Awards – Honour Book 2015, Notable Book 2017
Davitt Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – Shortlisted 2015
ABA Booksellers’ Choice Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Design Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Aurealis Awards – Shortlisted 2015

‘Behind the Sun’ Series by Deborah Challinor

In a dread-laden atmosphere of shocking sights and smells, the transportation of four convicts to the women’s gaol Parramatta Female Factory is as grim as their backstory.  Although hiding a terrible secret between them, these young women are resilient and struggle against the harsh conditions.

The Convict Girls four-book series written by Deborah Challinor follows four bonded female convicts Friday Woolfe, Rachel Winter, Sarah Morgan and Harriet Clarke who are shipped from London’s infamous Newgate Prison to the penal colony of Sydney Town, New South Wales, to work off their sentences.  The penalties for petty crime, like the strange new land, are unforgiving.

Set in 1832, the travails of Friday, Rachel, Sarah and Harrie jump off the page as each book tells the story from each woman’s perspective while moving the narrative forward.  Titles are Behind the Sun, Girl of Shadows, The Silk Thief, A Tattooed Heart.  As they work through their bond in different forms of servitude, the reader follows their friendship, the physical and mental strain, and their all-important futures.

Author Deborah Challinor skilfully expands and elaborates on their new lives (the homebody, the thief, the seamstress, the prostitute) while keeping the voice true.  She gets the more risqué messages across without unnecessary crudeness.  Her well researched, well written plots and strong supporting characters, like cruel Bella Jackson and handsome Dr James Downey, blend together to spin a gripping yarn, spiced with highs, lows, loves, laughs, drama and murder.

I love good historical fiction, this quartet is superb (look beyond the chick-lit cover art) and Deborah Challinor knows how to lure her readers.  The outstanding imagery, ripe for screen adaptation, kept me reading long after I should have turned off the light.  I strongly recommend this 5-star series and suggest reading the stories in sequence so they unfold in all their splendour.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIODeborah Challinor Author PhotoDeborah Challinor is a writer and PhD historian from Waikato in New Zealand.  She lived in Australia while researching the stories for her Convict Girls series.  The books follow four young woman transported to New South Wales for petty crimes. The character of Friday Woolfe is loosely based on her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Anstey who was caught stealing a silk handkerchief and sent out to Sydney Town on Lady Juliana, a convict ship dispatched in 1789 from England to Australia.  Deborah Challinor has written over 16 books, historical fiction and non-fiction titles. Website http://www.deborahchallinor.com/index.html

Adam Ant ‘Stand and Deliver’ Book Review

You will recognise the name Adam Ant if you were young in 1980s and into the romantic New Wave neo-punk era of glam pop music.  Adam and The Ants created a unique niche for themselves with significantly different music and lyrics, fantasy and plenty of make-up and dress-up.  The title of his autobiography is from their popular song “Stand and Deliver” wherein the video Adam famously dives through a glass window onto a medieval banquet table.  The Ants topped the charts and in 1981 had seven singles including “Stand and Deliver” in UK Top 40 simultaneously.

At this time, Adam was a hugely successful singer/songwriter/performer and his onstage fashions were widely copied.  He was a manic whirlwind of an entertainer, which the fans adored.  His antics usually eclipsed his Ant band, although they were immortalise in “Ant Music”, a single which spent five weeks at No.1 on the charts in Australia.  Mostly, it was all about Adam.  This subsequently took a terrible toll on him physically and mentally.  After detailing his early life, which drastically shaped his adult life (explaining why he didn’t drink or smoke hence the satirical song “Goody Two-Shoes”) his autobiography takes off.  It chronologically details his dysfunctional private life, diagnosis of bipolar disorder, knee reconstruction surgery and the highs and lows of his career.

THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, MAYBE NOT…

Fans know that Adam is not his real name and I was surprised by the chapter on how and why he had the sudden idea to reinvent himself.  After a failed band, a suicide attempt, and recovering from a bout of depression, he walked away from it to start afresh.  He ditched his old name Stuart Leslie Goddard and adopted the persona of Adam.  He married young and his estranged yet loyal wife touchingly changed her name to Eve.  The Ant band came later, named after ants because they are industrious little creatures and I think he respected their work ethic.  Adam Ant was born.

Press quote: “Adam Ant’s tongue-in-cheek tunes are delivered with an excess of flair and good humour” 

My main impression of Adam during the peak of his fame is handsome, self-obsessed, cheekily image conscious when his mood was good; a control freak and not a particularly caring person when he was down.  His personal album photographs show women or band members draped around or nearby Adam but never him exhibiting any closeness to them.  Not so much a character trait, as an example of how his early family life shaped his view of the world.  No Commitment seems to be his subconscious catch cry.  Listen to the insightful words of his song “Friend or Foe”.  Even by fickle music industry standards, he never stayed in one place too long.  The only place he maintained for any length of time was his beloved London flat in Primrose Hill so when he burned out, he took time out.

Over all, I feel he keeps the reader at arm’s length, divulging certain things (often what was already public knowledge at the time – I know ‘cos I was an admirer) and keeping some juicier bits for another time.  Understandably so, particularly in the areas of his love life.  Adam gives the impression he expected fidelity from the woman who shared his life at the time but when it came to his basic urges, he had no misgivings.  Adam used women as one would use headache tablets.  If he was depressed, a woman became his natural high, a temporary escape from his troubles.  Troubles both real and imagined.  He slept with many female friends, fans and famous ladies who appeared to fall under the spell of his charismatic personality.  Many found out after a couple of weeks that he had a “glitch”.  Some struggled bravely to help him, he married twice, his mother stayed supportive, two creepy women stalked him, but most just walked away.

Adam has loaded his book with crazy incidents and name-dropping snippets like meeting Queen Elizabeth II, dating film stars or how a current friend would turn up in his rock video.  He had No.1 albums, knew influential creatives in the music business and certainly mingled with some high profile, artistic people.  A point which stands out for me is when Adam Ant became famous outside UK, he had no problems with money.  Sure, he had to criss-cross the Atlantic at various times during the year to avoid British taxes but he never seemed to want for anything. He’d buy a new house or jump onto a plane like the average person might catch a bus.  This did not help his mental stability and he suffered sleep deprivation, hallucinations and irrational fears which undermined his future.

Adam Ant tattoo: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes”

This autobiography has an epilogue but it finishes prior to his comeback.  Adam Ant has since added movies and further tours to his list.  He will again be in concert 2018 touring UK and USA.  He’s now older, stockier (due to medication side-effects) and much wiser with a grown-up daughter Lily Goddard.  Anyone who reads this book will applaud his struggles and triumphs in the volatile and demanding world of music.

Number 1 ‘Stand and Deliver’
From: ‘Prince Charming’ (1981)
Number 2 ‘Antmusic’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 3 ‘Dog Eat Dog’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 4 ‘Beat My Guest’
From: Single B-side (1980)
Number 5 ‘Car Trouble’
From: ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (1979)
Number 6 ‘Physical (You’re So)’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 7 ‘Vive Le Rock’
From: ‘Vive Le Rock’ (1985)
Number 8 ‘Prince Charming’
From: ‘Prince Charming’ (1981)
Number 9 ‘Killer in the Home’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 10 ‘Desperate But Not Serious’
From: ‘Friend or Foe’ (1982)

Ten Best Adam Ant Songs : courtesy of Dave Swanson on Diffuser FM.
http://diffuser.fm/best-adam-ant-songs/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

WordPress 100 Posts Milestone

Assassin and the Actress ‘Reckoning: A Memoir’

A highly charged and deeply honest memoir, ‘Reckoning’ combines research into the life of assassin and Polish World War II survivor Zbigniew Szubanski , father of Australian actress Magda Szubanski, and Magda herself as she struggles to come to terms with her father’s legacy and forge her own career within the world of television and movies.  This absorbing, eloquently written book contains remarkable revelations of wartime espionage, emotional family ties and facing the truth, and I was enthralled to the very last page.

First published in 2016, ‘Reckoning’ is Magda’s debut novel, and courageously written.  I must admit my initial thoughts were ‘Wow, she’s brave putting that in writing’ but it made me love this book even more.  Definitely a five-star read!  Magda relates one of those true stories from childhood to adulthood which hits the right cord with just about everyone.  We’ve had similar feelings and domestic issues and career changes and sexuality debates and, yes, sadly, the father we got to understand a little too late.

‘Reckoning’ has gone on to bigger things but here’s the first results:
Winner Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, 2016
Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Biography of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2016
Winner Indie Award for Non-Fiction, 2016
Winner Victorian Community History Award Judges’ Special Prize, 2016
Shortlisted Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Shortlisted Dobbie Literary Award, 2016
Shortlisted National Biography Award, 2016

Website https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/reckoning
Twitter https://twitter.com/magdaszubanski

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Magda Szubanski is one of Australia’s best known comedy performers.  She lives in Melbourne and began her career in university revues before writing and appearing in a number of comedy shows.  Magda created the iconic character of Sharon Strzelecki in ABC-TV series ‘Kath and Kim’.  She performs in theatre productions and has acted in movies – notably ‘Babe’ and ‘Babe Pig in the City’ – and currently ‘Three Summers’ directed by Ben Elton and ‘The BBQ’ directed by Stephen Amis.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

DBC Pierre Writes at Feverpitch

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Photograph of novelist DBC Pierre by Murdo MacLeod for The Guardian.

“I wrote 300 pages in five weeks,” says novelist DBC Pierre, who made his debut with Vernon God Little, a Booker Prize winner, and delivers writing guidance in his contemporary work Release the Bats.

I enjoyed his gutsy and wildly perceptive advice which perhaps appeals to a ‘pantser’ style of writing rather than a ‘plotter’ but the quotable gems will stick with me.  Wisdom with a 21st century twist and language to match.

“A few pages into writing and find yourself drowning, as I did.”  DBC Pierre.

“When I started to write,” says self-confessed bad boy DBC Pierre in The Guardian interview, “I wasn’t particularly well-read, but I found two things critical. Together they can turn a pile of thoughts into a novel, in case you’re at a loose end next weekend, or are in prison. They’re also helpful if you’ve swum a few pages into writing and find yourself drowning, as I did.”

“The first might seem stupid but I actually found it the main hitch in getting words down and ‘letting rip’, ‘sticking with it’, and all that noble stuff we’re supposed to do. ‘The responsibility of awful writing’ was Hemingway’s twist on his own phrase ‘the awful responsibility of writing’. As the man who also said ‘first drafts are shit’, he pointed to a truth: if the key to finishing a novel is sticking with it, then the main challenge is to face writing crap.”

DBC Pierre Vernon God Little Bookcover

“All I liked after writing the first page of Vernon God Little was the voice. It had things to say about everything. I could feel it wanting to say them. But I went on to write 300 pages that didn’t make a book. I wrote them in five weeks, in a fever, without looking back. And at the end, I still liked the voice – but it hadn’t really said anything. Or rather, it had said plenty but nothing else had really happened. I soon found advantages to having done it that way.”

“Even writing 50 pages of crap gives a sense of achievement.”  DBC Pierre. 

“For one thing, I would usually find it hard to move on to page two if I didn’t like page one. I bet you could wallpaper the planet with books that never got to page two. And it’s a circular trap, in that some of the energy you need to forge ahead and push your page count up is generated by forging ahead and pushing your page count up. Even crap gives a sense of achievement when you get to 10, 20, 50 pages of it. When you don’t get past page one, you lose the spur. After that, the thing spirals into bad feeling and dies while you check email.”

“Half the problem is the expectation that we’ll see finished writing at once, more or less in its place. But I wouldn’t have written what I wrote if I’d thought about structure and form at the time. Obviously, if we’re writing about a boy going to the river, we make him go to the river. I don’t mean write without an idea – just that better ideas will come later. They attract each other and grow. We write crap in the meantime. It can work like a compost.”

“If you watch a dieter breaking their diet, you’ll see that they gobble things before they can stop themselves, before the internal arguments, before the shame. Guiltily and fast: that’s how to approach a first draft. A free writer is not something you are, but a place you can go. To start that climb: speed. Don’t look down. Keep a note of your page or word count, watch it grow like an investment. Amp yourself up. When we do things this way, a phenomenon comes to bear that justifies our approach: art. Some of what we write will crystallise for reasons we can’t explain, and the story comes into a life of its own.”

“If the job gets boring, loosen up…throw in a new character.”  DBC Pierre.

“Eventually, take that feverish pile, bravely or drunk, and read it back. Get over the cringing and find a glimmer, see what sentence or idea intrigues or excites you. Start from there and build out. If the job gets boring, loosen up, take a tangent, throw in a new character. In this process, the work begins to show itself. We show ourselves. When gems have grown into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, look again. Find the part that works best and lift the rest up to it. This is how it climbs, by following what pleases us most.”

“We can’t compete with Shakespeare or Hemingway, nor should we try. Our particular feeling is all we can bring to this party, and our whole job should be to wrestle it into a story that works for us alone. After that we can dress it for others to read. A different job entirely. Save that for a strong coffee on a Monday.”

One of three different interviews by Chris Wiegand, Dave Simpson and Homa Khaleeli.  Wed 22 Feb 2017 06.00 AEDT “Culture” The Guardian newspaper.
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/feb/21/frank-turner-dbc-pierre-creative-industry-advice
Heading : So You Want To Be An Artist? Then Let The Pros Show You How It’s Done.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Work-Life Balance is a Myth’ Review

Integrate by John Drury
Whole-of-life plan

Traditional work-life balance means separate compartments in our lives, but lines can become blurred, pressure can build and conflicts emerge.  Instead of working against each other, integration means all parts can work together to achieve a positive outcome for our lifestyle expectations.  Then realisation that your work-life balance is “out of kilter” will no longer apply.  I wish I had read this book before my divorce!

John Drury is a presenter, trainer, facilitator, and author of new book “Integrate” which challenges busy people to rethink their approach to life and work.  “The demands of work have never been greater.  A balancing act is not the answer.  Work-life integration is the only way forward in a 24/7 world” says Drury, whose painful personal experience with burnout, and subsequent recovery while in a senior leadership role, motivated him to start helping other high achievers create and maintain a realistic lifestyle.

In his book, Drury outlines a way to align all the parts of your life so they work in unison.  He says “This takes effort, but it’s well worth it and the end result will give you a schedule far easier to work with than just a big juggling act which no-one ever seems to make work.”  He believes that you must look after yourself at your very core; respect your health, your wellness, your relationships and your work commitments.

In John Burfitt’s interview, Drury explains that self-care and implementing achievable self-management strategies are essential.  Drury goes on to say that once important areas are defined and outlined, it becomes a matter of making decisions and planning goals “And you must do that, as a goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Integrate by John Drury 02
Image is an edited extract from Chapter 3 of “Integrate: Why work-life balance is a myth and what you need to create a fulfilling lifestyle” by John Drury  John Drury.biz

Further reading: “Integrate” by John Drury

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Why, Sue Grafton, Why?

Sue Grafton Bookstack

American author Sue Grafton passed away in Santa Barbara on 28 December 2017 after a two-year battle with cancer.  On hearing the sad news, millions of readers, writers and fans must have screamed “Noooo” and fallen to the ground, arms raised to the sky, wailing “Why, Sue Grafton, why?”  Well, at least I did, and that’s no lie.

Famous for her 25-book Alphabet crime series, Sue Grafton’s last Kinsey Millhone book Z will remain unwritten.  To quote her family “The alphabet stops at Y” and this has been echoed around the world.

Sue Grafton single-handedly brought me back into reading and showed me the joys of a good detective novel.  I was floundering in a bad ten years of my life where I’d lost my father and was struggling with the care of my ailing mother while battling my own ill-health when, quite out of the blue, I was given a second-hand paperback of Grafton’s book “K is for Killer”.

PI Kinsey Millhone walked into my life.  Grafton’s detective series – “H is for Homicide”, “N is for Noose”, “V is for Vengeance” and so on – transported me into a place I understood, 1980s an era I knew, yet detailed the life of a woman in a job which was so foreign, so far removed from my own experiences that I was immediately entranced.  Or as my father would have said “Caught, hook, line and sinker.”

This fortuitous state of affairs meant I had many books to read before I was up-to-date with the current publications.  Here I would like to thank my cousin Laurie who willingly sent me several paperbacks to feed my addiction.  So I read one and moved straight onto the next, graduating from that first battered paperback to hardcovers and finally e-book editions.

The major characters are unchanging; Kinsey is a private detective in California who joined the police force then left to acquire her detective licence; landlord Henry Pitts is now forever in his kitchen; gregarious Rosie; love interest Cheney Phillips and Robert Dietz.  It was fascinating watching Kinsey evolve, if that’s the right word, because in all she only advanced a couple of years and is destined to remain immortalised in her thirties.

It seems Sue Grafton did not even draft a copy of her final book.  The old adage “Leave them wanting more” is true but not the case.  Her family is adamant that although Grafton had a working title (prophetically) “Zero”, there will be no final book, no ghost writer, no movie and no happy ending – just a blank space on the bookshelf.

My condolences to her family.  The final chapter has ended for Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone RIP.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Sue Grafton Alphabet Crime Series Featuring Kinsey Millhone

  1. A is for Alibi (1982)
  2. B Is for Burglar (1985)
  3. C Is for Corpse (1985)
  4. D Is for Deadbeat (1987)
  5. E Is for Evidence (1988)
  6. F Is for Fugitive (1989)
  7. G Is for Gumshoe (1989)
  8. H Is for Homicide (1991)
  9. I Is for Innocent (1992)
  10. J Is for Judgement (1993)
  11. K Is for Killer (1994)
  12. L Is for Lawless (1995)
  13. M Is for Malice (1996)
  14. N Is for Noose (1998)
  15. O Is for Outlaw (1999)
  16. P Is for Peril (2001)
  17. Q Is for Quarry (2002)
  18. R Is for Ricochet (2004)
  19. S Is for Silence (2005)
  20. T Is for Trespass (2007)
  21. U Is for Undertow (2009)
  22. V Is for Vengeance (2011)
  23. W is for Wasted (2013)
  24. X (2015)
  25. Y is for Yesterday (2017)

‘Kitty Peck Music Hall Murder Mysteries’ Review

London winter 1880, Limehouse, and chorus girls are disappearing from music halls in Paradise, the criminal precinct run with ruthless efficiency by the ferocious and opium addicted Lady Ginger aka The Lady.

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders
Published 2013
(First book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

Seventeen-year-old Kitty Peck, a seamstress at The Gaudy, is summoned by The Lady and blackmailed to perform a hair-raising act every night to uncover vital information about the missing girls.  Kitty is taunted by The Lady who withholds the truth about her family, particularly her beloved brother Joey.  Before long Kitty becomes the talk of London with her daring show and the plan begins to work.  Gradually she’s drawn into the world of high society ‘toffs’ and embroiled in depravity and murder.  With only her two friends Peggy and set painter Lucca for support, Kitty is shocked to find herself facing an adversary more horrifying than The Lady crime baron.

First of all, the pace and atmosphere is superb throughout the books.  Immediately I was right in the action and swept along on a very dark ride.  The characters evolve nicely and flesh out into interesting and tortured human beings who find themselves in rather bizarre circumstances.  They have subplots with much to hide, emotions seesaw as their personal history gradually unfolds.

There’s a heavy dose of Cockney slang which, due to an Anglophile father, I picked up quickly enough.  Some reveals are to be expected but one took me by surprise!  The novels have adult content.  However, don’t expect true romance.  It’s the Queen Victoria version of an action movie.  Grim, grimy, cold, damp London of the 19th century is a backdrop to dirty deeds done by black-hearted people and Kitty must keep her wits about her to survive.  The endings are cliff-hangers which lead into each book.

Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill-Fortune
Published 2015
(Second book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

Due to spoilers, I cannot reveal too much about Book Two or Three.  Certain text in the following review has been taken from the book blurb:

London’s East End, March 1881 and Kitty Peck, a spirited but vulnerable young woman, is the reluctant heiress to Paradise, the criminal empire previously overseen by the formidable Lady Ginger aka The Lady.  Kitty is now The Lady, with all that entails; servants, buildings, stock, music halls and vicious crime barons.  Far from the colour and camaraderie of the music hall where Kitty had been working, this newfound power brings isolation and uncertainty, and a disdainful lawyer Telferman.

Desperate to reconnect with Joey, her estranged brother, Kitty travels to Paris with Lucca.  She is unable to refuse the request of a handsome stranger to take a child back to London.  Within days of their return, it’s clear she has been followed by someone, and this someone is determined to kill the child and anyone who stands in their way…starting with Kitty.

There are mesmerizing and harrowing scenes throughout this book which serve to shape Kitty and her world.  More of the secondary characters emerge and betrayal rears its ugly head.  Tension builds as Kitty nears the deadline to meet the other Barons of London, merchants, jewellers, bankers, the controlling elite who are rotten to the core. Will they break her and destroy the Paradise she has inherited?

Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow
Published 2017
(Third book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

London, the hot summer of 1881, and the streets of Limehouse are thick with coal smoke and opium; and Kitty Peck is choking on the ever-present bitterness of evil.  At eighteen Kitty has inherited Paradise, she is The Lady of a sprawling criminal empire on the banks of the Thames.  Determined to do things differently from the fearsome Lady Ginger, she now realises that the past casts a menacing and treacherous shadow.

Plagued by city heat, haunted by a terrible secret and facing more deaths, Kitty is stalked by a criminal league intent on humiliation and destruction; she should never go out alone.  But she’s ready to fight for the future of everyone she cares for and more.  Including journalist Sam Collins?

Always difficult to review books with clever twists and turns one cannot expose.  ‘Descriptive’ and ‘gripping’ hardly does them justice.  Sense of place, POV and clothing are beautifully transcribed.  There is one minor point I noticed when reading––there is little mention of food.  Tea and gin are drunk habitually, and champagne is used as a lever, but food is not often consumed.  No matter, they are gritty stories which had me on the edge of my seat.  While it is not an era I would like to inhabit, I can highly recommend this series with a shiny five star rating.

To be concluded in Book Four – Kitty Peck and the Parliament of Shadows.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Griffin was born within the sound of Bow bells, making her a true-born Cockney.  She has worked as an assistant to an antiques dealer, a journalist for local newspapers and now works for The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.  “Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders”, Kate’s first book, won the Stylist / Faber crime writing competition and she has written other genres.  Kate’s maternal family lived in Victorian Limehouse and her grandmother told her many stories of life around the docks.  Kate lives in St Albans, north of London.

Further reading  Author Kate Griffin is interviewed by Sarah Oliver  a close look at her lifestyle and writing methods.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell

Real life book shop owner Shaun Bythell tells of the humorous, exasperating and madcap experiences he encounters working in The Book Shop, the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland.  Also, The Book Shop is situated in Wigtown, known as Scotland’s ‘National Book Town’.  Bythell writes a compelling and amusing account of his daily life, from eccentric local characters to a decline in traditional ways of life where diversity is not always good news for rural farmers or booksellers.  A good book for booklovers or would-be book dealers.

Read a full review by George Delaney:
Readings Review of ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’

Excerpt from The Diary of a Bookseller:

“For a few years I have given over the formal drawing room above the shop to an art class for one afternoon a week. It is taught by local artist Davy Brown and takes place every Tuesday. A dozen or so retired ladies make up the group. At this time of year the house is bitterly cold, so I left Norrie instructions to light the fire and put the space heater on for an hour before they were due to arrive, but he forgot. One of them almost needed to be resuscitated. I would happily let them use the space for free, but they kindly pay me enough to cover the heating costs and a bit more beside.”

Shaun Bythell Bookshop Owner
Shaun Bythell (PIC: Robert Perry, The Scotsman newspaper) and website link The Book Shop Wigtown Scotland

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘I Went Walking’ by Sue Machin

I Went Walking Picture Book
Quack

This is my first children’s picture-book book review.  Legions of preschool storytime fans are hanging out for this one!  Of course, you will have to read it to them.  I could have bored you with reams (remember reams?) of lucid, erudite adult book reviews but I’ve decided to revisit an all-time rollicking favourite “I Went Walking”.

In my no-holds-barred, honest-to-goodness style, I will explore the deeper meaning of taking a walk through a farmyard.  Or maybe it’s all just good fun.

“I Went Walking” written by Sue Machin and illustrated by Julie Vivas
An Omnibus Book from Scholastic Australia
First published 1989, reprinted approx 23 times, sometimes twice in one year.

My softcover copy of this slim 32-page volume celebrates 25 years of publication so that means at the time of writing it’s now 28 years old.  I am sure the book’s huge following of under 5s will be planning a suitable 30th shindig, perhaps everyone invited to come as their favourite barnyard animal.  There could be hay bales to sit on while devouring plate-loads of themed food.  The country and western band would…sorry, got a bit off-topic there…

The front cover artwork displays a young boy talking to a quacking duck.  Open to the second page and this young boy is putting on his coat.  Pay attention to this coat, and other parts of his apparel.  Naturally the page reads “I went walking” with the response on the next page “What did you see?” and thereafter.  Without going into too much detail, he sees a black cat, a brown horse, an apple tree, a red cow who offers him a ride, a green duck and the boy sheds his first piece of clothing.

“I went walking” and “What did you see?” other sidelines like a sack of potatoes but in this instance it’s a muddy pink pig which is hosed down, necessitating the removal of wet shoes, then socks and t-shirt.  The gang of farm animals is following the boy when he bumps into a friendly yellow dog.  He marches off with all six animals following.  They do a wild dance together and that’s the end of the story.  You really have to see the pictures in this picture book to appreciate it.  The clear, colourful drawings and uncluttered storyline combine to make a five-star bedtime reading experience.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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‘Rain Dogs’ by Adrian McKinty

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Ulster Riot

It’s 1987 and things are still nasty in riot-torn Northern Ireland.  The Troubles in Ulster won’t go away.  A dreaded mercury tilt bomb causes a fatality in the Royal Ulster Constabulary ranks when least expected. In fact, many things happen when least expected.  The old ‘dead body in the locked room’ scenario rears its ugly head again.  The unassailable Carrickfergus Castle location is picturesque but the freaky circumstances are not.  Pretty reporter Lily Bigelow’s body is found sprawled in the snowy courtyard at the base of the castle keep.  The castle is locked.  Nobody went in and nobody came out, so what’s the deal?  The facts don’t add up and it’s a case of did she fall or was she pushed?

Without much to go on, DI Sean Duffy of Carrickfergus RUC uses dogged police work, video tape footage, and many repeat suspect interviews, until small pieces slowly emerge.  There is an outline to this puzzle but can it be filled in?  Convincing evidence is hard to come by.  Much in all as I love Sean, I do think he took two matters at face value even though I was shouting at him to double check.  And he does appear to be maturing, perhaps a little bit more circumspect, managing to curb his anger when insulted by hostile Larne CID Chief Inspector Kennedy at a horrific crime scene.

We are left to wonder what part Sean’s old friend and ex-cop Tony McIlroy has to play in his role as protector of the visiting Finnish delegation Mr Laakso Mr Ek & Company.  They are on a tight schedule, which involves finding a suitable factory location to manufacture Lennätin mobile phones, so these dignitaries are unhappy when Mr Laakso’s wallet is stolen.  Sean is unhappy too.  More so later when he has to interview them on the ice-road island of Hailuoto near Oulu in Finland.

The series regulars appear, solid unattractive Sergeant McCrabban and intelligent handsome DC Lawson who steals the limelight with a couple of excellent ideas.  Some of my favourite cameos are from vague Chief Inspector McArthur and major irritant Sergeant Dalziel (gotta wonder about that name) and Sean’s lady love Beth plus the ever-delightful Mrs Campbell from nextdoor, married with kids but oh-so-smouldering.  The only thing which grated on me was the dead giveaway of the chapter titles.  I like them a bit more esoteric.

It seemed to be the year for paedophilia in crime fiction; the RUC Sex Crimes Unit at Newtownabbey gets involved and Jimmy Savile puts in an appearance.  On a different note, Belfast has a visit from world heavyweight boxer The Champ, Muhammed Ali.  I do enjoy Adrian McKinty’s diversions, these little re-writings of history.  I wouldn’t class Rain Dogs as a scary thriller but in a gripping scene, Sean knew he ‘was afraid and fear releases power.  Fear is the precursor of action’.  McKinty also writes the dread and tedium of everyday life in succinct wording (without me needing grim online images) and Sean’s days are peppered with music and references.  Which incidentally are where the titles of the books are derived.

Now living in Australia, Irish-born author Adrian McKinty has again worked his magic with Sean, maybe with a little help from St Michael (or St Francis de Sales) and no doubt book six in the Sean Duffy series Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly is equally as good.  At least I hope so because I don’t think readers are ready to kiss this Carrickfergus detective goodbye just yet.  I can recommend Rain Dogs if you want to sink your canines into a distinctively styled crime novel.

Books in the Sean Duffy series:

  1. The Cold, Cold Ground 2012
  2. I Hear the Sirens in the Street 2013 – my first favourite
  3. In the Morning I’ll be Gone 2014
  4. Gun Street Girl 2015 – my second favourite
  5. Rain Dogs 2016
  6. Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly 2017

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Adrian McKinty 01
The Troubles
Adrian McKinty 02
More Troubles
Adrian McKinty 03
Big Troubles

‘Breakfast With The Borgias’ by DBC Pierre

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Scary

Correct thinking and clear vision are applied to wunderkind Ariel Panek, a computer scientist and associate professor but he is powerless when heavy fog sees him stranded overnight in the rambling, dilapidated Cliffs Hotel on the Suffolk coast.  Without connectivity, Ariel is tormented by the “no network” signal because he is overdue to talk at a conference in Geneva where he will meet his undergraduate girlfriend Zeva Neely.

Meanwhile the odd hotel staff and weird guests are making him feel uncomfortable.  A bizarre set of circumstances conspire to prevent him leaving the hotel and he must fend off unwanted attention, cut through the Borgia family secrets and subterfuge, and try to battle his way back to normality.

Reclusive, modern-day Booker prize-winning author DBC Pierre has loaded this eerie Hammer Films-inspired novella with his trademark blend of social, scientific and spiritual matters.  Gradually the layers are peeled back to reveal the chilling truth behind this unsettling tale.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Reviewer Notes:
1.  The woman in the story who shares my first name is definitely not me!
2.  If you are reading this, Peter, I’d love you to autograph my copy of the above.
3.  “Release the Bats: Writing Your Way Out Of It” published 2016 by DBC Pierre.
4.  Synopsis: “You can be insecure and be a writer.  You can be unsuccessful and be a writer.  You can be a bad person and be a writer … You just have to write.  That’s where it gets tricky”.

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Guide

‘Lost and Found’ by Brooke Davis

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Millie

Millie knows that everything must die and keeps a record of assorted creatures in her Book Of Dead Things.  Sadly someone close to her becomes a dead thing too, which causes her mother to do something wrong.

Since Agatha’s husband died, she never leaves the house and shouts at people in the street as they walk by her window.  Until she sees Millie across the street.

Karl has lost his beloved wife and just moved into an aged care home.  He feels bereft as he watches his son leave.  Then he has a light-bulb moment and walks out in search of something.

They are lost until they find each other and embark on a very unusual journey of discovery, reconciliation and acceptance.  A book with sadness, humour and eye-opening revelations as seven year old Millie Bird, eighty-two year old Agatha and eighty-seven year old Karl slowly but surely reveal what lies deep within their hearts.

Not written in the conventional manner, it does take a couple of pages to assimilate but then this is half the book’s charm.  The funny bits are outrageous, the sorrowful times brought tears to my eyes especially reading about the older characters, and the backdrop is superb.  Millie is a delight throughout the road trip, a trip which is illogically undertaken yet surprisingly exciting.

The trio endure a bumpy ride but it comes out loud and clear that You Are Never Too Late and You Are Never Too Old.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights Romance?

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Homeward

I was a huge fan of the Brontë sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlotte.  Now I’m older, wiser and had a couple of love affairs, I see that their work, in particular Emily Brontë’s novel “Wuthering Heights”, reflects their own thwarted love lives.

Due to society, etiquette, the parsonage, limited opportunities for women in 1847, and through no fault of her own, Emily Brontë was greatly restricted when it came to writing about doomed male/female relationships.  To me, “Wuthering Heights” mirrors a lack of follow through, this inability to write a believable mental and physical connection between two people doesn’t come about because there’s no inherent knowledge behind it.  Although it could be argued that it’s a fictitious story, even in her sheltered life as a clergyman’s daughter, I think the themes of domestic upheaval, male aggression and marrying for prestige was something she may have encountered.  One man I almost felt sorry for in the novel is Edgar Linton, the second-best husband with good prospects.  To quote from Catherine “Whatever our souls are made of, his (Heathcliff) and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning or frost from fire.”

Nevertheless, I have re-read this novel and could just about smack the protagonists heads together and say “get real, guys!”  If I were Catherine I would have stayed well away from Heathcliff, walked off without a backward glance.  Either that or suggest he has counselling; obsessive and vengeful man that he is.  No, wait, they both needed counselling!  Catherine certainly had issues. She says of Heathcliff “I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day, as recommend you to bestow your heart on him!…He’s not a rough diamond, nor a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man” but she doesn’t heed her own warning.  To add to the angst, her brother Hindley is a nasty fly-in-the-ointment with his uppity treatment of adopted Heathcliff.  Gotta have someone to abuse, hey Hindley, especially Heathcliff with his uncontrollable gypsy blood, right?

The sense-of-place is strong for me, dark, brooding Yorkshire, and I shiver when reading some of the almost poetic descriptions.  But from my viewpoint, to say Catherine and Heathcliff were passionately in love is overstating their affair when they caused each other so much misery.  Their families are destroyed and their agonising love does not redeem them in the end.  This novel is billed ‘romance’ but for me, from my modern perspective, it seems a turmoil of mixed emotions between two foolish individuals who should have known when to call it quits.

It’s a pity that Emily Brontë died young and this is the only book she wrote, published under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell.  Today we know that she could have elaborated and perhaps gone beyond the ill-fated Earnshaw family.

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Dales

I want to rate “Wuthering Heights” highly but even allowing for the fact it was written in another time, another era, I can’t bring myself to go past three stars.  Don’t let me put you off, if you are into Gothic torment and unrequited love, this is the book for you!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Heights
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Farm

Writer’s Self-Help

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Afternoon Tea

Over the years I have read a handful of self-help books aimed at emerging authors, including the famous volume by Stephen King, but recently I came across these two quite diverse publications which really gave me a nudge in the right direction.

“Use Your Words” by Catherine Deveny 2016 published by Black Inc.
“See Me Jump” by Jen Storer 2016 published by Girl And Duck.

Catherine Deveny’s book is written in plain straight forward language, and she gets right to the heart of the matter.  There’s no place to hide once the momentum starts rolling.  Be warned, this book is for adults.  Catherine uses impolite language and bad manners to push you forward, sometimes against your will.  Then you see that glowing light at the end of the tunnel, er, book.  Well worth reading this boot-camp style book.

Jen Storer’s book is slim yet informative with small sketches dotted through the pages.  Her style is easy, encouraging, friendly and humorous.  It’s a book for adults but those with a yearning to write good books for children.  Note the chapter 4 heading “Don’t let adults fix your character’s problem” which is a must for kids literature.  Many of Jen’s sentences make memorable quotes, my favourite “Be brave. Don’t wait to create.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Catherine Deveny Writer
Self-Help
Jen Storer Writer
KidLit

‘The Empty Beach’ by Peter Corris

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Author Peter Corris

“The Empty Beach” is about private investigator Cliff Hardy’s routine investigation into a supposed drowning.  Beautiful client Marion Singer wants to find out the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy husband John Singer.  The truth about John Singer, illegal trader and poker machine guru, is hard to find among the drug addicts, alcoholics and ashrams of Bondi Beach in Sydney.  Not to mention the hindrance of PhD rich girl Ann Winter and creepy jailer Mary Mahoud.  Hardy soon finds himself fighting for his life when his search for the truth involves some nasty venues controlled by an underworld of violent people and lead by kingpin Freddy Ward who does not appreciate his inquisitive nature.

Being an earlier novel, Hardy is ex-army, a law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned private eye who lives by a solid set of values.  And he’s seen many gruesome murders in his time.  Throughout Hardy shows understanding and tolerance of people from all walks of life, he embraces the city sprawl and the rural ethos, and doesn’t start a fight.  But he can be tough and not play nice when it comes to his own survival.  He has a habit, when in a tight situation, of jesting at the bad guy’s expense and consequently coping a beating.  This is well illustrated in the chapter where Hardy is imprisoned inside a squash court.

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My suggestion is read “The Dying Trade” the first Cliff Hardy book in Peter Corris 40+ series even though a later book “The Empty Beach” was made into an Australian movie in 1985 and remains his archetypal crime story.  Based on Peter Corris 1983 novel of the same name, this movie starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy and such notables as Belinda Giblin, Ray Barrett, John Wood, Joss McWilliam and Nick Tate as the ill-fated Henneberry.

Now I’ve got that out of the way, let me say that one of the most enduring (and for me, best loved) of Australian crime fiction characters is Cliff Hardy.  While you may like to read the more current books like “Silent Kill” (above) the earlier ones are classic Australia in the 80s and 90s and my favourite is “Wet Graves”.  They have changed with the times, think internet and iPhones, and contain physical changes to Cliff Hardy at the same time they happened to the author.  For example, smoking habits or the triple bypass heart surgery Peter Corris underwent and kindly passed on to Cliff Hardy.  The relationship breakdowns do not appear to apply too much to real life.  However, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.

Fast forward to ‘spoilers’ and Hardy is deregistered and operates on his own initiative but still maintains a rock-solid sense of fair play in the 21st century.  To date, Hardy’s longtime friend Frank Parker is now a retired senior police officer and married to Hilde, Hardy’s ex flatmate.  The reader watches this friendship evolve through a chain of novels and it’s just as interesting as following Hardy’s love life and family expansion.  Although he still holds a torch for his ex-wife Cyn.  And there’s cameos from characters like tattooist Primo Tomasetti with his graphic artwork and sleazy patter.

Cliff Hardy represents the kind of bloke many law-abiding citizens would like to have on their side, a blemish yet dependable man who’d share a joke or reminisce over a cold beverage.  When it comes to Aussie mystery solving, Hardy gets my vote every time.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Empty Beach
Beachside

Coincidence: Where Were You When?

I was listening to the audio recording of “The Princess Diarist” by actress Carrie Fisher, read by Carrie Fisher, when she passed away. I was already freaked hearing her true tales from the first Star Wars movie so the news bulletin got to me. Carrie Fisher delivers a robust narration of her early acting career and famous mother Debbie Reynolds, whose death followed her own within days. Admittedly Carrie’s use and abuse of a variety of substances had ruined her voice and it could not be likened to that of youthful Princess Leia, but her naïve discontent and vitriolic humour pepper the story.

A frank look at the early life of a young woman shaped by Hollywood and eventually defined by George Lucas and his sci-fi series.  The extraordinary 1977 Star Wars movie launched her fame, hair buns and an affair with Harrison Ford, making this book a slice of Tinseltown history with big appeal for fans of the first Star Wars production.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Star Wars Poster
May The Force

Jasper Fforde Ffun

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Book Series

As a dyed-in-the-wool Jasper Fforde ffan, I recommend Shades Of Grey.  No, not that one!

Shades Of Grey deviates from Fforde’s brilliantly off-kilter, zany other-Britain adventures of Thursday Next, a LiteraTech operative for SpecOps-27, a crime fighting division inside literary fiction – literally – but there is some serious world building going on.  The Fforde trademark of inventiveness and unusual plot twists is there but the tone is sombre, the protagonist Eddie Russett lives in a tightly controlled world with a rigid hierarchy based on primary colours.  However, Eddie is not stupid and rises to the challenge of solving a perplexing mystery with the aid of some ‘colourful’ locals and a feisty Grey woman, Jane.

I have to say it is not my all-time favourite book in Fforde’s repertoire: Thursday Next wins.  I found the ending unsatisfying (except discovering where spoons go) although I do think it has been left open for a sequel.  If you’ve read the odd humour of Douglas Adams or inimitable Terry Pratchett and want a neo-noir version, try Jasper Fforde for ffun.  There’s enough books to keep you going!

Fforde has also written humorous Nursery Crimes series, and The Last Dragonslayer series about teenager Jennifer Strange.  Her agency, Kazam, employs weird and wonderful wizards who create magic and mayhem.

Check the website Grand Central http://www.jasperfforde.com/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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LibCamo
Thursday Next SpecOps-27
Fangirl
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Pickwick Dodo