A Cute Christmas Read for Children

christmas story

This sweet festive poem, complete with adorable illustrations, would make the perfect Christmas gift for the small person in your life. The story is sweet, the illustrations bold and the narrative engaging.

The story starts with three siblings Claire, Ben and Daniel, building a snow queen in the garden, as all children do. Claire begins to create a story around the evil snow queen and before long she explains how Elaine Gale – the evil snow queen has placed a spell on all children to be naughty so that when Santa checks his naughty and nice list no-one has been good and thus no presents are needed.

Happy with their days work they head back in for tea, but soon realise that their story is unfolding in front of their eyes. Realising they are the only ones who can stop Elaine Gale they start about a journey to overcome her evil plan and restore Christmas before it’s too late.

There are issues with the meter, and in some places I suspect that the poem would have been better written as a short story, but I very much doubt its intended audience, small children, are going to notice, and the rhythm and rhyme make this a great bouncy bedtime story.

You can check it out HERE.

 

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Blood Rites Review: Grizzly, Gritty Greatness

blood rites

Having previously enjoyed his novel The Scarlet Coven, I expected great things from Blood Rites, the newest Inspector Paul Snow novel by David Stuart Davis. I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in 1980s Yorkshire, the novel dictates the work of Detective Inspector Paul Snow, a closeted homosexual battling both personal and professional demons.

His case is that of a serial killer charting an uncertain course, with his victims seemingly chosen at random. As he navigates a world full of deceit and violence, he is forced off the case by his dubious superiors who are dismayed at his lack of progress and unconventional methods. Desperate, the detective disappears underground, where a killer is lurking in the shadows.

The inner turmoil of this fascinating and deeply troubled protagonist is what drives the novel, with his dogged determination to unmask the murderer and prove his own worth sending him into some of some of the darkest recesses of human depravity.

Slightly stilted dialogue is the only factor that lets this otherwise dark and tense novel down- it can be hard to follow and it all but ruins otherwise exceptional characterisation. Everyone in the novel seems to speak as if they are narrating a children’s story, in that breathy, posh sort of English that does not ring true with the otherwise gritty, varied vagabonds that the author portrays.

This is earthy, Northern British Crime Fiction at its finest. Blood Rites shows you the very worst of human nature and puts our fears on full display, creating an chillingly atmospheric thriller that you’ll want to reopen as soon as you reach the final page.

 

A Death in the Night Review: Another Stylish Modern Novel with the Wit of a Golden Age Classic

a death in the night

Having already reviewed and enjoyed two of Guy Fraser-Sampson’s Hampstead Murders novels, Miss Christie Regrets and A Whiff of Cyanide, I had high hopes for A Death in the Night, the latest Golden Age style modern crime novel in this intriguing series.

Beginning at a dinner dance set in a fictionalised women’s club that Dorothy L Sayers used to frequent, the novel quickly catapults the reader into a fiendish mystery, as a guest is found dead in her room. Shortly afterwards, it is discovered that she has been wrongly identified and her death incorrectly diagnosed as being from natural causes, giving the detectives, two of whom were at the dance on the night of the murder, an incredibly tough case to crack.

Despite the devastation caused by the revelations of the previous novel, the team remains solid and continues to investigate with the usual flare. Bob Metcalfe remains stoic as ever, Karen Willis as confident and capable and as for the flamboyant and Golden Age obsessed Peter Collins, he is still the most hilarious and riveting character I have read over the past two years.

With physical evidence almost entirely destroyed and suspects aplenty thanks to the evening’s revelry, the team employ a combination of modern technology and old fashioned detection to uncover the culprit.

What I love about these books is how Fraser- Sampson effortlessly combines modern police techniques with antiquated language and characterisation that would not be out of place in a Lord Peter Wimsey or Poirot novel. Everyone has an archaic sort of job, such as the Doctor with her private practice inherited from her father. Despite this, readers are never in any doubt that the novels are set in the present day, and this makes for a fascinating education in how to combine styles when writing Crime Fiction.

In all, A Death in the Night is a riveting novel with enough classic detective novel techniques and references to keep readers on their toes.

Pigeon Blood Red Review: An Interesting Gangster Novel With Nothing to Do With Birds

BOOK COVER

Despite the frankly ludicrous title, this book is actually an enticing and fascinating thriller with absolutely nothing to do with dead birds (the name refers to the novel’s innovative description of the colour of rubies).

The novel has everything you need in a thriller, from gangsters such as the protagonist, enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders, a missing jewel belonging to his thuggish boss, a chase around the world and a group of innocent bystanders who get caught in the crossfire.

Then Rico goes and spoils it all by falling in love, and the next thing we know there is a great deal more emotion going around than I like in my thrillers. I prefer more tension and fewer adoring adjectives, although the chase more than makes up for the mushiness and there are some truly tense passages that give the novel an air of suspense.

Author Ed Duncan is a lawyer, and that made this novel even more interesting, as it is not the legal procedural I was expecting. He provides a unique insight into the novel and the reason he enjoyed creating it.

“It’s always been said that you should write what you know. I am a lawyer – as is a pivotal character in the novel who is being pursued by a hit man – and I’m excited to be able to use my legal training creatively as well as professionally.”

Overall a solid thriller, Pigeon Blood Red loses momentum in places, but benefits from evocative description, a wealth of interesting characters and an interesting plot.

Trading Down Review: Financially Sound But Fictionally Flawed

trading_down_2

In my day job I write corporate copy for a number of publications, including many specialist financial magazines, therefore I was greatly very excited to read ex-CIO of RBS Stephen Norman’s debut novel Trading Down, which explores the threat of cyber-crime on the modern world from the perspective of an insider at a major financial institution.

It is clear from the very first sentence that Norton has a wide understanding of financial practices, strong technical know-how and all the jargon to go along with it. Drawing on 20 years’ experience at the forefront of investment banking IT, Norman delivers a strong debut that offers a great insight into the financial world.

The novel follows Chris Peters, who works in IT at a major investment bank. As Chris climbs through the ranks he finds himself in the midst of a massive international crime of epic proportions. His investigations lead him to Yemen, and the parallel plot of a family as they race against time to save their captive father from execution. Every aspect of the novel comes together as Chris wrangles with the issue of unmasking a criminal could be much closer to home than he would like.

Despite introducing many incredibly complicated technical concepts into the novel, Norman is skilful and manages to avoid the issue of ‘information dumping’, and as such Trading Down is a great way to learn really interesting information about the financial IT space in a fun and enjoyable way.

Whilst factually this is a well-written dramatization, it lacks the depth to be a full novel. Many of the characters are one dimensional, and frankly, there are too many of them. The main criticism I have of this otherwise gripping and fascinating novel is that it is simply too long. There is a good 200 pages worth of material that could have been removed without the reader even noticing, and this would drastically cut down the length of the book and made it a far more pleasurable reading experience.

Fundamentally, Trading Down would have benefited from being a fictionalised account of a real event, rather than a novel in itself. Norman’s skill is in his vast knowledge of the global financial markets and the role IT plays in them, not in storytelling. I would be more than happy to read more of his writing, providing he hones his narrative and tidies up his plot in any future novels. Overall an interesting if tough read, this book is ideal for anyone looking for a real thought-provoker that they can get their teeth into.

Trading Down by Stephen Norman is published by Endeavour Press on 9th November.

My First Film Review: Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-film

As I have mentioned in my previous POST, I have been anticipating Branagh’s big budget version of one of Agatha Christie’s most overrated novels since the trailer dropped earlier this year. I have now had the privilege of watching the film, and so have decided to share my thoughts with you.

Visually, the film is stunning, with an all-star, A-list cast including Branagh himself, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Olivia Colman and Judi Dench, all of whom offer exceptional performances. The costumes are sumptuous and the setting lavish, with the visual effects designed to thrill; the scene where the viewer witnesses the moment of an avalanche advancing upon the train is a feat of real cinematic beauty.

It has everything you could possibly want from a Hollywood Blockbuster, with witty dialogue, funny one-liners and a lavish soundtrack that would make a true connoisseur proud. I am sure any real historian (I make no bones about the fact that I am not one) would be able to tear the film apart for its historical inaccuracies, but there’s nothing overly glaring and overall the effect is enticing, engaging and a real pleasure to watch.

The problem is that, whilst this is a really great film, it is not an adaptation of a Christie novel. It may have the plot of the Queen of Crime’s most acclaimed book, but the film has something crucial missing. The protagonist.

There are many ways in which Branagh tries to link the film back to Christie’s novels, utilsing many of her key tricks, such as humour, racial tension and stereotyping. It also has the air of an older film, with many cinematic techniques derived from great old-school cinema. The scene in which the body is discovered, which is shot entirely from above the characters heads, lends the adaptation the feel of a play.

What this adaptation of a famed Hercule Poirot novel does not have, is Hercule Poirot. Branagh may have named his character that, but he does not embody the finickity, bizarre Belgium detective in any way. In some ways he does play lip service to the character’s traits, such as his fastidious nature (the opening scene shows him measuring eggs and blaming the chicken for not laying them the exact same size), but this is not a real part of Branagh’s depiction, and is only mentioned in passing. In his investigations, Branagh’s Poirot jumps from subject to subject in a haphazard and disorganized manner that does not befit the neat and orderly Hercule Poirot.

He is also far too attractive for Poirot, who, in Christie’s novels, is depicted as a strange little man with an egg shaped head and a massive moustache which dominates his face. Branagh’s moustache, impressive though it is, does more to accentuate his features than it does to overpower them, and he is far too tall and slim to be the round little man Christie created. One of the other characters repeatedly refers to him as ‘funny looking’, when the truth is that he is incredibly handsome, and far too much of the archetypal Hollywood man to be Poirot. His accent fluctuates constantly between camp faux-French and French-Canadian, to the point where I wondered if this was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek joke. If it was, it fell decidedly flat.

The character’s Hollywoodisation extends to being far too active. Christie’s Poirot was a man who enjoyed comfort and preferred to sit and think, whereas Branagh’s detective is incredibly strapping, and is shown taking down a man with his walking stick in the opening scene, using said stick to smash open a door to uncover the body, and then strutting about atop the snowbound Orient Express rather than sitting in a comfortable chair inside, as would be the sensible option. Chasing a suspect down icy scaffolding to apprehend him is no issue for Branagh, making his Poirot far more of an action hero than Christie’s beloved protagonist.

The acting itself is masterfully done, and Branagh is constantly in a state of extreme nervous tension that makes his performance unsettling to watch, and helps ramp up the tension in an already intense experience. Depp is brilliantly creepy as both the villain and victim of the piece, although Dench is the least convincing Russian I have ever seen. Many of the actors, such as Derek Jacobi in his depiction of a dying manservant, are nuanced and complex, offering the viewer a fascinating insight into the inner turmoil of these characters as the plot races towards its confusing but, characteristically for Christie, human nature centered conclusion.

Overall, this is a stunningly crafted adaptation which does a good job of making Christie’s frankly ludicrous plot seem almost sensible, although it does tamper with the ending a little in a way which displeases me immensely (I cannot tell you how, for fear of ruining the film, so you will just have to see for yourselves). There is a hint at the end of Murder on the Orient Express that Branagh may adapt another of the more well known Poirot novels, and I would be more than happy to watch that also. However, if you are a die-hard Poirot fan, I would suggest you stay at home and re-watch the ITV series, or better still re-read the books. This is, by no stretch of the imagination, an accurate portrayal of the Queen of Crime’s most celebrated detective, but it is a great film that has spent its massive budget well, and is definitely well worth a watch.

Dead Lands Review: A Great 1970s Police Procedural

dead lands

Following on from my exploration of truly great historical crime fiction novels, I review a novel which evokes a restless time in the UK’s history. Historically the novel is set during a period of unrest and distrust in the police, making this an ideal space in which to showcase the story of two police detectives with potentially ulterior motives and a tough case to crack.

As part of his blog tour, I’ve had the privilege of reading Lloyd Otis’s Dead Lands, which is set in the 1970s and creates an exceptional setting. London at the tale end of the 70s is portrayed as a bleak space in which tough, varied characters flourish. Witty dialogue and well-crafted description characterise this novel, and the story is both fast-paced and intriguing. The politically volatile world of the 70s acts as an ideal space for an adventurous book, packed with violence, intrigue and unrest.

Detectives DI Breck and DS Kerns slog through a gruelling case following the murder of a highflying Finance Director whose body is discovered in a gruesome state. A suspect is quickly identified and arrested, however a daring escape is followed by a questioning of everything the detectives thought they knew. Kerns develops her own personal agenda, which threatens to derail the already rocky and complicated investigation, offering plenty for the reader to delve into as they navigate a vast list of suspects and a tense political background.

It is this complexity that provides a great space for an exhilarating thriller with enough twists to keep the reader hooked from page one. The victim and suspects all lead complicated lives that derail the detectives’ quest for answers, whilst personal problems colour their view and ramp up the tension.

The sole criticism I have for this otherwise thrilling and exhilarating novel is that the chapters are simply too short. As a result of reading chapters that are sometimes as short as two pages, the reading experience is disrupted regularly, and as such the novel often feels stilted and distorted. Slowing down such an intense, complicated novel with short chapters and a narrative that often jumps from place to place like a grasshopper on speed is a real tragedy, but despite this there is a lot to go on with this exceptional cross between a thriller and a police procedural.

This creative combination makes for an enjoyable and gripping read, and although the short paragraphs break up the narrative there is great potential in experienced blogger and journalist Otis’s debut novel, which is definitely worth checking out.