I must immediately make clear the Allison Symes, the author of From Light to Dark and Back Again is a good friend of mine. We met at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. However, she as well as anybody knows I am nothing if not blunt! So when she sent me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review, I did tell her that is what she would get!
From Light to Dark and Back Again is a delicious cornucopia of very short stories, flash fiction. Flash fiction is difficult to write well because there are no words to spare. Some of the pieces are very funny, those include Jumping Through Hoops, about a party entertainer and The Circle of Life, about changing attitudes. Others, like The Outcome, are based on traditional fairy tales. These have unusual twists that bring them up to date and make them fun.
However, several of the stories are very dark indeed. These include Pressing the Flesh and Punish the Innocent. Allison is an expert in manipulating a twist ending that, even in these short pieces, the reader will not expect. Several of the endings are cliffhangers. These are difficult to craft in any piece of writing, especially one as short as flash fiction.
From Light to Dark and Back Again does suffer from occasional misspellings and one or two grammatical errors, but these do not detract from the triumph of this collection. I am sure they will be eradicated in the second edition.
If you are travelling or looking for a short story to read at the end of the day, I highly recommend From Light to Dark and Back Again by Allison Symes. Allison writes in various forms: fairy tales with bite, novels, short stories, poems and plays. She is based in Eastleigh and is a member of the Association of Christian authors and the Society of Authors.
I often receive several books at Christmas, but this year, unusually, I only received one. It was from my sister and I was interested to get it as it was a book she had enjoyed: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. The story revolves around Henry Skrimshander, who attends Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan. Henry is a baseball star who seems destined for big league stardom. However, a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are affected.
Large parts of the novel delve into the mysterious pleasures of playing baseball, whch leave me cold. Even at high school, I was not a fan! Unfortunately, I did not develop much of an interest in the main characters of this novel either. The main characters are: said Henry Skrimshander, a shortstop whiz recruited from rural South Dakota; Owen, his intellectual teammate and roommate, who is gay; Mike, a wise older student who mentors and drives Henry to excel; Guert, the college president who is enamored with Owen; and Pella, Guert’s petulant daughter who returns home after a failed marriage. If I had cared for them all and their struggles and exultations, I am sure I would have loved this book. That was not to be. I found it rather predictable.
The Art of Fielding is well-written, the characters are interesting enough. However, it is a mediocre story without any magic. The story is one without any magic for me and I will not remember the characters’ names for long. I do not understand the fuss and fanfare surrounding this book. I feel, perhaps the many literary references and themes may have tricked academics into praising an ordinary book.
The author, Chad Harbach grew up in Wisconsin, USA and was educated at Harvard and the University of Virginia. He is a cofounder and coeditor of n+1.
There is a poetry group in the village that meets once a month, led by my friend Ruth. We meet to share poetry we enjoy and some of us write poetry too. Occassionally, Ruth calls upon her wide variety of poet friends to come along and read some of their work to us. Last month, Maggie Rabatski and Sheila Templeton joined us and read from the new book they have published with A.C.Clarke, Owersettin. Owersettin is a Scots word meaning to say in another way or translate.
AC Clarke’s collections include A Natural Curiosity (New Voices Press), which was inspired by the Glasgow Anatomy Museum and short-listed for the 2012 Callum Macdonald award; and Fr Meslier’s Confession, about the atheist priest Jean Meslier (Oversteps Books). She is a member of Scottish PEN and has won several prizes, including the Petra Kenney Poetry Competition and the Second Light Long Poem competition. She was longlisted for the 2014 National Poetry Competition. Her latest collection is In the Margin, published by Cinnamon Press 2015.
Maggie Rabatski is Hebridean by birth and upbringing but has lived in Glasgow for many years. Her first poetry pamphlet Down From The Dance/An Dèidh an Dannsa was short-listed for the Saltire Scottish First Book of the Year in 2011. Her second, Holding, was short-listed for the 2013 Callum MacDonald Award. Both collections are published by New Voices Press. Her poem Sacrifice/Ìobairt was chosen as one of the SPL’s ‘Best Scottish Poems’ in 2012’. She writes in both Gaelic and English.
Sheila Templeton is originally from Aberdeenshire and writes in both Scots and English. She is well published in magazines and anthologies and has won several prizes, including the McCash Scots Language Poetry Award… twice… and the McLellan Poetry Prize. Her previous collections are Slow Road Home, published by Makar Press 2004; Digging For Light, published by New Voices Press 2011; and Tender Is The North, published by Red Squirrel Press 2013.
The concept of the book is that each of the poets wrote poems in their native language and the other two wrote translations or responses to these poems in their native languages. Ann Clarke hails from London and writes in English. Maggie Rabatski comes from Harris and writes in Gaelic, while Sheila grew up in Aberdeenshire speaking the Doric dialect of Scots.
For me, the poems between Maggie and Sheila worked best as they seemed to be closer to the poems each had written. Ann Clark wrote responses to the poems of the others that were too far from the originals for me to justify their inclusion in the book. Her poems are excellent, they just did not ring true as ‘owersettin’ of other works. They were completely different poems.
Having said that, I really enjoyed the reading and the poems in Owersettin are inspired. I highly recommend this little jewel of Scottish poetry.
Lin Anderson is, without doubt, the queen of Tartan Noir. None but the Dead is the 11th crime novel she has written featuring the forensic expert, Rhona Macleod. The story is set on Sanday, one of Britain’s northerly islands in the Orkney archepelego. It is inaccessible when the wind prevents the ferry from the mainland crossing, or fog grounds the tiny island hopping plane. A place with its own customs and where everybody knows everybody else, even the incomers.
Human remains have been discovered by an incomer, during the renovation of the old school house, so forensic scientist Dr Rhona Macleod and her assistant Chrissie are brought in to evacuate the grave. They are presented with a series of unexplained incidents, apparently linked to the discovery of 13 magic flowers representing the souls of dead children who had attended the island school where the body was discovered. Of course, they call on the help of Professor Magnus Pirie.
In Glasgow McNab is investigating the suspicious death of an elderly man in his flat. It is when a link between the Glasgow death and the body on Sanday is suspected, that McNab volunteers to head North to investigate. However, he is esperately uncomfortable in such surroundings, he finds that none of the tools of detective work are there. No internet, no CCTV, and no police station.
Maclaod and McNab unearth secrets of various islanders and incomers are viewed with suspicion and anger. The plot of None But The Dead gives the reader many twists and turns. There are plently of surprising moments throughout the book and you cannot help but being drawn in by the compelling story. Lin Anderson researches her crime novels thoroughly: this ensures that they are as realistic as they possibly can be and the reader is treated to an exceptional read. I highly recommend None But The Dead.
I enjoy Quintine Jardine’s series of crime thrillers featuring his character, Bob Skinner. In Private Investigations, the 26th Skinner novel. The character has retired from the Scottish Police Force and now works as a private investigator after a thirty-year police career. Bob Skinner is on the way to answer a friend’s plea for help when a freak accident gives him an unwelcome glimpse of the dark side.
I have read most of the “Skinner” books, starting from the first one published back in the early 90s when I lived in Edinburgh. Now I have moved away, but I am always drawn to books about southern and central Scotland.
Eden Higgins is Bob Skinner’s first client. Eden, the brother of an ex-girlfriend of Skinner, wants him to look into the police investigation into the theft of his very expensive, luxury yacht. The police were unable to trace the very large yacht and the insurance company are refusing the pay out the full amount. On his way to meet Higgins, Bob’s car is bumped by another as he is reversing from a parking space. The driver of the other car leaves the vehicle and runs off immediately on foot. Chasing him is no longer an option for the aging Skinner, who finds the body of a young girl in the boot of the car. As a result of this find, Bob becomes involved in both cases.
There are many twists and turns in Private Investigations where each chapter brings new developments in one or other of the cases. There is reference to the changing Police Force set-up we have faced in Scotland over recent years and this fits with the bigger picture of Skinner’s backstory and the tension between him and some of his ex-colleagues. Quintin Jardine leads the reader through the investigations and brings each character to life with enough backstory that even if you have never read any other “Skinner” book you should be able to relate to the characters and the personal and professional relationships they share with Bob Skinner. But I was not as engaged by Private Investigations as I have been by most of the other Skinner crime novels that I have read. Nevertheless, I recommend this police procedural novel.
I am not generally a fan of the science fiction gene, so when my friend Louis K. Lowy sent me a copy of his most recent novel, To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine, in exchange for an honest review, I was concerned in case I did not like the book and lost a friend. My fears were groundless. This is a carefully constructed and original story that even this science fiction phobe enjoyed!
To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine starts far in the future and I had to acquaint myself with new words and concepts. This was slightly off-putting, but, of course, William Shakespeare was criticised for making up new words in his time. Still, assassination (Macbeth Act I, Scene VII) and manager (A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream Act V, Scene I) are now well accepted into the English language. Perhaps the same may be true of teleportathon, polyflesh and genimetrothiasine one day.
The reader returns from the dystopian exoplanet of Truatta in 2250 to Florida, USA in 2030. Here we meet the eminent scientist, Dr. Niyati Bopari. She has never recovered from the deth of her son, Jay, seventeen years earlier. She led the teams that created a Humachine (human machine) for the mega-corporation Ameri-Inc. and names her creation J-1. It is made in her son’s image. Mankind’s thirst for immortality is explored in this unnerving novel, To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine as Bopari secretly infuses the humachine with Jay’s DNA. J-1 is the most sophisticated robot ever created and is intended to replace human manual labour.
However, before the blueprints of the humachine are transported to Ameri-Inc.
headquarters a rogue agent attempts to steal them. The story spans two centuries and crosses two planets, Earth and Truatta. The novel revolves around J-1, who fights to find humanity. The reader feels for Bopari who lost her son and created the robot. The head of the corporation who owns J-1 adds excitement as does the leader of the rebel force seeking revenge for the death of her own family and the destruction of her home planet.
To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine is designated Book 1 – perhaps the author has converted me to science fiction as I am genuinely looking forward to the next instalment. I was not surprised to learn that this talented former fire-fighter received a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship. Louis lives in South Florida with his wife and daughter, their son lives on the West coast of the USA.
When you meet Alex Gray, you meet a charming, elegant woman and it is hard to imagine the vicious crimes that emanate from her pen. Of course, she would argue that she is merely relating the actions of her characters. This she does very well.
Although I only read Riverman recently, as it was book of the month at my book group, it is one of Alex’s earlier novels.Even so, the story had so many twists and turns that I was struggling to keep up with all the possible suspects, their motives, and the reasons for killing each victim. It is the fourth crime novel featuring her DCI William Lorimer character.
Glasgow’s River Clyde gives up a dead body, a probable accidental death, but that probability is tossed out the window when forensics and an anonymous call point to something far more sinister. As he probes deeper into the life and business of the deceased accountant, Duncan Forbes, a seemingly upright member of the community, Lorimer find only yet more unanswered questions. Then the firm’s human resources manager is found dead in her riverside flat these questions become only more complex and more disturbing.
Lorimer must follow the trail of deceit, greed and personal agendas as the bodies begin to pile up while the answers remain allusive. Someone knows what is going on and they are not talking. This is a taut, thrilling, murder mystery. It is hard to believe, as The Riverman is so good, but Alex’s writing just gets better.
I was given the novel, The Turncoat by Alan Murray’s publisher for review. It is a debut novel by Murray but he has written many factual pieces previously and that is somewhat reflected in the language and layout of this book.
The Turncoat opens with a prologue detailing the death and destruction wrought on Clydebank, immediately catapulting the reader into the chaos of 1941. On night of March 13, 1941, German bombers targeted the shipyards and munitions factories in Clydebank, trying to disrupt the British war effort, it is a horror of World War II that is often overlooked in the history books.
When the story commences, there are two main protagonists. The first, Major George McLean, a former journalist at the Glasgow Herald, who an educated and well-read man and hopes to return to his old job when the war ends. The other is Sergeant Danny Inglis. He is more of a never afraid to get his hands dirty should a suspect require some persuasion. Both are veterans of World War I and together they scour the west of Scotland for spies and traitors from Room 21A, military intelligence. This gives them the freedom to investigate wherever they see fit. The men report to Brigadier Ewen Stuart, a posh old buffer. He provides some light relief but may not be quite as ineffective as he seems.They are joined in their investigations by the very proper Finola Fraser, who the Major knows from his Glasgow Herald days. She has a nose for a story and network of people happy to tip her off to anything newsworthy.
The plot is clever and revolves around a rumour that the second night of the Luftwaffe bombing was so accurate and destructive because the Germans were being fed information from someone local. The only strangers in town are two Irishmen, “Cafflicks” passing themselves off as “Proddies” to get a job on the docks. The Major suspects that the IRA might be helping the Germans out. He and Inglis organise a manhunt to find the Irishmen before they escape back to Ireland and try to find Chrysalis, the mastermind behind the spying operation.
Meanwhile, Rudolf Hess crash lands in Scotland, and military intelligence must find out why.
The Turncoat is a nice mix of fact and fiction cleverly woven to produce a gripping crime story in a historical setting. Although, Murray’s characterisation is sometimes a bit thin, The Turncoat offers a complex plot and plenty of authentic details make for an absorbing and informative read. I highly recommend The Turncoat, not only for general reading, but also as a way of immersing reluctant history student into another era.