Tag Archives: UK author

UK Crime Review: Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie

Today I am part of the review tour for a new UK crime novel, out in e-book this week.

Burned and Broken, Mark Hardie, (Sphere, e-book out Jan 2017, paperback May 2017).

Genres in the mix: crime, police procedural

Age target: adult

Story basics: (from the back cover) A vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

The charred body of a policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found in the burnt-out shell of his car on the Southend seafront.

To DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell of the Essex Police Major Investigation Team, the two events seem unconnected. But as they dig deeper into their colleague’s murder, dark secrets begin to emerge.

Can Pearson and Russell solve both cases, before more lives are destroyed?

Mark Hardie was born in 1960 in Bow, East London. He began writing fulltime after completely losing his eyesight in 2002. He has completed a creative writing course and an advanced creative writing course at the Open University, both with distinction.

Review-in-a-tweet: An intriguing, if not always easy read, which certainly keeps you on your toes. No by-the-book crime thriller!

Narrative style: This is one of the things that makes this book different and, at times, difficult. The perspective/point of view shifts every chapter, and sometimes more frequently, not always with a clear anchor to indicate whose viewpoint we’re in within the first sentence or so. This said, the range of perspectives and ‘insider views’ offered as a result of this is useful and certainly adds to the intrigue, but I do feel it could be handled more tightly at times.

The material at the end of the book says that the author is a fan of both crime and literary fiction, and I think that shows in what he’s doing with the book. This is a relatively unusual crime novel in some ways, in that it is trying to avoid some of the conventions (which it perhaps sees as cliches). At times, however, it felt a bit too much like hard work, as I found myself lost as to whose ‘head’ I was in or even a little unsure as to what had just happened. Not one for late night reading when you’re dozy…

Main characters: I grew to admire DS Pearson, although I wasn’t enamoured of him at first. He doesn’t fit established crime series ‘types’ for the main character, which is nice – in a few key ways, this book does ignore/avoid conventions – and he isn’t always likeable, but not in a maverick cop/tough guy way. I really liked DC Russell though, and she had my sympathy from the start. I thought Hardie did a good job of painting a conflicted female character in a tough spot without resorting to the kinds of cliches male crime writers often have. Donna (the ‘vulnerable young woman’) also avoided some obvious cliches in her presentation I think and although her sections were often tough reading, I feel they were done well.

Hearthfire rating: 7/10 A book to cosy up with

Burned and Broken is out now in e-book format in the UK from Sphere (Little, Brown Books), who provided me with a review copy.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend.

I’m counting this review towards the British Books Challenge 2017.

The blog tour continues tomorrow with these blogs taking part.

UKMG Review: A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson

28168228A Girl Called Owl, Amy Wilson, (Macmillan Children’s Books, 26 Jan 2017)

Genres in the mix: fantasy, contemporary, school setting, folklore

Age target: MG

Story basics: (blurb) It’s bad enough having a mum dippy enough to name you Owl, but when you’ve got a dad you’ve never met, a best friend who needs you more than ever, and a new boy at school giving you weird looks, there’s not a lot of room for much else.

So when Owl starts seeing strange frost patterns on her skin, she’s tempted to just burrow down under the duvet and forget all about it. Could her strange new powers be linked to her mysterious father?And what will happen when she enters the magical world of winter for the first time?

A glittering story of frost and friendship, with writing full of magic and heart, A Girl Called Owl is a stunning debut about family, responsibility and the beauty of the natural world.

Review-in-a-tweet: Classic-toned story in today’s world. Great on big themes of family, friendship and fitting in, woven through a fantasy landscape using folklore.


Plotting and pacing: I felt this was managed perfectly for its tween audience. There’s quite a bit of complexity to it, portioned out slowly enough for young readers who are unfamiliar with the folklore to handle.

Main character: Owl is a lovely character – very easy to relate to and empathise with. Young readers will readily engage with her all-too-familiar worries about not fitting in if she reveals her secrets, even though her problems are magical in origin.

Supporting cast: I loved the relationships created in this book; they are very emotionally realistic. I’m sure many readers will also love Mallory (Owl’s best friend) and Alberic (mysterious new boy at school).

Hearthfire rating:  8/10 Sizzling

A Girl Called Owl  comes out on the 26th January in the UK from Macmillan Childrens, who provided me with a review copy.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend.

URTS blog tour: Where I Write by Louise Gornall, author of Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Rose3I am so excited to have the fabulous Louise Gornall, author of the equally fabulous Under Rose-Tainted Skies here today (and it’s the first day of my summer holiday today – how symbolically freedom-celebrating is that?). If you haven’t heard of this book, (where have you been?) there is some info at the end of the post but it is high on my recommended list for this summer and has been out about a week now so – you know what to do. Anyway, here is the lovely Louise herself, to tell you a bit about her writing – specifically, where she writes:

Louise GornallGood morning, guys! Thanks for having me over. Of all the questions I’m asked about writing, ‘where do you write?’ has to be my favourite, simply because the answer is always changing.

Right now, as I write this, I’m sat on a deck, surrounded by hills, bordered by trees and endless green fields. I’m in the Lake District, a short walk away from the Beatrix Potter museum, with five of my best friends — they’re squeeing and splashing around in a hot tub. I’m going to join them in a second, but I just wanted to jot down some ideas about my new book that I had last night, and I really wanted to cross a couple of things off my to-do list before we leave tomorrow and my bank holiday is snatched away by family fun times. That’s not sarcasm. In my village there is a parade and a fair and, beside Christmas, it’s probably the best day of the year here.

Where will I write tomorrow? I think maybe out in the garden. We’re having some uncharacteristically warm weather in the North West, and you guys know how it is over here, you gotta catch it before it disappears and you start seeing Christmas in September. But if it is too cold, I’ll sit on scatter cushions, on the floor, in a small space between my bed and bookshelf. I do have a desk, but I can never seem to get comfy at it, and if I’m not comfy, I will forever be distracted and write nothing.

I guess I can pretty much write anywhere, too. I don’t really need a computer as I draft on my phone with Google Docs. Ooh! And in bed. I like writing in bed. You know when it goes super quiet and dark, and your mind starts thinking of all the story things? I love it when that happens — and I have my phone right beside me, so I can tap out a few lines of thought before I go to sleep.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Thanks, Louise, it’s always so interesting to hear people’s actual writing practices. So you don’t need just the right chair in just the right place? I love the idea of you writing outside, surrounded by friends – sounds great (if a little noisy/distracting for me… I’m not tied to place either, but Must Have Quiet – via headphones and white noise/instrumental music if necessary).

Here’s how Goodreads summarises the novel:

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

I’ll be reviewing this one properly soon, but here are my initial thoughts on finishing:

Fabulous account of agoraphobic teen with OCD – don’t think I’ve ever seen anxious thoughts so perfectly delineated. Everyone with an anxiety disorder will want their friends to read this to help them understand. But of course, this is no ‘handbook on OCD’ – it’s a story first and foremost, and above all, I enjoyed following Norah’s tale as she deals with the boy next door and his intrusion into her (extremely limited) world. I’ll be recommending this one a lot.

URTS blog tourThank you so much to Louise for visiting. Tomorrow, she’ll be at Escapism From Reality. She can be found online on Twitter and at her website.

Thanks also to Chicken House for providing a review copy and the fabulous Nina Douglas for tour organisation.


UKYA Review: Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler

Beautiful inside and out.
Beautiful inside and out.

I was really excited for this book and I am happy to say that not only was I not disappointed but blown away by its quiet brilliance.

Liz Kessler is an author I have enjoyed reading before and knowing how important this novel is to her I was desperate to read it for myself.

As you probably already know (but just in case…), this is an LGBT+ coming of age story, focused on Ashleigh’s developing realisation that she has romantic feelings for her teacher, Miss Murray. It’s a story that Liz wrote years ago and recently dusted off and updated. A story whose time had come. It is an important story, adding to the representation of LGBT+ experience within YA, but above all else, it is a compelling story, well told – and for that reason, I would urge you to pick it up.

Here is my initial reaction:

Loved this fabulous coming-of-age tale. For anyone wondering: the beauty of the cover is absolutely matched by the beauty of the story inside. This is a sensitively told close-up view of a teenaged girl figuring out both herself and the world around her. Read Me Like a Book will (quite rightly) be on lots of LGBT recommended reading lists, but the central quandaries about identity, family and friends will be familiar to most if not all teens and former teens. Strongly recommended.

The plot revolves around Ashleigh’s life in her second year of sixth form and there are various complications with school, friends and family for her to negotiate, all while attempting to understand and deal with her own feelings. This is, in the end, a coming out story par excellance as this crucial part of Ashleigh’s growing up is explored thoroughly and set against a backdrop of other complications (just as it is in real life!). This means that there is plenty for any YA reader to relate to, regardless of specific orientation and experience.

Liz’s tight narration immerses us in Ashleigh’s experiences and thoughts, even while as outsiders we can often perceive things that she is not able to at that point. That’s always a sign of great writing, I think – when you’re willing the character to do the sensible thing or see the truth of something, even knowing full well that stories don’t work like that! I loved Ashleigh and found her easy to relate to and engage with, and I enjoyed the portrayals of her friends and family too. I also enjoyed (and found it unusual) that Ashleigh doesn’t actually realise herself that she is a lesbian initially, but just assumes she’s straight and has a relationship with a boy. I think this initial struggle with the very idea, and the uncertainty of your own sense of identity shifting are very well captured and add to the reader’s engagement with Ashleigh.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this beautiful book to readers of YA contemporaries, especially if you’re keen for a UK context.

Read Me Like a Book is out now from Indigo.

Review of Raising Steam for the #TerryPratchettBlogTour

I’ve been reading Discworld since around 1991, when I was a sixth former, and it’s been a big part of my life ever since. My Dad, sister, brother-in-law and husband are all also big Discworld fans and we’ve even been to a couple of conventions/events. My elder daughter has read the Tiffany Aching YA series and plans to start reading the ‘grown-up’ ones this summer after GCSEs, and my 11 yr old is loving The Wee Free Men, the first YA title, reading as I write.

This post forms part of the Terry Pratchett Blog Tour, organised by Viv at Serendipity Reviews in tribute to one of the UK’s best-loved authors. The brilliant blog tour banner (to the left) was designed by Matt at Teen Librarian.

Raising SteamRaising Steam is the 40th Discworld novel and the 3rd to feature Moist Von Lipwig. If you haven’t read earlier novels, especially those featuring Moist or the Watch, you may find small spoilers in this review, for which I apologise, but when reviewing such a late-series title, it’s not really possible to avoid.

I found Raising Steam to be a brilliant example of many of the things I come to Discworld for. Unlike many fantasy series, the Discworld stories do not take place in a fixed, vaguely medieval setting; the Disc progresses, and Raising Steam is a perfect example of this. The core of the story is about the taming of steam and the introduction of locomotion – the brainchild of new character, Dick Simnel (although you may have noticed that his father, Ned Simnel, appears in Reaper Man – I didn’t at first, not having read that title for about 20 years).  Naturally, the Patrician needs some element of control over such a technological advance, and so Moist becomes involved.

I loved Dick’s character and his relationship with his work – one that will be familiar to anyone who knows an engineer or spare-time tinkerer. The engine he creates and brings to Ankh Morpork to show what he can do is a superb example of Disc technology, with a kind of magic of its own.

As always, progress on the Disc is challenged – in this case by grags, traditionalist, fundamentalist dwarfs who oppose Ankh Morpork’s melting pot of races and are suspicious of technology. Adora Belle is featured both in her role as Moist’s wife, but also as manager of the Clacks, since the grags are committing terrorism by burning down Clacks towers.

One of my favourite things about the Discworld is its very clear messages about diversity (again, relatively unusual in the fantasy genre where women often function as eye candy and ‘exotic foreigners’ are the limit of racial diversity) and this is very firmly reasserted here with the increasing integration of goblins into Ankh Morpork’s modernist society. At the same time, the grags and the ideas of radicalisation and tradition are a means of raising disquieting questions about the demands of diversity and the extent to which identities are lost/replaced/evolving in mixed society.

Anyway, I could blather on all day about things I loved about this book (and I haven’t even mentioned the brilliant humour!). Suffice it to say that this is a very fine latest episode for the Moist and Guards strands of the series in particular. If you’re already a Discworld reader, definitely read it. If you’re new to the series, there’s a great guide to the various strands here (there’s a chart to follow if you scroll down). Personally, the Witches are my very favourite, but I’ve enjoyed each and every one of the Discworld novels. I genuinely think Discworld has something for everyone.

Review: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Initial reaction:

Fab combo of Agatha Christie and the best boarding school tales. Tuck, midnight feasts and murder – what more could you want! Great for its intended 9-12 audience and for those of us a little older too. I was certain I knew who it was for most of the story and was wrong – always a good sign!

murder most unladylike raag

murder most unladylikeThis really is a delight and I’m looking forward to the second in the series, Arsenic for Tea. Set in the 1930s in Deepdean Academy, it beautifully captures everything that’s magical about boarding school tales, while also cleverly including all the key ingredients of a cosy mystery with the flavour of Agatha Christie. If Blyton and Christie had collaborated on a book, this – or something very like it – would be the result. It fulfils both genres and is a gorgeous reading experience.

Little Flame (my 10 year old daughter) and I both read and enjoyed this one. Aside from the book’s obvious charms, I also particularly appreciated the subtlety of its representations, using the character of Hazel Wong to introduce the experience of an Asian immigrant (as she goes about her Dr Watson-like business of documenting the case). I also, of course, enjoyed the mystery itself and the warm familiarity of many elements from the school story genre. This is a comfort read if ever I encountered one.

One of the book’s strengths is its characterisation – not only Daisy and Hazel, but the secondary characters are clearly delineated and carefully crafted. Little Flame was especially fond of the French mistress and the school nurse. It’s also a joy to see how Daisy and Hazel’s relationship develops and is tested by their detective work. Firm friends with quite different personalities, it’s refreshing and realistic to see them debate and at times argue.

As with all school stories, one of the things readers will love is the food. Who hasn’t read a boarding school story and wanted their very own tuck box? This series’ addition to the genre is the concept of bunbreak, which has certainly caused plenty of excitement on Twitter.

Overall, this book is highly recommended, both for its 9-12 target audience, and for older readers (much older readers who enjoyed boarding school stories in their youth very much included!).

Murder Most Unladylike is out now from Random House Children’s. Arsenic for Tea will follow in Jan 2015 (check out an opening extract on Robin Steven’s website!). My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: Boy in Tights by Kate Scott

boy in tightsJoe discovers his parents are spies – which is great. But Joe’s parents are in danger – which is not so great. And now Joe has to go undercover as a girl – which is definitely NOT GREAT AT ALL. 

Joe (now ‘Josephine’) is miserable when he starts his new school in a blonde wig, dress and tights. But soon he has a spy mission of his own. Using a host of unusual gadgets, Joe investigates some suspicious goings on. But can he do so without revealing his true identity?

This book has a lot of fun with various spy tropes, imagining how cool it would be to have spies as parents. Joe’s excitement at getting to know all about his parents’ other life is tempered by the need for him to go undercover as a girl. Initially freaked out by this (what child wouldn’t be?), I was concerned that Joe’s difficulties in accepting his new role were unwittingly supporting our culture’s view of girls as less than boys. However, these misgivings were more than resolved and a (from my perspective) valuable secondary benefit of this novel is in its presentation of gender. It’s also appealing and accessible to both genders – my 10 year old daughter read it and it was noticed and commented on positively by both boys and girls in her class.

The main appeal of the novel is its wacky humour, but it is also blended with elements from spy stories, tales of family life and mysteries. There are fantastic spy gadgets and car chases, fantastic moments exploring family relationships and school friendships, along with a mystery for Joe to solve that will keep kids guessing to the end.

Joe is a brilliant character – easy to relate to with in an ‘everyboy’ kind of way. His reactions are entirely convincing and we readily sympathise with his excruciatingly awkward circumstances. At the same time, the situation is genuinely hilarious and this makes for a seriously funny read, recommended (by both me and my daughter) for anyone after a book delivering a good laugh. We would definitely like to read the next in the series, Boy in a Tutu.


Boy in Tights, the first in the Spies in Disguise series, is out now from Piccadilly. I would like to thank the author for providing a copy for review.