Posted in Books I have read

Top 10 Books published in 2013

2013 was a great book reading year for me, I have read many great books of a variety of genres, although as usual the majority were crime fiction! It has been a real struggle to whittle this list down to 10 but here they are, in no particular order!

Click on the book covers to read my reviews.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

My list starts with a book set in a bookshop. This was a great book for this booklover, with references as diverse as Paddington Bear and 1984 littering the pages, great characters and a bookshop I wanted to work in!

A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them…
The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller
5*’s

Of course it was love for my children, love for my son, that caused me to act as I did. It was a lapse of judgement. If I could have foreseen the rippling aftershocks that followed I would have acted differently, but by the time I realised the extent of the consequences, it was too late.
A superb psychological thriller set in Devon over one claustrophobic weekend in November 2013 this book rivals Barbara Vine for one of the best books in this genre.

Dot by Araminta Hall

Women's Fiction 5*
Women’s Fiction
5*

a long-forgotten photograph of a man, his hair blowing in the breeze. Dot stares so long at the photograph the image begins to disintegrate before her eyes, and as the image fades it is replaced with one thought: ‘I think it’s definitely him.’
Secrets and female relationships dominate this book. Full of delightful characters with an undertone of humour to lighten the emotions that must surely melt the hardest of hearts.

Apple Tree Yard
by Louise Doughty

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Safety and security are commodities you can sell in return for excitement, but you can never buy them back.

This powerful book was my surprise find of 2013. A women in court but how and why? At its core this is a book about how we perceive ourselves, through our own eyes and what is reflected back to us in the eyes of others.

Entry Island by Peter May

Crime Fiction  5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim’s wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.

I had the final part of the Lewis Trilogy down as a favourite of 2013 but have decided Peter May can’t have two books on the top ten (but if you haven’t read the Lewis Trilogy I suggest you do!) so have decided his latest book set between a past on the Isle of Lewis and the present in Canada was the winner for fantastic characters along with a well plotted tale of a woman accused of murder and a past that must be found.

What Lies Within by Tom Vowler

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

when a convict escapes from nearby Dartmoor prison, their isolation suddenly begins to feel more claustrophobic than free. Fearing for her children’s safety, Anna’s behaviour becomes increasingly irrational. But why is she so distant from her kind husband Robert, and why does she suspect something sinister of her son Paul? All teenagers have their difficult phases…

This was another great find part psychological thriller but containing elements of so much more; a mystery, a crime and relationships.

A Funeral for an Owl
by Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Times have changed since Jim Stevens chose to teach. Protocol designed to protect children now makes all pupil/teacher relationships taboo – even those that might benefit a student.

This is one of those stories that stays with you long after you have closed the book. Jane Davis Davis really does bring characters to life, mothers, fathers, friends, teachers are all perfectly described along with their actions and reactions to events. (oh and if you have copy I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements!!)

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Women's Fiction   5*
Women’s Fiction
5*

Because something has happened that will call them home, back to the house they grew up in – and to what really happened that Easter weekend all those years ago.
Lisa Jewell really knows how to write a great story, her books never fail to delight me as they are so much more than ‘chick-lit’ they deal with serious issues without becoming depressing. This is my favourite (I think) of all her novels.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Women's Fiction 5*'s
Women’s Fiction
5*’s

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read
My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died…

Another great story-teller (I read What Alice Forgot after this one) with all the ingredients included; a believable plot, characters that are well-developed and writing that pulls the reader in from the first page, plus this isn’t the story you think it is going to be!

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller
5*’s

He’s gone. And telling the truth won’t bring him back…
When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

A lot of tension in this book, this is definitely not light reading but it is certainly absorbing and haunting.

What did you think of these books?

Does your list contain any of them?

I’d love to see your links to your best reads of 2013 (as I always need more books to add to that TBR!)

Posted in Competition

Win a Signed Copy of A Funeral for an Owl by Jane Davis

A Funeral for an Owl

To celebrate the publication of A Funeral for an Owl, Jane Davis kindly let me interview her for my blog.  As a bonus she has now followed up that with an offer of a free signed copy of the paperback which is out now!

Open to UK readers the question is….

Who is my favourite secondary character in A Funeral for an Owl?

To enter please email me at cleobannister@live.co.uk with the answer using the subject ‘competition’. I am accepting entries until midnight 8 December 2013 when I will select the winner from my very stylish purple cloche hat and contact the winner for their address.

Purple Hat

My review

Everything changes for Jim the day he finds a pair of binoculars and picks them up. Kneeling on the back of the sofa looking out over the lamplight night from his London council flat he spots a barn owl. Using his trusty bird book for reference he begins to learn the Latin names for the birds that he spots down by the railway tracks. At the beginning of the summer holidays in 1992 Jim meets a girl near his favourite bird watching spot and the whole course of his life changes.

Set in London this story spans twenty years as the older Jim, now a teacher, reflects on his younger self to help Shamayal, but is Jim’s story strong and relevant enough to overcome the culture of the streets today?

Jane’s writing drew me in from the very first page with a school playground fight that certainly seemed only too real and believable. This fight would have consequences to all involved as Jim overstepped his boundary as a teacher to try to help Shamayal. The fact that Jim and Shamayal are both missing important people in their lives makes a deep impression on the way they act, as well as strongly influencing their hopes and dreams. Jane is one of those writers that make you really believe the story you are being told; the descriptions of places meant that I felt I was by the railway tracks, in the high-rise flat or in the school playground witnessing a fight, a true gift.

At times I found the story is heart-breaking, at others touching as the wonderful characters took up residence in my heart especially my favourite secondary character Bins. At times I was able to sympathise with each of characters, at others I wanted to shout at them but at no time did I stop caring about any of them. This to me is the true measure of a good read!

A Funeral for an Owl

If you haven’t already done you can read the interview Jane Davis.  Alternatively you can contact her using the following links

Website: where she posts interesting articles and interviews with authors
Facebook
Twitter
PinterestCropped BW (2)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

A Funeral for an Owl – Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Everything changes for Jim the day he finds a pair of binoculars and picks them up. Kneeling on the back of the sofa looking out over the lamplight night from his London council flat he spots a barn owl. Using his trusty bird book for reference he begins to learn the Latin names for the birds that he spots down by the railway tracks. At the beginning of the summer holidays in 1992 Jim meets a girl near his favourite bird watching spot and the whole course of his life changes.

Set in London this story spans twenty years as the older Jim, now a teacher, reflects on his younger self to help Shamayal, but is Jim’s story strong and relevant enough to overcome the culture of the streets today?

Jane’s writing drew me in from the very first page with a school playground fight that certainly seemed only too real and believable. This fight would have consequences to all involved as Jim overstepped his boundary as a teacher to try to help Shamayal. The fact that Jim and Shamayal are both missing important people in their lives makes a deep impression on the way they act, as well as strongly influencing their hopes and dreams. Jane is one of those writers that make you really believe the story you are being told; the descriptions of places meant that I felt I was by the railway tracks, in the high-rise flat or in the school playground witnessing a fight, a true gift.

At times I found the story is heart-breaking, at others touching as the wonderful characters took up residence in my heart especially my favourite secondary character Bins. At times I was able to sympathise with each of characters, at others I wanted to shout at them but at no time did I stop caring about any of them. This to me is the true measure of a good read!

The eBook is available now and the paperback is due out on 1 December 2013 A Funeral for an Owl
I got to know Jane when she commented on one of my earliest reviews on Amazon for her award winning book Half-truths & White Lies – click on the cover to see my review
Half-truths and White Lies

It was her historical novel I Stopped Time: A Historical Novel that cemented the fact that she was now a must-read author. I loved this book so much as it tells a story using photographs.

Click on the cover to read my review.

I stopped time

Jane’s third book These Fragile Things  is set in the 1980’s which made for some fantastic nostalgia of my teenage years!
These Fragile Things

If you haven’t already done so please read the interview Jane Davis kindly gave me to celebrate the publication of A Funeral for an Owl.  Alternatively you can contact her using the following links

Website: where she posts interesting articles and interviews with authors
Facebook
Twitter
PinterestA Funeral for an Owl

Posted in Author Interview

Interview with Jane Davis author of A Funeral for an Owl

Cover-Artwork-187x300

So here is my very first interview with an author!  Jane Davis wrote one of my favourite novels of all time ‘I Stopped Time’ and when she sent me her latest book A Funeral for an Owl I cheekily asked if I could do an interview with her when it was published.  To my delight she agreed.

Cleo: What theme was the basis for A Funeral for an Owl?

Jane:  A Funeral for an Owl shares its central theme with Half-truths and White Lies, I Stopped Time, and to a lesser extent These Fragile Things, that is the influence that missing persons have on our lives. Whether an absent parent, the child who never was, a friend who died an untimely death, the object of our unrequited love who finds a love of his own, the friends we lose touch with, we all collect them, particularly as we get older.  In my own life, the influence of those who are missing is as great, and possibly greater still, than those who are present. The fact that someone is absent creates the ultimate What if? question, the question authors have to toy with when thinking about the premise for their plots.

This theme was something that I had explored tentatively in my previous fiction, but I found myself studying the Missing Persons ads in The Metro, the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds whose stories aren’t sufficiently high-profile to land them on the pages of newspapers.  They are simply slipping between the cracks. And so I looked into the facts. One in ten children ‘run away’ from home before they reach the age of sixteen, an estimated 100,000 every year. Shockingly, a quarter of those young people are actually forced out of their homes by parents or carers. Two-thirds are not reported to the police as missing. That’s 75,000 children for whom a Missing Persons ad will never be placed. All of these children are highly vulnerable, at risk of substance abuse, sexual exploitation and homelessness. Mobile phones and social networking sites have made it even easier to target them. I include a particularly poignant quote from Lady Catherine Meye at the beginning of my novel. “We can’t establish for certain how many children are missing. You’d have more chance of finding a stray dog.” But what if some of the rules that are put in place with the best of intentions – to protect children – actually deprive the most vulnerable of confidential counsel from someone they trust? I appreciate that not everyone will agree with that view, but when I was growing up we had a wonderful teacher who operated an open-house and provided a safe place for those who were struggling at home, no questions asked. It was surprising who would turn up at her door. Today, in an environment when any relationship between teachers and pupils outside the classroom is taboo, she would be sacked. I think that’s terribly sad. Fiction provides a unique opportunity to tell one side of a story through the eyes of one or two characters. It’s not the whole picture by any means, but it is one aspect of it.

Cleo: The telling of the story from more than one perspective was something that I really loved about this book. As a reader it gave me far more to think about than if it had just been told from Jim’s point of view.

Cleo: A Funeral For An Owl main protagonists, Jim and Shamayal, are male; is it harder to write from this perspective?

Jane: There are challenges about writing from a man’s perspective. Some of them are based on the myths perpetuated by popular women’s magazines – about how many times a day men think about sex, for example. When I’m not sure how to approach a topic, I turn to books. I also rely on gut feeling about how much detail people actually want to read. Something implied can be far more powerful than something that is explicit. I prefer describing emotions rather than mechanics. Young Jim does undergo something of a sexual awakening when he meets Aimee White, a girl from the other side of the tracks – smart and what we used to call middle class – who is a whole year older than him. Graham Joyce’s The Tooth Fairy provided a wonderful example of the confusion of finding yourself aroused by someone you are not attracted to. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad provided fantastic examples of how to portray flawed characters in a non-judgemental way – people who don’t always understand the reasons why they do things. I take comfort in the fact that I am not so convinced as Cosmopolitan is that there is a ‘typical male’, but even if I’m wrong, my characters are not intended to be typical. I hope that, through young Jim, I have sympathetically addressed the pressures boys feel to behave in a so-called ‘masculine way.’ The main challenge in writing Shamayal was creating the fight scene. That was new territory for me. Again, my intention was to create a sense of fear rather than to be graphic. (I should perhaps explain that this isn’t a book about sex and violence.)

Cleo: I totally agree with you as I do not believe that boy’s issues and concerns are that different from those that girls have. Certainly my experience of teenagers of both sexes along with the multitude of their friends that passed through my door have proved that in fact the concerns are pretty similar.

Cleo: Did you see or hear about a playground fight involving gangs or was this woven in later in the process?

Thankfully the only playground fight I have ever seen close up was between my best friend and the school skin-head (also a girl). It began during a game of netball and I can’t tell you what it was about, but it must have been some righteous cause, because my friend wouldn’t have fought over any other. The skin-head should have had the advantage as girls’ fights consist primarily of scratching and hair-pulling, but my friend won.

The original draft of A Funeral for an Owl only told the story of what happened between Jim and Aimee in 1992. That was rejected by my then publisher as they felt it lacked a strong female protagonist. It was only later that I came back to the material, which I was convinced was too good to be consigned to that dusty drawer reserved for rejected manuscripts. I was surprised that I felt a real affection for it. I kept returning to it and decided to update it with Shamayal’s story. By layering the story I was able to reflect on cause and effect. I was able to tell the story of how Jim would put his career on the line to stop history repeating itself. I was able to allow Bins to be a bit of a hero. It was also an opportunity to acknowledge the enormous changes I have witnessed over the past twenty or so years. The cultural mix – in my South London middle school there was one black family. My friends’ children simply cannot understand how we survived without mobile phones in the ‘olden days’ and why there are so few photographs of us. Children and adults were members of different species. Gangs were very different things then. Children did not kill children. Today, hearing about gang fights is unavoidable. I read a lot of personal accounts during my research, including one victim’s who was dumped in a bin and left for dead. Sadly, there are lots of truths in my book.

Cleo: I think the fact that the book contains a lot of truths is what makes it so powerful, the change in attitudes in the last twenty years certainly adds context to both parts of this story.

Cleo: My favourite secondary character has to be Bins, a man who spends most of his time in the bin store at Ralegh Grove, the estate Shamayal lives on. Is he based, even vaguely on someone you know?

Jane: No is the short answer, but it’s not a very satisfactory one. Some readers assumed that Bins was autistic, but that wasn’t my intention at all. I suffered from depression for many years and, in an age when suicide statistics speak for themselves, I enjoy celebrating people who have found their own ways of living. In my locality we have a wizard who walks the length of the high street in his full regalia, complete with a black cat on his shoulder; we have a very masculine-looking Scotsman who wears a very badly-fitting cotton floral dress; we have a man who walks the streets with a tank strapped to his back spraying the air, and a young chap who stands on street corners conducting the traffic, and singing hymns at the top of his voice. These are all logical responses to an insane world. Small communities – and children in particular – accommodate people who don’t fall into our narrow definition of what is ‘normal’. It was only when watching a programme about the artist Chuck Close that I became aware of the condition Prosopagnosia, or ‘face blindness’, and appreciated how someone who didn’t appear to recognise someone he had met dozens of times before might be treated as if he was stupid, and if he was treated as if he was stupid, how he might eventually come to believe that.

Cleo:  I asked this question was because I often feel that the importance of identifiable characters outside the main protagonists is often overlooked. I loved Bins and his interactions with both Shamayal and Jim bought a tear to my eye, I’m a softy for people caring for others particularly when on the surface it looks like Bins needs help too!

Cleo: I thought Ayisha seemed a little prim and proper at the start of the book, did you like her less than the other characters?

Jane: Ayisha is opinionated, it’s true. She is also a person who has been brought up with rules and believes that they’re there for good reason. She knows that her colleague Jim has breached the teachers’ code of conduct by befriending fourteen-year-old Shamayal. In the aftermath of the playground fight during which Jim is stabbed, Ayisha administers first aid. She’s in shock and understandably so. This is far outside her normal experience. She makes a split-second decision that it would be wrong to report Jim. He is in no position to defend himself: imagine the headlines if he doesn’t pull through. But in that split-second she puts her own teaching career on the line. So, yes, when she finds out that Jim has done all that she suspected and more, she’s furious with him. Because it’s too late. She is involved, even though she really doesn’t want to be. Far from disliking Ayisha, I am completely sympathetic. But for her ethnic background, I am a lot like her.

Cleo: I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like Ayisha, I came to admire her decision to put her career on the line enormously as the book progressed. So moving swiftly onto the next question…

Cleo: Who was your favourite character in the book and why?

Jane: I think that Jim’s Granddad is a very powerful character. He is another missing person by the time that the action in the book begins, but he represents everything that was good about Jim’s difficult childhood. He recognised that Jim’s dad, Frank, favoured his brother, Nick, because he was more masculine, and he tried to compensate.

“He was a gentleman.”
Shamayal’s recovery swift, the mocking manner returned with a vengeance. “Posh?”
“God, no! He had a face full of stubble and tattoos up to his armpits. I meant in the old-fashioned sense. He was born at a time when showing manners and respecting his elders weren’t seen as weaknesses.”
Shamayal looked doubtful: this definition implied a loss of face.
“Granddad understood me better than anyone else.” Jim found himself smiling. “He was just old enough to remember what it was like to be really young.”

Cleo: Have you ever been bird-watching and if so did you learn the names of the birds in a similar way to Jim?

Jane: I’m not a bird-watcher, but I am a very keen walker, I enjoy observing life on a small scale. It’s important to slow down, to get away from technology, to observe the changing seasons. I’ve just returned home from a trip to the Lake District, but it is equally possible to experience these things in your local park. Apart from Ralegh Grove, which is fictional (based on my experience of living on High Path council estate, where I bought my first flat), the places I describe are within walking distance of my house. I simply recorded all of the birds I saw and looked them up. So-called garden birds are declining at a frightening rate, so it’s possible that this simple pleasure isn’t one that will be with us for ever. The one exception to my writing-down-and-looking-up rule is my owl. I am not absolutely sure that there are barn owls in Carshalton – although, if there were, it is likely they would be found by the sides of the railway lines. The owl is such a powerful image in mythology and folklore that his appearance was non-negotiable. I visited several wonderful websites when looking for inspiration: http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk provided me with beautiful and moving photographs that left me with a very clear image of what I wanted to try to convey in words. They do wonderful work and run adoption schemes for owls, which makes a very nice present – if you don’t want to buy a book.

I introduced the bird-watching aspect in tribute to Barry Hines’s heart-breaking portrayal of Billy in A Kestrel for a Knave. Like Billy, by discovering birds, Jim discovers another way of being that sets him apart from his father and brother and the assumptions that, like them, he will turn to a life of petty crime. He also sets himself apart from boys of his own age.

Cleo: The myth that you use wasn’t one I’d heard before, but one that I will now always remember.

Cleo: All your books are very different; do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

Jane: In the world of traditional publishing, it is not a smart move to make your books too different. The issue of genre is not quite so thorny in self-publishing, which recognises that authors want to develop and grow through experimentation and that readers do not want to read the same old recycled plot with different casts.

There is a school of thought that tells you that must have a clear idea of where the plot will take you before you start writing. If that was the case, I would never have put pen to paper. I choose to take the advice of authors who say exactly the opposite:

Debby Holt claims that there are plot-driven novels and character-driven novels. Hers fall into the latter category and I’m with her. Joanne Harris, too, says that women often write in this way, while men prefer to plot.

Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing: is to start with a single question and see how that idea develops. The question always begins ‘what if’ and his usually follow the lines of ‘What if aliens landed in Arizona?’ or ‘What if zombies invaded my hometown?’

Sir Terry Pratchett uses a method he calls The Valley of the Clouds. In the valley of the clouds there are mountains but you can only see the very tops of the peaks. It is your job as an author to work out how to get to the mountains. As a walker, I really connect with this description.
Have a clear idea about your characters, give them background stories, put them in a conflicted scenario and take the idea to its natural conclusion. If you’re lucky and your characters are right, with a fair wind, they will take control and do most of the donkey work for you. Shamayal is one example of this. His spoke very clearly to me because he has a very definite speech pattern and he is unafraid of saying things to an adult that simply wouldn’t have been acceptable when I was growing up. That said, my method does result in some serious nail-biting, but I think that to plot rigidly would be to stifle the characters.

Cleo: Have you always written stories?

Jane: No. I always used to draw pictures. I might have pursued art but, after years of As, a grade C in return for my experimental silk-screening for my Art O Level dampened any ambitions I had in that department. I left school at the age of sixteen and never returned to it. These days I stick to photography.

Cleo: That’s a really original answer as most writers appear to have been scribbling notes away for years. I’m sure that will be good  for aspiring writers to know, particularly as it is NaNo season!

Cleo: What made you sit down and start your first novel?

Jane: There were several reasons why I started to write. The first was that, although I had been an artistic child, my work in insurance provided no creative outlet. Secondly, it was a question of timing rather than one of time. I spent many years with ample time on my hands, but I didn’t start to write until I was in a relationship with someone who gave me confidence to express myself. Finally, I needed something to write about. Something happened in my life that I needed to make sense of and I used writing to explore how I felt about it. I think that most writers start because they want to make sense of the world.

Cleo: Do you work on one book at a time?

Jane: After the first book is out there, it’s almost impossible to work on one book at a time. At the moment I am marketing last year’s double release, preparing for the launch of A Funeral for an Owl and am 65,000 words into a new project which I’m still too superstitious to talk about. I’m at the panic-inducing stage where I know what happens at the end but I can’t seem to find the path to my final peak!

Cleo: That is such an eloquent way of describing all the work we readers often forget that goes into writing and publishing a book.  I can’t wait to see what the new book is about but I won’t push for an answer, yet….

Cleo: When can readers look forward to reading A Funeral for an Owl?

Jane: The eBook is available immediately and the paperback is due for release on 1 December 2013

Thank you for providing such interesting and in-depth answers to my questions.  It has been an absolute pleasure to feature you on my blog.

My review of A Funeral for an Owl will follow tomorrow.

A Funeral for an Owl
Half-truths & White Lies
I Stopped Time: A Historical Novel
These Fragile Things

Cropped BW (2)

Jane Davis would love you to connect with her using any of the following:
Website:   where she posts interesting articles and interviews with authors
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
A Funeral for an Owl