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Book Review. The Pearl and the Carnelian, by Annabel Fielding

Dark secrets, hidden desires and forbidden encounters abound in this absorbing work of historical fiction, which blends racy romance with astute political observations.

 

pearl-and-the-carnelianThe Pearl and the Carnelian, by Annabel Fielding, calls to mind the works of acclaimed historical novelist Sarah Waters as much as it does the upstairs-downstairs power games at play in Downton Abbey, it’s an engrossing tale set in the paranoid period between the two World Wars, and raises questions about the rise and attraction of fascism that feel startlingly relevant today.

 

The book is set in mid 1930s England, when Hester Blake, a bright young girl from an insalubrious Northern town, takes a job as lady’s maid to the enigmatic Lady Lucy Fitzmartin.

 

Despite doing their best to keep up appearances of grandeur, the Fitzmartins’ fortunes are fading and mistrust, resentment and barely-concealed contempt are as much a part of family life as grand society balls.

 

Hester is startled to find that, far from displaying the aloof attitude she had been expecting, the isolated Lucy is quick to confide in her, and the pair soon become much more to each other than merely Lady and her maid in waiting.

 

A budding writer who fills her time writing frothy society columns, Lucy harbours ambitions to achieve greater literary acclaim, and to live independently from the family she resents.

 

Embarking on a passionate affair with her mistress, Hester is drawn into a glitzy world of travel and high society, but knows that her true relationship with Lady Lucy must remain a closely-guarded secret.

 

Meanwhile, Hester’s clandestine meetings with her jazz-singing sister spark an irrational jealousy in Lucy, whose own white-skinned, delicate beauty appears to mask a dark determination.

 

With war clouds looming menacingly on the horizon, Lucy finds herself drawn into a political world of lies and subterfuge, and is readily convinced that, by forging bonds with the Germans, she is acting in her country’s best interests.

 

“After all, we all have an interest in not being killed”, as she bluntly puts it.

 

Issues of race, of ‘pure blood’ and of the reasoning that leads people along dubious political paths are key themes in this book – Hester’s olive skin and a family legend lead Lucy to dub her ‘My Moorish girl’, while her darker-skinned sister is beaten for her apparent ‘foreign’ status.

 

Deepening the plot, a clandestine relationship between a member of Lucy’s elite social circle and a black musician provides Lucy with ammunition to further her political ambitions, while Hester begins to resent her mistress’s increasingly inflammatory newspaper columns.

 

This is a cleverly-paced, intricately-plotted novel whose diverse range of female characters engage our sympathies even when we can’t condone their actions.

 

Lucy and Hester are particularly well-drawn, but side characters, such as Lucy’s sister Sophie, are also interesting enough to linger in the memory after the book has been put down.

 

The author has a clear interest in the history of inter-war Britain, marked by rapid and alarming social and political upheaval, and her writing provides a ‘girl’s eye view’ of a turbulent and relatively little known era.

 

And while this is very much a work of fiction, aspects of the book have taken influence from real-life events.

 

The politics of the time, with the chilling popularity of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts and the early attempts at appeasement towards Nazi Germany, feel disconcertingly similar to present-day Britain where, post-Brexit, growing dissatisfaction with the establishment and xenophobic sentiments are sending seismic shocks through the fabric of society.

 

The Pearl and the Carnelian is a novel that succeeds on many levels: as a gay romance, a solid work of historical literary fiction told through a female perspective, and a thought-provoking piece of social commentary on a fascinating and dynamic time.

 

The Pearl and the Carnelian by Annabel Fielding is out now, priced £12.30 in paperback and £4.61 as an eBook.

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Book Review. BeautyFull Secrets by Deepa D’Angelova

Having enjoyed a highly successful career as a beauty therapist in some of London’s most exclusive spas, author Deepa D’Angelova has chosen to reveal the well-kept beauty secrets that will soon have readers looking, and feeling, like a new person.

 

beautifulsecretsBut BeautyFull Secrets doesn’t just focus on the outside. It also covers ‘inner beauty’, adding a refreshing spiritual dimension alongside the author’s sensible, tried-and-tested guidance on all aspects of beauty — from the proper health and diet regime to follow to the right products to use.

 

D’Angelova’s core message is that the current global fixation on external beauty — one that has been greatly exacerbated by the advent of social media – is damaging to both men and women, causing people to have both negative and harmful perceptions of themselves.

 

Instead, BeautyFull Secrets offers an alternative path to beauty, far removed from the impossible ideals of the size zero supermodel.

 

In fact, the book firmly states that anyone can be beautiful, if only they close down their negative belief patterns regarding image and learn how to harness their assets properly, building their self-esteem and confidence in the process and letting this shine through.

 

The author reveals early on that the genesis of the book came out because she felt ‘ugly’ about herself, both in terms of her looks and life situation at the time.

 

The author is a single mum and knows only too well how hard it can be to find ‘me time’, but without a dedication to looking after yourself, and a little pampering now and then, the potential mental impact can be devastating.

 

Her own transformative journey saw her following the guidance that she has been providing to her clients for the last 15 or so years, which have included A-list celebrities.

 

This, she discovered, made her not only a more positive person but also more outwardly beautiful and attractiveness to others.

 

Drawing on this expertise and personal insight, BeautyFull Secrets provides a one-stop shop to beauty across twelve informative and accessible chapters filled with inspirational and full-colour photographs by talented artist Karlo Arkhieri.

 

For instance, an early chapter demonstrates how we should harness nature’s gifts — sun, water, food and oxygen — to help us improve our beauty naturally.

 

Another teaches how to look after our skin, the largest organ of the body, including how to hydrate and massage it, avoid spots and wrinkles, and generally take good care of it through such simple things as regular facials and remembering to remove make-up after a night out.

 

There’s also a chapter providing a handy overview of beauty products. This can prove a daunting topic given the vast range of items available to buy these days, but the author is on hand with top tips to look like a million dollars without having to spend the same amount.

 

Later chapters in the 240-page book cover embracing and developing a personal style, the art of seduction and the concept of beauty across different cultures — highlighting its diversity and the futility of the search for the perfect face or body.

 

There is also a chapter specifically devoted to men, who are becoming increasingly interested in looking after their appearance, following in the footsteps of such metrosexual role models such as footballing icon David Beckham.

 

Balancing the advice on outer beauty is an equal focus on inner beauty, making the soul radiate by freeing the mind from negativity and investing the time to become comfortable in your own skin, through meditation, yoga, exercise, reading and listening to music, for example.

 

The author says that such relaxing and stimulating activities will bring a noticeable difference in posture, demeanour, character and, ultimately, self-belief and attitude.

 

Having taken all the advice in, and to further inspire readers, Deepa rounds things off with a simple yet powerful two-week programme to achieving your beauty goals, instilling new daily rituals and observations that will soon become habit.

 

Following the book’s guidance, the author states, will bring about a fresh charisma and charm, confidence and elegance that she describes as “the true face of beauty”.

 

In short, BeautyFull Secrets, is a valuable companion for anyone interested in becoming a more beautiful and rounded person.

 

BeautyFull Secrets by Deepa D’Angelova (Infinity Space Publications) is out now, priced £20 in hardcover. Visit deepadangelova.com

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Book Review. Invisible Ink by Pippa Kelly

In everyday life, Pippa Kelly is one of the UK’s foremost writers on dementia, having chronicled her own mother’s slow decline and eventual death from the condition in the national press.

 

pk-Invisible-Ink-FCHer frank account has touched many people and her blogs have won her a prestigious award for helping to raise awareness of dementia, which is still wrapped in ignorance, fear and misconceptions, at a time when it is becoming one of the UK’s biggest health problems.

 

Kelly, a former civil servant, has now produced a stunning debut novel that combines her own experiences with an emotive and mesmerising story of love, guilt, loss and betrayal within one family.

 

It tells the story of Max Rivers, a London-based lawyer who appears to have it all: a financially rewarding career, a beautiful girlfriend and an exclusive address.

 

But two things are weighing him down – his elderly mother who is in the grips of dementia and cannot see through her confused mental fog, and a long-buried secret that threatens to destroy his carefully-constructed world and bring up a past he is desperate to keep suppressed.

 

Punchy and quick, the action starts in the opening scenes, where the reader sees the crisis bubbling up in Max’s life, when his ailing mother injures herself when she falls.

 

Knowing he has to take care of her, Max becomes overwhelmed by emotions welling up from his past – namely the guilt he feels over the disappearance of his younger brother, Peter, when they were children.

 

The story then unfolds through two narratives – the first told through Max’s eyes as a solicitor trying to hold it all together, and the second through Max as a young boy.

 

This narrative of Max as a youngster begins with the arrival of baby Peter which coincides with his dad walking out on the family.

 

This emotional turmoil leads to a distinct jealousy emanating from Max towards Peter. He learns to write in invisible ink and, in a harrowing scene, sets his brother a trail of clues to follow after school one day, leading to his mysterious disappearance.

 

This results in a huge but ultimately fruitless police search, led by the avuncular DI Gould, with Peter’s ultimate loss hanging over the family forever.

 

As the novel progresses, the two halves of Max’s life – past and present – slowly come together.

 

In the present, we see Max’s girlfriend Eleanor struggle to keep her pregnancy secret. The two of them move in together, and Eleanor gives birth to their son, Ben, as Max has to face up to the realities and duties of being a father.

 

But this fresh renewing of life also has drastic consequences for Max’s buried past.
When his mum’s worsening dementia results in her coming to stay with them, she believes baby Ben to Peter and the two sides of Max’s life, which he had fought so hard to keep apart, finally collide.

 

Max’s buried emotions begin to surface and although he is determined to remain tight-lipped, his confused mother reveals all to Eleanor. Unable to cope with what this means, Max reacts by trying to remove the immediate problem and places his mother in a nursing home – an act that causes him immense guilt and grief.

 

Eventually, in a climactic scene set on Christmas day , Max finally decides to air his darkest secrets, leading to an unexpected and gripping conclusion.

 

Invisible Ink is a haunting and moving debut that excels at drawing attention to dementia in a thought-provoking way, while at the same time providing a fantastic emotional read.

 

In Max, Pippa has created a poster boy for the so-called ‘sandwich generation’, who have the double responsibilities of a young family to care for, and elderly parents. His attempts to brush his mother’s illness under the carpet run parallel to his wish to keep the past, and the deep pain of losing a brother, at arm’s length.

 

In both, he ultimately, and inevitably, fails to achieve his aims, but adult life is as much about accepting and dealing with loss as it is about enjoying the fruits of hard-earned success.

 

The author says she wrote the novel in part as a way of working through the raw feelings at the death of her own parents, and Invisible Ink certainly offers a deft exploration of the complex emotions hidden beneath the surface of our lives, drawing its readers into Max’s story and leading them, step by cautious step, towards a somber yet cathartic dénouement.

 

Invisible Ink by Pippa Kelly (Austin Macauley) is out now, priced £6.99 in paperback, £12.99 in hardback and £3.50 as an eBook. Visit pippakelly.co.uk

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Book Review Kasztner’s Crime by Paul Bogdanor

Few historical figures divide opinion as dramatically as Jewish wartime figure Rezső (Rudolf) Kasztner.  

 

As the leader of ‘rescue negotiations’ between the Nazis and the Hungarian Jews during the dark days of the Second World War, he has been hailed by some as a hero who saved the lives of thousands, and by others as a traitor who was complicit in the deaths of half a million of his own people.

 

Kasztner's-Crime-CoverWith painstaking attention to detail, author and researcher Paul Bogdanor convincingly and coherently sets out to prove the latter assertion: that the man who set out to rescue Jews from the Nazis indeed became an SS collaborator and an accessory to the genocide of the Jewish masses.

 

Whatever the reader’s initial stance on the Kasztner debate – if, indeed, they are familiar with the figure at all – Kasztner’s Crime is an incredible work of investigative writing that merits full attention.

 

According to Bogdanor, Kasztner was willing to sacrifice the many for the few because of an overwhelming drive for power and recognition; something that the Nazis were happy to play along with as long as it served their purpose.

 

Bogdanor calls upon forgotten evidence including the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and Kasztner’s own confessions to provide a definitive answer to the nature and extent of Kasztner’s staggering betrayal of the Hungarian Jews.

 

Introducing the reader to his subject, Bogdanor chronicles Kasztner’s rapid rise from journalist and lawyer to a key figure in the Budapest Aid and Rescue Committee at the outbreak of war.

 

During this time he helped in the rescue of some 25,000 Jews from neighbouring countries, and also helped fund Oskar Schindler’s famous rescue operation in Poland.

 

But what followed was a tragedy – the story of a hero who became an instrument of the Nazi killing machine.

 

In March 1944, the Nazis occupied Hungary and set into motion the plan to deport and exterminate the country’s entire Jewish population.

 

Kasztner ignored orders to take the rescue committee underground to form an effective resistance movement and instead chose to negotiate with the Nazis. It was to be his undoing.

 

His dealings with senior SS officer Adolf Eichmann, charged with carrying out the Holocaust in Hungary, trapped Kasztner into a deplorable pact: saving the lives of just over 1,600 Jewish VIPs, including members of his own family, in return for the deaths of hundreds of thousands at the Nazi death camps.

 

The story of the ‘Kasztner Train’ that carried these lucky few to a safe haven in Switzerland is an emotionally-charged one, and the basis for Kasztner’s ongoing reputation as a hero.

 

But based on the shocking evidence he has uncovered, Bogdanor convincingly argues that the widely-held belief that Kasztner could not have saved more lives than the 1,684 Jews aboard the ‘Kasztner Train’ is false.

 

The book details how Kasztner, at the Nazis’ bidding, actively sabotaged efforts to save more lives, preventing thousands of ordinary Jews from fleeing to Romania by falsely claiming that an escape route had been blocked.

 

He also misled Jewish communities and the outside world into thinking that the Hungarian Jews would be resettled for agricultural work inside Hungary until the end of the war when, instead, they were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

 

The book pulls no punches in retelling the brutal truth about the slaughter of millions of Jews at Nazi extermination camps. It’s a poignant and painful reminder of the horrific treatment of Jews during the Second World War that must never be forgotten.

 

In writing Kasztner’s Crime, Bogdanor aims to right a great injustice to the memories of the Holocaust victims by exposing Kasztner for what he was.

 

The intelligent and well-supported case he puts forward is certainly damning, and tallies with the verdict of the Israeli court in 1955, which concluded that Kasztner had “sold his soul to the Devil”.

 

Within the space of a few years, however, Kasztner had been assassinated and posthumously exonerated by Israel’s Supreme Court. Since that point he has been widely celebrated in popular culture.

 

Kasztner’s Crime argues that his heroic reputation could not be further from the truth and that his actions need an urgent re-evaluation, with Rezső Kasztner being recognised as nothing less than the last Holocaust traitor to be brought to justice.

 

Kasztner’s Crime by Paul Bogdanor (Transaction Publishers) is out now, priced £27.50 in paperback. Visit www.kasztnerscrime.com

 

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Book Review: Beat The Rain by Nigel Jay Cooper

The genre of contemporary women’s fiction is seen almost as the preserve of women authors, but in Beat the Rain, debut writer Nigel Jay Cooper can hold his head high for penning a moving and gripping read that stands up against the work of his best-selling female peers.

 

Beat-The-Rain-High-Res-CoverThe novel, which has been voted a Good Reads Awards 2016 semi-finalist by the reading public, is a psychological thriller that tells the dysfunctional and tragic love story of a couple with issues, Louise and Adam, and the dramatic consequences of a marriage in decline.

 

It opens with a glimpse into Louise’s life after her boyfriend, Tom, dies suddenly, leaving her heart-broken.

 

Lost and alone, six months later she receives a video from Tom – a message from the grave. He urges her to move on and reveals that he knew she was secretly in love with his twin brother, Adam.

 

Tom believes they can help each other, and so it follows. Adam and Louise go against the wishes of their families to start a relationship, both hoping it might fill the holes in their lives.

 

The couple marry and start a family, but as the years roll by the pressures that come with a long-term relationship, once the initial blaze of passion has long since burned out, takes its toll, exacerbated by deep-seated psychological issues.

Struck by post-natal depression, Louise becomes introspective, recalling her sad and troubled childhood – one that saw her mother abandon her and her father die.

 

Driving Adam further away in the mistaken belief that their relationship is not worth saving, she encounters a man named Jarvis at the café she owns.

 

At first Louise is only mildly obsessed with this intriguing, charismatic man, but in her troubled state, this soon manifests into voyeurism.

 

Eventually, her erratic mind spins out of control, and she convinces herself that Jarvis is falling for her, forcing a friendship between her husband and Jarvis just to have an excuse to meet him more often.

 

But Jarvis is in love with someone else close to Louse, and more than this, it transpires Jarvis has not been strictly honest about his role in their lives, and has his own shocking agenda for becoming close.

 

Though they try to make the marriage work, Adam’s and Louise’s relationship continues to falter, stifled by the grief and pain they are both trying to deal with.

 

Adam descends into alcoholism while Louise tries to distract herself by becoming a workaholic, and as argument follows terrible argument, the novel gallops towards a climatic ending packed with startling revelations.

 

Structured in a non-linear fashion with chapters told alternatively from Louise and Adam’s perspective, Beat The Rain is an unforgettable story of love and loss propelled by blockbuster twists.

 

At times humorous; at others downright tragic, it runs the full gamut of emotions that would be encountered in a relationship spinning dangerously out of control.

 

Cooper has a rare knack for presenting flawed characters and their grubby domestic lives, yet in a way that makes the reader care about what happens to them.

 

We discover the emotional pains that drive the characters, the guilt and grief that they won’t let heal, and the desires and yearnings so woefully misdirected.

 

The most devastating thing is not what ultimately happens to them, but that it could all have been avoided if Adam and Louise had only been able to grasp the deeper truths, both of themselves and each other.

 

Haunting, touching and at times lyrical, Beat The Rain will undoubtedly draw comparisons with bestseller thrillers such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins.

 

It sends you on an emotional ride that is equal parts rollercoaster and ghost train, and proves that a male author can dare to take on women’s fiction and succeed with aplomb.

 

Beat The Rain (Roundfire Books) by Nigel Jay Cooper is out now in paperback, priced at £10.99 or £4.99 for an eBook. For more information, visit www.nigeljaycooper.com.

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Book Review. The Messiahs of Princep Street by Moshe Elias

This astutely-observed, tragi-comic novel from Moshe Elias is at once a warming coming-of-age tale, a nuanced account of growing up in a Jewish community in Singapore, a touching romance and an unflinching account of the treatment of Jews during WW2.

 

me-FC-The-Messiahs-of-Princep-StreetThe events of the book are told from the perspective of Adam Messiah — a man who, in his late 40s, has reached a moment of crisis and decides to stitch together the interweaving stories of his life in order to find out where he went wrong.

 

The book begins from the very first moments of his birth, and the benefit of hindsight has allowed Adam to equip his infant self with an astute observational eye. So readers see Adam’s first experiences — from the shock of his circumcision to the rather racy conversations of his mother’s friends — as he silently takes it all in.

 

Rich in descriptive language that brings to life a world that, for many readers, will be totally unfamiliar — from the vivid characterisation to the passages describing the ‘exotic’ foods sold by hawkers that Adam says changed the sights, smells and sounds of Princep Street to suit the time of day — Moshe draws you in to this Jewish corner of Singapore.

 

The book takes place at a time when the sun is setting on the British Empire, and Adam is being brought up in a Singapore shophouse, where his devout father scratches a living selling stationery products (but without resorting to anything as vulgar as a sign above the door to announce what he’s selling).

 

Adam’s father, Judah, teaches him that the Torah, the Jewish Bible, has all the answers to life’s questions, but Adam’s faith in his father’s deeply-held beliefs are shaken to the core with Japan’s invasion of Singapore.

 

It is an interesting historical note that, shortly after the much-documented 1941 invasion of Pearl Harbour, the Japanese swept through Southeast Asia and occupied much of the region for over three years — sending Jews to internment camps.

 

Through Adam’s viewpoint, the terrifying events — from the first bombings to the herding and deportation of the Jewish community to the camps — are given a human warmth and even a wry wit, without losing their power to shock, and it’s a stark and important reminder that the Holocaust extended far beyond Europe.

 

Adam’s father dies shortly after the end of the war, and though a now 17-year-old Adam will remember his teachings throughout his life, he begins to eschew strict religious values, convincing his mother to open the shop on Saturdays, moving in non-Jewish circles, and beginning a relationship with Penelope, a Catholic girl.

 

When Adam’s fears about religious and cultural differences lead him away from this deep love and into a less-than-passionate marriage with a Jewish girl, his questioning about life’s true meaning grow deeper, until he follows life’s path back to Penelope’s door, and the book reaches a moving and somewhat tragic conclusion.

 

Casting aside the old adage about never judging a book by its cover, the beautifully-drawn front cover does give a hint at the colourful characters and settings within its pages.

 

The Messiah family’s shophouse is flanked by a packed Chinese home on one side, and an Indian family on the other. It is unique in offering a ‘slice of life’ from a multicultural community at a crucial point in history. The 1942 Fall of Singapore was described by Winston Churchill as the worst defeat in British military history, and is seen by many as the beginning of the end for the British Empire.

 

Highlighting political and religious issues from a deeply personal viewpoint, the book is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, and its sharp observations and dry humour make it a pleasure to read, even when the events described are deeply troubling.

 

The book’s main themes are the twin crises of faith and authority, misplaced beliefs and the perils of blind obedience to duty. Adam suffers greatly for his mistaken belief that he must be a ‘good Jew’, losing the love of his life in the process, while on a wider canvas the British Empire loses its colony in part because of a mistaken distrust of arming the colonists so they could protect themselves.

 

But above all, The Messiahs of Princep Street is a warm and witty tale that in places calls to mind coming-of-age classics such as The Catcher in the Rye in its questioning of precepts and social expectations.

 

Moshe Elias was born and lived half of his life within the Jewish community of Singapore, and later lived in India, Scotland, England and Israel, and these wide travels seem to have given him a sharp eye for cultural detail.

 

His ability to paint vivid scenes from a now distant world are terrific, and this book is sure to appeal to those who enjoy reading well-observed and sensitive stories of war and the British Empire in its final throes, or simply accounts of far-flung places and different cultures.

 

The Messiahs of Princep Street by Moshe Elias (Writersworld Ltd) is out now, priced £12.99 in hardcover, £3.47 in paperback and £5 as an eBook.

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Book Review: James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra by Colm McElwain

This thrilling, fast-paced and utterly absorbing work of fantasy fiction is ostensibly aimed at the young adult market, but with its dark, complex themes, witty dialogue and page-turning twists, it will appeal to many adult readers too.

9781780880693The story’s central character is the eponymous James Clyde, an 11-year-old orphan who dotes on his grandfather Wilmore – a caring but somewhat mysterious character who appears to be hiding a dark past.

When adventurous James and his two friends Ben and Mary Forester stay at Wilmore’s grand but spooky mansion one winter, their lives change in ways they could never have imagined.

The children have grown up hearing tales of the legendary land of Orchestra and its three diamonds – said to have immense powers. Legend holds that each diamond grants the holder a power or gift of their choosing, and that the three diamonds together grant immortality.

The children soon discover that the land is more than mythical, and that they are about to become part of its story. Wilmore is in fact the holder of one of the much-coveted diamonds, and a sinister ‘Man in Black’ will stop at nothing to get it back.

When James discovers his grandfather dying, having been attacked, his world turns upside down. His grandfather gives James the diamond, tells him to use its powers to escape the deadly Man in Black and the murderous winged beasts that flock around him, and James and his friends take – literally – a leap of faith which  transports them to the magical world.

In Orchestra, the two kingdoms of Zara and Darken have been locked in bitter battle ever since an act of grave betrayal was carried out by a knight of Zara – a shadowy character called Gilbert who turns out to be the Man in Black himself. The evil Queen of Darken wants all three of the diamonds, and power over the entire kingdom.

James is heralded as a returning saviour, and discovers he is heir to the throne of Zara, and a skilled swordsman to boot. What’s more, it is his destiny to restore peace to the embattled land

In his debut novel, author Colm McElwain has created a captivating world where good and evil do battle, but he has avoided a simplistic approach. Even principal ‘baddie’ the Man in Black convinces himself he is acting in the greater good when he betrays his kingdom.

The characters of the book are complex rather than caricatured and one-dimensional, with their back stories revealed throughout the course of the book, and we see how the lure of the powerful, beautiful diamonds has brought death and disharmony to Orchestra.

James and his friends face some truly terrifying moments – and ultimately learn to trust each other’s strength and resilience even when their situation appears impossible. The witty banter between the young characters adds to the appeal of the book, and brings a touch of the real world into this fantasy land of magical Orchins, dark Dakotas and dazzling diamonds with the power to grant eternal life.

James proves himself a worthy successor to the throne, and in a touching moment, is reunited with the mother he believed was dead. The dark forces have been defeated for now, but the ending leaves readers desperate to know what happens next for adventurous James and his loyal friends.

The author has drawn on influences from literary greats such as Roald Dahl, C.S Lewis and Tolkien (and comparisons with J.K Rowling are perhaps inevitable), but the book is refreshing in that, alongside the fantasy elements, it reads like a thriller. There are moments of great suspense and some outright scary sections that make it a real page-turner.

The book is cinematic in feel, too. The rich descriptions make it easy to imagine the events unfolding on the big screen, and the pages are alive with the sense of swashbuckling adventure that makes films such as Indiana Jones and Back to the Future such enjoyable romps.

The theme of enduring ties and the power of friendship are emphasised in the novel, which delivers a strong moral message about loyalty and ‘doing the right thing’, as well as about the power of self-belief.

It’s a fantastically absorbing fusion between the day-to-day dramas of teenage life and out-of-this-world adventures. Think The Goonies meets Lord of the Rings and you’ll be somewhere close.

The conclusion paves the way for a sequel and those drawn into Orchestra’s spell will certainly welcome an encore.

James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra by Colm McElwain is out now, priced £7.99 in paperback and £1.99 as an eBook. Find out more at jamesclydebook.com

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Book Review. THIS IS HOW YOU DIE BY DAVID JESTER

Gritty, gruesome and with a deft touch of dark humour, this horror-thriller from prolific British novelist David Jester pulls no punches, but will keep strong-stomached readers hooked from start to finish.

 

This-Is-How-You-Die-FCThe book is the second in Jester’s six-book deal with respected international publishers Skyhorse, and is a dramatic contrast to its predecessor, the laugh-out-loud comedy An Idiot in Love.

 

This Is How You Die is an ultra-dark tale recounted from the twisted perspective of a serial killer, who prides himself on ‘hating everybody equally’.

 

But although it is filled with graphic descriptions of gory killings, Jester’s trademark dry humour is still in evidence in the scathing way that anti-hero protagonist, Herman, describes the people and the situations that surround him.

 

It’s also an adept piece of social commentary about the situations that can drive mentally ill, emotionally disturbed young people to commit unspeakable acts of violence. Herman is a bullied, socially inept teenager, who feels that he can only earn respect by instilling fear.

 

The book opens with teenage Herman being brutally beaten up by the school bullies – an act which has become as much part of his day-to-day life as brushing his teeth in the morning.

 

He seethes with rage at the bullies, and fantasises about enacting bloody revenge. His hero is ‘the Butcher’ – a serial killer who carves up his victims after their demise.

 

An antisocial teenager with no friends, and whose mother has apparently abandoned him, Herman is an emotionless, obsessive and hate-filled teen who barely bothers to disguise the scorn he feels for every other human on the planet.

 

He is being raised by his father – an ultra-polite, much-loved member of the local community who he has witnessed exploding into fits of violent rage at home, and who dies in the early pages of the novel.

 

Unmoved by his father’s death and entrusted to the care of a hard-drinking uncle, Herman makes a bloody discovery – his ‘pillar of the community’ father was none other than The Butcher. Rather than being horrified, Herman is thrilled – and vows to continue his father’s ‘work’.

 

Herman’s initial attempts to carry on the Butcher’s legacy are met with frustration, and he realises that he should focus on carving out his own killer identity.

 

Embarking on a killing spree that goes beyond anything even The Butcher could have carried out, Herman assumes a new identity and lives in the shadows, waiting to strike again.

 

But while many people assume Herman’s vengeful killing spree ended after taking the ultimate revenge against the schoolmates that mocked him mercilessly, Homicide Detective Lester Keats believes he is still active.

 

A gruesome game of cat-and-mouse begins, and the page-turning pace does not let up. There’s a spectacularly theatrical piece-de-resistance from Herman as the book draws towards its conclusion which particularly riveted this reviewer’s attention.

 

By no means a book for the faint of heart, This Is How You Die is a clever horror-thriller that goes beyond OTT gratuitous violence (although there is plenty of that, for those who enjoy splatter).

 

It’s a masterly examination of the mind of a twisted serial killer akin to disturbing yet critically acclaimed ‘80s film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

 

Anti-social, manipulative and utterly callous, teenage killer Herman is an utterly redeemless horror figures that readers will find hard to forget.

 

This Is How You Die by David Jester (Skyhorse) is available now, priced £11.99 in paperback and £7.59 as an eBook. Visit david-jester.com

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Book Review. UNBARRED INNOVATION: A PATHWAY TO GREATEST DISCOVERIES BY MAYUR RAMGIR

There’s something altogether annoying about entrepreneurs. They make everything look easy and turn every opportunity, however unlikely, into a profit.

 

Unbarred-Innovation-fc-low-resIt’s rare for those who’ve made it to honestly share the secrets of their success; most keep their gems of wisdom safely under lock and key – and for good reason.

 

It means that most self-help books contain more business clichés and hyped-up rags to riches stories than genuinely helpful pointers.

 

But occasionally an entrepreneur comes along who breaks the Del Boy mold. Mayur Ramgir is one of them.

 

His new book, Unbarred Innovation: A Pathway to Greatest Discoveries, explains how we – the aspiring everyman – can harness our “inner innovators” to break down barriers and achieve greatness in any given field.

 

Examples make for easy and welcome reading. Take Post-it Notes, for instance – those square little jot pads with a sticky bit along the top.

 

They were apparently a terrible flop when they were launched and became a super-brand against all the odds thanks to a name check and rebrand. [They were never meant to be yellow, either…]

 

But Unbarred Innovation, which received an Honorable Mention in the Non-Fiction Business/Finance category in the 2016 International Book Award Contest, goes one step further than typical books of its ilk by critically examining the rise of its author.

 

Ramgir shares his own story in candid detail and lifts the lid on how he amassed his own personal fortune. His book also draws on the stories of other great entrepreneurs who found their own pathway to discoveries.

 

Most of all, Unbarred Innovation is a celebration of discovery, of ambition. It encourages readers to think beyond traditional, closed-in boundaries and overcome self-doubt and societal prejudice.

 

Think big, bigger and BIGGEST, in other words. The ability to become an innovator is no longer the sole preserve of scientists, engineers and other Oxbridge-trained professionals. Everyone has an “inner innovator” within them that just needs to be freed.

 

By doing so, you and me have the potential of becoming the next Dyson, the next Branson – even the next Einstein.

 

This time next year, Rodney, I must just be a real millionaire.

 

Unbarred Innovation: A Pathway to Greatest Discoveries by Mayur Ramgir is out now priced £5.54 in print and 99p as an eBook. Proceeds of sale go to ZForce, a global charity helping unprivileged children, empowering women across the globe, and arrange health camps across the world for cancer patients and other terminally-ill patients. Visit zforce.help. For more information about Unbarred Innovation visit mayurramgir.com 

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Book Review: The Online Writer’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Earning Your Living as a Freelancer by P.J.Aitken

Whether you’re a seasoned freelance writer or are one of the many people who dream of quitting the nine-to-five for a life of home-working and setting your own agenda, this book will prove a valuable resource.

Online-Writer-CoverSet to be the go-to guide for all online writers and aspiring writers, The Online Writer’s Companion is a refreshingly frank book that sets out clearly, and without flowery language or unrealistic promises, the steps that you can take to carve out a living, or second career, as a freelance writer.

Author P.J. Aitken is a highly successful freelancer who enjoys a top ranking on a number of freelancing websites. Importantly, he has achieved this without a university education and he does not claim to possess spectacular writing skills.

After making a name for himself as a novelist, he began to build a career as a let the writer online, and his message is that if he can do it, so can you.

With any number of online guides and courses promising that would-be freelancers can earn six figure sums in no time flat, this realistic manual tells it like it really is. Yes, says Aitken, it is possible to earn a decent wage as a freelancer, but you’ll have to work hard and accept less than glamorous commissions to get there.

With an admirable honesty and a great attention to detail, he explains the nature of the online market: where to look for work; how to register and post a profile; which sites are worth the registration fee and which are not; and how to deal with unreasonable clients.

His down-to-earth language and advice makes the guide feel like a rewarding conversation with a friend who has already mastered the industry, rather than a dull, impersonal lecture.

Increasingly, writers are drawn to the idea of freelancing, possibly imagining themselves dashing off a couple of hours’ worth of copy a day before spending the rest of the time at their leisure, or cheerfully making a fortune from travel anecdotes as they globe-trot merrily around the world on their not-so-hard-earned funds – but the reality is very different.

The figures, as Aitken points out, are not good at first. Many freelancers earn far less than a living wage and with no fixed income it’s a hand-to-mouth existence that isn’t helped by slow-paying employers and – particularly in the beginning – projects that demand a lot of writing and research time for relatively little financial reward.

Aitken is brutally honest about the long hours he has spent slaving away on projects during his early years carving out a career – the missed parties, the lack of sleep – but freely admits that he was driven by money above all else.

It’s an approach that helped him leapfrog the competition to become one of the most in-demand freelancers on the market, and he emphasises that this early doggedness laid the groundwork for a more relaxed approach a few years down the line, when he could be more selective and let the clients come to him.

Aitken also holds his hands up to mistakes he has made along the way in the hope that readers can thereby avoid the same pitfalls and fast-track to the better paying gigs.

He relates numerous horror stories of dodgy clients and dodgy sites so newbies can know how to spot a scam, and as somebody who was once offered $400 to deliver ‘flawless novels with five-star ratings on Amazon’, he’s seen it all.

His book covers everything from creating the perfect freelancer profile – including how to deflect attention from a lack of experience or formal training – to gaining five-star ratings on freelancer sites through professionalism and a willingness to work.

The most important thing with The Online Writer’s Companion is that it will allow readers to get a head start against the competition. The determination and readiness to apply the elbow grease, however, is up to them.

Both freelancers looking to boost their earnings and complete beginners hoping to get their food on the ladder in this hugely competitive industry will gain a lot from Aitken’s tried and tested words of wisdom. In the long run, it could be the difference between earning spare change and a comfortable, steady income.
The Online Writer’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Earning Your Living as a Freelancer by P.J Aitken is out now (Skyhorse Publishing), priced £14.99 in paperback. Visit FreelanceWithUs.co.uk

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