About this blog

Hello and welcome! You’ll find quite a few things on this blog, all to do with books and writing as I’m a writer.

Roald Dahl

The original interview

Book reviews are here. (I’m also on Goodreads, where I review books as well, so please follow me there at my author page if that’s your interest.)

I’ve interviewed many authors, starting with Road Dahl, and you’ll find author interviews here.

For other content, please see the tabs at the top of this page or just have a poke around. And thank you for reading! – Roz

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Signed copies – now available!

My debut children’s novel, The Keeper of the Stones, is now available on Amazon at a slightly reduced price, after coronavirus-related distribution challenges affected availability.

You can also buy the book directly from me, at a lower price, by emailing me at bookordersrk@gmail.com

The Keeper of the Stones_Cover Spread.jpeg

All copies are new and are signed by me.

About the book
A midnight ride to the stone circles on the family farm catapults Lizzie and her brother Daniel back to the Bronze Age. Trapped three thousand years ago, Lizzie must save Daniel and stop the Bullmaster before he destroys the Horse People and her family ceases to exist.

Fantasy for 9 and up. You can read a review of The Keeper of the Stones here.

Thank you.

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Review: Murder Most Unladylike

mmuMurder Most Unladylike: A Wells & Wong Mystery – Robin Stevens

Thoroughly enjoyed this witty, light-but-not-lightweight middle-grade murder mystery set in a 1930s girl’s boarding school in England.

Right from the start the first-person telling through the eyes of Hazel Wong, dispatched to Deepdean School for Girls from Hong Kong for a “proper” English education, gets a double thumbs-up. Cleverly, Robin Stevens has Hazel come from an Anglophile background – but she retains a healthy bemusement at weird English rituals, from school games to food. And Stevens doesn’t shy away from illustrating racism in the way Hazel is sometimes treated – lightly done, but no less on point for that.

The tale itself gallops along, with a host of interesting characters. At first I wondered how a murder in a school would be handled in such a way that the only investigators would be Hazel and her friend Daisy Wells, but that’s niftily dealt with and their investigation is completely believable. Some lovely twists in the tail too.

As a product of a girl’s boarding school myself (a few decades later, I’d like to point out!) I can confirm the authenticity of the setting, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Highly recommended.

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Review: The Vanishing Trick

trickThe Vanishing Trick – Jenni Spangler

A great story with an appealing magic core and a strong premise that I can see easily becoming a film, and probably doing very well with its target of middle-grade (8 and up) readers. For me though it had some challenges, starting with Leander, one of the three children.

The story opens with Leander and the first chapter is exciting. Leander, starving, steals a pie to eat and ends up hiding in a strange carriage with weird contents – and an encounter with a threatening woman who tricks him into giving up control of his life to her. It seems Leander is the intended hero, a sort of Artful Dodger type who survives on his wits. Yet, as the story develops, he doesn’t quite pull it off, being rather wishy-washy at times and hard to cheer on. (There’s an episode where he tries and fails to steal a crucial item, which the children get later anyway. Nobody ever knows about his attempt and I was left wondering why that scene was even in the book.)

Then there’s the endless internal debate each child has about their captor, Pinchbeck. Initially the two other children Charlotte and Felix explain to Leander the dangerous situation they’re in, but after that and for most of the book, each child has his or her own doubts which they repeatedly churn over to themselves in their own minds – sometimes wavering from one page to the next – which starts to get irritating and repetitive.(Stockholm Syndrome only gets you so far.) It’s so obvious to the reader that Pinchbeck is evil that the children’s vacillation between trying to escape to save their lives and loyalty and guilt about doing this makes it hard to get deeply involved with them. (I found this mixed message of them reminding themselves repeatedly of “kind” acts, like provision of food and clothes, by their evil kidnapper, almost to the end of the book, rather disturbing; perhaps it’s intended to show the children have empathy for Pinchbeck, but should you have empathy with your abuser who you believe has killed other children?) From a purely storytelling standpoint it takes away a lot of the tension as the children try to escape.

I found the multiple points of view between the three children problematic. This jumps as often as a page apart and is signalled by a little scroll with the child’s name above it. The result is a lot of telling the reader what each child is thinking, rather than showing through action or conversation, and there’s a lack of jeopardy despite the threat of one of them vanishing for ever. They do a number of things separately and only towards the end does this start to get coordinated so though we’re told they think of each other as family, I didn’t really feel that emotional bond.

Finally, I didn’t understand why Pinchbeck, who can pull off the amazing magic of the vanishing trick, apparently can’t perform any other magic. There are other disconnects too, which I won’t describe as it would give away the story.

There a few proof-reading and editing issues as well – Isaak’s name appears as Isaac in the fairly crucial caption for the illustration of his brother, for example, and in one place we’re told something ostensibly for the first time but we’d been told the same thing just a few pages before. All the characters present as white.

Despite these things it’s a wonderfully imaginative story and I’d love to see it as a film.

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Kirkus Reviews: The Keeper of the Stones

“Both gripping and lyrical—a fine time-travel tale.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

If you’re a writer, you know that 99 percent of the time you’re cursed by doubt, wondering whether you can actually write. So when, at about 10 pm UK time on Friday 8 May, I saw an email saying Kirkus had reviewed my debut children’s novel The Keeper of the Stones, my first reaction was to feel sick.

For context, Kirkus Reviews has been around since the 1930s and is an American gold standard in book reviews. The annual Kirkus prize is $50,000 per category (adult fiction, adult non-fiction, or children’s literature). Only books with Kirkus Star reviews are eligible for the prize.

As Kirkus puts it themselves on their web site: “One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.”Kirkus

Imagine my disbelief, my repeated reading of the review, as I realised The Keeper of the Stones had landed a Kirkus Star.

It means the book is now eligible for the $50,000 Kirkus Prize for children’s literature (only books with a Kirkus Star are considered).

And it means the book has a global platform on the Kirkus Reviews web site along with other starred children’s authors, from Neil Gaiman to Lois Lowry to J.K. Rowling.

But most of all, it means that at least for a few minutes on a Friday night, I believed I can write.

(c) Roz Kay

The coronavirus lockdowns are limiting distribution, but you can still order The Keeper of the Stones directly from the publisher, Hayloft.

 

 

 

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Review: Don’t Think A Single Thought

Don’t Think A Single Thought – Diana Cambridge

redThis is a beautifully constructed book. As I read it, I felt I was being slowly wrapped in a python’s coils, being pulled relentlessly into the centre of Emma Bowden’s life. Each time I felt I’d learnt something about her, a tighter coil created another layer. The structure (which uses flashback chapters, a construct that I often find annoying) works better here than I’ve ever seen, with each flashback actually carrying the narrative forward. The way we slowly learn another piece, another piece, another piece of the childhood act that haunts Emma for the rest of her life is really well handled. It’s hard to know at the end whether the first version or the last version is what actually happened–Emma is an unreliable narrator.

The writing is also beautiful; other reviewers have commented on the elegance of the spare, cool prose. To me, it’s classic short story prose and the book IS short, barely more than a novella. Still, a slim volume can be a relief: something you can read in a couple of hours rather than ploughing through 900 pages of often bloated narrative over more days than you really want to spend with the characters. (That said, I did occasionally miss a richer drawing of the settings. I know Manhattan well, so I filled it in, but I found that sometimes what I was imagining as I read was secondhand, pulled from films, perhaps.) Perhaps because of the coolness, the slightly removed tone, I found myself fascinated by Emma rather than emotionally engaged with her, though I loved the style (andyellow stylishness) of the writing.

As the author notes, Emma’s life has close parallels with the life of the writer Sue Kaufman. The details of the latter’s life I read after I’d finished the novel (I found a detailed article by Diana Cambridge herself). Dates, main events, and aspects of character tally with Emma’s. In a way it’s a re-imagining of Kaufman’s life, and a rather dark re-imagining at that. I found it an absolutely compelling read.

Published by Louise Walters Books in 2019. Also available in a limited edition yellow cover.

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Review: The Crow Trap

The Crow Trap – Ann Cleeves

I love Ann Cleeves and that’s the only reason I kept going with The Crow Trap, the first in the Vera series (I’ve read all the Shetland novels and a later Vera mystery). However, it was worth it for when the story finally lifts off around page 400, with Vera emerging for the first time as the central point of view.

For much of the book, Vera is only glimpsed – not mentioned at all until a couple of hundred pages in other than a minor reference you’d only recognise if you already knew her as a character. And Joe Ashworth is barely sketched in at all, which is a shame as he’s such a tremendous foil for Vera. It all feels unbalanced and the structure of the book – a vast amount of the first half is flashbacks and backstory about a couple of the characters that is either largely immaterial to the story or could be woven in far less intrusively – chokes the flow.CT

Another challenge is that, reading it in 2020, the book feels dated. First published in 1999, it has some language I found problematic. There are repeated references to one of the characters having “committed suicide” – we are now so far beyond thinking of suicide as committing a crime that this really jarred with me. Women are frequently referred to as “girls” – the men are always “men”. One of the characters seems to be black or mixed race but this is conveyed in rather coy, tentative language, a mention of dark skin and teeth looking white against his skin among other things, which made me cringe.

However – as always with Cleeves, there’s a wondrous complicated plot and strong intertwined sub-plots. Vera does spring off the page once she’s allowed more than a cameo appearance. When you get past the logjam of the first couple of hundred pages things move along nicely, and while it’s not an unpredictable killer the clues along the way are tidied up satisfyingly in the final wrap-up.

First published 1999 by Macmillan. Edition I read published in 2016 by Pan.

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Review: Dead Man’s Lane

Dead Man’s Lane – Kate Ellis

WPAnother in the excellent and enjoyable Wesley Peterson murder mystery series: number 23 to be exact. The complex plot twists and turns, and even though I picked up enough clues along the way to work out who the killer was a bit before the end, there was still a final twist in store that I hadn’t anticipated at all. More I won’t say so as not to spoil anything, but definitely recommended if you like a good mystery.

I interviewed Kate Ellis in 2016 and we talked about how she came to write the Wesley Peterson series of  mysteries with their archaeological sub-plots. You’ll find the interview here.

Published by Piatkus in 2019.

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Review: The Second Sleep

sleepThe Second Sleep – Robert Harris

Excellent – a clever, absorbing post-apocalyptic story set 800 years in the future – the second sleep of the title referring to how people used to have a first sleep, wake during the night, and then fall into a second sleep.

Fairfax, the main character, is engaging and believable, though his rapid changes of heart through the story seem to happen a little easily. Every now and then small factual errors jerked my out of my immersion in the narrative (several references to a horse’s bridle when it made no sense, the context meaning it had to be the reins; a description of sheep lying down to feed their lambs – lambs nurse standing up from birth – but if you’re not a horse rider or familiar with the habits of sheep, you wouldn’t notice).

Harris gives you a lot to think about, though he paints in the world of the “Ancients” with a light brush. The plot rolls along satisfactorily, all the major characters are vivid, distinct, and likeable, and even when I thought I knew what was going to happen, I didn’t: the final couple of pages were genuinely surprising. Highly recommended.

Published by Hutchinson in 2019

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Review: Monstrous Devices

mdReview: Monstrous Devices – Damien Love

When Alex’s grandfather sends him an old robot out of the blue, the mysterious writing of his English essay while he’s asleep is just the start. Whisked off to Paris and Prague by his grandfather, Alex finds himself galloping at breakneck speed through a secret, magical world where good battles evil, opening up a Pandora’s box of questions including some that challenge even Alex’s own beliefs about himself.

It’s a rattling good read sprinkled with dry humour and memorable characters; his grandfather is larger than life. Publishers Weekly captures it thus: “Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Toy Story” and that’s a fair comment that indicates the blend of whimsy, danger, and adventure.

Damien Love borrows freely (and openly, with tongue-in-cheek references) from an array of fantasy precursors (Frankenstein, King Kong, among others – John Masefield and The Box of Delights came to mind as well for me) but with a deft hand that doffs his hat to them even as he adds his own original spin.

A bonus is some lovely descriptive writing and the great cover illustration and frontispiece by Sam LeDoyen. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Published by Rock the Boat, 2020

 

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