Quick Links 1st December 2015

Each week I’ll try and post quick links to things that I’ve seen, read or just sparked my interest in the previous week. Mostly gardening, cooking and environmental stuff but not always.

Little Sister: the third Pieter Vos book [davidhewson.com]

Festive Gingerbread Stars [Hole Food Family Blog]

The Dog In The Clouds [The Dog In The Clouds Blog]

When I’m sixty-four: world’s oldest tracked bird returns to refuge with mate [The Guardian]

The Week In Wildlife In Pictures [The Guardian]

The Atlas Snow Arch Greenhouse Build Part 6 Covering the Greenhouse With Greenhouse Film [YouTube]

2014 Review and a Look Ahead

I don’t tend to do review of the year posts each year, sometimes I’ll take a theme and just cover that, other times I won’t bother at all. The latter is more often the norm. 2014 however has been a “bit of a year” for me. So I thought I’d just write out a few highlights and one or two low bits too for good measure.


I’d say that the year as a whole has been backdropped by work-life balance, with the balance being unevenly tilted towards work. I’ve had to reapply for my job as part of a restructure, and it’s been pretty full on. I’ve been offered voluntary redundancy twice (and we’re just going for a third round now), I’ve not applied on both occasions, but am giving the third time some serious consideration.


On the life side of the scale it’s been a tiring year. I’ve done far less, due to pressures of work than I would like. I’ve noticed that I’ve been far less present on social media platforms, as well as reading less books and generally having less time for relaxation.

We lost Sparky our elder dog back in March, and then got Ruby at the end of June. I still miss Sparky every day, and things still feel very empty without him around. Wilson has taken well to being the older dog, and I’m really pleased and impressed with the way he’s turned out into such a well rounded dog.


The allotment has been going along quite happily, it’s not been the best of years, but it’s been far from the worst, and I’m setting a good basis for next year. I’ve managed a few video posts, and have a year ending one to go up, as soon as it’s posted to YouTube.


As I mentioned I’ve read far less than I have done in previous years, mainly due to having less free time. I would however single out a few books I’ve read (I read these in 2014, but they may not have been published this year) to mention here:

The House of Dolls by David Hewson – There’s no such thing as a  bad book by David Hewson, and this new series set in Amsterdam has all the hallmarks of being fantastic. This first in the series is excellent and I look forward to reading the next one, hopefully in 2015.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – This took me back to my childhood and the computer games that I used to play.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly – The latest Harry Bosch, and a great addition to the canon, and likely to be a milestone step in the series. I’m not sure where Michael Connelly is going next here, but there are a number of options, and again I look forward to the next in the series. (I also loved the Amazon pilot of Bosch, and can’t wait for the full series).


Again, a few to single out (and again I watched them in 2014, but they may have been released before that year):

Dawn  of the Planet of the Apes – Only recently watched this, but I loved the direction that the movie went in following on from the previous one, and abandoning the Charlton Heston era movies (and the awful Mark Wahlberg remake).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – I love the Marvel movies (and the comic books too), and I’ve seen a few others this year as well; Thor: The Dark World and The Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a close choice between Capt. and Guardians, but again, I think the way that the story and characters have been bought on since the first Captain America movie, plus Avengers: Assemble give this one the edge.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Loved this. Wasn’t sure that it would ever work as trilogy of films, but it does. Looking forward to the final film too, although that will be a 2015 watch for me.

Godzilla – A remake that remain truer to the original and a great film.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – I’ve never read the books, but love the films, again looking forward to the final two parts of this series too.

And Looking Ahead to 2015?

I’m not sure what 2015 holds. More upheaval at work I expect, and I need to make a decision about voluntary redundancy again. There will also be more  books to read and more films to watch. I don’t really do resolutions, but I’ve got a few aims for 2015.

  1. Be more balanced of temper. I think in part 2014 has been characterised by me having a shorter fuse than usual. I’m not happy about this, so want it to change. More counting to ten I suspect in 2015.
  2. Better work – life balance than above.
  3. Read more, although be realistic about what’s achievable. I also want to get through the “To Be Read” backlog mountain. Although I’m not setting any firm systems in place to do this as I have in the past.
  4. Have a good year on the allotment, and try to keep a better photo and video record of what’s going on there.
  5. Write more. Both blog posts, but also get back into writing properly.

There are lots of other things in my head (you could always add; lose weight, be fitter etc) but the above are the main aims.

Book Review – The House of Dolls by David Hewson

It’s not often t2014-04-10 16.02.28hat I can stay up late reading a book, my body / mind can’t cope and I fall asleep, however over the last week I’ve been staying up, turning the pages of David Hewson‘s new book. The House of Dolls is set in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where it’s main character Pieter Vos lives on a houseboat. Vos is a former police detective, who left the job following the kidnapping of his daughter Anneliese. He’s dragged back to his former life by another kidnapping that has similarities to the kidnapping of his daughter.

Why has this book kept me away from slumber? Well the simple answer is that I had to know what was going to happen next. The book is one of short chapters, and this keeps the story moving between characters and actions at a tireless pace, breaking the story up just enough to keep the suspense tight and the reader wanting to know what’s happening.

The characters are varied, many with their own flaws and weaknesses, but some you will like and others come to detest. There’s “old-school” gangsters mixed with new generation cops, politicians and journalists in the mould of the ladder-climbing kind and backgrounds of tourists and café owners.

The story is very believable, it sits in the present and although as far as I could tell doesn’t actually draw on a current or recent situation, it could quite easily. You could imagine that any of the crimes or motivations of the characters are being drawn from real-life and that marks the success of this author. His characters, locations and situations are all true to life. They could easily be where, when and how; today, this week or next, and you’d not be able to tell fact from fiction.

If you’ve read any of David’s books before, particularly if you’re familiar with his Nic Costa series, then you’re really going to enjoy The House of Dolls.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars – I Loved It.

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Out today… The House of Dolls

I’m really looking forward to reading David’s latest book.

Amsterdam = a city that I know relatively well, but am expecting to discover in a whole new set of ways.
Pieter Vos = a new series character. I love a series read, and Nic Costa was one of the best, so am expecting more of the same, plus there is already a second in the pipeline.

Come on UPS, hurry up and deliver already!

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No More Sock Puppets

The letter below first appeared on David Hewson’s Blog here. I wholeheartedly endorse it’s contents, and gladly sign the letter, by way of posting it here.

If you are a writer, reviewer or reader and wish to similarly show your support then please do so. You can copy the letter from David’s site or here. Alternatively please feel free to leave your support in the comments of this post.

These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. British author Stephen Leather recently admitted that he used fake identities online to promote his work. The American bestseller John Locke has revealed he has paid for reviews of his books. The British author RJ Ellory has now confessed to posting flattering reviews of his own work and to using assumed names to attack other authors perceived to be his rivals.

These are just three cases of abuse we know about. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.

We the undersigned unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.

But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The internet belongs to us all. Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving,­ can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author, ­ however devious, ­ can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?

Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, N.J. Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Adèle Geras, Joanne Harris, Gordon Harries, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Peter James, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, SJ Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Neil White, Laura Wilson.

CrimeFest 2012 Part I

Yesterday I was in Bristol for CrimeFest 2012. I’ve wanted to attend CrimeFest for a few years but have never quite gotten around to it before. This year, I had the added incentive of pitching Killer Bytes to literary agents, as well as encouragement from several internet acquaintances, so I’d booked my tickets back in January, and the day had finally arrived.

I’ve decided to split this post into two, as what happened at Pitch-an-agent, has had quite a profound influence on what I’ve decided to do next with Killer Bytes, so I’ll cover that in a separate post, later. This post I’m going to try to cover the panels, social side of what happened and anything else I can think of.

My day started early, I’d only chosen to have a one-day pass; I couldn’t really stretch to the whole weekend, and the hotel accommodation. Next time, I might stay longer, but Bristol is a bit too far to multi-commute several times in a weekend, so staying over somewhere is going to be a must. Also given the number of books I bought in one-day, some serious luggage will be required if I attend the whole weekend! I decided to drive, to give myself more flexibility over travel arrangements, and I’m glad I did, but the difference in cost and time between driving and the train was marginal.

With the panels starting at nine, and a two hour drive to get there, I made it just in time, sneaking in the back of the first panel of the day – idiosyncratic protagonists. A very entertaining panel with the likes of authors Declan Burke, Alex Walters, Anne Zouroudi, Martin Walker and Michael Stanley. As a result of listening to these authors speak this led to my first purchases of the day!

Next up was a feature interview with Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series. By now I needed a caffeine fix too, having missed out on my usual dose with the early start. Fortunately there was a small coffee bar outside the next location, so I joined the queue. Much to my surprise so did the special guest for the next event, who was gracious in letting me buy him a coffee too (he later signed one of my books accordingly – see below). Anyway we both went into the auditorium, he took his place on the dais and me in the audience, of course.

Now for those who don’t know anything about Lee Child and Jack Reacher, I need to explain a little before I say what happened next. As a character, Jack Reacher is a larger than life hero, he has a tremendous following, and he is described in the books as a very large man, both in height and build; physically strong, fast, sharp of mind, and with a strong moral compass. The first movie of the series has been made and should be released in the near future. In the lead role is Tom Cruise, who shall we say is not known for his height. This has caused quite a furore amongst the Reacher fans, there’s even a Facebook page, “Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher“.

Not surprisingly then the first question Lee Child was asked; “Tom Cruise?”

Personally I’m prepared to give Cruise the benefit of the doubt, the height thing is not there, but I think he can carry it off in all the other aspects. Lee Child’s own comment was that:

“For the First five minutes of the movie you’re gonna think ‘What the f***’, and then you’ll forget about it.”

So we’ll see.

Lee Child has a cameo in the film, he said where, but I think I’m going to keep that to myself, so if you’re already a fan, you’ll have to watch the film.

I queued to get a book signed by Lee Child, so I missed most of the next panel. He’s a popular guy, but takes time with everyone, which is fantastic.

Next was P D James. She’s in her nineties, still writing, still doing panels. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it, and the queue to get her to sign books was phenomenal, and she signed every one. I’m not a huge P D James fan myself, but she is inspiring in what she has done with her career.

Pitch-an-agent was next for me, but as I’ve said, I will post separately about that. After my slot, I had enough time to catch Sue Grafton being interviewed. Again another inspiration. Currently at the letter V in her alphabet series.

The penultimate panel was with authors Paul Doherty and Philip Kerr, and amazing insight into what you can draw from historical archives and facts and turn into a fictional narrative. Fascinating stuff, and I only wish I’d taken more notes, but I was listening so closely I managed to take hardly any.

The last panel of the day, and the keynote for Saturday was the launch of the novel of The Killing. The extremely popular television series, has been turned into a novel by author David Hewson, and the official launch was a CrimeFest. Now I ‘know’ David from twitter, and his blog, so I was really looking forward to this. Surprise guest was Soren Sveistrup who wrote the original tv series, and was there to be interviewed and take questions from the audience. I have to say that while I was waiting outside and talking to fellow delegates, there seemed to be an apprehension about the novel, everyone loved the tv series, but they weren’t quite sure about the book. From what I’ve read of it so far, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed, but as a fan of David Hewson’s other books I have to say, that this is completely different in approach and style.

This was the last panel of the day, but my day in Bristol ended with a drink on the hotel terrace with David Hewson, who was very generous with his time (thank you David), and our topics ranged from writing (quite rightly) to gardening. I also had the pleasure to meet other authors in person, including Steve Mosby, and the actor, and narrator of audio books Saul Reichlin.

I had an amazing, and very full day. I will definitely be going back to CrimeFest another year, and who knows what will happen. My post for pitch-an-agent will follow soon.

Quite A Few Interesting Books Are Due To Be Released This Week.

Many people will be familiar with the woolly jumpers of The Killing’s Sarah Lund, and this week sees the release of the book version of the first season of the TV programme.

My copy is on the way from an amazon depot somewhere in theUK, and therefore I have yet to read how bestselling author David Hewson, has transferred many hours of TV into the book. One thing I do know however is that it is by no means a straightforward transfer, and the reader can expect a few interesting differences to the TV series.


Second up is another “adaptation” from David Hewson. This time it’s an adaptation of an audiobook.

The audiobook of Macbeth written by David Hewson and A J Hartley and narrated by Alan Cumming was released in June last year, and is a complete recreation of the original Shakespeare tale. Here’s what I said about the audiobook:

This retelling of the tale by David Hewson and A J Hartley is just simply amazing. Bringing a new depth to the story, this is no repeating the original Shakespeare but an inspired reworking, incredibly bought to life by the vocal talents of Alan Cumming.

Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, King Duncan and The Witches are all brought vividly to life.

The writing is amazing and the narration is one of the best that I have heard on audible.

If you think Shakespeare is too stuffy or full of flowery words then this interpretation will give you a new appreciation of classic literature bought up to date by modern audiobooks.

Now this audiobook comes to you as a novel. Confused? Well ultimately this is the book of the audio, which is not Shakespeare.

Finally there is Kim Stanley Robinson’s, 2312.

Now I have to admit here, that I know virtually nothing about this at all, other than it has been written by one of my all time favourite authors, and I preordered it months ago. Here’s some of the publicity:

The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity’s only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present and its future.

The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.

All will arrive this week, my biggest problem; which one to read first!


Book Review: The Lizards Bite by David Hewson

The Lizard's Bite (Nic Costa Mysteries 4)The Lizard’s Bite by David Hewson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Falconi, Peroni, Costa, Lupo & the former FBI agent Emily Deacon return. 

A fire in a glass foundry leaves two dead, but is it an accident, a murder/suicide, or double murder?  Falconi and his team having been banished from their Roman home to the city of Venice slowly uncover a tale of deceit and murder in the ancient city.   With Massiter the intriguing Englishman all is not as it seems, and as further murders follow, Falconi’s men must uncover the truth.

This is the fourth “Nic Costa” book, and the series goes from strength to strength, from the horrific opening scenes to the satisfying final chapters, this entry in the Costa series is by far the best of the first four, in my opinion.  As I have read the series out of order I know that it goes from strength to strength from here on, but I am trying to start and read/reread the series from the beginning.

For me, whilst these are very much of the crime crime/mystery genre, they are also about art, culture, architecture, travel, good food and good wine.  One of my favourite weekend pastimes now is to sit with a Nic Costa tale, and a glass of Italian white that I have read about in a previous outing.

The Lizard’s Bite also sits alongside David Hewson’s standalone novel, “The Cemetery of Secrets”, although I have yet to read the latter, and either book can be read without the benefit of the other, some characters appear in both books.

Ah, Venice and murder, another outstanding Nic Costa tale from David Hewson, recommended!

View all my reviews

Think You Know Macbeth? Think Again!

Macbeth: A NovelMacbeth: A Novel by A.J. Hartley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Think you know the tale of Macbeth?

Think again.

This retelling of the tale by David Hewson and A J Hartley is just simply amazing. Bringing a new depth to the story, this is no repeating the original Shakespeare but an inspired reworking, incredibly bought to life by the vocal talents of Alan Cumming.

View all my reviews

This is an audiobook available via audible (and worth every penny), you can download it here in the UK and here in the USA.  Even if you are not a Shakespeare fan I recommend this to you.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

One of my favourite genres when it comes to reading is the crime novel.  For me I suspect it started probably from watching black and white Sherlock Holmes movies on tv as a kid.  


The Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, Holmes and Watson was where I began.  As I grew a little older I seem to remember moving on to the novels, and I still have the first one, a folio edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 

A little older still and I had moved on to The Hardy Boys


I think if you were a boy you either read The Hardy Boys or Alfred Hitchcocks The Three Investigators


if you were a girl then it was probably Nancy Drew .  I started with The Shore Road Mystery and The Great Airport Mystery, and my collection grew from there.

From there I moved onto Dick Francis, Agatha Christie and Robert B Parker as well as many others.  For an English Literature project I covered the Sherlock Holmes stories, and have read crime novels ever since.

There are times when I don’t read at all however.  Normally they come after I have read several books back-to-back and can’t seem to settle into another one, they don’t pass the 50 page rule.  (The one that says if I’m not hooked within the first 50 pages then I’m not going to and probably should give up).  They are of course not always crime, my other vices range from natural history and travel to military history and real science to name a few. 

After a recent non-reading spell though I was really struggling and I found myself turning to my kindle and opening the complete works of Sherlock Holmes again.  I’m not sure how long it’s been since I read Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of the great British detective, and I happened to select The Red Headed League, a little at random.  I must admit to not really remembering the story, but it was just what I needed to kickstart me back into a “crime-phase”.  From there I went onto reading some newer crime, including a book that I have agreed to review for the authors upcoming virtual tour in September, but more of that nearer the time. 

I am pleased that Holmes and Watson can still spark that interest in my reading and drive me back to the genre that I love.  In my head I have also plotted out the next couple of books that I want to read, a David Hewson


a Peter James, perhaps some Parker and Christie too, as well some scenes for my own writing; all from reading that one Holmes and Watson story, so there will definitely be more of the greatest detective due of all time too.