‘In The Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey’ by Maria and Max Evan

In The Land of Broken Time: The Incredible Journey

When the circus comes to town, young Christopher sneaks off to the big top where he makes two new friends – a girl, Sophie and Duke, a talking dog. The three of them steal away in a hot air balloon to a magical land peopled by strange characters.

Translated from the original Russian by Helen Hagon, the book is authored by Max and Maria Evan, who have created an enjoyable tale that uses interesting ideas to explore time and how clocks work. The authors’ intention seems to be to utilise these ideas as learning tools, although I thought the suggested age range of 6-12 felt a little too broad. While I enjoyed the story, I did think the plot was overly complicated for the length of the book and might have worked better if the story and characters were developed more.

Having only read the ebook version, I can’t really comment on Maria Evan’s illustrations, as my basic Kindle doesn’t do them justice, but I did find colour copies of some of them elsewhere so I’m sure they’ll work well in the paperback version. Even so, I think the book would have benefited from more illustrations to break up the story a little.

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‘Chase: The Hunt for the Mute Poetess’ by Thomas Dellenbusch

Chase: The Hunt for the Mute Poetess

Hamburg security consultant Enrique “Rique” Allmers bumps into a young woman in the local fish-market and quickly realises she’s in trouble. Pursued by two thugs, Rique manages to get the girl to safely, but there’s another problem – she is deaf. Enlisting the help of his team of experts, Rique sets out to discover what links the young woman to an infamous mafia boss, and exactly what it is the fugitive has in her possession that’s so important.

Translated from the original German by Richard Urmston, this is one of Thomas Dellenbusch’s theatre-of-the-mind novels that is intended to be read in the time it takes to watch a feature-length movie. It’s an interesting idea and works well as a relatively short read that has plenty of action and a bit of love-interest too.

The translation (and/or the editing) isn’t always perfect, but it’s a small criticism in what is an otherwise exciting caper with well-written action scenes. The hero’s security organisation is also intriguing and presumably sets things up for a series based on the same characters. I did get a little confused at one point when the team are working to crack a secret code in order to access the information everyone is after – it felt a little too complicated for the length of the book. But for the most part, this was an entertaining and pleasantly distracting read.

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‘Bad Girls (An Eden Mystery)’ by Laurel Heidtman

Bad Girls (An Eden Mystery)

Coming from a troubled family background, Marnie Becker’s future starts looking up when her uncle, former Chicago cop, Cal Becker, offers to pay her through University. The pair move to a new town, but before Marnie has a chance to adapt to her new challenge, she is abducted. Thinking she might’ve resorted to her old ways and run off, Call isn’t too worried, especially as he too has a new life to get to grips with. But when the body of a young woman is found, Cal starts to worry that something serious might have happened, and seeks help from the local police.

Mystery thriller ‘Bad Girls’ is part of Laurel Heidtman’s Eden series, though the novel also works well as a stand-alone story. The author’s writing style paints realistic portraits of her characters, giving them depth and feeling, and while the character of Cal seems at times a little too preoccupied with his new love interest, the story rolls along quite nicely towards an exciting dénouement. A few false clues and a bit of timely misdirection generally work well, with several red herrings thrown in to distract us from the truth. However, though I’m not usually good at working out whodunit, in this case I did spot the real killer about halfway through, which marred my enjoyment a little (would have been great if it turned out I was wrong, but there you go).

Laurel Heidtman is an interesting writer with a talent for character. I’ll be keeping an eye on her work.

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‘Screams in the Woods’ by Michael R Martin

Screams in the Woods

Private detective Christine Lynch finds herself immersed in history when she takes on the case of two missing men. Beginning her investigation into a 19th-century mine explosion, she must discover what links the disaster with the men’s disappearance. However, she soon realises that unearthing the truth could put her own life in danger.

This is a bit of a mix of styles, with mystery, thriller and sci-fi coming together in a quirky and interestingly-told tale. The story begins slowly, taking a little while to get going, and I found the narrative occasionally felt like it needed a boost, but it soon picks up the pace. The author has a nice way of revealing the clues as we go along, creating one of those stories that keeps the reader wondering what the heck’s happening. With plenty of twists and surprises, this is a good first novel that bodes well for the future.

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‘The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ by Johanna Craven

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

In 1692, high-born runaway Catherine stows away on an English merchant ship to escape a family who believe her to be a witch. But the young French woman discovers her choice of transport isn’t what she expected. Captained by veteran sailor Ben Archer, the ship’s crew are no longer in a position to pursue their livelihood as legitimate privateers and are instead faced with the only alternative – to sign the ship’s articles as pirates, a move that places them all in danger of the hangman’s noose.

Catherine finds herself caught in a difficult position – not only is she in danger of bringing bad luck on the ship merely by being a woman, but she also has to contend with a possible mutiny, attacks on her own countrymen, and two officers competing for her affections.

‘The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ is a right rollicking swashbuckler of an adventure, with guns, swords, double-crossing pirates and a bit of romance for good measure. The author had me at the first page of this excellent tale – her attention to detail is so perfect, I could almost smell the sea air as I turned each page, feeling myself slide down the sea-soaked deck as we sailed into the unknown, creaking hatches and guns a-blazing all around.

Johanna Craven is one of those rare talents who can lift a story off the page and bring it into stark reality. This is a brilliant book and I’ll definitely be reading more of her work in the very near future.

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Holiday Heartwarmers: An Anthology of Short Stories

Holiday Heartwarmers: An Anthology of Short Stories

Festive-themed collection of fifteen short stories penned by writers from around the world. There’s a nice variety of tales here, including not-quite traditional family get-togethers, some interesting takes on Christmas and its meaning and a few stand-out tales from some very talented authors. I particularly enjoyed the strange and unusual ‘Lonely Ness’ by Hall and Beaulieu, ‘Sam’s Place’ by J. Naomi Ay and ‘Twisted Memory’ by Christine Jayne Vann. An eclectic mix with something for everyone.

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