Monday, 28 July 2014

Bocchi + Pocchi and the Bird by Noriko Matsubara

Review by The Mole

Readers may remember Bocchi and Pocchi in A Tale Of Two Socks and this book is structured along very similar lines.

Once again, both written and illustrated by Noriko Matsubara, the colours are bright, the pictures simple and the text brief and vocabulary uncomplex.

In this story the socks meet a bird who has hurt her wing and they offer their help.

Another good book for the very young reader to quickly read and enjoy while, perhaps, reading aloud to a parent or teacher.

The only comment I have about both these books is based on the socks names - why are they spelt like that, how are they pronounced, and if they are pronounced "bocky" and "socky" would it not be easier for the young reader to spell them that way?

That aside they are both lovely books for the very young reader to have a go at.

Publisher - Troika Books
Genre - Children's Picture book/first reader

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Place for Us by Harriet Evans

review by Maryom

Winterfold is a special sort of place - for 45 years it's been the home of Martha and her artist husband David, the place they've brought up their three children, and thrown open to neighbours for Christmas celebrations, Summer garden parties, Bonfire Night fireworks. The children are now all grown; Daisy out in India involved in charity work; Florence, a professor of art history in Florence; only the eldest, Bill, now the local GP, has stayed close to home. But Martha's 80th birthday is approaching and she's decided that will be the ideal occasion to gather them back together - and spill some long-held family secrets. 

As you can guess this is a family saga where the real state of their lives lies hidden behind a smiling façade. It opens with a fantastic attention-grabbing first line - "The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day" - that had me just longing to know what she was going to do, what she'd reveal and, above all, why. I'm still on tenterhooks though for this novel is being published as a first four-part e-book serial - the first part now (31st July), the others to follow at monthly intervals - and then the whole story in a paperback edition in January 2015.
Part One has set the scene brilliantly with a dispersed family, each hugging their own secrets that you know are all going to come tumbling out and shake their world; some of them I warmed to and sympathised with, some I didn't - just like real families. So far I'm loving it - great characters, a plot to hook me and a promise of more secrets to be unearthed. But just as I was getting really immersed in their world it ended - and on a revelation that shook my whole view of what I'd read so far.
Now I'm desperately waiting for Part 2! 

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline Review
Genre - adult fiction, family saga

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Road Between Us by Nigel Farndale

review by Maryom

June 1939 - two young men are arrested in a London hotel. Charles and Anselm are lovers - not a problem today but in 1939 it's illegal and, when they are discovered in compromising circumstances, there are penalties to be paid. Charles, a pilot in the RAF, is court-martialled for 'conduct unbecoming', and Anselm, an artist studying at the Slade, is deported back to Germany where he is sent to be 're-educated' in a labour camp. Separated by the war sweeping through Europe and by the prejudice of society, can their love survive?
In the present day - Charles's son, Edward, having been captured on a diplomatic mission to Afghanistan and held for eleven years in a cave is eventually freed. The timing and means of his release are puzzling - who, after all this time, has stepped in and paid the captors' ransom demands? Back home, Edward finds the world hard to adjust to. The everyday world has changed a lot in 11 years but there are more personally disturbing changes - his wife Frejya has died and Hannah, the daughter he remembers as a 9 year old, has grown into a carbon copy of her.

The Road Between Us is a compelling story wrapped around themes of discrimination, intolerance and the overwhelming power of love. The two story-lines unfold alternately, teasing the reader on to discover where and how they'll meet - for you know they will - uncovering deeply hidden family secrets on the way.
At its core The Road Between Us is a story about love - the strength that it gives, the power that it can hold over us and the sacrifices that have to be made for it - but it's not a cute hearts and flowers romance. It's dark, often distressing and disturbing in a variety of ways. Anselm's life in the labour camp is filled with casual cruelty - kept on the minimum rations, worked till exhaustion, experimented on in the name of rehabilitation, men are singled out for torture or summarily executed at the whim of the camp's commander - Edward's solitary imprisonment in the dark plays on all our fears of claustrophobia and abandonment, and the physical, sexual attraction between him and Hannah, particularly Hannah's willingness to give in to it is disquieting to say the least. Taken as a whole, it's a deeply affecting story, one well worth a re-read  but first I'll catch up on the author's previous novel.

Somehow this book passed me by when it was first published and I only came across it thanks to the #bookadayuk initiative on Twitter started by Borough Press and now continuing with Doubleday where it was mentioned as a book that hadn't received the attention it deserved. I'm so glad I found it - even if a little late.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Genre - adult fiction,

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Love Insurance by Earl Derr Biggers

review by Maryom
British aristocrat Lord Harrowby is set to marry American heiress Cynthia Meyrick - he may be deeply in love but it's also a financially convenient match so, just in case, he decides to approach the new York branch of Lloyds and take out insurance against the possibilty of his fiancée calling it all off.  Although they're used to odd insurance requests, this seems the strangest of all but they agree to take it on with the proviso that one of their staff, Dick Minot, joins the happy couple in Florida for the final week of wedding preparations to ensure nothing comes between them. Unfortunately, on the train journey south Dick meets a fascinating young woman and promptly falls in love - then discovers she's the bride-to-be! Torn between his job and his feelings, what IS Dick to do?

Love Insurance is a delightful romcom-style novel that it's hard to believe was first published in 1914.
Although it's the last thing he wants to happen, poor Dick finds himself having to fend off all sorts of last-minute obstacles in the way of the wedding and help the couple on their way to living happily ever after  - and there are all manner of things trying to get in the way of the wedding - someone claiming to be Harrowby's long lost elder brother, therefore the real Lord Harrowby; the mysterious disappearance of a famous diamond necklace; an actress with incriminating letters.....   It's no wonder Cynthia's father's demands to call off the wedding are growing more heated!
It does have a few things that date it - primarily the fact that Florida is seen as a quaint winter holiday destination for the rich seeking to escape the northern cold, rather than a tourist hot-spot flooded with visitors from all over the world - but it's a light, enjoyable read with lots to appeal to today's reader.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Hesperus Press
Genre -  adult fiction, humour, romcom  

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Broken King by Philip Womack

Review by The Mole

When Simon's sister, Anna, starts to tease too much, Simon loses his temper and, to frighten her, recites a nursery rhyme that invites the Broken King to take her away. The poem doesn't bother Anna but terrifies Simon when Anna is taken away in front of his very eyes. The next day, before his parents waken, he finds that she really has gone and flees the house looking for her. Meeting a winged deer he learns he must go to the Broken Kingdom to get her back. On the way he meets Flora who did exactly the same to her elder brother, Johnny, and is starting a similar quest. On their journey they meet people who can't exist, go to places that are impossible, solve insoluble riddles and encounter terrifying enemies.

This is the first in a series entitled "The Darkening Path" and it really is a great start to the trilogy. While we know Simon and Flora are the "good" guys they learn to doubt everyone they meet along the way - even the ones that give them real positive assistance and this keeps the reader looking at every nuance of the story for some sign that may lead to betrayal. With the reader so heavily engaged the book flies by and then... Well it's a trilogy as I say and they must wait for book 2!

Plenty of horror, plenty of monsters, lots of action - everything the young fantasy reader will love. Described as for the 11+ reader it will be enjoyed by any competent reader as our two young protagonists set out on a quest of atonement to try to retrieve their siblings.

Publisher - Troika Books
Genre - Children's fantasy, 11+

Friday, 18 July 2014

Making the most of your summer writing course

Rather unusually today we are featuring a submission by Shelley Weiner, a tutor from the Faber Academy. We are very much aware that there are a lot of budding authors out there and without them where will the next JK Rowling come from. This post is for everyone who wants to become a published author.

So you’re on the brink of signing up for a summer writing course – and, about to take the plunge, are nervously wondering what the best possible outcome can be? 

A brilliant novel and/or sparkling short story, obviously. We all want that. And in my work as a tutor/mentor, I have isolated SEVEN VITAL FACTORS that will inspire new writers to leave a workshop or session with a surge of creative energy and the tools to channel this energy into a stronger, better piece of fiction:

1.      SHARED ALLEGIANCE. The important (and, ideally, only) thing that writing group participants should share with one another is allegiance to the work. No egos. No ‘stuff’. Or as little as possible when a group of people collaborate on something as precious as an unfolding piece of fiction.

2.      COLLABORATION. I like to see the workshop process as collaborative editing rather than teaching. We work together to make the writing as good as it is possible to be.

3.      SUBJECTIVITY. I always make it very clear to new writers that – even though my responses are informed by years and years of writing and teaching – there is always a level of subjectivity and, with this in mind, the opinions of the group are at least as valid as mine.

4.      DISCUSSION. My input is therefore a series of suggestions rather than instructions, and always open to discussion.

5.      TRUTH. My undertaking, as tutor, is to inhabit the story or fictional world that is presented to me, and to base all my responses on being true – as I see it – to this world.

6.      TRANSPARENCY. I always say that the best writing doesn’t show. It enables the reader to see straight into the heart of what a writer wants to convey; anything that distracts along the way (purple prose? Over-elaborate layout? Bad spelling? Characters who act/speak out of character) should be firmly addressed.

7.      GOALS. Clear goals are important. When we first meet we agree on the best possible realistic outcome for each participant. We check at the end of the process how far these goals have been met.

Shelley Weiner is an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, journalist and creative writing tutor at Faber Academy. Her summer course ‘The 5 Day Short Story’ begins on 4 August. To view the summer programme visit @FaberAcademy

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

review by Maryom

Ajatashatru has for years been impressing the people of his small Indian village with his tricks and sleight of hand, fooling them into thinking he is a real magic-working fakir. Now he's persuaded them to buy him a new bed of nails - not just any old bed of nails though, but the Ikea Hertsyorbak, to buy which he needs to travel to Paris - again funded by the villagers. His long-distance shopping trip is going fine - till he discovers the bed he wanted is out of stock and he must return the next day.  Having to spend an unexpected night in Paris, Ajatashatru decides to do what many of us have probably wanted to try - stay in an Ikea show-home -  until he hears people approaching... Could it be Security coming to throw him out? If so, will he be able to get back into the store the next day to pick up his lovely new bed? Hiding inside a wardrobe seems like the sensible thing to do....but it's just the start of Aja's adventures...

This is, as the title says, the story of an extraordinary journey - one which starts like the Pevensie children's with a wardrobe - but instead of going through the wardrobe Narnia-style, Ajatashatru gets carried away in one! Taken to Great Britain very much against his will, Aja wants to do nothing more than get back to the Ikea store in Paris, to pick up his bed of nails and maybe, if luck is on his side, be reunited with the fascinating French woman he met in the cafeteria. Other people have different plans for him though, and he finds himself travelling this way and that across Europe - with a brief stop over in Libya - by truck, plane or boat, floating off in a hot air balloon or stowing away in a trunk; making new friends as he goes - from illegal immigrants to a beautiful actress; pursued by an irate Parisian taxi-driver and his relations; shedding his con-artist life and re-inventing himself as a person who spreads goodness wherever he goes.

It's a story of bizarre events and improbable coincidences which despite its overall light-hearted, even farcical, feel, also has serious comments to make about the plight of illegal immigrants -  exploited by everyone who 'helps' them on their way, shunted from one country to another, neither reaching their hoped-for destination nor able to go home.

Translated by Sam Taylor

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harville Secker
Genre -  adult fiction, humour