Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Something About a Bear by Jackie Morris

review by Maryom

 Come with the Brown Bear as he introduces eight different bears of the world - Polar bear, Moon bear, Sun bear, Brown bear, Spectacled bear, American Black bear, Sloth bear and Giant Panda - lovingly captured in their habitats by Jackie Morris's paintings. They fish in freezing rivers, doze through the heat of the day in treetops or swim in the ocean..... but which is the best bear of all?

To call this an illustrated children's book doesn't do it justice; Something About A Bear is an absolutely gorgeous book bound to delight children and adult bear-lovers alike.  Each double-paged spread captures the essence of a bear with a combination of words and pictures. Although non-fiction  it reads like an enchanting story book. The lavish paintings bring these beautiful wild animals so vividly to life that I almost felt I could reach out and touch their fur, and each is accompanied by words which describe the bear, its habitat, its food, its life in general.

 There are more 'plain' facts at the end of the book for those who want them, and links to conservation websites. The author is also running an on-line auction of the book's proofs with all money going to the charity Hauser Bears

It makes an excellent companion book to I Am Cat, which introduced the wide variety of wild cats from lions to lynx to Scottish wild cat in a similar way - a great idea if you're looking for complementary but not identical books for two children.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - picture book, non-fiction, bears,

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Dead Pass by Colin Bateman

review by Maryom

When Dan Starkey is approached by Moira Doherty, a sad-faced little old lady for help in finding her missing, believed murdered, son, he thinks she's just a concerned mother. At first he's not thrilled at getting a case to investigate in Derry but when Moira turns out to have been a political activist back in the day and  is herself found dead, Dan finds himself drawn in against his better judgement. In the unfamiliar surroundings of Derry he finds an underworld of drugs, porn and gangster terrorists looking to make their mark...

This is one of those books that turn up for review, totally unexpectedly, and I just pick it up out of curiosity  - and think 'I'll give it a look-see'  then Wow! Why had I never heard of this guy? Because despite the long string of novels to his credit - and screen plays and the TV series Murphy's Law - I hadn't. (sorry, Colin, if you're reading this) You can probably tell I liked this book, a lot!
If you're a fan, you'll know what to expect but if like me, you're a newcomer, then expect a Philip Marlowe-style first person private-eye thriller set against the backdrop of present day Northern Ireland with its sub-culture of gangsters and terrorists. Dan Starkey is the same sort of wise-cracking guy, with a funny line always ready - and always getting him in trouble. The setting is as 'noir' and the plot as convoluted as you could wish for.
As for me, I'm off to check my stash of unread crime books, or, failing that, the library in the hope of finding more by Colin Batemen turns out this is number NINE of a series so I've some catching up to do

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher -Headline
Genre -crime, thriller, adult fiction

Monday, 29 September 2014

All the Colours of Paradise by Glenda Millard

Illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Review by The Mole

This is the fourth book in the "Kingdom Of Silk" series and here we learn more about Perry Angel and Layla learns that it is possible to hate.

There is little to be said about this series that I haven't said already.

"The message it carries, with so great an effect, is as relevant to parents as it is to children, and I found, as a parent, that the story was highly readable"

"Layla is one of those rare children and even rarer adults - she is naive, kind, empathic and strong willed. In fact if the world was peopled by such characters then perhaps we could enjoy world peace" although that is something that can extend to all of the residents of the Kingdom of Silk.

" It's also a beautiful book, with frequent black and white illustrations to engage the young reader and the story will challenge them and make them think."

Perry is different - as we all are - from others and struggles to understand everything and everyone in the world around him. He finds he can express himself best in drawing and painting. Here we learn how he is helped to cope with those differences. Another beautiful story but with a hint that the eldest Rainbow Girl, Scarlet, is not so different from normal teenagers. But more from Scarlet in book 5.

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children's fiction

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Visitors by Simon Sylvester

review by Maryom

17 year old Flora has always lived on the small Scottish island of Bancree - and it's always seemed a dull, safe sort of place, that she can't wait to leave. When newcomers, a man and his daughter, move into an abandoned house on lonely Dog Rock, Flora is curious about them. After-all, why would anyone pick such an out-of-the-way place to live?  Flora and the daughter Ailsa quickly become friends but the father seems withdrawn and menacing, not making any attempt to fit in with the community.
 At the same time, people have been disappearing from the island - maybe they've just fallen in the sea and been washed away, or got lost on the way home from the pub and are now lying in a ditch, but could there be a killer at large?

The Visitors is a mix of coming of age novel, psychological thriller and myth, set on a remote weather-beaten island somewhere vaguely in the Hebrides. It opens well, setting the scene as Flora and her boyfriend part company as he heads off south to university, capturing her frustration that she must wait another year before it's her turn to head off into the wide world. With another disappearance plus the arrival of newcomers, the atmosphere of fear and mistrust builds, and in between Flora listens to traditional tales of the selkies - sea-creatures, half-human, half-seal, that capture the hearts of fisherman  - and wonders if all these things are related. 
 Now, I'm not averse to novels that mix and mash up reality and fantasy, and as fond of a gothic thriller as the next person - I loved Lauren Beukes' Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls both of which are in a similar vein mixing murder and supernatural, and Amy Sackville's different take on the selkie myth, Orkney - but this didn't grab me. I wondered why, because the story-telling was good and the main characters believable. Then checking links and such for this post, I realised - too much is given away in the 'blurb'; instead of leaving the mystery to unfold as the book is read, most of the reveals are given away in it. It's rather a pity as I think if I'd read it 'cold', I'd have enjoyed it much more.

Another of the shortlist for this year's Not The Booker Prize - see also my review of Iain Maloney's First Time Solo
Maryom's review -  3.5 stars
Publisher - Quercus 
Genre - Adult/YA crossover, thriller,

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Gentle Assassin by Ryan David Jahn

Review by The Mole

Andrew Combs grew up with his grandparents because when he was just 18 months his father, Harry Combs, had pulled him from their burning home and started to run from both the police and Rathbone, a shirt manufacturer who fronted for a network of hit men - professional assassins. Andrew's mother and her lover had both been shot before the fire and the fire deliberately set to 'clean' the area. Now at the age of 27, Andrew has used letters from his father, letters he was not supposed to find, to trace him through a private detective - and he wants revenge for the death of his mother.

Does Andrew really have what it takes to exact revenge or can he find it in his heart to forgive and build bridges to a happy and safe future? Unfortunately his efforts to locate his father have woken up other sleeping dogs who want his father dead - but does he still have what it takes to stay alive?

Scattered throughout are extracts from a believed genuine CIA manual on assassination containing things that are at times funny and often worrying that it can discuss the subject so coldly!

I found this an unusual story because while it is one of a broken family trying to address their history it is also packed with action and emotion. The back story is exposed quite early on but is added to at frequent intervals throughout the book so that the reader understands the drivers behind Andrew but how accurate is any history - or the guilt and hate that can be fed by it.

The story flits between Harry and Andrew and frequently to Andrew's fantasies of revenge - something that is achieved very successfully and further helps the reader to understand this troubled young man.

The final scene can be read as a "get out" - how can Jahn extricate the characters from this mess he has built and embroiled the reader in, and at the same time give an ending that the reader wants or at leasts accepts - but there is a natural justice to the outcome despite not being the ending I would have liked.

The first Jahn I have read and hopefully it won't be the last. An excellent, if rather violent read.

Publisher - Pan Macmillan
Genre - Adult fiction, crime thriller

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Last Boat Home by Dea Brovig

review by Maryom

Else was like any other teenager in her small Norwegian town, catching the ferry to school each day, sneaking out at night to meet her boyfriend Lars, and dreaming of the day she'd leave her close-knit community for the wider world. Dreams that end when she falls pregnant.
Now 30 years later, Lars' return to their home town, makes Else face up to her past and the events that shaped her life.

The Last Boat Home is a  deeply atmospheric novel, capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere of a close knit, isolated community, where religion plays a large part of people's lives and a visit from a travelling circus is cause for great excitement. Else's home is a beautiful but harsh place, squashed between the fjord on one side and mountains on the other, dominated by the moods of the sea and the weather.
 In such a place it's hard to keep a secret - so the neighbours know all about Else's father hiding out in his boat shed, brewing his moonshine liquor and drinking himself into a stupor most nights, and her mother's bruises which she tries to hide as she bustles about between house and church meetings. What they don't know, is who is to blame for fathering Else's child. 

It's a little like a murder-mystery, for as the story slips between the present day and that fateful time back in the 1970s, slowly teasing out the events leading up to Else's pregnancy, the reader can't help but try to work out the culprit, and, of course, keep turning the pages to find out.  

This is one of those books that I stumbled on completely by accident, following a retweet of one of the author's comments. The novel's setting and plot outline intrigued me, and reading it didn't disappoint.

Looking for the links I discovered this article about the place that inspired the author - though the photos are all sunny and summery, not of wintry snow and ice.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Windmill Books
Genre - adult fiction,

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Frog the Barbarian by Guy Bass

Review by The Mole

In The Legend of Frog Frog managed to save the world from the Kroakans with the help of Rarewolf and his trusty steed Sheriff Explosion, but it looks like he's going to have to do it all again! Somehow General Kurg, from the first saving of the world, while imprisoned, has managed to raise the alarm and called for a new invasion force.

Can Frog pull off a second saving in the same planless way as the first time or are things going to be more challenging? In fact can Frog actually do it this time?

The Legend of Frog was zany and lots of fun but you were in no doubt that Frog would pull it off but here we see a more realistic Frog - a Frog that learns a bit of humility, a Frog that is defeated, a Frog that loses confidence in himself... well, maybe for a minute. Still oodles of fun, excessively zany but somehow a more complete and satisfying story. I don't really believe that I ever doubted Frog though - he's the natural hero. We also learn the secret of how Dragons fly - something that I had never thought about!

Has Frog's days of being a hero finished now or are there more challenges for this mighty warrior? I hope there is more to come.

One of the things about the first book was the amount of pages that were "hand written" by Frog where the spelling was appalling and I wondered if this was a good thing for such young readers. In this book the number of such pages seems to have been reduced and now feel more contextual rather than part of the story.

Aimed at the 8+ reader this book will have them needing to share some of the many zany moments (I did) and laugh out loud making others wonder about what is so funny. While it's possible to read this book stand alone, the reading of The Legend of Frog first will help a lot with understanding who Frog is and how he got there. A really good book for proficient young readers.

Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre - Children's 7+, Frogs, adventure, Dragons