Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis


review by Maryom

With her parents having gone north looking to make their fortune in a new gold rush, and her grandmother dead in a freak storm, Elka has been brought up by a man she knows only as Trapper. Theirs is a harsh isolated life in the forests of post-apocalypse north-west Canada, but Elka quickly adapts and learns the skills necessary to survive - trapping and hunting wild animals, skinning them, curing and preserving the meat - and now in her seventeenth year, Elka is as proficient as her mentor. Then, on a rare trip into the nearest town, she sees a poster, with Trapper's picture on it; his real name is Kreagar Hallett, he's wanted for murder, and, by association, so is Elka.
Her first instinct is to get away, so Elka sets out to journey north to the place her parents had headed for, but gradually she realises that the only way she herself can escape the law, is to hand Trapper over to it.

I think the Wold Road must be the most original book I've read this year - admittedly the basic synopsis of an outsider heading off on a quest-type journey in search of 'home' is not new in itself but the atmosphere, the post-apocalyptic setting, and Elka herself make this a story that stands out from the rest.

The events take place in an alternative 'present day', in which the north of Canada has been laid waste in a (presumably) nuclear war which Elka refers to as the 'Big Stupid' and seems to have taken place sometime during the Reagan/Thatcher era. Civilisation in this corner of the world has retreated to the edges of the vast untamed forests, with small towns scattered here and there acting rather like frontier-settling trading posts. This atmosphere, plus elements such as the wanted posters and a sheriff-style Magistrate, gives the story a gun-slinging 'western' feel, so much so that I envisioned characters dressed accordingly - as ranch hands, trappers and saloon girls. On the other hand, as Elka travels north she encounters devastation that can only have been caused by modern warfare - poisoned lakes, and huge swathes of land completely flattened.

The story is narrated by Elka, in a highly individual voice (though again there's maybe an echo of John Wayne cowboys in there) with every page conveying her strong self-reliance and no-nonsense attitude about the necessities of survival. Her prologue sets the underlying sense of unease, and, as her trek continues, the reader, along with Elka, gradually is brought face to face with the enormity of Trapper's actions. Despite her probable involvement in what he's done, I still wanted Elka's story to have a happy ending; a reunion with her parents, a deal with the magistrate, and a new start; the author wasn't that forgiving ...

I completely loved it though. It's an excellent mix of a lot of things I enjoy in a read, and to make it better, has a strong female 'cast' - even the soft 'townie' proves to have her strengths, even if they are different to Elka's. As you expect on a quest, there are dangers to be faced, both from nature and from mankind, people who talk nice but act mean, companions to help along the way and plenty of new trouble for Elka to land herself in.

It isn't for the squeamish - for Elka, killing and preparing your dinner is more normal than opening a can, so at times she's a little too detailed maybe in how she goes about it - but fans of Bear Grylls and his wilderness survival programmes will love it.

And if I haven't tempted you enough, you can read the first chapter here on Beth Lewis' website


Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)

Genre - adult, post-apocalyptic, western, quest

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

End Game by Alan Gibbons



review by Maryom

Seventeen year old Nick Mallory is lying in a hospital bed, his memory wiped almost clear. He can remember driving his father's BMW, remember crashing it into a tree, but not why he was in the car in the first place or why he was furious with his father. Although Nick can see and hear what's going on around him, notice his mother's concern, and his father's slight shiftiness, he can't communicate with anyone, can't lift a finger or bat an eyelid. So he drifts off into dreams and memories, always followed by the haunting dead eyes of a frightening visitor who comes in the night. Gradually Nick begins to piece together the events that led up to the crash, and remember the the dishonest and dangerous deals his dad has been involved in ...

End Game is a thriller-style read about a father-son relationship which goes off the rails when the son, Nick, becomes disillusioned with the father he once idolised. Now, I suspect that a lot of children grow up to discover their parents aren't quite the heroes they'd once been seen as, but Nick's father has a lot further to fall than most. As a soldier, he was a 'real' hero, especially to his young son, and, even when he turned to politics, his concern over injured soldiers and determination to fight for them maintained that status.
Events are seen solely from Nick's point of view, so despite having acted stupidly and dangerously, he definitely has the reader on his side. You can't help but feel sorry for Nick, though the clearly seen anguish of his mother and sister might temper your support of him a little. His father though is a different matter - his behaviour at the hospital is odd and shifty, and, even when he can't remember why, Nick has an inkling that his father has done something despicable, which obviously taints the reader's view. The author manages though, as Nick's memories re-surface, to capture the way the father appears to have been duped, which leaves the way open for a father/son reconciliation.


There's a lot here for teens to think about and debate; issues about arms deals, guilt versus innocence, who should accept responsibility for mistakes, and, of course, what their own attitude would be faced with similar circumstances.

Putting the evidence together piece by piece, through the eyes of someone trying to recover lost memories is a clever way of tempting the reader in, grabbing their attention and making them want to read on till the mystery is uncovered. It's excellently done, and I certainly didn't want to put the book down. 

Maryom's Review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Indigo/Hachette 
Genre -  teen/YA fiction

Monday, 27 June 2016

Her Father's Daughter by Marie Sizun

translated by Adriana Hunter

review by Maryom

In German-occupied Paris, four year old France lives happily with her mother. Her world is made up of the two of them, their apartment, the streets and park close by, and occasional visits from her grandmother. She knows little of the world outside - of the war, of why there are Germans patrolling the streets, or of her father, detained far away as a prisoner.
But now, this unknown father is coming home, and France's world is going to change.
At first she's fearful of this man who's come between her and her mother, but then she decides to win him over, sharing her thoughts, stories and secrets, little understanding the implications of what she shares, or the likely fall-out from it.

Her Father's Daughter is a moving account of the relationship between a father and child, and an exploration of family dynamics - made all the more poignant by being based on the author's own experience as a child.


It's written, although not in the first person, from the child's point of view. The reader can easily see that France doesn't always understand what she sees or hears going on around her, and often interprets events in a confused childish way, but it still captures the child's attachment to her mother, her initial hostility to the man that comes between them, then the switching of sides as her father becomes the main recipient of her affection.
At the same time, the reader can understand why the mother has maybe indulged her little girl too much, but now wants to focus her attention on her returned husband, and why he, in his turn, feels odd and uncomfortable around this unknown child, and furious when the 'lie' is revealed.

Till the age of four, France's world has been comprised almost entirely of herself and her mother. Her life is happy and undisciplined - scrawling on the walls, singing strange songs she makes up herself, picking and choosing over her food, dictating what her mother wears. It's a life of freedom and fun, till her father comes home. A "father" is an unknown quantity to France - in their neighbourhood, fathers are mostly absent due to the war, and she can find them only in fairy tales, often vague but stern characters. When he arrives, her father wants order and quiet, not a child singing, stomping and generally doing as she likes - it's a shock to France! She also feels she's losing her mother's love, as she understandably turns her attention to her returned husband. But the dynamics of their relationships change, as France and her father grow closer, and the mother is pushed aside. I wondered how much France actually understood of the great 'lie' she wanted to expose - a four year old surely wouldn't have understood the full implications, but she certainly knew she should not mention it, and that revealing the secret would cause trouble. So, did she merely mean to share with her father something she considered very personal, or deliberately set out to cause trouble? I'm not sure.

For a long while I've championed one of Peirene's early publications, Friedrich Christian Delius' Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman as my favourite of their books - but I think it may now have a rival.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Peirene Press
 
Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Carys Bray - Museum of You - blog tour

Today we're delighted to welcome to the blog Carys Bray, author of A Song For Issy Bradley, to talk about her new novel the Museum of You, and one of her favourite museums (you can find more of them by checking out the other stops of the tour).

My Favourite Museums

In my new novel The Museum of You, twelve year old Clover Quinn sorts through her mother’s belongings and curates an exhibition in the second bedroom of the house she shares with her Dad, Darren.
As part of The Museum of You blog tour, I’m writing about some of my favourite museums. In recent months it has been frustrating to read of the museum closures which appear to be disproportionately affecting the north of England. Museums are a great place to learn about our heritage; they’re often a testament to the efforts and dedication of working people, the men and women who built and made many of the things we take for granted today.

The British Lawnmower Museum
This museum is in my hometown of Southport. The museum doesn’t receive any funding so there is a charge for entry: £3 for adults and £1 for children. An audio guide is piped out of speakers that are positioned around the museum so you can listen as you explore. It’s pretty niche – the only lawnmower museum in the world. Instead of carpet there’s artificial turf on the floor and there is something wonderfully eccentric about the whole enterprise.



The staff are friendly and will accompany you and fill you in on some of the stories behind the lawnmowers. For example, the lawnmower in the picture below was used in this advert:

It’s the stories that really make this museum. I learned that James May of Top Gear once reassembled a particular lawnmower without any instructions, another lawnmower was pulled by a horse that wore leather shoes so as not to spoil the lawn, and some people like to participate in lawnmower races (12 hour lawnmower races, in fact).

My favourite machines were the ‘lawnmowers of the rich and famous.’ Below you can see Paul O’Grady’s lawnmower.



And Eric Morecambe’s Dad’s lawnmower, an object which provoked some serious giggling.




My son and I visited this museum wondering why on earth anyone would keep and care for lawnmowers. We left feeling that at the heart of this unique museum lies the determined optimism of people who really love something and want to share it. And even if you’re not a lawnmower aficionado, there’s something contagious about that.





Who would imagine a museum of lawn-mowers to be so fascinating? It sounds well worth a visit though.
Read on now for an excerpt from The Museum of You which Maryom describes as  "tender and compassionate, will make you laugh, maybe bring you to tears, and will have you rooting for Clover and Darren, hoping they can both find happiness and sense of completeness. In short, an absolute joy to read." 







The Museum of You – Excerpt

"When she got home from the museum Dad was kneeling in the hall. He’d unscrewed the radiator and his thumb was pressed over an unfastened pipe as water gushed around it. The books and clothes and newspapers that used to line the hall had been arranged in small piles on the stairs. Beside him, on the damp carpet, was a metal scraper he’d been using to scuff the paper off the wall.

‘Just in time!’ he said. ‘Fetch a bowl. A small one, so it’ll fit.’
She fetched two and spent the next fifteen minutes running back and forth to the kitchen emptying one bowl as the other filled, Dad calling, ‘Faster! Faster! Keep it up, Speedy Gonzalez!’ His trousers were soaked and his knuckles grazed, but he wasn’t bothered. ‘Occupational hazard,’ he said, as if it wasn’t his day off and plumbing and stripping walls was his actual job.

Once the pipe had emptied he stood up and hopped about for a bit while the feeling came back into his feet. ‘I helped Colin out with something this morning,’ he said. ‘The people whose house we were at had this dado rail thing – it sounds posh, but it’s just a bit of wood, really – right about here.’ He brushed his hand against the wall beside his hip. ‘Underneath it they had stripy wallpaper, but above it they had a different, plain kind. It was dead nice and I thought, we could do that.’

Dad found a scraper for her. The paint came off in flakes, followed by tufts of the thick, textured wallpaper. Underneath, was a layer of soft, brown, backing-paper which Dad sprayed with water from a squirty bottle. When the water had soaked in, they made long scrapes down the wall, top to bottom, leaving the backing paper flopped over the skirting boards like ribbons of skin. It felt like they were undressing the house.

The bare walls weren’t smooth. They were gritty, crumbly in places. As they worked, a dusty smell wafted out of them. It took more than an hour to get from the front door to the wall beside the bottom stair. That’s where Dad uncovered the heart. It was about as big as Clover’s hand, etched on the wall in black, permanent marker, in Dad’s handwriting: Darren + Becky 4ever.

‘I’d forgotten,’ he murmured. And then he pulled his everything face. The face he pulls when Uncle Jim is drunk. The face he pulls when they go shopping in March and the person at the till tries to be helpful by reminding them about Mother’s Day. The face which reminds her that a lot of the time his expression is like a plate of leftovers.

She didn’t say anything, and although she wanted to, she didn’t trace the heart with her fingertips. Instead, she went up to the bathroom and sat on the boxed, pre-lit Christmas tree dad bought in the January sales. When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories. That’s not to say it’s always sad – there are happy things, too. When she was a baby Dad had a tattoo of her name drawn on his arm in curly, blue writing, and underneath he had a green, four-leaf clover. She has such a brilliant name, chosen by her mother because it has the word LOVE in the middle. That’s not the sort of thing you go around telling people, but it is something you can remember if you need a little boost; an instant access, happiness top-up card – it even works when Luke Barton calls her Margey-rine. Clover thought of her name and counted to 300.

When she went downstairs Dad had recovered his empty face and she couldn’t help asking a question, just a small one.

‘Is there any more writing under the paper?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘She didn’t do a heart as well?’
‘Help me with this, will you?’

They pulled the soggy ribbons of paper away from the skirting and put them in a bin bag. The house smelled different afterwards. As if some old sadness had leaked out of the walls. "

Thank you Carys for dropping by and I hope that's tempted people to read the novel!

Check out our full review here  and the rest of the blog tour 


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Murder Ring by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

The eighth book in the Geraldine Steel series.

A man is found mugged and murder in an alley by someone going to work. When DNA evidence leads the investigation immediately to a know criminal it seems like an open and shut case but it isn't always that easy. With the suspect under lock and key a second murder is committed - with the same gun. Clearly it's time to find another suspect.

Cleverly plotted this story also brings a major change to Geraldine's search for her birth mother. Is this too much of a distraction at this point in the investigation and will it bring about the peace of mind that she is looking for?

Easy to read, this story will keep you guessing as to where we are going to end up - and it's most enjoyable getting there. While we spend a lot of time in the killer's head it does mark a return to the "whodunnit" format which the last book had moved away from a little although the story ends up as more of a "whodidwhat".

Great compulsive writing that Russell has become known for.

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Museum of You by Carys Bray

review by Maryom

Twelve year old Clover Quinn is looking for answers.

Her mother, Becky, died shortly after Clover was born, and there is so much about her that Clover doesn't know.  Although he's done his best to be both father and mother to Clover, her dad, Darren, has always been reluctant to talk about Becky. Encouraged by his friends, he's tried to move on with life, but the spare room is still full of things he intends to clear out - and in there Clover believes are clues to her mother's life, to who she really was. So this summer, the first she's been allowed to spend time at home alone, Clover intends to sort through the boxes and rubbish bags, organise the things she feels are worth keeping, and create a museum of her mother.
Darren meanwhile is fully immersed in his role of father. He tries to pre-empt all Clover's needs, from pencil cases for school, to treats to cheer her on sad days, to venturing into a bookshop to buy a book on being a woman. He's kind, caring and takes his responsibility as parent far more seriously than many do.

In this her second novel, Carys Bray again explores the relationships within a family coping with loss. Told from the alternating perspectives of Clover and Darren,The Museum of You builds a picture of a close loving father/daughter relationship which sadly still has a hole at its heart - the void left by Becky's death. Again, the family unit plays an important part in the story - but this isn't a standard 'Mum, Dad, two kids' family, but instead a looser structure with Darren and Clover at its centre and an extended family surrounding them - Darren's own rather withdrawn father, his best friend Colin, Becky's brother Jim, elderly neighbour, grandmother-substitute Mrs Mackerel, and potential girlfriend Kelly and her two boisterous boys.
In the re-tellings of her family history, Clover's birth has always been described as a surprise - and surprises come in two kinds - the good and the bad. Darren's life seems to have been filled with the latter - disrupting first the ambitious plans he had as a teenager, then the future he imagined with Becky - but even so he's kept a certain level of cheerfulness about him, whereas another man might have turned bitter and resentful. His kindness shines through in so many ways but especially in his thoughtfulness in looking after Clover and the way he's taken on the extra responsibility of caring for Becky's troubled brother Jim. At times I found myself smiling at Darren's over-eagerness to be the perfect dad, but it was always fondly and with an admiration for his efforts.
Clover herself is an independent twelve year old, seeming at times wiser than her years but still quaintly child-like in the way she goes about setting up her 'museum' and her misinterpretation of the things she chooses as exhibits.
Both were characters I grew to sympathise with and care for. The author captures the tiny details of their days - the tending of the allotment, the route Darren drives on his bus, their joint ritual of finding three happy things in each day - and brings them to life, almost ready to walk off the page.

A Song for Issy Bradley was one of my picks of the year when it came out, and I'd wondered how anyone would follow such a wonderful book, but Carys Bray has! The Museum of You is tender and compassionate, will make you laugh, maybe bring you to tears, and will have you rooting for Clover and Darren, hoping they can both find happiness and sense of completeness. In short, an absolute joy to read.



Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Hutchinson
Genre - adult fiction, bereavement

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Snow-Man by Tommy Donbavand

Illustrator Steve Beckett

Review by The Mole

Reading for the young reader should be fun and imaginative and in this series of early readers Donbavand gives the young reader exactly what they want - laugh out loud ideas. The colourful and action packed illustrations bring the stories further to life and complement the narrative beautifully.

This kind of story book is an important step along the reading route helping the reader to transition from the very first (and often tedious) first readers, that have little or no story behind them, to proper novels that entertain and thrill.

And... These books feature in one of the giveaways being hosted until the end of June. Find out more on Spooky Sister's blog and A Daydreamer's Thoughts

Although currently battling cancer, Tommy is best known for the Scream Street series of books which are extremely popular with younger readers and his school visits have delighted many children and encouraged them in their reading and writing. School visits by authors have become a very important tool in the development of literacy today and, as an author, when Tommy can't work then his income and ability to support his family is greatly affected so let's try to help a little (please?) at this VERY difficult time. You can read more about Tommy over on the giveaway blogs and you can find reviews of his works by following the blog tour which started at Serendipity Reviews and continues tomorrow at Heather Reviews.

One thing that did surprise us (yes, both of us) was the sheer age range of Tommy's writing - from books like these to books for teenagers such as Dr Who, Vampires, and much, much more. The sheer number of young lives he has touched must be phenomenal.

You can follow Tommy's blog (which is being caretook [caretakered?] by a fellow author and personal friend) here (may I warn you that his recent condition may bring you to tears although he hasn't given up by any means!!) but you can  read about how you can help or donate a little (or a lot)  here.

To finish this supporting tour there will be a Twitter Chat, hosted by Vivienne and Chelley, on 30th June between 8 and 9 PM. All you need to know to join the chat is that it will feature the hashtag "#tommyvcancer" - everyone is welcome to join in.

Publisher - Badger Learning
Genre - Early Reader