Friday, 24 April 2015

The Bell Between Worlds by Ian Johnstone

Review by The Mole

Sylas Tate lives in a crooked house in the middle of a modern industrial town with his Uncle.  He believes his mother is dead, and his uncle runs his life with a rod of iron. One day there is a terrifying sound - like the peal of a bell but at a volume that shakes the entire house and nearly deafens him. But no-one else seems to hear it. He feels he needs to find the bell and stop its pealing before he is deafened and so begins an adventure that will take him to another dimension and show him magic that he would never have believed.

And it's all about him. He has been called to save the world from Thoth - an evil magician bent on total domination.

The plot sounds reminiscent of so many others but don't let that put you off - it's new characters, new settings, new enemies and, in many ways, a new challenge - one that I've not encountered before.
Fast paced from the off, the story has action throughout with chases across both realms, and monsters created with such penmanship that they leap out the page at the reader, adding to the tension.

Treachery and betrayal leave the reader wondering who Sylas should trust as we rush towards the ending of this, the first instalment of The Mirror Chronicles.

Young fantasy readers are going to love this series as the plot unfolds. This book comes to a proper conclusion and while we know there is more to come we aren't left on a cliffhanger.
Genre: Children's/Teenage Fantasy

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

review by Maryom

Digging away in his back garden, preparing the ground so his children can grow vegetables, Terry Doyle discovers a gruesome secret - a bunker left over from the cold war, and in it the remains of two small boys. So starts one of DI Marnie Rome's most distressing cases.....
The boys appear to have starved to death, having been deliberately incarcerated and left to die, maybe as long as five years ago. The first task for Rome and her sergeant Noah Jake is to identify the bodies, then begins the search for what appears to be a very cold-blooded killer. After all, who else would condemn two small children to such a terrifying ordeal.....

No Other Darkness is another great thriller from Sarah Hilary. Starting with the hidden bunker, a lot of the story seems set in claustrophobic underground spaces - enough on its own to terrify anyone like me with a dread of such places! Hilary's talent seems to be to discover the darker side of human nature and bring it to life - I found her first book Someone Else's Skin really disturbing because of this. This time the reader is slipping inside the mind of a very troubled woman receiving psychiatric help in prison for her past crimes - her anguish and despair is palpable to the reader, even though the prison psychiatrist believes her to be 'cured'. For me this aspect is something that makes Sarah Hilary books re-readable - although there are the usual number of twists and turns in the plot, the novel as a whole is more than a mere whodunnit.

As this is a second outing for Rome and Jake, we get to hear more about them and their troubled families - I'm not going to disclose anything here, but I think there's a lot more to surface for both detectives.

Just one quibble - does every strong woman HAVE to have an irresistible bad-boy in her past?

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Headline Publishing
Genre - adult, crime, police procedural,

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

review by Maryom

1985 - and Peggy is back in her London home, reunited with her mother Ute after 9 years living in a hut buried deep in the Bavarian forests with her survivalist father. She's finding it hard to adjust - her father convinced her that not only her mother but the whole world had perished in some violent apocalypse, and that the only safe place left was their little piece of forest - outside was black emptiness.
Peggy's father James had always been a survivalist - with a group of like-minded friends he plotted the best way to survive armageddon, made equipment lists and stocked his specially constructed cellar - but in 1976, when Peggy was 8, his game-playing turned serious. While Ute was away from home, he received some disturbing news and decided to take Peggy away to a wooden cabin, die Hutte, hidden deep in a forest.  Peggy at first believes they are on holiday but as the weeks pass by she starts to wonder when they'll be going home...then one day, after an horrendous storm James tells her that the rest of the world has perished, that beyond their enclave nothing exists any more....
Now it's 1985 and Peggy is trying to adjust to many things - she's back home in London, the outside world hasn't perished, her mother has been missing her for all these years and she has a brother, born a few months after she and her father departed. But Peggy too has her own share of surprises lined up for her mother....

Our Endless Numbered Days unfolds from two points; 1976 with the background to James' actions, and 1985 as Peggy tries to come to terms with the fact that everything she's believed for the past 9 years has been a lie. Cleverly teasing the reader with just enough information to hold interest but keeping back enough to tantalise, Fuller draws you into the strange mock post-apocalyptic world that James has created for him and his daughter. Everything is told from Peggy's point of view and as events unfolded I started to realise that maybe she wasn't the most reliable of narrators for two reasons. Firstly, the flashback sections are seen through the eyes of the child she was then; with no understanding of her father's behaviour she accepts his word as true, and goes along with his plans because she has no choice. Secondly, as the years pass, Peggy's is the only account of events; there are no other witnesses so no one to contradict the tale. This unreliability left me trying to second-guess what might have happened, and partly prepared me for some of the revelations at the end. I wish to a certain extent that part had been seen from James' point of view - I'd have liked to know more of his motivations and justification of events.
How would I describe it? it's part dystopian post-apocalyptic survival novel - Peggy firmly believes she and her father are the last people on Earth, that when tools break, clothes wear out or food supplies drop dangerously low there is no outside backup; part thriller - as the reader knows something momentous must have occurred for Peggy to have returned home; and part examination into the personal motives and deceptions of James and Peggy. What it is without doubt is a gripping page-turning read. I didn't want to put it down at all, it grabs your attention and doesn't let it go.

4.5 stars rather than the full 5 because I'm just not sure I'd read it again - at least not too soon. Now all the twists have been revealed, it's maybe lost a little of its power over me. 

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Fig Tree (Penguin
Genre - adult literary thriller

Monday, 20 April 2015

At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison

Four-thirty on a May morning: the black fading to blue, dawn gathering somewhere below the treeline in the east.

review by Maryom

Early one Spring morning two cars collide on a country road near the small village of Lodeshill, the violence shattering the quiet; the ripped up grass bank, car wheels still spinning in the air, contents strewn across the road, three bodies lingering between life and death.

Over the previous month, four people have moved ever closer to this moment of impact;
Jack an itinerant farm worker, trying to escape the red-tape and bureaucracy of the modern world and live simply in the open air.
Middle-aged couple Howard and Kitty, recently moved to the country - dislocated from their normal life and finding their marriage gradually falling apart.
Local lad Jamie, lived in the village all his life, now looking for something beyond the mindless distribution centre work on offer and trying to find it in his souped-up, customised car.

At Hawthorn Time is a story of people trying to find themselves - not in any New Age vaguely spiritual sense, but in an everyday 'how and where do I fit in' way. We all have an idea, or ideal, of how the English countryside should be - sleepy villages where nothing has changed in hundreds of years, meadows with placidly grazing cows, ancient woodlands, life centred on the turning of the seasons. The reality of heavy farm machinery, migrant workers, the whole modern agricultural business or even cow-pat strewn roads doesn't quite fit that image we have. Into this gap between expectations and reality falls this story. Lodeshill is a place that's seen so much change in the last hundred years - machinery has taken over jobs once done by farm labourers, leaving villagers now seeking employment in the anonymous industrial units of the nearby town; farms are being sold off and housing built there; newcomers like Howard and Kitty have moved from the city in search of a rural idyll.

Jack is the most obvious misfit; an old-fashioned square peg that doesn't fit today's bureaucratic round hole. His way of life - wandering the ancient highways and byways of the countryside, in touch with his natural surroundings, living mainly off the land with little human contact - is opposed to modern ideas of land ownership, private property and trespassing. A quiet, dignified, harmless man, to outsiders he's seen as a threat - a vagrant, law-breaker and potential thief.

 Jamie has grown up in Lodeshill, firmly rooted in its paths and fields, more so than he realises. A generation or so ago he'd have become a farm worker, settled down into the rhythm of land and seasons and been content - now he's torn between the place he knows and the promise of the world beyond the village's boundaries.

Howard and Kitty are a couple in crisis, even if they're only vaguely aware of it as yet. Kitty was the driving force behind their move, but reality hasn't lived up to her country living dream and in a new home they seem to have forgotten how to speak to each other about anything beyond the most trivial everyday things. While Howard spends his days trapped in nostalgia for the past - his old haunts in London, the days before the children left home or tinkering with old radios - Kitty is out and about with her new hobby, photography. She's aware enough to know that what she captures is merely the picture postcard prettiness of the country, that somehow its real essence is eluding her - but she doesn't know how and why.
In their different ways they are all trying to find a place to belong, somewhere to which they can feel a connection, and as their stories unfold, heading for that fatal coming-together in four weeks time, so does Spring, bringing life and colour back to the countryside. I particularly loved the descriptions of flowers and blossom bursting back to life, of the country paths that Jack follows, the wildlife hiding just out of sight of the casual observer, but Harrison's close observations of both nature and people are a delight.

At Hawthorn Time is a lovely, compelling read. While it doesn't share the brutality of Cynan Jones' The Dig, it has the same quality of depicting rural life intimately and seeing it clearly, without blinkers; of showing that it's not glossy and chocolate box pretty but a place of dirt, and that without it being a place of work it will become empty and sterile.
There's also a little touch of the thriller about it. As the story brings us closer to discovering who was involved in the accident and why, it will have you turning the pages faster or wanting to sneakily check the ending - I'm not sure I'd advise it as, like the motorist whizzing along a country lane, you'll miss so much in the details.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre - adult literary fiction

Friday, 17 April 2015

John Connolly - Author Event.

By The Mole

Yesterday we went to see our second author event of the week - John Connolly at Waterstones in Nottingham introducing his new book "A Song of Shadows" - a Charlie Parker Thriller.

As is customary on such occasions John opened the evening with a reading - but with a difference as this turned out to be a short story called "The Hollow King" from a collection of short stories that is due to be published later this year. By way of introduction he recounted an incident of a short story reading he attended previously and managed to get the audience laughing from the off. This short story was, as promised, short and contained a twist in the tail that I didn't much like - which is how I like my short stories. An excellent start to the evening.

John then set about telling us a story that started in a bar and led onto a recounting of bringing war criminals to justice - or not - from the time of the second world war to date. I genuinely found this story fascinating - although John managed to tastefully include some humour where appropriate. Throughout this tale I tried to understand its context to "The Hollow King" but not hugely successfully. He then invited questions and the first one was whether this research he had undertaken on war criminals was to be the subject of a future Charlie Parker book. At this point after a moment of enlightenment the room was once again brought to laughter when he explained that he had completely forgotten to explain the context and that this story related to this current book.

In response to questioning he explained that he knew where the Charlie Parker stories would end but had no plans to get to it at the moment but a slow, logical progression was being followed towards that goal. If the publisher pulled the plug then he could produce that story but so long as the publisher is happy then he has no plans to end the Charlie Parker story yet.

John's Connolly's publisher's page is at Hodder and Stoughton
John's own website is here

Another most excellent evening spent the company of another best selling author and we look forward to hopefully seeing James North, who worked in the United States Naval Intelligence department before writing his novels Deep Deception and The Last Chameleon. James will be at Waterstones in Nottingham on 25th April at 7pm. James North sounds like a real life "Jack Ryan".

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Art of Waiting by Christopher Jory

review by Maryom

In 1943 through the wire of a prison camp, Katerina, a girl from Leningrad meets Aldo, a soldier from Venice. She passes him a crust of bread - but more importantly, she gives him hope - that someone still cares what happens to him, that there will one day be an end to the war. Throughout his imprisonment Aldo holds on to his memory of the snatched moments with Katerina and the promise that one day they'll meet again, but when he eventually finds himself free and heading home to Italy an older desire resurfaces - for revenge on the man he believes was responsible for his father's death.

From 1943, the story moves back to Katerina's childhood in late 20s Leningrad and to Venice during the months before Aldo is conscripted into the Italian army, then through his time in a Russian prison of war camp and onward to his eventual return to Italy in 1950.

This is an unusual war story told from the perspective of an Italian soldier sent to fight on the German's Eastern front, and imprisoned as the Russians take the offensive and begin their sweep towards Berlin. But although the war forms the backdrop, at the heart of the story lies a different battle between good and evil impulses within Aldo's heart. Unfortunately, I didn't really engage with the characters; although I'd been told about Aldo's burning desire for revenge, and the calming influence of his love for Katerina, I always felt removed from his emotions and didn't feel either.

Maryom's review - 3 stars  
Publisher - Polygon 
Genre - historical fiction

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Lindsey Davis - author event

 by Maryom

Lindsey Davis was in town last night promoting her - perhaps topically titled - new novel Deadly Election at our local Waterstones and I was lucky enough to win a ticket to the event.
For anyone who doesn't know, Lindsey Davis is a historical novelist probably best known for the long-running Falco detective series (20 books!) set in Ancient Rome, and Deadly Election is the third in a spin-off series featuring Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, who seems to have acquired the family 'investigative' habit.

Lindsey started the evening by sharing her route into writing, reading English at university and spending 13 years in the Civil Service before deciding that what she really wanted to do was write; her earliest work wasn't successful but she eked out a precarious living with stories for Women's Realm before her career took off with the first Falco novel, The Silver Pigs. It was very interesting to hear how, without lifting anything directly, her modern day civil service experiences had found their way into stories set so far in the past! She then read sections from two recent releases - Deadly Election and The Spook Who Spoke Again, a shorter e-book - and these were followed by questions from the audience, most of them seemingly as familiar with the series' characters as with their own family and friends. I'm not that up to date with Falco's adventures - I've only read some of the earlier novels but this evening has encouraged me to track down some of the more recent ones; I might start with the new Flavia Albia series - at only three novels so far I can catch up quite quickly!

You can find out more about Lindsey Davis on both her own website and that of her publishers Hodder and Stoughton