Friday, 24 October 2014

Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick

Illustrator Ros Asquith
Review by The Mole

Max is a sports mad dreamer. From the moment he wakes to his dreams at night he imagines that everything he does involves sport and that he is winning at it. When they have a fun sports day at school then Max dreams he is winning the world cup.

Very much a picture book for a child to read because the pictures are "inclusive", that is to say his dreams as well as his day to day life include disabled children. While Max is the only winner (well, they are his dreams!) the disabled children are included throughout the book and they often come second to the champion - they are not just spectators but fully integrated as friends.

The only person referred to in the story is Max, not even his toy rabbit and turtle who turn up almost as often as Max in the pictures get a mention.

An extremely lovely book with a message - a subtle message - and a rarity in that the pictures actually have greater importance in the story than the words themselves.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book

Thursday, 23 October 2014

WTF Knits by Gabrielle Grillo and Lucy Sweet

review by Maryom

Think you know knitting? Well, think again. These days it's not just about lacy baby clothes or heavy Sara Lund style Nordic sweaters, it all more arty and...well, frankly....weird.

Since 2010 Gabrielle Grillo had been collecting photos of strange, mind-boggling knitting on Tumblr and here it is collected together in book form.
There's the fairly common knitted food - hamburgers, fruit, veg, a whole butcher's display - and cigarettes if you really need them, odd but kinda-cute headgear for your favourite pet - dress your dog as a unicorn or reindeer, or disguise your tortoise's shell as a bat or tor(toise)illa. There are murder scenes and knitted celebrities, internal organs and rather a lot of knitted poo (fortunately there's a knitted toilet roll to accompany it)

Some of it might be considered art, some of it's just macabre but, however you feel, it certainly stretches the imagination about what can be achieved with yarn and some needles.
This isn't a knitting 'pattern' book, just a collection show-casing what others have made. I was a little disappointed that some didn't have patterns - I'd love a Princess Leia hair-style hat, and some seemed ideal for unusual Halloween costumes - but for the most part they're perhaps best just left on the page.

It ISN'T a book for granny or an elderly aunt, unless you're confident of their open-mindedness - but for any knitter who delights in the bizarre and wacky it could prove an ideal Christmas present.

Publisher - Bantam Press
Genre - knitting, art, craft

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Swan Daughter by Carol McGrath

review by Maryom

Following her father King Harold's death at the Battle of Hastings, Gunnhild has remained at Wilton Abbey and looks likely to spend her life there in quiet devotion. The nuns would love her to stay, if only for the sake of her inheritance, but as the time for committing herself approaches, Gunnhild feels increasingly repelled by the idea; she longs for a life in the larger, outside world, for the fine gowns and stately halls she remembers from her childhood, and, above all, for love. Her chance of escape comes in the shape of Alan of Richmond, one of the new Norman lords now holding English lands. Although he's older than she is, and once offered for her widowed mother's hand, Gunnhild is willing to risk everything and run away with him. Will her life prove to be the romance she hopes for, or is she only wanted for the lands and titles she brings?

This, The Swan Daughter, continues Carol McGrath's The Daughter's of Hastings trilogy, which started with the story of  Elditha Swan-neck,  The Hand-fasted Wife
of King Harold, picking up the story in 1075 with a country now largely settled under Norman rule. The former royal family are still viewed with suspicion though, and  kept separate - the women confined to convents; the men, unless lucky enough to have escaped overseas, either killed or held hostage in Norman courts. Although very little is known of the 'real' Gunnhild, the author weaves a compelling and believable tale around the few facts of marriage, births and deaths. In many ways, it must have been a life common to most Saxon noble-woman under the new regime; caught up by the tide of events but having virtually no influence. No longer able to hold lands themselves, their choices are reduced to entering a convent or finding a husband - and the wave of conquerors are looking for Saxon-heiresses to give them more legitimacy in the people's eyes. Against this backdrop, the author spins a tale that brings the period and its characters to life.

As might be expected from a girl brought up in a convent, Gunnhild comes over as rather naive and not at all worldly-wise; she expects her romantic ideas to be echoed by her husband, leaving it too late to wonder if his real interest might be her inheritance; she's often impulsive, acting without giving real thought for the consequences, whether falling in love or selling off her jewels. But, despite these faults, I still had sympathy for her,and hoped she would find the happiness she sought.

Something I love about this series is the author's ability to bring the eleventh century world to life on the page and immerse the reader in it; to discuss the wider political picture - the disputes between William the Conqueror and his lords, or the creation of the Domesday Book -  or fill in the backdrop of everyday life - the convent tasks, the running of a household, the chores of the maids - in a way that informs the reader without the feel of reading a history lesson.

Altogether, The Swan Daughter is an enjoyable and informative read, shedding a light on a little known period of history and bringing it vividly to life.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Accent Press
Genre - adult historical fiction

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Race to Death by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

DI Peterson has yet to prove himself in his new job in Yorkshire when a man falls 5 stories to his death at the York races. Murder or suicide? Because the death occurred in such a public place and at a high profile event there is great pressure to get the case sorted out quickly. But there are no suspects and the body count starts to grow and Peterson can find nothing that they have in common.

Peterson's first case in York and he is working all hours to get it solved as quickly as possible while his wife is bored, friendless and missing her family and friends and so adding to the pressures. But when she gets a job it could help to take some of the pressure off except she isn't as happy with the job as she was in Kent.

As the cases drag on, his private life gets more and more in way of the case. Is this one case too many for Peterson? Can he continue in the police force after all that happens?

In the first DI Peterson book Cold Sacrifice, set after Geraldine Steel moves to London to take up her new post, I found I didn't really warm to Peterson but that all changed in this book. Peterson felt a more rounded character, perfectly capable of leading an investigation and getting results and a great deal more human. It's a long time since I read a whodunnit that surprised me with the result - but this one most certainly did and I loved it for it.

If you like crime books then you will adore both Geraldine Steel and DI Peterson but the early books are not whodunnits - the reader knows who did it and is wishing Steel to solve it. I loved those early books although I also love them now they have shifted towards the whodunnit genre.

Everyone of them is a fantastic read and Leigh Russell is probably the only author that I can say I have read ALL their books and enjoyed everyone of them. I have reviewed some on our blog and some on Nayu's Reading Corner.

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Monday, 20 October 2014

A Place for Us (part 3) by Harriet Evans

review by Maryom

If you've been following my reviews of this so far you'll know that A Place For Us is the story of Winterfold and the Winter family who, for 45 years, have made it their idyllic home; a story that is being published serial-style in four parts. Well, here we are at Part 3. The whole, rather-scattered, family has come together to celebrate Grandmother Martha's 80th birthday ...but she was preparing to reveal a secret that she'd kept for years and which promised to tear the family apart.....

It's getting harder to review these books without giving away the plot, but, suffice it to say, that at the end of part 2 the family were left in shock, thrown into disarray by Martha's revelations and events which followed. Now they have to try to pick up the pieces and rebuild their family unity but the dynamics have all changed; Martha, shaken and confused, is no longer providing the hub around which everyone else revolves, and without her, the other family members seem adrift. This gives a rather different feel to this section of the novel - previously there's been a lot of build up to the birthday celebrations, an expectation of troubles to come; now maybe all that is behind and it's time to heal wounds.
The story also moves backwards into the secrets of David's early years. It's been hinted before that he didn't have a happy childhood, that it was a part of his life he was only too happy to leave behind - at last we learn why.

Somehow due to reading only a small portion of the book at once, I've felt throughout more conscious of the design of the story, of the gradual reveals, of how it's shaped and paced - moving forwards, then backwards, working up to each big reveal and ending each section on a 'cliffhanger'. I'm not sure I'd have noticed these things if I'd had the whole book available at one sitting - I'd probably just have dashed straight through to find out how things end. 

I'm still inclined to believe there are more secrets to come pouring out of the woodwork before the Winter clan can look forward to a happy ending, but fortunately there isn't long to wait for the fourth and final part - out on 23rd October.

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

Friday, 17 October 2014

Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett

review by Maryom

Brother and sister Ed and Billa have 'retired' back to Mellinpons, their childhood home in Cornwall - with their half-brother Dom, living just down the road, they form a tight-knit family unit. But their peaceful, settled life is about to be disturbed by the return of another family member, stepbrother Tris. No one has heard from him for the past 50 years - in fact since he and his father did what might be best described as a 'runner' -  but now he's sending postcards announcing his intention to pay a visit. This isn't likely to be for a happy family reconciliation and his choice of cards seems deliberately chosen to stir up bad memories and open old wounds - so why on earth is he coming back?

This is one of those books that turn up for review out of the blue and don't immediately grab me. Despite 20 novels to her name I'd never heard of the author (oops)  and the cover didn't seem too inviting, promising something in the romantic fiction line, I thought, which isn't really my kind of thing - but anyway I picked it up just to check it out and two/three pages in I was hooked. It opens with the arrival of a postcard to Billa from her step-brother Tris from whom she hasn't heard in many many years - Billa is immediately on her guard - there's obviously bad blood between them and I wanted to know what, why and mostly what his current (evil) plan was.

This is admittedly a gentler sort of read to my normal choices but it teased me on with hints and gradual reveals of past events - and the forewarning that Tris would not be coming back for a good reason, and that his arrival will cause upset and unpleasantness for people it's easy to come to like. Tris isn't a gun-toting villain back for a spree of violence, but he's still a thoroughly unpleasant, manipulative type, out to benefit from Billa and Ed's good nature and willingness to believe the best of others.
With the large country house, interestingly converted from an old butter factory, situated not far from the Cornish coast, filled with a caring family and lovable dogs, the author conjures up the sort of home we probably all would like - therefore it's shocking that someone would wish to disturb such an idyll. Maybe though, at times, everyone just seemed a little too nice to be real.
The ending was perhaps a little predictable, but I still found it all really enjoyable. 

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre - fiction

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown

review by Maryom

Rapunzel sits in her high rise tower block waiting to be rescued - but not necessarily by a prince.
In her 16th floor flat, surrounded by cats, she sits, lets her hair grow longer and longer ....and waits. Friends try to encourage her to leave but she won't stir .....until one day the postman brings her something very special - a job offer from the library. Discovering books on anything and everything, Rapunzel no longer needs to be rescued by someone; whatever she wants to do, she's found the key to doing it.

 I'm a bit wary of children's books with a message - it's too easy to lose all the fun - but not in this one. The story is told in rhyme - with frequently repeated lines for children to join in with - and illustrated throughout with bright and busy pictures to enthral the younger 'learner' reader.

So girls, and boys, read this book and take its advice - don't just sit there waiting for someone to come to the rescue - go out and make a life for yourself!

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book