Friday, 13 July 2018

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger

review by Maryom

Emily, formerly bitchy assistant to equally bitchy fashion editor Miranda Priestly, is now a stylist/PR consultant in Hollywood, but perhaps she's starting to lose her touch because she's losing clients left, right and centre. Licking her wounds, she takes refuge with old friend Miriam, in the wealthy New York suburb of Greenwich. Miriam and her family have only recently moved there. It may be a better place to bring up your children, but she's finding it hard to fit in with the fitness-obsessed designer mum set. It's certainly not the sort of place Emily wants to stay for long, but then Miriam's friend, former super-model Karolina, is set up on a DUI charge, then publicly dumped on TV (!) by her senator, wannabe presidential candidate, husband. Emily believes it's time for some female solidarity, and vows to help Karolina get her own back, and perhaps help salvage her own career.

Some times in life, you want easy, funny, biting reads - something guaranteed to take your mind off day to day worries - and for me this entirely fits the bill. 

 Lauren Weisberger is turning her sharp, sarcastic eye on the wealthy suburban housewives of Greenwich. They've given up high-powered city jobs to spend time with their young families but nannies are left in charge of the kids while mothers spend their days between gym, yoga class, coffee shop and sex-toy parties. It takes 'Desperate Housewives' to a whole new level!
I'm labeling it as chick lit/romcom but it's not really a romantic story. It's sharp and funny, scathing and witty, mocking these women with too much time and money on their hands, while promoting the value of strong female friendships. I really enjoyed it. 'The Wives' works well as a stand-alone read, so it's not necessary to have read or seen 'The Devil Wears Prada', or even know who Miranda Priestly is!

Published in the UK as 'The Wives', in the US it's sold as 'When Life Gives You Lululemons'.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - HarperCollins
Genre - 
adult fiction, chicklit/romcom

Monday, 9 July 2018

Meet Me At the Museum by Anne Youngson

review by Maryom

Tina Hopgood is a middle-aged farmer's wife. Her life so far has been quiet and uneventful, but the death of her one close friend leaves her feeling regretful about opportunities she's missed. One of these was a visit, much talked about with her friend but never taken, to visit Silkeborg museum and view the remains of the famous 'bog body', Tollund Man, so she writes to the professor who sparked their interest long ago, and receives an answer from his successor. This casual exchange of letters sparks a correspondence that becomes more personal, sharing their lives, regrets, hopes, and gradually moving beyond friendship to something deeper.

To be honest, after the build up I'd seen from publicists and bloggers on social media, I was a little disappointed with this book. It's nice enough; a gently-blossoming romance between two middle-aged people, charted through the letters they write to each other, but it didn't really grab me. Everything plods along much as you'd expect it to. No curveballs, no plot twists (I'd have loved it if Anders had turned out to be lying and still married!)
I think one of my problems was with the character of Tina, and a feeling that somehow she's supposed to represent ALL middle-aged women. Well, I'm Tina's age, and tbh she struck me as meek, dull and old - not someone I could sympathise with, and I think this influenced my view of the novel as a whole.

Still, it's not bad, and if you like gentle romance you'll probably like this. It just wasn't for me.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult, romantic fiction, 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Leila Aboulela - Elsewhere, Home - blog tour

Today we're taking part in the blog tour for Leila Aboulela's new collection of short stories - Elsewhere, Home. A prize-winning author of several novels and a previous story collection, Aboulela was born in Khartoum, and now lives in Aberdeen. She first came to my attention with The Kindness of Enemies, and I'm intrigued and impatient to read this latest volume of her work.

Meanwhile, here's an extract from one of the stories. I hope it whets your appetite for more ...

The Ostrich

  ‘You look beautiful in blue,’ the Ostrich said, and when I was cruel he said, ‘but I can be a judge of voices can I not?’ I didn’t ask him what he thought of my voice. I walked away. It must have been in the evening that I was wearing blue. It was white tobes in the morning, coloured ones for the evening. The evening lectures were special, leisurely; there was time after lunch to shower, to have a nap. To walk from the hostels in groups and pairs, past the young boy selling peanuts, past the closed post office, past the neem trees with the broken benches underneath. Jangly earrings, teeth smacking chewing gum and kohl in our eyes. The tobes slipping off our carefully combed hair, lifting our hands, putting them back on again. Tightening the material, holding it under our left arm. I miss these gestures, already left behind. Majdy says, ‘If you cover your hair in London they’ll think I am forcing you to do that. They won’t believe it is what you want.’ So I must walk unclothed, imagining cotton on my hair, lifting my hand to adjust an imaginary tobe.
 The sunset prayers were a break in the middle of these evening lectures. One communist lecturer, keen to assert his atheism, ignored the rustling of the notebooks, the shuffling of restless feet, the screech of the Ostrich’s alarm. Only when someone called out, ‘A break for the prayers!’ did he stop teaching. I will always see the grass, patches of dry yellow, the rugs of palm fibre laid out. They curl at the edges and when I put my forehead on the ground I can smell the grass underneath. Now that we have a break we must hurry, for it is as if the birds have heard the azan and started to pray before us. I can hear their praises, see the branches bow down low to receive them as they dart to the trees. We wash from a corner tap, taking turns. The Ostrich squats and puts his whole head under the tap. He shakes it backwards and drops of water balance on top of his hair. I borrow a mug from the canteen and I am proud, a little vain knowing that I can wash my hands, face, arms and feet with only one mug. Sandals discarded, we line up and the boy from the canteen joins us, his torn clothes stained with tea. Another lecturer, not finding room on the mat, spreads his handkerchief on the grass. If I was not praying I would stand with my feet crunching the gravel stones and watch the straight lines, the men in front, the colourful tobes behind. I would know that I was part of this harmony, that I needed no permission to belong. Here in London, the birds pray discreetly and I pray alone. A printed booklet, not a muezzin, tells me the times. Here in London, Majdy does not pray. ‘This country,’ he says, ‘chips away at your faith bit by bit.’


Elsewhere, Home is published by Telegram, an imprint of Saqi publishing, and is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Unthology 10 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

Unthology 10 is, once again, a carefully and cleverly collated mix of short stories through which a trail can be followed, a trail of change. In each story we see a character touched by an incident that changes them - mostly for the better. This Unthology is, like the nine before it, the sum of it's parts - and if you construct using only the best parts then the result has got to be something special and this, once again, excels. The crafting that went into each of these stories is excellent. Well done once again Unthank in finding the very best and putting together yet another brilliant Unthology anthology.

Highly recommended coffee time reading - except you may find one story is not enough.

In Rosa and Kelsey (by Kathryn Simmonds), Matthew had agreed to share childcare but he doesn't have 100% buy-in to the idea. A chance encounter in a park causes him to think again.

Ursa Minor (by K M Elkes) tells of Jack and Carrie, a young couple, who wish to start a family but things aren't happening when they have a chance encounter with a bear in the woods. Jack feels he needs to address the bear issue once and for all.

In One For The Ditch (by Brian Coughlan) a drunk encounters an alcoholic and, despite protestations of not knowing him, the reader is left to re-eveluate their relationship.

Blowhole (by Tom Vowler) is a letter from Susie, who finds herself in an abusive relationship but feels she must carry on despite her dreams of being a mother probably never coming to fruition.

In Cafeteria (by Jay Merill) a child's mother shows kindness to a woman, known to be a prostitute, and the child observes and learns from the encounter, trying to emulate all that is good.

Tenth Circle (by Liam Hogan) deviates from the theme and shows how, even though centuries may pass, certain attitudes and beliefs remain unchanged. And it laces the tail with humour. Nice one!

When Nature Calls (by Gareth E Rees) also has a sad smile to it but a lesson is learned that defying nature is rarely successful.

The Best Way to Kill a Butterfly (by Hannah Stevens) brings out the worst in people and we learn a little of why Michael left.

Confessions of an Irresolute Ethnic Writer (by Elaine Chiew) sees the writer have a brush with mythology... or does he?

Household Gods (by Tracy Fells) tells the story of a mans loves for his mother and the wife it was arranged he should marry. But does he love his wife?

A Moment Could Last Them Forever (by Daniel Carpenter) tells of a sort of medium who gets invested rather more than usual in a case - a case she believes she's failing in.

Take Away the Sky (by Mark Mayes) sees a man, alone, set to take his own life when he has an epiphany and takes comfort from a phone number he will never use.

In Livestock (by Valerie O'Riordan) a vet's daughter sees herself in a young girl who is seemingly running away and wonders why she felt so different.

End Times (by Maxim Loskutoff) tells of a woman who struggles to come to terms with the fact that her injured dog won't live, while her husband has already given up.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology 

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

review by Maryom

Audrey Hart has traveled from London to Skye in the hope of getting a job as assistant to a collector of folk and fairy tales. It's not accepted behaviour for a young woman in 1857, but Audrey is fiercely independent, and, after quarreling with her father and step-mother, determined to strike out on her own. She's always been fascinated by folk tales; some of her earliest memories are of accompanying her mother, a keen folklorist herself, as she listened to the stories crofters told around their firesides. In her new position Audrey will be doing much the same, but at first she finds the locals refuse to talk. Then Audrey finds the body of a girl on the beach, and the crofter become more willing to talk about their belief that girls are being taken by spirits of the restless dead, appearing as flocks of misshapen birds. The local minister tries to dismiss these claims as mere superstition, and though Audrey isn't sure who to believe, she feels that something within the mystery may be linked to her mother's death many years before.

This is an excellent read for lovers of Gothic fiction - it's certainly a thriller, and if not quite 'horror' it's pretty close. The atmosphere and setting are superb. Brooding mountains, empty moorlands and wild seas set the scene, and the division of society between crofters and landowners adds to the mistrust and fear. This is the time of forced 'clearances', when crofters were evicted from homes on fertile ground to make way for profitable sheep and deer, and left to struggle as best they could on stony or boggy strips of land by the shore. At the same time, the Church is trying to take away their heritage by banning the telling of old folk tales - the very things that give meaning to their hard, impoverished lives.

I really liked the way the story moved from 'realistic' mystery to something more supernatural. Are the superstitious crofters correct, and the girls being abducted by evil 'fairies' or spirits, or is the explanation far more mundane, even if equally shocking. Audrey's opinion veers one way then the other, influenced one way by events that occurred in London, the other by her mother's deep-seated belief in folklore, and the reader is kept guessing and the tension high.

Available now on kindle, out in hardback 26/7/18.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
 Tinder Press
Genre - 
Adult fiction, 

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Football Trials: Game Changer, and All Out Attack by John Hickman

illustrated by Neil Evans

review by Maryom

Jackson is a really talented footballer. Spotted in the park by a scout, he's earned a place at United's football academy, and he's hoping to make the U18 team. Everyone says his future looks bright, but things aren't going smoothly for him at the moment. In Gamechanger, Jackson's long-absent dad turns up out of the blue, but is it just to get to know his son and repair their relationship, or does he have an ulterior motive? In All Out Attack, Jackson's granddad falls ill, and his football - and temper - suffer. Getting angry and violent during a game puts Jackson's position on the team at risk. Will Liam, the manager, give him a second chance?

These two short books (80 pages approx) are part of Bloomsbury's High Low series, produced in association with literacy experts at Catch Up, a charity which works to help teenagers overcome reading and numeracy difficulties. Aimed at young teen readers who through lack of interest, dyslexia, or struggles with English as an additional language, have a reading age less than their years, the books have font which is large and clear, tinted pages, and illustrations to bring the words to life. Both books have 'bonus bits' at the end - little quizzes about the story, and information about helping with the issues raised, or help with understanding some of the more complex words.
None of this matters of course if the story fails to catch the reader's imagination, but I'm sure these will. Not everyone can be a football prodigy, but the issues facing Jackson, his feelings and behaviour are all things that teens can relate to - they may sympathise with him, they may think he's being foolish or hot-headed, they'll definitely have an opinion! 

Publisher - Bloomsbury
Genre - football, teen issues, aimed at 12+ age but with a reading age of 9+

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Adulterer's Wife by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

Julie accidentally finds out that her husband is having an affair and decides to tackle him about it and throw him out but only after their son's final exams, until then her knowledge will remain a secret from both of husband and son. Getting home from taking her son to sit that fateful final exam she finds her husband dead - in bed.

Naturally Julie becomes the obvious suspect and as she came home drunk and can remember nothing of the previous evening can she be sure she didn't do it?

As the police keep strengthening their case she sets about trying to find the truth.

This story is very different to the Geraldine Steel mysteries that Russell is normally associated with and this deviation, like the Christmas short story, shows once again how flexible this author is. There is no prize for guessing the outcome but, once again, it's the way the outcome is reached that keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat. And then there's a final twist where it all hangs in the balance...

Opening with the scene where Julie finds out about the affair is a great way to capture the reader from the very start. How would you react? How would I react? I have to admit that I have no idea and to see Russell's interpretation of Julie's reaction was eye opening in many ways. And as Julie undertakes some completely irrational actions you find you can't challenge them because you don't know what insanity would kick in.

Then... as you read on and the case against Julie builds Russell investigates the rights of the child in such a situation and how this affects Julie.

An extremely compelling book for various reasons at various points that will have you reading right to the end - despite knowing the murderer already.

Genre - Adult crime
Publisher - Bloodhound Books