Friday, 21 November 2014

Bob and Rob by Sue Pickford

Review by The Mole

Rob is a burglar and Bob is his dog. Rob is bad, badly behaved and a bad burglar too. Bob is good but a good dog is loyal to his master and helps Rob to avoid being caught. Bob is not happy though, he doesn't like being bad.

One Christmas when Rob steals a whole pile of children's presents Bob feels he has gone too far so he sets off to return them - that's when their fortunes change totally.

Beautifully illustrated with lots of details to talk about, this book is a lovely story of the triumph of good over bad and is sure to entertain the very young reader. With varied font sizes and shapes, and text placed around the page to follow the story perhaps this is a book best shared for the very young, at least for a time or two.

A really nice book, a really nice message and I'm sure, with it's Christmas theme, sure to delight in stockings this year.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

review by Maryom

 Following the death of his father, young Dieter Sugar is now the heir of the rambling family home, Sugar Hall, on the English/Welsh border within sight of the river Severn. Left penniless, his mother Lilia decides the best thing to do is move from London to Sugar Hall, to see if it's possible to live there with her two children, selling off family heirlooms and valuables as necessary. More things have been inherited though than bricks and mortar or works of art....
 Exploring the grounds and outbuildings of his new home, Dieter meets a silent boy wearing nothing but a silver collar. At first he's terrified but still something drags him back, and he decides he and the boy will be friends; Dieter finds him clothes and food, and the boy grows in size and substance, begins to speak and lead Dieter off on dangerous games....

Now, I don't usually get on well with ghost stories written for adults - they either fall flat for me and aren't scary at all, or go too far the other direction ending up so over the top they're comic. So, since reading Chris Priestley's The Dead of Winter , a 'teen' book, and Michelle Paver's Dark Matter, I've being searching for another ghost story that truly sent the shivers up and down my spine - and I'm happy to say I've found it at last.
There's no doubt that right from the start we're dealing with ghosts at Sugar Hall - Dieter's terror on the first page convinces the reader of that, even if his family don't realise. The hook here is what horror will this ghostly boy unleash on the family?

The house itself is the perfect setting for a horror story; it's meant to be lived in by a large family with an even larger staff, so, with only three people there, it's spooky enough on its own. There are too many rooms, filled with disused furniture, stuffed animals and collections of pinned-down butterflies and moths; furniture and ornaments seem to move about of their own volition; odd noises are heard at night; the giant moths on the wallpaper seem to flutter in the lamplight; - there's no wonder that Lilia decides everyone is best sleeping in one bedroom!
Part of what I loved was that it's not just a 'simple' ghost story. There are hints at how the money behind Sugar Hall was made, with glimpses of the desperate lives of its slaves,while in it's 'current' timeline, there's the buzz surrounding the trial and death of Ruth Ellis. Lilia, having already built a new life in England as part of the Kindertransport, is trying to build another after the death of her husband, while daughter Saskia is full of teenage dreams and wants to escape back to London. Interspersing their stories with Dieter's ghostly encounters, increases the growing feeling of dread, a sense that something evil has been unleashed - and not for the first time. It all adds up to a spine-shivering, unputdownable read.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult horror ghost story

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Curse of Can-Balam by Matt Cartney

Review by The Mole

Danny Lansing Adventure number 3

While talking to a friend via a video link Angus and Danny witness the kidnap of Dr Gordon Campbell, an archaeologist working in Belize on finding lost Mayan treasures. The police are getting nowhere and so Angus decides they will travel to Belize to help look for him.

No ransom demands and no contact with the kidnappers starts to raise questions of why this has happened. When they pick up the trail of what they hope is the kidnappers, Angus and their guide are kidnapped and Danny is left alone in the rainforest to fend for himself against the many predators that the jungle harbours.

Danny sort of "comes of age" in this book and things are all the better for it. Here he recalls the training Angus has given him in the previous stories and uses that to survive. He is now more confident, not overly though, and makes more positive contributions to the adventure. I would stress that he is not a superhero and still unsure of so many things but finds ways to use what he knows to best effect.

The book launches straight into action and it twists and turns with tension right down to the last page.

I truly loved this book - and I'm not it's target audience! I was unable to leave it alone for very long and was left wanting more - although I think Danny had been through enough for one book. An excellent sequel that will again delight his many fans and maybe win many more. I look forward to reading more of Danny in the future.

Previous Danny Lansing Adventures Sons of Rissouli, Red, White and Black

Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre -
Boy's Adventure

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Place for Us (part 4) by Harriet Evans

review by Maryom

Here at last is the fourth and final part to Harriet Evans family saga, A Place For Us. Set around the Winters' family home,Winterfold, so far it's been a story of idyllic family life built on rocky foundations - and matriarch Martha's decision that the time has come to admit the truth behind the glossy image. Her devastating revelation has shaken the family to its core and left their lives in turmoil. Now it's time to heal wounds and, hopefully, move towards a happy ending.....

A Place For Us has been published as a four-part serial over the past few months. The first part set the stage for Martha's dramatic revelations with hints of the secrets she knew and the lies that the family had perpetuated over the years. Part 2 continued in a similar vein up to the bombshell that Martha drops among her unsuspecting family. Part 3 showed a family in crisis, reeling from shock, but ended with Martha freshly inspired by granddaughter Lucy's memories of an idyllic Christmas at Winterfold - memories which helped convince Martha that not everything had been a sham. Now, she's resumed her role as heart and soul of the family, and realising the distress around her, she's determined to make matters right.

I enjoyed the earlier sections immensely, getting to know the Winter family with their foibles and secretive lives, but taken on its own, part 4 wasn't such a satisfying read. Of course, by this stage, I know the family well, don't feel they can surprise me, and know how I'd like the story to end - and it did. Because of this, the path it followed seemed a little too predictable and the endings a bit too neat. I suspect if I'd read it as one whole book, with this section following directly on from the others and less time for me to think about things, I wouldn't have felt this way.  

Although you can now download all four parts to your e-reader, a paperback version is being published in January 2015.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline Review
Genre - adult fiction, family saga

Friday, 14 November 2014

That Glimpse of Truth Selected and Introduced by David Miller

Review by The Mole

I have to admit that I am a fan of short stories. When you read a novel you generally expect a rounded story that leaves you with that sense of loss, of wanting more and "missing" the characters now the story is over. Although when it's a serial murderer perhaps you expect the opposite? With a short story you expect to have to reflect on threads that have been left hanging - did you see everything? are there gaps you need to fill in yourself? You actually expect to have to complete some of the story yourself.

It wasn't always the case though. This collection of short stories goes way back through literature and starts with the story of Jonah. It's not a retelling of the story but a lift from an an English version of the old testament. There will be a few who would contest the validity of including this in a collection of fiction - but that's a separate debate and somewhere I don't want to go - but it does remind the reader that story was not about a trip in a whale, in fact the whale hardly gets a mention.

The stories are listed chronologically according to the birth date of the author and the second story by Miguel de Cervantes jumps forward nearly 2000 years to 1547. The Deceitful Wife is a rounded story told in reflection by the deceived husband.

No author features twice in this anthology of 100 tales but with authors as diverse as Nikolai Gogol, Charles Dickens, DH Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Richmal Crompton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roald Dahl, Kate Atkinson and Joanne Harris so many favourite authors are included that this book has something for everyone and perhaps a finding of new authors as well.

This is a book for lovers of the genre and I admit now to not having read them all - yet! I have read many from the early part of the book (including authors I have never read before including Nikolai Gogol), a few from the middle and some from the end. While the end shows the styles at their very modern best (The Deep by Anthony Doerr is sublime by the way) the earlier styles are still as enjoyable as they ever were.

This is a collection that seems, to me, to fulfil the subtitle "100 Of The Finest Short Stories Ever Written" although I could easily swap many of these for others that I have read and it would still be worthy of the same title.

Publisher - Head Of Zeus
Genre - Short stories, adult fiction

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

review by Maryom

One morning in early May 1977, Lydia Lee doesn't show up for breakfast. Her bed hasn't been slept in, no one has seen her since the day before, and the family's worst fears are soon confirmed when her body is discovered in a lake. The police can find no evidence to suggest anything other than suicide. This isn't enough to convince her family. To them Lydia was a bright, happy high-achiever, studying hard for college entrance but with a wide circle of friends. What reasons would such a girl have to take her own life?  Her mother Marilyn believes this tragedy must be the work of a perverted killer. Her brother Nathan thinks the boy down the street, Jack, knows more about Lydia's death than he's letting on.  Hannah, the youngest child, always slightly ignored by the rest of her family, catches the others in unguarded moments and sees things they don't. Her father James, meanwhile, paralysed by shock and grief, turns outside the family for support and sympathy, a move which could tear them all apart.

Everything I Never Told isn't a crime novel as such; there's no frantic police search for a serial killer or last minute twist which uncovers a hidden psychopath. Rather, like another stunning debut Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley, it's a portrayal of a family coping with tragedy; a tragedy that, as the Lees' family history is revealed, seems to have been almost inevitable.
Although outwardly an averagely happy, successful family, beneath the surface the Lees had hit a point of being so dysfunctional that something had to give somewhere. Moving forwards and backwards, through the aftermath of Lydia's death, and the events that led up to it, watching events unfold from the perspective of each member of the family, the author piece by piece reveals the secrets the family have hidden and the lies they've spun to each other. The threads lead back to the point when Marilyn, studying hard to break her mother's domestic mould and qualify as a doctor, meets and falls in love with lecturer James Lee, son of Chinese immigrants. James desires nothing more for him and his family than to fit in as average Americans; Marilyn is almost the opposite - she wants to challenge stereotypes and for her favourite daughter to achieve what she didn't. Both are blinkered though and do not see the reality of their children's lives.
The writing is understated and concise, the plot brilliantly constructed, pulling the reader in, and building gradually to the reveal of how Lydia died. For a d├ębut, it's a stunner, and I can't wait to read more by this author.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Little, Brown
Genre - adult fiction

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Six Stories and an Essay by Andrea Levy

review by Maryom

With such a plain, unadorned title there's no doubt about what you're getting here - a collection of six stories and an essay from award-winning author Andrea Levy. It brings together 5 previously published short stories, spanning twenty years, with a new one written to coincide with the centenary of WW1, and an essay on how writing has helped the author's exploration of her Jamaican heritage and her relationship to the white society she grew up in. Now you might think that stories sound like fun and an essay a bit dull, but I found it equally fascinating -  not just the inside glimpse of the author's inspiration but the contrasting outlooks of Jamaicans, who saw Britain as their mother country, and the British who know next to nothing about Jamaica, and how, after a brief mention of the abolition of slavery, the West Indies barely get a mention in history books.
These themes recur in several of the stories which draw heavily on the experiences of Jamaicans coming to Britain to settle or to volunteer in the armed forces. Their naive veneration of the mother country - and their sharp awakening to the mistrust and prejudice that awaits them. "Loose Change" looks at immigration from a different angle - many of us claim to be sympathetic to the plight of refugees, but would we really put ourselves out for them?
"The Diary" tells the story of an overlooked theatrical dresser who finds a way to get revenge, and in
"Deborah" a child's game turns nasty.

The stories are by turn funny, disturbing, thought-provoking and, most importantly, enjoyable reads. My favourite was incidentally the shortest - "February" with its description of a Jamaican winter, the cool breezes, ripe fruit, and scented flowers - and the twist at the end, the seemingly unbridgeable gap, that it's not at all what an English teacher expects to hear.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction, non-fiction, literary, short stories