Thursday, 21 August 2014

Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh

Review by The Mole

This is a semi-autobiographical telling that is 68% true and 32% fiction and the author will say no more.

I needed to choose a book from the pile - something quick, something easy - so I selected 4 books and started reading a bit from each. The first three were OK but I was going to try the fourth before I made a decision. Any Other Mouth was the fourth. I was several chapters in before I realised that the decision had been made!

People who have had sound bites quoted have said things like "shocking", "brutally honest", "this is the best thing I've read in years" and on the whole I found it all to be true, although while I would say it is now my book of 2014 but whether it is "the best I've read in years"... the jury is out on that one.

What I found very surprising about it was that while many things happen in the telling that are immensely sad, truly horrific, terribly shocking or merely very deep the author doesn't pull you in and involve you but merely seeks to inform you. It's a ploy that keeps you reading when you might otherwise feel that you can take no more and close the book - but I still developed a degree of empathy for the author.

Relationships, self harm, rape, grief are all covered and I came away with one big regret and that is that I missed seeing her at Edinburgh as her event was over before we even set out on our annual sojourn. While on the subject of Edinburgh International Book Festival... if you find yourself in that neck of the woods why not slip into the bookshop, pick up a copy, start reading it and see if you can put it down - and then consider voting for it as the d├ębut book of the year? I did.

Publisher - Freight Books
Genre -  Adult, contemporary fiction

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd

review by Maryom

1814 - another killer is on the loose in London. This time the victims are all members of a group of privileged young men whose main aim in life is the pursuit of pleasure in all its forms. The victims are found behind closed doors, with no signs of forced entry, all left wearing a satyr's mask. A classic closed-doors mystery? Not really, for, as usual when Charles Horton finds himself involved, the signs point to a more supernatural force.

This time Horton is on his own as John Harriott is indisposed. Sent by Magistrate Aaron Graham to Thorpe Lee House in Surrey, Horton at first finds himself investigating an outbreak of witchcraft, then getting pulled in to the spate of murders in London.
Horton's wife Abigail is indisposed too - the events of The Poisoned Island have left her disturbed in her mind. To seek a cure, she commits herself to a madhouse. Soon, perhaps inevitably, Horton's investigations and the series of deaths begin to point in the direction of one of Abigail's fellow inmates.

Savage Magic is another wonderful mystery in Lloyd Shepherd's signature mix of history and supernatural.
While I didn't find it quite as enthralling as Horton and Harriott's last outing in The Poisoned Island
I did still enjoy it. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader enthralled; though there are equally occasions when the reader, having a better overview of events, knows more than Horton ( I really wanted someone to prod him in the right direction at times).
Although she was always independent for the time, definitely not a shrinking violet hiding from the seamier side of life,  I very much like that Abigail has a larger part to play in events. And,who knows, maybe in future she'll be even more involved with her husband's cases.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - adult, crime, historical fiction, supernatural

Friday, 15 August 2014

A House Called Askival by Merryn Glover

review by Maryom

For over 20 years Ruth Connor has been estranged from her family - travelling the world and living anywhere so long as it isn't back home in India. As a child growing up in Mussoorie in the north of the country, she always felt that her parents' hospital and missionary work took precedence and she only held second place in their affections. Now, with her father dying, she's heading back there - to try to bridge the gulf between them and to face the dreadful events that led to her leaving...

A House Called Askival is a mix of family epic and historical fiction -  a story of family conflict set against the backdrop of the greater conflict that is India's recent history. Three generations of American missionary family, the Connors, have lived at Askival, situated in a formerly-splendid Hill Station where the wives and families of the British Raj escaped from the heat of India's dry season. Their lives have been shaped by India, its people, its devastating poverty and violent upheavals, and both Ruth and her father are haunted by tragic events in the past.
The story starts as Ruth returns home after a 24 year absence, but progresses through flashbacks to her own and her father's childhood and teenage years, giving hints to the reasons behind their falling out and the guilt that both have carried for years, teasing the reader along, but saving the big reveals till very near the end (as you'd expect).

The star of it really is India - its sights, sounds and smells, and turbulent history from Partition to the death of Indira Gandhi. The life-changing events that occur to both James and Ruth happen while India is in a state of lawlessness - for James, it leads to dedicating his life to serving India, regardless of personal sacrifice; for Ruth, it severs the final link that tied her to India and her family, and she can't leave quickly enough.

 Just occasionally I thought there was a little too much obsession with the minutiae of 'school-life', at the expense of moving the plot forward. Boarding school I imagine can be a very insular place, a closed community wrapped up in its own concerns and priorities, but even so I found Ruth amazingly ignorant of events in the outside world. Maybe in part this was a plot device to explain the background of politics and racial tensions to the reader but it did make Ruth seem very blinkered and undeserving of sympathy.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Freight Books
Genre -  Adult, historical fiction

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

No More Kisses For Bernard by Niki Daly

Review by The Mole

With four Aunts young Bernard was tired of getting messy kisses whenever any of them came to call but come his birthday all four came to see him and it really was too much so he donned his helmet and visor and declared "No More Kisses!". If only all of his aunts would have taken "no" for an answer though.

This is rather an interesting book because while it is, undoubtedly, for children with it's brightly coloured busy pictures, snaking words and simple vocabulary it also has a message for adults - and it's an important message - "children need to be respected". The situation in this book is arguably a minor situation and the "crime" not that serious it still gives food for thought to adults who may be sharing the book with a child or reading it to them for bed time reading.

An extremely nice book for sharing or as an early reader.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Picture Book, early reader

Monday, 11 August 2014

Disraeli Avenue by Caroline Smailes

 review by Maryom

This collection of short stories grew out of Caroline Smailes' debut novel In Search of Adam which told the story of Jude Williams who lived at 9 Disraeli Avenue. Exploring themes of abuse and self-harm, it had a massive response from readers who had suffered themselves and in an effort to do something to help, the author wrote this collection of short stories, giving all the royalties from it to the charity One in Four which provides support for victims of abuse.

Disraeli Avenue, New Lymouth is a street like any other; 32 semi-detached houses, seemingly like but behind each brightly coloured front door hides a tale. Through the voices of its residents we hear of love affairs, money troubles, hopes, dreams and regrets. Some will have you laughing; others bring you close to tears; some just shock you!

Brought to life through a variety of styles - from talking direct to 'camera' to telephone conversations or even text messages - house by house the individual tales build up to a portrait of the street.

I've come to Caroline Smailes' novels a little late in the day, starting with her fifth  The Drowning Of Arthur Braxton last year.  That was a merging of myth and real life, but Disraeli Avenue is very firmly planted in the real world.
At first the stories seem to jump about a bit - each resident, after all, has their own priorities - but if you find it hard to slot all the stories together, there's always the "Queen of tittle-tattle", Mrs Clark at number 14, and her best mate Mrs Symons (No 11) to give a quick low-down on everyone's comings and goings.

If there's a downside, it's that there are probably plot spoilers in there for In Search of Adam, but I was left intrigued enough to want to track it down and read it.

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Adult fiction, short stories,

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Very Noisy House by Julie Rhodes and Korky Paul

Review by The Mole

When the old lady starts walking with her stick around her house it upsets the dog in the room above and noises start to cascade through the house. The noises spiral out of control until the lady starts knitting... but can the house become quiet and stay quiet?

This picture book is designed to be read sidewards-on and each page has brightly coloured and very busy illustrations. The style is very cartoon and each page builds on the preceding one in a comical manner that will entertain the young reader.

With lots of detail to find and talk about this is an ideal sharing book but it is difficult to see how any child would want to read this quietly to themselves.

Another very nice touch is that the end papers were drawn by 9-11 year old children and show how they would draw the house.

A lovely picture book/early reader that should prove very popular with any child so may come out for sharing on a regular basis.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Picture Book, early reader

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

1984 by George Orwell

review (or ramblings) by Maryom


"Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal."

We all know - or think we know - George Orwell's 1984; the story of dull office worker Winston Smith who rebels against The Party and ends up in Room 101....with rats.....  I first read it many, many years ago as a teenager and at some point between then and now I've re read it a couple of times but my memory of it was a little vague so as it was lying around the house (daughter's A level reading) I picked it up...

I remembered a gripping dystopian novel full of tension, but this time it just seemed flat and boring - in fact my overwhelming thought was 'How dull!' For a long while, the most exciting thing to happen was the un-blocking of a drain! Left to my own devices it would easily have succumbed to the 50 page rule - if it's not grabbed me by then, I don't feel there's any point in continuing - but there was a certain amount of nagging in the form of "I've had to read it, so you should" from my daughter, so I struggled on. And to be honest, it was a struggle.
Orwell's dystopian, totalitarian future might have been shocking back in the day but it's too familiar now and lots of spy thriller or sci-fi novels have given a better portrayal of life under such a regime. Aspects have migrated into popular culture, and suffered on the way; Room 101 has become a BBC comedy programme, consigning celebrities' pet hates to oblivion; Big Brother's now a TV reality show; and parts of the torture scene seem to have been directly lifted to appear in Star Trek TNG (ep 137 Chain of Command II) where they actually appear more terrifying.
  1984's main problem for me though was that none of the characters to gained my sympathy. Neither Winston nor his lover Julia appeared fully fleshed out, and I cared about neither of them; O'Brien's role seemed obvious from his first appearance, though, ok, I've read it before, but Winston must have been extraordinarily naive to trust him; the torture scenes were mild in comparison to many I've seen on TV or film; and what happened to the rats? In my memory they'd had a much larger, far more terrifying role.

My reaction would probably have been very different if I'd read this back in 1948 when it was published, and I'm sure it was different when I first read it in the 1970s but now it just seems tired and showing its age.

Not so long ago I read Yevgeny Zamyatin's  "We" , a much more engaging read, with a very similar plot and written earlier than Orwell's novel.

Publisher - Penguin Classics
Genre - adult fiction, dystopian, classic