Friday, 10 July 2020

The Riddle of the Fractal Monks by Jonathan Pinnock


 Tom Winscombe and Dorothy Chan were hoping for a quiet evening out listening to choral music by twelfth century Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Their plans get sent somewhat awry though by the death of robed monk, after falling from an upper gallery. They're soon off on a trail which leads them to a very strange religious order, and to Isaac Vavasor, custodian of the papers of his famous brothers, mathematical geniuses Archie and Pye. Somewhere along the way there are alpacas and pigs, a missing thesis to be retrieved from the bed of the Bristol Channel, an assassin with a harpoon gun, a secret mountain-top monastery to break in to, and people who'll do anything to stop Tom and Dorothy finding out whatever the monks are hiding. 

This is the third of Tom and Dorothy's adventures, and really if you want to understand all about the exciting ground-breaking mathematical theories of the Vavasor twins, the applications they can have in the 'real' world, and the lengths people will go to to get their hands on a few equations, you're best to read The Truth About Archie and Pye, and A Question of Trust before embarking on this story. You could just plunge straight in though; you'll probably pick up the gist of things as events spiral out of control.
It doesn't really take a lot to get Dorothy involved in anything concerning the Vavasors, and where Dorothy goes Tom is often not so much just behind as being sent in front to do the dangerous stuff. Dorothy is definitely the brains, while Tom provides the, well, 'muscle' doesn't seem quite the right word, but something close. I've lost count of the ways he's avoided a bizarre death so far, and this time is no different.  
Throughout lockdown, I've struggled to find books that hold my interest. Maybe because this is just not trying to reflect the 'real world, it did. It's maybe not an overly plausible story-line, but it's a compelling read and a lot of fun.  

Tom is never going challenge James Bond at espionage, but he's always willing to try.  

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Life has forced Margery Benson into a dead-end teaching job which she's never enjoyed. Then one day in an uncharacteristic moment of passion, she storms out of school, burns her bridges and decides to pursue her one dream, to find the undiscovered Golden Beetle of New Caledonia; an insect which has long been rumoured to exist but which no one has caught and categorised. To help on her quest, Margery will need an assistant - one as practical and down to earth as herself; one with stout shoes and practical clothing, able to cope with jungle, heat, and the basic living conditions they'll have have to tolerate on their expedition. Instead, she ends up with Enid Pretty; petite, curvaceous, and dressed head to toe in pink - possibly the most impractical explorer's outfit ever!

Miss Benson's Beetle is a light-hearted, engaging, feminist tale of adventure and adversity, of over-coming the odds with the help of one's friend, and attempting to fulfill one's long-held dreams.
Together they make the most unlikely pair, but Enid refuses to be left behind, so they set out to the other side of the world on a journey of discovery, of both beetles and friendship. Margery and Enid are perhaps the most unlikely two women to ever imagine as friends, but, thrown together by circumstances and Enid's determination to not be left behind, a bond gradually grows between them. Both have long-held dreams, and New Caledonia looks like the place they might come true.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

A Remembrance of Ghosts by Frank Barnard

Tom Doyle is the youngest, least experienced reporter on a small local newspaper in Kent, but has big ambitions. There's not really a lot going on in the area - certainly nothing that will help him make his name  - so when he stumbles across the tale of a mysterious 'monster', a local bogey man called the Looker, used to frighten children, he hopes he can build it up into an interesting feature piece. Hanging around the church supposedly frequented by the Looker, Tom stumbles on something or someone else - a war widow who takes an interest in him because of an uncanny resemblance to her dead husband. Through her he's introduced to an upper class world in which he doesn't fit, but finds himself attracted to her daughter Alice, flighty and wild, and quite unlike anyone, particularly any girl, Tom's met before. Alice, though, despite her youth has a dark murky past, and the Looker isn't the only evil lurking in the marshes.

The story unfolds as a now-elderly Tom revisits his home after a long absence, and as he looks back on his youth he realises that those days might not have been as innocent as he believed at the time. I feel there's a certain vein of 'nostalgia TV' that portrays the '50s as some sort of idyllic, post-war, almost traffic-free, happy, gentler world. In Tom's reminiscences we see things as they were more likely to have been - narrow-minded, prejudiced - and from attitudes towards women or the forever-after sanctity of marriage I found those prejudices irritated me, but I'd rather know how things really were, than believe in a misplaced utopia. 

Something that shone through, was the author's love for all things related to flying. Tom is waiting anxiously for the day when he'll be called up to join the RAF for his National Service, and is enthralled by anything and everything about it. Personally, I have a fear of flying and heights, but joining Tom on a jaunt above the Kent marshes I could almost see the appeal.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

A Poison Tree by J.E. Mayhew

Review by The Mole

A young girl is found murdered in a park and her shoes are missing. Clearly the killer wanted a trophy. DCI Blake starts to investigate and tries to find out about the shoes. He quickly uncovers a web of intrigue which includes solved murders going back many years. How can he unpick this web to find the killer? Or is it lots of killers? As more murders occur it becomes necessary to find a common link or start looking for multiple killers.

Complex is the word I'd use to sum this up. The more I read the less it made sense - and this is what Blake found.

Blake's mother went missing a couple of years ago as she seemed to wander out the house with dementia. Blake's personal life has, as a result, been in a continuous state of hold while he waits for news. And while he waits he tends for his mother's cat who seemingly has a grudge against him.

But Blake has a team that work with him and they each have their strengths and issues. Playing to those strengths, he has his team conduct their share of the investigation while Blake tries to pull it all together.

I loved this book not just for the plot - which was certainly a challenging one for me - but also for all the characters including the pet psychologist.

The author is a facebook friend of many years and so when I saw him share an invitation to sign up for his newsletter, I signed up. That enabled me to get a free copy of "Tyger Tyger" which is a short book that predates A Poison Tree. I found it so engrossing that I bought this book as a kindle edition so that I could read it on my phone. One day I may meet the author but I won't ask him to sign it!

Publisher: Zertex Crime
Genre: Crime, Murder mystery, Police Procedural.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow

January Scaller has grown up as the ward of wealthy collector Mr Locke in his house filled with rare art and artifacts, while her father is employed by Mr Locke to scour the world for more treasures. Her mother died long ago, and, as Mr Locke has no family of his own, January's life is fairly isolated and quiet. Then one day she discovers a strange old book, with the lettering almost rubbed away from the cover, that tells of doors to other worlds. It's just fiction, surely? but, as a child, January believed she found such a door, so some of it is surely true.

This is a spellbinding, unputdownable read, a mix of romance and adventure, loyal friends and evil societies, and, with ten thousand other worlds to escape to, perfect for these stay-at-home times

it's not perfect - one of the worlds has a resemblance to LeGuin's Earthsea, the writing is occasionally over the top with too many ornate, elaborate descriptions, and what I assume to have been big plot reveals were quite predictable - but none of that matters. This is a book i could happily fall into and lose myself again and again, so it earns five stars.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orbit
Genre - fantasy/speculative fiction 

Monday, 18 May 2020

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

Nona Grey is reaching the end of her incredible story. Rescued from the hangman by the Abbess of Sweet Mercy convent, and trained in martial arts and unseen magics, now she must fight to save the Empire from invaders. Her world is one where only a comparatively narrow belt of land is fit to live on, the rest overwhelmed by ice sheets, one settled long ago by different tribes from another planet, but remains still exist of a civilisation which preceded theirs.

The world building is excellent, character development believable and well thought-through, the plot gripping and well-paced. Swapping between two timelines - one picking up where book 2 left off, the other following Nona as she and her fellow nuns prepare for war - doesn't leave time for a dull  moment

One thing I particularly liked was that Mark Lawrence hasn't created one kick-ass heroine, but  whole convent full to support her. Okay, some of these women are not thoroughly, or at all, on Nona's side, but they're still strong independent women, easily the equal of the male soldiers and spies they encounter. I'd maybe like to have heard more of Abbess Glass's story, but for most of the series she just exists in the background, although her 'long game' shapes Nona's character and actions.

Holy Sister is the concluding part of Lawrence's Book of the Ancestor series (and you DO have to have read the previous two books - Red Sister and Grey Sister - to understand what's going on) but he's already started a new series based among the tribes who live on the Ice, so there's no need to say farewell to this world just yet.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Thursday, 7 May 2020

When The Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

Chris and Emma's marriage is falling apart, their relationship being broken by something bigger than the two of them - the fate of mankind and the planet. Once they were equally concerned about the environmental catastrophe unfolding around them. Now, juggling home and work, Emma has adopted a more pragmatic approach to living, recycling whatever she can, and trying to make their resources (and income) stretch as far as possible. Chris, meanwhile, has begun to prepare for the end of the world, obsessing over climate change, stockpiling food and bizarre medicine bought online, and trying to spread his beliefs by preaching in town at weekends. 
As rain falls, the electricity mysteriously fails, and Christmas approaches, Emma begins to feel they can't go on in this way any longer ... and then Chris's mother moves in.

Carys Bray's third novel is the story of two people, once very much in love, but now drifting apart.. It's not down to the apathy that might sneak in to a long term relationship, but due to their different ways of coping with life and its challenges. Chris is exasperated by what he sees as Emma's abandonment of their ideals. Emma thinks Chris should concern himself with problems closer to home first, and worry about the wider world later.

As always, Carys Bray creates characters who feel real; believable and slightly flawed, they're people we can empathise with, even if we don't agree. Chris and Emma have a relationship full of love; they just choose to focus that love on different things, and express it in different ways. Emma is focused on family - the day to day hassle of providing food, clothing, and, above all, love. Chris has his sights on a longer, more catastrophic goal, and worries about how they, and anyone else, will survive when the environmental apocalypse comes.
Something I always like about Carys Bray's writing is that she isn't judgmental about her characters. It would be so easy to show Chris as in the wrong, especially when some of his actions seem a little underhand at times, but he and his ideas are presented with the same care, and given the same weight and respect that Emma's are. He and Emma may not agree, but that doesn't mean his opinions are of lesser value. They're attempting to cope with life's unpredictability in very different ways, but at the heart of both is love.

When The Lights Go Out has fallen victim to coronavirus lockdown, and now won't be published in physical form till autumn; meanwhile it's available as an e-book and audible.  I can't help but wonder what Chris would think about the situation we find ourselves in right now ... 

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