Monday, 30 June 2014

Unthology 5 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

The long awaited Unthology 5 is finally here. And I mean that... Maryom has been regularly pestered by me when on Twitter - "Anything on Unthology yet?" and finally it's here and it was well worth the wait. I read and reviewed Unthology 4 and if you want to know what I thought about it then turn Unthology 5 over and read the back! (or read it here)

With 14 stories that start with an abduction and finish with the end of the world this collection is everything the last one was except... it has one more story crammed in. A Little More Prayer will horrify you and have you rooting for the victim, Daddy's Little Secret will leave you wondering what is going on in "Daddy's" head, A Writer Tries To Work It Out will have you hoping for true love and so it goes on - each story touching you in some way and leaving you thinking about the "rest" of the story. That's one of the things I love about short stories - the way they tell you so little but so much and you can finish them for yourself.

In Clarrie and You you will be frustrated by secrets kept instead of honesty shared, but it's something you will have seen and maybe have been complicit in. In Kowalski you meet prejudice and racism in a most convincing and abhorrent way. And The Coroner's Report... 'nuff said but you will not be unmoved. And the crowning glory has to be The End of the World which will have you saying "What??? Wake UP and SMELL the coffee!" while laughing at the premise and people's ability to be stupid.

Another brilliant collection compiled by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones that will add a seriously new dimension to commuting or coffee time.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology

Friday, 27 June 2014

Welcome to Sharonville by Sharon Zink

Review By The Mole

Toni is driving back from New York and nearly home when her Redsmobile is involved in a massive accident. She is found in the wreck by her best friend, Buzz - a fireman. Buzz follows her to the hospital to find she is alive but in a coma. He lets Mila, her roommate, know who decides Uncle Franco, the man who raised her from a baby, must not be informed. Buzz cannot accept this and does tell him and so, one by one, everyone who has had their lives touched by Toni gets introduced and we learn what Toni meant to them.

Are there happy endings for everyone? Unlikely, and anyway - what is a happy ending?

In many ways this felt like a series of short stories as we learn each back story and then return to Toni before moving on, although the story of Franco and Betta is one we keep returning to and have our own hopes and dreams about. Each character touches the lives of one or more of the others and it gets to feeling like a closed club almost. Some questions remain unanswered - like What is the outcome of Franco's court case? And what does happen to Steve? And do things work out for Buzz?

This was immensely enjoyable but also, strangely, I could easily put it to one side for a while after finishing a character's story - making it a great read for coffee time or commuting. There are happy endings, and sadnesses and many incompletenesses that give the reader chance to finish the stories themselves - this, again, is one of the features of short stories - in fact one of the attractions of them. A novel for lovers of short stories or a novel to get readers hooked on short stories? You decide.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult literary fiction

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tom Vowler Blog Tour - Top Ten Books and Films



This week sees Tom Vowler on a blog tour  and today he visits us to tell us of his top ten films and books. Tom is the author of What Lies Within and The Dark Remembered Day of which Maryom said "It's very much a page-turner of a read... once things are put in place, they proceed with the same unstoppable force as a boulder rolling downhill." It's also nice to see favourites of ours amongst his lists.

Of course, any such list, aside from being gloriously subjective, merely draws attention to its omissions. It was impossibly hard to get down to ten, both for films and books, so to keep it manageable I focused on stuff I’ve watched and read in the last decade or so. But, yes, I hate myself for not finding room for such gems as Sideways or Adaptation et al. 

Top Ten Films

21 Grams
I could have chosen any of Mexican director Iñárritu’s films, but Penn, Watts and Del Toro are superb in this chronologically fragmented masterpiece of lives crushed by a moment’s tragedy, the title coming from the supposed loss of weight upon death, suggestive of a soul were it not a scientific apocryphal tale.

No Country for Old Men
Violent noir thriller adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s book. Who can forget Javier Bardem’s cattle gun? Brilliantly shot.

Léon
Luc Besson’s intensely beautiful tale, with Jean Reno’s finest role as The Cleaner and a precocious Natalie Portman learning the rigours of a hit man, which apparently includes drinking lots of milk.

Fargo
Now-vintage comedy crime noir from the inimitable Coen brothers.

Dead Man
Unforgettable, stylish outing from Jim Jarmusch. Worth it for Neil Young’s haunting soundtrack alone. Great cast.

The Lives of Others
Remarkably affecting film of a Stasi agent’s moral awakening. Cinema at its finest.

The Usual Suspects
Crime thriller with so many great performances from emerging talent. The final scene in the police station has rightly become iconic.

Withnail and I
‘We’ve come on holiday by mistake.’ Uniquely brilliant.

Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight
See how I snuck 3 into 1 here? This poignant romantic trilogy invests the viewer so deeply in Celine and Jesse’s lives. Beautifully shot, exquisite dialogue. Quiet and powerful.

Let the Right One In
Elegant art-house Swedish vampire tale of love and revenge. As ever, avoid the US remake.


Top Ten Books

The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Epic, elegant and cerebral tale of morality among a group of classics students.

Goat Mountain – David Vann
Astonishing book, which I reviewed here.

Julius Winsome – Gerard Donovan
Classic story of unhinging and revenge set in the wintry wilds of Maine. Taut and brilliant.

We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
A ballsy book, original and brave, the antithesis to formulaic guff.

The Beautiful Indifference – Sarah Hall
Prize-winning short stories from a master of the form.

Touch – Graham Mort
See above.

Disgrace – J M Coetzee
Coetzee’s finest novel about a disgraced professor in this political portrait of post-apartheid South Africa.

A Widow for One Year – John Irving
Typical Irving territory: grief, humour, love and sex. And squash.

Engleby – Sebastian Faulks
My favourite Faulks, something more playful and subversive here. Extraordinary voice.

Harvest – Jim Crace
Bewitching tale of landscape and myth. Wonderfully immersive.

Cheating at Canasta – William Trevor
Twelve perfectly wrought stories from the doyen of this most demanding form.


Bio
Tom Vowler is a novelist and short story writer living in south west England. His debut collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize in 2010 and his novel What Lies Within received critical acclaim. He is co-editor of the literary journal Short Fiction and an associate lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, where he’s completing a PhD looking at the role of the editor in fiction. That Dark Remembered Day is his second novel. More at www.tomvowler.co.uk
 

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

review by Maryom

Harper is a serial killer with a difference - he's discovered the key to never being caught; the key to a house which enables him to travel through time to commit his atrocious acts and slip away into the past to avoid discovery.
But just once he makes a mistake.... Kirby has survived one of his horrific attacks but feels that there must be women out there who weren't as lucky - and for them as well as herself she wants the attacker brought to justice.

I'd heard a lot of praise being heaped on this book, seen it nominated for awards, praised by other crime writers etc, so when I spotted it at the library I decided it was time to read it. It's certainly an original take for a crime thriller - how can anyone track down a man who can effectively disappear at will? - and raises lots of side-questions particularly about free will, and cause and effect; would Harper have become such a monster without the house? was he lured into committing these murders because of the 'memorabilia' he found in the house or would he have acted this way regardless? 
Even without getting into such muddy waters, it's a compelling read, one which gives as much thought to the victims as to the perpetrator. All of Harper's 'shining girls' have special qualities, something that makes them stand out from the crowd, which makes their deaths seem even more tragic.

As with any good time travelling novel, there's a satisfying tying off of loose ends, a joining-up of the little random-seeming events to make a closed loop. In a way though this took away some of the tension from the novel - Harper himself notices that there are a finite numbers of victims featured among the house's 'memorabilia', so the reader knows that sooner or later he'll be caught - though the 'how' remains a mystery.

Maryom's review - 4.5
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper)
Genre -
Adult crime thriller

Friday, 20 June 2014

Love and Fallout by Kathryn Simmonds


review by Maryom

Tessa is the driving force behind a struggling environmental charity Easy Green, she's a firm believer in everything eco-friendly and planet saving, with no interest beyond the practical and ethical in her clothing. So she's not best pleased to find herself set-up for a TV makeover show - and even less pleased to discover not only her best friend but her husband too were behind it all! Do they not know her at all? Is her husband really that unhappy with how she looks now? Persuaded that it will give some TV airtime to her ailing charity, Tessa reluctantly agrees to take part but the TV producers are more interested in her Greenham Common past. Tessa finds herself drawn back to memories of the life-changing months spent camping outside the US base at Greenham, a time that she'd almost forgotten but that made her the person she is today.

There are two almost unrelated threads to Love and Fallout - Tessa's experiences at Greenham Common in the autumn and winter of 1982, and her present day crises of failing business, failing marriage and failing communication with her almost grown-up children. The two threads weave in and around each other but, to be honest, I found the 'Greenham' story by far the more interesting. Recently dumped by the boy she'd envisaged sharing her life with, bored and frustrated by her meaningless job, a young, politically naive woman runs away to join the Greenham protesters. Living in a make-shift camp as the weather deteriorates, with regular run-ins with police, she quickly matures both emotionally and politically. It would have made an excellent novella on its own and the present day story-line by contrast felt a little lacking. Together they make an enjoyable read but one half outshines the other.
It hadn't occurred to me till I read this novel that the early 80s anti-nuclear peace protests have fallen into that gap of no longer current affairs but not quite old enough to be seen as history - and therefore largely forgotten. This novel gives an intriguing insight into the many reasons that woman joined in there, the hardships and prejudice they faced, and the support and comradeship they found.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult fiction, historical

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

review by Maryom

I first reviewed this back in February but as it's now out in paperback I thought I'd give it another shout out.
I'm not normally a romantic beach reads kind of person but this isn't your average romantic beach read - yes, there's plenty of steamy passion but also a subtle insight into the stresses and boredom of a long-term relationship, and middle-aged Jenn's need to feel attractive and desired again.



Here's most of what I said in the earlier review but see here for all of it

The Lemon Grove is hot, steamy and full of illicit passion but it's more than a summer sex romp. It's also a wonderful portrayal of a family reaching a turning point in their lives; the dynamics of their relationships are changing and they aren't accustomed to their new 'roles' yet.
Jenn particularly is starting to feel middle-aged, a little bit past it, no longer as sexy and desirable as she was. Her relationship with Greg is comfy and familiar. She's no longer needed in her role as mother-
substitute but Jenn hasn't settled into the new 'adult' relationship with Emma. Into this situation add one hot 17 year old boy/man - and Jenn is about to be swept off her feet - not by love, but plain lust. Nathan represents everything young, sexy, passionate and edgy missing from Jenn's comfortable life - and means nothing but trouble!
Told in the third person from Jenn's point of view, the reader feels all her yearning, guilt and helplessness in the face of this sexual infatuation, but stands back enough to realise that things can not end happily, that at best Jenn will end up looking foolish. It's a very addictive read, with descriptions that bring place and people vividly to life; a page turner in a 'will they, won't they' kind of way, but one that captures the subtle undercurrents and tensions of family life as well as Jenn's desire.



 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Contemporary adult fiction, beach read

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Good Children by Roopa Farooki



review by Maryom

Growing up in 1940s Lahore, the Saddeq children have their futures mapped out for them - the sons, Sully and Jakie, will study hard, earn a place at a foreign university, and after more study, become doctors like their father; the daughters, Mae and Lana, are brought up to be decorative and helpful around the house, to grow into perfect wives and mothers. Good children do as they are told, is their mother's firm belief and through a mix of pious sweetness and merciless bullying she manipulates the children to fit her ideal. When it comes to educating her sons, their mother is a firm believer in using the stick instead of tempting with the carrot, quite happy to literally beat knowledge into them; her daughters meanwhile are dressed up and made up, and played with as if they were dolls.
At first her plans seem to be going well  - Sully and Jakie  head off respectively to the USA and England for medical training; Mae and Lana marry young - but then things go awry. Sully marries a fellow student, half Indian, half German, deemed unsuitable in his mother's eyes; Jakie falls in love with a hard drinking Irishman, even more unsuitable!; the girls up and leave their husbands.
But it isn't that easy for them to shake their upbringing and no matter how grown up they are or how far away they live, home still has a way of drawing them back.. and in relation to their mother they'll always be children.

The first thing to say is how much I loved this book. There's something special about a good long book that I can slowly sink into - become familiar with its characters, learn their good qualities and their flaws, their hopes and disappointments - and The Good Children is definitely one of them. A story of how childhood influences continue their hold throughout life, of the things that bind families together, even while pulling them apart, and how freedom is a thing of the spirit not distance, it's a grand sweeping novel moving from Pakistan to England and the US, and from 1940 to the present day. Exploring the complex relationship between parents and children, and between the children themselves, the story follows their lives as they strike out for freedom, searching for love and fulfilment, become parents, and grandparents, themselves, but find themselves, like a jumper on a bungee rope, still tugged back to home. Jakie and Lana inherit their mother's pious caring qualities while Mae and Sully have more of her stern disciplinarian side - none of them though try to make and mould their children in the way that she did.
Despite its length - 620 pages - it never feels slow or too long; if anything the story whipped past far too quickly. Although she's a new author for me, Roopa Farooki has written several other books and I'm off to catch up on them - just hoping my library will stock some if not all.

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


Monday, 16 June 2014

The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum

 review by Maryom

Oslo 1968 - Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen, aka K2, is called to a murder scene in a block of flats. The victim, Harald Olesen, was hero of the Resistance during World War 2 and an unremarkable MP after, so it's difficult to see who would have wished him dead and why. K2 thinks such a high-profile case could be the making of his career, but he soon discovers this isn't going to be a quick easy, open and shut case - and actually begins to wonder if it could be the breaking of his career instead. Fortunately he has help in the shape of Patricia, a young woman confined to a wheelchair following an accident, who, despite hardly ever venturing from home, has more insight into human nature and possible motives for murder than K2. Together they unravel the relationships between the flats' residents, turning up secrets from Olesen's past and a surplus of suspects to pick from.  

This is a classic murder mystery with a limited numbers of suspects, all of them appearing to have no reason to want the victim killed .... until the investigation turns up the skeletons lurking in their pasts - and then there's seemingly no one who wouldn't have wanted him dead!
There are a lot of nods to Agatha Christie classic murder mysteries - the seemingly 'closed' room, the surplus of witnesses who rapidly turn into suspects, a long list of incidents from the victim's past that could be reason for murder and Patricia even quotes Christie as a source of inspiration in untangling the evidence. 
It's told in the first person by K2 in a rather formal, bare style but one which sets the evidence plainly in front of the reader - so pulling me in with my own theories and guesswork which is part of the delight of this style of mystery. 

translated by Kari Dickson

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adult,
murder mystery 


Friday, 13 June 2014

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

 review by Maryom

 A Song for Issy Bradley is the story of a Mormon family trying to come to terms with grief following the sudden death of their 4 year old daughter -
 - Dad, Ian, a bishop in the Mormon church finds consolation and strength through his faith. He firmly believes that he will meet Issy again in Heaven and all he must do is continue in his faith
 - Mum, Claire, who converted in order to marry him, cannot cope at all; she finds Mormon values too cold to help her. Swallowed by her overwhelming grief, she takes refuge on Issy's bunk bed and refuses to get up again.
 - Their teenage children, daughter Zippy (Zipporah) and son Alma are already struggling with their faith. They miss Issy desperately but both want to be 'normal', to be allowed to behave as their friends do. Zippy despite being a firm believer in Mormon values wants to wear fashionable clothes, go to parties and be allowed to date boys. Alma just wants to play football.
 - Only 7 year old Jacob can see a way to make everything right again - a miracle is needed to bring Issy back and he thinks he knows how to work one.

A Song for Issy Bradley is a stunning novel of death and life, faith and family, grief and hope. Knowing this was a book dealing with a child's death and the emotional impact on the family, I was half-expecting something totally depressing. It wasn't going to be like a murder-mystery where everyone achieves closure by the catching of the villain, and then gets back to their lives. This was going to be about 'real' people facing up to probably the most devastating thing that could happen to them. But as I read, I realised it wasn't going to be as devastatingly sad as I'd feared; though there are dreadfully dark moments, they're balanced with light and humour and, above all, love.

Throughout there's an amazing attention to the little things that make up life. It starts with the lead-up to Issy's death, capturing the awful ease with which a serious illness can be ignored until it's too late. The hustle and bustle of a normal day compounded by a houseful of extra children at a birthday party and Ian rushing off to help a dying church member. I found myself willing Claire to notice while there was still time to act even though I knew it was pointless.
Ian frustrated me throughout - he's always rushing around and putting others' needs before his own family's and so secure in his own faith but can't see that this isn't enough for Claire.
Teenagers always bear the brunt of any perceived 'weirdness' in their parents - and Zippy and Alma have more than an average share. Saddled with odd names, bound by the restrictions of Mormon behaviour, fitting in with their peers at school was never going to be that easy, and it isn't even possibly to argue with parents who cliam the support of God.
Jacob's faith in his miracle-working is as heart-breaking as Issy's death. He is SO confident that he can do it - with that seriousness that young children have in their approach to things - but we know it's not going to work and he's going to be devastated all over again.

 Although she's written many short stories, including a prize-winning collection, this is Carys Bray's first full length novel - and it was hard at times to believe it was a debut. Ultimately hopeful and life-affirming, this is a 'must-read' that's straight onto my Picks of the Year list.

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

Winner of the Authors' Club First Novel Award
Shortlisted for Costa First Novel Award
Longlisted for Desmond Elliott Prize 2015 
Richard and Judy Summer2015 Book Club

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik

 review by Maryom

 One morning Johanne wakes up to discover that she's locked in her bedroom. While she waits for someone to come and release her, her thoughts wander backwards and forwards, over recent events, her plans for the future, her relationships with her mother and boyfriends. This should have been the day she was going to America with her boyfriend to start a new life. Instead she's stuck in her room, unable to get to the airport...but doesn't really seem that concerned...

This second book in Peirene's Coming of Age series is again a story of someone who doesn't. The Dead Lake  told the tale of a boy who didn't grow up physically; The Blue Room brings us a twenty-year old psychology student who hasn't grown up emotionally, who hasn't freed herself from her dominating mother's apron strings - and who doesn't really want to.

I found this a rather troubling read - Johanne was a difficult main character for me; manipulated and controlled by her mother, she was too meek and mild, too seeking of approval, and too accepting of, even craving, punishment for my liking. Her relationship with her mother, Unni, is extraordinarily close, possibly forced by the lack of privacy in their lives. Unni doesn't appear openly dominating, which may have been easier to rebel against, but bends Johanne to her will through carefully doled out praise and disapproval. This relationship has soured all others - friends, particularly boyfriends, have to gain her mother's approval. Johanne going to Church is ok - it reinforces the concept of obedience; going to parties with friends isn't - it might give her a taste for freedom. Johanne in turn seems to dream of swapping one subservient relationship for another - with her new boyfriend, of whom her mother doesn't approve. Her dreams open a disturbing view of her personality - pleasant, enjoyable scenes shift and change into abuse to which she meekly submits.

I felt there was a certain level of ambiguity to the telling of this story. It isn't really clear whether the door lock is broken or whether Unni has locked Johanne in. Even trapped in her room, Johanne is extremely passive - she doesn't shout for help from the neighbours or passers-by but sits and waits till her mother returns. Is this symbolic that she can't free herself from her relationship with her mother and is waiting for someone to do it for her? Is she even really locked in or just incapacitated by fear?

Did I enjoy it? A difficult question to answer; it's certainly a page-turner, one where I was egging the heroine on to stand up for herself and break free but Johanne is too meek and accepting of her fate for me to sympathise much.

translated by Deborah Dawkin

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Review by The Mole

Hannah and her friends have just two things to focus on this summer - their 'A' Level results and losing their virginity. But Hannah is sure she has made a mess of her history exam and she has a big bust-up with Freddie at Stella's party. Stella is a long term friend and Hannah is devoted to her. But the party starts to get weird when she meets Sam in the toilet and although the meeting is brief she can't stop thinking about him. Has she found her "Lobster"? Freddie's place as "Lobster" has certainly been vacated!

The title of this book comes from the idea that lobsters mate for life so "Mr/Mrs Right" are now referred to as a lobsters. (I didn't know this!!) Hannah learns from Casper - a boy she meets in Kavos and strikes up a platonic friendship with - that they don't mate for life anyway! While in Kavos she also meets Pax, a tall 'fit' young man  who shows a lot of interest in her but she doesn't really want to get involved with. She meets Sam and Pax a few more times and it's not all plain sailing. Can there be a happy ending?

There is a lot going on in this book and I have to admit that I was a little concerned, having a daughter doing A levels at the moment. Is this really what obsesses girls and boys of this age? I don't recollect it being the dominant force in my life but then I'm now very old - or so my daughter tells me. The whole story has parallels in the TV series "The Inbetweeners" with some of the characters having their counterparts in the book - but here the story is told alternately by Hannah and Sam. The book, as a result, has many amusing moments but it also has many deeper and tragic moments making it, in my opinion, a better story.

I really enjoyed this book, finding it easy to read and not so easy to put down but I did find, that as a father, I was wondering what is going on in my daughter's head...  Although aimed at the 15+ reader I am sure it will appeal to the many fans of "The Inbetweeners" as well.

Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - Teen (15+) romantic comedy

Buy Lobsters from Amazon

Monday, 9 June 2014

Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan

review by Maryom 

While on a field-trip, Tyen, a student of magic and archaeology, uncovers an ancient book with a difference - it once was a woman. Vella, a young ambitious sorcerer-bookbinder, was transformed by her mentor the most powerful sorcerer of the time and has been imprisoned in book form for many centuries. A person holding the book can communicate with Vella, and she, in return, can read their mind and absorb information from them, in this way acquiring a vast store of knowledge. Tyen's world, which powers industrial processes through the harnessing of magic, is facing a potential disaster - the total depletion of magic - and Vella might hold the answer to it. Tyen should hand her over to his professors at the Academy...but what would they do with her?

In another country, where magic is used solely by priests, Rielle has been brought up with the belief that a girl or woman using magic is wrong. Unauthorised use of magic is seen as stealing from the angels and attracts severe punishment, but Rielle finds herself, with the best intentions, lured into doing so...

I was at first a bit daunted by the length of this - like so many fantasy novels it's written on an epic scale, just over 550 pages but once I started reading I found the pages flicking past quite quickly - even so, things are quite slow moving at times; there's a lot of world-building and introduction of characters and their back stories rather than pushing the story forward but this is of course Book 1 of a series with everything being set up on a blank stage.
It really feels like two separate stories as within  this book, Tyen's and Riell's story lines don't cross at all. Instead of the more common format of alternating chapters following each character, the book is split into larger chunks with several chapters following Tyen alternating with a similar number about Rielle, so having been immersed in one world it was occasionally a jolt to go back to the other.
As regards the two 'worlds', Tyen's was the more intriguing with an industrial revolution having been based on the use of magic - a magic, which like the fossil-fuels that support our industries, is running out. Various factions have differing ideas as to how this problem should be countered leading to intrigue - and danger for Tyen who inadvertently and naively finds himself caught up as the discoverer of Vella. Rielle's homeland seems a more 'traditional' fantasy setting, a desert pre-industrial land ruled by priest who are the only ones allowed to tap into magic resources, and her story more one of personal development from an obedient daughter to independent minded young woman.

 An excellent start to a new fantasy but it's going to be a long read with no knowing how many books the series will span.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Orbit
Genre - Adult Fantasy

Friday, 6 June 2014

Reckoning by Kerry Wilkinson

review by Maryom

England at some future time, and along with the other 16 year olds from her village, Silver Blackthorn is awaiting the Reckoning - this test 'grades' adults and determines their social position - Elite, Member, Inter or Trog. Also, each year a number of teenagers are chosen as Offerings to serve King Victor in his castle at Windsor; everyone sees this as a privilege but, when she finds herself among those chosen, Silver begins to have doubts. Arriving at the castle, her misgivings multiply; the atmosphere there is one of rumour and suspicion, no one will speak of what happened to the previous years' Offerings, and King Victor is not the charismatic leader everyone believes him to be but a brutal drunken bully. Keeping quiet and unnoticed is the first step to safety, and the next is finding a way to escape.....

Set in a post-civil war future England, Reckoning is a dystopian action adventure/thriller bound to appeal to fans of The Hunger Games. There are, to be honest, a lot of similarities with other teen dystopian novels - oppressive regime, a self-confident heroine, a love triangle in the making and a rebellion about to kick off - but that doesn't stop this being an excellent read. The story starts quietly and a little predictably - Silver will obviously be chosen as one of the Offerings - but the action increases and the tension mounts. Considering that the panning out of the story-line is fairly obvious, the author does an excellent job of screwing up the tension and keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.
Silver is a likeable heroine, resourceful and quick-witted but not so over-confident as to lose the reader's sympathy; she's ready to face up to authority rather than meekly accept its dictates. The choice of villain can make or break a book - and I rather liked King Victor in this role; with his ginger hair and piggy eyes, his choosing and discarding of the most attractive girls, his drunkenness and random violence has a definite touch of the elderly despotic Henry VIII about him.

The main snag is the all-too-common first of a series one and the long wait till Book 2.


Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Pan Books
Genre - teen/YA dystopian, action adventure, thriller

Thursday, 5 June 2014

In The Summer Time by Judy Astley

review by Maryom

I first reviewed In the Summer Time last Summer when it came out in hardback - now it's being published in paperback by Black Swan just in time for this Summer.

"In the Summer Time is funny and smart and, despite the romance, avoids being too sickly sweet. It's a bit predictable at times but very readable. A lovely light-hearted summer read that's ideal for your own beach-side holiday." Read more of my original review here

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, age 81 by JB Morrison


review by Maryom

Frank Derrick has just turned 81 - but his only birthday surprise was being run over by a milk float. Now, with a broken arm and fractured foot, he's not looking forward to the next few weeks cooped up in his flat with only Bill his cat for company. He didn't get out much before - a trip to the charity shop to pick up some 'bargains' or to the care home where his friend, former punk rocker Smelly John, lives. Now Frank's to take things easy (as if any easier were possible), and to make sure he does, his daughter has arranged a 'carer' for him. Frank's dreading the arrival of a strict no-nonsense matronly type, so young, cheerful Kelly Christmas is a bit of a surprise. In a Mary Poppins sort of way, Kelly doesn't confine herself to housework but sets out to widen Frank's horizons with trips to the beach and the 'big' supermarket. Frank is enchanted but Kelly has only been hired for a few weeks - how will he manage without her?

Rather like The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel , this is a novel that challenges the way we 'youngsters' see those older than us; they're not all 'old dears' ready to settle for a life of slippers and vegetating in front of daytime TV - some of them at least are still wanting to live things up a little! Frank's life hasn't been special in any way, other than being his life, and now he finds himself lumped in with all the other old folk; all expected to think alike and share the same tastes in music or TV. To say he finds the prospect dreary is an understatement! Kelly's influence turns him around and re-awakens his interest in the world beyond his flat and the charity shop; there are still adventures to be had (maybe on a small scale, but adventures nonetheless), new things to discover (couscous and tattoos) and still some dreams to fulfil.
It's a gently humorous tale which I really enjoyed; it has its sad, moving moments but the overall feeling is upbeat and positive  - and maybe Frank could teach us all something about not giving up on our hopes and dreams?

Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Pan Books
Genre - adult fiction, humour


Monday, 2 June 2014

The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin

Review by The Mole

1919 and New Orleans is being plagued by a serial killer - an axe murderer who is becoming more and more gruesome in the killing of his victims. The victims have nothing in common to help the police to trace their killers and then a letter is received by the local newspaper saying when the next murder will take place but no-one will die who is listening to jazz music. In the meantime Detective Talbot is under threat of losing his job if he fails to find the killer soon. Luca, a corrupt detective who Talbot put in prison, has been released and is set the task of finding the killer by the Mafia. And at the same time Ida, an employee of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, sets out to find the killer after finding an old, abandoned witness statement suggesting someone knew something about the killer.

I found this book intriguing for many reasons but firstly the obvious one... Most detective novels have a whole heap of fumbling police and either one brilliant one or a private citizen who is a fantastic detective. In this we have three detectives, working independently to find a killer from different starting points and mainly oblivious to each other's efforts. And almost no suspects! Another very nice deviation from the norm was the fact that the other police officers were not fumbling incompetents but every bit as capable as 'our' man - and his boss was not some fiend out to get him either!

I managed to totally lose track of the body count as the murders piled up although, while many are gruesome they are not described in a gruesome manner to make the readers stomach turn. I did however, struggle to remember where we had met characters and how they finally fitted in to the picture - simply because of the body count!

The end game is something kind of special too. Three detectives, three endings and all of them the same result reflecting a different truth.

I really enjoyed this book but really wonder what the author can do for a second book. Can he surprise the reader a second time? There are lots of questions I would like to ask this author... now, where's my email?

Publisher - Mantle
Genre - Adult crime, historical fiction

Buy The Axeman's Jazz from Amazon