Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Her by Harriet Lane


review by Maryom

One Friday afternoon, stepping out of her local off-licence, Nina is taken aback to see a well-remembered face from the past. The other woman, Emma, struggling with a baby buggy, doesn't notice or recognise her, and as the weeks pass, and summer moves on into autumn, Nina tries to forget the incident ...but finds she can't. Nina starts to contrive reasons for the two of them to meet, drawing Emma into her life, but her reasons are far from honest. Long ago, Emma's actions hurt Nina; Emma may not remember but Nina does - and she's not going to let Emma off the hook again.

Her is a curious book - for much of it not a lot really happens but even so the writing style pulled me in; I really wanted to discover what Emma had done in her past to so offend Nina, why Nina recognises Emma but not vice versa, what exactly Nina's intentions are - obviously not a cheery Hello, nice to meet after all this time! - and I just couldn't put the book down till I had all the answers.

The story is told in first person from the alternating perspectives of Nina and Emma; maybe there's a little too much of showing incidents from both points of view as sometimes the accounts are too similar but it gets the reader into the heads of these two women, contrasting Nina's machinations with Emma's innocence, and creating an atmosphere filled with menace.
From the lead-up, I'd expected more drama in the denouement - it actually creeps up quietly with both reader and character only gradually realising the enormity of what has happened. The ending itself is tricky and ambiguous  - but it worked for me. 
I'm not quite sure it lives up to the tag of psychological thriller but it's a great compelling read, filled with a growing sense of discomfort and dread.

 Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Orion (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Genre - adult, psychological thriller,

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


review by Maryom

In St Malo, in August 1944, people wait for the Allied bombardment to begin. Townsfolk are warned to leave, but not everybody can, and there's certainly no escape for the German troops stationed there.
 Blind since the age of six, Marie-Laure and her father moved from their Paris home to her great-uncle's home in St Malo as the German advance rolled across France. Alone now in the house, she can't read the leaflets that warn of the impending bombing but the sound of approaching aircraft is unmistakable, so she seeks shelters in the cellar under her great-uncle's house and waits for the bombing to end. In her hand she  clutches a tiny model of the house, and hidden within it a tear-drop shaped stone, the size of a pigeon egg.
In a different part of town, eighteen year old German radio-operator Werner is also hiding in a cellar - underneath the Hotel of Bees, which has been his 'home' for the past few weeks as he helps track down a Resistance group sending messages to the Allies. Raised in a mining town orphanage, while still a schoolboy, Werner discovered his special 'knack' for radios. Enthralled by the things they enabled him to hear, and fascinated by how they work, Werner finds his knowledge and intuitive understanding opening up opportunities for him as part of Germany's war effort - opportunities which have eventually led him to St Malo and a basement bomb shelter.
While the bombers fly overhead, the story moves back in time to their childhoods, discovers a connection that neither of them is aware of, and a treasure that, while it protects the life of its owner, carries a curse.


A story about a boy, a girl, and a precious jewel sounds a bit like a fairy tale - and, despite its setting in Second World War Europe, in many ways it is. This wonderful, lyrical story works well at several levels; a story of two young people making a connection despite the barriers of nationality and war; an exploration of the ways in which we experience our world - not always merely through sight but using the other senses as well; and as a fable about a fabulous jewel and the search for the one person strong enough to resist it. Add in a father's love for his child, Werner's struggle to do what he feels is right when everyone and everything is pushing him in a different direction, Marie-Laure's desire to overcome her handicap and share fully in the world, someone determined to find the jewel and use it for their own benefit and the little old ladies of St Malo who decide that even they can help to defeat the Germans, and it all makes for a very special book. The various threads weave in and around each other, seemingly easily, though I imagine it didn't feel like that for the author at the planning and plotting stage!

I loved it, every bit of it; the way the story evolved, the style of the story telling, the human-interest angle, the facts about shells, snails and wireless, the mix of real factual world and ever-so-slightly fantastical.

I've tagged it as adult/ literary/ historical but don't feel constrained by these labels - it could as easily appeal to an inquisitive teenager or someone who'd normally avoid war stories, and different readers will find different things to love in it.


Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Fourth Estate
Genre - adult literary historical fiction, WW2,


Other reviews; For Winter Nights

Monday, 27 April 2015

Derby Book Festival Launch

 by Maryom

We've been to quite a few book festivals now - north to Edinburgh, west to Hay on Wye, south to Chipping Norton, even over 'the border' to Nottinghamshire for Lowdham book festival, and DerbyshireLitFest is held every two years in libraries up and down the county - but all of these involve travelling, sometimes even planning our holidays around them! Now there's to be a book festival right here on our doorstep in Derby - how exciting is that?!!
I've known about this for a while and have signed up as a volunteer, but it was only last Thursday, World Book Night and Shakespeare's birthday, that the full programme was launched. The festival is the brain child of Sian Hoyle and Jenny Denton, and they've put together 60 events ranging from school visits by authors to appearances by big names such as David Nicholls, Katie Fforde and Sarah Waters. Taking place from 31st May to 7th June, there'll be crime writers, poetry, book-signings, a footballer, a mountaineer, writing workshops, exciting debut authors, familiar names, lots of free book-related activities for children and a special Radio4 BookClub, with events in various locations around the city from theatres to bookstores to the new cycling arena.
I've got my programme - in fact several which I'm trying to pass round friends and anyone who might be interested - and my highlighter pen's at the ready BUT I've discovered a slight down-side to volunteering. I've offered my services for several days over the week but not yet heard when and where I'll be needed - and until I do, I won't know which events I'll be free to attend, so can't book tickets. I'm now waiting anxiously to hear - it should be sometime this week - then I can really start to plan!

You can find out more on the Derby Book Festival website or follow on Facebook or Twitter.

I've already read books by several of the authors due to appear, and hope to read more before the festival, so I'll be adding links to them below.

Steven Dunne - The Reaper, Deity, The Unquiet Grave (booksigning 5th June Waterstones)
Jon McGregor - If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things   (Radio 4 BookClub 5th June, Quad and Hello Hubmarine-The Silk Mill 6th June)
Antonia Hodgson - The Devil in the Marshalsea - and SD Sykes - Plagueland  (Joint event 6th June Quad)
Alison McQueen - Under the Jewelled Sky (6th June Quad)
Anne Zouroudi - The Messenger of Athens  (joint event with Stephen Booth 7th June, Quad)
Paula Rawsthorne - Blood Tracks, The Truth About Celia Frost (school visits)


Friday, 24 April 2015

The Bell Between Worlds by Ian Johnstone

Review by The Mole

Sylas Tate lives in a crooked house in the middle of a modern industrial town with his Uncle.  He believes his mother is dead, and his uncle runs his life with a rod of iron. One day there is a terrifying sound - like the peal of a bell but at a volume that shakes the entire house and nearly deafens him. But no-one else seems to hear it. He feels he needs to find the bell and stop its pealing before he is deafened and so begins an adventure that will take him to another dimension and show him magic that he would never have believed.

And it's all about him. He has been called to save the world from Thoth - an evil magician bent on total domination.

The plot sounds reminiscent of so many others but don't let that put you off - it's new characters, new settings, new enemies and, in many ways, a new challenge - one that I've not encountered before.
Fast paced from the off, the story has action throughout with chases across both realms, and monsters created with such penmanship that they leap out the page at the reader, adding to the tension.

Treachery and betrayal leave the reader wondering who Sylas should trust as we rush towards the ending of this, the first instalment of The Mirror Chronicles.

Young fantasy readers are going to love this series as the plot unfolds. This book comes to a proper conclusion and while we know there is more to come we aren't left on a cliffhanger.
 
Genre: Children's/Teenage Fantasy

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

review by Maryom

Digging away in his back garden, preparing the ground so his children can grow vegetables, Terry Doyle discovers a gruesome secret - a bunker left over from the cold war, and in it the remains of two small boys. So starts one of DI Marnie Rome's most distressing cases.....
The boys appear to have starved to death, having been deliberately incarcerated and left to die, maybe as long as five years ago. The first task for Rome and her sergeant Noah Jake is to identify the bodies, then begins the search for what appears to be a very cold-blooded killer. After all, who else would condemn two small children to such a terrifying ordeal.....

No Other Darkness is another great thriller from Sarah Hilary. Starting with the hidden bunker, a lot of the story seems set in claustrophobic underground spaces - enough on its own to terrify anyone like me with a dread of such places! Hilary's talent seems to be to discover the darker side of human nature and bring it to life - I found her first book Someone Else's Skin really disturbing because of this. This time the reader is slipping inside the mind of a very troubled woman receiving psychiatric help in prison for her past crimes - her anguish and despair is palpable to the reader, even though the prison psychiatrist believes her to be 'cured'. For me this aspect is something that makes Sarah Hilary books re-readable - although there are the usual number of twists and turns in the plot, the novel as a whole is more than a mere whodunnit.

As this is a second outing for Rome and Jake, we get to hear more about them and their troubled families - I'm not going to disclose anything here, but I think there's a lot more to surface for both detectives.

Just one quibble - does every strong woman HAVE to have an irresistible bad-boy in her past?

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Headline Publishing
Genre - adult, crime, police procedural,

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller


review by Maryom

1985 - and Peggy is back in her London home, reunited with her mother Ute after 9 years living in a hut buried deep in the Bavarian forests with her survivalist father. She's finding it hard to adjust - her father convinced her that not only her mother but the whole world had perished in some violent apocalypse, and that the only safe place left was their little piece of forest - outside was black emptiness.
Peggy's father James had always been a survivalist - with a group of like-minded friends he plotted the best way to survive armageddon, made equipment lists and stocked his specially constructed cellar - but in 1976, when Peggy was 8, his game-playing turned serious. While Ute was away from home, he received some disturbing news and decided to take Peggy away to a wooden cabin, die Hutte, hidden deep in a forest.  Peggy at first believes they are on holiday but as the weeks pass by she starts to wonder when they'll be going home...then one day, after an horrendous storm James tells her that the rest of the world has perished, that beyond their enclave nothing exists any more....
Now it's 1985 and Peggy is trying to adjust to many things - she's back home in London, the outside world hasn't perished, her mother has been missing her for all these years and she has a brother, born a few months after she and her father departed. But Peggy too has her own share of surprises lined up for her mother....

Our Endless Numbered Days unfolds from two points; 1976 with the background to James' actions, and 1985 as Peggy tries to come to terms with the fact that everything she's believed for the past 9 years has been a lie. Cleverly teasing the reader with just enough information to hold interest but keeping back enough to tantalise, Fuller draws you into the strange mock post-apocalyptic world that James has created for him and his daughter. Everything is told from Peggy's point of view and as events unfolded I started to realise that maybe she wasn't the most reliable of narrators for two reasons. Firstly, the flashback sections are seen through the eyes of the child she was then; with no understanding of her father's behaviour she accepts his word as true, and goes along with his plans because she has no choice. Secondly, as the years pass, Peggy's is the only account of events; there are no other witnesses so no one to contradict the tale. This unreliability left me trying to second-guess what might have happened, and partly prepared me for some of the revelations at the end. I wish to a certain extent that part had been seen from James' point of view - I'd have liked to know more of his motivations and justification of events.
How would I describe it? it's part dystopian post-apocalyptic survival novel - Peggy firmly believes she and her father are the last people on Earth, that when tools break, clothes wear out or food supplies drop dangerously low there is no outside backup; part thriller - as the reader knows something momentous must have occurred for Peggy to have returned home; and part examination into the personal motives and deceptions of James and Peggy. What it is without doubt is a gripping page-turning read. I didn't want to put it down at all, it grabs your attention and doesn't let it go.

4.5 stars rather than the full 5 because I'm just not sure I'd read it again - at least not too soon. Now all the twists have been revealed, it's maybe lost a little of its power over me. 

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Fig Tree (Penguin
)
Genre - adult literary thriller

Monday, 20 April 2015

At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison

Four-thirty on a May morning: the black fading to blue, dawn gathering somewhere below the treeline in the east.


review by Maryom

Early one Spring morning two cars collide on a country road near the small village of Lodeshill, the violence shattering the quiet; the ripped up grass bank, car wheels still spinning in the air, contents strewn across the road, three bodies lingering between life and death.

Over the previous month, four people have moved ever closer to this moment of impact;
Jack an itinerant farm worker, trying to escape the red-tape and bureaucracy of the modern world and live simply in the open air.
Middle-aged couple Howard and Kitty, recently moved to the country - dislocated from their normal life and finding their marriage gradually falling apart.
Local lad Jamie, lived in the village all his life, now looking for something beyond the mindless distribution centre work on offer and trying to find it in his souped-up, customised car.

At Hawthorn Time is a story of people trying to find themselves - not in any New Age vaguely spiritual sense, but in an everyday 'how and where do I fit in' way. We all have an idea, or ideal, of how the English countryside should be - sleepy villages where nothing has changed in hundreds of years, meadows with placidly grazing cows, ancient woodlands, life centred on the turning of the seasons. The reality of heavy farm machinery, migrant workers, the whole modern agricultural business or even cow-pat strewn roads doesn't quite fit that image we have. Into this gap between expectations and reality falls this story. Lodeshill is a place that's seen so much change in the last hundred years - machinery has taken over jobs once done by farm labourers, leaving villagers now seeking employment in the anonymous industrial units of the nearby town; farms are being sold off and housing built there; newcomers like Howard and Kitty have moved from the city in search of a rural idyll.

Jack is the most obvious misfit; an old-fashioned square peg that doesn't fit today's bureaucratic round hole. His way of life - wandering the ancient highways and byways of the countryside, in touch with his natural surroundings, living mainly off the land with little human contact - is opposed to modern ideas of land ownership, private property and trespassing. A quiet, dignified, harmless man, to outsiders he's seen as a threat - a vagrant, law-breaker and potential thief.

 Jamie has grown up in Lodeshill, firmly rooted in its paths and fields, more so than he realises. A generation or so ago he'd have become a farm worker, settled down into the rhythm of land and seasons and been content - now he's torn between the place he knows and the promise of the world beyond the village's boundaries.

Howard and Kitty are a couple in crisis, even if they're only vaguely aware of it as yet. Kitty was the driving force behind their move, but reality hasn't lived up to her country living dream and in a new home they seem to have forgotten how to speak to each other about anything beyond the most trivial everyday things. While Howard spends his days trapped in nostalgia for the past - his old haunts in London, the days before the children left home or tinkering with old radios - Kitty is out and about with her new hobby, photography. She's aware enough to know that what she captures is merely the picture postcard prettiness of the country, that somehow its real essence is eluding her - but she doesn't know how and why.
In their different ways they are all trying to find a place to belong, somewhere to which they can feel a connection, and as their stories unfold, heading for that fatal coming-together in four weeks time, so does Spring, bringing life and colour back to the countryside. I particularly loved the descriptions of flowers and blossom bursting back to life, of the country paths that Jack follows, the wildlife hiding just out of sight of the casual observer, but Harrison's close observations of both nature and people are a delight.

At Hawthorn Time is a lovely, compelling read. While it doesn't share the brutality of Cynan Jones' The Dig, it has the same quality of depicting rural life intimately and seeing it clearly, without blinkers; of showing that it's not glossy and chocolate box pretty but a place of dirt, and that without it being a place of work it will become empty and sterile.
There's also a little touch of the thriller about it. As the story brings us closer to discovering who was involved in the accident and why, it will have you turning the pages faster or wanting to sneakily check the ending - I'm not sure I'd advise it as, like the motorist whizzing along a country lane, you'll miss so much in the details.



Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre - adult literary fiction

Friday, 17 April 2015

John Connolly - Author Event.

By The Mole

Yesterday we went to see our second author event of the week - John Connolly at Waterstones in Nottingham introducing his new book "A Song of Shadows" - a Charlie Parker Thriller.

As is customary on such occasions John opened the evening with a reading - but with a difference as this turned out to be a short story called "The Hollow King" from a collection of short stories that is due to be published later this year. By way of introduction he recounted an incident of a short story reading he attended previously and managed to get the audience laughing from the off. This short story was, as promised, short and contained a twist in the tail that I didn't much like - which is how I like my short stories. An excellent start to the evening.

John then set about telling us a story that started in a bar and led onto a recounting of bringing war criminals to justice - or not - from the time of the second world war to date. I genuinely found this story fascinating - although John managed to tastefully include some humour where appropriate. Throughout this tale I tried to understand its context to "The Hollow King" but not hugely successfully. He then invited questions and the first one was whether this research he had undertaken on war criminals was to be the subject of a future Charlie Parker book. At this point after a moment of enlightenment the room was once again brought to laughter when he explained that he had completely forgotten to explain the context and that this story related to this current book.

In response to questioning he explained that he knew where the Charlie Parker stories would end but had no plans to get to it at the moment but a slow, logical progression was being followed towards that goal. If the publisher pulled the plug then he could produce that story but so long as the publisher is happy then he has no plans to end the Charlie Parker story yet.

John's Connolly's publisher's page is at Hodder and Stoughton
John's own website is here

Another most excellent evening spent the company of another best selling author and we look forward to hopefully seeing James North, who worked in the United States Naval Intelligence department before writing his novels Deep Deception and The Last Chameleon. James will be at Waterstones in Nottingham on 25th April at 7pm. James North sounds like a real life "Jack Ryan".

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Art of Waiting by Christopher Jory

review by Maryom

In 1943 through the wire of a prison camp, Katerina, a girl from Leningrad meets Aldo, a soldier from Venice. She passes him a crust of bread - but more importantly, she gives him hope - that someone still cares what happens to him, that there will one day be an end to the war. Throughout his imprisonment Aldo holds on to his memory of the snatched moments with Katerina and the promise that one day they'll meet again, but when he eventually finds himself free and heading home to Italy an older desire resurfaces - for revenge on the man he believes was responsible for his father's death.

From 1943, the story moves back to Katerina's childhood in late 20s Leningrad and to Venice during the months before Aldo is conscripted into the Italian army, then through his time in a Russian prison of war camp and onward to his eventual return to Italy in 1950.

This is an unusual war story told from the perspective of an Italian soldier sent to fight on the German's Eastern front, and imprisoned as the Russians take the offensive and begin their sweep towards Berlin. But although the war forms the backdrop, at the heart of the story lies a different battle between good and evil impulses within Aldo's heart. Unfortunately, I didn't really engage with the characters; although I'd been told about Aldo's burning desire for revenge, and the calming influence of his love for Katerina, I always felt removed from his emotions and didn't feel either.

Maryom's review - 3 stars  
Publisher - Polygon 
Genre - historical fiction

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Lindsey Davis - author event

 by Maryom

Lindsey Davis was in town last night promoting her - perhaps topically titled - new novel Deadly Election at our local Waterstones and I was lucky enough to win a ticket to the event.
For anyone who doesn't know, Lindsey Davis is a historical novelist probably best known for the long-running Falco detective series (20 books!) set in Ancient Rome, and Deadly Election is the third in a spin-off series featuring Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, who seems to have acquired the family 'investigative' habit.

Lindsey started the evening by sharing her route into writing, reading English at university and spending 13 years in the Civil Service before deciding that what she really wanted to do was write; her earliest work wasn't successful but she eked out a precarious living with stories for Women's Realm before her career took off with the first Falco novel, The Silver Pigs. It was very interesting to hear how, without lifting anything directly, her modern day civil service experiences had found their way into stories set so far in the past! She then read sections from two recent releases - Deadly Election and The Spook Who Spoke Again, a shorter e-book - and these were followed by questions from the audience, most of them seemingly as familiar with the series' characters as with their own family and friends. I'm not that up to date with Falco's adventures - I've only read some of the earlier novels but this evening has encouraged me to track down some of the more recent ones; I might start with the new Flavia Albia series - at only three novels so far I can catch up quite quickly!


You can find out more about Lindsey Davis on both her own website and that of her publishers Hodder and Stoughton 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Devil's Assassin by Paul Fraser Collard


review by Maryom
Following his adventures, and misadventures, in The Maharajah's General, Jack Lark is living in Bombay, passing himself off as Lieutenant Arthur Fenris, really down on his luck and running desperately short of cash. Then his deception is uncovered by army intelligence officer Major Ballard, known to many as the Devil, who feels he could use a man like Jack to track down and assassinate a spy believed to be giving British intelligence to the enemy. In Persia the Shah is massing troops, getting ready to strike against British forces, and as the army is sent out to take them on, Jack's task really begins...

So, here's Jack Lark back for another adventure - and an excellent one it is too. The story moves from India, west to Persia as Jack joins the campaign against the Shah; a bit of history that I knew nothing about  but which, with the British and the Russians struggling to gain influence in the region, all seemed rather more recent than 150 years ago!
This time, Jack is supposed to be keeping his head down, out of the actual fighting, trying to recover documents and sift through them for evidence of someone passing information about troop movements to the Persians. Jack of course has his own opinion about this - and orders are something he's never keen on following - so will he stay out of the battle? Not likely, is it? at the first opportunity he's throwing himself into the thick of it, leading by example and all too often being the man who saves the day! Well, it wouldn't be Jack if he didn't!
As you'd expect there's a lot of action, but it isn't all blind heroics. There are gruelling marches under the desert heat or torrential rain, the grip of fear as the troops await their orders to advance, the inevitable bloody aftermath of battle; the author isn't out to show merely the glory of warfare but the unpleasant realities of it too. Jack isn't a senseless killer but believes that his role in life is to serve his country in the best way he knows how - through fighting. As prone to fear as the next man, he cares deeply for the men under his command and tries to inspire them through example - a contrast to many of the other officers!
There's a little romance on the side for Jack in the breaks between the fighting - an affair with the curiously independent Sarah Draper, who, leaving her husband back in Bombay, has joined the expeditionary forces with the intent of writing a memoir of the campaign.
I think the Jack Lark series is improving all the time. It's lots of fun, while capturing the feel of the time and shedding light on some obscure passages from history. Jack is getting that little bit older, and hopefully wiser, and I'm really curious to see what he will do next!


Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline 
Genre - Historical fiction, action adventure,

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

Review by The Mole

When Alex gets a call for help from his brother Simon he arrives to find Ugo, their friend, dead - having been shot.

Alex is an Eastern Catholic priest - a sort of cross between an Orthodox and a Roman Catholic - while his brother has adopted the Roman church. Eastern Catholics recognise the authority of the Pope and priests are allowed to marry and have children. Alex's wife, Mona has left him leaving their young son Peter behind so when an intruder breaks in while he is out Alex becomes terrified for the safety of his son.

And it all seems to stem from the Diatesseron - a fifth gospel compiled from the other four to set about eliminating contradictions and attempt to establish historical fact. Ugo, was trying to authenticate the Turin Shroud using the Diatesseron and present his findings to the world - but it seems someone decided to stop him.

When the trial of Ugo's accused murderer starts it is like no other I have read - it's under canonical law and everything changes totally leaving the reader less able to predict the outcome. But is it a trial or political ping pong within the church?

The story is extremely well plotted and has no supermen that can pluck the answers from the sky - this makes the whole thing very readable. Alex - the protagonist of the book - comes to conclusion after conclusion and by sheer odds he ought to get it right sometime.

Did the ending come as a surprise to me? Honestly? No - but I'm not sure the story was about that. There are so many themes in the book that it's difficult to say what the main theme is. Loyalty, fatherly love, love, justice, validity of the gospels and so much more. Some have described this as a literary thriller and I suppose the depth of the themes may qualify as that but for me it was the thriller that kept me reading and enjoying it the most.

A really good book with ideas that some may challenge but remember - it is a work of fiction.

Publisher - Simon and Schuster
Genre - Adult Thriller

Friday, 10 April 2015

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher


review by Maryom

In his position as professor of English and Creative Writing at Payne University, Jason Fitger finds himself, almost constantly, being asked to write letters of recommendation for his students, his fellow professors and authors, as they desperately try to get funding/promotion/work placement/a publishing deal. Through this long series of letters we get to know as much about Fitger himself as the applicants he's supporting. He's disgruntled and opinionated, and not reticent about his opinions of the shortcomings of the university funding system. He's hopeless at computerised forms, instead of ticking the appropriate box he prefers to ramble round about the subject, digressing into rants against his pet hates or his ex-wife, and then send his letters in the good old-fashioned snail-mail way.

Fitger is like an academic version of Reggie Perrin or Victor Meldrew - his career as an author never lived up to its early promise, his marriage failed through his own fault, his English department is underfunded and constantly threatened by further cut-backs (while the Economics and Science faculties seem to have money to spare), and the building seems about to fall down about his ears! He's depressed and demoralised, yet he made me laugh. I've absolutely no idea about the inner workings of an English department, but does that matter? I don't think so (I just hope it isn't TOO true to life!)

Dear Committee Members is a short book - 180 pages - but full of wry humour, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Cover Reveal - Renegade by Kerry Wilkinson


 Today we welcome Kerry Wilkinson to the blog - to reveal the cover for Renegade (Book 2 in the Silver Blackthorn Trilogy) and talk about judging a book by its cover......

Despite everything I've been told growing up, I always judge a book by its cover. Not only is it natural but it's where publishers put all the fancy quotes from people who like it. Hey, if they didn't want you to judge a book on its cover, those quotes would be hidden away somewhere else.

That was fine when I was simply a reader deciding what to buy, but now, on the other side of the fence as an author, it's altogether trickier. The people who create these covers are real-life designers, with real-life feelings, so to say 'I hate it', that you feel as if a tiny piece of your soul has been stamped upon repeatedly - even when that's the truth - is hard.

And I have been shown covers that I've really hated.

I say this precisely because I only had one look at the Renegade cover - and loved it. I still do. After last year's Reckoning, someone had the bright idea of a bronze-silver-gold colour scheme for the Silver Blackthorn trilogy. Book one, Reckoning, is bronze - and this is the silver. The colours, the rain, the castle, Silver's battered kick-your-arse gaze is perfect for the tone of Renegade.

Maryom's review of Reckoning can be found here

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw



review by Maryom
Retired French police inspector Auguste Jovert is about to have his peaceful life disrupted; first he receives a letter from a woman he's never met claiming to be his daughter, then he gets waylaid by one of his neighbours, Tadashi Omura, a Japanese professor of law who seems to have picked Jovert as a 'father confessor' figure and seems intent on sharing his life story with him. For both men it's a time of looking back at their lives, stirring up unpleasant things long forgotten, and wondering if and how events might have played out differently. Jovert's story revolves around his time undercover in Algeria in the late 1950s at the time of armed rebellion against France; Omura's centres on his life-long friendship with Katsuo Ikedo, a rather disreputable but extremely wealthy author, and the curious circumstances under which Omura found himself bringing up Ikedo's daughter as if she were his own.

First off, I'd better admit that this wasn't quite the book I'd expected; the cover looks rather like a Nordic Noir thriller, the blurb seemed to support this, and so I'd expected a faster paced, more action-packed story. Instead this is a beautifully written, very atmospheric read, a quieter psychological study delving into the past, revealing hidden emotional wounds and the terrible things people can be capable of. I started out a little wrong-footed but soon fell into the rhythm; I'm just not sure though that I quite followed everything - there didn't seem to be any reason that Omura picked Jovert to unburden himself to, or any connection or correlation between the two men's stories. Maybe, by expecting events to take a danger-filled 'thriller' route, I missed something. As with many stories that unfold through flashbacks, Omura's past isn't revealed sequentially but by darting about on the timeline - back to only a few years ago, then right back to childhood, before jumping forward again - all a little confusing at times.
Even with these quibbles, this is a lovely read, as much for the atmospheric scene setting as the plot, and one I'd like to re-visit.



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

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Disclaimer by Renee Knight


review by Maryom

Catherine and Robert have just moved house - downsizing now that their son has left home - and everything is in a bit of a mess. So when Catherine finds a new book lying on her bedside table, she assumes it must belong to one of them although she doesn't remember buying it, and settles down to read. She's in for quite a shock though, as she soon discovers the events in it echo something that happened to her on a foreign holiday, many years ago. But how could anyone else have known this dark secret she's kept hidden from friends, family and, most importantly, her husband, and why have they now revealed it? Is it an attempt at blackmail, or revenge of some kind? Catherine's kept this secret for a long while - if she'd told all at the time maybe it maybe wouldn't have mattered so much but now she's terrified that her husband and son will find out, and that her almost perfect life will fall apart.

We're all rather accustomed to tabloid papers promising big reveals about the private lives of celerities or politicians, but imagine someone had written a book based on something that had happened to you...someone who was twisting the facts, and not giving you chance to air your version of events; that's the uncomfortable situation that Catherine finds herself in.
The story evolves from two perspectives - Catherine's as her life starts to crumble, and that of Stephen Brigstocke, the retired teacher seemingly intent on destroying her. Switching between one and the other, the reader is teased along as what really occurred all those years ago is gradually revealed, and, although neither of them seem really likeable, my sympathy swung from one to the other, and back again! As you might expect, there's a twist part way through that casts new light on events, and although in the main I guessed it in advance that didn't spoil my enjoyment - by that point, the book has put the cat in among the pigeons and disrupted Catherine's happy life; her work has suffered, the relationship with her husband completely fallen apart and I was beginning to wonder if Catherine would ever be able to put her life together again.

 It's a great read, and one I didn't want to put down at all, but some of it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt and not thought about too much. I don't really think Catherine could have covered events up so easily - even the slightest drama involving Brits on holiday in the sun can be a newsworthy event -  nor did I understand why she chose to not tell her husband but these things didn't worry me at all while I was reading - I was too gripped!

 

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre- adult psychological thriller

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Love, Sex and other Foreign Policy Goals by Jesse Armstrong


review by Maryom

1994 - and what used to be Yugoslavia is splitting into innumerable factions, all at war with each other. Into this turmoil venture a group of well-meaning young activists from Manchester, convinced that if they can reach Sarajevo in their van, and perform their peace-promoting play, all will be right with the world.

Andrew has definite views about the situation in Yugoslavia, believing utterly that war is a bad thing, but more importantly, from a personal perspective, beautiful, desirable Penny is writing the play and going along on the trip - volunteering will surely help him win her love, won't it? Certainly it will mean he can keep an eye on his rival Simon, and any moves he might attempt on Penny's affections. So Andrew joins the group, and they head off through Europe in a Transit van, carrying supplies for those displaced by war and bringing hope to all, or so they believe.

This is the first novel from Peep Show and The Thick of It writer Jesse Armstrong, a tale of naive do-gooders off to bring peace and happiness to a worn-torn country when all UN intervention has failed. As you'd expect it's fairly light, a lot nearer to Summer Holiday than The Killing Fields; even by the group's leader, passionate, fiery American Shannon, the whole thing's seen as more of a road trip with a little philanthropy on the side than a serious peace mission. The group potter about, making friends with a small-town war lord, hiring mercenaries, dodging bombs and bullets, seemingly unaware of the danger they could be in, and with Andrew's eye always fixed on his real reason for being there - getting to sleep with Penny.
 It's not big on characterisation or deep insights into the plight of man, although the group do come to realise the horror of war and the futility of their plan. Overall the feeling is of wry humour, rather than laugh out loud comedy but it's an enjoyable enough read, though it felt at times like it might have been originally intended for screen rather than page.

It seems odd to label this as 'historical fiction' but set in the 1990s, what else could it be!


Maryom's review -  3.5 stars
Publisher - Jonathan Cape
Genre - adult fiction, historical fiction, humour, road trip

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Adeline; a novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent


review by Maryom

Adeline was Virginia Woolf's first name - one that was never used as she shared it with her mother's deceased sister. In this story, she represents a young version of the famous author, stopped in time as a teenager, visible to the adult Virginia - sometimes serving as muse, sometimes as a repository of memories, sometimes as a symbol of lost innocence.

Norah Vincent's novel attempts to take the reader inside the mind and thoughts of Virginia Woolf, from 1925 as she starts to work on To The Lighthouse, through the writing of The Waves, to her suicide in 1941. Told in the third person but in a stream of consciousness style that copies Woolf's own, Vincent shows the reader a woman torn by doubts about her work, doubtful of her ability to express exactly what she wants to by the cumbersome method of words on a page, but someone who welcomes death, sees it as comforting and welcoming after the trials and distractions of life. In her meetings with fellow member of the Bloomsbury set - Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington, and TS Elliott - and discussions about the work of contemporary authors she comes over as rather catty, jealous of others' success, and overly critical of their work but at the same time deeply attached to those she sees as her friends.

Almost everyone has heard of Virginia Woolf, even if they've been put off reading her novels due to a idea that they might be 'difficult'. For myself, I discovered her writing as a teenager, plunging in at the deep end with The Waves and loving it, but apart from the brief biographical notes found at the end of books I knew little of her life, so when I saw this available for review I was intrigued. It brings to life Woolf's anguish and despair, and enlightened me about much of her life but left me wanting to know more. Throughout I felt more sympathy for her husband Leonard, worrying over and trying his best to care for his unpredictable wife, than for Virginia herself.

The style is at times a little difficult to come to grips with - stream of consciousness by its nature flits about from thought to thought, starting out on one idea and following another at a tangent. It's ideal for capturing thought processes but sometimes I found myself carried away by the words and not taking in the sense of them.
Adeline is an interesting and insightful story, but I think it's necessary to know something of Woolf's life and work to fully appreciate this novel, so I wouldn't recommend it to 'newcomers'.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Virago
Genre - Adult Fiction, Literary