Monday, 22 May 2017

Caroline Wallace - The Finding of Martha Lost - blog tour

Today we're delighted to be taking part in the  blog tour for The Finding of Martha Lost. Martha was found as a baby on the platform of Liverpool's Lime Street station, and has spent all her life there, living in the flat above the lost property office. Setting is obviously a key point to the novel and  author Caroline Wallace is here to talk about just that ... 

The original plan was to set The Finding of Martha Lost in Paris. For many years, I’d been infatuated with the culture, the romance, the language too. At eighteen, I even ran away to France, to find myself and to fall in love; neither happened.

My outline for The Finding of Martha Lost was to focus on a character called Martha being lost, then found, on departures and arrivals in a train station, with a host of quirks that I imagined would feel at home in France. The novel was forming nicely in my mind, despite the many obstacles of the setting being overseas, but everything changed when I walked through Lime Street Station in Liverpool (on my way to a Nik Kershaw concert).

I needed cash but couldn’t recall where the cash machines were located inside the station. After several minutes of searching, and having spotted a man sitting inside, I stepped into Lime Street Station’s lost property office and asked for help. The man behind the counter glared at me. I swear he growled as he pointed at a laminated sign on his desk: ‘CASH MACHINES ON PLATFORM 7’. I laughed, he didn’t. He continued to scowl, so I thanked him and hurried out of his lost property office. As I turned and looked back, I considered the amount of times the man must have been asked that same question before deciding he needed the sign. The thought made me smile.

That was the seed, or perhaps the switch.

That’s when I started wondering if Paris was the correct location for Martha Lost to live. I thought about when I’d first arrived into Liverpool by train, freshly broken from France, all lost and alone. I thought about the city and how its people had embraced me. I thought about falling in love with a local boy, about finding myself, about the friends I’d made, about the stories I’d been told. I thought about how the city had saved me, about walking down the aisle to The Beatles’ When I’m 64 on my wedding day and about how I couldn’t imagine ever living anywhere else. I thought about how the funniest, grumpiest, friendliest people live in Liverpool, a place that was my rescuer and soon became my home. I thought about how the people were defiant, brave and (often brutally) honest, so far from stereotypes in popular culture that had been created to mock. I realised that I was a fan of Liverpool’s culture, the romance to be found, the language too.
It didn’t take long for me to grasp that Paris didn’t hold the passion or the quirks that I needed for The Finding of Martha Lost. I realised that everything and more could be found in my city and that Lime Street Station would function at the heart of my story. Somehow, and unexpectedly, my Parisian novel transformed into a love letter to Liverpool.

Thank you Caroline - I personally can't imagine the novel being set anywhere but Lime Street station. 

If you're now intrigued and want to know more about The Finding of Martha Lost, check out Maryom's review here

Friday, 19 May 2017

Contagion by Teri Terry

An epidemic is sweeping the country.
You are among the infected. There is no cure; and you cannot be permitted to infect others. You are now under quarantine. 
The very few of the infected who survive are dangerous and will be taken into the custody of the army.

review by Maryom

Kai's younger sister, Callie, has been missing without trace for a year, so when a girl called Shay contacts him with new information, he has no doubts about dashing up from Newcastle to the small village of Killin in Scotland to investigate the lead. Together they try to piece together Callie's last known movements but events in the wider world are working against them.
A secret scientific facility on Shetland has been conducting some very dodgy experiments, and when a supposed earthquake destroys it, a horrendous,highly-infectious, fast-acting flu virus is leaked into the world. Special army units are called in and quarantine zones are soon established across Scotland, making it difficult to travel, but even so the disease continues to claim victims at a dreadful rate. Very few survive, and those who do are considered too dangerous to be left at large.
Against this backdrop, Kai and Shay pursue the leads to uncover what exactly happened to Callie, and why ...

Anyone who's read this blog will know how much I love Teri Terry's teen/YA novels, whether set in the dystopian worlds of the Slated trilogy and Mind Games, or the urban fantasy of Book of Lies. This time the story is  a mix of dystopian horror as a mystery illness sweeps the country, thriller and conspiracy theory as Kai and Shay uncover far more than they'd expected in their search for Callie.
It's a great read, with characters to warm to, and a plot to entice you in - the sort of book you don't want to put down, but read in one sitting (no matter how late you have to stay up to do that!). You'll be left wanting more though, as this is the first book of a trilogy, and, although it ends at a logical point, a lot of questions have been raised and not answered yet. I can't wait to see how things develop in Book 2!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre - 
teen, dystopian thriller, conspiracy theory

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

review by Maryom

Set in the turbulent years of the 900s, when England as a country was more of a dream than reality, Dunstan is the story of a rather un-saintly saint, and of the part he played in these formative years. His life spanned the reign of seven English kings, from Æthelstan, the first to consider himself King of all Britain, to Ethelred; some considered him a friend and adviser; others saw him as a foe, one even banishing him overseas. But whether welcome at court in Winchester or not, Dunstan is always plotting and planning, furthering his own ends as much as the king's.

This is period of history I know little about - I think for many readers the time from Alfred the Great to William the Conqueror will be a blur - but, from this story of a man caught in the middle of it, it's as full of treachery, double dealing, and political machinations as you could imagine.
The story is told as the remembrances of an old man looking back on his long, tumultuous life, his achievements and mistakes, the part he played in history as builder of church monuments and adviser to kings. The portrait Iggulden paints of Dunstan is of a complex man. A younger son with few other prospects, he's drawn to the church more for the possibilities of power and learning, than any religious calling. Tales of miracles and visions surround him and Dunstan becomes Abbot of Glastonbury at an early age, spending much of his life building of monasteries and cathedrals. On the other hand, he's full of petty jealousies, not wanting anyone to stand in his way, holding grudges against those opposed to him, and paying them back with violence. He's not a man you'd want to get on the wrong side of!

It isn't the sort of book that I'd normally pick up but I've been watching The Last Kingdom on TV and as this is set a couple of generations or so later I was intrigued. There's some, though not a tremendous amount of, war and violence because of the nature of the times, but the story only really concerns itself with events Dunstan witnesses first hand, and as a man in holy orders he's not on the front line of every battle and skirmish.  Dunstan brings the period to life in an enjoyable, readable way - and there are historical notes at the end if, like me, you want to know how the story compares to what really happened.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Michael Joseph
Genre - Adult historical fiction

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel

review by Maryom

Based on the story of her grandparents, Meike's Ziervogel's latest novel returns to the scene of her first, Magda - Germany in the 1930s and '40s. This time though the focus is not on the Nazi elite, but on an 'average' couple - Trude and Albert.
They meet in 1933, and, despite Trude's mother's objections, after a whirlwind romance leave Germany to travel round Europe while Albert begins to make his mark as a photographer. With war approaching they return home to Pomerania in the east of Germany, but Albert is soon forced to join the army, and as the war sweeps first east then west, the family is separated by forces beyond their control.
Through this small family of mother, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson, we see the desperate hardships and heart-breaking decisions that faced many German families - to volunteer or try to avoid conscription, to remain in the family home or flee with only the minimum of clothing and mementos; it's a story that in many ways is being echoed today in other parts of the world.
So many war-time 'romances' end with the return of the soldier to a hero's welcome; the Photographer doesn't. Trude and Albert's story continues in the harsh environment of refugee camps, where they have to readjust, learn to love each other again, and Albert particularly has to forget the past few years and rediscover the person he was before. The horrors he's seen are largely unmentioned, but have obviously affected him; as he wanders around, picking up his camera but never ready to commit to actually taking a photograph, there's an almost unbearable sense of a man lost and not able to find his way back to 'normality'.
In length, the story is short - 170 pages - but it's not one to rush. Take your time, because every word counts. Ziervogel's prose is pared back, almost to a minimum, and leaves the reader to put in some effort. At times the motivation behind the characters' actions is left a little 'open', and the reader can maybe choose their own interpretation  - for instance, one may see Trude's mother as an interfering busybody, another as a concerned, patriotic mother. I quite like this in a novel - the story isn't cast in stone, but can be re-interpreted according to my mood or influences outside the book.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult historical fiction, WW2, 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Unthology 9 - Edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

This, the latest, anthology feels like a deviation from the style of the earlier ones - but that doesn't lessen the quality of the collection or each of the stories in the group of 17.

We start with the atmospheric telling of a dream-like narration of a suicide by drowning - but within that we learn something of that has brought them to this.

The next tells of an old man's journey through life and his search for something from his childhood for one last time.

So the collection has what would normally be  very dark theme - in fact "The End" would be an appropriate subtitle for this collection. But most of the stories aren't dark and they don't, in anyway shape or form, glamorise death.

As Linda Was Buying Tulips, About Time  and Traffic are complete steps away from the theme and You May As Well Give Up Trying To Make Something Of Yourself makes you wonder and left me later thinking "What did happen there?".

My real favourite deals in life and death in a manner I've never read before and left me wondering about Ego and the Surgeon - In Rehearsal by Sarah Evans.

Each story can be read in a coffee break and give you something to think about and waiting for another cuppa.

The collection returns to suicide by drowning but the circle we have come does not fully close itself.

A really spellbinding collection of stories once again with appeal to even those of us who don't like dark themes.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings

review by Maryom

The quiet country town of Heathcote is being disturbed by rumours of someone sneaking into houses, sometimes even when the owners are at home. No one has seen this mysterious person, nick-named The Fox for his sneaky habits, and nothing has been stolen, but people report their possessions being moved, as if picked up and replaced in the wrong spot. In a small community where everyone knows their neighbours, it's a disquieting feeling. Then events escalate with the disappearance of Anna, a quiet young woman who lived alone, and everyone fears she's been abducted by The Fox. As the local police call in reinforcements, people hide indoors behind locked windows and chained doors, all fearing they might be the next victim ...

Set in the 1980s and inspired by real events of the time, We All Begin As Strangers is a really impressive debut. Although revolving around a crime, it isn't quite a crime novel, and although it's a psychological study of what goes on behind the net curtains of a small, fairly prosperous English town, is definitely isn't a psychological thriller. It's closer to Joanna Cannon's The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, or Jon McGregor's Reservoir 13, both of which use the whodunnit format to explore the relationships and secrets of a small community.
The story is told in the third person, with each of the four parts of the novel being told from a different character's point of view - that of  Deloris, who's been married for only a year, but is finding the reality of married life doesn't live up to her hopes and expectations; Jim, the lay preacher who knew Anna through her help at the church, and is running from something shameful in his past; Brian, the local policeman, whose life revolves around caring for his older brother disabled in a freak accident; and Stan the supermarket manager, another person hiding a guilty secret. Anna herself, around whom everything revolves, remains an enigma - pleasant, kind, always busy with charity work, or helping at the church, well thought of by her neighbours, but not really close to any of them.
The author shows a real understanding of her characters' emotions and thoughts, their strengths or flaws, and brings them to life with care and sympathy - any or all feel like they could be your neighbours.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - adult fiction

Monday, 8 May 2017

Spot the Mistake:Lands of Long Ago by Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley

illustrated by Frances Castle

"Would a Mayan warrior have worn a watch? Would a Viking have used a compass? Test your knowledge of history and spot 20 mistakes in every scene. Then, turn the page to discover if you were right and learn more fun facts about ancient civilisations, including the Ancient Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Mayans, the Vikings, and many more!"

review by Maryom

I know I'm not the target reader but I love this book!
It's split into ten sections, each covering a different period of time from the prehistoric Stone Age through the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and central America to Medieval Knights, Vikings, the Mughal Empire in India and seventeenth century Caribbean Pirates just like Jack Sparrow! For each time period there's a double-page spread showing typical activities BUT there are mistakes. In each picture are twenty things which do not belong, and which the reader has to spot.
Now, I always find that there's something about a 'spot the mistake' game that drags me in, so obviously I had to try and spot them. Some were obvious - there were no cameras in Ancient Greece, and pirates didn't play on the beach making sandcastles - but there were some I didn't know - no chickens in Neolithic Britain or carrots in the time of the Pharaohs - and some sneaky ones that I couldn't find. Maybe you need sharper eyes than mine, but if you don't spot every mistake, don't worry; the answers are given on the next page, along with more interesting facts about the time period.

Every page has bright, colourful illustrations, and while children are looking at tham and trying to spot all the mistakes, they'll be learning about the past without really realising.

Publisher - Wide Eyed Editions
Genre - Non-fiction, history, children's 7+

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu

illustrated by Manuela Adreani

review by Maryom

Etabo is too small to race camels, but he watches his brother racing and imagines it must feel like flying. One day, he's sure, he'll be better than his brother, possibly even the best camel racer ever. Times are hard for his family though. The cost of necessities like water is rising, and Etabo's father is forced to sell their camels. Left alone to look after the family gosts, Etabo can still dream ... but is it enough?

We can't always have what we want. Sometimes hopes and dreams have to be put on hold for a while - and waiting a month can seem like forever to a child. This universal story of keeping those dreams alive through imagination could have been set anywhere, but by choosing the dry desert of the north-west of her native Kenya, Wanuri Kahiu introduces children to a life very different to their own. Here we expect to turn on a tap and fill our glasses and mugs with clean water for 'free'; to live in a place where such a necessity can become almost too expensive to buy seems shocking, but sadly this is the case in many areas of the world. Children won't realise they're learning about the world though, they'll be caught up in Etabo's story, and wondering how he will follow his dreams.
Illustrator Manuela Adreani brings Etabo's world to life in colourful full page spreads that capture the arid heat, dry sandy ground, and, of course, the swiftness of camels.
The Wooden Camel is a lovely book which emphasises that no matter how different our lives may be we all have dreams, and through our imagination can pursue them.

Publisher - Lantana
genre - children's picture book,

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Author event - Robin Hobb

 US fantasy author Robin Hobb (aka Megan Lindholm) is here in the UK at the moment promoting her latest book, and last in the long-running Fitz and the Fool series, Assassin's Fate, and last night she was at Nottingham Waterstones to talk to a packed room.

As you can see, we were right at the back, so please excuse the blurry photos!

I'm a relative new-comer to the world of Fitz and the Fool. Although I read the first Rain Wild chronicle a few years ago, I really got into the Farseer world when I read Assassin's Apprentice, last December. I'd hoped to read the whole series before publication date of Assassin's Fate came around, but that plan hasn't really worked - I'm only on the fifth book, The Mad Ship. I have, though, become a great fan, and my new resolve is to finish them all before paperback publication of Assassin's Fate (so, in a way, I'm hoping that's many months away)
Robin opened last night's event by reading from Assassin's Fate and, although I didn't really know the characters and their circumstances, I could glean enough to guess some of the plot developments between where I've reached and this final instalment. I was left with a dilemma - part of me wants to jump ahead, and see how everything ends, then go back and take things slowly through the series; the other part thinks I should read each book in turn with no jumping ahead and plot spoilers. I'll probably go for the traditional, sequential route but try to avoid that desire to 'know how it all ends', which can cause me to rush.

I don't usually bother about the actual physical appearance of a book - after all the story inside is the most important aspect, the cover just a way to keep the pages together - but this one, from a painting by Jackie Morris, is something really special. So gorgeous, in fact that I'd almost frame it and hang it on the wall!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Mark of the Cyclops by Saviour Pirotta

illustrated by Freya Hartas

review by Maryom

Nico and Thrax both work for professional poet and singer, Ariston, but there is one important difference between the two boys - Nico is a freeborn apprentice and Thrax a slave. Their master travels all round Greece performing at weddings and festivals, and it's while on a trip to a wedding in Corinth, that the boys become amateur detectives. A precious vase, a gift for the bride, is broken and suspicion falls on a slave girl, Gaia. Nico and Thrax believe her story that a mystery intruder disguised in a Cyclops mask was responsible, and set out to clear her name.

Mark of the Cyclops is the first in a series of adventures for children set in Ancient Greece. Nico and Thrax are a little bit like younger versions of  Sherlock Holmes and Watson; Thrax is the one with the investigative mind, Nico his chronicler and 'author' of this adventure. Together they find themselves on the trail of a smuggling gang, which isn't without its danger (though not too frightening for young readers). The story is fun and exciting, and at the same time brings the world of Ancient Greece vividly to life, with facts about everyday life, beliefs, and customs, worked in without detracting from the story-line, plus there are excellent black and white illustrations throughout from Freya Hartas which again help readers picture the characters and setting. Children, and even their parents, will pick up a lot of historical facts without even realising!

This first book centres on the two boys, Nico and Thrax, but I feel the overall story arc is shaping up so that Gaia and her young mistress Fotini will have more important roles in future. I thoroughly enjoyed Mark of the Cyclops, and I'm sure young readers will too.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury
Genre - children's whodunnit adventure, historical, Ancient Greece

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Red Moon Rising by JT Brannan

review by Maryom

Once a high-powered New York Assistant DA, Jessica Hudson's career came to an end when she was hit by a would-be-assassin's bullet. After months in a coma, she's trying to build a new life, almost as far away as she can get, in the wilds of Alaska. Then late one night a naked, battered girl staggers up to Jessica's door, and her refuge becomes the centre of a murder investigation, with police and on-lookers swarming about ... until Jessica wakes next morning and finds no traces of the previous evening's events. Has she really jumped in time while she slept? woken BEFORE the girl was abducted and tortured? if so, is there a way she can prevent the crime happening? 

It's a bit difficult to know how to describe Red Moon Rising  - is it time travel? psychological thriller? murder mystery? It's probably best to say 'a bit of all',  but it's definitely a story that had me hooked as, along with main character Jessica, I tried to find out exactly WHAT was happening. 
I don't normally read/review self-published books, but I've read JT Brannan's previous novels - Origin and Extinction - published through Headline, and enjoyed both of them (and the Mole has also read Brannan's self-published Stop At Nothing), so I was happy to read Red Moon Rising when approached by the author.  
As I say, the story's a mix of crime thriller and time travel, with Jessica moving backwards and forwards trying to prevent the murder of a teenage girl, while coping with her own personal demons. Obviously things don't go as simply as nipping back a day or so and altering the course of events, but the author's thought through the advantages and drawbacks to travelling through time, knowing what will happen before anyone else, and affecting events, and doesn't leave loose ends (a bugbear of mine). The story is fast-paced, sometimes leaving the reader wondering what's going on - but Jessica's in the same position and as she figures things out, so does the reader - and, while she's wondering whether everything is really happening or some coma nightmare she's trapped in, Jessica has a crime to solve and a would-be murderer to catch. There are plenty of suspects, from her callous ex-boyfriend to locals with prior convictions, and a twist to catch you unaware. 
A bit of warning that the violence and injuries are described a bit too graphically, and may prove unsettling for some readers, otherwise it's an enjoyable, gripping read.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Genre - adult, crime thriller, time travel

Monday, 24 April 2017

Wild Chamber (Bryant and May) by Christopher Fowler

Review by The Mole

After a few historic events, setting what will become background to the next case, we are treated to a letter from Raymond Land (the head of the Peculiar Crimes Unit) to the staff. For new readers this is a great introduction to the team members, the unit and the antics up to which they get. It's sets the mood light-heartedly though the plot doesn't remain this light-hearted for very long - this is a murder mystery after all is said and done.

The book is split into 7 days as the case progresses and Bryant and May find, once again, that the race is on not only to find the killer but also to save their careers and the PCU.

Combining all the best techniques Fowler produces some of the very best in crime fiction. The cover photo does, however, give a spoiler to one particular incident in the story.

Fast paced, compelling, challenging are all words we expect to be used when describing good crime fiction and this IS good crime fiction but unlike many such series it's not just about the detectives. We know a lot about Bryant, not as much about May but Fowler also fleshes out a little of each of the rest of the team - including the intern who is temporary secondment from Cologne and is learning about British policing.

Bryant and May at their very eccentric best.

Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult fiction,  crime mystery

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 3 - edited by Teika Bellamy

review by Maryom

Having seen editor Teika Bellamy on social media first asking for submissions, then talking about her difficulties in choosing which would make the cut, I've been eagerly waiting to read this, the third collection of re-imagined fairy tales from Mother's Milk Books. Most of us start our reading with fairy stories and for me that love of magic and mystery has stayed, but reading with an adult's view the children's versions have all the "otherness" and magic washed out of them. Here, in these seventeen stories, that returns.

As you'd imagine there are many of the familiar 'faces' included - animals are turned into men, and vice versa, mermaids sing their siren songs, children go missing lured away by by an enchantment, a woman is made of flowers, a child made of salt.
Some are set in the familiar never-never-land of fairy stories with dark, forbidden forests where people mustn't stray from their village or a lady from her tower. Others in more contemporary surroundings - an orphaned child with strange eyes is found on a bomb site, the Little Match Girl is transported to present day London, and that fairy tale regular, the old crone, sits on a park bench and admires the youth and fitness of a triathlete. They even transport well to the future - the dangers of a forest are replaced by an airless planet and fairy folk by 'aliens', and our obsession with social media becomes a cautionary tale for the children of our descendants.
The stories vary in length from a couple of pages to a dozen or so, some are funny, some magical, but all are enjoyable, and look beyond the obvious day to day world. I'm not going to go into details about every story but here are three of my favourites -

Dan Micklethwaite's Midnight Riders in which the story of Cinderella's coachman is played out in London's Underground
Sarah Armstrong's The Truth About Tea in which a mother decides to check out the young woman her son intends to marry (in this modern day, you can't really try the pea-under-the-mattress test)
Clair Wright's Spawned, a 'sequel' to the tale of the Frog Prince which underlines that love is really all you need.

Authors; Poppy O'Neil, Dan Micklethwaite, Lynden Ware, Angi Holden, Ronne Randall, Sophie Sellars, Elizabeth Hopkinson, Claire Stephenson, NJ Ramsden, Moira Garland, Ness Owen, Clair Wright, Carys Crossen, Marie Gethins, Rachel Rivett, Sarah Armstrong, Sarah Hindmarsh

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Mother's Milk Books
Genre - 
adult folk/fairy tales

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Billionaires' Banquet by Ron Butlin

review by Maryom

It's 1985, the middle of the Thatcher era, and in Edinburgh three unemployed ex-students - Hume (philosophy PhD), "St" Francis (dropped out of training for priesthood)  and the Cat (awaiting results of her Pure Maths degree) are living amicably enough in their cheap, down at heel fourth floor flat, drifting along with no clear plans for their future but with the hope that something with turn up one day - even when the Cat disappears mysteriously in the middle of a party their lives continue with barely a flicker of concern. But change is coming from outside - even on Edinburgh's streets you can see homeless people sleeping rough, and Hume's new girlfriend DD isn't happy with his attitude to life, so delivers an ultimatum; basically, get a job or I'm off!
With this threat hanging over him, Hume decides to ditch his theoretical philosophy in favour of something more money-making, dragging St Francis along with him into a scheme providing butlers for up-market gatherings.  Hume is on his way to making loadsamoney ...
Their story is picked up twenty years later, as Edinburgh is occupied by anti-G8 protesters and London shaken by bombs, and Hume hosts a "Billionaires' Banquet" at which the winners of a lottery will be waited on hand and foot, and the losers doled out rice and water ...

Billionaires' Banquet is a rags to riches story, invoking the heady get-rich-quick schemes of the Thatcher era, and the human cost underlying them. Hume's business is typical for the times, conjured up from nothing more than a few props, hot air and wishful thinking, but it caters to clients' feelings of self-importance and Edinburgh falls for it. It isn't without its downside though - for both the people Hume employs and his family.
It's very much a novel of Edinburgh too, of the changes made to it by time and economics, as one area rises in status while another declines, and, something I always love, streets and parks are named so you can follow the characters' movements in your mind or on a map.

The story is insightful, funny, scathing, and farcical by turns but I think you need a liking for dark satire to really appreciate it, and possibly a re-read to catch all the nuances. As such, I think it may not be an instantly appealing book but a slow-burner that simmers at the back of your mind for longer.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult fiction

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Until We Win by Linda Newbery

review by Maryom

Lizzy thinks of herself as a modern girl, with an office job in town and a bicycle to carry her to and fro, but a chance meeting with two Suffragettes makes her realise how sheltered her life has been. Soon she's caught up in the fight for women's votes, attending meeting and rallies, even getting imprisoned for her part in demonstrations.

This story by Linda Newbery takes the reader back to the early twentieth century when women were still fighting for the right to vote. Despite living in very different times, the reader can easily sympathise with Lizzy and her hopes for a better, more equal future for women. Her story brings to life the passion, commitment and determination of the Suffragettes from all walks of life - from the wealthy, political classes to office-girls like Lizzy -  and shows in contrast how many people, both men and women, dismissed their claims as silly or irrelevant.
As always, publisher Barrington Stoke has printed in a format found to be more acceptable to dyslexic and reluctant readers, and hopefully the story will engage and draw them in while learning about an important political issue.

You can read the first chapter here on the publisher's website

Publisher - Barrington Stoke
Genre - 12+  historical fiction, feminism, politics

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

review by Maryom
When Nona is saved from the hangman by the Abbess of the Convent of Sweet Mercy it isn't through some pure-minded, altruistic concern for a wrongly-accused child, for Nona is far from innocent of the charges against her, and the Abbess is interested in the special 'talents' (an inborn aptitude for killing) that led Nona to this point, and the possibility that Nona may have a part to play in fulfilling a prophecy. Neither is the Convent the tranquil, contemplative place you might expect - the young girls who are admitted there are trained through martial arts, stealth, magic and poisons to become killers,and it's only through becoming one that Nona will be able to rid herself of the enemies she's created.

This is the first book I've read by Mark Lawrence but I saw folk enthusing about him on social media so, feeling in the mood for a little fantasy adventure, took a risk and really enjoyed it.

After the dramatic opening, the story slows somewhat as Nona becomes settled into her new life as a novice at the Convent. Yes, there are echoes of Harry Potter in the training for the various skills a novice must master, and there are similarities with the many other fantasy series centred on a special child who will rescue the princess/save the world/dispose of the bad guys, but the Convent of Sweet Mercy is a bloodier, more violent place than Hogwarts (Red Sister certainly isn't a story for children) and the story individual enough to stand up to other fantasy novels.

Red Sister is the first of a new series, The Book of the Ancestor, set on a world almost totally enveloped by ice; only a narrow corridor is habitable, this is warmed, not by the red sun, but by an artificial moon which reflects light down to heat the land at night. Civilisation seems to be at the vague medieval level of most fantasy novels but there are hints of a more technological past - for example, the different off-world 'tribes' that settled the planet, the 'ships heart' that provides heat for the convent and the circling artificial moon. Another aspect hinted at is the mysterious prophecy which Nona may or may not be in line to fulfil  - again it's a familiar fantasy trope but handled well and I liked the fact that there's a lot more doubt about which novice it refers to than in, say, Harry Potter or Eragon. The strange columns which guard the approach to the Convent, especially with Sister Thorn facing down her enemies there, reminded me of the fight scenes from The House of Flying Daggers set in bamboo groves, and so my whole imagining of setting and characters was tinged with this - it's probably not at all how the author envisaged it but one of the joys of fantasy is creating your own world out of the writer's words.
As the story builds to its dramatic close, there are more glimpses of the future which awaits Nona, with hints of invaders and war, and possible treachery among both the rulers of her world, and her friends. So although the first part of Nona's story has come to an end, I'm left wanting to read more...

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

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Ammuchi Puchi by Sharanya Manivannan and Nerina Canzi

review by Maryom

When Anjali and Aditya were very small they were a little frightened by the ghost stories told by their grandmother, Ammuchi, but as they grew up they came to love them, and join in making tales of their own. When their grandmother dies though, the whole family is left feeling sad, and not even telling her stories can make them feel better. Then something strange and maybe a little magical happens, as if Grandmother Ammuchi has come back to them as one of the ghosts from her stories.

Flicking through the Lantana Publishing catalogue, what first caught my attention about this book were Nerina Canzi's vibrant illustrations - the rich, bright colours and exotic flowers and foliage which leap out from almost every page - but then I saw that behind those attractive pictures was a story trying to make sense of something very hard for a child to understand - the death of a loved family member.

Sharanya Manivannan's words tell of two children, their love of their grandmother and their grief following her death - but suggest a way through that painful time and hold out the possibility that maybe our loved ones are always there watching over us.

Despite the subject matter, this isn't a glum, depressing book - helped no doubt by the enchanting, exuberant pictures, it comes over as joyous and full of life - and, while it will help children come to terms with their feelings of loss, I think it would also be enjoyed as 'just' a story.

The publishers suggest a reading age of 7 to 9, but the bright pictures will appeal to younger children, who could share it with a parent or older sibling.

Publisher - Lantana
genre - children's picture book, 7-9, bereavement

Monday, 10 April 2017

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

review by Maryom

Rebecca Shaw, on a New Year holiday with her parents, goes out walking on the moors one day, and disappears. The locals gather to help the police search the area, and at first the talk is of a twisted ankle, or the girl deliberately staying out, trying to frighten her parents, and expectations are high that she'll soon be found. But there are so many things that could have happened - she could have fallen into a quarry, be trapped down an abandoned mine, sucked into one of the bogs on the moor, or even hitched a lift to the nearest city, - and as the days, weeks, months pass, finding her seems unlikely. Despite their initial shock and concern, the villagers soon find that life continues, at first slowly but speeding up with the passing of the years - Spring comes with lambs and fox cubs, wild flowers blossom in the hedgerows, vegetables sprout up at the allotments; babies are born, children grow, relationships develop or falter, the elderly die, newcomers arrive, and ultimately people begin to forget about a missing girl.

I usually try to avoid spoilers when  writing reviews but I don't think that's possible here because a lot of my thoughts revolve around what the book IS, and what it ISN'T.

Although the book opens with Rebecca's disappearance, it ISN'T a crime thriller, with clues to unearth, false leads to pursue, but ultimately leading to a resolution. Over the years, various times of Rebecca's clothing are found but no real evidence of what happened or clue to her whereabouts discovered. Instead the focus is on the impact to the people living in this quiet out-of-the-way village - something devastating has happened on their doorstep, but to an outsider that most of them had never met. Naturally they're shocked, but for how long can they be expected to grieve and put their lives on hold?

Personally I found a lot of similarities with McGregor's first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. In much the same way, it encourages the reader to see and remark upon the small happenings that occur from day to day around us but which are so often missed in the rush of life; to stop for a while and watch a butterfly, listen to birdsong, or notice our children growing from infants to teenagers. It's a mesmerising, beautifully written book charting the emotional and physical changes within a small tightly-knit community over thirteen years, but this time I was left wanting something more. As the years pass, snippets of information come to light about Rebecca's disappearance, various items of her clothing are found on the moors, but no explanation of her disappearance is forthcoming. This may, in all honesty, be truer to life than a crime novel which neatly closes all leads off by the final page, and reaches some nature of resolution, even if not a happy one, but, even so, I was left unsatisfied. Somewhere I read that the mark of a literary novel is that it ends without resolution - this is certainly literary, not crime, fiction.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Fourth Estate
Genre - adult literary fiction, 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

review by Maryom

Scott Burroughs is a struggling, almost penniless, artist who doesn't usually mix with the rich crowd that visit Martha's Vineyard over the summer but one day he gets chatting to Maggie Bateman, wife of a TV channel CEO, at the farmer's market. She takes a casual interest in his art and, when he mentions having to return to New York for meetings with galleries and agents, equally casually offers him a lift in the family private jet. What should have been an easy trip turns into a nightmare when, only minutes after take-off, the plane plunges into the sea, and, of the eleven people on board, only Scott and the Bateman's small son, J J, survive.
The media are immediately interested. One of their own doesn't die in such dramatic circumstances without a LOT of coverage, but Scott's heroic swim to shore with J J, and the illegal business dealings of one of the other passengers are also the stuff of headlines and the focus of investigation by the civil aviation authorities, FBI  etc

Starting from the plane's departure, the story moves both back and forwards. In the lead up to the flight, it tells the lives of the passengers and crew on board that evening, while looking for clues to what brought about the crash  - pilot error, technical malfunction or even a bomb aimed at either David Bateman or dodgy financier Ben Kipling. In the aftermath, the reader follows Scott's epic struggle to reach shore, and the unrolling of events as investigators and media begin to shape the story how they see it having happened.
I've not quite sure how I'd define the story - it has mainly similarities with a psychological thriller, but less of the tension. It's more an investigation into human nature, of what drives a person to make the choices they do, and how sometimes life can revolve around coincidence and chance.

I wasn't aware before that Noah Hawley as well as being the creator of Fargo, was also an author, but being a huge fan of the TV series, I was definitely intrigued when I heard about Before the Fall. It doesn't share the casual violence of Fargo but the themes of chance and coincidence are present in both, directing lives without regard to the people involved. It's an interesting read, of the sort you want to flip through as speedily as possible to found out how it ends, but maybe a little on the light side for my tastes.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Hodder and Stoughton
Genre - Adult

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

How To Be a Grown Up

review by Maryom

For any of you (and, yes, maybe that includes me too) who've ever wondered what the secret is to being an adult, here is Grazia "Agony Aunt" Daisy Buchanan to help. Daisy has made her share of mistakes, with jobs, love, sex, health, and, the biggest, most secret one of them all, money, and now she's drawing on those experiences to offer advice on the minefield that is 'adulting'.

Now a book offering advice on, well, anything, can easily be dry and lecturing in tone, but How To Be A Grown Up is far from that. Daisy offers her advice with a large dollop of humour, and isn't afraid to laugh at herself and her past mistakes, making for a fun, enjoyable read even if you feel you don't need her help. Sometimes her life reads like that of a rom com heroine - messing up at work, being unable to remember the 'night before' or falling for the wrong man, time and again - but along the way Daisy has come up with a plan for surviving adulthood.

 Although aimed primarily at 20-somethings, fresh out of university, and experiencing the world truly on their own for the first time, suddenly without the emotional or financial support of family or long-term friends, it's a book in which lots of us, of any age, could find useful advice. My route to adulthood was very different to Daisy's - I was married with a mortgage at 19, and my first child was born when I was 21 - so I never had wild careful years in my twenties. Even so Daisy's advice would have been helpful - particularly on learning to relax, take time out for oneself, and not dressing to impress or how you feel you 'should' dress, but aiming for something which expresses your individual style.

Obviously there's no simple answer to the problems we encounter in life, but merely knowing that we're not alone, that others go through the same things, suffer the same embarrassments, fears and doubts, can help in itself - it's believing that our problems are unique that often makes them crippling. I'm definitely not the target demographic, but I loved this book, above all because it's fun. Not all the advice will suit everyone (spending anything more than 5 minutes quickly washing my hair in the shower would seem like a chore to me, not a pleasure) but it will start you thinking about how you might take steps to improve your life.

There's only one snag - I think my teen may have been hoping that it would teach me how to be more dignified and less foolish, but actually it's reinforced my tendency to embrace my awkward, inappropriate side, and just be myself.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - self-help, non-fiction

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Christopher Fowler - Wild Chamber Blog Tour

Today we welcome Christopher Fowler to our blog for the tour celebrating the latest of the Bryant and May books - crime stories about two ageing detectives and the Peculiar Crimes Unit that employs them. We have been fortunate to have had a visit from him before when he answered questions at the time of the launch of "London's Glory". Today's questions contain a few supplementaries from that visit. 

The Mole is currently reading Wild Chamber, which is the latest and wonders at how each book seems to get better and better.

With Bryant's cerebral approach, his not revealing his thinking, and his extensive range of 'expert' (if a little eccentric) contacts, I am reminded of George Smiley. Is there any Smiley in him?
I think he’s not as organised as Smiley. His thinking is untidier and more haphazard but there’s a real technique at work – not deductive but instinctive.

In a previous interview you said "...then Bryant & May are about how I’d like to be". Which of the two do you see yourself as?
I’m May. Bryant is my former business partner, so much so that I once put a photograph of him in one of the earlier books.

You said of London "... Before the mid-1980s it was a city steeped in shadows which bred criminality. We lost something when the lights were turned up and the CCTV was turned on". Surely much of the change then is for the better? But has London really changed that much or is it your perception of London that has changed?
No, London has transformed, and that’s perfectly natural. I grew up playing in the streets, sneaking into theatres off Piccadilly, diving into dodgy cinemas and generally getting into trouble with appalling people. London is less dangerous now if you keep your wits about you. But then my father, a teenager during the war, had to go through so many changes too, And his father was a typical London Victorian. We all have to roll with the changes. The trick is not becoming stuck in an era.

The 'Peculiar Crime Unit' investigates just that - Peculiar Crimes, but where do you get the ideas for those crimes from? Do you have a list of crime ideas for the new books or are the ideas hard to come by? I have a keen notebook fetish, and ideas get piled into those. 
Often I couple several ideas together and start connecting the dots – but it usually takes a final mad leap to join everything up, and the inspiration from that can come from anywhere – people, places, experiences mostly – and library research.

In a previous contribution to our blog you said of PD James' rule 'Read, write and don't daydream' - "This is possibly the worst advice imaginable" do you make time for daydreaming and do you have a special place to do it?
I daydream in parks and since a child I’ve always walked around new cities. Last year I went into the Carpathian mountains  in Transylvania to visit Vlad the Impaler’s castle, just to write a story about Dracula.

Of her rule 'Never talk about a book before it is finished' you said "No, no, no!" which does make perfect sense but who do you talk with about your work in progress? 
That’s the thing; you need a sympathetic ear, and I have several friends who are patient and kind, and offer their thoughts. People are quite timid about giving feedback to writers, as if we’re going to bite them!

Many thanks go, once again, to Christopher Fowler who took time out of a very busy timetable to talk to us.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

review by Maryom 

Loo Hawley can't remember her mother - she died in a swimming accident while Loo was just a baby. Since then Loo and her father have moved almost constantly from place to place, ready to pack up and go at a minute's notice, leaving behind everything but the necessities never settling in a place for more than a few months.  Now Loo's twelve and her father has decided that they should settle down, try to build a 'normal' life for themselves in the coastal Massachusetts town her mother grew up in. It isn't easy to get the locals to accept them though - Loo can't find a way to fit in with her new schoolmates, and Hawley himself carries an aura of violence about him which keeps his new neighbours at bay. The past too continues to haunt them - from hints dropped by her grandmother and old newspaper clippings, Loo starts to build an account of her mother's death which doesn't match the tale told by her father, and the violent past Hawley is trying to outrun is still reaching out for him.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an odd mix of a book, blending a coming of age novel with a violent crime thriller. As the story moves forwards, following Loo's (often disastrous) attempts to fit in at school and the beginnings of her first romance, it looks backwards too, exploring Hawley's life via the bullet scars that still serve as a reminder. Hawley slipped gradually into a life of crime and now wants to reinvent himself as a caring parent - but, as you might expect, his former associates and enemies aren't willing to let him.
I sometimes find I need to understand the 'shape' of a story before it really grabs me, and that happened here. Once I'd got to grips with the way the two story-lines were evolving, and the rather prickly characters of Loo and Hawley, I really enjoyed my read. It's cleverly plotted, giving hints about what may happen (or have happened) but never giving too much away in advance. 
Although there's undoubtedly a lot of violence, I didn't find it gratuitous or glorifying. Tinti dwells more on Hawley's optimism that everything will go smoothly without the need for fire-power, and the pain inflicted on him when he's proved wrong, yet again. As his story was revealed, I found my sympathy for Hawley increasing, beginning to see him as caught in a vicious circle; he desperately wants to free himself from his past, but sometimes violence is the only way to fight off violence from others. Loo sees things differently - that guns represent power, and are a symbol of adulthood. Maybe it's learning that she's wrong that is her first step towards growing up. Hawley, though, is definitely the more intersting character.
I think the mix of themes may stop this from being a book for everyone, but I came to enjoy, and would definitely re-read, it.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - 
 Tinder Press
Genre - 
Adult fiction, literary, crime thriller, coming  of age

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

review by Maryom

Isabel Dalhousie's Edinburgh is gentile, middle-class, cultured - as far away from Trainspotting as you can get in the same city - but that doesn't keep murder at bay. At the end of a concert in Usher Hall, she sees a young man fall to his death from the 'gods'. She doesn't know him but something about his accident disturbs her, and she's convinced that what she witnessed wasn't an accident but murder. Despite her reservations, and the advice of family and friends, Isabel's curiosity pushes her, for want of a better word, to investigate.
This isn't the first time I've read The Sunday Philosophy Club, and it was delightful to re-visit the beginning of Isabel's story; meeting her, her niece Cat,and Cat's ex-boyfriend Jamie as if for the first time. If anything I loved it more knowing how their personal lives would develop, perhaps feeling I was in on a secret not known to first-time readers (no spoilers, though, for those who haven't read the series).
Isabel is verging on middle-age, wealthy, and to a certain extent privileged. Hers seems to be an untroubled life, and her pondering over ethics and philosophy largely academic. As befits her role as editor of The Review of Applied Ethics, Isabel tries to live her life in accordance with her philosophical principles, but now she's found herself in a situation where they're actually being tested in a real-life situation. Is her interest in the death of this young man mere morbid curiosity, or, having doubts about it, is she morally obliged to do something? How much should she reveal of the secrets she uncovers, especially when aren't really related to the death? At times I felt Isabel could easily end up bogged down by her scruples, but fortunately she doesn't.

In many ways, Isabel's Edinburgh feels very akin to Miss Marple's St Mary Mead - there's no hint of the 'background' violence of an inner city instead a pleasant village-like atmosphere pervades the quiet streets, where everyone knows everyone else, at least by sight. But, as in St Mary Mead, behind this placid exterior lie secrets that someone might kill to protect. As I said above, I've really enjoyed re-reading this book and I'm now looking forward to re-reading more of the series, plus a newer book or two that I haven't caught up with.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Abacus
Genre - Adult Crime

Friday, 17 March 2017

Tilt by Mary Hoffman

review by Maryom

Netta is the last of a long family of master stonemasons and sculptors, but, despite the craft running in her blood, she isn't allowed to be involved - because she's a girl! Her father Giovanni has recently been appointed Head Mason of Santa Maria Maggiore in Pisa, in charge of all the buildings and monuments being constructed, and with a special task - to find out why the bell-tower leans and to fix it. Seeing it everyday as she goes about her domestic chores, Netta feels she has an instinctive understanding of the famous tower's problems and could help her father, if only she could be involved, instead of having to spend her days cooking and cleaning. 

Set at the end of the thirteenth century, Tilt is the story of a very famous tower, and of a girl who's not content with the traditionally acceptable female roles of housework and child-rearing. Instead she's determined to live a fuller, creative life, to be a part of her family's tradition of working with stone, to have a part, no matter how small, in the building projects going on in Pisa, and just perhaps to be able to help solve the Leaning Tower's problems. 
Everyone has probably heard of Pisa's famous tower but I have to admit I didn't know the history behind its construction or the reasons for its 'tilt', or that marble had to 'stand' before use, so I've learned something in the course of good read, even if it's really intended for a much younger readership!
There's a modern relevancy too, as female stereotypes still need to be challenged. No one should ever believe that girls are limited to certain careers or life choices; they're equally capable of being architects, sculptors, or engineers. 
Don't worry though,Mary Hoffman isn't aiming to lecture the reader on history or feminism, but to tell an engaging story of one girl's desire to do something more fulfilling with her life. It's filled with the noise of hammering, stone dust floating in the air and a feeling of Netta and her family being part of something important happening - the construction of buildings which today are historical monuments but were once no more than an architect's drawings.

As always with books from Barrington Stoke, Tilt is printed on cream paper, rather than harsh white, and in a font chosen as suitable for dyslexic readers

Publisher - Barrington Stoke
Genre - 12+ historical fiction, feminism, 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

review by Maryom

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has been called in after bones are discovered during building works for an underground restaurant in Norwich. She's assuming that they'll be old bones of interest only to historians - but, as you'd expect as this is a crime novel, she's wrong. 

Meanwhile the police led by DCI Harry Nelson have 'underground' problems of their own - a man is reported having disappeared in the vicinity of a hole which suddenly appeared in a road, and, in a separate case, a local rough sleeper has gone missing, perhaps gone 'underground'. As they follow up on rumours, the network of tunnels left behind after chalk-mining under Norwich come to figure prominently in enquiries, and the bones discovered by Ruth take on a much more sinister interpretation.

This is the ninth 'outing' for Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson, and it hasn't lost any of the pull of the earlier books - in fact, I think that helped along by their personal stories the series actually gets more gripping. I've come to the series late, and, despite my best intentions to start at Book 1(The Crossing Places) and read my way through sequentially, I'm darting about the ongoing story of Ruth and Harry in a rather higgledy-piggledy order. It doesn't really matter though - the 'crime' aspect of each book is self-contained, and I've found it nice to be able to jump ahead and find out where Ruth and Harry's relationship is heading before going back and reading how it developed. I'm not entirely sure how I want it to progress - Ruth I feel deserves a happy ending; Harry I'm less convinced about.

Meanwhile there are crimes to solve.This time, everything is pointing towards the tunnels under Norwich as the location of nefarious goings-on. Seemingly unconnected events join up in a way that is credible rather than far-fetched, and there's quite enough in the twists and turns department to keep the reader guessing. The tunnels seem fascinating but its one story location I shan't be hurrying to visit. Griffiths is excellent at capturing atmosphere but whereas I've previously loved her windswept marshes, I wasn't so happy about narrow tunnels. Like Ruth, I'm not happy with small, claustrophobic spaces or people who merrily talk about the tonnes of rock above one's head ... Fortunately most of the action takes place above ground in King's Lynn, in places I recognise from holiday visits there, and Norwich (which I must visit now) and there's a mention or two of lovely Wells next the Sea. I'm starting to think I should plan a little Galloway and Nelson-themed tour of Norfolk for summer, though preferably without any crime  :)

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher -
Genre - adult crime thriller