Friday, 13 July 2018

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger

review by Maryom

Emily, formerly bitchy assistant to equally bitchy fashion editor Miranda Priestly, is now a stylist/PR consultant in Hollywood, but perhaps she's starting to lose her touch because she's losing clients left, right and centre. Licking her wounds, she takes refuge with old friend Miriam, in the wealthy New York suburb of Greenwich. Miriam and her family have only recently moved there. It may be a better place to bring up your children, but she's finding it hard to fit in with the fitness-obsessed designer mum set. It's certainly not the sort of place Emily wants to stay for long, but then Miriam's friend, former super-model Karolina, is set up on a DUI charge, then publicly dumped on TV (!) by her senator, wannabe presidential candidate, husband. Emily believes it's time for some female solidarity, and vows to help Karolina get her own back, and perhaps help salvage her own career.

Some times in life, you want easy, funny, biting reads - something guaranteed to take your mind off day to day worries - and for me this entirely fits the bill. 

 Lauren Weisberger is turning her sharp, sarcastic eye on the wealthy suburban housewives of Greenwich. They've given up high-powered city jobs to spend time with their young families but nannies are left in charge of the kids while mothers spend their days between gym, yoga class, coffee shop and sex-toy parties. It takes 'Desperate Housewives' to a whole new level!
I'm labeling it as chick lit/romcom but it's not really a romantic story. It's sharp and funny, scathing and witty, mocking these women with too much time and money on their hands, while promoting the value of strong female friendships. I really enjoyed it. 'The Wives' works well as a stand-alone read, so it's not necessary to have read or seen 'The Devil Wears Prada', or even know who Miranda Priestly is!

Published in the UK as 'The Wives', in the US it's sold as 'When Life Gives You Lululemons'.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - HarperCollins
Genre - 
adult fiction, chicklit/romcom

Monday, 9 July 2018

Meet Me At the Museum by Anne Youngson

review by Maryom

Tina Hopgood is a middle-aged farmer's wife. Her life so far has been quiet and uneventful, but the death of her one close friend leaves her feeling regretful about opportunities she's missed. One of these was a visit, much talked about with her friend but never taken, to visit Silkeborg museum and view the remains of the famous 'bog body', Tollund Man, so she writes to the professor who sparked their interest long ago, and receives an answer from his successor. This casual exchange of letters sparks a correspondence that becomes more personal, sharing their lives, regrets, hopes, and gradually moving beyond friendship to something deeper.

To be honest, after the build up I'd seen from publicists and bloggers on social media, I was a little disappointed with this book. It's nice enough; a gently-blossoming romance between two middle-aged people, charted through the letters they write to each other, but it didn't really grab me. Everything plods along much as you'd expect it to. No curveballs, no plot twists (I'd have loved it if Anders had turned out to be lying and still married!)
I think one of my problems was with the character of Tina, and a feeling that somehow she's supposed to represent ALL middle-aged women. Well, I'm Tina's age, and tbh she struck me as meek, dull and old - not someone I could sympathise with, and I think this influenced my view of the novel as a whole.

Still, it's not bad, and if you like gentle romance you'll probably like this. It just wasn't for me.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult, romantic fiction, 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Leila Aboulela - Elsewhere, Home - blog tour

Today we're taking part in the blog tour for Leila Aboulela's new collection of short stories - Elsewhere, Home. A prize-winning author of several novels and a previous story collection, Aboulela was born in Khartoum, and now lives in Aberdeen. She first came to my attention with The Kindness of Enemies, and I'm intrigued and impatient to read this latest volume of her work.

Meanwhile, here's an extract from one of the stories. I hope it whets your appetite for more ...

The Ostrich

  ‘You look beautiful in blue,’ the Ostrich said, and when I was cruel he said, ‘but I can be a judge of voices can I not?’ I didn’t ask him what he thought of my voice. I walked away. It must have been in the evening that I was wearing blue. It was white tobes in the morning, coloured ones for the evening. The evening lectures were special, leisurely; there was time after lunch to shower, to have a nap. To walk from the hostels in groups and pairs, past the young boy selling peanuts, past the closed post office, past the neem trees with the broken benches underneath. Jangly earrings, teeth smacking chewing gum and kohl in our eyes. The tobes slipping off our carefully combed hair, lifting our hands, putting them back on again. Tightening the material, holding it under our left arm. I miss these gestures, already left behind. Majdy says, ‘If you cover your hair in London they’ll think I am forcing you to do that. They won’t believe it is what you want.’ So I must walk unclothed, imagining cotton on my hair, lifting my hand to adjust an imaginary tobe.
 The sunset prayers were a break in the middle of these evening lectures. One communist lecturer, keen to assert his atheism, ignored the rustling of the notebooks, the shuffling of restless feet, the screech of the Ostrich’s alarm. Only when someone called out, ‘A break for the prayers!’ did he stop teaching. I will always see the grass, patches of dry yellow, the rugs of palm fibre laid out. They curl at the edges and when I put my forehead on the ground I can smell the grass underneath. Now that we have a break we must hurry, for it is as if the birds have heard the azan and started to pray before us. I can hear their praises, see the branches bow down low to receive them as they dart to the trees. We wash from a corner tap, taking turns. The Ostrich squats and puts his whole head under the tap. He shakes it backwards and drops of water balance on top of his hair. I borrow a mug from the canteen and I am proud, a little vain knowing that I can wash my hands, face, arms and feet with only one mug. Sandals discarded, we line up and the boy from the canteen joins us, his torn clothes stained with tea. Another lecturer, not finding room on the mat, spreads his handkerchief on the grass. If I was not praying I would stand with my feet crunching the gravel stones and watch the straight lines, the men in front, the colourful tobes behind. I would know that I was part of this harmony, that I needed no permission to belong. Here in London, the birds pray discreetly and I pray alone. A printed booklet, not a muezzin, tells me the times. Here in London, Majdy does not pray. ‘This country,’ he says, ‘chips away at your faith bit by bit.’


Elsewhere, Home is published by Telegram, an imprint of Saqi publishing, and is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Unthology 10 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

Unthology 10 is, once again, a carefully and cleverly collated mix of short stories through which a trail can be followed, a trail of change. In each story we see a character touched by an incident that changes them - mostly for the better. This Unthology is, like the nine before it, the sum of it's parts - and if you construct using only the best parts then the result has got to be something special and this, once again, excels. The crafting that went into each of these stories is excellent. Well done once again Unthank in finding the very best and putting together yet another brilliant Unthology anthology.

Highly recommended coffee time reading - except you may find one story is not enough.

In Rosa and Kelsey (by Kathryn Simmonds), Matthew had agreed to share childcare but he doesn't have 100% buy-in to the idea. A chance encounter in a park causes him to think again.

Ursa Minor (by K M Elkes) tells of Jack and Carrie, a young couple, who wish to start a family but things aren't happening when they have a chance encounter with a bear in the woods. Jack feels he needs to address the bear issue once and for all.

In One For The Ditch (by Brian Coughlan) a drunk encounters an alcoholic and, despite protestations of not knowing him, the reader is left to re-eveluate their relationship.

Blowhole (by Tom Vowler) is a letter from Susie, who finds herself in an abusive relationship but feels she must carry on despite her dreams of being a mother probably never coming to fruition.

In Cafeteria (by Jay Merill) a child's mother shows kindness to a woman, known to be a prostitute, and the child observes and learns from the encounter, trying to emulate all that is good.

Tenth Circle (by Liam Hogan) deviates from the theme and shows how, even though centuries may pass, certain attitudes and beliefs remain unchanged. And it laces the tail with humour. Nice one!

When Nature Calls (by Gareth E Rees) also has a sad smile to it but a lesson is learned that defying nature is rarely successful.

The Best Way to Kill a Butterfly (by Hannah Stevens) brings out the worst in people and we learn a little of why Michael left.

Confessions of an Irresolute Ethnic Writer (by Elaine Chiew) sees the writer have a brush with mythology... or does he?

Household Gods (by Tracy Fells) tells the story of a mans loves for his mother and the wife it was arranged he should marry. But does he love his wife?

A Moment Could Last Them Forever (by Daniel Carpenter) tells of a sort of medium who gets invested rather more than usual in a case - a case she believes she's failing in.

Take Away the Sky (by Mark Mayes) sees a man, alone, set to take his own life when he has an epiphany and takes comfort from a phone number he will never use.

In Livestock (by Valerie O'Riordan) a vet's daughter sees herself in a young girl who is seemingly running away and wonders why she felt so different.

End Times (by Maxim Loskutoff) tells of a woman who struggles to come to terms with the fact that her injured dog won't live, while her husband has already given up.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology 

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

review by Maryom

Audrey Hart has traveled from London to Skye in the hope of getting a job as assistant to a collector of folk and fairy tales. It's not accepted behaviour for a young woman in 1857, but Audrey is fiercely independent, and, after quarreling with her father and step-mother, determined to strike out on her own. She's always been fascinated by folk tales; some of her earliest memories are of accompanying her mother, a keen folklorist herself, as she listened to the stories crofters told around their firesides. In her new position Audrey will be doing much the same, but at first she finds the locals refuse to talk. Then Audrey finds the body of a girl on the beach, and the crofter become more willing to talk about their belief that girls are being taken by spirits of the restless dead, appearing as flocks of misshapen birds. The local minister tries to dismiss these claims as mere superstition, and though Audrey isn't sure who to believe, she feels that something within the mystery may be linked to her mother's death many years before.

This is an excellent read for lovers of Gothic fiction - it's certainly a thriller, and if not quite 'horror' it's pretty close. The atmosphere and setting are superb. Brooding mountains, empty moorlands and wild seas set the scene, and the division of society between crofters and landowners adds to the mistrust and fear. This is the time of forced 'clearances', when crofters were evicted from homes on fertile ground to make way for profitable sheep and deer, and left to struggle as best they could on stony or boggy strips of land by the shore. At the same time, the Church is trying to take away their heritage by banning the telling of old folk tales - the very things that give meaning to their hard, impoverished lives.

I really liked the way the story moved from 'realistic' mystery to something more supernatural. Are the superstitious crofters correct, and the girls being abducted by evil 'fairies' or spirits, or is the explanation far more mundane, even if equally shocking. Audrey's opinion veers one way then the other, influenced one way by events that occurred in London, the other by her mother's deep-seated belief in folklore, and the reader is kept guessing and the tension high.

Available now on kindle, out in hardback 26/7/18.

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

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Football Trials: Game Changer, and All Out Attack by John Hickman

illustrated by Neil Evans

review by Maryom

Jackson is a really talented footballer. Spotted in the park by a scout, he's earned a place at United's football academy, and he's hoping to make the U18 team. Everyone says his future looks bright, but things aren't going smoothly for him at the moment. In Gamechanger, Jackson's long-absent dad turns up out of the blue, but is it just to get to know his son and repair their relationship, or does he have an ulterior motive? In All Out Attack, Jackson's granddad falls ill, and his football - and temper - suffer. Getting angry and violent during a game puts Jackson's position on the team at risk. Will Liam, the manager, give him a second chance?

These two short books (80 pages approx) are part of Bloomsbury's High Low series, produced in association with literacy experts at Catch Up, a charity which works to help teenagers overcome reading and numeracy difficulties. Aimed at young teen readers who through lack of interest, dyslexia, or struggles with English as an additional language, have a reading age less than their years, the books have font which is large and clear, tinted pages, and illustrations to bring the words to life. Both books have 'bonus bits' at the end - little quizzes about the story, and information about helping with the issues raised, or help with understanding some of the more complex words.
None of this matters of course if the story fails to catch the reader's imagination, but I'm sure these will. Not everyone can be a football prodigy, but the issues facing Jackson, his feelings and behaviour are all things that teens can relate to - they may sympathise with him, they may think he's being foolish or hot-headed, they'll definitely have an opinion! 

Publisher - Bloomsbury
Genre - football, teen issues, aimed at 12+ age but with a reading age of 9+

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Adulterer's Wife by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

Julie accidentally finds out that her husband is having an affair and decides to tackle him about it and throw him out but only after their son's final exams, until then her knowledge will remain a secret from both of husband and son. Getting home from taking her son to sit that fateful final exam she finds her husband dead - in bed.

Naturally Julie becomes the obvious suspect and as she came home drunk and can remember nothing of the previous evening can she be sure she didn't do it?

As the police keep strengthening their case she sets about trying to find the truth.

This story is very different to the Geraldine Steel mysteries that Russell is normally associated with and this deviation, like the Christmas short story, shows once again how flexible this author is. There is no prize for guessing the outcome but, once again, it's the way the outcome is reached that keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat. And then there's a final twist where it all hangs in the balance...

Opening with the scene where Julie finds out about the affair is a great way to capture the reader from the very start. How would you react? How would I react? I have to admit that I have no idea and to see Russell's interpretation of Julie's reaction was eye opening in many ways. And as Julie undertakes some completely irrational actions you find you can't challenge them because you don't know what insanity would kick in.

Then... as you read on and the case against Julie builds Russell investigates the rights of the child in such a situation and how this affects Julie.

An extremely compelling book for various reasons at various points that will have you reading right to the end - despite knowing the murderer already.

Genre - Adult crime
Publisher - Bloodhound Books

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

review by Maryom

In 1936, young aspiring author Martha Gellhorn walks into a Key West bar and meets Ernest Hemingway. The attraction is immediate, but he's married (to his second wife) with three children, and she's much younger and already been badly let down in an affair with a married man. A year later, they both head off to Madrid as journalists covering the Spanish Civil War, and, thrown together, fall rapidly and recklessly in love.

This is a story I was already familiar with, if only in outline - the sort of thing picked up from the author biography at the back of paperback - and it's not necessarily easy to turn fact into readable, engrossing fiction, but Paula McLain has. It isn't entirely new ground for her - she's already visited the subject in The Paris Wife, which told the story of Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson - but Martha Gellhorn stands out from the other wives (there were four in all) as being well known in her own right, as a war correspondent.

When they meet, Hemingway is well on his way to being a literary superstar, and Gellhorn still trying to find her feet as a professional writer, but in Spain she finds her calling, reporting the horrors of war, bringing home the impact on people caught up in conflict, and as the years pass the balance of power - in the shape of literary success - begins to shift between the two; after the huge success of For Whom The Bell Tolls Hemingway's career grinds to a halt, just as Gellhorn's starts to really take off. She soon finds herself facing a choice - become a stay-at-home wife and mother, as women were in the '40s, or carve out a career for herself, and risk losing her husband.

Told primarily from Martha's point of view, McLain captures the passion that brings these two  together, the differences and similarities that ultimately tear them apart, and the trauma of war in which she finds her calling. The short passages told from Ernest's perspective give in insight into how he feels, a desire for a settled 'normal' happy marriage, and an inkling of the black moods that enveloped him later. As I say, I knew the outlines of the story already but McLain gives a fascinating insight into this doomed relationship, brings the characters to life and by the end I felt I knew them well. For what it's worth, my suspicion is that Gellhorn and Hemingway were too alike to ever be happy, both ambitious and focused on their work, but it was that similarity which attracted them to each other, and if Martha had become the home-maker Ernest wanted, the relationship would still have failed.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Little, Brown
Genre -adult, 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Swimmer Among the Stars by Kanishk Tharoor

review by Maryom

I seem of late to be reading a lot of short story collections - possibly because I don't feel I have space in my personal life to commit to novel-length reads, so books like this that once might have got relegated to the TBR pile are getting more of a look-in.

Now, the obvious thing about short stories is that they're meant to be read as individual, stand-alone pieces, so it seems a little odd to say it took me a while to get 'into' this book. The first couple of stories - about the last speaker of a dying language, a city preparing to be invaded - left me 'hanging' in some way, but then, with an elephant's journey from India to Morocco, and the plight of UN ambassadors trapped on an orbiting space station while the world below them descends into chaos, I started to get a feel for the author's style and pace, and settled down to enjoy the collection.
My favourite section was The Mirrors of Iskandar - fourteen short pieces re-telling stories of Alexander the Great, with a mix of fantastical adventures and moral fables - but I also loved other stories - The Fall of an Eyelash, about the desperate hope of an exile to be reunited with her family, Icebreakers, the tragic yet almost farcical tale of 'rescue' ships stuck in Antarctic ice.

On the whole I'd describe the collection as whimsical, frequently tinged by sadness or loss. The author is someone new to me, and I'd certainly look out for future work.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Picador
Genre - adult, short stories

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Dip Flash by Jonathan Pinnock

review by Maryom

Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of Jonathan Pinnock.  It's a world where ventriloquist's dummies come to life, your wife might run off with a porpoise, or morph into a cat, and if your granny's becoming too expensive to keep, there's a way to release her equity. But you'd better hold on tight to your memories - if they start to disappear, then so will so much more...

Jonathan Pinnock's latest collection of stories is like a montage of strange dreams you might have after too much cheese (there's a story about that as well!). From short, hilarious anecdotes to longer tales that will twist your mind, they're stories to amuse, intrigue and occasionally terrify you ('Teamwork' was horrifically claustrophobic for me). 

I've puzzled over how to categorise this collection, and to be honest given up. Reading them is like seeing the world reflected in the fairground Hall of Mirrors - recognisable but a little warped. Sci-fi or fantasy might apply as a label for some, but by no means all. My favourites - Adagio Assai, and The Picture of Mrs Tandogan - aren't that at all, but stories of people like you and me, striving for something perfect in life, or stumbling through it without paying the slightest bit of attention. All in all, an interesting set of stories, thought-provoking, funny, and/or scary; good, I'd suggest for watchers of 'Black Mirror'. 

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -  Cultured Llama
Genre - short stories

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Pirates of Poseidon by Saviour Pirotta

illustrated by Freya Hartas

review by Maryom

Following a disastrous performance of his first-ever play, the poet Ariston has decided to leave Corinth, and take up a position as tutor on the island of Aegina, where no one knows him. Travelling with him, of course, are Thrax, his personal slave, and Nico, his scribe, and where those two boys go, adventure is sure to follow!
A valuable ring has gone missing, and Thrax believes he can track it down, but when the trail leads the boys into the clutches of pirates you begin to wonder if this time, he and Nico have taken on too much...

Pirates of Poseidon is the third book in this excellent children's detective series set in Ancient Greece (but it doesn't matter if you haven't read the first two). Thrax and Nico work for the pompous, smug poet and singer Ariston; Thrax is a slave, attending to his master's clothes and running errands, and hoping one day to buy his freedom; Nico is free-born and works as a scribe, writing down verses and lyrics for Ariston, but life is pretty much the same for them, at their master's back and call most hours of the day.  Both boys have a 'nose' for solving crime and generally succeed in solving a mystery where their elders fail. Thrax is the 'detective' of the pair, uncovering clues, and following leads, while Nico follows along, acting as a sounding-box for Thrax's theories, and recording their adventures.
The story is fun and exciting, with a touch of danger, making it a compelling read, and along the way there's a lot to be learned about Ancient Greece - possibly without the reader even realising it! From a parent's or teacher's point of view this is the beauty of this series; children will be absorbed in the story - trying to guess the villain ahead of Thrax and Nico, laughing at the antics of their master, unable to bear putting the book down when the boys get into danger - but at the same time they're picking up lots of information about the Ancient Greeks - how they dressed, what they ate, what they did for fun. There are some perhaps confusing words, such as references to gods or everyday Greek objects, but the glossary explains them all. (A cunning tip for parents - read the glossary before your child reads the book, then you can appear an expert on everything about Ancient Greece :) )
This is a series I can't wait to share with my grandson when he's older, and I hope Thrax and Nico will have had many more adventures before then.

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

Friday, 18 May 2018

From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

review by Maryom

Donal Ryan's latest book tells the stories of three very different men, whose lives are joined in only the slightest of ways, but who share the pain and scars of grief; Farouk, persuaded to leave his war-torn homeland, and risk all on a journey west; broken-hearted Lampy, who dreams big but achieves little; and unscrupulous accountant/lobbyist John, who, finding death drawing close, seeks forgiveness from a God he claims not to believe in. For all of them sorrow has crept up unawares, like the Normans sailing 'from a low and quiet sea' to engulf Ireland, and overwhelmed them.

The first three sections read as totally unrelated stories, but the last ties them together - not an unusual format, and you are half-expecting it to happen, but, the pulling together and tying off of separate threads is done with style and doesn't feel in any way contrived.
 I've always found Donal Ryan to have an amazing way with words, allowing the reader for a short space of time, to walk in someone else's shoes, to experience their hopes and losses, and in this sympathetic, but not sentimental, study of grief  he does it again. He frequently seems drawn towards fractured, broken people in his work (or maybe it's just that, as with Tolstoy's happy marriages,  happy people are all the same and don't have much of a story to tell), and that's how most of the characters in this seem. The loss of home and family, the pain of heartbreak, regret for past actions and a need to confess - these don't seem cheery topics for a book, but the characters seem to be heading towards some level of resolution, a glimpse of hope and happiness, or maybe just acceptance, lying ahead until ...  As with Ryan's first novel, The Thing About December, the bodyblow shock is kept till the end. Surprising, appalling. I found myself backtracking and changing my estimation of those involved - and Ryan's skill is shown in that, by now, these were 'people' not 'characters'.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult contemporary fiction

Monday, 14 May 2018

Missing by Alison Moore

review by Maryom

Alison Moore's latest little gem (less than 200 pages) follows Jessie Noon for a few weeks in winter - from late November to the start of January - as she goes about her life in the Scottish Borders town of Hawick. It's a life which feels strangely cut off and isolated, from neighbours, friends and family. For the past year she's been living alone with just a cat and a bizarrely named dog for company, after her (second) husband walked out one morning leaving a parting message in the steam on the bathroom mirror. As the story progresses, Jessie starts up a new relationship, tries to get in touch with her grown-up son, who she hasn't heard from in years, and to improve her relationship with her parents and elder sister, but something is missing. She's haunted and weighed down by a dreadful event from her past, which leaves her wandering around in a fog - able to concentrate on the tiny, mundane everyday things immediately around her but unable to see a bigger picture.

Jessie's story unfolds in two ways. As we follow her day to day (frankly quite dull) routine, Jessie slips, stream of consciousness-like, into random reminiscences brought about by the things she sees. These chapters are interspersed by sections set back in 1985, as events move relentlessly towards the tragedy which has shadowed Jessie and her family since.

The writing is wordy in the way that Moore's books often are - not in length but in playing with meanings. The power of words is central to the tale; a misunderstood instruction led to the dreadful event which plagues Jessie's life - ironic as she's a translator by trade, and spends hours, if not days, mulling over the subtle meanings of words, trying to find an exact English match for each one.
So I found myself, of course, thinking about 'missing' and all its various forms - a missing person, missing someone who's no longer in your life, missing your bus, missing your step, missing a turning, a near miss, or just missing out on life, as Jessie is. Her life has been irrevocably changed by a child going missing, and other people disappear from her life with seeming regularity, but smaller things also get lost - a jigsaw piece, items of jewellery, a jar of marmalade - and perhaps the finding of them towards the book's end marks a turning point in Jessie's life.
There's also a feel of things and people being in limbo - waiting for some dramatic revelation or event to give meaning and purpose to them. 

In part, it's a book in which little seems to happen but beneath that superficial appearance so much does. Moore's words hold the reader, building atmosphere and emotion, but then in a tender, heart-warming or -breaking moment there'll be a burst of unexpected humour to flip the mood around.
It may be short, but has plenty to get your (literary) teeth into and certainly left me with plenty to mull over.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult literary fiction

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

review by Maryom

Yusuf, Selvon and Ardan have grown up together under the shadow of Stones Estate's four tower blocks - attended the same schools, played football together, hung out listening to music, the things kids and teens do. To them, ethnicity, colour, background don't matter. But around them the world feels differently. A soldier has been killed; Muslims (ALL Muslims) blamed. Tensions are mounting. Anger rising. White racist skinheads on one side; radicalised Muslims on the other; waiting to clash ...

Guy Gunaratne's debut novel is a gripping and moving portrayal of life on a run-down inner city estate, of the precarious balance between hope and despair with which its inhabitants live.
The story, set over a period of forty-eight hours, is told from a variety of viewpoints; mainly from the perspective of three teenagers - Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf - but also that of Selvon's invalid father, Nelson, and Ardan's mother, Caroline, both of whom remember similar events from the past, and give context and perspective to the current wave of violence. It's hard to believe that this is Guy Gubaratne's debut novel. He balances the various first person narratives brilliantly - each person speaking/thinking in their own way. The chapters are headed by the narrator's name but after a while you can tell who is talking by the words, the rhythm and style of their speech. Just occasionally I found the 'street' talk tricky to follow (I'm neither a Londoner nor young) but found if I just let it wash over me, as I might if someone were actually talking that way to me; the definition of every individual word didn't matter, as the over-all meaning was clear.

The three teenagers feel trapped by their environment, but react differently. Selvon is hopeful - he spends his life training - running, boxing, gym work - hoping his promise will lead to a ticket out, a university place and athletic fame. Ardan is despondent - doesn't see his way with words, his rapping and music, as a talent he can exploit, and a way to leave. Fate seems to have dealt Yusuf the worst hand - his world was once safe and secure but following the recent death of his father, he's lost and alone, feeling the new wave of Muslim radicalisation reaching out to ensnare him, and not knowing how to resist.

Their lives are all about to be derailed though by the riots ready to engulf their home. In one way it's new force - white versus Muslim - in another it's a repeat of previous incidents of racial hatred. Nelson remembers the race riots of the late 50s when a white mob attacked the newly-arrived West Indians; Caroline was sent to London, while a young woman, by her Republican family to escape the violence of the Irish Troubles. A stark warning that while ever we divide society into 'us' and 'them' such tension, with its inevitable outbreaks of violence, with continue to exist.
It's a stunning read, that gets behind the headlines of racial hatred or inner city housing issues, bringing life to the day to day struggles and pressures, showing us 'people' not 'problems'. Without questioning its 'adult fiction' tag, I'd also recommend it for older teens - the main characters are 18 year old, school-leaving age, concerned with the normal teenage things - music, football, sex - and I think it would appeal to readers of a similar age. 

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

Friday, 20 April 2018

You're Safe With Me by Chitra Soundar

illustrated by Poonam Mistry

review by Maryom

Night is falling, and the stars are beginning to shine, so it's time for the little animals to go to sleep. But this night they're troubled. Wind gusts through the trees, thunder crashes, lightning flashes - all things to upset little ones. Fortunately, Mama Elephant is there to calm their fears and reassure them "You're Safe With Me"

Any parent will have encountered those stormy nights when a child is too frightened by the noises of the weather to settle down and sleep. This story, with its wonderfully intricate illustrations, is a great one to share at such times to help lessen their fears. Mama Elephant is a loving, protective figure, who doesn't ignore or belittle the young animals fears. Instead, she soothes them by diverting their attention away from the frightening aspects of the storm, stressing the good things that wind and rain bring - distributing seeds, and watering them - and, with the repetition of "You're safe with me", instils a feeling of calm. Hopefully a feeling that the young reader will share.

Both comforting and distracting, it's the sort of book I can imagine becoming a regular bedtime read for nights when the thunder growls and lightning flashes.

Publisher - Lantana
genre - children's picture book, 4-8

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin

illustrated by Gary Gianni 

review by Maryom

Dunk - or as he's more formally known, Ser Duncan the Tall - is a hedge knight, travelling the land seeking adventures, competing in jousting contests, maybe taking on a semi-permanent position with a lord for a few months. On his way to the tourney at Ashford, he encounters a strange, bald, skinny, stable lad, Egg, who, despite Dunk's attempts to dissuade him, insists on following along and serving as Dunk's squire. Egg isn't quite who he seems though, so, while Dunk takes on greater odds than he expected at the tourney, Egg is as vital to saving the day as Dunk's prowess with lance and sword.
Their two further adventures see the unlikely pair wandering the length and breadth of Westeros - for, you've guessed, these three novellas are set in the world of Game of Thrones, though about a hundred years earlier - when the world was a quieter, less violent place, and older folk could still remember seeing dragons. Since reading tales of King Arthur as a child, I've always been a lover of tales of chivalry and jousting knights, so I really enjoyed these stories. For a Game of Thrones fan I suspect there's a lot of background and history to be uncovered - things that previously have only been hinted at - and also I wondered if Dunk and Egg had become legendary heroes by the time of the series. Even for someone like me, who's not watched the whole TV series or read any of the books, there are still familiar names and places - Targaryens and Lannisters, Kings Landing and Winterfell - but it's not necessary to know anything about the Game of Thrones world to enjoy this book.

It's a tricky book to label - fantasy or historical. The fantasy elements are limited to dragons, in 'flashback' to events many years previous, and their precious eggs. On the other hand, while the jousting tournaments could have taken place almost anywhere in Medieval Europe, the history isn't of our world; it's true fiction. It's also tricky to recommend what age group it might be suitable for - obviously adult readers, but I'd also suggest a lot of teen readers would enjoy it. In fact, with the wonderful illustrations form Gary Gianni it would probably appeal to even younger reader - I'm just not sure whether some scenes would be suitable for them.

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

Friday, 13 April 2018

Bone Music by Katherine Roberts

review by Maryom

Temujin is the eldest son of Yesugei the Brave, the leader of the Mongol Alliance. Guided by a prophecy, he is betrothed, while still a child, to Borta, princess of another clan; their union should create a new nation, of which Temujin would be khan. Prophecies rarely work out that simply, though, and events don't go as planned. On the journey home, Temujin's father is killed, control of the Alliance seized by another clan chief, and Temujin and his family cast out into exile. Their only ally is an orphaned boy, Jamukha, who becomes Temujin's blood brother but despite their spiritual bond, there are tensions between them as they struggle to determine which of them will claim Borta as his bride, claim leadership of the Mongol clans, and fulfil the prophecy to become Genghis Khan.

You've probably heard, at least vaguely, of Genghis Khan - a Mongol chief who united all the clans behind him and established an empire stretching across Asia and into China (whether he actually 'totally ravaged China" as claimed in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure might be a bit less certain), But even a terrible warlord like Genghis Khan had to have been young once, and this is the story, based on the 13th century text, The Secret History of the Mongols, of the boy he was, before he was 'khan'.
This is an absolutely gripping read, bringing a perhaps sketchily known period of history vividly to life. The story is told in three parts, each following the thoughts and actions of one of the main characters, and told from their point of view, so the reader sees events unfold from each perspective, giving a different slant to them. I had a slight difficulty here, in relating the different narratives to each other, so quickly skimmed back to set things straight in my mind; the rest of it I loved. There'a real 'feel' for the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols, and it's easy to picture their encampments with banners flying, huddling under furs inside their yurts to keep warm, or the shamans working their magic and playing their 'violins' made from animal skulls. Although you might dismiss shaman magic as mere fantasy, it fits within the context of the story in a way that makes it totally believable. Against this 'alien' backdrop, a story plays out that any of us could relate to - one of love, jealousy, and treachery. 

It's an excellent read, whether you're interested in the historical aspect, or just looking for something a little like Game of Thrones, but less violent. Age-rating is perhaps a tricky issue; the main characters are young, teenagers at most, and while there's violence and sex neither is too graphic, so I'd say 13 or 14 plus. 

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - The Greystones Press 
Genre - teen historical fiction

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox

review by Maryom

Detective Constable Aidan Waits has been relegated to the night shift. This means long hours of boredom sat in the car with his hated immediate superior, DI Sutcliffe, hours interrupted only by the occasional petty crime, such as an arsonist setting fire to litterbins, but nothing to really get his teeth into - and if there were the day shift would take it over. Then Waits and Sutcliffe receive a call from an empty hotel - a security guard has been knocked unconscious, and, investigating the premises further, Waits finds a dead body, smiling as if it had no troubles in the world. The man seems completely wiped clean of anything that might identify him - no wallet, no labels on its clothes, even his fingerprints have been removed, and his teeth replaced. It looks like Waits has found himself a proper case at last, and he's determined to hang on to it.

DC Aidan Waits, hero (or antihero) of Joseph Knox's first novel Sirens is back. He hates the guy he's partnered with, he hates the higher up brass at the station, he hates been demoted to the monotony of the night shift, but he's still determined to make a go of it as a detective. The discovery of a dead body leads Waits on a seemingly hopeless chase for a murderer through the grimier side of Manchester. Meanwhile, he's got himself involved, against his superiors' wishes, in a case of blackmail of a young female student , and is himself being followed by someone sinister from his past.
Waits is definitely one of the modern breed of troubled detectives, and as some of his backstory was gradually revealed I began to wonder if through his career he sought to gain a certain level of absolution for his past.
Whereas, though, I loved Sirens, I was less comfortable with The Smiling Man; this isn't in any way Knox's fault - in fact in might be because his depictions of child cruelty, and the less salubrious side of Manchester were just too real and disturbing.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult crime

Friday, 6 April 2018

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

translated by Margita Gailitis

review by Maryom

Set in Latvia during the years of Russian rule, Soviet Milk explores the lives of two women, mother and daughter, their dysfunctional relationship, and their attempts to find fulfilment under a regime which doesn't care about individuals.

Born just as Russia invaded Latvia at the end of WW2, the mother struggles against the system, refusing to accept its rules, and ending up removed from her prestigious research post, and banished to a remote village and the fairly humdrum work of running a women's clinic - an important enough role for the women she treats, but one she feels is beneath her. The focus of her life has always been her scientific work, and with exile in the countryside and loss of the work that she considers worthwhile she enters a downward spiral of depression.
Raised by her more pragmatic and nurturing grandmother, the daughter soon learns to accept things as they are, both personally and politically, to make compromises and live life as best she can. At an early age, she takes on the role of caring for her mother, in charge of everyday practicalities such as cleaning and cooking, but also helping through her increasing bouts of depression and anger. Ultimately though, she realises that to have a future of her own she needs to leave the claustrophobic atmosphere of home, and return to the city.

It's impossible to deny that for most of its length this is a rather downbeat story. It's easy to imagine that in a different time and place the mother would have had a brilliant scientific career, brought up a family in a loving, caring environment, but the repression she's felt all her life has left her emotionally damaged. At the end though I felt that the grandmother and daughter had managed to keep hope alive, that, despite everything, their future looked hopeful.
I rather wish I knew more of Latvian history, as I couldn't help but think that the mother's life perhaps echoed it - annexed by the Soviet Union, forced to live under an alien regime, and striving for freedom, sometimes hopefully, sometimes losing all hope. Maybe I'm over-thinking things again ... 

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Galapagos Incident by Felix R. Savage

Review by The Mole

 As a Space Corps agent in the year 2285, Elfrida Goto doesn’t expect to be liked. Her job is to help and protect colonists in space … but they usually don’t want to be helped, and the squatters on 11073 Galapagos are no exception.

Tasked with evacuating them from their doomed asteroid, Elfrida struggles with an uncooperative telepresence robot and an angry local liaison. It doesn’t help that she’s got a crush on her boss, the aloof and intriguing Gloria dos Santos.

But when a lethal AI fleet attacks Elfrida's home base, her mission changes in a hurry. Now, she has just one chance to save the people of 11073 Galapagos. Fighting was never in her job description … but she’ll just have to learn.Fast.

Certainly action packed, this novel is multi threaded to the point where the principle character seems to get confused, the reader has to work a bit to stay with the plots.

While I was rooting for the colonists to survive and keep their asteroid (it doesn't always go the readers way) I found I cared little, if at all, for any of the characters involved in the telling.

The series (this is book 1 and the series is complete) seems to be popular so I'm sure it's me that's missing something with this book.

Publisher: Knights Hill Publishing
Genre: YA/Adult/SciFi

Monday, 2 April 2018

Nimesh the Adventurer by Ranjit Singh - author contribution

illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

review by Maryom

Meet Nimesh. To you he might look like an average schoolboy, but really he's an adventurer. Wherever he goes, whether at school, walking home past the shops or in the park, he always sees something to inspire him, and transport him from the everyday world and away on adventures. He encounters dragons and sharks, he can sail with pirates or explore the arctic, meet a Maharaja's guard or find a beautiful princess - after all, anything is possible with a little imagination.

Ranjit Singh's words, accompanied by Mehrdokht Amini's colourful illustrations, bring Nimesh's make-believe world vividly to life, while showing how children (and adults, for that matter) can find inspiration anywhere. We're delighted to welcome Ranjit to the blog today to tell us more ...

On Encouraging Children To Use Their Imaginations And Actively Engage In Story Telling
by Ranjit Singh

In Nimesh the Adventurer, the central character, Nimesh, uses his own imagination to make a game of his journey home.  He sees his imagination as a power that he can switch on and off at will, and uses it for joy, excitement and humour. The story takes place as a dialogue between Nimesh and an unnamed, presumably much ‘wiser’ questioner, who goes along with Nimesh for the ‘story’ of each scenario they find themselves in.

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”- Pablo Picasso.

Most children seem to have a natural faculty for imagination.  It is something they tend to lose around the onset of their teenage years.  Yet the ability to visualise- to conceive be-yond the ordinary- is something that we associate with genius in many fields, for example the composer that composes in their head (Beethoven), the designer that perfects in their imagination (Michelangelo) and the scientist that ponders new solutions only to have an interior realisation (Newton).  It is the meeting point between reality and imagination that seems to be a point of human discovery- examples like Archimedes in his bath or Einstein with his thought experiments.  Indeed, for the progress of humanity, it seems that imagination is something adults need to learn from children.  Maybe this is one of the ways in which “child is the father of man”.

We could start by considering that imagination and storytelling are explicit expressions, languages and gateways of the mind.  They are among the ways that we can tap into and influence our own minds (and hence our lives) for the better. With their imaginations, we could ask children- what do they want to see in the world?  Who do they want to be?  And how can they change ‘their story’ to realise their ambitions? After all, isn’t this part of what a “visionary” does - conceives an idea and then communicates his plan (or ‘story’)?  Famed entrepreneur Steve Jobs once said, “The most powerful person in the world is the story teller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come." This echoes the saying attributed to Plato, that "those who tell stories, rule society.”

A lot of the knowledge that we have passed down, it seems, was and is passed down in the form of stories and even when this knowledge is highly abstract, we have the story about its discovery.  For example, many mathematicians were inspired by reading ‘Men of Mathematics’, a book that presents the biographies of famous mathematicians from history.  In the sciences, we also have stories of the ways in which things were unexpect-edly discovered - like penicillin.  By learning and telling these stories for themselves, children can partake in their wonderment, and learn self-confidence and open minded-ness, and also how to share knowledge and talk to one another.

Stories also provide a two-way communication channel between two parties- in this case children and adults.  They also provide a middle ground, for how else can two groups so psychologically far apart understand each other?  Through stories, we can communicate things to children that may otherwise be above their understanding or experience (e.g. mathematical principles, history), and they can communicate things they do not have the vocabulary or confidence to express (such as anxiety, or their own opinions). 

Nimesh’s walk home from school could be viewed as intimidating or just boring for a child from an adult’s perspective, but Nimesh sees it with childlike vitality- as an adven-ture.  Like Nimesh, children can share their knowledge, viewpoints, visions, humour and feelings with us with confidence and without feeling the need to colour them with the perceived expectations of others or for the sake of conformity.  By encouraging children to become storytellers in their own right, we encourage more natural and honest forms of expression than what would emerge when we engage with them in a purely didactic pro-cess.  Nimesh acts as a confident tour guide to his questioner, eventually winning him over to his worldview.

Children can use storytelling as a process for introspection, reflection or questioning, By thinking over their own ‘story’, they can use such reflection to become the authors of their own lives - change their stories, rewrite bad experiences – and grow in their power, despite external circumstances.  Or they can use their imaginations to mentally escape bad circumstances.  Here we are reminded of the holocaust survivors and prisoners of war who made use of their minds to imagine what they would do if they were free- music, chess-playing, philosophy.

We also read history like a story to help us connect to, remember, learn and gain from the past, for as Orwell said, “a historian is a prophet looking backwards.” Beyond even this, stories are used to impart moral instruction and inspire wisdom, deep thinking and a sense of humour. We can make children conscientiously aware of all these uses and man-ifestations of storytelling so that they can engage in a variety of learning processes- they can then become ‘adventurers’, with minds open to learn.  (Dragons, sharks, pirates, the North Pole- these are all things Nimesh may have read or heard about at school). 

On the flip side, by encouraging children to tell stories we can also teach them to become aware of when they are ‘being told a story’ under the guise of false facts, or when some-one else is presenting them with a false (imaginary) argument.  We can also teach them to be aware that imagination and storytelling do not necessarily mean self- delusion or invite only automatic acceptance, and can also be a non-judgmental invitation to question.

Milton famously wrote, “the mind is its own place”. By encouraging storytelling and im-agination in children, we can make them aware that they have their own space, within their minds, to feel confident and secure, happy and free to dream.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Operation Hail Storm by Brett Arquette

Review by The Mole

"Marshall Hail was a husband, a father, a Physics Nobel prize winner and industrial billionaire. But when Hail's family was killed in a terrorist attack, he became a predator and redirected his vast industrial assets toward one goal"

As an industrialist he opts to build drones and a team to operate them, in order to direct his energies towards his revenge.

I found this to be very much a book of two parts. The first part felt like a game they were playing and it reminded me hugely of a comic book hero from about a thousand years ago. General Jumbo! In those days they weren't 'drones' but 'radio controlled toys'. General Jumbo would set the world to rights each week with the aid of his toys that were operated from a single controller work on one arm. How DID that work?

In the second part of the book the tone, tempo and voice changed and it became far more focused and less like a game. I started to feel more involved and less like a spectator as Hail and his team took on a far more volatile mission.

I would stress that I did enjoy both parts of the story although the change in the second part was very welcome.

This was book one and sets up a scenario where there could be any number of books to follow based on Hail and his crew.

If you are into high-tech thrillers then this is an ideal choice that I'm sure could make excellent TV one day when the series is more mature.

I was donated a Kindle review copy of this book which is self published on

Genre - YA action thriller

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadin

review by Maryom

Edie is artistic, bohemian, slapdash. She doesn't care about her daughter's bedtimes, or homework being done, or about eating up your greens. You'd think she'd be the mother that children dreamed of having, but children always want what they don't have, and her daughter Dido longs for a 'normal' family - the perfect mum, dad, 2.4 children set up of glossy lifestyle magazines, but above all a mother who understands the importance of rules and routine in a child's life. Investigating the gate in the back fence of their new garden, Dido thinks she's stumbled into this paradise  - a ready-made family, the Trevelyans; Tom, his sister Harry, and their parents, Angela and David. It's love at first sight for a six year old. As the years pass, Dido's infatuation with the Trevelyans grows stronger, but even Eden had its problems, and Dido's little paradise has its share too.

The Queen of Bloody Everything is Joanna Nadin's first for a adult readership, beautifully written in a first person style which entices the reader in, and a moving look at a tumultuous mother/daughter relationship. With no father figure on the scene to share her love or anger, Dido's relationship with her mother is perhaps closer and more all-consuming than another child's might be, but at the same time she longs for what she sees as 'normal', imagining it to be better than what she has. Fundamentally though, Edie and Dido approach life and family in opposing ways; Edie has spent her life trying to escape the shackles of respectability and parental guidance; Dido craves them.

It's a story filled with nostalgia, particularly for the 70s and 80s, which seen through Dido's child-eyes are simpler, filled with love and the promise of a bright future. Dido's perfect world is based on wishful thinking and the Trevelyans aren't the perfect people she imagines, yet as she grows up and their flaws become apparent, Edie is the person who bears the brunt of Dido's disappointment, anger, and teenage tantrums.

I absolutely loved this book - its intimate, perceptive look at mother/daughter relationships, from the intensity of childhood to a more equal adult friendship, and its believable, attractive yet flawed characters. I'm hoping Joanna Nadin will be writing more adult novels!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adu
lt fiction, mother/daughter relationships,