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, 

Monday, 5 March 2018

Kaya's Heart Song by Diwa Tharan Sanders - author contribution

illustrated by Nerina Canzi

review by Maryom

As Kaya's mama sits meditating, she hums a little song - her heart song. Kaya wants to join in, have her own song to sing, but, as most children are, is too impatient to sit quietly, so she goes off to play in the jungle.There, she finds a broken-down carousel, and, in bringing it back to life, finds her own heart song too.

Most children are noisy, rushing around playing, not wanting to sit quietly. In Kaya's Heart Song, author Diwa Tharan Sanders encourages them to seek out quiet time, to observe the world around them, and to get in touch with their emotions, while Nerina Canzi's jewel-bright illustrations bring Kaya's world magically to life.

Here today as part of the Kaya's Heart Song blog tour, we have author Diwa Tharan Sanders to tell us more.

"I feel honoured to be able to share my take on mindfulness and children but as I am by no means an expert on the topic, everything offered here has come from personal experience and through conversations with friends. Mindfulness has certainly become a popular topic with children and I hear more and more about schools integrating mindfulness into their curriculum, which sounds absolutely fantastic to me, how I wish I had had those lessons too.

So what is mindfulness? To me, it is being aware of the present moment and tuning inwards with a calm, quiet mind to a state of be-ing and releasing all thoughts of anything else but the now. One of the beautiful things about mindfulness is that in can happen anytime or anywhere, if we allow it to. You could be waiting for the bus, walking through a garden observing the flowers or engrossed doing something you love such as art, cooking, running or you could even be sitting in a busy restaurant waiting for a meal for a state of mindfulness to happen.

When it comes to children, the same mindfulness ‘principles’ apply. Give them the space to pause as it were and allow them to come into a place of quietness and calm. This can create a ripple of positivity for their well-being. I hear the term ‘instant gratification’ being passed around amongst my friends with children and it basically means children (and many adults too, to be fair) today don’t know how to wait. In this current technologically-laden world of instant messaging, ‘instant-gramming’, watching videos on demand and being able to communicate instantly at the touch of a button, we have forgotten the art of waiting. Of noticing and of just being. I personally think that extending time and space to children to simply be with themselves will cultivate more awareness, patience and other sorts of ‘magic’ such as creativity, self-expression and self-discovery. A very real example of this is the process in which I wrote Kaya’s Heart Song.

My inspiration for the story was to write about a little girl who wanted to be happy, because I felt (and still do) that we sometimes forget the importance of following our hearts by unconsciously drowning-out the voice of our hearts living our day-to-day lives the way we’re ‘supposed to’. Thinking about happy hearts, led to the idea of a heart song and it was in discovering my own heart song as I wrote the book, that the theme of mindfulness revealed itself. And so yes, Mama is right in saying, “If you have a heart song, anything is possible. Even magic!”

And it’s finding this magic that I think is the best thing about practising mindfulness. Give your child (and yourself!) space to take the time to feel and listen for the magic that’s in us all. It is found in many different forms: in new ideas, finding new emotions, expressing these emotions, in having the courage to speak up for what you want or love, in being creative and even in simply being happy and content in the moment. Whatever makes your heart sing is mindfulness working its magic.

Here are a couple suggestions of mindfulness practices to do with your child (thank you to my friends who willingly brainstormed some of these ideas with me):

1. The next time your child does something you badly want to discipline them for, be mindful about it. Calm yourself with 10 – 15 deep breaths before explaining to your child why they should take some time alone to be with themselves and think about what they did. Ask them how they feel after.

2. The next time your child asks for your smartphone or gadget to play with, offer them something else like a piece of paper, an empty box or nothing at all and watch what happens. Regardless of how they react, you’re creating a space for them to be with their emotions and essentially express themselves. This also opens their mind to thinking out-of-the-(electronic) box and stimulates their creativity.

3. Set aside joint ‘mindfulness time’, it could be a walk in the park to observe the trees, a colouring activity, sitting down to breathe together in meditation or silence or anything that feels like it would stimulate you and your child.

4. Listen to your heart song. Our hearts are often the truest barometers of how we’re feeling at any particular time. Make a conscious effort to tune in; ‘zoning-in’ instead of zoning-out and take the time to notice what’s going on inside. Sing, hum, whistle, speak, move, tap or drum whatever it is you hear. Self-expression has been for me one of the best ways to connect deeper to my own heart and to feel more mindful.

There are many advantages of practising mindfulness. For me, the most precious one is the love, honour and magic that we give to ourselves when we do so, because this is what then flows out into the world. Mindfulness starts inside, with us all and can be an amazing gift to unravel when we find the time to journey inward. Imagine how incredible it would feel to live amongst those who are creating and sharing magic every single day!"

Diwa is a yoga teacher, Breath of Bliss breathwork facilitator, and owns Tulamala, a brand that makes intuitively-designed mala necklaces and bracelets for healing, happiness and inspiration. Kaya's Heart Song is her first picture book

You can find Kaya's Heart Song here on Lantana Publishing's website

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Dark Space Universe by Jasper T Scott

Review by The Mole

Set in the future (Or is it the past? Or is it just a completely different universe?) this story is, for me, how science fiction used to be. I grew up on science fiction - beyond just Marvel and DC - and just loved the possibilities it creates in the mind. True escapism.

Lucien Ortane is a Paragon, a policeman, of the Etherian Empire. The empire is ruled by Etherus - an immortal who established the empire many generations ago. But what are generations when the citizens of the empire enjoy the same immortality? The empire is boundaried by a red line, beyond which Etherus says it is unsafe to go. But the clerics do not accept everything that Etherus says, and believe he is holding back important information. The clerics are actually scientists who, in turn, have been holding information back from Etherus.

They gain permission to go beyond the red line and Lucien tags along to witness the fact that it can't be done but becomes surprised and starts to wonder if the red line isn't actually a prison wall?

This book sets up the universe very nicely for what could be a very long series of stories with spin offs as well. I kept picturing this as a TV series - one for Netflix perhaps?

If you love SciFi then do give this one a go.

Publisher: Amazon 
Genre: YA/Adult SciFi

Friday, 16 February 2018

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

review by Maryom

Sylvie and Dan seem to be a perfect couple - they've been together ten years, have a happy marriage, twin daughters, and a lovely home. They've grown so close, they can tell what the other is thinking, can finish their sentences, predict their every move. They're looking forward to a long life together  ... till someone mentions that could be sixty-eight years! Sixty-eight years! How can any relationship survive that long, especially when they know each other so well? Suddenly the future is stretching out before - filled with boredom! What they should do, they decide, is surprise each other more often - with unexpected gifts, sexy lingerie, brunch dates, even a new pet - but soon Sylvie begins to think Dan is not so much trying to surprise her, as keep secrets from her.
Sylvie's professional life is also under scrutiny, as the niche museum she works for finds itself being roughly dragged into the twenty-first century.

Surprise Me is the latest stand-alone novel from Shopaholic series author Sophie Kinsella - and a little bit different to her other books. It starts out pretty much as you would expect from a romcom  - light-hearted, with misunderstandings and pratfalls, as the couple try to outdo each other in their attempts to liven up their marriage, but the last third of the book moves into murkier territory as the secrets Dan's been keeping are gradually brought to light. Even so, I really enjoyed it. It's perhaps on the whole, not as laugh out loud funny as other of Sophie Kinsella's work, but that's balanced by a deeper insight into long-term relationships, and the secrets families hide beneath a happy exterior.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - 
Bantam Press
Genre - 
adult, romcom

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Curious Arts Festival 2018 - literary events

The line up for the literary side is headlined by Kate Mosse who, over the last few years has become a best selling author and household name. Clearly, she will be a hard act to follow but Curious Arts is a festival that is up for the challenge. As of today the full author line up is still to be finalised but looking at who has been announced so far I can genuinely admit to getting excited about it.

Adam Kay trained as a doctor but left to start an alternative career in musical comedy, stand-up and script writing. That is some career jump and one that many people would like to emulate. As you can imagine his book, "This Is Going To Hurt" brings his medical experiences into the into the comedy part of his career. He will be talking about this book and I'm sure laughs will be plenty.

Little Grape Jelly have their performance described as "Little Grape Jelly is a poetry collective formed of Lily Ashley, Grace Pilkington and James Massiah. In their project Hell-p Me, three distinct voices come together to explore the benefits and limitations of communicating online. This is their interaction via email and social media, in free verse and other poetry forms. Each performance offers something new as the conversation continues between shows, detailing the ups and downs of life and love in the digital age. Immediate, honest and fleeting, here is what happens when three different worlds collide on one page."
We've all written emails or texts that have had their meaning misconstrued so we can guess how this can progress and I'm sure it will be entertaining. Well worth following this one across the weekend.

Dolly Alderton and her memoir "Everything I know About Love". On Amazon you can do a little "look inside". I did and frankly I believe this is one I must get along to. Humorous yet naive and hugely entertaining. Well worth going along to this event.

Lou Hamilton is an award winning artist and her latest book "Fear Less" is about great innovators - a fascinating topic about people who have shaped our world. Technology rarely evolves along a logical course but moves in leaps out bounds by people who can dream and are prepared to think in different ways - what's not to love about innovators who help to show us a new way to look at ourselves?

Miriam Darlington is a nature writer who will be talking about "Owl Sense", her latest book. I caught some of this on Radio 4 and was, frankly, very intrigued. Owls catch our imaginations in ways other raptors don't - silent night time hunters. But are they really? And owls that burrow in the ground? What's that about? Come along and find out.

Sam McKechnie will talk about "Miss Violet’s Doll House", a gorgeous craft book on the pleasures and methods of dollhouse making. Many years ago I made a doll's house for our youngest. Anyone who has done this will know how it becomes obsessive and you want to do a little bit more and more. This is going to be facinating.

...and these few are a selection only of who have been announced so far with more being announced regularly - both fiction and non-fiction. There will, inevitably, be clashes of timetable with so many things going off at the same time around the site but I hope that my choices won't be part of those clashes.

Monday, 12 February 2018

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

review by Maryom

Life hasn't been going well for Ruth Galloway - her mother died not long ago, and, while  everyone around her seems to be embarking on a life of 'happily ever after', her on/off lover Harry Nelson has gone back to his wife. So when Angelo Morrelli, an old acquaintance, asks her to check out some curious finds at his archaeological dig in Italy, and make it a bit of a holiday, she's all too willing to go. In the hilltop village of Castello degli Angeli she finds remains dating back to Roman times but a mystery surrounding events of Italy's more recent past.
Meanwhile, back in Norfolk, DCI Nelson is facing a more pressing danger - the possibility that a newly released offender is out to take revenge.

The Dark Angel is the tenth book featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway, and this time Ruth is taken away from her beloved Norfolk salt marshes to the heat of Italy. I've always loved the descriptions of Norfolk with its seemingly limitless vistas stretching away to the horizon but that's an area I know fairly well and wondered how much I was adding in my own memories of the area. This time, the setting is totally unknown to me but the heat, the narrow streets, village square with cafes and church, and distant views of vineyards were totally brought to life. It isn't all picturesque scenery and holiday fun for Ruth, though. There are threatening messages left at the house she's staying in, Morrelli claims to have received death threats, and the land itself seems unwelcoming, shaking the village with an earthquake!
Ruth's sometimes lover, and father of her daughter Kate, DCI Harry Nelson again plays a large part in the story. He's finding himself torn between his desire to be with Ruth, and the obligations he feels towards his pregnant wife, even if there's sneaking suspicion at the back of his mind that he might not be the child's father.

I haven't read all ten books, and those I've read haven't been in chronological order (!), but I love this series - particularly its blend of personal story and crime. This book is no exception, though there might be a slight more emphasis on the personal side of Ruth's life this time, as she and Nelson try to resolve their feelings for each other. The characters as always are well drawn and believable, even the minor supporting ones, and when the villain is unveiled, there's a satisfying feeling that, if we'd read the hints properly, the reader should have guessed who it was.
And, of course, though each story is complete, the crime solved, and the villain brought to justice, the ongoing Ruth/Nelson relationship continues drawing you into the nest book, and the next...

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

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Deception 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 5% of the infected who survive are dangerous and will be taken into the custody of the army.
As the epidemic spreads, survivors are being hunted like witches, for the authorities fear their strange new powers.
Kai is desperate to trace Shay, who tricked him and disappeared. Meanwhile, Shay is searching for the truth behind the origins of the epidemic ... but danger finds them wherever they go. Can they outrun the fire?

review by Maryom

It's always difficult to know where and how to start with a review for a second (or third) book of a series, so my first simple step is to just quote the synopsis above which appears on the book itself, adding that Kai and Shay have been on the trail of his missing sister, and uncovered far more than they'd expected, especially that her disappearance was somehow connected to the 'flu' epidemic sweeping the country.
The end of the first book of the series, Contagion, left them at a logical sort of place but with so many questions unanswered that I've been longing to read more. Deception is definitely the name of the game this time. Kai and Shay are trying to find answers - how did the epidemic begin?  is their ever likely to be a cure? what happened to family and/or friends? - but it's not easy to find any when so many people, at both a personal and official level, are covering up the truth. It seems at times that one layer of deceit is removed, only to find another hidden below. When I'm reading adult crime fiction, I always pride myself on guessing the villain and having an inkling of how the plot will pan out - here, I'm stumped. Although I feel I'm better than Kai and Shay at picking who to trust, or not (yes, I was mentally shouting 'Don't believe X. They're up to no good'), I still can't guess how the plot will develop or who, if anybody, could be the 'good guys' in this scenario.
Add in some fast paced action, secret hideouts and military bases, the possibility of some secret research lab experimenting without any official control, and a hint or perhaps more of a love triangle, and it's easy to see any reader would be hooked.
How would I describe it? Well, definitely a thriller, with a slightly sci-fi/conspriracy theory feel as it involves secret scientific research. Whatever you call it, Deception is an excellent, tense, thrill a minute, unputdownable read. The danger is real and ever-present, any moments of calm are short lived, and before long Kai and Shay are plunged back into action and life-threatening situations. With that in mind, I'd suggest that it might possibly be a little scary for readers at the younger end of its age range, especially if they're inclined to identify too much with characters; I can easily imagine them becoming so engrossed that it becomes 'real'.

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

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Force of Nature Blog Tour

We're delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for Jane Harper's second Australian mystery
Force of Nature

Jane Harper's first crime thriller, The Dry, transported the reader to the hot, dusty, drought-ridden spaces of rural Australia. This time, we're again far from the safety of the cities, but in the misty, rain-soaked bush country of the Giralang Ranges. In this remote spot, Executive Adventures run corporate team-building retreats, encouraging stressed office workers to get outdoors and bond while trekking through the bush. The latest group of ten co-workers from finance company BaileyTennant is expected back any minute. The five men show up, a little early, but of the women's group there's no sign. Search parties are sent out, with no success. As darkness is dropping, the women's group eventually stumbles back to base ... but one of them, Alice Russell, is missing ...

I'm not sure from their reputation that any of these team-building, bonding exercises work, even in real life, but in fiction they lead to the opposite - irritation and fractious bickering leading gradually to the group falling out and heading for disaster in one shape or another - and this story is no exception. Immediately you latch onto the fact that the five woman may work together but are not friends at all; they're all outside their comfort zone; Jill is isolated by her position as one of the company's owners; twins Bree and Beth would sooner be anywhere rather than together, especially out in the Bush, Alice and Lauren may have been at school together but now they now seem locked in a battle of one-up-man-ship over jobs, houses and the achievements of their children; add in the fact that Alice has been providing the police with inside information about possible illegal deals taking place, and you've got a recipe for trouble. Oh, and the Giralang area was once the base of a serial killer...

Federal agent Aaron Falk, from The Dry, is back as Alice's police contact, and he and his partner, Carmen Cooper, are immediately alarmed by news of her disappearance, suspecting it could be related to their investigation, and so are dragged in to the search for her. While more experienced men take on the physical task of scouring the bush, Falk and Cooper talk to her colleagues and family, and try to build a picture of Alice's circumstances and state of mind. At the same time, a different thread of story goes back a couple of days, and follows the BaileyTennant staff as they head off into the bush.

The Dry was a wonderful example of a claustrophobic small town whodunnit and, in this totally different setting, Harper has created a thriller, possibly a murder mystery, that will grab you immediately, and keep you hooked till the end. The countryside and weather are again used to great effect to create atmosphere and highlight mood, with rain and mist adding to the growing menace, and clouding the investigation as much as they do the landscape. I raced through the book, eager to know what happened to Alice, and whether she'd be found alive or not. Although Force of Nature again features Aaron Falk it is a complete standalone story, so there's no need to have read The Dry beforehand. 

To find out more follow #ForceofNature blog tour, author @JaneHarperautho and publisher @LittleBrownUK on Twitter

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Exile by James Swallow

Review by The Mole

After Nomad Marc Dane is persona non-grata in everyone's organisation but someone has to take him and he's given a dead-end, almost clerical role, in the International Atomic Energy Agency where his boss hopes he'll put the hours in, keep his head down and keep out of everyone's hair. Readers of Nomad will know that's not very likely to happen.

Picking up a lead that he is told is a dead end and a waste of time he starts to track what he believes is a suitcase nuclear bomb. But while the lead seems hot to him no-one else is prepared to take him seriously apart from his only friend in the agency who he ends up putting in the hospital and finding himself totally alone in pursuit of his case - and he can't do it alone.

While mostly fast paced I did find with Exile (unlike Nomad) that there were times when words seemed to be included that increased the page count but did not enhance the story. That is to say, at times the plot slowed for seemingly no real good reason. That said, the publishers liken Dane to Jason Bourne and that's not a bad comparison except I don't recollect Bourne having a right hand man like Lucy Keyes. Keyes is not insignificant in the plot and the book would be a lot poorer without her. Like Jason Bourne, you know where the plot is going to go and where it's going to end up and the only surprises come in getting from A to B. But it's fun on the journey and escapism rules the book.

As far as action thriller writers go, Swallow is up there with the best of them so keep an eye out because the last chapter tells us there will be more to come.

Publisher: Zaffre
Genre: Adult Action Thriller

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements

review by Maryom

Scarcross Hall sits high on the moors, bleak and isolated, but for Mercy Booth this place is home; she's as hefted to the spot as the sheep she and her elderly father raise on the moorland.

Old rumours of horrific events, and the possibility of a curse on the place, have never troubled her before, but of late a creeping presence is unsettling her. Noises are heard at night in unused rooms, small items are going missing, and, at times, Mercy has sensed a shadowy figure watching her.

Taking on a new man to help with lambing does nothing to settle her mind, and, as the year turns, the odd incidents become more frequent and far more disturbing in nature. Something evil really does seem to be stalking the inhabitants of Scarcross Hall, perhaps seeking some form of retribution ...

Set in the years after the Civil War, the Coffin Path is a dark, atmospheric tale - not quite a ghost story, in my opinion, but a spine-tingler nonetheless. Mercy is an independent self-reliant woman, taking part in the day to day practicalities of running the farm, and used to the bleakness of her surroundings and the hardships encountered there - so not one to be disturbed by a few odd night-time noises. 

The spooky disturbing atmosphere is quickly established, with Mercy's feeling of someone constantly watching, and her equivocal attitude towards the new man, Ellis, whose arrival coincides with an increase in strange occurrences around the hall, but somehow, somewhere around the halfway mark, the tale lost its grip on me, as if the tension and creepiness had peaked too early. Fortunately, the ending picks up again, with revelations about the Booth family's past coming thick and fast, and over turning much of what Mercy herself had been brought up believing.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline Review
Genre - adult historical supernatural fiction, 

Friday, 26 January 2018

Killer Christmas by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

Everyone has plans for Christmas, mostly doing again what we did last year, but Geraldine's plans fall through at the last minute and she is stuck in York on Christmas Eve. On her own. With no-one to share the holiday with.

Sitting in a pop-up bar and having a quiet drink when a murder is committed - except no-one saw it happen and Geraldine was on the spot.

This is the first short story by Leigh Russell that I've read and frankly I had no idea what to expect. The normal format of her stories requires a lot of plotting and blind alleys etc. But in a short story how do you tackle  a murder mystery? Well Russell does it very well indeed. I was very surprised the way it unfolded without compromising the genre yet giving the reader exactly what they want.

This short story is still free on Kindle from Amazon or you can go to the No Exit Press website and purchase a hard copy so if you haven't read any Geraldine Steel yet now's your chance to sample for free.

I really did enjoy this a great deal.

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller, Short Story

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Ursula Le Guin

I've always been a watcher and reader of science fiction - from my early days of watching Fireball XL5 - but didn't discover Ursula Le Guin till my early twenties. I'd been reading my way through my husband's collection of sc-fi paperbacks - lots of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Poul Anderson and the series of adventures 'starring' Perry Rhodan - when I stumbled on The Dispossessed. By and large, so far everything had been about rockets, aliens, wars in space with the emphasis on plot rather than characterisation (the odd exception being Asimov's I Robot stories) but The Dispossessed was different. Yes, it was set on fictitious planets, but it was about people, society, and the failure of a Utopian ideal, rather than the mechanics of space flight.

From there, with the help of the local library, I found The Word for World is Forest, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Wizard of Earthsea, and numerous other books and short stories, in all of which Le Guin used an alien setting to explore very 'human' social, cultural and political themes (even when writing about werewolves). This is what appealed to me so much,a nd I don't think I've found another writer who so exactly mirrored my views while expressing them far better than I could.

Eventually I picked up what has become one of my favourite collections of short stories - Orsinian Tales. Set in a fictitious East European country, rather than on a distant planet, these stories highlight moments of that country's development from the Middle Ages through to the Cold War era, but with the emphasis always being on the personal aspect, exploring what we might consider as contemporary issues - feminism, identity, freedom of thought and speech. My favourites have changed over the years, but today I'll pick The Fountains (what it means to be 'free') and Imaginary Countries (a pure nostalgia trip for a time and place that never was). There's also a longer novel, Malafrena, set in Orsinia, in the early nineteenth century, a time of rebellion and revolution across Eastern Europe. It always feels a bit side-lined by Le Guin fans but I love it.

Reading through the obituaries this morning I came across a quote from The Left Hand of Darkness "It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters, in the end". Thanks for sharing the journey, RIP Ursula Le Guin.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

review by Maryom

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know I've been working my way (very slowly) through Robin Hobb's Farseer/Liveships/Rainwild series, and loving every page of the way. So, I was delighted to find this - The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince - in my Christmas stocking.

It's not actually part of the Farseer saga but a sort of prequel set long before the birth of Fitzchivalry Farseer.
It's often hinted in the story of Fitz that the Wit, the ability he has to communicate and even bond with animals, was once an accepted, even prized, skill but attitudes changed and it became something disreputable, despised, and evil; instead of having a gift, a Witted person was now seen as cursed.

Legend, as quoted in the Farseer books, blames this change of opinion on the actions and behaviour of Princess Caution, the Wilful Princess, and her son Prince Charger, the Piebald Prince. But in the two stories that make up this volume, Robin Hobb tells a different tale, through the words of Felicity, childhood friend and handmaiden to Princess Caution, then wet-nurse to her son, Charger. It's the story of a princess who contradicted her name at every possible chance, who gave up everything for love and her son, and that son, who, marked from birth, found his whole life a struggle - for acceptance, for power, and for love.

It reads as a folk tale - the sort you might know about King Arthur or his knights - but for me highlights one of the things I love about Hobb's work - the creation of a complete world with a complex history stretching back hundreds of years as a backdrop against which the adventures of Fitzchivalry and the Fool, or the Vestritt family take place. If you've read more fantasy you may know other examples but he only comparable world-building I can think of is Tolkein's Middle-earth.

There are a couple of things to note here - this is a short, novella length book (just over 150 pages) with a simpler plot than you may expect from Hobb's other full-length, 500+ page, and it probably doesn't work well as a stand-alone piece, so best seen as a 'curiosity' for Farseer fans. On the other hand, it's illustrated by Jackie Morris (who is responsible for many of Robin Hobb's covers) with horses and hounds along the margins, and the occasional half and full-page, giving the feel of an ancient manuscript reproduced for a modern reader.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

review by Maryom

84 year old Florence Claybourne has fallen, and is lying on the floor of her sheltered accommodation flat until someone comes to rescue her. While she waits, she checks out the rubbish accumulated under the sofa, imagines who her rescuer will be and how they'll react, and reminisces about her lifelong friendship with Elsie. There are three special things about Elsie. The first two are simple - that she's Florence's best friend, and that she always knows the right things to say to make Florence feel better - the third is harder to explain. As Florence's mind drifts back over the years we begin to see the important part Elsie has played in her life, but Florence's memories are troubled by a new arrival at the Cherry Tree sheltered housing. He's calling himself Gabriel Price, but Florence believes he's someone she once knew long ago, under a different name. Is her memory playing up, or has Ronnie Butler come back (possibly from the dead) to in some way get his revenge?

Taken at its simplest, Three Things About Elsie is a gentle mystery story revolving around incidents from the characters' youth. Who is the mysterious Gabriel/Ronnie? What happened back in the 50s to make Florence so afraid of him? Of course, if Florence's memory were clearer, we'd know the answers in a second. As it is, the reader has to follow her meanderings and side-tracking as the puzzle pieces gradually slot together one by one.

More importantly, it's a sympathetic look at a section of society that's easily written off as boring and irrelevant - the elderly. In Greenbank, the care home to which Cherry Tree's residents are sent as they become less self-reliant, the photos on the walls remind the staff of WHO their patients once were. Now they may be senile, bedridden, barely distinguishable from each other, but once they too were young, had hopes and dreams, fell in love, raised families, enjoyed dancing or cricket or reading - basically were individuals. Through Florence's eyes we see what it's like to be dismissed as a forgetful old woman, while she still feels like her younger self.

And the 'third thing' about Elsie? Well, that's something to make your own mind up about.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction

Monday, 8 January 2018

Picks of 2017

 by Maryom

 Well, I've managed to be really late with my top picks from 2017, but here they are at last, in no particular order. Trying to choose which books to include, I noticed that, for me, this year's picks seem remarkably up-beat, though Larry Tremblay's The Orange Grove is as far from that as you could want ...

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett
Reclusive former singer/songwriter Cass Wheeler looks back on her life through her 'greatest hits', the songs from a lifetime that represent key moments from her fractured childhood, rebellious teen years, meteoric rise to fame and the troubles that quickly followed. Loved it!

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Starting in 1940s Ireland and running to the present day, this is the story - cradle to grave - of Cyril Avery. As an adopted child and later a homosexual man, Cyril is constantly made to feel an outsider, unwanted and unloved, but it's also a story of the changing attitudes in Ireland, and Cyril ultimately is welcomed in this new, inclusive world. It's full of everything from joy to despair, and I can't believe anyone could read it and not be moved. 

 The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) by Marie Gameson

 Following a moment of revelation on a mountain top in Taiwan, Winifred Rigby believes she's attained a state of enlightenment, discarding all thoughts of  'self' along with her memories. Now forced by her family to return to London, she tries her best to live a life of Buddhist detachment and mindfulness, concentrating on the present, and forgetting the past, but is puzzled and frustrated by the almost obsessive care shown by her mother and sister, and, despite her intentions, the past seems unwilling to let go of Winnie. Circling round the difficulties of caring for someone who has undergone a radical change of personality, it's a perceptive, thought-provoking read.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

 Recently widowed Nora is left struggling to cope with her disabled grandson. When all else fails, she approaches the local healer Nance, a woman knowledgeable in the use of herbs and the ways of the fairies, the 'Good People'. But Nance's 'cures' lead the women on a dangerous path ... are they truly hoping to cure the boy, or maliciously harming him?

The  Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay

A short powerful story about the loss of innocence and how children, and their parents, are manipulated in times of war.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

This is without doubt one of the creepiest stories I've read - full of tension and steadily increasing horror, it's one to give you goosebumps up the arms, and shivers down the spine. A neglected country house, overgrown with ivy, shrouded in mist, tales of skeletons discovered in the grounds and strange wooden 'companions' who seem to have developed a life of their own ... What more could you ask for in a gothic horror tale?

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

Frankie has reached crisis point. She feels isolated, lost, and without purpose. One day, everything just proves too overwhelming so she does what she always does - phones her mum who understands without questioning and is ready to come to the rescue. Hunkering down in her grandmother's old bungalow, Frankie attempts to put her world back together piece by piece, step by step. An intimate account of someone gripped by depression but desperately trying to walk out of its depths.

Kit heads out to Italy to find the father she's never knew, and finds a different story to the one told by her mother. The story is one of a young woman searching for identity and a place to belong, of the complexities of personal relationships, the steadfastness of love, and the sometimes disastrous results of trying to do the right thing, but what made it stand out for me was the atmospheric setting - a cliff-side garden filled with an abundance of flowers, herbs and shrubs, a terrace strung with twinkling lights, the sea as backdrop - and the food - from breakfast pastries, through biscuits of almonds and chocolate fresh from the oven, platters of antipasti with sunset-coloured aperitifs as the sun goes down, to dinners of pasta in all its shapes and tastes, with breads strewn with salt, rosemary and even strawberries, every morsel is a joy and I wanted to try it all!

I've read fewer crime and psychological thrillers this year, but of those I have read, Joseph Knox's debt Sirens stands out - a sort of Chandleresque private eye story - 
and Elly Griffiths was back with both Ruth Galloway(The Chalk Pit), and Stephens and Mephisto (The Vanishing Box) novels; The Chalk Pit was my favourite of the two, but only because I've followed more of Ruth's personal story over the longer series.

On the other hand, I think I've read more fantasy than usual - highlights being my continued trek through Robin Hobbs' Farseer series, having completed the Liveships Trilogy and returned to Fitz and The Fool with Fool's Errand, If you've already read these books, try newcomer Anna Smith Spark's The Court of Broken Knives - as a first novel, and first in a series, it's grabbed me in the the way only Robin Hobb's work has.