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 lulu.com

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