Thursday, 10 October 2019

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

At some future point in time, the world has been engulfed by water due presumably to global warming and rising sea levels. Only extremely high mountain peaks remain as scattered islands, with small makeshift communities on them, but many people took to the sea for safety as water levels rose, and have nowhere to settle on land.

Myra and her daughter Pearl live on their boat, catching fish and trading with island communities. It's a precarious, hand to mouth existence but they're doing more or less okay. Then Myra hears a rumour about her other daughter, Row, who was taken away by her father in the early days of the flood. She'd always hoped that somehow, somewhere, their paths would cross, but now, with a specific location to head for, Myra decides to attempt to track her elder daughter down despite the vast distance of ocean that separates them. It's a voyage filled with danger and betrayals, with only hope to keep Myra going.

After The Flood started well, despite its similarities to Waterworld. Its strange flooded 'landscape' intrigued me, and the author seemed to have thought through the ways people would have found to survive. Myra's a gritty, practical heroine, fiercely attached to her daughters, and devastated to have lost one. If there's any way of seeing her again, Myra will grab it.

But somewhere along the way, my interest waned. Maybe there's a point, somewhere around the middle of the book, where the ending becomes too predictable but I didn't feel the last chapters lived up to the earlier ones. Events seemed hurried and plot devices just too convenient.

Maryom's review -  3 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction, dystopian, post apocalyptic 

Friday, 4 October 2019

The Stolen Spear by Saviour Pirotta

illustrated by Davide Ortu

 Wolf is a little bit of a misfit. He's no good at fishing. He's easily upset by the sight of blood, so will never make a hunter. He gets distracted or daydreams, and doesn't protect his family's sheep. One thing he's good at is climbing cliffs to collect eggs from the nesting auks - but even there he's trapped by the tide and has to be rescued by a stranger, a girl from a neighbouring island. The girl, named Crow, is welcomed by his family, but, after she has returned to her home, a sacred spear belonging to a dead shaman goes missing, and Crow is the only suspect. Wolf is blamed for bringing her to the village, and he vows to recover the spear, even though it means making a perilous journey to the other islands.

The Stolen Spear is a thrilling adventure story for children aged 7 and over. Set on the Orkney Islands at the end of the Neolithic period, in the world famous (now ruined) village of Skara Brae, it brings both the remoteness of the islands, and the way of life of its Stone Age inhabitants vividly to life. I always feel that historical fiction makes the past more accessible; lets us understand that people long ago were no different to us (an especially important point for younger readers). Wolf may be a Stone Age boy, but his problems of fitting in, of being bullied, of trying to prove his worth to his father, are all themes that young modern readers will relate to. Wolf's story is told in the first person from his point of view, letting the reader share Wolf's frustrations and fears, while at the same time he seamlessly explains aspects of his life which are undoubtedly strange to us today.

The story moves along quickly, with tense moments as Wolf  faces danger at sea and from the people he encounters on the other islands, but he also forges new friendships along the way, and ultimately finds his special role in life.

 While primarily an adventure story, The Stolen Spear ties in nicely with KS2 history on the late Neolithic period. There are discussion points at the back to encourage readers to think more about certain aspects of the story - concepts such as change or courage, or why people have different opinions and points of view - and of course the Neolithic period itself.

Publisher  - Maverick Books
Genre - Children's historical fiction, 7+, KS2, Orkney Islands, 

Friday, 27 September 2019

The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs

I've been reading a little 'off piste' recently, ignoring review books in favour of catching up with those I've bought myself, so here's the first of them - The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs.

I picked this up when I was at the Unthology 11 launch in Norwich (both are published by Unthank Books). I read Sarah Dobbs' debut novel Killing Daniel a few years ago and have been looking out for more by her since then, dystopian post-apocalypse novels seem to fit my mood at the moment, and (always important) the cover appealed, so I treated myself.

The story is set in a future Britain, where people seem to live in an almost siege-like state; under attack from the sea which has made great inroads on the land (Newark-by-the-Sea is presumably Newark-on-Trent which currently lies a long way inland) and from terrorists. Newark is being used as a pilot scheme of a new way to combat crime and fear by erasing victims' memories. Audrey is a Processing Officer dealing with the people whose minds are to be wiped, but among them is one, a girl named Candy, whose memory seems to be returning. With the scheme about to go nationwide, no one wants any hiccoughs in the process, so Audrey's superiors set her to tail Candy, and soon she's uncovering far more than she expected.

In a way reminiscent of  'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', people have their minds wiped of anything unpleasant, but in Newark-by-the-Sea the memories aren't just of unhappy love affairs but of far more violent events, and instead of a cutsie rom-com this is a gripping thriller.

The grim, grittiness and corruption hiding beneath the shiny facade, the random terror attacks, the mind-control exercised on a more or less willing public, the fear of the sea surges that threaten Newark with alarming regularity, all add up to a disturbing view of a not-too-distant future. The world building is great, and the reader's dropped straight into this unfamiliar place that feels like a twisted, nightmarish version of somewhere you know. Newark is contrasted with the twee, cosy suburban 'middle England' world of Audrey's parents - but really the two places are similar at heart; in one bad things are erased; in the other, everyone's too polite to mention them.
As Audrey's investigation leads her into the murky underworld of Newark, violence erupts around her, and she also finds herself asking questions about her own past, and the authenticity of her memories.

I know dystopian fiction isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it! If I'm drawing comparisons, I'd say it's like something Philip K Dick could have written.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Unthank 

Genre - dystopian sci-fi adult fiction

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Nigma by Ana Salote

(The Waifs of Duldred - book 3)
Review by The Mole

Oy is still trying to save Linnet's life by finding her medicine but in order to do this he must pass the impassable storm wall and evade capture by the Felluns.  It doesn't look god for Oy and his friends and things will only get worse for them.

This is the third book in the Waifs Of Duldred trilogy, a trilogy that seems to have kept me waiting forever. Book 1 was "Oy Yew" and I remember being truly amazed at how wonderful this story was. But it left the reader on a cliff hanger and it seemed like Book 2 "Nondula" would never come. And Nondula, once again, left us on a cliff hanger.

The Felluns are the threat that Oy and friends have to evade and they want Oy badly. Their race is dying and, as a healer, they believe he can save their race - but on their terms as a prisoner. As the friends run the Felluns deploy their greatest trackers and bring in beasts to sniff out their scent. In the meantime the friends, in their innocent naivety, think they keep evading the Felluns only to come face to face again.

Nigma is a real complement to the series and was worth the wait. While waiting for book 3 the names, characters, and events so far portrayed in story have slipped to the back of your mind but here Salote brings the reader back up to date with an ease that almost leads you to believe that you could read this book as a stand alone. Please don't - you'll miss learning so much about the waifs and how their hardships have shaped them to become the fabulous characters that they are. Now is the time to start this tale as you can page seamlessly from the start of book 1 and continue until you finally close the cover on "Oy Goes Home" - the final chapter of book 3.

A wonderful end to a magnificent trilogy!

Publisher - Mother's Milk Books
Genre - Children's/Adult crossover,  dystopian

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Stories for Talk Like a Pirate Day

Arrrr, maties,  and shiver me timbers. Today be Talk Like A Pirate Day, so here be two stories of treasure-seeking and friendship on the high seas. (Okay, I'll stop the pirate talk now)
Eye, Eye, Captain by Jane Clarke; illustrated by Jennie Poh

Pirates are fierce, bold and brave. Everybody knows that. So, when Captain Cutlass is told he needs to wear glasses, it doesn't go very well with his image of a courageous captain, and he thinks his crew will make him walk the plank. BUT, without his glasses, the captain is making quite a few mistakes - he can't even read a treasure map!

The pirates in The Friendly Pirates by Saviour Pirotta and illustrated by Erica Salcedo, are living a quieter life; in fact it's a little too quiet on Cutlass Island for Adam, Amy and Ali since their ship sank. So when they get a chance they stowaway on board a passing ship, hoping it will take them to a big city. Saving the ship's crew from a sea monster wins them new friends, but the city turns out to be too noisy for pirates used to a quiet island. How can they get home?

From Bloomsbury Young Readers series, both short books are full of adventure on the high seas, with giant whales, sea monsters, and pirates (of course). Exciting but fun, and colourfully illustrated throughout, both are excellent for five and six year olds moving on to their first chapter books. Inside the front cover you'll find ideas to help your child with their reading (discussing unfamiliar words or talking about how the stories's themes might apply elsewhere), and at the back are suggestions of follow-on activities (writing or drawing).
Publisher - Bloomsbury Education
Genre - children's, pirates, adventure, 5+, 6+

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Do Not Feed the Bear by Rachel Elliott

Sydney Smith is a freerunner - you know, one of those people who jump about between buildings and off walls, running, jumping, tumbling, somersaulting. She has a successful career as a cartoonist, a long-term relationship with her partner Ruth, but It's only when free-running, eyeing up the next move, estimating a gap or drop, that she truly feels at peace.
She's currently working on a graphic novel of her life, but she's reached a sticking point as she's forced to confront the disaster which scarred her family forever, so on her forty-seventh birthday she returns to St Ives, scene of many happy childhood holidays and one dreadful event, to see if she can face down the past, the same way she would an awkward leap.

In St Ives, Maria is suffering in an unhappy marriage which she can't bring herself to leave, and her 29 year old daughter seems stuck in limbo, not wanting to leave home or assume adult responsibilities.

The two families' lives have crossed before, without them realising; now Sydney, preparing to jump off a roof while Maria watches, is going to bring them together again.

Do Not Feed the Bear is a story of grief, denial and, ultimately, redemption. When we meet them, almost all the characters are living their lives 'on hold', trapped by the past, and unable to commit to the future. A chance meeting sets in motion separate trains of thought which lead them, individually and collectively, to accept that the past is indeed the past, and that the future is what matters now.

It's a compelling read, heart-warming and uplifting, but, at the risk of sounding like a Grinch-style cynic, the ending just seemed a little too neat and rounded off for me.

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

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Glowglass by Kirkland Ciccone

Review by The Mole

Starrsha Glowglass's face is on the front page of every newspaper. She isn't a model, Vlogger, or reality TV show contestant. Starrsha is famous for something darker: she survived a massacre that claimed her Brothers and Sisters. Hers was no ordinary family. They were The Family Glowglass - a religious order set up by an eccentric businessman as a tax dodge. One morning the parishioners sat down to breakfast...Most didn't get back up. Only Starrsha and her mute Brother, Simon, survived. Both now have a chance to lead an ordinary life. For Starrsha that means high school. Can a videotape bring back the dead? What's behind the red door? Why won't Starrsha's best friend reveal her true sexuality? When is a poster on a wall actually a trap? Will My Chemical Romance reform? Why is Father obsessed with vintage technology? Why does Barbie freak out Starrsha? How many rich husbands has Aunt Imelda bumped off? And why is God crank-calling Starrsha? All will be revealed when someone presses PLAY...

Ciccone's books have all been unusual in some way and this is no exception. A single video tape is left and Starrsha keeps adding parts of the story to it until the 3 hour tape is full and we know the complete story from Starrsha's point of view. And it's not what I expected.

We know of the deaths in the cult and we know of the how but "who"? Only Simon and Starrsha survived... coincidence or planning - that's what we need to find out and this tape contains Starrsha's confession. Or does it? This young impressionable childlike girl is too naive for anything so horrendous surely?

I was sceptical of the format at first but found that it worked well. Very well. Having just the one voice throughout taking the story forward and backward before reaching the conclusion felt very genuine - no contrived conversations using second voices that didn't really gel. We do hear from other characters but they are retold by Starrsha in the words she chooses and so we see how the characters come over to her and not to each other.

The reader also gets an insight into cults and modern day slavery - or at least one aspect.

This is, once again, another great story told in the author's distinctive style. It sounds like a YA book but, frankly, apart from the very young, this book will sort all ages and genders and I'd recommend widely.

Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre - YA/Adult/Thriller

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Unthology 11 - edited by Ashley Stokes and Tom Vowler

We've reviewed many Unthology collections here at OurBookReviewsOnline, but previously they've all been read by The Mole. This time I, Maryom, managed to get my hands on the copy first, and I loved it! These are definitely my kind of stories; a little bit dark, enticing in their openings, engaging through the middle, and satisfying at the end - even when that ending is devastatingly sad.

In the introduction the editors encourage us to look beyond our everyday horizons, 'down that alleyway at twilight, into some barely lit building, its unknowable corners', for this is where these stories take place, on the margins of everyday life. Take notice of those people you might normally pass without a second glance, taking their presence for granted - the hospital workers, museum interpreters, farm workers, teens hanging out in an old caravan - they've all a story to tell, and it won't be the one you're expecting. Love, when it appears, is secretive, illicit or unrequited; not the stuff of romantic fiction. The overall tone is undoubtedly dark, so stir clear if you like your fiction feel-good and up beat.

I wouldn't fault any of the stories, but two stood out for me. Bloodstock by Paul Davenport-Randell, a tale of modern slavery, and Richard Smyth's The Berg, which introduced me to Erasmus Darwin's theory of how to combat climate change.

The Unthologists are -

Nick Holdstock
Sarah Dobbs
Paul Davenport-Randell
Angela Readman
George Sandison
Regi Claire
Richard Smyth
Georgina Parfitt
Rachael Smart
Jude Cook

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Unthank 

Genre - Adult contemporary fiction, short stories

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

A Sword of Ice and Fire

We're all more or less aware of the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table - whether through books, or film - but what of his childhood?
In The Sword of ice and Fire, the first of a four-book series entitled Red Dragon Rising, John Matthews visits those early formative years, weaving a story of magic and dark forces that will grip readers. 

As a baby Arthur is brought by the wizard Merlin to the castle of Avalon, to be looked after by Sir Hector and his wife. The castle is a mysterious place, with passageways and rooms that move around, and ruled over by 'The Nine' - sisters with power equal to, if not greater than, Merlin's. As he grows older, Arthur begins to query who he is, and why he must live in the castle. He's no longer content to remain within its walls, but, although he makes new friends in the surrounding forest, outside the sisters cannot shield him from the forces who wish him harm.

Matthews is drawing heavily on Arthurian myths, so obviously a lot of the story may feel familiar to adults. It's aimed though at older children/young teens - roughly the age group who'd read Harry Potter, and it's a story they'd love. There's the same mix of magic and action; a young boy brought up in ignorance of his heritage starting to take on the role he'll be required to fill, dangerous otherworldly enemies to defeat, and quests to fulfill - the Sword being the first one. 

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - The Greystones Press 
Genre - children's/teen fantasy

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Unthology 11 - book launch

We'd been planning in a vague way of going to Norfolk for a few days, but couldn't settle when or where, then fate took a hand, in the form of a Facebook event notification for the launch of Unthank Books' latest short story collection - Unthology 11 - to be held in Norwich. It wouldn't be quite fair to say the whole break was planned round it, but it did give some focus to our plans. We picked a BnB midway between Cromer and Norwich, spent the day at the coast, and headed into town for the evening.

Most of the book launches I've been to, possibly all, have been held in book shops. Unthank had chosen somewhere rather different; The Bicycle Shop, a quirky delightful restaurant, which no longer sells bikes :) 

The event was held downstairs, in a room lit by twinkling fairy lights and candles. I loved it!

Proceedings were opened by co-editor Ashley Stokes who read a few words from his introduction to Unthology 11,

"What would it take to push you to the edge? And beyond? The moth that flutters round a bulb. The echo of long-drinking that hums inside your head. Your softness against all that hardness. The reflections of the glass megalith. The darkening street beneath a line of magnolia trees. The leaves of the apple tree freckled with rot. A black and ragged looking bird. One of those planes that pulls paper letters behind it. Thick, sibilant words that make your mouth water just hearing them. The scuzzy streets of Archway, where no one cares who you are. Welcome to the hinterland. Welcome to Unthology 11."

I've read my review copy of Unthology 11, and the stories definitely take the reader to strange places hidden almost in plain sight, lurking just behind the facade that people present to the world.

Rachael Smart

Being the launch of a book of short stories there was more than one author on hand to read their work - in fact, there were four, which gave a real feel for the varied writing styles and subject matter.
First up was Jude Cook reading from his short story The Night Nurse, followed by Georgina Parfitt with her Christmassy tale Wise Man.

Paul Davenport Randell

 A short break gave me time to browse the collection of Unthank books on sale, and buy a copy of Sarah Dobbs' second novel, The Sea Within Me (it's a stunner; something Philip K Dick could have written, and she also has a story in this Unthology). Something about the lighting changed during this break, so I could take photographs of the two writers still due to 'perform' - Rachael Smart - Various Cuts of a Holstein -  and Paul Davenport Randall, who rounded off the evening with some of his story of modern slavery, Bloodstock.

Review of Unthology 11 here 

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

Augusta and Julia Hope are twins - but far from identical. Julia is pretty, girly, obedient, and everything her parents want in a daughter. Augusta is ... well ... none of these things.  She questions everything, loves words, spends time reading the dictionary, befriends the disabled boy next door when no one else will speak to him, reads poetry though not the 'tasteful' sort that her parents like but troublesome, unsettling stuff. The two girls are still inseparable; two halves of a whole. 
Augusta's passion for learning new words leads her to an atlas in which she discovers Burundi - a marvelous place she believes, from the sound of its name. But in Burundi itself, Parfait Nduwimana knows how far from marvelous the country is. His family has suffered horrendously during the war which ripped the country apart - his parents are dead, his sisters missing - but Parfait refuses to give up. He fervently believes that the best course of action is to leave, and make a new life elsewhere, so he and his younger brother Zion set off on a journey across Africa in the hope of reaching Spain.

This is the story of a girl dismissed by her parents as 'odd'. I didn't find her so myself but her parents are set in their ways and 'narrow' in outlook. Augusta is a misfit - too precocious, too outspoken, too clever for them - and from an early age seems to be instinctively searching for somewhere she'll be accepted. Things start a little slowly, but Augusta and her unfolding story grew on me, and although the ending is predictable, the route to it isn't, and the story-telling drew me on.

Who though is Augusta's other half? Her sister - so different in appearance and temperament - or Parfait - with a past more horrific than Augusta can imagine, but like her searching for a place to call home. Read it, and decide for yourself.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Unveiled: the First Unthank School Anthology edited by Ashley Stokes and Stephen Carver

When cuts closed down the local university creative writing group, Unthank Books stepped into the rescue setting up its own 'school'; initially a face-to-face workshop in Norwich, but now expanded to online courses. It's now been running for a little over ten years, and, proud of their students' work, the tutors decided it was time to collate some of it into a book. They asked for submissions from former and current students, and chose these fifteen pieces from over fifty contenders.

Nicola Perry; Lost Lessons of Imaginary Men
Sabine Meier; Walls
Susan Allott; Interference
Jose Varghese; In Control
Jax Burgoyne; Writer
Nicholas Brodie; The Red King
Carey Denton; No Second Chance
Claudie Whittaker; Ideas I am Sending on Holiday
Jacqueline Gittins; To Sudden Silence Won
Victoria Hattersley; The Lantern Man
Zoe Fairtlough; Zoldana
Lorraine Rogerson; The Shadow of Moths
Marc Owen Jones; Killing Coldplay
Lloyd Mills; Shizuko

What you have here is something slightly different to the standard collection of stand-alone short stories - while some fit that description, others are excerpts from novels needing a short introduction to the piece, and perhaps leaving the story and characters just as you were getting interested.
The writers come from varied backgrounds - some through the academic creative writing route, others having followed other careers before beginning to write - and the style, content and setting vary as much. Sci-fi sits next to a family saga, 1930s Ireland next to a contemporary drug dealers' den.
Some I felt worked better than others - obviously those written as complete stories but also the extracts which reached, if not a conclusion, a natural break.

There are many authors to watch out for, and stories I want to hear the end (and middle) to, but if I had to pick out a couple ... 

John Down' s Roads -  which follows events spiraling out of control after a hit and run accident. An extract from his first novel, British Teeth, it's tense and crazy and immediate, puts the reader in the heart of a burgeoning riot, or sitting calmly talking to the dead boy as if it's the most normal thing in the world. I can't find trace of the full novel being published yet, but I hope it is soon.

Killing Coldplay by Marc Owen Jones is one of the complete stories. Stefan has come to London to find out about his father's past obsession with punk. He believes it to be about the exterior display - Mohican  hair cuts, and safety pin piercings - till he discovers the music. I'm not into punk but I recognised that feeling of raw energy that takes over in a deafening rock venue. 

No Second Chance by Carey Denton is another 'proper' short story. An argument between sisters over what to do with their parents' ski chalet (a huge sum has been offered for it) re-awakens forgotten dreams, long since swallowed by 'life' and the choices forced on us by careers, family, houses and cars.

OK, that's three, not a couple, and I could probably list more, but read it for yourself and see if you can spot the next big publishing semsation.

Beware if you're hunting online for this book. I pick up the cover image that way, through that big online store, and searching by title alone brings up some very interesting and 'exotic' alternatives, a bit like 1950s' sci-fi movie posters. Don't be distracted by those. You're looking for the cover image shown above - black, white and striped diamonds in a quilting Tumbling Blocks pattern; an appropriate image for a short story collection as each story is complete in itself, as is a small quilters' block, but assembled correctly they form a new pattern.

If you're interested in writing courses, you can find out more about the Unthank Writing School here

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Unthank 

Genre - Adult contemporary fiction, short stories

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Flotsam by Meike Ziervogel

Anna and her daughter Trine live on the German coast, by mudflats that are covered twice a day, and whose form shifts with the tides. Their life is lonely, haunted by the ghosts of war. Anna is emotionally and artistically paralyzed by grief. She spends her days collecting debris washed up by the tides, with which she intends to create something - but can't find the spark within herself to start. Trine, forced into more social contact through school, is more resilient, finds it possible to put the past behind her and move on.

Set in 1950s Germany, Meike Ziervogel's latest book tells the story of a mother and daughter trying to come to terms with grief and the past. Anne and Trine live, damaged and adrift, like emotional flotsam on the blurred edge between land and sea. The mudflats, shifting and changing form with each tide, echo the women's thoughts and memories - there's only one safe way through, otherwise you'll sink and be caught by the tide. 

Ziervogel's writing is, as always, concise and sparse; her characters troubled and arresting. It's a story which sticks in the mind, with a lot of impact for such a slim volume.

This isn't by any stretch of the imagination a 'traditional' post-apocalypse story, but mulling over what exactly I'd say in this review, perhaps due to how my thoughts are running at the moment, it struck me that there were similarities. Isolated, bleak, drab, their location seems spot on for post-apocalyptic fiction. And then, imagine the mindset of the German people in the immediate post-war years. No matter whether or not they supported the Nazi regime, believed its propaganda or thought it was all lies, the end of the war marks the end of an era; everything that shaped their lives has been swept away, leaving huge uncertainty in its wake. For them, this is post-apocalyptic life.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - adult literary fiction, coming of age, 

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Carer by Deborah Moggach

Phoebe and Robert have decided that their elderly widowed father, James, is in need of some help. They're busy with their lives - Phoebe in Wales and Robert in London - and don't want to give them up, so take on a live-in carer for James. After a couple of false-starts, they find Mandy, their 'saviour from Solihull', and they willingly leave things to her unfailing good humour and capable hands. But gradually James seems to change, to find delight in banalities he'd previously avoided - daytime television, shopping trips and outings to garden centres - and Phoebe and Robert become concerned about how far under Mandy's spell he's falling.

I'll be upfront and say from the start that I was disappointed with this. When I originally received my review copy, I was hesitant about reading it at all.The subject matter of needing care for an elderly parent was a bit close to home, but in that regard I needn't have worried - it's not concerned with the nitty-gritty side of care, just uses it as a vehicle for a storyline. At first that moves along as you might expect - middle-aged children, grateful to have a burden taken off their hands, soon become worried about the influence the carer is having on their father - then, fortunately, there's a twist, but I was so uninterested in these self-centred characters, cushioned from real-life problems by income from trust funds, that by then I didn't care what happened. 

Did the humour pass me by? Quite possibly. It's been known to happen. Other folks will find something hilarious and it won't raise a smile from me.

Did the characters just not appeal to me? Definitely. They seemed, at best, caricatures rather than real people. I couldn't care about them or their predicament.

Was it too close to home? No. I've been through this - without the unlimited trust fund package - and it doesn't have any resemblance to caring for elderly parents as I've experienced it. 

I've enjoyed other books by Deborah Moggach and had expected much better from The Carer. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, she explored the world of elderly folk with humour and understanding - this book seems so slight by comparison. 

Publisher - 
 Tinder Press
Genre - 
Adult fiction,

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Jonathan Pinnock - author interview

Today I'm delighted to welcome Jonathan Pinnock to talk about his new series of books - The Mathematical Mysteries -  fast-paced, funny thrillers in which innocent ex-PR man Tom Winscombe finds himself caught up in a world of murder, Belarusan mafia, cryptocurrency scams and, of course, mathematics.

My first question has to be - how, or why, did the germs for the series of Mathematical Mysteries take root? 
 Long story. I was doing an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and I was struggling to come up with an idea for my manuscript. I was actually thinking about a project that had more to do with narrative non-fiction, which is why I ended up taking the narrative non-fiction module. As it turned out, it was a terrible choice of module for me, apart for one thing. One of the set texts was Janet Malcolm's “The Silent Woman”, an investigation into the life and death of Sylvia Plath. In it, she interviews a wide variety of people who knew her, some of whom are, let’s say, more than a little eccentric. As I was getting in my car at Corsham to drive home after discussing it in class, I began to envisage writing a novel about a literary murder mystery populated with a cast of strange characters. By the time I was halfway to Bath, I’d realised that I was a lot more confident about writing about a mathematical murder mystery than a literary one, and by the time I was driving through Bath I’d remembered a short story called “Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions” that I’d written about a couple of mathematicians called (you’ve guessed it) Archimedes and Pythagoras Vavasor (it’s here, in case you’re interested: By the time I got home, I’d pretty much worked out what I was going to do for my manuscript.

I wrote up the start of it for my next submission to the creative skills workshop class, and I still remember the moment when our tutor, Celia Brayfield, asked the group if they felt I should continue writing this, and everyone, including her, put up their hands. There was still a lot of work to do, including changing the age of the protagonist so that he wasn’t a jaded, middle-aged proxy for myself, and also swapping the skillsets round so that the protagonist was no longer the mathematician. From that point on, the book felt like it was writing itself.

Obviously the series' title mentions mathematics. Did you know much about theoretical maths before starting this series? How much or little does the reader need to understand? Can they glide along, as with Big Bang Theory, knowing nothing about the finer theoretical consepts? and, similarly, Dorothy and Ali computer company - presumably you had some more in depth knowledge of the computing world than I did (not difficult as the average junior school child probably does)
 My first degree was in maths, so I guess the answer to the first part of your question is “yes”, although that should be tempered by the fact that it was quite a long time ago, so I’ve forgotten pretty much all of it. I’ve tried to pitch it so that the reader who understands it can nod along without being jarred by anything that’s obviously wrong, while the reader whose head starts to spin at the very thought of the subject can just treat the maths bits as - to quote Blazing Saddles - “authentic frontier gibberish” and move quickly on. Despite the fact that the books are billed as Mathematical Mysteries, the maths isn’t actually that essential to the plot, although I’d like to think that I might open the eyes of the occasional non-believer to some of the extraordinary stuff that the subject has to offer. For example, Euler’s identity is just the most amazingly weird and beautiful thing in existence, and EVERYONE should know about it. I guess the same applies to the computer content - it’s either stuff you recognise or more gibberish you can skip over, but it’s not essential to the plot.

There's wide range of odd background material packed in - Belarus mafia, off-shore private countries, pythons, cryptocurrency. How interesting, or alarming, does your search history look?  
I suspect that if anyone did take a look at my search history with a view to finding anything incriminating, they’d probably just throw their hands in the air and give up. Oddly enough, not all of my research was online - for example, most of the crypto stuff came from a book by a sceptic called David Gerard. All I did online in the case of crypto was check to see what names might still be available for a new currency. This turned out to be quite surprising in itself. Would you believe that Madoffcoin, Ponzicoin and Tulipcoin all exist already? Also, Channellia grew out of a talk given to our parish council by a PR lady for Hinckley Point C, via a stag do that my son went to on another offshore platform. There’s material all over the place.

I've mentioned Simon Pegg before with reference to these novels - if anyone decided to adapt the books for film or TV, who would be your first choice to play Tom Winscombe?
Good question. I used to think that Ben Whishaw would have been a good choice (partly because Tom is essentially a less furry Paddington), but I think he’s probably a bit old now. This may be a bit of a cop-out, but I think both he and Dorothy should probably be played by complete unknowns, with loads of famous character actors doing the bit parts. For example, I would love to see Tim McInnerny (in his later, post-Blackadder, phase) do Rufus Fairbanks from the first book. It’s nice to fantasise.

What next for Tom? More mysteries to solve, I assume, but do you have an overall plan of how the series will continue (publishers permitting)?
 I have a contract for two more books, and after that I guess we have to see how things go. I’m very much a pantser rather than a plotter, so I don’t have a big idea of where the overall story arc is going, apart from the fact that there is one and that it will be driven by the characters. What I can say is that Book Three has just acquired a new title, “The Riddle of the Fractal Monks”. All the regular characters will be there, plus some old friends and enemies and one or two new ones. As with “A Question of Trust”, you won’t necessarily have to have read the other books in the series, but it will improve your reading experience if you have. Also, I make more money if people buy the entire series, so it’s a win-win situation.

Thank you for coming along, Jonathan. I hope we've intrigued readers to go out and try The Mathematical Mysteries - and for the rest of July the e-version of A Question of Trust is available at the amazing price of 99p! See publishers' Farrago website for details

Reviews of the books can be found  here - The Truth about Archie and Pye
                                                                     A Question of Trust

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Emily Eternal by M G Wheaton

Emily is an artificial consciousness, designed in a lab to help humans process trauma, which is particularly helpful when the sun begins to die 5 billion years before scientists agreed it was supposed to.
So, her beloved human race is screwed, and so is Emily. That is, until she finds a potential answer buried deep in the human genome. But before her solution can be tested, her lab is brutally attacked, and Emily is forced to go on the run with two human companions - college student Jason and small-town Sheriff, Mayra.
As the sun's death draws near, Emily and her friends must race against time to save humanity. But before long it becomes clear that it's not only the species at stake, but also that which makes us most human.

As you can see from the publicist's blurb above, I'm continuing with my apocalyptic streak, but with a slight difference  - this time the story is set pre-apocalypse, because when the Sun dies there'll be no humans left to tell stories.
There are two sides to Emily Eternal; there's a gripping, action-packed race to save humanity from the dying sun, but, just as much, it's about what kind of society will survive, and what constitutes 'humanity'. How far can a person change and still be considered human? how far would you be prepared to sacrifice free-will to survive? Unfortunately, it's not something to debate further here as I'd have to give away too many plot spoilers.

It took a while to come to grips with the slightly weird way 'Emily' works - making her sometimes visible to one person, sometimes to many - but overall I enjoyed the book.
There were a few bugs and loopholes that plagued me at times - the most niggling being the lack of panic shown by the general public. The end of the world is coming, people know about it, but everyone seems to be taking it amazingly calmly - none of the street-rioting, suicide cults, etc that you might expect and which appear in other end-of-the-world novels and films. It possible that in part this could be explained away by the fact that Emily 'lives' in the restricted environment of a university campus and news of the outside world is kept from her, but even the academics surrounding her seemed unperturbed by the thought of mass extinction.
It's good to see a 'computer' working on humanity's side for once. Emily isn't 2001's HAL, or the Terminator series' mankind-destroying machines; rest assured she has our welfare at heart.

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

Friday, 28 June 2019

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Emmett thought his life was all planned out - that he'd stay in the village where he was born, be a farmer like his father, marry one of the local girls. Then a letter arrives announcing that he's to be taken on as an apprentice Binder. Working with books is a dubious profession. There's a lot of superstition and fear surrounding them, as they aren't books as we know them. Instead they're repositories for people's unwanted memories. Lost someone you've loved? Done something dreadful that you want to keep hidden from the world? A Binder will erase your memories and store them in a book.
Emmett apparently has a talent for the work, but it also transpires that he has memories bound into a book - and when chance leads him to re-awaken those memories, his world changes completely.

If you've ever seen The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you'll immediately spot similarities; central to both stories is the ability to erase memories, specifically those relating to an unfortunate love affair. But, whereas Eternal Sunshine has a contemporary setting, and some computer thingamajig erases memories, The Binding is set in an alternative world with an early Victorian factories feel to it, and the act of 'binding' is more like a magical skill.
In this alternative world, there are no novels. Practical textbooks are considered acceptable, but fiction doesn't exist. Books are lifted whole from a person's memories, wiping away sorrow or pleasure, and  should then be safely stored away, never to be read by anyone, but there are always the unscrupulous practitioners willing to corrupt the art of Binding in various ways, to profit from hiding dark secrets through Binding, or to sell the subsequent book for others' enjoyment.

The world building is brilliant, the story-telling wonderful, and, although when I'd reached the end I began to think that maybe some of the ideas don't quite add up, it doesn't matter, because while reading I was swept along by the story.

In short, i loved it, and it will probably end up in my picks of the year!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction, fantasy

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

A Question of Trust by Jonathan Pinnock

Life always seems unnecessarily complicated round Tom Winscombe. Just when he thought things were settled, his bizarre luck strikes again and everything comes unraveled. His girlfriend Dorothy has gone missing, and her company's offices have been cleared out; all the PCs stolen, all the money gone.
Now Tom is having to share a bed-sit with Dorothy's business partner, Ali (not Tom's biggest fan). While she desperately tries to keep their company going, Tom's priority is to find out what's happened to Dorothy. Is it feasible she's run off with the money and equipment? Could someone else have stolen it and be holding Dorothy hostage? 
Meanwhile, Tom's father has got tangled up in some cryptocurrency scam, an old presumed-dead acquaintance has re-surfaced, and another definitely-dead acquaintance is sending him LinkdIn messages. Life's certainly not dull around Tom!
So off he goes on another escapade; an innocent caught up in a world of criminal activities and dodgy dealings, with little but his luck to help him. This time he gets mixed up with questionable city types, an off shore independent country in the Bristol Channel, crashing a stag weekend, an escaped python and an unusual use of the Fibonacci sequence - with plenty of dangerous James Bond style stunts (though Bond would probably have pulled them off with a bit more grace and panache). It's hectic, frequently dangerous, sometimes darkly humorous, sometimes laugh out loud slapstick.

As with Tom's previous mis-adventure The Truth about Archie and Pye, it's not a serious, grim Nordic Noir thriller, more 'James Bond meets Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright', or Adam West's Batman without the cape. It could all turn deadly, but it's undeniably fun.

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