Tuesday 21 December 2010

Lee On The Dark Side Of The Moon by Keith Charters

Moon Here We Come
Review By TheMole

Lee has entered a competition on the back of a cereal packet and has the opportunity to become the first boy to land on the moon. After under going a weeks extensive training he finds himself not as prepared as he would like and wishes he had listened more. Things don't go as planned and Lee has to make decisions which could leave him a hero but in the meantime he causes worldwide panic with gurus predicting the end of the world.

I have to admit to not having read any 'Lee' books before but then I am not the target readership group. My first impression was I found it difficult to read without laughing out loud all the time! The story is fast moving and humorous and written and printed in form that would make it very appealing to it's target audience, which I would anticipate as being the 6-8 year old early readers, although I don't see why older pre-teens wouldn't enjoy it. The humour, while sometimes lavatorial, is spot on for the age group and such that adults, if reading to children, don't feel embarrassed about either.

My only regret with this book is that I don't have a little one to read it to. This book is brilliant and pretty accurate as it also contains a lot of accurate facts about the moon missions. The one point it doesn't make is about sound not travelling in a vacuum. I have always wondered then why vacuum cleaners make so much noise? Perhaps Lee could tell me?

Publisher - Strident Publishing

Genre -
Children's Adventure/Comedy

Buy Lee on the Dark Side of the Moon From Amazon

Monday 20 December 2010

Christmas Things to Stitch and Sew - Usborne Activities

Children off school for Christmas (or snow day)? Can't do all the things you'd planned because of the weather? Didn't buy decorations/cards before the snow hit? You need a book like this! One of Usborne's many activity books just right for this time of year.

I know this is a re-post but it seems appropriate for this week.

Ready for Christmas

Review by Maryom

Yet another wonderful children's craft book from Usborne - this time with the emphasis being on stitching and sewing things for Christmas - like the DIY stuff, Usborne books do what they say on the tin (or cover).
As always, there's a wide variety of projects, aimed at a range of skills and ages. There are gift tags, christmas stockings, cute stuffed penguins and snowmen. Projects for decorations, or to give as presents to family and friends. Some of the simpler ones - tree cards or sparkly decorations - have very little sewing involved, so are good for beginners. Others - gift bags or snowflake chains - offer something slightly more challenging for those with more experience.

Don't worry if you feel unsure about your own sewing skills, there's a guide to stitches and sewing on buttons and sequins at the back of the book so, if necessary, you can brush up your skills first before involving the children.

I love Usborne craft books - Christmas Fairy Things to Make and Do, bought when my teenager was much smaller, still comes out regularly when we're in need of inspiration. Christmas Things to Stitch and Sew is an absolutely brilliant craft book which I'm sure you'll find just as useful for many, many years!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Usborne
Chilren's Books
Genre -
Children's Craft Activity

Buy Christmas Things to Stitch and Sew (Usborne Activities) from Amazon

Friday 17 December 2010

Maryom's Round Up Of The Year -2010

It's that time of year when everyone starts talking about 'best of the year', so here's my personal round-up to go with all the others out there. Not all of these are newly published this year - just newly read by me - though there's certainly no sense to including favourite re-reads; they belong in a different list altogether. Also, not all of these are books I've reviewed for our blog - some have been reviewed elsewhere, one particularly I know I've only reviewed on Amazon or Waterstones. Enough rambling - where to start? Children's books?

In The Map Of Marvels by David Calcutt, Connor draws a map and finds himself transported into it. The only way home is to follow the adventures the map leads him to. A compelling, Arabian nights type adventure with pirates and shipwrecks, deserts and djinn. It's recommended for older children but is the sort of adventure tale we used to read as bedtime story to our 8 or 9 yr old daughter.

Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket by Hazel Allan a fantastical adventure story for 9 - 13 yrs. Bree wins the half-heart locket in a raffle and finds herself whisked away with friends Sandy and Honey over the moon rainbow to save the world from evil monster Thalofedril.

The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan
- a wonderful action, suspense novel, maybe mainly for boys. Readers will urge Sam on, cheer at his success, be disheartened as he fails, tremble as he and his friend Lloyd hide from the villain, but hopefully take heed of the message - be sure you know who is offering you a lift home.

Another absolutely stunning fantasy adventure is Mortlock by Jon Mayhew. The wonderful knife-throwing heroine, Josie, is thrown by her guardian's death into a world of danger, excitement and supernatural crows. Not for the squeamish!

Moving onward and upward to teenage fiction

Keren David's debut novel, When I Was Joe, came out at the beginning of the year followed in September by its sequel Almost True. Together they tell the story of Ty, taken into the witness protection programme after a stabbing incident, his problems adapting to his new identity and unknown past.

Wasted by Nicola Morgan - Truly an amazing book that really makes you wonder about the little chances that life turns on. A story about love, fate and the danger of leaving things to chance. I loved this and my daughter, then 12, did too - so one for almost all ages!

Firebrand by Gillian Philip - first in a series following the exploits of Seth MacGregor - wild, unruly Sidhe warrior - an action packed, fast paced fantasy novel capable of surprising to almost the last page, with a cast of real living breathing characters. Published as a YA book but one for all lovers of fantasy regardless of age.

For adults...

Fantasy, myth and politics meet in the Mabinogion Stories series from Seren Books, retelling Welsh myths in modern or even future settings. My favourite has to be The Dreams of Max and Ronnie by Niall Griffiths - turning old stories into up to date political commentary.

I read and loved Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - a long slow novel exploring the Tudor world and the workings of HenryVIII's court. Probably not a book for everyone, mainly due to it's length.

If you're looking for something shorter try The Still Point by Amy Sackville. Julia has grown up believing in the stories of her family's long-lost heroic Arctic explorer, Edward Mackley and the devoted life-time wait of his wife. As she sorts through relics in the attic, Julia discovers all is not as she had believed. This story weaves together themes of loss, self-delusion, betrayal and discovery, with alternating threads of heat and cold, idleness and endeavour, creating a wonderful whole.

New publishers Peirene Press specialise in translated fiction - "Thought provoking, well designed, short", as their slogan says. All three of this year's books were wonderful in their own way. My favourite, though only by a small margin, was Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius. A young, pregnant German woman walks through Rome one day in January 1943 on her way to a musical recital at a church. On her way we share her thoughts, hopes and fears meandering between past, present and future. A whole life in 125 pages!

In a very different vein - two outstandingly creepy novels

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer - a chilling debut thriller. Steven feels that if he can find the body of his murdered uncle Billy the past can be laid to rest and his family become 'normal'. When he realises he won't succeed by digging up random bits of Exmoor, Steven decides to try the more direct approach and write to Avery asking for directions. Reminding the killer of the past may not turn out to be the cleverest of moves though...

Captured by Neil Cross, creator of BBC's Luther. A man with only weeks to live determines to solve the mystery of an ex-girlfriends disappearance - using whatever means and methods he feels are needed. A shortish book, driven forward by dialogue, full of desperation. It was a totally gripping read - even when you wish you could turn away and not look.

And last but most certainly not least, something for everyone - The Ice Bear by Jackie Morris. A gorgeous illustrated book with lyrical words. You may want to buy it for a special child in your life - or you may just want to treat yourself!

Deadly Focus by R C Bridgestock

Page turner
Review by TheMole

A child goes missing and is soon found murdered leaving her family devastated. Jack Dylan leads the investigation in his almost single minded attitude. Before the killer is found another child goes missing and it starts to look like a serial killer is on the loose.

This story is not a whodunnit but is a crime drama based on first hand experience. We learn, about two thirds of the way through, who the killer is. We could guess from about halfway although avid whodunnit fans could probably guess earlier. The focus of the story is on the people involved in the investigation, the constraints they have to work with, the pressures they are all under, the ambitions and doubts that some have. It is about how real crime detection happens. To say I enjoyed this would be wrong and right. I became involved with it and certainly wanted to climb across the table to have a go at the suspect. I felt for the families loss, fears and anger.

This book is an extremely good book if you want a thriller. Yes, there is some nasty violence against children and even against the investigating officer but it won't turn your stomach so no worry for the squeamish.

If I had one issue with this book it's the quality of proofing errors. This version is a 'self published' book and high proofing errors seem to be typical on the self published side where professional editing picks up a much higher percentage. BUT the authors have now got a publishing contract and hopefully future prints will see these errors reduced but the book left unchanged because I can't see that it needs it.

Highly recommended for people who enjoy crime novels. I have avoided saying I enjoyed it because I felt like I was involved but it is a very good book that you won't want to put down.

Publisher - Self Published
Genre - Crime Drama

Buy Deadly Focus from Amazon

Thursday 16 December 2010

Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones

Handed Down Tale
review by Maryom

An African hotel supervisor has an affair and a child with a foreign tourist. He doesn't intend to abandon her though, but take the child back to his home in Berlin to be brought up by him and his wife. She determines to follow him at all costs and see her son again. The story follows her trek across Europe, exploited, helped or hindered by strangers.
I received this book as part of a promotion in which 100 copies were sent out to be read and reviewed and then handed on to new readers. These books are numbered so hopefully I should be able to track where this copy goes to and what future readers have to say about it.
Sad to say I was a little disappointed with Hand Me Down World. It started fine. I loved the way the story was told, passed on to the next person in the chain who picked it up and carried on - but when the goal of Berlin is reached the plot stalled and, although it picked up again later, I didn't feel it reached the momentum of the early chapters. This woman's story ought to have been heart-breaking BUT somehow it wasn't for me.

Genre - Adult Fiction

Buy Hand Me Down World from Amazon

Monday 13 December 2010

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Love the Tapestry of life
Review by TheMole

Catherine Parkstone is now divorced and her children have grown and have lives of their own. Now it is time for her to do something for herself so she has moved to France and is living in the Cevennes mountains and starting to work as seamstress. She finds, like many incomers to foreign lands, there are rules and traditions of which she was not aware and they are there to fall foul off.

This is a story of life. Maryom giggled a bit and said it's 'chick lit' when I picked it up. So what's wrong if it is? But I would say it's not. I don't often comment on other reviewers comments but I think this is worthy of being looked at this time. The Guardian said 'drawing out the poignancy of ordinary life' and this I find to be about spot on. Another reviewer said 'funny and original' and funny is not a word I would even contemplate. 'Heart warming' is only a part of what it is. Two said 'I loved it' and in that I can whole heartedly agree.

This story is beautiful. It is rich in life and must be reflecting some of the authors experiences because of their... accuracy is the wrong word.... completeness is better.... depth is a big part of it. Several times I felt that 'yes that's exactly how it is!'.

I could use all those clichés of 'emotional roller coaster' and 'compelling read' but this was like those evenings when you have friends round and you keep chatting because you haven't finished exploring the conversation yet.

This is a fantastic read and would really suit anyone who reads romance, chick lit, biographies and so many other genres of books. I have chosen to stop using a 'star' rating but would rate this book as good as any book I have read in any genre. It's on a par with 'The Engine Driver's Manual'!

Publisher - Headline Review
Genre - Romantic Fiction/'Chick Lit'/

Buy The Tapestry of Love from Amazon

Friday 10 December 2010

Teen Heroines - Teenager's Choice

We've had The Mole's choices and yesterday we posted Maryom's, so for today we asked our 13 year old daughter for hers.

Mia from the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
Stephanie/Valkyrie from the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy
Nora from the paranormal romance Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Don't forget to share your Top 3 Teen heroines to enter the competition for a personalised copy of The Killer's Daughter by Vivian Oldaker. An excellent Christmas present for your teenager.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Teen Heroines - Maryom's Choice

So, the competition running at the moment got us all thinking about teenage heroines. I came up with too many possibilities so I've decided to have two lists - firstly, heroines from my teenage reading and secondly, some from books I've read much more recently. In case you haven't seen TheMole's choices you can find them here.

List A - probably in chronological reading order.

Maelen from the Moon of Three Rings by Andre Norton - probably not very well known but an alien from a far distant planet with the ability to communicate with animals through thought and at times of very rare planetary alignment her race is able to 'swap bodies/minds' with the animals and become them.
A bit of a leap for #2 - Natasha from War and Peace. Maybe not an obvious choice for a teenagers reading pile but I first saw this on TV and was entranced by the fancy frocks etc then read the book. Natasha is after all a teenager for most of the book, has her tantrums, falls in love with a Prince, tries to elope with someone else and lives happily after after with teddy-bear like Pierre. Oh and no one would want to be like Cousin Sonia!
Thirdly, Cecile from Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan. Not a nice girl! She smokes, has sex with her boyfriend ( unheard of way back then) and plots and schemes to separate her father from his first serious relationship after being widowed, driving people to despair and possible suicide. All of this against the backdrop of the exotic-seeming French Riviera.

List B More recent heroines

Cass from Bad Faith by Gillian Philip - coping with murder, family secrets and a stifling male-dominated society
The knife-throwing Josie from Mortlock by Jon Mayhew - plunged into a world of mystery, danger and crows!
Sabriel from the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. Forced by her Father's death into taking over his role as Abhorsen, sending the newly-raised dead back where they belong and tracking down his killer.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Teen Heroines - TheMole's Choice

As we are running our first competition and asking people to name their teen heroines then it seems fair we should tell you who we would choose.

It is harder than I thought but having thought long and hard I give you... in no particular order:-

Sophie from Michael Scott's 'The Secrets on the Immortal Nicholas Flamel'. She has a whole load of magical powers dumped on her and is whisked off to shadow realms but all she wants is to get back to being a normal school girl again.

Jess from Nicola Morgan's 'Wasted'. She has a roller coaster time but keeps her head at all times.

Jess from Sue Limb's 'Girl 16 - 5 Star Fiasco'. Jess finds the dinner dance she is organising for charity is turning into a fiasco and has to try to ask for help - but to ask for help she must admit she is failing.

I have chosen these 3 because each of them, like Emma in 'The Killer's Daughter', exhibit qualities that I admire in the young. I have seen such qualities in both our girls but have sadly seen and known youngsters where those qualities are lacking!

I would strongly recommend each of these books but you can win a personalised copy of 'The Killer's Daughter' in our competition and the personalisation can, of course, be for a friend or relative or just yourself!

Monday 6 December 2010

The Killer's Daughter by Vivian Oldaker

A Murder Mystery and Bullying - two tales in one.
review by Maryom

The Mole has already reviewed The Killer's Daughter but as we're currently running a competition for you to win a personalised copy of it, I though I would read it too. I'm extremely glad I did.

Emma Xenos doesn't quite fit in - she's just moved to a new school and is having to re-take Year 10, she plays the saxophone and likes jazz instead of pop music, reads 'classics' for fun, has a crush on John Travolta rather than Orlando or Zac and, as if all that wasn't enough to single her out, her father was the prime suspect when his ex-film star mother-in-law was found dead at the bottom of a cliff, even though the court cleared him it doesn't make him innocent in the eyes of gossiping neighbours.
Needless to say Emma finds it difficult to settle in her new school - new friends are warned off by their parents, one of her class-mates targets her for bullying - her father and step-mother are wrapped in their own plans of making a fresh start in France where hopefully no one will have heard of them and Emma becomes convinced that the only thing to do to stop her own niggling doubts about her father's innocence is investigate her Grandmother's death herself.

The Killer's Daughter is a book with two threads - Emma settling into her new home and school, making friends - and maybe a boyfriend - standing up to bullies - and the mystery surrounding her grandmother's death.
I think this must be one of the best books I've read dealing with bullying. The reader sees how Emma is deliberately, maliciously picked on by Megan Marsh and her gang, but also enables us to see the teachers viewpoint - where both girls are equally at fault so both bully and victim are treated alike. Also, with the growing friendship between Emma and Bruce from the corner shop, come issues of teenage relationships and sex.
The mystery surrounding her grandmother's fall felt a little lacking and too easily solved, which is why I've given 4 1/2 stars - but maybe this is only in the eyes of a mature who-dunnit reader used to more complicated, convoluted plot twists.

We did an interview with Vivian after TheMole had reviewed it and currently we are proud to be hosting a competition to win a personalised copy!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars

Publisher - Andersen Press
Genre - Teenage Girls General Fiction

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Our First Competition - Win a personalised copy of The Killer's daughter by Vivian Oldaker

We are quite excited to be hosting our first 'competition'. I had thought about asking something hard about Greece - where much of the story is set - or maybe questions about our interview with Vivian but those questions can be answered by using google or reading her interview and that would be too easy.

We reviewed The Killer's Daughter so have a read if you missed it and we interviewed Vivian and it's also worth a read.

What we will do instead is ask you to tell us your 3 favourite teen heroins. See? There is no 'correct' answer. Friends can tell us their favourites by posting a comment and Vivian will then be able see and judge the entries for herself. You can leave a comment here on the blog or on the the FB status(s) announcing the competition or even FB message us if you think you want your selection kept secret. If leaving a comment on the blog you need to logon or we won't know who you are and that would be a shame.

*** UPDATE - Now you can DM us your suggestions on Twitter - @ourbookrvws ***

The competition will run until 10th December when Vivian will choose a winner (or maybe more than 1 winner?) and arrange to get your copy to you. Vivian may even get some reading about heroines she's not read about before!

Tell your friends about this competition and get them to 'friend' us as there may well be more than 1 prize anyway!

Monday 29 November 2010

The Dreams of Max and Ronnie by Niall Griffiths

Ancient Myth, Current Politics
review by Maryom

Another book from Seren Press' Mabinogion series - this time re-interpreting two stories - The Dream of Maxen Wledig and Rhonabwy's Dream, both now set firmly in our era.

The historical figure Magnus Maximus, Emperor of Britain in AD383, becomes Max, dealer in drugs and stolen goods, known to his gang as 'The Emperor', who holds court in his favourite nightclub, Rome, and has his finger firmly on the pulse of his city - till one night he dreams of a woman, a 'perfect' woman, living somewhere in the remote north of the country. From then on he cannot rest until she is found but will his quest cost him his 'kingdom'?

As Ronnie's dream the latter becomes a satire on the invasion of Iraq and the modern cult of hero worship. Ronnie is a squaddie about to be sent off to Iraq. Attempting to hide from what may await them, he and his mates set out on a drink- and drug- filled binge, ending up at Red Helen's filthy run-down home where Ronnie takes something that knocks him out for three days, during which he has the strangest dreams of tattooed men fighting and killing while their leaders play Killzone2 on a games console and deny responsibility for the carnage surrounding them. Violent and possibly shocking, this brings the ancient tale to life here and now.

I've loved all the Mabinogion re-workings that I've read, but think this may be the best.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult literary fiction

Friday 26 November 2010

Author Interview - Vivian Oldaker

We read and reviewed Vivian's book "The Killer's Daughter" a short while ago and have had the opportunity to do an author interview. As with most author's she enjoys a colourful life and has had the bridge to cross of getting her first book published.

You say you like big dogs. Do you have any and can you tell us more?
We had a Bernese Mountain Dog a few years ago. He was the most stubborn, wilful, destructive and beautiful dog I’ve ever had. We don’t have any at the moment but maybe one day, when I get that house by the sea….a couple of Leonbergers by the fire would be nice.!

I understand you have a passion for Greece. When and why did that come about?
I suppose you could say it was chance, or fate. In the early 1980s, my father was looking for a very-last-minute holiday somewhere, anywhere. He ended up going to Corfu and, within, a few months he had emigrated there. (He was a somewhat impulsive man!) I went to see what all the fuss was about and fell in love with the island, the landscape, the people and of course the weather. Since then I’ve been to other Greek islands and loved them too. I’m a definite Hellenophile!

You would like to live by the sea. Presumably in Greece but anywhere in particular
Corfu would probably still be favourite; the NW corner. Though I also like Cornwall and am fond of Mallorca and The Vendee region of France too!

Most authors have had to do other occupations to keep the wolf from the door until they manage to get published. Is this true in your case and if so what occupations were they?

In my long and glorious career(!) I’ve had a number of jobs These include working in a factory; a betting shop; in local government; a children’s hospital; the Civil Service; in a chemist shop; as a hotel receptionist; an office worker for a PR company; a Learning Support Assistant; and, my favourite job, as Deputy Manager of an independent bookshop.

Where did you get the idea for "Killer's Daughter"?
That’s quite difficult to say. I suppose I’ve always been interested in the idea of individuals, particularly young people, battling with difficult circumstances. Emma finds herself in a situation not of her own making and beyond her control; that is, until she decides to try to change this. Where ideas come from is always a bit of a mystery – to me anyway!

How long did it take to finish a manuscript you were happy to send to publishers?
About a year.

Rejections are a fact of life for starting out authors. Did you find this hard to take at all?

It’s always disappointing, but only to be expected. It’s really valuable if the publisher/agent can tell you why they didn’t like your manuscript, and few have the time or resources for that. Of course it isn’t enough just to write a “good book,” or one that your friends and family tell you they like. An author must write a “sellable book” if s/he wants publication. I’d always advise any aspiring author to read carefully any comments made by publishers/agents. They aren’t always right – one famously told J K Rowling that Harry Potter was too long, I seem to recall. But, generally speaking, they know the business.

Did the manuscript change at all, and if so how much, between acceptance by a publisher and actual publication?
Yes, several alterations to the manuscript were made; by me and my editor at Andersen Press. I actually found the editing process very interesting and useful. Publishers (generally!) know what they’re doing and, while I was sorry to see some cherished scenes go, I have to say I think “The Killer’s Daughter” is a better book because of the changes we made.

Emma becomes the victim, of what would be considered today as bullying because of the rumours about her father. Would you see this as bullying, because I find everyone sees a different definition of this hugely topical issue?
Yes, I certainly would see it as bullying. Emma is victimised because of the rumours about her father. She is bullied verbally and physically and psychologically. The bullies use mobile phones to intimidate her too. Emma has little internet access, but if she had she might well have found that there were social network sites where the persecution continued.

The reasons why people are bullied can often be complex. The rumours about her father certainly spark the bullying, but Emma’s academic ability and “outsider” persona make her an ideal target too.

“The Killer’s Daughter” has just been featured in a book review blog as part of Anti-Bullying week.

Emma kicks back at the bullies and so might be seen by some as a bully herself. How do you view her?

I don’t see her as a bully at all. She tries her best to stand up for herself as, like most people, she doesn’t wish to be a victim.

Many authors write about children who stray from the route their parents would have them follow. Some have the child 'duped' into it, some just blindly wander in to it and some, as in the case of Emma, walk into it with their eyes wide open. I found this approach to be hugely open and honest but wonder how you, as parent would have coped had one of your children done it?I would have been terrified and dismayed, probably! While Emma’s father loves her dearly, he doesn’t realise the extent of what she’s going through; this is partly because of his own pain and also, it has to be said, because his artistic temperament makes him somewhat self-centred.

I found Emma's approach to relationships extremely mature for one so young. Is this how you have seen young ones behave or is it how you would like to see them?
Both. Young people are often more level-headed when it comes to relationships than they are given credit for.

I understand you are writing a sequel to The Killer's Daughter. Is there a publication date yet and can you tell us a little about it?
The sequel is called “All Shook Up.” It takes up where “The Killer’s Daughter” left off. Emma is at more-or-less happy at her school in Kalos, but she’s haunted by bad dreams of what happened. To her dismay, George comes back into her life in a surprising way. Many of the characters from KD re-appear. Hamish, Dino, of course Bruce.

Unfortunately, it won’t be published until sales of “The Killer’s Daughter” have reached a certain level, yet to be achieved, and the publishers can be sure of demand. For those reasons, writing a sequel can often be a difficult undertaking. (For anyone who hasn’t read it, “The Killer’s Daughter” is the ideal Christmas present?!) I really hope the sequel will be published one day.

I’m currently working on a book set in the future, where to be different from the perceived physical ideal is to know true isolation and danger.

Many thanks to Vivian for her time in talking to us and her kind offer of a competition we will be running shortly for a signed personalised copy of The Killer's Daughter.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Railway Walks by Julia Bradbury

Armchair Walking.
Review by Maryom

This is walking the way I like it - lovely scenery, interesting historical surroundings, firm tracks but away from traffic and, above all, nice and flat ( well, most of the time)!

Railway Walks is the tie-in to the TV series of the same name and covers 6 walks of varying distances from 7 to 23 miles: The Coast to Coast Trail in Cornwall, The Monsal Trail in Derbyshire, Callander to Loch Tay in Perthshire, Dolgellau to Barmouth in Snowdonia, The Strathspey Railway and the Rodwell Trail, Weymouth - all taking you through beautiful countryside.
There are maps and instructions to find your way with, but this is not a mere book of directions only suitable for the avid walker nor one solely of interest to the railway enthusiast. Yes, it's full of interesting nuggets of history about the building, use and decline of the railways - but also of the countryside they pass through - from the distilleries of Scotland to remote WW2 training camps on the Mawddach estuary to Derbyshire's dark mills - and characters associated with them - from Richard Trevithick, inventor of the steam-engine to George Marples, former owner of Thornbridge hall in Derbyshire who insisted on building himself a private railway station, 500 yards from the public one! There are many photographs taken of and along each route so you can follow without leaving the comfort of your armchair.

A fascinating book (dare I say 'Christmas present') for anyone with an interest in the often overlooked history of our countryside - whether they're a keen walker or an 'armchair' one.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Adult's Non-Fiction

Buy Julia Bradbury's Railway Walks from Amazon

Monday 22 November 2010

Horribly Famous: Da Vinci and His Super Brain by Michael Cox

Horribly Good
Review by TheMole

I knew Da Vinci had a reputation for being a bit clever but having read this book, done in the style of the Horrible Histories, it managed to tell me how little I knew about the chap! I knew he had penned ideas for helicopters and man-powered flying machines but was totally unaware that he had designed dimmable table lamps and toilet seats.

Of course we all know Da Vinci as a painter and inventer but he also was a sculptor and engineer of works for the city of Milan amongst other things.

All this information, and much more, is presented in easily accessible text and cartoon form in a way that makes learning fun, as it should be.

Before this book I had only been aware of the 'Horrible Histories' books which my daughter (now 13) avidly collected a few years ago. Tonight at bedtime she admitted to me that sometimes she only read the cartoons! Well they are humorous illustrations and still carry a lot of information within them.

The book does, if you read the text, teach you how to paint and sculpt in the same style as Da Vinci so I am off now to get get filthy rich and famous.

TheMole's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Scholastic
Genre - Children's Non-Fiction


Buy Da Vinci and his Super-brain (Horribly Famous) from Amazon

Friday 19 November 2010

The Honey Gatherers by Mimlu Sen

Travels with minstrels
review by Maryom

The Bauls with their particular blend of music and mysticism are traditionally itinerant musicians of Bengal living on the alms given by the villages they pass through - hence their name of honey gatherers. Theirs is a life style under threat in modern, increasingly urban India.
This book follows Mimlu Sen's discovery of them and their culture. Born and raised in India, after a period of political activity including time spent in prison she left home first for London, then Paris where she lived for several years and her two children were born. Strangely it was in this city on the opposite side of the world that she discovered the music of the Bauls, and her future partner, Paban Das Baul, at a concert. Instantly attracted to them, she gave up her Parisian life and moved back to India. She tells of travelling with the Baul singers and musicians throughout Bengal, hitching lifts, balancing on the top of trains, joining them at festivals and melas and eventually setting up home with Paban Das Baul and trying to find a way to bring their differing life styles together.
This was a more personal account than I had expected and I felt the author assumed the reader to have more knowledge of Indian music and customs than I have, but nevertheless a really interesting book, capturing the sights and sounds of Bengal and its people.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Rider

Genre - Adult Non-Fiction

Buy The Honey Gatherers from Amazon

Wednesday 17 November 2010

The Magician by Michael Scott

TheMole has read and reviewed this book for Nayu's Reading Corner Another excellent book in the series!

Monday 15 November 2010

Crowboy by David Calcutt

A Disturbing War-time Tale
review by Maryom

In a war torn land, Mal and Joey head towards a city under siege, ready to fall at any time. Mal isn't sure why they must go there but Joey says they must, and she follows him. There's war inside the city as well, between rival gangs, each of which feel Joey- the Crowboy - and his strange powers can help them beat their opponent. But what is Joey's real purpose?

I've accidentally read David Calcutt's books in the opposite order to the one they were written in - so now I've reached his first book - Crowboy. It's a darker, grimmer, more disturbing book than the others, but just as gripping.
The war ravaged countryside and bombed out city are brought to life through a series of first person narratives - from Mal's point of view, that of various gang members and an old man living and scavenging among the debris of the city - and the reader is taken inside these characters' minds, shares their thoughts and feels their fears.
It's maybe aimed at slightly older readers than the later books as there's more violence and younger ones may find the change of narrator difficult to keep pace with.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Oxford University Press

Genre -
children's 12+, fantasy

Buy Crowboy from Amazon

Friday 12 November 2010

Paper Wings by Linda Sargent

Long Lazy Summer
Review by TheMole

I have to admit to always being sceptical about reading a self published book but on reading reviews of Paper Wings I decided that this one was worth a gamble.

There was a debate as to whether it is a children's book. I definitely come down on the side of an adults book and in fact the book describes itself as "...a grown-up story about childhood,.....". The book is set in 1959 when Ruby, a 9 year old girl and avid tree climber, has an accident when trying to fly having climbed a tree. It's at this point that we meet Gabriel properly when he comes out of hiding to help the injured child. Gabriel has been living alone in the woods since before the end of the war and we have to be concerned about his mental stability. Ruby, Peter and Oby befriend Gabriel and he builds a dependence on their friendship while they maintain the secret of his existence in the wood.

The story starts slowly, but this is only right as it is set at the end of a hot, lazy summer as we near hop picking time. We encounter facets of life of the country in 1959 that show a true understanding of what life was like and how society moved. We also meet the prejudices that hung over from the second world war of the people who went to fight and those that stayed behind in reserved occupations. We see people whose personality has been changed by the war and people whose attitudes have changed during the war and all these emotions and prejudices carry a high degree of credibility while shaping the story.

The story picks up the pace towards the end and ends in a blur of action as seen by Ruby who, as almost a bystander, can only watch the outcome.

This is a well written story that is let down unfortunately by being self published - in my opinion. I feel it lacked sufficient quality proof reading which left portions difficult to read and, as a slow reader, spoiled my overall enjoyment but had it been professionally published I believe most of these errors would have been identified and removed.

BUT, having said that, I did enjoy the book and had it had larger print and better proof reading I would have enjoyed it all the more.  I do wonder though if this book has appeal to younger generations that was not alive in the first few decades after the second world war?

TheMole's review - 3.75 stars
Publisher - self published

Genre - Adult Fiction

Buy Paper Wings from Amazon

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

A Marvellous Little Gem
review by Maryom

Conxa is the fifth child out of six in a peasant farmer family and at the age of 13 is sent to live with her childless aunt and uncle who are in need of an extra pair of hands. She slowly settles in to her new life, eventually marrying and raising her children there, despite the frequent absence of her husband who needs to travel to find work. Accustomed from an early age to a life of hard work and little rest, Conxa stoically accepts the trials that life brings her without complaint but as times and expectations change she finds herself feeling left behind and out of step with the world.

Another little gem from Peirene, translated from Catalan by Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell, Stone in a Landslide is the moving tale of an ordinary peasant woman, a first person narrative, simply told but with her own particular 'voice' which draws you in. The title reflects the pace of the book and of Conxa's life. It starts slowly as a stone would roll, but gathering momentum and speed, as Conxa finds herself caught up in the irresistible force of events, unable to shape them herself and finally coming to rest but left wondering where her life has gone.
This is a wonderful little book - only 126 pages, but in those pages Conxa and her world come to life. The reader shares her life and hopes, her unrealised dreams and disappointments, and ultimately her resignation and acceptance. A truly marvellous little gem of a book.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Monday 8 November 2010

Make This Wizard's Castle

Don't miss out on the fun!
review by TheMole

Maryom was looking for a JPEG for an Usborne review when I saw this book. Crikey I was surprised to see it. But why should I be I started to wonder? We bought this book for our daughter/me some time ago and it worked then so why not today?. It was joint because at the time she was too small to do it on her own so we would do it together. And we did. It was easy enough to do but with so many towers, rooms, walls, rooms and their contents etc to assemble it did take a few days to do, particularly as there are times when glue should dry before you can move on.

But be warned - there are drawbacks... (1) having made it you don't want it damaged and (2) because it is undamaged it needs space and (3) because it needs space it attracts dust.

So bite the bullet and encourage your child to play with it and make space for another of these projects. There are characters to move around, there are things to pull past windows to make things appear, there's a dragon in a cave and a wealth of things to excite a child's imagination. But don't let them make it on their own, insist on being in charge - they shouldn't have all the fun.

TheMole's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre -
Children's activity

Buy Make This Wizards Castle (Usborne Puzzle Adventures) from Amazon

Friday 5 November 2010

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Would you write to a killer?
review by Maryom

Steven's grandma has never quite believed that her son was murdered by the notorious serial killer, Arnold Avery. Every day she stands waiting at the window in the hope that he'll walk down the street. Steven feels that if he can find his uncle Billy's body the past can be laid to rest and his family become 'normal'. When he realises he won't succeed by digging up random bits of Exmoor, Steven decides to try the more direct approach and write to Avery asking for directions. Reminding the killer of the past may not turn out to be the cleverest of moves though...

A stunning debut novel by Belinda Bauer, capturing the innocence of the child and the devious cunning of the serial killer, played out against the backdrop of a third presence - drear and brooding Exmoor itself. It explores how the devastating effects of a murder don't end with the victim himself but extend throughout the family, even to future generations. Tense and disturbing, like all good thrillers - this was a book I couldn't put down once started. Blacklands will most certainly send shivers down the spines of parents as Steven so unwittingly heads towards danger.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Transworld Publishers
Genre -
adult, thriller

Buy Blacklands from Amazon

Wednesday 3 November 2010

The Meat Tree by Gwyneth Lewis

Welsh Myth - 23rd Century Style
review by Maryom

2210 - An old Earth-style space ship is discovered drifting in orbit round Mars and inspectors are sent to check it out. In an attempt to discover what happened to it they log in to its Virtual Reality Games programme - and find a medieval, gender bending, myth based tale in progress - but what has it to do with the ship's breakdown? and what has happened to the crew members?

When I read this was a Sci fi interpretation of the Blodeuwedd myth, I expected something very different to this. I read the Owl Service by Alan Garner when much younger and supposed this would be a similar re-telling but with a futuristic setting. The Meat Tree is a far more complex, multi-layered reworking. The old myth is plainly there in the VR game - helpful if you've never read it - but also echoed in the actions of the wreck inspectors as their identities shift and merge with the VR characters. The story is told through "thought recordings" of the two inspectors, immersing the reader totally in their world.
An unusual and intriguing story about identity, self-determination and survival.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult literary fiction

Buy The Meat Tree (New Stories from the Mabinogion) from Amazon

Monday 1 November 2010

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

Arabian Nights Whodunnit
review by Maryom

The body of a beaten up young woman is found washed up on the beach in Jeddah - her fingerprints removed and features destroyed, and detective Obama Ibrahim feels he has another unsolvable murder on his hands - till Katya Hijazi, one of the few women working for the police department, discovers a bluetooth device with photographs hidden in the dead woman's burqa. The victim turns out to be a maker of controversial documentaries exposing the seedier side of life in Saudi Arabia who was also working on a new project about newly discovered Quranic texts - are her activities responsible for her death? At the same time, Eric Walker, an American working in Saudi, goes missing. Could the two events be linked or is this just mere coincidence?

Although full of the twists and turns expected of a whodunnit what makes this novel stand apart is its portrayal of the Arab world from the viewpoint of its women. Zoe Ferraris lived in Saudi Arabia with her then husband and his extended family and presumably draws on her experiences there. The closeted, hidden, female world is seen from a variety of standpoints - from young Saudi women's attempts to make a life and career of their own, working round and within Saudi's restrictions, to American wives with their different methods of coping with such a foreign way of life - and forms much of the background to the plot. Through the police investigation, we see the different relationships between the murder victim and her strict, traditionalist brother, sympathetic nephew and the women whose lives she documented. Alongside this is the growing relationship between Katya and Nayir Sharqi - although he is undoubtedly attracted to her, Nayir finds Katya's modern, independent outlook at odds with his conservative religious outlook.
I found it a little difficult to get into this book at first due to the number of characters, mainly with Arabic names, introduced in the early chapters. City of Veils is the sequel to Finding Nouf and I think readers of the latter would have encountered some of these characters before. All in all an really good whodunnit novel with more character development and less blood and gore than many crime novels. I loved the insight into Saudi culture, though at times I was left wondering about how amateurs always get involved in fictional detective stories - I can't believe the police would really encourage them, would they?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Little, Brown
Genre - Crime

Buy City of Veils from Amazon

Saturday 30 October 2010

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

Airships too!
Review by TheMole

I found a synopsis of Stephen Hunt's "The court of the Air" and was a little intrigued. I tested out the libraries recent addition to it's online facilities and ordered a copy of the book which arrived quickly. At nearly 600 pages in length it seemed a little daunting at first but I quickly got into the stories. It is a little strange as a plot line as the Hero and Heroine, who are both orphans, hardly meet in the story and their journeys through the book hardly cross except at a couple of brief points. In addition to that we have 'co stars' whose continued survival in the plot cannot be guaranteed no matter what the 'prophets' may say. I found there to be rather a lot of characters coming and going as we move between not 2 lines through the plot but sometimes 4 or 5 lines. On accasion I felt I ought to have a notebook, but I do have a terrible memory.  Despite these issues the book was, for me, a new approach to fantasy and I did really enjoy the book and found it truly 'engaging' to use a word from the publisher which I find to be very relevant.

The book starts as we meet Molly who is about to lose yet another job and the beadle in charge of the poorhouse where she lives is going to lose his temper over it. Sounds Victorian? It did to me at first but we rapidly learn to make no comparisons between this fantastic world and the world as we know or ancestors knew it. There is a revolution underway, although no one knows about it yet, and it will bring about a 'fairer' society. However the 'sponsors' of this revolution have their own agenda and it will be down to our heroes, amongst others, to save their world if they can.

TheMole's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - YA Fantasy

Buy The Court of the Air from Amazon