Monday 28 June 2010

Shine by Kate Maryon

A new life in the country?
Review by Maryon

Tiff has everything she could want - 3 ipods, a drawer full of rings, bangles and necklaces, giant tv, her own laptop .... but has begun to realise that her Mum isn't necessarily bothering to PAY for them. Then one night Tiff sees Mum's 'business partner' Mikey on Crimewatch and when her Mum is arrested Tiff is sent to live with her unknown Aunt on Sark - a total dead end,'the most boring place on the planet', which Mum left in a hurry many years before and has never returned to .
Tiff has to leave her city life full of glitz, shopping and takeaways and swap to the totally quiet life of a remote island - with no cars, shopping malls or fast food - but where, instead of not being allowed out ever on their own, kids can roam free as much as they like. Hanging out watching DVDs, playing beauty make-overs and drinking pretend cocktails is swapped for bike rides, tree houses and, for the fortunate ones, horses. Tiff has to get to know her Mum's family, has to make new friends and discover why some people are not as friendly as others. But when she has built a new life will mum come back as her usual self and disrupt it all?
A great junior chick-lit read for girls of 9+ about being let down by those you depend on, up-rooting your life and having to make a new one in a strange place. Fans of Cathy Cassidy or the older Gwyneth Rees' books will love it.
One for fans of Cathy Cassidy

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins
Genre - Children's (Junior Chick Lit?)

Pirates Don't Clean Their Teeth by Adrian Summerson

Bedtime reading
Review by TheMole(Gerry)

This book was a delight for me. I had been a little nervous about reviewing it as our youngest is now 13 but while reading it all those memories of bedtime stories came flooding back.

Ben gets up and decides that today he is a Pirate and sets about doing piratey things, ably prompted and assisted along the way by his Mum and Dad.

I particularly liked the language in this book. Too often books reduce the language to baby speak and can end up patronising children but this book uses everyday language that is credible, polite and simple (but not overly). It also contains a lot of humour which adults can enjoy and the child can too which makes it great 'quality time' reading. This book would be a delight at bedtime for youngsters and I wish I had had it when ours were young.

TheMole's review - 4 stars

Review by Maryom

I agree with TheMole but would just add a couple of things....

I think that the colours could have been brighter and Lizzie The Critic shares this view. I would also like to have seen the phrase "They do in this house" repeated a couple more times somewhere in the text.

Putting that to one side though I would STRESS that I agree with TheMole about everything else.

A delightful book which, if I found it in a shop, I would buy for my toddler (if I still had one).

Maryom's review - 4 stars

Sunday 27 June 2010

Solar by Ian McEwan

Right Choice - Wrong Reason
Reviewed by TheMole(Gerry)

Sometimes there are books you wished you had never picked up - but not for the obvious reasons. This was such a book. Having arrived at the end of my current 'reading for review' pile but awaiting another book due to arrive imminently I tried to go without a book for a few days but I was advised to look at the unread pile. Reluctantly I took myself to the pile and scanned through. I was looking for a book that had a boring cover. Having eliminated some I then went through and looked for a boring synopsis and found this book. I won this book in an online competition and it is not the one I entered for but it came with the book I wanted. I would start it, find it put downable and move on to the next book when it arrived.

All too frequently I find the synopsis is not what the book is really about and here, yet again I found it. "Solar is a serious and darkly satirical novel". Not the copy I read!

Professor Beard is a Nobel prize winner as a theoretical physicist extending Einsteinian theory. The problem is he is starting to believe he is a spent force. He is also seriously overweight and constantly having affairs with women. He about at the end of his fifth marriage his life is rapidly becoming more and more farcical. I use the word 'farcical' deliberately because I did not read a serious novel, nor was it darkly satirical for me. It is written with humour - not one liners and not rib cracking funny but it did bring a smile to my face on MANY occasions. We follow Beard through an important time in his life and review his past and his loves.

It reads like a biography and although it does have a 'plot', the plot doesn't dominate the book no more than a biography. We only read a biography to read the 'plot' behind the success that made the publisher interested in printing it and in the case of Solar that is also sort of the plot.

Read this book and see all the strands of Beards life come together at the end with some twists and turns that came as surprises and to a conclusion that I hadn't expected but I did enjoy the ending.

TheMole's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Random House
Genre - General and literary fiction

Thursday 24 June 2010

Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket by Hazel Allan

Over the Moon Rainbow with Bree McCready
Reviewed by Maryom

In an article somewhere recently, Hazel Allan was being praised as the next JK Rowling. "Not another one!" I thought, "unknown writer brings out a book with a bit of magic in it and quicker than you can say Harry Potter they're being heralded as the new JKR". Now, I could never quite understand what all the fuss was about with HP - good, yes, but worth all those hysterical children? err, no. Anyway, I was intrigued when offered this book to review by Hazel Allan, herself.

Bree McCready wins an unusual prize - the Half-Heart Locket - in a school competition and finds herself whisked away on a series of amazing adventures. With her friends Honey and Sandy, she must follow the clues given in a mysterious, magical book, over the moon rainbow, in a non-stop race against time, to save the book, and the world, from the clutches of the evil Thalofedril.

Does it compare to Harry Potter? Not really but that's because it's not the same nature of book. It's a snappier, more action-packed, faster paced read, with less introspection and angst.
It's billed as a 9+ read and I was asked by my 13 year old daughter if she would like it, was it too 'young'? No, a quick lighter read for her maybe but still enjoyable.
It's a marvelous story with breath-taking rooftop escapes, a montrous villain, kind hearted helpers along the way, tear-jerking moments, oh, and horses - what more could you want in a book.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre - Children'sFantasy and Adventure

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Furies Of Calderon by Jim Butcher

How to pick a book
reviewed by Maryom

The reason I picked up this book to read must be one of the strangest ever. I was having a conversation on Twitter about authors and their hair (don't ask!), and was informed that Jim Butcher was a male author with a head full of long flowing locks and that if I hadn't read any of his books I was missing out. So the only thing to do was dash off to the library ASAP and find a Jim Butcher book. Amazingly they had several in, but most fell partway through the Dresden Files series. Picking a series up in the middle can be confusing so I went for this book, Furies of Calderon, the first of the Codex Alera series.

The Aleran people have a special gift - the ability to join with one or more Furies - elementals of earth, fire, air, water or metal - to give them extra strength and powers. All except one boy, Tavi, who finds himself at the centre of the Aleran people's struggle to survive when invaded by their savage enemy and betrayed by power-hungry traitors. Tavi is, of course, to the plot.
So, did this bizarre method of choosing a book work - yes, strangely, it did. It's not the best fantasy novel ever but it's a long, long way from the worst. The characters appear as real people rather than 'cardboard cutouts' or stereotypes. The action moves along quickly and, with a desire to know what happens next, so does the reading. There's rather a lot of political manoeuvering and an awful lot of fighting - a little bit too much I felt at times, not in the amount of blood and gore, but just in the blow by blow accounting of who struck whom. On the whole though an enjoyable, interesting read and I will go on to read the next in the series, library stock permitting.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Orbit
Genre - Fantasy

Thursday 17 June 2010

Firebrand by Gillian Philip


Firstly, I must say how pleased and excited I was to receive a proof copy of Firebrand - latest novel by Gillian Philip, due to be published on 13th August. Its the first in a fantasy series spanning 5 centuries set in both our, fully-mortal, world, and the world of the Sidhe, behind the Veil, in another dimension. The Veil is failing though and the Sidhe will no longer be hidden from the fully-mortals or safe from persecution by them. But before it does Kate NicNiven, the "neurotic and cruel" Sidhe queen intends to destroy it, and anyone in her way, in her wish to dominate BOTH worlds.

Seth is unceremoniously dumped by his mother with his father who has no interest in this son. He grows up with no real family until taken under the wing of his half brother so when that brother Conal is exiled into the world of the fully mortal, for opposing his Queen, Seth follows him out of loyalty. From the opening scene as Seth waits fearfully while his half brother is led out to be burned at the stake to the last dramatic chapter the reader is drawn along in a hellter skelter whirl. We share Seth's neglected childhood, run with him across heather moors and machair, ride with him as he tames his wild kelpie horse and follow him as he matures and learns to let down his defences enough to trust, and even love, others.

The other Gillian Philip books I've read have been modern, urban, gritty novels - full of knife crime, murder, dystopian futures - this book is a bit of a departure. Ok there's still the knives - well, swords- and a fair amount of murder and violence but set against the backdrop of the pristine wild land and sea scape of the Sidhe. The physical presence of this world really leapt out of the page at me as I read, with the feel of wind and sunshine over the machair, the shimmering sea, loch dripping with pigment. At times, Ms Philip builds a word picture akin to those of contemporary scottish West coast painters with their splashes of vibrant colour, pulsating with light, brought immediately to my mind by description of reflections in the water of a loch that a hand dipped in would come out 'dripping with pigment'.

This is an action packed, fast paced novel capable of surprising, despite many hints, to almost the last page, with a cast of real living breathing characters -the half-wild Seth, ruthless Queen Kate NicNiven, Catriona the fully mortal girl rescued and taken through the veil to a world so very different to her own. Although marketed here as YA I understand that in US it will be sold as adult fantasy and think it will be a worthy addition to the genre.

My only complaint is I NEED to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Strident
Genre - YA, fantasy

Have realised that I've made it sound like a cliff-hanger ending. It isn't. I REALLY dislike the cliff-hanger ending that just sets the scene for the next book. The plot for this book reaches an end but there's obviously an on-going story arc over the whole series.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

And I don't like football!
Reviewed by TheMole(Gerry)

I decided to read this because my wife enjoyed it otherwise I wouldn't have considered it. I don't HATE football - I just dislike it. We have all heard it's 22 men chasing a ball etc. We have all heard the jokes:- "They were training with dustbins and the dustbins won.", "I phoned to find out what time the kickoff was and they asked what time I could get there!", "You watch them? They never came to see me when I was bad.", "They announce the crowd changes to the teams.". It's all been said and there isn't anything new. But this book isn't about football. Yes it goes on and on about it, but there is hardly a fact about it in the book.

Nick Hornby tells us of his relationship with football. How it was a way of getting quality time with his dad. How they would go every other week to see home games. How he felt on the terraces and he started to go with friends and later as a student how he changed his allegiance (temporarily) to a local team he could travel to see. How events were arranged, cancelled, attended or not attended around the home games

But more importantly it talks about his obsession with the game, an obsession he identifies as an obsession but not as a fault. He talks in a way that I found I could understand and I understood how people could become obsessed with any sporting event - events that they only spectate, either by attending or by watching on TV. It helped me to understand my own obsession with motor sports.

This book is serious but not so serious that lectures but it is not so funny that it had me rolling around laughing. It's greatest appeal is not to football fans but to those people who do not understand other people's obsessions with watching sport.

I would rate this book as a four star (****) read.

Publisher: Penguin
Genre: YA and Adult

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

Sci-fi Fairy Tale
review by Maryom

Rosalind has been in stasis for 62 years when she is awoken, as in all good fairy tales, by a kiss. The world she wakes up isn't much of a fairytale though. While she's been asleep, everything has changed beyond recognition - millions have died including her parents and her boyfriend - and she now finds herself the heir to an interplanetary corporation which almost rules the world. Her peers see her as some kind of freak and her elders regard her as a potential threat to their power and status. To make matters worse, someone has sent out an android-like creature intent on her destruction....

What originally drew me to A Long Long Sleep was the 'Sleeping Beauty retold' concept. I've seen it before - for example in Sheri S Tepper's Beauty - and wondered how this novel would compare or even if it would just be the same concept re-hashed. Thankfully it wasn't. A Long, Long Sleep is an original, futuristic sci-fi take on the fairy tale. A combination thriller and coming of age story, it's told in the first person from Rosalind's viewpoint, with the reader sharing her confusion at facing this strange new world. At the same time, this device allows Sheehan to 'hide' some of the events from the pre-sleep past and only uncover them as Rose herself realises the extent to which her parents abused their power over her.
A Long, Long Sleep is a wonderful read for anyone looking for something a little different.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - Teen/YA, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy

Buy A Long, Long Sleep from Amazon

Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw

Wonderful Fantasy
reviewed by TheMole (Gerry)

I had heard a lot of comments about this book so felt I really wanted to review it. Having read it I was most impressed. The plotting is very different to many other fantasies and although it involves 'death' and the after life as a central theme it doesn't resemble, plot wise, Sabriel and books like that.

Kate is living with her uncle when the Wardens and a Collector come, ostensibly looking for conscripts to the army as they have been at war for 50 years with the Continent. The Collector, Silas Dane, is actually looking for a Skilled one and Kate is that person.

Kate's life changes so fantastically it is beyond belief for her and her friend, Edgar.

The plot is fast moving and never stops, making it difficult to put down, and while there is much death and violence it is hardly distressing to readers of all ages. The plot twists and turns before coming, unfortunately, to a predictable fairy tale ending. The reason I use the word 'unfortunately' is because I feel this may reduce it's appeal to some older readers. Also some of the language does seem to appeal to younger readers more than the older. This is a shame because the plot and most of the plot thread is really most excellent. Having said all that I did still enjoy the book and I am sure most readers, certainly the younger ones, will be enthralled and await the rest of the trilogy with as much enthusiasm as any other book.

I would rate this book as a four star (****) read for adults but five star (*****) for the younger readers.

Publisher: Headline
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror, Young Adult

Sunday 13 June 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - * * * *

I always find it a bit worrying when I've read an author's first novel and thought it was really wonderful and then, surely enough, they write another. How will it compare? Better or worse?

Well, Audrey Niffenegger 's first book, The Time Travellers Wife, was an extraordinary one in my opinion. I loved the writing style and the way the characters came to life BUT it's uniqueness came from its central premise that a man had the ability to travel in time. After that what could Ms Niffenegger write about next? Surely anything would appear slightly humdrum and everyday.

Perhaps not, because at the heart of THIS novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, we have a ghost. The story opens as Elspeth dies, leaving her money and London flat to the twin daughters of her twin sister. However, before they can claim their inheritance, Elspeth returns in spirit form. Gradually she acquires the ability to communicate with the twins and their downstairs neighbour, her lover, Robert, but becomes increasingly frustrated by the limitations of ghostly existence.

This isn't a shivers up the spine ghost story, one of strange things going bump in the night, but one about love, loss and the lengths people, and indeed ghosts, will go to, to regain that love.
Most of the characters are trapped in one way or another - Elspeth is trapped as a ghost; the twins are trapped by each other - unable to lead individual lives; Martin, the neighbour upstairs trapped by agoraphobia and OCD; Robert trapped by his ongoing, unending thesis on Highgate cemetery - and the novel explores the ways in which they strive to overcome these limitations, with varying degrees of success.

As good as The Time Traveler's Wife? Very nearly.
A wider cast of characters this time - all plausible individuals with the quirks and hang-ups of real life. I think this will be a book to improve with age and acquaintance, rather than one which has given up all its secrets on the first reading. As I've sat and thought about what to write here, I've started to realise how many lines of symmetry dissect the book - physically and emotionally - and how many 'pairs' of characters can be made, and I wonder what new discoveries a second reading will find. So, a 4 star rating for now, but may well be back to upgrade it in the future.

Friday 11 June 2010

Bad Faith by Gillian Philip - Five *

I chose to read this book because Maryom said she had enjoyed it so much and not because of the synopsis. Had I read the synopsis then I don't think I would have picked it up as I don't think it truly reflects the book I read. Don't get me wrong though, the synopsis is technically accurate but for me the focus of the story is not where the synopsis implies.

Cassandra is fifteen and the daughter of a Rector in the 'One Church' - a single religion rising from the many christian religions to not only bring morality to the populace, but also achieving political dominance thus creating a religious state. At the age of eleven Cassandra was involved in a road accident that caused amnesia as well as a fractured skull and damaged hip and she is still coming to terms with the pain and confusion this has caused when other events overtake, that is discovering the body that the synopsis mentions. With her boyfriend, her family and her confusion she struggles through and encounters feelings of betrayal, love, loyalty and fear. Plot twists? There are so many that it ends up plaited, but very neatly like a child's pig-tails.

I felt the story was a light hearted exploration of the idea of a religious state and Cassandra, protected by her father's position in the church, watched the political scene with a degree of disbelief. While I say 'light hearted' I do not mean 'humorous'. Yes, there are funny lines as there is in most novels but we are not talking 'Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. It was only towards the end, with gang violence, that I felt the mood darkened a bit although it raised the tension nicely and brought the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Written for young adults, I was impressed with the way it presented teenage relationships delicately and with no crudity or ogling. Would I recommend it to my 13 year old? No, because it's not her kind of book, but if she wanted to read it then I would be happy to let her and even encourage her, not least because religion has sparked more deaths than any other cause and this book beautifully, for me at least, shows the stupidity of it all.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Wasted by Nicola Morgan - Five *

Jack has a band, a gig and no singer but is carrying on with organising the gig regardless because he believes Luck will deliver him a singer when he needs one. He is not disappointed with his Luck or the singer he finds by chance. Jack is a man obsessed by luck and decisions made by the toss of a coin - Jess must come to terms with this if they are to be a part of each other's lives.

Maryom reviewed Wasted and gave it five stars but seemed to come away with something different to me. For me it was an emotional roller coaster that nearly reduced me to tears at one point. There was love, hate, fear, grief, regret, compassion and so much more.

My father died hooked up to machinery in ICU and I struggle, still after 12 years, with scenes involving ICU but this time the scene was so alive, so well portrayed, I was back there - the last time I saw him.

Yes, we are invited to spin a coin to choose the ending but I don't do 'luck' I am afraid so I read both and chose the ending I wanted. In the end I must say I wanted neither ending - but then I am sometimes a hopeless romantic.

A not to be missed book and there has to be space in holiday packing for it!

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Road Closed by Leigh Russell

I read and reviewed this excellent book for Nayu's Reading Corner. One for the holiday packing!

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Monday 7 June 2010

Almost True by Keren David - Five *

The continuing story of Ty. Ty is a boy who witnessed a murder as a result of gangs and a knife carrying culture. We met him in 'When I Was Joe' and the story continues.

A further attempt is made on Ty's life and his aunt explodes at the police and refuses to allow them to protect him any further until they can get their act together and so Ty is taken to a safe house and meets family he didn't know he had and so his life is thrown into turmoil again. His life is not made easier by his longing to communicate with his girl friend again.

Did I enjoy this book? To me enjoyment means laughing, and coming away feeling good. I didn't really come away feeling good. I felt a lot of things, but feeling good wasn't high on the list. I also came to the conclusion that Keren David only writes 24 hour books. I couldn't put it down and risked a telling off to get it finished! I felt the frustrations of Ty, the anger of his aunt, the love for and of his girlfriend, the loyalty of his athletics teacher and much, much more.

I do have to admit that I, personally, would like to have seen more 'loose ends' tidied up. I will not expand on them here because they could be plot spoilers, but life will always tie off loose ends but not all at once and where and when do you cut the end off of a novel? Perhaps?

A truly brilliant read with lots to take away from it, but I do recommend reading When I Was Joe first although they can be read and enjoyed out of sequence as Maryom found out (

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Blood in the Water by Juliet E McKenna - Three *

I read and reviewed this for Nayu's Reading Corner. A must for readers of the Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution readers otherwise start at book 1 and you will enjoy this book much more.