Wednesday 29 September 2010

Lights Out In Wonderland by DBC Pierre

Sorry - not one for me!
review by Maryom

As the book opens, a young man, Gabriel Brockwell, decides to check himself out of rehab and commit suicide - though not just yet. First he intends to meet up with his best friend and party. This entails heading to Tokyo, getting the said friend into a heap of trouble (and a Japanese jail) and then jetting off to Berlin to find someone who may be able to help get them out of this mess.

There's always a worrying sort of feeling when reading a supposed good book and finding it just doesn't work for you. Are you the odd one out? or is it a question of the Emperor's new clothes - no one dare appear to question it? Well, I don't mind being the odd weirdo, so I must say this book didn't do much for me (neither did The Life of Pi, Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code in their various ways).
Sadly Lights Out In Wonderland was a book I was really happy to reach the end of. It's told in the first person by Gabriel Brockwell and the action, as he pursues his drink and drug fuelled journey, is interspersed with his thoughts on life, society, capitalism, drugs ..... Sometimes his asides are so numerous they're relegated to asterisked footnotes. It all makes for a slow-paced, long hard slog of a read. There were bits I enjoyed but not enough to really grab me.

Maryom's review - 2 stars
Publisher - Faber & Faber
Genre - Adult Literary

Buy Lights Out in Wonderland from Amazon

Monday 27 September 2010

The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff

A wonderful, bewitching book
review by Maryom

Pell Ridley runs away from home rather than drift into a marriage that will bring nothing but hard work and constant child-bearing. Somewhere, she feels, there has to be a better, fuller, life than this. Taking her horse, Jack, and her adopted brother, Bean, who refuses to be left behind, she heads to Salisbury Fair looking for work. But through a series of mishaps Pell becomes separated from her brother and horse, and she then heads out alone into unknown countryside looking for both them and her wished-for better life, on a journey of self-discovery.
This isn't a book turned up in the post for review but one recommended to me by a friend - fortunately, one who's on the same reading wavelength. She was right - this is a wonderful, bewitching book. I was instantly transported back in time to a place of unremitting labour where children are sent out to work "as soon as they emerged from babyhood", where hunger "barely deserved a second thought", and yet Pell remains hopeful that somewhere, somehow she will find a better life. The setting and plot don't seem very hopeful of an enchanting book - and yet it is, with echoes of Thomas Hardy's Wessex and a narrative style reminiscent of George Mackay Brown. One I'd recommend for teens and adults alike.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Penguin Books
Genre - YA - Historical - Romance

Buy The Bride's Farewell from Amazon

Friday 24 September 2010

The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

Move Over John McClane!
review by Maryom

Sam and Lloyd are new school friends. One Friday they're picked up from school in a gleaming, expensive car full of gadgets - both thinking they're in the other's father's car! Before they sort out the confusion, they're whisked away to a secluded house, surrounded by high security fence and gates. At first lulled by food and games and promises that Lloyd's dad has organised a special treat for them, Sam soon realises that none of this is true and that whatever is going to happen, the best thing to do is escape - if they can....

This is such a compelling read, tense and frightening at times. I was gripped right from the start and couldn't bear to put it down till I reached the end, even sitting up far too late to try to finish it, willing Sam on in his efforts to persuade Lloyd that all is not as it seems and encouraging him as he tries to work out the best course of action. Sam is an amazing super hero. When in a tight fix and needing to screw up his courage he imagines himself as Alex Rider but to mind he seemed a junior version of Die Hard's John McClane, able to outwit the bad guy and surmount anything in his way.
The Long Weekend is an extraordinarily thrilling book but one with a message in between all the terror and excitement- be careful who you accept a lift from!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Andersen Press
Genre - Children's (9+),Thriller

Buy The Long Weekend from Amazon

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Small Blue Thing by SC Ransom

A New Paranormal Romance
review by Maryom

Alex finds a bracelet half buried in Thames mud with a small opal like stone- the small blue thing. She soon discovers that this is no ordinary bracelet - when wearing it she can communicate with Callum, a teenager locked between life and death, whom only she can see. But as Alex finds herself falling in love with him, she begins to doubt if he is telling her the truth about his situation. Callum's sister Catherine tells a different story to explain his actions and Alex finds herself not knowing who to trust.
The book starts slowly, firmly fixed in the everyday world of school, exams and teenage life, but as the relationship between Alex and Callum grows, the emphasis shifts to his shadowy underworld of the Dirges and the pace picks up as Alex is forced into making life or death decisions.
Something I loved was that for once here's a book with a British setting - admittedly London and Richmond are almost as foreign to a northerner as America but it was still nice to see supernatural happenings not restricted to across the pond but here on home soil.
Small Blue Thing is a great new read for teenage lovers of supernatural romance. It's the first in a planned trilogy - to be published January next year with book 2, Perfectly Reflected, following in June - and although the story rounds off nicely the reader is left with a chilling taster of what is to follow in book 2.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Nosy Crow
Genre - Teenage (14+), Fantasy, Romance

Perfectly Reflected is now out and about. Check out Maryom's review here Paranormal Thriller

********************** Spoiler alert!! **************************

The comments below contain spoilers so please don't read if you haven't read and don't want to know!!

********************** Spoiler alert!! **************************

Friday 17 September 2010

True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies

Happy ever after - not !
Review by Maryom

The story of a young woman who embarks on a spontaneous sexual relationship with a stranger. It's told in the first person by this un-named woman but the reader is soon aware of how abusive and manipulative this man is. Friends, family and work are abandoned and deceived as her whole life comes to revolve around the time spent with him. Her best friend, Alison, is dragged in to covering for increasing work absences and knows something is wrong but fails to understand the depths to which she's plunged through this obsession. In her saner moments the narrator realises she should cut herself loose but finds it impossible - something always draws her back.

Did I enjoy it? Well, enjoy doesn't seem to be the right word for it. It's most certainly NOT a feel-good novel - not one in which having fallen instantly for each other the hero and heroine walk off hand in hand into the sunset. It's a dark, menacing, disturbing read - very much an adult novel with adult theme and content. The characters are all too believable - I frequently wanted to give the woman a shake and tell her to stop this nonsense before it was too late. Having said that it's a very compelling read - though perhaps compelling in the way that watching an accident waiting to happen is. .

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Canon Gate
Genre - Adults Thriller

Buy True Things About Me from Amazon

Wednesday 15 September 2010

A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis

Most Unladylike
Review by TheMole

I am not one to read period novels normally, whereas Stephanie Burgis is in love with Regency England and has read Jane Austen and Georgette Hayer. This lead me to pick this book up with a little trepidation.

Kat Stephenson cannot remember her mother and her stepmother keeps everything that belonged to her mother under lock and key away from both her and her sisters. Kat is 12 and her elder sister is about to become engaged to a man with a notorious reputation in order to secure the financial future of Kat's family. Kat cannot this permit to happen so she cut's off her hair and runs away to get a job as a boy and earn the money that the family need thereby saving her sister's need to wed. All does not go to plan and Kat finally resorts to Magic. This magic though... not the click your fingers "whoops you're a toad" type - no, a very different type and Kat has to find a way to use it to her advantage.

My early fears were quickly put aside as I read on. The book is not stuffy Regency but easy to read modern style and while the other characters are totally plausible as modern day portrayals of wheat we believe Regency folk were like Kat is not. Kat feels very much like a modern girl dropped into a Regency setting. She is a free spirit that is in need of constant reminders of proper etiquette and manners. This makes her a very accessible character that is easy to become a friend and supporter of as she sets about trying to put the world to rights.

A hugely fun and easy read that will have it's young readers coming back for more. Highly recommended for young girls on their upcoming Christmas lists!

TheMole's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Templar Publishing
Genre - Children's Fantasy (8+)

A Most Improper Magick can be bought from Amazon

Friday 10 September 2010

Midges by Alasdair Roberts

review by Maryom

A wet, midge-infested afternoon in a holiday cottage on Skye, so checking out the book shelves - just the thing! A book on midges!
A short book in which you can learn everything you needed to know about the evil midge - its life cycle, history, its relationship with royalty and tourists - and, importantly, possible ways to avoid it.
A good mix of humour and fact about this pest. I'd always assumed that the midge had been an unpleasant fact of Highland summers forever, but Alasdair Roberts puts forward a theory that until the mid 19th century they were hardly considered as a problem! Wish I'd visited then.
As for 'how to avoid the midge' - just don't combine two popular methods - wearing a necktie soaked in paraffin and repelling them with fire or cigarette smoke.
An amusing read for a holiday afternoon. Fortunately, the sun returned on the next day and the midges disappeared.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Birlinn Ltd
Genre - Non Fiction

Midges can be purchased from Amazon

Monday 6 September 2010

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius

"Thought provoking, well designed, short".
review by Maryom

A young German woman, 8 months pregnant with her first child, walks through Rome one sunny afternoon in January 1943 to listen to a musical recital at a church. Is that really it? Well, obviously not.

"Thought provoking, well designed, short", says the slogan on the Peirene catalogue, and this little book most certainly is. In 125 pages we become fully acquainted with this young country girl from Mecklenburg, now living in Rome, frightened at the size and splendour of it, after being left here while her husband has been transferred to N Africa.

In the course of her stroll, her thoughts wander between the past, present and future - the distant pre-war time without bombings and rationing, her fears for her husband at the front and her family suffering from constant air-raids in Germany, her hopes for a quick end to the war and a happy country environment in which to bring up her child.
She travels across the city almost like an explorer. There are safe places of refuge - the hospital run by German nuns where she lives, the church she is going to - but between lies the alien, uncharted city full of incomprehensible Italians. She seems a rather naive, docile young woman, guided first by her father and now by her husband in what she should think and do - it's hard to imagine a young woman of today deferring to others' opinions in the same way. Yet at the same time, she's starting to gain independence, impressing herself with her ability to venture out into this strange city, alone, without a male protector and guide.
So, does it live up to the slogan - most definitely! I'm tempted to liken this to Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway but I've found that likening anything to Virginia Woolf tends to put readers off rather than encourage them. Is it merely the story of one young woman or of a whole generation of people? That's for you to decide but, whichever, it's an excellent book - do read it!

Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Act Of Murder by Alan Wright

Murder with a smile
Review by TheMole

I will start by stating that I am not a whodunnit 'fan'. I can, and will, read most anything but if I am a fan of anything then it would be fantasy. This, however, does not stop me enjoying non-fantasy books that I pick up. I start with this statement because most whodunnit fans come out with 'well I got it very early on', or 'it was quite obvious who did it from the word go' or some such statement. I don't read whodunnits like that - for me it's the journey and not the getting there.

This book is the Dundee International Prize winner for 2010.  Maryom read and reviewed the 2009 winner Dead Wood and enjoyed it so I thought it was my turn to try the 2010 prize winner.

It's Wigan in 1894 and Richard Throstle, a man of dubious morals (it's dubious if he has any), is found mudered in a particularly bloody and messy way. He has a 'magic lantern company' that gives audiences a treat and a bit of a scare as he uses the technology to good effect at a time when others are finding it 'old hat'.  Unfortunately the body count doesn't stop at one as Sergeant Slevin, of the local constabulary, leads an investigation to find the killer.

No, I didn't guess the killer in advance - but then I didn't try to either. What I did do was to experience a very enjoyable read with plenty of gore and death that didn't offend the delicate prude that I am. Humour abounds in the book and, surprisingly, sits very well in the plot. At one point someone is going to go out for 'fresh air' - "In Wigan?" comes the retort. Slevin has a constable under his command - Constable Bowery - who is a very large man but a man of little brain and this leads to a fair amount of the humour. Having said that the story is a consistent murder mystery that was truly a joy to read.

If, like me, you are not a 'whodunnit' fan then  I would still recommend you consider this book.

TheMole's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Birlinn
Genre - Adult

Act of Murder can be purchased from Amazon

Friday 3 September 2010

Shadow Bringer by David Calcutt

Not at bedtime - please!
Review by TheMole

I took a whole host of books on holiday recently, but unfortunately not the one I was reading so I took the opportunity to read a David Calcutt. My wife had read "A Map of Marvels" and enjoyed it so I wanted to try one.

Nathan is a troubled child after his parents separated and has gone to stay with his aunt while his mum takes a holiday. He starts hearing noises and feeling like he's being watched. Strange things happen to him and he gets very wound up. But when his friend has a similar experience the question has to be asked "is it just his imagination?".

I found this book extremely compelling and tense and wondering how I would have felt reading it as a child. I had to wonder hard because it was a while ago that I was that small. David Calcutt says that the book is enjoyed by 12-14 year olds, and yes I can see that that would work but he also says kids as young as 9 also enjoy it. If I had a nine year old then I'm not sure I would want them reading it at bed time! He also says that the book can hopefully be enjoyed by adults. Well I can assure you it can! While away I read another book whose cover says 'a ghost story' and is an adults book. I found Shadow Bringer a better read and tenser, which is the role of any thriller or ghost story.

Sad to say though that my favourite character was Granddad! Every child should have a Granddad like that, a rock and someone to cling to when the going gets tough!

If you are looking for Christmas presents (it's only 3 months away and the shops are stocking up!) and you are looking for a book for someone 12-99 who likes a thriller or even to treat yourself then take a look at this one!

TheMole's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Genre - Children's 12+

Shadow Bringer can be purchased from Amazon