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