Tuesday 31 May 2011

Some Life, Somewhere by Rebecca E Brown

A Book of Little Gems
review by Maryom

Some Life, Somewhere is a collection of conversations - for want of a better description. The seven tales - covering birth, death and some of the bits inbetween - are told solely through dialogue, but even with this limited format the individual characters shine through - young children questioning the adult world, parents trying their best to explain it, two young men facing up to a life that's just a bit too close to their favourite computer combat game. Some are longer than others but all are short snapshots or cameos preserving a point in time, almost like overhearing a conversation on the street or bus. The author clearly has an ear for dialogue, for capturing a person through their words.

I just wish there had been more and look forward to reading something lengthier from this author.

Maryom's review - 4 stars

Buy Some Life Somewhere from Amazon - currently only available as an e-book.

Friday 27 May 2011

Spider by Linda Strachan

Just One Last Time...
review by Maryom

Spider has decided it's time to stop joy-riding. If he's caught again, he'll be sent down. Unfortunately, he can't resist the chance to show off to his girlfriend, Deanna. Just one last time won't do any harm he thinks....
The story is told firstly from Spider's point of view but then from that of the other occupants of the car - Deanna and his mates. It follows them racing round the streets and through the horrifying aftermath.
I read the first chapter of Spider in a taster booklet given to me by Linda Strachan. What hooked me was the opening sequence of speeding through streets, I was amazed how well the author captured that feeling of driving too fast, beyond control, knowing how dangerous it is and not wanting to slow down. It got me inside Spider's mind - I could feel what compelled him to do this - and why he didn't want to give it up. The rest of the book is equally gripping, though for different reasons, as Spider and his friends try to come to terms with the consequences of such reckless fun. I don't really want to say too much in case I give away the plot but any teenager with a need for speed should be MADE to read this - maybe it would help them see the dangers in a way that all the moralizing in the world cannot. With that in mind I was rather disappointed to see that our county library service only had one copy and that I was the first person to borrow it.

Yes, Spider is a story with a moral - but it's still a gripping, readable and rather frightening novel.

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

Buy Spider from Amazon

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

A Clean Slate
review by Maryom

Christine wakes one morning in what she believes to be a stranger's bed, but it isn't. She is at home, in her own bed, the man beside her says he is her husband Ben and that they've been happily married for many years. Christine remembers none of it - absolutely nothing after an accident 18 years ago, every night her memory is wiped clean and each day started with a blank slate. Husband Ben has a scrapbook full of photographs and memorabilia to help fill the long gap, but something doesn't feel quite right. When Christine discovers a diary, kept secretly without her husband's knowledge, recording the events of the past few weeks and the flashes of memory that have occurred, she becomes more certain that somewhere, somehow, Ben is hiding the truth.

I'd had 'tasters' of the first chapter arriving over several weeks and was frustrated at not being able to read more, so when the actual book turned up for review I lost no time in sitting down and getting on with it. Before I Go To Sleep definitely lives up to the hype going round the web about it. SJ Watson has captured how absolutely terrifying it must be to have no memory of so many years, to have no way of being certain that people are telling you the truth. Through the diary, the reader shares Christine's dilemma of wanting to accept the things Ben tells her, of wanting to believe his reasons for not sharing everything, everyday, when it will all have to be repeated the next, but finding that what he says doesn't match her intermittent memories or the diary she's started to keep.
The gradual unfolding of Christine's life makes for a tense, atmospheric thriller that drags you in and compels you to read. I was very tempted to quickly peep at the ending but just managed to resist and was glad I did!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Transworld
Genre -
adult, crime/thriller

Other reviews; Subtle Melodrama   
                         Words and Peace

Monday 23 May 2011

Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen

Bull Running
review by Maryom

Danny Clare, a boxer, is running away from something - first on foot, then hitching a lift and ending up travelling to Pamplona with Robert, a family man who for the one weekend a year wants to break free from his happy, ordered life.
Behind him lie an unfaithful lover, a career built on aggression and events that Danny doesn't want to face up to, but exactly what he's running away from doesn't become clear until he turns and faces up to what he's done.

Tomorrow Pamplona is the fifth in Peirene's series of modern translated short fiction and slightly longer than others. More importantly there's a different 'feel' to it. Despite being only 30 or so more pages, it reads and feels like a much longer book. The others have all been compelling, vivid, brief capturings of a moment in time, this feels like a slower unfolding of a tale. There seemed a rather dream like quality to the first half of the novel - roadsigns, towns and villages drifting past as the two men journey south - till they're brought back to reality by the bulls at Pamplona.
Tomorrow Pamplona is an exploration of the dark, aggressive aspects of personality that lurk beneath a seemingly pleasant exterior. Both men seem to only feel 'alive' in violent, threatening situations. When Danny stands stock-still and stares in the face of the charging bull, there's a sense of two instinctively violent, powerful minds opposing each other. I'm not sure that I sympathised very much with either of the main characters and that may have influenced my feelings about the book as a whole. It's not the most disturbing book I've read but there's a feeling of latent violence throughout that is more common in thrillers/whodunnits than in literary fiction.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Peirene
Genre -
adult, translated fiction

Buy Tomorrow Pamplona from Amazon

Thursday 19 May 2011

Lemona's Tale by Ken Saro-Wiwa

A moving tale of love, abandonment .... and murder
review by Maryom

Following the death of her father, a young woman, raised overseas, returns to Nigeria. Acting on her father's wishes, she goes to visit an unknown woman in prison. Condemned to die the next day for the murders she has committed, the woman, Lemona, tells her life story to her visitor...

Lemona's is a moving tale of love, abandonment .... and murder. She tells of growing up in a rural village, of how she was exploited by her employers, her lover, her jailers. Her life and destiny are things that Lemona never seems to have had any control over; all her attempts to build a better life for herself seem doomed to failure; any period of happiness short-lived. As the tale progresses, her visitor begins to realise the relationship between her and Lemona, and why her father insisted they meet.

This book was an accidental find in a huge pile I picked up through Freecycle but a thoroughly worthwhile read. It's not a fun, happy-ending sort of story but one to make you think of the struggles of less fortunate others, without the options and choices we take for granted.

Other reviews; Winstonsdad's blog
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Penguin
Genre -

Monday 16 May 2011

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

For Austen Addicts Everywhere
review by Maryom

Austen addict Courtney suddenly finds herself transported from modern-day LA back into Regency England, into another person's body and life. She now finds herself to be Jane Mansfield, a lady of comparative leisure, but at the dangerously old age of 30 and as yet unmarried. She has to quickly get to grips with Regency life-style, manners and plumbing, a mother desperate to see her married off and a handsome suitor who may not be as desirable as he looks.
While this is an amusing take on Regency-style romance, the Austen connection is, to be honest, negligible. Courtney doesn't find herself trapped in an Austen plot as Amanda Price does in ITV's drama Lost In Austen, but rather taking up the life of 'Jane Mansfield' and having to work out the story-so-far as she goes along. Even so it's an enjoyable historical rom-com of a read.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury
Genre - chick lit

Buy Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict from Amazon

Saturday 14 May 2011

Edinburgh Literary Salon with Linda Strachan

I was very pleasantly surprised when, happening to mention on my FB private profile that I was off to Edinburgh, I was invited along to the Edinburgh Literary Salon by Linda Strachan.

This is a monthly get-together, above the Wash bar, of people with a more-or-less professional interest in books, writing, publishing, etc etc
As we were on holiday something had to be found to entertain the rest of the family but having sent them on a Ghosts and Torture Tour I headed off to meet Linda.
The main theme of April's get-together was collaboration - whether between writers or between disciplines ie writer + illustrator. There was a short presentation from Luke Williams and Natasha Soobramanien, two writers who've just finished working together on a book, The Echo Chamber, and afterwards we were free to mingle, ideally meeting new people. As I knew no one there, this was easy for me. I met Linda- obviously; an animator; a musician in search of a symphony; one of the organisers; and author/illustrator John Fardell among others - all welcoming, interesting people, ready to share ideas with a total outsider.
So what did we talk about?
- Blogging, specifically book reviews and whether they make a difference to sales/publicity
- the development of i-phone/pad apps for toddlers
- Enid Blyton
- the possibility and difficulties of expanding Linda's popular Hamish McHaggis children's book into England and abroad
- adapting novels for film and/or TV
- working from home without being constantly at the family's beck and call
- book festivals, their organisation - and sometimes lack of it
- the unlikelihood of swimming near North Berwick at that time of year,
basically the sort of thing I chat about all day on the web (well, maybe not North Berwick) but rarely face to face.

All in all, an extremely enjoyable evening - and I even got goodies to take away at the end of it - a taster of Linda Strachan's two teen novels - Dead boy Talking and Spider. I've read Dead Boy Talking (see here for review) but not Spider, the story of a teenage joy-rider. Having read the first few chapters I'm hooked and WILL read it - on order from the library right now!

and a leaflet promoting Edinburgh as City of Literature with a map showing places in the city with literary associations - from Robert Burns' lodgings to the cafe in which Harry Potter came to life. Having visited before, I knew of the many things to see and do in Edinburgh - but I've just discovered more!

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve

London Is On The Move !
review by Maryom

In a strange future world, a New London is rising. A monstrous city on wheels that nothing will be able to withstand. To the North, warned by a vision, an army of mammoth-riders gathers to oppose it. Into these northern lands on the edge of the ice goes Fever Crumb on a journey to find a mysterious black pyramid, haunt of ghosts, nightwights and the walking dead, which is reputed to hold many Linkextraordinary secrets and clues to the origin of the Scriven. Meanwhile back in London, Charley Shallow manoeuvres to take her place with her father.

This is the seventh in the Mortal Engines fantasy series, but the first I've read. an excellent adventure story, with a blend of weird and fantastical overlaying today's world, I can understand why this has caught the imagination of so many readers. Fever Crumb is a believable heroine, sometimes doubting herself but always finding the courage to carry on. Charley Shallow is an amazing, slippery-as-an-eel villain. Even Fever's father Dr Crumb, trying to overcome his emotions and remain logical in the face of grief, will have your sympathies.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Scholastic
Genre - Childrens 10+ fantasy

Buy Scrivener's Moon (Mortal Engines) from Amazon

Monday 9 May 2011

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Ahead of its Time?
review by Maryom

The Mole came across this a few weeks ago while chatting on FB, borrowed it from the library, read and reviewed it. I'd never heard of it, so I thought I'd read it now while it was still out on loan.
In the totalitarian world of OneState people have no names - only numbers. All aspects of life are planned and regimented by the "Benefactor" - when to eat, work, sleep, even when to have sex! D-503 is happy enough in his work as designer of the INTEGRAL rocket until he meets the attractive and unorthodox I-330. She shows him that there is life outside the narrow confines of OneState and tries to persuade him to join with an underground movement intent on liberating the populace.
A warning of what may happen if we start to abandon our freedom as individuals, there are lots of obvious parallels with 1984 and many other sci-fi stories that I've read but can't put a title to. We is a very readable book in its own right and, despite being written in the 1920s, modern in feel. At times I wondered how much of the narrators confusion was intended by the author or just lost in translation, but overall it read well.
An interesting, thought-provoking read.

The Mole's review

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Penguin Classics
Genre - Sci-Fi

Buy We (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) from Amazon

Friday 6 May 2011

Altar of Bones by Philip Carter

Fun Packed Thriller
Review by The Mole

Zoe is surprised to be told that her grandmother has been murdered, the grandmother that she had been told had died in a car accident many years ago. Zoe's life turns around in a shock as the killer tries to get her to reveal the location of the Altar of Bones, something of which she has never heard. Life becomes even more chaotic when Yasmine Poole enters her life wanting to know where a reel of film is and shows that she is prepared to kill for it - kill Zoe that is. Zoe meets Ry and together they try to save themselves and get all the answers in a chase that takes them from the USA and across Europe to Siberia.

Gripping, fast paced and compelling sums this book up - at least in part. Immensely fun to read, I found the characters larger than life - almost comic book. At one point they are held at gunpoint across a small lake and I expected them to walk across it to get to the baddies - I won't tell you if they did though.

If you are looking for a serious thriller with historical accuracy then this may not be the book for you, but if you want a fun book with really nasty bad guys and really nice good guys then this is a must. Don't think that this is not an adults book though, it is most definitely adult fiction.

People have said that it is Dan Brown meets Robert Ludlum. Myself I would would describe it as more like Jack T Colton and Jane Wilder in Romancing The Stone - fast fun, enthralling and light hearted. Simon and Schuster tell us that Philip Carter is the pseudonym of a best selling author, inviting us to speculate as to who it is. I really believe I know but won't say any more, but as an ex-romantic fiction author she is trying to switch genres and while the book is excellent and enthralling it doesn't give that edge of the seat tingle that John Le Carré and others of that genre manage to deliver.

Publisher - Simon and Schuster
Genre - Adult Thriller

Buy Altar of Bones from Amazon

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Long Reach by Peter Cocks

A Real Nail-biter
review by Maryom

When Steve Palmer's body is found face-down in the mud at Long Reach he appears to have committed suicide. But Tony Morris, his rather cloak-and-dagger boss, knows differently and enlists the help of Steve's younger brother to catch the culprit. Under his new name of Eddie Savage he's sent undercover to get close to Sophie Kelly, beautiful daughter of violent gangland boss Tommy Kelly, as a method of infiltrating the Kelly gang's operation. How long can he maintain his cover?

A brilliant, unputdownable thriller. With a teenage hero, it might be aimed at the YA market but I found it as good as many adult crime novels. There's lots of 'old-spy' clandestine stuff mixed with up to date hi tech gadgetry, though think Harry Palmer rather than James Bond. There's beautiful women to tempt and distract 'Eddie' and a mix of villains, from businessman/gangster Tommy Kelly to his rough and ready hitmen. 'Eddie' is a likeable, believable hero - at times scared at what he's getting himself into but wanting to live up to his big brother's memory, and not always sure of the morality of 'ends justifying the means'. I liked the way that Tommy Kelly wasn't a mere two-dimensional 'bad guy' but a rounded-out character - devoted husband and father, art collector, accomplished cook - just happening to be a major crimelord as well!

An exciting, nail-biting read that you may want to 'borrow' from the teens. I hope there are more Eddie Savage thrillers to come.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Walker Books

Genre - YA crime, thriller

Buy Long Reach (Eddie Savage Thriller) from Amazon

Monday 2 May 2011

Ten Pound Pom by Niall Griffiths

Back To Oz
review by Maryom

When he was 9, Niall Griffiths' parents decided to emigrate to Australia with the 10 pound scheme. They stayed for only 3 years, first settling in Brisbane, then relocating to Perth on the opposite coast, travelling across country by car.
30 years later Niall Griffiths decided to recreate this experience. First re-visiting the places his family lived in and around Brisbane, then driving to Perth.
Part autobiography, part travelogue, Ten Pound Pom compares Griffiths' memories of the past with the modern Australia he discovers in the present.
Lots of things have changed but have they improved?

Most of us know Australia solely from TV and films - so is it all Neighbours and Picnic At Hanging Rock? Australia through Niall Griffiths' eyes is certainly not the place I thought it was. Muriel's Wedding with its grubby politics and 'fit in or else' attitude is the closest I've seen on the screen. Instead of a happy-go-lucky surfer culture there are warnings that speed can kill, signs prohibiting smoking, the wearing of flipflops or singlets. Instead of the alien beauty of Walkabout, there's mile upon mile, hundreds of miles, of dull desert road. In between the restrictions and monotony, though, are the memories of the child he was and the things that delighted him- the beach huts on Coochie Mudloe island, a flock of lorikeets perching on his arms and head, sleeping overnight in a hollow tree and just maybe catching sight of a platypus.

Ten Pound Pom is an enjoyable, immensely readable, highly entertaining look at Australia, its people and their lifestyle, whether Griffiths is laughing at them, say the continuing chauvinism of the average Ozzie bloke or raising serious moral issues such as the treatment of the native population.
It's a book that will make you laugh, may make you cry, but I don't think it will encourage you to visit Australia! I wonder what Australians will make of it?

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Parthian

Genre - adult, travel, biography

Buy Ten Pound Pom from Amazon