Friday 30 September 2011

The Crimson Shard by Teresa Flavin

The Crimson Shard Blog Tour

The Crimson Shard is the second book in the Blackhope Enigma series by Teresa Flavin.The Mole has read and reviewed "Blackhope Enigma" and "The Crimson Shard" and we are delighted to be hosting the blog tour on the 6th October. (See the banner on the right).

Brilliantly done.
Review by The Mole

Sunni and Blaise go to see a museum and once again get caught up with paintings. Or should I say get caught in paintings. Only this time there is a time travelling element as well.

When sequels come along then they frequently have an increasingly unlikely start so that the audience joins in with how the adventure starts. The temptation to repeat a successful formula must be tremendous. However Teresa Flavin resists that temptation and comes up with a seamless link into a direct sequel continuing their story.

They get lured through a door which was merely a mural painting when the artist who painted it was alive. But now it is a portal that can access many point in time across history, if you have the knowledge to use it, and our heroes do not have the power or knowledge to get home.

I started reading this and quickly got drawn in to their continuing adventure as though there was no join between the books. At last though we start to see Blaise actually notice that Sunni likes him... so the characters are also developing and evolving and maintaining a total credibility. I particularly like at the end where... hang on! no spoilers - but I really do like that bit.

I would look forward to a third book, but I'm sure Sunni and Blaise don't really deserve the stress a third time. Oh, never mind, I'll be selfish - give us book 3 please!

Publisher - Templar Publishing
Genre - Children's 10+

Buy The Crimson Shard (Blackhope Enigma Series) from Amazon

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Desert Adventure
review by Maryom

Princess Elisa has been marked out since a baby as someone from whom exceptional things are expected. On her dedication day, when seven days old, a beam of heavenly light shone on her and lodged the Godstone in her navel marking her as one destined for Service. Up till her 16th birthday, there have been no signs of anything extraordinary. So far she has led a protected, indulged existence in the palace but on her birthday she is married off in a political alliance and sent away with an unknown bridegroom to his troubled country on the brink of invasion. There, without her sister and father to fall back on for help and advice, Elisa realises that at last she must stand on her own two feet and make decisions for herself.
My first thought was "Oh no, not another coming of age story!" but don't be put off. Fire and Thorns is an incredibly readable tale that will have you turning pages far too late at night. Although there's definitely a fantasy element to the book, the characters and dilemmas they face are believable, 'real' world ones about self-reliance, friendship, learning to recognise who to trust - and who not to. Princess Elisa grows from a weak, cosseted, useless girl to a strong, capable, dependable young woman and, as Fire and Thorns is very obviously the first of a series, I wonder how she will fare in further stories. Something that immensely appealed to me about her, was her very pointed interest in food - from golden pastries, glazed with honey to spiced, blackened chicken. I wish she'd shared the recipes!
A novel filled with action, danger, exotic locations and a little romance - something for everyone, perhaps.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - Teen/YA, adventure, fantasy

Buy Fire and Thorns from Amazon

Monday 26 September 2011

Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig

Illuminating Darkly
review by Maryom

Peirene's sixth publication is a collection of short stories by Austrian author Alois Hotschnig, rather strange and very difficult to pin down stories.
I was racking my brain for a way to describe this collection without re-telling every single tale - and I'm hoping this makes sense. Look on them as points of illumination, imagine you've walked into a dimly lit room. You think you know what's there but if a spotlight is turned on, the shadows disappear and other things are revealed - not necessarily pleasant things...

If you like to know where you are with a story, to know the ground is firm and solid beneath your feet - then this is not the thing for you. These tales twist and turn in the way that dreams, or even nightmares, do. A normal everyday scene morphs into something bizarre and contorted, as if seen through the distorting mirrors of a funfair; the pleasant seeming surface of a suburban street or lakeside shifts, distorts and reveals it's dark hidden side; identities and boundaries slip and blur. A collection that leaves the reader asking questions and that I'm sure will reveal more on a second or third read.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Buy Maybe This Time from Amazon

Friday 23 September 2011

Death Sentence by Mikkel Birkegaard

Life Imitating Art
review by Maryom

Frank Føns is an author of brutal thrillers - the more twisted and perverse his plots, the more his public loves him. Safely confined to the printed page, how can even the most violent death harm anyone? They aren't so appealing though when someone begins to copy his fictional murders in real life. Gradually Føns takes on the role of detective to track down the copycat killer before his world collapses completely.

It's often said but this really was a compelling, page turning read. Presented as notes written by Frank Føns himself, the unfolding drama is interspersed with flashbacks of his life with which Birkegaard creates a rounded, if warped, personality for him. As the back story unfolds, the reader shares in his struggle for success as a writer, the strains placed on his relationships, the loss of his family. But what really holds the reader's attention is the continuing working out of Føns' plots in real life. Who is copying Føns' books and why? Can he/she be stopped? Sometimes suspecting one person, then another, I was kept guessing to the end.
Warning - this is at times very violent. I really found the final section TOO disturbing - and resorted to skim-reading. I know this is cheating a little but it was really too realistic and unnerving for my comfort. Overall though, the violence was outweighed by story-line.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Transworld Books

Genre - Adult Thriller

Thursday 22 September 2011

Paula Rawsthorne - Author Interview

Today we welcome Paula Rawsthorne to the blog for a chat. Paula's first novel, The Truth About Celia Frost, came out in August and is a stunning teen thriller about a girl with a very secret past.

Since The Truth About Celia Frost was launched you seem to have been on a whirlwind tour of book signings and school visits. Is this the life you were expecting as an author or did you imagine sitting quietly at your desk all day.

I soon realised that getting your novel published is only part of the writer’s job; you also have to get out there and let people know about your book. Even pre launch there was lots to do to make sure that word spread. Authors can’t just lock themselves in their garrets anymore (even when they have a deadline looming for their second book!) Publishers like mine (Usborne) put a great deal of effort into promoting your book and you need to be part of this. Although this is all very new to me I’ve found that I’ve really been enjoying meeting readers, talking in schools, doing literary events, answering questions for bloggers etc.

What do your children think of it all?

They have always been very encouraging. When I was writing Celia Frost they used to come home daily and ask if I’d finished it yet? So now they can actually see The Truth About Celia Frost in bookshops they’re very excited.

You were ‘found’ by an agent through the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition. How does that work? Does it guarantee a book deal?

Being a winner of SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices competition opened up incredible opportunities to me. Winning doesn’t guarantee a book deal or getting an agent but it does mean that your work is chosen by a judging panel of extremely high calibre industry professionals and is then put in an anthology of winners which is sent out to all publishers and agents in the U.K. Luckily for me, Jo Unwin, an agent on the judging panel, loved my book and took me on. She is a wonderful agent and someone I may never even have met had it not been for SCBWI and Undiscovered Voices. SCBWI is a fantastic organisation and I’d recommend anyone who writes or Illustrators children’s books to join.

For that competition you only had to submit the first chapters. Did you know what Celia Frost’s secret was when you started writing or did the story change? I’ve heard that authors say that their characters take over the plot and make it suit themselves. Did this happen to anyone of yours?

Before I started writing the story, the characters of Celia and Janice Frost came to me so vividly that I knew what made them the people they were and I knew the truth about Celia Frost- this truth never changed. However, one of the exciting things about the process of writing is how your characters and plot start to evolve and sometimes this can feel like the characters are dictating to you.

You formerly had a career as a social worker and have taught in the Sudan and Israel. Did you draw on any of your experiences when writing The Truth About Celia Frost?

Inevitably your life experiences will seep into your writing whether you’re aware of it or not. For instance, in Celia Frost the Giran family were inspired by Ethiopian friends that I met in the Sudan. Even though the composition and situation of the fictional family is different to that of my friends, my intention was to capture the spirit of the family.

You tackle difficult ethical issues in the book. Do you think it’s important to engage Young Adults with questions of ethics?

I thought long and hard before using the ethical issues that emerge in my book. Ethical issues, by their very nature, can be uncomfortable and complex but I decided that this was a good reason to get young adults thinking about them and starting to form their own opinions on issues and subjects that may touch their lives at some point. It was important to me that The Truth About Celia Frost provoked thought as well as being entertaining.

And lastly, you must have plans for more novels. Can you share anything about them?

I’m busy writing my second (stand-alone) novel for Usborne. It’s another thriller and I’m really enjoying writing it. As yet I haven’t settled on the perfect title but as the plot thickens, I’m coming up with lots of ideas. The plot is spilling over with intrigue, tension and twists to keep readers on their toes. I’m hoping people are going to enjoy it!

A huge thank you, Paula, for taking time to answer our questions - and please don't keep us waiting too long for the next book!

Monday 19 September 2011

Ashes by Ilsa J Bick

Just When You Thought There Was Nothing Left To Lose.....

review by Maryom

Seventeen year old Alex heads off into the wilderness for some peace and quiet to reflect on the things that have shattered her life. While she is there, an electro-magnetic pulse destroys anything that's left! Of the few survivors, some turn into savage creatures hunting down humans for food but some discover that they now have enhanced senses. Alex's sense of smell might give her the edge over those hunting her... With fellow survivors - 8 year old Ellie and young soldier Tom - Alex needs to find a safe haven where she can start to re-build her shattered life. The question is what sort of world will the survivors build on the ashes of the old?

I found this a hard book to get into - mainly because the back of the book blurb had given away too much of the plot. Whilst Alex and the people she encounters are trying to understand and explain away what has occurred, the reader already knows.
Quarter of the way in, I moved into uncharted territory plot-wise and the book really got going. After this point I found it difficult to put Ashes down. Some of the characters come across as stereotypes rather than real people but Alex and Tom come across as believable people with real issues and troubles. Ilsa J Bick has added an interesting twist on the usual zombie story by having a main character who had little to live for before the world changed, but now sees, among the destruction of everything, the possibility of a future.

After the opening hiccough, Ashes is a fast-paced, dystopian adventure and I can't wait to read the follow-on book, unfortunately not out till next year.
A slight warning to anyone at all squeamish - this is at times violent, gory and stomach churning!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Quercus Books

Genre - teen,YA, fiction

Buy Ashes from Amazon - on pre-order till 29/9/11

Friday 16 September 2011

Top Place Percy by Peter Bently and Daniel Howarth

We are all special
Review by The Mole

Percy is going to the fair and sees some of his friends on the way. He sees that is each one is special in their own way, fast, brightly coloured or fun shapes. Gradually he gets sad because he has no such special gift. At the talent show all his friends wins prizes and Percy feels very left out. After the talent show Percy finds out how everyone is special somehow.

Written as an educational book Top Place Percy sets out to show that everyone has value and is special and it does this with a very accessible story that is combined with easily readable, but fun, fonts and glorious colourful cartoon style pictures. This book is bound to be fun for pre-readers or early readers and is supported by teacher's and parent's notes in the back to help get the most from the story.

But, putting educational aspects to one side, any child will enjoy this book and take on it's message by osmosis.

Publisher: QED Publishing
Genre: Pre-School/Early Reader Educational

Buy Top Place Percy (Storytime) from Amazon

Monday 12 September 2011

Everything I Found On The Beach by Cynan Jones

Life On The Edge
review by Maryom

The lives of three men are drawn together by the 'thing' that one of them finds on the beach.
Three men, each in his own way living on the edges of society, find their paths drawn irresistibly together - Grzegorz is a Polish immigrant, financially tied to, almost owned by, his employer, slaving away for little pay with no chance to improve his lot. When an offer of big money comes his way, he jumps at it.
Hold ekes out a living as a small time fisherman and gamekeeper, close to the Earth, trying to never take more than he needs and treating the fish and animals he kills with respect and near reverence.
The Big Man is a professional criminal, brought up on father's tales of the good old days of 'respectable' crime and wishing he'd lived back then.

On the surface Everything I Found On The Beach is a thriller - a man finds something valuable, obviously illicit, on the beach, tries to cash in on it and outwit the criminal gangs. But it's also a moving, haunting novel about love, loss and guilt, and about exploitation, greed and being trapped between the two. With his deceptively simple writing style, Jones takes the reader into the lives of Hold and Grzegorz - both trying to deal simply and honestly with the world and finding it isn't enough. Both believe that somewhere out-there is a lucky chance waiting for them - and when they think it's arrived are only too happy to snatch at it.
Running through the minds of all the characters in the novel, is a feeling that at some undefined point in the past things were better. I was particularly struck by the contrast between the Poles' fondly remembered life at home as subsistence farmers where nothing goes to waste and the mechanised conveyor-belt production of meat leading to the destruction of perfectly good food, that they discover in Britain. Even Grzegorz, though, is forced to admit that, however idyllic that life seems in comparison to the one he's now trapped in, against the force of worldwide markets, it is doomed.

A disturbing, melancholy book at times but one I'd heartily recommend.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Parthian

Genre - adult, thriller, literary

Friday 9 September 2011

Hot Dogs Under The Dakota by Johannes Gouws

Love and Hate...

Review by The Mole

The story opens with the knowledge that Petie's grandfather has just been shot in the family home and the police are about to arrive. The story switches to a retrospective of Petie's life from the time his mother abandons him at his grandparents to the time of the murder.

The story explores everything in Petie's life that makes him love his grandfather, and he does really love the man - a man who is always hard and very often brutal. Petie is also violent, always fighting at school and being beaten for it and always resenting the way his mother has abandoned him. We are never told why his family hate his Grandfather so much but gradually, through the telling, we too grow to hate the man and start to realise that it is possible for a child to both love and hate the same thing.

Set against the background of emerging apartheid it is a most fascinating and well told story.

Although this story is written from Petie's perspective as a child it is written for adults and not children.

If you want a feel good story then this is not for you, but if you want a story that is well told and will involve you in it emotionally then this book should certainly be given a go.

Publisher  - Print On Demand and ebook from all the usual sources
Genre - Adult Fiction

Buy Hot dogs under The Dakota from Amazon

Wednesday 7 September 2011

There's A Lion In My Bathroom by Giles Paley-Phillips

Review by The Mole

Poetry is, for me, a funny thing, I know what I like and it has to be entertaining. This book is a collection of Giles's nonsense poems and although they seem to talk to the younger reader there are also plenty in there to appeal to adults too. To describe them as 'nonsense' is not absolutely correct. For example apart from 'why would a lion be using the shower?' the poem makes a of joke of the dilemma this creates in a humorous way. As for other examples... best to read the book perhaps?

There are regular black and white pictures throughout that are well drawn by Matt Dawson and they enjoy a quality of cuteness making the collection of poems that much more enjoyable.

I really did enjoy this collection - those suited to the younger reader as well as those for the more mature reader.

It is also worth noting that a donation from the profits on this book will go to Leukaemia research.

Publisher - Rebel Books Publishing
Genre - Nonsense Poetry - all ages

Buy There's a Lion in My Bathroom: Nonsense Poetry for Children from Amazon

Monday 5 September 2011

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

NOT another religious intrigue.
Review by The Mole

In the fictional Citadel, in the city of Ruin, in Turkey there is a secret.. It is a secret that must be protected by the monks who live there - at any cost! When one of the monks cannot accept the gravity of the secret he must be executed but he escapes instead and commits suicide but manages to leave a message. The message is for Liv Adamson but she cannot understand the message. The monks set out to remove anyone the monk came into contact with in any way using any means possible in a thrilling story.

Short sharp chapters are a feature of this book, with each chapter carrying a shift from one character and scene to a new one. The characters are well drawn and leave the reader in no doubt as to which side each character is on. Violence and action is pretty graphic but not overdone and there is a lot of it in this book. This is not a book that sets out to crack a mystery surrounding a real life religious issue but is a thriller setting out to thrill the reader with a fictional secret in a fictional setting. And it does it in style!

I am not a thriller devotee but I really enjoyed this book and it held my attention throughout. It is bound to please thriller readers everywhere.

Publisher - Harper Collins
Genre - Adult Thriller

Buy Sanctus from Amazon

Friday 2 September 2011

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

A Gentle Read?
Review by The Mole

Bryant and May are detectives in the Peculiar Crime Unit that is being passed around between official departments like a hot potato. This is in part because of the eccentricity of Arthur Bryant and his tendency to do his own thing in a manner sure to irritate any head of department.

An old lady is found dead in her cellar while dressed to go out. She is sitting up, fully clothed, dry - but she drowned. Who wouldn't want to get to the bottom of this crime? Before we do though there will be more deaths...

"Bryant and May"... My immediate reaction was this could not be serious! "Peculiar Crime Unit"?? And it wasn't very serious. You get those books where you have a passage you have to share aloud but this book was packed with them. It was amusing and entertaining throughout and I struggled to see a logical continuity in the detection. I do not believe there is one and would like to suggest that this book is only slightly more serious than "Dirk Gently".

It is a very good book for entertainment but if you want serious detection then I don't believe this book is for you. But why not try a lighter moment in detection?

Thoroughly enjoyable!

Publisher - Bantam Books
Genre - Adult Fiction

Buy The Water Room (Bryant & May 2) from Amazon