Wednesday 30 November 2011

Mrs Darcy Versus The Aliens by Jonathan Pinnock

Austen - but not as you know it!
review by Maryom

A couple of years after the ending of Pride and Prejudice, the Darcy's have not yet produced an heir, the Bingleys are falling for every financial scam in the book, Mr Collins is saving fallen women in Whitechapel while his wife hangs out with pot-smoking Lord Byron and Lydia Wickham has been kidnapped by aliens. Wickham is hot on their trail with the help of his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Darcy, for whom the aliens have rather special plans...

As you might have guessed from the title, this is not an entirely serious novel. Certainly not one to compare with Miss Austen's original but it is an amazingly hilarious, laugh-a-minute comic read with references to almost every Pride and Prejudice TV or film adaptation and quick asides of anything from The Fast Show to Women In Love via James Bond.
Oh, and there are aliens - don't forget the aliens - or their squirming tentacles.

Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is filled to the brim with my sort of humour - lots of in-jokes and obscure TV quotes that I needed to share with anyone who'd listen. I'd like to tell you about all the funny bits but would probably end up reading the book to you.

Not a book I'd recommend to Austen purists but for everyone else it's a 'must read'.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Proxima (Salt Publishing)
Genre - comedy/horror

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Angel Fire by L A Weatherly

Another Angelic Read
review by Maryom

Following the dramatic events that ended Angel, Willow and Alex are now on the run, heading south to Mexico where they hope to train a team of Angel Killers and find a way to rid the world of their menace. What neither of them realise is that another half-angel, Seb, is out there - and looking for Willow. When she sees him in a dream Willow feels unaccountably drawn to him. How will boyfriend Alex react to this newcomer? Will there still be a place in Willow's life for a mere mortal? While they struggle with their feelings, Alex and Willow have to focus on the task in hand - to move closer to eliminating Angels forever.

I must admit I was a little daunted when Angel Fire arrived and I saw its 700+ pages but once I'd started reading, I didn't want to stop and finished it in 2-3 days! I even found this more gripping than the first story, Angel, where there was a lot of scene setting and background to fill in. This time Willow and Alex are plunged straight into action with barely time to draw breath before the end of the book, certainly no time for the private moments they're both looking for.
The characters seem more fleshed out this time - the Angels are less 2D bad guys and more individual, more manipulative and devious; the band of Angel Killers are real young people trying to work through their own personal problems while taking on an evil world- dominating force and not at all comfortable about the presence of half-angels in their midst. The main focus though is the lovers' triangle of Willow, Alex and Seb. A hair cut and some dye over a motel bathroom sink, and Willow emerges as a more confident, independent heroine. Alex, on the other hand, lost a lot of my sympathy with his macho attitude towards her.

Angel Fire is an absorbing, nail biting read with the two threads of fighting Angels and the love triangle fitting neatly together to pull the reader along to a cataclysmic ending.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Usborne
Genre - teenage/YA, paranormal

Buy Angel and
Angel Fire: Angel Trilogy, Book 2 from Amazon

Monday 28 November 2011

Ralph Is Not A Spy by Corinne V. Davies

Illustrated by El Ashfield

Maybe, but he's sure lots of fun!!
Review by The Mole

Ralph plays chess. OK, but he plays so well he plays grand masters and beats them! The International Chess Academy want to know how he does it and sets out to kidnap both Ralph and his sister. McBond makes Ralph aware of the plan and so they set out to foil their plans.

I HATE doing this but in 2011 this HAS to be my favourite 7+ book particularly for boys.

Written entirely in verse there is almost 1 laugh per verse and with about 4 verses per page we are talking a serious measure of laughs in this book.  But hang on there, hold hard, the laughs are not restricted to the verses! The pictures don't just complement the telling of the story, they add to it with things not said in the words appearing in the pictures and making yet more laughs! The pictures themselves will appeal to the reader but are well detailed with plenty of humour and each one is an important asset to the book.

While a child will almost certainly enjoy reading and joining in, the younger spy would really enjoy having it read to them until the activities come along when they are sure to want to do them for themselves. And be honest, poetry should be read aloud to get the most from it, and I challenge adults to read it without joining in the laughter!

Add to that the number of activities for the young reader to get involved in through the book - cracking codes, designing spy gadgets, choosing aliases etc - and then the activities at the end of the book this book will provide hours of fun for the young spy during holidays.

This really has to be my favourite 7+ book for 2011!

Publisher - Ral Publications
Genre - Children's 7+

Buy Ralph is (not) a Spy from Amazon

Thursday 24 November 2011

Dogs Are Daft by Dave Maclean

Cat's - but not as you know them!
Review by Maryom

"Dogs are daft, but they can bite" is one of the 13 keys to leading a good life - if you're a cat.
Dylan the kitten has a happy life with his grandfather and his man, until the old cat dies and Dylan is thrown out on the street. He meets up with new cats who welcome him into their group and life improves again until 'bullies' appear on the scene, intent on having their own way.

A tale of life from the cat's point of view which had me laughing out loud at times - I'm just not sure that its target age reader would find the same things funny. (Though I'm not sure if anybody, adult or child, shares my sense of humour - my family don't!) The cats are all very 'humanised' - they play football, bake cakes, dance to old Max Bygraves records or head-bang to Deep Purple, rather than chase mice and birds.

Part of my reason for accepting this book for review was that I felt it would fit into our anti-bullying week - unfortunately, after reading, I didn't really feel it did. The gang of 'bullies' are more like an army invading and the reaction of Dylan's friends is to 'gear up' and fight back.

Publisher - Nightingale Books
Genre - Children's 9+

Buy Dogs are Daft from Amazon

The Liberation of Celia Kahn by J. David Simons

Review by The Mole

It's 1915 and Celia Kahn is a sixteen year old girl living in the Gorbals district of Glasgow. She is Jewish and lives is a small community and never comfortable if she steps outside her known circle and habits. And then a chance meeting with Agnes Calder in a sweet shop changes her life forever. We follow her life over the next years through various struggles and traumas.

I am not sure what I expected from this book but whatever it was, it wasn't what I got. I think I got a great deal more. It's a very powerful story and while there is much history thrown in, the focus remains entirely on Celia and her maturing personality, through turmoil and trauma and knowing what she wants to do, to make an impact on society, but having no idea how she might do it and that anything she tries to do seems to be not enough.

It's a rewarding story to read. Enjoyable is not the right word as some of what she encounters can bring enjoyment to no-one, however it is well worth reading and may leave you choosing something a little light hearted for your next book. But don't be put off! If you may be the weepy kind then grab a tissue and sit down and read, cry and rage and just occasionally, although only occasionally, smile as well.
Genre - Adult literary fiction

Buy The Liberation of Celia Kahn from Amazon

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Toddler Tantrums
review by Maryom

Beckie Brandon (nee Bloomwood) and husband Luke now have a two year old daughter, Minnie - and guess what her favourite game is? Yes, shopping - or more accurately, grabbing everything in the shop and yelling "Miiine". Not, of course, that mum Becky would let her have everything she wants, would she? But after all, she's not buying things for herself and even in a major financial recession with banks closing down and everyone (even Mum and Janice-next-door) having to cut back, who can resist a toddler..
Minnie is worse than your average toddler in other ways - being thrown out of playgroups and banned from Santa's Grottoes, leads Luke to decide it's time for some professional help in the form of Nanny Sue, a 'supernanny' type who claims to be able to sort out all tricky family problems. Meanwhile Becky thinks that the best thing to cheer everyone up in the midst of such gloom and doom is a surprise birthday party for Luke.

This time Becky is discovering the competitive cut-throat world of being a modern mum and the delights of 'pound shops' and bartering in her attempts to make money go just that little bit further. In typical Becky fashion, things don't go totally according to plan but there's lots of laughs on the way to (hopefully) a happy ending.

It's no secret that in between grisly murders and thought-provoking literary fiction I'm a Shopaholic fan and this new addition to the series is a lovely, laugh a minute, escapist read - of course, my toddlers were never anything like Minnie!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Genre - Chick lit

Buy Mini Shopaholic from Amazon

Tuesday 22 November 2011

The Four Little Pigs by Kimara Nye

A breath of life into a classic story
Review by The Mole

With illustrations by Marcin Bruchnalski.

Tom has a granny who is a witch and when Tom says he doesn't want to hear "The Three Little Pigs" AGAIN then granny adds a twist.

We have all read stories to our little ones for the umpteenth time and felt like deviating from the plot. Perhaps Jack falls from the beanstalk and can't climb up, or Red Riding Hood goes off to the cinema  and leaves granny waiting? Well that is what Kimara Nye has done here she has made the story fun for adults again as well as the children. The wolf gets a few new nasty shocks as the pigs become wise to all his moves.

Beautiful pictures paired with simple dialogue that makes it a really fun bedtime reader - with a twist. Come On - we need more of them!

Maryom's comment - A delightful, alternative telling of The Three Little Pigs, one I would have loved to have shared with my toddlers.

 Publisher  - Maverick Books
Genre - Children's Picture Book

Buy The Four Little Pigs from Amazon

Monday 21 November 2011

The Long Second by Marshall Buckley

What Would You Change?
review by Maryom

Have you ever watched the second hand of a clock really closely? Ever noticed that sometimes it seems to take just a little bit too long to move on? Tony has discovered a remarkable thing, when that second hand takes a little too long to move, he can jump back in time.
Tony's family is wealthy but decidedly dysfunctional - his father is nothing more than a financial crook, his mother lives solely to shop, his elder brother is a total sleaze and his younger sister the stroppy teen to outdo all stroppy teens! The only person to hold them together is Manuela, the mysterious, unswervingly loyal housekeeper that most of the family treat like a doormat.
When his dad's dodgy financial dealings finally catch up with him and the family lose their cushy life and large house, Tony tries to set things right by jumping back in time and scooping a lottery jackpot. Then he realises that it's possible to do other things by nipping back in time - like saving a life - or two.

A very clever idea, though with shades of Groundhog Day about it, and possibly one of the best endings to a novel that I've read but I found the telling of the tale a little uneven - at times it grabbed my attention, at others it dragged. In part this may have been due to reading The Long Second as an e-book on a little net browser - it takes a long while to find the spot you left the book at and the pages don't turn nicely. It all makes for disrupted reading and my appreciation could have suffered as a result.
Despite the excellent ending the story arc seemed rather unfinished leaving many ends trailing. I've since discovered that The Long Second is the first book of a trilogy so perhaps these untidied ends will be dealt with later on.

Buy The Long Second from Amazon - self-published e-book

Friday 18 November 2011

Black Widow by Jessie Keane

London gangs
 Review by TheMole

Annie Carter is living in Majorca with her daughter and husband, Max when their home is attacked. Annie is knocked out and comes round to find her daughter and husband are gone, her brother-in-law is killed and his girlfriend left hysterical. Max is head of the Carter family, a London gang involved in clubs and crime. Annie sets out to find her daughter and husband using the families contacts.

I have an admission to make... Dateline 1st September - the day my car had to be MOTed. I took the car to the dealer and had to kill time.. I visited "The Works" and picked this book up and a Robert Rankin for 49p each. I then sat on a wall in the River Gardens and started to read Black Widow. I quickly became engrossed and picked it up at every opportunity after that. (The car passed by the way - in case you are interested?)

I finished the book having enjoyed most of it. No, I THOROUGHLY enjoyed most of it. Was it well plotted with good character development? Sorry, no. I felt at times that I wanted to punch Annie Carter for her attitude and her incompetence and inconsistency. I felt that the ending was nothing like what I had hoped for and was contrived to end the book without adding more pages to the 552 that it enjoyed. So why did I enjoy it? This question bugs me a little and I come to the conclusion that Jessie Keane can tell a story well, even if it's not a very good story. Would I read another Jessie Keane? Well no, I like story telling and good plots to coincide too much. However if I was on a long journey and wanting something to read and one was lying around then I wouldn't be afraid to pick it up.

It says on the front "As good as Martina Cole or your money back" but I have never read Martina Cole and thanks, I won't bother with her books either thank you.

TheMole's review - 2.5 stars
Publisher  - Harper Collins

Genre - Adult Crime/Thriller

Buy Black Widow from Amazon

Torn by Cat Clarke

Shallow Grave meets Sartre
review by Maryom

On a school outward-bound type trip, Alice and best friend Cass find themselves sharing a cabin with popular but bitchy Tara, emo Rae and the largely ignored Polly. Following a terrifying pot-holing expedition, Tara's meanness reaches new heights and Cass thinks it's time to take her down a peg or two. As things slide from funny to disastrous, Alice finds herself dragged into helping cover up what really occurred.

Torn is another stunning book from Cat Clarke filled with that edgy thought-provoking angst that teens seem to love and which strangely brought back memories of French lessons reading Sartre. Jean Paul had many a hero torn between the cushy option and doing what they knew to be right - and this is where Cat Clarke's heroine Alice finds herself. Should Alice tell all? Does Alice even know all?

The reader is enticed along as Alice's back story is slowly revealed and they come to realise how much the dynamics of the group have changed over the years, how peer pressure and school cliques have shaped the girls' characters and attitudes. This sort of incident is not one to walk away from untouched and I was fascinated by how the girls' characters continued to evolve in unexpected ways - though we aren't talking dead flatmates here, despite the Shallow Grave reference.

Torn is a thought provoking book that proves that not all YA fiction has to be about werewolves and vampires. There's a mystery, quite a lot of romance and important decisions about taking responsibility to be made, as Alice tries to work her way out of the mess.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Quercus
Genre -
teenage, YA, 

Other reviews: CarnelianValley

Buy Torn from Amazon

Other reviews: Serendipity Reviews

Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman

Teenage Parenthood
review by Maryom

Dante is waiting anxiously for his A level results, then he'll be off to university to pursue his dreams of becoming a journalist. Unfortunately that isn't all that arrives on his doorstep that day. His ex-girlfriend Melanie shows up, with a baby she claims is his - and then she sneaks away and leaves Dante literally holding the baby!

So often teenage pregnancy and parenthood are seen as affecting the mother but here we see them from the perspective of a boy suddenly thrust into fatherhood. Dante finds himself in the middle of nappy changing/feeding problems, having to sort out all the bureaucracy of social services, health visitors, doctors, nursery placements etc that accompany a baby these days, while still not certain that this child is actually his. Sometimes his attempts to cope seem laughable (particularly to a parent), sometimes they'll have you near to tears.
I'm a bit curious though about the 'hype' around this book. It's billed as a novel about the effects of teenage parenthood - which it is, but the secondary plot of the problems faced by Dante's gay brother Adam is an equally important issue and somehow seems to have been ignored. Adam is quiet open and happy about his sexual orientation but his school friends find it harder to take and he's on the receiving end of a lot of serious homophobic bullying.
I found myself having a lot more sympathy for Adam than for Dante. Dante, after all, is responsible for the troubles he's landed with - Adam has done nothing to deserve his. Boys Don't Cry is a thought-provoking book that I hope will get teenagers thinking about the choices they make in life and the knock-on effects that they can have.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Random House

Genre - Teen Fiction

Buy Boys Don't Cry from Amazon

Crossing The Line by Gillian Philip * * * * *

One year ago, Allie's boyfriend was killed in a knife attack. Her brother, Nick, worries about her - does she really still see and hear Aidan as she claims or is she pretending? and how much did his actions, or lack of them, lead to Aidan's death?

All his life, Nick has felt he has no one to depend on or turn to, particularly with problems. His mother is lost in her job- doling out sympathy and advice for others. His father is lost in his booze. His Grandmother is lost in old age. The only person Nick can depend on is himself - but what if he got things wrong and he's the one who messed everything up?

This is intended as a Young Adult novel but I found it engrossing, moving, funny at times and a little disturbing - these are, after all, fairly normal teenagers trying to cope with school life not drug gangs. The action moves quickly, between 'Then', the lead up to the fatal stabbing, and 'Now' as Nick tries to sort things out and move on, to a nail biting, spooky ending that will leave you wondering.

Would recommend this for adults as well as their teenagers.

The Mole said...
I have now read this and want to add my experience of reading as a comment rather than a separate review. I found this book truly excellent and easily worthy of the 5 stars Maryom has awarded it. It deals with youth culture and a violent death. I truly abhor violence and this made much of the book disturbing, but it was still compelling and I felt I gained from the reading. I feel I want to avoid the word 'enjoy' though because 'enjoy' is for books that leave you with only a happy glow, whereas here I felt more disturbed by the story than glowing from it. Although I could identify with some of the characters, at school I couldn't truly identify with Nick. I was picked on at school (you were either a bully or bullied - there was no middle ground) until one day I 'lost it' and got close to breaking a kids arm. I was frightened by the loss of control that violence had caused and it reinforced my abhorrence of violence and I never 'lost it' a second time. There are happier themes of teenage love in the story as well, but sadly not everything comes out rosy in those themes either. My one comment - not a criticism, merely a comment - is that it is written in the first person of a 17 year old boy, some of the observations reflect more life experience than I would expect and certainly some of the style comments (girl's hair, clothes etc) are not the kind of thing a man, let alone a boy, would come out with. None of this though detracted from the excellence of the book.

Thursday 17 November 2011

A Million Angels by Kate Maryon

Angels and Wishes
Review by Maryom

Jemima has always felt closer to her Dad than her Mum. With him, she's always felt able to talk about anything and everything and know that he will listen. But Dad is a soldier and he's off to Afghanistan. How will Mima fill the gap he leaves behind? Her mum is preoccupied with a baby expected soon, Gran lives in a dream with her wartime memories of her childhood sweetheart lost in the Blitz and best friend Jess delights in relaying all the worst news of what is happening to their father's in Afghanistan. To keep Dad safe, Mima draws a million guardian angels and imagines them winging their way to him but she decides the safest thing is to find a way to bring him home.

A Million Angels is a moving, engrossing, closely observed story of a young girl trying to come to terms with massive upheaval in her life. The reader really feels inside Mima's head, sharing her feelings of loss and loneliness, the futility of trying to explain to others, even when wanting her to stop in her reckless attempts to have her dad brought home. The 'supporting cast' feel equally real - from her pre-occupied, well-meaning but so 'off the mark' Mum to the popular girls at school who make life such a pain.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins
Genre - Children's 10+

Buy A MILLION ANGELS from Amazon

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Anti-bullying week: Maryom's choices

All of my choices are not books about bullying as such but still ones in which it plays an important part. I had wanted to include The Killer's Daughter by Vivian Oldaker but The Mole picked that first!
Be warned there are probably plot spoilers in this post - though not in the individual reviews.

A Million Angels by Kate Maryon - Mima is depressed and lonely since her father has been posted to Afghanistan. First her best friend Jess starts to torment her with ghastly accounts of what may be happening to her dad, then school bully Tory begins to pick on her as well. The mild teasing turns nasty when their parents mistakenly encourage the girls to spend more time together. The story shows how parents too easily pick up the wrong idea and make matters worse, even though they feel they are helping.

Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman behind the main plot of teenage parenthood is a tale of gay teenager Adam coming to terms with being 'different' but bullied for it. He attempts to hide this from his, mainly accepting, family but the reader is aware that things are growing unpleasant for him. The ugliest aspect is that someone is joining in with the bullying in an attempt to hide their own feelings and sexuality.

Torn by Cat Clarke - how NOT to tackle bullying! Tara is the popular, bitchy queen of school, out to belittle and humiliate anyone not in her clique. She wasn't always like this though, so how did she change from nice girl to bully? Also, if you feel you're being bullied, don't go down the route picked by these girls!

The Killer's Daughter by Vivian Oldaker

Bullied into the truth
Review by TheMole(Gerry)

This book is very easy reading and would make an excellent holiday book for young girls.

Emma is the grand daughter of a famous movie star who died on the Greek island of Kalos. The trouble is that her father was tried for her grandmother's murder and although found not guilty people don't believe the verdict. Where ever they go they seem to get hounded and ostracised. They have moved to Wessex where Emma starts a new school and it starts all over again.

Emma is year 11 but having to repeat year 10 because of the court case so 16 going on 17 but I found myself comparing her actions and maturity with my 13 year old daughter. I am not sure why I should find that though. Is it that my daughter is mature or is Emma written as less mature? The effect of this is that I can see this book being read and and enjoyed by young teenagers through to the older ones.

It is fast moving and ends up as a whodunnit that develops quite late on. One of it's main early themes is bullying, which seems to be a quite popular theme today. The bullying is portrayed well and I found myself thinking that yes, the teaching staff would do it that way - but are they right?

I did enjoy the book, although at times I wanted to give some (if not most) of the characters a telling off.

Publisher - Andersen Press
Genre - Teenage Girls General Fiction

Anti Bullying Week - The Mole's thoughts and choices

Bullying is a crime that has had much publicity of late. That publicity stretches from in the school through to the work place.

Bullying in early life does damage people and that damage will probably never heal throughout adulthood. Sometimes, extremely sadly, the victim's self-esteem and fear may grow to the point where they see no way way forward and suicide is the result.

Victims of bullying may go through adult life always being bullied or with lowered self-esteem and so not realising their their full potential or reap fully the returns from life they would otherwise enjoy and the bully will see victimisation as a way of life and can even end up making it a career choice!

We chose to start the week with New Beginnings by Rebecca Emin because it highlights the effects of bullying on the victim. It tries to address how the victim feels and the spiralling effect but it also endeavours to show that unless the victim does ask for help then no-one can help them.

The next choice was Playground by 50 Cent as it is less usual for a book to reflect on the bully's side of the relationship. In this case it is 'mostly true' and so reflects on how at least one bully came to be so. It has to help to understand both sides of the relationship in bullying - because that is what it is, a relationship.

Both our first two choices reflect on a bully whose family life is severely damaged and need to hit back at life.

Bullying is about power. In it's simplistic form it is nothing more than that and if bullies go unchecked then it becomes their way of life and much of organised crime, including the 'protection' rackets, is a manifestation of this.

Having chosen our first 2 books we have decided to each choose our next 3 to 'complete' the week.

My first is Killer's Daughter by Vivian Oldaker. I have to admit that we both wanted to pick this one so we had to toss a coin. My coin. And I won. This story highlights a few aspects of bullying. The first is the victimisation and intimidation of others brought on by unwarranted rumours. The second is the inability of adults to sometimes acknowledge that there could be acts of bullying going on around them. It also reflects on a bullied person who is not a natural 'victim' but becomes one anyway.

My second choice has to be Crossing The Line by Gillian Phlip. The entire story hinges around a bully who bullies, not because he finds he can take the power, but within his family it is the normal thing to do and he would be less of a person to them if he didn't follow suit.

My third, and final, choice is Black Widow by Jessie Keane as this shows the ultimate in bullying - organised crime with intimidation, violence, protection, murder - entirely about taking and keeping power.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Playground by 50 Cent with Laura Moser

"Mostly True"
Review by The Mole

Butterball's parents have split and he is living in the non-fashionable Garden City with his mum rather than in the trendy New York with his dad. He has changed school and only has one friend who one day he turns on and beats up. After this he must see a therapist or be expelled.

We follow the story of Butterball as he goes through therapy but still gets into more trouble and starts to regret some of his past. In fact, regrets much of his past.

A really enjoyable read and well told.

Ok, the telling... At a couple of points it feels like there is a little hero worship involved and wonder if there is something of the co-writer coming through? Something I am not sure about though is the reading age.... Normally a book about a 13/14 year old boy is aimed at 11+ but this book has language (not profanity although 'sh*t' is thrown in liberally through out the book) and concepts that just don't seem right for a young teenager - things that might be learned and understood retrospectively in later life.

Having made those minor comments, it doesn't detract from the fact that this book is 'mostly true' and a heart warming story for it. Clearly the book is not a transcript of the sessions and it is easy to say that as a work of fiction this just would not have happened. It did - and it's important to bear that in mind.

So it's target audience? Well 50 Cent says it's an anti bullying book and this it most certainly is but are bullies likely to read it? Sadly not many will simply because such people tend not to read a great deal because it's not 'cool' but perhaps the name on the front cover may just get some reading it and thinking about it. Or maybe victims or family will and hopefully 50 Cent's intention will be realised. But I wonder how many copies will be bought as presents for fans and go unread?

It is well worth a read and is easily readable.

Monday 14 November 2011

New Beginnings by Rebecca Emin

Why the victim?
Review by The Mole

Sam Hendry has moved up to secondary school but in order to try to give her the best chances her parents have elected to send her to a private school. The effect of this decision is that she has gone up to secondary school without any of her friends and on the first day in school she is on her own. Almost from the moment Molly sets eyes on her she decides that Sam is a victim to be bullied and starts a campaign of intimidation.

Written from the victim's standpoint this book does endeavour to show the true impact of bullying.

It is written in the short staccato sentence structure that one would expect an 11 year old to write in, however both myself and Maryom struggled with the form. After a burst of inspiration Maryom read a passage swapping "she" and "Sam" to "I" and so changing it to first person and this worked a great deal better, however it still did not sit right somehow. It's also important to note, I feel, that bullying also affects parents and so any message on the subject should be universally accessible and that the writing style chosen should not put them off reading it.

Bullying is a problem that is not unique to either gender but unfortunately this book contains girlie fashion tips and music choices that are very likely to turn boys off and miss an important audience for this subject.

In writing this the author highlights the role of reduced esteem that bullying causes and probably causes a spiralling effect on the severity of the intimidation. In reading this I was reminded of a scene from "Crossing Delancey" where Bubba attends a class endeavouring to teach the elderly that if they look like a victim they will be a victim.

This book, despite it's fairytale feel good ending, has a very positive message about a very serious aspect of bullying which the author has shown a very clear indication of understanding deeply, but unfortunately it could have been executed better. A message not to be ignored though.

Publisher - Grimoire Books
Genre - Children's 10+, bullying, Rebecca Emin

 Buy New Beginnings from Amazon

Anti Bullying week

Anti Bullying Week 2011 - 14th to 18th November

Bullying is an issue that affects many children as victims and some children as bullies. It also affects the parents of both victim and bully alike. Because it may not be possible to know if your child is bullied, as they may not talk about it, it also affects the parents of children who may not be bullied at all.

We see this issue as a very emotive one and so this week we will be looking at books, both old and new, that we see have something to say about bullies or bullying.

We appreciate that adults may also be bullied but this week we are concentrating solely on the aspects of children's involvement.

Sherlock Holmes: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Hoping to get this one soon
Preview by The Mole

An unusual post for us really because we haven't read the book yet. And yes, it's a sponsored link from which we will get worldly rich, buy a yacht and end up seasick! Choose to click the link or not but I watched the video, read the first 20 pages here and very much regretted not going for the 'wins' I have seen flying around for it. It is being heavily promoted but does the campaign 'sell' this book to me?Firstly Anthony Horowitz turns out that he's not the author I thought he was. I used to be one of the readers who tends to look for authors I liked and took some persuading to try something new, so I have a lot of catching up to do.So I had no idea that Anthony Horowitz created the series Midsomer Murders (don't go there as all visitors either end up dead or are murderers) and Foyle's War - two series I have, at times, enjoyed immensely. He has also produced other TV mini series and written the 13 million worldwide copy selling Alex Rider books. This book appears to be a long held passion of his as an early Conan Doyle fan, coincidentally he was only a little older than I was when I read my first Holmes book.

The synopsis reads

"It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221B Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. Intrigued by the man’s tale, Holmes and Watson find themselves drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston. As the pair delve deeper into the case, they stumble across a whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’: a mysterious entity and foe more deadly than any Holmes has encountered, and a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of society itself…"

The video sets the scene in a very Conan Doylesque way and the first 20 pages made me very much thinking "a true Conan Doyle mystery".

This is definitely one on my list for Santa!

Buy The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel from Amazon

Friday 11 November 2011

The Soldier's Song by Alan Monaghan

A true anti war book
Review by The Mole

The story is about Stephen Ryan, a maths student from Dublin and follows his life from the start of the first world war when he volunteers and becomes an officer in a Dublin regiment.

I was warned it would be about family conflict around the Easter Uprising because so many are. It wasn't.

It's a love story that so rings true it is beyond belief. It is about family in conflict during war. It is about stress and trauma on the battlefield. It is about 'bravery' whatever that actually is. It is about social class.

This book was a brilliant book. It was compelling to read as well as easy to read.

The story takes Stephen from conflict to conflict while at the same time building a bond between himself and his younger brother and finds this shy, if not aspergic, individual falling for Lillian, a student at the same university before the war. It exposes Stephen to about every form of shock and trauma that the war could throw at him in an effort to try to get the reader to understand the full horror that a war can create.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough and if it doesn't make the best seller lists for 2010 then there is no justice. Please, Please try this book.

Publisher - Macmillan
Genre - adult, war, fiction

Thursday 10 November 2011

Kiss of Death by Peter Beere

Do we understand it all?
Review by The Mole

Sadie Ross is all alone. Her mother is dead and her boyfriend has left her. All that she touches seems to shrivel and die. Sadie has the kiss of death... but when she meets Tony, Sadie's Luck seems to change - perhaps life and love have not passed her by...

Until the murders start... is there anyone she can turn to before she becomes the next victim?

It is difficult to say much about this book without giving plot spoilers. It was an easy read but an experience like one I have not had before. Told from Sadie's point of view but it is very difficult to get to understand her - but this is not because it is badly written, but quite the opposite it is very well written but Sadie is a teenager that has had a lot of things happen to her and she is lost, alone and very sad. But is she paranoid as well?

An extremely entertaining book aimed at teenagers but having finished reading I was left wondering "Did that explain it all? Is there more unsaid?".

Unfortunately there aren't many new versions of this around now as it was first published in 1994 and our library service lists it but has lost it (someone ought to return it?). Non the less well worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy.

Publisher - Point Crime - Scholastic
Genre - Teenage, Crime, Thriller

Buy Kiss of Death (Point Crime) from Amazon

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Late For Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi

"The Lost Dreams of my Iraqi Family"
Review by The Mole

... is described as "The story of Iraq, told from an Iraqi woman's perspective" which is not truly the case. Tamara Chalabi was born in Lebanon into a family in exile from Iraq after the 1958 revolution. But this family was no ordinary family having been a very influential family in Iraq - and Mesopotamia before - for many years and in fact the story starts the history of the family in 1833 with the birth of Ali Chalabi - although the narrative itself starts in 1913.

Because they were one of the most powerful, respected, influential families much of their history intertwines with the history of Iraq, even when in exile.

Tamara has a PhD in history and tells their story quite impartially and in trying to explain the 1958 revolution I actually could see some justification for the revolution - such is her impartiality. The story follows family members from each generation and reflects on their successes, their failings as well as their misfortunes. If the real lives of some of the family were written into novels then the reader would scoff - but these are real events in history and sometimes life IS stranger than fiction. More than just a history of Iraq and her family she also tries to explain the difference between between the various forms of Islam and the plight of such groups as the Kurds through the involvement of her family with these groups.

I found it most fascinating and laden with information. I was amazed with how much Iraqi - and sometimes world - history I gleaned from the reading. Well worth a read for so many reasons, not least of all is because it was 'enjoyable'. Not quite the right word but it's the closest I can come to a word and I came away feeling a lot more informed on the history of Iraq as well as customs surrounding the Islamic faith and just a little of the religion as well.

Publisher - Harper Press
Genre -
history, non-fiction, Tamara Chalabi

Buy Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family from Amazon

Tuesday 8 November 2011

My Swordhand Is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

Proper Old-Fashioned Vampires
review by Maryom

After many years of travelling, constantly moving from one place to another, Peter and his father have settled at last in the village of Chust. Despite it's picturesque setting with meadows and forests, Peter feels it's a place with something dreadful hanging over it. As the villagers prepare for winter - coating their door and window frames with tar and garlic to keep evil at bay - the feeling increases. Then various villagers start to claim that their dead loved ones have returned from their graves to visit them...

My Swordhand Is Singing takes the reader back to a time when vampires were ghastly, disgusting, half-rotten, half-dead creatures risen from their graves, best avoided at all costs - not the handsome, devilishly-dashing, film-star sort played by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt - and I think I prefer them this way. It's a wonderfully spooky, creepy, shivers down the spine book. The tension mounts slowly with hints of evil lurking in the forest and the reader just *knows* something appalling is going to happen.

I first discovered Marcus Sedgwick through an audiobook of White Crow which I won on Twitter and found seriously scary. So when I found My Swordhand is Singing in my library I picked it up mainly out of curiosity and loved it so much, I've immediately ordered more by the author. Although aimed at teens, they've the right amount of scariness and horror for me.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orion
Genre -
teenage fiction, horror

Friday 4 November 2011

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

Something Strange Stirring in New York City
review by Maryom

On a wet, foggy day Garet James finds herself in an unknown area of New York, desperately seeking somewhere to take shelter from the rain. Something draws her into a strange antiques shop where the owner talks her into doing him a favour and opening an old, soldered shut, silver box. Little does she know, her life will never be the same....

I thought this book started off very well. I was suitably intrigued by the discovery of the silver box, by burglars obviously trying to steal it but somehow when more supernatural beings entered the story, I started to lose interest. I've nothing against vampires, particularly if they're young, rich and handsome, nor the otherworldly beings occupying New York City but somehow they weren't presented in a way to keep my attention. I'm sure a lot of paranormal romance fans will love this book - unfortunately I didn't.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Bantam Books
Genre -
paranormal romance,

Buy Black Swan Rising from Amazon

Thursday 3 November 2011

Philip Ardagh's Book of Howlers, Blunders and Random Mistakery

No mistake with this one
Review by The Mole

I saw this on sale as I walked past a shop doorway and just felt I had to take a closer look. The first page I read was about some Rossian soldiers during the first world war and rumours that they started. I quickly became convinced I had made a mistake. Having started to read I found it addictive and I had appointments to keep.

This book is, despite the look of it, non-fiction and is a collection of facts gathered from too many sources to contemplate and totally based on fact. But these facts are not ordinary facts. The people involved in many of them would rather you didn't know these facts. Facts from film, radio, TV and many more sources that have caused many people very red faces. But there is one question I would like an answer to... why is it sold as a children's book? It is a while since my 18th birthday (in fact I have long since completed my 3rd 18th birthday) but I still find it entertaining, informative and amusing. I will admit that Mr Ardagh has written it in a style that makes it accessible to children but it does not adopt a condescending attitude that makes adults want to put it down. Well worth a read and if you are embarrassed to buy it for yourself then get it for a son, daughter, grandchild, niece, nephew or some random child on the street - just make sure you've read it before you pass it on.

Publisher - Macmillan Children's
Genre -

Buy Philip Ardagh's Book of Howlers, Blunders and Random Mistakery from Amazon

Tuesday 1 November 2011

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Not So Scary
review by Maryom

Strange things are happening in the MacNeil household - noises in the attic, strange smells, furniture that re-arranges itself.... Then 11 yr old Regan's behaviour changes dramatically. When medical tests can't find a reason, mother Chris decides it's time to call in an exorcist...

Scary? Not really.
I hadn't read The Exorcist before and, perhaps more surprisingly, haven't seen the film, even so I've seen lots of clips of the 'making of' variety which gave me a good idea of what to expect. It's hardly possible for someone of my age to be unaware of The Exorcist's basic plot - though to be honest, I think the title itself actually gives away quite a lot. Therefore when the noises first start in the attic, I knew what they represented and there was no gradual build up of tension as I knew what was coming.
I had expected though that as things moved along, they would get scarier - but I didn't find they did. In retrospect I think it comes down to two things - a) I don't believe in possession - and b) none of the characters seemed particularly afraid. Chris, the mother of the possessed girl is distraught and despairing, but at the same time quite practical in her outlook - If conventional doctors cannot solve her daughter's problems, then she'll get in a priest who can. All the priests seem to approach the concept in a pragmatical 'how to tackle this' frame of mind. It's something unusual but not outside their remit and they even have laid down procedures for it, which they follow. If you watch this film in a cinema then someone in the audience is bound to squeal at the sickening bits; the characters don't - they just get on with tidying up!

Shocking? I wonder if back in the good old days of the '70s Regan's language would have been worthy of note. I can hear this sort of thing from 12 year olds most Saturdays downtown outside MacDonalds - hopefully without the vomiting though.

Considering all the hype around the film, I'd expected something FAR scarier. Maybe if I'd seen the film first, my reaction would be different - who knows?

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Corgi
Genre -
adult, horror
Buy The Exorcist from Amazon
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