Saturday 31 December 2011

Happy New Year to Everyone Everywhere

May we wish Everyone, everywhere a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year...

Clearly this will only be read by our readers so if you know any non-readers would you be so kind as to pass on our good wishes to them? Thank you.

Friday 30 December 2011

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

Christmas Crime
review by Maryom

Elderly millionaire Simeon Lee decides that for Christmas he should gather round him all his far-flung family, including a couple of estranged sons and an orphaned granddaughter that he's never met before. In front of the assembled family, he then announces his intention to change his will. As this is a 'Poirot' mystery, it doesn't take much imagination to guess what happens next....

Fortunately, the Belgian sleuth is on hand to help track down the culprit.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas is an Agatha Christie mystery full of her stock characters and culprits - the patriarch about to re-distribute his wealth; the solid dependable stay-at-home son; the black sheep of the family; the mysterious foreign beauty; the ex-partner's son who turns up out of the blue. There are almost more reasons for murder than there are characters! Poirot, of course, with his little grey cells, can untangle the dead ends and red herrings, and uncover a man's most hidden secrets in a glance.
It all seems a little dated and sedate in comparison to modern thrillers but still an entertaining read.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - HarperColllins
Genre -
crime, whodunnit

Buy Poirot - Hercule Poirot's Christmas from Amazon

Thursday 29 December 2011

The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

Continuing our series of seasonal posts - a children's thriller set in the Dead Days between Christmas and New Year -

Underworld Adventures
review by Maryom

During the Dead Days between Christmas and New Year doors open between our everyday world and the supernatural one that goes unnoticed for the rest of the year. Something is coming from this other world in search of the great stage magician Valerian. Many years ago he made a pact to get what he wanted - and now it's time to pay up! He believes there is a book that will tell him how to avoid his debt - if only he can find it, accompanied by his assistant unnamed street orphan Boy he sets off on a hunt round the frost bound streets and alleys and graveyards of the City.

The Book of Dead Days is an exciting race-against-time adventure set in a sprawling unnamed city somewhere vaguely in Europe and somewhat vaguely located in time. It's a place where magic combines with and contrasts against science; a place of dark alleyways, magnificent domed houses and ghostly catacombs - particularly scary if, like me, you've the slightest fear of confined underground spaces.
A rather younger read than some Marcus Sedgwick novels but still an enthralling read full of atmosphere and threat.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orion
Genre -
children's, fantasy, thriller

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

A chilling, spine-tingling read.
review by Maryom

In the summer of 1937 a British expedition heads north to set up their base at Gruhuken, a remote, uninhabited bay on Spitsbergen where they intend to spend the winter gathering meteorological information. Jack Miller, the only non public school boy, joins them as wireless operator. The original team of 5 is swiftly reduced by fate and as winter sets in the expedition is down to 3.

Arriving at Gruhuken, they find not the pristine arctic wilderness they'd expected but a place scattered with the remains of trappers huts and mining operations. The captain of the ship transporting them there, warns them of the tricks that total darkness plays on the mind, of madness overtaking those that try overwintering in the Arctic and hints that Gruhuken is setting to even more disturbing happenings. All starts well, perfect weather, a rather 'boy's own' adventure but as days shorten to nothing, stranger things begin to happen....

The book is told through the medium of Jack's diary and the reader feels the mounting fear and tension with him. With his permanent chip on the shoulder about class, he doesn't make an attractive hero, though it's his determination to be seen as equal to the other members of the expedition that leaves Jack exposed to the worst of the endless night, alone..

This is wonderful, chilling, spine tingling read, especially for anyone like myself who has problems with total, beyond street-lighting, can't see the hand in front of your face, darkness. The author captures both the unsoiled beauty of the Arctic and the growing menace in Jack's mind. I do wonder, though, whether there would have been more surprise if the book's cover hadn't stated 'a ghost story' - I was rather expecting a ghost to appear sooner or later.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Orion Books
Genre - Adult Fiction - Thriller

Buy Dark Matter from Amazon

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Dead of Winter - PJ Parrish - Four *

Chilling Crime
Review by The Mole

This book is out of style to my normal reading, but increasingly I am trying something new. From the very beginning I found this to be a compelling read and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, there were times I wanted to say to the 'hero' - Louis - that I had seen something at least a chapter ago and why was he being slow BUT it didn't detract from my enjoyment. We got to the obligatory love scene and I wondered why he bothered - for the publisher? - but later it takes on more significance.

If I coldly analysed the hero he is one of the cleverest and thickest and most compassionate and heartless people you could wish to meet. Yes there are flaws in the main character, but none the less I come back to the fact that I found the book compelling and thoroughly enjoyed it.

If you want a clever 'whodunnit' then maybe this isn't for you. If you want blood and violence that curls your teeth then maybe this is not for you although there is a reasonable body count. If you want to enjoy a compelling read then I would strongly recommend this book.

Publisher - Pocket Books
Genre - Adult, Crime, Thriller

Buy Dead of Winter from Amazon

Monday 26 December 2011

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

Continuing with our Mid-winter posts....

A Proper Old-fashioned Ghost Story
review by Maryom

Newly orphaned Michael Vyner is invited to spend Christmas with his almost unknown guardian, Sir Stephen, at his remote East Anglian home, Hawton Mere. Sir Stephen turns out to be a reclusive invalid, spending most of his time in his private tower room attended by his sister, and instead of receiving a warm festive welcome Michael is left to amuse himself as best he can. In wandering the dark gloomy passageways of the moated house, he discovers a hidden priest hole, strange noises and apparitions, but Michael soon realises that the ghostly figure he sees isn't intent on harming him but is asking for his help....

A chilling ghost story of the classic "huddle round the fire while the wind howls outside" variety, with all the expected ingredients - the house, isolated by both location and weather; the mysterious guardian; a tragic death; a secret room - and not a vampire or werewolf in sight! Intended for older children/young teens but perfectly chilling for adults. Chris Priestley creates such a feeling of brooding evil and growing menace that even in the middle of summer, I could feel a chill spreading through my bones. (I actually decided to finish reading it in the light of day)

Something I would love to know the answer to, though - was Hawton Mere based on any specific building? As I read the description of a moated house with a priest-hole and tower and twisting staircase, I was sharply reminded of a National Trust property I've visited near King's Lynn, but on a hot Easter weekend with absolutely no sign of ghosts.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury
Genre - Thriller, Supernatural, Ghost Stories, 10-14,Teen

Saturday 24 December 2011

The Night Before Christmas

Much loved... but are you surprised?
Review by The Mole

OK, this one is 'cheating' but HEY! who could resist this timeless classic on a day that ends with... The Night Before Christmas?

I first remember this story when I was only a wee toddler being read to we children about a thousand years ago by our mother. She would read it once and it would go away for another year and it came to epitomise Christmas, so when we had our first child we found this book (It was new then and had no tooth marks on it!) and I read it to her. That was over 30 years ago and it still comes out each year for a reading. Being honest though, 14 years ago we had our second only child and we also read it a lot to her although her sister still comes over when we read it again.

Who can resist the power of the those reindeer?

Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

Or the friendliness of the man in red..

He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

Yes, cheating though it may be, I love this book and it is steeped in memories. Truly magnificent and this particular version has beautiful illustrations on each page that manage to totally encapsulate the spirit of the poem.

About a thousand stars for this one!!!

Friday 23 December 2011

The Bomber by Liza Marklund

The second in our seasonal series of reviews, The Bomber is set in the week running up to Christmas.

All she wants for Christmas....
review by Maryom

Annika Bengtzon is the newly appointed head of the crime-desk at Stockholm's Evening Post newspaper, stressed out from all sides - pressure from deadlines, hassle from her male colleagues and the everyday chores of family life. Just when she's looking for a quiet week on the run up to Christmas a major story breaks as a massive bomb goes off at the Olympic Stadium, leaving pieces of the victim scattered everywhere. Annika is determined to be first with any news about the killing but her enquiries soon lead her too close to the bomber.

The Bomber is my first Liza Marklund novel and one I thoroughly enjoyed. It's an interesting slant to have the investigation of a murder seen from a journalistic angle - not with Annika playing a Miss Marple type amateur sleuth but merely going about her job and uncovering the victim's private life hidden behind a public fa├žade. There's a lot of well-captured office atmosphere with back-biting and griping from co-workers who wanted her job but the focus is, of course, on who is responsible for the bombing and what is their motivation.
An excellent whodunnit with a totally gripping ending - even though I thought I knew how it would resolve itself.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre -

Buy The Bomber from Amazon

Thursday 22 December 2011

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Starting with the appropriately titled Midwinterblood, from now to New Year we're posting a series of seasonal book reviews - fantasy, crime, ghost stories....

Chilling Tale for Midwinter

review by Maryom

The story starts in the future, 2073, at the height of summer with endless day and no night. Eric Seven has travelled to Blessed Island to investigate the rumours that its inhabitants live forever but no children are born there.
He discovers a beautiful, seemingly idyllic place, without cars or crowds, but menace lurks beneath the postcard prettiness. It's also a place where Eric finds his preconceptions challenged - he can no longer communicate with the world at the touch of a button, the sun doesn't set and he falls in love at first sight with islander Merle. On Blessed Isle, though, things are not straight forward.There's no falling in love and living happily ever after as Eric and Merle find themselves part of a story that has been re-playing itself on the island for over 10 centuries since the king was sacrificed at Midwinter to save his people.

I've been working my way through Marcus Sedgwick's backlist for a while now and this, his most recent, is my favourite to date. Midwinterblood is a haunting, beautifully told story. The opening pages caught my imagination with the eerie, isolated island setting that put me in mind of The Prisoner and The Wickerman and the evolving backwards plot didn't disappoint. Definitely one to read again and again, as I'm sure there are nuances still to be discovered.

Midwinterblood is published as a teen/YA book but I'm sure there are many adults who would be equally mesmerised by it - I certainly was.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orion
Genre -

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Bullies, Bigmouths and So-Called Friends by J Alexander

A Bullying Rant
Review by The Mole

During "Anti Bullying Week 2011" someone kindly recommended this book to us but unfortunately it was too late at that time to get a copy, read it and review it for the weekly theme. We have how managed to get hold of a copy and I am very happy we did.

The book is structured in a very 'cartoon' and 'quiz' style format and this gives it the attraction that it can be picked up and put down after just a couple of pages so not demanding a long sit and read but, in fact, encouraging a 'stop and think about that' approach.

This book does not teach you how to physically deal with bullies or "bs, bs and sc fs" as we get to know them, it rather teaches the reader how to appreciate themselves more, develop self-confidence and self-esteem and so stop themselves being the target of bullies.

It is, in my opinion, a must  for just about every child so that they can understand more about themselves as well as get on and enjoy life more. But more importantly I feel that parents should give it a read too. A child that is being bullied will probably not talk about it and if parents can understand the symptoms of low-esteem then they can help the child without causing confrontation and talking about it, and after reading this book it becomes apparent to the reader how to help someone to see themselves better, enjoy life more and get more from life in general.

A really good book BUT... I would love to think that it has helped thousands of children but if children read it, the process needs weeks, if not months, of work to make it really happen - and it will happen - but without support will a child keep working on it? Or will they find it's not an instant fix and walk away from the book? Unfortunately I believe they will walk away, so parents... read it, especially if you know your child has picked it up or read it, and support them in any way you can. There are useful websites in the back as well that may assist parent and child.

But I apologise, this is supposed to be a review, not a rant! It is an excellent book and takes a great approach to the issues. I would highly recommend this book to old and young alike.

Publisher - Hodder Children's Books
Genre - Non-Fiction, Children's, Adults

Buy Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends from Amazon

Tuesday 20 December 2011

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Caught in the Middle
review by Maryom

Anna is no ordinary child. She was conceived as a designer baby to provide cord tissue that would save the life of her sister Kate, terminally diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. Over the years she has given blood and bone marrow, now aged 13 she is being asked to donate a kidney and Anna feels its time to take a stand against her parents, to take legal action against them for the rights to her own body.

Thought provoking novel raising questions about the morality of 'designer babies' a child conceived merely for the use of its spare parts - but at the same time an immensely readable, moving story of one family's struggle to come to terms with having a terminally ill child. Anna is shown as a caring, loving teenager, caught between the pain and suffering of her sister and the trauma that she must undergo, again, to help. I didn't feel the lawyer's romantic sub-plot was really needed - and perhaps detracted from the main story-line but the only bit I wasn't happy with was the ending which just seemed too convenient and a bit of an easy way out of the dilemma.

I actually read My sister's Keeper soon after Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, a novel with similar themes in which children are replicated solely for use as bodyparts donors and I think it influenced my reading of and response to My Sister's Keeper, making it seem, in comparison, lighter weight.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hodder
Genre -

Buy My Sister's Keeper from Amazon

Sunday 18 December 2011

The Mole's Christmas reading suggestions...

The problem with a list like this is that any you leave out you seem to be 'knocking' in some way, but that is not the case, it's just the list has to be the one's that made the biggest impact on me.

Maryom has made her choice, which is HERE

Starting with children's and getting older as we go

The Fearsome BeastieA book to share with younger readers that is just good fun.

Ralph is not a spy Laugh out load moments with lots of activities too for young apprentice spies.

Lee On the Dark Side of the Moon

Just simple fun for younger readers with lots of laughs.
The Sons of Rissouli Boys own adventure stuff that they won't put down. Peace and quiet on Christmas afternoon?

Moving on to teenagers and beyond...

The Kiss of Death
A bit daft putting this one in really because it's out of print but if you can find a copy...

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

If you can bear to have your Christmas interrupted by someone piping up "Did you know...?" then include this one - otherwise get it for yourself and ruin everyone else's peace and quiet!


This is a very powerful story of speed, adrenaline and fallout - see if they can put it down.

Star of Sakova

I have read some fantasy this year but this one sort of 'sticks' with me more than the rest.

And now to just the adults readers...

The Liberation of Celia Kahn

A well told story of growing up.

Hot Dogs under the Dakota

Another one I keep coming back to as I found the story most intriguing.

Night Watcher

We found that we didn't get on with e-books but of the few I have managed to read that way this one was certainly worth reading.

Return to the Olive Farm

And last, but certainly not least, Carol Drinkwater's experiences certainly made me start to question much about the 'organic' labels.

To all those books that I have read and not included - apologies but I had to choose just 10... (Ssshhhh... she hasn't counted them!)

Friday 16 December 2011

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Northern Witchcraft
review by Maryom

Harald Guntlieb is a wealthy German student continuing his research into European witch trials in Reykjavik. That is, until his horribly mutilated corpse is discovered propped in a cupboard at the university. The police quickly arrest his drug-dealer friend Hugi but his family are not convinced the killer has been found and engage Icelandic lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir to re-examine the case alongside their company's representative ex-policeman Matthew Reich.
It soon appears that Harald's interest in witchcraft was not solely academic and Thora and Matthew are led on an increasingly grisly trail attempting to discover the events leading to Harald's death.

Another excellent Scandi-crime discovery, full of convolutions and saving the best twists and turns for the end - although as I flicked through before writing this review, I realised that clues for the ending had been there all along but not quite spotted by me!

In the best tradition of fictional detectives, Thora has her own problems at home - mainly centred on her son Gylfi. Last Rituals is the first of a series and I'll be interested to see how he copes with future events and how the relationship between Thora and Matthew develops.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more of an Icelandic feel to the story - and, no, I can't quite put my finger on what I mean by that, other than to say that although Thora and Matthew's investigation takes them to various places outside of Reykjavik - such as the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery at Holmavik and caves settled by Irish monks - I didn't get a feel for the landscape or atmosphere. Still, this novel is meant to be a crime thriller, not a travel guide!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hodder
Genre -
adult, crime/thriller,

Buy Last Rituals from Amazon

Thursday 15 December 2011

Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage: .and Other World Exclusives from Britain's Finest Local Newspapers

Remarkable headlines that get you reading
Review by The Mole

Compiled from headlines and articles gathered from small local newspapers around the country, there are bound to be treats in this book that will at least raise a smile with everyone. But these articles are not gaffs gathered surreptitiously but instead with the full co-operation of the paper's editors. They are serious  articles that mean something to the locals, but when viewed by people outside the locality they become amusing.

"Village is crime free" - perhaps not something to make the Met proud, but sure to satisfy the village involved. "Boiled egg explodes" - hardly something to make a national headline. The articles are accompanied by the full transcript of the article and you are left with a smile and wondering in what tranquil backwater these items make the headlines.  Other items such as "Police called to pull up Drunk's knickers" and "Cows on the run after tractor theft" are presented as only headlines and maybe we don't really want to understand any more anyway? Some though... and I don't want to spoil it for the readers are just outright funny!

A book to pick up, read a couple of headlines, share a few with a room that is trying to watch "White Christmas" for the 20th time before being driven to put the kettle on.

A really entertaining book and maybe difficult to believe.

Maryom described it as:- A whimsical humorous slice of life as seen through local newspapers.

Publisher - Penguin Viking
Genre - Non Fiction, Adult, Humour

Buy Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage from Amazon

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Get Ahead Fred by Daisy Dawes

Get Ahead, Get A Hat
Review by The Mole

Fred has an obsession - hats! We are told, in rhyme, about the some of the many hats he has and why he decides to get the biggest hat that he can find for a special occasion. Unfortunately this proves to be an unwise move and we find out why all the cats sleep in hats.

Using models in the style of Postman Pat and many other children's favourites, rather than cartoons, the author has illustrated this tale as well as crafted the verse.

A very easily read book for the early reader and one where they will learn the names of many different types of hats. But putting the vocabulary to one side, it is a fun book with bright and attractive pictures that kids will really enjoy and that's what books must always be about.

Publisher - Maverick Books
Genre - Children's Early Reader

Buy Get Ahead Fred from Amazon

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Until Wishes Are Fulfilled By Michael Alexander

Seasonal Read
Review by The Mole

Following a car accident, Holly's mums has been in a coma for some weeks and both Holly and her father, Sam, are almost moving in a daze. They are trying to get on with life but apart from being nearly Christmas it's also nearly Holly's birthday as well and Sam needs to get her a present. In his daze, while shopping, he bumps into an old man who points him at the ideal present - but it is rather a special present. Little does Sam know though of the perils he is exposing Holly and her friend Georgina to by buying her this present.

I have to admit to having loved this book and not really understanding the 'why' of it. The story is not all chasing from the bad guys, or all death and mayhem but is sensibly paced and almost genteel with a fair amount of tension and menace thrown in! Amongst the danger and wonders that Holly experiences we enjoy a fair few highs and lows but the lows are not the kind to leave the reader in tears. And as this book is aimed at the younger reader it is not a surprise that it leaves the reader with a warm glow as the last pages turns.

Although aimed, I believe, at the 10+ reader this book would happily suit the 8+ reader age group as well. And I will admit to being above this age group and I really enjoyed it as well!

Publisher - Upfront Publishing
Genre - 8+, fantasy

Buy Until Wishes Are Fulfilled from Amazon

Monday 12 December 2011

Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch

Travelling with Kids
review by Maryom

"They were bored, broke, burned out and turning 40. So when Ben and his wife Dinah were approached to write a guidebook about family travel, they embraced the open road....
...featuring deadly puff adders, Billie Piper's pyjamas and a friend of Hitler's, it's a story about love, death, falling out, moving on and growing up, and 8,ooo miles in a Vauxhall Astra."

Although that's the promotional line, I felt it didn't really describe the book. I'd been expecting an hilarious account of the pitfalls of holidaying with tiny children, made worse by the long time - 5 months - spent on the road. But the start of their epic journey coincides with Ben's father falling ill and the account of the family's trip is interspersed with reminiscences exploring their father/son relationship. Interesting and moving, maybe, but not, I felt, "what it says on the tin."
Despite the many testimonials from celebrities about the hilariousness of the book, it didn't really find my funny spot. There were occasional laugh-out-loud moments but it wasn't the constant rib-tickling event I'd expected.

Warning - contains fairly frequent strong language

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Summerdale
Genre - Adult,
Non Fiction, Autobigraphy

Buy Are We Nearly There Yet? from Amazon

Friday 9 December 2011

VIII by H M Castor

Behind the image of Henry VIII
review by Maryom

We all know about Henry VIII, or think we do - the piggy-eyed chap with the many, many wives, who spent his time chopping off heads. But do any of us stop to wonder how he turned out like that? This is exactly what HM Castor sets out to do in VIII.

Starting with a small boy hiding in the Tower of London from the rebels trying to dislodge his father from the throne, this novel traces the influences on Henry and their possible impact on his character - his father's tenuous hold on the crown, his upbringing as 'spare' rather than 'heir' and his sudden catapulting into prominence upon the death of his brother, Arthur.

The period and characters are brilliantly brought to life in a way never allowed in a non-fiction book. Telling the story in the first person from Henry's point of view lets the reader get behind the politics and power struggles of the time and see Henry as a person - just one who happens to grow up to be king.

An outstandingly readable account of Henry's life - I was hooked from the start. Admittedly it's written for Teens but I'm sure any adult who found Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall just too long and demanding would love it as well.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Templar
Genre -
teen, historical fiction

Buy VIII from Amazon

Thursday 8 December 2011

Cynan Jones - Author interview - Everything I Found on the Beach

Following on from Maryom's review of Everything I Found On The Beach by Cynan Jones, Cynan has kindly agreed to an interview.

His first novel, The Long Dry, was published in 2006 and went on to win a Society of Authors' Betty Trask Award. It was subsequently translated into French, Italian and Arabic. He was nominated as the Hay Festival Young European Writer for the Scritture Giovani project in '08. His second novel, Everything I Found on the Beach, was published earlier this year.
Short stories have also been published in anthologies and journals, and in 2004 his children's story 'The Piano Player's Hands' was one of the winners of Richard & Judy's Winning Stories - a national TV competition.
In a BBC interview you said that if you hadn't got published in two years then you would have had to get a 'proper' job. What age were you when you set this timetable and at what stage in your life?
I'd made the decision at twenty two that at twenty eight I'd give myself the two years. People make the mistake of believing that because we've talked from a young age we can write. We can't. It takes learning and practice - much like playing the piano or learning to mix paints. So between twenty two and twenty eight I worked as a freelance copywriter in Glasgow. That knocked the writing into shape. I returned to Wales at twenty eight. The Long Dry came out, Hollywood fashion, just as the time was up.
What jobs have you worked at?
I've been a supply teacher, builder's labourer, kitchen porter, freelance copywriter, wine presenter. I've worked in a wine shop. I've worked in an aquarium and animal kingdom, given out leaflets on the street. I've worked as an AD on film sets, and for three years as a tutor in a children's behavioural unit. Among other things.

One of the characters in Everything I Found On The Beach expresses their disgust at the waste in meat processing within the UK and how that waste cannot even be consumed by employees within the factory. Is this waste something you have strong feelings on?
That happens in the book because it (constantly) happens in reality. The strong feelings come against the commercial remits forced on producers, mainly by supermarkets, and the continual artificial setting of prices that dupe people into shopping at them. The system as we have it prevents a small community from being able to sustain itself with the goods it produces locally. Happily, a degree of the meat that would otherwise be wasted does make it out of the door (illegally) but doesn't go to waste.

The processing methods in the meat factory seem to be covered in some detail - is this something you researched or have you actually been involved in some way?
This was researched, but also simply absorbed through spending time around people who work in the abattoirs. You also learn a lot from farmers.

The fisherman seemed to feel, not only a lack of job satisfaction but also a disconnection from life when working in a factory. Do you feel factories are somehow 'evil'?
Once you have to feed towns and cities - which are incapable of feeding themselves - they are a simple, economic imperitive.

The character 'Hold' catches and prepares the fish and we are told a lot of the detail of the processes. Do you fish?
I fish, but I am not in it for the fishing if that makes sense! I set nets, put out pots, and fish from my kayak. But that's about feeding myself and the people near me.

'Hold' also shoots rabbits for the pot. Do you feel we should all source our own meat?
That's not feasible. I feel we should all stop going to supermarkets and instead buy meat from local butchers.

Do you have more novels planned and can you tell us anything about them yet?

The first draft of the next novel is on the desk and I'll work on it after Christmas. It centres on a sheep farm, a man who baits badgers for a living, and the story of an Italian intern sent to work on a West Wales farm during the Second World War. It's called Traces of People.

Our thanks go to Cynan and we wish him every success, not only with his current books, but also his future projects as well - we look forward to seeing them on the shelf.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Lost Christmas by David Logan

Magic in Manchester
review by Maryom

Last Christmas, Goose had a happy loving family and the best present ever - a puppy! This Christmas could not be more different - his parents have died in a car accident, his nan is slipping into a bizarre world of her own and now his dog, Mutt, has gone missing. Then on Christmas Eve a mysterious stranger turns up wandering the streets of Manchester. He can't remember his own name, which may or may not be Anthony, but seems to have the answers to everyone's problems. There are many things that need to be fixed though before he can help Goose find Mutt. And can even Anthony help Goose regain all the things he's lost in the past year?

This is another instance when I'm reading the book before I see the film. Adapted by David Logan from the screenplay he co-wrote, due to air this Christmas, Lost Christmas is a wonderful heart warming story that brings the magic of It's A Wonderful Life to modern Manchester. There are many poignant, tearful moments, though, along the way so have the tissues ready. Will there be a happy ending? Well, it is a feel-good Christmas story, so maybe there will.

Lost Christmas is aimed at children but I think will appeal to grown-ups just as much.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Quercus
Genre -

Buy Lost Christmas from Amazon

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Lost Souls: The Cube of Asgard by Kevin Oxland

Psychic adventures!
Review by The Mole

Spencer keeps having episodes, when he loses his temper, where strange things happen and he blacks out. These episodes are getting worse when he is taunted by a stranger and his dog to enter an old building, a building his grandmother forbids him to enter. Like all young boys such warnings add to the curiosity and with a friend from school, Frankie, they get whisked off to some remote place with no way to return home.

Will this be their undoing and how will what is happening to Spencer help him?

I would start by saying that the early stages of the book are very unlike the latter. During the early part I truly wanted to keep giving the author a swift kick! The reason is he was using plot devices that appear in other books - books that I have read - and when I read a book I want to read something new. So why did I read on and not just throw it to one side? Well there was something behind it that was just his, but in the early part it's not very obvious. When he gets into the swing of story telling, telling his own story, then he tells it well and the plot moves quickly holding your interest and attention and leaves you waiting for book 2. I do hope though that we don't see the errors that I felt existed in Michael Scott's "Nicholas Flamel's" stories.

The books to which I refer have now mostly been published for ten or more years, books that I read to my daughter as a child, so today's young reader may not see the reference but I recommend that when reading this book you should have a rag doll beside you and each time something that reminds you of another book annoys you then stab the doll with a pin! This should help to remind the author to plough his own furrow because he can do a good job when it's all his own.

A most enjoyable story and a different ending, one that came as a surprise to me!

Publisher - Peachstone Publications
Genre - Childen's, Fantasy

Buy Lost Souls: The Cube of Asgard from Amazon

Monday 5 December 2011

Resistance by Owen Sheers

Futile or not?
review by Maryom

One morning in September 1944, a few days after the Germans invade Britain, Sarah Lewis and the other women of the Olchon valley in a remote corner of Wales wake to discover that their men have left sometime during the night. The only clue to their whereabouts is a discarded pamphlet, found in a cowshed, outlining tactics for guerilla warfare. The woman resolve to keep their men's disappearance a secret and to work the farms themselves but the situation changes when a German patrol arrives in the valley on a secret mission. Led by war-weary Captain Albrecht Wolfram, looking for a place to sit out the remainder of the war away from the front line, they take up residence in a deserted house and settle themselves in. Cut off from the war first by location, then by the snowdrifts of a harsh winter, the women are won over by the soldiers' helpfulness and stop seeing them as the enemy. An uneasy alliance is forged, of growing friendship and possible romance, but can it be maintained when the outside 'real' world intrudes?

Set in an alternate World War 2 where, following the collapse of the Russian army and the failure of the Allied D-Day landings, the German army has turned its sights on Britain, Resistance examines the changing relationship between two small groups of people - the female Welsh inhabitants and the male German intruders. Sheers takes us into their hearts and minds, presenting the reader not with two stereotypical groups but individuals with differing attitudes and reactions - from those quick to build new friendships to those opposed to the enemy at all cost. The strength of Sheers' writing comes from his ability to portray moods - of the harsh yet beautiful landscape or of people caught between their emotions and duty - the reader can feel the tension building, the moments when a misplaced word could tip a situation either way.

By placing the story in an unreal past, Sheers underlines its timeless relevance. Is there a right or wrong response in such a situation? Are the soldiers just ordinary men caught up in something beyond their control or a deadly enemy to be opposed to the bitter end?

I tracked Resistance down through the library as I wanted to read it before watching the film. I half expect that many of the subtleties will have been lost - the plot concentrating on the main story-line between Sarah and Albrecht, and the varying reactions of the women being lost. I hope not.

I've read other reviews which have said the ending is ambiguous. I didn't find it so myself.
My only slight criticism would be that I wasn't convinced that anyone would maintain their voluntary isolation for so long - surely a lack of tea, coffee, soap and other essentials would have won out?

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Faber&Faber
Genre - adult fiction, war

If you've read and enjoyed Resistance, try White Ravens, Owen Sheers' re-imagining of the Welsh folk tale of Branwen daughter of Llyr

Friday 2 December 2011

Pack Men by Alan Bissett

Not Just For Football Fans
review by Maryom

2008 - Rangers are playing in the UEFA Cup Final in Manchester and hoards of their fans are travelling south to join in the party and watch the match - if not actually in the stadium - then on the next best thing, the huge screens erected around the city centre. Not a situation to end calmly. Among them are old friends Alvin, Frannie and Dolby - and Dolby's young son, Jack - on a mini bus packed with fans from Falkirk, for a lads' day out come reunion.

This has unfortunately been languishing for too long on the TBR pile as I'd picked it up, had a quick glance and dismissed it as a novel about football hooligans - oops, I should take a bit more care before I decide to write something off.

The story centres round Alvin, the only one of the group to leave Falkirk. He's been to university, now lives in Edinburgh and dreams of being a horror writer, how can he fit in with his old mates? From the first page the reader feels him wincing at being surrounded by the sectarianism and pack mentality of the bus's other fans. While he tries to hide his discomfort and blend back in for the day, it becomes apparent that he has a bigger secret that he doesn't want to share with even his closest mates.

Against this compelling story background Alan Bissett explores themes of sectarianism, belonging and how we are defined by class and/or religion. Read it for the surface plot or the thought provoking deeper issues - whichever, it's really enjoyable. Just don't make my mistake and reject it out of hand. Pack Men is not just a book for football fans - I've never watched a game in my life!

Warning - it is an Adult novel and sexually explicit.
Since reading pack Men, I've discovered it's effectively a sequel - the main characters appear in a previous Bissett novel, Boyracer, set about 10 years before. It's obviously not necessary to read this to enjoy Pack Men but I think it's now one to track down and see what additional insights it brings.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Hatchette Scotland 
Genre - Adult Fiction

Buy Pack Men from Amazon

Thursday 1 December 2011

Time Traveller Sarah Lacey by Elizabeth Dye

Time travel can be addictive!
Review by The Mole

Sarah is frightened of water and is attending special swimming classes, which she dreads, when she is contacted by Anniz, a time traveller, who recruits her to travel to the further past, an area he cannot reach. Sarah expects to see great great historical events but instead is thrown into events that bring her face to face with some of her greatest fears!

This book in the series looks at some of the working conditions and ways children were treated in industry - namely mining. While the author makes it plain how terrible conditions and treatment were she doesn't set out to frighten her target audience of 8+  readers, but simply to ensure that they are horrified without being reduced to tears!

While the book is informative - and that fact must not  be ignored - it is not at the expense of a well told story that will be enjoyed by its reader just as a simple fiction book. An extremely good balance of story telling and education for the 8+ readers and one that they will thoroughly enjoy!

Maryon read and enjoyed "Alex McLean - Time Traveller by Morag Ramsey" in the same series.

Publisher - Seven Arches Publishing
Genre - childrens 8+,historical, sci-fi

Buy Sarah Lacey Time Traveller from Amazon