Monday 31 December 2012

Maryom's Picks of the Year

 I'm starting with a rather obvious sort of choice; Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies, the 'sequel' to Wolf Hall and the continuing political machinations of Thomas Cromwell. Not everyone's cup of tea but I loved it!

Next - two very atmospheric and very different novels

Archipelago by Monique Roffey  - a hauntingly beautiful story of loss and recovery set against the backdrop of the Caribbean

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall  - a wonderful evocation of long, hot Hungarian summers mixed with long hidden family secrets

Two historical novels both asking the question How do you define family - by birth or by upbringing?

Ben Elton's family-history inspired Two Brothers

and ML Stedman's The Light Between Oceans

 Two crime novels;
 The Calling by Neil Cross - spin off from BBC's Luther series; hard-hitting and violent, a story that left me reeling.

and the marginally cosier (though not by much) Vanished by Liza Marklund


Three books that I'll rather loosely label as 'local'

David Calcutt's re-telling of the traditional tales of Robin Hood

Steven Dunn's rather too close to home thriller, Deity

and Edward Hogan's The Hunger Trace

For teens, YA and anyone really  - Celia Rees' This Is Not Forgiveness 
 a compelling, disturbing read that I couldn't put down 

For younger readers, the magical Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable -  a wonderful, enthralling delight of a book set in an abandoned Russian palace in the depths of a snowy forest.

Friday 28 December 2012

Winter Warmers by Carole Matthews

review by Maryom

A collection of three short stories brought together as a free Christmas download;
 All I Want for Christmas is You  - Maria is facing another year of Christmas parties without a boyfriend - essential for all those 'plus 1'  invites. Then a secret admirer starts leaving her gifts and poems...
Cold Turkey - Tara is facing a lonely Christmas as her married lover spends the holidays with his family, but an accidental meeting with someone in the same situation changes everything...
About Gardening  - a couple's relationship has grown dull and boring. Can they find a way to get back together?

There are a lot of free downloads to be found but this is one of the more enjoyable I've read this Christmas. Winter Warmers is a short but pleasant collection of romantic fiction. A lovely read if you're looking for something light and seasonal; a little predictable but not too sickly sweet. I'm not a great reader of romantic fiction and I must admit I hadn't actually read anything by Carole Matthews before I downloaded this but now think I should.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Hachette Digital
Genre - romantic fiction, short stories

Buy Winter Warmers: A Gift for you from Carole Matthews from Amazon

Thursday 27 December 2012

Lost Christmas by David Logan

Review by The Mole

Goose's parents are dead and he is living with his Grandma who is showing all the signs of Alzheimer's  disease. He has only his dog  Mutt and is living by his wits while earning a living by breaking and entering. Then Mutt goes missing and Goose is totally distraught! He is now more alone that he ever has been since the death of his parents on Christmas eve just one year ago. And then a stranger appears... a strange stranger. A stranger who knows nothing about himself but seems to know everything about everything.

Originally a film and later a book I have to admit to not having seen the film so I came to the book with no expectations. Many heralded this as an emotional book but to me it was a story very reminiscent of one of the ghosts of Scrooge. Why? I don't know except this 'ghost' of a stranger arrives to make Goose's life better after all this time. It was fun, it was certainly feel good and I always knew things were going to end up 'happy ever after' - it just felt like that was the whole point even as you started the first chapter.

A great fun light weight Christmas read that helps to set the atmosphere of Christmas.

Maryom's review of Lost Christmas

Publisher - Quercus
Genre -

Buy Lost Christmas from Amazon

Monday 24 December 2012

White Christmas by Emma Lee Potter

review by Maryom

Lizzie Foster may be a TV weather presenter but she doesn't care what the weather will be for Christmas - she's recently been dumped by her long-term boyfriend and is facing a dismal Christmas on her own. That is, until she meets Hal Benson, her opposite number at rival channel, Last Ditch TV. While Lizzie prides herself on being a serious, Met Office trained presenter, Hal is a 'resting' actor brought in to cover a staffing crisis, with no understanding beyond 'wet' or 'sunny', to deliver a light-hearted overview of the weather - ie the sort of presenter who really annoys Lizzie. Sometimes though, opposites attract. Will they this time? and who will win their bet on the possibility of a White Christmas?

White Christmas is a short and sweet seasonal romantic story of about 60 pages (190 kb on Kindle). For its size, it has a well-structured plot and real characters to love and hate. If you're looking for a light hearted and cheery read this Christmas, then this could be for you - you may even find time to read it in between the festivities (and chores) of Christmas!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Endeavour Press
Genre - adult romcom

Buy White Christmas from Amazon

Friday 21 December 2012

Bird, Blood, Snow by Cynan Jones

review by Maryom

The original Peredur tale recounts the adventures of a youth bent on recognition as a knight in King Arthur's court. In true questing fashion, he defends maidens, defeats giants, and eventually overcomes the witches who have cursed him. In Blood, Bird, Snow, Seren's tenth in it's New Stories from the Mabinogion series, award-winning author Cynan Jones turns the tale into a modern Quixotian romp.

Peredur has been taken by his mother to live away from the housing estates in the hope of raising him away from the culture of gangs and violence that predominates there. Of course nowhere can remain isolated for ever and the arrival of a couple of kids on fancy bikes, inspires the young Peredur to customise his own and try to join their gang. His desperate attempts to impress them lead him to violence and brutality, and, despite the attempts of foster families and social services to channel his strength into more acceptable channels, he looks on track for an unhappy, extremely violent end.

In case you haven't discovered the series yet, Seren's New Stories from the Mabinogion series takes these ancient Welsh legends and folk tales and re-interprets them in a modern, or even futuristic, setting. Bird, Blood, Snow is an imaginative re-telling of the tale of Peredur, son of Efrawg, told through a journalist's notes and interviews, copies of police and psychiatric reports and newspaper cuttings. The reader is aware from the beginning that something horrific has occurred and is being investigated by the police, though we only discover what at the very end.  Whereas the original tale had Peredur as a hero, Jones' re-telling has him as a troublesome teenage thug. The qualities that made the medieval Peredur an heroic legend - his belligerence, aptitude for fighting, his persistence in the face of opposition - are out of place today and only lead to him into trouble. It made me wonder how many of Arthur's famous knights would feel comfortable in the modern, humdrum world; maybe they're best left in legends.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult literary fiction, folk tales

Thursday 20 December 2012

Tombstoning by Doug Johnstone

review by Maryom

The last time David Lindsay was in his home town of Arbroath was 15 years ago, in the summer holidays after leaving school, for the funeral of one of his mates who fell off a cliff in mysterious circumstances. Now there's a school reunion planned and persuaded by Nicola Cruickshank - who he always fancied back in school  - David reluctantly agrees to go along. What should have been a fun weekend, meeting up with old mates, turns sour when the body of one of them is found at the bottom of the same cliffs. The common denominator to the deaths seems to be David - or maybe his reclusive ex-schoolmate Neil. While the police seem prepared to accept these deaths as accidents, David, like many a thriller hero, decides it's up to him to investigate further - fortunately he has Nicola to assist!

Tombstoning was Doug Johnstone's debut thriller published in 2006 by Penguin. I read it as a Kindle for PC copy - not the easiest reading method in the world and I usually save it for short stories and novellas. It says something for the gripping quality of this novel that it had me hooked despite this. The story line may be a little more straightforward than his later novels but it has that trademark of good fun going pear-shaped and sinister against a well evoked Scottish backdrop, in this case the Angus fishing town of Arbroath. There's lots of drinking, dark humour, some sex and a psycho killer on the loose - a brilliant read!

Previous reviews; Hit and RunSmokeheads 

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Penguin

Genre - adult, thriller

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The Long Staff by Clare Wilson

review by Maryom

Staying with his grandfather for the summer holidays Tom discovers he is the next in line to be the wielder of a magical staff passed down through many generations of his family. When Tom wakes in the middle of the night to find the staff glowing, he reaches out to touch it and finds himself whisked back in time to help out a previous Staff-wielder who is being threatened by evil forces. Tom must quickly learn to control the power of the Staff if he is to help at all and get back to his own time. It's the sort of adventure that Tom has dreamed of having while reading such stories, but maybe it's not so much fun now he's actually part of it!

The Long Staff is a good-versus-evil, time-slip magical adventure for the 8 to 12 range reader. It includes many of the classic ingredients for this sort of tale - the young boy aware of the powers he possesses, a more experienced mentor, an evil that must be opposed. Set against a backdrop of Highland Scotland this is an exciting, but not terrifying, story with well-drawn, well-rounded characters that should appeal to both boys and girls.

This is only the first of a series, so Tom will be back for more magical adventures.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Olida Publishing

Genre - children's fiction, 8+, fantasy, magic

Buy The Long Staff from Amazon

Tuesday 18 December 2012

The Famous Adventures of Jack by Berlie Doherty

Review by The Mole

We've all heard the story of Jack haven't we? Well, we've all heard stories of at least one Jack be it Uncle Jack, Daft Jack, Jack the Giant Killer or one of the many other Jacks. This is the story of some of them. When Jill asks for Jack then Mother Greenwood tries to find out which Jack by recounting some of the stories and, naturally, we are privileged to listen in too.

But the retelling is not done as a disjointed separation of Mother Greenwood's telling and the separate story of Jill but rather as one smooth flowing narrative that makes the reading a true delight and extremely engaging.

A wonderful balance of light hearted reading. One for young children to enjoy time and again or to be shared, occasionally, as a bed time reader.

Publisher - Catnip
Genre - Children's Fairytale Fiction, 7+

Buy The Famous Adventures of Jack from Amazon

Monday 17 December 2012

Dot Dash by Jonathan Pinnock

review by Maryom

Dot Dash is an entertaining collection of short - and some tiny - stories from Jonathan Pinnock, most previously published elsewhere and drawn together for this 'one man' collection.

I'm not generally much of a short story reader so I only knew Jonathan Pinnock through his novel Mrs Darcy Versus The Aliens and did wonder slightly if I was in for a whole series of classic literature/zombie mash ups. Fortunately, fond as I am of zombies, these stories reveal a far greater breadth of style and content.  Some will make you laugh; some may make you cry.
Yes, I have my favourites - two re-imagined fairy tales - Mirror Mirror and At Nana's, and the more thought-provoking Mr Nathwani's Haiku.

I wasn't so happy with the micro-sized 'dots'. None longer than a dozen lines and some short enough to fit in a Tweet, they often felt like jokes from a stand-up comedian or the funny snippets from Reader's Digest - as such will probably appeal to many though not to me.

Taken together, an interesting collection of stories, great for plane, train or bus journeys or those few quiet moments over Christmas!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - adult fiction, short stories

Buy Dot, Dash (Salt Modern Fiction) from Amazon

Friday 14 December 2012

Ante's Inferno by Griselda Heppel

review by Maryom

Ante's life at her new school is being made a misery by Florence, a girl she knew back at junior school and who seems to bear a grudge. One lunchtime in an attempt to escape, Ante hides out in the old, and rather dangerous, organ loft above the Hall. Florence though is on her trail, coming ever closer to Ante's hiding place but leaning on the rotten bannister. Before Ante can shout a warning, there is a crash and Florence falls through the railing. At the same time Ante falls backwards through a door and down a tunnel with a mysterious boy who suddenly appears from nowhere. Gil fell from the loft and was killed many years before but has been trapped there in a ghostly sleep. They find themselves on the banks of a river where a ferryman waits to carry passengers over to Hades. Then Florence appears too. Is she dead too? Is it Ante's fault for not warning her of the dangerous railing?
Trapped in the Underworld they must join forces and work their way through the circles of Hell, dodging dangerous creatures like Cerberus the three-headed dog and the bull-like Minotaur, to find a way out.

I must admit to having been a little doubtful that anyone could make a compelling children's story of a journey through Dante's Inferno - but Griselda Heppel has. Ante's Inferno is a clever mix of adventure story and Greek myths full of almost non-stop action. At times I found it quite frightening  - a lot of the story occurs in tunnels so my claustrophobia may have been responsible for this. There are lighter moments such as when the threesome encounter a group of Greek heros playing cricket on the Elysian Fields or the Multivice Complex, home to the Seven Deadly Sins, but overall it is a rather dark book full of terrifying beasts and monsters - though a lot of older children may find this to their taste.

The publisher suggests a readership of 9-12 but it's not a light-hearted 'cutesy' read so may not appeal to all.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Matador Publishing

Genre - children's fiction, 9+, Greek myths, adventure story

Thursday 13 December 2012

Dead Men by Richard Pierce

review by Maryom

When Adam Caird goes to the aid of a young woman fainting on the Tube, he's no idea of the emotional and physical journey this action will lead him to. The young woman is Henrietta Birdie Bowers, a graffiti artist named after Antarctic explorer and possible relative, Henry 'Birdie' Bowers, and from that moment Adam is entranced - not only by Birdie herself with whom he falls instantly in love but also with her obsession, inherited from her father, with Scott's expedition to the Pole in which Henry Bowers took part. She is already planning a trip to the Ice in the hope of locating Scott's tent and final resting place, and Adam finds himself irresistibly drawn along.

Dead Men is an impressive debut novel combining a modern day love and adventure story with flashbacks to Scott's expedition of 1912. The present day tale is told in first person as Adam - capturing this middle aged, staid and set in his ways, emotionally inarticulate computer nerd  falling head over heels for a woman almost his complete opposite; many years younger than him, artistic and prone to extreme mood-swings - maybe opposites do attract!
The most stunning passages though come in descriptions of the Antarctic, whether in Adam's narrative or in the 'flashbacks'; the rough but homely huts that Scott and Shackleton used as bases; of endless whiteness alternating with blizzards that restrict visibility to an arms-length; all overlooked by the rumbling volcano of Mount Erebus like an ice-clad Mount Doom. There's a fine line between not explaining enough and cluttering a story with too much factual information but I thought that maybe there was an assumption that the reader knew quite a lot about Scott, Shackleton and their expeditions. Maybe some notes at the end - and a map - would be helpful.
I must just add that I was surprised by the ending - I'd thought the story was heading elsewhere, though I won't say more for fear of spoiling the plot.

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

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Unthology No. 3 edited by Stokes Ashley and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

This group of short stories (which, apparently, includes some novelettes) is a selection to my liking. Don't get me wrong please - I do like collections by the same author and themed collections as well, but this collection is as eclectic as they come. Anthologies like this mean that there's a story for every mood and some left over. It means pausing at the end of each and absorbing, digesting, reflecting before the next story is started and takes on a whole different journey.

There isn't one story I didn't like, from the troubled marriages, the love stories, the tales of obsession and reflection and science fiction and perhaps mental health as well.

Given the nature of the tales it's difficult to say anything about any of them without giving spoilers but if I was asked to give my top ten then my first and most favourite would be Eleanor: The End Notes by David Rose a story that is so reflective and sad but contains so much love as well. My second choice I couldn't name because I enjoyed so many of them. I will admit to two that I only THINK I understood (but not really that sure) but surprisingly I enjoyed them too.

As I say, a truly eclectic collection with 18 stories by 17 different authors and every one of them to be enjoyed.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology

Buy UNTHOLOGY No.3 from Amazon

Tuesday 11 December 2012

JT Brannan - Author interview

A while ago, Maryom was lucky enough to read and review JT Brannan's debut novel Origin - an X-files meets Da Vinci Code conspiracy thriller. So we were really pleased to run in to him recently, book-signing and promoting in our local Waterstones, and couldn't resist the opportunity to pose some questions.....

Origin is your first novel, so presumably all this is new to you. Was spending Saturdays signing and promoting books in bookshops the life you expected as an author?
I think I did expect it to a large extent. I mean, unless you’re one of the ‘big names’, and there’s a huge budget thrown behind you, it really is up to the individual author to push themselves as much as possible. I’ve been fortunate enough to be taken on by an excellent publishing house in Headline, which in many respects makes things a lot easier, but I still need to put the hours in as a debut author. Luckily though, I enjoy it!

How much time is taken up this way? More or less than the actual writing?
I would say that more time is spent on social media such as Facebook and Twitter than on physical book signings, in general – with smartphones, access to these opportunities is available pretty much 24 hours a day. At the moment, more time is spent promoting ORIGIN than on actual writing, but it all depends on the schedule. For instance, my second novel has just been agreed upon – again with Headline Publishing – and so the first draft will have to be ready for about the end of March. The balance will therefore shift hugely, and a lot more time will be spent on writing. So it’s cyclical really. But luckily, my wonderful wife also works very hard with me on promotion, which frees up more time for writing.

Is this all voluntary or are events organised by your publicist?
A bit of both really. My publicist Ben Willis organizes things from his end – for instance, he contacts the national media, tries to arrange events at literary festivals, and so on; and then my wife and I try to arrange local book signings. So it’s a team effort.
Without spoiling the plot could you tell us something about Origin?
Well, Origin begins with a body found buried in the Antarctic ice. It looks like a modern human, with advanced clothing and equipment, but is found to be 40,000 years old. The scientific team that finds the body is executed by a military hit squad, except for one lady – Lynn Edwards – who escapes. She then teams up with her ex-husband, and together they have to piece together a huge global conspiracy – one that takes in everything from the Nazca Lines in Peru, to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva!

I described Origin as X Files crossed with Da Vinci Code - is that fair comment?

Definitely. Origin is a cross-genre action conspiracy thriller. It certainly has the pace of a Dan Brown novel – that feeling when you can’t put the book down, you just have to find out what happens next; and it also has a ‘twist’ that hopefully takes it beyond the confines of normal action thriller convention, in the same way the X-Files did on television back in the ‘90s. I think it’s a great combination, and one which readers will love.
...and talking of TV/films, Origin seems a likely film plot - how would you feel if a film production company approached you?
I would be delighted! My love of movies and novels is probably at the same level – I think both are superb forms of entertainment. Indeed, when writing, I tend to see things ‘cinematically’, and then transfer these visual images to the page. In many ways I see Origin – and my style of writing in general – as a ‘movie on a page’. I think it creates a more exciting ride for the reader. For instance, my action scenes are based on film technique – when we see action on the screen, we see several different camera angle shifts, changing from one point of view to another. I replicate this when I write, which I believe adds a visual dynamic to the scenes that enhances the experience for the reader. As a result, I think Origin would translate well to the silver screen. But we’ll have to wait and see!

Can there be a sequel or have you written to a dead end?
Origin can stand on its own, in terms of its finale being fully resolved, although there is of course scope for a sequel. In fact, I have notes for a potential trilogy for this story – or ‘thrillogy’ as my wife has suggested it should be called! But I have so many other ideas and characters I want to explore that any potential direct follow-up to Origin won’t be immediate.
Some authors have a long hard slog to reach publication, other have a short simple trip. How was yours?
Well, I feel very fortunate in many ways. I’ve always wanted to write ever since I can remember; in fact, I’ve always been convinced that this is what I would do for a living. But even though I have been writing stories since I was about six years old, it wasn’t until I was thirty-three that I eventually sent anything out.
I’d been writing a political action thriller for about ten years, and had about three hundred pages completed, which equated to about half of what I anticipated the final product would be. Last year, my wife told me to send it out to agents, but I was convinced that agents would only consider finished manuscripts, and so I was reluctant. She eventually convinced me though, and I sent a letter, a synopsis, and the first thirty pages to Luigi Bonomi, the previous year’s Literary Agent of the Year, and a man who had had a lot of success with action thrillers similar to mine. Luckily he liked what he read, and asked to read the rest. When I told him it wasn’t completed, he agreed to read what I had already done; and when he liked that, he said he would wait for the rest. I then wrote the rest in about three months, ending up with 150,000 words, or 600 pages. We then edited it down to 100,000 words, or 400 pages – a major job in itself!
The novel – Stop At Nothing – went out last year, and was very nearly picked up by Random House, but was unfortunately pipped at the post by a serial killer novel submitted at the same time (I’m not sure which one!). Apparently, ‘straight’ action thrillers were not selling very well at the time, and the paperback trade in general had just taken a nasty downturn.
Undeterred, however, Luigi asked me to come up with four other ‘high concept’ story ideas, which would either merge genres together, or deliver unusual twists – or both! I delivered four such story outlines, and we both agreed that Origin was the strongest. I therefore sat down and got back to work, and Origin was sent out to publishers early this year. The response was very strong, with several publishers interested, and Headline Publishing made a pre-emptive offer for it in April, which we accepted. I then worked with my excellent editor, Alexander Hope, to further refine the novel into the one that is now on the bookshelves!
I think my experience has been very fortunate, in that I was picked up by the first agent I contacted, especially as he is one of the best around, but it wasn’t all plain sailing – in fact, it was an entirely different novel that was eventually sold! But I think that it worked out for the best – Origin seems to have such universal appeal that it is being released in about thirty countries around the world, and is being translated into eight languages so far – German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Czech, Bulgarian and Portuguese (for Brazil). We’re still awaiting feedback from the Frankfurt Book Fair, so there might even be more to follow!
As an aside, Luigi and I still liked the first novel – Stop At Nothing – so much that we have just released it as a ‘kindle exclusive’ eBook, available via Amazon.

What are your plans for future books? Do you plan to keep writing the same genre for the same audience?
Yes, the action thriller genre is the one I love, and the one I have the most fun writing. And I really believe that an author should love what they do, and write the sort of books they would want to read themselves. And as with Origin, they will not be standard, ‘straight’ action thrillers, but will cross genres to create an even more exciting reading experience for the audience. My next novel, out from Headline in October 2013, will really blow people’s minds – but I can’t say more than that for now!

Many thanks to JT Brannan for taking time out to answer our questions and we wish him every success with Origin and his future books, which we look forward to.

If you would like to know more then you can find out by using one or more of links below.

Website –
Blog –
Twitter - @JTBrannan_
Facebook –

Monday 10 December 2012

Empire Of The Moghul : The Tainted Throne by Alex Rutherford

Review by The Mole

This, the fourth book in the Empire Of The Moghul series, deals with the reign of Jahangir and later his wife, Mehrunissa. It's difficult to summarise the book without giving away plot as there are so many plots and subplots. The Moghul Empire is a well documented time and accounts of these events stretch from English records by Sir Thomas Roe and others to the memoirs written by Jahangir and others at his court.

Apart from using some of these accounts Rutherford also travelled through areas of India for his research. Events have been 'modified', time frames are not true to life but essentially the story is true to history - or at least truth from a gleaned perspective.

The Moghul Empire is a period of history I have learned from popular myth and epic cinema and so this story came as a surprise to me. The Moghuls could be barbaric but also had a code of civilisation that was very strict.  Punishments would be terrifying but rewards could be extreme too.

All this comes to life in the story of Jahangir's reign as emperor and, later, Mehrunissa's taking control leading to family fights and feuds and blood letting on an enormous scale. I found myself taking sides and cursing some of the characters involved.

I enjoyed this book far more than I expected and would recommend this to anyone into historical fiction and doesn't mind a bit, well a lot, of warfare.

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult Historical Fiction

Buy The Tainted Throne (Empire of the Moghul) from Amazon

Friday 7 December 2012

And Actually...... by Denise Deegan

review by Maryom

Since Rachel has moved to Strandbrook College, her life has turned around. She now has real friends who she's grown to love and trust, and she's managed to put behind her the shameful things that have happened in the past. When she's lands a part in a TV medical drama, it feels like all her dreams are coming true but almost the first person she meets there is someone from her past, Rebecca French - and all the bad memories come flooding back...

And Actually... is the third in the Butterfly series and this time Rachel takes centre stage. Her story may be more 'everyday' than Sarah's or Alex's but none the less devastating in its impact. Bullying is an issue that affects many people's lives and here it's shown in all its insidious  bitchiness. The bully comes across as friendly and outwardly nice, managing to worm her way into people's lives then gradually manipulating their opinions. It's easy to see why so many were taken in with her stories - even when the reader clearly knows the rights and wrongs of the case.

A great stand-alone novel but for followers of the series, Alex and Sarah are back with their continuing stories.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Hachette Books Ireland
Genre - teenage fiction

Buy And Actually ... from Amazon

Wednesday 5 December 2012

In A Heartbeat by Sandrone Dazieri

review by Maryom

Santo Denti is knocked unconscious by his ex-business partner, fellow drug-dealer, Max and wakes him to find himself bizarrely not at home where their argument took place but in the toilets of la Scala opera house just as a performance is about to start. Slowly putting the pieces together he discovers a 14 year gap in his memory, that somehow from being a small time drug-dealer he's become a highly paid advertising executive with a successful international ad agency and that he has an even richer girlfriend, daughter of one of the company directors. This new world isn't all riches and success though; a fellow director has been found murdered - and Santo is top of the suspects list!

The set-up of In A Heartbeat isn't entirely new - there have after all been numerous books and films in which someone is accused of a crime, generally murder, and has no recollection of the period in which the crime supposedly took place. The difference here though is that instead of losing a few hours or maybe a couple of days, the hero has lost 14 years of memory. The world he wakes up in is so very different to the one he remembers - the city he grew up in has changed totally; he's missed the introduction of mobile phones, the growth of the internet and even Terminator3!
As all good thrillers are, In A Heartbeat is a page-turning addictive read - one where I felt very tempted to turn to the last page to check the ending.  Despite the uncovering of the shady side of Milan - both at street  drug-dealer and corporate board room level - the story is told with the quirky humour that I've found in TV's Inspector Montalbano. The only down side was that I didn't find Santo Denti himself to be a very likeable person - this could of course have been deliberate on behalf of the author but even so I'd rather have a lead character I sympathised with.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hersilia Press
Genre - crime, adult fiction, 
Buy In a Heartbeat from Amazon on pre-order till 13/12/12

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Hue Boy By Rita Phillips Mitchell

Illustrated by Caroline Binch
Review by The Mole

Hue boy is the smallest boy in the village and his mother is worried. She looks for answers everywhere and with everyone as to why he hasn't grown. She tries special baths, soups, exercises and anything else people suggest. She feels desperate!

First published in 1992 this is now being reissued. What's more it is becoming multi-media! It's becoming a stage play touring the UK and ending im June 2013. (

It's the age old story really - so many mothers worry that their children aren't as tall as their friends - but here it's told with beautiful illustrations and in a way that every child who is the smallest of their group can identify with and take comfort from.

A beautiful book whether it's read alone or shared as an early reader.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Children's picture story book, 4-7 years

 Buy Hue Boy from Amazon

Monday 3 December 2012

The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen

review by Maryom

Until four years ago Eleanor's life was happy and contented. Then her father Lord Walter Hungerford accused his wife of witchcraft and had her imprisoned in one of the castle's towers. Since then Eleanor hasn't seen her mother but sends messages and food to her via trusted servants. At 15 though, her father has decided Eleanor should be married off to Lord Stanton, a man chosen by him, as soon as possible.  They may be betrothed but it doesn't make Eleanor like Stanton and she believes him to be part of a plot to murder her mother. She realises that if she is ever to help her mother escape she must act now, before her proposed wedding...
Set in Tudor England, The Lady In The Tower is a compelling, enjoyable adventure story for teen readers. The unfairly imprisoned lady in the tower sounds like something straight out of a fairy tale but this story is based on real events that took place at Farleigh Hungerford castle at a time when the actions of an important man like Walter Hungerford could easily go unchallenged.

Eleanor is an adventurous, tom-boyish heroine, who fights against the restrictions imposed on girls in Tudor times. She's certainly far fonder of riding her horse Ariana and jousting alongside her brother and cousin than sitting demurely with her sewing, and would love nothing more than to be allowed to take part in a joust tournament herself - but of course such unladylike behaviour is banned! Despite this, Eleanor has very little control over her life; whatever her father says, goes - she can't even pick the man she will marry!

Living in the past may at times appear romantic but Eleanor's story goes to prove it isn't!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Oxford University Press
Genre - teen fiction, historical romance/adventure

Buy Lady in the Tower from Amazo

Friday 30 November 2012

Roodica The Rude - Party Pooper by Margaret Ryan

Review by The Mole

Roodica, a Celtic princess, is planning a party when her plans are cancelled because her family must attend another party, at the same time, being given by the Romans. But Roodica is a girl of spirit and is not going to take this lying down. In fact if she can take advantage of it, then she will!

This is a story without a hidden meaning - it's one that is purely for fun and fun it certainly is. Yes, there are things in there to be learned but it can also just be enjoyed and perhaps that's the best kind of book - one that motivates its young reader on the promise of laughter. Although they may learn a bit about Roman life - but is that important?

Aimed at the 7+ audience and with lots of simple but amusing black and white drawings this is bound to delight at Christmas and there are three others stories in the series already to keep them laughing and reading.

Publisher - Catnip Publishing
Genre - Children's 7+ fiction,Comedy, Historical

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Thursday 29 November 2012

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

review by Maryom

Following on from Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies follows the continuing fortunes of Thomas Cromwell from September 1535 to summer 1536 - as Henry VIII falls in love with Jane Seymour and tries to rid himself of his current encumbrance of wives. Cromwell, of course, is on hand to help and advise - believing the world to be a safer place for everyone, but particularly himself, if Anne Boleyn and her supporters are removed from the scene.

It's not the story that matters here - after all, if you didn't know already, a brief glance at a history book will tell you how it all ends. Mantel's skill is in bringing the movers and shakers of the Tudor Court to life on the page and in our minds. The reader feels themselves to be there, in that time and place, overhearing court gossip or Cromwell's family get-togethers.

I discovered after reading Wolf Hall that the world - or at least that part of it interested in books - was divided into two distinct groups; those who felt it captured the period, the workings of Henry's court in general and of Cromwell's mind in particular, so very well, who loved it and wanted more, more, more;  and those for whom it all fell flat. No prizes for guessing I'm in the first group! I could sing Hilary Mantel's praises for pages and pages but basically if you adored Wolf Hall, you'll adore Bring Up The Bodies - and if you found Wolf Hall wasn't for you, then this won't be either.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Fourth Estate
Genre - adult fiction, historical

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Wednesday 28 November 2012

Summertime of the Dead by Gregory Hughes

 review by Maryom

"Yukio's two best friends are dead. Tormented and blackmailed by the Japanese mafia - the notorious yakuza - they have taken their own lives. Overcome by heartbreak and fury, Yukio is determined to avenge their deaths.
  So begins a deadly mission that will take Yukio on a destructive path to the rotten core of Tokyo - and to his own dark heart."

I'd been putting off reading this book for a while as I expected it, from the title, to be yet another zombie story. So when I read the blurb - as above - I was pleasantly surprised and expecting a mystery thriller - a tale of a young teen taking on the might of the yakuza, tracking down the culprits and bringing them to justice. Unfortunately the story turned out to be far more of a bloodbath than I expected. Yukio sets off round Tokyo with his Samurai sword seeking out those he sees as responsible - a bit like Charles Bronson in Deathwish.

Taken as a whole I found this to be a very disturbing novel. At the end, the author comes down as very firmly AGAINST Yukio's behaviour - but only at the end. My concern is that a reader might not make it that far, might take it as approval of Yukio's actions and even try to imitate them. If this had been adult fiction, I would not have been so perturbed but Yukio is only 14 - and presumably the target reader is of similar age.

Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Teenage fiction

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Stuart The Bug Eating Man by Calvin Innes

Review by The Mole

Stuart is a man who only eats bugs. His family find it revolting and he also spends his days hunting for bugs to eat and so his wife has to go out and earn the family's entire income. One way or another his whole family is affected in a bad way by his obsession. Until... one day...

The story is told as one poem and although 88 pages in length it is laid out with 4 lines to a page and so is very easy reading in simple rhyme. Each page has fun, clear, black and white illustrations which will make it fun to read for the early reader (7+). It also carries an important message that even some weird hobbies and pastimes can be put to good use.

Publisher - My Little Big Town
Genre - Children's early reader (7+), Picture book, Poetry

Buy Stuart The Bug Eating Man (Tiny Twisted Tales) from Amazon

Monday 26 November 2012

The Healing of Luther Grove by Barry Gornell

review by Maryom

Luther Grove is a man who lives simply off the land - only on what he can grow and catch - keeping himself very much to himself on his private piece of Scottish hillside. Then the nearby cottage is sold and renovated by the new owners, city dwellers John and Laura Payne. To them this represents a dream-home and a chance to start over; to Luther it's an infringement of his privacy. Their arrival stirs up memories of his wife and daughter that he's spent many, many years trying to suppress. At first innocently but increasingly maliciously they trample all over Luther's feelings and desecrate places important to him.
When John's brother Frank arrives, he decides to deliberately antagonise Luther - and events take a downhill turn...

The Healing of Luther Grove is the sort of thriller that grips you on the first page so that you can't put it down till the very last! The situation is carefully set up and believable but then events spiral out of control, Deliverance style. I felt my sympathies dragged this way and that as the story evolved. Luther's story is heart-breaking and it's easy to see why he's become the person he is. At first, John and Laura appear to be just normal folk hoping for a better life but as their past is revealed the reader realises nothing is ever that simple. And Frank?... well, maybe the less said about him, the better!
An enthralling read with a cataclysmic ending, more thought-provoking than many thrillers, this is Barry Gornell's debut novel and I look forward to reading many more from him.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Freight Books
Genre - thriller, adult,

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