Friday 30 March 2012

The One Dollar Horse by Lauren St John

review by Maryom
Casey Blue lives for the time she can spend at her local riding school and has one dream in life - to win at Badminton Horse Trials. Living in a grim London tower block, there isn't really any hope of her dream coming true until the day she saves a beaten up, starving horse from the knackers' yard by buying him with a dollar bill she finds in the street. With the help of her elderly friend, Mrs Smith, a former dressage rider, she nurses Storm Warning back to health and trains him for the rigorous sport of 3-day eventing. Not everyone is helpful to a novice eventer though - there are plenty of bitchy, snobby girls and dubious characters from Casey's dad's criminal past all ready and willing to stand in the way of Casey's dream.
The One Dollar Horse is a story for every young horse-lover. To take a worn-out wreck of a horse, see that special something in him that others don't and realise your dreams is like a fairy-tale come true! Casey is still a hard-working heroine despite her lucky breaks, determined to rise above her circumstances and reach for her goal.
The author really captures the atmosphere of both stable yard and eventing and makes the reader feel that they are alongside Casey as she competes, particularly at the Badminton cross country event.
There are of course a numerous amount of lucky chances for Casey and a fairly predictable ending but this is nonetheless an excellent 'horsey' read.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orion

Genre - 12+ Fiction
Buy The One Dollar Horse from Amazon

Thursday 29 March 2012

Life in 2025 - short stories

Science Fiction or Science Fact?

Sony and The Guardian are trying to predict what life will be like in 2025 - just 13 short years ahead. The days of waiting for technology to become settled before 'buying in' are long since gone as technology leapfrogs technology at a pace of change that the consumer struggles to keep pace with. With this in mind The Guardian asked five best selling authors to write short stories to give a brief view of what they see life will be like.

The Good Listener by Michael Marshall Smith

In this story the author reflects on his fathers death and using his father's 5 year old mobile phone he retraces the holiday he never took with him and discovers that perhaps technology doesn't have all the answers. I liked this story for it's human element. But the technology?

The author predicts cars capable of driving themselves and there are already competitions for people to race cars that drive themselves where success brings two million dollar prizes. But these competitions are off-road, away from traffic and in 2007, in an urban challenge, 4 cars finished in time at an average speed of up to 14 mph. I think such cars are possible but they would require a complete redesign of the traffic system so I doubt it would happen in 13 years. These cars were based on operating systems of Linux and Windows. Reboot when you get stuck at the traffic lights? Interestingly, one of the leading contenders, is now the 'Google Driverless Car'.

The author predicts voice response commands and artificial intelligence in cars... but voice response and AI would be very expensive and I don't believe the public would pay, nor do I think it would be accurate or fast enough for safety or acceptability. I saw voice recognition technology in the early '80s and while it has improved, we are 30 years on and it's not made any serious impact yet.

The author predicts an increasing role for mobile phones... Yes, I 100% agree. It has been gradually evolving since they first came along and they have taken on roles no-one could have predicted - like identifying aircraft flying overhead... how did we cope before?

Life in 2025 by Marcus Sedgwick

A young programmer writes an app for a software corporation that enables people to select and write their own dreams. This brings him success and promotion and as the corporation seeks a bigger and bigger market it leaves the programmer wondering...

This time the author's predictions are more radical... Controlling people's dreams and nano technologies. There are some huge leaps being made in man-machine interfaces and who knows but dream control may be possible and sooner than we think. And from your mobile phone as a downloadable app! And what would people be like if this was possible? Well that is something that the author explores in a very real way. He comes to pretty much the same conclusion as Michael Marshall Smith in that technology does not answer everything but he also speculates that nano-technologies could be used to ease or even solve many of the third world issues.

My suggestions for 2025

I think that already technology is abusing people and I make no forgiveness for adding this link to my ramblingmole blog where I was infuriated by what manufacturers should consider! But apart from many more roles and much more reliance on what is laughingly called a mobile phone today, I can also predict a continuing role for larger devices for people like myself who struggle to see and read the screens without getting my reading glasses out (and also have large clumsy fingers)! But will TV sets, as tv sets, survive? I think not as they will take on a much more flexible role and 'transmission' may shift totally towards the internet.

But one major prediction I would make, and hope for, is continued reduction in power demands for the newer technologies which will help to reduce our demand for more power production and perhaps lead to a near dependence on sustainable renewable energy. This would hopefully also lead to totally viable electric cars because I do not believe a public transport system will ever have the support of individuals.

Recent breakthroughs in laser technology will bring micro-chip development of light speed chips and may mean that hardware will start to last longer while software and apps remain the focus of change (but maybe not).

Wednesday 28 March 2012

A Waste Of Good Paper by Sean Taylor

Certainly Not!
Review by The Mole

Jason has been excluded from mainstream education and goes to Heronford school now. Heronford is for children with emotional and behavioural problems. As children improve they are gradually returned to mainstream education and Jason is the only one in his class without a mainstream school. Pete, one of the teachers, gives him a book in which he is to write anything he wants to and there is only Jason that will read it - Jason thinks it's a waste of good paper.

Someone asked me if something happens... but you know? Not really but yes everything. It's difficult to say but I felt like I really knew Jason and we get to understand why he has the problems he has. Pete is a very hands on sort of guy and uses physical contact to reward good behaviour... sort of a High Five but nothing like and you can believe and really feel that the kids react to his methods.

This book is so much NOT a waste of good paper and I would love to tell you why but that would involve spoilers.

If I say that I enjoyed this book then I am guilty of understatement but why I found it so good I cannot really explain - it just is. Jason is a really nice kid that has needs and the people to fulfil those needs can't see it because they have issues of their own.

Please take it from me that this is one helluva book.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Children 10+ Fiction

Buy A Waste of Good Paper from Amazon

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Hit and Run by Doug Johnstone

Crime and Punishment?
review by Maryom

Billy Blackmore has been out for the night with his girlfriend Zoe and brother Charlie. Drunk and drugged up, he still decides to drive home but on the way the unthinkable happens and he hits and kills someone. Zoe and Charlie persuade him that reporting the accident won't help the man, so they hide the body and drive off.
Billy soon finds that it isn't that easy to walk away from the incident or his nagging conscience. When the body is discovered next day, he's expected, as a crime reporter, to investigate - especially when the dead man turns out to be a local crime lord with a family ready to track down the culprits and mete out their own brand of justice, and to have a grieving widow in need of consolation.

I 'discovered' Doug Johnstone last year through a Waterstones review copy of Smokeheads, a sort of Scottish island based Deliverance, and wondered what he'd come up with to follow it.
Smokeheads was a sort of action/comedy/thriller - great fun but not likely to happen . Hit and Run is different. While still fast-moving, and at times violent, it's ultimately more thought provoking and, most importantly, more believable. Billy is a good guy at heart - though I'm not too sure about his brother or girlfriend - caught in a situation that, without too big a stretch of imagination, readers can relate too. Any of us could be Billy, trying to avoid responsibility but finding that our conscience is not as malleable as we might imagine.

As in Smokeheads, there's a strong evocation of place - this time capital city, Edinburgh, and the brooding presence of Salisbury Crags, overlooking most of the action and serving as a constant reminder of what Billy has done.

Hit and Run is an unputdownable, action packed read but with plenty for those looking for something deeper to get their teeth into. If you haven't discovered Doug Johnstone, then it's time you did! I'm definitely looking forward to more from him.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Faber and Faber

Genre - adult action thriller

Buy Hit and Run from Amazon

Monday 26 March 2012

Sherlock Holmes And The Dead Boer At Scotney Castle by Tim Symonds

Review by The Mole

In Sherlock Holmes and The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle the great consulting detective comes up against the rich and powerful Kipling League. Dr Watson recounts the extraordinary events which took place on a spacious early summer day in the Sussex and Kent countryside in 1904. None of the earlier stories chronicling the adventures of Sherlock Holmes compares to the strange circumstances which determined Watson to take up his pen to relate this extraordinary adventure against Holmes express wishes. 

This story is one that is difficult to review because spoilers would be so easy to give - but I will try not to.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed by this story because too often Holmes didn't feel like Holmes or Watson like Watson. In addition Holmes tries to win Watson round to seeing his view on the take on events and Watson cannot see it and we seem to hear the same evidence repeated several times. In fact as a reader I became convinced that Holmes was wrong until I realised that his words were ambiguous and what he should have said was not what he did say. (It would be easier to explain if I risked spoilers!). Undoubtedly though the story is an intriguing one but whether the best detective fiction has ever seen is the character who should encounter this tale is another matter - I can imagine other fictional detectives encountering this tale and it being almost in a day's work for them! (STILL avoiding spoilers!). The fact that it is intriguing is one thing but is it the best telling of such a story? Sadly I don't think it is.

Publisher - MX Publishing
Genre - Adult Crime Fiction

Buy Sherlock Holmes and The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle from Amazon

Friday 23 March 2012

My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

review by Maryom

5 years ago Jamie's sister Rose was blown apart by a bomb. People have said that time will make things better for her family but as far as Jamie can see, they're actually getting worse - his dad cries all the time, has all Muslims marked down as terrorists and drinks himself to sleep at night; his Mum has run off with the man from the support group; Jasmine, Rose's twin, dressed for so long in the image of her dead sister, has cut off her hair, dyed it pink and got her nose pierced in an attempt to be herself.
When someone phones Dad with an offer of work in the Lake District, he decides to go for it but a change of location doesn't magically bring things back to normal.

This is one of those books that I'd heard such a lot of hype about and wondered how it was possible for it to live up to it - but it does!! My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece is a surprisingly funny and totally readable tale of a family trying to come to terms with the death of a child.
Told through the eyes of Jamie - who was 5 when Rose died and doesn't remember her too well - avoids too much sentimentality. He is more interested in his cat, his new school, keeping secret his friendship with Muslim girl Sunya and his desperate belief that his mother will return to them one day.

This story is both unflinchingly brutal and laugh out loud funny. Although aimed at teens, I'd recommend it for almost anyone!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - teen,

Wednesday 21 March 2012

The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

review by Maryom

On a world where everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts, you wouldn't think it was possible to lie or keep secrets - but the men of Prentisstown have been doing just that for years. Todd Hewitt has grown up there believing it to be the only surviving settlement on New World, that all the women and lots of the men have died of a virus deliberately spread by the native Spackles - but he's about to find out just how wrong he is! He's waiting anxiously for his 13th birthday- the day when, after an initiation test, Prentisstown boys become men - but his accidental discovery of a quiet space, a gap in the Noise that covers New World, leads to him running for his life....

I'm behind the rest of the world in discovering the Knife Of Never Letting Go - but at least that means I'm not left with the long pause while waiting for the subsequent books of the trilogy.

A thought provoking teenage read which despite its sci fi 'other world' setting deals with issues quite as likely to be encountered here in our world - knife crime, racism, sexism - particularly the important message that it's possible to become a man without having to kill to prove it.
I found the first person, stream of consciousness style a little cumbersome at times - while it captures what Todd feels, sees and does, sometimes I felt there was too much of it and it slowed down the action. A minor niggle though and maybe I was just too impatient to reach the end.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Walker Books

Genre - teen, dystopian

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Sparkle's Song by Samantha Hale

No music and laughter?
Review by The Mole

Sparkle's parents 'go out in the car one day and don't come back' so Sparkle goes to live with her aunt but her aunt won't allow music and laughter in the house.

Sparkle takes her radio outdoors to listen to music but her aunt then takes that away from her. Then she hears music and follows the sound deeper and deeper into the forest.

The pictures and colours compliment the story very well but it's not a sweet tale of a happy child. The story is more about Sparkle helping her aunt to come to terms with the death of her sister and so bringing about the return of music and laughter to a house that has forgotten how and why. So the story does end on a happy note.

Publisher - Maverick Books 
Genre - Children's Early Reader 

Buy Sparkle's Song from Amazon

Monday 19 March 2012

99 Reasons Why ( #99RW ) By Caroline Smailes

A New Concept In E-Publishing?

Ebooks are something that continues to split the book loving community with many people loving them, some hating, some having little opinion but many being very against them. It is indisputable that sales continue to rise so someone out there does dearly love them.

I have to put myself in the group that says as yet they have to prove themselves. I would stress that we do not normally accept ebooks because we don't have the technology to comfortably read them but having tried them on the technology we have we know that we are still waiting to say 'Yea or Nay'. However there have been some changes to the straight ebook recently although there has also been a greying of the border between ebooks and apps.

Going back about 20 years there were a series of books launched that were interactive adventures. The Famous Five were one such group where the reader had a dice, a 'backpack', several cards to represent picnics and 'equipment' such as compass and ruler. As the story progressed you were posed questions you could answer using your equipment or, if you didn't' have the right equipment you had to guess and risk losing a picnic. It surprised me that those books did not catch on more but, on reflection,  perhaps they were too intensive for their audience. Well, today, ebooks bring about the possibility of such stories once again.

99 Reasons Why is a story that brings back that concept using modern technology to the reader. The story is told in 'reasons' from a story teller's perspective and the at reason 88 you are asked to answer questions. Based on your answers you are taken to one of 9 different endings. That gives only 97 reasons though.... where's the other 2? Well that's easy to answer... The last ending is to be handwritten and auctioned for charity. The second to last ending is below here... but before you read it, perhaps it's best if you read the story and try the concept.

99 Reasons Why for Kindle    99 Reasons Why for iPad/iPhone

If you don't have an ereader then Kindle For PC is free from Amazon. If you have an iPad or iPhone then lucky you!


99: the reason why I was only worth ninety-nine quid
It’s been six days since the little girl in the pink coat went missing and me Uncle Phil’s in me bedroom.
We’ve been watching the little girl in the pink coat’s mam on the news. She was appealing to the public for witnesses.
‘Didn’t realise she had a mam,’ I says, looking at me telly.
‘Everyone’s got a mam, pet,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘She sold her story to The Sun,’ I says, looking at me telly.
‘Got a few quid,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I nod.
‘She wanted nowt to do with that bairn before all this,’ me Uncle Phil says, looking at me telly.
‘Do you know where she is?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘Belle?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.
I nod.
‘She’s safe,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘Your mam’s keeping an eye on her.’
‘Can I be her mam?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘No, pet, you’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I nod.
‘Can you make Andy Douglas come back, Uncle Phil?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
Me Uncle Phil shakes his head.
‘I love him,’ I tell me Uncle Phil.
‘Andy Douglas is your brother, pet. You didn’t seriously think Princess Di was your mam, did you?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.
I nod.
‘You’re a cradle snatcher just like your mam,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I nod.
‘Your mam miscarried when she found out I’d been banging Betty Douglas. Betty was expecting you,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I don’t speak.
‘When you was born, your mam went mad and I ended up buying you from Betty Douglas for ninety-nine quid,’ me Uncle Phil says.
‘Ninety-nine quid?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘I paid a hundred but got a quid change for some chips for your mam and dad’s tea,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘You bought me?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
I’m a little bit sick in me mouth.
‘It was the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘I got Betty Douglas pregnant straight away with Andy.’
‘I’m pregnant,’ I says to me Uncle Phil. ‘I’m pregnant with me brother’s baby,’ I says, and then I throws up on me purple carpet.
‘You’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘What am I going to do?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘You’re going to have the baby,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘Have me brother’s baby?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘Then I’m giving it to Betty Douglas to bring up,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘You what?’ I says to me Uncle Phil.
‘It’s the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘I can’t—’ I says to me Uncle Phil.
‘It’s either that or I’ll make you disappear,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I don’t speak.
I’m thinking, they’re all a bunch of nutters.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

review by Maryom

Sarah Nickerson is a compulsive high achiever. She has everything she ever wanted - a highly paid career, a loving husband, three gorgeous children, a house in a desirable suburb and a second home in a ski-resort. But everything and everyone is scheduled into a hectic routine - until the day the unthinkable happens. A car crash leaves Sarah with no sense at all of the 'left' side of things - she doesn't move the left side of her body, cannot see things on her left, even ignores the food on the left hand side of her plate.
Sarah begins to reassess her hectic life style and wonder if it really was worthwhile.

Left Neglected is a fascinating look at a neurological condition that I must admit I'd never heard of. Lisa Genova really gets behind how it must feel to be afflicted with this and enables the reader to share Sarah's frustrations in coming to terms with it. This is where I feel the strength of the book lies, rather than in plot or original characters. Being fiction, everything rounds off nicely at the end in a way that presumably happens rarely to real sufferers.

There are other aspects of 'neglect' to the story - the neglect of Sarah by her mother following a family tragedy; the neglect of personal and family life by Sarah and her husband Bob as they put all their energies into the pursuit of high-flying careers.

An enjoyable read and intriguing medical insight - a must for anyone addicted to hospital dramas or 'weird and wonderful body' programmes.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adult Fiction

Buy Left Neglected from Amazon

Edwin Spencer: Shadow Magic by J D Irwin

Return To Hysteria
Review by The Mole

Edwin receives a visit from Hysteria asking if he will go back and assist a still recovering Auvlin. Amidst assurances that no danger awaits him he decides to return and Perpetua invites herself along again. Only we all know that 'no danger' means 'no story' and so Edwin once again dices with death.

This story is every bit as good as the first Edwin Spencer: Mission Improbable, if not a little better. This time I did guess the key fact and proved to be right - but not at a cost to my enjoyment. It was still great fun with adventure for young confident readers with just enough humour thrown in.

We also see the friendship between Perpetua and Edwin growing stronger although we also witness Edwin out-thinking Perpetua which surprises and hurts Perpetua just a little bit.

I am sure Edwin will return to Hysteria at some point (although probably not on his own!) in the future and I am sure it will continue to delight younger readers.

Publisher - Catnip Publishing
Genre - Children's 8+ fantasy fiction

Buy Edwin Spencer: Shadow Magic from Amazon

Sunday 11 March 2012

Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov

A Fantasy For Me
Review by The Mole

Harold, a thief, is framed into stealing an object to test him before being recruited, against his will, to the most dangerous burglary he could ever undertake in his life. He has to steal the Rainbow Horn to save the kingdom from orcs and demons and the Nameless One. We meet his colourful comrades for this undertaking, a band of Wild Hearts - men, gnomes, dwarfs and goblins - along with elves. They set out to retrieve the horn, but only after Harold has his own adventures in preparing for the mission.

I looked forward to reading this as my first adult sci-fi fantasy in many years excepting comedy fantasy. I must say I was not disappointed. Early on in the reading it reminded me of Pratchett and later of Tolkien but these similarities are unfair to draw, as the overall story is an original. The writer is Russian and it has been translated into English, perhaps not perfectly, but well enough to still allow the reader to become fully immersed in the story.

Any one who likes fantasy has got to like this book and enjoy the story. If you find similarity to other books then look beyond them to the story and enjoy it - there is much to enjoy. Thoroughly recommended!

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adult Fantasy

Buy Shadow Prowler (The Chronicles of Siala) from Amazon

Friday 9 March 2012

The Secret Shopper's Revenge by Kate Harrison

review by Maryom

Emily and Sandie have both had enough of shop-assistants. Emily because they sneer at her flabby, new-mum figure and tightened finances. Sandie because after many years of faithful service at a top department store, her deputy engineers for her to be fired. So when they're offered the chance to shop at someone else's expense - and dig out the dirt on snooty, lazy sales-staff they both jump at it. Led by glamorous widow Grazia, and answering to a mysterious anonymous boss, they form 'Charlie's Shopping Angels', going undercover to unearth the worst - or the best - in customer service.

If you've ever had to wait for an assistant to finish her oh-so-important phone call or to put the final touches to her nails, this is the book for you!

This came off my To Be Read pile (so therefore another on my 2012 challenge list) and I'd half-expected to read it and pass it on but it's so enjoyable I've decided to keep it. The characters are well fleshed-out and believable, especially the three main- and very distinct- ones but even the 'handsome hunk' love interest is more than a cardboard cut out. Emily, Sandie and Grazia have all, in some way, had their world fall apart and it's easy to empathise with them as they try to turn life around and make a new start. It's not doom, gloom and angst though - this is chick lit/rom com territory so everything is sprinkled with a large helping of laughs.
A really fun read - I think the first I've read by Kate Harrison, so I'll be on the look-out for more.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Orion
Genre - adult, chick lit/ rom com

Thursday 8 March 2012

Songs Of The Dying Earth

Short Story Collections - Maryom's View

This isn't so much a review post as musings about reading styles. If you're reading a novel you pretty much have to begin at the beginning and carry on to the end - ok you can cheat if you really want to and read the end first but most folk don't. With a collection of stories, though, there's no such need. Occasionally you'll find a volume by a single author where you may gain from reading the stories in the order they're presented but most of the time it doesn't matter too much.
The Mole is a more methodical reader than I am. So, while he's working his way through this collection logically - from beginning to end - I decided to cherry-pick those by my favourite authors first.

A Phyllis Eisenstein first - The Last Golden Thread - about a mushroom trader who wants to become a magician - and finds that mushroom trading is necessary along the way. A fun read but incorporating elements I've read in her full length novels.

A Tanith Lee - Evillo the Uncunning - that I didn't finish. Something seemed incredibly silly about it all, particularly names and weird creatures, and then I realised that she was copying Jack Vance's style and that these things sometimes irritate me in his stories.

A Neil Gaiman - the last one in the book, An Invocation of Incuriosity. An intriguing time-travelling tale from the end of the world and a little black box that does that "these are not the droids you're looking for" trick of Obi Wan Kenobi. A perfect way to round off the collection - except I might go back and read the rest now.

Publisher - Voyager
Genre -
Science Fiction, Fantasy, Short Story

Buy Songs of the Dying Earth from Amazon

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Collywobble by Malachy Doyle

Brave and smart little pup
Review by The Mole

The smallest and weakest in the litter Collywobble is kept at home by the farmer but not expected to make much of a working dog. In the event it turns out that Collywobble should not be written off too easily.

The story of Collywobble is told in simple understandable language for a shared read and important message that even the smallest and weakest have an important part to play in life.

The pictures inside are all cute, sweet and beautifully drawn and complement the story wonderfully. The acid test I like to apply with picture books is would I have enjoyed reading it to my 2 when they were little and with Collywobble the answer is a resounding 'yes'.

A really nice book where story and pictures balance nicely. The only thing is that the cover is certainly NOT the nicest picture so please don't judge a book by it's cover.

Publisher - Pont Books
Genre - Children's Picture Book

Buy Collywobble from Amazon

Tuesday 6 March 2012

The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd

review by Maryom

The English Monster is a novel woven out of two seemingly unrelated historical events - the horrific Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 and the 16th century voyage of a royally-supported slave-trading ship.

1811 - a killer stalks the streets of Wapping, striking seemingly at random when people think they are safe in their homes.... While others blunder around, arresting all the usual suspects, John Harriott, magistrate of the River Police Office, puts his faith in his senior officer Charles Horton and his new-fangled ideas of detection.

1564 - another kind of monster is on the loose. Capt Jack Hawkyns has set sail, sponsored by the Queen, in search of 'black gold', ie Africans, to kidnap and sell as slaves. Young Billy Ablass has joined his crew in an attempt to make his fortune but the events that happen will change his life forever...

What piqued my interest about this novel was its central point of the Ratcliffe Highway murders. Now till 3 weeks ago, I'd never heard of them but then they 'guest starred' in ITV's Whitechapel and I wondered what someone else would make of the same starting material - as it turns out, something completely different! Unfortunately, Whitechapel had prepared me for how events unfolded which took some of the edge off Shepherd's story.

The English Monster is an amazing mix of fact, fiction and supernatural. It's a little difficult to get into as at first it's not apparent how the two story lines are linked - but persevere, it's worth the effort.

The strength of the book lies in bringing these murky events of the past to life through atmospheric descriptions and vivid characterisations. I loved the visualisation of Francis Drake as a man always in the right place at the right time but never getting his hands dirty with anything unpleasant or troublesome that might count against him in the future. (I've no idea how accurate this may be as outside his naval and bowls-playing exploits, my knowledge of him rests on Blackadder!)
Wapping almost counts as a character in its own right - with old crowded twisting streets, newer more spacious ones and over and above all the looming docks and ships' masts. But the hero of the book is Horton with his dodgy past and strange new methods of policing - examining the evidence and interviewing witnesses.

A book I thoroughly enjoyed and I hope we haven't seen the last of Horton - the last page seemed to be setting the stage for more 'detection'.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - adult, crime, historical fiction,

Buy The English Monster from Amazon

Other reviews; Milo's Rambles

Monday 5 March 2012

The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg

You Can't Outrun the Past
Review by Maryom
One morning, walking to a colleague's house, Magnus Kjellner disappears. Three months further on and the police seem to have no clues - until his body is found frozen beneath the ice.

Meanwhile, his friend Christian Thydell is on the brink of realising his dream - his first novel is about to be published to great acclaim but his happiness is marred by a series of threatening letters he's been receiving. The 'real-time' story is interspersed with flashbacks which gradually reveal the dreadful secret which links these boyhood friends. No one seems at all prepared to help the police who feel increasingly helpless at the rising number of deaths.

This is the first novel I've read by Camilla Lackberg and I've managed to jump in part way through a series revolving around police officer Patrik Hedström and his wife, crime writer, Erica Falck - so there was obviously a lot of their back story that I was missing. This doesn't really detract from the plot but I'd now like to go backwards and read their story from the beginning.

It's very readable with a well thought out plot but doesn't have the nail-biting tension of some crime thrillers.

Overall, there's more of an air of Midsomer Murders or Miss Marple rather than hard gritty crime thriller about The Drowning. The police seem to stumble around aimlessly as events unfold and eventually happen upon the culprit by accident rather than design. The 'real' detective is Erica. In a friendly, gossipy way reminiscent of Miss Marple, she chats to people and teases out the secrets they wouldn't reveal to her policeman husband, Patrik.

An interesting new 'find' in Scandi-crime reading and an author I'll be reading more from.

This counts towards one of my challenges for this year as it was sitting on my TBR pile. I won it somewhere on the web, but can't remember where or when - please shout out if it was on your blog.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins

Genre - adult, crime

Buy The Drowning from Amazon

Friday 2 March 2012

The Chamber by Howard Gordon

I've yet to come down
Review by The Mole

Gideon Davis is approached by a total stranger and drug addict trying to sell information on a terrorist attack on American soil. He passes this information on but Secret Service agents who dislike Gideon refuse to listen so Gideon involves his brother and they set about gaining proof.

The first chapter of this book didn't really hold me but I persisted and very quickly the pace picked up. We've all had books that we didn't want to put down, couldn't wait to pick up and didn't want them to finish haven't we?  Well if you haven't then get your hands on a copy of The Chamber. It was tremendous once we got past the first chapter, but I suspect that readers of The Obelisk would not have the same issue because they would know, and be expecting, Gordon and his brother Tillman springing into action.

Was it brilliantly plotted, of literary quality and every character brilliantly portrayed? Possibly not, I didn't stop to check. What it is is Boy's Own adventure for grown-ups and it's brilliantly done. It is filled with a plethora of technical jargon surrounding weapons - but so what? It shows the characters know their stuff and Boy's Own stuff is about Superhero Experts showing their brilliance.

And like those books you don't want to come to an end,  I knew I would enjoy the next book from the pile but didn't want to start it because I was still on a high.

Highly recommended to grown ups of all kinds.

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adults Adventure Thriller

Buy The Chamber from Amazon

Thursday 1 March 2012

Emylia Hall - Guest Blog Post

Emylia Hall's Book Of Summers,"It's such a beautiful evocation of hot, lazy summer days", published on 1st March 2012 and she kindly agreed to do a guest post where she talks about the inspiration and ambitions of her first novel.

How does a book begin? Somewhere there’s a floppy disk, last modified in 2003, with a few messily conceived paragraphs that sketched out an idea for a story; one about memory, complicated family relationships and the pull that a country can have over a person. I was working in a hectic London advertising agency at the time, an all-consuming job that left no time for anything else, and so I hit ‘save’ and got back to my real life, soon forgetting about the fictional one I’d toyed with creating. Four years later, when at last I returned to the story, I couldn’t find the disk. Thankfully, the basic idea was still rooted in the back of my mind. Something about it wouldn’t let go.

But it had taken me a while to get there. In 2005 I’d quit my job, spending two penniless winters in the French Alps and exulting in new-found freedoms. While there, I wrote 100,000 words of a quite different novel, one that was only ever destined for the desk drawer. When I finally sat down to work on The Book of Summers, I knew that regardless of whether it ended up being published or not, I would delight in the process of its creation. My ditched ‘first’ novel had been an adventure in writing, and it’d taught me that unless you believe wholeheartedly in the story you’re telling - if you weren’t prepared to hold it up and say ‘I did this’, and it be, perhaps, the only book you’d ever write - then you were getting it wrong. You never have a second chance to write a first novel (of the published variety that is, heaving desk drawers are quite another thing). The Book of Summers – with the girl, the family, the country, the blissful childhood summers, the ache of memory, the sorrow of regret – felt right. I wanted it to be my first.

Slowly over the course of nearly four years, with plenty of wrong turnings and lessons learned, the book came alive. As I wrote, I revisited the landscapes of my childhood. I basked in the days that I thought had fallen to time, possessing them again in a way I’d never thought possible. And I wove great threads of fiction in and around the facts, thrilling in the creation of something new and the habitation of a world of my own making.  In the song ‘Passing Afternoon’ by Iron and Wine, there’s the line, ‘There are things that drift away, like our endless numbered days.’ For me, writing is a way of catching the things that drift, and holding on to them just long enough to set them down on paper. Knowing that, one day, maybe, someone else will read them too. For The Book of Summers, that day is today.