Thursday 31 May 2012

Scottish Summer Reading Challenge with Subtle Melodrama

 post by Maryom

 A while ago, I signed up for a Scottish Summer Reading Challenge on the Subtle Melodrama blog. The aim is to read as many books by Scottish authors as possible over the next three months.

 Now I doubt whether I'll be reading nothing but Scottish authors for that period but I've been saving some up for the event...

....and I have a number of books and short stories downloaded to the pc -by Gillian Philip and Catherine Czercawska among others

....some on order from the library -

...and if I get through all of those, I'll start on some old favourites from my shelves.

 I'll set up a page soon for my reviews so you can follow my progress.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Song Quest by Katherine Roberts

review by Maryom

The Isle of Echoes is home to the Singers who seek to maintain harmony in the world through the ancient Songs of Power - Challa for healing, Kashe for laughter, Shi for sadness, Aushan for discipline and Yehn for death. Rialle, Kherron and Freyn are young singers training at the Echorium, but when a fearsome storm washes a stranger ashore and the sea-dwelling Merlee half-creatures call for help, their life changes completely. Journeying to the mainland they discover that an evil force is trying to destroy everything the Singers have worked for. The only hope lies in the power of Song...
A highly enjoyable and original adventure fantasy. It rather plunges straight into the story- so much so that I wondered if this was book 2 of a series although it is the beginning of a trilogy - but I was soon up and running with the characters and setting. Behind the adventure are warnings of what could happen if we too continue to destroy the world around us, making this story both entertaining and thought-provoking.

With a strong female lead and 2 contenders for the title of 'hero' it is a tale that will appeal to both girls and boys.

Maryom's Review - 4 stars
Publisher - Catnip Publishing
Genre - Children's fiction 10 -12, fantasy

Buy Song Quest from Amazon

Tuesday 29 May 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Review by Maryom

Having lost an expensive libel case, Mikael Blomkvist finds himself faced with a huge damages payment and discredited as a journalist. Hoping to be given information to fight his case, he takes a job with Henrik Vanger, head of huge family firm Vanger Corporation - ostensibly to write a family history but actually to investigate the disappearance or death of Vanger's great-niece back in the 60s. He's aided in his investigation by Lisbeth Salander - anorexic tattooed security specialist and computer hacker extraordinaire. Together they uncover a gruesome series of murders, hidden in the idyllic setting of Vanger's estate.

When this book was first published I was offered a review copy from somewhere - and turned it down! For years I've wondered what I missed out on and if it was possible for it to live up to its hype so when I saw a copy at the library ...
It's always difficult reading a book that's had such a lot of publicity, rave reviews and film adaptations - expectations are often raised far too high. So how did The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fare? Actually, it didn't do too badly. The story line was intriguing with a variety of twists and turns. It's not perfect - I felt the setting up chapters stretched on for too long, I found it difficult to care very much about the characters and the I guessed some of the key plot twists in advance. All in all though an interesting read.

Would I read the rest of the trilogy? Probably not if I had to go out of my way to find them; if for some reason they crossed my path - in front of me on a library or holiday cottage shelf - then I possibly would.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars 
Publisher - Maclehose Press/Quercus Books

Genre -  adult crime fiction

 Buy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Trilogy Book 1) from Amazon

Monday 28 May 2012

Ramshackle by Elizabeth Reeder

Brilliance in spades!!
 Review by The Mole

 Roe is your average15 year old. Living in Chicago she has all the worries of your average teenage girl: school, boyfriends and friends starting to do less than normal things. Until, that is, her father just disappears. Well, her adopted father because her mother died many years ago. It's then that she finds out many things about her father, herself and her friends. Things that will change her life forever.

I had expected this book to become a whodunnit or a thriller or a romance but it isn't. So what is it?  Well... that is difficult to explain. It's a journey for Roe. A sad one, an angry one and one of learning and growing.

I found this book to be extremely engaging and well told. It's written from inside Roe's head so we jump from the present to the past without so much as a 'by your leave' but that, after all, is the way we think so why shouldn't Roe? But it's by this technique that we get to feel so much of what Roe feels. There are happy moments but these are mostly memories although we get to experience just about every other emotion going.

I can imagine this book being read and enjoyed by older readers as well as the YA market and even more mature teens. But when I say enjoyed then I mean really enjoyed.

I found this book to be brilliant and a disappointment to finish - do you know that feeling when you have to start reading about something at a totally different pace and mood? It's described as 'An extraordinarily assured début' and for once I agree with a jacket comment. Another comment suggests 'beautiful' but I am afraid that word is too weak and watery.

It does brilliance in spades!!

Publisher - Freight Books
Genre - Contemporary Fiction

Buy Ramshacklefrom Amazon

Friday 25 May 2012

Slated by Teri Terry

 A Clean Slate
 review by Maryom

In the not-too-distant future, young terrorists and troublemakers are given a new start in life by having their minds wiped clean of everything, being 'slated'. This is what has happened to Kyla - although 16, she has no recollection of her life up to now. All her memories of family and home, even of why the government decided she needed this 'therapy', have gone - except maybe in her dreams. She has a new family - 'mum' and 'dad', a sister who has also been slated, a growing romantic relationship with fellow 'slated' boy Ben - but no one she feels she can trust and she soon discovers that a word in the wrong place can have devastating consequences. As her memories start to come back, Kyla has to decide who is safe to trust.

You know a book is good when you pick it up just to have a look and maybe a sneaky read of a few pages, and then find you can't put it down! That's what happened to me with Slated. Teri Terry's début novel is completely stunning. Set in a chilling dystopian world where anyone who questions the government's actions conveniently disappears, taken away by the 'men in grey', there are echoes of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia throughout. Telling the story from the point of view of Kyla with her 'clean slate' memory enables the author to explain and experience this world through her main character's eyes. Kyla is wary, certainly more wary than the other 'slated' teens she meets, but still naive. The 'normal' kids at school understand the unwritten rules of society much better. As Kyla's doubts and fears grow, the reader shares them - though I sometimes felt one step ahead of her about who was or was not trustworthy.
My only possible criticism is with the ending which left me wanting more! Obviously there are backstories still be be explored - not only Kyla's but her parents' as well - and more story to come. Hopefully there's not too long to wait for it.

I suspect that Hunger Game fans will just love this new series by Teri Terry!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars (but only because this is not the end of the story)
Publisher - Orchard Books

Genre - Teenage Dystopian Thriller

Reviews for books two and three Fractured and Shattered

Thursday 24 May 2012

The Last Good Man by A J Kazinski

 Review by The Mole

Tommaso Di Barbera has noticed a trend that people all over the world are dying and tattoos are appearing on their backs. He alerts Interpol and Niels Bentzon is brought in to follow up the Danish side of the Interpol alert. When Niels talks to Hannah Lund, trying to find possible victims, he sparks her genius intellect and she discovers the 'why' of it all and predicts when and where the next two victims will die. But can they be protected and saved? Is this whole affair being played by players too big to be messed with?

Another Scandinavian book translated for the international market and it's easy to see why it has become a best seller.

I have read a few stories now that hinge around puzzles of one sort or another... The Da Vinci Code, Maranatha, The Altar of Bones, Sanctus - and I have liked each of them (although not so much The Da Vinci Code). These books must take a great deal of research and I often wonder at the boundaries of legends and actual fiction. (I also Google a lot to try to answer this as I'm sure a lot of readers must.)

The characters are real to me from the manic genius of Lund, the good and almost faultless Bentzon, the depressive Di Barbera, their bosses (who I suspect I've worked with!) and Karen the loving yet frustrated wife. I did feel that the very last page left me wondering.. Could Kazinski really  leave me not knowing what would happen next? I find the way some authors do that almost unacceptable!

However I found this to be another fantastic book that is an absolute must for readers of thrillers, with just a small section of a lot of blood and gore and tension right down the line to the end.

I enjoyed this book a lot - except for the last page! Having said that.... Wikipedia says.... it is to be part of a trilogy and I'm deadly curious as to where the story - apart from the one hanging question - can go from here!  Watch this space??

Publisher - Simon and Schuster
Genre - Adult Thriller

Buy The Last Good Man from Amazon

Wednesday 23 May 2012

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah

Review by Maryom

In November 1996, Helen Yardley was convicted of killing her two baby sons. In February 2005, after a campaign led by journalist/TV producer Laurie Nattrass, her convictions were quashed and she was released. In October 2009 she's found murdered. Is there a connection?
Nattrass has spent years working on his campaign for the release of wrongly-convicted mothers, pointing the blame at expert witness Dr Judith Duffy, but just as Duffy is about to be 'struck off' and his documentary on miscarriages of justice coming together, he decides to dump everything onto relatively inexperienced Fliss Benson and is leaving the production company as soon as possible. Fliss has her own personal reasons for not wanting to work on the project but is left with little option other than to accept it. Meanwhile Fliss has received a very strange, anonymous card bearing sixteen numbers arranged in a 4 by 4 block - and nothing else! Is it a warning? or a clue?

A Room Swept White is the first Sophie Hannah thriller I've read, although I've seen the TV adaptation of The Point Of Rescue (Case Sensitive) twice, and spotting it at the library thought I'd give it a go. I'm happy to say it lived up to my expectations. Some of the police characters were familiar from TV - Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse - and this story fleshed out their characters and ongoing relationship.

I've been exploring a lot of Nordic Noir in my crime reading recently and it's nice to discover equally brilliant British writing.  I'm not a fan of twisted, perverted killers who abuse and torture their victims, preferring nice, straightforward deaths even if the killer's mind is warped, so A Room Swept White suited me. The backstory is cleverly told through newspaper articles and interviews, filling the reader in on what has occurred while not halting the unfolding plot line. It's an intellectual puzzle of a tale rather than one of screeching police-car tyres and last minute chases across town - rather, I suppose, like a modern Agatha Christie.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Hodder and Stoughton

Genre - Adult crime thriller

Buy A Room Swept White from Amazon

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan

review by Maryom

Daniel and his dad - and his pet tomato plant - are spending autumn half term week at a leisure resort deep in Marwood Forest. It should be a week of quality time spent together, playing sport and generally bonding - something their family is short of since mum ran off with her GP. Daniel would rather avoid all of these if possible and is quite happy when Dad decides to 'bond' with the young attractive women in the next chalet, leaving him free to do as he likes. Instead of joining in the regimented sports activites, Daniel just wants to hang out with Lexi, the rather strange girl he's met. Rather strange? very strange, at least! No one else seems to pay her any attention at all, her watch is going backwards and instead of fading, her cuts and bruises get worse.

*Slight Plot Spoilers*

Having read and been greatly impressed by Edward Hogan's two adult novels, Blackmoor and The Hunger Trace, I was curious to see what this his first Teen novel would be like. Daylight Saving is a compelling, fast-paced read - like Hogan's adult novel it feels like a deceptively simple story, until you start to pick up on the darker underlying threads.
Daniel, Dad and Lexi are all trying to come to terms with past events, accepting them being the only way to move on.The reader is aware before Daniel appears to be, that Lexi is a ghost and that something horrific must have happened to her. Now she's trapped in the limbo of Leisure World, forced into living over and over the events that led to her death. As the time arrives when the clocks 'go back' and everyone gets a chance to live that last hour once more, can Daniel find a way to save her, and himself?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Walker Books

Genre - teen, supernatural, thriller

 Buy Daylight Saving from Amazon

Monday 21 May 2012

Digging In The Dark by Hilda Offen

Sometimes Friends are needed
Review by The Mole

Josh's cousin, Malcolm, is dropped off unexpectedly by his parents who disappear without an explanation. Heavily into history and extremely unsociable, Malcolm then proceeds to dig holes everywhere until he declares that he has found a Roman villa. As Josh tries to help Malcolm be accepted by the children of the neighbourhood and Malcolm seems to work to not be accepted, we are witness to a great deal of funny moments but that doesn't change the fact that the story is mainly a light hearted adventure for early readers when Malcolm goes missing. The reason Malcolm has ended up at Josh's becomes apparent and is of great embarrassment to Malcolm. Izzie, Josh's sister, ensures the whole school knows about it and makes Malcolm's life a misery.

At only 112 pages this book will be a quick read for children looking for a light hearted adventure and with plenty of pictures throughout, this book is sure to be enjoyed by children 7+. It has plenty of examples of good behaviour from Josh and he would make an excellent role model as he shows friendship and loyalty to Malcolm. Malcolm however, doesn't appreciate Josh's kindness even when Josh manages to save the day! But Josh will have you laughing at his antics!

Publisher - Catnip Publishing
Genre - Children's 7+ fiction

Buy Digging in the Dark from Amazon

Friday 18 May 2012

Pomegranates and Roses by Ariana Bundy

 More than a cookbook...
 review by Maryom

To say Pomegranates and Roses is a cookbook is an understatement. It's really a lavishly illustrated celebration of Persian life and cookery that will transport you straight to the Arabian Nights.
Yes, it is full of delicious-sounding recipes that I for one am longing to try, but interspersed with family memoirs, notes on Persian customs and culture and the Unani philosophy that blends cooking and medicine. Ariana Bundy was brought up in pre-revolution Persia and brings that era to life with her many memories of  watching, fascinated, in her grandmother's kitchen, of country feasts, colourful Persian weddings or sitting under the pomegranate trees drinking hot fragrant tea.
Having said that, it isn't a book to lie neglected on the coffee table.The recipes aren't difficult and for the most part don't require special, hard-to-obtain ingredients - some of them may require a trip to the specialist shelves of a large supermarket but most will be found easily, perhaps even already in your kitchen cupboard. It's just the way things are combined that makes the difference - for example chicken cooked with oranges and saffron, or baked eggs with chicken,nutmeg and cloves. There are simple salads, slow-cooked stews, drinks and preserves, even kababs to liven up the BBQ.
Pomegranates and Roses is a gorgeous, fascinating book even if you don't try out the recipes but do! They're exotic enough to be tempting but not weird enough to be off-putting. the best way to test recipes is to get in the kitchen and make them.  I'm intending working my way through, probably not very quickly, and posting the results on my Maryom's Home Page blog 

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Non Fiction, Cookery

Buy Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes from Amazon

Thursday 17 May 2012

Derbyshire Book Festival

Derbyshire Book Festival is a biennial event held in various locations up and down the county from libraries and community centres to stately homes and industrial heritage sites, running this year from May 11th - 20th. The slightly strange thing about it is that it doesn't include the City of Derby where we live - which makes it harder for city residents to find out about it. Also although the various venues mean that something is probably happening locally, it also means that some events are at quite a distance - I particularly would have liked to see Edward Hogan, having read and loved both his adult novels The Hunger Trace and Blackmoor and his teen thriller, Daylight Saving, but he was 'on' in Glossop - 50 miles or 1 1/2 hours of travelling away.

This year's highlights include TV's Evan Davies talking about his Made In Britain book, Joanne Harris on the sequel to Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes and Claire Tomalin talking about her biography of Charles Dickens, among many others.

Unfortunately with the festival falling at the start of our Teen's GCSEs it wasn't possible to go everywhere and see everything, so we picked a local early evening one - Paula Rawsthorne and Dan Tunstall, both writers for Teens, talking about their work at Duffield Library.
There wasn't a lot of available space but the event was packed with a mix of teens and wannabe authors. Although mainly pitched at the teenage part of the audience, everyone seemed engrossed as Paula and Dan read from their books and shared their experiences on the road to publication. We've met Paula before at the launch of The Truth About Celia Frost and interviewed her for the blog It was lovely to see her again and we're now looking forward to her next teen novel, out soon. I'm also planning a trip to the library to track down Dan's books.
 Something I particularly liked was that while after the readings there was the customary book-signing and -selling, the library had stocked up on both authors' books ready to loan them - especially helpful with books aimed at teens who won't necessarily have ready cash to spend on books.

As we are publishing this on Thursday and the festival is not over until Sunday 20th May then you may like to check it out and see if there is something on locally for you to enjoy.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov

Better and Better
Review by The Mole

Shadow Chaser is book 2 of The Chronicles of Siala. Shadow Prowler was book one.

Shadow Harold is struggling towards the catacombs of Hrad Spein where he is to save the world from The Nameless One by collecting the Rainbow Horn. It is, however, a race and others are trying to prevent him getting there but also getting the Rainbow Horn for themselves.

The plot in this book is fast moving and full of short but significant events. Without giving some of them it is difficult to do justice to this wonderful episode in the Siala chronicles. But to give them would be to give plot spoilers - so I can't!

Let us say that this part of the story is much faster and action packed than the first book. Pehov has really stepped the pace up and we start to learn more about the "Shadow Dancer", as Kli-Kli insists Harold's true name is.

Pehov is also one of those strange authors that believes almost no character is immortal and is happy to kill them off. In book 1 we lost 1 character, who is still mourned in book 2 but we also lose X character(s)  in this book. Character(s) that should not have died!!

In the first book I was not too sure about some of the translation by Andrew Bromfield but in this book he has learned the language of fantasy and excelled himself in a wonderful translation that brings Pehov's excitement through.

All in all this book truly excels in comparison with book 1, which was already a very good book. If this repeats itself in book 3 then... well it just can't get any better. Can it?

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adult Fantasy

Buy Shadow Chaser (The Chronicles of Siala) from Amazon

Tuesday 15 May 2012

The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

A VERY long weekend!
Review by The Mole

Sam and Lloyd are offered a lift home in the rain by a totally convincing driver but find themselves locked in a mansion and terrified for their lives.

You must have encountered the way that when someone tells you about a book and then you read it for yourself, you wonder which of you has misunderstood the plot? Well Maryom told me about The Long Weekend because she THOROUGHLY enjoyed it and when I read it I encountered a different book. A WOW book. But different. This book starts with a very worrying scenario when the boys are offered a ride home in the rain in a 'limo'. I wonder, despite parental warnings since before they could walk, how many boys and girls would see no danger in a 'limo' and accept the ride? And that is a terrifying point for parents because the author has created a totally plausible scenario to open the story with.

But the story then develops into a fantastic thriller and action adventure that sees Sam being daring, ingenious, brave and very much the 11 year old under stress that he is. But there is another thread to the plot that is fantastically woven in - it's a story of friendship and loyalty that sees Sam risking his own freedom to try to help Lloyd.

The story does tell the story of a long weekend - one that hasn't ended even 6 years later for either of them - and a weekend that may never end for them.

A truly fantastic story that is gripping, enthralling, exciting, entertaining and many more 'ings' as well.

This tale will be loved by the 9+ readers, particularly boys but girls as well, and there is nothing in there that is inappropriate and may actually underline the threat that the most innocuous of offers may contain.

Wow, brilliant, fabulous.

Maryom's review

Publisher - Andersen Press
Genre - Children's (9+),Thriller

Other reviews: Feeling Fictional

Monday 14 May 2012

Every Step of The Way by Kit Domino

Review by The Mole

It's 1952 and Beth is 16 and living in London. It's a time when smog frequently chokes London and causes untold deaths. Pollution coupled with bad weather are the cause and it is so bad that garden fences cannot be seen from house windows. Beth is struggling to find a way in life that will challenge her and give her enjoyment but instead has to take work waitressing where she meets Terry.

As I started to read this book I found a powerful story of life in London during the 1950s. I grew up in the 1960s but still saw a lot I could identify with and enjoyed the story telling. I could not make out where the story was going to go and what it's genre truly was as we were told of so many issues affecting young women of the time and the story jumped around. I would say that one of the most significant points to me was how you couldn't just get hold of someone. No phones in houses let alone mobiles and 2 days for a letter to arrive - yes I grew up like that but Domino brought back to me what I had long since forgotten. The issues for young women however, made apparent through Beth's frustrations, are mostly as relevant today as they were then.

Sadly the latter part of the book lacked the power and style of the early part of the book as it settled down into what I can only describe as 'A Woman's Novel' - if that is not too patronising. In part romance, part fairy tale, part happy families.

Publisher - Thornberry Publishing Ltd
Genre - Adult Fiction, Romance

Buy Every Step of the Way from Amazon

Friday 11 May 2012

Jack The Ripper: The Hand of a Woman by John Morris

review by Maryom
Most of us are to some extent aware of  the infamous murderer known as Jack the Ripper even if, like me, most of your knowledge was gained through watching Whitechapel on TV! In 1888 he struck terror among the residents of the Whitechapel area of London with a series of gruesome killings. Despite the best efforts of Scotland Yard, no one was ever convicted of these murders, which has led over time to many theories about the identity of the killer. For the most part, researchers have assumed the murderer was a man but this book puts forward the idea that 'Jack' was in fact a woman.

John Morris' interest was piqued by another 'Jack the Ripper' book which suggested Sir John Williams, a famous highly-esteemed gynaecologist, as the murderer*. While intrigued by this theory, Morris wasn't convinced. His father, an enthusiastic amateur historian, had just finished researching Williams and he refused to believe that such a talented doctor would have turned into the horrific murderer. Together they set about sifting through all the evidence, theories and books about Jack the Ripper, eventually stumbling on a new possible identity for him.
Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman takes the reader through Morris' research and reasoning, following the victims on their last days to their unhappy meetings with Jack.
Not really knowing much about the facts surrounding the Ripper murders, I can't say how plausible Morris' ideas are in comparison to others put forward over the years. At times, when he showing his reasoning, I felt there was more than one interpretation that could be put on the facts.

The Hand of a Woman is certainly an interesting read but I suspect one that it raises as many questions as it answers. 

* "Uncle Jack" by Tony Williams

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
Adult Non-Fiction, Crime

Buy Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman from Amazon

Thursday 10 May 2012

The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

Good story. Shame about the characters.
 Review by Maryom

Tony Webster is in his sixties, now retired after an uneventful, unremarkable life - his career, marriage and even his divorce have been like mere ripples in his pond. His reminiscences take him back to his days in school sixth form when new boy Adrian joined his little clique. As they grow older, go their different ways to University, their friendship fades as may be expected.  It comes to an abrupt end though when Tony and his girlfriend, Veronica, split up and she almost immediately moves in with Adrian. Even this, possibly the most dramatic thing to happen in Tony's life, is looked back on with equanimity - until the day he receives a solicitor's letter - Veronica's mother has bequeathed him various items in her will. Making contact with Veronica, opens up these events and subjects them to new interpretations. 

I accidentally came across this book on the 'One Week Loan' rack in the library. It's one of those books I'd been meaning to read one day and as it had caught my eye - as a Booker Prize winner, an unread Julian Barnes novel and, most important for a 'one week loan' book, only 150 pages - I picked it up!
The Sense of an Ending is a fascinating tale of how we allow ourselves to re-write our past.
My reactions to this novel were rather mixed. The way the story unfolds pulled me in, in an almost thriller-type way. I soon realised that the past was not the bland emotionless place that Tony claimed it was and wanted to know what had really happened. Everything about it was great so far - unfortunately, and this is the big stumbling block, I couldn't bring myself to feel any sympathy for the people concerned. Tony - pompous, arrogant, all-round irritating - seems stuck in his sixth-form persona. What may be perhaps expected and excusable in the sixth-former is decidedly unlike-able in a man of 60. Veronica, although admittedly tainted by Tony's point of view, wasn't much better.  Maybe Barnes intended them to be unappealing - I wonder?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Vintage
Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Uncommon Enemy by Alan Judd

Compulsive Spy Thriller
Review by The Mole

Having retired from MI6 Charles has started to write a book and is enjoying a quiet life. A call comes to ask him to return to a new and reformed intelligence service to find an agent that has gone missing. He takes up the request and returns but someone doesn't want him back and he finds himself in gaol for his troubles.

Charles is one of those characters who you immediately like and respect, although later you start to wonder if you have him right. We meet Gladiator, Sarah, Nigel, Sonia and others and in each one we find something to not like about them and you start to feel that these are real people. However the story twists and turns and we start to learn that Charles wasn't asked back to find Gladiator at all - there is another agenda that makes the plot that much more cerebral and brings about comparisons to John Le Carré's works.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and really had every intention of letting it wait on the TBR pile for a while but I made the mistake of reading the first page! It does contain some violence and bloodshed but is not overly graphic. I also felt the last page was essential - thank you for that Mr Judd.

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre -  Adult Spy Thriller, Fiction

Buy Uncommon Enemy from Amazon

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Another Time, Another Life by Leif GW Persson

Review by Maryom

Another Time, Another Life is an epic crime thriller, spanning 25 years.
 It opens in 1975 with 6 young Germans taking hostage the staff of their embassy in Stockholm, continues in 1989 with the murder of a rather obnoxious civil servant and concludes in 1999, as the links at last fall into place.

It took me a while to get hooked by this story. The Siege-intro section isn't long and the story then cuts to a seemingly unrelated crime. I also had problems with the translation - it felt at times too literal, and particularly at the beginning I kept pulling up short on awkward words. Once I'd got into the plot, I think I overlooked them more.
 Persson certainly manages to create characters you aren't likely to forget - though for the wrong reasons. The detective in charge of the 80s murder case is one of the most blinkered, misogynistic, homophobic characters ever! Fortunately there are more reasonable policemen around to limit his effect and by the 90s there are capable policewomen to solve the case he couldn't!
Something about it reminded me of Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - possibly the way a lot of the detection was done by trawling through police records rather than hauling in a suspect and forcing a confession.
Despite the slow start, Another Time, Another Life is an engrossing, twist and turn mystery  - if only they'd investigated my prime suspect for the 80s murder, they'd have cleared things up much quicker!

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

Buy Another Time, Another Life from Amazon

Monday 7 May 2012

The Court Painter's Apprentice by Richard Knight

The power of a picture
Review by The Mole

Johann is the son of a pub landlord until Hugo finds his work and offers him an apprenticeship. Johann quickly learns to paint what he sees in people and is appreciated for it until one day one lady sitter is disappointed with result and Johann decides to paint what he would like to see in the lady. Suddenly the lady's luck changes, but surely that's coincidence? Potential clients don't seem to think so.

Paintings can be magical and the idea that you could step inside and be part of the story of that painting is one that has been explored before by authors, but this is the first time that I have read one where the painter himself appears to be the magical element. This and Johann's struggle to get recognised by the Guild as a Master Craftsman become an enchanting and entertaining story for the more serious minded of our younger readers.

I also found this book raised certain issues about people's attitudes to the younger person. A very good read that will be enjoyed by girls and boys alike.

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

 Buy The Court Painter's Apprentice from Amazon

Friday 4 May 2012

Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave A True History
review by Maryom

At first sight this may seem a slightly strange and out of the way book to review  but a while ago I read a blog post at Iris on Books about it. Although I was aware of Aphra Behn as a 17th century female playwright, I didn't realise she'd also written novels - so my curiosity was roused.

 Oroonoko is an African prince who falls in love with a beautiful young girl, Imoinda but is separated from her by the King, who forces her to join his harem. When even this fails to quench their love, Imoinda is sentenced to death, but secretly sold into slavery. Meanwhile, Oroonoko himself is captured, transported to Surinam as a slave and, surprise, surprise, finds his true love again! Here he's treated as an almost equal by his 'owners' but this fails to satisfy him and he plans his escape.

As with a lot of the early novels, it's told as a 'true history' which the author allegedly heard from the hero himself. Although it held my attention, Oroonoko, like a lot of early fiction, is a story to read more for curiosity than entertainment. It doesn't have the scope and depth that we would expect from a modern novella.  It's certainly short - which I'd sort of expected, but of 100 pages in the book, 77 pages comprise the actual story - there are 20 pages of notes at the back and 40 pages of introduction to Aphra Behn, her life, her work, the political context etc. - all helpful if you're studying 17th century fiction no doubt.  Aphra Behn's attitude to slavery was rather puzzling and variable - sometimes she accepts it as part of the normal course of things, at others she opposes it. It certainly came over that it was fine for 'commoners' to be sold into slavery, but not royalty!

A good read for anyone with an interest in the development of the novel or historical attitudes toward the slave trade. Not one I'd recommend to the casual reader though.

Publisher - Penguin Classics
Genre - adult fiction

Buy Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) from Amazon

Thursday 3 May 2012

Guinea Pigs Online by Jennifer Gray and Amanda Swift

With illustrations by Sarah Horne

Featuring - The Internet
Review by The Mole

 Coco was found in a handbag but tells everyone about her life with the Queen. Fuzzy watches cookery programs on TV and fancies himself as a chef. They live in a guinea pig cage with Ben and Henrietta. One day Fuzzy sees an advert 'Guinea Pigs Wanted' for a new restaurant being opened by a celebrity chef. Believing it to be a job advert he sets off to apply for a job, despite Coco saying that they are looking for test customers. After Fuzzy has run away Coco reads again and concludes a third interpretation of the advert:- "Guinea pigs wanted FOR CASH". Frightened for Fuzzy's safety, Coco sets off to rescue him and finds a new friend on the way.

So where does the internet figure? Well Coco needs to find the address so she can go rescue Fuzzy and she receives an email from someone she doesn't know offering help. BIG mistake as the the young readers will find out - it turns out to be not what she expected and underlines the perils of 'people' that are met on the internet and may be pretending something other than they say.

Reading this book was a real delight, not exactly a challenge but a real delight. The font is a good size, the language is simple (but not overly) and the pictures are simple yet appealing. My only problem is that the publisher describes it as 5+. I believe that children of 5 and 6 may find the idea of 179 pages a bit long. But I'm sure it will appeal to the confident young readers or be enjoyed by the younger ones when read with a parent or teacher. I did like the ending that sort of said not to doubt others just because something sounds unusual.

Publisher - Quercus Kids
Genre - Readers 5+

Buy Guinea Pigs Online from Amazon

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

review by Maryom

Twins Rebecca and Hepzibah have been brought up in near captivity by their domineering, over-strict parents.
The Father delights in exerting complete control over the Twins. The Mother just keeps out of the way, letting the girls suffer rather than standing up for them and herself. To outsiders they present the façade of a normal-ish family, inquisitive or well-meaning neighbours are met by a blank wall, and the only person to query this is the girls' grandmother.
As the girls grow older, they come to realise that there's a different sort of existence to be had in the wider world. All they have to do is find a way to break free and live that life  - a wish that ends in tragedy for at least Hepzibah.

 The reader knows from the outset that Hepzibah has died but her and Rebecca's appalling story is only gradually revealed as the book progresses. Hepzibah's tale, up to her death, alternates with Rebecca's which starts at that point. I always wonder with a story like this, why the victims didn't speak out sooner or try to leave, but telling the tale from the sisters' point of view gives the reader an insight into why they, at least, had never thought of any such action.To them, this is how the world is - they don't know of an alternative. Speak out - and things could become even worse!

Is it an enjoyable book? Well, maybe not 'enjoyable' as such - it's far too sinister, dealing as it does with violence, deceit and abuse. It is nevertheless a compelling, though disturbing, read - one you won't want to put down before the end.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Penguin
Genre - crime, thriller, fiction, YA/adult crossover

 Buy Black Heart Blue from Amazon

Other reviews: So Many Books, So Little Time ; The Little Reader Library

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Ninepins by Rosy Thornton

No peace on the fens
Review by The Mole

Ninepins is a tollhouse on the Cambridgeshire fens and is the home of mother and daughter, Laura and Beth. Beth is 12 and finding new friends in her first year at secondary school, friends that are not as well behaved as they seem. Laura lets 'The Pumphouse', which is a separate building and was once used to pump water from the fens, out to students for a little extra cash, but this year the student pulled out leaving Laura to rent it to Willow - a 17 year old who has been in a care home after being found guilty of arson. With Beth's friends leading her astray, Beth's asthma and Willow then Laura's life is about to be turned totally upside down.

This book is one of those 'hard to classify' types. Never quite a thriller, not quite a mystery, nor a romance. It's more a story of a family that is going through a patch of life that, once traversed, will leave everyone wiser, happier and more settled. That is if they all make it through.

The book deals with some powerful issues and the author does it very well. Beth has an asthma bout - I am avoiding the word 'attack' deliberately - which builds up over several days because of the weather and finally has Laura picking her up from school and rushing her to the doctor to be put on a nebuliser. This was followed by nights sitting up and comforting and watching and left me just a little wondering why nebulisers aren't readily available in the manner of defibrillators? Or even just a little angry maybe, but the writing was powerful enough that I became involved in this.

I did enjoy this book but do find it hard to classify it's 'genre' and think I must opt for the catch-all 'Adult Fiction'. The story moves quickly from incident to incident with no clearly discernible goal until the very end when we are suddenly thrown from one side to the other before finally understanding, and appreciating where we were being taken and it was a journey worth travelling.

Once again - I was entranced by the characters in the book and did enjoy it a lot.

Publisher - Sandstone Press
Genre - Contemporary Adult Fiction

Daniel's Beetles by Tony Bianchi

A Fascinating Study - but NOT of Beetles
review by Maryom

Daniel has always been fascinated by insects - from minuscule creepy-crawlies to dazzling Monarch butterflies - almost to the exclusion of the rest of the world. His boyhood revolved around finding them, taking notes of each species as he found it for the first time, experimenting with ways of preserving them. His career has followed this inclination and now he works at a museum caring for their collections of insects. A nerdy, socially inept person, this is where he's always been at his happiest and most comfortable, still as an adult taking refuge from the world in categorising and arranging these creatures.
Then he's introduced to a strange organisation called Tŷ Dedwydd - the House of Happiness. Here, alongside drama lessons and kite flying, he discovers stranger ways of making people happy - including tampering with their memories - and wonders if he can find a way to re-make his past and wipe out all the bad things.

Daniel's Beetles is a slow moving read but one that had me mesmerised. The reader is gradually drawn into the life, if not inside the head, of Daniel. Tony Bianchi really captures this nerdy, almost compulsive obsessive man, trying to categorise everything he encounters - insects, dialects, people. It raises questions about memories and their accuracy, how we perceive our past, the shifting borderlines between truth and fiction and whether a little delusion is good for us. All in all, a thought provoking read. Having reached the end I feel there were lots of 'pointers' and subtleties along the way that I missed, so I'll certainly read it again. For now, I'm going to give it 4 stars but feel that a re-read could easily have me upping that figure.

Originally written in Welsh - Pryfeta - and translated by its author, it still contains snippets of Welsh here and there which add to the overall feel of the book - don't let them put you off!
Oddly it reminded me of two very different things - something indefinable in the style or wording reminded me of AS Byatt's novels, so if you've enjoyed them, try this one, but also my inner sci-fi nerd was reminded of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K Dick and the film based on it, Total Recall - a strange mix of books for one sentence!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Seren

Genre - adult, literary

Buy Daniel's Beetles from Amazon - on pre-order till June