Friday 28 September 2012

It's Time for Bed by Adele Geras and Sophy Williams

Review by The Mole

It's time for bed for Little Hare, but, like all children, Little Hare finds lots of essential things that need to be done before bedtime. Each new 'thing' requires Mother Hare to produce a lullaby. Lullabies for mice, birds, frogs and toys before, finally, one for Little Hare.

Having read this through I was very struck by something - Little Hare is neither male nor female so you can agree on 'he' or 'she' as it suits your own child.

The pastel colours in this book are 'sleepy' colours  and the the pictures are soft focus to be snuggly, warm and sleepy and this is very much a bedtime reader. The words and poem structure though is very much an 'adult read aloud', reinforcing the book's bedtime role.

A book definitely for bedtime and, hopefully, your little one will get to sleep much quicker that Little Hare!

Publisher - Piccadilly Press
Genre - Bedtime reader, children 0+

Thursday 27 September 2012

The Curious Cookbook by Peter Ross

A Culinary Curiosity
review by Maryom

The Curious Cookbook is an amazing little book that gives a fascinating glimpse into Britain's culinary past.

The recipes date from 1390 to as recently as 1940, all taken from cookbooks of the time and have accompanying notes about their context. The food ranges from the mildly different - a flower strewn omelette or fruit pudding stuffed turnip - to the wildly extravagant  - a mythical beast created by joining a cockerel and a pig - to the plain obnoxious - artificial milk made with bruised snail. 
Many of the earlier dishes were obviously intended for display at the tables of the rich - the time taken to prepare stuffed and gilded meat dishes or create sculptures from marzipan or sugar would be beyond the means of  anyone without kitchen staff - but what struck me most throughout was the use of strange ingredients. Viper soup, badger ham and stewed sparrows are mentioned on the cover but there are also recipes including porpoise, peacock, otter, tortoise, larks and squirrels - none of which we'd dream of eating these days! I was certainly surprised to discover sparrows and starlings being recommended in a ration cookbook from the 1940s. Other recipes seemed only a little out of the ordinary and there are quite a few I feel inclined to try.
Mostly these are not recipes as we expect today -  no careful measuring of ingredients or detailed instructions. The authors of these cookbooks expected their readers to know how to gut a fish, skin a rabbit or make a batch of pastry, and were more concerned with sharing ideas than giving how-to guides.

An intriguing book for anyone with an interest in history, cooking or both.

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - British Library
Genre - Non-Fiction, Cookery, History

You can buy a copy from British Author

Wednesday 26 September 2012

The Midnight Swimmer by Edward Wilson

 review by Maryom

William Catesby is a British spy caught up in the Cold War of the early 1960s. The US is planning an invasion of Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro's revolutionary government; the Russians are deploying soldiers and nuclear armaments there to support Castro - but if WW3 breaks out one of the first casualties will be Britain!. How can either side back down without total loss of face?  Catesby is sent to Berlin, to Cuba, to Washington in an increasingly desperate attempt to avert the seemingly inevitable. As these events play out on the world stage, Catesby finds himself caught up in a love-triangle with a beautiful Russian.

The Midnight Swimmer is a great espionage story set against a real, very frightening backdrop. Of course we all know now how things worked out but this is one of the few novels I've read that really capture the feeling of tension and fear of the time. Fiction and non-fiction merge easily though Catesby does seem to be just a little too much always where the action is. It has everything you would expect from the spy genre - exotic locations, secret assignations, honey-traps and men torn between personal and patriotic ties.

I must admit I hadn't come across Edward Wilson's novels before being invited to his event at Edinburgh International Book Festival where he was talking about historical espionage fiction. What he said there intrigued me enough to track down this, his latest book, through my library - and now I'll be asking them for more!

For more historical background - and an extract from The Midnight Swimmer - see this previous post by Edward Wilson

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher - Arcadia Books
Genre - Adult Spy Thriller, Historical Fiction

Buy Midnight Swimmer, The from Amazon

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Edward Wilson - author contribution

Vasili Arkhipov
Tonight (Tuesday 25th September 2012) on Channel 5 is a programme called "Revealed: The Man Who Stopped WW3". While this revelation will be news to many it's already 'revealed' in "The Midwinter Swimmer" a novel by Edward Wilson. Having heard Wilson talking at Edinburgh International Book Festival about this moment in history, we invited him to make a contribution to the blog today ahead of the screening.

We are planning an interview with Edward Wilson very soon and are grateful for this contribution today.

The Man Who Saved the World
(an extract adapted from an article commissioned by The Guardian)
Copyright © Edward Wilson 2012

If you were born before the 27th of October 1962, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov saved your life. It was the darkest day of Cuban Missile Crisis and the most dangerous day in history. An American spy plane had just been shot down over Cuba while another U2 had got lost and strayed into Soviet airspace. As these dramas ratcheted tensions beyond breaking point, an American destroyer, the USS Beale, began to drop depth charges on the B-59, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear weapon. They were only ‘practice’ depth charges, but the captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, had no way of knowing that. Nor did he know that the depth charges were merely warning shots to force the B-59 to surface and make her intentions known. The Beale was soon joined by other US destroyers who piled in to pummel the submerged B-59 with more depth charges and hand grenades. The exhausted Savitsky was now under more stress than any commanding officer in the history of warfare. Savitsky assumed that World War III had broken out. He ordered the B-59’s ten kiloton nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing. Its target was the USS Randolf, the giant aircraft carrier leading the task force.

If the B-59’s torpedo had vaporised the Randolf, the nuclear clouds would soon have spread from sea to land. The armed forces of both super powers would have slipped their leads and no restraining order from the White House or the Kremlin would have reined them in. The first targets would have been Moscow, London, the airbases of East Anglia and troop concentrations in West and East Germany. The next wave of bombs would have wiped out ‘economic’ targets, a euphemism for civilian populations. Square Leg, the 1980 defence exercise, estimated UK casualties from a ‘limited’ nuclear attack of 131 warheads at 29 million dead with only one third of the population surviving ‘short term’. The US war plan – known as SIOP, Single Integrated Operational Plan – echoed Dr Strangelove’s orgiastic Götterdämmerung and called for the dispatch of 5,500 nuclear weapons against a thousand targets including Albania and China.

The world was saved because one Soviet naval officer, Commander Vasili Arkhipov, succeeded in reversing Captain Savitsky’s lethal decision. The regulations for launching the nuclear torpedo required the consent of all three senior officers. There was a heated argument in the submarine’s command centre. Arkhipov was the only officer who opposed launching the torpedo that would have ignited World War III. No one will ever know exactly what transpired between the three officers who held the world’s fate in their hands. But in the end, Arkhipov persuaded his colleagues not to launch and to surface under cover of darkness so they could make radio contact with Moscow. It is clear that Arkhipov’s judgement and reputation – the previous year Arkhipov had risked his life to save a submarine with an overheating reactor – were key factors. 

Never before have so many owed so much to one person. On the evening of 27 October let’s raise our glasses: ‘Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, spasiba!’ Or simply, ‘Thank you, Vasya.’

Extract from The Midnight Swimmer by Edward Wilson
Copyright © Edward Wilson 2012 

Now hear this: general quarters, general quarters. All hands man their battle stations. This is not a drill!
      The USS Beale had scented its prey, pursued her and now had her cornered. The Beale was one of eleven destroyers in Task Force Randolf that were stalking Soviet submarines. The ship’s call to battle was a deafening combination of sirens, klaxons and bells. Several sailors held their ears as they dashed along the decks to their stations.
      The Beale’s weapons officer and skipper were staring at the green sonar screen which showed the depth and location of the target. The sonar operator was wearing earphones. ‘She’s so close, sir, you can hear the propellers and the engine clanking.’
       The skipper spoke first. ‘The biggest fear is that you got to make sure it’s Ivan and not one of our own.’
      ‘It’s definitely an Ivan, sir.’
      The skipper nodded and left the sonar station for the CIC, the Combat Information Center, to begin to plan for the attack.
      The damage control officer was giving a briefing in Damage Control Central, a cabin in the middle of the ship hung with diagrams of the ship highlighting the locations of watertight doors and fire hose outlets. All the men were wearing lifejackets and grey helmets. They had their sleeves rolled down and buttoned and their trousers tucked into their socks. A few of the sailors had rosary beads draped around their necks.
      One of the younger sailors looked particularly nervous and tried to hide his nervousness by making little jokes. His socks weren’t long enough and his trousers kept popping out. ‘Here,’ said the damage control officer handing him a piece of string, ‘tie them.’
      ‘Why, sir, have we got to tuck our trousers in like that anyway?’
      ‘Because when a ship gets hit and the explosions start a lot of guys get nervous – and they start pissing and shitting themselves. You don’t want to be slipping and sliding on decks full of piss and shit when you’re trying to fight fires and deal with dead and wounded.’
The skipper of the Beale, like the other ship commanders involved, was authorised to conduct anti-submarine operations without much interference from above. The highest priority was to avoid losing an American warship by lack of decisive action. The skipper turned to his weapons officer: ‘Prepare practice depth charges for immediate launch.’
      It was the ultimate cold war game for a US destroyer commander: finding a Soviet sub and forcing her to surface. The procedure approved for the Cuba crisis was to drop four practice-depth charges as close to the Soviet submarine as possible. The depth charges produced a loud bang, but were supposed to be otherwise harmless. It was a signal for the Soviet sub to surface and identify herself. The US Embassy in Moscow had passed on the details of the procedure to the Kremlin, but the Soviet government had not yet passed the message on to their submarine commanders.

The crew of the B-59, a Soviet Foxtrot class submarine, thought they were about to die. The practice-depth charges were exploding right next to the hull of the sub – one even bounced off the hull with a loud clang before detonating. It felt like they were trapped in a steel barrel that someone was hitting with a sledgehammer.
      The B-59 was in a desperate situation. Her batteries were so low that she had been forced to switch to emergency lighting which left the submarine in a murky gloom. It was stifling hot, plus forty-five degrees Celsius, and the carbon dioxide level had become so dangerously high that crew had begun to pass out. Ironically, the most comfortable place in the submarine was next to the ten-kiloton nuclear-tipped torpedo in the forward section of the hull. It was the place furthest from the toxic fumes and heat of the engine room.
      The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievich Savitsky, had had enough. ‘We’re under attack,’ he shouted. ‘It is obvious that war has already started. Prepare the torpedo for firing. We’re going to blast them now. It doesn’t matter if we die, we will sink them all. We will not disgrace the Soviet Navy!’

Lieutenant Commander Pavlov was not only in charge of the nuclear torpedo on the B-59, he slept beside the polished grey tube like a fond lover. When Captain Savitsky gave the order to prepare the torpedo for firing Pavlov felt two competing pangs of regret. One, he was going to be separated from a complex piece of machinery and advanced technology that he had looked after with obsessive care for many months. Two, he was almost certainly going to die and never see his homeland or his loved ones again. But Pavlov overcame those feelings and began the final preparation rituals. It was impossible not to think of the enormity of his actions and the lives that would be extinguished. Pavlov assumed that the world was already at war and that he had to carry out his duties as part of a greater scheme that he could not question. He unscrewed a cover to make a final check on the coils and electrical connections that connected detonator and warhead. When that was done, he completed the final task. Pavlov could not keep his hands from shaking as he removed the green ‘safety connector plug’ and replaced it with the red ‘arming plug’.

The submarine’s second in command, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, came from a peasant family and had made his way up the ranks through technical expertise and calm judgement. The previous year he had helped save a nuclear submarine with a coolant leak that resulted in the deaths of eight sailors and threatened to blow up the reactor. Arkhipov received a heavy dose of radiation, but helped devise a jury-rigged coolant system that saved the submarine. Arkhipov was now trying to save the world.
      The authorisation of all three senior officers aboard was needed to launch the nuclear torpedo. The Political Officer, Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, was in accord with Captain Savitsky that war had broken out. The submarine had been buffeted by four more explosions. Although the crew of the B-59 had no way of knowing, the explosions had been caused by hand grenades dropped by a destroyer that had joined the Beale. Both Savitsky and Maslennikov felt they were now bound by honour and duty to attack the US aircraft carrier leading the task group. ‘We have no choice,’ said Maslennikov, ‘we need to defend Soviet forces from further attacks. This is war.’
      ‘If,’ said Arkhipov, ‘the Americans were trying to sink us we would already be dead.’
      ‘They’re incompetent,’ said Savitsky, ‘and we’ve been taking evasive action.’
      ‘They may be incompetent, but they are not trying to sink us. They have not dropped fully-armed depth charges. If we are not certain that a state of war exists, we cannot take the risk of starting a war that will kill tens of millions of our citizens. I refuse,’ said Arkhipov, ‘to give my authorisation to use that torpedo. If you ignore my refusal, you are both disobeying standing orders. In any case, it will soon be night. I suggest we surface under cover of darkness and radio Moscow for further instructions.’
      Savitsky looked hard at Arkhipov. He then angrily picked up the internal telephone connecting the control centre to the torpedo room.
      A hundred feet forward Pavlov lifted the clanging phone off its hook. He felt a shiver go down his spine as he heard the captain’s voice bark out the crisp order. Pavlov wasn’t sure that he had heard correctly, so he asked the captain to repeat the order for confirmation. Savitsky’s voice sounded even more irritated than it had the first time. Pavlov replied, ‘Order understood. I will carry out instruction immediately.’
      Pavlov put the phone back and went back to the torpedo. His hands were completely calm as he removed the ‘arming plug’ and replaced it with the ‘safety connector plug’. Tears were flowing down his cheeks as he stroked the torpedo tube. ‘Not now my sweetest, maybe never.’
In the end, the B-59 was not able to have a quiet chat with Moscow. She surfaced on to a night sea surrounded by American ships that were shining search lights at her conning tower. One of the destroyers had a jazz band on deck playing loud amplified music. The idea was to show the Soviet submarine officers that war had not broken out. As the B-59 broke the surface, the band shifted from ‘Boogie Woggie Bugle Boy’ to ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’. 
      When Captain Savitsky appeared from the hatch he was greeted with ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. He ordered the sailors who followed him not to smile or make eye contact with the Americans. ‘Behave with dignity,’ he said, ‘they are trying to humiliate us.’
      A large group of American sailors were dancing on the jazz band ship’s deck in time to the music. Others were throwing packages of cigarettes and Coca-Cola at the Soviet submariners. Most of the offerings fell into the sea, but the ones that landed on the submarine were ignored and left to the washing waves.

Monday 24 September 2012

The Chemickal Marriage by G W Dahlquist

Review by The Mole

In the previous two books stuff has happened and this book opens to find Celeste in her hotel room planning a spying mission to find out what has happened at the factory and what the next step should be. So what happens next? In a trilogy of this sort any short summary is likely to be a spoiler for the previous books so I'm saying nothing!

In the "Prefatory Note" at the beginning of this book it says "...much of this present book may stand apart as a discrete narrative...". T'ain't true. Sorry. It then goes on, over a a single page length note, to explain the story so far which is sadly inadequate with the complexity of the story so far. It should instead contain a warning "Do not attempt to read this without having read the story so far". Sadly I haven't finished it. Why sadly? Because I would like to, there is something pulling me back... I don't know why. And although there is sex in it - it's not particularly well done, and frankly I don't understand why it's there.

I found it hard to read, written in the style it is and yet I want more. I have already put it down twice and 'given up' but I have also picked it up again to read on.

I suspect this book has the power to become a 'Cult'. Sadly 'cult' often mean low volumes but an intrepid band of followers. I could imagine conventions with attendees in Victorian garb and tattoos of 'glass' injuries and mirrors made especially for it. But I'm afraid I wouldn't be attending.

If readers have read and enjoyed books 1 and 2 then I am sure their reading of this will be just  as fulfilling, however my recommendation is not to try this one without starting at the beginning.

So will I pick it up a third time, after all I got halfway through? I really don't know... I would like to but it feels a bit daunting.

Publisher - Penguin Books
Genre - Adult Fantasy

Buy The Chemickal Marriage (Dream Eaters 3) From Amazon

Friday 21 September 2012

Bryant and May and The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler

Review by The Mole

When a woman dies for no apparent reason, except that two children placed a curse on her when they were playing a game, Bryant is intrigued but denied access to the case. The unit are then given the case of protecting the wife of their greatest enemy in exchange for a permanent truce. When the wife is found dead Bryant & May's continued existence in the PCU (Peculiar Crimes Unit) is very much under threat and they need to crack the case and fast!

This is only my second Bryant & May book but I doubt it will be my last. When I read my first, The Water Room, I enjoyed it but with this one I can feel an addiction coming on!

Once again the book was packed with "read aloud and share" passages - well you have to, don't you? And if anything, I have to say I enjoyed this one even more. Less like "Dirk Gently" and more like a unique genre this story mixed normal detection with the macabre and the bizarre in a way that captivated me from the start. I was so wrapped up in the struggle for proof that I totally failed to see the ending coming - BRILLIANT!

Bryant is a character... well we know the type but then so is everyone else in the PCU from Colin and Meera, the two gophers of the department, to Land, the unit head - and you can't fail to like every one of them. May is more the 'Lewis' to Bryant's 'Morse' but does, sometimes, have a sobering and calming effect on the plot when Bryant would blunder through.

Yes, I would strongly recommend this to mystery readers, especially crime and also to anyone who enjoys a bit of light hearted lunacy sometimes. But be careful, this could be addictive and so far this is only the tenth in the series.

Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult fiction,  crime mystery

Buy Bryant & May and the Invisible Code: (Bryant & May Book 10) from Amazon

Wednesday 19 September 2012

John Connolly and Mark Billingham - author event

John Connolly
By The Mole 

Last night (18th Sept 2012) saw another author event with John Connolly and Mark Billingham at Waterstones in Nottingham. Both are successful crime writers and could easily have held the night on their own, but we had a double treat. Both authors have books out and work in the pipeline. But there is one other thing they have in common and that is "Books to Die For" which is a collection of 'essays' that 120 different writers have produced telling why their choice of mystery novel is a book "to die for". Not all the selections are gritty murder mysteries - the brief was 'mystery' and didn't include the word 'murder'. Authors like AS Byatt (Possesion) are included as well as Douglas Adams (Dirk Gently) also murder mysteries including Agatha Christie (Hercules Poirot) and Reginald Hill (Dalziel & Pascoe).

Mark Billingham
Connolly and Declan Burke edited the collection as well as contributing to the book. Billingham also contributed and that was the link between these two authors' presentation.

The evening started with Billingham giving a brief introduction of himself and then reading a very short story "Fifty Shades of Thorne" - an extremely entertaining satirical piece that had the room laughing from the off. He then read from the next Tom Thorne novel - a work in progress which he didn't give the title to because he said it would probably change yet.

Connolly then talked to us about himself and "Books to Die For" and once again it was peppered with humour that kept the room laughing.

Both authors then sat and discussed, between themselves but to the room, various mystery writers and their works, again keeping the mood light hearted. Most of the authors discussed were featured in the collection and, sadly, many were new to me, but with stories spanning from 1841 to 2008 perhaps that isn't too surprising.

With works by both authors available for purchase - or take your own collection in - a book signing followed.

Another great event by Waterstones giving fans and casual readers a chance to meet and ask questions of successful writers.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Wish-Bringer by Geraldine McCaughrean

Illustrated by Jana Diemberger
Review by The Mole

Monacello is a character from Italian folk tales, who came from Naples and was seen to bring luck, sometimes good but sometimes bad. Not a pretty little chap, he dressed a little like a monk and had two caps, one black for mischief and one red for good luck.

This book is the second of a trilogy and tells various tales of his naivety and mischief making around Naples.

Aimed at the 8-10 year old reader, the illustrations depict an unattractive monk-like figure that oozes mischief - something that will appeal to it's readers and while Monacello brings good luck he doesn't do it very well and prefers his mischief. The illustrations are dark and spooky but depict the tone of the story and the under city in which Monacello lives.

The telling is light hearted and appealing and perhaps a little reminiscent of AA Milne's Winnie The Pooh while all the time underlining the darker side of Naples' life at that time.

A story that will appeal to children who like the darker side of stories (ghosts, vampires and stories of revenge) and the underdog winning through.

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children 8-10, Folk Tales, illustrated story book

Buy The Wish-Bringer (Monacello) from Amazon

Monday 17 September 2012

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

Winter Wonderland Adventure
review by Maryom

Sophie smith is an orphan living for most of the year at her dull boring boarding school while her disinterested guardian is, yet again, absent on business. What Sophie really longs for is adventure! At night she dreams of journeying on a train through the snowbound Russian countryside, so when the possibility of going there on a school trip arises, she leaps at it.The reality is not what Sophie expected. Thrown out of a train on a deserted platform, Sophie and her friends wonder what on earth will happen to them ....but then they are rescued and taken to the winter palace of Princess Anna Volkonskaya. The Princess is desperately seeking her family's lost treasure- in particular a rope of magnificent diamonds - and believes Sophie holds the key to their whereabouts.

The Wolf Princess is a wonderful, enthralling story of a decaying palace, the mysterious, glamorous Princess who lives there, the snowy forests that surround it with sleigh rides through them and the wolves that howl there in the night. A story of adventure and secrets from the past, in an exotic almost magical setting, it reminded me of the enchantment I felt on reading The Little White Horse as a child. I'm just that bit older now but was similarly mesmerised as I read The Wolf Princess.The reader is transported along with Sophie from the mundane everyday world to a mysterious, fairy-tale winter wonderland.

A captivating story that is just right for Christmas stockings, either for the 10+ reading bracket to read on their own or as a serial bedtime story for younger ones.  The Wolf Princess is definitely going on my 'best reads' list for this year.

Unusually I've added images for both paperback and hardback versions as both are wonderful though very different.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - 10+, adventure, 

Available on pre-order from Amazon till October 2012

 The Wolf Princess paperback
 The Wolf Princess hardback

Other reviews; Serendipity Reviews

Friday 14 September 2012

Merivel by Rose Tremain

review by Maryom

Merivel, a Man of His Time, is the long-awaited sequel to Tremain's Booker short-listed novel, Restoration, which charted the rise, fall and recovery of  Robert Merivel, physician and friend of King Charles II. His story is picked up many years later. Merivel is now in middle age and beginning to feel his years. His daughter is grown up, ready to embark on her own career out in the world without him, the King is at Court and no longer in need of Merivel's services and he feels without purpose. Left adrift with no clear purpose to his life, Merivel even finds himself wondering about the ways in which it might end. In the grip of this mid-life crisis, he decides to go to Paris to visit the Versailles court of Louis XIV in the hope of 'employment' there as a physician.Things don't go according to plan and he leaves there, if anything, more disillusioned than ever.

Merivel is a rather melancholy book taking its tone from the lead character. Merivel looks back on his life - events seeming more exciting from the distance of time - contemplates the ageing of his close friends and  sees nothing left for him to look forward to. He's very much a man of his time in that the world no longer seems as bright and glorious as it was in the heady days of King  Charles' Restoration. Both Merivel and the world have entered a rather dull decline.
Having said all that, which might leave you feeling it was such a depressing read that you wouldn't bother with it, it's an excellent entertaining story. Tremain captures the feeling of the period very well. Without seeming quaint or strained, or even difficult to follow, the story is told in what appear to be 17th century speech patterns, rather like the extracts of Pepys' diary that I've read. There are lots of details of clothing and manners - though maybe too many of the horrors of surgery at the time.
All in all a wonderful 'period piece' and moving story.
Although a sequel it's not necessary to have read Restoration because Merivel's musings and rememberings fill in his rather more exciting past life. If like me, you saw the film version you might find images of Robert Downey Jr and Meg Ryan floating around as you read.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Chatto and Windus
Genre -historical, adult fiction

Buy Merivel: A Man of His Time from Amazon

Thursday 13 September 2012

Deborah Harkness - author event

Photo by Vania Stoyanova
post by Maryom

We were out again last night to another excellent event at Waterstones Nottingham - this time to see Deborah Harkness, author of the best-selling A Discovery of Witches, talking about that and the second in the series Shadow of Night.

Deborah's story itself seemed to be a fairy-tale. Having had her imagination sparked by a bookshop window display of  paranormal romance, she sat down, wrote a novel - which expanded into three as she continued to write, had it accepted for publication and had a best-seller on her hands in a few short years. What's next? Well, a film deal for Discovery does actually seem to be progressing as far as the casting stage, so maybe will be hitting the screens before very long.

Meanwhile, Deborah is on a tour promoting Shadow of Night in which Diana and Matthew find themselves back in Elizabethan times, still trying to solve the mystery surrounding the missing Ashmole 782 manuscript and trying to keep their romance alive. I was very interested to discover that Deborah's favourite books include the Nancy Drew mysteries, anything by Anne Rice and Possession by AS Byatt as her stories seem to include elements of them all.
Lots of other things were discussed - both in Deborah's prepared speech and the audience questions that followed - but I'm not going to disclose everything here!

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Nibble Gobble Munch by Professor Charles Clark and Maureen Clark

With Illustrations by Sue Shields
Review by The Mole

Food - something we all think we know about because we eat it every day. But how many people actually eat what's best for them and know what a 'balanced diet' actually is? We all tend to have food habits and despite advice we stick to what we've always done.

Well here's a book that will help youngsters learn new and good habits and possibly break the cycle. Sounds boring but responsible behaviour that will turn them off vegetables for life?  Well, no it isn't!

This book describes itself as a 'pop-up feast' and it's a claim it lives up to. Do you know the role of fibre in your diet? How cells divide? What are the food groups? What do each of the vitamins do? The answer to all these questions and more are to be found in this book but it's presentation is brilliant.

Each page is 'busy' with flaps to lift, tabs to pull, wheels to rotate, concertina books to fold out and traditional pop-ups to... well 'pop-up' I suppose.

If there is one criticism it may be that it's a bit too busy so someone should sit with them and make sure they miss nothing because sometimes a flap has more on the back! Oh, and while you are helping them you may take some of it on board yourself and surprise yourself how much there really is to know! But then you'll be better prepared to help them choose their lunch.

Hours of fun, because you aren't likely to find it all first time through!

Publisher - Kipling Press
Genre - Children's non-fiction, Pop-up book

Buy Nibble Gobble Munch from Amazon

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Katya's World by Jonathon L. Howard

review by Maryom

Katya's World, Russalka,  is one of endless ocean with no landmass to interrupt it. The colonists mostly live in sealed environments dug out of the sea bed, moving between them by submarine and rarely seeing daylight.
Katya Kuriakova is just starting her first job as navigator on her Uncle's submarine, Pushkin's Baby. She's expecting a routine start to a routine job, transporting cargo along well-known submarine routes. Then the sub is commandeered by the Federal Maritime Authority to transport the infamous pirate, Havilland Kane, to prison forcing the sub to take the direct route through The Weft, an area of unusually random currents normally avoided. When they disturb something monstrous lurking there, things are never going to be routine again.

Katya's World is what I think of as a proper old-fashioned sci-fi story - set on a world somewhere out in space with strange geography and lifestyles - not so common in these days of paranormal fantasy. With Russalka, Howard has created a complete believable world, thought out its advantages and drawbacks, explored its history - the only thing I felt was slightly lacking was an exploration of the inhabited stations - I hope this will come with later books. On this world he's set an amazing story with pirates, rebels and a monster lurking in the depths that may bring an end to life as the Russalkins know it. It has almost more twists and turns than I would have thought possible!

Katya is a heroine clever and resourceful beyond her 15 years - think of Star Trek's Wesley Crusher crossed with Alien's Ripley and you're getting close. The other characters are equally well developed with unexpected depths and subtleties - not the two-dimensional cut-outs so often found in sci-fi.

Katya's World is just the first of a series - I just hope the rest are as good. It's marketed as Young Adult but I found it a totally compelling read regardless, so don't be put off if you are older than YA.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Strange Chemistry
Genre - Sci-Fi, Adventure, YA/adult

Buy Katya's World (Strange Chemistry) from Amazon

Monday 10 September 2012

When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

Review by The Mole

"When It Happens to You" is a story of life crises that hops from one person to the next. It starts with Greta and Philip and the disaster that is Philip cheating on his wife. The story switches to a school friend of their daughter. The stories move to neighbours, relatives and lovers before finally returning to Greta and Philip.

I was very quickly intrigued and thinking 'Desperate Housewives' without the comedy but with more reality added. Each character had their own tale to tell, and one very different to the others.

I have to admit, though, to a little disappointment during the second half of the book when the story stopped its jumping but focussed on one story, as it returned to Greta and Philip and began to look like romantic fiction.

Some people are describing it as a collection of short stories, but you you can dip in and out of a collection but here you must take each story in turn.

The tales are captivating and enjoyable as the story weaves its way back and forth but how would I describe it's genre? It's romantic fiction, but not romantic fiction perhaps it's better to say it's contemporary fiction and will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adult Contemporary Fiction

Buy When it Happens to You from Amazon

Friday 7 September 2012

Some Kind Of Peace by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff

review by Maryom

Siri Bergman is a psychotherapist. Good at helping others out with their problems and fears, she refuses to acknowledge her own. Since her husband's death in a diving accident, she's continued to live in their remote seaside cottage, pretending nothing has changed but at night the only way she can sleep is to leave all the lights blazing. Somewhere out there, she feels someone is watching her - and soon her fears start to come true. At first the lights are switched off and her emergency torch disappears - irritating things, suspicious things but in themselves relatively harmless. Then the dead body of one of her patients is found floating in the bay by the cottage. At first the police dismiss it as suicide but events soon lead them, and Siri, to believe that things have taken a more dangerous turn.

Some Kind Of Peace is an excellent thriller from a pair of Swedish writers new to me. It 's the sort of story that starts calmly but with each new event the tension mounts. If you've ever imagined eyes watching you in the dark, or footsteps following you down the street, you're in for a really scary read - even without those fears you'll be gripped! There are snippets interspersed with the action to allow the reader inside the stalker's head - and maybe help identify him/her. I think that's the only negative comment I have to make - I guessed whodunnit!  While Siri was starting to think twice about her work colleagues, friends and patients, to wonder if one of them might be behind the dreadful things happening to those around her, I'd made my mind up about who the stalker was. I don't really think it lessened my enjoyment of the story though, just made me feel smug when I was proved right!
One aspect I really liked was the 'foreign', Swedish feel of the setting. A lot of Scandinavian Noir is gripping and gritty but, apart from excessive cold or a glimpse of midnight sun, could be taking place anywhere. From the opening scene, Some Kind of Peace unfolds against a backdrop of Swedish sights - from bustling Stockholm to Siri's coastal cottage, from the continuous light of summer to almost perpetual dark of winter I felt I was really there.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - crime, adult fiction, Nordic Noir

Buy Some Kind of Peace from Amazon

Thursday 6 September 2012

Another Life by Keren David

Ty's back - with a new look!

post by Maryom

Another Life is the third, and possibly final, instalment in the life of Ty -  who after witnessing a knifing incident found himself bustled away into the witness protection programme for the safety of him and his family. With each change of name Ty has become a different person, developing a character that suits his new name, and always hiding his past. This time he's having to face up to the consequences of what happened seemingly so long ago in that North London playground and, whatever identity he hides behind, it's Ty himself who has to take the rap.
The story-telling passes to his cousin Archie - a pampered irritating Rich Kid who thinks he can play at 'undercover cop' and be a hero. Both boys learn that you have to face the consequences of your actions - perhaps a harder lesson for Archie than for Ty.

The whole series has had a re-packaging, one that I personally feel will be more appealing to boys glancing idly along bookshelves. If they'd got as far as reading the blurb, the story would always have drawn them in. I just wonder whether in retrospect the original covers with the moody-looking guy could have been mistaken for 'girls' books. Hopefully Ty is now off to find a whole new gang of fans.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Teen/YA Contemporary Fiction

Buy Another Life from Amazon

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Review by The Mole

Saba, her twin brother Lugh, Emmi and their father are surviving on a lakeside during a drought in a post- apolcalytic world. Her father reads the stars and sees the future but Saba doesn't think she believes in it and her brother certainly doesn't. Then one day the Tonton come visiting with a neighbour and take Lugh away after killing her father and leaving the two girls alone. Can they survive on their own? Who are the Tonton and why did they take Lugh. And will they ever see Lugh again?

Fast paced from the beginning this book drags you in and involves you. There are times when you want to tell the characters to choose other options but that is always a mark of characters that you believe in and care about.

Yes, the spelling and language takes you by surprise and it certainly slowed my reading at first but stick with it.

You expect the heroine to be honest and honourable but you may get a surprise or two from Saba as she becomes very selfish in her hunt for her twin excluding everyone else from her world. As with all sci-fi novels there are niggles that leave you wondering, but with this story you will only get chance to consider them retrospectively as you race along with the plot.

A truly worthy winner of the Costa Children's Book award and left with a nice twist or two for the sequel. You are left wondering why the characters behaved that way at the end.... a sure sign of a sequel.

Publisher -  Marion LLoyd Books (Scholastic)
Genre - teens, Sci-Fi, Action Adventure

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Tuesday 4 September 2012

Torn by David Massey

review by Maryom

Ellie is on her first tour of duty as an army medic in Afghanistan but no amount of training could have prepared her for the reality of life there. She finds herself immediately plunged in at the deep end with roadside bombs and bullets whizzing past. Through the hail of bullets wanders a young Afghan girl, seemingly unafraid and unharmed. Trying to find out who this girl is and why she is there leads Ellie into dangerous mountain country, home to armed gangs and Taliban supporters.

I've read quite a few novels - aimed at both teens and adults - with some or all of the story set in Afghanistan and this is the first that really made me feel I was there. Massey succeeds in capturing the overpowering heat, freezing nights, dust and stark beauty of the country; the fear, camaraderie and bravery of the soldiers. He manages throughout to avoid the politics of the situation and concentrates on telling a gripping story with a slight supernatural twist. Ellie and her fellow soldiers are real young people engaged in something that is not quite what they expected, though I found my heart going out more to the Afghan children caught up in a war that seems 'normal' to them.
It's a slightly strange mix of female lead in what may be considered a 'male' story-setting, though I grew up reading real life WW2 exploits (Dad's library books) rather than romantic fiction (Mother's). Overall an excellent debut novel that I'd recommend to all teens/young adults with a liking for action adventure.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - war, teen/YA /adult

Buy Torn from Amazon

Monday 3 September 2012

Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird By Eleanor Hawken

Review by The Mole 

Sammy Feral is a normal boy, if you can call someone whose family own a zoo 'normal', until one day his life gets turned upside down and he finds out that werewolves may not be as fictional as he thought. Can he save his family and the zoo in time?

Written as a 'diary' this story should appeal to the younger reader as it's format is very much designed for them. Short chapters, occasional illustrations and a generous sprinkling of humour is used to bring a plot to life that moves quickly and is easy to read.

I found myself spellbound and smiling throughout the book and was pleased that the plot was not overly simple. However, I am sure we have not heard the last of Sammy, Donny and Red (or the zoo come to that) and this book will develop a fan base amongst it's readers. Boys and girls will love this book.

Publisher - Quercus Kids 
Genre - Readers 8+ 

Buy Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird from Amazon