Thursday 28 February 2013

Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

review by Maryom

If you're old enough (I am) to remember the long hot dry summer of 1976, the memories of it will come flooding back - parched gardens, saving ever drop of water and above all the unbelievable, unrelieved sunshine for months! In this most un-English of summers, the Riordan family is in crisis. One morning Robert Riordan leaves his house, telling his wife Gretta that he's off to pick up his morning paper - and doesn't return. There are no clues to show where he may have gone; nothing was any more remarkable about this particular day over any other; he just seems to have disappeared. The absence of his passport and some money soon lead to suspicions that he hasn't had an accident or randomly wandered off, but deliberately planned a journey somewhere. As his three grown-up children, Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife, gather back at the family home we realise that each of them has secrets to hide - though their mother's is the biggest of all.

Instructions For A Heatwave is a marvellous absorbing read; a slice of family life, full of insight and unforgettable characters. O'Farrell gets under their skin so they spring to life off the page, seeming like people I'd known forever; lifelong friends or the next door neighbour who you think you know every last thing about - but then they surprise you with secrets!  Monica and Aoife have been estranged for several years: Michael Francis is busy trying to stop his marriage from sliding into divorce; but it's Gretta's revelation towards the end of the book that brings the jaw-dropping 'who would have guessed' moment. The only enigmatic one is the father Robert. No one knows why he's disappeared or where he may have gone. Always known as a quiet listener, rather than a talkative person, it appears no one, not even his wife, really knew his real thought and feelings.
There's an amazing attention to detail throughout - building up the atmosphere and letting the reader feel there whether with Gretta baking bread, determined that a mere heatwave won't stop her or lying on the old bedroom rag rug with Michael Francis, spilling his secrets to Aoife while Monica eavesdrops on the landing.

One of those books that grabs you at beginning and that you won't want to leave at the end!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction

Buy Instructions for a Heatwave from Amazon

Wednesday 27 February 2013

If I Never See You Again by Niamh O'Connor

review by Maryom

DI Jo Birmingham is a single mum trying to cope with the needs of her two sons and the demands of her job - neither task is helped by her boss, ex-husband Dan who appears to be standing in the way of her promotion. When she stumbles on the murder of a Dublin prostitute and is given charge of the case, she thinks she might at last have the chance to prove what she can do.

Told mainly from Jo's point of view, the story follows the unfolding Garda investigation, linking the first murder with others committed in the same area of Dublin leading to the realisation that there's a serial killer on the loose. There are slight 'asides' to hint at the killer's reasoning and methods but nothing to give the culprit way - and for once I had no idea who dunnit till the very end, though there were plenty of suspects to choose from.

Niamh O'Connor is a new author to me who I discovered via Twitter when she was nominated for an Irish Book Award for the latest Jo Birmingham thriller, Too Close For Comfort. Unfortunately at the time my library didn't have that available but also it seemed logical to start at the beginning of a series. I discovered afterwards that If I Never See You Again had also been nominated for an award - in the Best Newcomer category, 2010. I do expect anything up for an award to be good, but this was absolutely my kind of detective story - a good balance between work and personal life (and the problems of both), not too much gore and, most importantly, believable characters - both cops and villains.

If I Never See You Again is an engrossing, unputdownable read. It's nearly 400 pages long but I whizzed through it in a couple of days. On this showing, Niamh O'Connor is a crime writer I definitely want to read more of.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Transworld Ireland 
Genre -
adult, crime/thriller, 

Buy If I Never See You Again from Amazon

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Wine Of Violence by Priscilla Royal

Review by The Mole

When Eleanor is appointed prioress of Tyndal she meets some resistance. It was not unexpected that a woman in charge of both monks and nuns would ruffle some feathers but a murder within the first 48 hours is going a little bit too far perhaps? And then a new monk arrives with a dark past. When he is attacked and a further murder discovered in the grounds of Tyndal it starts to become a little out of control. Does Eleanor have any allies anywhere?

This is book one in a series of Medieval mysteries and I am seriously left wondering "Who is the 'hero'?" Who is going forward to book two? Will it be Eleanor - she seems the logical choice but will it be Anne, the sub-infirmarian whose logic and brutal honesty comes through so well - but would she go forward without Eleanor? or will it be Thomas, the mysterious monk with a dark past and a mysterious master who seems to 'own' him? Of course it could be all three?

It is described as a mystery but I'm afraid I knew who it was, with a rare confidence, from the very early part of the book. The motivation was also apparent relatively early in the story. I am also left wondering about the title... ?

The story gives an insight into monastic life of the thirteenth century and the people that would have occupied it are brought to life in a tale that was very engaging and most enjoyable. I also found it most refreshing to have three characters so well developed that any one of them could steal the show or even work together in future stories.

Publisher - Head Of Zeus
Genre - Historical crime fiction

Buy Wine of Violence: 1 (A Medieval Mystery) from Amazon

The Devil's Ribbon by DE Meredith

Victorian Silent Witness
review by Maryom

London in July 1858 is on the verge of a cholera epidemic but the latest corpse brought to the morgue run by forensic scientist Adolphus Hatton didn't die of natural causes. The victim is the first of a series of seemingly unconnected murders - the only link being the leaving of a bright green ribbon on or about the corpse. Inspector grey of Scotland Yard believes this points indisputably to one of Irish Fenian groups, intent on self-rule, who have adopted this as a symbol. Grey anticipates violence, possibly bombings, from them as their campaign for independence heats up. Hatton and his assistant Roumande believe the motive must be something less obvious and more personal. Can their pioneering forensic work lead them to the murderer in time to avoid more victims?

The Devil's Ribbon is an interesting, original concept - a sort of Victorian version of Silent Witness. Hatton and Roumande are portrayed as scientists at the cutting edge of forensics, searching corpses and murder scenes for clues, but also as real people with real lives and weaknesses - in Hatton's case, one for beautiful women! I didn't find the Scotland Yard detective, Grey, and side-kick Tescalini to be as well 'fleshed out' and their relationship certainly puzzled me at times, but this wasn't really detrimental to the story as a whole.
If you're looking for something a little different in crime fiction, The Devil's Ribbon is certainly a book to try. Even if, as I did, you can guess "whodunnit" before the end, it's still a readable, enjoyable story full of historical detail and horror.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Allison & Busby
Genre -
adult, crime/thriller, historical fiction

Buy The Devil's Ribbon (Hatton & Roumande) from Amazon

Monday 25 February 2013

Laikonik Express by Nick Sweeney

 review by Maryom

Nolan Kennedy and Don Darius are two thirty-something Americans living abroad, moving round Europe and the Middle East, teaching English. When Don leaves Istanbul for Warsaw, he leaves his novel draft in the rubbish bin. Kennedy finds it, believes it will make Don the next great American novelist and sets out in pursuit of him. From hot steamy Istanbul to snowy Warsaw is an epic enough journey in itself but Kennedy has barely arrived when Don insists they travel up to Abel on Poland's Baltic coast in search of a girl he's met on a train. Along the way they meet strangers that become friends and change the course of their lives.

Laikonik Express is a road-trip novel with a difference - it's by train! Like all road-trippers, long-time friends Kennedy and Don are chasing their dreams: Kennedy wants to be the man to discover that next great thing in American literature; Don just wants to meet up again with a woman he thinks he's fallen in love with. What they discover is that their goal might not be somewhere else or at some distance point in the future but here and now - and not in quite the form they'd expected.

 It took me a while to get into reading this novel. In part this could have been due to getting used to e-reading on the new Kindle or that I feared, with Kennedy harping on about his discovery of new great American novelist and constant literary references, that it was trying too hard. It didn't really grab me till the start of the 'second leg' of the journey - up to the snowy wastes of Abel via, seemingly, most of the bars in Poland! Abel itself is wonderfully imagined - an out-of season seaside resort trapped under snow and ice - and it's here that they meet not the woman they'd been looking for but Krystyna, former war-time guerrilla fighter, former car development engineer in the US now returned home and dying but still beautiful and full of life.

It's a book that, having read it, discovered the overall pattern and seen how it ends, I'd go back and re-read, expecting it to grow on me.

Maryom's review -  3.5 stars
Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult, literary fiction 
Buy Laikonik Express from Amazon

Friday 22 February 2013

Neptune's Tears by Susan Waggoner

Review by The Mole

Zee McAdams is a healing empath in a 23rd century world. She is allocated a rather unusual patient, a man who refuses medical help after a head injury. She finds she cannot easily walk away from this patient. Later when a terrorist attack happens he reappears in her life giving assistance to the injured. "What would you risk for love?" the cover asks.

Fully aware of the warnings on the cover that love was a significant theme, I picked this up to read it as there seemed to be a strong sci-fi element to it. And there is! After a second terrorist incident it becomes apparent that Zee's abilities stretch way beyond empathy and the foundations for an exciting sci-fi story are reinforced. Sadly for me it ended with the main focus on the love story and the action scenes are rushed through as a secondary issue. It is a well told love story though - which is what it is claiming to be - but I just felt a great opportunity was missed. However it sets itself up for book 2 and there is scope in there for my sci-fi adventure in it.

Publisher - Piccadilly
Genre - Sci-Fi, Romance, Teen

Buy Neptune's Tears (Timedance) from Amazon

Thursday 21 February 2013

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

review by Maryom

A teenage girl waits with her family for her father's return from a business trip. He's expected to have sealed a promotion so a celebration is in order - a feast of mussels. But as she sits and waits with her mother and brother, the 'hero' of the feast doesn't appear. Whether he's just delayed or had an accident, to not inform them is completely out of character for him. The mussels are cooked and waiting, and as they cool the family drink wine and talk in a way that wouldn't be possible if their overbearing father were there and start to question the dominance they've allowed him to have.

The Mussel Feast is the first of this year's 'Turning Point' series from Peirene - and what a way to start! In detail, it's about a family bending itself to the slightest whim of a repressive parent; in wider context it could apply to any situation in which one person or idea is allowed to gain dominance over others.

The Mussel Feast captures a quiet revolution for this family. There's no shouting, no passionate outpouring of feelings but just three people sitting round a dinner table chatting quietly and starting to share the thoughts they've kept to themselves for years.

Despite his non-appearance the father is very much the main character - life has revolved around him and his attitudes about how a 'proper family' should behave for so long that without him the family don't quite know what to do. Starting at first with his wife, everyone has bent to do his bidding, to behave as he wishes, repressing their real opinions or hopes in favour of his.

At times I found myself wondering about the writing style - it seemed to circle round on itself -  but it still cleverly built up a picture of the life of this family.

A great start to this new series from Peirene and I can't wait for the rest.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Cautionary Tale of the Childe of Hale by Rachel Lyon

Illustrated by Vanina Starkoff
Review by The Mole

The Childe of Hale is a tall man... very tall and can't get anything to fit him - clothes, bed, house, so when the king offers help he gladly accepts it.

This beautiful and colourful picture book tells the a tale around the moral that we should learn to be happy with what we have - and the rhyme tells it in very easy access English that children will love.

Another excellent early reader or shared picture book that will delight youngsters and give a small amount of teaching too.

Publisher - Maverick Arts Publishing
Genre - Children's Picture Book

Buy The Cautionary Tale of the Childe of Hale from Amazon

Tuesday 19 February 2013

See How They Run by Lloyd Jones

 review by Maryom

 Llwyd McNamara is a  not-very-succesful academic, just given the chance of a lifetime  - access to the research and notes compiled by deceased rival Dermot Feeney on the life and career of Big M, Dylan Manawyddan Jones, a Welsh rugby star whose sporting career came to a dramatic and untimely end with the death of his brother Ben. After that Big M's life has been a chequered one - running a hotel on the wild coast of Wales, then a pub, setting up a shoe shop and various other enterprises, always moving on to somewhere new after falling foul of the locals. As he scrolls through, and then deletes, the information on Feeney's memory sticks, Llwyd begins to discover links between his life and Big M's.

Seren's series of New Tales from the Mabinogion aims to take the old Welsh folk tales of heroes and kings and re-imagine them in a modern setting, so who better to take the place of a god-like hero than a Welsh rugby star?

See How They Run is a re-telling of the Third Branch of the Mabinogion: Manawyddan son of Llyr, and is actually one of the tales with which I was at least vaguely familiar - I've even read a previous re-working in Not For All The Gold In Ireland by John James - so I could see where the plot was going, how and where it fitted around the old one. What I didn't grasp while reading was why the story was told at second or even third hand as Llwyd read the story through Feeney's notes. Having finished, I read the afterword which helped slot things into place - so maybe just this once I should have read that first.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult literary fiction, folk tales

Buy See How They Run (New Stories from the Mabinogion) from Amazon

Monday 18 February 2013

Olga - A Daughter's Tale by Marie Campbell

Review by The Mole

This book is 'self published' and only available as a hardback from one site and as a kindle from Amazon. This can put people off - and the synopsis on the hardback site would not have me buying it but the Amazon synopsis is a much more accurate one:-

"A new author's first book written as the result of genealogical research into her mother's past and her family. Based on a true story 'Olga - A Daughter's Tale' is a family saga about love, heritage, culture, identity and belonging with an epic feel - from Jamaica to England amidst World War II.

Written in the form of diary entries and letters, it is about the cruelty, revenge and jealousy inflicted on an innocent young woman and about her moral courage, dignity, resilience and, in particular, love."

But the story doesn't just show that, it includes external events that affect the family. It is told extremely well and kept me reading despite the fact that my copy was not well formatted, nor did it contain the kind of introduction that can be read in the 'look inside' on Amazon.

We all THINK our family history is fascinating but this one is - and it's told in a riveting way that will keep you reading. I felt, though, that the end was a bit rushed and would have liked more about Marie's growing up with her mother - but maybe that became just too personal?

I like biographical stories - even when fictionalised in this way - and this is one of the best I have read in quite a while.

Publisher - Self published
Genre - Fictionalised Biography

The paperback version can be purchased here:-
and the Kindle version from here Olga - A Daughter's Tale at Amazon

Friday 15 February 2013

Cat's Cradle by Nick Green

Review by The Mole

The third book in The Cat Kin trilogy sees Tiffany on a mission to stop the illegal trade in big cat parts. The trouble is that Ben would rather not risk splitting his family up again but also doesn't want Tiffany putting herself in danger. With such divided loyalties Ben and Tiffany end up  going it alone to tackle the ancient god Set now that Mrs Powell is dead. The problem is that just two of the Cat Kin against the whole army of the Set have no real chance!

I jumped in and read this book by Nick Green having read neither of the first two books and was very surprised that it can be read as a one off. Having said that while everything needed is explained it leaves you wanting to go back and read the rest. Yes, there are one or two spoilers in this one but they don't feel like big ones. The plot rises and falls with action and then pauses but always manages to hold your attention and enthusiasm. When we get to the end... was I expecting it? I was expecting lots of different things but not that!

The story contains wild action and excitement that felt quite mature at times but will still be loved by it's target audience.

You can read the start of Cat's Cradle in a sampler just here

Publisher - Strident
Genre - Children's action adventure

Buy Cat's Cradle (Cat Kin trilogy, book 3) from Amazon

Thursday 14 February 2013

Fuse by Julianna Baggott

review by Maryom

"When the end came, the world was divided. Those considered perfect, the Pure, sheltered inside the controlled Dome. Outside, the Wretches struggled in a destroyed world, crippled by the fusings that branded them after the apocalypse that changed everything.

Partridge, a Pure, has left the safety of the Dome in search of the truth. Pressia, a Wretch, is desperate to decode the secret that will cure her people of their fusings forever. Together, they must seek out the answers that will save humankind, and prevent the world's annihilation.

But the betrayal of Partridge's departure has not been forgotten.  As the Dome unleashes horrifying vengeance upon the Wretches in an attempt to get Partridge back, Partridge has no choice but to return to face the darkness that lies there, even as Pressia travels to the very ends of the world to continue their search.

Theirs is a struggle against a formidable foe, and it is a fight that will push them over boundaries of land and of sea, of heart and of mind. They can only hope for success because failure is unimaginable..."

Fuse continues the story begun in Julianna Baggott's amazing post-apocalyptic novel, Pure, set in a world divided into the Pure, living inside a sealed dome, and the Wretches or Fused who were caught outside by the Detonations with devastating consequences. I don't want to mention the plot as it would be too easy to give spoilers for Pure. If you've read Pure, you'll know what to expect; if you haven't, then you should! Suffice it to say that in their various ways and for varying motives Partridge, Pressia and El Capitan are trying to discover what actions brought about the Detonations, if there is a way the Fused can be cured and how they can create a better world out of the ruins of the old one.

Fuse does slightly fall victim to being the second book of a trilogy - the reader is already acquainted with this amazing world and its characters, and there's no way events can be brought to an overall conclusion - but even so is a great read. The plot cracks along at a fair pace with unexpected twists. There's time for far greater character development - I particularly liked that Lyda and El Capitan evolved into more complex people. I was just left wanting to know how things will end.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Headline Publishing
Genre - YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian

Buy Fuse (Pure Trilogy 2) from Amazon

Wednesday 13 February 2013

George Chittenden - Author contribution

When I recently read "The Boy Who Led Them" by George Chittenden I was struck by how real and alive the story was so I emailed the author to ask for some background. I asked him:

The book FEELS like it contains a lot of historical fact about smuggling. Is it researched or just your expected way things were done (I believe you teach history?)

Is the tale entirely fictional or does it contain either historical or legendary references?

When I received the reply I was so struck by it I asked if I could share the contents and he kindly agreed.

The town I'm from, Deal, was notorious for smuggling. So much so that the prime minister William Pitt the younger sent soldiers to the town where they proceeded to burn every sea-worthy vessel in an attempt to destroy the industry that was costing them a fortune in lost revenue. This tactic was only ever employed in Deal. Unfortunately if you weren't a smuggler you were a fisherman so this technique destroyed the towns livelihood. It was this event that initially inspired me to write the novel.

The old part of town which is now named Middle Street is littered with underground tunnels leading from basement to basement and into the cellars of pubs, of which Deal famously had one for every day of the year. The smuggling gangs used these tunnels to ferry cargoes and even local churches were used to store contraband. With regards to actual smuggling techniques I carried out lots and lots of research to guarantee they're accurate. The maritime museum exists and as a child, like Stan, I spent many summer days fascinated by the unusual artefacts such as spout lanterns and brandy tubs. I'm now a member of the museum and I support them via donations and community events.

Teaching history to the younger generation has taught me that it's essential to make it entertaining and engaging. As a result I decided to weave a fictional plot around the towns heritage. As a result the characters are fictional. However all of the locations exist and are as accurate as possible.

One of my aims with the book was to bring the museum to the public's attention and it's working slowly.

He was also kind enough to send me a link to the museum and I was a little surprised that it looks exactly as I imagine it from the description in the book. A visit would hardly break the bank so next time I'm in the area I will be looking in. It sounds fascinating and I wonder if I'll meet Reg?

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Erebos by Ursula Poznanski

review by Maryom

An exciting new computer game, Erebos, is going round at school and Nick is desperate to get his hands on a copy. No one playing it will discuss it with 'outsiders' so he doesn't really know what to expect but when he gets a copy, it totally lives up to his expectations - and more! Set in a sword and sorcery world, it's immediately addictive but when Nick's character is injured, the only way he can save it and stay in the game is to perform a task in the real world. At first these tasks seem strange but harmless. As Nick moves up the game's levels, though, the tasks become more questionable and he begins to realise that the players are being manipulated towards something dangerous and criminal.

Erebos is an absolutely compelling story about an absolutely compelling computer game!  The dangers of computer gaming are generally considered to be eye strain, lack of exercise and a loss of social contact but this story takes things to a whole new level. It hinges around the fact that players of the game are so hooked that they will do anything to stay in there! The game and its characters are described in a way to make them seem as substantial as Nick and his schoolmates, and it's easy for anyone who's ever played computer games to understand the compulsion to carry on playing, letting it take over their real lives too.

This might actually be a book that will get game-players reading!

I hadn't realised till I started looking up links that Erebos is a prize-winning book -  2011 German Youth Literature Prize  - but I'm not surprised, particularly as this is voted for by teen.

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - Allen and Unwin
Genre - teen, thriller

Buy Erebos from Amazon

Monday 11 February 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

review by Maryom

On a snowy February day  in 1910 a baby is born - not once, but a second, a third, an infinite number of times. This baby, Ursula Todd, has an amazing gift - to be able to relive her life; to go back to the moment of birth and try again - to find love, happiness, to alter events at a small personal level or create a wider impact and change the world.
Happy Ever After isn't easily found though. Death and disaster are waiting in many guises - a world war, flu epidemic, strangers lurking in country lanes, another war.... averting one danger leads straight to another.

You might expect a novel to have a sad, tear-jerker of an ending; you might expect a few poignant moments along the way; but Life After Life positively bombards the reader with them. It's "Death and again death" as Virginia Woolf says: sometimes unwanted or unexpected, sometimes welcomed. Strangely in view of this, the overall feel is of something tremendously life-affirming. Ursula strives so hard to find a happy way through life and I just found myself urging her on in her attempts. The same people and scenes re-occur over Ursula's many life-times, weaving in and out with greater or lesser impact.

A book for anyone who's ever wondered Did I make the right decision? What would have happened if I'd chosen X instead of Y? Much as I love Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books, this is a return to more thought-provoking story telling. I was torn between savouring every moment and finding out how it would all end.  A stunning, emotion packed read and I'd challenge anyone to not be moved.

Maryom's Review - 5 stars
Publisher: Transworld Books
Genre: Adult, literary

Buy Life After Life from Amazon (pre order till March 2013)

Friday 8 February 2013

Entertaining Strangers by Jonathan Taylor

review by Maryom

 "Entertaining Strangers is a tragi-comedy about the eccentric Edwin Prince – a depressive intellectual obsessed with high culture and ants – and the mysterious, homeless narrator Jules, who gradually unravels Edwin’s impossible relationships with his landlady, neurotic mother, psychotic brother, domineering ex-wife, dead grandfather and, above all, his ant-farm. At the same time, Jules continually experiences traumatic memories full of fire and water, and gradually a terrible pre-history emerges from beneath all of the other stories, which seems somehow to shape both Jules’s fiery dreams and Edwin’s obsessions – a great fire, massacre and one girl's drowning in Smyrna, 75 years earlier."

Homeless Jules accidentally stumbles into the house and life of Edwin, an eccentric high-culture buff with a fascination for ants. Living in chaos, surrounded by broken relationships, Edwin tries to find order and a perfect world in his ant colony. His family is, at best, dysfunctional; all of them scarred by his grandfather's experiences in Smyrna, 75 years earlier. Is Jules destined to save them from themselves?

From its double-edged title to the equally ambiguous narrator, Jules, Entertaining Strangers is a difficult novel to pin down and describe. If you could imagine a mash-up of  It's A Wonderful Life and Withnail and I with copious amounts of vermouth you'd perhaps be coming close. I probably wasn't the best person to read this, having a 'deaf ear', therefore no understanding of music, and a deep seated repugnance for ants - so I'm sure many subtleties either drifted past me or I shied away from. At times I was pulled in and fascinated; others not so much; but it's definitely a book I would return to. 

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult fiction

Buy Entertaining Strangers (Salt Modern Fiction) from Amazon

Thursday 7 February 2013

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris

 review by Maryom

Most of us have heard this story of the prince, changed by a troll into a bear and only able to be released, under certain strict conditions, by a young girl who loves him. When the conditions aren't met, he is imprisoned and the girl must search for the castle, east of the sun and west of the moon, to free him. Here Jackie Morris brings us a new twist on this old folk tale.

I've long been a fan of Jackie Morris's delightfully illustrated children's books but this is bit of a departure for her - aimed at an older readership, this time the emphasis is on words not pictures and proves that the author can conjure up images with both! I can't sum up the tale better than Jackie Morris herself, as quoted on the fly-leaf ; "It is a coming of age story, a love story, a leaving home and going out into the world story. It is a journey, an adventure, a love story that in the writing took unexpected turns".

East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a gorgeous little gem of a book, just over 160 pages long, 6 by 7 inches, stitched together in the old-fashioned way, which had me enthralled and enchanted. The achingly beautiful story of finding love and freedom moves from the dirty city back-streets of the 'real' world to 'fairy tale' landscapes of desert or woods or ice, interspersed with beautiful full page and smaller illustrations.

A rare book that is as lovely to look at and hold as it is to read.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -
folk tale, 11+, adult
The publishers suggest a target age of 11 to 14 but this is a book that will very much appeal to adult lovers of folk stories too.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

The Boy Who Led Them by George Chittenden

Review by The Mole

When Stanley discovers a message in a bottle on the seashore he finds he needs to know who the writer was and as much about him as possible to be able to see if there really is treasure to be found. Taking the message to a local museum he meets Reg who tells Stanley what he needs to know and the adventure starts.

The first impression from the description is that this is a children's book and yes, I suppose it is but the way and the style it's written in is ageless. It sounds a bit clich├ęd? When Reg starts to tell his tale of Jacob Swift, Swift is a young boy but events make him grow up fast and the reader quickly forgets his age and thinks of him as "The Boy" - the king of the smugglers.

Packed with historical fact and historical references this book was a fascination for me and engaging doesn't come close to describing it. I didn't feel patronised or preached to but I felt I was sitting with Reg, in the museum being told the story with a real passion - like only a true fanatic can.

My only concern is, do young children read about smugglers any more? If they don't then I think they should be made to. But don't forget to read the book before you let them have it.

Publisher - Austin & Macauley Publishers
Genre - Action Adventure, Children's and Adults

Buy The Boy Who Led Them from Amazon

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Daughters of The Grail by Elizabeth Chadwick

Review by Maryom

"Thirteenth century France. Bridget has grown up mastering the mystical gifts of her ancestor, Mary Magdalene, whose unbroken female lineage has kept a legacy of wisdom alive for a thousand years. But the all-powerful Catholic Church has sworn to destroy Bridget for using her healing talents and supernatural abilities.
Bridget's duty to continue the bloodline leads her into the arms of Raoul de Montvallant - a Catholic. But when the Church's savage religious intolerance causes Raoul to turn rebel, a terrible vengeance is exacted by Simon de Montfort, the unstoppable Catholic leader ..."

That's the back-of-the-book blurb but I feel the story of Raoul and his young wife Claire deserves more of a mention. Looking forward to a pleasant, peaceful life their expectations are shattered when the south of France is effectively invaded by northerners who've signed up for the Pope's crusade against the Cathars. Their differing responses to the invasion of their lands pushes their marriage to breaking point. He takes up arms and fiercely opposes the French, she turns her back on all violence from whatever source and finds consolation and strength in the peaceful non-resistance of the Cathar beliefs.
I discovered this book through someone's recommendation while I was reading Labyrinth by Kate Mosse  and Troubadour by Mary Hoffman both set in the same time-frame of The Albigensian crusade. While Daughters of the Grail definitely falls into the 'romantic fiction' category - with quite a few 'bodice-ripping' moments - it's also a moving look at the devastation that war brings - at personal and wider levels.
While not within my normal reading genres, Daughters of the Grail was an enjoyable novel that captured the happenings and atmosphere of the time really well without over-crowding the story-line with dry facts. Definitely one for the historical romance fans out there!

Maryom's Review - 4 stars
Publisher - Sphere 
Genre - Adult Historical Romance

Monday 4 February 2013

The Disappeared by C J Harper

review by Maryom

Jackson has lived most of his 17years in an elite 'Learning Community', being educated to become part of the Leadership that runs his country, but a brutal awakening is waiting for him. Sent along with his best friend on an errand by one of his teachers, he is attacked and beaten up and his friend left for dead. Trying to return to his school, he finds all record of him has been deleted and no one will admit to knowing him. Instead he's sent to an Academy, a strict, violent school aimed at churning out factory workers where he finds all his assumptions about his world turned upside down.

The story started excellently but as Jackson settled into the Academy the pace slackened. The Academy itself is a wonderfully imagined but  horrible place - more like a zoo than a school with the children treated like animals and teachers inside cages for their safety - but Jackson seemed a little inactive for my kind of hero. Even giving his sheltered upbringing I was surprised at Jackson's naivety and lack of knowledge of the world he lived in. I know this is a little bit par for the course for dystopian novels - the innocent, brought up faithfully believing everything they're told, discovers the unpleasant truth and sets out to right it - but he did seem immature for 17 and far too happy to wait for his mother to fix things.

I'm sure The Disappeared will appeal to teen conspiracy theorists and lovers of dystopian fiction. There's a lot of thought-provoking matter about education systems, human rights and even superiority being given solely on appearance hidden behind the plot for readers to get their teeth into.

The first in a series, it will be interesting to see how the story develops.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Teen dystopian fiction

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Friday 1 February 2013

Burning for Revenge by John Marsden

Review by The Mole

(The fifth book in the Tomorrow series, started with Tomorrow When the War Began)

Ellie (the narrator of the story) and her gang are now fighting against the invaders of their homeland of Australia in an all out war.

The group of teenagers are becoming mature beyond their years as they take on the role of professional soldiers and trying to keep one step ahead of the enemy all the way.

***Warning *** Suspend disbelief before entering. There are technical details that simply don't work in reality but never fail to work for the gang BUT in this story telling, unlike the first book, it just doesn't seem important. Clearly the story telling in this book has moved on a lot and become a great deal more engaging.

The entire book felt like a TV episode - it didn't feel enough plot for a film - and worked very well. The fact that I've missed three books didn't feel like it mattered - there were references to bits that I'd missed but it didn't feel important - but had I not read book one then I think I would have been totally at sea.

A really enjoyable read that leaves the reader wanting more.

Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Teenage fiction

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