Friday 31 May 2013

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

Review by The Mole

When his father is killed by the Program and the boy is left alone in the world he is befriended, homed and trained by the Program. He turns up in a new school, makes new friends and then assassinates one of their parents and disappears. This is what he does. He believes in the Program - the Program works for justice and national security.  He has almost forgotten who he was until this new case - to kill the mayor of New York. Something awakens in him and stirs - this case can't be right can it? These people cannot be any sort of risk can they? And the case becomes even more complicated when the target changes at the last minute. There is no way he can complete this mission. Is there?

Throughout the story I could not find it in myself to like the boy. There was no subterfuge being played against him, he knew exactly what he was doing and trusted others too much. His training in a few short years amounted to a lifetime in others and somehow it felt like a man's personality in the body of a child. The ending also disappointed me immensely - which I can't explain for obvious reasons.

Did  enjoy the book? Well.. yes I did - except for this age thing which irritated me throughout the story. If they had used some high tech training method, such as the Matrix or Joe 90, then I would have enjoyed this a great deal more but for me this felt like it should have been an adult of at least 20.

If you like thrillers then you will enjoy this and perhaps teens can see themselves in this role as a warrior of justice believing their own youth gives them the ability to put a lifetime's training into a few short years.

Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre - Teen Thriller

Buy Boy Nobody from Amazon

Thursday 30 May 2013

Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen

review by Maryom

Under The Jewelled Sky is the story of Sophie Schofield who, shortly after WW2, goes to India where her father has taken up a post as doctor in the court of a wealthy maharajah. There she finds her first love and bitter heartbreak.
Ten years later, she is heading back to India but this time as the wife of a junior, but very ambitious, diplomat, Lucien Grainger. The India she encounters this time is very different to the one she knew before but the country still has the ability to stir up the past and all the forbidden emotions from then.

Alison McQueen has cleverly constructed a tale of dark family secrets that moves between the here and now of the late 1950s to the past of a decade earlier, weaving the two time-lines together seamlessly.
The characters are all sharply drawn individuals - not merely the main 'triangle' of Sophie, Lucien and Jag but the supporting cast of gossipy bored ex-pat wives or the Maharani in her splendid isolation are all brought to life on the page.
Sophie's story plays out against the magnificent backdrop of India - or rather of four very different aspects of it  - the fairytale like setting and splendour of the Maharajah's palace, the squalor and desperation of refugee camps following the partition of India and Pakistan, the rarefied life of British embassy staff cut off from the reality of India and the peaceful setting of the Nilgiri hills. All of these are described so vividly that I felt I was there.
A very enjoyable read and a newly discovered author that I'd like to read more from.

A slight aside thought is that although this novel definitely falls under the historical fiction category I've heard such a lot about India from my father's time spent there during WW2, that it feels strange to consider a period after then as history.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Orion 
Genre - adult, historical fiction

Buy Under the Jewelled Sky from Amazon

Wednesday 29 May 2013

SOS Lusitania by Kevin Kiely

Review by The Mole

When 13 year old Finbar Kennedy dreams of a ship sinking at sea he decides it's an omen that his dad, Jack Kennedy- the Staff Captain of the Lusitania, is in danger and so decides to run away from home, stow away on the Lusitania and protect him. Little did anyone know of the events that were to unfold when the Lusitana was making her return to Liverpool.

We all know of the fate of the Lusitania on that trip. Or do we? In this story for the younger reader Kiely unfolds that history for the reader. Sadly I have to admit that many of the facts he includes I was not aware of - but the historical notes in the rear of the book make it clear what was fact and what was fiction and I make no dispute. Some things, like a conspiracy theory, he speculates on and does not purport to be fact but other parts, like the carrying of arms for the war and gold for the Bank of England, he states as documented fact.

But lets not get carried away with the history, yes it's there but primarily this is a work of fiction to entertain the younger reader - something it will do in aces. It's a great story and it's told extremely well. When Finbar describes the ship and it's size from his perspective and not in feet, yards, football pitches or anything else,  I felt, for the first time, that I knew just how big such a ship actually was. And when Finbar sees New York for the first time... I really felt like I was seeing it through his eyes. Clearly this story, in which 1200 people will die, is not all happy and Kiely will bring a lump to the reader's throat more than once.

An excellent read for girls and boys alike. And I'm sure there are bits of history adults will meet for the first time too.

Publisher - O'Brien Press
Genre - Children's Historical Fiction 10+

Buy SOS Lusitania from Amazon

Tuesday 28 May 2013

The Wilful Eye (Tales from the Tower Vol 1)

 review by Maryom

Edited by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab The Wilful Eye is the first of two volumes of re-told fairy tales from Allen and Unwin.
This collection takes six stories familiar to most of us -  The Tinderbox, Rumplestiltskin, the Snow Queen, Beauty and the Beast, Babes in the Wood and the Steadfast Tin Soldier - and  lets six authors  - Margo Lanagan, Isobelle Carmody, Rosie Borella, Richard Harland, Margaret Mahy and Martine Murray - loose on them to reinterpret as they feel fit.
Margo Lanagan is the only one with which I'm familiar, through her novel The Tender Morsels which re-works the story of Snow White and Rose Red in a sometimes rather disturbing and distressing manner. While not quite as dark in tone, this collection is NOT for younger readers. The stories have been taken away from the cosy nursery setting and back to their darker folk tale roots via sex, drugs and violence.
Some are set in the traditional 'once upon a time' vague past, others in the more-or-less present. I liked most those, such as Wolf Night by Margaret Mahy, that took the basic tale and removed it to a modern setting, emphasizing the timeless quality at the heart of these tales.
There's an introduction by Isobelle Carmody about the inspiration behind the whole collection and notes from the authors explaining what influenced their choice of tale and what shaped their reinterpretation.

Recommended by the publisher as a 'young adult' read, suitable from ages 16 to 18 but I think many older adults (if that's the correct term) will love it too; I certainly did.

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - Allen and Unwin
Genre - YA fantasy, fairy tales
Buy The Wilful Eye (Tales from the Tower) from Amazon

Monday 27 May 2013

Guinea Pigs Online - Viking Victory by Jennifer Gray and Amanda Swift

Review by The Mole

When a builder threatens to build houses on the copse behind Coco's house the guinea pigs are forced into action to to stop him. Writing blogs to drum up support they then move to direct action. They make a new friend in Olaf who is a Viking who promises big things as he leads them into action but will they succeed?

My favourite guinea pigs are back. This mixed bag of misfits cause more laughs than actually achieve anything but they are masses of fun. With black and white illustrations throughout and easy read pages this book will delight the early reader and the established fans as well.

The book also contains bonus activities and a recipe so parents can join in the fun and make Banoffee's Banana Boat of Yum. There is also more stuff to do on the Guinea Pigs Online website and so keep them reading.

A great series of fun adventures that kids will really enjoy.

Publisher - Quercus Kids 
Genre - Readers 5+

Buy Guinea Pigs Online: Viking Victory from Amazon

Friday 24 May 2013

Crow Boy by Philip Caveney

Review by The Mole

Tom Afflick has had his life torn apart by his mother who has taken him to Edinburgh when she left his father to set up home with her new boyfriend. Tom is an outsider and is shunned and bullied by everyone at his new school. On a school trip to Mary King's Close he falls through the floor and a bizarre adventure starts when he is transported back to the seventeenth century.

Timeslip novels are a popular way of introducing history into novels but this is no ordinary timeslip story. It's more of a slip/slide/crash/slip type story and while it contains a lot of important history, that's not it's focal point. It focuses on the fiction added on and has the reader wondering "alternate universes? dreams? changed timelines?". Frequently in timeslip stories you get a feeling  that parts are merely a pretext to explain another part but this doesn't happen anywhere in Crow Boy - it just flows seamlessly along. It's exciting and engaging and readers won't want to put it down.

Extremely enjoyable and excellently done. This book will be enjoyed by readers of nine and older, surprisingly fifteen/sixteen year olds won't feel it's too young for them either. And while the hero is Tom, I can imagine it appealing to girls just as much.

Publisher - Fledgling Press
Genre - Children's/Teen's, historic, thriller

Buy Crow Boy from Amazon

Thursday 23 May 2013

The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

review by Maryom

 Maggie wakes up in a psychiatric hospital having no idea of where she is or how she got there or even who she is. In fits and starts, prompted by the awful electric shock treatment she undergoes, her memory returns revealing the traumatic events that led to her being committed...
Meanwhile teacher Jonathan's life is in meltdown. He should be happily looking forward to the birth of his first child but he's plagued by nightmares, feeling angry and out of control. His father has always been a cold authoritarian figure and Jonathan is determined that he'll not be the same. But then his father dies suddenly and Jonathan's problems increase - lashing out at a pupil leads to him being arrested, police interest in a 'cold case' is reawakened and secrets from the past come tumbling out.

The Things We Never Said is a stunning debut novel about family - the relationships within it, the secrets that are kept and everything that's never said. The two strands, Maggie's and Jonathan's, weave round each other and gradually the pieces of their history emerge and slot together like a jigsaw puzzle. It's a very compelling read and, no matter how I tried to pre-empt the plot twists, I wasn't ready for the final missing link that shed light on all that went before.
The story looks both backwards and forwards. At this pivotal point in his life Jonathan feels a need to find himself, visiting his past haunts and old friends in the hope of making sense of what is happening to him now and settling the deep sense of loss that has pervaded his life before being able to move forward and embrace his role as husband and father.

This is an amazing first novel and an author to look out for in future.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - adult fiction

Buy The Things We Never Said from Amazon

Wednesday 22 May 2013

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook by Lynn Hill - Event

By The Mole

Last night's event at Waterstones was a promotion for the cookbook but somehow that didn't seem the top of many people's lists!
When we arrived the room was laid out like a cafe almost, with 'coffee' tables and groups of chairs around each. At the far end of the room was a table that seemed to be creaking under the weight of the cake. We hadn't known what to expect when we arrived but as other people arrived they approached the organiser and presented her with yet ANOTHER cake. It appeared as though the event was to be attended by members of the club only? As we got to chatting it became apparent that many of those attending were planning on joining the club and while the event was promoting the book it was also promoting the club. Their website says "Bake, eat and talk about Cake. Gather in secret locations, UK & overseas. Arrive as strangers, leave as friends. It’s all about CAKE." and last night that certainly happened. But we were told that at the first meeting of the club in one area there were 18 people and at the second there was just 1. I suspect that people felt a little overawed by the cakes on display and that's where the book could help. The cakes on display weren't just any old cakes, they were mainly innovative. There was:- pistachio and lime cake, Marmite cake, rhubarb and custard cake, passion fruit cake, pineapple and cherry cake, ginger and syrup cake, banana and chocolate cake, chocolate and berry cake, Victoria sponge with lemon curd - and they were just the ones I tried. Some of these were from the book and some weren't. Most were extremely nice and some were... well just the talking point (the Marmite cake actually). An extremely nice evening was had by all I believe, despite the groans of  "Too much" that seemed to emanate from all corners of the room and by the end of the evening the table seemed a bit relieved it was all over. So if you enjoy baking and like cake why not look for a branch of the club near you or even consider starting one? All the contacts you need are on the website. Or maybe get a copy of the book before you do and get some practice in?

Once again  a great event so remember to watch for book events in your area.

Buy The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook from Amazon

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Captain Valiant (and me) - Revenge of the Black Phantom by Adam Britten

Review by The Mole

When, using their super powers, Captain Valiant and Dynamic Boy defeat The Black Phantom they are warned that much worse will follow - and it does. An explosion totally destroys Mark Taylor's (Dynamic Boy) school and, as they investigate, the Astral Knights are instructed to cleanse the earth - everything living will be wiped out unless Mark, his dad, his mum (Ms Victory) and his sister (Moon Girl) can defeat Abbadon before things get even more out of hand.

This is how I like my superheroes - funny. Poor old Dynamic Boy is forever complaining that he has a stupid name, a stupid costume and stupid super powers. His sister is always bullying him and treating him like... well a younger brother. His dad is getting fat from too many bacon sandwiches and his mum is... well a mum I suppose. With plenty to laugh at and lots of humorous black and white drawings this book will delight younger readers and older readers too, if they can find an excuse to read it - "I'm checking it out as to whether it's suitable for my nephew for his birthday!" (Or make up your own excuse - I was reviewing it!).

A really good story to encourage reading in youngsters.

Publisher - Piccadilly Press
Genre - Children's 8+, Fiction

Buy Captain Valiant and Me: Revenge of the Black Phantom (Captin Valiant & Me) from Amazon

Monday 20 May 2013

Author Events - Nottingham

 by The Mole

 Last week was a busy week for us with two separate and very different author events being held in Nottingham.

The first event was Alison Moore, author of The Lighthouse which was, of course, Booker Prize short listed. The event was to cover the launch of her latest book The Pre-War House and other stories, published by Salt and nominated for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award 2013. The event was held on the ground floor of Waterstones which offers a cosy environment amongst the book shelves laden with their cargo of stories. When we arrived we were greeted by a glass of bubbly as this was, after all, a book launch. The audience was the usual mix of couples and after a brief introduction to her route into publishing - which started as many authors do, through short stories -she read a couple of complete stories from the collection, Jetsam and The Smell of the Slaughterhouse. She then followed this with a reading from the beginning of The Pre-War House. The Q&A seemed to focus, unsurprisingly, more on The Lighthouse and how she got published (a topic that so many of these events tend to raise). The book signing and one-on-one that goes with it ensued.    

Rachel Caine's event was the second event she had held at the store and so the larger, more formal location of the Sillitoe room was chosen. The event was to promote Fall of Night, the penultimate book in the The Morganville Vampire series. With most seats taken, it brought a smile to my face when I looked around the room and found less than 10 men in the room and most of them were accompanying their partners, although there were one or two that had come on their own. Rachel started by explaining her name. Yes, it's a pen-name but she explained she has also written as Roxanne Longstreet and Roxanne Conrad. She has written under a couple of other names as well but these she didn't mention. Rather surprisingly there was no reading but instead she recounted events along the way to getting Fall of Night published and how the first book came about. Although the emphasis was on The Morganville Vampire series she has written a few other series of books namely Outcast Season, The Revivalist and The Weather Warden. Neither Maryom nor The Mole has read any of her books (though our daughter has) but despite that the evening was very entertaining and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The last Morganville book comes out before the end of the year and she has another book out later this year in The Revivalist series. Clearly she is not only a great speaker and entertainer (everything was tinged with humour) but she is also a prolific author. After a Q&A which focusssed on The Morganville Vampires the book signing snaked slowly around the room and people left gleefully excited that THEY had spoken to Rachel Caine. Another great event from Waterstones.

Friday 17 May 2013

The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran

 review by Maryom

The Hope Factory is the story of two people from different ends of the social spectrum who share a common goal - to improve their life.
Anand is the owner of a factory which makes car body parts. He's affluent, lives in a spacious modern house with his wife and two children, thinks of himself as a 'modern' Indian, not held back by superstitions or out of date ideas about caste. He's hoping to clinch an important deal with a Japanese firm but expansion of his factory is vital to this and to buy the necessary land he comes up against the culture of bribery and back-handers that he refuses to be part of.
Kamala on the other hand works in Anand's house as a cleaner. She's a widow with a teenage son to support. They live in one small room and share their water supply and bathroom facilities with other lodgers. Her finances are stretched in all directions. She'd like her bright clever son to go to a better school which would open up wider opportunities for him - but such a thing requires money and meanwhile the demand for building land is pushing up her rent. All Kamala's hopes rest on the whim of her employer and his wife.

The Hope Factory is vivid portrayal of life in today's India, highlighting the inequalities of life there while showing the underlying similarities - a sort of modern, literary, Indian 'Upstairs, Downstairs'. It's set in Bangalore, a vibrant, noisy city, bursting at the seams, ever growing and expanding, often at the expense of its inhabitants. The plot concentrates on the lives of  business-man Anand and his maid, Kamala and their parallel attempts to better their lives. The obstacles they face are different but come down in the end to the need to have money before you can make more.
There are many themes explored throughout the novel - the clash between old and new methods, Eastern and Western ways; the enormous gap between poor and wealthy - but it is above all a very readable, enjoyable story. The characters are well drawn, believable individuals - the sort you feel you could transport out of the novel to elsewhere and know how they'd behave and react. Both Anand and Kamala gained my sympathies for their persistence, particularly Kamala whose life has been harsh almost beyond belief.

Although the author has published short stories before, The Hope Factory is her debut novel - and another amazing book from Tinder Press.

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

Buy The Hope Factory from Amazon

Thursday 16 May 2013

The Scarlet Thief by Paul Fraser Collard

review by Maryom

1854: The banks of the Alma River, Crimean Peninsular. The Redcoats stagger to a bloody halt. The men of the King's Royal Fusiliers are in terrible trouble, ducking and twisting as the storm of shot, shell and bullet tear through their ranks.
Officer Jack Lark has to act immediately and decisively. His life and the success of the campaign depend on it. But does he have the mettle, the officer qualities that are the life blood of the British Army? From a poor background Lark has risen through the ranks by stealth and guile and now he faces the ultimate test...
THE SCARLET THIEF introduces us to a formidable and compelling hero - brutally courageous, roguish, ambitious - in a historical novel as robust as it is thrillingly authentic by an author who brings history and battle vividly alive. 

The Scarlet Thief is an action-packed historical adventure that introduces a charismatic new hero - Jack Lark.  There are obvious similarities to the Sharp and Flashman novels but Jack is very much his own man. Having risen through the ranks in a sometimes rather dubious manner, he is now a captain facing battle for the time time in the Crimean War - peace-time training in Aldershot barracks is one thing but putting that training into practice under canon fire quite another. Can he face down his own fear and inspire his men?
I grew up in the sort of area that had streets named after the Crimean battles - Alma, Inkermann, etc - but it's a conflict I know little about beyond The Charge of the Light Brigade and the dreadful conditions that Florence Nightingale encountered in the military hospitals there. Collard brings the Battle of the Alma vividly to life - both from overall troop displacement and the viewpoint of the individuals caught up in those manoeuvres. To me, this is what good historical fiction should do - take the dry dusty facts from history books and tell the story of the men and women who lived through them - and Collard does this admirably.

Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher - Headline 
Genre - Historical fiction, action adventure, Crimean War

Buy The Scarlet Thief (Jack Lark 1) from Amazon

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Dangerous Cakes by Elspeth Smith

Review by The Mole

Poetry is something I normally steer clear of. The reason? Well, start by reading the preface. It reviews the collection in very highbrow terms making it a very 'intellectual' collection. For me poetry must be enjoyable - not clever and 'intellectual'. Most of the prefaces to such collections actually turn me cold.

However I read the poems before I read the preface - is that wrong?

The poems are most enjoyable to read but this is not a 'fun' collection - no "When daddy fell into the pond" in this book. Most of the poems are short, single verse that feel like they are giving you a small and very private window onto the poet's life.

I won't pretend to understand all the poems as a few lacked context for me. They are mostly reflections on a life that has been filled with both joy and sorrow and contain memories of childhood, early adulthood and later life as well. Somehow I felt we learned far more than the number of words actually told us and that's the best kind of poetry for me.

Publisher - Eyewear Publishing
Genre - Poetry

Buy Dangerous Cakes from Amazon

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

review by Maryom

Amaranth is running away from her husband, a self-styled prophet and leader of their polygamous community of one man and fifty wives. For years they've lived their lives, isolated from the world, in comparative harmony but now Amaranth is afraid of what the future holds for her daughters, Amity and Sorrow. So, when an opportunity presents itself, she flees with them, driving non stop for 4 days only coming to a halt when she crashes the car near a lonely gas station. Stranded there, they have to rely on the grudging help of the local farmer for food and shelter. Slowly they start to put a new life together but can they just ignore the past and walk away?

Amity and Sorrow is an impressive, thought-provoking debut exploring the appeal of 'alternative lifestyle' cults. The story-telling moves between the present - Amaranth running away - and the past - revealing the origins of the cult and its slide into something twisted - and gradually the reader discovers what exactly Amaranth was so desperate to get away from.

Their community grew out of worthy-sounding ideals; offering a shelter to lonely, down on their luck women - some wanting to quit a life of drugs or alcohol, some running away from violence and abuse, some just drawn by the thought of a simpler, back to nature way of life.  For many years it seemed like an idyllic place, one of endless bounty; plentiful harvests, full food stores and love for all. But what starts by giving these women a loving, caring home builds up into a sinister polygamous cult.
It contrasts sharply with the 'real' world where Amaranth ends up. This may have mechanical and technological advances but is a harsh place of dry, barren earth where months of drought are followed by equally ruinous deluge and farming is a hard, hand to mouth existence. It's almost as if Amaranth has been living in a dream-world and has now woken up to reality.
To her daughters, the outside world is a strange, often frightening place to which they react in strikingly different ways. Amity is curious about the new things she discovers and wants to fit in. Sorrow was happier before and longs to return to their sheltered life in the commune.
The book is filled with strong believable characters from Amaranth and her daughters, to the sister-wives they left behind and the farmer and his elderly father who offer a new refuge. 
Importantly for me, I felt this wasn't a book that gave up all its secrets at the first reading but one that it's possible to go back to time and again and uncover more.
I wonder how and with what Peggy Riley will follow this.... I'm certainly looking forward to finding out.

...and if you're intrigued by this, I was lucky enough to interview Peggy Riley about some of the issues raised

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction

Buy Amity & Sorrow from Amazon

Monday 13 May 2013

Firewallers by Simon Packham

Review by The Mole

Jess's dad is suspended from work and so her mum takes her and her sister off to a remote Scottish island to join a commune. Jess is freaked out by the weirdness of the other kids in the commune until she finally manages to join in their activities. But why has her mum run away instead of staying and supporting her dad? Why won't her mum and sister tell her what her dad has been accused of? And won't someone help her dad clear his name?

When I started reading this I was surprised by Jess, who describes herself as a stroppy teenager. Aren't most teenagers stroppy and how many would roll over and just agree to go without a blazing row unless parents are totally honest with them - and neither of these things happen. Once I got past that I found the story to be extremely enjoyable and quite fast paced. There is a love angle in there but it's not central at all. The behaviour of the teenagers (after the initial scene setting) is very well written from embarrassed son to supportive friends to clumsy first dates.

With Jess in year 10, I think this is probably suited to the 12-15 reader and hopefully it emphasises the 'innocent until proven guilty' message that so many people ignore. Oh, and don't send dodgy photos of yourself unless you want to be publicly embarrassed.

Publisher - Piccadilly
Genre - Teen mystery

Buy Firewallers from Amazon

Friday 10 May 2013

Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie

 review by Maryom

It's been eight years since Gen Loxley lost her daughter, Beth: eight years of grief in which nothing's really moved forward, for all that her husband, Art, wills it to. Gen, once a writer of novels, has settled in to a life of half-hearted teaching, while Art makes his name and their fortune - and pressures her into trying IVF once again. For Gen, it seems a cruel act of replacement; life without Beth is unthinkable, unbearable - but still it goes on. And then a woman arrives on Gen's doorstep, saying the very thing she longs to hear: that her daughter was not stillborn, but was spirited away as a healthy child, and is out there, waiting to be found...So why is Art reluctant to get involved? To save his wife from further hurt? Or something much more sinister? What is the truth about Beth Loxley?

Sophie McKenzie is an award winning author of teen thrillers but here she turns for the first time to the adult market. This is the first of her novels that I've read and after the praise I've heard of her teen fiction, I was slightly disappointed.
Obviously Gen wants so very desperately to believe this outrageous tale but she barely for a moment doubts what she is told by a complete stranger and as the story is told in the first person through her eyes and thoughts, that's how the reader feels too; it's an accepted fact from the outset that Gen's baby was stolen and I think this takes some edge off the story. Gen doesn't seem crazy or deluded and her husband's claim that it's all a plot hatched by a business rival to discredit him is laughable, perhaps intentionally.
Unfortunately that's where my empathy for Gen stopped. I couldn't warm to her as a person; she seemed far too naive for her age, ready to trust people on the slightest acquaintance and any anguish or doubt she expressed didn't feel real.
I'd  guessed early on who was involved and part of what had happened to baby Beth, so although the story DID keep me turning pages it was only to find out if my guesses were right - I was almost tempted to just turn to the last page and read that..

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - thriller,

Buy Close My Eyes from Amazon

Thursday 9 May 2013

John Boyne - author event

Yesterday (8th May 2013) saw John Boyne talking about his latest book, This House is Haunted, at a Waterstones event in Nottingham.

John is most widely known for his book The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas which was made into a film in 2008 and both film and book have received a great deal of acclaim. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is one of the three books he has written for children and This House is Haunted is his eighth adult book.

John started with a reading from the early part of his latest book in which he sets the tone of the story. As a ghost story this is, once again, a genre shift for him as well as the first time he has written a book from the perspective of a woman. The reading certainly captured the imagination of the audience! You can check out the synopsis here on the Waterstones' website.

This was followed by a question and answer session which brought questions as diverse as his writings. A couple of questions really caught my attention. When asked which was his favourite of his own books I think people expected The Boy... but were surprised when he said The Absolutist. A later question about any books he had had rejected revealed that some books had proved more popular than he expected while other had not caught the public's imagination where he had expected them to - I suppose this happens with most authors. The other question that made me smile was when asked what he would have done if his second book hadn't been published (he had abandoned the first book as a learning exercise and it sits in a drawer today) he looked surprised at the question, genuinely, and replied that he would have written another because that's all there is for him to do. Many more questions were asked by the enthusiastic audience and he explained that the idea for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas came to him and he just sat and wrote and wrote and wrote, stopping only for short breaks and had the first draft completed in two and a half days!

The event wrapped up with the traditional author signing which also gives the ability for short 'one on one's that mean people don't have a roomful of people to feel embarrassed in front of.

Once again an excellent event organised by the Nottingham branch of Waterstones and our thanks go to them and to John Boyne for an excellent evening's entertainment. Remember to watch out for author events in your area and meet your favourite authors.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Meike Ziervogel - (Part 2) Author/Publisher Interview

Last week we published the first part of an interview with Meike Ziervogel in which she talked about Peirene Press, now we're delighted to welcome her as an author, talking about her debut novel, Magda, a portrayal of the wife of Nazi Germany's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The first question must be 'Why Magda Goebbels'? What drew you to her as a subject? Has she fascinated you for a long time or did something specific spark an idea?

The starting point was very personal: 18 years ago, when I gave birth to my first child, a daughter, I struggled for two years to embrace motherhood. I couldn’t connect neither to my daughter nor the mother inside myself. Since then I have often wondered what could have happened if I had not made the emotional connection to my role as a mother? I looked around for a dramatic story to explore this ’if’. Magda Goebbels caught my attention. I soon realised that I had found a compelling example of a mother-daughter tragedy. The failure of Magda’s mother to connect to her daughter paved the way to a flawed maternal relationship in the next generation. Magda Goebbels was not able to perceive her children’s reality and lives as separate from her own – and acted accordingly.
Moreover, I wanted to allow myself to look at my own German history critically but with understanding.
And finally I want to help correct a bias towards books about Nazi men to the exclusion of Nazi women who officially did not commit crimes but in my view are equally culpable. 

I must admit that until reading Magda, and then Jane Thynne's Black Roses, I hadn't thought much about the women behind the Nazi leadership. The whole Nazi world seems such a male-oriented one with women confined to child-rearing, kitchen and church, that I'd assumed they would have no influence at all.

How much of the story is based on research and how much artistic invention?

Not merely are Magda and Joseph Goebbels and their children historical figures, but also her mother and Magda’s first husband and her affair with  Zionist Chaim Arlosoroff. Other historical facts: Magda spent some years as a child in a Catholic convent in Belgium, Auguste married a Jewish merchant. Magda wanted to leave Joseph Goebbels and Hitler talked her out of it. Joseph, Magda and their children spent their last days in Hitler’s bunker. At the end of the war Magda was physically sick. Since 1942 she had suffered from heart problems and Trigeminal neuralgia (a nerve disorder that causes a stabbing or electric-shock-like pain in parts of the face) that left half of her face paralysed, in addition to severe depression and heavy consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.
However all the scenes, thoughts and feelings of the characters are fiction.

I said in my review that after reading, I understood but didn't sympathise with Magda. How did you feel about her? Did your opinion change during the writing process?

While I wrote Madga, I as the writer had to empathise with my character, otherwise I couldn’t have written the book. Why? Because I wanted to draw a three dimensional human being. I also believe that there were forces at work that were too strong for her: deficient childhood, historical constraints on a woman fulfilling her ambitions and the delusion of an ideology. But ultimately she does not deserve our symphathy, because she was a grown up woman who not only could have made different choices but decided not to, but who also failed to respect her children’s rights for life.

Although it in no way excuses her, I came away from your novel feeling that Magda believed she was acting for the best - that the post-Nazi world was no place for her or her children. Maybe you created more sympathy for her in the reader, than you feel yourself!

You're now seeing the publishing world from a different angle. Did being a publisher first help at all? Does it make you better at editing or at pitching your novel to agents? Did you ever feel tempted to publish Magda yourself under the Peirene banner?

Being a publisher first has certainly helped. I’ve learned a lot from my authors. From Veronique Olmi her courageous portrayal of a mother-child relationship; from Friedrich Christian Delius for handling the familiar subject of Nazis with empathy and from a new angle; and from any number of authors teaching me the power of compression and strong voices. Furthermore, I can now recognize that publishing a book is a team effort. You have to allow other people to contribute, such as the editor, the proofreader, the designer. And finally running Peirene has demystified the act of publishing and taught me the importance of marketing literature well. However, I was never tempted to publish ‘Magda’ under the Peirene banner. For two reasons: Firstly: Peirene only publishes bestsellers and award-winners in translation. And secondly: It is a wonderful feeling to have the stamp of approval from someone else and especially from such a brilliant publisher as Salt.

And what next? Your website says you're working on a second novel. Can you share anything about it?

This is my fourth novella, but my first published book. There are recurring themes in all my books. My first two novellas, like Magda, deal with flawed mother-daughter relationships, while my third book expands on the notion of a woman who is seduced by an ideology – in this instance Islamic fundamentalism - and who eventually becomes a suicide bomber. The story I am working on now explores the husband-wife relationship of a mature couple. Again I am asking myself about the nature of love, this time between equals rather than parent and child and in the absence of any escapist ideology.

Once again, many thanks Meike for taking the time out to join us and we wish we every success with your new story and the future development of Peirene.

Maryom's reviews of Magda, and Clara's Daughter

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

review by Maryom

On her 5th wedding anniversary, Amy Elliott Dunne goes missing. Her husband Nick returns home to find the front door wide open, the iron left on, the kettle boiling dry and the living room in disarray - and no sign of his wife. From the police point of view, the husband is always the prime suspect and Nick with his stoical attitude and happy smiley face seems less concerned than he might be. Whichever way the police turn, more evidence seems to pile up against Nick despite his protestations of innocence.

The story is told from two angles - Nick's starting on the day of Amy's disappearance - and Amy's in the form of a diary dating back several years. Not surprisingly the two accounts paint very different views of their marriage and the events leading up to Amy's disappearance. About half way through though comes a twist - which I can't really go into for fear of spoilers - but it casts a new light on everything read so far. All this twisting and turning of the plot, building up the reader's distrust of what anyone says, exploring the relationship between Amy and Nick - all of it is brilliant but... something somewhere didn't totally grab me. I think it could all have been said and done in less words. Sometimes there was just too much 'everyday' detail stopping the story from progressing. But most importantly, I couldn't find any sympathy for either Nick or Amy - which I think is necessary to really feel engaged with a story.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Phoenix (Orion)
Genre - adult, thriller,

Buy Gone Girl from Amazon

Monday 6 May 2013

The Ancient Exile by Clare Wilson

Review by The Mole

Tom MacKay, young Staff Wielder, is still training with his granda in Cairn Holme when he is once again summoned back in time by Aneirin. Ten years have passed for Aneirin but for Tom it is just a year ago. A threat has appeared in the sky and Aneirin needs Tom's help to find a hermit on a remote island who they hope will know how to end this threat.

This is the second book in the Staff Wielder series (Book 1 is The Long Staff) and we see Tom still learning to use the power of the staff but growing, becoming more confident and capable.

Another exciting adventure but once again there is a sequel, so Tom will be back once again but I suspect that this will be in a bigger, more central role as he 'comes of age' properly.

I read this without having read the first book and I found it worked well for me BUT... by reading it you will know the outcome of the first story so I recommend you read them in order. Despite the monsters encountered in this book it is still a non terrifying story that will grip young readers - both boys and girls - and keep them reading to the end.

Publisher - Olida Publishing
Genre - children's fiction, 8+, fantasy, magic

Buy The Ancient Exile from Amazon

Friday 3 May 2013

Henry VIII's Wives: History in an Hour by Julie Wheeler

Review by The Mole

From BBC drama to "Carry On Henry" to books such as "Wolf Hall", "Bring Up The Bodies", "VIII" and many more - the wives of Henry VIII have been the subject of attention throughout recent times. But what were the facts behind the stories?

Six wives, six lives in an hour doesn't give the opportunity to do any of the people true justice but it does concentrate the information into the most important facts.

Once again I have to admit my knowledge of this subject was lacking - it didn't even stretch to the order they married in! When I read this I came away with a very different impression of both the wives and the man's relationship with them, also his gullibility to be influenced by those around him. Please don't think though that I came away thinking him a sweet innocent - anything but. As I mentioned there is not much time for detail, but as an appetite whetter it is an extremely good read and may well leave you wanting more from much larger tomes.

Another very good book in the History in an Hour series. (See my review of World War One History in an Hour by Rupert Colley)

Publisher - Harper Press
Genre - Non-Fiction, Tudor, History

Buy Henry VIII's Wives: History in an Hour from Amazon

Thursday 2 May 2013

Meike Ziervogel - (Part 1) Author/Publisher Interview

 Today we're very excited to have a 'visit' from Meike Ziervogel, founder of Peirene Press and author of Magda, a disturbing portrayal of the wife of Joseph Goebbels. More about Magda in Part 2 but for today we're talking about Peirene and publishing translated fiction....

You're probably best known as the founder of Peirene Press, specialising in short contemporary foreign fiction. Starting up a publishing house presumably wasn't something that occurred to you overnight, so what led you to it?

My entrepreneurial role requires a combination of analytical skills and creative drive. I have always been interested in both. My main subjects at Abitur level (A Level equivalent) were Maths and German. Then for many years I concentrated on my linguistic side, studying Arabic and Literature at University. I worked as a journalist for a period and afterwards became a freelance writer. I love writing but it’s a lonely job and I realized I also wanted to have an impact – however small- on society. So I set up a business with a product I am passionate about: a publishing house for foreign literature.

Why translated fiction? There are after all hundreds, even thousands, of books published each year in English.

Much impressive literature has been created in other countries – but lacks an audience in English. I am for example amazed that it was left to Peirene to publish the 20th century Catalan modern classic, Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal, and one of the most controversial French novels of recent years, Beside the Sea by Veronque Olmi, that sold 35,000 copies in France and a similar amount in Germany.
It’s a pity that these books face such difficulties accessing the English market. The Anglo-Saxon world ends up with a homogeneous literary culture. The obsession with plot and information delivers a thriller-like kick but wears flat after a while and rarely leaves us feeling culturally enhanced or intellectually uplifted.
Goethe once said: ‘Left to itself every literature will exhaust its vitality, if it is not refreshed by the continuous contribution of a foreign one.’ My children are growing up in the UK, and probably my grand-children in due time will grow up here too. I would like them to experience a literature and a culture that is vibrant, alive and open. Peirene is doing her bit to help.  

I'm not sure all English writing sacrifices depth for plot - and presumably foreign bookshops are as clogged with best-sellers as any here - but the novellas chosen for Peirene have certainly all been thought-provoking and left an impact out of proportion to their length.

There's obviously an art to translating, getting the words, rhythm and mood to match the original. How do you find someone to do this? How closely do you work with translators? Have you ever been disappointed with a translation?

I never rely on reader reports or sample translations. Before I buy the English rights for a text, I will have read the work in its entirety either in the original or German/French translation. I therefore have a very good sense of the rhythm, voice and essence before we start to translate. In order to find a translator: If it is a new language for Peirene, I will ask other publishers for translator recommendations. I then usually commission three or four 1000-word sample translations. It is important that I find a translator who has a similar approach to literary translation as I have. Peirene’s aim is to find a way to capture the essence – the soul – of the text, which includes the rhythm and the voice, and then recreate it in English. The English book needs to read ‘as if written in English’ – the characters and the story need to come off the page just as they do in the original. However, that generally means that the original and the English texts sound very different from each other. They are in fact two entirely different texts. But ultimately they achieve the same effect on the English reader as they had on the original reader.
Once the translator has delivered the translation, the editorial process starts. I make the first edits, which often include numerous back and forth between the translator and myself. When we both agree on a draft, our copy editor, Lesley Levene, will read it. She is extremely good in picking up on unnecessary repetitions and phrases that still sound awkward. Eventually the big test comes: an English reader who doesn’t know anything about the text or the translation process will read the novella. Anything that still jars or doesn’t make sense or doesn’t appear to be part of the logic of the text will be underlined, and we have to go back to the drawing board.
If I have found a good translator, I like to work with them again - translators such as Jamie Bulloch or Emily Jeremiah.
Our detailed editorial process ensures that Peirene only publishes translations that are of very high quality. And so far I have been proud of each Peirene translation. 

I'm not sure if it quite counts as a compliment but Peirene novellas don't feel like translations. I've read many others with badly-constructed sentences or words that jar and stop the flow of the writing. Please encourage your translators and editors to keep up the good work!

The Peirene facebook page recently quoted Denis Parsons Burkitt  "It is better to read a little and ponder a lot than to read a lot and ponder a little." This seems to me to encapsulate Peirene's ethos. Would you agree?

Yes, absolutely. For me, reading is a creative act. Often, however, we abuse reading as a means to escape our present reality.  That is a pity. Reading should broaden our mind and engage our creative skills. We need space to ponder what we have read. If we continuously binge-read we forget to use literature as a wonderful tool to analyse and understand ourselves better.

 You've made me wonder how many reviewers and bloggers might be guilty of binge-reading as I certainly feel a self-inflicted pressure to read not only the books lined up on my to-be-read pile but others I hear talked about through social-media. On the other hand, I've always been someone who's always read non-stop, so having to write reviews might actually encourage me to take more time and to think about what I've read instead of moving immediately on to the next book.

Do you feel everything an author has to say can be put in 200 pages, or do you feel the modern reader doesn't have the time to commit to a 800 page epic saga?
Do you ever feel there are limitations to this?

In a healthy literary culture there should be scope for short and long books, just as there should be plays, film, poetry and novels. Nonetheless I love the novella form because it forces the writer to think about the structure of their book. A novella resembles at best a piece of art: narrative, voice and structure form a complete whole and each of those three aspects informs the other and the meaning of the text lies in the three components working together.

Peirene seem to specialise as well in innovative marketing - subscriptions, coffee mornings, literary salons and even the roaming book store taking books out to the public. Were these things always part of the plan?  Does this help to catch the public's eye and spread the word to people who might not have discovered you?

Peirene prides itself on strong, recognizable branding. This was a deliberate choice from the very beginning. We don’t just want to publish books. Peirene has another objective: To create a cohesive community of readers and booklovers. I would love readers to buy the Peirene books not for the individual title but because they trust Peirene to make a good selection.  A sort of European literary book society. You subscribe and we send you  every four months a small, fascinating book you can read in an evening. To enhance the community spirit, we support a charity, The Maya Centre (50p of each book sold goes to this charity), we run Pop-up Stalls, Coffee mornings, Supper Clubs, a masterclass in novella writing  and the Peirene Salon where readers, critics, writers come to my house. 

The Salon is something I would love to attend  - for once I envy people in London!

What exciting things do Peirene have lined up for the future?

In 2014 Peirene will publish a new series: ‘Coming-of-age’ which consists of three novellas from Uzbekistan, Libya and Norway.

I don't think I've read anything from Uzbekistan or Libya so these should prove really interesting. 

Thanks Meike for an interesting look at Peirene and we will shortly publish part 2 of our Q&A with questions Meike as an Author. Watch this space...

We have reviewed a number of Peirene's publications and you can see them here.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

The Humans by Matt Haig

review by Maryom

 Professor Andrew Martin has solved the world's greatest mathematical riddle, the Reimann hypothesis. What he didn't realise was that out in Space, track was being kept of his research and findings. Someone out there doesn't consider Humans psychologically ready to receive mathematical knowledge of this magnitude, so Andrew Martin is removed quietly and an alien slipped into his body; his mission to find and destroy any evidence of the real Martin's discovery, and to eliminate anyone he may have passed information on to.

The idea of re-discovering and examining our world from the perspective of an Alien is not a new one: there are lots of films and books that have used it; The Day the Earth Stood Still, Starman, K Pax, Stranger in a Strange Land - I could probably go on for far too long. I don't think I've found any of them to be as funny as The Humans though. Trying to interpret the world from his brief reading of Cosmopolitan, the new 'Andrew Martin' struggles with the the inconsistencies and contradictions of human behaviour, with hilarious results. It's not all fun and laughter - 'Andrew Martin' has his task to complete; a task which becomes harder as he gets to know Martin's family. At first he finds Earth to be a dismal, repulsive place and its inhabitants much the same, but gradually through music, poetry and peanut butter sandwiches he begins to understand what exactly it is to be Human - and what Humans have that his more advanced, logical race lack.

 The Humans is a difficult book to pin down and categorise - sci-fi? comedy? Well, it definitely has aliens and it's undoubtedly funny but it's not Mars Attacks. Behind the surface humour lie serious thoughts about what makes life worth living. I'm not sure I'd agree with the specifics - neither classical music or peanut butter is my king of thing! - but if you've ever felt 'What's the point?' then maybe The Humans can give you some suggestions.

I must admit to being a bit worried in the latter stages that things were heading towards a simplistic over sentimental ending but it thankfully managed to pull up short of it.

An engaging, quirky story that will appeal to adults and teens alike - though no one will ever convince me of the delights of peanut butter!

Maryom's Review - 4 stars
Publisher - Canongate
Genre - Adult/teen crossover, Sci-fi, Humour

Buy The Humans from Amazon