Friday 28 June 2013

The State We're In by Adele Parks

"THE STATE WE'RE IN is the stunning, emotionally powerful new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Adele Parks."

review by Maryom

Jo and Dean meet on plane from London to Chicago. Could it be love at first sight? Well, it certainly doesn't appear that way. Dean is tired and depressed, returning home after visiting his estranged father who is dying in a London hospital. Jo has decided that at 35, after one too many mornings of waking up with yet another unsuitable man, that her only chance of happiness is to fly to Chicago and break up a wedding and steal her ex-fiancé back! Neither seem in the right place to be starting a new relationship yet by the time they reach Chicago everything has changed....
Meanwhile, back in London, things are also changing. Dean's father starts to face the idea that maybe life wasn't just about him and having fun, and Jo's mother decides enough is enough and, after nearly 40 years of seemingly blissful marriage, it's time to leave her husband.

The State We're In is a wonderful engrossing read - the sort that I can completely lose myself in. I wanted to know the answer to so many questions that I could barely put it down and quite rattled my way through.
How to describe it without giving away too much is a bit of a challenge though; it's a family drama played out over two generations; it's about falling in love, living a lie, the meaning of family and the sacrifices a woman might make for the sake of her children.
It's the kind of book that too often attracts the 'women's fiction' tag, but it's a perceptive insight into family life, both idyllic and dreadful, and the individuals that are part of it. The characters are all people that you can believe in whether it's the ever optimistic Jo with her long line of one night stands - each one a potential prince to rescue her from spinsterhood but each turning into a frog come the cold light of morning - or Dean's irresponsible dad, only ever concerned with his own pleasure and happiness, and totally disregarding the needs of others.

...and the ending? It's an absolute stunner!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult

 Buy The State We're In from Amazon

Thursday 27 June 2013

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Review by The Mole

Mma Ramotswe has inherited some money from her father to set up her own business - a shop or something... but instead she chooses to set up the first detective agency in Botswana with a lady detective. With her little white van, office in town and her secretary the cases slowly start to trickle in.

This is hardly a new book, but has been republished under the banner of "A collection of 18 titles that celebrate Abacus's 40 year history of publishing influential, unique and trailblazing books that have shaped the reading landscape." and many of the titles involved are landmarks in UK fiction, as is this one.

I have come to this book knowing that Maryom loved it but I had never picked it up before. I was very surprised by what I found  too. Maryom reads a lot of crime; some very sinister and gory; some very clever; most with a level of whodunnit - but here I found what she described as "cosy crime" and it fits the description of the book "cosily". But what is not to be loved about it? Mma Ramotswe, her father, her little white van, J.L.B. Matekoni - there is nothing about this book that you won't fall in love with. And the writing... the author, when talking about Mma Ramotswe says something like (sorry I can't find the quote) 'she wasn't tall but she was blessed with a large girth' - how can you not love it?

Some of the cases she goes on I found myself solving before she left the office but that didn't bother me at all and in fact added to the enjoyment of the book - and that is a little unusual! If you want gore and tension then try the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency - you won't get it but you will feel a whole lot better after reading it!

I shall certainly be on the prowl for more from the detective agency in the future.

Abacus 40th Anniversary editions

Publisher - Abacus
Genre - Adult Crime

Buy The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency from Amazon

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Aldo Moon and the Ghost at Gravewood Hall by Alex Woolf

review by Maryom

Aldo Moon is an orphan, brought up in the London Foundling Hospital then adopted by the wealthy Carter family. They soon discover he has an unusual talent. Picking up 'ripples in the ether', he can sense things that others can't; sometimes he can predict an unexpected knock at the door or see an image of something that occurred in the past or is happening at that moment somewhere else.
When a friend of the family believes she has ghosts disturbing the peace of her house, Aldo is asked to investigate. Accompanied by his adoptive brother Nathan and his cousin Lily, he uncovers dark deeds and secrets hidden at Gravewood Hall.

Set in Victorian England, this book is a supernatural whodunnit  - a sort of cross between Sherlock Holmes and Ghostbusters. There are strange noises emanating from the cellar and the ghostly figure of a woman haunting the house and gardens but overall the feel is more of a detective novel than a terrifying ghost story. 
The trio of friends make an interesting investigative team - Aldo brings his supernatural intuition to bear on solving the mystery, Nathan is the 'muscle' and Lily the sceptical scientist.

Aimed at older children and young teens, the Ghost at Gravewood Hall is the first adventure for Aldo Moon and there'll be more to come.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Scribo Books
Genre - Children's, ghost stories, detective stories, 11+

Buy Aldo Moon and the Ghost at Gravewood Hall from Amazon

Tuesday 25 June 2013

The Drowning by Rachel Ward

Review by The Mole

Carl awakes to a nightmare. He sees someone being zipped into a sleeping bag and tries to speak - but he can't. They carry on zipping over the person's face and he wants to scream that they won't be able to breathe. He is terrified they will do that to him and he can't tell them he's alive! They don't but they lift both of them into an ambulance. A girl gets in, looks at him and screams. That's the last he remembers. It's the only thing he remembers and when he is sent home from hospital it is with a woman that he is told is his mother but he has no idea if that's true and she is sad, angry and afraid. He is told that the dead boy was his brother and that they were both, along with the girl, in a lake when he died. What happened and who killed him? The girl? Was it him? In dribs and drabs the memories hit him like electric shocks and the doubts increase. What kind of a boy is he? He has no idea and dreads finding out.

This is one of those reviews that is so easy to give spoilers as much of the plot hinges around characters and their personality. Rob, Carl's dead brother, seems to be trying to kill both Carl and Neisha, the girl from the ambulance, and tense action follows tense action. Carl battles with Rob as Carl tries to protect Neisha, who believes Rob is a stress induced hallucination. Through the most part of the story I was convinced Rob was entirely in Carl's imagination but towards the end we are led to believe that maybe there is more to Rob. Rob was not a nice character and I found I couldn't 'believe' in him because I have never known anyone who could be quite that evil and manipulative. And Carl... could an incident like this really change someone's personality so drastically? Or has he changed? And Neisha... was she so changed or was it Rob's manipulation that makes it seem so? The ending... I will admit that I very much anticipated a happy ending because the story had an underlying 'feel good' factor to it. I was wrong - and I was disappointed to be wrong but life isn't all happy endings is it?

A very thought provoking read as you encounter what it may be like to suffer total memory loss and also reflect on what people around you might be like if the influence of others was removed.

I really enjoyed this read - despite the ending!

Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - YA Thriller

Buy The Drowning from Amazon

Monday 24 June 2013

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

review  by Maryom

Jodi and Todd have lived together for over 20 years. They may not have the legal paperwork but are effectively a happily married couple. They have everything they could want - a fabulous apartment with stunning lake views, Todd's built-from-nothing construction business, Jodi's psychotherapy practice, and a dog to replace the children they never had. And if Todd 'wanders' once in a while? Well, this is something Jodi's learned to ignore and live with so long as he always comes home to her.  But Todd's latest affair is turning serious and he's under increasing pressure to leave Jodi. Will she find herself left high and dry? How far will Jodi go to get him back... or get even?

The Silent Wife is an intimate look at the workings of a long term relationship - and its break down. Told from the alternating points of view of Jodi and Todd, the story follows their thoughts and reasoning as they struggle to come to terms with their changed circumstances. Harrison cleverly balances both points of view so that although the reader may veer towards Jodi's standpoint, Todd's version of events is presented with the same level of sympathy. Both of them, though, come over as people more driven by the pressure of outside forces than their own desires. Jodi rather drifts along in her ivory tower not wanting to really involve herself with everyday nitty-gritty. This way she finds it possible to turn a blind eye to her financial position and Todd's affairs; even the drastic action she ultimately decides to take is suggested and carried out by someone else. While, for a man who's built up his own business, Todd seems extraordinarily weak-willed when it comes to personal matters; pushed one way by his girlfriend, pulled the other by his old comfortable life.
It was less of a thriller than I'd expected but none the worse for it.

I don't like to compare book A to book B but the similarities between this and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn are too hard to ignore. The Silent Wife has better characterisation and a believable plot line firmly rooted in reality; Gone Girl is more of a thriller but with over-the-top extremes of emotions and actions. I definitely preferred The Silent Wife.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult 

Buy The Silent Wife from Amazon

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison AND Giveaway

review  by Maryom

(See the GIVEAWAY after Maryom's review)

Jodi and Todd have lived together for over 20 years. They may not have the legal paperwork but are effectively a happily married couple. They have everything they could want - a fabulous apartment with stunning lake views, Todd's built-from-nothing construction business, Jodi's psychotherapy practice, and a dog to replace the children they never had. And if Todd 'wanders' once in a while? Well, this is something Jodi's learned to ignore and live with so long as he always comes home to her.  But Todd's latest affair is turning serious and he's under increasing pressure to leave Jodi. Will she find herself left high and dry? How far will Jodi go to get him back... or get even?

The Silent Wife is an intimate look at the workings of a long term relationship - and its break down. Told from the alternating points of view of Jodi and Todd, the story follows their thoughts and reasoning as they struggle to come to terms with their changed circumstances. Harrison cleverly balances both points of view so that although the reader may veer towards Jodi's standpoint, Todd's version of events is presented with the same level of sympathy. Both of them, though, come over as people more driven by the pressure of outside forces than their own desires. Jodi rather drifts along in her ivory tower not wanting to really involve herself with everyday nitty-gritty. This way she finds it possible to turn a blind eye to her financial position and Todd's affairs; even the drastic action she ultimately decides to take is suggested and carried out by someone else. While, for a man who's built up his own business, Todd seems extraordinarily weak-willed when it comes to personal matters; pushed one way by his girlfriend, pulled the other by his old comfortable life.
It was less of a thriller than I'd expected but none the worse for it.

I don't like to compare book A to book B but the similarities between this and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn are too hard to ignore. The Silent Wife has better characterisation and a believable plot line firmly rooted in reality; Gone Girl is more of a thriller but with over-the-top extremes of emotions and actions. I definitely preferred The Silent Wife.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult 

Buy The Silent Wife from Amazon

***** GIVEAWAY *****

But we do have one copy to GIVEAWAY and it can be yours for the asking!

To win what we ask is that:-
  1. You can leave a comment on the blog (But not anonymously)
  2. OR On Twitter you need to Retweet our review and Follow us
  3. OR On Facebook you need to Share our review with your Friends and leave a message on our wall that you would like to win.
  4. OR On Pinterest you can share our Pin
You can enter once each day on each of the 4 social media sites - the more entries the more chance of being the lucky recipient.

The postal address must be UK and the competition  will close at 23:59 Friday 28th June 2013. The winner will be chosen at random on Saturday 29th. The postal address then needs to be received by 3rd July or a new winner will be selected.

Good Luck!

Friday 21 June 2013

The Unquiet Grave by Steven Dunne

review by Maryom

DI Damen Brook is back from suspension - but relegated to the Cold Case Unit. In his dismal basement office he reluctantly starts to look into a series of seemingly unrelated murders dating back to the 1960s.  A previous investigation attempted to link these cases but merely led to the ridicule of the detective concerned - could he have been right all along? His new boss Copeland has a personal interest in Brook's investigations - his teenage sister was murdered when he was a child and the solving of her murder has been the driving force behind his life and career. He hopes Brook with a fresh vision can shed light on a case that he's spent so many years working on. Brook soon finds himself drawn into the riddles posed by these events of so long ago and as he unravels the threads, uncovers a web of deceit involving witnesses, suspects and police.
His old DS, John Noble, is working on a current case involving the disappearance of another youngster - and Brook begins to wonder if this too is related.

The Unquiet Grave is amazingly complex and very, very clever. I think this may be one of the cleverest, perhaps THE cleverest, whodunnits that I've read. It's the sort of book with so many storylines up in the air and twisting round each other, that I wonder how the writer keeps track of them all.
It's one of those detective novels where the reader is privy to information unknown to the detective on the case, so I could see pieces of the jigsaw starting to fall into place before Brooks did - not all of them though and there were enough twists and turns and un-tied off ends to keep me reading to the end.

There are more insights into Brook's troubled past - as I only 'met' him in Dunne's last novel Deity I don't know the full ins and outs of his connection with the serial killer known as the Reaper so this gave some tantalising glimpses without, I hope, giving too much away. I think it's getting time that I read the earlier novels, though.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Thursday 20 June 2013

Archipelago by Monique Roffey

review by Maryom

When his home is destroyed and his life torn apart by a nightmarish flood, Gavin Weald finds himself adrift and unable to settle back to his normal life. All he has left is his daughter Océan and his dog Suzy - and his boat, Romany. Having reached breaking point, Gavin decides to run away to sea. Journeying from Trinidad north towards Panama and 'west and then west again', he hopes they will find peace. After initial hiccoughs, the three of them settle into their voyage of discovery through unknown waters to islands of unbelievable beauty where they find flamingos, shoals of fish playing round coral reefs, free roaming iguanas - but even here there are signs of man's destructiveness; there are oil refineries scattered among the desert islands and tourism threatens the wildlife that brings it. Beyond Panama, the Pacific beckons but even out there in the endless ocean can Gavin escape his past? or is it set to return?

Archipelago is a hauntingly beautiful novel of loss and rebuilding. The reader is swept along on an almost magical voyage through the islands of the Caribbean. "World-building" is a concept normally associated with sci-fi or fantasy but that is just what Roffey has done here. I've never been to the Caribbean (and I'm not likely too; my dream islands of white sand and turquoise seas lie much further north) but I really felt I was there. There's lots of details about boats and sailing, geography and wildlife to bring the journey to life but this is more than a travelogue.  In trying to live out a dream he had when younger, Gavin embarks on a journey of self-discovery. The practicalities of life on the boat start to bring him out of the stupor he's sunk into and the events which so devastated his life are gradually revealed as memories seep through the mental barriers he's built up. The story is supposed to end on upbeat note but I found the events in the latter stage of the journey totally heartbreaking.

Archipelago is a beautiful and compelling read that I've come a little late to as it was languishing on the TBR pile with each of us expecting the other to read it. In some ways despite a very different setting in time and place it reminded me of Inman's journey back to Cold Mountain - and even Homer's original Odyssey!  I'm extremely glad to have been the one to pick it up and will now be looking out for more from Monique Roffey.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster

Genre - literary fiction

Buy Archipelago from Amazon

Arthur and the Mystery of the Egg by Johanne Mercier

Illustrated by Clare Elsom
Translated by Daniel Hahn

Review by The Mole

Arthur finds an egg in the middle of a field with no chicken around to claim it. When he takes it home his family get very excited and call the press in - will we finally get an answer to which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Arthur is a delightful character and is beautifully drawn in the black and white illustrations that are on almost every page. Originally written in French, the story is translated by Daniel Hahn and the language used is easily accessible to children while, at the same time, containing a degree of irony that, should an adult choose to read it to a child, they will get something else from it. The themes that are chosen are also ones that we can all relate to even if we don't actually encounter Yeti tracks every day of the week.

There are several books in the series and the first four each end with a theme that is carried on to the next book so young readers would be as well to start at book 1.

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children's early reader (5-7)

Buy Arthur and the Mystery of the Egg from Amazon

Wednesday 19 June 2013

All The Little Guns Went Bang, Bang, Bang by Neil Mackay

 review by Maryom

 Pearse Furlong and May-Belle Mulholland appear to be two normal eleven year olds. Most of the time you'd pass them in the street and not give them a second glance but they have a secret life that you wouldn't want to share. Brought up in Northern Ireland at the worst of The Troubles, when shootings and bombings form the backdrop to life, and in homes where beatings and abuse are regular occurrences, Pearse and May-Belle are looking to somehow escape this regular round of violence. Instead they end up channelling it through their games. Before they know it the two children are on a downward cycle of increasing brutality heading towards an inevitable conclusion.

All The Little Guns Went Bang, Bang, Bang is a darkly funny, disturbing story of how violence begets violence. Seeing these children regularly beaten and abused in their own homes at first gains the reader's sympathy but then as they set about their own spree of violence it quickly goes.

The writing is at times brutal and unflinching - the horrors don't fade into 'soft focus' or take place 'off-screen' but right up there in full view - and there were times I wished I could read with my eyes closed - to not actually see what was happening. It's all the more terrible because this violence is committed by children.
Away from their violent escapades Pearse and May-Belle are actually quite sweet. In a secret hiding place they tell each other stories - May-Belle tells of the one good time in her life when her dad took her to the seaside for a week; Pearse recounts the family histories as told by his Gran. Both give a glimpse of how life could have been for them, if only....

All in all a thought-provoking read about how lives are shattered - in more than physical ways - by violence.

Don't be fooled by the 'Janet and John' early reader style cover, this is at times a very violent book with lots of strong language.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Freight Books
Genre -  Adult

Buy All the Little Guns Went Bang Bang Bang from Amazon

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Black Bread White Beer by Niven Govinden

Review by The Mole

Amal and his wife, Claud, are in their thirties when Claud miscarries after just three weeks of carrying their first child. Amal is devastated not only for himself but for Claud as well. Things that need to be said don't get said, fears are bottled up as well as tears locked away. They don't want to tell their friends and family because of their own disappointment and how their friends may react and think of them. They drive down to Claud's parents for the weekend so that they don't have to address the issue and pretend the miscarriage never happened. How long can this state between them continue?

This very emotional issue is one that affects more people than care to admit it. Here Govinden approaches the issues between the couple and he doesn't do it in a teary sort of way but he doesn't belittle the issue either. Told from Amal's perspective, as a Briton of Indian birth who has married a white English girl we experience his frustration at not being able to talk to Claud for fear he will say the wrong thing while Claud raises the defences against everyone believing that the miscarriage was her own fault. At the same time Amal is seeing racial slurs from most everyone they meet. The tension between them is immense and as the weekend progresses it is getting no better. Can they deal with all this?

I will admit that I had a little difficulty with the editing in places, the kind that you reread and think "No, it should be... but maybe at some level this work works?" which I found a little frustrating and distracting but that could just be the author's writing style but put that to one side. I did find this book extremely engaging and caused me to reflect on the lives of friends and, to a certain extent, my own and I saw and felt most everything that Amal experiences. But I would like to go on record as saying that I would handle the washer situation a great deal better than he did!

Why the title "Black Bread White Beer"? Frankly I have no idea and normally you find at least one reference to the title in the book but I found nothing to explain it.

As it leaves the tears to one side, this book should appeal to both men and women. If I gave stars for books then out of five, I would give this one at least 5.

Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Adult literary fiction

Buy Black Bread White Beer from Amazon

Monday 17 June 2013

M L Stedman again! - Author event

We both read and loved M L Stedman's debut tug-of love novel The Light Between Oceans when it was published last year (it even made it into Maryom's Picks of the Year list ) and have been to a previous event of hers at Lowdham Festival 2012, so when we discovered she was visiting our local Waterstones last week we had to go. We regularly go to events at Waterstones but they're normally at the larger Nottingham store and this was the first one we'd been to at our smaller local store in Derby. When we arrived the space allocated was on the ground floor and with easy access to the door but as the the time to the start of the event ticked away more people arrived and more seats had to be found. As this was a lunch time, mid week, I had not expected a reading followed by q&a as I anticipated people dropping in and dashing out again. However a very informal event followed with Stedman reading from a few parts of the book and then it felt more like a cosy group chat as people asked questions and shared their view of aspects of the book.

With author events of this type it's always  a debate as to what to share about what was learned at the event but here are a few things.
  • Stedman is currently 'reading',  Daniel Deronda after finding an audio book of this very large tome. Stedman is very much a fan of audio books as they give her the chance to 'read' at times when she otherwise couldn't.
  • An important theme running through The Light Between Oceans is war, specifically the First World War and its impact on Australian volunteers and on communities at home and this is one particular aspect of the story that she researched greatly and seems to have been affected by deeply.
  • It's always exciting to hear that a book you've loved is going to be made into a film and Light Between Oceans has been 'optioned' and is actually going through the screenwriting stage. I'm often worried about how it will be interpreted for the screen - will the casting feel right? will the location be altered to suit the production crew? and worst of all, will some or all of the plot be changed?- These were all questions that the audience had to ask Ms Stedman. Her main concerns were with the ending and the emotional integrity of the  novel being maintained more than its location and these are things she thinks she has protected in the choice of filming company - something she did have a say in which certainly surprised me.
  • The book has been translated into 32 languages and sold nearly 800,000 copies worldwide.
  • There have been many different covers and everyone seems to have there own favourite. The one we saw at the event was an 'Exclusive to Waterstones' cover so if you are a collector...
As many of the audience had 'dropped in' over lunch the event had to end on time so they could return to work but Stedman was more than willing, showing her approachability, to stay chatting with individuals and signing books.

An excellent event and I hope we'll see more of  them in our local store. Oh, and the biscuits were nice too!

Maryom's review 
The Mole's review

Friday 14 June 2013

Scare Me by Richard Parker

Review by The Mole

"Wealthy businessman, Will Frost, gets woken in the middle of the night by an anonymous caller, asking him exactly this. When Will goes online, he finds a website has been set up in his name, showing photographs of the inside of his home, along with photographs of six houses he has never seen before. In the first of these strange houses, a gruesome murder has already taken place. Will is then told that his own family is in mortal danger. The only way he can keep them safe is to visit each of the houses on the website in person before the police discover what has happened there. Seven houses. Seven gruesome homicides. Seven chances to save his daughter's life..."

Scare Me is Richard Parker's second novel and once again is not a 'whodunnit'. We know whodunnit because we are there with them throughout the most grizzly of crimes. And Will has to follow the murderer from scene to scene in order to protect his daughter. Throughout the story we keep getting little tidbits of information which help us to understand better what came before - but never what is to come. And when Will's wife gets attacked we think we know even more... and we don't! The tale is told very well and twists and turns before the final revelation. Or is it a revelation?

I found that I dreaded what was about to happen and put the book down. I then immediately found I needed to know what did happen and had to pick it up again. The author stops at nothing to appal the reader but not in a way that stops you from reading!

An excellent thriller that I may read again sometime - but only in daylight!

Publisher - Exhibit A Books
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Buy Scare Me from Amazon

Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss GIVEAWAY

A chance to receive 1 of 5 free copies of Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss!

Brian Aldiss has had his latest Sci-Fi novel published, which we are told, will be his last. We have reviewed it  and also had chance to put questions to him which we have published. We have even had the opportunity to publish, here on our blog, an exclusive short story that shows that while he is known for his Sci-Fi stories he does also write other stories too - and poetry.

But now we have the  exciting opportunity to giveaway FIVE hardback copies Finches of Mars, courtesy of The Friday Project! (see they website)

The giveaway is restricted to the UK only so if you would like one then let us know.

How to Enter

On Twitter simply retweet and follow. Each retweet that is at least an hour since your last will be counted as a separate entry. Please ensure you include the hashtag #OurBookBrianAldiss

On Facebook simply write on our timeline that you would like one by saying "Yes, I would like to enter your Finches of Mars giveaway" - there is one entry only of Facebook.

On the blog then simply follow our blog and leave a comment on this post saying that you want to enter the giveaway. Again one entry only on the blog and anonymous entries cannot be considered. Please make sure we can contact you.

  1. The giveaway is open ONLY to UK residents.
  2. You can enter as many times as you like but there will only be one book per UK address
  3. Giveaway ends 23:59 21st June 2013 and successful applicants will be informed by 26th June 2013
  4. Entries will be chosen at random.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Mr Darwin's Gardener by Kristina Carlson

review by Maryom

A postmodern Victorian novel about faith, knowledge and our inner needs.
The late 1870s, the Kentish village of Downe. The villagers gather in church one rainy Sunday. Only Thomas Davies stays away. The eccentric loner, father of two and a grief-stricken widower, works as a gardener for the notorious naturalist, Charles Darwin. He shuns religion. But now Thomas needs answers. What should he believe in? And why should he continue to live?

Mr Darwin's Gardener is the story of not merely one man but of a whole community. Set in the late 19th century when Darwin's theory of evolution is challenging the accepted view, it shows the dilemmas that must have been felt the world over as people struggled to adjust their view of creation. The village of Downe is a sleepy provincial place - where everyone knows their neighbours' business and an accident with a  horse and cart is a great event. The inhabitants are traditional in outlook; believers in Sunday church attendance and meting our their own rough justice. The women gossip over their charity work or at their book club; the men set the world to rights at the inn. An atheist from far-away Wales, Thomas Davies, Mr Darwin's Gardener, is an outsider in many ways. He has been widowed for 3 years but is still struggling to overcome his grief and carry on living. His extreme anguish at the time of his wife's death, seen in the burning of her bed and clothes, is beyond the comprehension of his more measured neighbours. Thomas doesn't believe in God, putting his faith in Mr Darwin and his scientific principles but can these give comfort to a grieving man?

The latest offering from Peirene press is something slightly different, an odd quirky book, a sort of cross between Cranford, Under Milk Wood and The Waves. The story is told, as stream of consciousness fragmented thoughts, through the voices of the villagers of Downe - and also the birds that watch their comings and goings. It gives a slightly fragmented feel to the story-telling, a bit like having several people talking to you at once, but once you've caught the rhythm of it, you see the world from inside their minds.

To me, it seemed like I could only see the shape of the novel once I'd reached the end. Couple that with the fact that outside events had made my reading scrappy and interrupted, and I decided to do an unusual thing - read it again straight away! The second reading was far better. I understood and could appreciate how the story was told from multiple points of view. Putting it down frequently is NOT the way appreciate it.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah.

Buy Mr Darwin's Gardener from Amazon or check out the Peirene website for subscription details

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Exotic Crime - author event

 Last week we went to Waterstones in Nottingham for an author event with a difference - instead of one author, there were three! The theme was crime in exotic locations and Martin Walker, Colin Cotterill and Elly Griffiths were there to talk about their respective novels set in locations from France to Thailand and Laos to the closer-to-home Norfolk coast.
Now I must admit that I haven't actually read anything by any of these authors but, although much of the audience at these events is made up of die-hard fans, I find them an excellent way to discover new books to read.
 So what did I find out this week?

Colin Cotterill  told us about his life which has taken him from Britain first to Australia and then to Asia where he lives now. His long running Dr Siri series of murder mysteries is set in Laos but, as Dr Siri is now in his 70s when even an imaginary crime-fighter should be taking things easy, Cotterill has a new series with a new heroine, crime reporter Jimm Juree, which is set in Thailand. Grandad, There's A Head on The Beach is the second in this series

 Elly Griffiths used to be an editor - and never believed authors when they talked of how a plot came to them 'in a flash' or of the characters taking control of their destinies. Now she's an author herself, she knows better!  Her series starring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is inspired in part by Griffiths' husband who left his lucrative City job and retrained as an archaeologist.

After many years travelling as foreign correspondent for The Guardian, Martin Walker settled down in the Perigord region of France in the 1990s. His latest book, The Resistance Man, is the sixth in his series of detective stories drawing inspiration from the people and landscape of his adopted home. The main character, chief of police Bruno Courreges, and many of the supporting cast are based on his friends and neighbours.

After the reading there came the normal Q+A session - but with a difference. After the audience had asked their questions, the authors had one they wanted to ask - how many people would be interested in reading an erotic novel with elderly characters? A sort of geriatric Shades of Grey? The booksellers present were all in favour of it; the general public less so. The authors were adamant that this was a serious question - so perhaps we know what they're planning for future books.....

All in all another interesting evening.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Above the Parapet by Alison Lock

Review by The Mole

This book is a collection of 20 short stories by Alison Lock. She has had stories and poems published in anthologies before and has won  prizes with some of her short stories - which are included here - but this is her first publication of all her own work.

All of the stories are quite short at 5 to 12 pages in length are so are excellent for coffee time reads but the moods tend to be rather dark although they are, very much, an eclectic collection. Most people will find stories in it that they will smile at, identify with, scratch their head at or ponder over.

I have to admit that in a short story I don't particularly go for the 'dark' - more the humour or ponder types so I found many in here not to my taste but each to his/her own. I also found many in this collection I did like and that started with the first "Ashes For Roses" where Armageddon is coming and this may stop Leah from finally beating her husband in the county flower show with her perfect rose. It's a bit dark but humorous with it. But then there is The Hanging Tree which is very short, very dark and I'm not sure I really understood it.

A collection with so many varied stories in is sure to have something for everyone.

Publisher - Indigo Dreams Publishing
Genre - Adult Short Stories

Buy Above the Parapet from Amazon

Monday 10 June 2013

Conjuring The Infinite by Kirkland Ciccone

Review by The Mole

The Cottage is a home for troubled teenagers, ones who haven't fitted in to other care institutions - a last resort - and it's run by a woman known only as Mother. One of their number, Seth Kevorkian, has been murdered and after the funeral the staff and residents start to open up about the Seth they knew - the Seth Mother thought was faultless and kind. But it appears that Seth was planning some form of Armageddon and has it started?

This book was very different to the book I expected. I can find it very hard to write a review for a book I liked - does that sound silly? It's easy to write a glowing review as a sycophantic favour but here we won't do that so when you get a book you really enjoy then how can you underline sincerity? Let's try.

The story starts a little slowly and we meet each of the characters one at a time and unlike so many books I found I couldn't 'get inside their heads'. As I read on I realised that was because Ciccone didn't want us going there - these teenagers were mentally damaged we weren't welcome. As the story builds up we get swept into believing the story as the plot unfolds. I found myself expecting, and wondering how Ciccone was going to manage this, when suddenly one of the characters enters again and Ciccone manages to somehow use this person to make fun of the whole thing. Or does he? Or does Seth get the last laugh?

A real breath of fresh air in the horror story line. Tense and exciting yet down to earth and realistic with perhaps just an inkling of satire at the same time - and maybe a little more horrifying for that. Described as Young Adult/Adult or 'crossover' I found this really worked for me. But unlike so many books that you put down and you want to know more and keep reading I felt that I knew enough, thank you, if not too much. Pass me a book on comic Guinea pigs please!

Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre - YA/Adult horror, Fantasy

Buy Conjuring the Infinite from Amazon

Friday 7 June 2013

When The Accident Happened by Brian Aldiss - A Short Story

Continuing with the Brian  Aldiss theme, today we are delighted to host an exclusive short story - just for us! Well, for you to share too. It demonstrates that he not only writes sci-fi but also general fiction.

The accident happened on a Sunday in October, during the Ten Peak Mauler-Trawler Competition.
Laurie Wilkins was making a run off Mount Rosie when his left boot caught on a stub of rock concealed by a drift of snow. Next moment, arms flung wide, he was falling three hundred feet.

Pam Gates entered the Spokane General Hospital and was shown into a consultants’ room.
“Well, Mrs Wilkins, it’s a wonder your husband is still with us,” the consultant said "A bit of nasty tumble, you could say...”
Pam was shown into a Solitary Ward. Laurie lay flat in the white bed. His head on the pillow was bandaged in part. The one visible side, the left hand side of his skull, was red and swollen with injury, forcing his eye closed.
“Hello, Laurie,” she said, without expression.
“Pam zat you?”
“Who did you think it was?”
"Ma will be along soon.”
“Meanwhile you’ve buggered yourself up properly.”
“I gotta take it easy for a bit...”
“Oh, Laurie...” For the first time. She moved close to the bed. She burst into tears, asking him between sobs what they were going to do.
“Don’t cry. Once I get out of this bed...”
“But you’ve broken your leg...”
He sighed, slightly moving his left arm. “They can fix that. No problem.. It’s just my guts-“
He broke off with a hollow groan.
She said, bitterly,  “I begged you not to go in for that stupid competition. Someone gets killed every year.”  Summoning bravado, he said, “Oh, I’ll be okay for next year’s competition...”

She flung up a hand in frustration, turned about, and quit the cubicle. A nurse, worried by Pam’s obvious distress, offered her a coffee and a word of comfort. Pam refused both and went out to the dazzling sun in the car park. She stood, breathing deep, holding a hand up to her forehead.
Cars were coming and going. An ambulance drew up at the hospital entrance.  She was trying to make herself feel a little better, when a woman’s voice called her name.

A smartly dressed woman had alighted from a Cadillac and was waving to Pam. It was Claudine Wilkins, Laurie’s mother. Pam liked Laurie’s mother well enough, although she was scared of the woman’s affluence and the behaviour that went with it.“So there you stood crying, my dear!”, she said, as Pam approached. She put an arm about Pam’s shoulders and drew her close - closer to a scent of lavender. Pam gave a large sob.  Now Claudine stood and scrutinised the younger woman.
“I gather. I received a report on my iphone this morning. Of course I must go to him.”
Pam assumed a serious position, arms by her side. “Mrs Wilkins, I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I’m pregnant, in case you didn’t know. I begged Laurie not to enter that stupid dangerous competition, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Claudine frowned. "You’re not from around here, are you?"
"Laurie is now thirty-five and that, that wretched competition is for young men."
“Oh? So that’s what you think, my dear! My cousin Dobby was competing again this year and he is in his fifties.” There they stood in the car park, in the sun, confronting each other.
In a small voice, Pam said. “What do I care about Dobbin? What I care about is my beloved foolish Laurie who has buggered himself up.”
Claudine waved a hand dismissively and began to stride towards the hospital. “What a “phrase to use!”, she was saying.
“He’s buggered up both our lives!” Pam shouted after the older woman’s back.

Time passed. Winter closed in. The aurora borealis displayed itself on occasions.
Laurie Wilkins was on the mend. Drugs and scalpels were his allies. His broken cheekbones were replaced by artificial ones. He learned  to walk again without crutches, although his right foot, completely shattered in the fall, had to be replaced with a substitute. His hip and his intestines were still subject to periodic operations, and were said to be slowly mending, as liquid diet gave way to solids. He was given regular exercise in a hospital gym, among other invalids. He took to religion, and a Catholic priest visited him three days of every week. His mother visited him once a week.

    Laurie made pretence of being cheerful, but was bitter at heart. He cursed his father, Kevin Wilkins, divorced from his mother long ago- the father who had encouraged him, indeed forced him, to fool about on those lofty Canadian mountain ranges.
    Pam Gates left the area; she took a train south to live in a small apartment near the Niagara Falls. There she gave birth to a daughter, whom she christened Dot. By that time a young man called Pete Stone, who worked in a travel agency on Fallsview Boulevard, was showing an interest in Pam. Such interest was expressed in tangible evidence, such as flowers and chocolates.
    Pete was sturdy and well-built, but showed no interest in anything athletic, apart from golf and snooker – “It’s all balls”, he explained elegantly.
    His parents were rather down at heel, kept a pig, liked Pam. Pam liked them.
    Both of them loved Canada. Especially the flatter parts.
    And so life went on, and Dot grew up to be rather a naughty girl. But such as Pam Stone always said- such was the way life is. Some you win, some you lose.


We would like to thank Brian Aldiss for the opportunity and the precious time given and also The Friday Project for making it all possible.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Blood Tracks - book launch

It's not often that we can get to book launches  - too many are held in far off London - so we were very excited to be invited along to the party celebrating the publication of Paula Rawsthorne's second  teen thriller Blood Tracks at Waterstones in Nottingham.

The event was pretty well packed with all sorts of people who we presumed were extended family, but when Paula took the podium she went through a long list of people who had assisted in the research or writing of the book. There were family members who had given her a bed so she could get away from the daily routine to concentrate on writing. There was a gentleman who gave advice on how a body can be dumped at sea. The local coroner was thanked for advice on inquest procedure. There were supporters of her first book "The Truth About Celia Frost", local librarians, a gentleman from "Left Lion" (a Nottingham arts magazine). The list was a long one and many were among the throng gathered to support the launch of her latest book.

We were given an introduction to Paula's editor from Usborne, the publishers, as well as her new agent - her old one having received a lucrative offer to move away from agency work and into publishing.

And there was cake! As well as drinks and lots of nibbles. The evening was scheduled to finish at 8:30 and the books had sold out long before then and the book signing had only just got under way. Amy, from Waterstones, found a secret cache of books which again sold out long before the event was over.

 This photo was taken of the signing desk long before the signing but the books were already well depleted with people all over clutching them in anticipation of getting them signed.

An extremely enjoyable evening and we wish Paula and Usborne every success with this, once again, extremely enjoyable book.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Brian Aldiss - Author Interview

Following on from our review of the soon to be released Finches of Mars we had a chance to put some questions to Brian Aldiss. Rather unusually the answers have a true conversational feel to them which, I feel, makes them much richer.

 Q. Although laced with great humour, Finches of Mars appears to serve as a stark warning to humanity about the way we're conducting ourselves on this planet. How much do your own thoughts tally with those of Mangalian as set down in the appendix?

A. Well, does anyone think that we conduct our affairs well in this world? - On the whole, I mean. The 20th Century was Hell, with two world wars and with  a raging form of Nazism in Germany and Communist oppression in Russia.  I spent many years of my life behaving badly (mainly in the British Army).  Who am I to talk, I who have sat here writing 70 or 80 books? We've killed  off so many animals. Now we're killing off the bees. Surely anyone with half a mind could see.... 
Heavens, you're an SF reader, you know what a mess we're making of the planet.  Even my study is a bit untidy...

Q. There are signs here and there that a mission to Mars might take place soon. Do you think it's inevitable (supernovas in five billion years notwithstanding) that humanity's future lies in the stars? And if so, how soon should we think about leaving home?

A. We should probably start running now!  Look, I've just published my FINCHES OF MARS, but I have no belief we will actually get to Mars. SF is full of assumptions, all perfectly reasonable at the time. When Mr Godwin wrote his very successful book, THE MAN IN THE MOONE, in 16-something, he believed that Earth and Moon shared their atmosphere.  
Why not? Perfectly reasonable, utterly wrong.

Back in Gernsback's days, another assumption, that there would be predicted cities on the moon.  The fact is that it was all but impossible to get to the Moon, and terribly expensive to do.  And what can you do when and if you're on the Moon?  Bugger all... Just stand about and be photographed. Here we suffer from a Victorian assumption.  We speak and think of space.  Space is what you may find in a cupboard. In actual fact what's out there teems with raging destructive particles.  Read 'Finches of Mars' if you don't believe me.

Q. Your career spans 60 years in publishing. Ebooks are becoming more and more common - are digitised books something you are comfortable with, or do you have any reservations about the possibility of the physical objects disappearing into hard drives?

A. Thank heavens, I was born after the days of the quill pen! - Well, just...I love hard covers. My shelves are lined with them. And I miss the old independent paperbacks. But so what?  I like what goes on today, with its great variety.  What about Google? Couldn't live without it.  Google makes me appear intelligent.  Folk like something to clutch.[What am I saying!!?] I'd guess your hard drive needs physical company. Till next Christmas at least.

Q. What would you say sets the science fiction genre apart from all other forms of writing?

A. Good question. It's better in the States, folks.  They are not so snobby.  They never had a Dr Johnson or a Shakespeare. I've been reading the TLS for half a century; it is rare to get reviewed there.  So elitism is a problem.  Isn't another problem that so much SF is mere sensationalism? (Do I watch 'Dr Who' Christ, no!)  Philip K.  Dick felt as I do.  He wanted to address everyone.

He and I hope to address the world. [Well, some of my books are published in China...] But the best Phil Dick movie is "The Trueman Show" - brilliant! - made after Dick had died. And when I've said all this, I must reply more directly to your question. We write SF because it's different and expresses something different...

Q. In The Brightfount Diaries, Peter speculates on whether books are written from the heart or the head.  Since writing The Brightfount Diaries, you have written a great deal more works of many genres. Can you now clarify? Heart or head?

A. How can I answer for something in "The Brightfount Diaries", my first book?  Of course I can make up an answer.  Books generally come from both heart and head. I have often used personal misery, making it take human form.  There was a time my marriage broke up and I lost my children.  Life was all deserts.  I sat in one room in an Oxford slum and wrote "Greybeard". There England crumbles into formless forest.  Because not a child survives.  When writing, I thought. "This is so miserable.  Nobody's going to want to read this."  Now, a lot later, I have my children (adult now, of course) back and 'Greybeard' is a Penguin Modern Classsic. This is not a boast (well, a bit, I suppose) but it shows that many people suffer from broken marriages and loss of beloved kiddies, So one hopes that Greybeard" has proved a comfort to them - and to Penguin,

Q. Following the publication of Finches of Mars, will you continue writing and if so, what?              

A. Yes, thanks, one does continue writing because one can't help it.  I keep a voluminous Journal.  Now on Vol 76.  That makes two yards of shelfspace.  It will go to the Bodleian Library when I die.  Not a penny do I get for it. Oh. And I've started another novel, this one is marvellous....

And I, for one, am very pleased about that... but what is the subject? Perhaps it won't be too long before we find out.

I would like to thank Brian Aldiss for taking the time to answer these questions and to The Friday Project for making the opportunity available to us. Later this week we will be publishing OUR short story from Brian Aldiss and you won't be able to read it anywhere else so please come back later.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Blood Tracks by Paula Rawsthorne

review by Maryom

When her dad dies, 16 year old Gina is the only person to doubt the 'accepted' version of events. Family and friends feel she is too obsessed and in need of help to get over events and move on. Gina won't accept this and believes there has to have been something suspicious about it - and that the person her mum trusts most is somehow responsible. Will her new friend Declan help her uncover the truth or is he hiding more secrets and using Gina for some purpose of his own?

Blood Tracks is another unputdownable teen thriller from Paula Rawsthorne, author of the award-winning The Truth About Celia Frost
When an author writes an enthralling debut, I often wonder how they'll manage to follow it up. Well, however it's done, Paula Rawsthorne has pulled it off!
Blood Tracks is told mainly from Gina's point of view and the story captures how it must feel to believe something is wrong when no one else does. The reader naturally shares Gina's disbelief and her frustration that no one will listen.
Gina is a very determined teenager; she's not going to shut up and pretend everything is ok just because that's more comfortable for others but is desperate to find out what happened and, most importantly, why, despite the danger she might be heading into.
The plot is cleverly constructed and full of twists and ends but with clues and pointers along the way if you're smart enough to spot them. All in all, another cracking read.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Usborne
Genre - Thriller, Teen

Buy Blood Tracks from Amazon

Monday 3 June 2013

Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss

Review by The Mole

As wars break out on Earth and become ever more petty, a group of universities put together the finances to send a colony to Mars on the strict contractual obligation that there is no return to Earth. When they get there they find that while women can conceive, all the babies are born dead or die very shortly after birth. Then the wars on earth interfere with the supplies and finances for the Mars colony and it looks like they are on totally on their own.

Heralded as the last Science Fiction novel that Brian Aldiss will write, it brings an era to a close. After 56 years of writing Sci-Fi he will write no more. But let's not forget that he has not only written Sci-fi.

Sci-fi seems to follow two distinct types: there is the hero out to save the earth and there is the kind that attempts to reflect on man's cultural and political evolution. In this story there is no hero. There are, amusingly, several characters that want and try to be a hero - at least in the eyes of the other characters - but none actually make it. The story reflects on where mankind seems to be headed today and while what Aldiss has to say is a little depressing, by watching the news it becomes difficult to argue against it. But the end... - of which I will say nothing - has a degree of poetry to it that while some purists will say "no way" others (like me) will say "YES, way". And I saw a little Jasper FForde in the ending. You will need to read both to understand.

When it comes to reading then sci-fi was my first love and this brought back so many memories of how sci-fi could be. Do I have to say that I really enjoyed this book? Well I really did.

An excellent novel that will be loved by Brian Aldiss fans and all sci-fi readers alike. It's published on 6th June 2013 so is available for pre-order now.

But that isn't all from Mr Aldiss on our blog this week because we also have a Q&A as well as an EXCLUSIVE (ours alone - no-one else's - all ours) short story from Mr Aldiss, SO WATCH THIS BLOG!

Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Sci-Fi

Buy Finches of Mars from Amazon