Friday 30 August 2013

Chasing The Dark by Sam Hepburn

Review by The Mole

Joe Slattery's mum has been killed in a car crash. Joe can't understand why she was in the car anyway because she never got lifts from strangers and he had never heard of Ivo Lincoln, the driver, before. It hurts him to even think about it. While out playing ball with his dog, Oz, he comes across a big house that's been closed up for years and  investigating Oz is kidnapped by a tramp. Joe has to steal food, money and medicines for him. Joe doesn't need this right now. He is now living with his aunt, who hates his very existence and would throw him out at the first opportunity.

This is very much a thriller for young teens although I have seen one major book retailer describe it for adults too. Well? Yes, the plot is pretty strong with very little child superhero stuff and it is quite complex. But not that complex to deter young readers. An extremely enjoyable read that is, yes, compelling, unputdownable and all those clich├ęs - but it has to be doesn't it to be a really good book?

 I did, funnily enough, find it very hard to 'get inside' Joe's head - I didn't really feel the pain that he suffered or feel his motivation but then it's not something that has ever happened to me, or many other readers either I hope - but it didn't matter at all. The plot twists and turns as Joe guesses at what has happened and consistently gets it wrong - and that's a nice feature - until it gets to the end and all is revealed. Most every other character I found I understood, from the aunt to gang bosses and from his friends to his uncle.

All in all an extremely good book and one I would recommend to anyone aged 12 or older.

Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - Teen/YA Thriller

Buy Chasing the Dark from Amazon

Thursday 29 August 2013

Stoner by John Williams

review by Maryom

William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father's farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely. Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value. Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life. A reading experience like no other, itself a paean to the power of literature, it is a novel to be savoured.

Stoner is one of those old-fashioned 'cradle to grave' stories of a farm boy who leaves home for agricultural college, accidentally discovers the beauty of English literature and abandons farming for an academic career. Originally published in 1965, it's out again in a new edition from Vintage Books and being promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #weareallstonersnow - which is how I discovered it.

This turned out to be an oddly compelling read. I say 'oddly' because it isn't an all action thriller that you need to read through the night to find out if the hero saves the day, or a romantic weepie where you need to reach the happy ending, but a quiet tale of a scholar, his set-backs, both in private and academic life, and the constant joy he finds in his work. It's difficult to pin down what exactly the charm about the novel is; Stoner's life isn't one of blissful happiness or high achievement so it didn't really ought to fall into the 'feel-good' category but somehow it does. I think you really need to try this for yourself to discover its appeal.

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

 Buy Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics) from Amazon

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

review by Maryom

When TV news reporter Rachel Walsh is sent back to her home town to cover a missing person story, she isn't expecting to become part of it. But the missing person is Clara, her best friend from secondary school. Back then, they were inseparable and although they've had their ups and downs since then they were still bound together. At least that's what Rachel thought till she starts to uncover the strange things that happened on the night of Clara's disappearance - the night they'd arranged to meet up. If only Clara had turned up on time or Rachel waited just that bit longer for her... When CCTV sightings of Clara on that evening turn up, Rachel begins to wonder just how well she knew her friend..

Precious Thing is the debut novel by Colette McBeth. She's a former news reporter herself so knows how to capture the atmosphere of busy newsrooms or suspects' homes besieged by cameramen.
 I wasn't so sure about characterisation. The story is told in the first person by Rachel, so everything we learn is filtered through her. Unfortunately I didn't really 'take' to Rachel. The 'blurb' on the cover - "No one is ever who they appear to be. Not me. Not you." - made me distrust Rachel as much as she distrusted Clara and the version of events being presented to the police. Even so she seemed to make a lot of noise about Clara's disappearance yet not really care, other than in its effects on herself - and I couldn't decide if this was deliberate on behalf of the author or not.
All in all though Precious Thing is a fast paced psychological thriller, one that should appeal to the fans of Gone Girl.
Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult Psychological Crime Thriller

Buy Precious Thing from Amazon

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Carol McGrath - guest post

Today we're welcoming to the blog Carol McGrath, author of The Handfasted Wife. I read this, her first novel, a short while ago and found it an engrossing story bringing the Norman Invasion of 1066 to light from the women's perspective. I was left wondering though, what exactly inspired Carol to pick this period of history..... and here's her answer...

 Inspiration for a Novel about the Noble Women of 1066

1066 is a date known to every school child, the promise made in Bayeux, the death of Edward the Confessor and the Witan’s choice of Harold of Wessex as King of England. We all know about the attack on
England from Norway, the Battle of Stamford Bridge and Harold’s victory and epic march south to confront the Norman horde at Hastings. What is rarely told is the women’s story, the story of Harold’s handfasted wife, Edith Swan-neck (Elditha in my novel), his sister Edith widow to Edward the Confessor and of Gytha, the matriarch, Harold’s indomitable mother who may have been sixty years old when events unfolded, a grand old age in those days.

What inspired me to tell these women’s story? The first reason is because ever since I watched thrilling historical serials on TV as a small child and later read Henty, Rosemary Sutcliff and Jane Lane and even later Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton and Campbell-Barnes to name just a few writers who wrote women’s historical novels, I was hooked on the past and how it affected women. Passionately in love with history, I studied medieval history at University and later taught it.

The second reason is because on a visit to Normandy I was intrigued by The Bayeux Tapestry. Three women are depicted on the Tapestry. The first is a mysterious nun early in the story when Harold is visiting Duke William’s court. There are many theories as to who she could be and why she is on the Tapestry. It may be a reference to an older story or event connected with another Godwin woman who was a nun at Wilton Abbey. She does not enter my novel. The second is Edith Godwin, wife of Edward the Confessor placed by his feet as he is dying. The third woman is the inspiration for The Handfasted Wife. She is fleeing from a burning house on the eve of the Battle of Hastings and some Tapestry Historians suggest that it is possible that she represents Harold’s first wife, Edith Swan-Neck, running from a Norman attack on her hall near Hastings, in flight along with her youngest child Ulf. I came to this conclusion through much research. In addition a short video accompanied the Bayeux Tapestry viewing. It showed Edith Swan-Neck searching the battlefield for Harold’s broken body. According to the Waltham Chronicle, written in the early 12th century, she identified him, by marks only she could have known. How intriguing! The image of a woman searching a battlefield for her husband was poignant and I realised that we only know about how the Conquest affected men and wanted to explore her story.

 What about the women? Women are the footnotes of history, the shadows in the corners of our island’s story. They had a presence which I was determined to discover and write into a fiction that whilst it was, of course, a story, still maintained a strong degree of historical integrity and accuracy. 
Further research in The Bodlean Library in Oxford led me to The Carmen de Proelio de Hastingae, (a delicious mouthful). It is simply The Song of Hastings and was probably written for Queen Matilda’s coronation in May 1067, by a Norman monk who got his information from noble relatives who fought in the
great battle. The beautifully written poem tells us that Gytha offered William Harold’s weight in gold for the return of his body to her keeping for burial. She was refused and the poem says that Harold was buried on the seashore nearby so that a funeral did not attract martyrdom status for the dead king. Two of Harold’s brothers died at Hastings and the third Tostig, who famously turned traitor, died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. So, I felt that Gytha must have faced great loss. It is written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in Oderic Vitalis’s Chronicles that she sought safety in Exeter, her dower city, refused to pay tax in 1068 and was besieged there for three long weeks. Eventually she was given safe passage out and she left Exeter with a great number of noble ladies and treasure. This is a crucial event in The Handfasted Wife.

Edith the Queen was pragmatic. The chronicles say that she handed over the keys of Winchester and the treasury there to William a few weeks after the great battle. She stood on the fence. I see her as a survivor, and an educated brilliant woman.

Edith Swan-Neck disappears from the historical record after 1066 except for one possible mention which I am not going to reveal as to do so would be a spoiler. However, hers and Harold’s son Ulf was taken as a child hostage into Normandy (according to John of Worcester) and not released for many years. I imagine that she wanted to reunite her children and recover her missing son.  I also imagine her loss as she is set aside by Harold in 1066 for a political marriage that would unite north and south in the face of great danger from abroad. She was a wife handfasted in the Danish tradition, outside of the Church.

These are the historical ingredients for The Handfasted Wife. The story I ended up writing is filled with adventure and I loved researching and crafting it. I always wanted to write novel but life got in the way. I gave up teaching, studied for an MPhil in Creative Writing and English at Royal Holloway and wrote The Handfasted Wife. If you read it I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the writing of it. Moreover, there is a sequel on the way!

Carol McGrath August 2013

 Many thanks to Carol for that and much to think on. We look forward to reading the sequel.

Monday 26 August 2013

Cold Sacrifice by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

A woman is found stabbed to death on the park and she carries no identification. A mugging? Or is it so simple? When is finally identified her husband, Henry, becomes the prime suspect - although he is the only suspect. Then a prostitute - his alibi - is found strangled and so it seems there is only one link between the victims. Then another body is found. Can they link it back to Henry and wrap them all up as one murderer?

In Russell's previous books DS Ian Peterson worked with Geraldine Steel but she has now taken up a posting in London and he is finding his feet working with new people but also waiting for promotion to DI in this the first 'spin off' story.

Once again Russell tells us a story which, unlike some, has very few suspects and we know, as a reader, that the person in the frame is not the murderer but the chase is not about a 'whodunnit?' but a 'how will they catch the right person?'. And once again the author has intertwined the off duty life with the investigation in an extremely frustrating way. Frustrating? Yes, if you've ever had to balance work and home life the way Peterson does then you will truly 'feel' the atmosphere she creates and balances. It's for this reason that I would say that MY preference is for Geraldine Steel but... The next DI Peterson could easily change all that - read the book to find out why.

Another great investigation that carries Russell's hallmark of trying to remain closer to real life than fiction. If you like crime novels and you haven't tried  Leigh Russell's books yet then give them a go - you just might become addicted.

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Buy Cold Sacrifice: The First DS Ian Peterson Murder Investigation from Amazon

Friday 23 August 2013

Edinburgh Book Festival - author event - Evie Wyld and Amy Sackville

Amy Sackville
By Maryom

Sometimes at literary events it's difficult to see why certain authors have been paired together but it wasn't on this occasion  - the Chair's introduction almost made them seem like twins! Both, amongst a raft of other awards, are winners of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for authors under 35; both work with books and
Evie Wyld
words in their 'day job' - Amy Sackville teaches creative writing at the University of Kent and Evie wyld works at an independent bookshop; both were here to talk about their second novels and both of those novels are set on islands!
I've been aware of Amy Sackville for a while - I reviewed The Still Point for Bookmunch back in 2010 and absolutely adored it - but Evie Wyld is a new, almost accidental, 'find' and I was in the middle of reading her latest novel, All the Birds, Singing 

Evie Wyld's All the Birds Singing is a tale of an Australian woman breeding sheep on a cold, wet British island, trying to escape from her past and seeking redemption for her past actions. Amy Sackville's Orkney follows a mismatched couple on their honeymoon. The husband begins to wonder how well he knows his much-younger wife and why she was so insistent on their travelling to this remote northern island.

The event started as is usual with the authors reading from their respective books, then chatting with the Chair. The subjects touched included research and future plans - and the authors suddenly diverged from their twin-like image. Evie Wyld had been researching very practical matters -  understanding the fundamentals of sheep farming and how to shear them, though not actually having a go herself - while Amy Sackville had immersed herself in myths of selkies and mer-people. For the future too, their paths are taking seperate ways;  Amy Sackville is planning a research trip for her next novel to somewhere warm and sunny; Evie Wyld is moving to a different genre with the submission of a graphic novel.

I for one will be watching very closely what both these authors do in the future.

Thursday 22 August 2013

All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld

review by Maryom

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It's just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep - every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags. It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake's unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

All the birds singing is an amazing serendipitous find for me. I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and noticed someone RT Evie Wyld asking if anyone would like to review her book and including a link to the first chapter. I followed the link, read the chapter and knew I wanted to read more! Up to this point I had no idea who Evie Wyld was - then I started discovering she's won all sorts of awards and been included in the Granta Best of Young British Novelists List. So, obviously I'm late coming to the party. At least I'm here now.

All The Birds Singing is the story of Jake, an Australian woman, now keeping sheep on a wet and windswept British island. It soon becomes apparent that she's running or hiding from something in her past; that she's put as much distance between herself and those events as she possibly can. The enormity of them is gradually revealed through flashbacks, each of which take the reader back further in time to the moment that shaped her life.

Now, someone or something is attacking her sheep. Is it merely an animal or could it be someone stalking Jake herself? The answers aren't clear cut - a lot is left for the reader to decide for themselves; how much is real? how much imagined? In this respect, it's not an easy read; the reader must think things out for themselves instead of being presented with all the answers. I definitely felt that having reached the final revelation, a re-read would bring more things to light. I like this quality in a book; the feeling that not all of its secrets have been yielded up in the first read, that I can go back and discover more. It's easy to achieve by sheer volume - no one can remember and track every plot thread of War and Peace first time through; harder in a novel under 250 pages.

On the outside, Jake is a bit of a misfit - she hasn't made any effort to blend in with her neighbours, resents having to call on them for help and generally keeps herself very much to herself. Her inner world is tormented, always expecting her past to catch up with her, and never letting her guard down, making it difficult for her to trust people or interact with them on anything more than a superficial level. Letting someone inside this fence is Jake's first step on the way to redemption and self-forgiveness...

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher - Jonathan Cape
Genre - adult fiction, literary fiction

Buy All the Birds, Singing from Amazon

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Edinburgh Book Festival - author event - Peggy Riley and Jenn Ashworth

by Maryom

For my third event, it was back to the Writers' Retreat hidden in a corner of the Book Festival site. This time I was there to see Peggy Riley and Jenn Ashworth, talking about their novels dealing with faith and the loss of it.

Peggy Riley's Amity and Sorrow is the story of a woman trying to escape the strange and very personal religious cult she's been living in. After living in a closed community, she and her daughters react differently to the outside world. Is it liberating and exciting or just plain frightening?

Jenn Ashworth's The Friday Gospels, follows a Lancastrian Mormon family throughout a pivotal day as they await the return of their son after 2 years missionary work in Salt Lake City. Although outwardly seeming secure in their faith, several family members have doubts and long to be free of its restrictions. The reading from it and the discussion that followed made this a book I'd very much like to read. I, presumably like most people, mainly go to book-related events involving authors whose work I know and love. Although listening to Peggy Riley talk about her work and getting to meet her afterwards was the highlight of this visit, it's always interesting to go along and discover someone new in this way.

After the reading, the authors adjourned to sign books in the main Festival bookshop. Here I was faced with a problem; I've read and been deeply moved by Amity and Sorrow, and would love to have had my copy signed by the author....but.. I had a Kindle copy! The only quick solution I could think of was to have my ticket signed.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Edinburgh Book festival - author event - Emylia Hall

by Maryom

Although this was actually a joint event with Lucy Ellman, I have to admit that for me Emylia Hall was the big draw. I totally fell in love with her first novel The Book of Summers, a coming of age story set in the long, hot summers of Hungary, and was disappointed to miss her at last year's Edbookfest. As it happened, this year's event sold out the day after I bought my ticket, so I nearly missed out again!

Emylia was in Edinburgh this time to promote her new novel A Heart Bent Out Of Shape, out officially in September but copies were available in the Festival bookshop. "A Heart Bent Out of Shape is the story of a first love, a terrible tragedy, a snow-filled paradise; a year that will never be forgotten." says the Amazon blurb and - in slightly less flowery words - this was the impression I got from Emylia's description of it. Hadley Dunn has led an unremarkable life with no great traumas or joys - until she decides to spend a year studying in Lausanne. There she forms strong friendships and falls in love but seems to be heading towards tragedy and disappointment. The feeling of place played an important part of the appeal of the Book of Summers and seems to do so again in Heart Bent Out of Shape. Hungarian heat is replaced with Swiss snow; lush green countryside by a bustling, vibrant city. I can't wait to read it!
As is usual at such events, things kicked off with readings from the authors' novels - with a slight difference. Lucy Ellman's latest novel, Mimi, is told in the first person from the perspective of an eminent, rather jaded-sounding, male plastic surgeon - so the 'taster' was read by the author's husband to give a more authentic flavour. These readings were followed by a discussion between the authors and the chair, and then questions from the audience. I got the impression that Emylia Hall was the lesser known author of the two; that the majority of people were there to see Lucy Ellman and certainly had more questions for her. Despite being on a Richard and Judy reading list, I don't think many people have discovered Emylia Hall - and I think they should!

Monday 19 August 2013

Edinburgh Book Festival - Author event - Linda Strachan

This year's Edinburgh International Book Festival was our busiest ever, with tickets for four events - all for authors whose work we love. First up was Linda Strachan's in the Baillie Gifford Imagination Lab. We've met Linda before on several occasions when she's been wonderfully welcoming but have never managed to time our visit to Edinburgh right to catch one of her events, so we thought it was time we redressed that issue.

Linda is the author of many books aimed at both younger children and teens - and this event was aimed at the older end of her audience, specifically about her latest teen novel Don't Judge Me - a tale of arson, suspicion and judging people too quickly. If you aren't aware of it check out our reviews here - the Mole's and Maryom's

Accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, Linda started by telling how she became a writer. She's NOT one of those people who, from an early age, dreamed of being an author. In fact as a child she believed her friend was far better at telling stories and at school she was labelled as lacking in imagination! She only came to writing much later, through a series of drawings that formed themselves into a story.

Linda talked about the thoughts and inspirations behind Don't Judge Me. The inspiration for Don't Judge Me came because we are always making assumptions about people, often those we only pass in the street, on little or no information - a series of adverts had been running showing how that happens.

In order to most accurately describe the setting of the fire she spoke to the Fire Service and was then concerned that it would explain to people how it's done but the spokesperson assured her that if people want to know then they can Google it anyway.  Surrounded by images and news items relating to the two threads, Linda set to work in her writing shed.

Her other teen books are Spider - a very powerful story about car theft and joy riding and how it wrecks so much more than property, but lives as well - and Dead Boy Talking - a similarly powerful story about knives and the outcome of carrying them.

Linda is currently working on a project with ROSPA who liked the approach in the teen books, the non preachy approach and showing what can happen rather than just saying don't do it!!  ROSPA have asked her to work on stories around accidents in the home environment generally and some aspects of fire safety are included.

I always find authors' research methods fascinating and Linda certainly doesn't believe in doing it from the safety of her desk but by getting out there on fire service training days or joining emergency ambulance crews on their rounds.

If you'd like to catch Linda for yourself, she'll be appearing at Bloody Scotland 2013  on September 14th and you can find more about Linda and her books on her website.

Friday 16 August 2013

Bone Ash Sky by Katerina Cosgrove

Review by The Mole

Anoush Pakradounian returns to Beirut to cover war trials of genocide, as a journalist. She is also searching for answers of her own. Her father is posthumously on trial but she wants to merely spectate and try to understand his guilt and hope that, somehow, he will not be found guilty. The root of his actions stems back to 1915, even before he was born and she tries to unravel 4 generations of conflict to understand.

I won't say this book is an easy and unputdownable read because it's anything but. It is covering a lot of violent history and it is doing it in a way to bring home to the reader not just the history, but the why of it a little bit as well.

I did find this book an enlightenment. During the 80s and 90s I was very focused on my career with little time for the news, although the warring and slaughter in Beirut and the Lebanon was always there. I understood it to be always Israel against the Palestinians with innocent bystanders caught up in it. It was much more though, as I now find out. Although this book is entirely a work of fiction it is based on historic fact and it is well done.

We keep time slipping, both backwards and forwards, over the 4 generations as we see genocide being inflicted time and again and we start to understand how each new generation feels that it is necessary to redress the balance. It's a journey that involves the reader and justifies each character's actions - until we return to Anoush who feels that it's time to stop. There is a love story involved too and I was concerned it was going to become just a romance but the author avoids that and focuses only on what is important.

One thing I would like to have seen in this book is a family tree with other characters just listed so that as we meet characters again we remind ourselves where they fit in.

A very good book and one that should be compulsory reading, at least that's my opinion.

Publisher - Hardie Grant
Genre - Adult historical fiction

Buy Bone Ash Sky from Amazon

Thursday 15 August 2013

Egan's Program by Andrew Hawcroft

Review by The Mole

Egan is a tall and lanky misfit at school. He is now 17 and spends most of his time playing computer games in the privacy of his room. He is also struggling to get the course results for his A levels when the school pick him out as a candidate to help a potential benefactor for his school. All he has to do is install a game, that is still in the testing phase, on his computer, play it and write a review - it couldn't be simpler. Well, obviously it's not that simple because that wouldn't make much of a story would it? The game is called "Imaginary Companion" but his "companion" turns out to be not quite so imaginary. And the first thing on her mind? Well... yes. And had it continued like that I wouldn't have bothered finishing it, but it doesn't - it becomes a spiralling thriller set in motion by coincidences. It is interesting that Egan, towards the end of the book, reflects on whether they were coincidences after all.

I will state now that I found this book to be very badly proof edited and for me this let it down significantly  but my version is 7 months old. And technically? A program that can run on a PC and also on the world's cheapest smart phone? It ain't gonna happen! But put those to one side... along with the 'sex' and violence (neither of which is graphic) and the story is great fun and well told. The 'bad guys' felt a bit comic and stereotyped but it felt deliberate and when Egan gets hurt (and that happens more than once) we are sort of faded out and rejoin him when it's all over which is a very nice way for it to happen.

All in all I really enjoyed this book for teens (I don't think I would classify it as YA) and would recommend it - but I would recommend it more if the editing was tidied up a lot.

Publisher - Smashwords
Genre - Teen thriller, sci-fi

Buy EGAN'S PROGRAM from Amazon

Wednesday 14 August 2013

The Rose Garden by Marita Conlon-McKenna

review by Maryom

Her husband's sudden death has left Molly Hennessy adrift and alone in the large country house they were restoring. Her two daughters have grown up and left home, the bank is pressurising for loan repayments; it seems like the sensible thing to do is sell up and downsize. But Molly loves her home, Mossbawn, and doesn't want to leave. Meanwhile, her niece, Kim is down on her luck - she's lost her job, her boyfriend and her home. Mossbawn where she spent so many idyllic hours as a child seems like the perfect place to escape to. When Molly buries her grief in restoring a long-forgotten rose garden on the property, she might have found a way for them both to put the past behind them and move forward.

I thought this sounded like it would be an interesting read but sadly I found it a bit shallow and predictable - and above all 'nice'. The development of Molly's character was quite interesting, as she goes from someone who relied on her husband to organise almost everything in their lives, to an independent person, capable of standing on her own two feet.  I think mainly this just isn't my sort of book - I prefer them edgier - but I'm sure lovers of romantic fiction will enjoy it.

Maryom's review -  3 stars
Publisher - Transworld
Genre - adult fiction, romantic fiction, 

Buy The Rose Garden from Amazon

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Bocchi and Pocchi A Tale of Two Socks by Noriko Matsubara

Review by The Mole

Bocchi and Pocchi are a pair of socks and are always found together. That is until Pocchi gets a hole in the head - then, during the night Pocchi goes missing.

Bocchi is frantic trying to figure out where Pocchi has gone and all sorts of possibilities go though Bocchi's mind.

This book is both written and illustrated by Noriko Matsubara and the look, feel and story all are ideally suited to an early reader - if not a first reader. The colours are all bright and eye catching and each one dominates the page beautifully with just a small amount of worded narrative so the young reader progresses rapidly and so feels that they are making real progress with their reading and with the book.

A really delightful first reader and/or bedtime story book.

Publisher - Troika Books
Genre - Children's Picture book/first reader

Buy A Tale of Two Socks: Bocchi and Pocchi (Bocchi & Pocchi) from Amazon

Monday 12 August 2013

All The Souls by Mary-Ann Constantine

 review by Maryom

'Stories of the living and the dead', it says on the cover -  and that sums up this otherworldly collection of nine short stories and a novella very neatly. Don't expect Hammer House of Horror ghostly goings on or vampires and zombies though - they're something far more subtle. They rather reminded me of the classic Curious, If True stories from Mrs Gaskell or, for a more modern take, Alois Hotschnig's collection, Maybe This Time, from Peirene Press.

Set mainly in remote reaches of Wales or Brittany, where old folk traditions linger on, by pools and ponds, the traditional gateways to the underworld, this is an unsettling, intriguing collection of stories. Ghosts speak to their still-living friends, a lonely man makes friends with a monk from the sixth century, from an undefined date in the future an old woman reminisces about the good old days when everyone drove cars...
I suspect these stories won't be everyone's cup of tea - they aren't simple, straightforward reads - but I rather liked them, though a couple were a little too enigmatic and vague for my liking.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult literary fiction, folk tales

Buy All the Souls from Amazon

Friday 9 August 2013

The Monster Sale by Brian Moses

Review by The Mole

This illustrated book of poems is aimed at the younger reader.

It's difficult with a poetry book to find a lot to say and with a children's collection even more so. Such a collection should be fun, easily readable in language that youngsters can read and it should be laid out in a style that appeals to them to keep them reading and saying "One more and then I'll put the book down". This book does all of that.

The illustrations appear along side of each poem and highlight the funny side of each poem in a cartoon-like way.

The title of the book is also the title of the first poem and as you start to read them you could be forgiven for thinking that all the poems are about monsters. Read on and you will find the subject matter changes with the poems grouped by subject matter. With over 50 poems in the book there is bound to be something to suit every child.

And the child in me hasn't disappeared yet so I found myself enjoying this collection far more than I expected to.

A really nice collection for children of all ages... well 6-11 and 20-110 at least.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Children's Poetry

Buy The Monster Sale from Amazon

Thursday 8 August 2013

In The Summer Time by Judy Astley

review by Maryom

It's 20 years since Miranda visited the Cornish seaside village of Chapel Creek - back then it was the place where her family spent all their summers, where the teenage Miranda swam and sailed, flirted and fell in love. Now she's returning with her own teenagers and her mother Clare, to scatter the ashes of her stepfather in the sea overlooked by their old holiday home. The village seems remarkably unchanged with many of the old familiar faces still there. Should Miranda rekindle her teenage romance or is she just longing to be young again?

In The Summertime is an unashamedly romantic novel with seemingly everyone looking for love - divorced Miranda wonders what happened to her summer-fling boyfriend of her sixteenth year, her mother Clare is getting over the death of her husband and happy to get reacquainted with someone she too knew twenty years before, sister Harriet finds the best antidote to being dumped by a footballer is to find another one and teenaged Silva just hopes to attract the attention of the coolest surf-dude on the beach. It's a dead-cert that at least one of them will find true love!
In the Summer Time is funny and smart and, despite the romance, avoids being too sickly sweet. It's a bit predictable at times but very readable. A lovely light-hearted summer read that's ideal for your own beach-side holiday.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Bantam Press
Genre -
adult, romantic fiction

Buy In the Summertime from Amazon

Wednesday 7 August 2013

The Magic Bojabi Tree by Dianne Hofmeyer

Illustrated by Piet Grobler

Review by The Mole

Python has wrapped himself around the magical mango-melon-pomegranate tree and the animals cannot reach the fruit - and they are hungry. When asked to let them eat some of the fruit Python says only if they can name the tree. None of the animals know the name but they know that Lion does and they decide to send Zebra to ask him. In turn they all go and by the time they get back they have each forgotten what they were told! Until they send the slowest of them all -  Tortoise - would he be able to succeed and get back in time?

Lovely soft colours adorn every page of this delightful story. Each of the illustrations is done in that naive style that makes the animals recognisable but somehow more friendly to the young reader. The font chosen and page layout is very focussed on the young reader but could still be a read-aloud book, but this is one I would want to share by sitting and listening to my child read to me.

A delightful present for the younger reader.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Children's, picture book, Early Reader

Buy The Magic Bojabi Tree from Amazon

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Don't Judge Me by Linda Strachan

review by Maryom

We all make snap judgements - about our friends, people we meet and other people's motives.
But what if we're wrong? And what if a life depends on getting it right?
Take 4 teens, an arsonist, an unreliable witness and four different motives. With life and death on the line - Don't Judge Me.

Linda Strachan certainly knows how to open a story with a bang - Spider started with crazy joy-riding; Dead Boy Talking with a teenager lying bleeding in an alley - and she's done it again here; a block of flats on fire and a baby having to be thrown to safety!
Now, I know The Mole has already reviewed Don't Judge Me  - though I'm still not sure how he got to read it first - but, as I'm off to see Linda Strachan at Edinburgh Book Festival, I thought it was high time I read this too.

It's a brilliant mix of whodunnit - as the reader sifts through the evidence to pick the culprit - and social commentary - challenging stereotypes and our inclination to label people at first glance.Against the background of the police enquiry, with an unreliable witness making snap judgements about who was responsible, the story unfolds from the points of view of the four teenage suspects. The reader is quickly and easily pulled into the story and soon learns that appearances aren't quite what they seem to be. 
Don't Judge Me is a great book for teens - either as a 'whodunnit' or a more thought-provoking read.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre - Teenage/YA, crime

Buy Don't Judge Me from Amazon 

Monday 5 August 2013

Jackie Morris - author interview

 Today we're very excited to welcome Jackie Morris to the blog. Jackie has had many, many books published - some as author/illustrator, some as illustrator for others' words - but this year has seen two new ventures from her; firstly as the author of East of The Sun, West of the Moon - a retelling of the old folk tale, aimed at adults and older teens - and now as the author of Little Evie in the Wild Wood, a book illustrated by someone else! Jackie kindly agreed to answer my questions about the whys and hows of seeing someone else illustrate her work.....

Your latest book is something slightly different for you - a collaboration with artist Catherine Hyde who provided the illustrations while you wrote the story. Is this a move away from illustrating for you? or just a one off? 

Originally I wrote Little Evie in the Dark Woods to illustrate it myself. The thing is I have many ideas, so many. So I have about six texts waiting to be worked on. At the moment I have about 4 novels, one almost finished, 3 at early stages, 3 picture book texts written, 4 or 5 at ideas stages and some nibbling at the edges of my imagination. It takes me about a year to do illustrations for a picture book.
So, when I was talking to Catherine on the phone one day and we were chatting away and I asked her what she was doing now that all the art for firebird was completed and she said, ' well, I'm not sure.' Her work is so rich and wild that I asked if she might like to have a look at a text I had written, to see if it made pictures dance in her mind's eye and she said yes.
It's so nerve wracking sending a text to someone. I had never sent one to an artist before, only to my editor at Frances Lincoln. I was so pleased when Catherine came back with an enthusiastic response and also hearing her talk about it she 'got' the text in exactly the way it was meant to be read. You never know when there are only words, how people will take them. But she understood exactly where I was coming from, how, why.
I didn't hand over these words lightly. I had images in mind of what I thought some of the book would look like. Each book for me is different. Some begin with a picture. Some begin with words. It's only when I sit down to really start on a book that the two things, the words and images meld together. So in my mind Evie was quite open. 
Also I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. I love writing. I love it so much. I love the place I inhabit when I am hunting a story, chasing words. I didn't want people to see my writing as just a vehicle to hang my pictures on ( this was one of the comments in a rejection letter for Tell Me a Dragon from a publisher who will not be named. That would be an example of someone who just didn't 'get it') And I wanted, I really wanted to experience what it was like to have someone take the bones of my text and clothe it in the flesh of their art.

Previously you have collaborated with other writers while you have provided the illustrations. Did this collaboration prove different in any way?

When I began illustrating picture books I didn't write. Looking back that seems so strange now. I didn't even write a journal. I illustrated other people's stories. This was because I thought I couldn't, even though my head was filled with ideas and images, I just thought I couldn't. It was something other people did.
Being given a text by a wonderful writer is like being given an amazing gift. I have been so lucky. I have worked with Caroline Pitcher, Mary Hoffman, James Mayhew, Vivian French and Ted Hughes ( sadly Ted died so I didn't get to work directly with him but I have a wonderful letter from him saying how much he liked my illustrations and I worked on How the Whale Became at his request. Even thinking about this makes me feel a little teary. What a gift. I learned so so much about writing from Ted Hughes, not just through reading these stories over and over, but also from his book, Poetry in the Making)
I had always wondered what it felt like for these authors to have their words taken and 'pictured'. I wanted to know what that felt like, as I thought it would teach me something about how to work with them.

Obviously, you're used to visualizing how you would illustrate your stories but how does it feel to see someone else doing this?

Once I handed Evie over to Catherine and we persuaded my publisher that Catherine and I were a perfect combination ( something Janetta Otter-Barry was quick to see) it was time for me to step back. Catherine is a wonderful artist with a great vision. It is a little nerve wracking to hand over your 'baby' to someone else. I didn't tell Catherine that Evie is a real person. The 'look' of the book was her territory, not mine, though I am glad that we did talk about some things. Catherine was an artist not an illustrator and hadn't studied book design, and although she has two other books to her name the design approach to these was very different. So we did talk about layout. My memory is that Catherine and Janetta and Judith Escreet chose the size/shape of the book together. But this is really Catherine's territory, so maybe I should let her speak about this.
What I can say is that while Catherine worked on this I was working on East of the Sun. Both are books about a girl leaving home for the first time, both similar in theme, but one with small pictures. At the end of the day when I came to my computer and saw Catherine's progress, from early tentative sketches to discovering the character of Evie, the wolf, the wood, to finished pieces, each drawing, sketch, was a joy to see. So that was what it felt like. A complete thrill.

It's maybe a bit early but what has the reaction to this book been? Are there die-hard Jackie Morris fans who would rather see a book that is just your work?

I have loved reading the book in schools, at festivals. Children adore the dark walk through the wild wood, the wolf, the child. They love the language that rolls along, and oh how they love the paintings. And so do I.
Usually I read it along with other books of mine, and some notice the difference. What I love about the children's response is that they just love the book and really it doesn't matter who did the words, who did the pictures they just love it. I love that. In this age of celebrity authors the children's response is that a good book is a good book and if it doesn't interest them it doesn't matter who wrote or illustrated it.
Adults now and again are not so open minded. One lady wouldn't look at it. Even when I tried to open the book to show her how beautiful the pictures were she put her hand on it to stop me. So she never saw the wonderful wolf. She never saw Evie, so small in the forest, she never saw Evie riding home in the setting sunlight with owls hooting and she never heard a breath of a word I had written. I felt a little sad. My words had no value for her.

What are your plans for the future - back to illustrating? more writing?

Plans for the future? I have 5 books out this year: East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Little Evie, with Catherine Hyde, Song of the Golden Hare, The Wilful Princes and the Piebald Prince with Robin Hobb and Harper Collins and Starlight Sailor, written by James Mayhew and published by Barefoot Books. I have 2 picture books on contract with Janetta Otter-Barry books and 2 pending. I am about to finish a new re-telling which will be taken to Janetta first to see if she wants it on her list. I want to do some painting and writing texts for other illustrators will free me up to be able to do this and I do, yes I do have a dream list of illustrators I would just love to write for.
I am hoping to repay James Mayhew. Years ago when I was on the verge of throwing in my brushes with children's books he wrote Can You See a Little Bear for me. Such a gift of a text. I promised then to do the same for him. We have a text with a publisher now and are waiting, waiting, brushes and fingers crossed to hear, and hoping. Working with James will be a different experience again. He is steeped in the art of books like no one else I know. I am hoping to learn from him and the whole experience as indeed I learned from Catherine.
And I want to find another text for Catherine too as I loved working with her and I think we work well together.

And you may notice, if you are sharp of eye, that at the beginning of this writing I got the title of my book wrong. The title was edited, and I didn't notice.
Originally I wrote Little Evie in the Darkwoods.
I think someone in marketing suggested this might be scary.
The book is called Little Evie in the Wild Wood and I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful books I have had the great pleasure to work on.
Reading it makes me smile, and there is so much in its pages for me to look at.

Many thanks, Jackie, for stopping round and best of  luck with future projects

Readers can of course buy Little Evie in the Wild Wood , and any of Jackie's other books, from Amazon but the authors are running a special competition through a selection of independent retailers - details of which can be found on

Friday 2 August 2013

Longbourn by Jo Baker

 review by Maryom

We all know Longbourn and its inhabitants as immortalised in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - Mr and Mrs Bennet and their 5 daughters of varying degrees of beauty, wit and flirtatiousness that Mrs Bennet is SO desperate to marry off. But did you ever give a thought to the servants who keep the house running? - the housekeeper, butler, maids and footman who only appear to deliver messages or serve meals? This is the hidden world that Jo Baker brings vividly to life.
Sarah, the older housemaid, is rushed off her feet. With only Polly, an orphan from the poorhouse, to help, her world is an unceasing round of washing and cleaning, never quite finishing the day's tasks, always desperate for a minute's rest and something, anything, to break the monotony of it. That 'something' arrives; firstly in the shape of the new coachman, James: a surly taciturn man hiding who knows what in his past - and secondly in the form of Ptolemy, the exotic black-skinned footman employed by the Bingleys at Netherfield Park. Sarah finds herself as torn between her two admirers as any young lady from the drawing room could wish to be. Will she choose steady respectability or impractical romance?

 Although I'd been intrigued when I first heard about Longbourn, as a long time Austen fan I'd had a few doubts about how much I'd like it. There have been so many spin-offs from Pride and Prejudice, good, bad and totally bizarre, and many have just left me cold. Longbourn, though, is a delight from start to finish. From the opening chapter, in the early morning with Sarah snatching a few quiet minutes before facing the hassle and unpleasantness of the weekly wash, the story-telling just drew me in and I didn't want to leave. The author's writing style made me feel I was there, feeling every chilblain and sore, every hastily snatched light-hearted moment.
Jo Baker has created and brought to life a whole cast of 'downstairs' characters - from housekeeper Mrs Hill who rules in a stern but maternal way and hides so much behind her respectable appearance to poor Polly who finds the endless drudgery actually an improvement on her life at the work-house - and also sheds a different, sometimes unpleasant, light on the well-known folk 'upstairs'.

It doesn't matter if you've read Pride and Prejudice - though surely with so many film and TV adaptations around most readers will be at least aware of the plot - this story concentrates firmly on the servants - not in a 're-telling of P+P from a different perspective' way but in a story of their own.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult fiction, literary fiction

Thursday 1 August 2013

Chintz The Chihuahua by Tania Bramley

Review by The Mole

Chintz is a very pampered chihuahua who is fed on the best foods and doesn't have to walk anywhere until one day when her owner goes away. She is left with a neighbour and has to walk on a lead and eat tinned dog food. When she is taken to the park, it is to where the big rough dogs are playing and she doesn't like it one bit. Then she meets Sandy, a golden retriever, and things start to improve - slowly.

This a collection of three stories of Chintz and Sandy, the friends they make and the tricks they get up to. I always find it amusing and 'wouldn't it be nice' that animals in children's stories understand every word that is said, but people - no matter how empathic they are - never understand the animals. I suppose this is one of those traits of children's fiction that make it so endearing to both old and young alike.

Illustrated throughout with cartoon style, but delightful, full colour pictures, this is a really lovely book for the early readers. As with most early reader books it is also ideal for read aloud at bedtime and with each story 10-15 pages in length the stories are an ideal size for it.

A really nice book that will delight the younger reader.

Tania Bramley also wrote a series of books about "Nannette".

Publisher - Austin and Macauley
Genre - Children's fiction

Buy Chintz The Chihuahua from Amazon