Monday 30 September 2013

Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird by Eleanor Hawken

Review by The Mole

Sammy Feral is a normal boy whose family own a zoo and whose family are just a little bit weird. In the first Sammy Feral (Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird) book his family were all turned into werewolves. He met Donny and Red, cryptozoologists, (who are also a little bit weird - in their own way) as he tried to find a way to get them back to normalish. I say normalish because he's hardly normal himself - he can talk to weird animals that don't exist. These are fun books that are captivating for the younger reader with lots of black and white illustrations.

 Yeti Rescue

A Mongolian Death Worm turns up at his zoo, he’s not that surprised. The Death Worm needs help: his best friend, Bert the Yeti Chief, has gone missing. 
 Can Sammy summon the Ministry of Yetis and rescue Bert? He’s going to need help from his old friends Donny and Red, not to mention a very reluctant Wish Frog…

The Hound Curse

To make some extra money for Feral Zoo, Sammy, Red and Donny decide to promote their cryptozoology business – investigating animals that don’t exist. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything! Hired to check out sightings of a ghost dog, the friends uncover the terrifying legend of the Hell Hound. Anyone who is seen by this terrible beast is struck with a death curse. So when Sammy’s best friend Mark runs into the deadly dog, Sammy knows he doesn’t have long to figure out how to save him!

Publisher - Quercus Kids 
Genre Children's 8+ supernatural adventure

Buy Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird from Amazon

Friday 27 September 2013

A London Year compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

Review by The Mole

A collection of observations from diaries, letters and journals from over the centuries and presented as 365 daily entries.

These are not 'fuddy duddy' entries but lighter side comments and observations by more than 200 contributors stretching back to the sixteenth century right through to modern times and generally on different subjects. Every day has 2, 3 or more contributions spanning several centuries. These contributors each have a short biography at the back that helps to answer that all important "Who was that chap?" question although many will probably go unread as they are well known. There is also a bibliography explaining the sources used and finally an index where you can look up a person and find what entries they have written.

All in all whether you use this book as an entry a day, try to read it all in one go or choose a contributor and look up all their entries then this is a very enjoyable book that will make you smile, think or just reflect on things of the past. Myself, I am opting for the day by day reading and very enjoyable it is. It would also make a nice Christmas present for that person who's almost impossible to by for - it's not fattening and exercises the mind.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Non Fiction

Buy A London Year from Amazon

Thursday 26 September 2013

The Red Man Turns to Green by Dickson Telfer

Review by The Mole

This eclectic collection of stories is based on life - stories that vary from young to old, from love to death and that desire people harbour all too often... to take people down on their behaviour towards each other.

One of these stories is just two lines long while others stretch to nearly 20 pages, so they are coffee time length reads. But perhaps that's not the best time to read them because they will mostly cause you to stop and think and getting anything done after coffee time may be seriously impaired.

I maintain that short story collections are best when they are from a collection of authors but here the author has achieved a wide enough group of subjects, being told by a very wide group of characters (including a dog) and raised a great breadth of topics in a hauntingly enough manner to satisfy even me.

An excellent collection that will leave readers thinking for long after they have put the book down.

Publisher - Fledgling Press
Genre - Adult short stories

Buy The red man turns to green from Amazon

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Linked by Imogen Howson

review by Maryom

 As long as she can remember, Elissa has suffered from distressing hallucinations in which she feels she's seeing the world through someone else's eyes - a world which is full of white masks, machines, wires and above all, pain. Doctors have tried to help in various ways but things have only got worse. Now as a last resort, an operation is being planned which will remove part of Elissa's brain. But at almost the last minute, she discovers that she actually IS seeing through someone else's eyes - those of Lin, the twin she never knew she had but has always been linked to telepathically. Together they try to outrun the people who have subjected Lin to years of scientific abuse - and uncover a secret agenda that the government will kill to protect.

Linked is an exciting, fast-paced, sci-fi, conspiracy theory read - and just in case that doesn't tick all the boxes for you, there's a little romance as well. This book had been sitting on my TBR pile for quite a while with me vaguely thinking I'd get round to reading it sometime - and I SO wish I'd picked it up sooner. The premise of twins separated at birth but still telepathically linked had me intrigued - especially with the hint of government secrets and cover-ups - but I hadn't imagined it would be as compelling as I found it. It's the kind of book that draws you in instantly and doesn't let you go till the very end. I was a little worried when I saw an advert for a sequel, but it's a perfectly rounded-off stand alone novel.
Although set on strange planets with interstellar travel, it isn't about aliens from outer space but is primarily a conspiracy-theory  thriller about the horrors that one sector of society will inflict on another in the name of scientific advancement. It's aimed at teens and young adults, but I feel it could appeal to many older readers too.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - teen/ YA  sci-fi, conspiracy theory, thriller

Buy Linked from Amazon

Tuesday 24 September 2013

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Review by The Mole

FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare has been pursuing Nicholas Fox, a major con man, for some time and finally brings him to book. Before Fox gets to court he manages to escape and O'Hare is removed from the case. O'Hare takes time off work and decides to pursue him on her own time only to find that she is forced to work outside the law to catch a much bigger fish than Fox.

The Heist is one of those books that you know the ending to long before you get there - a bit like a fairy story but for grown ups. Kate is an ex-navy seal. No, there aren't and haven't been any female navy seals and the authors acknowledge that - but it's a work of fiction! Yes, Kate could single handedly take on a division of the best in the world and come out unscathed - but so can Arnie.

Technically you might call this a thriller and yes it is but compare it to a roller coaster ride - not a lap around Brands hatch on the back of a professional motor cycle champion! And like a rollercoaster you will come away smiling from ear to ear. It's not the greatest plot, you could drive a bus through some of the oversights but you will enjoy the read. I thought Kate was a great character and I felt the same about Nick - but Kate and Nick? That bit didn't convince me.

I wouldn't normally compare books I've read but this had the same feeling to it as J T Brannan's "Stop at Nothing" so Brannan's fans should enjoy this one (and vice versa, obviously).

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult thriller

Buy The Heist from Amazon

Monday 23 September 2013

Tich: Dragonslayer by Pete Barrett

Review by The Mole

Tich is bored and his dad gives him an old board game to play. Playing slaying dragons is fine, but when game and reality overlap life becomes problematic. How do people react to a fire breathing dragon in the shopping centre?

This is the second "Tich" book I have 'read' (the first being Tich Vampire Hunter). I say 'read' because with children's books I have a tendency to read the first of a series and for sequels I tend to skim them to reacquaint me with the characters/author/style and just get the gist of the plot. I picked up Dragonslayer and started that and found myself reading cover to cover. I'm not sure if that says something about Tich, Barrett - as the author, or me! But I loved it!

I would say one thing about it though, of which I did not approve - whenever things go wrong (and what would be a kids book where they didn't go wrong?) he keeps saying things like "bollards, bollards, bollards". I just feel this encourages or normalises such speech patterns for young readers although it may offend some.

Putting that to one side, Tich is a grand character who's not exactly snow white in his behaviour but harmless and fun while Barrett's story telling really drags any reader in and compels them to read as he propels them to the end.

Publisher - Playbackbooks
Genre - Children's fantasy fiction 7+

Buy Tich Dragonslayer from Amazon

Friday 20 September 2013

The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley

 review by Maryom

Lured by tales of adventure and far-off lands, a boy jumps at the chance to join his uncle's latest voyage. This trip won't be like any he's previously made with his father, up and down the coast - and before long, he's wishing he'd never set sail! A storm takes the ship and blows her hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles off course into a frozen waste where icebergs loom and the sea freezes. As the ship becomes held fast by the ice, the crew become restless and bored. The monotony is only broken by the visits of an albatross, who quickly becomes a pet of the crew. Then the unthinkable happens, showing off about his skill with the crossbow, the Uncle shoots the bird - and the real trouble starts. Suddenly freed from the ice, the ship is blown to an area of intense heat and lies becalmed, at the mercy of whoever, or whatever, may find them.

In case you hadn't guessed by now, The Dead Men Stood Together, is a re-telling of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If you've memories of a dull, dragging, endless poem, stumbled through in the classroom, then think again. While keeping a 'period' feel to it, Priestley casts a fresh eye on the tale; telling it from the point of view of the Mariner's unnamed nephew - sharing his delight at heading off to sea and then his growing horror as events unfold. I was absolutely gripped!

A story to delight lovers of both sea-faring and horror stories, although aimed at older children and teens, its wonderfully tense and atmospheric style will have adults hooked too. With most children's books I try to get inside the head of the supposed reader, but with Chris Priestley's I don't have to - he doesn't talk down to his readers and his The Dead of Winter is one of the scariest books I've read!

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - children's fiction, horror

Buy The Dead Men Stood Together from Amazon

Thursday 19 September 2013

Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall

review by Maryom

In the Warsaw Ghetto, in 1942, Jewish couple Izolda and Shayek are trying to make the best of things but realise that worse is coming. Instead of sitting things out and hoping for the best, as so many around them seem to do, Izolda decides they need to take action - even if they can only save themselves. She works out how to get out of the Ghetto, changes her name, dyes her hair and attempts to pass for a Pole. At first they seem lucky, but ill-fortune catches up with them and they are separated. Arrested an amazing number of times, travelling across most of Eastern Europe, Izolda never stops trying to find Shayek. Will she find her King of Hearts and live happily ever after?

Chasing the King of Hearts is an amazing account of a young woman's persistence and determination against the might of the German invaders and the horrors of the Holocaust. The obstacles that she overcomes would have most of us giving up hope at the beginning!
It's very straightforward in its story-telling, which works both for and against it. Its style captures Izolda's focussed determination, a feeling that if she allowed herself time to stop and think about the situation or be afraid, she'd never be able to pick up the impetus or find the energy to carry on. On the down side, I felt it revealed all at the first read - making it compelling but I didn't feel it to be the sort of novel that I'd read over and over again.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction

Buy Chasing the King of Hearts from Amazon

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Orkney by Amy Sackville

review by Maryom

A couple have chosen to honeymoon on a remote Orkney island - not an obvious, average honeymoon location but they're not an average couple. He, Richard, is an eminent literature professor, 60 years old; she, who's never named, is nearly 40 years his junior, one of his recently-graduated students. He sits in their holiday cottage, working on what is to be the crowning achievement of his long acclaimed career; she sits on the rocks or walks along the beach, just out of reach of the tide but always mesmerised by the sea. At night, he sleeps deep and dreamlessly; she wakes from nightmares of tidal waves and floods.
"Take Me North", she said - but there, close to the island she was born on, she seems to change. Was she ever quite as her doting husband imagined?

I read Amy Sackville's debut novel, The Still Point, a while ago and was completely enthralled by it. At the time, I went round web-sites and book shops searching for something else by her, yet somehow this second novel has slipped by me and it was only when I happened to see an event with her at Edbookfest that I realised this book was even in the offing.
Orkney is more unusual than The Still Point, more certain of itself and prepared to take imaginative risks and hope the reader will follow. I was reminded a lot of AS Byatt's Possession, perhaps because of the shared threads of disparate-age relationships and shape-shifting female sea-creatures, but also due to the play on, and with, words.
The story evolves through Richard's eyes, told in the first person, the early cosy intimate moments contrast sharply with the ambiguous shifting feel to the later half of the book. At first Richard and his wife seem like any other newly-married couple - delighting in little games and in-jokes of their own that are meaningless to outsiders - but gradually they move apart. Richard's work concerns the myths about sea-creatures that take on female form and his obsession with it starts to distort how he sees his wife. The solid, corporeal girl who attended his lectures changes into someone ethereal and shape-shifting.
There's a third presence in this marriage - the sea - which the author captures in all its moods, one moment sparkling with light, the next dull and dark, shrouded with mist. I don't think I've ever read anything that captures the atmosphere of Scottish island seas as well as this does.

Orkney is a haunting, lyrical book, to stretch the reader's imagination. One I'll return to many times for its poetic beauty, though without doubt the ending is enigmatic; if you like things cut and dried, all ends tied off, you won't be happy.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Granta Books
Genre - Adult literary fiction 

 Buy Orkney from Amazon

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Ramadan Sky by Nichola Hunter

Review by The Mole

"When Vic takes up a position as an English language teacher in Jakarta, she quickly organises her world around her: she establishes her position amongst the local men and her colleagues; she locates her nearest wine-merchant; and she finds an ojek driver with an understanding of English to attend her. However, having worked in ELT for almost 20 years, she is surprised by the Western luxury that she longs for most in Indonesia.

She can cope with the change of diet and culture, but she struggles with the lack of male companionship – she misses feeling attractive. She misses sex. So, when one evening her ojek driver Fajar helps her carry her baggage into her apartment, she decides to take action, and together they cross a boundary that will change both their lives.

 To be honest this one took me a bit by surprise - but it was a pleasant surprise. Although Vic has travelled extensively teaching English in different locations around the world she still comes across as a fish out of water. She doesn't fit in and doesn't seem to try - but then neither do her co-workers. There does seem to be a common trait of the women though, and that is a lack of sex. When she strikes up a relationship with Fajar it is purely physical. But is it? How long can it remain that way? Is there more than just the two of them involved in this? And can there be a happy ending? The story switches between the 3 main characters, Fajar, Vic and Aryanti. Hunter never leaves you in doubt as to which you are listening to as they tell the next part of their story. There is no real sex related to the reader - this is not an erotic novel in any way - and the story is not a soft gushy romance either. It actually feels like a true diarised account in that they talk openly to strangers - not intimates.

As a novella it was a quick easy read that felt like life - no real ending, no real justice - and did I like any of the characters at any time? Yes, but only Aryanti, although I wonder, did she get a happy ending?

Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Adult literary fiction

Buy Ramadan Sky from Amazon

Monday 16 September 2013

Blood Oath (Gladiator School book 1) by Dan Scott

Review by The Mole

Young Lucius finds his life turned upside down when his father disappears without trace - but taking some favourite possessions with him. Accused of being an informer his family is disgraced and force to move from their luxury home to the suburbs. Needing to do almost anything to survive, his brother, Quintus, signs on for gladiator school and takes the blood oath, and Lucius takes to running errands for an uncle he doesn't trust. Is this how far they have fallen? Can things get any worse?

Set in 79AD, this story also informs the reader on what life would have been like in Ancient Rome. It doesn't concentrate on the glamorous side but dips it's toe into the crime and corruption that was so much a part of Roman society - but firstly it's a story of a young boy. It could also have become a love story but it didn't (which will please potential young  male readers), despite having a high profile, strong minded girl in the plot (to appeal to the young female readers). Set in a gladiator school it cannot ignore the death and gore that gladiators stood for, and it doesn't but it talks of it in an educational, factual way that neither group of young readers will be offended by. But it's 'book 1' and the ending reflects it - grrrr. What will become of Lucius and his family? We'll have to wait to find out.

Publisher - Scribo Books
Genre - Children's (9+) historical fiction

Buy Blood Oath (Gladiator School) from Amazon

Friday 13 September 2013

Peggy Riley - Author Interview

Picture courtesy of

Today we're delighted to welcome  Peggy Riley to the blog.
For any of you unaware, Peggy is the author of Amity & Sorrow, a novel of God, sex and farming according to its Twitter hashtag! It's a novel which explores the appeal of 'alternative' religious cults, the ideals they start out with and the dangerous places they can lead, told from the standpoint of Amaranth who has decided enough is enough, and she is leaving. When I first read it, I was filled with lots of questions and after hearing Peggy speak at Edinburgh Book Festival I had even more!

So, a huge welcome to Peggy Riley! 
Hi, Mary and thanks for letting me visit Our Book Reviews!

Amity & Sorrow is your first novel. How easy was your route to publishing; Was it quick and
painless or did you spend years in the slush pile?

  I don’t think anything to do with writing or publishing is quick or painless and my years in the slush pile were spent trying to get an agent.  That step was definitely the hardest and most painful.  I had my manuscript assessed by Hilary Johnson and she made all the difference for me, recommending I try to find an agent in the States, where I’m from, and helping me to get my book into safe hands.  The first time I met Joy Harris, my agent now, we just clicked – which is how it should be.  I had only met her once before she sent my book to Little, Brown, and then everything went really quickly – and painlessly!  Finding an agent made the difference for me and Amity & Sorrow.  An agent is an advocate and champion, offering support, perspective, and ruthless honesty.  I trust her completely.       

On your website you list various previous jobs, a bookseller, festival producer and writer-in-residence at a young offender prison, did any of these help you at all in knowing what might appeal to publishers and the public?

What they really did was help me pay the bills.  I’ve been a writer most of my life and I’ve always had day jobs, part-time arts-based jobs that let me buy time off to write.  Being a bookseller, I understood the industry going in, from a sales perspective.  I tried to write the kind of book that I’d wanted to sell.  My years spent as writer-in-residence at the young offender prison probably had the greatest impact on me, as a writer.  I went into the prison as a playwright, but the men there weren’t interested in writing drama.  It wasn’t relevant for them.  We created a magazine together to publish their lyrics and poetry, and we worked together on flash fiction, monologues, and short stories.  I had to write in new ways to work well with them, and the job itself afforded me more time at home to write than I’d ever had.  I don’t think that that work taught me what would appeal to publishers or the public, because those things are changeable, but it helped me to know myself better.  It opened my heart up in surprising ways. 

What were your inspirations behind Amity and Sorrow?

When I was a playwright, I saw a picture in a newspaper of a wooden church on fire.  My imagination quickly added women to it, running from it, their long skirts sweeping the dry grass.  All the questions that arose from it – who were the women, why was the church on fire – got me thinking about a story, but I couldn’t get anywhere with it onstage.  The image and the story captured me and made me change.   
If it's not too personal a question, do you have first hand experience of living in a cult or commune?

Ha!  If I did, it would be a different book entirely!  I have no experience whatsoever of this kind of life, but I tried to imagine the good and bad parts of the lifestyle, to approach it with compassion.  I’d spent time in rural communities in the States with friends who live off the grid, so I had a bit of experience with self-sufficiency and communal living, even if I hadn’t lived through them myself as any more than a tourist.   I have a real curiosity about ecstatic practices and alternative faiths.  I did a lot of reading, but no personal research, I can assure you!   

Did the ideas behind it simmer away for years, the plot spring ready formed one day or the characters shape and change it as you wrote?

I begin a piece with a place – a landscape and its history.  Over time, characters emerge from it.  Amity and Sorrow, the two daughters of their faith’s leader, arrived fully formed and tied together, as we first meet them in the book, but everything else had to be puzzled out through the writing, from the history of their faith to the story that they would live through.  It was a slow and organic process and the characters changed through the writing, but they remained, at the beginning, as they arrived.  I think if characters arrive fully formed, you have to trust them. 

To me, the whole idea of religious cults springing up as off-shoots of more main-stream beliefs seems a very American one. Is this fair to say?

It is fair.  America is a nation founded by religious radicals with a rich history of “spiritual awakenings”:  the first with the arrival of the pilgrims/Puritans/Shakers and Quakers in the mid-17th century, the second in the early 1800s with the creation of new utopian and evangelical protestant faiths, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) and the Seventh Day Adventists, and the third which began with the New Age movement, communal societies that, unfortunately, often turned into death cults.  There is something about American idealism that provides the right environment for the building of new Edens which always fall. 

The surroundings of the commune are very idyllic, sharply contrasting with the harsh environment Amaranth ends up in outside. Is it just me who sees a comparison to the Garden of Eden and Man's Fall? 

Because we know utopian faiths fail and fall, I knew I would begin at its end.  I wrote the history chapters of the faith backwards, so that the faith slowly wove itself together, rather than unraveling.  I wanted the story to move backwards towards the faith’s beginning and to the place of hope that they all began from, even though there were always cracks in the foundation that they didn’t want to see.  I try to move the story of the faith back towards Eden to explore all the ways that the fall came.  When Amaranth and her daughters come to the No Man’s Land of the Oklahoma Panhandle, I wanted the land to be different from the one they knew, drier, harder, meaner, a place where no women lived or tended to the domestic things that had occupied the lives of all the wives.  I suppose Amaranth can see the place for what it is.  She has lost the ability to see the world through the hope of extreme faith.  

I read an interesting article by you last week on the Waterstones blog about the position of women in cults, particularly polygamous ones.  As you wrote, did you think Amaranth and the other wives were victims or did they benefit from their unusual living arrangements?

It’s been said that no one joins a cult.  From within, it is a faith, a family.  The faith at the centre of Amity & Sorrow is a fundamentalist, polygamous one of Zachariah and his fifty wives.  It is a communal society that promises to care for the women who join, that they need never live alone again, that they can belong to a family and be cared for until their death, which was part of the philosophy in the Peoples Temple of Reverend Jim Jones.  For a long time, the faith works for a lot of women.  They find ways to have relationships with one another that are nourishing and sustaining.  But the model is unsustainable.  It’s a pyramid with too wide a base, too many women all looking up at one husband.  It is not democratic enough.  I didn’t want any of them to be victims and I wanted to explore the benefits of communal living for women who had run out of options and wanted to belong to something.   

Do you feel all cults are 'bad'? Is it possible there are many, even polygamous ones, where people live happy, fulfilled lives - and that it's just when things go wrong that they gain publicity?

I don’t feel all cults are bad at all.  There's risk attached in even the term “cult”, which I found out quite recently, having been threatened with libel for having name-checked a faith in an article about the history of cults in America.  I was not calling them a cult but they took offence.  Quite rightly, too, I suppose.  It’s a dangerous term.  There are any number of groups which outsiders would brand a cult living happily together.  We probably won’t hear about them until they fall apart, because they so often do.  Faiths with strong, charismatic and overpowering leaders will always come apart, due to our human natures, our jealousies and fears.  When faiths aren’t democratic with a shared powerbase, they always seem to implode.  When the issue of polygamy is added, it has more to do with scale, I believe.  The founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, believed that God told him that each man must have three wives to attain the highest level of heaven.  There are a number of polygamous families in the States with three and four wives living quite happily, from the Darger Family, who wrote a book about it, Love Times Three, to the Browns, featured in the TLC series, Sister Wives.  These groups are families living in the way that suits them best, and I was inspired by their stories as to what “works” for the wives and the challenges in their relationships with each other.  On the Yearning For Zion ranch, the largest fundamentalist Mormon community, their leader Warren Jeffs, currently in prison, is a good example of the human sins of greed, lust, and gluttony, gathering more wives than Smith imagined.  Jeffs had 78 wives at the time of his arrest, with about a third of them under the age of consent.  This skewing of the ratio of girls to older men leads to the banishing of young men and the coercion of girls, to keep the gender imbalance so necessary in polygamy.  This in turn leads to resentment among the women, both mothers and older wives, as well as the banished and damaged children, neither of whom are able to consent to the practice, known as “the principle”.  But it is so embedded in their culture that it is very hard for them to leave it, very hard for them to escape even when they have been freed.  I wanted to explore that story as well.

Did Zachariah, the cult leader in Amity&Sorrow, really believe he was specially chosen or was he just using God and religion for his own ends?

I think Zachariah, like most charismatic leaders, begins from a place of genuine faith, but, ultimately becomes a victim of believing his own press.  I had in mind the faith leaders I remembered from my childhood, from Jim Jones, whose People Temple began as a nurturing, communal society and ended up as a massacre site in the jungles of Guyana, to David Koresh whose Seventh Day Adventist splinter group, the Branch Davidians, turned increasingly violent through fear, leading to a stand-off with the government and ending in fire.  I believe – I have to believe – that these leaders begin with a longing for God, to do His good work on earth.  But, being a leader leads to valuable perks:  money, power, glory, attention, the pick of the women.  In time, they come to believe that beyond speaking for God that they are God.  Then, the end for them is nigh.  It’s the narrative of the Bible, after all.  Any son of God will have to be sacrificed for his followers, so that the world can end.  This sense of self-importance leads them to lose their sense of perspective and, often, their sobriety and their sanity.  Too much praise and adoration isn’t healthy for any of us. 

Now, your next book is finished, can you give a brief outline of it? and when can we expect publication?

My agent has just read my new book and I’m back to work on it, cutting like a fiend.  It’s set in the women’s internment camp on the Isle of Man during WW2, when “enemy aliens”, German foreign nationals were arrested and interned.  4000 women were taken to a small village over one weekend and it took camp officials a long time to understand who they had arrested and why they were there.  The book, which still has no title, is about race and how afraid we are of each other whenever wars begin.  I hope to get it to my editors very soon!  

Thanks for dropping by Peggy and some thought-provoking answers. I'm definitely looking forward to the new book - Best Wishes for it.

Many thanks for your lovely questions and for letting me think a bit more about Amity & Sorrow 


Thursday 12 September 2013

A Heart Bent Out of Shape by Emylia Hall

review by Maryom

 19 year old Hadley Dunn has led a quiet, unremarkable life with no great upheavals, happy or sad, to disturb her. Then a chance sighting of a brochure inspires her to spend her second year of university in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, and she begins to live with an intensity she'd never thought possible. She quickly forms a strong friendship with Kristina - the sort of friendship that should have lasted a lifetime - but then the unthinkable happens and Kristina dies. Stricken by loss and guilt, Hadley turns to the only other people she feels close to - Hugo Bezier, a strange old man met accidentally in a bar, and her American Literature professor, Joel Wilson. The first encourages Hadley in her attempts to track down Kristina's mysterious boyfriend Jacques; the latter offers support of a more emotional nature - and the two soon find themselves heading towards a relationship that could land him in serious trouble.

Just occasionally a special book comes my way - one that I pick up, read a page and don't want to leave till the last. Emylia Hall is showing herself to be the kind of author who knows how to write such a book! Her debut, The Book of Summers, had me enthralled so I've been waiting rather anxiously for her follow up, A Heart Bent Out of Shape. I say anxiously because there's always the nagging fear that an author might not live up to the promise of their first book - I needn't have worried though, A Heart Bent Out of Shape is easily as compelling as The Book of Summers and perhaps even better!
There are certain similarities; mainly the importance of place and a 'coming-of-age' aspect. This time the setting is the cosmopolitan sophisticated city of Lausanne with its steep streets, elegant hotels, wonderful lake and mountain vistas. Against such a backdrop how could anyone fail to live intensely? Kristina's enthusiasm for life and her insistence on savouring every minute rubs off on Hadley, who begins to live for the first time in her life with passion - for her friend, for the works of Hemingway, for Joel. But, as various characters stress throughout the story, this aspect of Lausanne is only a setting; a veneer beneath which it's the same as anywhere else. Welcoming passion and love into her life comes easily for Hadley, but there's a flip-side to life with tragedy, death and disappointment waiting for her - the emotions that will lead to her leaving Lausanne, an older, more experienced, more 'grown-up' person.
There's an additional element to this second novel - almost a whodunnit feel to the latter half of the story with suspicions and plot-twists that kept me up and turning pages till way past midnight.

I may be gushing a bit here but I absolutely adored A Heart Bent Out of Shape. If you've already discovered Emylia Hall, you'll delight in this; if you haven't, maybe you should - great for fans of Maggie O'Farrell etc.

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

Wednesday 11 September 2013

The Einstein Pursuit by Chris Kuzneski

review by Maryom

When a laboratory in Stockholm is blown up and the scientists working there all killed, Interpol in the form of Nick Dial is called in to investigate. Working with local detective Johann Eklund, he soon discovers that something very hush hush has been taking place there and that the blast seems intended to remove all trace of it
- but can't find who would blow the place up and why.

Meanwhile over in the USA, elderly Swedish scientist Mattias Sahlberg realises someone is out to kill him. The only person he can turn to is Jonathon Payne, son of his former employer, head of Payne Industries and ex-special forces guy - a good man to have on your side when someone is after you with a gun! Along with his best friend, another ex-special forces man, David Jones, he starts to put the pieces together and realise the link with the bombing in Sweden.

I found The Einstein Pursuit a very enjoyable light read and very funny at times (especially Jones' trip to the dentist which I insisted on sharing with anyone with hearing distance!).
After a dramatic and explosive opening, followed by a gun fight round the streets of Pittsburgh I was a little surprised how much of the 'action' took place at a computer terminal uncovering the links between the various plot threads or tracking people's movements on CCTV There are a few huge set pieces of gunfights or chases but most of the detection is done from a desk. This doesn't stop it from being a very compelling read - perhaps it might even improve it, particularly if like me, you find so many thrillers actually slow down during blow by blow fight scenes.

Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher - Headline 
Genre - thriller, action adventure, adult

Buy The Einstein Pursuit (Payne & Jones 8) from Amazon

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

review by Maryom

William Eng is the only Chinese boy at Seattle's Sacred Heart Orphanage. For the last five years he's lived there, not particularly happily but accepting that there are worse places he could be, believing all the while that his mother, Liu Song, is dead. Then on a rare trip into the city, he sees a Chinese singer, Weepin' Willow Frost, on a movie newsreel and is convinced she is actually his mother. When he learns that Willow Frost will be appearing live in Seattle, he determines to meet her at all costs. Could this beautiful singer really be his mother? If so, why has he been told she was dead?

Songs of Willow Frost is a story of the unbreakable bond between mother and son, and of the desperate course of action she is forced to take to protect her child. Set in the Chinatown area of Seattle against the harsh economic backdrop of 1920s and 30s America, it was a grimmer story than I'd been expecting. It alternates between William's unfolding story in the 1930s and that of Liu Song in the previous decade - both filled with tragedy which is only offset by William's determined optimism. Although I imagine that many readers will find this a real tear-jerker, I felt at times that the writing style distanced me from the full emotional impact of events.

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

Buy Songs of Willow Frost from Amazon

Monday 9 September 2013

Children of the Wild by Giles Milton

Review by The Mole

When the Tiger sets sail for America in 1585 it carries a group of settlers who are to make their home in Virginia. Among them are four children - Eliza, Maud, Francis and John. The ship survives the long journey only to be wrecked on the final approach to the beach and much of the precious cargo is ruined in the sea. After the landing, Master Ralph - a man who is universally hated - takes command and they set about trying to survive.

The book is laced with historical fact and demonstrates  many things to the reader - it feels like a history lesson. Such books can be very helpful in getting youngsters interested in history - if done well. To me this didn't feel done well though - it's the kind of book I would have skipped huge chunks of as a young reader.

More than the first half is just their day to day lives as young colonists - Sixteenth century Coronation Street - and then, after more than half the book is gone, we start a real children's adventure. In fact the way every stray native American is picking a few words of English it read like a real work of fiction.

And one thing that did annoy me immensely... Queen Elizabeth was NEVER Queen Elizabeth the first! We don't talk of King John the first or Queen Victoria the first and Queen Elizabeth only became "the first" in 1952/3 when Queen Elizabeth The Second took the throne. If it is felt clarity is needed then why not use footnotes? The children's book I am reading currently is about Romans and footnotes are used, but without going overboard, and so far it is going very well.

If my child had ever picked this book up to read then I would have encouraged them to read it but not be surprised if they had left it unread.

Publisher - Lifestyle Press
Genre - Children's historical fiction

Buy Children of the Wild from Amazon

Friday 6 September 2013

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathon Stroud

Review by The Mole

The "Problem" started 50 years before when ghosts started popping up everywhere intent on killing people. Only some children can sense the ghosts  before they strike and Lucy is working with her adult supervisor, hunting ghosts and eliminating the "Problem" when things go horribly wrong and only her and her supervisor survive. She runs away to London and in desperation she joins Lockwood & Co - an agency that does only private work and has no adult supervision. But does Lockwood have ambitions beyond their abilities? Is he going to get them all killed? They then get a client called Fairfax who seems to want to get them all killed.

"You'll want to leave the lights on... Stroud is a genius" proclaims the front cover. At 430 pages long, yes you will want to leave the light on because you won't want to stop reading! The story is set in a time so unlike our own that I don't believe it will cause nightmares or really frighten readers of any age... but younger readers will want to be like Lucy, George or Lockwood although I wonder if they would admit to wanting to be like cerebral, planning but slightly slobbish George?

Laced with humour throughout yet tempered to keep the plot captivating this book is honestly truly addictive and readers will love it.. irrespective of of their age. From a reading perspective I am sure this would appeal to any reader who had the stamina to open a Harry Potter book - and I would say it's more fun! Hoping to see the sequel sometime!

Publisher - Doubleday Children's
Genre - Children's paranormal adventure 

Buy Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase from Amazon

Thursday 5 September 2013

Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre

review by Maryom

When the dead body of Dr Jeremy Ponsonby is found in the flat below his, investigative journalist Jack Parlabane can't help but stick his nose in. The circumstances at first lead the police to believe it's a random burglary-related killing but his instinct for a cover-up leads Parlabane in a totally different direction  - to the Midlothian NHS Trust and an executive who's been getting away with murder - both literal and financial.
I've read other  Christopher Brookmyre thrillers but never this, Quite Ugly One Morning, his debut novel, first published in 1996, and reprinted now as one of  Abacus' 40th Anniversary editions - scandals within NHS trusts are still sadly as topical now as then!
I'd say it was a mix of crime thriller and political commentary - though that sounds like something worthy but dull and Quite Ugly One Morning is far from that! It's fast-paced, full of sharp one-liners and witty dialogue - oh and is very, very bloody - all Brookmyre's trademarks really. There's the journalist main character - used to coming up against the sharp retaliatory end of the people he exposes in the press; two strong female supporting characters; and the most pathetic excuse for a hitman I've ever encountered - he may be a hardened paid killer but with all his outrageous accidents I had to feel sorry for him by the end.

Abacus 40th Anniversary editions

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

Buy Quite Ugly One Morning from Amazon

Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Last Wild by Piers Torday

review by Maryom

Kester Jaynes, twelve -just about to be thirteen- lost the ability to speak when his mum died six years ago. Now he lives in the Spectrum Hall Academy for Challenging Children, along with others who don't quite fit society's expectations. To be accurate, it's more of a prison than a school but then Kester's whole world is barren and pretty unpleasant - people huddle in the remaining cities, the countryside is devastated and all the animals died due to the 'red eye' virus. At least, that's what everyone believes but Kester is about to discover that at least one small group of animals has survived and that HE is the one person who can help them.

The Last Wild is a thrilling often funny adventure story set against a chilling dystopian backdrop. In a world where all animals were believed to have died of the 'red eye' virus, Kester is the last hope of the few who've survived so far hidden from the watchful eyes of people who would cull them to prevent the spread of the virus and those who see them as dinner. At times it's so funny that you forget the depressing scenario but it does carry a stark environmental warning.
A great adventure book for children who love cartoon films such as Ice Age or Madagascar.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Quercus
Genre -   Children's adventure, 9+

Buy The Last Wild from Amazon

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Bitter River by Julia Keller

review by Maryom

Acker's Gap, West Virginia is a quiet close knit community so when a sixteen year old girl is found murdered, not only is everyone devastated but one of them must be to blame.
Lucinda Trimble was a high school student, academically brilliant, member of school sports team, liked by everyone - and pregnant! Prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong are determined to find her killer but, in a small town like Acker's Gap, personal history and loyalties keep getting in the way...

Bitter River is a well written, very readable thriller with well fleshed-out characters the reader can relate to. I normally complain about two-dimensional cardboard cut-out characters but for once I think an author may have erred in the other direction. I just wished that at times there'd been less concentration on character development and background and more forward momentum with the unravelling of the 'whodunnit' side. Sometimes I found myself well ahead of Bell and Nick as they tried to unravel things - and just wished I could have pointed them in the right direction.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Buy Bitter River from Amazon

Monday 2 September 2013

Kirkland Ciccone - hijacking the blog

When we do these interviews, we send out a list of questions inviting the interviewee to modify the questions as they see fit and we then write an intro and a trailer. Kirkland Ciccone, author of "Conjuring The Infinite", seems to have highjacked the blog totally but we read it and felt - what the heck, we might have said/asked that anyway. So it's over to Kirkland...

Conjuring The Infinite is one of our favourite debut novels of the year.  It’s completely unlike any other YA novel in the market and Kirkland Ciccone is completely unlike any writer working in the genre.  He looks very proud when Our Book Reviews tells him that Conjuring The Infinite is a compellingly unique oddity.  It’s also nearly impossible to put down.

We had a chat with Kirkland and asked him a few questions about himself, his book and his future plans.  It was an interesting experience.  He is exactly how we expected him: completely over the top one minute, then prone to moments of deep earnestness.  He is self-deprecating, cutting, extremely confident and a little bit mad.  He is also very funny.  Kirkland let slip a few hints about his secret second novel, his plans for the young adult genre and a whole lot more.

Here is what happened:

Before starting this interview I thought I'd visit your blog and try to find out a little bit about you. The first thing I found was the title "Grrr! It's Kirkland Ciccone" making you sound like an angry young man. Would you describe yourself that way?

I know exactly how I want to present myself, which is a good thing because it means I can do things and hopefully not be misinterpreted.  I came into the publishing industry full of enthusiasm.  You have to understand that I’ve spent years on the fringes trying to get in, writing young adult fiction, looking at what other authors put onto shelves.  I would study their books and I’d go over their websites. When the time came for my official website, I wanted a name that was tongue in cheek but slightly acerbic.  I was going to name my official site The Kirkland Ciccone Fan Club.  I think that’s great.  I might use it one day.  But ‘Grrr! It’s Kirkland Ciccone’ is more instant, don’t you think?  The truth is…it’s actually named after a Betty Boo album.
(Kirkland begins enthusiastically talking about Betty Boo and how he prefers her to John Lennon!  He really likes Betty Boo.)

Your biography in the back page of Conjuring The Infinite and on your website is hilarious.  It mentions your brother being an ex-armed robber, your dog being named Lord Fanny, your one-man shows and your stint as a psychic consultant.  It reads like a man who takes very little in life seriously. Is this a fair assessment?  And how much of it is true?

Most of it is true!  When I tell stories I can say pretty much whatever I want because people don’t believe any of it.  And that’s a good thing because I can tell them the truth.  It’s very cathartic.  Why hire a therapist?  My readers and my audience can be my therapy.  It’s my idea of heaven!  I speak and people listen and love me.  I grew up in a really crappy area in Cumbernauld (Note: Cumbernauld is where Gregory’s Girl was filmed but over the years it has gathered bad publicity due to the town centre.  In 2002, Cumbernauld won the dubious award of being the ugliest town in Britain, but by 2010 it had improved.  Kirkland shrieks with laughter when he informs us that he moved out of Cumbernauld in 2009) but I never ever noticed how bad everything was because it was how people lived.  It was unpredictable.  Constant drama!  My mother got most of her exercise by putting her foot down on my brothers and sisters.  But I was extremely bookish.  I read so many books I had to be fitted with glasses by the time I reached Primary Four.  I watched television and horror movies and I was listening to punk at the age of eight thanks to mum’s boyfriend Davy Doomsday.  He loved punk and 80s new wave.  I absorbed everything.  My sisters were wild but great fun.  My brother bungled loads of armed robberies and ended up doing a stint in prison!  It was completely crazy…but I’m grateful for it because it helped me get where I am now.  Storytelling and that town have shaped me and now I look back on my childhood with pride.  It might have been chaotic, but it was bloody interesting.  And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t grow up in the shadow of Cumbernauld Town Centre.

It says that you trained in journalism.  How important was it for your writing?

I trained as a journalist but didn’t take it to a degree.  I decided that I wanted to get out and start making things happen for me.  I would have been trapped in further education for years.  I had horrible visions of my books being reviewed in my obituary column if I didn’t get a move on and do my thing.  I remember one incident in class when our lecturer told us the secret of good journalism.  He explained that alcohol was the secret to being an amazing journalist.  Well I sat there in my angora cardigan numb with shock and dismay…because I’m tee-total!  I’ve never touched alcohol in my life.  People probably think I’m a recovering alcoholic.  That’s not true.  I used to brew beer with Davy Doomsday when I was a kid.  But I never developed a taste for it.  My teacher took me aside and encouraged me to write fiction.  I’ll never forget it because it was one of those rare moments in your life when someone takes you seriously.  He told me I was a very talented writer.  He didn’t see me out on the streets.  I agreed with him.  Could you imagine me quizzing people about car boot sales or anything so mundane?  I hate car boot sales…all those lost people, trying to find something missing in their lives, something they can’t replace with a bargain.  I was always going to write YA fiction anyway.  I want to be the author that the teenage version of me would have loved obsessively.  My training gave me a good foundation to work from but my personality allowed me to take my writing and put it onstage.  It all helped in the end.

It also seems to say you have done stand up. Is that the case?

I thought I was doing serious live literature until Cumbernauld Theatre slotted me into their comedy strand!  I don’t know why but I’m just funny even when I’m being serious.  So it seems that I can do stand up!  I’ve always been quick-witted.  It’s a useful skill, isn’t it?  I’d rather go dooking for apples in a toilet bowl than be dull!

Having read Conjuring The Infinite I found myself musing over your approach. Many writers tell stories of how they start writing and the story tells itself. Others that they plan it all from beginning to end. This had the feel that you started at the end and then wrote backwards. How did you approach this book?

Conjuring The Infinite was an absolute joy to write.  It was so easy too.  I knew the story from start to finish.  I knew the characters.  I didn’t want to leave their world.  The unwritten rules of the YA genre state that the book must have a relatable protagonist, a character for the reader to grab hold of until the end.  You see it in Twilight with Bella or The Hunger Games with Katniss.  You see it in every young adult novel.  I decided to scrap that rule for Conjuring The Infinite!  I love the idea that I can trick my readers.  No matter who they start to root for in the book, suddenly I hit them with something different and as you spotted in your review…the characters don’t allow people into their heads and yet – you still get fully formed characters because of how I wrote the book.  I’m very proud of that aspect of it.  Small comments and little details build up the characters whilst adding some distance between them and the reader.  I wrote a book years ago called The Weirdness, which you will never see!  Chicken House sent it back with a lovely handwritten note.  They saw potential in me even back then and thank goodness because I needed to know that maybe, just maybe, my take on the YA genre could be understood by other people.  I needed that support and reassurance, so I’m forever grateful to them.  Chicken House said I had some amazing ideas and great quirky dialogue, that I should keep working and come back to them.  Strident Publishing got me first though with Conjuring The Infinite!  They’re great and the level of support has been fantastic.  I love it.

I have seen you are secretly working on your second book. How's that going?

I’m nearly finished my first draft and a few weeks ago I got that buzz again…that thing an author gets when they know they’re writing a hot book.  I don’t want to give away the title because I have two!  It’ll be one or the other depending on what the publisher decide to go with.  It’s written in the same style as Conjuring The Infinite but I’m pushing the structure even further.  I don’t know if it will work.  Readers will need to stay vigilant at all times!  It has a very experimental feel about it.  It is a bit more hyperactive, a bit deeper.  When I started writing Conjuring The Infinite, my goal was to write something really distinctive, a book which stood out in the market.  But I also wanted to create the most spiteful and unpleasant teenage antagonist in YA fiction.  Seth Kevorkian was my attempt at a really hateful baddie.  Let me say that he has nothing on one of the characters in this book.  If it ends up the way I have it in my head…you’re in for an absolute treat.  I think it’s my masterpiece, I really do.  It’s about a group of misfit teens who slip into a world of fantasy and are caught up in lunacy and murder.  I can’t say anymore because the actual concept is so good and for next year it’s going to be especially relevant.  Just wait and see!

Can you give us a bit of dialogue from the book?

“Don’t eat the sandwiches. Sandwiches are funeral food!”

Do you see yourself becoming a full time author or are there other ambitions you would like to achieve?

I’m going to remain in the YA genre because it’s the one I feel passionately about and I ‘get’ it.  I can’t stand these bestselling authors who have decided to come into the YA market because they want to expand their brand.  Even James Patterson is writing YA books!  How they get away with it is a bigger mystery than Jennifer Aniston’s acting career or the Mary Celeste.  I’m writing for teenagers and adults.  All adults were teenagers at one time.  The concepts and ideas in my book are completely relevant to my audience.  I would like to get out and do more festivals.  I’m doing my first ever festival date on Thursday.  The Tidelines Book Festival in Largs!  My mum took me there as a kid and I swear to God I thought it was Spain.  My main ambition is to get my second book finished.  I have loads of ideas and I’ve discussed them with my publisher.  I can’t wait for you all to see what I’m doing…it’s going to be really interesting.

Having wrested control back from Kirkland it only remains to thank him for his time and the most interesting answers. And questions (that he included) too.