Thursday 31 October 2013

The Night is for Hunting by John Marsden

Review by The Mole

This is the sixth book in the Tomorrow series and we start to see the story come to a head. There is just one more book to come in the series and here we see the team - reduced by casualties over the war - start to feel threatened in their own sanctuary - Hell. Having collected some 'feral' children along the way they are also encumbered by their responsibilities of protection.

Once again the story moves along at what is a surprisingly slow pace. Surprising because it's only when you look back after having read it that you realise all the real action was packed into just a few short pages. But it didn't feel that way at the time of reading.

The action, as always, feels very cinematic and very intense but I found myself less sympathetic or concerned about the characters. Fi tells Ellie how she has become hard and cold and while this is true she has also become less likeable too.

The scene is now set for the final book in the series and I cannot believe the end will bring that much of a surprise to the readers because, as with all good series, we expect the hero to come through and love to succeed. Marsden has, however, killed off a few characters along the way so will they ALL be standing at the end? We must wait and see - but not for long now as the final book comes out 7th November 2013.

Despite everything a most enjoyable read but don't leap into the series - if nothing else read book one for background but much happens in between so try reading them in series - you will enjoy it.

Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Teenage fiction

Buy The Night is for Hunting (The Tomorrow Series) from Amazon

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Robin Hobb - author event

We've had rather a break from local Waterstones events, with holidays and family things clashing so it was lovely to be back there last night - especially as the author was fantasy writer Robin Hobb whose work includes the Farseer, Liveship Traders, Tawny Man, Rain Wild Chronicles and Soldier Son series. 

Robin is over here from Washington state, USA  on a book tour of the UK, an appearance at Brighton World Fantasy Convention and then on for a quick visit to Sweden. Last night she was mainly talking about her new novella, The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince, which comprises two short stories set in the Farseer world but long before the events of the novels. It is a story which she said she'd had in mind for ten years, and made a number of attempts at, trying to find the right narrator or 'voice'. As she prefers writing in the first person, like a teller of stories to people huddled round the campfire or blazing hearth, getting this 'voice' right is all important. Before reading the opening to one of the stories, Robin gave thanks to the illustrator Jackie Morris who has designed many covers for her in the past but this time provided art-work appearing throughout the Wilful Princess.. and advised us all to check out Jackie's website for more wonderful art.

After the reading, the audience were invited to ask questions - ranging from ones about daily writing routines, to the magic systems and ecology of the worlds she creates, her influences (Tolkein), what she's reading (if she has the time), are any of her books likely to appear on screen and if so who would she cast (a young David Bowie as the Fool) - but I'm not going to share all her answers. Two things that interested me were her comment that despite the wishes of her readers, she feels compelled to only allow the characters to behave in ways that seem, well, within character and her 'go-back' file; if the plot calls for a person to be, say, hiding in a garden but discovered by his sneezing at flowers, she makes a note to go back and insert a flower-allergy for him earlier in the book (I've often wondered how writers managed this sort of thing).

a rapidly emptying table of books for sale
The end of the evening was, as is usual, a book signing and while many new books were sold, the snake of readers that went round three walls of the room included many people hugging treasured copies of books that they brought with them for Robin to sign as well as many new copies.

Another excellent evening from Waterstones Nottingham - but check your local book shop for events near you.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

A Sixpenny Song by Jennifer Johnston

review by Maryom

When Annie's father dies she isn't exactly heart-broken, in fact mildly inconvenienced might be a better description of her feelings. With her mother having died while Annie was still a child and with breaking free from her domineering father when he refused to allow her to go to university, Annie has had nothing to tie her to home and hasn't returned in over ten years. Even so, she decides the right thing to do is head back to Dublin for her father's funeral. Back there, she discovers things aren't quite as she imagined - by leaving Annie the house where she grew up, her father seems to still be trying to direct her life, but she starts to discover that their family history was not quite as she's imagined and that maybe, just maybe, her father wasn't quite the man she'd thought he was.

A Sixpenny Song is a short but satisfying tale of family secrets that packs a bigger punch than might be expected of its size, just under 200 pages. In some ways the story is one of those 'must face the past before you can build a future' tales but not in a lazy formulaic way. The characters are real, stand-alone people, that I felt I got to know as the story, and their stories, unfolded. I loved the way it took the world as seen through Annie's childhood memories and turned it on its head. Children see the grown-up world around them from a slanted, biased stand-point; they like the people who let them do as they wish, and dislike those who try to impose order and rules. Being distanced from her father, first at boarding school then in self-imposed exile in London, Annie has had no chance to gradually revise her opinions as she's grown older - which is why so many surprises lie in wait for her back in Dublin.

A charming, engaging read, great for winter evenings.

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

Buy A Sixpenny Song from Amazon

Monday 28 October 2013

Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

review by Maryom

New York, 1846; Timothy Wilde, a 'copper star' in the newly formed New York police force, is drawn into a maze of almost unbelievable greed and corruption when Lucy Adams reports her family missing. For they haven't merely disappeared but been taken by 'blackbirders', slave traders who not only track down missing slaves from the Southern States but also abduct free black people of the North and ship them south to slavery. The system of justice in place offers virtually no protection to these people, so how can Timothy help them?

Seven for a Secret is an excellent historical crime story which brings the disreputable side of mid-1840s New York fascinatingly to life. It has an excellent twist and turn plot, supported by lots of historical detail about slave-traders, abolitionists and everyday New York life, which informs the reader without clogging up the story line. I definitely came away with a new insight into attitudes towards the culture of slave-owning and exploitation.Timothy himself, for a hard-nosed street cop, seemed a little naive about the realities of his world, but I suppose this helps in explaining things to the reader.
I only had one hassle with it - I really struggled with the writing style. The story is told in the first person from Timothy Wilde's viewpoint and in the (presumed) style of the period which I found hard-work and cumbersome; it wasn't the scattering of 'flash' slang - most of that makes sense in context and for the bits that don't, there's a glossary, but the overall delivery. I expected to get used to it but didn't, finding it as heavy going at the end as at the start. Otherwise I found it an excellent historical crime novel.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult historical crime thriller, slavery 

Buy Seven for a Secret from Amazon

Friday 25 October 2013

Dinosaur Scramble By Jeanne Willis

Illustrated by Arthur Robins
Review by The Mole

Darwin is to have a little brother or sister shortly because his mother has laid an egg. But is it the right egg? And then Flint, the t-rex, kidnaps the egg so Darwin's mum must prepare his wedding feast? Can Darwin sort it out? Can anyone sort it out? Can you not laugh at their attempts?

Darwin's family takes the concept of a dysfunctional family and makes even more dysfunctional. Jeanne Willis also manages to do it in a way that adults, while reading aloud, will get a lot out of too. Genuinely laugh out loud at lots of times and totally unpredictable to the last, these Downtown Dinosaur books are really wonderful books that will delight both girls and boys equally.

But let's not forget those all important  illustrations by Arthur Robins with each one complementing the story line and adding to the humour - ace!

Another great children's read!

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

Buy Downtown Dinosaurs: Dinosaur Scramble from Amazon

Thursday 24 October 2013

World Food Cafe Quick and Easy by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott

review by Maryom

Chris and Carolyn Caldicott took a break from running their World Food Cafe in Covent Garden and went on a trip in search of new recipes - not just the fortnight or month-long trip of the average holiday-maker, though. They travelled by boat through Burma, Laos and Bangladesh, on foot through Chile and Bhuttan, with reindeer herds in Lapland, on quad bikes and by plane in Namibia, by rickshaw in Vietnam,on the bullet train in Japan, a 1950s Oldsmobile in Cuba and went on a road trip through history in Syria - the sort of trip that most of us could only dream of! And then, there's the foodie ideas they came home with, which after all was the reason for the trip.

It's an eye-catching book with a lime green and shocking pink cover as vibrant as the food within. The book is divided into sections for each country visited - with lots of photos of the places, people and food.  Each country's section starts with a description of the Caldicotts' travels and a general introduction to the cuisine of the region, followed by recipes. Most of these use familiar everyday vegetables in totally unexpected ways - a leek and broad bean dish from Bangladesh, a Bhutan recipe for asparagas or a potato and mushroom bake from Namibia. There are recipes for salads, stews, snacks, breads, desserts and drinks - all vegetarian, though how anyone would miss meat with these dishes I don't know. The emphasis, as you may guess from the title, is on quick and easy cookery rather than fiddly and complicated and, as far as I can tell from merely reading, they live up to that description - most seem to involve popping a few ingredients in a pan, simmering or frying for a while, maybe adding a last-minute extra - and that's it!

I've two minor gripes - I'd have liked to see nutritional info for the recipes and the index only gives the names of dishes, not the ingredients, so it isn't easy to find a recipe for, say, chickpeas or broccoli.
As well as being a delight to browse through, I can imagine that this will become a well-used, well-thumbed cookbook.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -
cookery, travel

Buy World Food Cafe: Quick and Easy: Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey from Amazon

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Here Come The Creatures by Wes Magee

Illustrated by Lorna Scobie

Review by The Mole

With more than 100 books of poetry for children and 6 for adults, Wes Magee is clearly an author appreciated by all age groups but adored by children. But what's not to like?

This collection includes 'The Bestest Bear Song' which has become a real classic and one of my all time favourites.

The poems are all just a few verses long with a catchy rhythm and regular rhyme but also a lot have a large injection of humour or nonsense - the way children really love their poetry. Many are observational and mood setting while some tell a story but all having a lot of appeal for younger readers and showing that poetry is totally accessible to them. Aimed at Key Stage One this collection is for the very young reader.

But let's not ignore those  lovely simple illustrations by Lorna Scobie - I know that as a child the illustrations were something that drew me to poetry books and said "read me".

A really fabulous book to be read and shared (with lots of possible actions) or simply read alone (I mean the young ones, but why not you if you can get your hands on it?)

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Children's poetry, early reader (5+)

Buy Here Come the Creatures! from Amazon

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Unthology: No 4 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

Extraordinary short fiction from new and established writers. UNTHOLOGY No.4 continues Unthank Books' celebrated series, drawing its energy from the wanderlust and shape-shifting tendencies of the contemporary short story. Its thirteen stories involve cats, crows and angels; moments of realization and moments of doubt; bad moves, wrong turns and trips across the border. A fire-scarred war veteran enters the domain of a coked-up yuppie. A girl wakes up to find that the birdsong has ended. A lad on the slide dates a cosseted schoolgirl and ends up teetering on a church roof. Safe-cracking stories by bold and stealthy writers. Joshua Allen Sarah Bower Carys Bray Ruby Cowling Michael Crossan Sarah Evans Rodge Glass Marc Owen Jones Rowena Macdonald Aiden O'Reilly Adrian Slatcher Barnaby Walsh Melanie Whipman Edited by Robin Jones and Ashley Stokes.

I have only read Unthology 3 before this and thoroughly enjoyed that but this time the editors have really excelled themselves.

Although the stories are relatively short there are many I would recommend you avoid at bedtime - a mistake I made and had a very disturbed dream. But it's a rare occasion that I dream so the writing is very clearly powerful. Which was my favourite? It's impossible to separate one out - there wasn't one that I didn't love.

But if you don't like ants then go ahead and read Administration: An Intern's Guide - it will really creep you out! And if you're OK with ants then it will just weird you out! The one that I read just before bed was The Murder of Crows but maybe that's me. Finished felt very sombre but strange at the same time. In fact there wasn't one that didn't leave me thinking about long after finishing.

Each story is a change - a change of voice, a change of mood, a change of topic and completely different rules - and this makes this kind of anthology a real treat, but the real credit has to go to the editors for trawling through so many submissions to find such a fabulous collection!

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology

Buy Unthology: No. 4 from Amazon

Monday 21 October 2013

The Outline of Love by Morgan McCarthy

review by Maryom

Persephone has grown up in an extremely remote spot in the Scottish Highlands and can't wait to leave and go to university in London. Her remote home has not offered much in the way of romantic opportunities but she has in her mind an idea of how her ideal man will be - 'outline of love'. London lives up to many of her expectations with crowds and constant noise there she throws herself into the round of student parties but still feels something is lacking until she is introduced to singer turned writer Leo Ford - he seems to fill the 'outline of love' she always imagined. Persephone easily becomes one of his circle of friends but finds it harder to strike up a more personal relationship with Leo - which just increases her obsession for him. As with many celebrities constantly in the public eye, he remains a person about whom everything appears to be known but little really is. What exactly is the dark secret he's hiding? Can Persephone ever get close enough that he'll let down his guard and reveal all?

The Outline of Love is a modern re-working of the Persephone myth with London cast as the Underworld and Leo Ford as its god. For those readers not familiar with it, the ten parts of the book are prefaced with a quotation from it.

Sadly although I could see what the author was trying to achieve, and despite some wonderful characterisations, it didn't grab me. The 'supporting cast' of students and partying Londoners seemed more real and believable than Persephone herself with whom I found it difficult to connect. I didn't really 'feel' a lot of the emotions and desires that she goes through, though this could in part be because I don't share her love of hustle and bustle - I'd choose her home of Assynt over London any day!

With any story that's building towards a big reveal of the uncovering of something murky in one of the characters past, I've a tendency to try to anticipate it - a bit really like guessing whodunnit in a crime novel - and then it's disappointing to discover the secret was what I'd expected.

A lot of things about this book made me wish that overall I'd liked it more - some parts were wonderful; sadly, for me some fell flat.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction

Buy The Outline of Love from Amazon

Friday 18 October 2013

The Red Room edited by AJ Ashworth

 review by Maryom

This collection of 12 short stories and a poem takes its name from the Red Room to which Jane Eyre is banished as a (supposedly) naughty child. The heavy, gloomy furnishings in it provoke horrific nightmares for her - but don't worry this isn't a collection of horror stories. Taking the Brontes lives and works as a starting point and set in various time frames from the nineteenth century to the present day, these stories jump off in totally different directions - some funny, some full of anguish and loss - old favourites re-imagined in new settings or with new endings, two fictitious incidents from Charlotte's life, a poem for Emily and the rather strange 'Shower of Curates' which defies categorisation but takes the first lines of all the Bronte novels and works them together with a bit of artistic license. For the most part it's clear which novel or incident provided the inspiration but, if in doubt, there are notes from the authors explaining what sparked their ideas.  

What did I think? Reader, I loved it! The echoes of the originals shine through but it isn't necessary to be a Bronte expert to enjoy these stories as they are complete in themselves. If, on the other hand, you're a total fan you won't find your favourites trashed and trampled out of all recognition. I thought some of the stories cast an interesting light on their sources, particularly on aspects that are swept over by film and TV adaptations in favour of a more romantic story-line - I'd like to go back and re-read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre with some of these thoughts in mind.  My only quibble would be that, as rather tends to happen, Anne is ignored for her more famous sisters and maybe brother Branwell would have had a story of two to tell?

When we think of the Bronte family, we associate them with the parsonage at Haworth but they were born in Bradford, at 72/74 Market Street, Thornton. The Bronte Birthplace Trust is hoping to raise enough funds to buy this house and secure its future. This collection was put together with the aim of supporting their efforts and a percentage of the proceeds from this book will be donated to them by Unthank.

Contributors - Elizabeth Baines, Bill Broady, David Constantine, Carys Davies, Sarah Dobbs, Vanessa Gebbie, Tania Hershman, ZoĆ« King, Rowena Macdonald, Alison Moore, David Rose, Felicity Skelton and  Simon Armitage

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult, literary fiction, short stories

Thursday 17 October 2013

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen

review by Maryom

Anya van Bremzen grew up in Russia, emigrating to the US in 1974 at the age of 10. There, she discovered her Soviet-diagnosed 'incurable' disease wasn't life-threatening at all, abandoned  her early musical ambitions and became a food writer, but never forgot the tastes and dishes of her motherland. Subtitled a Memoir of Food and Longing this book is her attempt to tell the history of the Soviet Union through its people's relationship to food.
 From pre-revolution indulgence, through Leninist aestheticism and grain requisitions, the starvation years of WW2, cooking in communal kitchens or the more private but shoddier Khushchev era flats to Gorbachev's anti-alcohol years and the eventual collapse of the USSR this turned out to be more of a history book than cookbook but I was totally fascinated. Drawing on  her parents' and grandparents' history, Anya von Bremzen brings the past to life in a very personal way - food, after all, plays a central part in all of our lives and is perhaps one of the easiest ways to really get 'inside' a different era or culture. 
I was surprised to find that the Soviet diet wasn't all stale bread and thin gruel, though admittedly many foodstuffs were only available regularly to the elite and queuing for hours was part of everyday grocery shopping. Starting in pre-Revolution 1910, each decade is represented by a 'signature' dish;  kulebiaka - a pastry stuffed with fish, mushrooms and rice for which the description 'fish pie' seems woefully inadequate; gefilte fish as served by  Ukrainian cousins; Russian home made 'hamburgers'; Stalin's favourite Georgian lamb stew; cornbread to represent Khushchev's fixation with this 'foreign' grain; salat Olivier which graced every festive table; a special recipe for borshch; a Central Asian pilaf and blinis, the most traditional of Russian foods. The 1940s alone have no recipe but are represented by the ration-card issued to the starving population of Leningrad during its 900 day siege, when the daily food allowance dropped to 125 grams of bread.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is a book full of nostalgia and yearning for a food-culture now disappearing under fast food brands familiar and identical the world over. It is more of a history than a cookery book but if the dishes mentioned have tempted you (they did me) there are recipes for them at the end of the book

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - non-fiction, history, cookery, Russia 
Buy Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking from Amazon

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Watchers by Philip Caveney

Review by The Mole

Will Booth's father was knocked off his bike and killed a year ago but both Will and his mum are not getting over it. Will sees it in his mum and feels it in himself and try as he might he can't get either of them to start to move on. Then one quiet day, while walking his dog, a scruffy looking strange man tells him his dad has a message for him. Wary, frightened and very much spooked, Will flees back home only to meet him again the next time he's out walking and then he tells Will he was waiting for him. And then Will has the most terrifying time of his life with his family and friends in mortal peril.

This is one of those books that if you write a synopsis, any synopsis, you cannot do the book justice. Many a book has a fantastic synopsis but you end up reading something that bears little resemblance but this book... I have read (and enjoyed) Philip Caveney's writings before but this was something different - it was even more captivating. It's a book I definitely wanted to get to the end of but I didn't want to finish.

With an audience of 9+ (in my opinion) this should appeal to boys and probably girls too. Thoroughly enjoyable and an easy read.

Publisher - Fledgling Press
Genre - Children's supernatural thriller

Buy Watchers from Amazon

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates

review by Maryom

It's his search for adventure and excitement that makes American student Chad step out of his comfort zone and choose to spend a year at Pitt College Oxford, that makes him approach and strike up a friendship with a British student, Jolyon, rather than hanging round with his fellow-Americans, and that made the two of them dream up the idea for The Game. Like Truth or Dare, it isn't the game that's so important but its consequences - at each round, the losers have to perform a series of forfeits, ranging from the mildly foolish to the totally humiliating, in order to continue in the Game. At the Freshers Fair, they find the mysterious Games Soc, willing and able to offer a substantial cash prize for the winner, so with four more participants they're ready to play. At first it's all good fun, the early consequences are silly simple things, but as the Game progresses they become more personally humiliating. Just how far can they push each other before something tragic occurs?
Now, 14 years later, it's time for the last round of The Game to be played...

This psychological thriller unfolds from two angles; that of a near-recluse, at first un-named, living in New York in the present day, told in first person, and a third person narrative of the events that occurred at Oxford, 14 years ago. The two twist round each other, feeding each story-line out slowly and teasingly, upping the suspense. The Game starts out as a bit of fun but, like a student prank gone wrong, things soon turn sour; personal relationships start to interfere with the unbiased running of the Game, with players joining forces and personal grudges work themselves out through the 'consequences'. The early pages soon had me hooked, and I was reading and page-turning as quickly as I could, but towards the end I found myself caring less about what happened. The strength of the novel lies in the excellent portrayal of the interaction between the six student game-players; their friendships, loves and jealousies; their changing alliances and powerplays. I wasn't so fascinated by Game Soc who lurk rather menacingly in the background, supervising and approving the playing of the Game and the performing of the forfeits - and it may actually have been their greater involvement that led to my downturn in interest.

Taken as a whole though Black Chalk is an excellent debut thriller, and Yates an author I look forward to reading more from.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harville Secker
Genre -  adult fiction, psychological thriller

Buy Black Chalk from Amazon

Monday 14 October 2013

Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights by Kate Scott

Review by The Mole

When Joe gets home from school he finds his life in a small suitcase and his parents tell him that they are moving house - in 30 seconds. With only 30 seconds he grabs an armful of his favourite Dan McGuire books and is bundled into a car that they don't own and driven off at speed, by his mother who has always obeyed every traffic law, to a motel. It's there that they break the bad news that they are spies and he must change his identity for the sake of the family - to become a girl! Within hours they are climbing out of the motel window, getting into another car they don't own to move to another location. And what's with all the gadgets in the cars? This could be fun if it wasn't a nightmare!

You often read a book, particularly a children's book, and are surprised how far you can suspend disbelief. Could any young boy 'become' a girl with just a weekend to practice? But Scott has you convinced that he is making a good job of it with Joe/Josie - and he's hating every minute of it! The story becomes full of gadgets, friendship, plans and cunning, keeping the reader interested and reading.

As an adult I enjoyed this book and it's target audience (6+) will, I am sure, absolutely love it. The young readers that seem to have commented have been boys but it would interesting to hear a girl's opinion too. Although it is '6+',  it will appeal to any child that picks it up, I'm sure, but I suspect teens may keep it quiet! It's also a book that will have the readers waiting for the sequel!

Publisher - Piccadilly Press
Genre - Children's (6+) Spy Story

Buy Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights from Amazon

Friday 11 October 2013

Confessions of an Undercover Cop by Ash Cameron

Review by The Mole

Joining the police force in the 1970, Ash Cameron went from beat cop rookie to undercover veteran. Her career is a chequerboard of humour, sadness, injury, failure and triumph and gives an insight into what a policeman's work life is a little bit like. Unlike TV where the story focuses on long running, dynamic and exciting cases and then focuses on how the job wrecks personal lives - this book concentrates only on the job, unless it directly affected her off duty hours.

Later, when the Met was broken into smaller units and policy changed, Ash changes jobs, starts a family and the reader gets the feeling that the end is approaching - not because the pages are getting fewer (although they are) but she sounds less content in her work and more stressed.

With short snappy chapters there is no single thread that ties you down to the book and you can read each chapter almost stand-alone as a 'sketch'. I was at times left surprised at procedures, amused by incidents and infuriated by people.

A very enjoyable read that will appeal to a very broad spectrum of readers, and even some 'non-readers' if they give it a go.

Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Autobiography

Buy Confessions of an Undercover Cop (The Confessions Series) from Amazon

Thursday 10 October 2013

Betrayal by Giorgio Scerbanenco

review by Maryom

When Duca Lamberti is approached to perform an unusual operation on a young woman, in return for a huge sum of money and re-instatement on the medical register, he suspects there's something even more underhand going on in the background, especially when his patient is murdered. Working with the Milan police department, he stumbles on an underworld operation involving drugs and arms, but even that doesn't explain the series of deaths plaguing the city, the answer to which lies further in the past.

Duca Lamberti first appeared in A Private Venus as a struck-off doctor who finds his general inquisitiveness coupled with high moral standards leads him into attempting to clean up Milan's underworld. This time he's working in closer collaboration with the police, but it's still that moral high-ground of his that proves to be the leading force. There are times when he's so disgusted with what he uncovers, that he'd like to go away and pretend it doesn't exist  - but finds himself incapable of that. The story was written in the 1960s, in a seemingly more innocent time - it's difficult to imagine anyone today feeling the shock and horror that Lamberti does. Throughout, in Lamberti's mind, the degenerate world of smugglers and pimps is contrasted with the clean, sparkling atmosphere of Milan in early Spring; as in A Private Venus highlighting the difference between appearances and reality.
The plot moves along smartly, with plenty of twists and turns, although the neat tidying up at the end seems like more of an accident than anything else.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hersilia Press
Genre - crime, adult fiction,  

 Buy A Private Venus from Amazon

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Breaking the Spell: Stories of Mystery and Magic from Scotland by Lari Don

review by Maryom

Breaking the Spell is a collection of ten stories brought together by story-teller Lari Don, all with a special Scottish feel to them. Drawn from all over the country, from the Borders to Skye in the west and Orkney in the north, some are about traditional Scottish creatures such as selkies or kelpies, others have more universal origins such as riddle-guessing or the tales that account for the making of stone circles. Some I found familiar; some I hadn't heard before.

The stories include - School for Heroes, King of the Black Art, The Selkie's Toes, Tam Linn, Loch Fada Kelpie, Whuppity Stoorie, The Ring of Brodgar, The Three Questions, The Monster of Raasay and the Witch of Lochlann - all stories that the author has told many times at story-telling events in schools, libraries and elsewhere around Scotland. There are stories of witches and giants, warriors and fairy queens, and, of course, the human boys and girls who manage to out-wit them.

Accompanied throughout by quirky cartoon-style illustrations by Cate James, this is the sort of book that can be read for the very young, maybe as bedtime stories as like all good fairy stories they all have a happy ending, or older children could read them for themselves.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -
picture book, folk tale, Scotland

 Buy Breaking the Spell: Stories of Magic and Mystery from Scotland from Amazon

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

review by Maryom

In 1492, the Spanish cardinal Rodrigo Borgia outmanoeuvres his opponents to become Pope Alexander VI, and continues to use his position and family to increase his power. Rules are bent to enable his eldest son Cesare to be elevated to the rank of cardinal, and plans are put into action to marry his other three children, Juan, Lucrezia and even little Jofre, off advantageously. Of course the best laid plans of today aren't the best tomorrow, and desperately courted allies soon become enemies.

This great sweeping novel captures the magnificence of Renaissance Rome, the pomp and pageantry surrounding this almost royal family, and the dirty under-hand cunning that helps them maintain their position. The Borgia family has been made infamous through stories of their cunning, treachery and ruthlessness and taken all in all I thought this was a fairly sympathetic portrayal. Rodrigo himself comes across as both a devoted churchman and loving father, though his desire for power can over-rule everything. Lucrezia, at least at this young age, is innocent but gradually becoming hardened to being a pawn in her family's plans. Cesare is a more complicated character and more brutal in pursuit of his aims. At times the plot follows one version of events but, through reports of street-gossip, gives the 'spin' put out by the Borgias' enemies to discredit them - a clever way of portraying the various interpretations of events that have been passed down through history.
 An absorbing read that brings these historical figures vividly to life. It's over 500 pages, so fairly long already, but it's not the whole of the Borgias' story and there'll be a sequel...
One thing that I can't easily share here is the book's appearance - the dramatic cover is matched by black end-papers and red edges! An absolute stunner!!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Virago
Genre - Adult Historical Fiction,

Buy Blood & Beauty from Amazon

Monday 7 October 2013

A Foot in the Grave by Joan Aiken and Jan Pienkowski

Review by The Mole

This collection of short stories was originally published in 1989 for readers of 10 and older. Each one has a supernatural twist which will send a shiver down the reader's spine. These are not drawn out tales of horror but a quick twist at the end that leaves you thinking. I know it left me thinking about weeds on the allotment!

Once you realise these stories are not meant to terrify, but just to shock then you can settle down to enjoy each and every one of them. And just maybe, like me, you may be amused by some of the twists and not just chilled.

The illustrations, which are full colour and generally one per story, are haunting and well drawn for each tale.

The publisher says 10+ and I would agree that if anyone about 10 enjoys a bit of a ghost story then they will certainly enjoy these but with few of the stories actually involving children this is equally a collection for adults.

The whole look and feel of this book is a very nice one and it's a book to want to own. If you have presents to buy and someone on your list likes ghost stories then this could be the perfect gift.

Publisher - Jonathan Cape
Genre - Short stories, Ghosts

Buy A Foot in the Grave: and other ghost stories from Amazon

Friday 4 October 2013

Alternative Reality News Service Guide to Love, Sex and Robots by Ira Nyman

Review by The Mole

"Relationships are hard. And, when you find yourself in a new, unusual situation, who can you turn to for advice? Other than your Priest, Rabbi or Ventrosian Blitzvoort, I mean. And, your shrink. Arguably, you should definitely be asking your shrink for advice. Oh, and, come to think of it, your Aunt Bertha (because every family has a sympathetic Aunt Bertha. Okay, there are lots of places you can go for advice. But, if your Ventrosian Bliktvoort stops returning your calls, your shrink is away at an academic conference talking about his paper on your "condition" and your Aunt Bertha is no longer welcome at family gatherings because of the guacamole incident, there's always Amritsar and the Tech Answer Guy. For the first time, the Alternate Reality News Service has collected the wisdom of its award pining advice columnists in a single volume, the Guide to Love, Sex and Robots. Read through these pages to see if your particular problem is addressed. Amritsar and the Tech Answer Guy may not be your Aunt Bertha, but who among us is? REMEMBER: if you have a burning personal issue that you need help with, you can write Amritsar or The Tech Answer Guy at: Neither of them may be Deepak Chopra, exactly, but who among us, including Aunt Bertha, is?"

This is a little like a joke book in that is there are lots of short 'letter exchanges' between the agony aunts and readers. The readers though are not all human or from earth or even from this universe. This opens up the possibilities of some really crazy exchanges on subjects you may have never even conceived of.

Always amusing, often funny and sometimes laugh out loud, this book is one that I found I enjoyed most when picked up, read on a few exchanges and then put down again. But that may be just me.

Whatever, this is not a book to take seriously so just enjoy it and if you like the author's sense of humour then you will love his "Welcome to the Multiverse". It's a sense of humour that I appreciate.

Publisher - Aardvarks Eyes Press
Genre - Adult humour, Sci-Fi

Buy The Alternate Reality News Service's Guide to Love, Sex and Robots from Amazon

Thursday 3 October 2013

Three Dog Night by Elsebeth Egholm

review by Maryom

Ex-convict Peter Boutrup wants to move on, forget the past and live a quiet respectable life - but things are rarely that easy, are they? First an old friend turns up talking about a lost treasure, then while out walking his dog Peter finds another old acquaintance  dead at the bottom of cliffs - and his reclusive neighbour Felix seems to know more about this than she's telling. At the same time, a local girl has gone missing and a body, which may or may not be hers, turned up in the harbour.  Can all these things be related? It looks like Peter's dreams of a rural idyll are going to be on hold for a while.

Three Dog Night is a complex thriller set against the backdrop of Denmark's coldest winter. The story moves from two directions - that of Peter and his neighbour Felix, and that of the police department who are investigating matters from a totally different angle. As the two begin to merge things turn bloody and brutal. It's a compelling read that goes beyond the mere working out of whodunnit and why, to create a whole cast of characters, each with their own secrets and foibles.
 There's such an array of wonderfully drawn characters that it's difficult to know where to start; Peter himself with his dreadful children's home upbringing and desire to leave his past behind; widowed amnesiac Felix, mourning the death of her husband and daughter; local police chief Mark Bille Hansen, down-sizing his career due to health issues and his former lover from Copenhagen, now his superior, and a potential new one, Kir, the local girl and army diving specialist. It feels  not so much like reading a book as slipping into a new town and playing 'fly on the wall'.
This is the first in a series featuring Peter Boutrup and I don't think we've heard all there is to know about Peter's time in prison or the reason he was there in the first place, and I expect the other characters will be back too.

It's the sort of thing we all love from Danish TV thrillers, but in a book!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult thriller, Nordic Noir

Buy Three Dog Night from Amazon

Wednesday 2 October 2013

The Sleeping Baobab Tree by Paula Leyden

Review by The Mole

12 year old Fred has a Grandmother, Nokokulu, who is a witch. He also has twins Madillo and Bul-Boo for neighbours and class mates. When Fred's Aunt Kiki goes missing along with 7 other patients from the AIDs clinic where the twins parents work we enter a world of witchcraft and 'mumbo jumbo'. Bul-Boo is all logic and science and is trying to bring everyone down to earth while Madillo and Fred are caught up in old beliefs.

I found this book very difficult to get started. It was a cultural thing I suspect. We are introduced to the players by way of Bul-Boo and her school experiences and it felt like we were dealing with a first or second year child. The 'voice', the teacher, the teacher's methods and subjects. The thing that was lacking was a simple statement of their ages which I found in the online synopsis but not in or on the book.

**Update** In conversation with the author it has become apparent that there is a presumption that you met the characters before in The Butterfly Heart - as I haven't read this book I tested the book's ability to stand on it's own and found a slight weakness - sorry **

However when I did 'get in to it' I found it to be a very good story, very well done and difficult to put down. Was it witchcraft or was it science and logic? That is something the reader should decide for themselves. It's an enjoyable book well worth reading. Having got to the end the beginning takes on a new perspective into Zambian culture.

This story is an adventure/thriller that is but one thread in the tale - another thread happens 'off camera' so to speak - but the reader is left intrigued by the thought 'Did the story told cause or permit the other thread to happen?' - science or witchcraft? Targeted at 9+, I think much of the '+' market will enjoy this too.

Publisher - Walker Books
Genre - Children's thriller

Buy The Sleeping Baobab Tree from Amazon

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Red Winter by Dan Smith

review by Maryom

After years of being at war, first against Germans then against the White rebels seeking to over throw the Communist revolution, Nikolai Levitsky has had enough of fighting. All he wants to do is go home and settle back down with his wife and family. But when he reaches his home village, he's in for a shock. The place is deserted apart from one old woman who talks about the village being ravaged by Koschei, a terrifying figure from old Russian folk tales. The men are discovered in the nearby forest, horribly mutilated. The women and children are gone - taken away by Koschei and his men - and Nikolai can only follow the trail and hope to find his family still alive at the end of it. But Nikolai himself is being pursued and it soon emerges that his desire to be home with his family isn't as simple and straightforward as the reader's been led to believe.

Red Winter is a gripping historical thriller, set in a time and place familiar to readers of Dr Zhivago - the civil war period just after the first world war, when Russia was torn apart by the various factions fighting for supremacy. Armed units roam the countryside arbitrarily enforcing their version of the law and it's safest to trust no one, as even old friends may turn you in to save their own skin. Against this backdrop move Koschei and his men, leaving devastation and emptiness in their wake - and Nikolai follows.

This is definitely the sort of book that once started is difficult if not impossible to put down. There's a creepy feeling of menace from the very beginning, such that I'd almost expected something more supernatural - but to be honest, with such people around as Koschei, who would need supernatural horrors?
It isn't a book of all out and out violence, though. On his journey through the beginnings of winter, Nikolai encounters people who share his frustration at the seemingly endless war; some looking for a safe place to hole up while the violence wears itself out; others out on their own quests for revenge. Nikolai himself is a complex, flawed hero, but one for whom I felt a lot of sympathy. Once full of ideals but now finding they've let him down, he's almost as much at war with himself as his country is.

This is the first Dan Smith thriller I've read  - I actually won it in a competition hosted on The Little Reader Library blog - but I'll be on the look out for more.

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