Monday 30 December 2013

The Mole's 2013 picks of the year

When Maryom did her Christmas list I mocked her forthe sheer number of books she included and when it came my turn to make a selection I discovered 2 things I hadn't realised
(1) I had read over 100 books during the course of the year
(2) I couldn't decide which to leave out rather than which to include!

I also realised that some books that I would like to include I can't because they haven't actually been published and I haven't published a review yet!

Here in no particular order is my selection

I am going to start  with short stories. I do love short stories but only in collections and the best anthologies, I find, come from a good balance of mixed authors - something that highlights a change as you switch from story to story.

Unthology: No 4 
from Unthank books was one such collection and after choosing my selection I wasn't surprised to find Unthology No 3 in my 2012 selection.  I found No 4 though to be an even better selection so well done Unthank!

The Red Man Turns to Green
was another extremely entertaining selection that I thoroughly enjoyed and it came from a publisher I would not normally associate with short stories. It really left me reflecting on what I'd read.

I didn't read a lot of non-fiction this year but from what I did I have chosen to include two.
A London Year
A collection of diary and journal entries, across the centuries and about just about any topic associated with London. Including the famous Samuel Pepys but also older selections and some modern day, many people famous and many obscure but all with one thing in common - London.

World War One History in an Hour
 Sad to say there was very little I knew about this subject before I read this and now, although I am a long way from knowledgeable, I now have a far better understanding of the how and why. And there is a whole collection of the 'in an hour' series are subjects more than just history and I have found that those I have tried are just as well edited.

When it comes to adult fiction you get those superhero characters in thrillers who can climb Everest with a broken leg, stop bullets with their teeth and take on 20 men in a bar fight and still come off best. Well in 2013 I read a couple of such books that I thoroughly enjoyed
The Heist 
Short of including it it in this selection there's not a lot more to say other than I shall be watching for Janet Evanovich in the future.

 Stop at Nothing by JT Brannan
 This book is actually self published but Brannan went on to become published with "Origin" which I have not read but certainly intend to. Stop At Nothing lacks refined editing and are there technical issues (?) So what? It was truly a great fun read and that's what reading should be about sometimes.

And while we are on the subject of self published...
Emerald City
 Chris Nickson is the author of the Richard of Nottingham books which I have enjoyed but this one is on a subject close to his heart and experience and it reflects in the writing style. I don't know if he will ever write another like this but he should.

 Staying with adult books, here is one I came to very late as the publisher celebrated an anniversary and I am grateful for the opportunity.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency 
I've not a lot to add except to say that if you've missed out on books like this because you are trying to read new books consistently, then try to find time for some of the older ones too in your reading.

Stop Dead
I have read a couple of books by Russell this year and to choose just one seems unfair as I haven't read one that couldn't make a year's round up. I have chosen this one and in this the style moves slightly towards the "whodunnit" format - but don't worry as the stories still work both ways for the reader. Geraldine Steel rocks by the way.

Five and a Half Tons 
I read this quite late on in the year and was left wondering "is it just that I have only just read it?" but no, I am convinced the antics of the blundering PI are well worth including in the year's selection.

Black Bread White Beer 
A story of loss and reconciliation after the miscarriage of what would have been their first child. I found this to be a book that involved me and while I have never suffered the loss that the couple suffer I think I can understand the effect of the event on the people a whole lot better for reading this.

So let's move on to a lighter note for a few books.
Welcome to the Multiverse * Sorry for the inconvenience
The idea of multi universes isn't new but quite hard to write about and maintain integrity and a serious attitude. So throw away the serious and make it funny! This is what Nayman has done to good effect in a story that is funny and most entertaining.
50 Sheds of Grey 
And with all the hype around the erotica of "50 Shades" let's approach the more serious subject of sheds. Did I say serious? Sorry
Neither Maryom nor myself would claim to be poetry experts but I know what I like and that's what REALLY matters surely?
Dangerous Cakes
A serious selection of poetry by Elspeth Smith that is sure to please if only some of the time - as with any poetry collection.

Here Come The Creatures  
Wes Magee has written so many poems for younger readers this collection is bound to have something for every younger reader.

While we are on the subject of the younger reader...
The Buccaneering Book Of Pirates 
This collection of pirate stories from around the world is a fantastic book to own in all it's colour and pictures. Enough said really but do take a look.

The Naming of Tishkin Silk
Aimed at the very young, the characters we meet in this series (more to come yet) are the kind of characters we should all aspire to be with their childish innocence, empathy and thoughtfulness.

A story of good and evil and a young boy caught between. One for 9+ readers. 

Blood Oath 
Once again for the younger reader a story set in Roman times of a boy struggling to come to terms with a major upheaval in his life. Part of a series of books that will delight the younger reader.

Moving on to older readers... the teen and YAs out there..
Don't Judge Me 
Linda Strachan has written a few very powerful books for the teen/YA market and in Don't Judge Me she has done it again. Judging others is something we all do and we should all be careful of doing.

Conjuring The Infinite
 Once again one for the older reader - a supernatural thriller with a big twist. Or is there? Is there humour? Different readers seem to have different conclusions except that it is widely enjoyed.

And that concludes my selection. I said 'no particular  order' but what I seemed to have done is grouped and linked the groups. If I had to choose my most favourite book this year then it would probably be...

No, I ain't gonna go there.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Maryom's Christmas picks

 So, it's getting really close to Christmas now and you're still looking for last minute presents? Head to a book shop, you'll find something for everyone. And if you need some pointers, these are what I'd suggest....

Any best of the year list this year seems to be including Kate Atkinson's Life After Life so I'll get that out of the way first. An absolute stunner of a book, the story of Ursula Todd who has an exceptional gift - to be able to re-live her life over and over till she, hopefully, gets things right. A book for anyone who's ever wondered Did I make the right decision? What would have happened if I'd chosen X instead of Y? Emotionally draining at times but the overall feel is of something tremendously life-affirming.

Amy Sackville's second novel, Orkney, is a spell-binding, lyrical book set on a northern island where seals shift shape and take on human form, and women might change into seals. A mismatched newly-wed couple choose this place to spend their honeymoon, but will the pull of the sea prove too much? A story that definitely stretches the imagination.

Another mix of myth and reality, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton  by Caroline Smailes. Set in the old public baths now turned into healing centre, this is a  difficult story to pin down and label. Caroline Smailes takes the figures of Greek myths, mixes them a little with The Water Babies and transposes them into a derelict swimming pool - is it fantasy or a modern fairy tale? maybe an urban legend? However you label it, it's an intriguing, enjoyable read.

If you like your reading short and powerful, try Magda by Meike Ziervogel. In under 120 pages this novel takes the reader behind the public fa├žade of Magda Goebbels, yes wife of that Goebbels, and gets into the mindset of someone who commits the cruellest of acts in the belief that they are doing a kindness.


 All the Little Guns went Bang, Bang, Bang by Neil Mackay, Growing up during Northern Ireland's Troubles, Pearse and May-Belle look for ways to escape the habitual violence of their lives - but end up immersed in it. A disturbing thought-provoking novel about what drives people, or in this case, more chillingly, children, to kill, and of how lives are shattered, in more than physical ways, by violence.

Peggy Riley's debut novel Amity and Sorrow  explores the curious world of American cults, and how good ideals can easily turn into something sinister.

Another debut, this time from Lavanya Sankaran,
The Hope Factory is a sort of Upstairs, Downstairs take on modern India. Business-man Anand and his maid, Kamala, both want to better their lives. The obstacles they face are different but come down in the end to the need to have money before you can make more.

Next, two wonderfully engrossing reads that I could barely put down but more romantic and less gritty than some of my choices.

The State We're In by Adele Parks -  a family drama played out over two generations; it's about falling in love, living a lie, the meaning of family and the sacrifices a woman might make for the sake of her children.

 A coming-of-age story mixed with a whodunnit and set against the backdrop of Lausanne, A Heart Bent Out of Shape is Emylia Hall's second novel, a story of living life to the full even at the risk of being emotionally hurt.

 For crime lovers - there are a couple of new additions to my favourite long-running series; The Long Shadow by Liza Marklund - reporter Annika Bengtzon finds herself uncovering crime and righting wrongs in the Swedish ex-pat community on the Costa del Sol

and Arkady Renko is back in Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith, trying to prove that a young journalist's death wasn't the suicide that the authorities claim, and uncovering all sorts of dodgy deals between government, gangsters and foreign powers along the way.

A gentler sort of crime novel about bored residents of a Swedish old folks' home. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules is a great choice for grannies, elderly aunts and anyone who plans on growing old disgracefully.

This is my crime pick of the year though - amazingly complex with very clever plotting, The Unquiet Grave by Steven Dunne is set in my home-town of Derby which adds an extra frisson to the reading. Current cases and ones relegated to the 'unsolved' pile come together to uncover a series of murders of children and teenagers. Despite the time span, could they all be the work of one murderer?

Do you have teen, or adults, who never read but spend all their time playing computer games? Tempt them away from the console with these two game-related thrillers. Both take the concept of an on-line game which requires the player to complete tasks within the real world to progress
For teens, Erebos by Ursula Poznanski  an absolutely compelling story about an absolutely compelling computer game!

and for adults, Game by Anders de la Motte, a book version of all my favourite conspiracy-theory movies.

Classics with a twist  - for adults  - Red Room, a collection of stories inspired by the Brontes and their work, and helping to raise funds for the Bronte Birthplace Trust which is hoping to preserve the house the children were born in at Thornton, Bradford.

or, for fans of Jane Austen, a look behind the scenes of the Bennet family home in Longbourn - not just a reworking of Austen's Pride and Prejudice but the story of the servants

for teens to adults, two collections of stories - Rags and Bones with contributions from Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix and others these are twelve re-workings of old, classic stories, with a little of everything from sci-fi to fantasy to dystopian fiction

The Wilful Eye takes six fairy stories, The Tinderbox, Rumplestiltskin, the Snow Queen, Beauty and the Beast, Babes in the Wood and the Steadfast Tin Soldier, taken away from the cosy nursery setting and back to their darker folk tale roots via sex, drugs and violence.

For younger children - The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley is a retelling of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 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!

 and for the really young, Little Evie in the Wild Wood, a retelling of Red Riding Hood by Jackie Morris with atmospheric illustrations by Catherine Hyde, but one that shows that the wild places are not always full of danger.

Another classic, this time from Holland, first published 50 years ago but only now available in English, The Letter for the King is a tale of knights and honour, bravery and loyalty that will appeal to children of all ages.

and last but not least two books for teens, both with strong determined heroines intent on finding the truth among a web of lies spread by adults -

contemporary thriller Bloodtracks from Paula Rawsthorne

and sci-fi conspiracy theory, Linked, from Isabel Howson

Thursday 19 December 2013

In a Cat's Eye by Kevin Bergeron

Review by The Mole

The police said Nancy OD’d and she was a tramp. But she wasn’t; she was my friend. I didn’t see her Virgin Mary statue in her room, and I said some guy killed her and took it. Mr. Winkley was in the hallway meowing. The Colonel knew all about crimes. He said, Okay Willy we’ll conduct an investigation... There were lots of suspects in that hotel.

Willy isn't the brightest of individuals and lacks a lot of self control. He is an honest person - as he sees honesty - and is generally harmless. He is also friends with Nancy who lives in the same hotel. Some people say he is delusional and forgets what he has done. Nancy tells him she is going away and then next morning she is found dead in her flat after a drug overdose. Willy cannot accept the police findings of either suicide or accidental OD. It is driving him crazy. Literally.

I have to admit to not reading and remembering the synopsis before I read this and enjoyed it all the more for that. I wondered where it was actually going to end up - there seemed more possibilities with each passing page and Willy getting more stressed and out of control.

Where it ended I felt a huge emotional tug and was very surprised by it.

But it's not just Willy who is not quite 'in control' - every other resident of the hotel is in some way compromised and at some point Willy suspects every one of them of the crime that only he believes to have been committed. I have to admit to being reminded of "Conjuring The Infinite by Kirkland Ciccone" Although it's only the establishment and the surprises the residents bring that bears any similarity.

I enjoyed this one immensely but it's not a 'comfortable' novel for many people to read - until the end. It's a quickish read for people who like reading about how others live and survive and I would highly recommend it.

Maryom believes that from my description there are parallels to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" - something I haven't read - so it should appeal to those readers who enjoyed it.

Publisher - Authonomy
Genre - Adult Fiction, Suspense

Buy In a Cat's Eye from Amazon

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Like This, For Ever by Sharon Bolton

 review by Maryom

Five boys have been abducted and murdered in London and the police don't seem to be getting very far with their investigations but eleven year old Barney Roberts has been keeping track of events with a police-style wall chart and feels he can begin to see a pattern emerging. He doesn't really want to acknowledge it though because it points a little too close to home....
Like This, For Ever is part tense psychological thriller and part police procedural, and I found it unfolded a little unevenly. The story is told from three different points of view - Barney's, his on-leave policewoman neighbour's and that of the investigating police team. Add to this interspersed extracts from an interview between a psychiatrist and the murderer (after his capture) and there's a lot of different angles to get your head round, especially as the police characters seem to have been picked up mid-story-line following on presumably from a previous book. I don't normally mind picking up a series part way through but this time it proved a drawback. So many of the characters had history with each other but not having met them before, I found it really hard to care about them and their personal problems  - and wished a lot of the time that they'd just get back to doing some police work and crime solving!

Barney's storyline, on the other hand, was compelling reading. Although some of the incidents surrounding him and his friends seemed a little far-fetched, and sometimes I had difficulty believing how young they were, his story gradually built in tension as he was forced to face the facts that bothered him.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre -
adult crime, psychological thriller,

Buy Like This, For Ever from Amazon

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Five and a Half Tons by John Bayliss

Review by The Mole

Springer is a private detective in a small seaside resort. Not a very good one. Private detective that is, although the resort is not one of the top ones either. It's the 1960s and he's short of money, but not short on debt so when a case of a missing wife comes his way he leaps at the chance. She almost finds herself and when Springer goes to break the news his client starts shooting at him from an upstairs window and then shoots himself.

And this is just the start of the story.

Springer reminds me very much of Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently in that neither has any real ability (and Springer is told this by just about everyone he meets) and both find the solutions, given time, throw themselves at the detectives. And while the humour is not as overt as Adams it is most certainly there and adds to the enjoyment of the book.

The underlying plot gradually does present itself to Springer and in doing so I found it to be well rounded and most enjoyable. Just a couple of niggles though...

There are pictures inside at various intervals and, while I am no expert, I found them to be a distraction and irrelevant and wondered "Why?". And the other was the proof reading was of a much lower standard than I would expect to find in a final print edition. Now I do read a lot of proofs that have "proof" splattered on them so you expect errors to be picked up but with ebooks it's a lot less obvious what stage this version is at.

That aside... I loved this book and wish Springer every success in his chosen career - even if everyone in the book seems to doubt him!

Publisher - Grey Cells Press
Genre - Adult Crime

Buy Five and a Half Tons from Amazon