Wednesday 31 December 2014

Re-visiting "Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman" by Friedrich Christian Delius

a new view from Maryom

I always say this - Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius and translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch - is my favourite of all Peirene's books, so I approached a re-read with a little bit of trepidation - would it live up to my expectations or would I be disappointed?
Well, all the aspects I loved first time are still there - the slightly rambling, all-encompassing thoughts of this young German woman as she makes her way across Rome in January 1943. Having travelled from Germany's Baltic coast to join her husband, she's almost immediately been left alone as he was transferred to North Africa. From a pious church-going background, she's used to accepting the opinions of others - first her father's then the dictates of the Hitler Youth leaders - but now she's almost alarmed to discover thoughts of her own, that might not accord with either; her dominant wish, that her husband could find a safe posting in which to serve out the war, doesn't seem at all in keeping with German martial feelings. Rome itself is a bafflement to her; a mix of pagan and Catholic style, it seems exotic and sensual, and nothing in her Lutheran up-bringing has prepared her for it- merely walking unaccompanied through its streets seems an act of daring. 

Other aspects also struck me this time - most importantly Rome itself as more than a mere backdrop, almost a character in its own right; the route taken from Via Alessandro Farnese to Via Sicilia is given in such detail that every step of the way can be followed (on Google maps if not on the ground), and the sights and sounds are there before the reader's 'eye's'. I also was more conscious of the probable future awaiting these expectant parents; even assuming they both survive the war, their prospects are unlikely to be the rosy ones dreamt of.

I intend throughout this coming year to reread all of Peirene's catalogue, so although for now I'd still say this was my favourite my thoughts may change...

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Re-visiting "Stone In A Landslide" by Maria Barbal

a new view from Maryom

The second of a series of posts looking back at 5 years of Peirene translated fiction, today I'm re-reading Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal, translated  Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell. It tells the life-story of Catalan peasant woman Conxa and at first glance would appear to be one of those books in which nothing remarkable seems to happen - and yet it encompasses the whole of life.  At the age of thirteen Conxa leaves home to live with her childless aunt and uncle, as a sort of unofficial adopted daughter. Life there is much the same as at home - an unremitting round of cooking, cleaning, tending the vegetable patch, and caring for the farm animals. Conxa grows up, marries, raises children - all with barely any time to stop and think about any of the questions we might pose about life; she just gets on with it. She's very much a woman of her time and place - prepared to accept her husband's view on wider issues such as politics and events beyond her village, believing that she knows little or nothing of such things, and that if she had an opinion of her own, it would probably be misguided.

 Of the Peirene novels I've re-read, this one feels closest to how I remembered it. When I first read it, I was amazed at how much could be packed into such a short novel - and I still am. I felt I knew Conxa, her village and inhabitants, and the mountains that surrounded it. Maybe if there's a change it's that I'm more inclined to feel life passing me by as a blur these days too.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Monday 29 December 2014

Re-visiting "Beside The Sea" by Veronique Olmi

A new view from Maryom - beware spoilers!

Peirene Press have now been publishing their short but powerful translated fiction for five years, and to mark this milestone Stu at WinstonsDad's Blog suggested a re-read of the back catalogue to see if our views have changed at all.
So, beginning at the beginning, I started with Peirene's very first book, Veronique Olmi's Beside the Sea, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter. A single mother is taking her two boys on a trip to the seaside - a fun time for all is what you'd expect, with paddling, building sandcastles, eating ice creams and fish and chips, but reality doesn't quite live up to the dream; the town is muddy, the hotel dingy, the weather blustery and wet, the sea rough. But this oppressive 'exterior' atmosphere echoes a more threatening darkness that's taken hold of the mother's thoughts and feelings - her love for her children has become twisted and paranoid.
Beside the Sea is an absolutely devastating read - more so, if possible, this second time. On first reading it, I felt like someone watching an accident unfold - I could see the various elements moving towards a point where disaster would become inevitable, but still hoped that somehow it would be averted. Second time through, I knew there was no chance of a happy ending. The author takes the reader inside the troubled mind of this young, unnamed mother, explores her love and fears for her boys, hints at the various problems she's had, with talk of social workers who have obviously tried to help but failed to grasp the enormity of her problems. It's obvious that the boys, although only half-brothers, feel a great love for each other, are prepared to stand together against the world and would probably have been able to cope if taken away from their mother and into care - which makes the ending even more tragic.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Other reviews;
 WinstonsDad's Blog  

Tuesday 23 December 2014

The Mole's Picks of the Year - 2014

My picks are split 2 ways, adult/YA, and children's/teens because I tend to be the one of us reading the younger readers books - out of choice. I haven't included picture books because - like a coward - it's so hard to choose.

So here I go with my choices for the older reader...
Firstly I am a fan of short story anthologies, where the anthology leads you from story to story on some form of journey and my number 1 select this year has to be Unthology 5. These anthologies are some of the best I have found, where the stories balance each other and reward you with an experience. Don't jump about the book, but read them as they come and enjoy every one.

Another very good collection was Stay Up With Me although this collection was all from the same author. Highly enjoyable and impossible to pick a favourite.

That Glimpse of Truth
was a very different collection,one that seemed more to chart the history of the short story. Starting with the story of Jonah  - and it's not really about a whale - moving through to modern stories. This is more a collection to keep on a shelf and cherry pick from as your mood suits - but still a book well worth having there.

Stepping away from short stories my next choice is a combined choice as I find it hard to select one over the other. Leigh Russell is the author of two detective series - Geraldine Steel and Ian Perterson. The DI Peterson series is a spin-off from Geraldine Steel and this year we have seen one book from each launched with more to come from both. Race to Death
 is the second DI Peterson and 
Fatal Act by Leigh Russell
 is the latest Geraldine Steel.
Brick Mother was a book that gave a very different experience and is hard to give a genre to - but the frustrations of management, the need to make a difference and the stresses of life are very well portrayed in this story.

A Bright Moon for Fools  is a story of a man who is out, unknowingly,to ruin his own life as he blunders,lies and cons his way from relationship realising, only too late,what he has done.

Above is a story in two halves of abduction  and dystopia. I preferred the first half but there was much to reflect on throughout the story. 

Shop Front was a story that took me by surprise. The story of a student taking a summer job while trying to get to university and the crowd he falls in with - and the surprises (or not) that he finds within that crowd.

Ghostwritten  is another story of self discovery and facing up to the past. It's done very well and we also learn of the hardships and deprivations suffered by interned citizens on Java during the second world war. An enlightening, if disturbing read.

But that's enough of the really serious stuff... let's lighten the mood with
Takedown Twenty I have to admit to loving the humour that the author can embed into her stories and make thrillers into a true comedic romp. The best way to end my adult selection.

My children's book selection is somewhat shorter and hopefully a little lighter although Seventeen Coffins is hardly a light read. Another time-slip story from this author bringing to life yet more of Scotland's chequered history.
The Reluctant Vampire is a very light read and as funny today as the day it was penned. Is a vampire who doesn't like blood "normal"?

The legend of Frog  is a story that will amuse children but keep them reading. I did have one small reservation about this book though - although it is still well worthy of inclusion.

 The Dark Inside A story of great sadness and loss - trust and friendship of the highest order and perhaps reconciliation?

But in thinking about loyalty and friendship, let's repeat those ideals - but with a generous amount of humour in Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends & Football

Monday 22 December 2014

Maryom's Picks of the Year - 2014

 Last year I couldn't cut my 'picks of the year' down to a small selection at all. This year, I'm being more ruthless and from an extensive longlist I've chosen a Top Twelve.....

I think there's a tendency to pick more recently read books for a list like this but, just to prove there are exceptions, top of my list is the first book I reviewed this year - Donal Ryan's The Thing About December The heart-breaking story of gentle but dim-witted Johnsey Cunliffe is played out over a year, a chapter for each month, leading to the climax in December; an immensely sad but compelling read.

Sticking with the grim side of life, and another book from early in the year - Cynan Jones' The Dig charts a clash of wills and lifestyles between Daniel, a farmer committed to his land and animals, and an anonymous badger-baiter, earning his living through cruelty. It's raw and bleak, a definite eye-opener for anyone who thinks the countryside is a rural idyll.

In A History of Loneliness John Boyne tackles the fallout from the paedophile scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland. Father Odran Yates has been a priest for forty years, has tried to live a good, blameless life, ignoring the abuses of power taking place around him, but now has to face up to his niggling conscience.

Carys Bray's debut novel, A Song For Issy Bradley, is about loss, hope, faith and family as a Mormon family face up to probably the most devastating thing that can happen - the death of a child. Ian and Claire, and teenage children Zippy and Alma struggle with their faith and their loss; only 7 year old Jacob can see an answer - to work a miracle and bring Issy back. Ultimately hopeful and life-affirming, there are without doubt some dreadfully dark moments but they're balanced by light, humour and love.

  Another family - this time the Saddeqs from Lahore in Pakistan. Roopa Farooki's The Good Children explores the complex relationships within this family- between children and parents, and between children themselves - as they grow up, spread their wings, leave home for England or the US, but always feel that tug that binds them together. It's grand in scale - moving from the1940s to the present day - and size - 620 pages, though it didn't feel a page too long.

I struggle to find ghost stories that scare me, so I was oddly delighted to stumble across this - Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray. While his mother makes plans for a new life in the old family home, Dieter, the boy-heir, encounters a strange ghostly boy with evil designs. With a growing feeling of menace, this is a truly spine-chilling read, probably best avoided late at night.

 Another debut, this time an excellent sci-fi dystopian thriller. Tomorrow and Tomorrow follows grief-consumed Dominic as he wanders through the virtual archive that brings nuclear-blast destroyed Pittsburgh and its inhabitants back to life.  Not-too-distant future dystopia with TV-like 'adware' that constantly streams news, adverts and reality TV style porn direct into the brain, a destroyed city recreated in virtual form, a twisting turning thriller and grief-struck hero combine to create a wonderful, complex story.

 The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh could easily have been just another tale of sun, sea and illicit sex but it's so much more; a perceptive portrait of a family reaching a turning point in their lives, a marriage that's a little too stale, and a woman seeking to re-gain her lost youth by tumbling heads over heels in lust with a hot 17 year old. I absolutely loved it.

The storyline to Hamid Ismailov's The Dead Lake reads almost like a fairy tale - a young boy ventures into a forbidden lake and is cursed for life - but the evil wizard here is the Russian government and the lake has been polluted by atomic testing. The first of Peirene's 2014 Coming of Age series deals with a boy who doesn't grow up, and a whole region caught, literally and figuratively, in the fallout from the arms race. Told in plain, straightforward prose, it's a tale to make your heart ache.

I've read a lot of crime novels over the year but this was my favourite. The fourth of Sharon Bolton's Lacey Flint series, A Dark and Twisted Tide, is set among the old wharfs and  abandoned warehouses of London. A complex story that developed in unforeseen ways, with the story told from multiple points of view and a timeline that jumps backwards and forwards. It's only at the very end that everything comes together - and in a totally unexpected way.

...and to round off my list two rather different 'lighter' reads...

First, something very dark and wicked - Lizzie Prain finds an unusual way to dispose of her husband's dead body as she lovingly cooks her way through his remains in Season To Taste or How To Eat Your Husband. Natalie Young's humour is dark and twisted - think Sweeney Todd meets Desperate Housewives - and not for the squeamish.

Last, not least but certainly the lightest of my list, another debut - from actor Sara Crowe. Campari for Breakfast is a delightfully quirky coming of age tale about finding love and finding oneself. There are family secrets to be unearthed and a ghostly visitor to be braved, while the house threatens to crumble down and desperate ways are sought to save it. I absolutely adored this. It's light, funny and sad by turns, but overwhelmingly full of 17 year old heroine Sue's belief that one day she'll find love and begin to live decadently, sipping campari for breakfast!

Not really eligible for this list were some really amazing books published in previous years; Andrea Levy's Small Island, George Mackay Brown's Greenvoe, and Roopa Farooki's The Flying Man

Friday 19 December 2014

The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

review by Maryom

It's five years since Melody Pieterson was attacked and nearly died.In those five years she's become a new person; she's barely able to leave the house on her own, has come to distrust her own judgement to the extent that she can hardly make a decision about the simplest thing, but on the plus side, she's in a new relationship and about to get married. But then, mere weeks after Melody's attacker is released from jail, the body of another women is found; she looks like Mel, is found in similar circumstances, and, like Mel, is found with a bird cage necklace. This woman was called Eve Elliot, and she was helping Mel's attacker in his attempt to clear his name - could he really have struck again?

The Life I Left Behind is told from three points of view - Melody's, investigating police officer DI Victoria Rutter's and, from beyond the grave, Eve Elliot's. The only drawback to this is that if we could have asked Eve straight out Who did it?, she could have told us - but of course there'd be very little story left then! As it is, events unfold from the three women's perspectives.
I found Melody to be the most interesting of the three - she was always dubious about the identification of her attacker but, having no memory of that night, had to accept the evidence the police presented her with. This is what lies at the heart of her current situation - having once been so mistaken about a person, how can she trust her own judgement on anything, no matter how trivial? From being a lively, out-going person, she's become virtually a recluse, and the luxurious new house built to her fiancé's specifications has begun to feel like a cage. When Melody hears of Eve Elliot's death while investigating a possible miscarriage of justice in the sentencing of her, Melody's, attacker, it brings the past and all Melody's doubts back to life. Maybe the police had been wrong all along.
Meanwhile, investigating Eve's death, DI Rutter finds herself doubting the original investigation too - even though she played a part in it.
And so the three threads wind together, upping the suspense towards a nail-biting climax.
I liked this more that Colette McBeth's debut thriller Precious Thing The characters seemed more rounded and believable, even given that one was dead, and Melody particularly was a disturbing portrait of how violence can change a life completely.

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

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

review by Maryom

Late 21st century America has found a new way of dealing with criminals - advances in DNA analysis means that boys with a predisposition to violence and criminal behaviour can be identified, removed from their families and brought up in strictly run correctional schools. Within this Goodhouse system, the boys are brought up to be obedient and docile, striving for the goal of being allowed to rejoin the outside world as good upright workers. Like so many systems though it's open to abuse..
James was taken from his family at the age of 3 and brought up within a series of these Goodhouse establishments; his life has been an endless round of Goodhouse-approved books and videos encouraging a productive, well-behaved role when they're reintroduced into society. Now 17, he's getting his first taste of the outside world on a Community Day - a day which should have cemented all his aspirations but instead leads to them falling apart. He spends the day with a 'normal' family but within that family is Bethany, a girl of his own age (and remember he's been brought up in a school of only boys) who proves to be the catalyst that brings down his world.

Goodhouse is a rivetting read - part action thriller and part chilling dystopian vision of a not-so-distant future.
The world, of course, isn't the straightforward prosperous place James has been led to believe in. Various factions have their differing views on what should happen to the Goodhouse boys - not all pleasant - and even those trusted with their care are exploiting them. James' expectations of a respectable life are threatened as much by his teachers and carers as the sudden downturn in his behaviour. His only hope of survival is to find out exactly what is going on behind the scenes at Ione Goodhouse, and somehow bring it to the attention of the outside world - obviously a plan that has its own dangers.

Behind the story, lurks the science- and it's chilling. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that DNA researchers could identify a gene associated with criminal behaviour and it's too easy to envisage a society that would set up houses of correction for anyone born with it. Of course, get a group that no one really cares about effectively imprisoned, and it's a license for the jailers to do as they want. Can it ever be right to step in and control peoples lives, even when it's ostensibly for their own good?

Taken together, the two aspects make an exciting, thought-provoking read for both adults and teens.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre -dystopian

Monday 15 December 2014

The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Review by The Mole

Nick Fox, master con-man, is caught on camera committing a simple but audacious theft. FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare is the only person to have arrested Fox in the past and so she is requested for the case. The problem is that the FBI have recruited Fox and Kate is convinced that the crime is not his style and she trusts him not to be working his stings any more. Another "Fox" crime occurs elsewhere in Europe but this time Fox is with Kate at the time - not that she can admit that to anyone! Between them Kate and Nick take on one of the biggest crime lords on the planet in a scheme that is audacious, dangerous and a massive con.

I have previously read "The Heist" - the first of this series of books - and it was a serious amount of fun. Fast furious and totally unbelievable - escapism at it's very best. This book seems more settled, comfortable in that the writers seem to know the characters better and both Nick and Kate - although Kate still has distinct boundaries - are allowed to get away with more.

And we find listed a recipe for mushy peas... well, the writers are American so I suppose we can forgive them that mistake.

I can really see these books making the big screen as they have all the elements and while little bits are a little "adult" they could so easily be good family fun.

A real pleasure to read - watch out for this pair (Fox and O'Hare OR Evanovich and Goldberg).

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult thriller

Friday 12 December 2014

Ruthless by Cath Staincliffe

 review by Maryom

At first an abandoned chapel going up in flames looks like just another case of arson but then a body is found amongst the ashes. Local thugs Neil and Noel Perry, both with previous convictions for arson, were seen in the vicinity but what motive would they have for shooting a harmless homeless guy? And where could they have got the weapon? While DCI Murray's team set to work on door to door enquiries trying to pick up leads, another building in the same area goes up in flames.....

Ruthless fits nicely in-between series 2 and 3 of the Scott and Bailey TV series, as Rachel is settling down to married life, or not, Janet and Ade are back living together but their marriage is definitely on the rocks, and Gill's husband is putting in a most unwelcome appearance. If you're a fan you'll know the set-up, if not the book gives enough back-story to fill you in, without giving too much away. I love the series for its strong female leads - there's not just the odd woman outnumbered in a male dominated department, but a more-or-less evenly split team, including Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey and led by the confident, commanding  DCI Gill Murray - this though is the first of the novels I've read. As I'd expected it very much picks up where the televised story leaves off, following the troubled private lives of the three women while they try to clear up a spate of arson attacks and murder. The plot is twisting, turning and unpredictable, but I think for once the drama in the lives of Janet and her elder daughter Elise might almost overshadow the police investigation.
Helped no doubt by having seen them brought to life on TV, the characters feel like real people that I can relate to, understand the conflict they find between home-life and work, and their desire to do the job to their best ability while still having some semblance of a normal life outside it.

It's definitely a book for fans of the TV series, but even if you've never watched it (why?) give this a read, you won't be disappointed. I really enjoyed it and will be reading more of the Scott and Bailey novels in future.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre - adult crime fiction

Thursday 11 December 2014

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

review by Maryom

For forty years, Odran Yates has been a priest - at first pushed into choosing this career by his mother who claimed he had a vocation, but soon settling into the role. His life has been spent happily enough, mainly at a boys' boarding school, but now, even in his sheltered environment, he can no longer ignore the scandals rocking the Catholic Church in Ireland, or the nagging voice of his conscience. Even when he first entered the seminary at 17, there were incidents between his fellow students which worried him, but Odran has always been able to close his eyes, has never wanted to stir up trouble and always accepted the dubious assurances of his superiors. Finally forced into acknowledging the abuses of trust and power that have been going on around him, Odran comes to realise that by keeping silent he is as guilty as anyone.

A History of Loneliness is a story of shame and pain, the loss of innocence of one man in particular and his country in general. Odran Yates has tried to live a good life in keeping with the dictates of his conscience and his church, but that church has now let him down - not only have some of its members abused their positions of trust and power, but these abuses have been covered up by officials within the church. From being the holder of a revered position, he's now become a distrusted and hated figure, tainted by the guilt of others, reviled by passers by on the street and even his own family.
The story moves from the present, as Odran tries to cope with his sister's deteriorating health and the new troubled world of the priesthood, to his childhood, marred by tragedy, and the progression of his career - his initial enthusiasm, the temptation that nearly led him astray, and the ever-present doubts and qualms to which he resolutely turns a blind eye.  For this is Odran's sin - to have kept quiet, lulled into a state of acceptance and acquiescence by his desire for a peaceful life.

It would no doubt have been easier for the author to have tackled this subject from the standpoint of one of the victims, or their abuser, to have given the reader a clear-cut figure to hate but instead he gives us a character for whom we can feel sympathy; one who at first seems unfairly labelled due to the actions of others, who has tried live up to his ideals but has done as many of us might have - kept quiet for the sake of a peaceful life. Maybe, as his story unwinds, we come to feel that Odran wasn't quite that naive, that his ignorance was deliberate, but ultimately he comes to realise that by keeping quiet he was complicit in the harm that's been done.

I'd expected a moving, hard-hitting read, which A History of Loneliness certainly delivers; I hadn't expected the humour that peeps through from time to time, as it will in life.

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

John Boyne author event 2013

Wednesday 10 December 2014

After Helen by Paul Cavanagh

Review by The Mole

Irving Cruickshank is an unassuming history teacher grieving the death of his beautiful and headstrong wife Helen. Though their relationship was tumultuous at best, Irving is determined to hold on to his happier memories of Helen. Their teenaged daughter Severn, however, is unable to come to terms with her death. When Severn disappears after stealing a book that may reveal more about her mother than she ever wanted to know, Irving is frantic. He follows her to Toronto where he’s forced to confront his life with Helen; from their chance encounter at her father’s bookshop to his clumsy courtship and their turbulent marriage. Irving gradually realises that some truths can’t be changed and that he must face up to the reality of Helen if he has any chance of repairing his relationship with his daughter.

You know when you pick up a book and then realise you have mistaken the author for someone else and the further you get into the book the more delighted you become to have made the mistake? That.

The story is told chapter by chapter alternating between Irving and Helen's turbulent past and Irving and Severn's confrontational present in smallish chunks. Irving starts out frustrated at Severn's rebellion and her running away. In order to find Severn he joins forces with Marla, the mother of Severn's boyfriend. Slowly, with Marla's common sense approach, the atmosphere settles but can Irving and Severn ever reconcile their differences with everything they have learned about Helen?

This is Cavanagh's first book that was originally published in Canada and while it has received critical acclaim it has only now become available to the rest of the world.

While it is an emotional roller coaster it's not overly sentimental and didn't draw me in the way many books do but is a well executed story of parental relationships with teenage children and the needs of both adult and child, and the space and support they both need from each other and those around them.

I was swept along from page one and only slightly frustrated occasionally when a chapter ended at what felt like an inappropriate point. Was it a story that blew my socks off? Well perhaps not but I still did really enjoy it.

Publisher  - Paperback and ebook from all the usual sources
Genre - Adult Fiction

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Over the Hills and Far Away Collected by Elizabeth Hammill

Review by The Mole

Every small child needs a really good collection of nursery rhymes and here is such an anthology. With many old traditional favourites as well as some from around the world,this collection of 150 is brought together and illustrated by 77 different artists from around the world most of who have become household names as either illustrators or artists in their own right.

Collected together by Elizabeth Hammill the sale of this book supports Seven Stories, National Centre for Children's Books whose aim is to save, celebrate and share Britain's literary heritage for children.

Many of my childhood favourites are featured as well as some that have slipped into current culture from overseas, making this an excellent collection but the illustrations take it one stage further. Because so many artists have added their own illustrations each page turned is a new experience and idea. Sometimes one picture fits two rhymes (Old King Cole/Hector protector) in a clever union and in other cases it's one per poem. My favourite? Am I allowed a Favourite? It has to be Old Mother Hubbard.

If you are looking for a present for a young child then you could do no better than this - and it has a seasonal robin on the front cover!

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's nursery rhymes

Friday 5 December 2014

The Reaper by Steven Dunne

review by Maryom

DI Damen Brook thought that by leaving the Met and moving to Derby he could put his past behind him ...but he's about to be proved wrong. When a Derby family are brutally murdered in their own home, Brook can feel a familiar hand behind it - that of the Reaper, a killer Brook hunted for so long without bringing to justice. After so many years, why would the Reaper move his attention to Derby? The only answer is that he's out to deliberately provoke Brook ....

Although this is the first outing for DI Brook, I've already encountered him in later books in the series ( Deity and The Unquiet Grave ) so I vaguely knew the turn events would take, but even so The Reaper proved to be a really compelling read.
A psychological thriller that delves into the minds of both ruthless killer and the detective hunting him down, it's dark, brutal and shocking in a variety of ways. I don't want to risk giving the plot away, or the chilling twist of events, but on one hand there's the despondency of police officers who see so many outrages that they become numb to the horror yet are powerless to prevent it, and on the other, the complacency of a killer who believes himself to be above the law - all very grim disturbing stuff and not for anyone who likes their crime to be 'cosy'. 
As I say, I'd met Brook before and wondered how he'd turned into the scarred lonely individual of the later books - well, even the younger Brook is a strange man, obsessed by a series of killings, abandoning his family to stalk the man he believes committed them, who in his turn, manipulates Brook and turns him to suit his own ends. I'm just surprised Brook hasn't turned out even more twisted!

If you're intrigued by Brook and his pursuit of the Reaper, you can read more in this interview  with author Steven Dunne.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins (Avon)

Genre - adult,
psychological thriller

Wednesday 3 December 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

review by Maryom

Harry August's first life was fairly uneventful, much like any other life - until he died and found himself re-born, back exactly where he was the first time. As an adult trapped inside a child's body, he didn't find his second life much fun...but then he started to understand, found there were others like him, and settled into a pattern of being born, living seventy years or so, then dying only to be re-born.
Now at the end of his eleventh life, a warning has been passed back from the future that the world is in danger. Its life too is ending, as it is bound to one day, but at an unprecedented early era.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August has been cropping up regularly on social media any time the book-conversation has touched on time travel and/or reincarnation, so, spotting it at my library, I thought it was time to check it out myself.

In a similar vein to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life it's not about time travel as such, but reincarnation into the same body. Harry is one of the "kalachakra" who return time and again to re-live their lives. Having discovered that major events can rarely be changed, most of them have adopted a hedonistic lifestyle funded by time-traveller's style insider dealing and bet-placing, leaving global events to play out on their own. Some though like Harry have acquired over their many lives a mass of scientific knowledge spread over many fields - and one rogue kalachakra is placing everyone and everything in danger by his pursuit of knowledge and power.
This mix of philosophy, sci-fi and thriller makes for an amazing read. It stretches the reader's imagination in the way that Life After Life did, raising thoughts of what would it be like to live an infinite number of times, to have the opportunity to try on different careers, loves, or lifestyles, against a race-against-time "will the hero save the world' backdrop. It starts excellently, grabbing the reader's attention instantly with hints of the catastrophe that must be averted, and continues well, darting back and forth across Harry's lives, building a personal rivalry between him and the 'villain'. The only slight let down, hence not quite the full 5 star read, was the ending, with the said villain changing from a believable searcher for truth and power into a Bond-style bad guy caricature, lacking only the swivelling chair and a white cat.

Definitely a book that deserves a re-read to see how the plot elements slot together, though I suspect knowing the ending may detract from it.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orbit
Genre - Adult, sci-fi, time travel, thriller

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Advantages of the Older Man by Gwyneth Lewis

review by Maryom

Growing up in Swansea, Jennie has had her fill of both Dylan Thomas and poetry, but when she meets aspiring poet Peter, she soon puts her prejudice aside and finds even an open mic poetry evening can be ok so long as she can be with Peter. Sadly, the course of true love doesn't run smooth and after a fiasco at the Swansea carnival parade, Peter turns sullen and ignores her. Help is at hand for Jennie though, in the unlikely guise of Dylan Thomas - or at least his ghost - who claims he can help her win Peter's heart, but first Jennie has to help Thomas with his plans....

Advantages of the Older Man is a novella-length ghost story; not a scary one that leaves you afraid of the dark or wary of the noises in the attic, but a light-hearted, entertaining one - more Beetlejuice than The Woman in Black.
Dylan Thomas isn't as you would expect him to be either. His drunken lifestyle and moody Celtic image were apparently just an act for the punters - his real self is quieter, homelier and into long-distance running! While pursuing his own ends, he leads Jennie off on a whirlwind trip to the US where nothing goes remotely to plan but we discover the real reason behind Thomas's return from beyond the grave.

Although the author, Gwyneth Lewis, is a former Welsh National Poet, with several poetry collections and non-fiction books to her name, the only work of hers I've read is The Meat Tree , a sci-fi re-working of the Blodeuwedd myth for Seren's Mabinogion series, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Advantages of the Older Man. It probably isn't something I'd have picked up for myself but, when offered it for review, it sounded quirky and funny so I said yes - and I'm so glad I did.

It's darkly funny, filled throughout with wry humour and cleverly written with an unexpected twist at the end; an unusual find, but one I really enjoyed.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult ghost stories, humour

Friday 28 November 2014

Crossing the Line by Kerry Wilkinson

review by Maryom

Manchester is suffering from a spate of seemingly unprovoked, unrelated attacks - some serious, others less so. Newly promoted DI Jessica Daniel and her team have seemingly no clues to go on, so how can they ever find the perpetrator?
Meanwhile the anniversary of a police success is coming up - it's 25 years since The Stretford Slasher's reign of terror came to an end with his arrest and imprisonment. The police who helped put him behind bars should all be mighty pleased - shouldn't they?

Although I read the first of the author's teen dystopian series
Reckoning earlier this year, I've jumped into this series at book number 8, which is why this book languished for so long on the 'to review' pile. It didn't prove to be a problem though; if anything piecing together Jessica's backstory was another 'detection' in itself.
The story starts slowly with Jessica and her team rather floundering around with no leads to follow and no connection between the various attacks, but this gave me time to become acquainted with the characters before the action really kicked off. Jessica herself was a character I quickly warmed to - strongly-focussed, using dark humour to get her through bad days, able to hold her own in a male-dominated world.

An enjoyable read with several unexpected twists. The strong female lead, the Manchester setting plus the overall mix of dogged police work and unsettled private life make it rather reminiscent of one of my favourite TV cop shows, Scott and Bailey - so if you're a fan of that, it's time to discover Jessica Daniel.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan

Genre - Adult, crime

Thursday 27 November 2014

Let's Play edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D'Arcy

Poems about Sports and Games from around the world
Illustrated by Shirin Adl

Review by The Mole

This bright book with it's many lovely illustrations is more about poetry than pictures. And, as the title suggests, they have one thing in common - games. Today we are encouraged to do active sports, but that's not for everyone and this collection covers baseball and football but also running and swimming, chess and scrabble, surfing and skateboarding - even computer games get a mention.

Many poems are describing the aspirations of the game or competition but some are just for fun. The poets selected come from around the world with some older poems from the likes of John Masefield and many ones such as Wes Magee and the editors of the anthology. The poems types vary tremendously from simple rhyme to blank verse, a Haiku and a shape poem. In some cases they are just short sections lifted from longer poems.

There really is poetry for everyone in this collection that is packaged for children but fun for everyone.

In the back is a list of all the sports mentioned and a brief resumĂ© of them.   

A really lovely book that will delight.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's poetry book

Wednesday 26 November 2014

The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki

review by Maryom

In a cheap hotel in Biarritz, an old man sets about writing a letter - one that won't be discovered till after he is dead; one that he feels will explain and excuse him to his friends and family. For even Maqil himself, compulsive gambler, inveterate liar, and charming con-man, is beginning to see that his life-style needs defending. Born in Lahore in the Punjab, he's travelled all over the world, lived in the US, England, Egypt, France, Hong Kong, adopting a new name and identity for each, blending in for a while then moving on again. Along the way, he's made and lost fortunes, married three times, fathered two children and is now a grandfather, but now is old, alone and penniless, facing the ultimate gamble - death and whatever lies beyond.

I discovered Roopa Farooki's writing earlier this year with The Good Children, a 600 page family-epic style novel, and have been searching my local library for more by her.  The Flying Man is almost as sweeping a novel, charting the life and 'careers' of Maqil Karam, as for most of his eighty years, trading on his good looks and charm, he flits and flies round the globe, moving on when the going gets too hard or when he might be called to account, financially or emotionally.
 Maqil is an entertaining, loveable rogue, who sees himself as moving on from one adventure to another, but beware anyone who gets too close, for at heart he's a commitment-phobe. Maqil believes, of course, that HE is the one who's had all the fun but while he's constantly on the move, escaping the responsibility of wives, children, and taxes, others are putting down roots, raising family, and  forming those lasting ties that bind us together. At the end, his life, supposedly full of glamour and intrigue, doesn't feel like it really adds up to much - he's just a lonely old man in an out-of-season holiday resort, waiting for the end - his one redeeming feature being his love for his second wife Samira.
This is the sort of story I love - a fully fleshed out world to lose myself in completely, with believable characters I can relate to; a story that pulled me in, moving from humorous to touching, that through one man's fictitious life made me think about the things that I believe to be important.

Longlisted for the Orange prize and the Impac Dublin Literary Award

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

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Cute Emergency by Tony Heally

review by Maryom

Don't we all occasionally feel the need for something to brighten a dull or stressful day? Well, here's the answer - a delightful little book filled from cover to cover with adorable cuteness that's sure to lighten your mood. 
Compiled by the creator of well-known 'cutesy' Twitter accounts, @CuteEmergency, @EmrgencyKittens, @OhMyCorgi and @HereBeHuskies from thousands of pet pictures sent in by fans, it's a hundred or so pages of animals behaving cutely.
We've all got a soft spot for animals, and from kittens and puppies, rabbits and hamsters to elephants, bears and gorillas, there has to be something here to appeal to each and everyone of us, whatever our age. It's hard to pick a favourite but this huge St Bernard taking care of tiny kittens is mine.

For just a few minutes, leave the cares and worries behind and indulge in this cute-fest, I dare anyone to flick through it and resist smiling!

Publisher - Bantam Press
Genre - picture book, all ages

Monday 24 November 2014

Endless Empress by Kirkland Ciccone

A Mass Murder's Guide to Dictatorship in the Fictional World of Enkadar 

Review by The Mole

Portia was attacked by a serial killer as a child but managed to escape with her life after being tortured. Now she is suffering from the effects of Post Traumatic Stress and has created an imaginary world - Enkadar. Slowly she has drawn her friends into her imaginary world.

Being "different" at school is always troublesome and Portia, the now self-styled Endless Empress, is bullied and ridiculed along with her friends. Revenge is on the cards and did I tell you that this group of friends contains the academically astute in the school? Revenge will be planned, revenge will be sweet, revenge will be awesome and deadly.

With over one thousand dead in the school will the real world let it stop at that or are Enkadar and The Real World of Milordahl at war? And where will it stop? Will it stop?

Many moons ago I was walking in Glen Nevis with the family when I stepped between some tall rocks and there before me was a hidden valley - it was a shock and a truly awesome moment and Kirkland's first book Conjuring The Infinite contains such a moment when the book suddenly, within a paragraph, swings around. It did go on to win a Catalyst Award. This being Kirkland's second book I was intrigued as to what I would find - more of the same? Travelling to that hidden valley a second time was nothing like as impacting.

What I got was something totally different but still as mind-jangling. Mind-jangling and frightening at the same time. Frightening? We have all known Portia at some point in our lives... that kid who is "different" to the point they are best avoided for our own comfort - although they are often made fun of and bullied. What if they decided to take revenge?

Molly, a self styled journalist, acts as a focus to gather the history of the Endless Empress together and to try to find her because while some say the Empress is dead, many say she is not. It's difficult to understand at first why Molly is so persistent but let's not discount the X39 bus either.

The story has many threads winding through it and as a reader I found it confusing to follow each thread into the next knot for Molly to untie but when she does all becomes clear except that there is another knot looming. Lots of action and explosions and sandwiches - there really is something for everyone in here.

A second book every bit as good as the first but every bit as different too. I absolutely loved it and expect it to do as well as his first. Brilliantly conceived and executed.

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

Friday 21 November 2014

Bob and Rob by Sue Pickford

Review by The Mole

Rob is a burglar and Bob is his dog. Rob is bad, badly behaved and a bad burglar too. Bob is good but a good dog is loyal to his master and helps Rob to avoid being caught. Bob is not happy though, he doesn't like being bad.

One Christmas when Rob steals a whole pile of children's presents Bob feels he has gone too far so he sets off to return them - that's when their fortunes change totally.

Beautifully illustrated with lots of details to talk about, this book is a lovely story of the triumph of good over bad and is sure to entertain the very young reader. With varied font sizes and shapes, and text placed around the page to follow the story perhaps this is a book best shared for the very young, at least for a time or two.

A really nice book, a really nice message and I'm sure, with it's Christmas theme, sure to delight in stockings this year.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

review by Maryom

 Following the death of his father, young Dieter Sugar is now the heir of the rambling family home, Sugar Hall, on the English/Welsh border within sight of the river Severn. Left penniless, his mother Lilia decides the best thing to do is move from London to Sugar Hall, to see if it's possible to live there with her two children, selling off family heirlooms and valuables as necessary. More things have been inherited though than bricks and mortar or works of art....
 Exploring the grounds and outbuildings of his new home, Dieter meets a silent boy wearing nothing but a silver collar. At first he's terrified but still something drags him back, and he decides he and the boy will be friends; Dieter finds him clothes and food, and the boy grows in size and substance, begins to speak and lead Dieter off on dangerous games....

Now, I don't usually get on well with ghost stories written for adults - they either fall flat for me and aren't scary at all, or go too far the other direction ending up so over the top they're comic. So, since reading Chris Priestley's The Dead of Winter , a 'teen' book, and Michelle Paver's Dark Matter, I've being searching for another ghost story that truly sent the shivers up and down my spine - and I'm happy to say I've found it at last.
There's no doubt that right from the start we're dealing with ghosts at Sugar Hall - Dieter's terror on the first page convinces the reader of that, even if his family don't realise. The hook here is what horror will this ghostly boy unleash on the family?

The house itself is the perfect setting for a horror story; it's meant to be lived in by a large family with an even larger staff, so, with only three people there, it's spooky enough on its own. There are too many rooms, filled with disused furniture, stuffed animals and collections of pinned-down butterflies and moths; furniture and ornaments seem to move about of their own volition; odd noises are heard at night; the giant moths on the wallpaper seem to flutter in the lamplight; - there's no wonder that Lilia decides everyone is best sleeping in one bedroom!
Part of what I loved was that it's not just a 'simple' ghost story. There are hints at how the money behind Sugar Hall was made, with glimpses of the desperate lives of its slaves,while in its 'current' timeline, there's the buzz surrounding the trial and death of Ruth Ellis. Lilia, having already built a new life in England as part of the Kindertransport, is trying to build another after the death of her husband, while daughter Saskia is full of teenage dreams and wants to escape back to London. Interspersing their stories with Dieter's ghostly encounters, increases the growing feeling of dread, a sense that something evil has been unleashed - and not for the first time. It all adds up to a spine-shivering, unputdownable read.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Seren Books
Genre -
adult horror ghost story

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Curse of Can-Balam by Matt Cartney

Review by The Mole

Danny Lansing Adventure number 3

While talking to a friend via a video link Angus and Danny witness the kidnap of Dr Gordon Campbell, an archaeologist working in Belize on finding lost Mayan treasures. The police are getting nowhere and so Angus decides they will travel to Belize to help look for him.

No ransom demands and no contact with the kidnappers starts to raise questions of why this has happened. When they pick up the trail of what they hope is the kidnappers, Angus and their guide are kidnapped and Danny is left alone in the rainforest to fend for himself against the many predators that the jungle harbours.

Danny sort of "comes of age" in this book and things are all the better for it. Here he recalls the training Angus has given him in the previous stories and uses that to survive. He is now more confident, not overly though, and makes more positive contributions to the adventure. I would stress that he is not a superhero and still unsure of so many things but finds ways to use what he knows to best effect.

The book launches straight into action and it twists and turns with tension right down to the last page.

I truly loved this book - and I'm not it's target audience! I was unable to leave it alone for very long and was left wanting more - although I think Danny had been through enough for one book. An excellent sequel that will again delight his many fans and maybe win many more. I look forward to reading more of Danny in the future.

Previous Danny Lansing Adventures Sons of Rissouli, Red, White and Black

Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre -
Boy's Adventure