Friday 31 January 2014

The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov

 review by Maryom

Some time ago, the narrator was travelling by rail across the vast expanses of the Kazakhstan steppes. His journey had already taken four days and there seemed to be no end in sight. At every stop, people got on selling food, drink or locally-produced goods, and among them at one station, was a young boy of maybe 10 or 12, who played the violin like a virtuoso. When the traveller heard him speak, he realised this wasn't a young boy but a grown man trapped in a child-sized body. Gradually he teased the man's story out of him - growing up in a remote area of Kazakhstan, his love for the beautiful girl next door, and the fateful trip to the Dead Lake which put his life on hold.

Peirene are kicking off their 2014 Coming of Age: Towards Identity series with another stunner - though oddly, one about a boy who, Peter Pan-like, doesn't grow up.
Peirene have become a publisher that I trust to provide thought-provoking but very readable novellas, but when I saw "His work is still banned in Uzbekistan today" in the author's biography I half expected a worthy but dull, over-politicised book. I needn't have worried, this is far from that; it's the very human story of one boy caught, both literally and figuratively, in the fall out from Russia's desire to pass the US in the arms race. In the intro, publisher Meike Ziervogel likens The Dead Lake to one of Grimm's Fairy tales, transforming 'an innermost fear into an outward reality', and when you start to look there are lots of fairy-tale elements to be found - lovers bound together in childhood that nothing can separate, the beautiful and oh-so-appealing but prohibited lake and the boy who risks the witch's curse. On the other hand, it's a story about the horrors of atomic testing, of a government that risks people's lives in the race for nuclear armament.
Told in sparse, straight-forward prose The Dead Lake will make your heart ache for Yerzhan and all his family, still so resilient despite everything.

translated by Andrew Bromfield

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Buy The Dead Lake from Amazon

Other reviews; Winstonsdad's Blog

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Stone Bruises by Simon Beckett

review by Maryom

Sean is speeding flat out through France, trying to put as many miles as possible between him and something that happened back in London. The reader doesn't know what's happened but there's blood on the front passenger seat and seat belt, a polythene-wrapped packet of 'white powder' in the glove compartment and bruises all over Sean's face. His car is running out of fuel, so he dumps it, smashing off the number plate and removing anything that could identify it, and continuing on foot despite the heat.Trying to avoid an approaching police car, he jumps a fence into a wood - only to be ensnared in a man-trap. Delirious from pain and lack of water, he's eventually rescued by two women, the daughters of the wood's owner, and taken to their farm where he is nursed back to health. At first forced to stay by his injuries, Sean finds himself drawn to the elder daughter Mathilde and the mystery that seems to surround the farm, but he soon begins to wonder if he would have been better off facing his troubles in London.

Stone Bruises is a tense psychological thriller that starts full of menace, and just winds it up from there. Set mainly in France with flashbacks to Sean's life in London, the two story-lines unfold side by side and had me racing through to uncover their secrets. The "French" sections grabbed me most; the setting, which could have been so idyllic, contrasting sharply with the man-made atmosphere of barely suppressed violence that fills the place - the aggressive farmer, his violent pigs, man traps placed to keep everyone else very firmly outside.The only down-side was that I found some of this plot predictable; the London based story-line didn't hold me at first but proved more surprising in the end.

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

Buy Stone Bruises from Amazon

Tuesday 28 January 2014

The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis

Review by The Mole

When James, thirteen, runs from his stepdad after yet another argument he comes across a stranger, Webster, - a man who is injured and extremely ill. James decides to help him by stealing food and medicines from home and so begins a very unlikely friendship. Since the death of his mother in a car accident - something he blames his stepdad for - he is desperately in need of friends. This friendship however has undertones of evil in it and danger like James cannot imagine.

This book has to be one of the darkest books I have read - but that doesn't count against it in any way. It has a paranormal element to it - possibly - but is very much about reality, friendship (no matter how unlikely) and grief. Grief seems to be a common theme in books of all ages lately and you would think they would repeat themselves but this book takes a look at another way that two people cope with their grief - and it only truly becomes apparent at the end of the book.

There is little to smile at in this book but none the less I found myself continuing to read and hoping against hope that the sun would come out and everyone would be happy and laughing. There are 'bad guys' to hiss at while you cheer James and Webster. With the end comes discovery where people learn who their friends really are.

An extremely enjoyable read despite the darkness. It requires a certain maturity, in my opinion, to cope with these issues and not be affected too deeply by them but I do feel that it would find that audience in the 13+ readers - and they will relish the action, the rebellion and the independence themes. And what young reader wouldn't want a friend like Webster?

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Teens/YA, Paranormal, mystery

 Buy The Dark Inside from Amazon

Monday 27 January 2014

The Obsidian Pebble by Rhys A Jones

Review by The Mole

We join Oz Chambers (11) at Hallowe'en and he intends spending the night, along with his friends, in the most haunted part of the house - and this house has a very spooky history. Getting the fright of their lives starts them on a trail of discovery about the history of the house - a house his father inherited 2 years ago, before his death in mysterious circumstances. The fly in the ointment is that his mother feels she needs to sell the house because of the cost of its upkeep - and she's frightened by the stories surrounding the house, stories she blames for her husband's death.

This is book 1 of the Artefact series and it's easy to believe that it's a hunt from one artefact to another but let's just pause a moment. The story talks of 4 artefacts and in this book we seem to find 2 and the series is a series of 5 books. In fact in this book we do a great deal more that find artefacts!

So the book is about the paranormal and an adventure hunt? Wrong again. There are some hugely important themes that almost drive the plot along. The first is bereavement. Oz misses his dad but that's an understatement because the hole in his life is much, much bigger than 'misses'. But his mum misses her husband too, severely - even two years on and it brought out the big black dog of depression that made the previous 2 years a huge burden on Oz as well. And these themes are dealt with in a sympathetic way that made me stop and realise how impactful these things must be on every member of a family. But it's not preaching and it complements the rest of plot in order to enhance it.

And who said it's paranormal? We don't learn exactly what it is but it appears to be science fiction or possibly science fantasy.

Many 'series' of books leave each one on a cliff hanger but not this one. It neatly doesn't wrap up the loose ends that will be the hooks into the next book but it does come to a sensible conclusion on the many themes that enable the book to be closed.

Absolutely, thoroughly enjoyable book that will delight 8+ readers and I am sure that it will appeal to both boys and girls.

Publisher - Spencer Hill Press
Genre - Children 8+ science fiction/fantasy

Buy The Obsidian Pebble (Artefact series) from Amazon

Friday 24 January 2014

Season To Taste or How To Eat Your Husband by Natalie Young

review by Maryom

When fifty-something, Volvo-driving housewife Lizzie Prain takes a spade one day and murders her husband, she's faced with the sticky problem of what to do with the body. She's determined to not suffer for her action - in fact after 30 long, miserable years of marriage, she feels she's entitled to some freedom - so how to dispose of the evidence? The only way, the 'moral' way, she decides eat it!
Moving on automatic pilot, she hacks it apart with an axe, puts the pieces into carefully labelled bin-liners and pops them in the freezer - as you would any joint of meat. Then comes the horrible task of having to eat it! Still, any meat can taste good if cooked well and presented properly with scented candles for ambiance and a glass (or bottle) of wine to help it down.
Letting people know that her husband has run away with a woman from Guildford, Lizzie embarks on her cunning plan - only hampered by the attentions of her neighbours - handsome young Tom from the garden centre and his senile but nosy grandfather.

Season To Taste is without doubt a bizarre, twisted and darkly funny book, and it's certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I loved it but I think this is a time when you should consult your own tastes rather than accept the word of a reviewer. You need an odd sense of humour and a strong stomach, as Lizzie roasts, stews and barbecues her way through her husband's remains - but I'm not sure what that says about me as I romped through it. The cooking methods are lovingly described; as Lizzie rubs the meat with olive oil and salt, chops the garlic, squeezes the lemons and sprinkles over the freshly chopped herbs, it's easy to forget WHAT she's cooking  - so much so that at times I found myself thinking "that sounds good, I might try it" before remembering Lizzie's choice of meat.
It's all rather Sweeney Todd meets Desperate Housewives with a storyline that would feel more at home in Wisteria Lane in the quiet Surrey countryside, but why shouldn't Britain have its share of eccentrics? If you love the dark and weird, can find the humour in Shaun of the Dead's Winchester zombie battering scene or merely want to step outside your comfort zone temporarily, then this is for you. It's dark and wicked, and mocks our obsessions with appearances and fine dining...... and maybe husbands should beware.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction, humour (very dark)

 Buy Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband from Amazon

Thursday 23 January 2014

The Reluctant Vampire by Eric Morecambe

Illustrated by Tony Ross
Review by The Mole

"A shocking announcement from the Vampire Prince - that he doesn't like blood but prefers chips and a glass of red wine - begins a tale of ghoulish intrigue and hilarious horror. With illustrations by Tony Ross, this re-issue is sure to delight.A tale about an extremely unconventional vampire. This tale of laughter and ghoulish horror for seven and eight year-olds is sure to delight. Here, Eric Morecambe’s customary humour is employed for a young audience."

In many ways the publisher's summary says it all... schoolboy comedy ideally suited to the 7/8 year old young reader capable of competing  with any children's author going. Don't like vampires? Well there's no vampiring in this book, just posturing and threats of violence - and when what little violence in the book does occur it is done in a schoolboy fashion that is sure to offend or frighten no-one. Eric Morecambe, master of family friendly comedy, turned his hand to writing and had lost none of his edge. I read it as an ebook because I wanted to see how well the illustrations worked - having been disappointed with picture books on kindles in the past - and I have to say that they have been done very well and really make the reading very much more enjoyable.

Young children will LOVE this one.

Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Children's comedy horror, 7/8 year olds

Buy The Reluctant Vampire Omnibus (Library of Lost Books) from Amazon

Wednesday 22 January 2014

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

review by Maryom

I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

Ten years ago, a happy seaside holiday ended in heartbreak for the Homes family when their eldest son Simon died tragically. Burdened by guilt, his younger brother Matt never got over what happened that night and ten years later is still trying to come to terms with it. Now 19, after periods in and out of psychiatric care, Matt has decided to lay the past to rest by writing down his story.

The Shock of the Fall is an absolutely stunning read, one that definitely lived up to the praise I'd heard for it and perhaps is all the more amazing as it's a debut novel. By turns sad, funny, despairing and heart-warming, it's a caring, sympathetic portrayal of a young man sinking into mental illness, getting better, then regressing, but slowly and erratically improving as he comes to terms with his brother's death. It's a very perceptive novel - not just as regards Matt but everyone that appears in it; his whole family bowed down by grief - his father who copes through false jollity, his mother who becomes over-protective, and especially Grandma, Nanny Noo, showing her love the best way she knows, through cooking for her family; and the little cameos that appear throughout ; his friend Jacob, caring for his ill mother; Annabelle who appears only briefly but encompasses such grief within it; the care-workers, well-meaning but intensely irritating to Matt.
Told by Matt, as written on his Day Care Centre's computer and the old typewriter bought by Nanny Noo, the story is very cleverly constructed so that as you read, it feels like Matt doesn't want to face what happened rather than the author is deliberately teasing the reader and refusing to disclose it; when things get too painful, Matt swaps to a different subject.

A novel about mental instability and grief doesn't sound like a lot of fun - and if you're looking for light-hearted, give it a miss, though for a novel permeated by so much grief, it isn't all doom and gloom -  it's a deeply moving, compelling story that I want to tell everyone to read.

It will make you cry with Matt and for him.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction but recommended for older teens looking for with more substance.

Buy The Shock of the Fall from Amazon 

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Mock The Week - Next Year's Book

Review by The Mole

This was a Christmas present. A much appreciated Christmas present. Yes, I am a fan of the show - even the old Dave reruns - and I wonder sometimes how those actually appear to a studio audience. But I think I would rather believe in the televised spontaneity of it all. I was a little surprised to find that this was a 2010 version - although not in any way disappointed. Apart from the news aspects (not a particular feature of the book) then the rest of the comedy doesn't really age.

This is my second MTW book and once again it is hugely funny allowing you to dip in and out while running the risk of never seeing some pages!

Very funny, very entertaining and "motorway signs" will be laughed at over many car journeys in the future.

Watch out for these books if you know a fan of the program - they will be much appreciated.

Bad Things To Hear On A Hospital Ward - "See? I told you it was the left one."

Publisher - Boxtree
Genre - TV, humour

Buy Mock the Week: Next Year's Book: All-New Scenes We'd Like to See from Amazon

Monday 20 January 2014

The Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart

Review by The Mole

Moses McGuire is a bit of a loose cannon - particularly when he's had a drink or two - and he has secrets in his head that must not be revealed. When his daughter is attacked and then raped he turns to the bottle for a bit of solace. But the rapist is found dead and the prime and only suspect is Moses. Dismas Hardy, Moses' friend and lawyer, steps in to defend him and try to make sure that Moses' secret - THEIR secret - is kept buried. Is Moses guilty? That is the least most important thing on Hardy's agenda - that secret must be kept quiet.

This is one of a series of books featuring Dismas Hardy although it's the first I have read and there is a lot of back story (including the secret) that I was unaware of - intrigued by it though - that is alluded to throughout the book. Despite coming late to the series this book stood well on it's own and, apart from who's alive and kicking at the start, gives no real spoilers to the earlier books. At nearly 500 pages it may seem a little daunting but it reads easily, moves fast and doesn't really waste any words. My only problem was keeping track of who knew who, from when, what their relationship was before this book and were they 'good' guys or 'not so good' guys - I felt a chart would have helped at times! It's probably because I came late to the series. The characters were a little bit 'weird' in a way because there wasn't one that I would want to share a bus ride with - I would sooner walk!

Despite everything I really enjoyed ths book which flew by all too quickly. It's a courtroom drama that doesn't really look for suspects or worry about innocence - only an innocent verdict.

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult courtroom thriller/drama

Buy The Ophelia Cut from Amazon

Friday 17 January 2014

Buzz by Anders de la Motte

Welcome to the next level

review by Maryom

Having managed to get out of The Game alive, HP has spent 14 months hiding out in exotic places as far from his Swedish home as he can get. Even there though he's constantly reminded of the Game and its dangers - the distinctive mobile phones used by players seem to be everywhere. When a casual (sexual) acquaintance dies suddenly, HP is sure that the Game Master is somehow behind it, and decides to do a little investigating....
Meanwhile his sister Rebecca has problems of her own. Suspended from police duties after a botched up security operation, she seems to have become the target of a malicious internet forum. The gossip and rumours about her are all posted anonymously, so how can she fight back?

There's a change of pace in this, book two of the Game Trilogy. Previously, HP was out on the street, one of the 'ants' scurrying around at the Game Master's bidding; there was a lot of action and violence. Now using his brains and the power of words, he's trying to move up a level in the organisation of The Game by infiltrating behind the scenes in what appears to be a 'normal' company. Its 'business' though is to shape public opinion via internet sites using multiple identities to blog and comment here, there and everywhere. Being paid to spend all day chatting in online chat-rooms, posting on forums and commenting on blogs sounds like HP's ideal job and there are times when he almost forgets his real motive. Fortunately, there's always a nagging voice asking Who's behind it all? What do they gain? Is there a link to The Game?
Rebecca's story winds in and around HP's with disastrous results for him when the two collide. While most of the tension is of the 'will he be found out?' kind, poor HP does end up on the receiving end of some menacing violence.
Buzz is just as compelling as Game but in a very different way. Whereas bk 1 was fun and exciting, I couldn't imagine it really happening; this time I can. Everyone's heard of the companies that pay to have good reviews written about them, and of people who go round anonymously rubbishing their opponents, so why not take things a little further and shape opinions on politics or world events? Again, it's a brilliant story for the conspiracy-theorists, tapping right into the things they fear most.

Now on to Book 3 where all will be revealed......I hope.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins (Blue Door)

Genre - adult, crime

Buy Buzz (The Game Trilogy, Book 2) from Amazon

Thursday 16 January 2014

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

Review by The Mole

Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, is just trying to make a living but why is everyone she tries to return to custody trying to kill her? And what's with the giraffe running around the streets of New Jersey? Torn between her attraction to Ranger and her attraction and loyalty to Joe Morelli her love life isn't in a much better state.

Then Ranger offers a little work on the side in finding out about the granny murderer that is killing old ladies and dumping their bodies in skips (or 'dumpsters') around town. Working with Ranger, trying to catch absconding felons and chasing Kevin (the giraffe) is proving too much - she will give it all up and become a butcher.

I first read Evanovich in The Heist which she co-wrote with Lee Goldberg and I sort of 'fell in love'. Reading this book I almost feel I can pull The Heist into two parts - one for each author and both halves would still be pretty fantastic.

I came late to Evanovich as she has written 34 novels (this is the 20th Stephanie Plum - hence the title) and has sold 75 million copies worldwide - so everyone else seems to be reading her already!

With tons of humour and impossible deeds, beautiful characters and almost constant action these books must appeal to almost anyone that can read. And sex? No... but plenty of attraction and innuendo that just makes things funnier.

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult thriller

Buy Takedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum) from Amazon

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

review by Maryom

This is the first of my Christmas present books - the fictionalised story of Arthur Ransome, who as a young man went to Russia at the time of the Revolution, leaving his wife and small daughter behind in England, and fell in love with Russia in general and one Russian woman in particular, Evgenia. It moves from fairy tale to spy thriller and back to fairy tale, a format that feels as if it reflects Ransome's relationship with Russia; his first impressions being of a vast country locked in the 'once upon a time' of princes and palaces, woodcutters and bears, but one that's about to be dragged into the 20th century with city streets filled with people demanding change, backed by guns and tanks. After these turbulent years, the fairy tale returns with a dangerous journey through snow-covered countryside and opposing battle lines.

I was in the middle of another book at Christmas, but I opened this, just intending to skim a few pages and get a feel for it - and just got pulled in to it. Marcus Sedgwick is best known for his Gothic fantasy horror stories for children and teens but here he turns his hand to the real-life adventure of another children's writer, Arthur Ransome. Going to Russia before World War 1, Ransome fell in love with the country, collecting folk tales which he published as Old Peter's Russian Tales. Later, when, revolution broke out, being 'on the spot' and friendly with the Communists now in power, he was asked to pass information about them back to Britain; some government officials were not so certain about which side Ransome's loyalties lay, suspecting him of passing information back to the Russians as well. His movement between the two countries became restricted; a heart-breaking situation for him as his beloved daughter Tabitha was in one, and Evgenia, the Russian women he doesn't want to lose, in the other. The story doesn't really give a definitive answer to this but I suspect that the only people who ever really knew the whole truth were Ransome and Evgenia.

 Although ostensibly a teens' book, I think like many of Sedgwick's stories there's no real upper age limit to its appeal.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orion
Genre - 
teen+ , historical spy/romantic thriller,

First published in 2007, this might not be easily available but is on Kindle Blood Red, Snow White

Tuesday 14 January 2014

The Beatles by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom

Review by The Mole

Beatlemania started in 1963 and lasted just 7 short years but the legacy lives on today. At a recent pantomime there was an audio soundtrack running of just Beatle tracks and our 16 year old was surprised that what she was listening to and enjoying was the Beatles. One wonders how many more generations will go on to enjoy music from that short era.

This picture book, because it's difficult to ignore the fact that that is what it is, tells a very complete - if somewhat abbreviated - story of the origins of the Fab Four and their meteoric rise to fame. There are no photographs in this book - it is all original artwork - and the layout and presentation will appeal greatly to younger readers but the content and concise factual presentation will also appeal to fans of the group from their 1963 origins.

The format makes it a book to either 'dip into' for 20 minutes or just to sit down and read  - getting lost in nostalgia and being drawn down memory lane, forgetting the book a while.

A really beautiful book covering the lives of these seemingly 'normal' youngsters - although I never changed my trousers at the bus stop!

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - Picture Story Book, Non-fiction, biography

Buy The Beatles from Amazon

Friday 10 January 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Review by The Mole

The story of two sisters, two sisters, family, slavery and abolitionists.

Living in Charleston slavery is a part of everyday life so when Sarah, on her 11th birthday, is given Hetty (also known as Handful) for a present it shocks and abhors people that she tries to refuse the gift. However they build up an unusual relationship for the time of a great friendship that lasts throughout their lives - lives that see Sarah and her sister Nina move to the North and become abolitionists and women's rights activists while Handful and her sister Sky try to run away to the North for freedom.

The author's notes come at the back book and explain a little of the history. Sarah and Nina were, very broadly, not only real historical characters but they did leave the South to become abolitionists - unusual ones though in that they campaigned for equality and not just for freedom - and also they started the campaign in North America for equal rights for women. I feel that while the notes contain spoilers that something should have been at the front of the book explaining the historical context and how heavily the idea of their story is fictionalised.

I did enjoy this book a lot but I failed to feel for any of the characters except perhaps Handful - most of the rest feeling like a report on the happenings rather than a window on their story.

Perhaps the slavery story has been over told in the past, perhaps it can't be over told, but here we get a good insight into how the owner/slave relationship may well have ranged from almost benevolent to downright domineering almost to the point of sadistic - and all within the context of one family. We also get an insight into how the spirits of the slaves could not just be controlled to be compliant but how they would rise up in anger when the slave owners were not in sight.

In addition to the insight into slavery we also get an insight into how shallow the families of the slave owners of the deep south may well have been and how women could do whatever they liked so long as it didn't encroach into the man's world and power.

Coming back to the heavy fictionalisation aspect, I am left wondering (despite the research also mentioned in the notes) how realistically this portrayed the life and times although so much of it rings as feasible and possibly likely.

But it is a work a fiction - let's not lose sight of that - and one that I did enjoy reading.

Publisher -  Tinder Press
Genre - Adult fiction, historical

Buy The Invention of Wings from Amazon

Thursday 9 January 2014

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen

review by Maryom

When she returns to her home town of Rabbit Back as a substitute literature teacher, Ella Milana expects it to be a temporary stay, a few months at most, but then she finds herself getting pulled into the weirdnesses of the town. Firstly, there's the matter of classic books that suddenly seem to have acquired different endings. Talking to the local librarian doesn't make matters clearer - could there be such a thing as a virus that passes from book to book causing this mayhem, or is it just idle printers playing practical jokes? Then she's selected as the tenth and final member of the Rabbit Back Literature Society. This very exclusive group was set up by local famous children's author Laura White to encourage young writers and help them achieve their dreams but, although all the members are highly respected, the inner workings of the Society are shrouded in mystery. Before Ella can properly join the Society, more things go awry and Laura White herself disappears as if by magic in a whirl of snow. Ella decides to take advantage of the Society's 'Game' to find some answers to her multitude of questions - under its rules, members must answer any questions posed as fully and frankly as possible. In this way she hopes to get to the bottom of Laura White's mysterious disappearance and to find out what happened to the boy-genius who was previously the tenth member of the Society. There are plenty of hidden secrets about to be unearthed....

The Rabbit Back Literature Society is a strange book to start to describe; in it the quirky and fantastical rub shoulders with the everyday world and 'serious' themes - so imagine something on the lines of a cross between Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels and Twin Peaks. Rabbit Back is a town populated as much by statues inspired by Laura White's novels as it is by people, a place where dogs congregate outside houses as if waiting for something or someone, and where having a 'mapping' taken to detect mythological creatures in your back garden is commonplace.
  I found it a little slow to start, as the opening chapters were not quite what I'd expected from the blurb, but as Ella investigated further into the mysterious behind-the-scenes world of the Literature Society my curiosity grew. Gradually a picture emerges of how the Society members, and even the founder, have exploited each other, lifting plots and characters for their best-selling novels straight from real life.
If you fancy something a little different, give this a go; it won't disappoint.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Pushkin Press
Genre - adult literary, fantasy

Other reviews; The Worm Hole

Wednesday 8 January 2014

What Lies Within by Tom Vowler

 review by Maryom

Anna has always loved her remote Dartmoor home but when a prisoner escapes, for all her outward calm, she begins to feel vulnerable and threatened. Her husband is out working on the Moors at all hours and her son seems to be taking his 'angry teenager' moods to a whole new level - depsite her husband's assurances, Anna can't believe Paul's rages are just part of growing up.
Meanwhile, a young teacher is settling in at her first job, full of idealistic schemes to make a difference, but then the unthinkable happens and she is attacked by one of the pupils. Struggling to deal with what has happened, all she can do is go home, to the one place she feels safe but even there her version of events isn't accepted unquestioningly.
Gradually the two threads twist together into a compelling psychological thriller.

Oddly, this book has been languishing on the TBR pile since last Summer. I don't really know why it's been neglected in favour of other, and in hindsight sometimes duller, books unless maybe the cover and its blurb put me off. What ever reason, once I started it, I couldn't put it down.
What Lies Within explores the aftermath of sexual assault and the concept of nature-versus-nurture within the framework of an intense thriller. It's the sort of book that has me racing through the pages, wanting to know if my plot-guessing theories are right, but left me pondering over some of the issues raised - particularly, faced with the same circumstances, "What would I have done?". As the title says, not all danger lies outside, sometimes it's lurking within us.

Although he's published a collection of short stories previously, this is Tom Vowler's debut novel and I'm hoping there'll be more from him soon.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - adult crime, psychological thriller

Buy What Lies Within from Amazon

Monday 6 January 2014

Layla Queen of Hearts by Glenda Millard

Illustrated by Stephen Michael King
Review by The Mole

When Senior Citizen's Day is announced the children are invited to bring an elderly relative to school. Layla has no one to take and rather than share Griffin's (Layla's best friend) grandma she sets about finding someone to take of her own - and finds Miss Amelie.

Layla is one of those rare children and even rarer adults - she is naive, kind, empathic and strong willed. In fact if the world was peopled by such characters then perhaps we could enjoy world peace. In the meantime though...

As a children's story you expect a happy-ish sort of ending but you don't tend to find what you expect in The Kingdom of Silk. This is the second in the series of books and they take their name from Griffin's family - the Silks. The Silks are an uncommon family and befriend uncommon people.

The book ends on a sad note but none the less a very worthwhile one and anyone reading these books will have cause to stop and reflect on themselves and others around them.

Although the illustrator differs from book 1 in the series, they are similar in nature and once again complement the story adding appeal for the younger reader. Book 3 comes out 1st February 2014.

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children's fiction

Buy Layla Queen of Hearts (Kingdom of Silk) from Amazon

Friday 3 January 2014

The Thing About December by Donal Ryan

review by Maryom

 Johnsey Cunliffe has always been a bit 'slow', never as sharp-witted as the other boys and seen by all as the village idiot; gentle soul who wouldn't harm anything, incapable of fighting back, so an easy target for being mocked and bullied. His parents have always protected and sheltered him but now he's on his own and the world is a more confusing place than he'd ever imagined possible, and the mockery and taunting has turned to violence.
Since Johnsey's father's death, the family farm has been let out to a neighbouring farmer and the sheds and yards stand empty of livestock, but its value is on the increase. It lies in the centre of a potential money-making land-deal with the whole village hoping to benefit from developing it for housing and industry, but Johnsey doesn't want to give up his heritage, the only thing he has to link him to the stronger, cleverer Cunliffe men before him.
 Sorry, but this isn't the most cheerful, upbeat novel to start the year with - in fact, it's the opposite; an absolute heart-breaker of a read. Johnsey's tragedy is played out month by month, a chapter for each, and for each there's a comparison with how things were during his idyllic-seeming childhood, with life revolving around the farm and seasons, and how they are for him now. As Johnsey struggles to cope with being on his own, the reader gets to share his anguish and bewilderment - he knows he isn't as bright and quick as others but doesn't see why people think they can fool him all the time and trample all over his opinions and hopes. At times it's painful to read as the reader is more aware of the mess he's digging himself into than Johnsey is. I hoped against hope that somehow, some-way, everything would work out fine but it would have needed the waving of a magic wand. Even so the end came as a shock.
The Thing About December is a moving and immensely sad read but still compelling and one I think I'll come back to.
It's early days, but I think this will end up on my 2014's Pick of the Year.

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

Buy The Thing About December from Amazon

Thursday 2 January 2014

Maryom's New Year's Reading Plans

I'm going to be hitting the New Year running with several 2014 publications read and ready to review - The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh, Adele Parks' Spare Brides and Donal Ryan's The Thing About December for starters - all very very good in their differing ways.

This site is primarily about reviewing newly-published books kindly supplied by authors, publishers and publicists.This year though I want to find time for a bit of 'extra-curricular' reading.
Firstly, some of the stash of my own books that's constantly being added to but never read. I've made a good start on this by having already read one of my booky Christmas presents Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick but I have a huge pile of books picked up here and there, books I really want to read but that get ignored in favour of 'review' books.

Secondly, I want to catch up on some highly recommended books/authors that I've never read. No matter how many books you read, there's always some that slip the net. So this is a starting list and if anyone has other suggestions feel free to make them....

Deborah Moggach - because I won a stack of her novels in a Hay Festival-related competition
Steinbeck (though I did read some back in school) and Chekhov's short stories, both favourites of Rob Around Books ,
Donna Tartt, recommended by crime writer Steven Dunne who said I 'must read' The Secret History and books that other bloggers have included in their 'picks of the year' - for example; Proxima by Stephen Baxter and Abominable by Dan Simmons recommended on the For Winter Nights blog 

Thirdly, if there's any time left, to revisit some old favourites. My shelves are stacked with books I love but haven't reread in years. They need to be aired once in a while.