Friday 28 February 2014

The Darkening Hour by Penny Hancock

Review by The Mole

When Theodora Gentleman employs Mona as a maid and companion for her sick father (Alzheimer's) all is light and breezy.  Mona is employed under an agreement where if she doesn't work for Theodora then she must return to her native Morocco where poverty, a young child and a sick mother await. They hit it off straight away. But over time jealousy and paranoia take their hold and their relationship deteriorates - frighteningly so - to the point where one may actually commit murder. Or murders as the case may be.

This is one of those books that you can't carry on reading because it is too powerful but you can't leave it alone either. And while there's no happy ever after involved you will thoroughly enjoy it and become so involved you will want to shake either or both of them and scream at them "STOP! Look at what you've become!" but clearly you can't and they won't listen as they career towards unavoidable violent conflict.

What really worried me about this book is that the contract under which Mona is employed is actually a valid contract today and means such people can almost be treated, HERE in the UK, as slaves and that is worrying.

Political messages to one side, it's a thoroughly engaging read that will leave you moved, angry and just a little worried as to whether you could have been one of those characters.

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adult Psychological Thriller

Thursday 27 February 2014

Extinction by JT Brannan

review by Maryom

A team of archaeologists are searching Egypt's Valley of the Kings for the legendary "Hall of Records" but what they stumble upon is totally unexpected - and about to change history...
Strange events are occurring all over the world - a moving statue, animals and birds behaving weirdly, floods and earthquakes. Religious groups are out in force predicting the end of the world - but perhaps for once they're right?
Karl Jancklow works at a secret government research lab and is privy to information he thinks the world should be aware of and contacts old friend journalist Alyssa Durham. Now nothing underlines the importance of information more than the fact that people are willing to kill to stop it being passed on - so as you might expect there are 'bad guys' on the trail of anyone who might have an inkling of what's going on behind closed doors and a high security fence. Alyssa finds herself dragged into a battle on which the fate of the whole world depends.

 As you might expect from that plot-outline, Extinction is a roller-coaster of an action-packed read. Alyssa, with a background in climbing and war-zone reporting, is a dauntless, have-a-go heroine who could give Lara Croft a run for her money! No sooner has she escaped from one life-threatening situation than she's plunged into another, with barely a pause for breath.
JT Brannan's debut thriller, Origin, was good, but Extinction is even better. They both share certain elements - high-octane action, government conspiracy, the fate of the world resting on one couple's shoulders and the unexpected twist in the tail - but the writing is tighter, the action faster-paced, with a couple of unexpected double-crosses thrown in for good luck - and it's definitely nice to see a woman taking the lead in an action thriller.
I'm a sucker for Die Hard/Lara Croft/Indiana Jones style films and if you're looking for that in a book, here it is!

The Mole Adds... I read his self-published book, Stop At Nothing, and loved it.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Headline Publishing
Genre - adult, action adventure, conspiracy theory

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary

review by Maryom

DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake were only calling at the women's refuge to ask one of the residents to stand as witness against one of her family but walked in on a blood bath! Against all the refuge's rules, Leo Proctor called round to see his wife - and got stabbed. It seems like an open and shut case - wife taking revenge on her brutal, sadistic husband - but, as they investigate further, Rome and Noah discover things are not as simple and straightforward as they first assumed.

Someone Else's Skin is a stunning debut crime novel - but I'm not sure it's quite my kind of book. It's well written and excellently plotted - I loved the big reversal even though I picked up on some clues before DI Rome so the big reveal wasn't that great a surprise......but..... Despite being a police procedural in format, the author takes the reader inside the head and under the skin of some very disturbed people. I know some readers like to get inside the perp's mind, to see how they think, what spurs them on - but not me. I should really have been prepared - after all the title is a warning of sorts; getting under someone's skin is all very well if they're kind and loving but NOT when they're a perverted, abusive thug. I came away with too much of a creepy feeling for it to be a pleasant read but I'm sure some of you will love it. If you're a fan of Val McDermid, check this out!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Headline Publishing
Genre - adult, crime, police procedural, 

Tuesday 25 February 2014

The legend of Frog by Guy Bass

Review by The Mole

Frog lives on an island beyond the end of the world, with Buttercup. Buttercup saved Prince Frog when the end of the world came and now they live together on the island as the only things left alive. But Frog is bored - there's so little to do. There has to be more! He decides to run away and see the ended world for himself. Does that all make sense? Of course it doesn't!

This book is aimed at the younger reader - the 7+ age group - and making sense is perhaps the last thing needed in such a book. Catastrophe Pants though - they're important.

A story that is fun without being blindingly silly and adventure that will still capture the young reader and have them coming back for more. While the story does come to a logical ending it also leaves a big story to continue, leaving the reader knowing there is more to come and look forward to.

The story is also very heavily illustrated with black and white drawings and each page looking like a page from an old diary.

One thing that always bugs me is the younger reader doesn't stay young too long so sequels should not be too far apart but Frog The Barbarian is due out just six months after The Legend of Frog so the wait isn't too long in this case.

Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre - Children's 7+, Frogs, adventure

Monday 24 February 2014

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

review by Maryom

Jenn and Greg have holidayed at the Villa Ana for the past 10 yrs. With its own pool and situated in a lemon grove on the rugged west coast of Mallorca, they've always found it to be an idyllic spot. This year though their peace and tranquillity is about to be disturbed. Even alone with Greg for the first week, Jenn has found it harder to relax into a holiday mood; the holiday hoards and hippies camping rough in caves at the beach have all niggled at her. Then step-daughter Emma arrives with her boyfriend Nathan and everything is about to fall apart.
The Lemon Grove is hot, steamy and full of illicit passion but it's more than a summer sex romp. It's also a wonderful portrayal of a family reaching a turning point in their lives; the dynamics of their relationships are changing and they aren't accustomed to their new 'roles' yet.
Jenn particularly is starting to feel middle-aged, a little bit past it, no longer as sexy and desirable as she was. Her relationship with Greg is comfy and familiar. She's no longer needed in her role as mother-
substitute but Jenn hasn't settled into the new 'adult' relationship with Emma. Into this situation add one hot 17 year old boy/man - and Jenn is about to be swept off her feet - not by love, but plain lust. Nathan represents everything young, sexy, passionate and edgy missing from Jenn's comfortable life - and means nothing but trouble!
Told in the third person from Jenn's point of view, the reader feels all her yearning, guilt and helplessness in the face of this sexual infatuation, but stands back enough to realise that things can not end happily, that at best Jenn will end up looking foolish. It's a very addictive read, with descriptions that bring place and people vividly to life; a page turner in a 'will they, won't they' kind of way, but one that captures the subtle undercurrents and tensions of family life as well as Jenn's desire. 
I absolutely loved it, even the way it ended. It will make a wonderful holiday read later in the year but, for now, read it with the rain lashing down outside and find yourself transported to an island in the sun.

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

Other reviews; The Little Reader Library

Friday 21 February 2014

Winter by Christopher Nicholson

review by Maryom

Set in the 1920s, when Thomas Hardy was in his eighties, this novel explores the triangular relationship between him, his much younger second wife Florence and local amateur actress Gertrude Bugler.
Gertrude, the star of the first theatrical production, at Dorchester Corn Exchange of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, dreams of performing the role in London and becoming a professional actress. To her, Hardy is just a friendly elderly gentleman; to Hardy, she's the personification of his feminine ideal. While Hardy hides away in his study and writes love poems to Gertrude, Florence feels lonely and neglected, and is tormented by fears of where his feelings may lead him. It's a story that could almost have been written by Thomas Hardy himself.

Well, for a person who normally claims to not like them, I seem to be reading a lot of fictionalised biographies recently - and loving them!
Despite having read most of Hardy's novels, I've never concerned myself much with his personal life so this was all new to me and a fascinating glimpse into both his private and creative life. I associate him with vaguely mid-Victorian pastoral idylls, which were probably disappearing quickly even as he wrote, so it was very strange to picture Hardy in a comparatively modern setting surrounded by telephones and cars.
This story is told from three angles - both women's told in the first person, Hardy's in the third but in his style of writing as if he had become a character in one of his own tales.
Hardy comes across as someone probably rather hard to live with - he disappears into his study, writing and losing himself in memories, leaving Florence to occupy herself as best she can. Being married to a famous author hasn't turned out as she imagined it would. Lonely and childless, living in a house that seems imprinted with the memory of Hardy's first wife Emma, it's hard not to feel sorry for Florence despite the way she frets over her ailments and stokes up her jealousy.
An intimate portrait of a marriage slowly crumbling that will appeal to more than just die-hard Hardy fans.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Fourth Estate
Genre - adult fiction, fictionalised biography

Thursday 20 February 2014

The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne

review by Maryom

Four years have passed since the events of Black Roses, and Clara Vine is now an established actress at Berlin's Ufa studios about to star in a film with flying ace Ernst Udet, though like so many of the films produced there, this will be nothing more than thinly veiled piece of propaganda. Berlin has changed too in four years and the Nazi party are now firmly in control, welcoming and wooing foreign visitors like Edward, Duke of Windsor, and his wife Wallis Simpson, Charles Lindberg and two of the Mitford sisters - Unity, and Diana.  Clara still continues her dangerous balancing act passing gossip onto Joseph Goebbels while informing the British Embassy of insider information about the Nazis and their plans.
At one of the Nazis 'bride schools', young women are being trained in the domestic virtues that will be expected of them as wives of SS officers, but one of them holds a dark secret that someone is willing to kill for. Anna Hansen, ex-dancer and artists' model, seemed an unlikely choice of SS bride-to-be but the authorities seem curiously uninterested in her death and quick to cover it up. Clara, who knew Anna slightly, and her American journalist friend Mary Harker decide there's more to this than meets the eye - and decide to investigate...
Meanwhile through Udet, Clara makes friends with Ralph Sommers, a British aeronautical businessman and seemingly Nazi sympathizer, and Arno Strauss, a pilot in the technical division of the Luftwaffe conducting tests on new planes and aerial reconnaissance - areas that would surely be of interest to the British government. Through them and Mary Harker, Clara also learns of the German part in the Spanish Civil War, particularly the bombing atrocity at Guernica which points the direction that another European war might take.

The Winter Garden is a cleverly plotted thriller set against the very real backdrop of late 1930s Berlin; a world of glamour and luxury on the one hand, and squalor and food shortages on the other. A lot of the characters are of course real people and I love how Jane Thynne has brought them all to life - Goebbels with his double standards, gossipy Emmy Goering, Unity Mitford with her schoolgirl-like crush on Hitler, and her sister Diana, wife of Oswald Moseley, leader of Britain's 'blackshirts' and Nazi sympathiser.
It's a story full of tension and intrigue, in a world where it's hard to recognise friends from enemies. Clara is more confident in her role of spy now - she's been warned that the Gestapo are watching her movements, but this isn't going to put her off. They aren't the only people following her though - at one point, she has three people tailing her - all with different priorities! I often wondered how long she could go before she tripped up and revealed her secrets to the wrong person.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - thriller, historical fiction

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff

Review by The Mole

Jenni is a ghost writer who does it because she loves writing and the anonymity that ghost writing affords her. She has a secret that she has carried as a burden since she was a child 25 years ago, that has been eating away at her life and now it is starting to take the biggest bite yet. Then she agrees to ghost write a friend's mother's story only to find out she must travel to the source of her burden. There she finds she is not the only one with a dark secret weighing them down.

This book started darkly and continued that way. Friction between Jenni and her boyfriend feels like it escalates and overshadows Jenni's life and then she gets to Polvarth and she starts to hear ghosts from her past and suspects everyone she sees. When we start to hear Klara's tale of her time on Java both on the plantation and in the prison camps the story gets even darker as we hear graphic tales of the brutality and cruelty which was levelled at the prisoners. We also learn that Klara has her own secret, just as dark as Jenni's.

This story has two distinct threads to it: (1) the tale of the two women's secrets; (2) the story of the camps and the many horrors that the prisoners endured. While the thread of their secrets is a dark one it is also easier to read than the horrific story of the camps but either without the other would damage the relevance of the other - they do sort of complement each other and make each other infinitely more readable. Descriptions of life in the camps had a frightening sense of authenticity about them that really came home to me.

You could use the cliché 'emotional roller coaster' but that means there are highs and lows - it would be more accurate to say that we start off going down one side of a dark valley to the dismal floor and then start climbing out the other side but do we end up on the sunnyside of the hill or are we still in shadow? You must read for yourself to find out but I will admit that I did love the non-fairy tale ending.

A really good book even though 'enjoyable' may not be entirely accurate. I am glad I read this one from the TBR pile.

Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper)
Genre -
Adult fiction

Tuesday 18 February 2014

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

review by Maryom

Pilgrim is the code name of a former secret ops guy, sometimes known as Peter or Scott or a variety of other aliases, who having retired from the dangerous world of espionage has written a book on how to commit the perfect murder. He's beginning to wish he hadn't as someone appears to have read it, taken notes and be using it as a manual. From a textbook murder in New York, Peter or Scott or Pilgrim becomes involved in the hunt for a killer intent on carrying out not just one murder but the mass eradication of all Americans.

I'd better come straight out and say that despite all the excellent reviews I've read for this book, I Am Pilgrim didn't turn out to be my kind of spy-novel. I thought, with the murder scene that opens the book, that I was going to enjoy it but once matters moved on to the spying-game things went downhill for me. Anyone within ear-shot of me while I was reading it will know how many times I've found plot-holes or commented on this supposed super-spy's lack of 'tradecraft'; for a supposed master of his craft, Pilgrim didn't half make a lot of mistakes. The plot relies too much on coincidence and a lot of the detection seems based on guess work. It's definitely more of an action-adventure than I'd expected and if I'd been carried along by the action, I think these things would have niggled less - but sadly I wasn't, so they did.

Pilgrim doesn't have the intellectual insight of Smiley, the down to earth world weariness of Charlie Muffin, the cynicism of Harry Palmer or the glamour of Bond. Sorry, not my kind of spy-thriller at all.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher -
Bantam Press
Genre -
adult, thriller,

Monday 17 February 2014

The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett

review by Maryom

A re-issue of an old favourite from the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden, The Lost Prince is an action adventure set in the early years of the twentieth century - a time of turmoil in Eastern Europe but nowhere more so than in the war-torn country of Samavia. The true line of the monarchy was thought to have died out long ago  - yet some people still keep alive the dream that one day their Lost Prince will return to unite the country and bring back peace and prosperity for all.

Newly returned to London, Marco Loristan and his father have lived in all the capital cities of Europe, but at heart they are Samavians, true to their country and its Lost Prince. As a small boy, Marco swore an oath of allegiance to Samavia, and now the time has come when he's called upon to act. He and his new street-wise friend The Rat are sent on a secret mission across Europe taking a message to the supporters of the Lost Prince; making their way to Paris, Munich and Vienna, taking the message to all manner of people- a Chancellor, hairdresser, an elderly priest or a peasant, while trying to keep one step ahead of the beautiful spy who's out to stop them.

Although written a hundred years ago, the Lost Prince is a thrilling adventure story that will still appeal to today's young reader. It's good old-fashioned cloak and dagger stuff, full of danger and bravery - there are no hi-tech gadgets, no magic powers, just two boys pitting their wits against the enemy. There are some attitudes about class and birthright that seem very much to belong to the time in which it was written but children would probably ignore them and concentrate on the exciting, engaging plot.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Jane Nissen Books
Genre - 10+, action adventure

Buy The Lost Prince from Amazaon

Friday 14 February 2014

Feed by MJ Howes

review by Maryom

 Imagine that humans weren't at the top of the food chain...that aliens were circling the Earth in massive space ships with one intent - harvesting us! That's the horror facing 14 yr old friends Lola and Patrick. They're used to hiding whenever the Sweepers come down looking for more tasty dinner but when Lola's dad is taken in one of the raids they have to find a way to save him, even if they risk being taken too.

Feed is an attention grabbing sci-fi thriller aimed at the 10+ age group, but written in a way to appeal to young teens as well - after all, I really wanted to know how it ended and couldn't put it down! It's fast-paced, full of almost non-stop action-adventure with plenty of twists and turns that even I didn't expect.
Lola is an amazingly brave heroine, not to be put off by a little set-back or the disgusting things that she uncovers but determined to carry out her plan even when she herself is endangered, whereas Patrick is the slightly geeky 'brains' tinkering with computers and electronic circuits.
For readers looking a little beyond the surface, there's a thought-provoking concept - what if we humans weren't the top of the food chain? We farm cattle, sheep and pigs for their meat - why shouldn't Aliens treat us the same way?
There's a lot of tension and alien gore so it might not appeal to everyone - but otherwise it's an absolutely brilliant book!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - 10+, sci fi thriller

Buy Feed from Amazon

Thursday 13 February 2014

Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

review by Maryom

Mrs Hemingway is the story of not one, not two, but the four wives of Ernest Hemingway. There's a slight problem with a biographical novel of this nature that at least some readers will know how everything ends but although I knew in a vague sort of way that there'd been more than one Mrs Hemingway, I didn't realise there'd been four - and other lovers as well! - so I was intrigued to discover what exactly so many woman saw in this man.
Spanning 35 years, the novel moves from a shabby Parisian apartment to the newly-discovered French Riviera, to the Hemingway villas in Key West and Cuba, to a cold Idaho autumn, and follows Hemingway from struggling writer still full of confidence and hope, through his most productive years to dried up middle-age riddled with self-doubt. He certainly comes across as a man who lived up to every macho, larger-than-life, hunting/shooting/fishing anecdote ever told about him, always wanting to be in the thick of the action from a shrapnel injury in the first world war to helping liberate Paris (particularly wine cellars) in the second. While he's there in spirit though on every page, this isn't really "Papa" Hemingway's story but that of his wives - Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary. 
The book is spilt into four sections, one for each wife, and, starting unusually at the end of the relationship, charts its rise and fall in flashbacks. As fiction, it goes where mere biography often can't - into atmosphere and emotion. It's a very intimate book capturing the small details that make a reader feel 'there' in the scene and, throughout, the writing lured me on with the feeling of being an invisible spectator observing the characters' private moments.  I really felt I was 'there' - swimming in the Med with Hadley, seeing the streets of newly-liberated Paris with Martha and sharing Fife's loneliness in her exotic Key West garden, or Mary's despair.
Mrs Hemingway is a rather lovely book that brings these four women, and the man they all loved, to life on the page. I don't think it matters if you know everything there is to know or nothing at all about Hemingway, Naomi Woods has created a wonderful story that will appeal to all.

If, like me, you're now intrigued by Mrs Hemingway you can find out more, including photos, on

Maryom's review - 5 stars

Publisher - Picador
Genre - fictionalised biography, Hemingway

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Diary of an Unsmug Married by Polly James

Review by The Mole

Molly Bennett works for for an MP in his constituency office. She is married to Max and mother to two teenagers and despite how idyllic such a life sounds her family are as dysfunctional as it can be. She suspects her husband is having an affair with an extrovert neighbour or an imaginary customer and is also close to redundancy in his job while her son has his own seat in A&E at the local hospital. Her daughter is at university and trying to get a part time job - but only on her own terms. Then an old school friend - now something big in oil - starts flirting with her and wants to have an affair. Amidst this Vicky has started 'working' in the office and thinks that she can get everyone fired so that she can sit and look after her nails all day. Molly's insecurities build and chaos rains all around. Will Molly's life end up a total ruin? It's heading that way at supersonic speed.

A light hearted read that will lift your spirits as you see how much people can mess up their own lives. Something for the holidays perhaps where you can leave all your troubles to one side and wallow in someone else's. I found myself being judgemental of Molly's behaviour and critical of her naivety forgetting that this is what this genre of book is all about. It is compared to Bridget Jone's Diary and although I think it well deserves to fall in the same genre, there for me the comparison ends. If am to make comparisons then the closest I could make would be Outnumbered - the extremely popular TV sitcom.

A very enjoyable read so long as you don't even consider contemplating taking it seriously but just sit back and enjoy... perhaps you may be tempted to try Extreme Vacuuming though. 

Publisher - Avon
Genre - Adults, Humour, family life

Buy Diary of an Unsmug Married from Amazon

Tuesday 11 February 2014

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

review by Maryom

Daniel's parents have sold up their garden centre business and retired to a remote farm in his mother's native Sweden. For one reason or another, he keeps putting off visiting them, but believes them to be happily settled and enjoying their new life. Then out of the blue he gets a phone call from his father to tell him his mother is ill - in a psychiatric hospital. She's been imagining things, making all sorts of allegations against her new neighbours and eventually it was decided she should be hospitalised for her own good. This is shocking enough news on its own but then Dan gets a phone call from his mother - she's out of the hospital, on her way to London and everything his father said is a lie! As he listens to his mother's side of events, Dan doesn't know who to believe. One of his parents must be lying..but which..

You might have encountered Tom Rob Smith's Soviet Russia based thrillers featuring secret police officer Leo Demidov, the first of which Child 44 is currently being filmed with Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace. Well, The Farm is a rather different sort of read; a psychological thriller of words rather than action. The tale is told mainly from Dan's mother point of view, from a series of notes that she has ready prepared almost as if giving a lecture. The style is rather formal too and I found the start a little slow so it took me a while to really get involved. His mother has a dreadful tale to tell, but should we believe her? That's the question at the heart of this story; who is telling the truth? As I read, I first believed the mother, then doubted her, went back to believing and so on. As is to be expected with a thriller, the twists and turns are saved till the very end, so, if you're wondering where the story is going, hang on in there.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - psychological thriller,  adult fiction,  

Get The Farm from Amazon

Monday 10 February 2014

Spare Brides by Adele Parks

 review by Maryom

It's New Year's Eve, 1920 and four friends are getting ready for an extravagant ball to usher in the new decade. There's hope that it's now time to move on to happier, more hopeful times, but the shadow of the War still lingers in the horrendous loss of so many lives and the guilt felt by the survivors.
Spare Brides is the story of four very different friends; of how, in a world radically altered by the First World War, their lives, hopes and expectations have changed too. All come from privileged, wealthy backgrounds but there the similarities end. Ava is the daughter of an industrialist, made richer by the War; glamorous and fashionable, she turns heads where-ever she goes and can get away with almost anything but her life of parties and shallow love affairs is beginning to pale. Lydia, married to the Hon. Lawrence Chatfield, is sheltered and cosseted, living a life where harsh realities rarely intrude except for her one big disappointment, that after 8 years of marriage she remains childless. Sisters Sarah and Bea live very differently; after the death of first their parents, then Sarah's husband, they are now dependant on their crippled brother for house and home. Sarah with a war-widow's pension and two children is slightly better off but feels that life is over for her. Bea's life never really got started - all her dreams of marriage and a home of her own went out of the window with the death of her only suitor; she's too tall and too plain to find another in a world where eligible bachelors are in such short supply and so poor that she has to alter her old dresses to fit new fashions, . Their pre-war connections still see the sisters invited to fashionable parties but only out of sympathy and as favours to their richer friends.
What does the new decade hold for them? These are desperate times, when a woman needs to catch at every chance of happiness no matter where it may lead, so a chance meeting with a mysterious, extraordinarily attractive soldier shouldn't be overlooked.

Spare Brides has got everything you expect from a conventional romantic novel - glamorous parties, gorgeous clothes, an enigmatic hero and a passionate love affair - but it's far from a piece of light fluff. Alongside the glitz and glamour lies the heartbreak and devastation of the War, and it's continuing emotional impact. The story also takes a shrewd look at the changing roles and expectations of women in this period. All four women have been brought up to believe that their role in life will be as wife and mother, nothing more. But times are changing; husbands are few and far between, and women have more freedom and possibilities; hopes and ambitions need no longer be confined to the drawing room and nursery.
It's another great, absorbing read from Adele Parks. One that once started you won't want to put down, I certainly didn't.
The ending might be a little predictable but so what? Show me a Jane Austen ending that wasn't obvious a mile off!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult romantic historical fiction

Friday 7 February 2014

Icefall by Gillian Philip

review by Maryom

Seth MacGregor and his clan have been kicking their heels in exile in the mortal world for too long. Both they and their arch-enemy, Sithe queen, Kate NicNiven are growing bored and restless. The Veil which separates the two worlds is weakening with time but Kate still needs the powers of the Bloodstone to destroy it and see her world domination plans come to fruition. With this is mind she's attacking Seth's clan in the mortal world, picking them off one by one, with the hope of provoking a retaliation that will put them all back under her control. Power seems to have gone to her head though since we last encountered her, and she's no longer satisfied with the idea of ruling both Sithe and mortal realms but wants to be worshipped as a god - and is prepared to strike a deal with anyone or anything, no matter how evil, to achieve it.

I started Icefall with more than a little trepidation - I've loved the Rebel Angels series but it's always been billed as four books in length, and here we are at Book 4. It'll all end happily, won't it? The hero and his lady-love will walk off hand in hand into the sunset? Well, unfortunately that's not the Gillian Philip way; Icefall means another round of pain and suffering, anguish and heartache for characters and readers alike.
If anything, this felt grimmer than the previous books; the habitual violence of the Sithe spilling over into the 'real' world and, with Kate slowly draining Seth's soul away, emotionally bleak. It's a book where happiness is brief and only come by at great cost, so 'enjoyed' isn't the best word to describe it. Nonetheless, it's a gripping, fitting end to the story. I'm just sad to leave the Sithe and their world.

The problem always with reading a series as it's written, so to speak, is that there are inevitable gaps while waiting for the next book to be published. So in a way I envy the readers who are discovering the series for the first time - they can pick up the first book Firebrand, and work their way through with no long pauses.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Strident
Genre - fantasy, teen/YA /adult

Buy Icefall (Rebel Angels) from Amazon

Thursday 6 February 2014

The Dig by Cynan Jones

review by Maryom

The Dig is a raw, bleak story of two very different country dwellers and the inevitable collision they're heading for.
Daniel, a farmer, is desperately trying to cope with bereavement. Worn down and devastated by his loss he's still determined to carry on tending to his birthing sheep. He life is tied up in the farm, in nurturing the land and his livestock despite the harshness of his life and the setbacks encountered daily.
On the other hand, the anonymous 'big man' earns his living in the most violent way imaginable, killing rats on local farms and digging badgers out of their setts and supplying them to people for 'sport'. The only glimmer of affection he shows is for his dogs, though even then it's linked to their ability as rat-catchers or badger-baiters.
The Dig isn't about a sunshiny, cows-in-pasture, rural idyll but takes an unblinkered look at the harsh realities of the countryside; the sheep aren't cute bundles of fluff gambolling in the fields but animals made of blood and guts; badger-baiting is no country 'sport' but pure vicious brutality.
Jones has an astounding ability to conjure feelings and sense of place by a few well chosen words. I felt I could share Daniel's grief and his commitment to the land that is part of him, the big man's animal cunning and fear of being trapped, and also the sheer terror of the tormented badger. At times, because of how immersed I felt, it was a hard book to read.
There are many disturbing passages but two stand clear for me; the horrible violence done in the name of sport to the badger and, to a lesser extent, the dogs in the baiting pit - what people find to enjoy in maiming animals or encouraging them to fight each other is beyond me -  and the chapter where a boy is taken along to a badger dig as if initiating him into becoming a 'man'. It isn't the fun experience the boy had expected but, to avoid losing face, he forces himself to join in and is persuaded that he's enjoying it.

It's a grim, shocking and stomach-turning read; the one brief moment of pure happiness that lights up the end casts the rest into even deeper darkness. It's not for the faint-hearted or squeamish. And yet, I'd say 'read it'. You'll come away moved.

Following on from this, I interviewed the author about The Dig, badger-baiting and not twisting the story to reach a happy ending Cynan Jones - author interview The Dig

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

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Perry Angel's Suitcase by Glenda Millard

Illustrated by Stephen Michael King
Review by The Mole

Perry is a quiet little boy who comes to live in the Kingdom of Silk - at least for a while. Since being orphaned he has had many new homes and there's always one more. He doesn't speak to anyone lest he lets out his secret but he hasn't reckoned on the power of the Silks (not to forget Layla, the honorary Silk) and the secrets that they hold in their hearts.

This is the third book in the series of The Kingdom of Silk books and before I picked it up I wondered how it could not repeat itself from either of the first two books... but it doesn't. Once again we see the kindness that people can afford others and just wish that everyone could be like that.

A lovely story that's dealt with in a gentle and delicate manner showing that everyone has their own story to tell and should be respected for that. It's also a beautiful book, with frequent black and white illustrations to engage the young reader and the story will challenge them and make them think.

A very enjoyable book and it leaves me wondering where book four will go.

The Naming of Tishkin Silk (Book 1)
Layla Queen of Hearts (Book 2)

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children's fiction

Buy Kingdom of Silk: Perry Angel's Suitcase from Amazon

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Burn by Julianna Baggott

review by Maryom

Well, here we are at the end of Julianna Baggott's Prime Trilogy - Pure, Fuse and now Burn. If you haven't caught any of it, (though why haven't you?) it's set in a brilliantly-conceived post-apocalyptic dystopia, where the Detonations have changed the world, dividing the population into two groups - the Pure who took refuge in the protected environment of the Dome, and the Wretches who were forced to stay outside and were altered by the blasts, often fused to objects or other people they were near to at the time of the blasts. A bleak world with little hope for either side unless a way can be found for them to live together.

I don't want to talk too much about the plot because almost anything will give away spoilers for the earlier books - and you do have to have read them first. Pressia now feels she has found a possible cure for the Wretches' sufferings but the only people with the knowledge to apply it are inside the Dome - with Partridge returned there, is it possible that the Pure will help? Well, sadly, with Partridge in charge it's not very likely. Power hasn't quite corrupted him, but it certainly seems to have taken away his ability to make decisions; dithering between options he ends up led by others. While Pressia wants to save everyone, and Partridge wants to preserve the status quo,  El Capitan and Bradwell are both determined, for differing reasons, to bring down the Dome whatever the personal cost, and Lyda wants to save herself; after her experiences outside, the Dome now feels fake but she's virtually imprisoned there.

I thought things started out a little lumpy and bumpy - there were so many separate threads up and running that none went far before swapping to another. As events brought the threads back together and the story picked up pace, I became as gripped as before. For a novel of slightly over 400 pages, it certainly flew past!
I had half dreaded that after the first two books, the author might choose to round everything off in some easy, unrealistic, happy ever after finale  - I'm decidedly pleased that she didn't! I think how you view the ending will depend on which character you had most sympathy for, but for me it was a satisfying 'in character' climax, desperately sad but still filled with hope.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Headline Publishing
Genre - YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian

Buy Burn (Prime Trilogy 3) from Amazon

Other reviews; For Winter Nights, 
                       Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Monday 3 February 2014

The Templar Prophecy by Mario Reading

Review by The Mole

The first part of the story timeshifts back to 1190 when the Holy Lance is given into the care of Johannes von Hartelius and his descendants. We then timeshift again to Hitler's Bunker 1945 and Hitler has now gained control of the Holy Lance but entrusts von Hartelius' descendant with conveying it, along with other materials, to Bavaria. The plane gets shot down and shifting back to modern times the lance has found it's way to Guatemala.

John Hart gets a message from his estranged father - a man he hasn't seen since John was 3 - to visit him urgently in Guatemala, but when he does, he finds him murdered - crucified - and the lance gone. John is befriended by his father's common law wife before she too is brutally murdered and her home ransacked. He follows the trail back to Bavaria and tries to recover the lance but falls head over heels in love instead.

I have to admit that at times I couldn't see the trail that Hart follows or how assumptions are made - it just seems too easy at times. And can anyone place so much trust in someone while ignoring all the evidence?

Putting these quibbles to one side, I enjoyed the story as we encountered sex, violence, betrayal, chases and love (although the sex did outnumber the others). I became truly involved and wanted to keep telling him where he was obviously going wrong. And when the story of the lance ended I felt a little cheated by the way the main characters were left with their lives hanging. Described as a "suspenseful, page-turning conspiracy thriller" and it certainly ticked all those boxes for me!

Publisher - Atlantic Books
Genre - Adult conspiracy thriller

Buy The Templar Prophecy from Amazon