Thursday 31 July 2014

A Bright Moon for Fools by Jasper Gibson

Review by The Mole

Harry Christmas is a conman who has conned one too many. Now he is on the run from a lover's stepson who clearly wants him dead. Fleeing to Caracus would seem far enough to be safe - but is it?

Harry is also a hopeless drunk and that actually fuels his crimes so arriving in Caracus with his trousers on backwards doesn't surprise him - although he didn't know that he'd done it.

Harry is one of those fictional characters you will probably dislike from the off and find it difficult to get started in the story, but if you stick with it you will start to be more tolerant of him as he blunders from situation to situation and you may actually grow to like him. He is a hopeless womaniser and comes across as sexist but is he really? Some events in his journey are laugh out loud funny and many are extremely sad and moving but as the book moves on the humour is replaced by his frustrations of the chase, his anger of violence against innocents and his regrets at his own stupidity.

An extremely enjoyable book that, while very emotional at many times, will not bring you to tears but will have you joining in Harry's condemnations of his own actions.

Publisher - Simon and Schuster
Genre - Adult Thriller

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

review by Maryom

 After eight years in Homicide with Detroit police department, detective Gabi Versado thought she'd seen every possible way to die - but the latest death still shocks her. Only the upper half of the young boy's body is there - below the waist it's been attached to the lower half of a deer! What kind of monster would do such a thing and why?
 While Gabi and her team try to track down the killer, others have their own concerns; her teenage daughter Layla and friend Cas are trawling the internet looking for paedophiles; journalist Jonno is trying to put grief and his life in New York behind him and make a new start in Detroit; TK is emptying the contents from abandoned homes and businesses, and helping out at the homeless shelter; and down on his luck artist Clayton Broom thinks he's found inspiration at last....

 Broken Monsters is the new thriller from Lauren Beukes, the author of The Shining Girls, and again she's mixing nail-biting thriller with a touch of the supernatural. I know this isn't quite everyone's taste - they prefer their crime, no matter how disturbing, to be set very firmly in the real  world - but I loved it. What matters to me is that the characters, and their motivations and desires, ring true, and they do here. And what an array of characters and story-lines! All of the sub-plots are up in the air at once, weaving in and out of each other, deftly juggled so none falls flat, and leading to a dramatic meeting of the ways.
 Detroit is almost a character is its own right; a fabulous setting - a contrast of derelict buildings and vibrant art scene with 'pop-up' installations and events in abandoned properties - absolutely the right place for a thriller of this kind.
It's a hard-hitting and disturbing novel which opens with a real stomach-churning moment but the writing style pulled me in and held me. If I could have read it cover to cover without a break, I would have!

Maryom's review - 5
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper)
Genre - Adult crime thriller 

Monday 28 July 2014

Bocchi + Pocchi and the Bird by Noriko Matsubara

Review by The Mole

Readers may remember Bocchi and Pocchi in A Tale Of Two Socks and this book is structured along very similar lines.

Once again, both written and illustrated by Noriko Matsubara, the colours are bright, the pictures simple and the text brief and vocabulary uncomplex.

In this story the socks meet a bird who has hurt her wing and they offer their help.

Another good book for the very young reader to quickly read and enjoy while, perhaps, reading aloud to a parent or teacher.

The only comment I have about both these books is based on the socks names - why are they spelt like that, how are they pronounced, and if they are pronounced "bocky" and "socky" would it not be easier for the young reader to spell them that way?

That aside they are both lovely books for the very young reader to have a go at.

Publisher - Troika Books
Genre - Children's Picture book/first reader

Friday 25 July 2014

A Place for Us by Harriet Evans

review by Maryom

Winterfold is a special sort of place - for 45 years it's been the home of Martha and her artist husband David, the place they've brought up their three children, and thrown open to neighbours for Christmas celebrations, Summer garden parties, Bonfire Night fireworks. The children are now all grown; Daisy out in India involved in charity work; Florence, a professor of art history in Florence; only the eldest, Bill, now the local GP, has stayed close to home. But Martha's 80th birthday is approaching and she's decided that will be the ideal occasion to gather them back together - and spill some long-held family secrets. 

As you can guess this is a family saga where the real state of their lives lies hidden behind a smiling façade. It opens with a fantastic attention-grabbing first line - "The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day" - that had me just longing to know what she was going to do, what she'd reveal and, above all, why. I'm still on tenterhooks though for this novel is being published as a first four-part e-book serial - the first part now (31st July), the others to follow at monthly intervals - and then the whole story in a paperback edition in January 2015.
Part One has set the scene brilliantly with a dispersed family, each hugging their own secrets that you know are all going to come tumbling out and shake their world; some of them I warmed to and sympathised with, some I didn't - just like real families. So far I'm loving it - great characters, a plot to hook me and a promise of more secrets to be unearthed. But just as I was getting really immersed in their world it ended - and on a revelation that shook my whole view of what I'd read so far.
Now I'm desperately waiting for Part 2! 

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline Review
Genre - adult fiction, family saga

Thursday 24 July 2014

The Road Between Us by Nigel Farndale

review by Maryom

June 1939 - two young men are arrested in a London hotel. Charles and Anselm are lovers - not a problem today but in 1939 it's illegal and, when they are discovered in compromising circumstances, there are penalties to be paid. Charles, a pilot in the RAF, is court-martialled for 'conduct unbecoming', and Anselm, an artist studying at the Slade, is deported back to Germany where he is sent to be 're-educated' in a labour camp. Separated by the war sweeping through Europe and by the prejudice of society, can their love survive?
In the present day - Charles's son, Edward, having been captured on a diplomatic mission to Afghanistan and held for eleven years in a cave is eventually freed. The timing and means of his release are puzzling - who, after all this time, has stepped in and paid the captors' ransom demands? Back home, Edward finds the world hard to adjust to. The everyday world has changed a lot in 11 years but there are more personally disturbing changes - his wife Frejya has died and Hannah, the daughter he remembers as a 9 year old, has grown into a carbon copy of her.

The Road Between Us is a compelling story wrapped around themes of discrimination, intolerance and the overwhelming power of love. The two story-lines unfold alternately, teasing the reader on to discover where and how they'll meet - for you know they will - uncovering deeply hidden family secrets on the way.
At its core The Road Between Us is a story about love - the strength that it gives, the power that it can hold over us and the sacrifices that have to be made for it - but it's not a cute hearts and flowers romance. It's dark, often distressing and disturbing in a variety of ways. Anselm's life in the labour camp is filled with casual cruelty - kept on the minimum rations, worked till exhaustion, experimented on in the name of rehabilitation, men are singled out for torture or summarily executed at the whim of the camp's commander - Edward's solitary imprisonment in the dark plays on all our fears of claustrophobia and abandonment, and the physical, sexual attraction between him and Hannah, particularly Hannah's willingness to give in to it is disquieting to say the least. Taken as a whole, it's a deeply affecting story, one well worth a re-read  but first I'll catch up on the author's previous novel.

Somehow this book passed me by when it was first published and I only came across it thanks to the #bookadayuk initiative on Twitter started by Borough Press and now continuing with Doubleday where it was mentioned as a book that hadn't received the attention it deserved. I'm so glad I found it - even if a little late.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Genre - adult fiction,

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Love Insurance by Earl Derr Biggers

review by Maryom
British aristocrat Lord Harrowby is set to marry American heiress Cynthia Meyrick - he may be deeply in love but it's also a financially convenient match so, just in case, he decides to approach the new York branch of Lloyds and take out insurance against the possibilty of his fiancée calling it all off.  Although they're used to odd insurance requests, this seems the strangest of all but they agree to take it on with the proviso that one of their staff, Dick Minot, joins the happy couple in Florida for the final week of wedding preparations to ensure nothing comes between them. Unfortunately, on the train journey south Dick meets a fascinating young woman and promptly falls in love - then discovers she's the bride-to-be! Torn between his job and his feelings, what IS Dick to do?

Love Insurance is a delightful romcom-style novel that it's hard to believe was first published in 1914.
Although it's the last thing he wants to happen, poor Dick finds himself having to fend off all sorts of last-minute obstacles in the way of the wedding and help the couple on their way to living happily ever after  - and there are all manner of things trying to get in the way of the wedding - someone claiming to be Harrowby's long lost elder brother, therefore the real Lord Harrowby; the mysterious disappearance of a famous diamond necklace; an actress with incriminating letters.....   It's no wonder Cynthia's father's demands to call off the wedding are growing more heated!
It does have a few things that date it - primarily the fact that Florida is seen as a quaint winter holiday destination for the rich seeking to escape the northern cold, rather than a tourist hot-spot flooded with visitors from all over the world - but it's a light, enjoyable read with lots to appeal to today's reader.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Hesperus Press
Genre -  adult fiction, humour, romcom  

Monday 21 July 2014

The Broken King by Philip Womack

Review by The Mole

When Simon's sister, Anna, starts to tease too much, Simon loses his temper and, to frighten her, recites a nursery rhyme that invites the Broken King to take her away. The poem doesn't bother Anna but terrifies Simon when Anna is taken away in front of his very eyes. The next day, before his parents waken, he finds that she really has gone and flees the house looking for her. Meeting a winged deer he learns he must go to the Broken Kingdom to get her back. On the way he meets Flora who did exactly the same to her elder brother, Johnny, and is starting a similar quest. On their journey they meet people who can't exist, go to places that are impossible, solve insoluble riddles and encounter terrifying enemies.

This is the first in a series entitled "The Darkening Path" and it really is a great start to the trilogy. While we know Simon and Flora are the "good" guys they learn to doubt everyone they meet along the way - even the ones that give them real positive assistance and this keeps the reader looking at every nuance of the story for some sign that may lead to betrayal. With the reader so heavily engaged the book flies by and then... Well it's a trilogy as I say and they must wait for book 2!

Plenty of horror, plenty of monsters, lots of action - everything the young fantasy reader will love. Described as for the 11+ reader it will be enjoyed by any competent reader as our two young protagonists set out on a quest of atonement to try to retrieve their siblings.

Publisher - Troika Books
Genre - Children's fantasy, 11+

Friday 18 July 2014

Making the most of your summer writing course

Rather unusually today we are featuring a submission by Shelley Weiner, a tutor from the Faber Academy. We are very much aware that there are a lot of budding authors out there and without them where will the next JK Rowling come from. This post is for everyone who wants to become a published author.

So you’re on the brink of signing up for a summer writing course – and, about to take the plunge, are nervously wondering what the best possible outcome can be? 

A brilliant novel and/or sparkling short story, obviously. We all want that. And in my work as a tutor/mentor, I have isolated SEVEN VITAL FACTORS that will inspire new writers to leave a workshop or session with a surge of creative energy and the tools to channel this energy into a stronger, better piece of fiction:

1.      SHARED ALLEGIANCE. The important (and, ideally, only) thing that writing group participants should share with one another is allegiance to the work. No egos. No ‘stuff’. Or as little as possible when a group of people collaborate on something as precious as an unfolding piece of fiction.

2.      COLLABORATION. I like to see the workshop process as collaborative editing rather than teaching. We work together to make the writing as good as it is possible to be.

3.      SUBJECTIVITY. I always make it very clear to new writers that – even though my responses are informed by years and years of writing and teaching – there is always a level of subjectivity and, with this in mind, the opinions of the group are at least as valid as mine.

4.      DISCUSSION. My input is therefore a series of suggestions rather than instructions, and always open to discussion.

5.      TRUTH. My undertaking, as tutor, is to inhabit the story or fictional world that is presented to me, and to base all my responses on being true – as I see it – to this world.

6.      TRANSPARENCY. I always say that the best writing doesn’t show. It enables the reader to see straight into the heart of what a writer wants to convey; anything that distracts along the way (purple prose? Over-elaborate layout? Bad spelling? Characters who act/speak out of character) should be firmly addressed.

7.      GOALS. Clear goals are important. When we first meet we agree on the best possible realistic outcome for each participant. We check at the end of the process how far these goals have been met.

Shelley Weiner is an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, journalist and creative writing tutor at Faber Academy. Her summer course ‘The 5 Day Short Story’ begins on 4 August. To view the summer programme visit @FaberAcademy

Wednesday 16 July 2014

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

review by Maryom

Ajatashatru has for years been impressing the people of his small Indian village with his tricks and sleight of hand, fooling them into thinking he is a real magic-working fakir. Now he's persuaded them to buy him a new bed of nails - not just any old bed of nails though, but the Ikea Hertsyorbak, to buy which he needs to travel to Paris - again funded by the villagers. His long-distance shopping trip is going fine - till he discovers the bed he wanted is out of stock and he must return the next day.  Having to spend an unexpected night in Paris, Ajatashatru decides to do what many of us have probably wanted to try - stay in an Ikea show-home -  until he hears people approaching... Could it be Security coming to throw him out? If so, will he be able to get back into the store the next day to pick up his lovely new bed? Hiding inside a wardrobe seems like the sensible thing to do....but it's just the start of Aja's adventures...

This is, as the title says, the story of an extraordinary journey - one which starts like the Pevensie children's with a wardrobe - but instead of going through the wardrobe Narnia-style, Ajatashatru gets carried away in one! Taken to Great Britain very much against his will, Aja wants to do nothing more than get back to the Ikea store in Paris, to pick up his bed of nails and maybe, if luck is on his side, be reunited with the fascinating French woman he met in the cafeteria. Other people have different plans for him though, and he finds himself travelling this way and that across Europe - with a brief stop over in Libya - by truck, plane or boat, floating off in a hot air balloon or stowing away in a trunk; making new friends as he goes - from illegal immigrants to a beautiful actress; pursued by an irate Parisian taxi-driver and his relations; shedding his con-artist life and re-inventing himself as a person who spreads goodness wherever he goes.

It's a story of bizarre events and improbable coincidences which despite its overall light-hearted, even farcical, feel, also has serious comments to make about the plight of illegal immigrants -  exploited by everyone who 'helps' them on their way, shunted from one country to another, neither reaching their hoped-for destination nor able to go home.

Translated by Sam Taylor

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harville Secker
Genre -  adult fiction, humour

Monday 14 July 2014

The Keeper by John Lescroart

Review by The Mole

When Hal Chase's wife goes missing then the police are quick to start a murder investigation despite there being little or no evidence that she is dead. Hal is quick to get Dismas Hardy to represent him as his lawyer and, in turn, Dismas engages Abe Glitsky, a retired police officer, to find Katie (Hal's wife). Hal gets taken into custody and put in the jail where he works, but as a warder he is afforded almost hotel style accommodation.

Abe sets out looking for Katie or at least another suspect - and therein lies the problem, who but Hal would benefit from her death?

This is the second Dismas Hardy story I have read and while I knew some of the back story, that itself was not at all important in this book.

Abe is now faced with the difficult task of proving a suspect is innocent whereas his career as a police officer was focused on finding someone who is guilty and this shift in thinking is brought out well by the author.

Towards the end when things start to wrap up you are left with a feeling that this is a very scrappy ending but it's not done yet and Lescroart pulls a rabbit or two out of the hat that really left me thinking "Yes, that makes sense - and it's not a 'how convenient ending' either".

I did enjoy The Ophelia Cut but The Keeper is an even better read with a better ending and a better melding of the characters. A really good crime thriller that isn't burdened with too much procedure or blind alleys but still springs surprises throughout.

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult crime thriller

Friday 11 July 2014

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

review by Maryom
Tom Hawkins is used to living on his wits, making his 'living' at cards and gambling, but now his luck has deserted him and he finds himself in debt; in 1727 that means being sent to gaol. Inside the Marshalsea debtors' prison,  he's given a spare bed in the lodgings of Samuel Fleet, one of the few people imprisoned for matters other than debt and regarded by many as a devil, striking fear wherever he goes. The spare bed though turns out to have been that of Captain Roberts, a recently murdered inmate who now supposedly haunts the gaol. Tom is offered a deal - help track down Roberts' ruthless killer and he'll go free. Sidetracked by the captain's attractive widow, suspicious of his 'room-mate' Samuel Fleet (believed by many to be the murderer),victimised by his gaolers, Tom walks a dangerous line as he tries to uncover the truth.

The Devil in the Marshalsea is a richly atmospheric novel full of the sights and smells of this abominable place,brought to us through the naive eyes of Tom. At first he thinks he could settle quite comfortably -  until he realises that he's only seen the more presentable side of the Marshalsea and that beyond a dividing wall is the 'Common Side' where those without any money or outside influence are crammed together in the most appalling disease-ridden conditions. It's almost unbelievable that people could be mistreated in such a way but the end goal of the prison is to turn a profit, and there's always someone willing to turn a blind eye for that!

The novel's strengths lie more in historical atmosphere than detection. It's difficult at first to see why newcomer Tom is picked to investigate the murder - surely the Governor has men of his own who could have done the job? - but, through luck more than detective skills, he at last uncovers the culprit and, as with all good murder mysteries, everything is revealed at the end.
An interesting addition to historical crime novels - and I'm hoping there'll be more to come about Tom Hawkins.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, historical crime

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Snowdrops by A D Miller

review by Maryom

Nick is engaged and about to get married but first he's got something he needs to come clean about to his fiancée.
Back when he worked in Moscow as a quiz-kid corporate lawyer, enabling dodgy financial deals, Nick found himself sucked in to a similar, more private, one. Seduced by the enigmatic Masha, he left his scruples and morals behind and went with the flow, agreeing to anything to please her, only discovering too late what he'd become involved with....

This is one of those books that I'd heard a lot of praise for, managed to come late to the reading of but that left me feeling a bit flat and wondering what all the fuss was about. Set in modern, post-Communist get-rich-quick Russia, it's a tale of the rapid disintegration of moral standards - of society in general and of one man, Nick, in particular. It's told in the form of a letter to his fiancée and ok this is just a plot device but it doesn't ring true - as a confession of past misdeeds he probably could have summed it up in 2 sides of A4. The big reveal of what he's done is too long in coming and too obvious beforehand.

At the heart of my reaction, though, is that I didn't really 'warm' to Nick. He made a lot of protestations about his innocence and gullibility, but somehow they never rang true. If he ever was that naive, the 'ask no questions, hear no lies' attitude of his workplace had definitely rubbed off on him long before he met Masha, and no matter how many times he claims to be sorry for what he did, I didn't feel he was - and that he'd do it again given the opportunity. An innocent led astray deserves a level of sympathy; a lawyer on the make doesn't.

I've seen a different take on this New Russia of money, muscle and hustle through the eyes of Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko - in Tatiana and Stalin's Ghost - and I prefer his grimier, tackier world.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars  
Publisher - Atlantic Books
Genre - adult fiction,

Monday 7 July 2014

The Bone Seeker by MJ McGrath

review by Maryom

In an attempt to get away from the disturbing events of the past, Edie Kiglatuk has taken a job as a summer school teacher in Kuujuaq, another Inuit community on Ellesmere Island 70 kilometres further along the coast. She's hoping for peace and quiet but when one of her teenage pupils goes missing, Edie finds herself dragged into a murder investigation. The community are convinced that Martha's killer must have come from the nearby military base but Edie feels this is just too simple a solution, especially when the military step in and take control of the case, and persuades her friend police sergeant Derek Palliser to continue the investigation secretly. Also puzzled by events is lawyer Sonia Gutierrez, in Kuujuaq pursuing a case against the military relating to the clean-up and decontamination of a decommissioned early warning base. Could there be a link between activities at the old base and Martha's death?

The Bone Seeker is a thriller with an unusual backdrop - the Canadian High Arctic. It's set in the brief summertime when the sun never sets, temperatures 'soar' to 10 degrees and the tundra bursts into flower. Against this bleak but beautiful landscape long-buried secrets are being revealed. Edie's hunting instincts tell her that there's more to discover than the murderer's identity. The trail is as confusing and complex as any reader could wish for as it leads Edie off in one direction, sidetracks her in another, then doubles round into a third or fourth.

This is the first Edie Kiglatuk story I've read so there was a fair bit of back-plot to catch up on, which made the early chapters a little hard going, but once Edie was a the trail of the killer the pace picked up. I was just left at the end wondering if all the ends had been tied off neatly - maybe I missed something...

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adult,
murder mystery

Friday 4 July 2014

The Statistical Probablity of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E Smith

review by Maryom

Hadley is flying to London to be a bridesmaid at her dad's wedding. She's not looking forward to this at all, as it will put the final seal on the end of her parents' marriage, so maybe it isn't completely accidental that she misses her flight by the smallest of margins. If she hadn't missed it though, she'd never have met Oliver. A Brit studying in the US, he's also heading to London for a family event, and, as he helps while away the tedious hours  waiting for her re-scheduled flight and distracts Hadley from her fears on the flight itself, they start to form a connection that surely can't be broken as they leave the plane...

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is, as you might expect, a story of falling in love at, not quite but almost, first sight; a feelgood teen romance of missing connections and making new ones. It's fairly obvious where the story is going but there are enough hitches and obstacles put in Hadley and Oliver's way to keep an element of doubt. It's delightful and light without being fluffy or overly-sentimental. If there's a downside, it's that, like me, you'll want to read it in one sitting - and then be left with nothing to read.

I somehow missed this book when it was first out and worked my way round to it through This Is What Happy Looks Like and The Geography of You and Me so I sort of knew what to expect from the author and I think it had less of an impact than if I'd read it first.
Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher - Headline  
Genre - rom com, teen/YA

Thursday 3 July 2014

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

review by Maryom

Out today in paperback, with a brand new cover, is Natalie Young's Season To Taste or How To Eat Your Husband.
Not for the squeamish and easily upset, this is the tale of Lizzie Prain who one day takes a spade and murders her husband - and then finds herself with a body to dispose of. Never one to let anything go to waste, Lizzie decides the 'moral', environmentally-friendly thing to do is eat him!
It's dark and funny - and I loved it.

See my full review from January here

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.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Spare Brides by Adele Parks

 review by Maryom

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll remember me singing the praises of Spare Brides when it was first published back in February. Now, for anyone who missed it or read and loved a library copy, it's out in paperback!

Beginning on New Year's Eve 1920, 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. One is a widow, one rather dully married, one not interested in the marriage market and one desperate to find anyone to love.

 "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!

If you're intrigued, you can find out more on the author's blog

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult, historical romance,

Tuesday 1 July 2014

The Incarnations by Susan Barker

review by Maryom

Wang is a Beijing taxi driver, married in a happy-enough but dull sort of way with a young daughter, plodding along in his daily routine till one day he finds a letter left for him in his cab. The letter turns out to be the first of many, comprising a series of short stories, cameos from China's often brutal past, in which two lovers meet in a series of reincarnations. The author claims to be one of this pair of lovers- and that Wang is the other; that they have met, loved and betrayed many times over the centuries, and will meet again soon.
All this coincides with the reappearance in Wang's life of a former lover - a male prostitute, towards whom he feels both attracted and repelled. Is he responsible for the letters? Is it just an elaborate attempt to win back Wang's affection? Someone is definitely stalking Wang and his family, growing closer and intent on harming them.

The Incarnations is a real epic of a novel; a complex story jumping backwards and forwards in time, it's story of desire and betrayal working itself out time and again over the centuries against the backdrop of China's history from the extravagant but dangerous Emperor's court to the schoolrooms of the 1960s Cultural Revolution; the two lovers are father and daughter, young captives by invading Mongols or concubines plotting to kill the Emperor. To further complicate matters, the story also jumps between Wang's life as it is now and flashbacks to show how he came, from a high position in society, to hold such a lowly one.
It's an amazing blending together of all these threads and themes: a potted history of China mixed with a compelling read which captures the atmosphere of these various historical periods and gives a wonderful insight into life in those times.
 I just found one slight niggle, it reminded too much of Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt - though that is an alternate history of the world if European civilisation had collapsed with the Black Death, whereas The Incarnations is set very firmly in real events.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult contemporary literary fiction, historical fiction