Tuesday 30 September 2014

The Dead Pass by Colin Bateman

review by Maryom

When Dan Starkey is approached by Moira Doherty, a sad-faced little old lady for help in finding her missing, believed murdered, son, he thinks she's just a concerned mother. At first he's not thrilled at getting a case to investigate in Derry but when Moira turns out to have been a political activist back in the day and  is herself found dead, Dan finds himself drawn in against his better judgement. In the unfamiliar surroundings of Derry he finds an underworld of drugs, porn and gangster terrorists looking to make their mark...

This is one of those books that turn up for review, totally unexpectedly, and I just pick it up out of curiosity  - and think 'I'll give it a look-see'  then Wow! Why had I never heard of this guy? Because despite the long string of novels to his credit - and screen plays and the TV series Murphy's Law - I hadn't. (sorry, Colin, if you're reading this) You can probably tell I liked this book, a lot!
If you're a fan, you'll know what to expect but if like me, you're a newcomer, then expect a Philip Marlowe-style first person private-eye thriller set against the backdrop of present day Northern Ireland with its sub-culture of gangsters and terrorists. Dan Starkey is the same sort of wise-cracking guy, with a funny line always ready - and always getting him in trouble. The setting is as 'noir' and the plot as convoluted as you could wish for.
As for me, I'm off to check my stash of unread crime books, or, failing that, the library in the hope of finding more by Colin Batemen turns out this is number NINE of a series so I've some catching up to do

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

Monday 29 September 2014

All the Colours of Paradise by Glenda Millard

Illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Review by The Mole

This is the fourth book in the "Kingdom Of Silk" series and here we learn more about Perry Angel and Layla learns that it is possible to hate.

There is little to be said about this series that I haven't said already.

"The message it carries, with so great an effect, is as relevant to parents as it is to children, and I found, as a parent, that the story was highly readable"

"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" although that is something that can extend to all of the residents of the Kingdom of Silk.

" 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."

Perry is different - as we all are - from others and struggles to understand everything and everyone in the world around him. He finds he can express himself best in drawing and painting. Here we learn how he is helped to cope with those differences. Another beautiful story but with a hint that the eldest Rainbow Girl, Scarlet, is not so different from normal teenagers. But more from Scarlet in book 5.

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children's fiction

Friday 26 September 2014

The Visitors by Simon Sylvester

review by Maryom

17 year old Flora has always lived on the small Scottish island of Bancree - and it's always seemed a dull, safe sort of place, that she can't wait to leave. When newcomers, a man and his daughter, move into an abandoned house on lonely Dog Rock, Flora is curious about them. After-all, why would anyone pick such an out-of-the-way place to live?  Flora and the daughter Ailsa quickly become friends but the father seems withdrawn and menacing, not making any attempt to fit in with the community.
 At the same time, people have been disappearing from the island - maybe they've just fallen in the sea and been washed away, or got lost on the way home from the pub and are now lying in a ditch, but could there be a killer at large?

The Visitors is a mix of coming of age novel, psychological thriller and myth, set on a remote weather-beaten island somewhere vaguely in the Hebrides. It opens well, setting the scene as Flora and her boyfriend part company as he heads off south to university, capturing her frustration that she must wait another year before it's her turn to head off into the wide world. With another disappearance plus the arrival of newcomers, the atmosphere of fear and mistrust builds, and in between Flora listens to traditional tales of the selkies - sea-creatures, half-human, half-seal, that capture the hearts of fisherman  - and wonders if all these things are related. 
 Now, I'm not averse to novels that mix and mash up reality and fantasy, and as fond of a gothic thriller as the next person - I loved Lauren Beukes' Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls both of which are in a similar vein mixing murder and supernatural, and Amy Sackville's different take on the selkie myth, Orkney - but this didn't grab me. I wondered why, because the story-telling was good and the main characters believable. Then checking links and such for this post, I realised - too much is given away in the 'blurb'; instead of leaving the mystery to unfold as the book is read, most of the reveals are given away in it. It's rather a pity as I think if I'd read it 'cold', I'd have enjoyed it much more.

Another of the shortlist for this year's Not The Booker Prize - see also my review of Iain Maloney's First Time Solo
Maryom's review -  3.5 stars
Publisher - Quercus 
Genre - Adult/YA crossover, thriller,

Thursday 25 September 2014

The Gentle Assassin by Ryan David Jahn

Review by The Mole

Andrew Combs grew up with his grandparents because when he was just 18 months his father, Harry Combs, had pulled him from their burning home and started to run from both the police and Rathbone, a shirt manufacturer who fronted for a network of hit men - professional assassins. Andrew's mother and her lover had both been shot before the fire and the fire deliberately set to 'clean' the area. Now at the age of 27, Andrew has used letters from his father, letters he was not supposed to find, to trace him through a private detective - and he wants revenge for the death of his mother.

Does Andrew really have what it takes to exact revenge or can he find it in his heart to forgive and build bridges to a happy and safe future? Unfortunately his efforts to locate his father have woken up other sleeping dogs who want his father dead - but does he still have what it takes to stay alive?

Scattered throughout are extracts from a believed genuine CIA manual on assassination containing things that are at times funny and often worrying that it can discuss the subject so coldly!

I found this an unusual story because while it is one of a broken family trying to address their history it is also packed with action and emotion. The back story is exposed quite early on but is added to at frequent intervals throughout the book so that the reader understands the drivers behind Andrew but how accurate is any history - or the guilt and hate that can be fed by it.

The story flits between Harry and Andrew and frequently to Andrew's fantasies of revenge - something that is achieved very successfully and further helps the reader to understand this troubled young man.

The final scene can be read as a "get out" - how can Jahn extricate the characters from this mess he has built and embroiled the reader in, and at the same time give an ending that the reader wants or at leasts accepts - but there is a natural justice to the outcome despite not being the ending I would have liked.

The first Jahn I have read and hopefully it won't be the last. An excellent, if rather violent read.

Publisher - Pan Macmillan
Genre - Adult fiction, crime thriller

Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Last Boat Home by Dea Brovig

review by Maryom

Else was like any other teenager in her small Norwegian town, catching the ferry to school each day, sneaking out at night to meet her boyfriend Lars, and dreaming of the day she'd leave her close-knit community for the wider world. Dreams that end when she falls pregnant.
Now 30 years later, Lars' return to their home town, makes Else face up to her past and the events that shaped her life.

The Last Boat Home is a  deeply atmospheric novel, capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere of a close knit, isolated community, where religion plays a large part of people's lives and a visit from a travelling circus is cause for great excitement. Else's home is a beautiful but harsh place, squashed between the fjord on one side and mountains on the other, dominated by the moods of the sea and the weather.
 In such a place it's hard to keep a secret - so the neighbours know all about Else's father hiding out in his boat shed, brewing his moonshine liquor and drinking himself into a stupor most nights, and her mother's bruises which she tries to hide as she bustles about between house and church meetings. What they don't know, is who is to blame for fathering Else's child. 

It's a little like a murder-mystery, for as the story slips between the present day and that fateful time back in the 1970s, slowly teasing out the events leading up to Else's pregnancy, the reader can't help but try to work out the culprit, and, of course, keep turning the pages to find out.  

This is one of those books that I stumbled on completely by accident, following a retweet of one of the author's comments. The novel's setting and plot outline intrigued me, and reading it didn't disappoint.

Looking for the links I discovered this article about the place that inspired the author - though the photos are all sunny and summery, not of wintry snow and ice.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Windmill Books
Genre - adult fiction,

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Frog the Barbarian by Guy Bass

Review by The Mole

In The Legend of Frog Frog managed to save the world from the Kroakans with the help of Rarewolf and his trusty steed Sheriff Explosion, but it looks like he's going to have to do it all again! Somehow General Kurg, from the first saving of the world, while imprisoned, has managed to raise the alarm and called for a new invasion force.

Can Frog pull off a second saving in the same planless way as the first time or are things going to be more challenging? In fact can Frog actually do it this time?

The Legend of Frog was zany and lots of fun but you were in no doubt that Frog would pull it off but here we see a more realistic Frog - a Frog that learns a bit of humility, a Frog that is defeated, a Frog that loses confidence in himself... well, maybe for a minute. Still oodles of fun, excessively zany but somehow a more complete and satisfying story. I don't really believe that I ever doubted Frog though - he's the natural hero. We also learn the secret of how Dragons fly - something that I had never thought about!

Has Frog's days of being a hero finished now or are there more challenges for this mighty warrior? I hope there is more to come.

One of the things about the first book was the amount of pages that were "hand written" by Frog where the spelling was appalling and I wondered if this was a good thing for such young readers. In this book the number of such pages seems to have been reduced and now feel more contextual rather than part of the story.

Aimed at the 8+ reader this book will have them needing to share some of the many zany moments (I did) and laugh out loud making others wonder about what is so funny. While it's possible to read this book stand alone, the reading of The Legend of Frog first will help a lot with understanding who Frog is and how he got there. A really good book for proficient young readers.

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

Monday 22 September 2014

Plague Land by S.D. Sykes

review by Maryom

18 year old Oswald de Lacy has grown up with the expectation of becoming a monk. With two older brothers, he wasn't needed on the family estate. But now the Black death has changed all that. With his father and both brothers dead, Oswald must assume the role of Lord of Somerhill Manor - a role for which he seems totally unsuited. He has little or no knowledge of how to run his estate or when to sow or harvest crops, depending heavily on his former tutor brother Peter.
There's a more pressing matter to deal with first - a young woman, Alice Starvecrow, has been murdered and the village priest insists it was the work of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is pure superstitious nonsense...but to prove that he must find the real, all too human, killer.

Plague Land takes a gripping murder mystery and places it in a well imagined period setting. Oswald's estate, like most of the country, has been devastated by the plague with fields lying abandoned as there are no longer enough peasants to work them. The peasants, on their part, have discovered that their lack of numbers gives them a bargaining tool they never previously had, and the old feudal order seems to be crumbling. Narrating the story from Oswald's point of view, as he struggles to come to terms with his new role, allows the author to explain the situation and system without falling back on a long history lesson.

Oswald also has his share of personal problems - mainly in the shape of his scatter-brained mother, who's still determined she should have her say in the way things are run, and his sister Clemence who in her twenties is considered an old maid unlikely to ever marry; her desperation leads to to a most unsuitable match that only brings more trouble for poor Oswald.

Against this backdrop, Oswald attempts to track down a cunning murderer, while the bodies continue to pile up. Having no idea at all of what he should do, he fumbles and stumbles his way along, often walking unwittingly into danger. The unwinding plot has enough twists and turns to keep anyone guessing, though some clues are more obvious to the reader than to Oswald. Like him, the reader immediately discounts the 'demon killers' explanation, but it's easy to see how the priest plays on the villagers religious beliefs and general ignorance, manipulating them for his own ends.

This is a great start to a new historical crime series and I'm definitely looking forward to more.

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

Friday 19 September 2014

Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda

review by Maryom

Hadachinou is a boy on the brink of manhood. For now he's free to wander the streets of Tripoli - run errands for his mother, head off down to the sea or in and out of the women's quarters.Wherever he goes, he watches and listens. He sees his mother giggling and sharing confidences with her childhood friend Jamila, helps out and soaks up the flavours in the kitchen, notices the offhand and frequently brutal way the men treat their women. As happens to all children, though, he's growing up, discovering sexuality, feeling a change in how the women treat him. His privileged access to their world isn't going to last much longer...
In this short book, the last of Peirene's 'coming of age' series, the reader is taken back to the author's childhood, in 1960s Libya.  It's not a plot-driven narrative but more of a series of portraits, evoking the secret closed-door world inhabited by women. The Tripoli depicted is a multi-cultural society where Muslims, Christians and Jews, Arabs, Berbers, Italians and blacks rub shoulders and get along amicably. Segregation divides them though along lines of gender. Men and women live a compartmentalised existence - they rarely meet outside the bedroom, everything else including meals takes place separately. 

It's a very sensual novel - I could almost feel the heat, taste the food, feel the squelch of tomatoes as Hadachinou crushes them beneath his feet - but at the same time a thought-provoking one.
The biggest question it raised for me was how happy were the women in this world? Never having experienced anything else, they accept it as something that just is - and are ready to gossip about and criticise any woman who doesn't follow the approved pattern of behaviour. For some, life is fine, they're happy to leave their husband to his life of work and mosque or drinking with friends, but others are on the receiving end of their men's frustrations and anger. Towards the end of the book, Hadachinou becomes aware that not everyone is happy with the way things are and that under the seeming vulnerability of the women lurks a harder core that won't tolerate these attitudes forever.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction

Thursday 18 September 2014

The Samurai Inheritance by James Douglas

Review by The Mole

When Jamie Saintclair is asked to trace a shrunken head he is made an offer too good to refuse and anyway his life partner, Fiona, is in awe of the man making the offer so also insists he take the offer. It appears though that Keith Devlin is not the only one interested in the quest that Jamie has taken up and he quickly becomes embroiled with Russian, Chinese and Japanese criminal gangs - or are some of these "supposed" to be security forces but acting in their own interests? Travelling across the globe and ducking and diving against pursuers, it turns out to be a life or death mission but what does Devlin REALLY want and what will he end up with?

Having read The Excalibur Codex I had met Jamie before but under very different circumstances. One of the things I wasn't sure about before was Jamie's ability to keep his hormones under control but here that problem seems to be played down a lot more.

The back story is littered through the book and at times seems totally irrelevant and really only pulls together at the end in several small "eureka"moments. One of the problems I had had with The Excalibur Codex was it was slow to start but this begins much more quickly and the pace is maintained throughout. It retains many of the same qualities of it's predecessor but the thriller aspect is more pronounced while the "superman" qualities of Jamie are now more mature and less humorous.

This felt a different style of  book although once again I thoroughly enjoyed Douglas's work but for slightly different reasons.

Publisher: Transworld Books
Genre: Crime Thriller

Wednesday 17 September 2014

A Place for Us (part 2) by Harriet Evans

review by Maryom

The far-flung Winter family have all gathered at the family home to celebrate the eightieth birthday of matriarch Martha. Renowned for her fabulous parties, Martha has invited anyone and everyone from the neighbourhood to help her celebrate but she also has an important announcement to be made - to family members only - at lunch the next day. After the revelations of Part 1, can there be any more surprises to come? Well, yes, several in fact!

A Place for Us is being serialised in four parts and reading it is a bit like tuning in each week to catch your favourite TV drama. Part 1 set the scene, introduced us to this scattered family and the secrets they hide from each other, and ended on a real cliff-hanger. Now as they gather for the party, we learn more about their lives and most importantly discover the bombshell that Martha plans to drop at her birthday lunch. It wasn't at all what I expected - and I can't easily see how the family is going to recover from it!

I'm really enjoying this book. It has a great cast of characters; some to love; others, not quite to hate but certainly to feel less sympathy for. The gradual reveal of their back-stories alternating with the present day plot has me hooked and wanting to know what will happen next. I can't wait for part 3!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline Review
Genre - adult fiction, family saga

Monday 15 September 2014

Small Island by Andrea Levy

review by Maryom

Gilbert Joseph was one of many Jamaican men who left home and came to help their 'mother country' Britain during WW2. During his time in the RAF he was treated with a certain level of curiosity, but nothing that could have prepared him for the outright hostility that meets him when he decides to find work in London in 1948. Fortunately, his wartime friend Queenie Bligh, still awaiting the return of her husband, has a large house with rooms to spare. When Gilbert's wife Hortense arrives though, things aren't as she'd imagined. From all the stories told in Jamaica, and everything she'd learned at school, Hortense expects to find, if not quite streets paved with gold, a refined, sophisticated city full of well-spoken, cultured people. What she doesn't expect to find are the crumbling buildings and shabby, post-war feel of post-war London, people's everyday rudeness and, above all, the prejudice and discrimination against black people that she soon encounters.

Small Island is one of those vast sweeping books that moves backwards and forwards in time and geography, as the lives of four people join, split apart and rejoin.  Set in 1948, with flashbacks to the war-time years, it tells the stories of two young couples, Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert, and  English Queenie and Bernard, and through them of the prejudice and bigotry facing the post-war wave of West Indian immigrants.

Dealing with the weighty issues of immigration and racism, it could all have fell flat in a dull but worthy way; instead the author tackles them in a readable manner, with the emphasis being on the story; exposing all the prejudice without preaching - just showing events and leaving the reader to their own conclusions. Although it helped me to understand the fears and prejudices of my parents' generation (that of Queenie and Bernard), the British attitude was enough to make me cringe. Even so, it seemed positively welcoming at the side of Americans with institutionalised racism, protected by law and custom.

Among a raft of awards Small Island picked up Whitbread Book of the Year and Orange Prize for fiction and is now back in a tenth anniversary edition. Shame to say I hadn't read it till now. I'd tried to watch the TV series but abandoned it as a bit dull, thinking that I'd try the book instead. Then my daughter read it at college and said how really good it was, but that I might not like it. Well, she was wrong! I loved it!

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

Friday 12 September 2014

The Quarry by Iain Banks

review by Maryom

Kit is an autistic teenager brought up solely by his father Guy, never knowing who his mother is. Till now they've managed ok living in the old house by the quarry where Guy spent his student years, but time is running out for Guy who is dying of cancer. With this in mind, all Guy's oldest, closest friends from student days have been invited along for the weekend for one last get-together before his time runs out.  His friends though have something else on their minds - a video tape, one of several that were made back when they were film and media students, but one which could prove to be extremely embarrassing if made public. So between the drinking, political arguments and bitchy reveals about who slept with whom, they search, either secretly or as a group, for it.

I've taken a while to get round to reading this last novel by Iain Banks but spotting it on a library shelf I decided it was time to go for it. As I'd half expected from other reviews it isn't his greatest work (for me that will always be The Crow Road) but it feels much more personal. It's difficult not to believe that many of Guy's harangues against life, death and everything in between aren't Banks' own.

It reads well, as you'd expect, and unfolding events pull you in nicely. The whole 'scattered friends meet up for the weekend' concept feels a little bit like an Alan Ayckbourn farce meets Agatha Christie so you're not sure whether to expect laughs or murder - and with Banks it could be either. Sitting on the sidelines, distanced by his age and autism, Kit closely observes events without necessarily catching the undercurrents.  and he's always on the lookout for clues about his mother's identity. There's lots of threads to be unravelled and it was only afterwards that I thought the plot seemed a little thin. For any other writer I'd probably have said it was great, but it's not Iain Banks at his brilliant, mind-blowing best.   

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Abacus
Genre - adult fiction

Other reviews; Women's Prize for Fiction Book Reviews

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Clara's Daughter by Meike Ziervogel

 review by Maryom

 Michele appears to be a woman who has everything - a successful career, two grown up children and a happy marriage - but cracks have started to form underneath the surface and her world's about to crumble. 
Don't read my summary and expect a thriller! Meike Ziervogel's second novel is a quiet, intimate portrayal of a life falling apart as Michele is pulled in opposite directions by loyalty to her husband and mother. Things start in an idyllic seeming way - a cycle ride and an early morning swim shared by Michele and husband Jim but already there are signs that Jim expects life to be lived his way and that, now the children are independent, his wife's attention should be on him.  Michele has other concerns and obligations though - ideally she'd concentrate her time and efforts on her work, an important deal is in the offing and as CEO she wants to be there and in charge .... but then there's her elderly mother, Clara, who increasingly needs to be looked after. Her sister Hilary would love to help out, so she says, but always finds a reason not to, while manoeuvring Michele into doing everything. A care home would be ideal but will Michele's conscience allow her to send her mother there?  Where is the midst of these conflicting ties is there space for Michele herself?

As in Meike Ziervogel's debut novel  Magda, the central relationship is that between mother and daughter; how it changes through the years, with the balance of dependence and help shifting between the two. Jim shares the idea that I feel is in the back of many couple's minds that once the children have grown, then their time will be free to do with as they please - a luxury cruise, golfing holidays in the Algarve or, in Jim's case, downsizing to a remote cottage by the sea. Life isn't that simple though, there are always obligations to be met and, as parents age, children, once cared for become the carers themselves. Clara I felt to be just as much the victim of circumstances as her daughter - although terrified at the thought of being institutionalised in a home or hospital, living as a dependant in a converted basement was certainly not how she'd have chosen to spend her old age.
Alongside this core, it explores Michele's relationships with her self-centred, laid back husband and manipulative sister, and looks at the different roles we play at various stages of life - daughter, mother, sister, wife, artist, businesswoman; how they pull us in opposite directions, are sometimes impossible to combine, some having to be sacrificed for others and how ultimately they shape and define us, rather than us choosing and determining our own future.

 It's a short book, just over 130 pages, but one that requires a little effort on behalf of the reader, in the form of some input and response. Don't sit back and expect everything to be laid out in plain sight - it's a little like watching a play; the characters' feelings and motivations have to be interpreted from their words and actions, and I suspect everyone will see things slightly differently, informed by their own feelings and experiences.

The structure is a little curious - two timelines, one of which charts a week leading up to a decisive point in Michele and Jim's relationship; the other darting ahead into the future, a month, six months, a year, eighteen months, charting the more lasting effects- so the reader needs to retain track of both to fully appreciate he unfolding of events.
Clara's Daughter is an amazing book, packing so much into such a short space, and one that while telling a very specific story about two women raises matters that are of consequence to all of us. Best of all, it's a book that I expect to improve with further reading.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult literary fiction

Monday 8 September 2014

Take It Cool by Jonathan Pinnock

review by Maryom

 Author Jonathan Pinnock has always felt that his surname is about as far removed from cool as you can get; you may get Pinnocks who are strange, eccentric or even mad but at "two consonants away from disaster" being cool eludes them. Then, searching through a pile of second-hand records, he stumbled on something that would change his whole outlook - a reggae single "Take It Cool" by Dennis Pinnock. At last a Pinnock who was well and truly cool - but also, curiously, a Jamaican black Pinnock, as far removed from the author's white West Country background as it's surely possible to get. Could there really be any family ties between Dennis and Jonathan?

Now, the author had guessed before he started out on his quest that any, even the shallowest, search into Jamaica's past was going to lead him to the slave trade and plantation owners - so he was rather hoping there wouldn't be a connection! Even so he tracks down the early Pinnock colonists of the seventeenth century and their descendants, including one who quickly earns the name "Dog-face Phil". Alongside this story, he tries to track down Dennis himself via record label back-catalogues and that miracle of research tools, the internet, in the hope that one day the cool and un-cool branches of the Pinnocks may meet.
If you've watched the BBC's Who Do you Think You Are? you'll know that researching family history is a lot of pot-luck - sometimes it's full of surprises and stories, while sometimes it's of little interest to anyone beyond relatives. Having read Jonathan Pinnock's fiction, I expected him to turn what could be a plodding piece of research into something interesting and fun - and he did!  The different threads are easily-followed, and build an amusingly-told story that held the attention of a non-Pinnock with no interest in reggae (I didn't even recognise the names of it's stars!)

And for anyone interested in researching their own family history, there are a few pointers at websites and organisations that may prove useful

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -   Two Ravens Press
Genre - non-fiction, family history

Friday 5 September 2014

Spies in Disguise: Boy in a Tutu by Kate Scott

Review by The Mole

We first met Jo(si)e and Sam in Boy in Tights when, due to his parents having been rumbled as government spies they needed to relocate and change identities. Now Josie and Sam are given a real mission to protect some valuable World Cup memorabilia as the local leisure centre - the only thing is they must join ballet classes as part of their cover. And it becomes obvious that someone is taking too much interest in Josie.

The best thing about "Spies in Disguise" is that they are not meant as  serious spy novels - even for it's target readership. they are meant as funny escapism - even 6+ readers want that - and Kate Scott achieves it in spades! Without resorting to belches and farts she brings laughs with wit that entertains adults as well as children, which would make these excellent bed time stories. And they are stories - ones where the plot hangs together properly no matter how ridiculous the plot or action may seem to an adult. And it's not all light and roses for our duo either - there are spats and fallings out along the way, but teamwork is needed to succeed.

And there's no preaching to the reader either. Another great book for the very early reader - but why stop with just them?

Publisher - Piccadilly Press
Genre - Children's (6+) Spy Story, humour

Thursday 4 September 2014

Station Eleven by Emily StJohn Mandel

review by Maryom

One day, much like any other, with people going about their daily routine, the Georgia Flu hits. With a 99% mortality rate, survivors are few and far between and within weeks the world as we know it is only a memory.
Twenty years later, and the initial years of violence and horror have died down, leaving a fairly settled 'armed peace'. Through this setting. a group of performers known as The Travelling Symphony are travelling, taking music and Shakespeare to the scattered communities in the Great Lakes area. Meanwhile in a disused airport lounge, an elderly man has set up a Museum of Civilisation, a collection of curiosities, things that were once part of everyday life  - credit cards, mobile phones - but now seem meaningless.

Station Eleven is a dystopian post-apocalypse novel with a difference - not just about surviving the the initial catastrophe but about how society/civilisation, call it what you will, continues afterwards. The story weaves backwards and forwards from the years before the epidemic, the outbreak and chaos of it and twenty years after, following the intertwined lives of the main characters, all of whom have links back to famous Shakespearean actor Arthur Leander who died the night the epidemic broke; his wife Miranda, son Tyler, best friend Clark,  Kirsten, once a child actor and now part of The Symphony and an excellent knife-thrower and Jeevan the man who came to Arthur's aid as he collapsed on stage.
I think Station Eleven is a book that readers will see many different things in - to me, the motto "Survival is Insufficient", taken by the Symphony as a whole, and Kirsten personally, is the key to the novel. Borrowed from Star Trek Voyager's Seven of Nine, it encapsulates the idea that mere subsistence level living is not enough - that being able to explore one's own individuality, to create, through art, music or words, is key to being human. For the Symphony specifically its what defines them as people - when civilisation started to collapse around them, their musical instruments were the things they saved. Kirsten saves a paperweight for its beauty alone and no practical reason. To quote Chakotay from the same Voyager episode, "There's a difference between surviving and living", which for me sums up the feeling behind this novel.

It's not Shaun of the Dead or 28 Days Later but a deeper, philosophical look at a sudden break-down of society. There's a lot within it to appeal to geeks like me - with references to greek myths, Shakespeare and Star Trek; the latter being particularly relevant as it was never afraid to move beyond science fiction to wider questions of philosophy, morals and humanity in a similar way to Station Eleven itself.

Sadness permeates the book, not just for friends and family lost to the epidemic but for the disappearance of a whole way of life. Overall though the feeling is upbeat and positive, hopeful that people can re-build a world as good if not better than it was before.

I really enjoyed my first read-through and it feels like a book that hasn't revealed all its depths yet but will re-pay further reads with fresh discoveries to be made.

Maryom's review - 5 stars

Publisher - Picador
Genre - dystopian, post-apocalyptic, adult fiction

Other reviews; Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
 For Winter Nights 
Girl! Reporter

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends & Football by Dave Cousins

Review by The Mole

Charlie Merrick is captain of his football team, North Star Galaxy Under 12s. At the end of last season, before he became captain, the best players left leaving a team made up of substitutes and those players who couldn't find another team. So far their season has been bad and we join Charlie after they have just been beaten 11-0. But Charlie has faith in the team and believes in them and is also prepared to do anything "for the good of the team".

When a new boy, Jack, comes to school who has been at a football academy he is prepared to do anything to get him onto the squad - including "putting a word" in with his older sister (also a footballer) who tells Charlie "no way". But for the good of the team Charlie will do anything.

With the world cup approaching Charlie has heard of a pre-match tournament that he wants to get North Star into - but sadly they are stuck at the bottom of the league so he starts a diary hoping to chart their rise to fame. That rise to fame is sadly a forlorn hope though.

This book is one of those very busy books that if you want to follow the story you must revisit so much of it later to take in the busy-ness of it. Packed with football facts and story asides there is much to distract the reader from his reading. Much of the story contains comedic moments and cringeingly embarrassing moments when perhaps Charlie is going too far for the good of the team. I am not, and never have been, a football fan and so I was dubious about this book but that only meant I overlooked the plethora of football facts - because this book is about team work really and underlining what that really is.

A great book for the 9-11 readers that will appeal to young football fans.

Publisher- Open University Press
Genre - Children's fiction

Tuesday 2 September 2014

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

review by Maryom

Imagine that when you embarked on a relationship, you could see its future course....  No more trying to build a future with an unsuitable partner. No more committing of time and emotion, just for everything to fizzle away.  This is what 'envisioning' offers - a scientific way to check out the long-term viability of a relationship.
For some there's a vision of beautiful grandchildren, tennis whites and yachting, but not for all.
Evelyn decides that the glimpse she's given of her and boyfriend Adrian singing Happy Birthday to their dog and arguing over cheese isn't good enough - so she dumps him!
Godfrey, meanwhile, has proposed to Madge and is prepared to take the leap into an unknown future in the old-fashioned way but Madge insists they check it out first....

The Future For Curious People is a story of people searching for that most elusive of things, true love; helped, or hindered, in their search by a pseudo-scientific procedure that gives tiny glimpses into the future. Is such a small sample enough to base a life on, or reject a lover out of hand? It's certainly enough to sow the seeds of doubt in Evelyn's mind and leave her searching desperately among her past boyfriends for someone who could offer a more interesting future.
It's fun and quirky, and rather reminiscent of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The characters are slightly odd-ball but engaging and I found I wanted events to turn out happily for everyone. I loved it and I'm now pressing it on to my teen as I'm sure she'll enjoy it too.

All of this may sound a little far fetched but shortly after I'd read The Future for Curious Peoples I accidentally came across an article saying you can apparently get your dna checked to see if you're compatible - relationship dna test It's not such a great step from that to 'envisioning' the future!

Maryom's Review - 5 stars
Publisher - Pan Books
Genre - YA/adult fiction, 

Monday 1 September 2014

Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Review by The Mole

Remo Williams is sat on death row, convicted of a crime of which he pleads his innocence. Ex-marine and ex-cop he is just hours away from his execution, denied the right to appeal and with the case and sentence processed with the speed of a runaway train, when he is visited by a monk. The monk is rather strange and quietly offers to save his life if he just takes a pill at the time of his execution. With nothing to lose he finds himself officially dead and having been recruited by CURE - a top secret organisation whose role is to defeat organised crime but cannot get near enough to it to succeed. Is Remo really committed to CURE or will he cut and run at the first opportunity and if he stays why should he have more success than those that have gone before - and died.

CURE is an agency that doesn't exist and it's operatives are recruited for life because if they want leave or are no longer of use then they are... well you get the picture. This concept is now a common-place premise that is a feature of tongue in cheek action adventure as much as it was then.

What is not to love about this book? But let's rewind 51 years - yes I was just a puppy when the co-authors first created Created and it took 8 years for them to find a publisher. But when it was published... 60 million copies were sold world wide and 145 titles comprised the series - massive success and, although I was 16 at first publication, I have never heard of it before. I suppose this underlines that 43 years later there is still an audience out there for Remo Williams.

Violence abounds, particularly towards the end of the story but in a way I found totally acceptable and while some of the characters met a particularly gruesome end it was not dwelt on too heavily. With 144 volumes following on from this one it is rather obvious to the modern reader that Remo will live to fight another day but clearly, by the same evidence, the fight is not over yet either.

In modern literature we get inside the character of "the hero" and get to understand all their character nuances but in this kind of series we don't do that - it leaves it open for the character to change and do the unexpected. Anyone old enough will remember Callan of about the same time and while we all wanted Callan to win - and were never disappointed - we certainly didn't want to "get inside" his head!

This series is now being released in batches by Little, Brown Book Group so there's no need to be waiting for the next in the series.

Publisher - Little, Brown Book Group
Genre - Crime, Thriller