Friday 28 November 2014

Crossing the Line by Kerry Wilkinson

review by Maryom

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

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

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

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan

Genre - Adult, crime

Thursday 27 November 2014

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

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

Review by The Mole

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

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

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

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

A really lovely book that will delight.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's poetry book

Wednesday 26 November 2014

The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki

review by Maryom

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

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

Longlisted for the Orange prize and the Impac Dublin Literary Award

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

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Cute Emergency by Tony Heally

review by Maryom

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

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

Publisher - Bantam Press
Genre - picture book, all ages

Monday 24 November 2014

Endless Empress by Kirkland Ciccone

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

Review by The Mole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 21 November 2014

Bob and Rob by Sue Pickford

Review by The Mole

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

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

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

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

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

review by Maryom

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Curse of Can-Balam by Matt Cartney

Review by The Mole

Danny Lansing Adventure number 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre -
Boy's Adventure

Monday 17 November 2014

A Place for Us (part 4) by Harriet Evans

review by Maryom

Here at last is the fourth and final part to Harriet Evans family saga, A Place For Us. Set around the Winters' family home,Winterfold, so far it's been a story of idyllic family life built on rocky foundations - and matriarch Martha's decision that the time has come to admit the truth behind the glossy image. Her devastating revelation has shaken the family to its core and left their lives in turmoil. Now it's time to heal wounds and, hopefully, move towards a happy ending.....

A Place For Us has been published as a four-part serial over the past few months. The first part set the stage for Martha's dramatic revelations with hints of the secrets she knew and the lies that the family had perpetuated over the years. Part 2 continued in a similar vein up to the bombshell that Martha drops among her unsuspecting family. Part 3 showed a family in crisis, reeling from shock, but ended with Martha freshly inspired by granddaughter Lucy's memories of an idyllic Christmas at Winterfold - memories which helped convince Martha that not everything had been a sham. Now, she's resumed her role as heart and soul of the family, and realising the distress around her, she's determined to make matters right.

I enjoyed the earlier sections immensely, getting to know the Winter family with their foibles and secretive lives, but taken on its own, part 4 wasn't such a satisfying read. Of course, by this stage, I know the family well, don't feel they can surprise me, and know how I'd like the story to end - and it did. Because of this, the path it followed seemed a little too predictable and the endings a bit too neat. I suspect if I'd read it as one whole book, with this section following directly on from the others and less time for me to think about things, I wouldn't have felt this way.  

Although you can now download all four parts to your e-reader, a paperback version is being published in January 2015.

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

Friday 14 November 2014

That Glimpse of Truth Selected and Introduced by David Miller

Review by The Mole

I have to admit that I am a fan of short stories. When you read a novel you generally expect a rounded story that leaves you with that sense of loss, of wanting more and "missing" the characters now the story is over. Although when it's a serial murderer perhaps you expect the opposite? With a short story you expect to have to reflect on threads that have been left hanging - did you see everything? are there gaps you need to fill in yourself? You actually expect to have to complete some of the story yourself.

It wasn't always the case though. This collection of short stories goes way back through literature and starts with the story of Jonah. It's not a retelling of the story but a lift from an an English version of the old testament. There will be a few who would contest the validity of including this in a collection of fiction - but that's a separate debate and somewhere I don't want to go - but it does remind the reader that story was not about a trip in a whale, in fact the whale hardly gets a mention.

The stories are listed chronologically according to the birth date of the author and the second story by Miguel de Cervantes jumps forward nearly 2000 years to 1547. The Deceitful Wife is a rounded story told in reflection by the deceived husband.

No author features twice in this anthology of 100 tales but with authors as diverse as Nikolai Gogol, Charles Dickens, DH Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Richmal Crompton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roald Dahl, Kate Atkinson and Joanne Harris so many favourite authors are included that this book has something for everyone and perhaps a finding of new authors as well.

This is a book for lovers of the genre and I admit now to not having read them all - yet! I have read many from the early part of the book (including authors I have never read before including Nikolai Gogol), a few from the middle and some from the end. While the end shows the styles at their very modern best (The Deep by Anthony Doerr is sublime by the way) the earlier styles are still as enjoyable as they ever were.

This is a collection that seems, to me, to fulfil the subtitle "100 Of The Finest Short Stories Ever Written" although I could easily swap many of these for others that I have read and it would still be worthy of the same title.

Publisher - Head Of Zeus
Genre - Short stories, adult fiction

Thursday 13 November 2014

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

review by Maryom

One morning in early May 1977, Lydia Lee doesn't show up for breakfast. Her bed hasn't been slept in, no one has seen her since the day before, and the family's worst fears are soon confirmed when her body is discovered in a lake. The police can find no evidence to suggest anything other than suicide. This isn't enough to convince her family. To them Lydia was a bright, happy high-achiever, studying hard for college entrance but with a wide circle of friends. What reasons would such a girl have to take her own life?  Her mother Marilyn believes this tragedy must be the work of a perverted killer. Her brother Nathan thinks the boy down the street, Jack, knows more about Lydia's death than he's letting on.  Hannah, the youngest child, always slightly ignored by the rest of her family, catches the others in unguarded moments and sees things they don't. Her father James, meanwhile, paralysed by shock and grief, turns outside the family for support and sympathy, a move which could tear them all apart.

Everything I Never Told isn't a crime novel as such; there's no frantic police search for a serial killer or last minute twist which uncovers a hidden psychopath. Rather, like another stunning debut Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley, it's a portrayal of a family coping with tragedy; a tragedy that, as the Lees' family history is revealed, seems to have been almost inevitable.
Although outwardly an averagely happy, successful family, beneath the surface the Lees had hit a point of being so dysfunctional that something had to give somewhere. Moving forwards and backwards, through the aftermath of Lydia's death, and the events that led up to it, watching events unfold from the perspective of each member of the family, the author piece by piece reveals the secrets the family have hidden and the lies they've spun to each other. The threads lead back to the point when Marilyn, studying hard to break her mother's domestic mould and qualify as a doctor, meets and falls in love with lecturer James Lee, son of Chinese immigrants. James desires nothing more for him and his family than to fit in as average Americans; Marilyn is almost the opposite - she wants to challenge stereotypes and for her favourite daughter to achieve what she didn't. Both are blinkered though and do not see the reality of their children's lives.
The writing is understated and concise, the plot brilliantly constructed, pulling the reader in, and building gradually to the reveal of how Lydia died. For a début, it's a stunner, and I can't wait to read more by this author.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Little, Brown
Genre - adult fiction

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Six Stories and an Essay by Andrea Levy

review by Maryom

With such a plain, unadorned title there's no doubt about what you're getting here - a collection of six stories and an essay from award-winning author Andrea Levy. It brings together 5 previously published short stories, spanning twenty years, with a new one written to coincide with the centenary of WW1, and an essay on how writing has helped the author's exploration of her Jamaican heritage and her relationship to the white society she grew up in. Now you might think that stories sound like fun and an essay a bit dull, but I found it equally fascinating -  not just the inside glimpse of the author's inspiration but the contrasting outlooks of Jamaicans, who saw Britain as their mother country, and the British who know next to nothing about Jamaica, and how, after a brief mention of the abolition of slavery, the West Indies barely get a mention in history books.
These themes recur in several of the stories which draw heavily on the experiences of Jamaicans coming to Britain to settle or to volunteer in the armed forces. Their naive veneration of the mother country - and their sharp awakening to the mistrust and prejudice that awaits them. "Loose Change" looks at immigration from a different angle - many of us claim to be sympathetic to the plight of refugees, but would we really put ourselves out for them?
"The Diary" tells the story of an overlooked theatrical dresser who finds a way to get revenge, and in
"Deborah" a child's game turns nasty.

The stories are by turn funny, disturbing, thought-provoking and, most importantly, enjoyable reads. My favourite was incidentally the shortest - "February" with its description of a Jamaican winter, the cool breezes, ripe fruit, and scented flowers - and the twist at the end, the seemingly unbridgeable gap, that it's not at all what an English teacher expects to hear.

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

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Plum Puddings and Paper Moons by Glenda Millard

Illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Review by The Mole

Kingdom of Silk Book 5

Scarlet is now 15 and is looking for a part time job. She takes a job in the Colour Patch Café where she meets Anik. Anik is a refugee from his war torn country and many of his family are missing and his village destroyed because of the war.

Life in Cameron's Creek is generally isolated from world events so Scarlet is shocked and extremely upset that such things happen to bystanders in a war zone. Being a Silk she won't take this lying down so she declares peace and Cameron's Creek and organises a rally to support her campaign.

Once again the Kingdom of Silk is affected by the affairs of others and steps up to do anything they can to address their issues. Scarlet doesn't change the world but does make those around her stop and think and voice their opinions.

A suggestion that accepting everything around us without voicing our opinions is not the only way. This book feels like it's for the same age group as the rest of the Kingdom of Silk series but also for the older child.

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children's fiction

Monday 10 November 2014

The Informant by Susan Wilkins

Review by The Mole

Alex Marlow has got "inside" Joey Phelps' criminal empire having befriended Joey, and as a police officer he wants only 1 thing - to put Joey away. Even as the story opens, Marlow has been discovered and very quickly is murdered by Joey in a gruesome and sickening killing.

Kaz, Joey's sister, is released from prison after doing six years for a murder Joey committed because she would not give him up. Kaz has spent the last six years dreaming of a life outside of crime and wants, more than anything, for Joey to join her and give up murder.

Meanwhile the police want DC Mal Bradley to befriend Kaz and turn her against her brother. But is that what they really want that?

And all the time DS Nicci Armstrong is trying to befriend Kaz's sister, Joey keeps the body count rising and Kaz's relationships with Mal and her lawyer keeps getting more and more complicated.

With twists and turns on almost every page this book keeps the readers attention by having very little "down time" as the author keeps moving the goalposts.

The death of Marlow was just a little bit gruesome - and I'm just a little bit squeamish - and happening in the prologue I very nearly put the book down and chose again. I am SO glad I stuck with it. Joey is a psychopath, as I'm sure you've guessed already, and Wilkins portrays this brilliantly which is a little bit disturbing in a way.

The twist at the end came as no surprise as there had been clues given, deliberately, the further we got in although it didn't detract from the telling one bit, although it did explain so much of what had happened. And a happy ending... only for those few it ends happily for.

A great crime thriller that is hard to put down - but you're glad it's over when you turn the last page.

Publisher - Pan Macmillan
Genre - Adult fiction, crime thriller

Friday 7 November 2014

Dirty Bertie - Horror by David Roberts, written by Alan MacDonald

Review by The Mole

Bertie's books have now been published for over 10 years and I have to admit to not having met him yet - and there have been over two dozen of his books!

"Horror" is the name of the first of three stories in this book and it's one in which he learns that his granny is going on a date - something he must put a stop to. Granny's dating? Whatever next?

In the second he manages to soak a priceless painting with his water pistol and in the third he meets a fierce dog while trying to deliver papers.

Each of these stories is an easy read with plenty of black and white illustrations that enhance, but don't distract from, the story. Despite being around for eleven years old, Bertie is about seven and is just on the side of mischievous - enough to laugh at but not encourage. Any child who can read reasonably confidently is sure to love reading about his antics and will want more - well, there's plenty to go at!

A lovely character, in a lovely book that will amuse children from their first reading and they will be encouraged to read more.

Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre - Children's early reader

Thursday 6 November 2014

Riding the Unicorn by Paul Kearney

review by Maryom 

Ex-soldier turned prison guard, John Willoby thinks he's going mad. In the middle of his daily routine, he'll find himself in another world where a tribe of horsemen travel through snowy mountains and forested hillsides to set up camp by a river. For those few minutes he believes he's truly somewhere else - and then he's brought back to the 'real' world with a jolt. Could it really all be in his head? It's much more appealing than reality with its dull job, broken down marriage and hostile teenage daughter, and so tempting with its outdoor life in clean fresh countryside, that John is inclined to remain there - even if to outsiders he appears to be a gibbering drunk slumped on the pavement.
In the other world, though, is Tallimon, a king's bastard son with designs on his father's position, looking for an outsider to carry out a special task that none of his soldiers will tackle. The sorcerer Aimon believes he's found the very man for the job  - John Willoby - if only he can be brought through the barrier between worlds.

I stumbled across Riding The Unicorn completely by accident - spotting a tweeted link to a sample - and what a find! I've rather got out of the habit of reading fantasy but this could lure me back in. A lot of it reminded me of being enthralled by Alan Garner's writing as a child, but it's very much an adult scenario. In his everyday life Willoby is trying to deal with the kind of problems than many of us face - his job, marriage and fatherhood haven't lived up to his expectations. It's no wonder than another sort of life appeals to him but he's smart enough to realise that the voices he hears, and the things he sees may be just an escapist delusion. As he falls increasingly under the spell of another world, the dynamics of Willoby's home life change; his wife seems to relish in her new role as the 'strong' half of the relationship - organising appointments and his life in general - whereas his daughter finds him more approachable.

I loved this but if you're a bit dubious about 'genre' books still take a chance. It has all the qualities that a good novel must have - most importantly, a story to hook you, and characters you can believe in and care about. Meanwhile for me, Paul Kearney is an author I want to read more by, and fortunately there's a back catalogue waiting for me..
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Solaris
Genre - Fantasy, adult fiction

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

review by Maryom

For over 300 years, the Masters of Trinity College, Cambridge have been closely guarding a secret - that on a certain date in 2024 a loop in time will allow someone to travel back 110 years... to June 1914 a few weeks before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked a war that engulfed the whole of Europe. If only someone could be sent back in time to alter events and prevent the devastation that is to come ... but that person would be trapped back in 1914 as a new page of history was written...and their family and friends back in the 21st century would cease to exist. Enter retired army captain Hugh Stanton, a man with few friends and, following a tragic car accident, no family. Still mourning his wife and children he has nothing to lose, so when approached by his old professor, now the Master of Trinity, he agrees to this unusual 'mission'.

Following his last novel set in 1930s and 40s Berlin, Ben Elton takes us further back in time to the crucial months in 1914 when Europe was balanced on the brink of war.....and maybe the right man in the right place could have prevented it. Hugh of course is aware that all of his actions, no matter how insignificant, will change history as he knows it - but he can't help but intervene from time to time, with potentially disastrous results. As he seeks to fulfil his mission Hugh saves lives, takes lives and still finds time to fall in love.

It's not an unknown premise for a story - from Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, to Stephen Fry's Making History, or even a Star Trek film - but Elton pulls it off in an original and entertaining way. As a thriller, it didn't really keep me on the edge of my seat, as I fully expected Hugh to complete his task, but the real plot twists come after that.
It's a book which will have you wondering - if I could change history, what would I change, what were the truly pivotal moments, does history turn on the actions of one man or the mass consciousness of nations?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Bantam Press
Genre -
adult, thriller, time travel, historical fiction

Other reviews; For Winter Nights

Tuesday 4 November 2014

The Last of the Spirits by Chris Priestley

review by Maryom

Orphans Sam and Lizzie are used to living rough on the streets of Victorian London but Christmas is approaching and the weather turning colder. In desperation, Sam begs for money - but picks the wrong man to ask - well known miser, Ebenezer Scrooge - and is rudely turned away. His frustration and despair reaching breaking point, Sam resolves to take the old man's money - even if it means harming, even killing him. But it's Christmas Eve and ghosts are gathering round Scrooge to warn him of his evil ways. The same ghosts come to Sam and Lizzie - showing them their past, present and likely future. We all know Scrooge had a change of heart, but will Sam?

You'll probably have noticed before now that I love Chris Priestley's ghost stories - The Dead of Winter sends shivers up and down my spine far more than many 'adult' horror stories which I find so heavy-handed they become comical.

With his last book The Dead Men Stood Together, Chris Priestley took a classic story (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and re-invented it to appeal to a younger audience. This time it's Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a story which most of us know by hearsay or from TV and films even if we haven't read the book; the miserly Scrooge is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, and persuaded to change his ways. Priestley visits the same scenario through the eyes of two homeless youngsters so down on their luck that the warmest sleeping-place they can find is among the tombs in a graveyard. It's not the best spot to pick, as with a moan and a rattle of chains one of the graves opens and a ghost appears....
There are plenty of spine-tingling, hide-behind-the-sofa moments but as with the original, there are lots of threads to spark debate - living conditions of Victorian London, inequalities of wealth, how past actions shape our future.
A spooky, compelling read especially for Christmas fire-side reading, suitable for teens and upwards.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury
Genre - Supernatural, Ghost Stories, 12+

Monday 3 November 2014

Dead Souls by Elsebeth Egholm

 review by Maryom

On a routine job, clearing war-time explosives from Danish shipping lanes, diver Kir Røjel discovers a box of human bones. At first she and her fellow divers assume it to be a teaching aid, but the contents turn out to be a lot less innocuous - the victim was garrotted, probably in reprisals at the end of WW2.
Later in the year, at All Hallow's Eve, ex-convict Peter Boutrup finds himself unwillingly dragged into a murder enquiry again - a young nun goes missing only to be found dead in her convent's moat, and as Peter was the last person to see her alive, the police are obviously suspicious of him. The nun though has also been garrotted which causes Detective Mark Bille Hansen to believe the two deaths are linked, despite the 60 years between them.
And as if all this isn't enough trouble for Peter to be in, his past is still stalking him. He's contacted by the mother of his deceased friend My, asking for his help in tracing her son who's disappeared, he's being manipulated by someone he felt he could trust and the local drug-dealing biker-gang still feel they have a score to settle with him. Life's never as peaceful as he would like.

Elsebeth Egholm's latest thriller takes the reader back to the countryside and characters familiar from Three Dog Night  It's a complex, convoluted plot weaving several strands together as Peter Boutrup,  Kir Røjel and Mark Bille Hansen find themselves brought together again in the search for a killer, with each of them approaching the target from a different direction and seeing part of the puzzle but not the wider picture. How after all can a murder committed in the 1940s be related to the activities of present day animal activists or the special talent of which one strange family is so proud? It's all excellently done, the different threads moving forward simultaneously and leading the reader (and the police investigators) to suspect first one person, then another.

Be warned - this is Nordic Noir so it is at times rather gruesome, and not for the easily disturbed. I loved it but for me the unravelling of the mystery, and the following of obscure clues leading to the perpetrator always over-rides any squeamishness on my part.

It's probably not necessary to have read the first book of this series, but I did find it helpful having already been introduced to the main characters and their relationship to each other because the story hits the ground running with murder victims piling up almost from the first page.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult thriller, Nordic Noir