Friday 29 May 2015

No Place To Die by Clare Donoghue

review by Maryom

DI Mike Lockyer is struggling to cope after his last case, so his sergeant Jane Bennett finds herself with two disturbing cases on her hands. Friend and retired cop Mark Leech has gone missing, leaving a trail of blood splatters behind him which suggests he hasn't gone willingly, and then a dead body is discovered in a specially constructed underground chamber. It's not, as at first feared, Mark's body but that of missing student, Maggie Hungerford,and her death is stranger and more sinister than anything Jane's previously seen.The tiny space had been equipped with a pipe to allow a certain amount of air in, and a camera so that the killer could presumably watch his victim die. Who could be so twisted to want to kill someone in such a terrifying way?

Jane finds herself under pressure from all sides - at work, with little or no support from her boss, she has no one to share the burden of the investigation; the personal relationship between her and Lockyer has deteriorated; and at home, she has her autistic son to care for and feels torn between wanting to do her job as best she can and spending more time with him.

The second in the Lockyer/Bennett series plays on the terror that most of us would feel if trapped underground - I could only get through some of the scenes by constantly reminding myself that it wasn't at all real! For the most part, the story concentrates on the police investigation and Jane's private life, but occasionally it's interrupted by passages from the victims' point of view, describing the horror of being buried alive, struggling for air with numbness creeping up on them - all very, very scary stuff!

The investigation gets off to a slow start - with plenty of potential suspects, but no one who stands out as the killer - and there's almost a feeling of bewilderment on Jane's part as more victims are found, one dating back several years.  
Most crime thrillers have their twists and turns, but this plot is positively convoluted! I think if anyone spots the killer before the last chapter, it's due to a lucky guess rather than super-deduction.
It's a difficult thing to say whether or not I enjoyed this book - I found the 'buried' sections too disturbing to enjoy, and, now knowing the nature of the crime and who was behind it, I wouldn't re-read it; it's a very personal thing though and other, less claustrophobic, readers will have less qualms.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan

Genre - Adult, crime

Thursday 28 May 2015

How to set up your own festival ..... Sian Hoyle from Derby Book Festival

 You've probably already seen me talking about a new book festival around this year - and it's not just any old book festival but one right here on my doorstep in Derby. It kicks off this coming weekend, so before it all gets underway I managed to catch the originators and brains behind the project - Sian Hoyle and Jenny Denton - for a quick chat ....

First, could you tell me briefly why you decided to set up a book festival here in Derby....
A glass of wine in QUAD has a lot to answer for!  We were chatting about what books we were reading (we’re both in book groups) and then got onto book festivals … and why didn’t Derby have one!  It seemed like a good idea and not too difficult to organise.  A few authors and venues over a weekend, somewhere to sell tickets …

...and how did you go about it?
We started by doing some research by talking to other Festival organisers who were very generous in their advice and time.  Then started to talk to potential partners in the city to see if they thought it was a good idea – QUAD, Déda, Derby Theatre, Derby City Council, Waterstones, the University of Derby.  And they all were very positive and supportive.

You can read all about how it happened in The Independent on Sunday:

Have you encountered any major problems in the planning?
There have been a few hiccups along the way and for every step forward we sometimes seemed to take one back.  That caused several sleepless nights.  Completing the funding applications was hard work and we were always worried about not receiving funding, but luckily these were largely successful.  Securing authors was relatively easy although it was a waiting game which was stressful. For a very long time there were only two of us and time was always an issue in terms of getting everything done.  We soon realised this was to be a five – even a seven – day a week job.  A real breakthrough moment was receiving the Arts Council funding and being able to employ Helen, who has been such an amazing organiser and has taken on some of the more difficult tasks like managing the ticketing, monitoring the finances, managing the sponsorship etc.  We really would not be having a Festival without her and the 60 strong team of volunteers who we hope will make every event go smoothly!   

Is there anything you'd do differently for another year?
Lots of things, but I think we need to see how it goes and then we are planning a thorough review.  There are also lots of things we’d definitely do again too.

Is there anything you'd like to have more (or less) of?
Money so we could pay for staff!  We don’t think it is sustainable to do it again having nearly all our planning meetings in the evenings and at weekends.  We will definitely be seeking more funding for 2016.  We’d also like to ensure we involve as many communities as we can in Derby and get more ideas from local people about what they want in the next Festival but hopefully the evaluation of this year’s event will give us that. 

Are you a regular visitor to other book festivals?
I’ve only been to two and they have both been in the last year as part of the research.  We now devour other festivals’ programmes to see what they’re planning.  Sadly time has prevented us from attending other festivals this year. 

How did you decide which authors and celebrities to ask along?
We had a wish list and went for those first – and were amazed when they started to say ‘yes’.  We weren’t very systematic about our approach.  It was more a question of – let’s ask so and so!  We’d find who the publisher and publicist were and then we’d send them a pitch.  There was a lot of luck involved. 

We also found out about local authors and approached them direct because we wanted the Festival to celebrate local writing as well as have the ‘big names’.  We decided early on that we wanted an event for schools and the only author we approached was Michael Morpurgo.  We are thrilled that over 500 children from nearly every school in Derby will meet him at a special event on 8 June. 

We also wanted to have authors who would appeal to local residents so included events at the Cricket Club, Football Club and Derby Arena.  We hope to do more of this sort of programming next year. 

Which specific event are you looking forward to? (and why)
It has to be Sarah Waters and David Nicholls as I have loved their books so much.  But also events like the Derby on Board Games as it’s such a great atmosphere there and the Nigel Lowey talk about St Pancras station.  And Dymphna Flynn, the producer of Radio 4 Bookclub, who will have a great story to tell about 12 years of choosing the books, meeting the authors and some anecdotes about the monthly recordings ….. this event is ticketed but now FREE.

To find out more about the festival, check out which authors are appearing and book tickets see here

Wednesday 27 May 2015

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

review by Maryom

Eva and Jim first meet at Cambridge in 1958; she is cycling along quickly and swerves to avoid a dog, he steps forward to help, and what happens next will affect the rest of their lives. Do they speak briefly and part, do they go off to the pub? Three different scenarios are offered and from this point the narrative splits, with each version following Eva and Jim throughout their lives - however events play out, the two of them seem linked, their paths destined to cross and part, and maybe cross again.

The Versions of Us is a stunning book, even more so considering it is Laura Barnett's debut novel! With three alternate time-lines playing out over 50 years it's easy to see this book is a cross between Sliding Doors and One Day but for me, in style and story-telling, it has more in common with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.

From that initial meeting Eva and Jim's alternative lives pan out in different directions, and the reader is offered three versions of how their lives could have been, each fully realised; it's almost like reading three different stories. The balance between them is perfect, none is allowed to dominate, but which of them leads to a happier life? At first it seems to be one version, then, as the years pass, another will seem the more appealing. It led me to wonder if I were Eva or Jim and could choose my life, knowing all the permutations, which would it be?

I also wondered how much fun the author had in playing with Eva and Jim's lives; authors frequently say that their characters take charge and will only behave in certain ways - this time it seems like the author has the upper hand and can manipulate the characters at will, sometimes pushing them forward impulsively, sometimes holding them back.

I loved it completely; following Jim and Eva throughout three lifetimes I became familiar with them, their characters and foibles, their friends and family. If there's a drawback, it's that it's not always easy to remember what has happened previously in each version, and I have to admit I had notes to help me keep track of things. Something I'd like to try one day is reading each of the time lines individually, from start to finish as a 'normal' story. It certainly isn't a book to read once and discard; there's still lots to explore after that. I don't belong to a book group and this is one time that I'm missing that because there's lots to discuss with fellow readers - not least that question of which way leads to greater happiness and fulfilment.

Catch my Q+A with the author here
Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Orion (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Genre - adult,

Monday 25 May 2015

This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David

review by Maryom

Theo is feeling bad about breaking up with Kitty - but when he realises Kitty went missing shortly after they argued he starts to feel even worse. As the day passes without any signs of her, Theo has to face the fact that something really bad may have happened to Kitty - and that it would all be his fault.
Both Jewish, both from North London, both newly moved to Amsterdam, they had so many things in common that Kitty and Theo seemed pushed together by fate. But Theo can't forget the 'unsuitable' love he left behind in London - the reason his parents sent him abroad in disgrace - and Kitty is both attracted and repelled by Ethan, the son of her mum's boyfriend, with his mix of charm and moodiness. Told alternately from Theo's and Kitty's perspective, the story traces their relationship from first meeting to big bust up.... In a love story the hero and heroine meet, fall in love, overcome obstacles in their way and live happily ever after - that's the way it happens in fairy stories, films, and romantic novels, but this isn't a love story and the ending may not be all that happy.
In this Amsterdam-set story of teenage relationships, Keren David presents a love triangle with a difference; three teenagers trying to come to terms with their confused emotions and sexuality, and finding life isn't as neatly packaged as a romantic novel.
 This may not be a love story, but love is pretty much the most important thing on Kitty's mind - whether it's her own relationships with Theo and Ethan, or the one between her mum and Ethan's dad. Kitty is a typical teenager - constantly taking selfies, obsessed with the number of 'likes' on her Instagram account, and seeing any new guy she meets as potential boyfriend material.
 Theo, on the other hand, believes he's already found his true love - and if his family would just stop interfering everything would be fine. But if that's so, why does he find himself attracted to Kitty?
  Ethan is unpredictable - if he wants to, he can turn on the charm but most of the time he's pushing boundaries, wanting to shock people and provoke them into reaction. His dad sees him as moody and uncommunicative; as an outsider, I saw him as someone covering up hurt through attention-seeking. He wouldn't at all appreciate being thought of as lonely or in need of love, but that's how he came over to me.

This is a book that manages to be an entertaining enjoyable read, while at the same time bringing up issues of sexual orientation in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. The author captures what it's like to be a teenager trying to sort through the confusion of their own feelings, and the mixed messages being picked up from others. I was hooked early on by Theo's mounting panic over Kitty's disappearance - I wanted to know what their big argument was all about, why Kitty had gone missing and if she'd be found safe and well. It doesn't have the 'thriller' element of the When I Was Joe series, but Keren David knows how to grab the reader and hold them, teasing them along by holding back the major reveal. 

And all the while you're led to think this isn't a happy-ever-after love story, but there's romance blossoming right under everyone's noses between Kitty's mum and Ethan's dad.

Maryom's review;  5 stars
Publisher - Atom Books
Genre - YA, teenage relationships,

Friday 22 May 2015

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

review by Maryom

Geralt de Rivia is a witcher, a man mutated by drugs, and trained in the tracking and killing of monsters. He travels the land, saving town and countryside from the ravages of these creatures, but believes that not all non-humans are harmful and that Man should learn to live alongside them rather than wipe them out. This collection of six stories tells of his adventures with dragons, mermaids, dryads, and the disgusting multi-limbed monsters that lurk in middens or under bridges waiting to prey on passers-by, along the way meeting up, and parting from, his sometime lover, the sorceress Yennefer, the bard Dandelion and 'his destiny' the child Ciri.

I always say I'll read anything providing the story and the writing are good, so I've never had any hang-ups about 'genre' but what I've found recently with fantasy is that it comes in massive chunks - a book of six or seven hundred pages which ends on a cliffhanger and turns out to be part of a trilogy or even longer series (and I don't just mean George R R Martin!). Here though it's in a form I love - short stories, each standing alone but part of a wider story arc - in this case all involving the Witcher, Geralt.
The stories all rattle along at a good pace, with sword fights and fearsome creatures a-plenty, but aren't just tales of fantasy and magic for the sake of it. Geralt finds himself in situations that explore all-too-human emotions and failings, from the very personal to wider social issues; destruction of environment or discrimination against and fear of outsiders are things that apply as much in 'our' world as in the Witcher's.

This collection ties in to a wider series of stories, novels and console games, and I'm now sufficiently intrigued that I want to read more of the series ......if only some of the games would play on my old PS2....

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Gollancz
Genre - Fantasy
translated by David French

Thursday 21 May 2015

The Mourner by Susan Wilkins

Review by The Mole

Helen Warner is found dead on the banks of the Thames. It seems like a straightforward suicide - that's what the police want to think. Kaz Phelps, now living as Clare O'Keefe under the witness protection program in Glasgow, doesn't want to think that her ex-lover could have committed suicide and is out to prove she didn't - so is Julia Hadley, Helen Warner's partner.

Julia enlists the help of SBA, a security and private investigations company, to establish the truth behind Helen's death. Nicci Armstrong, the police officer responsible for Kaz having to enter the witness protection program, was forced into early retirement and is now employed by Simon Blake, the owner of SBA and also the victim of political machinations within the Met.

And so the hunt is on for the truth behind Helen's death - a death the police are anxious to sweep under the carpet. Then Joey, Kaz's psychopathic brother, kills a policeman and escapes jail to become another factor in the investigation. Can Julie and Kaz get justice or will they settle for revenge?

Let the mayhem begin.

This book picks up the story two years on from The Informant and it does it rather seamlessly. Within the first book blood letting was rife and when the last page came, although I enjoyed it immensely I was glad to take a break into something less violent. I picked The Mourner up with a little trepidation but while the pace is just as fast the violence is less prolific. Sequels are frequently not quite as good as the début but here I can honestly say that I found it even better.

We continue to pick up the back story of several of the characters and meet again characters that had a lesser role in The Informant and learn a little of their back story. Each of the characters really came to life for me, and both Kaz and Nicci, neither of whom I really liked in the first book, became almost friends to me. Their back stories continued to be filled in and other characters - some from The Informant and others new to us - start to get their stories built.

The trail of evidence followed felt logical and the investigation developed in a sensible way - but with the police against them could they ever make a real difference? When the full extent of involvement in Helen's death becomes apparent the reader starts to realise that this probably won't end in a court case but will there be any form of justice?

As I turned the last page there were so many questions left unanswered that I knew there would have to be a third book - but will there also be spinoffs as characters disappear across the world or will they come back together (well at least those that lived through) to book 3.

A fantastic story but be sure to start with The Informant as this very much builds on it. But maybe one day it would be nice to read the prequel?

Publisher - Pan Macmillan
Genre - Adult fiction, crime thriller

Wednesday 20 May 2015

All This Will Be Lost by Brian Payton

review by Maryom

April 1943 - grieving for his brother lost over the English Channel, unable to enlist himself, journalist John Easley takes it upon himself to uncover the true facts about a war taking place much nearer to his own doorstep - the invasion of the Alaskan Aleutian islands by the Japanese, an event which the US military want to keep quiet. To this end, he hitches a lift out on a bombing run to the Japanese occupied island of Attu - When the plane is shot down he and one of the crew of six are the only survivors. They've heard the rumours about how the Japanese treat their prisoners and neither want to surrender to them, but the chances of surviving in the inhospitable landscape are slim, almost to the point of non-existence.

Meanwhile back home in Seattle, his wife Helen begins to worry over John's prolonged absence. While 'regular' forces wives are informed of their husbands' fate, there's no one to send news of a missing unofficial reporter. Desperate for news of him she determines to follow him north, the only way she can - by signing up for a forces entertainment troop. She knows she's unlikely to find John or even anyone who's heard of him but she needs to do something, anything, rather than sit and wait.

All This Will Be Lost is a war story with a difference - set in an almost unheard-of war zone, the remote Aleutian islands, which stretch across the Arctic from Alaska to Russia like stepping stones, it's a grim tale of survival against the odds, of grit and determination, of very personal battles and hoping against all the odds.
John is battling for his very survival - although it's 'spring', the weather only moves between snow and fog, there are neither trees nor bushes for shelter or fuel, and the Japanese are encamped just over the next ridge. The two men end up in a cave, surviving on shellfish and an occasional seabird, raiding the Japanese camp despite the obvious risk but growing bolder as their situation becomes more perilous. As he comes close to starvation, John finds himself making difficult choices about what might be considered 'food', choices the reader may not agree with.    
Helen's story is less extreme but her life so far has been cosy and sheltered. Empowered by circumstances, she's forced to step out of her comfort zone, and take on a role for which she feels totally unsuited. I got the impression that even asking questions of strangers was something so completely out of character for her that undertaking this journey required tremendous amounts of courage on her part.

The islands themselves form a third party to this story - windswept and bleak, but with a fragile beauty that is being trampled upon by the opposing armies. Their inhabitants have been forcibly removed, their villages abandoned and make-shift airfields and army bases taken their place. In the way of much fiction, it had me spiralling away and wanting to know more about the background - about this sector of WW2, about the islands themselves and their inhabitants, so summarily evacuated from their homes.

In case this all sounds familiar, this story has previously been published under the title The Wind Is Not  A River.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan

Genre - Adult, war stories, WW2,

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Kate Atkinson - author interview

Kate Atkinson's latest novel, A God In Ruins, takes us back to the world created in Life After Life, but this time seen from the perspective of Teddy, bomber pilot, husband, father, grandfather. Having read and loved it, I was delighted to be able to pose a few questions about it......and Jackson Brodie...

At the heart of A God In Ruins lie Teddy's wartime experiences, they change him and his life forever.  What led you into this area of fiction, a war novel?
“The novel I wrote before [Life After Life ed.] was also a war novel, and I knew that this one would be too.  Right back in Behind The Scenes at the Museum there were chapters set during World War II and I knew I wanted to write more. I think I was always working my way towards this novel but I was never ready, and luckily I was ready for it when I started to write! But war is such a huge subject, it sounds terrible but it is also a gift to an author in the way that tragedy is a gift to an author, we feed off misery in a way. Also in war there are so many stories of so many different kinds that some of them, I think, need retelling through fiction.” 
Teddy's author-daughter Viola makes a drunken side-swipe at the fact that writing a novel about war would make critics see her in a different light, as a 'serious' author. Do you think women's writing is trivialised and overlooked by reviewers, critics and even the readers?
“I am here paraphrasing Joss Whedon (Buffy the vampire slayer) who said ‘the very fact that you need to ask that question, is the answer’.
How did you go about research? Reference books could give you the details of bombing raids or casualty statistics but how did you find out what it felt like actually be in a Halifax bomber, let alone flying over enemy territory? 
“I did read a lot of factual books but I also read a lot of first-hand accounts and they’re a great way into understanding what it was like.  I love recreating atmosphereI also have an imagination, of course.”
You've described A God In Ruins as a companion piece to Life After Life - are there any more stories to be found within the world of the Todds? 
“Well, I would like to write about the Todds every day of my life, a kind of soap about Fox CornerI think I may have mined that seam though. I would quite like to write a book about Maurice (Teddy’s older brother) because he’s so hated, but maybe that would be rather tedious. I think that if I live long enough, I’d like to write a book about the Shawcross sisters, who are not strictly Todds but who very much inhabit that world.”
And, just a little off piste, are we likely to see a return for Jackson Brodie in the near future? 
“Not in the near future (I don’t think) but I do have another Jackson Brodie in me. I don’t think it will be just yet.”

Thank you Kate for such interesting responses - and I, for one, would be delighted to read more about the Shawcross sisters.

Maryom's reviews ; A God in Ruins,
                             Life After Life,  
                             Case Histories (Jackson Brodie Bk 1)

Monday 18 May 2015

The D'Evil Diaries by Tatum Flynn

Review by The Mole

Jinx D'Evil is Lucifer's son but he's not very good at being evil. In fact that's his problem he keeps being good and not evil. When he is given an instruction - by his dad or anyone else - he does it to the best of his abilities! His dad decides he will join the army but he cannot stand this idea so he runs away and discovers a plot to overthrow Lucifer and invade heaven. Inept and incapable as he is he has to stop this from happening but he has help in the form of a dead (although human) girl who shouldn't be in hell anyway because children aren't permitted.

Very funny but also very clever, this book had me thinking and I'm sure young readers will be laughing but also contemplating about the nature of evil at the same time.

Demons and monsters of every shade of colour and horror abound as Jinx blunders across hell, each new one encountered is a new opportunity for mayhem and laughs.

Easily read with a hero who is good at nothing and an unlikely heroine who saves his bacon time and time again this book has something for any child who enjoys a laugh.

Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre - Children's humour, fantasy adventure

Friday 15 May 2015

Pike by Anthony McGowan

 review by Maryom

The Bacon Pond is known for the killer pike that lurk in the depths - they're even said to attack unwary swimmers! At least, these are the tales that Nicky tells to his big brother Kenny. What they're about to discover on a fishing trip there will put even the wildest tales of man-eating pike to shame - lurking just below the surface is the body of a local criminal Mick Bowen, and on his pale, stick-like hand, glitters the gold of a Rolex watch. Nicky thinks of the watch's value, of all he could do and buy with that kind of money, of how he feels Mick Bowen owes him and his family for causing trouble for his dad, and of how, if Mick Bowen's already dead, taking the watch can't be stealing.....can it?

The aim of publishers Barrington Stoke is to get children and teens reading by offering them stories that they can't put down, in a format to entice the reluctant, struggling or dyslexic reader - and Pike certainly lives up to that aim. First and foremost, it does what all books should - engage and entertain the reader.
Readers of McGowan's Carnegie longlisted Brock with be familiar with brothers Kenny and Nicky, and here they are back in a hunt for sunken treasure - well, at least, fishing a dead man's watch out of the pond. Their dad has banned them from swimming in the pond, which saves them from having to face the killer pike, but without swimming or use of a boat how can they reach the watch? Sometimes you'll laugh, sometimes you'll be on the edge of your seat, as Nicky finds himself enticed into doing things that he knows are a little bit stupid; normally Nicky has to look after Kenny, but this time it's Kenny who comes to his aid.

Would I call it a thriller? Maybe - it's certainly got the tense 'what will happen next - will he make it or will he get caught?' feel of one, with some nice twists and turns at the end. Add to that a couple of moral dilemmas for Nicky to work through (and a swipe at the 'close the libraries' attitude of so many councils) and there's plenty to engage the reader and leave them with food for thought.

A brilliant read for any teenager..

..... and in case I haven't convinced you, you can read the first chapter here on the Barrington Stoke website

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Barrington Stoke
Genre - teenage/teenage reluctant readers

Thursday 14 May 2015

The Star of Istanbul by Robert Olen Butler

review by Maryom 

It's 1915 and American war correspondent Christopher Marlowe "Kit" Cobb is being sent to war-torn Europe with a double mission - to send back exciting copy for his newspaper, but also to do a little spying on the side - after all, no one's going to think twice about a nosy reporter asking questions are they? Sailing on the Lusitania, Cobb's instructions are to keep track of Walter Brauer, a German-American, an expert in Islamic studies lecturing at King's College in London and suspected German spy, but he soon finds himself distracted by the charms of movie-star, Selene Bourgani. Bourgani is as enigmatic as she is beautiful, and seems to have links to Brauer and possibly even be working with him. As Cobb follows the pair to London and on into Europe he uncovers a plot that could change the whole course of the war.....

The Star of Istanbul is a thrilling spy adventure set in the early part of World War 1, before the US involvement so Cobb is able to travel fairly freely throughout Europe. Although he doesn't find himself in any actual war zones, there's danger enough as the Lusitania is attacked (yes, he's on that voyage!), London is bombed from Zeppelins, and the German secret service try to stop Cobb in more personal ways.
There's a dash of Erskine Childers' The Riddle of the Sands and John Buchan's Richard Hannay thrillers, written more or less at the time of WW1, about it all, with glamorous spies, dastardly Germans, and a hero out to foil the bad guys' plot and save his country. Throw in an exotic location - Istanbul - and what more could you want?
It's a tense, twisty read, that takes the reader back to an age before hi-tech spying gadgets, when the hero had to rely on his quick wits alone. As a whole I found it really enjoyable book, full of treachery, intrigue and suspense, but occasionally a little too wordy which slowed down the action. Cobb isn't a 'professional' spy and some of the things he has to do sit uneasily with him, even when they're absolutely vital to his survival. Selene Bourgani though is rather a typical femme fatale style spy, with a mysterious past and deadly agenda, which I found a bit of a shame; I'd have liked to see a more rounded, fully developed character.

I haven't read the first Kit Cobb story, The Hot Country, but found no problems (other than maybe plot spoilers for previous book) in jumping in here.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult historical spy thriller World War 1

Carys Bray - Author Interview

Today we're delighted to welcome Carys Bray, the author of A Song for Issy Bradley, a stunning debut novel telling the story of how one family works out how to carry on, when their whole world has fallen apart.

1. What was the first book to make an impression on you?
My mum used to read Bible and Book of Mormon stories to us every night. Those books made a huge impression on me. I grew up thinking I was on the right side of an epic battle between good and evil. It was rather exciting.

2. What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved anything by Enid Blyton. We had the whole works – Malory Towers, The Famous Five, The Five-Find-Outers, St. Clare’s – and I read ALL of them!

3. And what is your favourite book or books now?
The Stone Diaries holds a special place in my heart. I think it might be the most beautiful book I’ve ever read and I also think Carol Shields was a really inspiring person.

4. What is your favourite quotation?
‘The best way to make children good is to make them happy’ – Oscar Wilde

5. Who is your favourite fictional character?
Owen Meany from John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.

6. Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?
Traditional print every time. I have a Kindle but I hardly ever use it.

7. What is the most beautiful book you own?
The Complete Illuminated Books by William Blake.

8. Where and how do you write?
I write at a treadmill desk in my lounge and sometimes at the dining room table, particularly if it’s cold because there’s a wood-burning stove there. I don’t write chronologically, initially. I let myself write the bits I know I’m going to enjoy until I get a sense of the shape of the whole thing. Then I start filling in the gaps.

9. What book changed the way you think about fiction?
The Stone Diaries.

10. What is the most research you have done for a book?
The novel I’m just beginning needs quite a bit of research. I’m learning about museums, buses, collecting, postnatal depression and blogging, which seems like quite a lot when compared with my first novel and my short stories.

11. What book influenced you the most?
The Stone Diaries. It made me realise that it’s okay to write about ordinary lives.

12. What book would you give to a friend’s child on their eighteenth birthday?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

13. What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
The Stone Diaries (is this getting boring yet?!)

14. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
I don’t give unsolicited advice – I don’t like it when writers pontificate about THE way to do things. I think people need to discover what works for them. If you twisted my arm, I’d say, ‘Read lots.’

15. What weight do you give reviews?
I pay attention to reviews and feedback from people I respect. I grew up believing ‘be ye therefore perfect’ was an achievable goal. Consequently I’m used to the idea of falling short and very comfortable with criticism!

16. What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
I think reading has helped me to develop empathy. I love trying on other lives.

17. What has being a writer taught you?
I think I’d have to say patience. It takes ages to write a book and then it takes ages to edit and ages to publish – the whole process is just so long. It’s a good thing to remember this when beginning a new novel:  it’s going to take a long time to get things absolutely right, and that’s okay.

18. Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Hmm, I don’t know much about dinner parties, and what I do know comes from watching Come Dine With Me on the telly, so I feel strangely panicked by this question. Do I have to cook? Is it okay if I scrape some gourmet pasta into a casserole dish? I’ve actually got a huge dining room table – an optimistic purchase made during a moment in which I was imagining myself as a sociable, domestic goddess – so I could host quite a large dinner party, in theory. I’d invite Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Virginia Woolf, Brady
Udall, John Irving, Oscar Wilde and Levi Peterson (I said it was a big table).

19. What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
That’s a horrible question! I honestly don’t know the answer. Hmm. There’s a lovely scene in Rodge Glass’s novel Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs that makes me smile every time I think of it. Sir Alex Ferguson comes to Mikey Wilson’s house for tea. Mikey’s mum puts on a posh voice and Mikey makes sure Sir Alex has his tea in a United mug. It’s a really funny scene but it’s also very touching.

20. What is your favourite word?

You can read more about Carys Bray on her site at
Maryom's review of A Song For Issy Bradley

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Renegade by Kerry Wilkinson

review by Maryom

Silver Blackthorn and eleven other Offerings have escaped from Windsor Castle, managing to evade the clutches of King Victor, the Minister Prime and their guards the Kingsmen. But merely escaping isn't enough; getting out was - if not the 'easy' part - the obvious thing to do, beyond that Silver never really had any plans. She can't just go home - even if her family are still there, there'll surely be Kingsmen lying in wait - but what should she do? Everyone seems to have plans for her - to act as figurehead for the various dissident groups, to use her knowledge, or to manipulate her actions to suit their own plans.
With the silver streak in her hair, Silver is never going to be anonymous or able to hide in a crowd. And if the Kingsmen can't catch Silver then retaliation for her actions will be taken on her family....

 Renegade is the second book of Kerry Wilkinson's very British dystopian series, the Silver Blackthorn trilogy and, as such, picks up from the point at which Reckoning ended. There's such a lot of world-building and character development in the first book that it's best to start there; Renegade hits the ground running (rather literally as Silver and the other Offerings try to avoid re-capture), expecting the reader to be up to speed with the plot so far.
Having been chosen as one of the Offerings for King Victor and uncovered the abuse at the heart of his government, Silver's first thoughts had been of escape - for her and as many of the other imprisoned teens as possible. Now she's finding that personal freedom isn't enough, eventually someone is going to have to bring down King Victor and his supporters. A variety of groups are seemingly ready and waiting to do this, and Silver could easily fall into the role of their figurehead....but will she? There are hard choices to be made, choosing between the safety of family and friends, and the bringing down of King Victor.

There's more chance for the reader to get to know the other Offerings this time - particularly Faith who steps out of Silver's shadow with a heart-breaking story-line and some very hard choices to make.

The story is as action-packed and nail-biting as Reckoning, with both support and betrayal to be found in unexpected places as Silver tries to pick her way between conflicting emotions and advice. The only downside is the long wait for the third, series-concluding book.

Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Pan Books
Genre - teen/YA dystopian, action adventure, thriller

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz

review by Maryom

When Detective Sergeant Leonard Corell is sent along to investigate a suicide, he finds the task more interesting than he'd expected - for the deceased was Alan Turing, mathematical genius and convicted homosexual. Digging a little into the dead man's past, Corell finds himself increasingly fascinated by this eccentric character, torn between growing admiration for Turing's work and disgust at his sexual orientation.What starts as a routine task becomes a personal mission - but Turing's activities were being watched closely by the security services, and Corell soon finds that he too has attracted their attention.

Both David Lagercrantz and Alan Turing are in the news at the moment; the author for having been chosen to continue Stieg Larsson's Lizbeth Salander Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and the mathematician for The Imitation Game, the recent film about his life and work starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Fall of Man in Wilmslow brings them together.

 At the time of his death in 1954, Turing's war-time work at Bletchley Park would still have been a secret; now it's fairly common knowledge.   So what Corell painstakingly uncovers, are facts most of us are vaguely aware of.
Corell himself wasn't a character I took to. He's hampered to a great extent by the homophobic attitudes of the time - this is after all the 1950s when society generally was less tolerant - but he also carries a chip on his shoulder, a general attitude that he's superior to his surroundings and colleagues and that life and family have let him down. Continuing his investigation into Turing's past allows him to connect with university professors and discuss theoretical mathematics, leading him to re-evaluate what he's doing with his life - but it does feel rather far fetched that he instantly understands concepts that distinguished mathematicians have been struggling with! Unlike Corell, I found the whole exploration of imaginary numbers or the application of logic conundrums to Mathematics to be a little dull - and at times the forward momentum of the plot foundered on these digressions. I think if you've a liking for such things you'll find the book a lot more enjoyable than I did.

 Maryom's review - 3 stars 
Publisher - Maclehose Press/Quercus Books

Genre -  adult, translated fiction,

Translated from the Swedish by George Goulding

Monday 11 May 2015

The Shield Of Kuromori by Jason Rohan

Review by The Mole

This is the second book in a series telling the story of Kenny Blackwood, a young  boy chosen by the God Inari to be her champion and to fight on the side of right. In Book 1 He was awarded Kusanagi, a magical sword that appears at his bidding to aid him in his endeavours.

Kenny Blackwood's story continues but slowly Kiyomi, his girl friend, is dying and being taken over by an oni - a bloodthirsty ogre. A threat  has developed in which an organisation, with oni as its henchmen, are trying to take over the world and the only thing that stands in their way is Kenny - and where Kenny goes Kiyomi goes, at her own connivance and insistence. She isn't his girlfriend only his girl friend. Are we convinced?

A magical fantasy, set in Japan, which starts fast and just gets faster. With lots of references to Japanese culture the reader gets an insight into the tea ceremony, shrines to gods, legends and myths and so much more.

Monsters come at you thick and fast, and, if you put the book down, the story is moving so fast that you expect to pick it up and have missed something. Fear not, you don't - I tried it. It contains a lot of violence, as most fast paced stories do, along with tension but both are very much at the surface level that holds the young reader's attention without being so graphic or tense to upset anyone.

It contains monsters that the average person could never conceive of and a new one on almost every page. But balanced with this is science... from mobile phones and computers to satellites and space mirrors. 

There is a love story but it doesn't dominate or spoil the plot because neither character will admit to it. And while Kenny is saving the world Kiyomi is busy saving Kenny - time and time again - and this balance of the two main characters means this book is truly going to appeal equally to both girls and boys. But why stop there? I am a little outside the teen market (by about 40 years) and I loved it. It's a "suspend disbelief" novel - as so many good ones are - and it manages from about page one to make that clear. Is Kenny going to save Kiyomi? Is Kiyomi going to save Kenny? This is Book 2 of a series...

I truly loved this book and any child who likes fantasy will it too.

Publisher - Egmont Books
Genre - Children's/Teen fantasy/scifi

Friday 8 May 2015

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

review by Maryom

In Life After Life, Kate Atkinson brought us a tale of one life, Ursula Todd's, lived over and over again till it was "right". In A God In Ruins, she brings us just one life-time, that of Ursula's brother Teddy with all its ups and downs, happy memories, devastating sadness, youth, old age ....

Working out the odds as a World War II bomber pilot, Teddy didn't rate his chances of making it through to see the peace - so he found it strange to be picking up the pieces of his life and starting to plan for the future. The war continues to cast its shadow over him though - to cope, he developed a deep layer of stoicism, almost a numbness, to keep himself plodding on, accepting whatever was thrown at him - from bombs and machine-gun fire to the dreadful things he himself did and  the random accidents that claimed the lives of friends. Scarred and numbed by his experiences and feeling a need to atone for his actions, Teddy decides his life will now be one of kindness, his own slight reparation for the horror of war, but those dreadful years are not shrugged off so easily and his relationships with wife, daughter and grandchildren are all affected.

Life After Life was a stunning, knock-me-for-six, sort of book and I'd wondered how on earth Kate Atkinson was going to follow it. Surely anything would seem tame by comparison, lacking in emotional clout? Well, the short answer is No! A God in Ruins is another absolute stunner.
Carefully and cleverly constructed, the story moves back and forth in time - to Teddy's childhood and his grandchildren's futures, sometimes revisiting events from a different angle - but always circling those formative, life-changing war-time years.
War novels seem to be rather the province of male authors - though why that should be I don't know - but Atkinson puts the reader there on Teddy's Halifax, dodging flak and enemy aircraft, experiencing the fear and adrenaline, the fragility of both life and aircraft; it's as good as anything I've read (and from childhood preferring my father's war novels to my mother's romantic fiction, I've read quite a few). There are certain incidents that sound a little familiar - for example from the film Memphis Belle - but something that surprised me was the occasional beauty of an air-raid seen from above - target indicators falling like red, gold and green fireworks or the twinkling lights of incendiaries - contrasting with the horror of killing those below.

There are subtle signs and hints throughout that the author is playing with the reader, indicators of what the eventual ending may be; the references to Life After Life, and the ever-present omniscient narrator who knows what will happen in the future well beyond the confines of this story, point towards the final twist. It's the sort of game that elsewhere, with different authors, I've objected to but this time I didn't mind at all - I'd been expecting the end, it felt 'right' and in many ways I'd have been disappointed if the story had ended in a more conventional way. As I read I felt completely immersed in the story - it doesn't matter at what level this is fiction - Teddy, his wife Nancy, daughter Viola, grandchildren Sunny and Bertie all felt completely real, all people I could care about and relate to.
The ending left me saddened and moved - an emotional roller-coaster seems a lazy description but that's exactly what this is.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre- adult, war, 

Thursday 7 May 2015

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

review by Maryom
When Faith Sunderly's father moves his family to the island of Vane, he gives out that the reason is to help in some ongoing excavations - he is after all a renowned natural scientist and an expert on fossils - but he's actually running from a scandal about to break over his faking of finds. The island feels dark and sinister to begin with and Faith's father's strange behaviour adds to the air of secrecy and menace.
Among his collection of prized specimens, all carefully transported to their new home, is a very curious plant which he's taking extra care of - it feeds on lies and having grown bears a fruit that imparts special knowledge and understanding on its eater. Within a few days of the family's arrival, the whole island is aware of the allegations against Faith's father, so when his dead body is found in strange circumstances the obvious assumption is that he committed suicide to avoid disgrace - Faith though believes he was murdered and sets out to prove it and track down the murderer. To this end she begins to feed the Lie Tree with untruths, but to get more information out of it she must invent bigger, more preposterous lies and spread them far and wide throughout the island community....

How to start to describe The Lie Tree? It's a murder mystery, with gothic horror overtones, a morality tale, historical fiction..  it's very difficult to pin down! The important thing is that it's an excellent read. It's darkly atmospheric, filled with quietly brooding menace, with the lie tree itself oozing evil and corrupting those who engage with it; it captures the feel of Victorian times when Darwin's new theories about evolution were altering how people saw the world and man's place in it, scientific concepts were being proved false, and religious beliefs challenged; and the murder mystery has red herrings and plot twists galore. In addition, it has a 14 year old heroine not happy to take the quiet role assigned to her by Victorian standards. Faith has inherited all her father's curiosity about the natural world but finding her interest in science blocked, has turned her inquisitiveness to more personal matters - eaves-dropping on others' conversations, riffling through private papers. Not the behaviour of a nice Victorian young lady! This willingness to snoop on others proves useful though, as she tries to discover motive and culprit for her father's death.

All in all, a book that should appeal across a wide range of ages and tastes, and one that I'd personally be tempted to re-read.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan (Macmillan Children's Books)

Genre -teen/YA, historical, gothic horror, murder mystery

Wednesday 6 May 2015

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger

review by Maryom

In the pre-dawn dark of early morning Curtis is driving along on a mountain highway, still a little high, dogged by personal problems and looking forward to an exhausting hike that will help put his troubles in perspective. Distracted, he doesn't spot the girl walking down the highway, and before he realises, has hit her with his truck.
His father Tom is an undemonstrative, solitary man, happiest out among the forests and mountains, but since his wife left him with two small children to raise, he's rather had to put this aspect of his life on hold. Now, with the kids grown up, he's looking to sell his forestry business, buy a cabin way off grid, cut himself off from the world and live at one with nature. Life, of course, doesn't follow man's best laid plans, and Tom finds he still has obligations, particularly towards Curtis, that must be met.

Set in the Canadian Rockies, The Mountain Can Wait is a moving story exploring the relationship between a father and his son, and the choices that have to be made between freedom and responsibility. Both father and son are, in their different ways, running away from things - Curtis, most obviously, is trying to avoid any come-back from the accident, while Tom, given a free choice, would cut himself off from all emotional ties, and live simply, almost hermit-style, deep in the mountain-side forest.
Although Curtis's actions start of the chain of events, his father Tom is the main player in this story. A man who had fatherhood thrust upon him at an early age, then had to take sole responsibility for two small children, he's spent most of his life looking forward to the day when he'll be independent and able to live life as he chooses. He's happiest along among the mountains - trekking to their summits, frolicking in the cold mountain lakes like an otter, taking such sheer physical delight in these surroundings. He's not sentimental in his relationship with nature or wild animals, rather hard-nosed and practical in fact, but prepared to accept everything from bears to mosquitoes as part of this environment he loves, and as deserving of their place in it as he is. As events unfold though, he discovers that family ties have a greater pull on him than he'd imagined, and, while helping Curtis understand that he must accept responsibility for the accident, Tom begins to realise he has an ongoing responsibility towards his children.
Throughout there's a feeling that a connection to the land is important, maybe essential to our well-being; Tom may want to take it to extremes, but Curtis, by rejecting it, has lost his way and now drifts through life, often in a drink or drug-fuelled haze - both of them need to find a middle way.

The story progresses slowly - it's definitely more of a 'show don't tell' book (in fact 'telling' the reader would probably have wound the whole plot up in a side of A4!) - but I loved it this way. The reader follows Tom as he goes about his life - setting up camp for his workforce in the depths of the forest, getting out there planting tree seedlings with them, dealing with supervisors and stroppy workmen - and back into his memories - of his wife, of the problems he faced when she walked out, of the happy, proud or anxious times spent with his children.
It's a book that will inspire you to get out there, head for your nearest mountain or hill top and soak in the beauty, even if it isn't as magnificent as the Rockies - and , yes, the landscape caught my imagination so much that I ended up googling maps and photos, pretending I was there!

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

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Whisky From Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrick

Review by The Mole

A body is washed up on the shore by Kinloch - a woman's naked body. The doctor attending points out the ligature around her neck and suggests it's murder.

DI Jim Daley is sent from Glasgow to investigate and soon his DS, Brian Scott joins him with a support unit.

Soon two more bodies are found murdered in different ways but similarly enough to be linked and the hunt is on for a serial killer.

This is the first book in the series featuring DI Daley - in which he does get promoted to DCI - and it's very much a starter. I read "The Last Witness" first and missed out on the character introductions. In this book we get to really understand the main characters and grow to know and like Daley and Scott in particular. Meyrick is not averse to throwing another body or two in to hold the readers attention and build the tension a little higher while at the same time spinning out the clues and giving wrong interpretations of them just to confuse you. The author also spends time introducing the town of Kinloch and the fickle weather of the area as well as getting you drawn into the beautiful countryside that the town is set in. Daley is prime for a TV series and one day there will be tour buses...

Ok, I had the killer tagged quite early but this is not so much a whodunnit as a thriller and an excellent one at that.

My advice is though:- Read these books in order. There is a big spoiler in book two that makes the ending of this one more of a "uh?" than a thrilling one. Also I didn't get as strong a feel for the characters in the second book as I did in this one. Read this book first and you'll enjoy the later books even more and be hooked into the series until the end - whenever that may be.

Publisher - Polygon
Genre - Crime thriller

Monday 4 May 2015

Cleo by Lucy Coats

review by Maryom 

When her beloved mother dies following a mysterious 'falling down the stairs' accident, Cleopatra find her place at the Egyptian court full of danger. With their father the Pharaoh away dancing attendance on Caesar in Rome, Cleo's half-sisters Tryphena and Berenice have their eyes on the throne, fearing for her life, Cleo runs away and finds sanctuary at the temple of the goddess Isis in Philae. Here she lives in anonymity as just another acolyte training in the ways of the goddess and hoping to become a priestess one day, but Isis had marked Cleo out as someone special from her birth, and after four years she is Chosen by the goddess for a special task. Isis's power is failing and to restore it Cleo must find a secret map hidden in the Royal library in Alexandria. Going back there means Cleo risking the malice of her sisters but, on the plus side, maybe, just maybe, she can meet again with Khai, the boy-librarian who has haunted her dreams since she left.

Cleo is a thrilling tale full of danger, friendship and budding romance set against the backdrop of Ancient Egypt. Re-telling the story of Cleopatra before she burst onto history's stage, it may not be absolutely historically accurate - nothing is known at all of Cleopatra's early life - but it's an engaging, fun read which brings people and places vividly to life.
From the first page Cleo grabs the reader's sympathy and admiration. The story opens with her battling against her feelings  - full of grief, but trying to be brave and show no emotion as her mother dies watched over by the royal court. Not only is showing emotion frowned upon but at this perilous time, Cleo needs to keep her judgement clear and her wits about her to evade her sisters' machinations - and she does. These same qualities stand her in good stead when she's sent back to Alexandria on the goddess's mission. Her devotion to Charm, her slave-girl become friend, and the librarian-spy Khai again win the reader's approval and set her apart from her arrogant sisters with their careless attitude to the life of others. At the same time, she's very much a teenager, with teenage attitude - particularly towards her horrible sisters whom she labels the 'Evil Sow' sisters, but at times towards Isis who marks her out for a special task but then abandons her when godly intervention would be helpful.
This compelling story unfolds against a background of colour and life - I loved the details of foodstuffs, the bustling life of the marketplace, the clothing and jewels, that all helped bring history to life in a totally 'unstuffy' way.
Taken together Cleo is a great mix of history, friendship, adventure and romance that I just loved. So in a way I'm rather glad that her story isn't brought to a final conclusion in this book but carries on in Cleo Chosen.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre - historical adventure, teen/YA

Friday 1 May 2015

A Killing Moon by Steven Dunne

review by Maryom

One snowy night Caitlin Kinnear disappears on her way back from the pub to her student digs. At first no one notices - her closest friend, fellow student Laurie, thinks she's gone home to her family in Belfast for the Easter break, her family assume she's still in Derby - so by the time her disappearance is reported to the police the trail has started to go cold. DS John Noble knows he may be clutching at straws but thinks there could be a link to other similar missing persons cases - all young single women from overseas, either studying or holidaying in Derby, with no real connection between them other than the last sighting of them being in the same city. His boss DI Damen Brook isn't impressed with Noble's theory, but faced with an even less palatable job investigating scrap metal theft, decides to prioritise the case.....and soon finds himself with a murder enquiry on his hands.
One of the last people to see Caitlin alive was barman Jake Tanner, but he's got his own problems to worry about. As the sole carer for his younger 'special needs' brother, he finds it difficult to hold on to work and make ends meet. He thinks he's struck lucky with a new Polish themed bar opening in town ...but he could hardly be more wrong!

A Killing Moon is another brilliantly tense thriller from Derby's very own crime writer Steven Dunne. This is the fifth in the DI Brook series and I think I'm getting used to having my home city's streets filled with murderers - at least, fictional ones! Brook seems now to have put his past firmly behind him, to be recovering from the psychological scars of his encounter with The Reaper. His success in clearing up cold cases has got him on the good side of his superior and he seems more relaxed, fitting in better with his colleagues and even starting to be sociable at times (not too often though, that's not his style).

As I've come to expect from Dunne's thrillers, A Killing Moon isn't a simple 'guess the murderer' style crime novel. It's one of those books in which things start out quietly, and seemingly simply, but soon escalate, with extra threads weaving their way in, as Brook and Noble find themselves on the trail of a sinister conspiracy targeting young women away from home. The plot twists in satisfyingly complex ways - and, even though the reader, seeing more than one side to the story, is often a couple of steps ahead of the police enquiry, it isn't possible to foresee how things will end. As with earlier DI Brook stories there's a certain level of moral ambivalence in A Killing Moon - people with good principles end up doing horrific things and sometimes the end might justify the questionable means.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller