Monday 31 August 2015

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

review by Maryom

Madeline Whittier is allergic to everything, so much so that she's lived all of her seventeen years in virtual isolation seeing only her mother, her nurse and a few carefully screened and decontaminated tutors. Not having known any other sort of life, she doesn't really feel cut off - but that's about to change when a new family moves in next door. Maddie finds her eye caught by the teenage son Olly, and he is insistent about wanting to get to know her. At first they chat through internet messages but soon this isn't enough, and Maddie realises she's ready to risk everything for just a few days freedom.
Everything, Everything is a convincing and compelling story about a teenage girl, locked up like some fairy-tale princess, not by a wicked witch but by her over-protective mother. To grow up never leaving the house, never having the chance to make friends, to go to school, the movies, the beach - all the things we take for granted - may seem weird to us, but not to Maddie; it's just how her life is. She's never really queried it till now when Olly's arrival next door makes her realise how much she is missing out on.
The tale is told in a variety of ways - mainly first person narrative from Maddie's point of view, but also 'transcripts' of conversations held through messenger, med charts and pictures - that help the story move along quickly, and let the reader in on how Maddie feels,sharing her hopes, dreams and frustrations.
It's a story about love; about how it can give us the ability to take on the impossible, but also how it can cripple and stifle everything.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre - teen

Friday 28 August 2015

A Brush with Danger (Fox Investigates) by Adam Frost

Illustrated by Emily Fox

Review by The Mole

Suzie La Pooch engages Wily Fox (private investigator) to find out why the people she bought a painting from are so desperate to buy it back again. Before Wily can start the investigation it is stolen and Wily knows who by.

With the aid of some rather clever gadgets Wily chases across Europe pursuing clues.

A glance at the cover leads you to expect a degree of silliness, a degree of impossibility, and a very large measure of fun and that is very much what you get with Wily Fox. Wily has help and support from Albert (a mole) who provides the inventions and Sybil Squirrel, who works for Julius Hound, a member of PSSST (a police force of sorts). With black and white illustrations on most every page the humour of the book is added to making this an excellent early reader for any child who loves mysteries or enjoys a laugh. And that surely encompasses most children.

Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre - Children's early reader, adventure, humour.

Thursday 27 August 2015

The Sea Between Us by Emylia Hall

review by Maryom

 When her parents decide to move and live by the sea in Cornwall, Robyn Swinton doesn't expect to settle and make her home there - after all she's already finished her first year at university and is looking forward to striking out on her own in some more glamorous, bustling, generally exciting place like London. Then she discovers her own private cove almost at the end of the garden and the beginnings of a love affair, or two; one with surfing, the other with Jago, the boy-next-door. For when a boy rescues a girl from the sea, they have to fall in love, don't they? If only life were that simple!

This, Emylia Hall's third novel, is the nearest yet to a straight forward love story. The relationship between Robyn and Jago grows and changes over a seven year span, as instant attraction turns to something deeper, but fate seems determined to push them apart. Theirs is a story of missed chances, of so often being in the wrong place at the wrong time, of letters and messages going astray, of other relationships getting in the way - a little bit like Friends' Ross and Rachel, a little like Emma and Dexter from David Nicholls' One Day - but while it's a love story, there's so much more to it than that.
What I've loved about Emylia Hall's previous books, and has made them stand out for me above so many others, has been the capturing of place and atmosphere; in The Book of Summers it's the hot, lazy days of Hungarian summers; in A Heart Bent Out of Shape it's the snow-filled streets of Lausanne in winter. This time, she's chosen a setting closer to home - the far west of Cornwall - and almost every page is filled with yearning for the sea and surf, from the shock of the first cold wave to the elation of a few seconds upright catching a wave, she captures that tug that the sea exerts on many of us, a longing to throw oneself in and become part of it. From her first surfing attempt with a huge board and her wetsuit on back to front, comical but charming in the way of a toddler's first steps, Robyn is hooked on it!
I also loved the artistic passion that permeates the story - from Robyn's attempts to capture the pull and sweep of the waves or the play of light on the ocean through painting, to Jago's instinctive understanding of wood or the 'high' that Eliot gets playing music on stage in front of a live crowd. It's very much a book fizzing with the joy of life, and the delight in finding the thing that one 'must' do.

With it's sea-swept atmosphere, it's a great book for summer, but it's one that will linger with you far longer than a lot of other holiday reads.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult fiction

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Killer Plan by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

Following Caroline's brief encounter with a school friend of some 20 years ago her husband is brutally murdered. Caroline suspects the meeting wasn't an accident after all but feels she can't inform the police without implicating herself.

Then one of her identical twins goes missing - she believes he has been kidnapped.

DI Geraldine Steel's boss is looking for a fast close to the case when a second body found - it is that of her colleague, DI Nick Williams. A second murder investigation is opened and, despite sharing an office with Nick, Geraldine insists on being on the second team. But Geraldine is harbouring her own secrets which could jeopardise her career.

Geraldine Steel returns in this her seventh book and is as good as ever - in fact maybe even better. In a return to the style of the early Geraldine Steel books we, as the reader, know full well who has done what and to whom and scratch our heads wondering how Geraldine can find those missing clues to draw the puzzles together.

Russell manages to bring each character to life in a way that defies understanding. Each character we meet has their own little "foibles" with no-one - even the witnesses - being a "stock" character that produces a statement and walks away. The only problem with this kind of story is you get to see inside the head of characters that maybe, just maybe, you would rather not see - it is well worth the look though.

More about Geraldine Steel and her creator, Leigh Russell here

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Tuesday 25 August 2015

The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson

 review by Maryom

Poor Thomas Hawkins has got himself in a mess again - and this time he's on his way to the gallows, convicted of murder!
After his previous adventures in The Devil in the Marshalsea anyone would think Tom would be ready to settle down to a quiet life, but living comfortably with Kitty Sparks, above the "specialist' bookshop she inherited from her guardian, is proving just too dull. Kitty is very much in charge of the shop and its income, even refusing to marry Thomas to prevent him gambling her money away, so when he's offered the chance to earn a little cash he jumps at the offer, even though it comes from one of London's most notorious criminals. 
But while Thomas gets himself involved in court intrigue surrounding the king's mistress and her estranged bully of a husband, another crime is taking place on his doorstep - his quiet law-abiding neighbour has been found brutally, and messily, murdered in his own bed. All the windows and doors of his property were locked and bolted, so the murderer had to have been someone from inside - his children, his apprentice, or his maid - but popular suspicion points at Thomas, especially as he'd been seen hammering on his neighbour's door and threatening him!
As Thomas is transported to the gallows, he reflects on the circumstances that have brought him there and tries desperately to keep up his hopes of a last minute pardon .....will this really prove to be his Last Confession?

 This second outing for Thomas Hawkins takes the reader back to the hustle and bustle of Georgian London - but whereas his previous adventure took place mainly within the confines of the Marshalsea debtors prison, this time he has the freedom of the whole city, from the slums of St Giles, and the coffee shops and brothels of Covent Garden, to the royal court itself; all life is there to be seen. The author has obviously done her research to bring it alive so vividly but it's displayed almost casually in the little details as the action moves forward, rather trotted out lecture-style in lengthy descriptions.
 The main story is the murder of which Thomas stands accused - a closed-room killing, with a limited number of suspects, all with grievances against the victim but none seemingly worth murdering for. Alongside and around this weave a variety of other threads - a bullying husband threatening his wife, a do-gooder trying to reform and clean up the streets, and through all of them the love story between Thomas and Kitty. Thomas remains almost boyish is his desire for adventure, unfortunately it tends to take him to both physically and financially dangerous places; Kitty is clever and shrewd, able to run her business successfully, and,while at times eager to share Tom's adventures, luckily has sense enough for the two of them; together they make a great couple.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, historical crime

Monday 24 August 2015

The Man from Berlin by Luke McCallin

review by Maryom

Sarajevo, 1943; the murder of young journalist/filmmaker Marija Vukic would probably have been left to the local police if it weren't for the presence of another dead body at the scene - that of a German officer. As it is, Captain Gregor Reinhardt, an ex-policeman now working for Abwehr, German military intelligence, finds himself involved in, and intrigued by, the case. The Yugoslavian investigation seems to be aimed at getting a quick result, not necessarily accurate, and preferably one that will point the finger at the anti-German Partisan movement, but Reinhardt is not at all convinced and persists in digging deeper, in the process annoying both local police and German officials.

The second book in this series is out on Thursday but I thought I'd be better to start at the beginning, and I'm glad I did as I think more of Reinhardt's background will have been explored here. A hero of the first world war, Reinhardt's life since then has not been so happy, his wife has died, he's estranged from his Nazi-indoctrinated son, and he feels his conduct in this second war has been not entirely 'becoming'; he's lost his faith in the people running the country and in the war itself. In this way, Reinhardt is set up as that fairly familiar honest detective, happy to antagonise his superiors, not prepared to go along with orders that don't make sense to him, and ready to take extra risks if necessary to do 'right'. But instead of being part of a modern metropolitan police force, Reinhardt is part of army intelligence in German-occupied Yugoslavia - a country that's a melting pot for many different races and religions, in which it's difficult to keep track of which groups are on the same side. Against this backdrop, almost any murder is bound to have political and military implications, and Reinhardt is happy to take his time, ask his awkward questions and slowly, surely, get to the bottom of the things.
I really enjoyed this mix of whodunnit and historical novel. The time and place are vividly brought to life; the characters, despite a certain superficial similarity with so many from old war movies, well defined and credible; and the plot twists and turns in more ways than you might expect.  I'm certainly looking forward to Reinhardt's further adventures in The Pale House!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult historical crime whodunnit World War 2

Friday 21 August 2015

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

review by Maryom

 For Charlotte and Henry the Cambridge winter of 1963 seems to be stretching on for ever. Their small cottage, once cosy and welcoming for two, now feels cramped and damp, filled with baby paraphernalia and wet washing. Overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood, Charlotte has neither time nor energy to pursue her artistic career, and, when the doctor confirms her fear that another baby is on the way, she feels the walls closing in and suffocating her. Henry, born and raised in India, has never really acclimatised to the English weather and craves heat and dryness. When he sees a brochure advertising assisted passage to Australia, he thinks he's found the answer to all their problems - the weather will be warmer, there'll be no more sodden winters, they've have plenty of space to bring up their children with a larger house and a garden; Charlotte, too tired to argue, goes along with his plans, never really believing they'll come to fruition.

The Other Side of the World is a compelling, insightful read charting the break-down of a marriage. Both Charlotte and Henry are searching something that's been lost as the realities of life have taken over.
Charlotte feels her identity slipping away and fears she's becoming nothing more than a child-minding machine. Although the scenes where she takes out her frustration on the children were difficult to read, I could totally empathise with Charlotte about the boredom of being stuck at home all day with no one more intelligent than a three-year old to talk to. These days of course many of these problems wouldn't arise - her children would go along to nursery and she'd pick up her work, but it left me wondering how many women, until recently, felt compelled to stay at home, to put their 'real' lives on hold out of necessity rather than choice.
Henry's issues are different - he's not quite 'British', and not quite 'Indian', was sent away from home to boarding school, first in India, then in England, and since then has been searching for that elusive concept of 'home'. Maybe because Charlotte's problems resonated with me, I didn't feel Henry's situation was explored as much.

It's beautifully written, will make you cry and tear your hair out in desperation but it's the characterisation that makes this book - as a portrait of a mother stretched beyond tolerance it's up there with Maggie O'Farrell's The Hand That First Held Mine but too much is down to it, and the plot/story arc alone couldn't have held me.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction,

Thursday 20 August 2015

Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

review by Maryom

All her life Lydia has been looking for something to which she can dedicate herself. As a child she wanted to follow her father and become a champion gymnast, to gain the adulation and admiration of a spellbound crowd. As an adult, trying to regain her self-respect after a disastrous affair, she discovers Islam - the cleansing and prayer rituals, the rules by which she must live her life offer a framework within which she can lose herself and find love.
Lydia changes her name to Kauthar, wears hijab, marries a Muslim Iraq-born doctor and her life seems complete. But somehow she still doesn't feel quite fulfilled - maybe a child will fill the gap, or joining her husband helping the injured in his war-torn home country.....  What Lydia/Kauthar encounters there leads her towards what she sees as the ultimate sacrifice of self but others view as terrorism.

It's a bit flippant to say that Meike Ziervogel likes to explore the concept of  'women behaving badly' but here again, as with Magda, she does just that. The book opens, as it ends, with a suicide bombing - a horrific act, designed to shock and terrify, but that leaves us wondering why would someone do such thing. Through hate, or a desire for vengeance? well, from Kauthar's perspective it's an act of love. The story doesn't dwell on the sensationalist aspects  - the scattered body parts or the number of dead and injured  - but is interested in that question "Why?"
There's obviously no easy, one-size-fits-all answer but the author offers a plausible account of how one well-educated, white British woman might come to commit such a devastating act. Moving between childhood and adult years, the reader follows Lydia/Kauthar's life, trying to understand her, her reasoning and motivation, the psychological triggers that have pushed her and shaped her. As before in Ziervogel's work, there's a hint of the troubled relationship between mother and daughter. Lydia feels closest to her father, and her mother frequently seems dismissive of Lydia, belittling her and her aims and ideals as both child and adult.

 In 144 pages, the author draws a portrait of a woman struggling to fill an empty, gaping hole in her life - there never seems to be enough, or maybe the right sort of, love, to satisfy her need, and in desperation she twists her religion to fill that void.  This is without doubt another stunning, thought-provoking novella from Meike Ziervogel. Like those she publishes, the stories she writes tackle subjects that others might shy away from; they may be short but are deep and satisfying  - it doesn't feel an extra page or dozen would add anything.

There's a proverb (French I think) that claims that to understand all is to forgive all - and Kauthar (again like Magda) has committed an act that feels impossible to forgive. I certainly felt I understood Lydia/Kauthar but would I be able to forgive her? I don't think so.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult fiction, literary

Wednesday 19 August 2015

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

review by Maryom

Marvellous Ways has lived in the small Cornish hamlet of St Ophere for most of her life. Despite its size, it was once a bustling sort of place, by 1947 the cottages sit empty and abandoned - only Marvellous in her old gypsy caravan remains. At eighty nine, she lives quietly, alone but not necessarily lonely, swims in the creek each day, and is still waiting for something, although she doesn't know what.
Unknowingly heading for Marvellous's creek is Drake, a soldier returning from World War Two, battered both physically and emotionally by the things he's encountered. Gradually with the help of Marvellous, he begins to recover, and prepare to face life again.

Woven through with magic, with tales of mermaids and long-lost love, this is an absolutely, well, marvellous story. The setting is enchanting, and enchanted, the creek a place of peace and healing, the story-telling lyrical, the whole permeated by myth and magic.

I wasn't sure whether the magic rested in the place or Marvellous herself. She's renowned for her healing, has helped and treated everyone from babies struggling into the world, to the elderly and ill readying themselves to depart. She's both spirit of the place, like a Roman genius loci, and guardian of it.
In sharp contrast, Drake is a rootless, ungrounded person without friends or relations; he never knew his father, his mother died when he was young, the elderly aunts who took him in have passed on too - all that's left is a hope that the cousin he loves might still be alive, despite them losing touch during the war, and a promise to deliver the letter of a dying man.
Throughout I was struggling to recall what, or more precisely which book, I was reminded of. Having given it some thought it's the 'tub of love' from The Enchanted April  mixed with the enchanted pool of The Drowning of Arthur Braxton  All three stories have a mix of everyday and mystical, are as much about 'place' as about people, and are about the healing of the damaged and world weary by peace, tranquillity and a magical something in the atmosphere.

 If you like your stories prosaic cut and dry with no mystery or magic, this won't be for you, but from the first page I slipped into this otherworldly place and didn't want to leave. 

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction, literary - but with a touch of fantasy

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Little Bell and the Moon by Giles Paley-Phillips

Illustrator Iris Deppe

Review by The Mole

Little Bell loves the Moon and the Moon loves Little Bell. Every night the Moon takes Little Bell's hand and together they cross the oceans and the mountains on their adventures. Little Bell grows old and frail but one last flight with the Moon makes something very special happen to Little Bell.

Inspired by a need to help children come to terms with death and the loss of a loved one this book tells its story in rhyme.

Each double page has a verse and a picture that complements the story with detail of the kind that the moon does 'see' and it travels around the world. We see Little Bell become older as the story progresses with toys disappearing and grey hair starting to appear. A beautifully told story, and very well illustrated, that tells the young reader that death is not necessarily the end.

Plenty to talk about on each page means this lovely book is ideal for sharing and talking about a subject that is best shared.

Publisher - Fat Fox
Genre - Children's Picture Book

Monday 17 August 2015

Ted Rules the World by Frank Cottrell Boyce

review by Maryom

Ted isn't really interested in the fact that the country has a new prime minister - it's his birthday after all and his parents should be buying presents and organising a party, not staying up all night watching election results! Ted thinks he'd be much better at thinking up new laws anyway, but then he spookily finds that the Prime Minister is copying all his ideas - things like children having to walk to school one day a week or everyone having a long weekend and Mondays off work. Could she really be paying attention to Ted? What makes him so special? and how do the friendly check-out staff at the local shop fit in to it all?

One of Barrington Stoke's Little Gems, Ted Rules the World is a fun read aimed at readers between 5 and 8. With cover artwork by new Children's Laureate Chris Riddell and  illustrations throughout by Cate James, it's bright and eye-catching, while the layout and font are designed to be dyslexia-friendly.
 Above all it's what a book should be - an entertaining read, one that will engage children and surely have them wondering what THEY would do to make the world better if they ruled the country.

Don't just take my word for it though - go over to the Barrington Stoke website where you can read the first chapter

Publisher - Barrington Stoke
Genre - children's 5-8 years

Friday 14 August 2015

The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon

review by Maryom

Living an almost solitary life with her uncommunicative, heavy drinking father, Helen's life is quiet and lonely. With O level exams, and the stresses and unpleasantness of school behind, summer seems to stretch limitlessly before her; at first an appealing prospect, but soon boredom starts to creep in. Then the Dover family move in down the road - an unconventional, seemingly-carefree family with no fixed roots, they fill the canal-side house with music, children and laughter - and Helen falls under their spell. There are similarities in their circumstances - their father is absent - perhaps having just 'left' in the way Helen's mother has, perhaps having disappeared in more suspicious circumstances - and their mother keeps mainly to her own bedroom and is as silent and neglectful as Helen's father, leaving teenagers Seth and Victoria, and the younger twins, Pippa and Will, very much to their own devices, but whereas Helen's home is dull and empty, theirs seems over-flowing with life. Attracted  to them, both individually and collectively, Helen is soon a regular visitor, her day not complete without them, but as the endless hot days unwind something sinister works itself into the mix. Long hot summers can never last forever - but this one is heading for a disastrous ending

There's a certain sort of mid-teenage point in life when summer seems like it could last forever - a few years earlier you don't appreciate the spread of six weeks freedom ahead; a few years older, and autumn seems already visible at the end of July - and this is what Sarah Jasmon has captured so well - long, lazy, hot days of a summer that feels like it could never end. Atmosphere alone isn't enough to make a story and mixed in with it is a darker thread of hidden secrets. The author intersperses the events of 1983 with a first person narrative from the adult Helen's point of view, so the reader is aware that the summer came to a climatic end, but, as Helen has no memory of the events, how and why remains a mystery. Enough is revealed to tempt the reader, and keep them hooked, without giving the game away.
The friendship between Helen and Victoria is the hub around which events revolve - a slightly one-sided affair as Helen in her loneliness is more in need of Victoria than vice versa, it's intense in the way that only teenage friendships can be - but all the characterisation is superb; from the slightly prim and proper Helen, to the free and easy Dover family, fly-in-the-ointment Moira with her stroppy activism, and Helen's father with his despair and mood swings, they all feel like real people with lives of their own outside the pages of the book.

The whole bohemian atmosphere instantly brought to mind two of my favourite novels of recent years - Emylia Hall's The Book of Summers  and Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray. All three share that nostalgia for an idealised time in the past - a time which has its unacknowledged dark undercurrents just waiting to surface - and slightly off-beat larger-than-life families. If you've read one of these and loved it, I definitely recommend the others.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Genre - adult fiction, coming of age

Thursday 13 August 2015

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela

review by Maryom

 Natasha Wilson has a confused heritage - part Russian, part Sudanese, brought up in Khartoum then moving to Scotland when her mother divorced and re-married, choosing to take her step-father's name rather than keep the politically sensitive 'Hussein'. At every step, she's chosen to move away her Muslim roots, to become more westernised but still something lures her back. Now a lecturer at a Scottish university, her specialist interest is the mid-nineteenth century conflict between Russia and the Muslim hill tribes of the Caucasus region, and particularly the charismatic freedom fighter, Shamil.
By an odd quirk of circumstances, one of her star students is a descendant of Shamil. Oz (a more 'acceptable' shortened version of his given name, Osama) has grown up venerating his ancestor, seeing him as a champion of Muslim ideals against imperial expansion, but this hero-worship is leading Oz towards modern-day Islamic extremists and the notice of Special Branch, and when one person is suspected of terrorism, all their friends and associates are too.....
 Things are no easier back in 1850s Russia - Shamil's eldest son, Jamaleldin, was taken as a hostage by the Russians and, for fifteen years, brought up in the Imperial Court. Jamaleldin has grown up exactly like any other young nobleman - dancing, drinking, playing cards, falling in love -  but now his father has a plan to bring him back to the high mountain fortresses of Dagestan. Will this be a joyous home-coming, or a shock? How will a rich man-about-town fit back in with tribal hills-people? The plan depends on yet another character who finds themselves caught between two cultures - Anna, Princess of Georgia, was never entirely happy with the way her countrymen made peace with the Russians, now, abducted and held hostage by Shamil, she begins to question which side of the conflict is in the right, and where exactly her loyalties lie..

The Kindness of Enemies is an amazing thought-provoking read, a mix of present day and historical fiction, about the dilemma of being torn between conflicting cultures but never quite belonging totally to either, and how sometimes accepting defeat is braver than fighting on.

 A bit of a slow-burner, it took me a while to become involved and begin to care for the characters - but as this amazingly varied cast came to life their stories had me hooked; from fiercely proud war-lord to modern university lecturer, sheltered princess to eager enquiring student, the troubles and choices they face are similar at heart.  Is it right to have a favourite? Well, regardless, mine was Shamil - strong in his Muslim faith and attachment to his homeland, he's torn more between aspects of his personality; being a charismatic, brave leader doesn't always fit comfortably with being a caring, even sentimental, father.

From an historical perspective, the story sheds light on a war that seems forgotten and over-shadowed, in my long-ago history lessons at least, by the Crimean War. In one of those many instances of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend', the British government are eager to help Shamil as he stands in the way of Russian expansion towards India, but when their attention is diverted to the Crimea, Shamil is left without support - it feels like all too familiar a story with many echoes in today's conflicts.

Winning this, shortlisted for that, longlisted for something else, I can't really think what my excuse is for not having discovered Leila Aboulela before; I need to do some catching up!

 Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Orion (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Genre - adult, literary fiction

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Greaveburn by Craig Hallam

Review by The Mole

After the murder of the King Greaveburn is being ruled by Archduke Choler because Abrasia, the rightful heir, is only seventeen. The Archduke's sanity deteriorates by the day and he orders the death of people on a whim. Darrant was Abrasia's bodyguard and was eliminated by such request, and then he orders the death of Abrasia. The task is given to Professor Loosestrife, a genius who has invented a machine to restore to health anyone with any illness or injury but he is hardly philanthropic. He invents things as a challenge to himself and hides the results from the world so when this instruction comes in he sends his assistant,Wheldrake, out to buy poison and leaves the job to him.

Wheldrake recruits Abrasia's new bodyguard into the plot but meanwhile Darrant managed to survive, despite a run-in with a crocodile in the sewers and is out to see justice for himself, Abrasia and the Broken People he has fallen in with in the sewers.

It's easy to see love angles building up, obvious plot twists and devices and guess the ending... except this is steampunk and steampunk authors either don't read the manual or just set about rewriting it.

Brilliantly funny throughout but not comedic, gripping and tense with plenty of action, plenty of violence and a grand finale of an ending.

I didn't so much enjoy this book as loved it. The characters came over as plausible - you can't often say "real" and anyway steampunk is like fantasy without the fantasy and so the situations the characters are in don't relate to what we would expect. Darrant the leader and hero is also a screaming coward. Steadfast, the new bodyguard, is loyal and honourable and a racist. Lady Choler, the Archduke's sister, is your average wicked witch of child fantasy, Loosestrife is trying to find a cure for the Ague which is killing more and more of Greaveburn's citizens - not that he's going to share it with anyone though. And as the author has created such a contradictory cast of characters he then inserts comedy throughout to show them as the ridiculous stereotypes that they are.

I am really excited to see what else Hallam can come up with - but keep it steampunk please.

Publisher - Inspired Quill
Genre - Steampunk

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Sarah Hilary - guest post

Today, as the latest stop-over in her blog tour, we're delighted to welcome crime writer Sarah Hilary to talk about why we all love crime fiction so much.....

Dear Reader
by Sarah Hilary

Dear Reader,

I’ve been asked to write about why so many of you love crime fiction. Lots of writers have been invited to tackle this subject including, perversely, several who loathe crime fiction. (Although it’s rather fun watching them wrestle their dictionaries to the ground in pursuit of credible reasons as to why so many smart people cannot aspire to their own contempt for the genre.)

Is it that you love to see justice done? That the detective is your secular priest?

Or is it that you delight in solving a puzzle?

Could it simply be that crime fiction respects the first rule of writing—to entertain?

Should I attempt to unpack the reasons why I became a reader of crime when I was ten? What it was about the stories of Conan Doyle and Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith that hooked my pre- and post-adolescent brain?

I’m not sure I should, in fact. Any more than I should attempt to analyse your reasons for reading my books or any other crime writer’s. Other than to say this—

Crime fiction, at its best, is uniquely two things. Firstly, it is subversive. It asks the questions no one else likes to ask. It has a social conscience which is active in the here and now, without recourse to nostalgia (a fetish of so much literary fiction) and unafraid of ambiguity.

The second way in which crime fiction is unique is all about you. More than any other genre, ours depends on the pact between writer and reader. Never will you hear a crime writer bemoan or belittle the role of the reader, or make lofty claims of how little we think about our readers when we write. We think about you all-the-time. About the questions you’ll ask of our characters and what makes you turn our pages, whether our red herrings are too red or our subtle clues too clunky. You’re in our heads the whole time. We want to scare you and thrill you—and outwit you, if we can (knowing how damn hard that will be). Writing, they say, is a lonely business. But thanks to you, dear crime reader, we are never alone.

So join me if you will (I won’t say if you dare) in No Other Darkness as I twist and turn, and try to keep you guessing right up until the final page. Then tweet me or drop a line to my website or Facebook page to tell me what you liked, what you didn’t, what I should be doing differently.

Until next time.

BIO: Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE'S SKIN, won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2015. It was the Observer's Book of the Month ("superbly disturbing”), a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, and has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the series is out now. The Marnie Rome series is being developed for television. 

Follow Sarah on Twitter at @Sarah_Hilary

Sarah's second thriller No Other Darkness is out in paperback on 13the August.
Maryom's reviews of No Other Darkness and Someone Else's Skin

Monday 10 August 2015

Fifty Shades of Roxie Brown by Lynda Renham

 review by Maryom

 Roxie Brown is fed up with her life - working all hours as a chambermaid to help support her lazy boyfriend Darren. Her only escape is through her daydreams - Fifty Shades fantasies starring her millionaire boss Ark Morgan. But life is about to change .... peering through the telescope that Darren allegedly uses to watch the night sky, she's in for a shock - the telescope is trained on something nearer to home, a scantily-clad red-haired neighbour, and in her haste to look at something, anything, else, Roxie believes she sees a murder being committed!
Now anyone else would go to the police, but Roxie calls in her friend, crime-addict Sylvie, for advice and,with the help of Sylvie's flat-mate Felix, they set out to solve the case themselves.

Fifty Shades of Roxie Brown is a hilarious rom-com meets crime-caper novel. Lynda Renham may not be as well known as some of the big names in Chick-lit but she delivers a story that hits all the right spots. The characters are plausible if slightly larger than life; a scatter-brained, well-intentioned heroine, a best friend scarily clued up in crime procedure, two handsome men at loggerheads with each other, vying for Roxie's affections. The plot is light but engaging, with echoes of everything from Maid in Manhattan to Rear Window, and the addition of a murder-mystery twist certainly makes this a little different to the 'norm'.
If you're looking for something light, and a little different, give it a go. For now it's only out as an e-book but a paperback is to follow soon.

Publisher - Raucous Publishing
Genre - Adult, Chicklit/RomCom, Crime

Friday 7 August 2015

The Way of Sorrows by Jon Steele

Review by The Mole

(Angelus Trilogy book 3)

After the cliff hanger ending of book 2 (Angel City), the story reopens as the dust has settled - but not how we expected it to settle. The pace of the opening chapters is much slower than we had left, more sombre, more hopeless - I was left desperately wanting the hope-levels and mood to lift. The action soon resumes as frenetic as any part of the earlier books and gradually the story comes to it's hiatus in Jerusalem with death, mayhem and blood and gore letting more proliferous than at any previous point.

I have to admit that so much happens so fast in this book that I feel I need to go back some time and reread it.

Entirely in keeping with books 1 and 2 it very much relies you having read book 2 but please do make sure you start at book 1 - you will understand the characters so much better.

In The Watchers we meet all the characters in violent clashes as Katharine Taylor, a high class prostitute, is drawn in as a pawn by Komarovsky in a plot to end all life on earth. As the story progresses we learn that she is not a pawn in Komarovsky's plans, but in fact the lynch pin. By the end of book 1 we got to feel that maybe Harper, an angel in the body of a man, had in fact defeated Komarovsky.

Angel City is not an add on but very much a continuance where loose ends are picked up again and shaken off. Komarovsky is very much alive as are Taylor and Harper but loose ends we didn't know existed are also shown to us and Taylor gives birth to a child - but who is the father? Komarovsky? One of the dark shadows that raped her in The Watchers?

The Way Of Sorrows opens with the child, Max, missing and Taylor not knowing who or where she is and although there is evidence of a child having been there she has no idea whose the child might have been. Harper is unwell, unsure and in the dark as to his involvement in events of the past but Krinkle, another angel in human form, is there to guide, awaken and chauffeur him around the world  to a showdown with Komarovsky that may herald the end of mankind as we know it. But prophecy has it that Harper cannot and will not defeat Komarovsky as he sacrifices Max to bring about the final defeat of everything that is good on the earth.

The characters truly came to life for me throughout this series and the final ending, as I'm sure you will guess, is not as bleak as it sounds although Steele does set about killing off most of the characters I had grown attached to.

An excellent climax to an excellent series - a story that is so definitely fantasy but tries to win you over as philosophical sci-fi. Once you've read it you'll understand what I mean - but I won't be swayed. Enjoy this one because fantasy doesn't get closer to sci-fi than this.

Publisher -Blue Rider Press
Genre - Adult Fantasy

Thursday 6 August 2015

Skin by Ilka Tampke

review by Maryom

"Imagine a world where everyone is born with a 'skin' name. Without skin you cannot learn, you are not permitted to marry, and you grow up an outsider amongst your own people.
This is no future dystopia. This is Celtic Britain."

To the tribes-people of Caer Cad, knowing one's lineage and 'skin' is all important - without this how can anyone know where they fit in the world? Found abandoned as a baby Ailia has no way of knowing her 'skin' - normally this should see her banished from the tribe to live outside the fort but through her foster mother, Cookmother to the Tribequeen, she is given a home in the kitchen-hut and raised alongside 'skinned' girls. Without a skin, Ailia cannot fully take part in the religious ritual life of the tribe, but even so she finds herself with special abilities that enable her to talk to the goddess-like Mothers, and walk in their mystical world. With Roman legions heading for Britain, the way of life of the island's tribes-people has never been in so much danger. Could Ailia be the Kendra, the one chosen to save them?

Set in Celtic Britain in the last few years before Roman occupation, Skin is an unusual combination of history, myth and fantasy, the three elements winding round each other like the threads of a Celtic knot-pattern. I expected this to be a book that I'd love - and for most of it I did. It started well, if not excellently, capturing the atmosphere of Ailia's hill-top home, the story-telling unfolding like something from a myth itself...but gradually as plot took over from scene-setting I found my interest waning.
Unfortunately, the more I learned about Ailia, the less I liked her - she disregards the feelings of others, is often quite callous in her treatment of them, and constantly disobeys rules set up for the safety of the Tribe.
Also the mystical side started to grate after a while - I think this would have been easier to accept in a wholly fantasy setting but against the very real historical backdrop of Roman invasion I wasn't comfortable with it.
So, if you'd asked me half way, or maybe even three-quarters, through, I'd have said this was a wonderful book; having reached the end, I'm not sure.

Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, historical/fantasy/myth

Wednesday 5 August 2015

The Jump by Doug Johnstone

review by Maryom

Six months ago, Ellie's teenage son committed suicide by jumping off the Forth Road Bridge. While her husband distracts himself by searching down suicide conspiracy theories on the internet, Ellie can only find peace in physical activity. Everyday she walks from her South Queensferry home down to the shore then up to the Bridge, in an endless loop. One day she sees another teenage boy, Sam, standing outside the safety barriers, ready to jump, and instinctively she goes to help. She talks Sam down, takes him home, offers him shelter ...and then discovers the family mess he was running away from....

I read somewhere that director Ron Howard likes to make movies about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations - think of Jim Lovell and crew in Apollo Thirteen, or James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Rush. Now, to my mind there's an echo of this in much of Doug Johnstone's writing - a normal, ordinary person, one you might pass a million times on the street and never remark on, takes a step outside their everyday routine - and gets caught up in something way above their head! Whether it's a whisky-sampling holiday on Islay going pear-shaped in Smokeheads or a car accident that brings down the wrath of local gangsters in Hit and Run there always seems to be violence and mayhem lurking just under the beneath the surface of everyday life and waiting to burst out. What I love about Johnstone's novels is that you almost believe it could happen to you!
Ellie is a character that I feel will stick in my mind for a long while. Feeling she has little left to live for after the death of her son, she's willing to risk everything for another unknown youngster; both her overwhelming grief and dogged determination are convincing and believable.
The setting is, as in so many of Johnstone's novels, important and well-captured. South Queensferry isn't a place I know well (I visited once for an afternoon) but I really felt I was there, in a village of old fishermen's cottages and newer seaside builds, dominated by the massive bridge above, a brooding, threatening presence in Ellie's life.
I sometimes feel Doug Johnstone isn't very well known outside Scotland but he certainly deserves to be! If you haven't discovered him yet, why not?

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Faber and Faber

Genre - adult thriller

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Graeme K Talboys - guest post

Today as part of Harper Voyager's week-long celebration of their digital authors we're welcoming to the blog Graeme K Talboys, author of Stealing Into Winter to talk about his youthful influences

I grew up in a home with books. Reading was encouraged and I learned at an early age. I borrowed from the school library, the public library, and I read what was in the house. By the time I was eleven I had an adult library ticket, although the library only allowed me to borrow non-fiction, presumably to protect me from the adult fiction I was reading at home with my parents’ blessing. Mix in with that all the normal fiction and non-fiction a boy would be reading along with his weekly Beano, TV21, and Look and Learn and you get a potent brew.

In those days I was fairly solitary with very few close friends. Those I did have all went to different secondary schools to me. In terms of education, that was two years of utter misery. Away from school it was balanced by the fun of becoming a young flâneur and of haunting museums and old buildings in the city where I lived. Although my walking days are done, museums are still inspirational havens I enjoy.

This was preparing the seedbed. I was writing already. Making up stories, doing research for projects, and writing them up were all fun. It seemed as natural a thing to do as playing with my construction set. But it was playing at that stage and nothing more.

It was when we moved to Sussex that the light went on and the seeds began to germinate. I was moved from a school where bullying was rife to one that was much more relaxed yet had far fewer problems. I made friends. There were girls. I was surrounded by people who were interested in the arts – dance, music, theatre, film, painting, sculpture, and writing. And this was the ‘60s. My immediate circle of friends was embedded in a culture of freedom and exploration, of sex and drugs and rock ‘’n’ roll. And books.

At school I had a succession of very good English teachers from Bill Euston who introduced me to T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, a book important to me on so many levels, through to Colin Silk who taught me at A Level and instilled not just a love of a broad range of literary fiction, but analytical and synthetical reading.

With money coming in from weekend work, I could buy records and books. I could get to London for the theatre. I could go to festivals and concerts. And yes, you really could do all that on what a teenager earned from stacking shelves in a supermarket. The endless summers of youth seemed like a long party. I read for days on end, explored the countryside, left flowers on the river bank where Virginia Woolf stepped into oblivion, and sat under the stars with friends to dream of what we thought would be a better world.

We made our own festivals at school, put on plays, trooped along to Phun City, went up to the Roundhouse and Hyde Park, were in and out of the Dome, tried to sink the Isle of Wight, spaced out to Hawkwind, cheered on the Deviants, and chanted along with Edgar Broughton.

When not out of my head on music, I read and read and read, buying books from the Unicorn Bookshop in Brighton and mixing there with all sorts of wonderful people. This is, perhaps, when I began to find my voice. I read New Worlds, Bananas, OZ, IT, and other underground magazines. And I swallowed books whole – one a day, sometimes. On top of all that activity I still had the energy to pull all-nighters to finish a book. It didn’t exactly enhance my performance at school, but I seem to have done well enough to go on to become a teacher.

Those magazines opened up a world of writing that I hadn’t imagined existed. Michael Moorcock’s work became a firm favourite and I later discovered that he had written for Look and Learn as a Fleetway staff writer. And of course, if you read New Worlds your mind was being expanded by all sorts of wonderful writers – Peake, Ballard, Aldiss, Sladek, Zoline, Harrison, Spinrad, le Guin, Russ, and so on. All of these are writers who are invariably pushed into the science fiction/fantasy ghetto, yet they were writing the most powerful literature of its time, using sf&f to enable them to explore issues that were not getting an airing elsewhere as well as exploring different methods to get their message across. I was also reading those writers when they discussed their influences and explored those as well, stepping from world to world of an ever increasing literary multiverse.

And of course, I wrote and wrote and wrote.

And wrote.

And then I wrote a lot more.

Follow the author on Twitter @graemeKtalboys and at

Monday 3 August 2015

The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto

review by Maryom

Sammy is living rough on the streets in northern Finland after his asylum application was turned down. It's not easy, particularly during the long cold winter, but back in Pakistan he believes he faces death due to his beliefs so he's hiding out, living very much hand to mouth and turning to drugs to help get him through the days. Dropping by his friend/supplier's flat, he finds himself dragged further into trouble .... but oddly it's trouble that could lead to a positive outcome for him....

 When an old man is hit by a car late at night, it's at first assumed to be just another traffic accident, but Senior Constable Anna Fekete isn't so sure. Starting with the car driver's claim that the man was already lying in the road, things don't quite add up - and the more facts the police uncover, the less things make sense. Meanwhile her colleague Esko is trying to prevent the spread to Finland of a notoriously violent street gang, The Black Cobras...and somehow through the shady world of drug dealers and illegal immigration the two investigations seem linked.

I'll start with the important bit - I loved this! It's more than just a crime novel, but examines the issues that might lead to the crimes - why people might turn to crime or drugs or why people might be driven to leave their native country and seek asylum elsewhere - without for a minute letting up on the riveting story-telling.

There was something about it that made it feel, to me at least, more like real-life than a lot of crime novels do. It has a wonderful twisty plot with a multitude of threads running round each other, and even the smallest detail comes back as an important part of the investigation. There's the atmospheric setting of Finland in 'Spring' with temperatures still well below zero, deep snow still lying on the ground and the sea frozen enough to ski on! The characters are real fully-fleshed out people - from Sammy trying to dodge deportation to Esko with his offensive in-grained racist attitude. Anna herself was once a refugee, from Hungarian-speaking Serbia, and although she's lived in Finland most of her life she still feels a certain level of displacement, and of not quite belonging to either her old home or her new one.
This is the second of the Anna Fekete series but I had no trouble jumping in and catching up with her story so far, though I don't think too much about the previous story The Hummingbird has been given away. Kati Hiekkapelto might just be my new favourite Nordic Noir writer - I'm certainly looking forward to reading more by her.

translated from the Finnish by David Hackston

 Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orenda Books

Genre - Adult,crime, nordic noir, police procedural