Wednesday 30 March 2016

The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace

review by Maryom

Martha Lost was found on Liverpool's Lime Street station as a baby and has lived there, in the flat above the lost property office, ever since; in fact despite being sixteen years old she's never even left the station, her adoptive mother having convinced her that the building will collapse if she ever leaves, even for just five minutes! Now though, Martha is discovering that not everything "Mother" told her is entirely true, and, that if she is to stay in her home, she needs to discover who she really is....  She may have a special 'gift' which brings to life the stories of the lost property store items, and helps her re-unite them with their owners, but it can't help her find her real mother.

The Finding of Martha Lost is a truly delightful, whimsical story, almost fairy-tale like in some qualities; it's light and breezy, and reading it with Easter sunshine streaming through the windows felt just right. It's odd then that the setting is a bustling railway station smelling of "grime and soot and cigarettes" or "diesel and vinegar and vomit', but somehow it casts a magical spell and the charm of the characters make up for the drab every-day surroundings. 
Martha's station is peopled not with commuters dashing along to their daily grind but a cast of characters as eccentric as she is - George, a Roman soldier in full armour, William who lives in the tunnels beneath the station, and, most importantly, coffee shop owner, Elisabeth, who regularly pops in to the lost property office like a cake-bearing fairy godmother. 
But into Martha's delightful world, like a true fairy-tale villain, comes Max Cole, an Australian with a lucky find; a suitcase which once belonged to The Beatles' roadie Mal Evans, filled with items relating to the band, and with it Max believes he can make a fortune - with just a little (or a lot) of help from Martha.  

A charming, sparkling read for adults, or teens, really anyone who believes fairy tales can come true, even in a Liverpool railway station!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult, fairy tale (sort of)

Tuesday 29 March 2016

The Climb - Chris Froome

With David Walsh

Review by The Mole

At 430 pages this looks like a challenging read but having read it there isn't a word I'd change. Gripping, exciting and relevant to the development of his cycling career the incidents in his life are told succinctly, with respect and humour.

When we see sports stars burst onto the scene seemingly from nowhere,  we expect their story to be one of having been talent spotted and never putting a foot wrong but that's not so in "Crash" Froome's case. Starting as a youngster in Kenya his bike is anything but a proper sports machine and has to be welded together to keep it going. He has to sneak out of boarding school in South Africa (because it's cheaper than Kenya), to train and smuggle cigarettes and booze into school to raise funds for a proper bike. When eventually riding for the Kenyan national team there isn't even support or feeding stations along the road courses.

And even when he does get into professional cycling he nearly loses his contract because of his lack of performance. And how does he do it? Sceptics will be thinking.... well NO! Read his story and understand the man. Understand his love of the sport and belief in it as a purely man on man contest. Well, team on team to be fairer, although until he learned proper road craft and tactics perhaps he thought of it as wholly man on man.

His story is one of repeated failure but picking his dream up, dusting it off and going again.

There is one criticism I will make of the cover... read the front and read the back and you may expect it to include the story of the 2015 tour - it doesn't, it's a republication of a 2014 book that follows his story to his first win in 2013, and it's probably all the better for stopping there.

The back of the book does say "Inspiring and exhilarating, it will leave you ready to face your challenges in life, whatever they may be." and that may be true but if you want to break into an office job it's difficult to see it helping. As a latecomer to running I certainly find inspiration in this - but I won't be down the Olympics or doing the London marathon.

Read, enjoy, understand and pursue your dreams because they aren't yours by right - only by achievement.

Publisher - Penguin
Genre - autobigraphy, sport, cycling

Friday 25 March 2016

The Trap by Melanie Raabe

Review by Libby Mayfield

Over the past few years psychological thrillers have become more popular ever, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and S. J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep being notable successes in the genre. Unlike the fads of paranormal romances or "sick lit", this is a style that can be difficult to pull off well, but I'm relieved to say that Melanie Raabe's The Trap did it.

The general premise is straightforward - a recluse author, Linda Conrads, sees her sister's murderer on television. She writes a book about the murder to lure the suspect into her home under the pretence of a rarely granted interview, and so the plot unfolds. It may seem simple, but, of course, it isn't.

I'm not usually one to be much affected by a novel, I have some trouble with horror movies but when it comes to literature I can usually shut the cover and put the plot out of my mind, no matter how deep under my skin it gets. Raabe's thriller proved to be an exception. Despite wanting to rush through the chapters, I paced myself over several days, and for the majority of the nights between I found the book creeping into my dreams, making them just as gripping and unsettling at the plot, where much like Linda, I found my reality questioned.

Every chapter is a mind game, from the two simultaneous stories to Raabe's ability to make you question just how much is real - as the plot proves how far the mind's perception of the world can be bent, it almost leaves you questioning just how much you know to be true. With convincing characters and a first person narrative so strong you find yourself thinking like Linda, the plot is almost totally absorbing. Add in impressive attention to detail and enough research to make every aspect believe, and it's safe to say you've got a novel that's consumed me like none has in months.

Raabe has an eerily beautiful talent for descending the novel into chaos and neatly piecing it back together again, resulting in a thriller that both leaves you wanting to rush to the end, and withhold yourself somewhat for fear of getting too sucked into the plot. But I might warn you; this is not a novel for the faint of heart. It might just creep into your dreams.

Libby's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adu
lt crime fiction, psychological thriller,  

Thursday 24 March 2016

Book of Lies by Teri Terry

"They are trapped, frozen. Waiting. Straining against the wood that holds them. The unwary catch a glimpse now and then - feel their desperate hunger, see a glint of red eyes - and scurry out of the shadows of the wood, back to the light.
She's coming; it will be soon.
They will run free on the moors again. The Hunt will return. 
And the ground will run with blood."

review by Maryom

Quinn and Piper are identical twins - but neither knows the other exists. Fearing a family curse, their mother insisted on them growing up apart; Quinn living in a remote house on Dartmoor with her grandmother, almost cut off from the world, not attending school, rarely meeting anyone else, even her mother; Piper living in more 'normal' surroundings in Winchester, with her mother and father, going to school, having friends and a boyfriend like any average teenager.
 Their mother always believed that one twin was cursed, full of evil, and would let loose the forces of darkness, while the other was the opposite and may even be able to lift the curse which has plagued their family for generations - but which is which? Now, at their mother's funeral, they're about to meet for the first time... 

Teri Terry's previous YA Novels - the Slated trilogy and Mind Games - were set in some vague dystopian future but Book of Lies brings fantasy to a town like yours.The story's premise - twins, one good, one evil, kept apart since birth, haunted by a family curse - sounds like the stuff straight out of fairy tales, but the setting is far from the deep-in-the-ancient-forest style fantasy. Instead events take place on the streets of an average English town and the wilder but still vaguely familiar (camping holidays/DofE) setting of Dartmoor. 
Told from the alternating perspectives of Quinn and Piper, the story hooked me from the first page. Being 'in' on the twins' private thoughts while each only knows her side of the story, and being able to put together the pieces about their family curse quicker than they did, kept me reading, wondering what would happen as the story raced towards its climax. It's definitely one of those un-put-down-able YA novels that rival a lot of 'adult' fiction.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre - teen/YA urban fantasy

Tuesday 22 March 2016

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

review by Maryom

One hundred and four year old Ona Vitkus is an extremely private person; she doesn't make friends easily, doesn't share her life, thoughts or memories with everyone she meets; the neighbours, if they think of her at all, just dismiss her as an old woman with nothing interesting to tell. Then the local scout group send round a boy to help in the garden. He's eleven years old, with a passion for making lists, collecting weird things and knows all there is to know about Guinness World Records. He's also an excellent listener and soon draws Ona into talking about her life - hazy memories of her childhood in Lithuania, sharper ones of running away from home, marriage, children, and the one true friend she had -  while at the same time drawing her into his and inspiring her with things she could still achieve, possibly even her own world record.
Then one day, tragedy strikes, and he stops coming. After a couple of weeks, his father, Quinn, turns up instead, sent by his ex-wife to continue his son's commitment, and Ona must, in turn, inspire him with her new-found ambitions

The One-in-a-Million Boy is a story of a most unusual friendship, and of three lonely people brought together by tragedy, helping each other to heal their emotional wounds, both current and long-held, to put grief behind them and move on to more fulfilling lives. 
Ona has lived a solitary life for too long, almost just sitting waiting for her death, hoarding her memories like junk stored in an attic but never letting them out. Sharing them, and engaging with others again gives her a new lease of life.
Quinn's is a life of lost ambitions - both as a musician, and as father and husband - yet he continues in the belief that pursuing them is what he should be doing, while Belle, his twice-married, twice-divorced, ex-wife, is similarly trapped by her on/off relationship with Quinn. Ona oddly proves the catalyst to them re-assessing their lives.
The story emerges from a mix of present day narrative, flashbacks to Ona's conversations with the boy, his recordings of her life story and his lists - with Ona's reminiscences moving towards their conclusion alongside Quinn and Belle's currently unfolding story-line.
There's a fine line between heart warming and being swamped with sentimentality, and, with its themes of the healing power of friendship, of learning to let go of the past and move on, this story could easily have fallen on the wrong side of it but the author deftly avoids it. 
I liked the way the story shows that everyone, even the unremarkable old lady you'd pass on the street, has a tale worth listening to, and maybe we should stop and listen more to what our neighbours could tell us. On the other hand, particularly on reflection, I wasn't too happy with the feeling that the boy needed to die for his parents to find happiness. (It is though after all only a story, and not everyone will see it that way)

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult fiction

Friday 18 March 2016

The Night That Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice

Review by Libby Mayfield

When it comes to romance novels, I know a thing or two. I've read probably more than my fair share - something I'm not too ashamed to admit - and I know that almost unanimously they follow a similar structure, with an irrefutable happy ending. It's reassuring, and with some authors you can guess the plot's twists and turns and still feel satisfied with it, but every so often it's nice to see a twist on the usual style.
Laura and Jimmy chose to write the novel with the first person alternating between both halves of the relationship, and although on paper this might seem like a neat trick to use, even after a second thought you'll realise that it has its flaws. Granted, there are moments when both sides of the story are conveyed better for this technique, but I spent the majority of the book flicking to the start of the chapter to see which character was supposed to be talking - the voices were too similar to be easily identified.

When the couple's problem came around - I'm giving no spoilers away; it's a romance book so there's bound to be a problem - I couldn't help thinking that the whole situation was an unnecessary overreaction. Even when the characters themselves seemed to realise this, it didn't resolve matters, and despite having a promising start and a strong close, the bulk of the novel seemed to lose its way somewhat among a string of loosely held up problems. In fact, it was the end of the book that saved this entirely - there were even moments part way through when I was confident the ending would have to be a good one, else I'd no idea how it had ended up being published. Ultimately, it is worth holding out for.
In general, the book ticks all the guilty-pleasure boxes that need ticking, and although at times the pace is a little slow, it has just about has enough willpower to keep you going on till the end, and there are times when it's easy to become lost in the plot. More detail to some of the scenes would also go a long way. There are some unavoidable holes regards the voices and weaker moments of plot, but the ending is one that'll leave you satisfied - and, if you're like me, possibly move you to tears.

Libby's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre - adult chicklit/romcom

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Chosen by Lucy Coats

review by Maryom

Lucy Coats' Cleopatra, the Chosen one of the goddess Isis, is back - fleeing from the wrath of her sister Berenice, and filled with guilt that, through unforeseen circumstances, she has been the one to break 'ma'at', the balance of the universe as represented by the Double Throne of the Pharaohs. Now following the secret map which leads and physically tugs her towards Isis' sanctuary, Cleo hopes she can restore the Goddess to her rightful place and bring peace and prosperity back to Egypt.
First though, there are battles to be fought, the sand storms of the desert and the perils of a sea-crossing to be endured, her father to be brought back from Rome to take up his role as Pharaoh and the attractions of a young Roman decurion, Marcus Antonius, to be ignored.....

Chosen picks up minutes after the closing events of Cleo - and this is one occasion when it's best to read the books in order - as Cleo and her friends run for their lives, jolting away on the world's smelliest camels! Ever-faithful Charm is still by her side, with her wit and generous friendship, sharing the hardships of the journey while facing problems of her own. The interaction between Cleo and Charm is a delight to read - one a princess chosen by a goddess, the other a slave girl, but behaving as equals. This book introduces a third young woman, Iras, a trained warrior of the crocodile god, Sobek, now self-appointed body guard to Cleo, and a possible 'love-interest' for Charm. Cleo's romance with librarian Khai is moving into a different phase - he's long haunted her dreams but now he's here in flesh and blood, and will their love prove stronger than the pull Cleo feels towards Marcus Antonius.

I've always found it easier to come to grips with history when it's about personalities rather than dry facts and dates, and although neither Cleo nor Chosen are 'true' accounts of events, they still bring the times and people vividly to life. From the shifting sands of the desert to the luxury of a Roman villa, the discomfort of camel-riding or a cunning cure for sea sickness, the sights and sounds of the times fill every page. Hopefully, having read both books, readers will be intrigued enough to want to follow Cleopatra's life further as she moves from obscurity onto history's stage.

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

Friday 11 March 2016

Melissa by Jonathan Taylor

review by Maryom

When seven year old Melissa Comb dies in her home in Stoke on Trent, her neighbours all experience the same hallucination - at first a shrieking, headache-inducing noise, which makes them go into the street, followed by uplifting "old-fashioned" music, which spreads a mood of happiness and pride among them. For a short while, the inhabitants of the street come together, putting aside their differences and behaving as old friends. But soon the media move in, followed by scientists trying to pin down the cause of the phenomenon, then religious groups/new age believers set up a camp in the street, and this small part of Stoke becomes a destination for spiritual holiday tours. While all this is unfolding, the only family who DIDN'T hear anything, Melissa's own, are having to come to terms with their loss. Hiding behind their drawn curtains, the Comb family is slowly falling apart...

Melissa avoids the sensational, sentimental, and over-emotional traps and offers an unblinkered view  of a family trying to make sense of tragedy. So far, it's rather like Carys Bray's A Song For Issy Bradley , but whereas the Bradleys for all their differing opinions behave as a family, the Combs lack that cohesion and act as individuals, each filled with frustration, anger and grief. Melissa is definitely a darker yet quirkier read.
Having been the one most closely involved with Melissa's illness, her mother Lizzie is the one most prepared to pick life up, and start again, but another blow that comes through the media's interference almost floors her. Teenaged half-sister Serena doesn't know how to grieve; her mother is abroad, contributing only financially to Serena's life, and father Harry is lost in his own world since Melissa's death. Although they try their best, her friends just don't know how they can help her, and Serena is left to work things out alone. Harry, though, is the one who really can't cope. He just can't see how carrying on is possible but wishes that, like a piece of music, life would end; gradually he retreats into himself - from work, from communication with his family, from the world.

Melissa is a curious read -  it's told in a variety of styles (with snippets from newspapers and scientific journals), it's not as straightforward as you may like (starting with the musical phenomenon then moving back to Melissa's illness), and it only gradually seems to focus in on the real heart of the story - but its quirkiness appealed to me. Of course it's bleak - after all it's dealing with the death of a much-loved child, and the family's disintegration afterwards, but it's told with a sense of wry humour (particularly as regards the habits and 'goings-on' of the neighbours), and the 'coda' at the end leaves the reader feeling that, no matter what, life does carry on. 

Is it a book I'd say I loved? Well, it's too dark for that, but it's a quiet, slowly revealing story one I could read again and again.

Jonathan Taylor's earlier novel Entertaining Strangers didn't quite grab me when I first read it - too many ants among other things! - but I always felt it was a book worth re-reading. Having been so impressed with Melissa, it's time I did just that!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult literary fiction

Thursday 10 March 2016

A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan

review by Maryom

It's two years after the events of The Silent Dead and Paula Maguire is getting ready to settle down and marry her teenage sweetheart, though not without a few last minute qualms. She's distracted from her personal life though by the disappearance of a student, Alice Morgan, daughter of an important official in the Home Office. Alice was last seen at the remote church outside Ballyterrin where she was doing research, and an important holy relic has disappeared too - the only traces left behind are some bloodstains. Is it pure coincidence that this is the same spot from which another young woman disappeared, back in 1981? or could the two cases be in some strange way connected?

In this fourth case for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, a lot has changed - the Disappeared Persons unit has been disbanded, some of its members demoted, others moved away, and Paula's private life seems to have settled down (though maybe not for long).
As with any good crime novel, there are numerous suspects and leads that spin off in the wrong directions, but being Northern Ireland, the past, particularly the years of the Troubles, seems ever-present. So while the team work out the hidden secrets behind the present-day crime, things that have been swept under the carpet in the name of the Good Friday Agreement have a nasty habit of popping up again.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - adult crime 

Tuesday 8 March 2016

More Of Me by Kathryn Evans

review by Maryom

To her friends and teachers, Teva seems a perfectly normal 16 year old, but at home there are eleven younger versions of herself who will never grow up. Each year Teva separates into two - the previous version stays that age forever, the new one continues to grow for a year till she too is replaced. While her toddler-self knows nothing different, and the younger girls seem happy to stay locked in childhood or their early teens for ever, the last version, now known as "Fifteen", isn't happy. She had friends, a boyfriend, had worked hard for her GCSE grades - and doesn't want to hand all this over to Teva. Teva equally has realised that at the end of the year she will be cast off and become "Sixteen", virtually imprisoned in the house while another 'self' becomes Teva and moves on. 
Why are her family so different? Can Teva stop this process and begin to live life fully? This mix of real-life problems and scary science will have you on the edge of your seat wanting to find out!

More of Me is an absolutely brilliant YA debut from Kathryn Evans; part thriller, part science fiction, part romance, part everyday growing-up problems - and totally fab!
The concept of a body that splits each year is weird, but it's treated in such a way that I found it easy to believe in - and when all is revealed at the end, there's enough scientific basis that it doesn't all fall apart  (though I hope no one would ever pursue such ideas in the name of Science!) It isn't just a book about a scientific conundrum though - Teva and her younger, stroppier version Fifteen are believable characters you can easily empathise with - they put in all the effort at school, do the homework, revise for and sit exams, and then someone else benefits; make friends to lose them at the end of the year; they fall in love, only to hand their boyfriend over to a new self - who wouldn't be angry? 
I just loved it from the first page, and it had me hooked till the last. 

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Usborne
Genre - Thriller, Teen, sci-fi, YA 

Sunday 6 March 2016

The Road Beneath My Feet by Frank Turner

review by Libby Mayfield

On September 23rd 2005, Frank Turner played his last show with Million Dead. On April 13th 2012, he played Wembley with his band, The Sleeping Souls. Over the course of several EPs and albums, dozens of tours and more than a handful of transport disasters, last minute shows, and drunken nights, the singer/songwriter tells his story of playing in the back of a pub to playing to tens of thousands of people. 

With the title taken as a line from one of his own songs, The Road Beneath My Feet tells the almost unbelievable story of what can be achieved through sheer hard work and resilience, but it's not all glory and good friends. Turner speaks frankly, often brutally, about the harsh reality of a life on the road, from the predictable - long, silent drives for hundreds of miles across America or nights sleeping on floors - to the wildly unexpected - a dead deer or being totally lost in the English countryside. I'm not one to laugh out loud at books, or to be moved to tears of sadness, joy, and laughter by one, so perhaps it's the fact that every anecdote, no matter how self critical, is true that makes this an exception. 
Disregard any worries you might have that the stories will be a shoddily put together collection of scraps of half-forgotten tales; you'll be surprised by his ability to draw you into the atmosphere of his live shows and the grittiest moments of living out a suitcase.

Frank Turner is a humble man, and though he's obviously and rightfully proud of what he's achieved in the six and a half years the book takes place over, he's never one to brag about it. His passion for music is blatantly obvious and no matter how many hundreds of people he plays to, he remains down to earth. It works well as a biography, but for some people The Road Beneath My Feet could be a good guide on how to treat the chaotic music industry correctly. 

You don't need to be a fan of Frank Turner's music to be shocked and moved by some of the tales he has to tell; but if you are, you'll gain a new insight into the backdrop for some of his songs.

For any budding musician, this will be the book that decides for you if you want to pursue your dream further, and for any fan of adventure, this will be the book that shows you how many adverse situations one person can battle through.

Publisher - Headline
Genre - autobiography, music

Thursday 3 March 2016

The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst

translated from the Dutch by David Colmar

review by Maryom

A family of gorillas are snatched from their jungle home, transported across the sea, trained to become 'human' and used as part of the attractions of a theme park. One of them, the Narrator, learns well, is quickly promoted and receives the badge to prove he's now 'human'. But he soon finds himself torn between what he's been taught and what he instinctively feels, and when he discovers the theme park turns out to be hiding a clandestine trade he's driven to take action...

Now, this is a strange book and if I said 'It's about a gorilla who becomes human' I'm not sure all of you would be flocking to read it, but if I said "it's like a modern version of Animal Farm" or even somewhat like this clip from Not The Nine O'Clock News, where the animal becomes more human than his teacher, you might be tempted. Yes, it contains a certain level of ambiguity; should you consider it's events literally? is it, perhaps, set in some future world where animals actually can be changed into humans?  or is it a fable or fairy tale in which an animal acquires human attributes? or even a serious scientific experiment as seen in?  Probably best to not get hung up too much about these dilemmas, just read it.

The publisher, Meike Ziervogel, says it "leaves behind images that play in your mind long after you have closed the book", and she's absolutely right. I've read a couple of books, after The Man I Became, and found ideas from it creeping in to what I'm reading now.

Fables with animals as the main characters have always been used to shine a spotlight on our failings and teach us about human behaviour, both good and bad, and this story certainly does. I think it's a book that different readers will find different themes hidden in. For me, it spoke about slavery, immigration, man's destruction of habitat and the environment, and the way 'civilised' society is often heartless and cruel in ways that the 'natural' world isn't. Give it a try, and see what it says to you!

 Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Peirene Press 
Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction

Wednesday 2 March 2016

North of Porter by Kirkland Ciccone

Review by The Mole

Porter's parents decide to move to Castlecrankie because they see an opportunity. He arrives in a car he can't get out of because his parents have removed the door handles to ensure he doesn't escape. Porter's life is not a happy one - but you can guess that. Castlecrankie is a placed troubled by strikes, mysterious deaths and Aliens. But that is why his parents have taken him there; they see an opportunity to make money out of this and Porter will help them - whether he wants to or not.

Porter is a child who doesn't make friends easily and is on medication after his breakdown - a breakdown not helped when he discovered his brother in a suitcase.

With this, Ciccone's third book, the plotting is stronger (not that it was ever weak!), the story more believable and the characters more easily identified with.

I loved the quirkiness of this story - not humorous fantasy, which is a genre I love - but more conspiracy theory put into context. Porter has personal issues. And voices. It took me a little while to understand that the speech that was crossed out in the text is actually the voice inside his head - is it his brother? And Porter is OCD and it manifests itself, in part, by a terror of walking on cracks in the pavement. And Porter makes a friend at his new school - a full-on kleptomaniac who tries to shoplift an ironing board!

Quirkiness and bizarrity in every corner of this book but it's a serious story, told with a little humour, that will have you sitting back and wondering about the ending.

Well done Kirkland - another great story very well told.

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