Wednesday 31 May 2017

Sleep well, Siba and Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

illustrated by Sandra van Doorn

review by Maryom

Sisters Siba and Saba are always losing things - slippers, sweaters, a satin sash, a shawl - and when they go to sleep, they dream of them. Until one night when their dreams change, and instead of dreaming of the things they've lost, they imagine things that will happen in the future.

This is a charming, engaging picture book that will fill children with delight. While reading the story (or having it read to them) they can search the pictures to find the seven sweaters and the seven speeding busses they were lost on, see where the silver slippers ended up, who has found the lost bedroom slippers, or even how many words beginning with 'S' they can spot - and then, when Siba and Saba begin to dream about the future, the reader can imagine what exciting things lie ahead for them too.

As with others in their catalogue, this book reflects Lantana's intent to produce picture books recognising and celebrating diversity. The story is universal, but the beautiful illustrations reflect the author's Ugandan heritage with  flamingos, pelicans, and other exotic birds flitting across the pages, lending a magical quality to the tale.

The story will help children come to terms with the idea that some things lie in the past and can only be recollected in dreams, but that there are always new things to discover, that perhaps we haven't even dreamed of yet!

Publisher - Lantana
genre - children's picture book, 4-8

Thursday 25 May 2017

Underneath by Anne Goodwin

review by Maryom

By any reckoning, Steve should be happy - he's finally decided to settle down after spending most of his adult life travelling the world; he's won enough on the lottery to buy a nice house; he's got a new attractive girlfriend who's willing to move in with him. How could it all go wrong? But somehow it has, because the reader knows from the outset that Steve has a woman imprisoned in his cellar ...

It sounds rather like the set-up for a psychological thriller or domestic noir full of improbable emotions and outrageous violence, but Anne Goodwin's Underneath couldn't be further away from those stereo-types. Instead it's a quiet novel that gradually unpicks the past to discover what lies behind the facade that Steve presents to the world.
The story is told in the first person from Steve's viewpoint, and so the reader is privy to his current thoughts and hopes, and his flashbacks to childhood, a time which should have been full of love and happiness, but wasn't.
On a superficial acquaintance, Steve is an average guy, perhaps a little more interesting than some even because he's spent most of his life travelling the world, working in undeveloped countries, not sitting at an office desk, but behind that facade he's a troubled man, permanently damaged by his upbringing. His father died before Steve was born, and, with a mother consumed by grief, and older twin sisters who bullied him throughout childhood, Steve's childhood lacked the love and kindness that most of us take for granted. Obviously drawing on her experience as a clinical psychologist, Anne Goodwin takes what could have been a dry case study and builds it into a compelling read.

It's a novel I'd highly recommend for Book Clubs. there's much to discuss about Steve's life and his relationship with women - is his travelling part of an un-rooted feeling? is he permanently searching for home? is his girlfriend unreasonable in her demands, and would they have lived happily ever after if she hadn't been?

It's frequently said that to understand all is to forgive all, and strangely, by the end, although I condemned the way he acted, I felt rather sorry for Steve - he should have been the villain of the piece but it seemed that he was so influenced by events beyond his control that he was more a victim of circumstances.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - 
Inspired Quill 
Genre -adult fiction

Monday 22 May 2017

Caroline Wallace - The Finding of Martha Lost - blog tour

Today we're delighted to be taking part in the  blog tour for The Finding of Martha Lost. Martha was found as a baby on the platform of Liverpool's Lime Street station, and has spent all her life there, living in the flat above the lost property office. Setting is obviously a key point to the novel and  author Caroline Wallace is here to talk about just that ... 

The original plan was to set The Finding of Martha Lost in Paris. For many years, I’d been infatuated with the culture, the romance, the language too. At eighteen, I even ran away to France, to find myself and to fall in love; neither happened.

My outline for The Finding of Martha Lost was to focus on a character called Martha being lost, then found, on departures and arrivals in a train station, with a host of quirks that I imagined would feel at home in France. The novel was forming nicely in my mind, despite the many obstacles of the setting being overseas, but everything changed when I walked through Lime Street Station in Liverpool (on my way to a Nik Kershaw concert).

I needed cash but couldn’t recall where the cash machines were located inside the station. After several minutes of searching, and having spotted a man sitting inside, I stepped into Lime Street Station’s lost property office and asked for help. The man behind the counter glared at me. I swear he growled as he pointed at a laminated sign on his desk: ‘CASH MACHINES ON PLATFORM 7’. I laughed, he didn’t. He continued to scowl, so I thanked him and hurried out of his lost property office. As I turned and looked back, I considered the amount of times the man must have been asked that same question before deciding he needed the sign. The thought made me smile.

That was the seed, or perhaps the switch.

That’s when I started wondering if Paris was the correct location for Martha Lost to live. I thought about when I’d first arrived into Liverpool by train, freshly broken from France, all lost and alone. I thought about the city and how its people had embraced me. I thought about falling in love with a local boy, about finding myself, about the friends I’d made, about the stories I’d been told. I thought about how the city had saved me, about walking down the aisle to The Beatles’ When I’m 64 on my wedding day and about how I couldn’t imagine ever living anywhere else. I thought about how the funniest, grumpiest, friendliest people live in Liverpool, a place that was my rescuer and soon became my home. I thought about how the people were defiant, brave and (often brutally) honest, so far from stereotypes in popular culture that had been created to mock. I realised that I was a fan of Liverpool’s culture, the romance to be found, the language too.
It didn’t take long for me to grasp that Paris didn’t hold the passion or the quirks that I needed for The Finding of Martha Lost. I realised that everything and more could be found in my city and that Lime Street Station would function at the heart of my story. Somehow, and unexpectedly, my Parisian novel transformed into a love letter to Liverpool.

Thank you Caroline - I personally can't imagine the novel being set anywhere but Lime Street station. 

If you're now intrigued and want to know more about The Finding of Martha Lost, check out Maryom's review here

Friday 19 May 2017

Contagion by Teri Terry

An epidemic is sweeping the country.
You are among the infected. There is no cure; and you cannot be permitted to infect others. You are now under quarantine. 
The very few of the infected who survive are dangerous and will be taken into the custody of the army.

review by Maryom

Kai's younger sister, Callie, has been missing without trace for a year, so when a girl called Shay contacts him with new information, he has no doubts about dashing up from Newcastle to the small village of Killin in Scotland to investigate the lead. Together they try to piece together Callie's last known movements but events in the wider world are working against them.
A secret scientific facility on Shetland has been conducting some very dodgy experiments, and when a supposed earthquake destroys it, a horrendous,highly-infectious, fast-acting flu virus is leaked into the world. Special army units are called in and quarantine zones are soon established across Scotland, making it difficult to travel, but even so the disease continues to claim victims at a dreadful rate. Very few survive, and those who do are considered too dangerous to be left at large.
Against this backdrop, Kai and Shay pursue the leads to uncover what exactly happened to Callie, and why ...

Anyone who's read this blog will know how much I love Teri Terry's teen/YA novels, whether set in the dystopian worlds of the Slated trilogy and Mind Games, or the urban fantasy of Book of Lies. This time the story is  a mix of dystopian horror as a mystery illness sweeps the country, thriller and conspiracy theory as Kai and Shay uncover far more than they'd expected in their search for Callie.
It's a great read, with characters to warm to, and a plot to entice you in - the sort of book you don't want to put down, but read in one sitting (no matter how late you have to stay up to do that!). You'll be left wanting more though, as this is the first book of a trilogy, and, although it ends at a logical point, a lot of questions have been raised and not answered yet. I can't wait to see how things develop in Book 2!

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orchard Books
Genre - 
teen, dystopian thriller, conspiracy theory

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

review by Maryom

Set in the turbulent years of the 900s, when England as a country was more of a dream than reality, Dunstan is the story of a rather un-saintly saint, and of the part he played in these formative years. His life spanned the reign of seven English kings, from Æthelstan, the first to consider himself King of all Britain, to Ethelred; some considered him a friend and adviser; others saw him as a foe, one even banishing him overseas. But whether welcome at court in Winchester or not, Dunstan is always plotting and planning, furthering his own ends as much as the king's.

This is period of history I know little about - I think for many readers the time from Alfred the Great to William the Conqueror will be a blur - but, from this story of a man caught in the middle of it, it's as full of treachery, double dealing, and political machinations as you could imagine.
The story is told as the remembrances of an old man looking back on his long, tumultuous life, his achievements and mistakes, the part he played in history as builder of church monuments and adviser to kings. The portrait Iggulden paints of Dunstan is of a complex man. A younger son with few other prospects, he's drawn to the church more for the possibilities of power and learning, than any religious calling. Tales of miracles and visions surround him and Dunstan becomes Abbot of Glastonbury at an early age, spending much of his life building of monasteries and cathedrals. On the other hand, he's full of petty jealousies, not wanting anyone to stand in his way, holding grudges against those opposed to him, and paying them back with violence. He's not a man you'd want to get on the wrong side of!

It isn't the sort of book that I'd normally pick up but I've been watching The Last Kingdom on TV and as this is set a couple of generations or so later I was intrigued. There's some, though not a tremendous amount of, war and violence because of the nature of the times, but the story only really concerns itself with events Dunstan witnesses first hand, and as a man in holy orders he's not on the front line of every battle and skirmish.  Dunstan brings the period to life in an enjoyable, readable way - and there are historical notes at the end if, like me, you want to know how the story compares to what really happened.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Michael Joseph
Genre - Adult historical fiction

Monday 15 May 2017

The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel

review by Maryom

Based on the story of her grandparents, Meike's Ziervogel's latest novel returns to the scene of her first, Magda - Germany in the 1930s and '40s. This time though the focus is not on the Nazi elite, but on an 'average' couple - Trude and Albert.
They meet in 1933, and, despite Trude's mother's objections, after a whirlwind romance leave Germany to travel round Europe while Albert begins to make his mark as a photographer. With war approaching they return home to Pomerania in the east of Germany, but Albert is soon forced to join the army, and as the war sweeps first east then west, the family is separated by forces beyond their control.
Through this small family of mother, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson, we see the desperate hardships and heart-breaking decisions that faced many German families - to volunteer or try to avoid conscription, to remain in the family home or flee with only the minimum of clothing and mementos; it's a story that in many ways is being echoed today in other parts of the world.
So many war-time 'romances' end with the return of the soldier to a hero's welcome; the Photographer doesn't. Trude and Albert's story continues in the harsh environment of refugee camps, where they have to readjust, learn to love each other again, and Albert particularly has to forget the past few years and rediscover the person he was before. The horrors he's seen are largely unmentioned, but have obviously affected him; as he wanders around, picking up his camera but never ready to commit to actually taking a photograph, there's an almost unbearable sense of a man lost and not able to find his way back to 'normality'.
In length, the story is short - 170 pages - but it's not one to rush. Take your time, because every word counts. Ziervogel's prose is pared back, almost to a minimum, and leaves the reader to put in some effort. At times the motivation behind the characters' actions is left a little 'open', and the reader can maybe choose their own interpretation  - for instance, one may see Trude's mother as an interfering busybody, another as a concerned, patriotic mother. I quite like this in a novel - the story isn't cast in stone, but can be re-interpreted according to my mood or influences outside the book.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult historical fiction, WW2, 

Friday 12 May 2017

Unthology 9 - Edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

This, the latest, anthology feels like a deviation from the style of the earlier ones - but that doesn't lessen the quality of the collection or each of the stories in the group of 17.

We start with the atmospheric telling of a dream-like narration of a suicide by drowning - but within that we learn something of that has brought them to this.

The next tells of an old man's journey through life and his search for something from his childhood for one last time.

So the collection has what would normally be  very dark theme - in fact "The End" would be an appropriate subtitle for this collection. But most of the stories aren't dark and they don't, in anyway shape or form, glamorise death.

As Linda Was Buying Tulips, About Time  and Traffic are complete steps away from the theme and You May As Well Give Up Trying To Make Something Of Yourself makes you wonder and left me later thinking "What did happen there?".

My real favourite deals in life and death in a manner I've never read before and left me wondering about Ego and the Surgeon - In Rehearsal by Sarah Evans.

Each story can be read in a coffee break and give you something to think about and waiting for another cuppa.

The collection returns to suicide by drowning but the circle we have come does not fully close itself.

A really spellbinding collection of stories once again with appeal to even those of us who don't like dark themes.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology 

Wednesday 10 May 2017

We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings

review by Maryom

The quiet country town of Heathcote is being disturbed by rumours of someone sneaking into houses, sometimes even when the owners are at home. No one has seen this mysterious person, nick-named The Fox for his sneaky habits, and nothing has been stolen, but people report their possessions being moved, as if picked up and replaced in the wrong spot. In a small community where everyone knows their neighbours, it's a disquieting feeling. Then events escalate with the disappearance of Anna, a quiet young woman who lived alone, and everyone fears she's been abducted by The Fox. As the local police call in reinforcements, people hide indoors behind locked windows and chained doors, all fearing they might be the next victim ...

Set in the 1980s and inspired by real events of the time, We All Begin As Strangers is a really impressive debut. Although revolving around a crime, it isn't quite a crime novel, and although it's a psychological study of what goes on behind the net curtains of a small, fairly prosperous English town, is definitely isn't a psychological thriller. It's closer to Joanna Cannon's The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, or Jon McGregor's Reservoir 13, both of which use the whodunnit format to explore the relationships and secrets of a small community.
The story is told in the third person, with each of the four parts of the novel being told from a different character's point of view - that of  Deloris, who's been married for only a year, but is finding the reality of married life doesn't live up to her hopes and expectations; Jim, the lay preacher who knew Anna through her help at the church, and is running from something shameful in his past; Brian, the local policeman, whose life revolves around caring for his older brother disabled in a freak accident; and Stan the supermarket manager, another person hiding a guilty secret. Anna herself, around whom everything revolves, remains an enigma - pleasant, kind, always busy with charity work, or helping at the church, well thought of by her neighbours, but not really close to any of them.
The author shows a real understanding of her characters' emotions and thoughts, their strengths or flaws, and brings them to life with care and sympathy - any or all feel like they could be your neighbours.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - adult fiction

Monday 8 May 2017

Spot the Mistake:Lands of Long Ago by Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley

illustrated by Frances Castle

"Would a Mayan warrior have worn a watch? Would a Viking have used a compass? Test your knowledge of history and spot 20 mistakes in every scene. Then, turn the page to discover if you were right and learn more fun facts about ancient civilisations, including the Ancient Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Mayans, the Vikings, and many more!"

review by Maryom

I know I'm not the target reader but I love this book!
It's split into ten sections, each covering a different period of time from the prehistoric Stone Age through the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and central America to Medieval Knights, Vikings, the Mughal Empire in India and seventeenth century Caribbean Pirates just like Jack Sparrow! For each time period there's a double-page spread showing typical activities BUT there are mistakes. In each picture are twenty things which do not belong, and which the reader has to spot.
Now, I always find that there's something about a 'spot the mistake' game that drags me in, so obviously I had to try and spot them. Some were obvious - there were no cameras in Ancient Greece, and pirates didn't play on the beach making sandcastles - but there were some I didn't know - no chickens in Neolithic Britain or carrots in the time of the Pharaohs - and some sneaky ones that I couldn't find. Maybe you need sharper eyes than mine, but if you don't spot every mistake, don't worry; the answers are given on the next page, along with more interesting facts about the time period.

Every page has bright, colourful illustrations, and while children are looking at tham and trying to spot all the mistakes, they'll be learning about the past without really realising.

Publisher - Wide Eyed Editions
Genre - Non-fiction, history, children's 7+

Friday 5 May 2017

The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu

illustrated by Manuela Adreani

review by Maryom

Etabo is too small to race camels, but he watches his brother racing and imagines it must feel like flying. One day, he's sure, he'll be better than his brother, possibly even the best camel racer ever. Times are hard for his family though. The cost of necessities like water is rising, and Etabo's father is forced to sell their camels. Left alone to look after the family gosts, Etabo can still dream ... but is it enough?

We can't always have what we want. Sometimes hopes and dreams have to be put on hold for a while - and waiting a month can seem like forever to a child. This universal story of keeping those dreams alive through imagination could have been set anywhere, but by choosing the dry desert of the north-west of her native Kenya, Wanuri Kahiu introduces children to a life very different to their own. Here we expect to turn on a tap and fill our glasses and mugs with clean water for 'free'; to live in a place where such a necessity can become almost too expensive to buy seems shocking, but sadly this is the case in many areas of the world. Children won't realise they're learning about the world though, they'll be caught up in Etabo's story, and wondering how he will follow his dreams.
Illustrator Manuela Adreani brings Etabo's world to life in colourful full page spreads that capture the arid heat, dry sandy ground, and, of course, the swiftness of camels.
The Wooden Camel is a lovely book which emphasises that no matter how different our lives may be we all have dreams, and through our imagination can pursue them.

Publisher - Lantana
genre - children's picture book,

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Author event - Robin Hobb

 US fantasy author Robin Hobb (aka Megan Lindholm) is here in the UK at the moment promoting her latest book, and last in the long-running Fitz and the Fool series, Assassin's Fate, and last night she was at Nottingham Waterstones to talk to a packed room.

As you can see, we were right at the back, so please excuse the blurry photos!

I'm a relative new-comer to the world of Fitz and the Fool. Although I read the first Rain Wild chronicle a few years ago, I really got into the Farseer world when I read Assassin's Apprentice, last December. I'd hoped to read the whole series before publication date of Assassin's Fate came around, but that plan hasn't really worked - I'm only on the fifth book, The Mad Ship. I have, though, become a great fan, and my new resolve is to finish them all before paperback publication of Assassin's Fate (so, in a way, I'm hoping that's many months away)
Robin opened last night's event by reading from Assassin's Fate and, although I didn't really know the characters and their circumstances, I could glean enough to guess some of the plot developments between where I've reached and this final instalment. I was left with a dilemma - part of me wants to jump ahead, and see how everything ends, then go back and take things slowly through the series; the other part thinks I should read each book in turn with no jumping ahead and plot spoilers. I'll probably go for the traditional, sequential route but try to avoid that desire to 'know how it all ends', which can cause me to rush.

I don't usually bother about the actual physical appearance of a book - after all the story inside is the most important aspect, the cover just a way to keep the pages together - but this one, from a painting by Jackie Morris, is something really special. So gorgeous, in fact that I'd almost frame it and hang it on the wall!