Monday 30 July 2018

The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

"Gentlemen! No Little Lady in Your Life? Call the Little Lady Agency: everything organised, from your home to your wardrobe, your social life to you. No funny business or laundry.

review by Maryom

Melissa has made such a good job of organizing the estate agents office she works in, and making sure everything there runs smoothly, that they no longer have any need for her, and, when it merges with a big American firm, she's the first to be made redundant. After a close call with the 'wrong' sort of agency, she decides to set up her own, sorting out the lives and wardrobes of London's clueless, but rich, young men. Ditching her dull 'hockey-sticks' persona, she becomes glamorous Honey, the 'little lady' who'll make sure they know which knife and fork to use, provide a 'plus one' to weddings and family events, and help with your present buying problems - there are a million and one ways she can help a lazy, unorganised bachelor.
Then she meets Jonathan, part of the team who took over her former employers. He's new to London, caught in a messy divorce, wanting someone to organize his social schedule and provide a hostess for his parties -  and suddenly Melissa's not sure where to draw the line between business and pleasure ... 

Sometimes all we want from a book is something light-hearted and fun - and The Little Lady Agency is exactly that.

Don't look for deep character analysis, this is rom-com land. Melissa seems awfully naive for the public-schooled daughter of an MP who's had his share of sex scandals, and a lot of the characters seem so incredibly posh that they could have stepped straight out of a modern day Downton Abbey, but don't worry, take them at their face value, and enjoy the fun.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher -
Genre - adult chick lit/romcom

Thursday 26 July 2018

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

review by Maryom

Daniel is on the road, following the railway tracks north, looking for his sister. For a while they lived an idyllic sort of life - him, Daddy, and older sister Cathy - in a house Daddy built himself in a small patch of unwanted isolated woodland. They lived almost completely 'off grid', hunting and foraging for food, having little to do with folk in the nearby village. At home their life was one of peace and simplicity but away from it, Daddy's life was one of violence, clandestine prize-fights and acting as a 'fixer' when debts weren't paid. When these two worlds collide, someone's bound to get hurt ...

Daddy's 'occupation' allows him to live on the fringe of society, but the 'real' world can't be ignored forever, and the woodland idyll is threatened by folk who care about law, property ownership, and their rights. Piece by piece, Mozley raises the tension, building a great sense of brooding violence in which you feel almost anything could happen, and Daddy is backed into a corner with only one way to respond.

It's a story rather reminiscent of a Martin McDonagh script - folk going about their day to day lives getting caught up in violence outside their control - or one in which a retired hitman is called on to do one last job, with devastating consequences to his family, mashed up with a Robin Hood style tale of the 'little man' trying to overcome those with land and the backing of law.
The peaceful existence in the wood jars harshly with the outside world, and Mozley seems equally at home bringing both to life on the page - a delight when the reader's experiencing the woodland through Daniel's eyes, a horror when violence erupts.
Things start a bit slowly, with lots of back story and I wondered where the plot was going, and how long it might take. To be honest, there were times when I nearly gave up ... but then the beautifully descriptive writing caught me, and the sharks started to circle Daniel's little bit of heaven, waiting for the first opportunity to oust his family, and I found it a book I couldn't put down.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Genre - Adult Fiction,

Friday 20 July 2018

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 4 - edited by Teika Bellamy

illustrated by Emma Howitt

review by Maryom

"Modern fables and ancient tales" is how this book, comprising fourteen weird and wonderful stories, describes itself, and, as with the previous volumes of The Forgotten and The Fantastical, this fourth collection takes fairy tales away from the nursery, and puts them back in their original place on the adult bookshelf. I don't know what it is about fairy tales - maybe that their themes seem universal, as fitting today as ever, maybe that in an increasingly urban, digital world we're seeking a connection with nature, or a simpler time when the world divided into good and evil - but something about them always appeals, and this latest anthology is no exception.

I've found there's often a strong feminist/earth mother streak in the work published by Mother's Milk, exploring the strength of female characters, their bonds with nature, and although this isn't a particularly 'themed' collection many revolve around a central female character, rather than the more traditional hero of folk tales. Several, in fact explore a similar concept - that of women breaking free from the demands and expectations of men, rejecting the 'safe' world created for them, often no more than a gilded cage, to find fulfillment and explore the world themselves.
In Belle/Bete by Renee Anderson, a badly burned woman is encouraged by her lover to shun the world, in order to avoid the taunts she might suffer there, but effectively locking her away from life.
Katy Jones' retelling of 'Snow White and Rose Red', A Beast of the Forest, follows the girls and the 'bear' beyond the traditional happy ending with the heroine choosing to embrace the natural world rather than the fake sophistication of the Court. In Lisa Fransson's The Moss Child a smith tries to keep his daughter 'protected' from the natural world of forest and birds which form her birthright, while Lynden Wade's Sins of the Fathers again features a smith, a man who seeks to avoid the mistakes made by his father and grandfather, and create himself a wife of iron. Rosemary Collins reinterprets Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen into a fable about the perils of global warming, as Cold-Brained Kay (female in this version) goes on a quest to find cold and ice, and bring back winter. Elizabeth Hopkinson's Juanita draws on the life of a seventeenth century Mexican nun/scholar/poet who challenged the authority of bishops and philosophers (all male).

Some of the stories are set in traditional 'once upon a time' never-never land; Rachel Rivett's Wild Man, Holly James' Faraway Woman. Some set in recognisable historical times - A Story in Two Parts by Leslie Muzingo which centres on the lives of those 'creators' of fairy tales - Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. Others bring magic and fairytale characters into contemporary settings - Ruth Asch's The Microwave is a modern equivalent of the magic never-empty purse, The Godmother's Fairy Tale Ending by Donna M Day takes place in a care home for the elderly, and Matthew Keeley's Winging In in a therapist's consulting room.

Susie Hennessey's Lowden House appears to be set in some bleak dystopian future (though in reality it's a place much closer to home), while in the world envisaged by Victoria Haslam in Strange Traits genetic modifications can turn you into almost any creature you'd like to be.

An eclectic, enjoyable collection for anyone who feels fairy stories are not only for the young and innocent.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Mother's Milk Books
Genre - 
adult folk/fairy tales

Friday 13 July 2018

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger

review by Maryom

Emily, formerly bitchy assistant to equally bitchy fashion editor Miranda Priestly, is now a stylist/PR consultant in Hollywood, but perhaps she's starting to lose her touch because she's losing clients left, right and centre. Licking her wounds, she takes refuge with old friend Miriam, in the wealthy New York suburb of Greenwich. Miriam and her family have only recently moved there. It may be a better place to bring up your children, but she's finding it hard to fit in with the fitness-obsessed designer mum set. It's certainly not the sort of place Emily wants to stay for long, but then Miriam's friend, former super-model Karolina, is set up on a DUI charge, then publicly dumped on TV (!) by her senator, wannabe presidential candidate, husband. Emily believes it's time for some female solidarity, and vows to help Karolina get her own back, and perhaps help salvage her own career.

Some times in life, you want easy, funny, biting reads - something guaranteed to take your mind off day to day worries - and for me this entirely fits the bill. 

 Lauren Weisberger is turning her sharp, sarcastic eye on the wealthy suburban housewives of Greenwich. They've given up high-powered city jobs to spend time with their young families but nannies are left in charge of the kids while mothers spend their days between gym, yoga class, coffee shop and sex-toy parties. It takes 'Desperate Housewives' to a whole new level!
I'm labeling it as chick lit/romcom but it's not really a romantic story. It's sharp and funny, scathing and witty, mocking these women with too much time and money on their hands, while promoting the value of strong female friendships. I really enjoyed it. 'The Wives' works well as a stand-alone read, so it's not necessary to have read or seen 'The Devil Wears Prada', or even know who Miranda Priestly is!

Published in the UK as 'The Wives', in the US it's sold as 'When Life Gives You Lululemons'.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - HarperCollins
Genre - 
adult fiction, chicklit/romcom

Monday 9 July 2018

Meet Me At the Museum by Anne Youngson

review by Maryom

Tina Hopgood is a middle-aged farmer's wife. Her life so far has been quiet and uneventful, but the death of her one close friend leaves her feeling regretful about opportunities she's missed. One of these was a visit, much talked about with her friend but never taken, to visit Silkeborg museum and view the remains of the famous 'bog body', Tollund Man, so she writes to the professor who sparked their interest long ago, and receives an answer from his successor. This casual exchange of letters sparks a correspondence that becomes more personal, sharing their lives, regrets, hopes, and gradually moving beyond friendship to something deeper.

To be honest, after the build up I'd seen from publicists and bloggers on social media, I was a little disappointed with this book. It's nice enough; a gently-blossoming romance between two middle-aged people, charted through the letters they write to each other, but it didn't really grab me. Everything plods along much as you'd expect it to. No curveballs, no plot twists (I'd have loved it if Anders had turned out to be lying and still married!)
I think one of my problems was with the character of Tina, and a feeling that somehow she's supposed to represent ALL middle-aged women. Well, I'm Tina's age, and tbh she struck me as meek, dull and old - not someone I could sympathise with, and I think this influenced my view of the novel as a whole.

Still, it's not bad, and if you like gentle romance you'll probably like this. It just wasn't for me.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult, romantic fiction, 

Thursday 5 July 2018

Leila Aboulela - Elsewhere, Home - blog tour

Today we're taking part in the blog tour for Leila Aboulela's new collection of short stories - Elsewhere, Home. A prize-winning author of several novels and a previous story collection, Aboulela was born in Khartoum, and now lives in Aberdeen. She first came to my attention with The Kindness of Enemies, and I'm intrigued and impatient to read this latest volume of her work.

Meanwhile, here's an extract from one of the stories. I hope it whets your appetite for more ...

The Ostrich

  ‘You look beautiful in blue,’ the Ostrich said, and when I was cruel he said, ‘but I can be a judge of voices can I not?’ I didn’t ask him what he thought of my voice. I walked away. It must have been in the evening that I was wearing blue. It was white tobes in the morning, coloured ones for the evening. The evening lectures were special, leisurely; there was time after lunch to shower, to have a nap. To walk from the hostels in groups and pairs, past the young boy selling peanuts, past the closed post office, past the neem trees with the broken benches underneath. Jangly earrings, teeth smacking chewing gum and kohl in our eyes. The tobes slipping off our carefully combed hair, lifting our hands, putting them back on again. Tightening the material, holding it under our left arm. I miss these gestures, already left behind. Majdy says, ‘If you cover your hair in London they’ll think I am forcing you to do that. They won’t believe it is what you want.’ So I must walk unclothed, imagining cotton on my hair, lifting my hand to adjust an imaginary tobe.
 The sunset prayers were a break in the middle of these evening lectures. One communist lecturer, keen to assert his atheism, ignored the rustling of the notebooks, the shuffling of restless feet, the screech of the Ostrich’s alarm. Only when someone called out, ‘A break for the prayers!’ did he stop teaching. I will always see the grass, patches of dry yellow, the rugs of palm fibre laid out. They curl at the edges and when I put my forehead on the ground I can smell the grass underneath. Now that we have a break we must hurry, for it is as if the birds have heard the azan and started to pray before us. I can hear their praises, see the branches bow down low to receive them as they dart to the trees. We wash from a corner tap, taking turns. The Ostrich squats and puts his whole head under the tap. He shakes it backwards and drops of water balance on top of his hair. I borrow a mug from the canteen and I am proud, a little vain knowing that I can wash my hands, face, arms and feet with only one mug. Sandals discarded, we line up and the boy from the canteen joins us, his torn clothes stained with tea. Another lecturer, not finding room on the mat, spreads his handkerchief on the grass. If I was not praying I would stand with my feet crunching the gravel stones and watch the straight lines, the men in front, the colourful tobes behind. I would know that I was part of this harmony, that I needed no permission to belong. Here in London, the birds pray discreetly and I pray alone. A printed booklet, not a muezzin, tells me the times. Here in London, Majdy does not pray. ‘This country,’ he says, ‘chips away at your faith bit by bit.’


Elsewhere, Home is published by Telegram, an imprint of Saqi publishing, and is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Monday 2 July 2018

Unthology 10 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

Unthology 10 is, once again, a carefully and cleverly collated mix of short stories through which a trail can be followed, a trail of change. In each story we see a character touched by an incident that changes them - mostly for the better. This Unthology is, like the nine before it, the sum of it's parts - and if you construct using only the best parts then the result has got to be something special and this, once again, excels. The crafting that went into each of these stories is excellent. Well done once again Unthank in finding the very best and putting together yet another brilliant Unthology anthology.

Highly recommended coffee time reading - except you may find one story is not enough.

In Rosa and Kelsey (by Kathryn Simmonds), Matthew had agreed to share childcare but he doesn't have 100% buy-in to the idea. A chance encounter in a park causes him to think again.

Ursa Minor (by K M Elkes) tells of Jack and Carrie, a young couple, who wish to start a family but things aren't happening when they have a chance encounter with a bear in the woods. Jack feels he needs to address the bear issue once and for all.

In One For The Ditch (by Brian Coughlan) a drunk encounters an alcoholic and, despite protestations of not knowing him, the reader is left to re-eveluate their relationship.

Blowhole (by Tom Vowler) is a letter from Susie, who finds herself in an abusive relationship but feels she must carry on despite her dreams of being a mother probably never coming to fruition.

In Cafeteria (by Jay Merill) a child's mother shows kindness to a woman, known to be a prostitute, and the child observes and learns from the encounter, trying to emulate all that is good.

Tenth Circle (by Liam Hogan) deviates from the theme and shows how, even though centuries may pass, certain attitudes and beliefs remain unchanged. And it laces the tail with humour. Nice one!

When Nature Calls (by Gareth E Rees) also has a sad smile to it but a lesson is learned that defying nature is rarely successful.

The Best Way to Kill a Butterfly (by Hannah Stevens) brings out the worst in people and we learn a little of why Michael left.

Confessions of an Irresolute Ethnic Writer (by Elaine Chiew) sees the writer have a brush with mythology... or does he?

Household Gods (by Tracy Fells) tells the story of a mans loves for his mother and the wife it was arranged he should marry. But does he love his wife?

A Moment Could Last Them Forever (by Daniel Carpenter) tells of a sort of medium who gets invested rather more than usual in a case - a case she believes she's failing in.

Take Away the Sky (by Mark Mayes) sees a man, alone, set to take his own life when he has an epiphany and takes comfort from a phone number he will never use.

In Livestock (by Valerie O'Riordan) a vet's daughter sees herself in a young girl who is seemingly running away and wonders why she felt so different.

End Times (by Maxim Loskutoff) tells of a woman who struggles to come to terms with the fact that her injured dog won't live, while her husband has already given up.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology