Thursday 19 December 2019

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Review by The Mole

Many of us know of this story of slavery in the 18th century and dismiss this book as irrelevant today - which I think is a mistake.

The book follows the story of Tom and begins and ends with his cabin. Tom is fortunate in that in Kentucky he has been acquired by a benevolent owner who treats all his slaves well. But they are 'property' and when the owner falls on hard times he needs money.

The story tracks Tom and some of the slaves he comes into contact with during his travels. Some escape and make it as far as Canada, some don't make it to the final chapter.

Throughout the book the author, using research sources open to her at that time, explores the attitudes of different owners and their treatment of their slaves. She also explores the relationship of attitudes (including racism) in the slave free north and the slave owning south. She further goes on to compare the slaves of America to the workers of Great Britain at that time.

While much pain and suffering is inflicted on some of the slaves throughout the book these incidents happen 'off camera' so as not to offend public taste at that time.

This is, in truth, an anti-slavery publication with messages that are still relevant today regarding racism and slavery. I was left wondering about the concept of freedom over the ensuing decades.

****There are many versions of this book available still today and I acquired a free kindle copy from the kindle store which (sadly) had been scanned in and OCR converted which left MANY errors making reading a little challenging at times.

Thursday 12 December 2019

White Bodies by Jane Robins

"Callie loves Tilda. She’s her sister, after all. And she’s beautiful and successful.
Tilda loves Felix. He’s her husband. Successful and charismatic, he is also controlling, suspicious and, possibly, dangerous. Still, Tilda loves Felix.
And Callie loves Tilda. Very, very much.
So she’s determined to save her. But the cost could destroy them all…
Sometimes we love too much."

Tilda and Callie are twins - but possibly as un-alike as could be. Tilda has always been attractive, outgoing, admired; at 27, she's a well-known actress, able to pick and choose her roles. Callie has remained in her shadow - quiet, reclusive, and dowdy, she works in a bookstore. Despite their differences the two have always been close, but now Tilda has a new boyfriend, Felix, of whom Callie doesn't approve. She feels Tilda is being dominated by him too much, letting him decide too many things for her. She even thinks he might be violent, and is determined to do everything possible to save her besotted sister. Tilda meanwhile is determined to marry him.

As the book opens Felix is found dead in a hotel bedroom. As with any unexpected death how? and why? are the obvious questions, and the story takes us back through the preceding months as Callie's mistrust of him builds, and then forward to the aftermath of Felix's death.

Like most psychological thrillers, it strings you along by only revealing the truth in installments. The story is told from Callie's point of view, so we see her quick distrust of Felix, and the bizarre actions she takes in her attempt to separate him and Tilda, but aren't privy to the thoughts of any other characters. It's definitely a page-turner - I wanted to speed through it non-stop to uncover the ending - but I'm not sure it's one for me.

Unlike most of my 'review' reads, this isn't a newly published book. It's been sitting on a TBR pile for a couple of years because I didn't feel in the mood for the tension and drama of a psychological thriller. If you're a lover of this genre, and somehow missed this on publication, go and check it out; for me, although I found it a hard book to put down, I'm still not in the right head-space for it.

Thursday 5 December 2019

He Wants by Alison Moore

A while ago - a long while, actually - at the launch for Alison Moore's novel Missing, I picked up a copy of one of her previous books, put it on a shelf, and half forgot about it. I have quite a stack of my own personal books which tend to get neglected in favour of review copies, but this last month or so I've been trying to take time out to read them. So here I am, over a year later, to tell you about He Wants.

Lewis is a retired school teacher. He's had an uneventful life, and retirement is even less exciting. Now a widower, he still lives in the village where he grew up. His daughter visits regularly, bringing lunch that he doesn't really want, and making sure he's okay, but there seems to be little love or companionship between the two. This isn't the middle-age he wanted, in fact much of his life he seems to have just drifted along the easiest path rather than make active choices. With time on his hands, Lewis wanders through his memories, regretting chances he never took, wishing he'd done things differently. He's made to feel worse by the return of an old friend, Sydney, who seems quite glamorous in comparison - he's traveled and seen the world, and seems to have generally made a success of his life.

As with Alison Moore's other work, this is a gently-paced, quiet, contemplative story, focusing on the inner turmoil and hopes of her characters.

I read this at a point when I was feeling very low, and although, with its themes of loneliness, regret and missed chances, it's hardly what you might call a cheerful book, I found it soothing. It's not all doom and gloom though. There are many instances of Moore's wry humour, and the ultimate message is one of hopefulness. To me it said 'it's never too late; if you've got an unfulfilled dream, give it a go'

Thursday 21 November 2019

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

A couple of years have passed since the events of Red Sister (the first book of Mark Lawrence's The Book of the Ancestor trilogy) and Nona Grey has been living comparatively quietly at the Convent of Sweet Mercy. She's not, as you might expect, spending long hours in prayer, or working on calligraphy or needlework, for this is a convent with a difference. One where, under the supervision of Abbess Glass and the sisters, novices are trained in martial arts - both practical hand to hand combat and the subtler ways of poison and mind manipulation.
Nona is now leaving many of her friends behind and moving up a level to Mystic class; making new enemies there, to add to the powerful ones she already has outside the convent. Combined they're determined to see her thrown out of the convent, preferably killed. Fairly obviously, Nona isn't going to co-operate - and a lot of other people are going to end up dead.

The second book of a trilogy is always tricky - the characters have been introduced, the world building is done, but the reader needs to be reminded of things they may have forgotten from the first book, while the action has to move forward to keep us engrossed. Despite a slightly slow start with a little too much emphasis on the 'school' aspect of Nona's life for my liking, I really enjoyed this return to Nona's world. As the story progresses the pace picks up with plenty of fight scenes and danger, but I also liked the less violent, sly, political manoeuvring of the abbess.

Something I hate about fantasy series is the hiatus between books as the next is written, edited and finally published. It's taken me an awfully long time to get round to reading this, so I'm lucky in that the third and final book, Holy Sister is already published.

Just a couple of warnings - despite the school style setting this is NOT a children's book (don't confuse it with Harry Potter or The Worst Witch) and you DO need to have read book one, Red Sister;without it little will make sense.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

translated by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

I'm not sure whether to describe this latest book from Peirene as a novel or a collection of short stories; the thirteen stories which make up the English version of Emmanuella Pagnano's work read like something falling between the two. Although each can stand alone, they link together to bring to life the inhabitants of a remote community high on a plateau in rural France. 

Some of the shorter pieces are more vignettes than stories, capturing a moment or mood rather than telling a tale, but I found a sense of loss - of happiness, or innocence - pervading them all. They aren't stories of 'happy ever after', more of the things that can go wrong in life - whether devastating like the accidental death of a small child, or the dark comedy of a random stranger turning up at a wedding instead of the expected relative. A childish prank goes wrong, an elderly man whose only purpose in life is automatically trotting out the tales of the district, another who waits everyday at the spot on a mountain road where his family died, a woman weighed down by life trying to commit suicide but thwarted by random strangers.

The plateau itself seems a slightly other-worldly place - the weather is always colder to that in the valley below - and somewhere that 'misfits' can find a home. In some of the stories there's a feeling that life is simpler there, that people are more in touch with themselves and nature, but maybe they're just more inured to pain and suffering.

At first the stories appear to be a random selection linked only by location, but as the reader progresses the relationship between them becomes apparent. Characters, while not appearing in every tale, show up again here and there, often seen from a different point of view, or at a different point in time; the child in one becomes the parent in another. Noticing this, seeing how the stories fit together, has the satisfaction of spotting that strangely-shaped jigsaw puzzle you've been searching for and seeing the whole picture come together as it slots into its space.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Supernatural reads

For Halloween I thought I'd look round the bookshelves and see what I had sitting waiting to be read in the way of scary supernatural reads - and these were the first to come to hand; Bram Stoker's Dracula (unbelievably, perhaps, I've never read it!), and a short story collection, Oxford Twelve Tales of the Supernatural edited by Michael Cox. I thought I'd have time to read both before Halloween, as neither are very long, but things didn't work out that way.

I started with the collected stories. Hmm, that didn't go well. I've said before that a lot of supposedly scary stories leave me cold, but in a bad way, and these did that. Despite some big names among the collection - LeFanu, and M R James, for example - they didn't seem spooky or tense to me. Maybe back when they were 'new' there was an element of surprise to them, but I found them dreadfully predictable.

On to Dracula ... although I haven'r actually READ this before it's difficult to not have some idea of the plot from films, even if they aren't entirely 'as the book'. It's hard therefore to put yourself into the mindset of someone reading the book with no idea of what will happen, of why the Count can only see his visitor at night, of why it's probably best for all concerned that Jonathan Harker does as the Count tells him and stays safely in the rooms assigned to him. I was also afraid that like some of the short stories it would just be so predictable. It was, as obviously I'd an idea of the plot, but it was still very readable. The writing conveys a definite feeling of growing dread, but having reached a high point, instead of attempting (and possibly failing) to maintain it, moves back to the more prosaic world of daily domesticity - and manages to pull this off several times. The Count of course moves to England and attempts to continue his vampiric ways here, but a group of young men, aided by vampire-expert Van Helsing, strive to put an end to him. Towards the end, I felt the story became more 'thriller' than ' 'supernatural tale' but was perhaps better for it.
It's a bit slow at time, especially when Van Helsing is explaining something, and there are dodgy attitudes towards women and 'foreigners' but in all it's a good read.

For some of my favorite Halloween reads see here over on my Other Thoughts blog

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Eleanor Fitzsimons - guest post - Socialism in the Stories of E Nesbit

Today I'm delighted to welcome Eleanor Fitzsimons, author of a new biography of  E Nesbit, to tell us more about a relatively unknown side the Nesbit's life - her strong Marxist beliefs and their influence on her stories


Nowadays, we know E. Nesbit as the author of wonderful stories for children and a source of inspiration for writers from C.S. Lewis to J.K. Rowling. Yet poetry was her true passion. As she told one friend “only my socialist poems are real me”. Nesbit’s close friend and fellow Fabian Society member George Bernard Shaw described her as “a committed if distinctly eccentric socialist”. Her commitment to a fairer society was informed by her experience of genuine hardship when, as a newly married mother, she decorated greeting cards and sold simple illustrations to earn a living for her unorthodox family. She raised three children with her husband, Hubert Bland, and two more he fathered with her friend Alice Hoatson. Although she wrote what the market demanded, Nesbit promoted social reform in her stories for young readers who she regarded, with good reason, as far more open to reforming ideas than their parents.

Before she wrote the books we remember her for, including The Wouldbegoods, The Railway Children and Five Children and It, Nesbit and Bland co-authored The Prophet’s Mantle, a socialist novel inspired by the arrival in London of Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin. The Russian exile in The Railway Children is also based on him. Nesbit was keen to fulfill the Fabian society mission, which she defined as “to improve the social system – or rather to spread its news as to the possible improvement of the said SS”. When the children in The Wouldbegoods form a society, Dora describes its aim as “nobleness and goodness, and great and unselfish deeds,” adding: “We wish to spread our wings and rise above the kind of interesting things that you ought not to do, but to do kindnesses to all, no matter how low and mean”.

Nesbit includes a particularly inflammatory public speech in The Story of the Amulet:
Comrades and fellow workers, how long are we to endure the tyranny of our masters, who live in idleness and luxury on the fruit of our toil? They only give us a bare subsistence wage, and they live on the fat of the land. We labour all our lives to keep them in wanton luxury. Let us make an end of it!
Here, her fictional children travel forward in time to a utopian London where school is delightful, mothers and fathers share the burden of childcare, and everyone dresses in comfortable clothing. When the Babylonian Queen time travels to Victorian London she assumes that the workers she encounters must be slaves on the verge of revolt since they are so poorly treated. The children explain that these workers are free and have the right to vote for their government yet they cannot justify why misery persists. Nesbit often exposes the flaws inherent in government policy by having children attempt to explain it.

Elsewhere in The Story of the Amulet, the Psammead points out: “You’ve got your country into such a mess that there’s no room for half your children – and no one to want them”. In The House of Arden, Richard refuses to return to Victorian London, declaring “they make people work fourteen hours a day for nine shillings a week, so that they never have enough to eat or wear, and no time to sleep or be happy in”. The children in The Wonderful Garden persuade an indifferent landlord who owns a castle and a mansion in Belgrave Square to protect one of his tenants, a vulnerable old woman. In The Magic World, when the enchanted crows that inhabit ‘Justnowland’ are changed back into men, they vow “in future we shall not be rich and poor, but fellow-workers, and each will do his best for his brothers”.

The most credible and socially aware of Nesbit’s books is The Railway Children, with its clear message of political criticism and social change. It seems likely that ‘Old Gentleman’ is included to reassure parents reading to their children that wealth and social position are not threatened by socially conscious behaviour. It is not necessary to cede your power, merely to make proper use of it. Victorian literature is not short of moralising tales but Nesbit was never hectoring or po-faced. She often poked fun at fellow socialists and utopian thinkers. The key characteristics of her stories for children are fantasy and humour. She spread her radical ideas on the benefits of a fairer society by embedding them in superbly crafted, gripping stories that continue to resonate with children to this day. 

Eleanor Fitzsimons is the author of The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit (Duckworth, 2019)

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Seven Ghosts by Chris Priestley

Jake is one a group of children invited to a special tour of Grimstone Hall. It's a place famous for the number of ghosts sighted there, and the visit has been organised for finalists in a ghost story writing competition.
Mrs Fox, their guide, shows them round, taking them up to the roof and out into the gardens, telling stories of the ghosts associated with each spot, and as the tour progresses Jake realises he's seeing things that the other children appear to not notice - a flicker of coloured silks, something bright and shining moving across the lawn, a girl wearing odd, old fashioned clothing. Jake begins to think Mrs Fox is not telling the whole truth about the ghosts of Grimstone Hall.

Seven Ghosts is a great ghostly read for Halloween (or any other time). The seven stories divide the book up into nicely sized 'chunks' to be read at one sitting, while the link sections, following the prize-winners on their tour, keep the chill factor going as Jake's suspicions rise.
Chris Priestley is the author of one of my favourite ghost stories, The Dead of Winter ,which although intended as a teen read is spot on for me, and here he's written and illustrated a brilliant collection of stories for a younger age group. These tales are spooky and menacing, but without being scary - just right for the intended readership of 8 years and older. They're the stuff to grab a child's imagination and send a cold shiver up their spine, not send them to bed with nightmares.

As always with Barrington Stoke books, it's printed on cream paper in a dyslexia-friendly font to make it accessible to all, and, in addition, has full- and part-page illustrations throughout from the author himself, to bring the ghosts of Grimstone to life (if that's the appropriate word)

Publisher - Barrington Stoke
Genre - ghost stories, 8+, dyslexia-friendly 

Thursday 24 October 2019

Stillicide by Cynan Jones

This latest work from Cynan Jones is something a little different - a series of self-contained but linked short stories set in the (probably not so far off) future. A future where weather patterns have changed; despite almost constant summer rain, water is in short supply. No more long luxurious baths, not even a quick shower in the morning or even flushing loos! Supplying London with water has become a major undertaking. Pipes no longer feed it to the city, instead it's transported from distant reservoirs by the Water Train, but the service is increasingly under threat of sabotage. As an alternative, a huge Ice Dock is to be built - icebergs towed south to it, and their melt water collected - but construction work will displace more of the population that originally planned for, and people are taking to the streets to protest. 
Against this grim backdrop the reader follows people going about their lives -  a journalist obsessed with his search for a big scoop, an elderly man facing death, a woman persuaded by nature's beauty that there must be more to life that her dull relationship with her husband, young boys playing with a dog in the rubble of waste ground, and Branner (the main character, if the collection can be said to have one), a police marksman protecting the Water Train, his thoughts dodging back and forth to when he first met his wife, to his shock and disbelief on hearing her terminal diagnosis, to how he can attempt to go on without her. Within the stories, they change positions, reappearing in different roles - the central character of one becoming a bit-player or walk-on part in another - so that, although each section reads as a standalone piece, there's a underlying cohesion between them forming a greater story.

This isn't just a story of doom and gloom. Despite the bleak man-made conditions, nature is showing its resilience, its capacity to take hold and flourish in even the most inhospitable places, reclaiming waste ground and construction sites. People too are trying to improve their lot with rooftop allotments and small 'new-farms'; a personal way to overcome shortages from the 'mass-produced' sector.

It's all brought to life with Jones' familiar precision, his attention to detail, and ability to get under his characters' skin - focusing on the small things of life to build an image of the whole. Butterflies dancing in the park, the shape left as a bird darts away, the feel of limpets being prised from the rock, or the guts spilling out of a fish.

It's breath-catching, heart-wrenching, stunning. If you haven't discovered Jones' work yet, then do; you're missing a treat. And don't anyone try telling me that dystopian fiction can't be literary

Although the concept had been mulling around in the author's mind for a while, it was a commission from Radio 4 which brought it to life. If you prefer to listen rather than read you can still (October 2019) find it online

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Granta Books
Genre - Adult literary fiction, dystopian

Thursday 17 October 2019

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Christopher and his mum Kate never seem to stay in one place very long. He's just started yet another new school, and having trouble finding friends and fitting in.
Then he 'meets' an imaginary friend, the Nice Man, and follows him into the woods near his home; the same woods in which a young boy disappeared 50 years ago. Christopher, too, disappears, but only for six days. On his return, he isn't the same boy. He's suddenly much cleverer than before and now has an obsession with building a treehouse in the middle of the woods - a treehouse which will provide a link between worlds, letting all sorts of evil out ...

Now, I haven't read The Perks of being a Wallflower, but I've seen the film and assumed that this new novel from Stephen Chbosky would be something in a similar vein. Well, fair to say Imaginary Friend wasn't at all what I expected. What you've basically got here is a horror story. It's not a genre I'm a huge fan of - the right story can make my hair stand on end, but so many seem to overdo the build up of tension and I just get irritated with it, and start skipping huge chunks. Sadly, Imaginary Friend falls into the second category. And then God and the Devil somehow got involved, and I really lost interest.

It's far too long. Reading a e-copy I hadn't realised just HOW long - 700+ pages - I'd just felt it dragging on and on. Maybe, just maybe, if it had been shorter it would have held my attention, but it wasn't and it didn't, although I did struggle on till the end.

Maryom's review - 2 stars - though horror fans will probably love it!
Publisher - Orion 
Genre - adult horror, fantasy

Thursday 10 October 2019

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

At some future point in time, the world has been engulfed by water due presumably to global warming and rising sea levels. Only extremely high mountain peaks remain as scattered islands, with small makeshift communities on them, but many people took to the sea for safety as water levels rose, and have nowhere to settle on land.

Myra and her daughter Pearl live on their boat, catching fish and trading with island communities. It's a precarious, hand to mouth existence but they're doing more or less okay. Then Myra hears a rumour about her other daughter, Row, who was taken away by her father in the early days of the flood. She'd always hoped that somehow, somewhere, their paths would cross, but now, with a specific location to head for, Myra decides to attempt to track her elder daughter down despite the vast distance of ocean that separates them. It's a voyage filled with danger and betrayals, with only hope to keep Myra going.

After The Flood started well, despite its similarities to Waterworld. Its strange flooded 'landscape' intrigued me, and the author seemed to have thought through the ways people would have found to survive. Myra's a gritty, practical heroine, fiercely attached to her daughters, and devastated to have lost one. If there's any way of seeing her again, Myra will grab it.

But somewhere along the way, my interest waned. Maybe there's a point, somewhere around the middle of the book, where the ending becomes too predictable but I didn't feel the last chapters lived up to the earlier ones. Events seemed hurried and plot devices just too convenient.

Maryom's review -  3 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction, dystopian, post apocalyptic 

Friday 4 October 2019

The Stolen Spear by Saviour Pirotta

illustrated by Davide Ortu

 Wolf is a little bit of a misfit. He's no good at fishing. He's easily upset by the sight of blood, so will never make a hunter. He gets distracted or daydreams, and doesn't protect his family's sheep. One thing he's good at is climbing cliffs to collect eggs from the nesting auks - but even there he's trapped by the tide and has to be rescued by a stranger, a girl from a neighbouring island. The girl, named Crow, is welcomed by his family, but, after she has returned to her home, a sacred spear belonging to a dead shaman goes missing, and Crow is the only suspect. Wolf is blamed for bringing her to the village, and he vows to recover the spear, even though it means making a perilous journey to the other islands.

The Stolen Spear is a thrilling adventure story for children aged 7 and over. Set on the Orkney Islands at the end of the Neolithic period, in the world famous (now ruined) village of Skara Brae, it brings both the remoteness of the islands, and the way of life of its Stone Age inhabitants vividly to life. I always feel that historical fiction makes the past more accessible; lets us understand that people long ago were no different to us (an especially important point for younger readers). Wolf may be a Stone Age boy, but his problems of fitting in, of being bullied, of trying to prove his worth to his father, are all themes that young modern readers will relate to. Wolf's story is told in the first person from his point of view, letting the reader share Wolf's frustrations and fears, while at the same time he seamlessly explains aspects of his life which are undoubtedly strange to us today.

The story moves along quickly, with tense moments as Wolf  faces danger at sea and from the people he encounters on the other islands, but he also forges new friendships along the way, and ultimately finds his special role in life.

 While primarily an adventure story, The Stolen Spear ties in nicely with KS2 history on the late Neolithic period. There are discussion points at the back to encourage readers to think more about certain aspects of the story - concepts such as change or courage, or why people have different opinions and points of view - and of course the Neolithic period itself.

Publisher  - Maverick Books
Genre - Children's historical fiction, 7+, KS2, Orkney Islands, 

Friday 27 September 2019

The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs

I've been reading a little 'off piste' recently, ignoring review books in favour of catching up with those I've bought myself, so here's the first of them - The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs.

I picked this up when I was at the Unthology 11 launch in Norwich (both are published by Unthank Books). I read Sarah Dobbs' debut novel Killing Daniel a few years ago and have been looking out for more by her since then, dystopian post-apocalypse novels seem to fit my mood at the moment, and (always important) the cover appealed, so I treated myself.

The story is set in a future Britain, where people seem to live in an almost siege-like state; under attack from the sea which has made great inroads on the land (Newark-by-the-Sea is presumably Newark-on-Trent which currently lies a long way inland) and from terrorists. Newark is being used as a pilot scheme of a new way to combat crime and fear by erasing victims' memories. Audrey is a Processing Officer dealing with the people whose minds are to be wiped, but among them is one, a girl named Candy, whose memory seems to be returning. With the scheme about to go nationwide, no one wants any hiccoughs in the process, so Audrey's superiors set her to tail Candy, and soon she's uncovering far more than she expected.

In a way reminiscent of  'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', people have their minds wiped of anything unpleasant, but in Newark-by-the-Sea the memories aren't just of unhappy love affairs but of far more violent events, and instead of a cutsie rom-com this is a gripping thriller.

The grim, grittiness and corruption hiding beneath the shiny facade, the random terror attacks, the mind-control exercised on a more or less willing public, the fear of the sea surges that threaten Newark with alarming regularity, all add up to a disturbing view of a not-too-distant future. The world building is great, and the reader's dropped straight into this unfamiliar place that feels like a twisted, nightmarish version of somewhere you know. Newark is contrasted with the twee, cosy suburban 'middle England' world of Audrey's parents - but really the two places are similar at heart; in one bad things are erased; in the other, everyone's too polite to mention them.
As Audrey's investigation leads her into the murky underworld of Newark, violence erupts around her, and she also finds herself asking questions about her own past, and the authenticity of her memories.

I know dystopian fiction isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it! If I'm drawing comparisons, I'd say it's like something Philip K Dick could have written.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Unthank 

Genre - dystopian sci-fi adult fiction

Thursday 26 September 2019

Nigma by Ana Salote

(The Waifs of Duldred - book 3)
Review by The Mole

Oy is still trying to save Linnet's life by finding her medicine but in order to do this he must pass the impassable storm wall and evade capture by the Felluns.  It doesn't look god for Oy and his friends and things will only get worse for them.

This is the third book in the Waifs Of Duldred trilogy, a trilogy that seems to have kept me waiting forever. Book 1 was "Oy Yew" and I remember being truly amazed at how wonderful this story was. But it left the reader on a cliff hanger and it seemed like Book 2 "Nondula" would never come. And Nondula, once again, left us on a cliff hanger.

The Felluns are the threat that Oy and friends have to evade and they want Oy badly. Their race is dying and, as a healer, they believe he can save their race - but on their terms as a prisoner. As the friends run the Felluns deploy their greatest trackers and bring in beasts to sniff out their scent. In the meantime the friends, in their innocent naivety, think they keep evading the Felluns only to come face to face again.

Nigma is a real complement to the series and was worth the wait. While waiting for book 3 the names, characters, and events so far portrayed in story have slipped to the back of your mind but here Salote brings the reader back up to date with an ease that almost leads you to believe that you could read this book as a stand alone. Please don't - you'll miss learning so much about the waifs and how their hardships have shaped them to become the fabulous characters that they are. Now is the time to start this tale as you can page seamlessly from the start of book 1 and continue until you finally close the cover on "Oy Goes Home" - the final chapter of book 3.

A wonderful end to a magnificent trilogy!

Publisher - Mother's Milk Books
Genre - Children's/Adult crossover,  dystopian

Thursday 19 September 2019

Stories for Talk Like a Pirate Day

Arrrr, maties,  and shiver me timbers. Today be Talk Like A Pirate Day, so here be two stories of treasure-seeking and friendship on the high seas. (Okay, I'll stop the pirate talk now)
Eye, Eye, Captain by Jane Clarke; illustrated by Jennie Poh

Pirates are fierce, bold and brave. Everybody knows that. So, when Captain Cutlass is told he needs to wear glasses, it doesn't go very well with his image of a courageous captain, and he thinks his crew will make him walk the plank. BUT, without his glasses, the captain is making quite a few mistakes - he can't even read a treasure map!

The pirates in The Friendly Pirates by Saviour Pirotta and illustrated by Erica Salcedo, are living a quieter life; in fact it's a little too quiet on Cutlass Island for Adam, Amy and Ali since their ship sank. So when they get a chance they stowaway on board a passing ship, hoping it will take them to a big city. Saving the ship's crew from a sea monster wins them new friends, but the city turns out to be too noisy for pirates used to a quiet island. How can they get home?

From Bloomsbury Young Readers series, both short books are full of adventure on the high seas, with giant whales, sea monsters, and pirates (of course). Exciting but fun, and colourfully illustrated throughout, both are excellent for five and six year olds moving on to their first chapter books. Inside the front cover you'll find ideas to help your child with their reading (discussing unfamiliar words or talking about how the stories's themes might apply elsewhere), and at the back are suggestions of follow-on activities (writing or drawing).
Publisher - Bloomsbury Education
Genre - children's, pirates, adventure, 5+, 6+

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Do Not Feed the Bear by Rachel Elliott

Sydney Smith is a freerunner - you know, one of those people who jump about between buildings and off walls, running, jumping, tumbling, somersaulting. She has a successful career as a cartoonist, a long-term relationship with her partner Ruth, but It's only when free-running, eyeing up the next move, estimating a gap or drop, that she truly feels at peace.
She's currently working on a graphic novel of her life, but she's reached a sticking point as she's forced to confront the disaster which scarred her family forever, so on her forty-seventh birthday she returns to St Ives, scene of many happy childhood holidays and one dreadful event, to see if she can face down the past, the same way she would an awkward leap.

In St Ives, Maria is suffering in an unhappy marriage which she can't bring herself to leave, and her 29 year old daughter seems stuck in limbo, not wanting to leave home or assume adult responsibilities.

The two families' lives have crossed before, without them realising; now Sydney, preparing to jump off a roof while Maria watches, is going to bring them together again.

Do Not Feed the Bear is a story of grief, denial and, ultimately, redemption. When we meet them, almost all the characters are living their lives 'on hold', trapped by the past, and unable to commit to the future. A chance meeting sets in motion separate trains of thought which lead them, individually and collectively, to accept that the past is indeed the past, and that the future is what matters now.

It's a compelling read, heart-warming and uplifting, but, at the risk of sounding like a Grinch-style cynic, the ending just seemed a little too neat and rounded off for me.

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

Thursday 12 September 2019

Glowglass by Kirkland Ciccone

Review by The Mole

Starrsha Glowglass's face is on the front page of every newspaper. She isn't a model, Vlogger, or reality TV show contestant. Starrsha is famous for something darker: she survived a massacre that claimed her Brothers and Sisters. Hers was no ordinary family. They were The Family Glowglass - a religious order set up by an eccentric businessman as a tax dodge. One morning the parishioners sat down to breakfast...Most didn't get back up. Only Starrsha and her mute Brother, Simon, survived. Both now have a chance to lead an ordinary life. For Starrsha that means high school. Can a videotape bring back the dead? What's behind the red door? Why won't Starrsha's best friend reveal her true sexuality? When is a poster on a wall actually a trap? Will My Chemical Romance reform? Why is Father obsessed with vintage technology? Why does Barbie freak out Starrsha? How many rich husbands has Aunt Imelda bumped off? And why is God crank-calling Starrsha? All will be revealed when someone presses PLAY...

Ciccone's books have all been unusual in some way and this is no exception. A single video tape is left and Starrsha keeps adding parts of the story to it until the 3 hour tape is full and we know the complete story from Starrsha's point of view. And it's not what I expected.

We know of the deaths in the cult and we know of the how but "who"? Only Simon and Starrsha survived... coincidence or planning - that's what we need to find out and this tape contains Starrsha's confession. Or does it? This young impressionable childlike girl is too naive for anything so horrendous surely?

I was sceptical of the format at first but found that it worked well. Very well. Having just the one voice throughout taking the story forward and backward before reaching the conclusion felt very genuine - no contrived conversations using second voices that didn't really gel. We do hear from other characters but they are retold by Starrsha in the words she chooses and so we see how the characters come over to her and not to each other.

The reader also gets an insight into cults and modern day slavery - or at least one aspect.

This is, once again, another great story told in the author's distinctive style. It sounds like a YA book but, frankly, apart from the very young, this book will sort all ages and genders and I'd recommend widely.

Publisher - Strident Publishing
Genre - YA/Adult/Thriller

Thursday 5 September 2019

Unthology 11 - edited by Ashley Stokes and Tom Vowler

We've reviewed many Unthology collections here at OurBookReviewsOnline, but previously they've all been read by The Mole. This time I, Maryom, managed to get my hands on the copy first, and I loved it! These are definitely my kind of stories; a little bit dark, enticing in their openings, engaging through the middle, and satisfying at the end - even when that ending is devastatingly sad.

In the introduction the editors encourage us to look beyond our everyday horizons, 'down that alleyway at twilight, into some barely lit building, its unknowable corners', for this is where these stories take place, on the margins of everyday life. Take notice of those people you might normally pass without a second glance, taking their presence for granted - the hospital workers, museum interpreters, farm workers, teens hanging out in an old caravan - they've all a story to tell, and it won't be the one you're expecting. Love, when it appears, is secretive, illicit or unrequited; not the stuff of romantic fiction. The overall tone is undoubtedly dark, so stir clear if you like your fiction feel-good and up beat.

I wouldn't fault any of the stories, but two stood out for me. Bloodstock by Paul Davenport-Randell, a tale of modern slavery, and Richard Smyth's The Berg, which introduced me to Erasmus Darwin's theory of how to combat climate change.

The Unthologists are -

Nick Holdstock
Sarah Dobbs
Paul Davenport-Randell
Angela Readman
George Sandison
Regi Claire
Richard Smyth
Georgina Parfitt
Rachael Smart
Jude Cook

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Unthank 

Genre - Adult contemporary fiction, short stories

Wednesday 21 August 2019

A Sword of Ice and Fire

We're all more or less aware of the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table - whether through books, or film - but what of his childhood?
In The Sword of ice and Fire, the first of a four-book series entitled Red Dragon Rising, John Matthews visits those early formative years, weaving a story of magic and dark forces that will grip readers. 

As a baby Arthur is brought by the wizard Merlin to the castle of Avalon, to be looked after by Sir Hector and his wife. The castle is a mysterious place, with passageways and rooms that move around, and ruled over by 'The Nine' - sisters with power equal to, if not greater than, Merlin's. As he grows older, Arthur begins to query who he is, and why he must live in the castle. He's no longer content to remain within its walls, but, although he makes new friends in the surrounding forest, outside the sisters cannot shield him from the forces who wish him harm.

Matthews is drawing heavily on Arthurian myths, so obviously a lot of the story may feel familiar to adults. It's aimed though at older children/young teens - roughly the age group who'd read Harry Potter, and it's a story they'd love. There's the same mix of magic and action; a young boy brought up in ignorance of his heritage starting to take on the role he'll be required to fill, dangerous otherworldly enemies to defeat, and quests to fulfill - the Sword being the first one. 

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - The Greystones Press 
Genre - children's/teen fantasy

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Unthology 11 - book launch

We'd been planning in a vague way of going to Norfolk for a few days, but couldn't settle when or where, then fate took a hand, in the form of a Facebook event notification for the launch of Unthank Books' latest short story collection - Unthology 11 - to be held in Norwich. It wouldn't be quite fair to say the whole break was planned round it, but it did give some focus to our plans. We picked a BnB midway between Cromer and Norwich, spent the day at the coast, and headed into town for the evening.

Most of the book launches I've been to, possibly all, have been held in book shops. Unthank had chosen somewhere rather different; The Bicycle Shop, a quirky delightful restaurant, which no longer sells bikes :) 

The event was held downstairs, in a room lit by twinkling fairy lights and candles. I loved it!

Proceedings were opened by co-editor Ashley Stokes who read a few words from his introduction to Unthology 11,

"What would it take to push you to the edge? And beyond? The moth that flutters round a bulb. The echo of long-drinking that hums inside your head. Your softness against all that hardness. The reflections of the glass megalith. The darkening street beneath a line of magnolia trees. The leaves of the apple tree freckled with rot. A black and ragged looking bird. One of those planes that pulls paper letters behind it. Thick, sibilant words that make your mouth water just hearing them. The scuzzy streets of Archway, where no one cares who you are. Welcome to the hinterland. Welcome to Unthology 11."

I've read my review copy of Unthology 11, and the stories definitely take the reader to strange places hidden almost in plain sight, lurking just behind the facade that people present to the world.

Rachael Smart

Being the launch of a book of short stories there was more than one author on hand to read their work - in fact, there were four, which gave a real feel for the varied writing styles and subject matter.
First up was Jude Cook reading from his short story The Night Nurse, followed by Georgina Parfitt with her Christmassy tale Wise Man.

Paul Davenport Randell

 A short break gave me time to browse the collection of Unthank books on sale, and buy a copy of Sarah Dobbs' second novel, The Sea Within Me (it's a stunner; something Philip K Dick could have written, and she also has a story in this Unthology). Something about the lighting changed during this break, so I could take photographs of the two writers still due to 'perform' - Rachael Smart - Various Cuts of a Holstein -  and Paul Davenport Randall, who rounded off the evening with some of his story of modern slavery, Bloodstock.

Review of Unthology 11 here 

Wednesday 7 August 2019

The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

Augusta and Julia Hope are twins - but far from identical. Julia is pretty, girly, obedient, and everything her parents want in a daughter. Augusta is ... well ... none of these things.  She questions everything, loves words, spends time reading the dictionary, befriends the disabled boy next door when no one else will speak to him, reads poetry though not the 'tasteful' sort that her parents like but troublesome, unsettling stuff. The two girls are still inseparable; two halves of a whole. 
Augusta's passion for learning new words leads her to an atlas in which she discovers Burundi - a marvelous place she believes, from the sound of its name. But in Burundi itself, Parfait Nduwimana knows how far from marvelous the country is. His family has suffered horrendously during the war which ripped the country apart - his parents are dead, his sisters missing - but Parfait refuses to give up. He fervently believes that the best course of action is to leave, and make a new life elsewhere, so he and his younger brother Zion set off on a journey across Africa in the hope of reaching Spain.

This is the story of a girl dismissed by her parents as 'odd'. I didn't find her so myself but her parents are set in their ways and 'narrow' in outlook. Augusta is a misfit - too precocious, too outspoken, too clever for them - and from an early age seems to be instinctively searching for somewhere she'll be accepted. Things start a little slowly, but Augusta and her unfolding story grew on me, and although the ending is predictable, the route to it isn't, and the story-telling drew me on.

Who though is Augusta's other half? Her sister - so different in appearance and temperament - or Parfait - with a past more horrific than Augusta can imagine, but like her searching for a place to call home. Read it, and decide for yourself.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction

Wednesday 31 July 2019

Unveiled: the First Unthank School Anthology edited by Ashley Stokes and Stephen Carver

When cuts closed down the local university creative writing group, Unthank Books stepped into the rescue setting up its own 'school'; initially a face-to-face workshop in Norwich, but now expanded to online courses. It's now been running for a little over ten years, and, proud of their students' work, the tutors decided it was time to collate some of it into a book. They asked for submissions from former and current students, and chose these fifteen pieces from over fifty contenders.

Nicola Perry; Lost Lessons of Imaginary Men
Sabine Meier; Walls
Susan Allott; Interference
Jose Varghese; In Control
Jax Burgoyne; Writer
Nicholas Brodie; The Red King
Carey Denton; No Second Chance
Claudie Whittaker; Ideas I am Sending on Holiday
Jacqueline Gittins; To Sudden Silence Won
Victoria Hattersley; The Lantern Man
Zoe Fairtlough; Zoldana
Lorraine Rogerson; The Shadow of Moths
Marc Owen Jones; Killing Coldplay
Lloyd Mills; Shizuko

What you have here is something slightly different to the standard collection of stand-alone short stories - while some fit that description, others are excerpts from novels needing a short introduction to the piece, and perhaps leaving the story and characters just as you were getting interested.
The writers come from varied backgrounds - some through the academic creative writing route, others having followed other careers before beginning to write - and the style, content and setting vary as much. Sci-fi sits next to a family saga, 1930s Ireland next to a contemporary drug dealers' den.
Some I felt worked better than others - obviously those written as complete stories but also the extracts which reached, if not a conclusion, a natural break.

There are many authors to watch out for, and stories I want to hear the end (and middle) to, but if I had to pick out a couple ... 

John Down' s Roads -  which follows events spiraling out of control after a hit and run accident. An extract from his first novel, British Teeth, it's tense and crazy and immediate, puts the reader in the heart of a burgeoning riot, or sitting calmly talking to the dead boy as if it's the most normal thing in the world. I can't find trace of the full novel being published yet, but I hope it is soon.

Killing Coldplay by Marc Owen Jones is one of the complete stories. Stefan has come to London to find out about his father's past obsession with punk. He believes it to be about the exterior display - Mohican  hair cuts, and safety pin piercings - till he discovers the music. I'm not into punk but I recognised that feeling of raw energy that takes over in a deafening rock venue. 

No Second Chance by Carey Denton is another 'proper' short story. An argument between sisters over what to do with their parents' ski chalet (a huge sum has been offered for it) re-awakens forgotten dreams, long since swallowed by 'life' and the choices forced on us by careers, family, houses and cars.

OK, that's three, not a couple, and I could probably list more, but read it for yourself and see if you can spot the next big publishing semsation.

Beware if you're hunting online for this book. I pick up the cover image that way, through that big online store, and searching by title alone brings up some very interesting and 'exotic' alternatives, a bit like 1950s' sci-fi movie posters. Don't be distracted by those. You're looking for the cover image shown above - black, white and striped diamonds in a quilting Tumbling Blocks pattern; an appropriate image for a short story collection as each story is complete in itself, as is a small quilters' block, but assembled correctly they form a new pattern.

If you're interested in writing courses, you can find out more about the Unthank Writing School here

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Unthank 

Genre - Adult contemporary fiction, short stories

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Flotsam by Meike Ziervogel

Anna and her daughter Trine live on the German coast, by mudflats that are covered twice a day, and whose form shifts with the tides. Their life is lonely, haunted by the ghosts of war. Anna is emotionally and artistically paralyzed by grief. She spends her days collecting debris washed up by the tides, with which she intends to create something - but can't find the spark within herself to start. Trine, forced into more social contact through school, is more resilient, finds it possible to put the past behind her and move on.

Set in 1950s Germany, Meike Ziervogel's latest book tells the story of a mother and daughter trying to come to terms with grief and the past. Anne and Trine live, damaged and adrift, like emotional flotsam on the blurred edge between land and sea. The mudflats, shifting and changing form with each tide, echo the women's thoughts and memories - there's only one safe way through, otherwise you'll sink and be caught by the tide. 

Ziervogel's writing is, as always, concise and sparse; her characters troubled and arresting. It's a story which sticks in the mind, with a lot of impact for such a slim volume.

This isn't by any stretch of the imagination a 'traditional' post-apocalypse story, but mulling over what exactly I'd say in this review, perhaps due to how my thoughts are running at the moment, it struck me that there were similarities. Isolated, bleak, drab, their location seems spot on for post-apocalyptic fiction. And then, imagine the mindset of the German people in the immediate post-war years. No matter whether or not they supported the Nazi regime, believed its propaganda or thought it was all lies, the end of the war marks the end of an era; everything that shaped their lives has been swept away, leaving huge uncertainty in its wake. For them, this is post-apocalyptic life.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - adult literary fiction, coming of age, 

Tuesday 16 July 2019

The Carer by Deborah Moggach

Phoebe and Robert have decided that their elderly widowed father, James, is in need of some help. They're busy with their lives - Phoebe in Wales and Robert in London - and don't want to give them up, so take on a live-in carer for James. After a couple of false-starts, they find Mandy, their 'saviour from Solihull', and they willingly leave things to her unfailing good humour and capable hands. But gradually James seems to change, to find delight in banalities he'd previously avoided - daytime television, shopping trips and outings to garden centres - and Phoebe and Robert become concerned about how far under Mandy's spell he's falling.

I'll be upfront and say from the start that I was disappointed with this. When I originally received my review copy, I was hesitant about reading it at all.The subject matter of needing care for an elderly parent was a bit close to home, but in that regard I needn't have worried - it's not concerned with the nitty-gritty side of care, just uses it as a vehicle for a storyline. At first that moves along as you might expect - middle-aged children, grateful to have a burden taken off their hands, soon become worried about the influence the carer is having on their father - then, fortunately, there's a twist, but I was so uninterested in these self-centred characters, cushioned from real-life problems by income from trust funds, that by then I didn't care what happened. 

Did the humour pass me by? Quite possibly. It's been known to happen. Other folks will find something hilarious and it won't raise a smile from me.

Did the characters just not appeal to me? Definitely. They seemed, at best, caricatures rather than real people. I couldn't care about them or their predicament.

Was it too close to home? No. I've been through this - without the unlimited trust fund package - and it doesn't have any resemblance to caring for elderly parents as I've experienced it. 

I've enjoyed other books by Deborah Moggach and had expected much better from The Carer. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, she explored the world of elderly folk with humour and understanding - this book seems so slight by comparison. 

Publisher - 
 Tinder Press
Genre - 
Adult fiction,