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