Friday 24 April 2020

Lost Dog: a love story by Kate Spicer

Kate Spicer is a mid-forties freelance journalist living a drug- and alcohol-fueled life which is starting to seem increasingly empty and meaningless, until she decides to adopt a dog - and it's love at first sight. Wolfy is a huge shaggy lurcher who completely transforms life for Kate. She soon comes to prefer snuggling up at home with him in the evening to late night parties, early morning walks instead of the once-perpetual hangover. Then the unthinkable happens; left overnight with Kate's brother, Wolfy runs away. Kate and her partner Charlie are desperate. They search the streets of London, set up a Facebook page, and through the internet attract a host of well-wishers and helpers (and sadly some trolls too). Their relationship is pushed to the limits but everything will be perfect if Wolfy can be found.

This autobiographical story is both a very personal tale of redemption, and a wider reflection on the relationship between humans and dogs. Most dog owners can't claim to have had their lives changed dramatically in the way that Kate's was, but we all understand the unconditional love that dogs bring into our lives, and the very special place they hold in our hearts. 

The reader follows Kate's path from 'lost woman' to one with a new love and purpose in life - a love which looks likely to disappear forever, but miraculously is found again.Being a regular chatterer on Twitter I knew of the search for Wolfy, and its happy ending, but I was still pulled in by Kate's honesty and willingness to share the good and bad in her life; when Wolfy got lost, I almost felt as devastated as she did. 

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Penguin (Ebury) 
Genre - non-fiction, memoir, autobiography

Tuesday 14 April 2020

A Godawful Small Affair by J B Morrison

Fifteen year old Zoe Love has gone missing from her home in Brixton. As her father alerts police, and a thorough search of the area is undertaken, her younger brother Nathan believes he has a better plan. A year earlier, Zoe claimed to have been abducted by aliens but no one believed her. Nathan thinks those same aliens have come back for her, and he, by getting abducted himself, is the only one who can bring Zoe back. He puts on his bright orange spacesuit costume, packs his rucksack with supplies - including a telescope, Swiss army knife, a Christmas cracker compass, and an MP3 player with Zoe's favourite David Bowie playlist - and waits. As the weeks drag on, and no aliens show up, even Nathan has to face the fact that maybe Zoe won't be coming home.

The previous books I've read by JB Morrison (once Jim Bob, the singer of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine) have been gentle comedies focusing on the life of 80-something Frank Derrick. A Godawful Small Affair is a change of pace with a total change in lead character. The story unfolds through the eyes and thoughts of ten year old Nathan, as he struggles to understand what has happened and tries to make sense of it in the only way he knows how - it's all down to aliens - and, although here and there lighter humorous moments peep through, the subject matter is serious.
Morrison handles the subject and perspective well, particularly his capturing of the mind-set of a ten year old, obsessed by anything and everything related to space. At first I thought we might be in a Stranger Things/ET- style scenario of actual aliens but we aren't; what happens to Zoe is an awfully familiar affair, seen so many times in the news.

There are plenty of 'missing person' novels out there, either following a police investigation or the unraveling of dramatic family secrets, but this is neither thriller nor high drama; following events from Nathan's perspective it manages to be both gentler and more devastating. It's a powerful book, heart-wrenching in its ending, but full of the love that binds family together.

Maryom's Review - 5 stars
Publisher - Cherry Red 
Genre - adult fiction

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Jane Eyre: A Retelling by Tanya Landman

From her unpleasant life as an orphan only tolerated by her rich relatives, through her time at Lowood School, to finding a position and home at Thornfield Hall with its temperamental but attractive owner Mr Rochester, the story of Jane Eyre is retold by Tanya Landman in a way to appeal to anyone not inclined to read Charlotte Bronte's full original.

The words may be simpler, and the style more concise but Landman captures the feel of the original, of Jane's independent character, her determination to find a home and happiness without having to sacrifice her principles, and, of course, the secret of who is living in the attics of Thornfield Hall.

As ever with publishers Barrington Stoke, dyslexic readers are helped by un-fussy font on off-white paper, and the breaking down of the story into short chapters. The reading age is suitable for 9+ but the book is targeted at those teens 'forced' to read Jane Eyre at school, and struggling with the length and language of the original - in this respect it's definitely a better option than watching film adaptations which tend to place the emphasis on the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester rather than on the development of Jane's character. The plot is necessarily curtailed here and there ( I would have liked to see more of St John Rivers, as I think he plays an important part in Jane's life) and a lot of Jane's introspection is cut, but the essence of the story is all there.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Barrington Stoke
Genre - teenage/teenage reluctant readers, Jane Eyre, 

Friday 3 April 2020

The Whispering Stones by Saviour Pirotta

illustrated by Davide Ortu

After his first adventure, as told in The Stolen Spear, Wolf, has discovered what he wants to do when he's grown up - to be a healer and a shaman. That's still a long way off though, and although his village's current shaman, Moon, is sympathetic and encouraging towards Wolf, the shaman's son is the total opposite. He believes he should be the one to follow his father, and does everything he can to thwart Wolf. Moon takes Wolf along to a secret shaman ceremony, but during it the old shaman is poisoned and Wolf is blamed. Again, he's forced to clear his name, this time travelling with Moon in search of a cure - a search which takes them far away from their island to the Whispering Stones, but danger follows them close behind.

This series is shaping up to be a great way to interest children (and perhaps even their parents in this time of home-schooling) in history, while still having all the ingredients of a gripping adventure, with illustrations throughout to really bring the characters alive. It isn't really necessary to have read The Stolen Spear, the first of Wolf's adventures, but if you have, you'll know he's a boy from the Neolithic age, who lives on Orkney, the islands just off Scotland's northern coast (it's briefly re-capped in the introduction for those who haven't). Wolf's friend Crow, who lives on another Orcadian island, is back to share his adventure, and prove that girls can be as strong and resourceful as boys. Children will learn a lot about the Neolithic period without realising they're having a history lesson, but the story also tackles problems which can apply to children, or adults, anywhere, anytime - choices we have to make, things we have to accept, and the importance of friendships.

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