Thursday, 16 November 2017

Molly Rogers Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke


illustrated by Kasia Matyjaszek

review by Maryom

Captain Firebeard thinks he's the fiercest pirate in the world, but at last he's met his match - in a little girl named Molly!
When the crew of the Horrible Haddock kidnap Molly in one of their raids, they've taken on more than they realise. Molly is set to work peeling potatoes, scrubbing the decks and patching sails, while Captain Firebeard wonders how he can get a ransom for her. Molly, though, isn't going to let him get his way for long - she has plans to escape and knows someone who is a better, bolder pirate than he is!

 Cornelia Funke (Dragonrider, Inkheart) tells a tale of fearsome pirates sailing the seas, raiding other ships and carrying off the spoils - but with a feminist twist. It's not only men who can be bold, brave pirates; Molly is easily as fearless and clever as Captain Firebeard, and the mere mention of her mum's name is enough to strike him and his crew with fear.

Kasia Matyjaszek's colourful illustrations, full of life and energy, bring Molly, the pirate crew, and their parrot, to life, and should take away any fears raised in smaller children by the thought of Molly being thrown to the sharks (plot spoiler; she isn't!)



Suitable for either children taking the first steps in learning to read or as a picture book for adults to share with younger children, Barrington Stoke's dyslexia-friendly features make this a comfortable read for anyone (parent or child).


Publisher - Barrington Stoke
Genre - picture book, early read, dyslexia friendly

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Last Hours by Minette Walters


review by Maryom

Summer 1348, and rumours are spreading throughout Dorset of a virulent plague which kills everyone who comes into contact with it. Alarmed by the news, Lady Anne of Develish decides to take drastic precautionary measures, bringing all the estate's serfs and freemen within the bounds of the manor house's moat and refusing entry to everyone else - including her husband, who has just returned from a neighbouring estate infected with the disease! 

This possible haven is threatened from both within and without. People, animals and chickens cram themselves into the moated area, but, after an initial flurry of settling in, there's little to do but wait out the pestilence, and tensions are running high; a situation exacerbated by the positively weird behaviour of Lady Anne's teenage daughter Eleanor. Their situation is threatened by armed soldiers roaming the countryside, and, despite moving the villagers' stores into the hall, supplies won't last long and ultimately someone must venture out to find food, and check on the situation on neighbouring estates.


This novel is another case (there seem to be quite a few around at the moment) of an author 'jumping' genres. Minette Walters is known for her crime novels; here she's taken on a mix of historical and apocalyptic fiction. I suppose we tend to think of apocalyptic fiction as belonging to sci-fi or futuristic writings, but the Black Death was very real, sweeping through Europe and in places killing half the population. 

I'd expected a somehow 'busier' story, more action-packed with Lady Anne and her followers almost constantly fighting off attackers; instead it's slow burn sort of read, but one that's grabs the reader. An enclosed community is bound to suffer from tensions, without taking a plague ravaging the countryside into consideration, and this one is no exception. It's only when a group is forced to venture out and confront the devastation left by the plague that they realise how lucky they were.

There's an amazing amount of period detail, fitted in round the story rather than obscuring it, explaining the social structure under which serfs were bonded to a lord, unable to leave his property, limited in the work they can do to better their own lot; that lord paying allegiance to a higher lord; and everything ultimately being at the king's disposal. And of course, women at every level having least say of all in their lives.
Lady Anne is an unusual women - raised in a convent, with firm beliefs on cleanliness and sanitation, but not meek and mild as you would expect. She's well aware of the wrongs committed by her husband, and where ever she can, she's taken a stand against them, altering their serfs lives for the better. When others are saying the plague is sent by God as punishment for sins, she looks for more practical reasons behind the outbreak. Maybe she feels at times just a little too modern and informed, but if monks at the time could have thinking on the same lines, why shouldn't a clever, convent-raised woman?


Maryom's review -  4.stars
Publisher - Allen and Unwin
Genre - adult historical fiction

Friday, 10 November 2017

Winds of October by Alan Gibbons

review by Maryom

Alan Gibbons' first foray into adult fiction takes us to 1917 when Russia is held in the grip of revolution. The streets of Petrograd are in turmoil, its people on the march, demanding better working and living conditions, a government that really represents them, and an end to the war with Germany. Striking workers are joined in their protests by students and soldiers, and an unstoppable wind of change is blowing.
The story brings these tumultuous events to life through the intertwined stories of three young people - Raisa, who, following the death of her mother, was forced into prostitution. A violent, yet ultimately lucky, encounter sees her escape this life and she's more than ready to embrace the freedom offered.
Kolya, a young student, firm in his Bolshevik ideals, with a rousing slogan for almost every occasion, but of very little experience in the world. He's talked about revolution a lot, but will it live up to his expectations?
Pavel, an army conscript, who doesn't see why he should sacrifice his life fighting the war against Germany, and finds himself thrust into the front ranks of the Revolution after shooting an officer.
All three have a lot of growing up to do - mentally, emotionally, and sexually - as chaos overwhelms the city, and they become part of a growing mass of angry workers, ready to take on anyone who opposes them. Through their eyes the reader shares the hopes and fears, gains and setbacks, of a year marked by strikes, lockouts, and demonstrations, as the first revolution of February falls flat and tensions continue to simmer through spring and summer.
As you'd expect the main historical figures of the time put in appearances - Kerensky driving past in a limousine, a glimpse of Lenin looking unimpressive, British suffragette Jessie Kenney addressing the crowds - but the emphasis is firmly on three main characters, their friends and lovers: this isn't a political novel but one of real people caught up in world-changing events.
Although billed as an adult novel, with the main characters being all fairly young I think this would appeal to teens - of course with revolution and rebellion comes a certain level of violence and bloodshed, and there's a fair amount of sex in it so definitely OLDER teens (maybe the equivalent of a 15-rated film)


Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Circaidy Gregory Press

Genre -adult, older teen, historical fiction, Russian Revolution, 


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

At the Turn of the Century by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

review by Maryom

Although she's probably best known for her Oscar-winning screenplays of Room With A View and Howard's End for Merchant Ivory Productions, and her Booker-winning novel, Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was also a prolific writer of short stories. In At the Turn of the Century, seventeen of those stories (previously published elsewhere) are brought together to form a body of work spanning 50 years.

The earlier stories are set in Prawer Jhabvala's adopted homeland of India, telling of the lives of both Indians themselves and the English who seem drawn there looking to 'discover' themselves, through the spiritual guidance of gurus or by immersing themselves in a world which somehow seems more 'authentic' than materialistic twentieth century England; for both young hippies in the '60s or supposedly happily-married wives posted abroad with their husbands, India holds a mesmerising attraction.
When Prawer Jhabvala's work took her to the US, the setting of her stories moved too; the people at the centre of them now being wealthy New Yorkers or, in one, the film-makers of  California. In this more mature phase, there's a new recurring theme - that of unconventional marriages and households.
Whatever the setting, the focus lies on the interactions of characters - within couples, families or wider groups - on the give and take of relationships, the compromises sometimes necessary to find, if not happiness, then at least contentment.
My favourites? (well, it may be wrong to choose favourites but there are always some) A Course of English Studies, about a young Indian girl's experiences at an English university, and A Choice of Heritage, in which a half English, half Indian girl gradually comes to realise that her background may not quite be what she had believed.




Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - 
Little, Brown
Genre -adult, short stories

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The World Gone Missing by Laurie Ann Doyle


review by Maryom

The twelve short stories that make up this collection are linked by two things - their location - in and around San Francisco - and the theme of absence.
In each, someone or something is missing. It may be a close friend or relative who died, a father who up and left his family behind, a brother who has wandered off without leaving a word, a birth-mother who has shunned all contact with her child, but in each story someone has been left with a void in their life. Sometimes their search will bring them towards a moment of redemption, a filling of that gaping hole; other stories tail off, leaving unanswered questions, and unfulfilled hopes - perhaps to be honest, in a closer reflection of life.

Although some of these stories have appeared in various publications, even been nominated for awards, together they form the first collection by Laurie Ann Doyle. Short stories are always difficult to review without going into time-consuming details of each and every one; suffice it to say that I enjoyed them all. The style and 'voice' change from piece to piece - varying from third to first person, past tense to present - creating a varied compilation. Taken as a whole though, these are the kind of easily readable stories that feel simple till you begin to reflect on them, whereupon they turn into something more complex and thought-provoking.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Regal House Publishing

Genre -adult, short stories 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Force of Nature by Jane Harper


review by Maryom


Jane Harper's first crime thriller, The Dry, transported the reader to the hot, dusty, drought-ridden spaces of rural Australia. This time, we're again far from the safety of the cities, but in the misty, rain-soaked bush country of the Giralang Ranges. In this remote spot, Executive Adventures run corporate team-building retreats, encouraging stressed office workers to get outdoors and bond while trekking through the bush. The latest group of ten co-workers from finance company BaileyTennant is expected back any minute. The five men show up, a little early, but of the women's group there's no sign. Search parties are sent out, with no success. As darkness is dropping, the women's group eventually stumbles back to base ... but one of them, Alice Russell, is missing ...

I'm not sure from their reputation that any of these team-building, bonding exercises work, even in real life, but in fiction they lead to the opposite - irritation and fractious bickering leading gradually to the group falling out and heading for disaster in one shape or another - and this story is no exception. Immediately you latch onto the fact that the five woman may work together but are not friends at all; they're all outside their comfort zone; Jill is isolated by her position as one of the company's owners; twins Bree and Beth would sooner be anywhere rather than together, especially out in the Bush, Alice and Lauren may have been at school together but now they now seem locked in a battle of one-up-man-ship over jobs, houses and the achievements of their children; add in the fact that Alice has been providing the police with inside information about possible illegal deals taking place, and you've got a recipe for trouble. Oh, and the Giralang area was once the base of a serial killer...

Federal agent Aaron Falk, from The Dry, is back as Alice's police contact, and he and his partner, Carmen Cooper, are immediately alarmed by news of her disappearance, suspecting it could be related to their investigation, and so are dragged in to the search for her. While more experienced men take on the physical task of scouring the bush, Falk and Cooper talk to her colleagues and family, and try to build a picture of Alice's circumstances and state of mind. At the same time, a different thread of story goes back a couple of days, and follows the BaileyTennant staff as they head off into the bush.

The Dry was a wonderful example of a claustrophobic small town whodunnit and, in this totally different setting, Harper has created a thriller, possibly a murder mystery, that will grab you immediately, and keep you hooked till the end. The countryside and weather are again used to great effect to create atmosphere and highlight mood, with rain and mist adding to the growing menace, and clouding the investigation as much as they do the landscape. I raced through the book, eager to know what happened to Alice, and whether she'd be found alive or not. Although Force of Nature again features Aaron Falk it is a complete standalone story, so there's no need to have read The Dry beforehand. 

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Little, Brown
Genre -adult, crime, Australia

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins





review by Maryom

Olivia Sweetman seems to have it all. She's a respected professor of history, now becoming known to the wider public through a popular TV series and guest appearances on other programmes, happily married with three children, and now she's about to break into the publishing world with her first book, Annabel, about a Victorian feminist, one of the first female surgeons, and perhaps a murderer, it's sure to be a best-seller.
Behind this public facade, though, things are not so rosy. Her husband's actions have disturbed their marital harmony, her eldest son is behaving like the stroppiest teenager ever, and Vivian Tester, the woman who helped with so much of the research for Annabel, is refusing to accept that their partnership is over, and she holds a secret that could break Olivia.

In brief outline, this doesn't seem an unfamiliar plot - well known, glamorous media personage is stalked by the 'little guy' they've trampled over to reach their position, but as the story unfolds, seeing events from first one woman's point of view then the other's, it becomes apparent that the relationship between the two women isn't that simple. Each has behaved badly and in some way wronged the other, they both have secrets to hide, and I found it difficult, with my sympathies swapping from one to the other, to decide who was the most injured party. Although some of the 'extras' are fairly sketchy, Olivia and Vivian are particularly well-drawn and fleshed out; not the common two-dimensional characters of many thrillers, but real people you can empathise with, which makes for a more compelling read. 
As you'd expect there are twists and turns, and a bombshell or two, as the story unfolds, and maybe the only downside to it is that it won't have the same impact on a second read.


Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher -
 Quercus 
Genre - adult psychological thriller