Monday, 18 September 2017

Nomad by James Swallow

Review by The Mole

Marc Dane is a man with a dark past and is working with MI6 on covert activities within the comfort of the support vehicle behind the lines. He is part of the Nomad team, as is his girlfriend Sam, when everything goes pear shaped and he finds himself of the run from MI6. But others also want him dead except a guardian angel who wants him kept alive - but Marc is unaware of this angel.

If you want an action thriller without flaws then you are going to be very hard pressed to find one - ever. But Nomad is as close as they come and it takes you away from your daily routine to an action packed, gory, blood spattered world that won't creep you out. I know because I am the king of squeamish.

The moment you meet Marc for the first time you know that; here is the hero, this guy will still be with us on page 487 and that he won't hurt a fly if he doesn't have to. It sounds a bit sickly sweet, but truly it works very well.

It keeps you on the edge of your seat. No, it doesn't because you KNOW Marc will survive but you still won't put the book down while the action unfolds. And it starts unfolding on page 1 and doesn't finish unfolding on the last page - Pass the sequel.

A great book that should offend no-one and entertain any reader who likes an action thriller.

Publisher: Zaffre
Genre: Adult Action Thriller

Friday, 15 September 2017

Keeping It Short - book event

 On Tuesday evening we went out to a book event at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham - it's not the first time I've been to the shop, but it is the first time I've attended an event there, and I was impressed with how many people they shoe-horned into the available space. Unlike the large Waterstones store round the corner, Five Leaves don't have a separate room to give over to events so chairs were lined up in and around the books (this is quite handy actually as in any free moments we could browse the books on sale, mainly to say Oh I keep meaning to read that ... and that... and ... there's never enough time for all the books, is there?)
The event was entitled Keeping It Short, and featured four authors for whom the short story holds a special place;

Alison Moore, author of Booker listed The Lighthouse, whose short stories have been collected in The Pre-War House;

Megan Taylor, a local writer with three published novels and a short story collection (The Woman Under The Ground) to her credit;

Nicholas Royle, editor, university lecturer, publisher (Nightjar Press), competition judge and, when he can find the time, author of seven novels and two short story collections;

and Giselle Leeb whose short stories have appeared in various publications including Salt's Best British Short Stories 2017.

Things kicked off with the authors each reading one of their short stories - three of them having a certain ghostly/supernatural twist to them; Alison Moore's exploring ideas which reappear in her latest novel, Death and The Seaside while Nicholas Royle's was only finished that day and so is, as yet, unpublished.

After a break for complementary refreshments, the event continued with 'question time' - the authors fielding queries about how to organise time, how long is a short story and when does it become a novella.

The question about organising time is pretty universal but was put by Mother's Milk publisher and writer Teika Bellamy to Nicholas Royle with his many hats so had a special relevance. While the other writers were also drawn into the conversation it, fascinatingly, risked completely diverging into a discussion on postage costs!

The question about the length of a short story and Nicholas Royle's dislike of the term 'flash fiction' was, in it's own way, also fascinating and the general consensus amongst the four was that it was the content and not the length of it that defines the short story. Giselle Leeb had written a 2,000 word story which she called a novel.

A question was put to Nicholas Royle about the Manchester Fiction Prize and how a panel of just 3 judges managed to judge the many thousands of entries there are each year - this reverted to the subject of time management and was why the word count for submissions had been lowered from 5,000.

A truly fascinating and intimate evening that overran but who was clock watching? (Until after, of course)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Ravenmaster's Boy by Mary Hoffman

review by Maryom

When his parents die of the plague, Kit is taken in by the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. Growing up with, handling and feeding the birds in his adoptive father's charge, Kit discovers he has a unique gift - to actually communicate with the ravens. When a new prisoner arrives at the Tower, Kit decides he should put his skill to use, for his sympathies lie with this new 'inmate', King Henry's wife, Anne Boleyn. Only a few years before, the king divorced his first wife in order to marry Anne, but now, with no son to inherit his throne, Henry is starting to look for a new wife, and a way to rid himself of his current one. Kit can't do much to save Anne but with the help of the ravens, he can pass messages for her beyond the Tower's forbidding walls. Dabbling in the King's affairs is a dangerous game, though, and Kit begins to realise that he may have got too involved in events beyond his control ...

Aimed at teen and YA readers, The Ravenmaster's Boy is an excellent blend of historical fact and compelling story, with an additional touch of magic in Kit's ability to talk to the ravens.
As all good historical fiction should, The Ravenmaster's Boy brings the past to life without stopping to lecture the reader. I've always found that history can be rather dull unless you can imagine the people involved, start to understand their hopes and fears, decide whether you'd side with them, or against - and while Anne and King Henry will probably be familiar from history lessons here they're 'fleshed out'; real people whose lives are no longer a string of facts and dates, but a gripping 'true life' drama.
Although the story is partly that of Anne, her imprisonment and trial, it's also about Kit, an average boy with an unusual talent - and a truly gripping story it is! Living in the Tower of London, he's seen prisoners come and go before - some released, most heading only for the gallows - but something about the young queen makes him want to help her in her distress, and with him, the reader sneaks behind the scenes, shares Anne's private moments, and her public trial. An older person might have hesitated to help, knowing and fearing the consequences if discovered, but Kit is sixteen, a little smitten by the beautiful young queen, and doesn't hesitate. Too late, he begins to wonder where his actions might have led him and the friends who've helped him. So, yes, the reader will absorb historical facts along the way, but primarily they'll be pulled along by the story, wanting to know how things turn out for Kit.
Although (obviously) it's aimed at a young audience, I really enjoyed it, and, considering I've never really sympathised with her, was just slightly surprised to find my attitude changing towards Anne.

The ravens of the Tower of London are legendary themselves - stories say that if the birds ever desert the Tower, the city of London will fall; the keepers make sure they never do, by clipping the birds' wings, and limiting their flight!

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - The Greystones Press 
Genre - teen/YA historical fiction 

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

review by Maryom

Elsie Bainbridge is being held in a mental asylum, accused of arson and murder. Trauma and smoke damage have rendered her mute, so there's no way she can plead her innocence to her jailers, even if she wanted to revisit the horrific incidents that led to her imprisonment. Then along comes a new, sympathetic doctor whose non-threatening ways and willingness to communicate start to open up Elsie's memories, and so she begins her tale - of an old mansion deep in the country, strange noises at night, mysterious deaths, lifelike wooden figures which seem to move on their own, and a centuries old diary that might hold clues to the horrors which stalk the house ...

This is without doubt one of the creepiest stories I've read - full of tension and steadily increasing horror, it's one to give you goosebumps up the arms, and shivers down the spine. At the heart of it lies the old Bainbridge family home, The Bridge, its rather strange collection of 'silent companions' and events which happened centuries ago.
The house has been crumbling quietly, looked after by the minimum of staff, but the return of newly-married Rupert Bainbridge seems to waken something malevolent there. After his sudden death, his widow Elsie arrives at the house, accompanied by her late husband's penniless cousin Sarah, in a swirl of mist. The nearby small village is tumbledown; the locals hostile and wary, peering from their windows to watch the 'gentry' go past; the house itself neglected and overgrown with ivy. What could be a better setting for a gothic horror tale?

 And things progress with a growing sense of unease. There are tales of skeletons discovered in the grounds, noises are heard at night from the permanently locked attic, the painted 'silent companions', once intended as a talking point for guests, take on a far more sinister aspect, and as Elsie's back story gradually emerges that seems to have been equally full of horrors though of a more human, less supernatural, kind.

For me, it definitely wasn't the sort of book to read at night when everyone else had gone to bed. Within the story there's a feeling of things happening just out of sight, of someone or something creeping up behind Elsie's back, and this began to creep over me while reading. I loved it, but at times I found the mounting tension too much and just wanted to walk away from it, go outside, see the sunshine, or talk to someone, just to get away from the slow relentless build up of horror! A thoroughly excellent read, if you're happy to be spooked!

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Raven (Bloomsbury)
Genre - Adult (but will appeal to teens with a taste for the dark and spooky) gothic horror

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Love Apples by Melissa van Maasdyk

review by Maryom

On paper, Kate Richmond seems to have her life sorted. Her relationship with wine-writer Daniel is strong and secure. Her job entails writing about her passion - food - and she's even got promotion, and been put in charge of the magazine's photo shoot in Mauritius... but she's within a hair's breadth of losing everything. The assignment to Mauritius gets off to a rocky start and goes downhill from there, with a cyclone thrown in for good effect! And as for staying faithful to Daniel, Kate's barely settled into her hotel before she's attracted to Fai Li, one of the local reps they're supposed to be working with, and whether she calls this 'love' or not, no such emotion is around when she's propositioned by one of the hotel's managers ...  Can Kate salvage both her career and her love-life from this mess? 

You get plenty of romantic comedy style books - well, this is more of a romantic disaster! Kate's life should be plain sailing but she manages to mess almost everything up. Her job, she claims, is more important than marriage, or even a steady relationship, but she's in above her head and everything's about to fall apart around her.
It's hard at times to like a book in which the main character isn't likeable, and unfortunately Kate isn't, or at least I didn't find her so. In putting job before marriage/relationships, she seems cold-hearted and a little mercenary. Her behaviour leaves a lot to be desired - she totally misleads not just Daniel at home, but Fai in Mauritius - obviously neither are best pleased when they find out what she's been up to and with whom, and who can blame them! 

In fairness it's probably best to say I'm not much of a romantic fiction reader, so that's probably why this book didn't grab me. What tempted me to read it and what saves the book though is the food. As Kate tosses a salad, grills a main course,whips up a little something for desert, the flavours leap off the page - and there are even recipes at the en in case you wish to try some dishes for yourself.

Publisher - Lulu publishing
Genre - romcom/chicklit

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Dance By The Canal by Kerstin Hensel

translated by Jen Calleja

review by Maryom

Gabriela has no place to live, no job, no friends or family who could help her, but for now she's found a snug spot under a bridge by the canal, and a stash of paper on which to write her life story. Born in the East German town of Leibnitz, the daughter of a respected surgeon, Gabriela's early life should have been an easy one of privilege but her parents seem remote and unloving, wanting an ideal child with talents to brag about, and at school she manages to make the 'wrong' sort of friends, irritating her parents even more.
Her father meanwhile is becoming increasingly outspoken about the Communist regime, her mother takes a younger lover, and by the time Gabriela is a teenager their comfortable villa has been exchanged for a tiny flat, and things are definitely on a downward slide ...
Then the Berlin Wall falls, and Gabriela hopes for better things, but has she by then become too much of a misfit to ever fit in?

From the point when Gabriela is homeless, sitting under the canal bridge and beginning to tell of her life, the story moves in two timelines - starting with her childhood one follows her troubles trying to fit in with what first her parents, and then the state, expect of her; the other begins at that moment sitting under the bridge, as she reflects on the past and is 'discovered' by a women's magazine and courted as an 'authentic' voice of the homeless. 
A square peg in a round hole is one way, perhaps slightly lazy way, of describing Gabriela - she never seems to quite understand what people expect of her, therefore can't play by their rules, and make a success of things. She's rootless and homeless long before she's without a roof over her head - her parents are distant and more concerned with their own lives that her well-being - and the only constant in her life is the canal - from childhood when she spent her happiest times playing and dancing there with her 'unsuitable' friend, to the shelter it offers her now.

It's a story which captures the readers attention and imagination. How could someone born into a position of security and respectability end up living homeless? Is it a slip anyone could make, or just Gabriela's fault? But, as I neared the end, I began to have second thoughts about Gabriela in her capacity as narrator. A word here, a sentence there, made me begin to think she wasn't maybe quite as she'd presented herself, but creating a persona to fit the expectations of the magazine editors. I read the relevant passages again, and still wasn't sure if I'd imagined it and was reading in something that wasn't there. It's one occasion when I've wondered if the translation of a Peirene novella didn't quite capture the feeling of the original. I definitely feel I need to re-read this book, but meanwhile if anyone has read Dance by the Canal, what did you think?
Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Rarity From The Hollow by Robert Eggleton

Review by The Mole

Twelve year old Lacy Dawn lives in the Hollow, a place that the world seems to have forgotten. Her father suffers from PTSD after the Gulf War and family abuse follows as a result. Lacy Dawn's friend's family suffer similarly but her friend was killed through it. But Lacy Dawn has another friend who has his own spaceship - and when Lacy Dawn isn't talking to trees or her dead friend she is taking lessons in the spaceship and falling in love with a robot.

...and Lacy Dawn has to save the universe?

Lacy Dawn is a difficult character to get to grips with as she is intelligent beyond her years yet always the child that she is, as well. Her parents (she is an only child) came across to me as genuine and well written and plausible and her other friends and relatives similarly.

Drugs, used recreationally, feature highly in the books - although not for Lacy Dawn - but they are used to highlight some of the erratic behaviour of characters. Sex also features regularly but behind closed doors only and NOT with Lacy Dawn involved - she is saving herself for when Dotcom marries her. Dotcom is her robot boyfriend from outer space.

Tension and edge of the seat reading did not feature in this book for me but none the less it was a compelling read - one that didn't get me uptight, which was nice for once. It was also laced with humour, not laugh out loud or share with someone in the room humour, but enough to lighten the mood just a little.

It has been described as "an adult literary novel with a social science fiction" but I very much found it science fiction with a little fantasy but very much focussed on social issues - including abuse within the family.

And family abuse (in which the children always suffer in some way shape or form) is something the author has spent his career working against so the author proceeds of the current edition of this book are going to a children's home charity.

A great book that doesn't in any way preach yet brings home 2 things:
(1) important social messages
(2) a truly entertaining story

Genre - Adult Science Fiction
Publisher - Dog Horn Publishing