Monday, 31 March 2014

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

review by Maryom

 Norman is becoming too much of a problem for retirement homes to cope with. Not because of any health issues, but because of his improper behaviour towards the nursing staff! When ALL the local homes refuse to take him, he's forced to move in with family; his daughter Pauline guiltily feels she should look after him but son-in-law Ravi just wants him out of the house! Along with a cousin from India he comes up with a plan - to open a retirement home in a former hotel in Bangalore; the cost would be lower than in Britain, the weather better and surely Norman's reputation couldn't have reached that far! Filled with enthusiasm they produce brochures and soon elderly British residents are filling the rooms and discovering a new way, and lease, of life.

This is one of a big stack of Deborah Moggach novels I won in a Hay Festival competition last year and the first I've got round to reading as part of my New Year reading plans  It was previously published as These Foolish Things, and re-named as a film tie-in, though I suspect the plot of the film and the book differ.

It's a delightful, wry comedy about a group of 70-somethings, growing old, not quite disgracefully but certainly not in the sedate style their children expect of them. All the 'old folks' are still full of life and not at all ready to be written off just yet! In India they feel like they can shake of their 'oldies' image and just be themselves - maybe a little slower moving around but that gives all the more chance to soak up new experiences. For some there's even the possibility of a new romance ...

While light-hearted, it did make me wonder about the way we think about 'old people', particularly the assumption that having reached a certain age they're too old to care about anything, that sitting in a retirement home, maybe glued to daytime TV, is enough for them - I can't imagine it would be for me!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Vintage
Genre - Adult Fiction,  comedy

Buy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel from Amazon

Friday, 28 March 2014

Mi and Museum City by Linda Sarah

Review by The Mole

Museums in Museum City are stuffy, serious and dull. Mi meets Yu and they spend a day making music and dropping pebbles and come to the conclusion that there should be a museum of the fun things they have been doing. After being refused permission they get the mayor to join in a fun and silly time, and they get the permission they want.

This book has to be one of the busiest books I have ever seen. Each page is packed with pictures and words and fun. With many plays on words (Well 'Mi and Yu' for a start!), sentences that trail in all directions around pages and pictures that chase after the words.

Children will love picking this book up time and again and finding little bits of silliness that they missed the last time (and all those times before) like "birdsong scent" and "museum of stackable lions".

A lovely book that will keep children entertained as they try to find more things to laugh at and one to be shared along with laughs and smiles.

Publisher - Phoenix Yard Books
Genre - Children's picture book

Buy Mi and Museum City from Amazon

Thursday, 27 March 2014

A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

review by Maryom


I've chased him for over twenty years, and across countless miles, and though often I was running, there have been many times when I could do nothing but sit and wait. Now I am only desperate for it to be finished.


In 1944, in newly liberated Paris, Charles Jackson stumbles on something horrific - a man seemingly drinking the blood of a murdered woman! Shocked and terrified, he freezes - and when he looks again, both man and woman have gone. Dismissing it as either mere imagination or one of the things that happen in war, Charles tries to put it out of his mind. Years later he returns to Paris, and sees the same man in the company of a beautiful young woman. This time he feels he must do something ..... and so begins a lifetime of plotting and planning revenge...

Despite my age, I love Marcus Sedgwick's teen and YA gothic thrillers, so his first book for an adult readership was bound to have me intrigued. It returns to many of his familiar vampire-inspired tales, but with an adult twist as it explores the depths that love, fear and revenge may lead to. Charles' obsession leads him across Europe from Paris to Marseilles, from the remote highlands of Scotland to a ruined Italian hill top village, on a quest that lasts decades as ultimately everything else falls by the wayside and only his thirst for revenge is left.
The style is much like a Victorian ghost story with the expectation of horror building with every page, drawing the reader in, and, even though the ending came as no surprise to me, I was enthralled.

It's a story as much about the pursuer as the pursuit. Charles' character develops and changes with his obsession, and the ending and resolution are as much about those changes as the actual culmination of the chase.

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher -  Mulholland Books (Hodder & Stoughton)
Genre - vampires, thriller 

Buy A Love Like Blood from Amazon

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Vintage Girl by Hester Browne



review by Maryom

Evie Nicholson has a passion for antiques - not the quick turn-round high profit items that her boss would like her to find but the intimate little things that have stories to tell - old jewellery or a ragged teddy bear. So being asked to value the  family heirlooms at Kettlesheer Castle in the Scottish Borders, is almost a dream come true. The castle lives up to all her romantic expectations with history stretching back hundreds of years, turrets on every corner and a gala ball, complete with piper, at the weekend - if only Evie didn't have two left feet when it comes to dancing! She soon finds that castle-life isn't all fun - most of the time it's desperately cold and the McAndrews need to turn their antiques into hard cash to meet running costs while their son and heir, Robert, would happily just sell up totally. So while he tries to convince Evie to join in the dancing at the ball, she works on changing his attitude too - and in the process stumbles on a family secret that would be better not aired in public.

Just like Kettlesheer Castle itself, The Vintage Girl has all the romantic features you could want - a sympathetic heroine, a choice of handsome bachelors, an inconvenient girlfriend or two, a magical setting and, of course, a happy ending. The plot has a little more bite than the average rom-com with as much emphasis on Evie's 'treasure-seeking' as on any romantic entanglements, and although you expect all will end well, it isn't too predictable exactly HOW this will come about. While many romcom novels are fine to while away a few hours in a cosy armchair or sunning on a beach, few have enough plot to entice me back for a second or third reading - this one will. I've loved Hester Browne's style of chick lit since my daughter discovered The Little Lady Agency accidentally in an airport bookstore -and I'm glad to say I thoroughly enjoyed this too.

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - Quercus 
Genre - rom-com/chick lit, 

Buy The Vintage Girl from Amazon

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson

Review by The Mole

Rabbit (otherwise known as Rebecca) is at Jawbone Lake on New Year's Day when she witnesses a car crash through the bridge and plunge into the icy depths. But she also sees a car stop and the driver get out and look - and all this after what sounded like gunshots. Fleeing the scene she is frightened that the man on the bridge may recognise her so changes her hair and clothes and hides at every opportunity. The driver of the car in the lake, CJ, was a successful business man and his son, Joe, is called home from London to be with his family.

Strange phone calls start to cause the family to question who CJ really was and Bill - CJ's father - knows or suspects more than he's prepared to share. Joe travels to Spain to find out everything he can about CJ and so the truth starts to come out.

I was surprised with this book how little actual violence or pursuit there actually was although the threat was constant and it was tense throughout. But when violence comes it certainly makes an entrance and it's nice to see no super heroes involved making the scenes of violence that much tenser and more shocking. I really enjoyed this story although the very style of it seemed unusual as I kept expecting a 180° shift and everything to come right. I also expected, throughout, that we were about to enter a romantic or a sex scene - something that the author managed to, thankfully, not overdo.

I really enjoyed this book although the style, if not the content, was very different to the usual thrillers I read. It's told with two voices - Rabbit's and Joe's - and there are the odd occasions when I wasn't sure which voice it was although it wasn't important to know which it was for those parts.

A thriller at a different pace - and while still a compelling read - a welcome change of pace as well.

Publisher - William Heinemann
Genre - Adult, crime, thriller

Buy Jawbone Lake from Amazon

Monday, 24 March 2014

Bubble by Anders de la Motte

review by Maryom

In this, the final part of the Game Trilogy, HP and his sister Rebecca  are trying to finally work out who is behind The Game - and stop them. Cutting their way through the lies and deceit is easier said than done. Old family friend, Uncle Tage, a person with mysterious Government contacts and influence, appears to be helping Rebecca, both career-wise and in uncovering a mystery relating to her father's past, but is he the dependable supportive old friend he claims to be or is he manipulating Rebecca for his own purposes? HP meanwhile is caught in a position where he sees conspiracy all around him and doesn't know who to trust at all. He's arrested on terrorist charges, believes his new neighbours are there solely to spy on him, gets involved with a group intending to blow up the company believed to be behind the Game - all in all an average sort of week for HP! He believes that in all he does, he's acting of his own free will, but maybe he too is being controlled more than he realises? As events move towards a climatic ending, with threats of terrorist action at a royal wedding, both HP and Rebecca have some hard choices to make.

If you've read the first two novels, Game and Buzz, you'll know that The Game progressed from fun, but dangerous, pranks to a behind the scenes conspiracy intent on controlling public opinions. Bubble brings this trilogy to an excellent close with twists, turns and double-crosses galore. There are hints at the Game's involvement in everything from the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme to the insidious shaping of public opinion to support its backers' policies. I tried my best to keep track of who I thought were the good guys and who the bad, but found it nigh on impossible.

For anyone who loves a bit of conspiracy theory this series is a must! It's best, though, to treat the trilogy as one long novel, as plunging straight into Bubble would probably make very little sense.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins (Blue Door)

Genre - adult, crime,
conspiracy theory


Friday, 21 March 2014

Shop Front by Samuel Best

Review by The Mole

"Out of university and out of luck, Ben Hamilton moves back in with his parents to stack shelves at the local supermarket. There he meets a group of friends and quickly finds himself dragged into secrecy, heavy drinking, and a violent feud. Trouble flares as the boys test the limits of their own behaviour, small-town mentalities and childhood dreams, before a startling climax as some innocent flirting leads to something much darker. Shop Front is more than the story of an unlucky graduate struggling to find his way: it is a story of violence, working life, friendship and A&E."

I don't normally lift the synopsis of a book from the publisher but decided I would because I couldn't see how I could match it and not give what could be spoilers. Ben takes a job at Asda and meets Pete, Jake and Niall - three very different characters to Ben and yet they become his peers - for better or for worse.

There are many clich├ęs bandied about so many books and one is "compelling". Was Shop Front compelling? I really don't know because I didn't want to put it down to find out!

I have seen people complain about books where characters speak in dialect. Here it works brilliantly and the book would work nothing  like as well without it. It emphasises the difference between Ben and the others while also showing the rough edges around each of the characters and creating stereotypes which may just trip you up.

I am a bit of a coward around violence in books and films and did find the it rather graphic and horrific - but also somehow I felt distanced enough from it to not be repulsed. But don't take it wrongly - the violence was not what this books was about. It was about friendship and it's impermanence, and aspirations and their loss. But in Ben's situation what would you have done? I'm not sure if I know what I would have done.

When I picked this book up I expected to enjoy it (well of course I did, otherwise why pick it up?) but I did not expect to enjoy it as enormously as I did! A brilliant read that will surprise, shock and have you choosing a character to root for - and rooting for them come hell and high water.

Publisher - Fledgling Press
Genre - Adult Fiction

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Never Look Back by Clare Donoghue

review by Maryom

A killer is stalking the streets of south-east London - three young women have so far been found raped and murdered, barely a few yards from help, and the killer is getting more confident, convinced the police can't catch him. DI Mike Lockyer, in charge of the investigation, is in desperate need of a break, something, any thing, that will link the victims and put his team on the trail of the killer before he strikes again. His DS, Jane Bennett, thinks she may have a lead - Sarah Grainger has reported a stalker; an anonymous caller has been telephoning her, at first intermittently but building up to a dreadful night of hourly calls, and he may now be watching her house. Could this be the lead, Lockyer is looking for?

Never Look Back is a compelling, tense and, yes, terrifying debut. It starts with an immediate 'bang', in fact two - a prologue with an insight into the killer and his weird plans, immediately followed by a murder in Chapter 1. Admittedly, a crime novel has to start with either a murder or the finding of a body but somehow, told from the perspective of the victim, this one really got to me.
The plot is extremely well constructed without at any point feeling contrived. The police investigation twines nicely around Lockyer's private life - his troubled relationships with his teenage daughter and autistic brother, and a growing romantic liaison -  and all of these threads pull together at the end.  
Never Look Back is the sort of read that gets under your skin and will have you constantly checking over your shoulder as you walk down that deserted street - maybe best read in the safety of your own home.

Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Pan Books
Genre - Adult crime, police procedural

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Letter Bearer by Robert Allison

review by Maryom

A man is found, lying in the blazing heat of the North African desert, left for dead by the side of his wrecked motorbike. He has no recollection of who he is or how he came to be there. Stripped of his possessions and anything that might identify him, the only thing he's left with is a postbag of letters to which he clings as if his life depended on it. Eventually rescue comes in the form of a band of deserters trying to hide out from the war in the vastness of the desert. The War raging round them won't leave the group alone and they have to move on, taking the letter bearer with them. Slowly recovering, the letter bearer starts to piece together his identity from the disjointed bits and pieces he can remember and the letters in his bag.

Set in the North African desert in 1942, part English Patient, part Ice Cold in Alex, The Letter Bearer is a war novel with a difference - its subject matter is not glorious or foolhardy acts of bravery, not outwitting the enemy through cunning and guile, not even the comradeship to be found under fire but the fortunes of a small group who have chosen for various reasons to absent themselves from fighting; in order words, deserters. It starts with a man who is a blank page; he has no memories to shape his opinions of these men so takes them as he finds them and judges them on their actions.
 It's both a gripping page-turning story and a thought-provoking read that will make you question your ideas about bravery and cowardice. Any 'thinking' war story, as opposed to plain glorification of battle, provokes a reaction of 'what would I have done under such circumstances' - this certainly does.
 It's full of excellent atmospheric depiction of the desert - that third party to the war against which both sides battle; it's eerie emptiness combined with the possibility that the enemy - or, possibly worse, 'friends' lurk behind the nearest sand dune.

If I had to pick a fault, it would be that at times the prose is a little too 'wordy', that at times the author chose an obscure word when a perfectly everyday one would have conveyed the same meaning.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Granta Books
Genre - Adult literary fiction, WW2



Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Steven Dunne - author interview

Today we're delighted to have crime writer Steven Dunne dropping by for a chat. Steven's gripping thrillers are set on our doorstep right here in Derby which gives them an added frisson.



Firstly, could you tell us, without any spoilers, a little about your novels and
their 'hero' DI Damen Brook ...


In many ways Brook is a broken man. Though once a rising star in the Met with brilliant detection skills, he sees himself as a failure. His marriage ended in painful divorce and his relationship with his daughter is strained. In addition, a case from his past – a serial killer called The Reaper – resulted in a nervous breakdown and a move away from London. Twenty years later, he lives in isolation in Derbyshire and his sleep is invaded by memories of his past, particularly the horrific death of a schoolgirl. To make matters worse, his transfer on medical grounds is much resented by local officers and Brook’s only ally in Derby CID is his sidekick, DS Noble. In an ideal world he would have left the force but Brook knows he would only spend more time dwelling on his past.

The first two books of the series take Brook back to his past and he must revisit The Reaper killings that nearly destroyed his sanity and his career, solve the case and hope to escape with his sanity intact.

He's now into his fourth adventure but you seem to have had a long road to publication.

I suppose so, though I did start writing quite late. I conceived the idea for The Reaper six years before I self-published it in 2007. Without a deal and a deadline in place and with a living to earn, it was easy to take more time over the novel than I can take now. By the same token, it means productivity is low. When Harper Collins bought the rights and released The Reaper internationally in 2009, my writing process had to change radically. I do miss those carefree, pressure-free days but now the writing career is virtually full-time, it’s great to push myself. Thus my fifth DI Brook novel is close to completion.
  

You pursued a variety of jobs from journalist to teacher to stand-up comic, before turning to writing. Was the itch to write there all along or is it something that's grown on you?

A bit of both. A lot of the jobs were things I fell into for which I discovered an affinity. I make no claims to be a polymath but I’ve always been creative and writing and performing was just a more gregarious version of novel writing. The problem with writing comedy is that at some point someone else has to give you permission to proceed whether it is to perform your work at their venue or to commission a comedy series. I found novel writing the perfect way to explore many of the ideas I wished to express and needed no-one’s say-so about content.

What attracted you to thriller/ crime specifically?

I’m not sure. I think it’s a streak of OCD in me that demands the creation of order from chaos and writing crime novels allows me to achieve this. Maybe I’m just anal. I came to thrillers quite late and my preferred genre to read is still literary fiction. I suspect I haven’t yet written a literary novel because I was too afraid that I wouldn’t be able to write effectively without the plot constraints that demand I move the story forward.

Your first novel Reaper was self-published but then picked up by Harper Collins - which sounds like a lot of authors' dream come true. Presumably there was a lot of hard work to get to this point?

There was. To an extent you do not realise when embarking on a novel just how many different skills you’re going to need to get your story to the next level. You are editing your own stuff, creating a synopsis and selling yourself to agents and publishers. And when that fails and you decide to self-publish it opens up yet more skills that you have to learn. And all this without Twitter and Facebook.

 You do a LOT of promotion in local bookstores. Do you feel this is necessary to get noticed and a little bit out of the shadow of established best-selling authors?
Not only do I feel this is necessary but I love it. Spending twelve months confined in a room creating thrillers has its moments but it is rather insular. At the end of that process it’s essential to get out and about to meet people especially potential and current readers. The feedback I get is inspiring and keeps me up to my work. Unfortunately the national newspapers, apart from The Sun oddly, appear to have taken a vow of silence about my work. They reviewed both Deity and The Unquiet Grave. I don’t know why this should be – I’m confident the Brook series is up there with the best thrillers produced in the last five years – but having to rely mainly on word-of-mouth critical endorsements makes it even more vital to connect with the public.

Did all this help in bringing you to the attention of a publisher?

Very much so. Having self-published Reaper (as it was then called) I worked extremely hard to promote the book and managed to sell significant copies. The receipts went some way to meeting the cost of self-publication but the chief value of the exercise was the flare I’d sent up to the publishing industry. I was able to email agents and publishers with impressive sales numbers for a physical book which I could send them if they expressed an interest. Eventually HC took sufficient notice to pick up the rights to Reaper and its sequel.

Aside from the excellent story-lines, a great attraction for me of your novels is knowing the locations - in my home town of Derby. What made you decide to set the story in a 'real' identifiable place rather than a fictional Midlands city?

I’m not a fan of being coy about a location. I want people to identify with real city streets in real cities as people still can with Sherlock Holmes. Locating my novels in Derby allowed me two further advantages. No-one else was writing thrillers in the city – Stephen Booth has taken the rest of the county for his great novels – and I could actually physically go and check a location to ensure that sense of heightened realism. And, of course, as I was self-publishing it certainly helped sales to have produced a book set in the city in which I was promoting it.

Personally I feel more engaged with a crime taking place in somewhere I know – and I'm hoping DI Brook will be investigating one in my own suburb one day.
Name that suburb and I’ll start researching it. But, yes that is certainly the feedback I receive. Being able to place yourself on the same streets walked by DI Brook and his colleagues as well as the criminals certainly seems to add an extra frisson for local readers.

There have been four books now featuring DI Brook. What's next for him and do you have any plans for books that DON"T involve him?

I DO have plans for books without DI Brook but until I have pushed him to the summit of fictional British detectives I’m determined to mine his character for as long as I can find interesting and challenging cases for him to solve. And I finally feel I’m starting to get the attention I deserve. My latest novel, The Unquiet Grave has been shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award so hopefully the national press will take more notice of the next DI Brook thriller A Killing Moon. And I still have many requests to complete The Reaper trilogy (the final part would be entitled The Resurrection) and hope to find the time to do that in the next couple of years though whether it would be traditionally published is another matter. Headline can’t touch it because Harper Collins control the first two novels in the series. Perhaps I will publish cheaply on Amazon as a reward for my loyal fans.

What does a crime -writer read - more crime or something that's a complete break?

I do read crime. I find I have to though it can sometimes feel like a busman’s holiday. My first love is modern American literature and I try and read as often as I can, given the time constraints. I do find reading a book takes longer than it should because after a hard day at the computer, staring at my own words, relaxing with another author’s words is not always an effective way to unwind. I’m a working class boy and was brought up to relax in front of the TV. Shameful I know.
Not at all - I find sometimes a book fits my mood, sometimes TV.

Rather excitingly, the short-list for this year's East Midlands Book Award was announced this weekend - and The Unquiet Grave is one of the nominees! Best of luck Steven and many thanks for dropping by today.

If you haven't yet discovered DI Brook, you can read Maryom's reviews for Deity and The Unquiet Grave on the blog.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Heaven's Waiting Room by Clare Wilson

Review by The Mole

Portia is having a funny summer - time is dragging, nothing is happening and no-one is speaking to each other. Then Mary comes along and breaks the news to her - she's dead. All those worries about whether to go to university, what was happening between her parents and the bothers of a younger sister suddenly dissolve to be replaced by more stressing issues that being dead brings. Why was she still hanging around her house? When and how did she die? What are the rules for afterlife on earth and how does she fill her time in eternity?

Heaven is full and there's no space for the number of souls trying to get in. A tale of bad management - someone needs to say something - a story that is at times light hearted,  sad, tense, terrifying but always gripping. Not a book (in my opinion) for when you are down but certainly when you want something lighter to read and enjoy a bit of fantasy. Something that I find disturbing in a lot of books is the impression that the afterlife is better than real life but here we find it may not be that way at all.

I was looking for something light after several excellent psychological thrillers and found it in this lovely book.

Genre - Fantasy, YA


Friday, 14 March 2014

Taken by David Massey

review by Maryom

Rio lives for sailing - and hopes one day soon to compete in the Olympics. So when she lands a place on a round-the-world trip, it seems like a dream come true. This isn't going to be a leisurely cruise but a hard-working one - of the teenage crew of 6, 4 are ex-army, injured in action and now disabled. The voyage has two aims - to prove that 'disabled' doesn't mean 'unable' and to raise money for a war-orphans charity.
They set sail from South Africa heading out into the Indian Ocean but the voyage doesn't last long. They're boarded by pirates, the boat scuttled and the crew taken back to Africa and held hostage. The adventure of a lifetime has just turned into a nightmare....

Taken is a gripping, at times quite horrific, story of courage, friendship and overcoming the odds. I loved David Massey's debut novel, Torn, with its grim setting of the Afghan conflict, and this second book shares many of its features - a female main character, teenagers caught up in a life-threatening situation, comradeship.
My only quibble with it was the personality of Rio. The story is told from her point of view, so the reader shares everything she's thinking - even when held hostage and fearing for her life, she worries about the state of her hair or what the guy she fancies might think of her. NOT my type of person in either real life or fiction!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - 13+, adventure 



Thursday, 13 March 2014

That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler

review by Maryom

One Spring afternoon in 1983, Stephen's life changed forever - coming home from school to find a deserted town and bodies lying on the streets. Since then he's tried his utmost to forget about that day, to put as much emotional and physical distance between that moment and himself. He can't understand why his mother has chosen to remain there in a place surely filled with the most horrific memories but when a phone call informs him of his mother's increasingly ill health, he feels he must return, if only briefly.

That Dark Remembered Day explores how a random act of violence can affect people's lives for decades, and what may have precipitated it. Through the eyes of Stephen and his parents, the reader sees the events leading up to that fatal day; how isolation and alienation gradually descend into paranoia. In the present, Stephen feels the same anger and frustration building up in himself. By effectively running away, by consciously trying to forget, Stephen has allowed the memories to remain untouched and unresolved, festering in the back of his mind. In contrast, his mother and friends in the town have faced up to facts and, in varying degrees, moved on with their lives.
It's very much a page-turner of a read, although I very soon realised the broad outline - and once things are put in place, they proceed with the same unstoppable force as a boulder rolling downhill.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Headline Publishing
Genre - adult, psychological thriller



Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Take Mum Out by Fiona Gibson

review by Maryom

Alice is happy enough as a single mum - she has two teenage boys to run around after and share pizza or watch dvds with, a job to pay the rent and a just-starting out meringue business. Why would she need the added complication of trying to find a new man? Her three best friends think they know best and decide to set her up with three blind dates - all to be eligible, attractive men. All Alice needs to do is pick Mr Right....
Who would you prefer? - 
- Giles, a 27 year old with a liking for older women,
- Stephen, dentist and caring father to 8 year old Molly,
or maybe
- Charlie, freelance journalist who whisks Alice off to Paris?
Alice meanwhile has her eye on a fourth option - handsome Frenchman Pascal from her local deli.

Follow Alice's hilarious attempts to balance having a social life with being a single mum. She's suddenly discovering that she's not too old to have first date nerves, or worry about what to wear but might look old enough to be confused for her date's (Giles') mother! She also has to cope with her two teenage boys, who can't see why she needs a boyfriend, and an elderly mother who's ready to jump at the first chance to pair Alice up.
Take Mum Out is my first Fiona Gibson book and I really enjoyed it. An excellent read if you're looking for something light and fun.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins (Avon)

Genre - adult, romcom/chick lit, humour



Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

review by Maryom

Natty and Sean are a happy, successful couple. After a shaky start to their married life, things have just got better over the years. Now they have everything they could want - a top-notch hotel business, flash cars and two lovely teenage daughters. Then the unthinkable happens - on a trip to France, younger daughter Felicity is rushed to hospital with a life-threatening burst appendix. Fortunately old family friend Eve is visiting so Natty is on the next plane out there, leaving Eve to help out at home.
Two weeks later, Natty returns to discover Sean and Eve are now an item. Sean has discovered 'real' love at last and is off to make a new life. Can this really be love or has he just been totally manipulated by Eve? Is there any way Natty can fight back? When she receives an anonymous note saying Eve has done this before, she thinks maybe she can.

You know how there are some books that once you've picked them up, you don't want to put down till the end? Well, this is one of those. I romped through it, pulled in by twists and turns and the gradually leaked back story, desperate to discover how all would be resolved. The reader soon learns of the secrets that Natty and Sean hide, as Eve twists them to her own advantage, but as Natty uncovers more of Eve's murky past the surprises mount up.
 Eve is that most-evil of villains - one who looks innocent and victimised while twisting people round her little finger to achieve her goal, and leaving a trail of broken lives behind her. She also feels rather scarily real! While Eve remains outwardly cool and collected, Natty is full of anger and frustration and can't help letting these feelings get the better of her; she's trapped in a nightmarish situation and losing everything - husband, children, home - and whatever she does seems to make things worse.

Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall who appeared in Paula Daly's previous thriller Just What Kind of Mother Are You? , is back, looking at events from a different angle and piecing together the history of Eve's manipulations. So too is her aunt 'Mad' Jackie Wagstaff with her outspoken  plain talking ways and no-nonsense attitude - rapidly growing into one of my favourite characters.

A totally gripping book from page one to its deliciously wicked, and extremely satisfying, ending.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Bantam Press
Genre -
adult, psychological thriller


Monday, 10 March 2014

City of Fate by Nicola Pierce

Review by The Mole

23rd August 1942 and it's Yuri's 14th birthday. A beautiful Sunday afternoon that is cut short by the arrival of German bombers heralding the start of the fight for Stalingrad.

Retreating to the coal bunker as a makeshift air raid shelter Yuri, his mother and sister spend a fortnight trying to survive the aerial bombardment. At the end of the bombardment his sister is sick so his mother takes her, leaving Yuri to wait for his father, to get medical attention. And so Yuri finds himself, like thousands of other children, wandering Stalingrad alone.

Meanwhile Leo, Vlad, Anton and Misha are in their last year at school when their teacher is ordered to take them to be registered for the army. With little training and no weapons they are forced attack German forces in Stalingrad to assist in the defeat of the German army.

Two distinct story lines that you expect to intersect and somehow super heroes to emerge from it all. But that's not what this is about - it's about the plight of children during the fight for Stalingrad both as orphans and as young soldiers. But it's also more than that - we also learn about the plight of soldiers, the fear of the NKVD, the violence of the NKVD as well as the humanity behind many individual soldiers despite their being part of an army.

A very well told story that teaches us (yes, adults too) a little of what they all endured. The author's notes at the back explain the origins of the characters and their actions and also some of the staggeringly horrendous statistics. This book is not a history - it is a fiction, but a fiction based on fact that teaches the reader by osmosis.

An extremely well structured story that doesn't preach and doesn't cut corners either. Thoroughly enjoyable yet horrendous and moving.

Publisher - O'Brien Press
Genre - Children's Historical Fiction



Friday, 7 March 2014

Almond Bar: 100 Delicious Syrian Recipes by Sharon Salloum

review by Maryom

Australian chef Sharon Salloum started to cook at an early age, helping her mother and aunts prepare traditional Syrian food for family and friends, and went on to open Almond Bar, a Sydney restaurant specialising in a mix of old favourite dishes and modern adaptations, all drawing on her Syrian heritage....and now here are those recipes for you to try at home.

There are recipes for sauces and dips, finger food, sharing plates, salads, mains and deserts, to cover every occasion from a quick snack to full-on dinner party - through them all run the distinctive flavours of the Middle East - rosewater, pomegranate, tahini and za'atar spice mix. Some may already be familiar like falafel and bulgar wheat salad, but, to me at least, most are new and exciting dishes.

So where would I start? - the kaftas on the front cover, I think. A fairly simple recipe of spiced minced lamb especially if made in their alternate 'meatball' shape rather than experiment with holding on a skewer. It's also inspired me to try making Ashta, Syrian clotted cream, and then of course try it in the tempting desert recipes such as Rose of Damascus and Semolina Fudge. There's even a recipe for making traditional arish cheese but that may be getting a little too ambitious.

Most of the recipes have gorgeous accompanying photographs and the brief introduction to each from the author gives an additional insight into the dish - something that makes it a fascinating book to read, even if you don't test the recipes out. I'm sure you'll want to though.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Jacqui Small
Genre -
cookery, Syria


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Where The Rock Splits the Sky by Philip Webb

review by Maryom

Megan can't remember a time when the Sun moved across the sky. Before she was born, the Visitors came, demolished the Moon and stopped the world turning. Now, where she lives in Texas, the Sun sits on the horizon and never sets. Out across the desert lies The Zone - an area of strange happenings where machines and gadgets stop working, with floating towns, rivers of sand and fish falling from the sky - and somewhere out there, Megan is convinced she'll find her missing father. She has a hand-drawn map to follow, her trusty horse Cisco and best friend Luis to help.
Where The Rock Splits The Sky is a compelling adventure story but one that's extremely difficult to pin down. Is it science-fiction? - aliens have stopped the world rotating and have horrific plans for its people - or dystopian?  - society has taken a step backwards to the pre-industrial level - or maybe a good old western? - with a sheriff, outlaws, a stagecoach delivering the mail, poker players at the saloon and a shoot-out at the jail, it could easily be. Well, whichever label you choose doesn't stop it being a great read with almost something for everyone. It's primarily a story of friendship and of not giving up hope, things that we can all relate to. It gripped me on the first page and I didn't want to put it down till the very last.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Chicken House
Genre - 13+, sci fi/dystopian/western 



Wednesday, 5 March 2014

In The Blood by Lisa Unger

Review by The Mole

Lana was a child with personality disorders before she was further damaged by witnessing her father burying her mother, rolled in her mother's favourite carpet, in a grave in the woods. He then coaches her to lie to the police to cover-up what's happened. She's been medicated for years now, through special schools and is now a normal functioning part of society. Except for one thing... she lies. Constantly... to hide who she is, who her family are and what she has been through. She is now studying, under the mentorship of Dr Langdon, to help children like herself become normal members of society.

She takes a part time job 'babysitting' Luke who turns out to be a child who has the same issues that she has. Luke decides to play a game of Scavenger Hunt with Lana that starts out weird and turns weirder and more dangerous with each clue. How could Luke, eleven year old genius that he is, put together a hunt that seems to reveal so much about Lana's past, on his own. And now Beck, Lana's only true friend, has gone missing and the police want to question Lana as the only suspect.

Stories that involve characters with mental 'disorders' often leave me uncomfortable and I'm sure I'm not alone in this - and Lana seems a completely 'normal' person now she's medicated but as the story progresses we realise just how fragile she is. And Luke...I as a reader could see far more in the child than Lana could - but then that's what we expect from books... it involves us in them. Despite my discomfort I just had to keep reading and found this to be a book I would recommend to almost any adult - definitely not a bedtime read though or one for the kids.

A book with more twists than a Curly-Wurly, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite being totally creeped out by some of the goings on and did I readjust to the revelations at the end? I don't think I have or will.

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - Adult Psychological Thriller


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner

review by Maryom
 
‘I, to this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot. My father agreed to carry twelve.’

In April 1837, recently widowed John Walker decides to leave his job selling spectacles door-to-door in New York city and head out West, selling a new type of hand-gun recently invented by Samuel Colt. To his twelve year old son Tom this seems a foolish business venture but an exciting change from dull, confined life with his aunt, and so the two of them head off through New Jersey to the wilds of Pennsylvania. At first things go well and despite Tom's doubts there's enough demand for this new-fangled gun to make a financial success of the trip but they've travelled into a wild, lawless place and things soon go horribly wrong. Tom finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere with no idea of how to get back to the safety of his New York home - his only hope is Henry Stands, a rough-living ex-ranger, used to living on the road and now travelling back East in the hope of picking up some bounty-hunter work. 

The Road To Reckoning is an exciting coming of age story, set in the early 1800s America with a lot of elements of the traditional Western - gunslingers, saloons, lonely two-horse towns in the middle of nowhere - but it isn't set in the distant deserts of Texas, New Mexico or Colorado but among forests of Pennsylvania. Although today it could probably be reached from New York in barely more than a couple of hours, in the 1830s this was frontier-land - an area of scattered settlements among the forests and hills, with no real law enforcement, where, despite the Government's confident words, native Indians still lurk behind the trees to prey on the unwary and where it's every man for himself. Tom and his father, both naive city-dwellers, travelling in a buggy best suited to paved streets, are asking for trouble venturing out into the wilds - it's all far too dangerous for such innocents and calamity of one sort or another seems destined for them.
Told from the perspective of a middle-aged Tom looking back on the adventure of his youth, it allows the reader to see events through both the eyes of a twelve year old and a worldly-wise adult; an adult who is bemoaning the proliferation of guns, when everyone he meets seems to have one to hand - not in the present day, but the 1870s!  The story in itself foreshadows the later 'western' era when Colt's revolver would find frequent use in saloon brawls across the Wild West.

 The Road To Reckoning is a tale full of strange adventures and weird, sometimes nightmarish characters. The basic situation, a youngster insisting on tagging along with an older experienced 'character', reminded me very much of True Grit but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. It's one I'd recommend to both adults and a younger readership looking for something a little different - the style in which it's told is a little strange though, capturing the speech patterns of its time, but recognisable to fans of Westerns.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - historical fiction, Western, coming of age



Monday, 3 March 2014

The Queen of Dreams by Peter Hamilton

Review by The Mole

Taggie and Jemima see a white squirrel in glasses which starts a fantasy adventure which sees them travelling across realms, across time and into deep labyrinths in a pursuit to save their father who has been kidnapped. But why kidnap him and why now?

When a story starts so early with a squirrel in glasses you know it is going to be a fantasy and a light hearted one at that. With shades of Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, Dr Who and even a  bit of Harry Potter there wouldn't appear to be anything new in this but these elements have been brought together in an original story that is fast paced, not too tense - but tense enough - and has original heroines that will charm it's target readership (9+).

While I found some aspects of the story too young for my taste (I am quite a bit outside it's target audience) I did enjoy it and appreciated the approach to violence adopted by the heroines. All too often bad guys are just left on the battlefield but here the heroines make a valid point of minimising violence so as not to become like the bad guys - a point that I appreciated.

A truly delightful story that anyone can leave their children reading - so long as it's not close to bedtime or you'll never get them to bed! And it's book one of a series with the next one out in August.

Publisher - Random House Children's
Genre - Children's 9+ fantasy