Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Race to Death by Leigh Russell

Review by The Mole

DI Peterson has yet to prove himself in his new job in Yorkshire when a man falls 5 stories to his death at the York races. Murder or suicide? Because the death occurred in such a public place and at a high profile event there is great pressure to get the case sorted out quickly. But there are no suspects and the body count starts to grow and Peterson can find nothing that they have in common.

Peterson's first case in York and he is working all hours to get it solved as quickly as possible while his wife is bored, friendless and missing her family and friends and so adding to the pressures. But when she gets a job it could help to take some of the pressure off except she isn't as happy with the job as she was in Kent.

As the cases drag on, his private life gets more and more in way of the case. Is this one case too many for Peterson? Can he continue in the police force after all that happens?

In the first DI Peterson book Cold Sacrifice, set after Geraldine Steel moves to London to take up her new post, I found I didn't really warm to Peterson but that all changed in this book. Peterson felt a more rounded character, perfectly capable of leading an investigation and getting results and a great deal more human. It's a long time since I read a whodunnit that surprised me with the result - but this one most certainly did and I loved it for it.

If you like crime books then you will adore both Geraldine Steel and DI Peterson but the early books are not whodunnits - the reader knows who did it and is wishing Steel to solve it. I loved those early books although I also love them now they have shifted towards the whodunnit genre.

Everyone of them is a fantastic read and Leigh Russell is probably the only author that I can say I have read ALL their books and enjoyed everyone of them. I have reviewed some on our blog and some on Nayu's Reading Corner.

Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult Crime Thriller

Monday, 20 October 2014

A Place for Us (part 3) by Harriet Evans

review by Maryom

If you've been following my reviews of this so far you'll know that A Place For Us is the story of Winterfold and the Winter family who, for 45 years, have made it their idyllic home; a story that is being published serial-style in four parts. Well, here we are at Part 3. The whole, rather-scattered, family has come together to celebrate Grandmother Martha's 80th birthday ...but she was preparing to reveal a secret that she'd kept for years and which promised to tear the family apart.....

It's getting harder to review these books without giving away the plot, but, suffice it to say, that at the end of part 2 the family were left in shock, thrown into disarray by Martha's revelations and events which followed. Now they have to try to pick up the pieces and rebuild their family unity but the dynamics have all changed; Martha, shaken and confused, is no longer providing the hub around which everyone else revolves, and without her, the other family members seem adrift. This gives a rather different feel to this section of the novel - previously there's been a lot of build up to the birthday celebrations, an expectation of troubles to come; now maybe all that is behind and it's time to heal wounds.
The story also moves backwards into the secrets of David's early years. It's been hinted before that he didn't have a happy childhood, that it was a part of his life he was only too happy to leave behind - at last we learn why.

Somehow due to reading only a small portion of the book at once, I've felt throughout more conscious of the design of the story, of the gradual reveals, of how it's shaped and paced - moving forwards, then backwards, working up to each big reveal and ending each section on a 'cliffhanger'. I'm not sure I'd have noticed these things if I'd had the whole book available at one sitting - I'd probably just have dashed straight through to find out how things end. 

I'm still inclined to believe there are more secrets to come pouring out of the woodwork before the Winter clan can look forward to a happy ending, but fortunately there isn't long to wait for the fourth and final part - out on 23rd October.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline Review
Genre - adult fiction, family saga

Friday, 17 October 2014

Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett

review by Maryom

Brother and sister Ed and Billa have 'retired' back to Mellinpons, their childhood home in Cornwall - with their half-brother Dom, living just down the road, they form a tight-knit family unit. But their peaceful, settled life is about to be disturbed by the return of another family member, stepbrother Tris. No one has heard from him for the past 50 years - in fact since he and his father did what might be best described as a 'runner' -  but now he's sending postcards announcing his intention to pay a visit. This isn't likely to be for a happy family reconciliation and his choice of cards seems deliberately chosen to stir up bad memories and open old wounds - so why on earth is he coming back?

This is one of those books that turn up for review out of the blue and don't immediately grab me. Despite 20 novels to her name I'd never heard of the author (oops)  and the cover didn't seem too inviting, promising something in the romantic fiction line, I thought, which isn't really my kind of thing - but anyway I picked it up just to check it out and two/three pages in I was hooked. It opens with the arrival of a postcard to Billa from her step-brother Tris from whom she hasn't heard in many many years - Billa is immediately on her guard - there's obviously bad blood between them and I wanted to know what, why and mostly what his current (evil) plan was.

This is admittedly a gentler sort of read to my normal choices but it teased me on with hints and gradual reveals of past events - and the forewarning that Tris would not be coming back for a good reason, and that his arrival will cause upset and unpleasantness for people it's easy to come to like. Tris isn't a gun-toting villain back for a spree of violence, but he's still a thoroughly unpleasant, manipulative type, out to benefit from Billa and Ed's good nature and willingness to believe the best of others.
With the large country house, interestingly converted from an old butter factory, situated not far from the Cornish coast, filled with a caring family and lovable dogs, the author conjures up the sort of home we probably all would like - therefore it's shocking that someone would wish to disturb such an idyll. Maybe though, at times, everyone just seemed a little too nice to be real.
The ending was perhaps a little predictable, but I still found it all really enjoyable. 

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre - fiction

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown

review by Maryom

Rapunzel sits in her high rise tower block waiting to be rescued - but not necessarily by a prince.
In her 16th floor flat, surrounded by cats, she sits, lets her hair grow longer and longer ....and waits. Friends try to encourage her to leave but she won't stir .....until one day the postman brings her something very special - a job offer from the library. Discovering books on anything and everything, Rapunzel no longer needs to be rescued by someone; whatever she wants to do, she's found the key to doing it.

 I'm a bit wary of children's books with a message - it's too easy to lose all the fun - but not in this one. The story is told in rhyme - with frequently repeated lines for children to join in with - and illustrated throughout with bright and busy pictures to enthral the younger 'learner' reader.

So girls, and boys, read this book and take its advice - don't just sit there waiting for someone to come to the rescue - go out and make a life for yourself!

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The G File by Hakan Nesser

review by Maryom

At first there doesn't seem to be anything odd about the latest job for ex-policeman turned private eye Maarten Verlangen; there's nothing at all unusual about a woman wanting her husband's movements tracked. But the husband in question, Jaan G Hennan, turns out to be someone that, back in his police force days, Verlangen helped put in jail..... and then the wife, Barbara, is found dead at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. The obvious suspect is her husband - but Verlangen can give him a water-tight alibi.
Chief Inspector Van Veeteren has encountered 'G' Hennan before and believes he must be behind the death, but despite his best efforts, Van Veeteren can't find any evidence that will hold up in court.
Fifteen years later and Van Veeteren is now retired - well, theoretically - and the G File, as Barbara Hennan's murder has become known, is the only case he's never solved. The case has continued to bug Verlangen too, but then he disappears, leaving behind a message saying he's at last found proof of G's guilt....and Van Veeteren finds himself pulled back out of retirement...

I'm come to this series the absolute wrong way round - starting with the last book. Needless to say there was a lot about the characters that I didn't understand, but the author managed to fill in enough back story to not leave me totally in the dark, without, hopefully, taking away all enjoyment from previous books.
To me, this seemed to be a story as much about the character development of Van Veeteren as about murder-mystery solving - and as such a good, though lengthy read. The 'detection' though sadly let it down. Van Veeteren and Verlangen ignored something really obvious that occurred to me, and which held the clue to how the murder had been pulled off.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adult,
murder mystery

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Secrets We Left Behind by Susan Elliot Wright

Review by The Mole

Eve hides to watch her daughter and granddaughter from afar. But it wasn't always like this. She once had a good family - a happy family - a loving family, but she kept a secret that had to come out. A big secret - one that had to change everything and things could never be the same again.

Scott has returned from New Zealand and is dying from cancer. Jo, Eve and Scott lived in a squat in Hastings in 1976. Today Eve and Darren are married and Eve's daughter, Hannah, calls Darren "daddy". Scott is Hannah's real father and now he wants the truth about their time in Hastings to be told... a secret they had agreed to keep buried forever.

The story started well and captured my imagination but then sort of stalled as I found, about 100 pages in, that I had stopped caring because it was taking so long. With nearly 300 pages left to go I was finding the idea of continuing a bit daunting. We had been told that Scott wanted their secret to be told but we had no idea of the true enormity of that secret - in fact I expected nothing like what was to come. There is a slight inference of what was to come but it had totally failed to arouse my curiosity. However I cheated by "dipping" into a later part of the book to try to understand where the story was going if I did continue, and armed with that knowledge I found I wanted to read on and finish it and I enjoyed the getting there. It was a journey worth making and the early "dipping" didn't spoil it. Perhaps a bit more or something different could have been revealed earlier?

A bit of an on/off read but on the whole one I enjoyed.

Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - adult fiction

Friday, 10 October 2014

Dea Brovig - author interview

 Today we're delighted to welcome Dea Brovig, author of The Last Boat Home, to the blog. For those you haven't read it, the novel tells the story of single mother Else, and is set in a small Norwegian coastal town, in the present day with flashbacks to the 1970s. 'Else' is not a lot older than I am, so I was growing up at a similar sort of time but in a very different world; I was so intrigued, I wanted to know more.....

Else's hometown is deeply religious, with a slightly puritanical lifestyle in which something as innocuous as a cinema trip is considered frivolous. Is it typical for the time and place?
Norway has a history of strict pietism, especially on the western and southern coasts. It’s a side to the country that I find fascinating, not least because of its reputation for liberalism. My mother-in-law tells a story from when she was growing up of being pelted with stones by the neighbour children because they’d seen her mother wearing lipstick – something that no “good Christian” would do. My father remembers the fire-and-brimstone sermons he sat through as a boy, and stumbling upon a prayer meeting in which the participants were talking in tongues.

Over time that brand of Lutheranism has tempered itself, but in the mid-1970s, when we first meet Else in The Last Boat Home, there were still people in religious milieus who didn’t go to the cinema, who abstained from alcohol and listening to rock ‘n’ roll, who considered it sinful to play cards or football on a Sunday. Nowadays, the Norwegian State Church preaches benevolence, but there remain pockets of the population whose Christian beliefs demand a more ascetic lifestyle.

Being a teenage mother isn't an easy thing even today, but Else's community seemed more likely to ostracise her for sinning, than rally round and help....
This is close-knit community where everyone knows each other’s business, and the rumours surrounding Else’s pregnancy are scandalising. Her situation isn’t helped by the pastor’s warnings about God’s judgment, which only serve to legitimise his parishioners’ treatment of her. But Else does have friends who stand by her and who help her to make a life for herself. More than that, she has the support of her mother, who defends her to the last.

From the pictures I found on your publishers website, the area looks very beautiful - but all those photos were taken in summer. I assume it's very different in winter...
It is! The winter landscapes can be beautiful, too, especially if you’re lucky enough to be out in nature, but the weather has its challenges, like having to start each morning by scraping the ice from your windscreen, or having to peel off layer upon layer (snowsuit, trousers, long johns) when your child suddenly announces they need the loo. Sometimes it’s bitterly cold, but the darkness is worse. In the south of the country, you can expect a few hours of dim sunlight every day and a season that drags on from November until April or even May. On the other hand, the conditions are ideal for fireside reading, and if you like cross-country skiing, there’s nowhere better to be.

By the end of the 'flashbacks' to the 1970s, there's a feeling of change coming with the discovery of North Sea Oil. I assume it must have altered life in the coastal towns considerably, with an influx of jobs, money and incomers?
The first of Norway’s oil fields was discovered in the North Sea in 1969, but it took a few years before the country began to feel the benefits. Then, in a relatively short period of time, Norway was transformed from one of Europe’s poorest countries to one of its wealthiest. The two storylines in The Last Boat Home bracket this time of change. Else lives in the same, small town as a 16 year old in 1974 as she does in 2009, but it is almost unrecognisable. In 1974, its inhabitants are suspicious of a troupe of foreign circus performers; in 2009, the town is multicultural. Where before most people eked out a living on land and sea, now the coast is cluttered with second homes and the fjords are busy with leisure boat traffic.

And finally the question every author is asked, do you have plans for your next novel? You've moved around a lot, living in nine countries, will you be drawing on any of them for future inspiration?
I imagine I will, at some point, but for now I’ll continue to look to Norway. It’s a place that’s very special to me, and even though I’ve been abroad for much of my adult life, in many ways it still feels like home. Belonging to somewhere but being separate from it gives you an unusual perspective. There’s also something about the landscape that lends itself to storytelling, I think. The country’s size and ruggedness mean there are clusters of people who live intimately, but far from everyone else. There’s an interesting mix of claustrophobia and isolation, which is a great starting point for a novel.

I’m currently researching a book set in the north of the country – but it’s still early days, so I don’t want to say more than that!

Thank you for dropping by, Dea, and best of luck with your future novels.