Monday, 21 July 2014

The Broken King by Philip Womack

Review by The Mole

When Simon's sister, Anna, starts to tease too much, Simon loses his temper and, to frighten her, recites a nursery rhyme that invites the Broken King to take her away. The poem doesn't bother Anna but terrifies Simon when Anna is taken away in front of his very eyes. The next day, before his parents waken, he finds that she really has gone and flees the house looking for her. Meeting a winged deer he learns he must go to the Broken Kingdom to get her back. On the way he meets Flora who did exactly the same to her elder brother, Johnny, and is starting a similar quest. On their journey they meet people who can't exist, go to places that are impossible, solve insoluble riddles and encounter terrifying enemies.

This is the first in a series entitled "The Darkening Path" and it really is a great start to the trilogy. While we know Simon and Flora are the "good" guys they learn to doubt everyone they meet along the way - even the ones that give them real positive assistance and this keeps the reader looking at every nuance of the story for some sign that may lead to betrayal. With the reader so heavily engaged the book flies by and then... Well it's a trilogy as I say and they must wait for book 2!

Plenty of horror, plenty of monsters, lots of action - everything the young fantasy reader will love. Described as for the 11+ reader it will be enjoyed by any competent reader as our two young protagonists set out on a quest of atonement to try to retrieve their siblings.

Publisher - Troika Books
Genre - Children's fantasy, 11+

Friday, 18 July 2014

Making the most of your summer writing course

Rather unusually today we are featuring a submission by Shelley Weiner, a tutor from the Faber Academy. We are very much aware that there are a lot of budding authors out there and without them where will the next JK Rowling come from. This post is for everyone who wants to become a published author.

So you’re on the brink of signing up for a summer writing course – and, about to take the plunge, are nervously wondering what the best possible outcome can be? 

A brilliant novel and/or sparkling short story, obviously. We all want that. And in my work as a tutor/mentor, I have isolated SEVEN VITAL FACTORS that will inspire new writers to leave a workshop or session with a surge of creative energy and the tools to channel this energy into a stronger, better piece of fiction:

1.      SHARED ALLEGIANCE. The important (and, ideally, only) thing that writing group participants should share with one another is allegiance to the work. No egos. No ‘stuff’. Or as little as possible when a group of people collaborate on something as precious as an unfolding piece of fiction.

2.      COLLABORATION. I like to see the workshop process as collaborative editing rather than teaching. We work together to make the writing as good as it is possible to be.

3.      SUBJECTIVITY. I always make it very clear to new writers that – even though my responses are informed by years and years of writing and teaching – there is always a level of subjectivity and, with this in mind, the opinions of the group are at least as valid as mine.

4.      DISCUSSION. My input is therefore a series of suggestions rather than instructions, and always open to discussion.

5.      TRUTH. My undertaking, as tutor, is to inhabit the story or fictional world that is presented to me, and to base all my responses on being true – as I see it – to this world.

6.      TRANSPARENCY. I always say that the best writing doesn’t show. It enables the reader to see straight into the heart of what a writer wants to convey; anything that distracts along the way (purple prose? Over-elaborate layout? Bad spelling? Characters who act/speak out of character) should be firmly addressed.

7.      GOALS. Clear goals are important. When we first meet we agree on the best possible realistic outcome for each participant. We check at the end of the process how far these goals have been met.

Shelley Weiner is an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, journalist and creative writing tutor at Faber Academy. Her summer course ‘The 5 Day Short Story’ begins on 4 August. To view the summer programme visit @FaberAcademy

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

review by Maryom

Ajatashatru has for years been impressing the people of his small Indian village with his tricks and sleight of hand, fooling them into thinking he is a real magic-working fakir. Now he's persuaded them to buy him a new bed of nails - not just any old bed of nails though, but the Ikea Hertsyorbak, to buy which he needs to travel to Paris - again funded by the villagers. His long-distance shopping trip is going fine - till he discovers the bed he wanted is out of stock and he must return the next day.  Having to spend an unexpected night in Paris, Ajatashatru decides to do what many of us have probably wanted to try - stay in an Ikea show-home -  until he hears people approaching... Could it be Security coming to throw him out? If so, will he be able to get back into the store the next day to pick up his lovely new bed? Hiding inside a wardrobe seems like the sensible thing to do....but it's just the start of Aja's adventures...

This is, as the title says, the story of an extraordinary journey - one which starts like the Pevensie children's with a wardrobe - but instead of going through the wardrobe Narnia-style, Ajatashatru gets carried away in one! Taken to Great Britain very much against his will, Aja wants to do nothing more than get back to the Ikea store in Paris, to pick up his bed of nails and maybe, if luck is on his side, be reunited with the fascinating French woman he met in the cafeteria. Other people have different plans for him though, and he finds himself travelling this way and that across Europe - with a brief stop over in Libya - by truck, plane or boat, floating off in a hot air balloon or stowing away in a trunk; making new friends as he goes - from illegal immigrants to a beautiful actress; pursued by an irate Parisian taxi-driver and his relations; shedding his con-artist life and re-inventing himself as a person who spreads goodness wherever he goes.

It's a story of bizarre events and improbable coincidences which despite its overall light-hearted, even farcical, feel, also has serious comments to make about the plight of illegal immigrants -  exploited by everyone who 'helps' them on their way, shunted from one country to another, neither reaching their hoped-for destination nor able to go home.

Translated by Sam Taylor

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harville Secker
Genre -  adult fiction, humour

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Keeper by John Lescroart

Review by The Mole

When Hal Chase's wife goes missing then the police are quick to start a murder investigation despite there being little or no evidence that she is dead. Hal is quick to get Dismas Hardy to represent him as his lawyer and, in turn, Dismas engages Abe Glitsky, a retired police officer, to find Katie (Hal's wife). Hal gets taken into custody and put in the jail where he works, but as a warder he is afforded almost hotel style accommodation.

Abe sets out looking for Katie or at least another suspect - and therein lies the problem, who but Hal would benefit from her death?

This is the second Dismas Hardy story I have read and while I knew some of the back story, that itself was not at all important in this book.

Abe is now faced with the difficult task of proving a suspect is innocent whereas his career as a police officer was focused on finding someone who is guilty and this shift in thinking is brought out well by the author.

Towards the end when things start to wrap up you are left with a feeling that this is a very scrappy ending but it's not done yet and Lescroart pulls a rabbit or two out of the hat that really left me thinking "Yes, that makes sense - and it's not a 'how convenient ending' either".

I did enjoy The Ophelia Cut but The Keeper is an even better read with a better ending and a better melding of the characters. A really good crime thriller that isn't burdened with too much procedure or blind alleys but still springs surprises throughout.

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult crime thriller

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

review by Maryom
Tom Hawkins is used to living on his wits, making his 'living' at cards and gambling, but now his luck has deserted him and he finds himself in debt; in 1727 that means being sent to gaol. Inside the Marshalsea debtors' prison,  he's given a spare bed in the lodgings of Samuel Fleet, one of the few people imprisoned for matters other than debt and regarded by many as a devil, striking fear wherever he goes. The spare bed though turns out to have been that of Captain Roberts, a recently murdered inmate who now supposedly haunts the gaol. Tom is offered a deal - help track down Roberts' ruthless killer and he'll go free. Sidetracked by the captain's attractive widow, suspicious of his 'room-mate' Samuel Fleet (believed by many to be the murderer),victimised by his gaolers, Tom walks a dangerous line as he tries to uncover the truth.

The Devil in the Marshalsea is a richly atmospheric novel full of the sights and smells of this abominable place,brought to us through the naive eyes of Tom. At first he thinks he could settle quite comfortably -  until he realises that he's only seen the more presentable side of the Marshalsea and that beyond a dividing wall is the 'Common Side' where those without any money or outside influence are crammed together in the most appalling disease-ridden conditions. It's almost unbelievable that people could be mistreated in such a way but the end goal of the prison is to turn a profit, and there's always someone willing to turn a blind eye for that!

The novel's strengths lie more in historical atmosphere than detection. It's difficult at first to see why newcomer Tom is picked to investigate the murder - surely the Governor has men of his own who could have done the job? - but, through luck more than detective skills, he at last uncovers the culprit and, as with all good murder mysteries, everything is revealed at the end.
An interesting addition to historical crime novels - and I'm hoping there'll be more to come about Tom Hawkins.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, historical crime

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Snowdrops by A D Miller

review by Maryom

Nick is engaged and about to get married but first he's got something he needs to come clean about to his fiancée.
Back when he worked in Moscow as a quiz-kid corporate lawyer, enabling dodgy financial deals, Nick found himself sucked in to a similar, more private, one. Seduced by the enigmatic Masha, he left his scruples and morals behind and went with the flow, agreeing to anything to please her, only discovering too late what he'd become involved with....

This is one of those books that I'd heard a lot of praise for, managed to come late to the reading of but that left me feeling a bit flat and wondering what all the fuss was about. Set in modern, post-Communist get-rich-quick Russia, it's a tale of the rapid disintegration of moral standards - of society in general and of one man, Nick, in particular. It's told in the form of a letter to his fiancée and ok this is just a plot device but it doesn't ring true - as a confession of past misdeeds he probably could have summed it up in 2 sides of A4. The big reveal of what he's done is too long in coming and too obvious beforehand.

At the heart of my reaction, though, is that I didn't really 'warm' to Nick. He made a lot of protestations about his innocence and gullibility, but somehow they never rang true. If he ever was that naive, the 'ask no questions, hear no lies' attitude of his workplace had definitely rubbed off on him long before he met Masha, and no matter how many times he claims to be sorry for what he did, I didn't feel he was - and that he'd do it again given the opportunity. An innocent led astray deserves a level of sympathy; a lawyer on the make doesn't.

I've seen a different take on this New Russia of money, muscle and hustle through the eyes of Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko - in Tatiana and Stalin's Ghost - and I prefer his grimier, tackier world.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars  
Publisher - Atlantic Books
Genre - adult fiction,

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Bone Seeker by MJ McGrath

review by Maryom

In an attempt to get away from the disturbing events of the past, Edie Kiglatuk has taken a job as a summer school teacher in Kuujuaq, another Inuit community on Ellesmere Island 70 kilometres further along the coast. She's hoping for peace and quiet but when one of her teenage pupils goes missing, Edie finds herself dragged into a murder investigation. The community are convinced that Martha's killer must have come from the nearby military base but Edie feels this is just too simple a solution, especially when the military step in and take control of the case, and persuades her friend police sergeant Derek Palliser to continue the investigation secretly. Also puzzled by events is lawyer Sonia Gutierrez, in Kuujuaq pursuing a case against the military relating to the clean-up and decontamination of a decommissioned early warning base. Could there be a link between activities at the old base and Martha's death?

The Bone Seeker is a thriller with an unusual backdrop - the Canadian High Arctic. It's set in the brief summertime when the sun never sets, temperatures 'soar' to 10 degrees and the tundra bursts into flower. Against this bleak but beautiful landscape long-buried secrets are being revealed. Edie's hunting instincts tell her that there's more to discover than the murderer's identity. The trail is as confusing and complex as any reader could wish for as it leads Edie off in one direction, sidetracks her in another, then doubles round into a third or fourth.

This is the first Edie Kiglatuk story I've read so there was a fair bit of back-plot to catch up on, which made the early chapters a little hard going, but once Edie was a the trail of the killer the pace picked up. I was just left at the end wondering if all the ends had been tied off neatly - maybe I missed something...

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

Genre - adult,
murder mystery