Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

review by Maryom

When the bones of a child are found on the North Norfolk saltmarsh, DCI Harry Nelson half-hopes, half-dreads that they may belong to Lucy Downey who went missing 10 years ago when she was five years old, but these are far older bones. Forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway from the University of North Norfolk dates them as belonging sometime during the Iron Age, probably a ritual burial taking place in the tidal zone belonging to both land and sea. Nelson is struck by the similarities of how Ruth describes this pre-historic event, and instructions of where to find Lucy, contained in letters claiming to be from her abductor. He feels Ruth's knowledge of ancient sites along the coast, and her understanding of the beliefs behind these burials may be of help to him in his modern day, seemingly unsolvable case, and Ruth gradually finds herself involved in this long-standing puzzle. 

The Crossing Places is the first of the Ruth Galloway series, published back in 2009, and a book I've intended reading for quite a while - in fact since I first heard Elly Griffiths talking about the series three years ago.  I'd been intrigued by the mix of modern crime and forensic archaeology, and the setting, which for this story is the misty North Norfolk coast, where I know it's too easy to lose one's bearings and not know which way to head back to dry land - I've fortunately never been caught out on the marshes in a rising tide though, as happens in the story!  Anyway, when recently I spotted a free i-books download offer for The Crossing Places, I jumped at it.

I'd always wanted to start this series here at the beginning, and follow the characters and their changing relationships from the very start, although in some ways, having heard the author speak about them more than once, they were almost like old friends. 
The only downside to eventually getting round to something you've anticipated for so long, is that it might disappoint but happily this lived up to all my expectations. The plot is well-constructed, offering a variety of possible perpetrators and motives, easing into things gently but increasing the tension as Ruth herself is threatened, and the relationship between Ruth and Harry works well as a different thread. 
I loved the character of Ruth - that she's independent and determined to do things her way, ignoring all the presumably well-meaning advice from friends and family about losing weight or getting married and settling down. As it is, she's happy doing what she wants - pursuing her career, living with her cats in a small house in a place she loves, no matter how desolate others find it.

With the series now on Book 8, the Woman in Blue, I know that there's more to come in the relationship between Ruth and Harry Nelson, and more crimes for them to solve. I now intend catching up as quickly as I can.  

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher -
Genre - adult crime thriller

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

review by Maryom
Even as a young girl, Yael was nothing if not a survivor - at first by keeping quiet, doing as she's told, despite the pain and suffering she undergoes as a scientific 'guinea pig', then when she sees a way, she escapes. Personal survival isn't enough for her though. Working with the Resistance she's determined to overthrow the vicious National Socialist organisation that has ruled Germany, Europe, the Middle East and much of Africa for years - by taking the fight right to the top, and killing Hitler. Now, she has her chance - to take on the persona of Adele Wolfe, the seventeen year old girl who won the round-the-world Axis Tour motorcycle race in 1955, and looks likely to do it again this year, and by impersonating her, get close to the Fuhrer himself. Yael's unique abilities, ironically given to her by experiments carried out in the camps, make her the ideal, if not the only, choice for the task, and the wolves tattooed on her arm, not only serve to hide her camp numbers, but to remind her of those who helped her on her way.
 So Yael changes her appearance, and learns to ride a motorbike, to become as competent and competitive as the girl whose place she will take, but all her research can't let her into Adele's mind - and the relationship between Adele and her brother Felix, and with fellow competitor Luka Lowe could prove to get in the way of Yael's plans.  
Set in an alternate past where Germany won the Second World War, rules Europe, and the resistance is still fighting to topple Hitler, Wolf by Wolf is both an exciting, fast-paced action adventure thriller, and a story of suffering, fear and determination to survive. Yael is a strong, independent heroine in the Katniss Everdeen mould, inspired by her personal history and by the injustices she sees around her, to take on this seemingly impossible task. The story slips easily between the 'present', 1956, and flashbacks to the years that Yael spent in Nazi concentration camps or in hiding with the Resistance, building up the back story that created the person she's become. 
It's a great read, gripping, and exciting, with every page filled with incident as Yael races her way from Germany to Tokyo, up against riders of equal calibre and determination - none of whom are going to accept second place without a fight!

Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Indigo/Hachette 
Genre -  teen/YA fiction

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Book of Ralph by Christopher Steinsvold

Review by The Mole

"Drink Diet Coke" - an advert seemingly from the Coca-Cola company appears on the moon in letters so large that it's readable from the Earth. There's a backlash against the company that results in near riots and Marcus West is asked by the American government to establish if the company is really responsible. The conclusion is that they aren't but it's a conclusion no-one wants to accept until a giant can of Campbell's soup lands on the White House lawn.

And Ralph appears from inside the can of soup to deliver a stark warning to the people of Earth but no-one, apart from Marcus, can take him seriously.

The story starts by grabbing the reader's attention - any book should if it's going to succeed - but rather than slow down after achieving that it keeps the pace going and at times I wondered how the author was going to conclude the tale within the pages in my hand. But he does and he does it without rushing the plot or introducing plot "get out" holes. Apart from the incomplete truths that Ralph is constantly telling, everything is there for the reader to try to anticipate the plot - but not too far ahead.

Steinsvold holds a PhD in philosophy and that's what we get given by Ralph. Ralph comes from an older and more intelligent world where they "know" all the philosophical answers which he starts to share. You will probably, like me, doubt the over simplifications that Ralph comes out with but remember that this is a work of fiction so don't get hung up on what you don't agree with just enjoy the story - there's a lot to enjoy.

While it's most certainly SciFi it does contain a lot of sexual references so it may not really be a book for the young SciFi fans.

Publisher - Medallion Press
Genre - YA/Adult SciFi

Monday, 18 July 2016

Maysun and the Wingfish by Alison Lock

review by Maryom

Life on Maysun's world is precarious at best. Although her people, the Watterishi, try to live in harmony with other creatures, a shortage of their staple food, leaves of the Gringrow plant, is causing them to over-pick and deplete supplies for both themselves and the Wingfish who also eat them. Then to make matters worse, a rare celestial alignment of their moon at the full and the seemingly wandering planet Ares creates a condition known as the Soomoon, which causes devastation to the  planet. The earth shakes, mountains crack open, lakes overflow, and Maysun's people are left struggling to survive.
Separated from Maysun's valley by a dark, dangerous forest of Ruba trees, lies another world - that of the Peakerfolk who live high among the mountains. They too are slowly starving to death, and at risk from the earth-shaking that the Soomoon brings. Maysun must venture into this (to her) strange world on a quest to bring harmony back to her world. Fortunately, not everyone living above the tree-line is the savage, brutal sort of person tradition had taught Maysun to expect.

In Maysun and the Wingfish, Alison Lock has conjured up an extraordinary world - one in which fish can fly, trees can trap people, and eco-systems change almost overnight by the passing of the planet Ares. The people living there are, not surprisingly, struggling to survive, and it's only by a change in their thinking and moving forward through cooperation that they'll survive.
This isn't though just a book preaching about the dangers of ecological disasters. There are certain magical or fairy-tale elements to it - the dancing flying fish who respond to Maysun's song or the Ruba trees which snare victims in their sticky goo - and most importantly a good story-line following the adventures of Maysun and Barco, a Peakerfolk boy who in his stumbling way helps to bring about reconciliation between at least some of the members of each population.
I'm not sure what age group I'd recommend it for - some of the words would suggest an older readership of maybe 10+, but I think younger children would enjoy it being read to them, and even adults may appreciate this fantasy adventure.

Publisher - Mother's Milk Books
Genre - children's fantasy adventure

Friday, 15 July 2016

Unthology 1 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

Followers of the blog will know that I have a love of the Unthology series of short story anthologies. These collections are marked by two major features...
  1. The first is that a theme is passed from story to story evolving as the book progresses sometimes making you wonder if the story did change or if it's your own imagination.
  2. The second is that the stories are not "safe" stories but 'experimental' leaving the reader often thinking, sometimes uncomfortable but always involved.
When the opportunity presented itself to see how it all started I was delighted to take up the chance. Having heard a little of the development of the series I had heard that a relatively small number of stories were available for this, the very first Unthology, so I was very surprised to find the stories being able to progress thematically as strongly as they do, even at this early stage. In fact the first story seems to start almost where the last story finishes this time.

The stories are varied and will take you through all sorts of moods and situations but my favourite has to be Dicks Life by Maggie Ling and I find myself impressed, as with so many of these unconventional pieces, not only with the quality of the writing but the insight into the situations portrayed.

As a coffee time read these are mostly an ideal length but remember to put the book down again or coffee time could become an all day habit.

I am shortly to read No 2 and that will mean I have read the collection through to 8 and there isn't one I wouldn't recommend.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology 

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

review by Maryom

Even before he moved to London, Richard Mayhew was warned that he would have a long way to travel, and that his journey would start with doors ...
For three years Richard's life has been uneventful. He has a steady office job, a steady girlfriend, and plans to settle down and marry, but things are about to change dramatically through an act of kindness. On his way out to dinner one evening, he stops to help an injured girl lying on the pavement, and takes her back to his flat. He assumed the only consequences would be irritating his fiancee, but matters are far more serious than that. For the girl is named Door (due to her ability to find and open them), she's the only surviving member of her family, the same assassins who murdered them are now pursuing her, and, most importantly, she comes from London Below, a shady world that exists beneath and between the streets and buildings of the capital. Some people are born there, some fall between the cracks of the 'real' world and end up there, some, like Richard, encounter its citizens and find themselves trapped between the two worlds. Having helped Door once, he finds he must help again if only to find a way to get home, and, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Richard is off on an adventure in a world that's familiar but wonderfully weird.

No book lover can be entirely unaware of Neil Gaiman but somehow although I'd read many of his short stories and a novel or two, I'd not quite appreciated the full breadth of his writing. Since reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, all that has changed and I can't get enough!

Reading Neverwhere is like being taken back to childhood, to great fantasy adventures such as The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which bridge the gap between our everyday world and a hidden fantastical one, but told here in a way to appeal to adults and older teens.

So what specifically is to love about Neverwhere?

Well, first and foremost that parallel world of London Below hidden behind an overlooked doorway, or in an abandoned Tube station, with a 'Floating Maket' that moves from place to place (often familiar London landmarks), a labyrinth guarded by the Beast of London and too many marvellous sights and sites to describe here.
The characters - from Richard, an innocent from London Above, trapped against his will in a world full of danger and excitement; Door, seeking to avenge the death of her family; a female bodyguard who specialises in killing off deadly monsters lurking in the tunnels and sewers beneath cities all over the world, and known only as Hunter; the Marquis de Carabas who carries his life rather differently to mere humans; to angels, temptresses, a bird-man who makes his home on roofs, and a pair of hit-men, currently hired to track down Door, and disappointed when their appetite for killing can't be assuaged. Happily though, it's an urban fantasy that manages to entertain and thrill without the inclusion of vampires!
The way Gaiman has taken familiar place-names, twisted and re-invented them with wholly different meanings - you'll never think of Earl's Court, Down Street, Shepherd's Bush or The Angel, Islington in the same way again.
And ... despite a lot of the story taking place underground, I never once felt claustrophobic!

It's a non-stop adventure, full of danger, excitement and false trails, where, as you half-expect, friends can be disguised as foes, and vice versa.
I absolutely adored this, and much like Richard, didn't want to leave the World of London below, once the adventure's end was reached. Better than The Ocean at the End of the Lane? That's a hard call. I loved both, and wouldn't like to have to pick between them.

Now for a word about some 'technical' matters; this isn't the first version of Neverwhere, in fact several previous editions have appeared - first it was a TV mini series of 1996, then there was a tie-in book, followed by a US edition which explained all those quirky British things that might be meaningless to any foreign reader. This new version brings the best bits of all these together, adds some wonderful,atmospheric illustrations by Chris Riddell, a Q+A with the author and a short story How The Marquis Got His Coat Back set in the same world of London Below to make a gorgeous collectors' edition, a special present for a die-hard Gaiman fan, or just a wonderful 'introduction' for a newcomer like me.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Genre - Adult/YA urban fantasy

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

review by Maryom

When their babysitter cancels at the last minute, Anne and Marco decide, after an argument, that it will be fine to go round to their neighbours for a dinner party as planned - after all, the houses are joined, they'll be able to take the baby monitor and nip back every half hour to check up on baby Cora ... surely nothing could go wrong?

When Anne and Marco return home the front door is open, and their baby gone. At first, guided by what Anna and Marco appear to be thinking, the reader is led to believe that Cora must have been taken by someone who broke into the house, but then the police arrive, and Detective Rasbach's cynical assessment of the situation and detailing of all the ways parents could kill and dispose of a baby, made me stop and wonder if perhaps Anne and Marco weren't to be trusted all that much....

A thriller tapping in on what must surely be any parent's worst nightmare, The Couple Next Door is a gripping, fairly quick read at just over 300 pages. I found it started rather slowly, setting up the scene, calling in the police etc, but after 50 pages or so the drama kicks off, and then I really, really wanted to see how it all ended, so finished it in a day!
Although told in the third person, the reader is still presented with the 'face' that the characters display in public, and their secrets and motivations are only revealed as the plot twists and turns its way to a resolution - and what secrets they're all hiding! Anne's post-natal depression hides a more serious underlying condition; Marco might not have been quite honest about his relationship with their attractive neighbour, Cynthia; and she, too, has a secret or two hidden away ...
To be honest, I didn't feel the characters had much depth - yes, they're all hiding something, but not deep character flaws, the revelation of which would change who they fundamentally are, and a lot is said of Anne and Marco's shock and grief but I didn't feel it. I don't think it really mattered though, because this is a plot-driven story, leading my suspicions first one way, then another, and keeping me guessing till the end.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - 
Bantam Press
Genre - 
adult, crime, thriller