Friday, 17 February 2017

Space Team by Barry Hutchison

Review by The Mole

Cal Carter is an habitual criminal and has landed himself in jail. The wrong jail and the wrong cell. He is put in a cell with a cannibalistic murderer. And things go badly. For everyone but Cal who is kidnapped and recruited as part of an intergalactic conspiracy. But it's not Cal they wanted...

The title and cover might infer this is a children's book - but not for any child I know. YA or adult is the target audience and fans of Adams, Holt, Pratchett and Rankin (Robert NOT Ian) will enjoy this one. Some describe it as laugh out loud and that's not a label I would put on it. It's funny, in a Marvel film sort of way, also in keeping with Holt and Rankin but the sort of humour that blends into the plot and doesn't distract from it.

It's fast paced making it difficult to put down but do you get to really deeply understand the characters? I didn't and frankly I didn't want to - I just wanted to follow the story and it felt like this page's hero could be the next pages bad guy anyway.

Extremely well written and balanced with the emphasis on telling the story. Although there will be more Space Team books this was not a scene setter but a proper stand alone book.

In summary - I loved it! well done Mr H.

Publisher - Zertex Books 
Genre - Adult/YA Sci-Fi Humour

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

review by Maryom

Recently widowed Cora Seaborne wants to be free of London and the conventional life she's forced into living there, so heads off to Colchester where rumours are spreading of the return of the mythical Essex Serpent to the small coastal village of Aldwinter. Cora is convinced this is merely a previously unrecognised species, and hopes to have her moment of fame by being the one to identify it, but the local vicar William Ransome views its appearance as a test of faith. Despite their opposing views, the two strike up a quick friendship, which becomes more intense and passionate as Ransome's wife falls ill.

 Despite appearing on longlists and shortlists for all sorts of literary prizes - Dylan Thomas, Wellcome, Costa - and being voted Waterstones Book of the Year, to be honest I didn't warm to the Essex Serpent. A lot of the writing itself, with its echoes of Dickens and Hardy, appealed to me, but I didn't like the story itself, as it seemed amorphous and shifted about too much in focus, darting from serpents in Essex to pioneering surgery and workers' conditions in London. In keeping with the Dickensian style, there's a wide array of characters - and while all were brilliantly brought to life, some of them seemed unnecessary.

 Cora herself is a wonderfully eccentric character - the Victorian wife's round of polite social chitchat isn't for her. Instead she's happier dressed in an old coat and heavy boots out hiking round the marches of Essex hoping to find signs of the mythical serpent, and fame for herself as the discoverer of a new species. William Ransome, too, torn between his affection for his wife and the fascination unconsciously exerted on him by Cora with her disregard for society's conventions, is a character you can believe in. But somehow, put together, their actions didn't quite fit - and the story lines concerning their families and friends seemed to detract from the main one rather than add to it.

In some ways, it feels like a book they may improve with a second or subsequent reading BUT I feel I'm not really likely to try it ...

Maryom's review - 3 stars 
Publisher - Serpent's Tail

Genre - 
adult, historical fiction

Thursday, 9 February 2017

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

review by Maryom

Katie likes everyone to believe she's leading the perfect life - a dream job in London, a fancy apartment, wining and dining at the trendiest places - but really nothing could be further from the truth - her job is entry-level admin, she lives in a tiny room in a house shared with dreadful house mates, and her insider knowledge of where to eat comes from newspapers and magazines. One day, her life will match her dreams, until then she endures the commute, manages without space for a wardrobe, and stalks her mega-talented, oh-so-successful boss Demeter, who really does seem to be living the dream.
Could Katie's not-so-perfect life get worse? Unfortunately, yes. The gorgeous man she's just met turns out to be having an affair with Demeter, and on top of that, Katie loses her job. There's nothing for it but to head home to Somerset and help with her dad's latest project, turning the family farm into a swish glamping location, pretending all the while that she's merely on sabbatical ...

As you'd expect from Sophie Kinsella, this is a light, fun read - one to curl up with and forget the world, like comfort food in a book. I'm happy enough to read a gritty thriller, or a heavy literary classic , but there' still space on my shelf for a well-crafted romcom, and Kinsella is one of my favourite authors in this field.
The characters are vaguely familiar - a young, impressionable woman, trying to live the dream but frequently disappointed; a tall, handsome man with a twinkle in his eye that says he'd like to know her better, but (of course, there's a 'but') he might not be as free as Katie thinks; and the formidable 'other woman', in this case Katie's boss, Demeter - but familiarity is part of the comfort of a light romcom read. It's funny and a little wicked, as Katie tries to get her revenge by coaxing Demeter into joining in bizarre spiritual rituals, because "Gwyneth" does, and we can all laugh, because we'd never be persuaded to do that, right?
 There is, if you like, a message here too - that, no matter what you read or how you feel, everyone else is NOT leading that perfect life, that social media and aspirational blogs only show a slanted view of life, capturing the good times, and ignoring the bad - so don't believe everything you read on the web ...

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

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Good People by Hannah Kent

review by Maryom

When first her daughter, then her husband, die within months of each other, Nora is left struggling to cope - she not only has to keep their fields worked and rent paid but also to care for her ill four year old grandson Micheal alone. Once he was a happy healthy little boy but since his mother died a few months ago he's thin and wasted, and has lost the ability to walk and talk. Nora hopes it's merely an illness that will pass with good food and care, but when she employs a maid Mary to help care for him, she immediately thinks the boy is possessed by a fairy spirit. Neither doctor nor priest can offer help, so in desperation Nora turns to the local healer Nance, an elderly woman knowledgeable in the use of herbs and the ways of the fairies, the "Good People", but just how far will the three women go in trying for a cure ...

The Good People is a story of belief, superstition and desperation set in a remote Irish village in the early 19th century, where people still totally accept that a curse has power, that people are stolen away by fairies, and a disabled child is actually a fairy changeling capable of casting the evil eye on a village, spoiling crops, making cattle run dry, hens stop laying. In this world a healer such as Nance has a place, treating ailments with the 'medicines' she has to hand - but the new village priest is forward looking and dismisses such beliefs as superstition, and, after a series of misfortunes striking those who've asked for her help, even the villagers are beginning to question her abilities.
It would be too easy to be smug and sophisticated, to laugh at the villagers' ignorance, but Kent avoids that. Instead she build a sympathetic, understanding picture of this community, entering fully into their mindset to which the meddling of the fairies is as obvious a fact as the sun rising each morning, while at the same time balancing the interpretation of Nora and Nance's actions - do they firmly believe they are doing their best for the boy, or are they deliberately, maliciously, harming him? I think that's one for the reader to decide.

The description of countryside is lyrical and atmospheric, the bend of the grass, the flow of the river making a beautiful setting for potentially dark deeds occurring in the half-light of dawn and dusk. The story itself moves inexorably towards its climax as this compelling psychological dram plays itself out, and Nance tries ever more extreme treatments to help the child.
And, in case you think it's all too far fetched, it is based on actual events...

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Picador
Genre - adult, 

Friday, 3 February 2017

Help! I'm an Alien by Jo Franklin

Review by The Mole

Daniel Kendal is different—different to the other Kendals anyway. After all, he’s the only one with brown hair and brown eyes and what’s more, he’s taller than his family, his friends and probably everyone else in the entire world.

Big sister Jessie has made it clear just how different Daniel is, by explaining that he is in fact, an alien, kindly adopted by her parents. Confused, Daniel turns to his best friends, Eddie and Gordon the Geek, for help. Together perhaps they can work out where he really belongs.

When well meaning friends come to the rescue nothing is guaranteed to go well. Moving rapidly from disaster to disaster, his friends try to help him sort out his dilemma and end up getting his parents taken hostage!

An easy but funny read which is bound to appeal to young readers. Listed as age 7-9, advanced readers will enjoy it sooner and older kids may enjoy it in secret - it's not a 'cool' type of book for the older child but they will enjoy it. Frequent black and white illustrations add substance to the well written characters and help to bring the story to life.

Fun and full of silliness but also touching on some slightly deeper issues of phobias and friendships.

Publisher - Troika Books
Genre - Children's 7-9 humorous fiction

Monday, 30 January 2017

Glass Mother by Rosie Jackson

Review by The Mole

Rosie Jackson grew up with a drive to succeed and a love of books. This led to her teaching at the very prestigious University of East Anglia, meeting and working with many household names. Clearly she had 'made it' but was it everything she expected and desired?

This feels like a very cathartic work with honesty and detail that many will relate to at some point. There is much I could say about this work that will have you rushing away saying 'No, not for me' - in fact there are parts that would have had me saying the same but nothing put me off finishing this work.

There were parts that had me looking back at my life and perhaps understanding better some of the things in my own family. There are reminiscences where she is condemned by media people as a bad mother although they were not interested in her side of events - hopefully everyone who condemned her will take time to read this narrative and reflect on their own bigotry.

I feel this is an important work on how women are treated by partners, strangers and media alike as well as a major condemnation of mental health support services.

Read this and reflect on how you might have perceived and reacted to the biographer if you hadn't read it first.

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Autobiography, memoir

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan

review by Maryom

When a female jogger is found dead by the river, it's at first assumed that a serial rapist known to be preying on women in the Peterborough area is behind the attack. It's soon discovered though that the victim was actually a man part way through transitioning to become a woman, so the case is passed over to DI Zigic and DS Ferreira at the Hate Crimes Unit, and the perpetrator assumed to be someone who's been violently attacking trans women in the town. But as they begin their investigations, interviewing family and friends, suspicions begin to fall much closer to home ...

Watch Her Disappear is another excellent police procedural from Eva Dolan, featuring Zigic and Ferreira of the Hate Crimes Unit. The whodunnit aspect of the novel is particularly twisted and complex with a variety of suspects and motives presenting themselves, but it also gives an insight into the troubled lives of those who choose to undergo the trauma of sex reassignment, not only the casual bigotry they might meet in everyday life but particularly the reactions of those closest to them. Despite being married for many years, and having three children, Colin Sawyer had opted to become Corinne, to dress and live as a woman and to start the surgery necessary to complete the transition. While some of his family were willing to accept him in his new persona, for others it wasn't so easy, seeing him as an embarrassment and freak.
Zigic and Ferreira have a difficult task ahead to unravel all the various possible leads, with (at least) three possible lines of enquiry, and CID meanwhile trying to claim the case back as 'theirs', believing that the known but impossible to convict rapist is behind the attack. 

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - 
Harvill Secker
Genre - 
adult, crime