Friday, 9 October 2015

Old Bear's Bedtime Stories by Jane Hissey

Review by The Mole

This book very much speaks for itself - it's a beautiful book to look at, a beautiful book to hold, and a beautiful book to read.

When you open the book the first page you come to is "This book belongs to" - all the really greatest books have that page and it smacks of a book to keep, to share, to pass on to future generations. Every page is a delight with full colour, beautiful, lifelike drawings of the characters in the stories!

When our children were younger I would read them bedtime stories every night and this was, for me, the most special time of the day.

There were a few "special" books and Jane Hissey's Teddy Bear Tales was one such book. This collection of 21 stories and poems is not all new and some of them have been in previous books - including Teddy Bear Tales - but there are many new ones too and they have been written and drawn specifically for this new collection. The link of the old stories to the new stories ensures, in my opinion, a continuity and reassurance to the older fans that Old Bear remains unchanged for the new generations and is something we can share - even if we start to get behind in other areas of their games.

A really fantastic book for grand parents and parents alike to buy for themselves to share with children or just to hoard for themselves, but every child deserves to be read to about Old Bear, his many friends, and adventures.

I don't give star ratings for books but if I did this would certainly be more than the 5 out of 5!

Publisher - Scribblers Books
Genre - Keepsake picture book, Children's

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Dirty Bertie - Aliens by David Roberts, written by Alan MacDonald

Review by The Mole

Dirty Bertie is back, once again, for the 26th collection of his mistakes and bloopers. For a boy with "nose pickingly disgusting habits" he is remarkably likeable by parents and children alike - but the problem with Bertie is that when he gets an idea in his head he pursues it until everything comes crashing down around his ears - and it will.

In "Aliens" he gets excited about beings from outer space so sets out to find some.

The second story is "Twitter" - Eugene (Bertie's friend) invites him to go birdwatching with his dad with promises of "lots to do in the woods". Bertie goes along and gets bored and .... well, needless to say things don't go well for everyone.

In "Report", the third story in the book, it's report time at school and Bertie is not happy about his mum and dad seeing his. Enough said - I'm sure you can imagine the kind of thing Bertie may get up to - but will he get away with it? He never gets away with anything does he?

With large print, simple vocabulary and lots of black and white cartoon style illustrations these books are great for getting children reading and, with 25 more to pick up, keep them reading. Bertie's antics are the kind of antics that end up with no real harm done so can be laughed at as children develop their reading skills.

Really great books for the young reader.

Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre - Children's early reader

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

 review by Maryom

The story of the Whitshank family is inseparable from the story of their house. Built for a client by the curiously named family patriarch Junior in the 1930s, it was for him, an ideal house, one he yearned to own and at last, with a little manoeuvring, his wish came true. On his death, his only son Red moved in with his wife Abby and young family, and filled the house again with noise and bustle, but now those children have grown, married, left home and have children of their own.

It's a quiet book - the story really of a fairly average family, to whom nothing extreme happens, either good or bad, they just jog along as most of us do. Their comings and goings are probably of little interest to anyone outside the family, but within the family they're built up to great dramas. They have their secrets of course, and it turns out that the 'accepted' version of family history might not be quite true,

It's a rather simplistic thing to say but if you love Anne Tyler's books, you'll love it, if you find them a bit lacking in 'grit' then like me you'll be left wanting. I've read other books by Anne Tyler and found them pleasant enough but not, for me, anything special. Somehow, being short-listed for both the Bailey's Women's Fiction Prize and the Man Booker Prize, I'd expected a little more in some way from this; sadly it didn't live up to my hopes.

This is one of this year's Bailey's Prize shortlist which I'm working my way through rather slowly. Other reviews below
A God In Every Stone - Kamila Shamsie

Shortlisted for Bailey's Women's Fiction Prize
Shorlisted for Man Booker 2015
Richard and Judy Book Club pick

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Vintage
Genre - Adult, Family saga

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Anything That Isn't This by Chris Priestley

review by Maryom

Frank Palp has sat the last of his exams, is about to leave school and enter the world of 'work'. It should be a time of opening horizons and fresh opportunities, but that's not how Frank sees it. To him it's possibly the least appealing prospect in the world - not that he liked school, but with every passing year life looks more depressing. In the city where he lives, nearly everyone is employed by the Ministry in one capacity or another. Their lives seem dull and joy-less, their days spent at boring, meaningless jobs, their evenings passed in front of mind-numbing TV programmes, all of course approved by the Ministry. Surely there has to be something better than this? Once, Frank had had plans, dreams of being a writer, a hope of avoiding the tedium he sees in his parents' lives ..... but now he's beginning to realise there's no escape. He heads to the graveyard and talks things over with his (deceased) grandfather, but the enigmatic tales the dead have to tell don't seem to help much. Frank still, though, believes in chance; finding a message in a bottle convinces him that he's found his soul-mate, and an accidental meeting with mysterious man-from-the-Ministry Mr Vertex leads to a quick advancement in Frank's career. Both have to be good things, don't they?

 You've possibly heard of Chris Priestley as the author of horror stories aimed at a youngish audience (though his The Dead of Winter is one of my favourite ghostly reads regardless) but this is a departure - a dystopian love story, with a bit of thriller in there too, for older teens.

It's set in a fictional, vaguely east European country, where after a war and revolution the king remains as a popular figurehead but everything is run by the Ministry - the so-called 'civil servants' are actually police, 'students' are spies, and the old castle towers over the city spreading gloom. But Frank's feelings are universal; he's full of teenage angst about his current situation and his future. His dreams of being a writer aren't likely to be fulfilled, he has no real direction in life, and is being pushed into a job that isn't of his choosing but is what others expect of him. The only light in his life is his love for Olivia - and again he's a typical teen; obsessive, slightly stalkerish and cringingly realistic. What he would hope for is summed up by the wish he finds in a bottle "Anything that isn't this".

 The style, the setting and atmosphere and above all the young couple striving to find something worthwhile in a dull grey world reminded me of Ursula le Guin's Orsinian Tales. I've been reading a digital copy for review, so couldn't fully appreciate the illustrations (also by the author) that echo the sinister mood of the story, but they can be found on the author's facebookpage

A little bit dystopian, a little bit love story, Anything That Isn't This captures the confusion of teenage feelings the world over, is about challenging the norm and searching for hope in a dull grey world. 

Maryom's Review - 5 stars
Publisher - Hot Key Books
Genre - teen/YA

Saturday, 3 October 2015

UKYA Extravaganza - author profile

As part of the blog tour ahead of next week's UKYA Extravaganza to be held at Waterstones Nottingham, we bring you a profile of one of the authors appearing there - David Massey.

David Massey's varied career has taken him from teaching and music journalism to presenting, producing and writing for radio.

As the Romanian revolution was ending, David led a team taking supplies to Bucharest and Timisoara. On the way home he stopped near Checkpoint Charlie to help chip holes in the Berlin Wall. Rather fittingly, David and his wife Debi now run Globehuggers Emergency Supplies - a business specializing in bespoke grab bags and emergency equipment.

David's debut young adult novel TORN was published in August 2013 on the Chicken House/Scholastic label. A war story set in Afghanistan, it captured the overpowering heat, freezing nights, dust and stark
beauty of the country, and the fear, camaraderie and bravery of the soldiers. It went on to win the Lancashire Awards Book of the year 2013 and has been nominated in the UK for several other awards including the prestigious Brandford Boase, Leeds Award, and the Coventry Inspiration Award.

 His second novel TAKEN was released in the UK in March 2014 and has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal. The story follows the teenage crew of a round-the-world yacht, but a dream-come-true adventure turns into a nightmare when the ship is boarded by pirates and the crew are held hostage. Both stories share common themes -  dangerous, life-threatening situations, comradeship and a strong female lead character.

David is the Patron Of Reading for The Wordsley School near his home town of Stourbridge, and has just completed his latest novel - THE BONE SURFERS

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Looking-Glass Sisters by Gohril Gabrielsen

review by Maryom

Two middle-aged sisters live in an isolated house in the north of Norway; surrounded by open moorland, far from the nearest village, they live an almost solitary life. One,the narrator, has been handicapped almost all her life; the other, Ragna, has had to become her nurse. For years they've rubbed along together, not always amicably but reasonably so, the whole dynamic of their relationship changes when the unforeseen happens -  in her late forties, Ragna gets married. She now has someone else to care about, and her sister begins to lose the central part she'd played in Ragna's life. Ragna still has to care for her, but the main focus of her affection is her husband ....and the sisters' relationship begins to shift and warp.

I'd half-expected that the story-telling would alternate between the two sisters - giving opposing views of the situation - but it wasn't necessary. Although told throughout from the point of view of the invalid sister, my sympathies moved between the two. My automatic instinct was to side with the disabled sister, after all she's suffered many years of pain and is virtually imprisoned by her lack of mobility, but then, and even though the narrator is slanted against her, I began to empathise with the able-bodied Ragna. Since their parents died, Ragna has been sole carer for her sister, has presumably had to abandon dreams of a career or marriage to act as nurse, and is rarely appreciated for her troubles. Her sister meanwhile listens through walls, rummages through Ragna's belongings while she's out, and tries at times to be as much of a nuisance as possible! Some of her strategies would be hilarious, if the overall situation weren't so dark.

 It's not an easy 'cut and dried' book. Seeing events unfold from the perspective of only one of the 'players' is always suspect. Sometimes, cooped up in her room, the narrator invents scenarios, plays them out in her head to see what might happen - and sometimes the reader knows she's interpreted things wrongly, sometimes we can only guess.
Adding to the sisters' isolation is the landscape of northern Norway - endless expanses of moor and forest stretching to the horizon - and the extremes of weather. The ever-present sun of mid-summer contrasting with the total darkness of midwinter. Both hiding the natural division of day and night, but, whereas in winter the sisters huddle together, finding companionship in facing the elements together, in summer the constant glare is upsetting, disorienting, and works to separate the sisters,    .

 To my mind there were certain echoes of the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane - two sisters forced into living together, one dependent on the other - but there's a lot less over the top drama and thriller-style suspense about it. It's a rather sad tale in the end. The narrator just wants things to carry on as they were, two sisters alone, meaning all the world to each other, but it's not possible.

translated from the Norwegian by John Irons

 Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Thursday, 1 October 2015

These Seven edited by Ross Bradshaw

review by Maryom

A couple of weeks ago, I went along to Nottingham Waterstones for the launch of These Seven, a collection of short stories commissioned by Nottingham City of Literature featuring authors with a connection to the city and part of its bid for UNESCO City of Literature status. Having heard the authors reading from their work I wanted to read more.....

The collection opens with a story from John Harvey, a crime author best known for his Charlie Resnick series set in Nottingham. Ask Me Now although featuring DS Tom Whitemore of the Public protection team, isn't so much a crime story as one dealing with domestic problems - but problems that could easily slip into abuse.

In Megan Taylor's Here We Are Again, two old friends are meeting up after several years apart. It's told in the first person and captures that expectant but nervous feeling of waiting for someone, when you hope they'll turn up but are afraid that they won't.

Brick's Simone the Stylite is a short graphic novel - Simone has always been a self-reliant person, with no need for masses of friends, but now maybe she's taken things to extremes by taking up residence in the tall Aspire sculpture at Nottingham university. From her vantage point, she sends out notes, little words of wisdom that inspire people. The university though seems quick to institutionalise her and even cash in on their famous hermit!

A Foreign Land by YA author Paula Rawsthorne looks at the plight of failed asylum seekers from the point of view of a young boy. Jay is ten and, with his mum, dad and young sister, has lived in Nottingham for six years. He can't remember his 'homeland' of Darfur but from what he hears it doesn't like the sort of place he'd like to visit. Then his family lose their appeal, and have to return to Sudan.....everything will be ok, won't it? things can't really be as bad as the News claims? Told from Jay's point of view, this is a timely reminder of the terrors that make people flee their own country in a desperate bid to find safety.

Alison Moore will be known to many as author of the Booker-listed The Lighthouse, but her short story is in a very different vein. In Hardanger, a dysfunctional family go away to Norway on a short break ....but there the story changes from one of personal relationships to something rather more in the ghostly or horror style.  The ending left a decidedly uneasy creepy feel behind it.

Shreya Sen Handley's Nimmi's Wall followed on this vaguely supernatural theme. A young Indian woman, recently moved to Nottingham, investigates the strange mist-shrouded wall at the bottom of her garden...and encounters some very strange people there.

The collection rounds off with A Time to Keep a story by, possibly Nottingham's most famous writer, the late Alan Sillitoe, about a teenager, Martin,who nurses a passion for books. In them he finds a world more appealing than his everyday one, but his cousin Raymond has decided its time to introduce him to the grown-up world of 'work'......

Although differing greatly in tone I loved each one, and I'm now intending to seek out more work by these authors.

Publisher - Five Leaves
Genre - short story anthology