Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Strategist by Gerrard Cowan

Review by The Mole
(The Machinery Trilogy, Book 2)

(Book 1 - The Machinery)

"Ruin is coming.

For ten millennia, the Machinery Selected the greatest leaders of humanity, bringing glory to the Overland. But the Machinery came with a Prophecy: in the 10,000th year, it will break, and Ruin will come.

Now, the Prophecy is being fulfilled. The Machinery has Selected a terrible being to rule the Overland, an immortal who cares little for the humans she governs. Some call her the Strategist. Others call her the One. Everyone knows her as Mother.

Mother will do anything to find the Machinery and finally bring Ruin. But only one creature knows where the Machinery is – the Dust Queen, an ancient being of three bodies and endless power.

And if Mother wants the Dust Queen’s help, she must ready herself for a game. A game from older times. A game of memory. A game in which mortals are nothing more than pawns."

Book 1 left us on a cliff hanger ending and, as with all such books, it's difficult to précis the next without including spoilers. It would be simple to say that the immortals are going to play a game where some of our mortals from The Machinery are pawns and this book sets the game up - but that sounds dull and boring while the action is anything but.

It appears that no-one is who they seem and this comes as a shock to them while we also meet a whole raft of new characters in engaging action that has you not wanting to put the book down. Once again the author leaves us on not one cliff hanger, but several as each character moves closer to the game. It's very much a story of 'pick your hero', particularly amongst the mortals.

I really loved this book and had forgotten how much I enjoyed the first one. Bring on book 3 (The Memory) please and let's see if the game starts and who actually gets to play.

This is classified as science fiction/fantasy but still carries a strong steampunk feel.

I read The Machinery 2 years ago and the paperback of The Strategist is only out in January 2018 (although the Kindle version has been available quite a while) but I found that picking the cliffhanger up after so long a little difficult - as well as remembering each of the characters etc. But the good news is that The Memory comes out in Kindle form in June 2018 so picking this up (or starting the trilogy again) now would be a good time to do it.

An excellent read for SF/Fantasy/Steampunk fans of all ages.

Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre - Fantasy 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Darien by CF Iggulden

review by Maryom
Conn Iggulden is well known as a writer of historical fiction, but here he's taking the first steps into the world of fantasy, under the slightly different name of CF Iggulden - and although Darien is only the first book of a trilogy, it certainly bodes well for the stories still to come. 
To be honest, apart from the addition of a sprinkling of magic, there's often little difference between fantasy and historical fiction set, as Iggulden's novels are, in the ancient world - the story will generally be set at a time of upheaval, armies will march across the land, battles be fought over thrones, and sometimes there's one special character with a special skill - whether magical or merely the charisma to influence others - around whom the plot turns. Basically it's the stuff of legends, whether set in our own world, or one of the author's imaginings. In outline, I'd say Darien falls pretty much under that synopsis.

Darien itself is a huge city-state, nominally ruled by a king but the real power is held by twelve families, with their own armies to back them if necessary. The King's most experienced and feared general, though, holds the belief that he would be the fittest person to rule - and is about to act on that, with a plan to assassinate the king and seize power in the chaos that follows; caught up in his schemes are Elias Post, a hunter with special Neo/Matrix-like sword-dodging skills, and Vic Deeds, a master of the new martial art of gun-fighting. As the general's forces advance on the city, life is continuing as always - elderly ex-swordsman,Tellius, sends his gang of young pickpockets out into the streets and takes a new one under his wing, while Daw Threefold, always looking out for ways to get rich, finds Nancy, a girl with a special gift which might make him a fortune.
It's a really enjoyable read - not too violent considering the amount of bloodshed of a civil war, and with great array of characters, each with their faults and foibles to make them rounded and more human than some rather 2D fantasy hero. It's especially nice to see among them, in Nancy and Lady Sallet, strong female characters with interests beyond clothes, jewels and men. They're not all necessarily likeable (after all that would be stretching the imagination too far), and you're bound to have favourites among them, those you hope will win through and live happily ever after (though this is book one of three, so don't be too relieved even if your favourite made it to the end of this story). I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Michael Joseph
Genre - Adult fantasy fiction

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Liveships Trilogy by Robin Hobb

review by Maryom

It's a little unusual (and maybe a little lazy) to review a trilogy at one go but this really is one long story (extremely long as even an individual book can be over 900 pages!)

I'm a late-comer to Robin Hobb's work, only really plunging into it last year with Assassin's Apprentice  I'd started out with the plan of reading all Robin Hobb's Farseer novels before publication of the last - Assassin's Fate - but that plan fell well behind. I'm still carrying on though as I'm become enthralled by her world-building and story-telling and sheer range of imagination. Something that also makes Hobb's stories stand apart is that, as in Ursula le Guin's work, among the twisting plot-lines and fantastic creatures you'll come across an idea - political, moral or ecological - that is just as applicable to our world as it is to the fantasy one.

At the heart of this trilogy are the Liveships themselves - made from special 'wizard' wood, after their owners have lived and, just as importantly, died on their decks, the ships become sentient and bond with their captain. When her father dies, Althea Vestrit is denied the chance to bond with her family's ship Vivacia, as her brother in law decides he will be the new captain, forcing his son to become the bond with the ship - but that's only a little part of the story. There are slave traders, pirates who are determined to disrupt that trade, mysterious masked people who live along the Rain Wild river and control the source of wizard wood, intelligent giant sea-serpents, and dragons.
The Liveships trilogy fits into the complete series as Books 4-6, though could easily be read as a stand-alone story, and after the first three, Assassin's trilogy, came as a complete change of pace and setting. To be honest I didn't settle in quite so quickly,  mainly because I'd expected to be back in Fitz's world, perhaps with him playing a minor role in the story, although obviously not a central character. As it is, at first the two story-lines don't seem related at all. It's only perhaps halfway through the second Liveships book that the connection becomes apparent, but by that point I was well and truly engrossed in this new, astounding world.

That's six of the series read, and I'll now be returning to Fitz and the Fool with the first book of  the Tawny Man trilogy - Fool's Errand.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory

review by Maryom

Twenty-seven year old Sarah Browne is struggling to make her way as an artist in New York when she's hit by two major emotional blows - the married woman she's been having an affair with decides to return to her husband, and news arrives that her estranged mother has died, leaving Sarah a large inheritance including a cabin in New Mexico. Doubly cast adrift, Sarah decides she'll not return home to England for her mother's funeral but head off to New Mexico - to start again, maybe to find some connection to her mother that was lacking in life, or maybe just to hide the way an injured animal will. The cabin is remote and isolated; the only neighbours, Theo and his middle-aged mother, living on the opposite side of the valley. Sarah soon embarks on a relationship with Theo, earning his mother's disapproval, but it's an uneven, unstable relationship bound to end, possibly in violence.

I had slightly mixed feelings about this book from its synopsis. I hope the author will forgive me for suggesting it sounded like the story of a pampered woman, running out on her responsibilities, to 'get in touch with herself' in the wilderness, and then presumably going to find true love; a light, almost romcom scenario. It's not at all like that. It's a much darker read, exploring the way grief, particularly unacknowledged grief, can work on people turning them to anger and violence. 

Sarah is a complex character, shaped by the unresolved issues stemming from her childhood - a odd upbringing in a house of women; her mother and aunt (both alcoholics if Sarah's point of view is to be believed) and surprisingly level headed, well-adjusted cousin. Always feeling neglected by her mother, she alternately loved and hated her in return, eventually running away from home at 17. With her mother's death the outside chance of a reconciliation is gone, but also so is the focus of Sarah's anger. She won't acknowledge any love for her mother, or grief at her death, yet it's easy to see that both are buried somewhere deep inside her. 

This is a book which I found growing on me as I read - initially because I realised it wasn't going to be that light fluffy read I'd dreaded, but then as I became immersed in Sarah's troubles and dreading how she might act. She's somewhat like a pressure cooker, waiting to burst, or even the extinct volcano that formed the valley her mother's cabin sits in; anger simmers just below the surface, and it's obvious that sometime or other Sarah will 'explode'.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Freight Books
Genre -  Adult literary

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How Much the Heart Can Hold edited by Emma Herdman

review by Maryom

Last week I was out at a book event the theme of which was the short story, and by pure coincidence my first review this week is of a short story collection.  How Much The Heart Can Hold describes itself as 'seven stories on love', but these aren't romantic tales of falling in love and living happily ever after. Instead they explore the different forms that love can take. The ancient Greeks drew distinctions between seven types of love - for self, for family, charitable love for all mankind, love that borders on obsession, is unrequited, or endures for ever, and, of course, sexual, erotic love - and here they're taken as the starting point for seven very different short stories, each by a different author. The paperback edition which I was given for review contains an extra story - It Was Summer by Phoebe Roy, the winning entry for the SceptreLoves short story prize.
I came to this book just after finishing an epic 900+ page fantasy novel, so at least each tale was short if not necessarily sweet. Faced with a collection from a variety of authors, I'm often tempted to seek out the familiar names and start reading there, but there's a theory that says the editor does more than check for spelling mistakes, also deciding on the order of the pieces and shapes the feel of the whole, and I think that's certainly the case here. Ending, as the original collection did, on Bernadine Evaristo's story of universal love, The Human World, brings a feeling of completeness to the work.
I did, of course, have my favourites, and, yes, they were by those favourite authors, Carys Bray and Donal Ryan. Bray's story, Codas, explores the love and bonds of family from the point of view of a single mother suddenly having to deal with her father's illness after a stroke, balancing his needs against those of her son. Ryan's Magdala, Who Slips Sometimes is a story of obsession, in which a woman clings desperately to the belief that, despite his marriage and children, her teenage sweetheart still loves her above all others.
This isn't to say that the others weren't enjoyable - they all were in their way, though some seemed hard at first to fit to their 'brief'. Of these, I particularly liked Before It Disappears by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, a tale of love that's no longer returned; Nikesh Shukla's White Wine, about learning to love oneself rather than change to fit others' expectations; and Bernadine Evaristo's The Human World, a sad, yet humorous look at what it's like to care for the whole world. Just don't go into this book expecting hearts, flowers and cuddly teddies; love is more complex than the romantic hype of Valentine's Day and this story collection reflects that.

authors; - Carys Bray, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Bernadine Evaristo, Grace McCleen, Donal Ryan, Nikesh Shukla, DW Wilson, and Phoebe Roy.

Maryom's review -  4.5 stars
Publisher -  Sceptre
Genre - short stories, 

Monday, 18 September 2017

Nomad by James Swallow

Review by The Mole

Marc Dane is a man with a dark past and is working with MI6 on covert activities within the comfort of the support vehicle behind the lines. He is part of the Nomad team, as is his girlfriend Sam, when everything goes pear shaped and he finds himself of the run from MI6. But others also want him dead except a guardian angel who wants him kept alive - but Marc is unaware of this angel.

If you want an action thriller without flaws then you are going to be very hard pressed to find one - ever. But Nomad is as close as they come and it takes you away from your daily routine to an action packed, gory, blood spattered world that won't creep you out. I know because I am the king of squeamish.

The moment you meet Marc for the first time you know that; here is the hero, this guy will still be with us on page 487 and that he won't hurt a fly if he doesn't have to. It sounds a bit sickly sweet, but truly it works very well.

It keeps you on the edge of your seat. No, it doesn't because you KNOW Marc will survive but you still won't put the book down while the action unfolds. And it starts unfolding on page 1 and doesn't finish unfolding on the last page - Pass the sequel.

A great book that should offend no-one and entertain any reader who likes an action thriller.

Publisher: Zaffre
Genre: Adult Action Thriller

Friday, 15 September 2017

Keeping It Short - book event

 On Tuesday evening we went out to a book event at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham - it's not the first time I've been to the shop, but it is the first time I've attended an event there, and I was impressed with how many people they shoe-horned into the available space. Unlike the large Waterstones store round the corner, Five Leaves don't have a separate room to give over to events so chairs were lined up in and around the books (this is quite handy actually as in any free moments we could browse the books on sale, mainly to say Oh I keep meaning to read that ... and that... and ... there's never enough time for all the books, is there?)
The event was entitled Keeping It Short, and featured four authors for whom the short story holds a special place;

Alison Moore, author of Booker listed The Lighthouse, whose short stories have been collected in The Pre-War House;

Megan Taylor, a local writer with three published novels and a short story collection (The Woman Under The Ground) to her credit;

Nicholas Royle, editor, university lecturer, publisher (Nightjar Press), competition judge and, when he can find the time, author of seven novels and two short story collections;

and Giselle Leeb whose short stories have appeared in various publications including Salt's Best British Short Stories 2017.

Things kicked off with the authors each reading one of their short stories - three of them having a certain ghostly/supernatural twist to them; Alison Moore's exploring ideas which reappear in her latest novel, Death and The Seaside while Nicholas Royle's was only finished that day and so is, as yet, unpublished.

After a break for complementary refreshments, the event continued with 'question time' - the authors fielding queries about how to organise time, how long is a short story and when does it become a novella.

The question about organising time is pretty universal but was put by Mother's Milk publisher and writer Teika Bellamy to Nicholas Royle with his many hats so had a special relevance. While the other writers were also drawn into the conversation it, fascinatingly, risked completely diverging into a discussion on postage costs!

The question about the length of a short story and Nicholas Royle's dislike of the term 'flash fiction' was, in it's own way, also fascinating and the general consensus amongst the four was that it was the content and not the length of it that defines the short story. Giselle Leeb had written a 2,000 word story which she called a novel.

A question was put to Nicholas Royle about the Manchester Fiction Prize and how a panel of just 3 judges managed to judge the many thousands of entries there are each year - this reverted to the subject of time management and was why the word count for submissions had been lowered from 5,000.

A truly fascinating and intimate evening that overran but who was clock watching? (Until after, of course)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Ravenmaster's Boy by Mary Hoffman

review by Maryom

When his parents die of the plague, Kit is taken in by the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. Growing up with, handling and feeding the birds in his adoptive father's charge, Kit discovers he has a unique gift - to actually communicate with the ravens. When a new prisoner arrives at the Tower, Kit decides he should put his skill to use, for his sympathies lie with this new 'inmate', King Henry's wife, Anne Boleyn. Only a few years before, the king divorced his first wife in order to marry Anne, but now, with no son to inherit his throne, Henry is starting to look for a new wife, and a way to rid himself of his current one. Kit can't do much to save Anne but with the help of the ravens, he can pass messages for her beyond the Tower's forbidding walls. Dabbling in the King's affairs is a dangerous game, though, and Kit begins to realise that he may have got too involved in events beyond his control ...

Aimed at teen and YA readers, The Ravenmaster's Boy is an excellent blend of historical fact and compelling story, with an additional touch of magic in Kit's ability to talk to the ravens.
As all good historical fiction should, The Ravenmaster's Boy brings the past to life without stopping to lecture the reader. I've always found that history can be rather dull unless you can imagine the people involved, start to understand their hopes and fears, decide whether you'd side with them, or against - and while Anne and King Henry will probably be familiar from history lessons here they're 'fleshed out'; real people whose lives are no longer a string of facts and dates, but a gripping 'true life' drama.
Although the story is partly that of Anne, her imprisonment and trial, it's also about Kit, an average boy with an unusual talent - and a truly gripping story it is! Living in the Tower of London, he's seen prisoners come and go before - some released, most heading only for the gallows - but something about the young queen makes him want to help her in her distress, and with him, the reader sneaks behind the scenes, shares Anne's private moments, and her public trial. An older person might have hesitated to help, knowing and fearing the consequences if discovered, but Kit is sixteen, a little smitten by the beautiful young queen, and doesn't hesitate. Too late, he begins to wonder where his actions might have led him and the friends who've helped him. So, yes, the reader will absorb historical facts along the way, but primarily they'll be pulled along by the story, wanting to know how things turn out for Kit.
Although (obviously) it's aimed at a young audience, I really enjoyed it, and, considering I've never really sympathised with her, was just slightly surprised to find my attitude changing towards Anne.

The ravens of the Tower of London are legendary themselves - stories say that if the birds ever desert the Tower, the city of London will fall; the keepers make sure they never do, by clipping the birds' wings, and limiting their flight!

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - The Greystones Press 
Genre - teen/YA historical fiction 

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

review by Maryom

Elsie Bainbridge is being held in a mental asylum, accused of arson and murder. Trauma and smoke damage have rendered her mute, so there's no way she can plead her innocence to her jailers, even if she wanted to revisit the horrific incidents that led to her imprisonment. Then along comes a new, sympathetic doctor whose non-threatening ways and willingness to communicate start to open up Elsie's memories, and so she begins her tale - of an old mansion deep in the country, strange noises at night, mysterious deaths, lifelike wooden figures which seem to move on their own, and a centuries old diary that might hold clues to the horrors which stalk the house ...

This is without doubt one of the creepiest stories I've read - full of tension and steadily increasing horror, it's one to give you goosebumps up the arms, and shivers down the spine. At the heart of it lies the old Bainbridge family home, The Bridge, its rather strange collection of 'silent companions' and events which happened centuries ago.
The house has been crumbling quietly, looked after by the minimum of staff, but the return of newly-married Rupert Bainbridge seems to waken something malevolent there. After his sudden death, his widow Elsie arrives at the house, accompanied by her late husband's penniless cousin Sarah, in a swirl of mist. The nearby small village is tumbledown; the locals hostile and wary, peering from their windows to watch the 'gentry' go past; the house itself neglected and overgrown with ivy. What could be a better setting for a gothic horror tale?

 And things progress with a growing sense of unease. There are tales of skeletons discovered in the grounds, noises are heard at night from the permanently locked attic, the painted 'silent companions', once intended as a talking point for guests, take on a far more sinister aspect, and as Elsie's back story gradually emerges that seems to have been equally full of horrors though of a more human, less supernatural, kind.

For me, it definitely wasn't the sort of book to read at night when everyone else had gone to bed. Within the story there's a feeling of things happening just out of sight, of someone or something creeping up behind Elsie's back, and this began to creep over me while reading. I loved it, but at times I found the mounting tension too much and just wanted to walk away from it, go outside, see the sunshine, or talk to someone, just to get away from the slow relentless build up of horror! A thoroughly excellent read, if you're happy to be spooked!

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Raven (Bloomsbury)
Genre - Adult (but will appeal to teens with a taste for the dark and spooky) gothic horror

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Love Apples by Melissa van Maasdyk

review by Maryom

On paper, Kate Richmond seems to have her life sorted. Her relationship with wine-writer Daniel is strong and secure. Her job entails writing about her passion - food - and she's even got promotion, and been put in charge of the magazine's photo shoot in Mauritius... but she's within a hair's breadth of losing everything. The assignment to Mauritius gets off to a rocky start and goes downhill from there, with a cyclone thrown in for good effect! And as for staying faithful to Daniel, Kate's barely settled into her hotel before she's attracted to Fai Li, one of the local reps they're supposed to be working with, and whether she calls this 'love' or not, no such emotion is around when she's propositioned by one of the hotel's managers ...  Can Kate salvage both her career and her love-life from this mess? 

You get plenty of romantic comedy style books - well, this is more of a romantic disaster! Kate's life should be plain sailing but she manages to mess almost everything up. Her job, she claims, is more important than marriage, or even a steady relationship, but she's in above her head and everything's about to fall apart around her.
It's hard at times to like a book in which the main character isn't likeable, and unfortunately Kate isn't, or at least I didn't find her so. In putting job before marriage/relationships, she seems cold-hearted and a little mercenary. Her behaviour leaves a lot to be desired - she totally misleads not just Daniel at home, but Fai in Mauritius - obviously neither are best pleased when they find out what she's been up to and with whom, and who can blame them! 

In fairness it's probably best to say I'm not much of a romantic fiction reader, so that's probably why this book didn't grab me. What tempted me to read it and what saves the book though is the food. As Kate tosses a salad, grills a main course,whips up a little something for desert, the flavours leap off the page - and there are even recipes at the en in case you wish to try some dishes for yourself.

Publisher - Lulu publishing
Genre - romcom/chicklit

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Dance By The Canal by Kerstin Hensel

translated by Jen Calleja

review by Maryom

Gabriela has no place to live, no job, no friends or family who could help her, but for now she's found a snug spot under a bridge by the canal, and a stash of paper on which to write her life story. Born in the East German town of Leibnitz, the daughter of a respected surgeon, Gabriela's early life should have been an easy one of privilege but her parents seem remote and unloving, wanting an ideal child with talents to brag about, and at school she manages to make the 'wrong' sort of friends, irritating her parents even more.
Her father meanwhile is becoming increasingly outspoken about the Communist regime, her mother takes a younger lover, and by the time Gabriela is a teenager their comfortable villa has been exchanged for a tiny flat, and things are definitely on a downward slide ...
Then the Berlin Wall falls, and Gabriela hopes for better things, but has she by then become too much of a misfit to ever fit in?

From the point when Gabriela is homeless, sitting under the canal bridge and beginning to tell of her life, the story moves in two timelines - starting with her childhood one follows her troubles trying to fit in with what first her parents, and then the state, expect of her; the other begins at that moment sitting under the bridge, as she reflects on the past and is 'discovered' by a women's magazine and courted as an 'authentic' voice of the homeless. 
A square peg in a round hole is one way, perhaps slightly lazy way, of describing Gabriela - she never seems to quite understand what people expect of her, therefore can't play by their rules, and make a success of things. She's rootless and homeless long before she's without a roof over her head - her parents are distant and more concerned with their own lives that her well-being - and the only constant in her life is the canal - from childhood when she spent her happiest times playing and dancing there with her 'unsuitable' friend, to the shelter it offers her now.

It's a story which captures the readers attention and imagination. How could someone born into a position of security and respectability end up living homeless? Is it a slip anyone could make, or just Gabriela's fault? But, as I neared the end, I began to have second thoughts about Gabriela in her capacity as narrator. A word here, a sentence there, made me begin to think she wasn't maybe quite as she'd presented herself, but creating a persona to fit the expectations of the magazine editors. I read the relevant passages again, and still wasn't sure if I'd imagined it and was reading in something that wasn't there. It's one occasion when I've wondered if the translation of a Peirene novella didn't quite capture the feeling of the original. I definitely feel I need to re-read this book, but meanwhile if anyone has read Dance by the Canal, what did you think?
Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Rarity From The Hollow by Robert Eggleton

Review by The Mole

Twelve year old Lacy Dawn lives in the Hollow, a place that the world seems to have forgotten. Her father suffers from PTSD after the Gulf War and family abuse follows as a result. Lacy Dawn's friend's family suffer similarly but her friend was killed through it. But Lacy Dawn has another friend who has his own spaceship - and when Lacy Dawn isn't talking to trees or her dead friend she is taking lessons in the spaceship and falling in love with a robot.

...and Lacy Dawn has to save the universe?

Lacy Dawn is a difficult character to get to grips with as she is intelligent beyond her years yet always the child that she is, as well. Her parents (she is an only child) came across to me as genuine and well written and plausible and her other friends and relatives similarly.

Drugs, used recreationally, feature highly in the books - although not for Lacy Dawn - but they are used to highlight some of the erratic behaviour of characters. Sex also features regularly but behind closed doors only and NOT with Lacy Dawn involved - she is saving herself for when Dotcom marries her. Dotcom is her robot boyfriend from outer space.

Tension and edge of the seat reading did not feature in this book for me but none the less it was a compelling read - one that didn't get me uptight, which was nice for once. It was also laced with humour, not laugh out loud or share with someone in the room humour, but enough to lighten the mood just a little.

It has been described as "an adult literary novel with a social science fiction" but I very much found it science fiction with a little fantasy but very much focussed on social issues - including abuse within the family.

And family abuse (in which the children always suffer in some way shape or form) is something the author has spent his career working against so the author proceeds of the current edition of this book are going to a children's home charity.

A great book that doesn't in any way preach yet brings home 2 things:
(1) important social messages
(2) a truly entertaining story

Genre - Adult Science Fiction
Publisher - Dog Horn Publishing

Friday, 18 August 2017

Yesterday by Felicia Yap

review by Maryom

A body has been found in the river by Grantchester meadows. The coat pockets laden with pebbles point to suicide; the bump on the head says otherwise. So the police begin investigations - but things are tricky in a world where the majority of people can only remember the events of yesterday, and the pressure is on for a speedy resolution.

This book starts with an interesting premise - that most adults only retain memories of the previous day, the lucky few remember two days - then throws in a murder mystery, but it soon lost its hold on me as it turned into a fairly predictable domestic noir.
 Although the book isn't promoted as such, I'd expected a more 'sci-fi' take to the story. After all, a whole population coping with memory problems like that would surely be really weird. How did it develop in the first place? How do people cope from day to day? Would staying awake for long periods (perhaps with the help of drugs) keep someone's memory intact or is time the factor that governs this strange condition? And how can you hope to solve a murder when the facts will start to slip away from witnesses' minds at the end of the day? The aspects which intrigued me most weren't addressed as the book is much more murder mystery than speculative fiction, and as for coping day to day, well that's solved by the use of diaries - filled in every night to make sure important events and feelings are remembered, and read every morning to convert 'memories' into 'facts' which are never forgotten. To be honest, I felt these characters probably had a better grasp of what happened last week, by referring to their diaries, than I have with only a memory to count on!
I also found it a bit bizarre that events took place in what feels like a familiar setting, Granchester Meadows - I half expected Sidney Chambers and his entourage to show up and help solve the mystery!
If you're reading this as another domestic noir, you'll probably like it well enough, but I'm not particularly fond of the genre, and, comparing it to other fiction involving memory loss, Yesterday didn't have the tension of SJ Watson's Before I Go to Sleep, total world immersion of Emily Barr's The One Memory of Flora Banks or the grittiness of the Christopher Nolan film Momento.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher - Wildfire 
Genre - domestic noir, adult fiction

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

review by Maryom
The city of Sorlost stands at the heart of an empire that was once the richest the world had ever known. But its glory days are past. While titled families still play court to a puppet Emperor, and spend wildly and extravagantly on their own pleasures, the streets are filled with the desperate and homeless. Orhan Emmereth has decided it's time things were changed, and a band of mercenaries are heading across the desert to put his plans into action. They're a hotchpotch band of experienced fighters and raw recruits, but the strangest among their number is the youngster Marith, running away from something ( a common enough scenario for mercenaries) yet filled at times with a berserker killing rage beyond anything his comrades have seen, and somehow carrying a feel of impending doom or glorious destiny about him.
Meanwhile, in the temple in Sorlost, the High Priestess Thalia continues her routine of prayers and sacrifices, never wondering what lies beyond the enclosing walls ...

To be honest, I found it a little difficult to get started with this story - it has that problem frequently found in fantasy books (or even hulking great classics like Middlemarch or War and Peace) of such a huge cast of characters to be introduced within the first few chapters, that it can be hard to start to piece together the overall plot-line; I just got to grips with one group of characters and the story jumped elsewhere and to different players. If you find this, bear with it. Get past those first few chapters, and the book will grow on you - well, it did on me! Gradually, the scenario emerges - a decaying empire, someone eager to gain control of it, mercenaries with their own aims which may not run in the same course as their employer's, a young man hiding secrets in his past and a probably unfortunate destiny in his the future, and a beautiful woman dedicated since childhood as a priestess.
It has all the things I love in fantasy novels. The world-building is excellent, the writing rich and varied, and the characters behave as real people with human foibles, failings, and strengths. Yes, there are mages ready to whip up pyrotechnic displays, beautiful selkie women from the sea, even a dragon or two, but the story is powered by qualities we can recognise - ambition, fear, or desire - not the wave of a magician's wand.
If you love a tale in which alliances are made and broken, god and armies are ready to battle till no one's left standing, and trustworthy friends are as eager to betray you as your enemy is, then this is for you. Be warned though, the story is dark, violent, there's plenty of blood and gore, and the description of Marith's beserker rampages deeply unsettling. It's maybe odd then that the images and scenes which stood out most for me were of quieter moments -  the descriptions of the once glorious but now down at heel city of Sorlost, the desolate emptiness of the desert or its brief flowering after rain, Marith's delight in the seaside haunts of his childhood, and two lovers stealing a day away from treachery and death. Maybe it's something to do with the balance between the two aspects of the story but as the first book in a series it's grabbed me in a way that off hand I can only think of Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice having done before. I just hope there isn't too long to wait for Book 2.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway

Review by The Mole

When the steamship that May Bedloe is on explodes she finds herself on the banks of the Ohio with only the clothes she is wearing. Separated from Comfort, her cousin she was travelling with, she looks for some way to carry on. She joins the Floating Theatre as a seamstress, front of house, pianist, stage manager, show promotions, ticket maker and seller, in fact anything that is not actually on stage.

Then enter Mrs Howard, to who she owes money, to blackmail her into helping in the underground railroad.

When I saw this book I was very curious... I reviewed "O Freedom" a while ago, which is a book for younger readers, that follows a family along the underground railroad. Then "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction (a book I haven't read) so another book touching on the same topic intrigued me.

The plot follows the theatre, which drifts down the river that marks the border between north and south, and is towed back up the river at end of season. We are introduced to theatre life in this cramped environment as well as a little of lives along the river and the coming of coal mining to the area - the fuel of the steamships.

May is a character that cannot lie - she corrects the smallest of errors in speech - so the theatre is an odd place to find her - stories and plays are "lies" after all. I found her a fascinating character to follow and how she coped with the pressures of blackmail that forced her to more than lie, but to break the law.

The story also covered an aspect of the railroad that I didn't know existed.

All in all an intriguing story told very well that left me with an idea what life on the Ohio at that time may have been like.

Genre - Adult historical fiction
Publisher - Zaffre Publishing

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

review by Maryom

"For sisters Liz and Jane, coming home to suburban Cincinnati means being paraded at the Lucas family’s BBQ, where burgers are served alongside the eligible men. But it’s difficult to focus on re-booting their love lives when the family’s mock-Tudor house starts to crumble around them. Yet as their mother reminds them, it’s not every day you meet a pair of handsome single doctors . . ."

Mr and Mrs Bennet of Cincinnati have been blessed with five daughters. Now ranging in ages from mid-twenties to late thirties Mrs Bennet feels it's time they settled down and got married, preferably to someone wealthy. The two eldest, Jane and Liz, have returned home temporarily due to their father's ill-health, and Mrs Bennet sees this as an ideal time to pursue her plans, especially when they're introduced to two doctors newly-arrived in town, and by all criteria eminently eligible.
In some on line listings, this book is sub-titled A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, so if you hadn't guessed already, you know now where this story is taking us - into familiar territory with Jane and Liz Bennet, Chip Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Obviously the Bennet sister's lives are different in the 21st century, (though the younger three are still trying their best to live off Mom and Dad, rather than strike out on their own as independent women) but some things don't change so, although a rich husband is no longer a necessity, everyone is looking for a lasting, loving relationship.

I'm not a purist so I've no problem with re-workings of Austen's work, from books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to films like Bride and Prejudice or Clueless, and really rather liked Eligible. transporting the Bennet sisters to present day America worked better than I thought it would, and although there's less of Austen's cutting satire, I felt overall the book really captured her style.

I'm not sure though that I'd say it's what Austen would write if she were around today. In her time she was innovative, exploring what could be achieved in a relatively new art form, so today I'd don't think she'd be in the 'romantic fiction' section of the book shop. Instead I imagine her writing graphic novels, feminist stand-up comedy, or The Thick of It style political satire - and if the Bennet sisters have a place there, it's a very different one.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath

review by Maryom

Elizabeth Williams is newly widowed, after a love-less marriage arranged by her father. She's still young, has a head for trade and figures, and is determined to keep her independence by taking over her husband's cloth business. It's not an unknown course of action for a widow, but Elizabeth has opponents among London's cloth merchants and, closer to home, in her father who thinks she should do no such thing, but either let him merge the business with his, or marry again. An arson attack on her premises leaves her shaken but still firm in her intentions, though concerned that someone may have uncovered her late husband's secrets ...
Meanwhile, she finds herself attracted to Thomas Cromwell, cloth merchant turned lawyer, who represents a chance for both love and security.

I think anyone with an interest in historical fiction will be aware of the huge number of books out there set in the Tudor period, but most focus on Henry VIII's court, and, of course, his multitude of wives. In The Woman in the Shadows, Carol McGrath approaches the matter from a different angle - that of a woman from the merchant class, involved in trade both at home and abroad, seeing the noblemen and women of the court as potential customers for her finer stock but little concerned with their lives. Once she marries Thomas Cromwell her life begins to change - for Thomas is intent on furthering his career, and in Tudor times that means becoming involved with the court and its politics. If you've read, or watched the TV version of, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, you'll know what happens to him later in life, but here we're concerned with him BEFORE he became a major player on the Tudor political scene. Seen through Elizabeth's eyes, he's ambitious, a little too secretive, and definitely too radical in his views! Elizabeth is portrayed as a modest, religious woman, not wholly comfortable with some of her husband's ideas or his growing involvement with the movers and shakers of Henry's court. In one respect I wasn't comfortable with her outlook - along with no doubt many others at the time, she sees homosexuality as a sin, condemned by the church, and punished after death, but it's important to bear in mind that she's a Tudor woman with the attitudes and opinions of her time, and influenced heavily by the Church's stance.
The insight into everyday Tudor life is fascinating. From the details of Elizabeth's clothes, cleaning and decorating a house, to dressing up and celebrating feast days almost every aspect is covered as Elizabeth and Thomas go about their daily lives. It's also interesting to see that long before celebrity magazines the public were eager for news of the famous folk of the day - Henry's longing for a son, and his extra-marital affairs are pretty much public knowledge, and discussed eagerly among the cloth merchants' wives (and I suspect by their husbands too). All these details help bring the period to life, a living backdrop to Elizabeth's personal story.

You can also read a guest post from Carol McGrath talking about Elizabeth Cromwell and Women in Tudor Times here

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - 
Accent Press
 Genre - adult historical fiction

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Curious Arts festival - author event - Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers (left)

by Maryom

Dave Eggers's book event proved to be unusual as it wasn't really about books as such.
He was interviewed by Patrick Keogh, one of the team behind Curious Arts, and the two discussed Eggers' opinions, ideas, and beliefs, but didn't talk much about his books. It was certainly an interesting event though.
Keogh started by asking "What about Trump?" Now, this is one of those questions that we'd probably ALL like to ask American voters and
Eggers was one of those many Americans who didn't believe it was possible that Trump would be elected. When Trump got the republication nomination, Eggers thought Hilary Clinton would just walk all over him. Then at a rally in California he realised that the average voter saw things differently - that Trump was someone different to the average politician, a guy they'd seen on TV, and somehow thought he was nearer in outlook to them. Even so Eggers was shocked with the election results, comparing the mood in Clinton's office to the fall of Saigon.
Somehow, via a brief mention of Eggers' latest book, Heroes of the Frontier, the conversation moved on to children, their dependence on technology, and lack of self-reliance. Eggers is from Chicago which is a very cynical,cautious place, slow to embrace change, but moving to San Francisco he found himself mixing with the pioneers of the internet,and he knows tech executives who insist that their children lead totally tech-free lives, even sending them to schools where parents pledge their children will not be exposed to social media or even TV at home. He himself is not concerned about kids becoming too dependent on the internet. He was delighted by the Jabberwocky Hunt that had taken place at Curious Arts, and firmly believes that if you leave kids to get bored - for like a minute and a half - they'll find something to do, or make up their own games. They suffer, he thinks, from protection paradox - children are rarely seen out and about alone in SF, they're chaperoned to the park or to school, and this level of protection, although understandable, lets them grow up not knowing how to protect themselves, either in an urban street wise way, or out in the wilds.

And via children in general, they ended up discussing Egger's 826 Valencia project. He wanted to set up a place where kids struggling with English as a second language could be helped with school work, getting writers with time on their hands to assist the project, but the zoning laws stipulated the chosen premises had to be retail, so the front half of the space became a shop full of pirate related stuff - eye patches, peg legs, parrot food - to comply, and the non-profit tutoring centre occupied the rear. The model was so successful that the ideas expanded to other cities across the US, with superheroes or Big Foot as the shop's theme, and Danny Boyle and Nick Hornby have brought the concept over to Dublin and London.

Certainly, as I said, an interesting event. I've not read any of Eggers' books, but now  I think i shall have to.

Pete Brown at Curious Arts Festival

 By The Mole

Beer. What could be more British than beer? There are just four major ingredients as the book cover says: hops, barley, water and yeast. But barley won't make beer - well, not until it's been malted. Malting is getting the barley to germinate and before it's finished, roasting it. But who found that out? It was being done centuries before the chemistry was understood so how did hat happen? Beer is one fascinating subject in its own right with a tremendous amount of history about it and this book is very much going on my 'wish list'.

And then there's cider... another fascinating subject - but so is the apple tree. Pete Brown talked a little about it's vagaries and unpredictability in cultivation. We all have out favourite apples but do you know that all Bramley apples originated from one tree? Or any other variety? This book explores apples from around the world and their history. Another for my 'wish list'

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Carol McGrath - The Woman in the Shadows - blog tour

Today we're delighted to be hosting the blog tour for Carol McGrath's The Woman in the Shadows, the story of Elizabeth Cromwell, the wife of Tudor statesman Thomas, with a piece from the author on the role of women in Tudor times ...

Elizabeth Cromwell and Women in Tudor Times

My new novel The Woman in the Shadows will be published on 4th August. This novel’s protagonist is Thomas Cromwell’s wife Elizabeth Cromwell. It was difficult to find recorded history about Elizabeth Cromwell, so to bring the wife of Henry VIII’s infamous statesman to the page, I undertook an enormous amount of research into the lives of Tudor women and, in particular, into the lives of women belonging to London’s merchant class. Here are snippets of what I discovered and integrated into the world of The Woman in the Shadows.

Elizabeth was a young widow when she married Thomas Cromwell circa 1514. The age at which a first marriage took place varied depending on social background. The average would have been twenty to twenty-six. I suggest twenty-two. He would have been twenty-eight. A marriage was the joining of whole families and, as the Cromwells business interests expanded, relatives were drawn in. In fact, it was a relative who helped Cromwell get employed by Cardinal Wolsey. Widows could choose their second husband. They could inherit their husband’s business interests and a third portion if they had children by that husband. Once married, her property became her husband’s property even if they parted. I like to think there was love and mutual respect between Elizabeth and Thomas. It is recorded fact that his friends admired Elizabeth.

This was an important function of marriage. Elizabeth was not continually pregnant but she had three children with Thomas Cromwell. There was little pre-natal care. Dietary advice was based on the humours. Fish and milk, for instance, were considered phlegmatic. On birth the belief in talismans was common. Eagle-stones and the St Catherine’s belt were popular. Many churches apparently possessed this reliquary or its imitation and lent the belt out to women for their labour. A pregnant woman took to her chamber four weeks before the birth. It was hung with best hangings and the shutters were fastened up against fresh air. After the birth, the mother was confined to bed for three days and then to her chamber until her churching, a simple thanksgiving service, over a month later.

Both middle-class boys and girls had an informal education including instruction in religion. Girls were taught to be good, obedient faithful wives and to raise children as devout Christians. Children of Elizabeth’s class were taught to make themselves pleasing in company and useful to those above them. Even apprentices were taught good manners. Elizabeth had to be capable of looking after her house and children properly, and above all to have a care for her husband’s comfort. She was, as many women were, involved in their business interests, even if Thomas was the main bread-earner. Even though she could be a female merchant the professions such as the legal professions were closed to her. Women often did the accounts, and she may well have done these in the early days of their marriage. Yet, even if she was clever she was expected to be soft and delicate, and could never think of herself as a man’s equal.

Tudors washed more frequently than given credit for. Bathing was a wooden tub for most. They strip-washed every day and it was a matter of pride to have clean linen. Women made scented washing balls from expensive imported olive oil soap by adding herbs and flower scents to them. A respectable Tudor never sat down to eat without washing hands first as they ate with fingers. Cleanliness about the household was vital. The dairy especially must be clean. General cleaning was an extremely time-consuming task. Elizabeth would have had servants and cooks but it was her responsibility to train them.

Food and Cooking
A good display at meal times was important. Thomas Cromwell was exceptionally social and apparently good company. He was witty and possessed a phenomenal memory. The family would lose face if the house-wife could not present guests with a variety of dishes. These would include plain boiled and roasted meats accompanied with fancy spiced sauces. Exotic ingredients could be found in Elizabeth’s kitchen. One example mentioned in the novel is Russian isinglass - an expensive, pure form of gelatin found in the swim bladders of sturgeon. White leach was made by boiling new milk with isinglass and leaving it to cool and set firm until it could be cut into squares that might be gilded.

There is much, much more and limited space here. The book’s world is packed with a woman’s life in the Early Tudor period. At this time the exact nature of a woman was under debate as was the effect of education on women. I like to think that as a Humanist, a man of the new learning, a Renaissance man, Thomas Cromwell was enlightened and in favour of education for women, just like Thomas More who famously had his daughters educated. Tudor women, in general, none the less, had skills that even though not completely acknowledged, were as essential to society as those belonging to their brothers, fathers, and husbands. They, like today’s women, were true multi-taskers. They were both similar and different, and, for me, incorporating this concept into Elizabeth’s story was the novel’s real challenge.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Climbing Trees at Curious Arts

By The Mole

(This event was part of Niddfest Comes South)

Do you ever look at a tree and think "I could pull myself up on that branch, climb onto that one and work my up" and then move on without even approaching the tree? This certainly happens to me but one day Jack Cooke did approach that tree and started climbing. And since then he has climbed tree after tree after tree. Many of his trees have been in London where, believe it or not, there are 3,000,000 trees.

This book is written so that you can 'dip in' and out of as he tells of different trees he has climbed. Trees where you bump into someone sitting eating their lunch. Trees where someone dials 999 because they think you are going to commit suicide. Trees where you ask a passing stranger for a leg up to get started. Trees where things don't go quite as planned. Bumps and scrapes are the order of the day but you get to see so much from up there as well as in the tree itself. I may start climbing trees again myself. Certainly one I shall be looking to read soon.

Curious Arts Festival - author event - Susanna Beard

by Maryom

Sunday morning was sunny and bright, and a perfect day for relaxing in deckchairs in the small Arcadia tent, to listen to Paul Blezard chat to Susanna Beard about her debut novel Dare To Remember. After a career in PR, promoting everything from wifi to wine, Susanna wanted to pursue her dream of writing a novel, and while doing so enrolled on one of the Faber courses, through which such a lot of authors have come to notice.

She wasn't setting out to write a crime novel as such, but just wrote a story and ignored which genre it might fall into. In the end, Dare to Remember is a mix of crime, thriller and psychological drama, not easily falling into one single category, and is the story of a woman recovering from a violent attack. Following it, Lisa cuts herself off from friends and family, and leaves town for the quiet of the country, but even there she can't escape what happened. Trauma has wiped her memory of the awful events, yet glimpses insist on coming back to her, and the only way forward for her seems to be to re-encounter the past.

While plotting and writing, Susanna found she needed to do research - into trauma, PTSD, victim support and the restorative Justice Council. Even though a lot of the details didn't actually find their way into the book, she felt they were needed for her to understand the emotions and process Lisa was undergoing. Susanna read a short section of Lisa having a 'panic attack' in her local village store after seeing the butcher carrying a knife, and she really seems to have caught the horror that overwhelms Lisa at that point.

A question often asked of debut authors is What next? Well, Susanna is ahead of the game, and her second novel, this time set in Lithuania, is already with her publishers.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Curious Arts Festival - author event - Eimear McBride

by Maryom

Usually I feel the public (including me) goes along to a book event to see an author that they've read and loved, but  I was drawn along to this event for the opposite reason -  I've heard such a lot about Eimear McBride's work but not read any of it!
It was impossible to miss the excitement among the book blogging community over her first novel A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing, but somehow I'd flagged it as 'to read when there's time', and then forgotten it. Then her second book was published and I found myself lagging even further behind, but also at that place where you begin to wonder if anyone ever could live up to the hype (and having seen the reviews on you-know-where while writing this piece they're mixed to say the least!) Hearing McBride talk about, and read from, her book seemed like the ideal way to get to know her and her work better - and, from the snippet I heard, I now want to rush out and read both books!
Georgina Godwin started the event by discussing McBride's early life, and its possible influence on her work - she was born in Liverpool to Irish parents, whose work as psychiatric nurses undoubtedly opened the door on a world of emotionally and mentally disturbed people. The family moved to Sligo when McBride was three, and since then she's moved to England (London, this time for drama school), back to Ireland, back again to England and somewhere in between lived in Russia. Her first novel, A Girl is A Half-formed Thing accompanied her on some of these travels until a random conversation in a Norwich book shop led to her meeting her future publishers Galley Beggar Press. The original print run was for only 500 copies, then the Times Literary Supplement ran a favourable review and the number was doubled. All sold out in a month!
Meanwhile, McBride had started writing The Lesser Bohemians - working on it for nine years and at one point having written 800 pages before cutting most of it.

She admits to being influenced by both Dostoyevsky - for his concept of hidden narrative, which isn't strictly necessary to the storyline but which when revealed gives a whole new slant to it - and Joyce (though a bit tired of being asked about him, as if there's no other author an Irish writer can be compared to) for his use of language, and stream of consciousness style. Her acting training plays a role in her writing as she tries to make language do the same as Stanislavsky's 'method' does, incorporating everything both important and trivial, so inhabiting the character in a way that the reader becomes privy to everything inside and out.

All in all a fascinating insight into the author and her work. This is the publisher's 'blurb' for The Lesser Bohemians -

"An eighteen-year-old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor. This older man has a disturbing past that the young girl is unprepared for. The young girl has a troubling past of her own. This is her story and their story.
The Lesser Bohemians is about sexual passion. It is about innocence and -the loss of it. At once epic and exquisitely intimate, it is a celebration of the dark and the light in love"    - 

and following a short reading from it, I'm determined that at last I WILL get hold of a copy and read it!

Friday, 28 July 2017

Curious Arts Festival - author event - Matt Haig

by Maryom

The second author event I attended over the Curious Arts weekend was again held in the "Big Top" tent and pulled in quite a crowd to listen to Matt Haig talk about his latest novel, "How To Stop Time". 

Over the last twelve years Matt Haig has been writing books for both children and adults, but is perhaps best known for his recent non-fiction, Reasons To Stay Alive, dealing with depression and how he came through it. After a book which proved so harrowing to write, Matt decided to turn to something a little more fun - two children's books, A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas - and now one for adults - How To Stop Time, which he describes as a love story/action adventure/philosophy mash up.
It's the story of Tom Hazzard, who may look like an average 40-something history teacher, but has a secret - due to  a rare condition, he ages very, very slowly, and has been alive for 439 years! Asked if this is something that would appeal to him, Matt answered with a very definite "No", as a self-confessed hypochondriac he thought it wouldn't be much fun. 
Writing this story does seem to have been fun though, from creating the character of the "baddy" to indulging in his love of social history, and being "in charge" of Tom's adventures, allowed Matt to visit some of his favourite historical periods and meet the historical figures he'd have loved to encounter - from Shakespeare to Captain Cook, Charlie Chaplin to Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald, Tom gets to rub shoulders with them all!
Matt's future plans include projects as diverse as a third children's "Christmas" book, Father Christmas and Me, and collaborating on song-writing Andy Burrows (who I was to see later that evening as drummer for Tom Odell), while plans are afoot for "How to Stop Time" to be filmed with Benedict Cumberbatch. Exciting times!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Mole's Curious Arts Festival - 2017

Murray Lachlan Young
The last event of Friday was Murray Lachlan Young.

Simon Evans (R4 fame)
Saturday and Sunday, for me, both started with Breakfast Club in Drift, and a grand way to start the day it is. It does surprise me each time with how close to my own political views the panels (some the same, some changed) are each day and the inclusion of Simon Evans to truly lighten the mood this year was extremely good. I will forgive the chairman his gaffs on Le Tour De France and Chris Froome - not everyone follows cycling and reads biographies like The Climb. In fact the only downside this year was not being able to watch the last two days of TDF live.

Saturday continued with Robert McCrum and Every Third Thought. After suffering a stroke he found himself starting to reflect on mortality and death more than he ever had before and in this book he explores, through research with experts in their fields, what death is and what, if anything, comes next.

I was then fortunate to catch the last few minutes of the Edward Goldsmith Discussion which had a panel of Bron Taylor, Helen Scales, Valentine Waner, and Tony Juniper. The audience had been large - and not because of the weather I believe - and had many questions hinged around reconnecting with nature. This was an important theme that many would be considering over the course of the weekend.

I then enjoyed Eimar McBride's event in which Georgina Godwin talked to her about her latest book The Lesser Bohemians - Maryom plans on discussing this event further so keep an eye out for it.

Dylan and I managed to catch some of comedy, particularly Ed Byrne who completely failed to disappoint, as ever!

Junius Meyvant in the Gorse tent
Music in Gorse followed and Junius Meyvant - a band from Iceland - were extremely good. This was to be followed by Whoredogs with John Illsley of Dire Straits. At this point the tent (huge though it was) became too crowded to be safe for Dylan so we went for a walk but could still enjoy the music from the adjacent field. Later Tom Odell took to the stage to delight the crowd - and the rest of us around the site.

Southern Companion
After Breakfast Club on Sunday morning I caught the excellent Dave Eggers before moving on to catch Pete Brown and his event about beer. Well you would wouldn't you? More on this from me later.

I later caught Jack Cooke - a man of quality who immediately recognised in Dylan one fabulous dog - in his event about tree climbing and left me wishing I'd climbed more trees in the past. Once again, more on this event later. This event was part of a few that made up Niddfest Comes South and the synergy between the two festivals is very distinctive.

The last event of the festival, sadly, for me was to be catching Southern Companion in the acoustic tent, a place I'd dipped into a few times over the weekend. But with over 200 miles to get home and it threatening to take up to 5 hours to drive - we had to miss the comedy (which again was headlined by Ed Byrne) and The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra playing the music of Bond. Perhaps another year we will be able to stay Sunday night.