Friday, 29 May 2015

No Place To Die by Clare Donoghue

review by Maryom

DI Mike Lockyer is struggling to cope after his last case, so his sergeant Jane Bennett finds herself with two disturbing cases on her hands. Friend and retired cop Mark Leech has gone missing, leaving a trail of blood splatters behind him which suggests he hasn't gone willingly, and then a dead body is discovered in a specially constructed underground chamber. It's not, as at first feared, Mark's body but that of missing student, Maggie Hungerford,and her death is stranger and more sinister than anything Jane's previously seen.The tiny space had been equipped with a pipe to allow a certain amount of air in, and a camera so that the killer could presumably watch his victim die. Who could be so twisted to want to kill someone in such a terrifying way?

Jane finds herself under pressure from all sides - at work, with little or no support from her boss, she has no one to share the burden of the investigation; the personal relationship between her and Lockyer has deteriorated; and at home, she has her autistic son to care for and feels torn between wanting to do her job as best she can and spending more time with him.

The second in the Lockyer/Bennett series plays on the terror that most of us would feel if trapped underground - I could only get through some of the scenes by constantly reminding myself that it wasn't at all real! For the most part, the story concentrates on the police investigation and Jane's private life, but occasionally it's interrupted by passages from the victims' point of view, describing the horror of being buried alive, struggling for air with numbness creeping up on them - all very, very scary stuff!

The investigation gets off to a slow start - with plenty of potential suspects, but no one who stands out as the killer - and there's almost a feeling of bewilderment on Jane's part as more victims are found, one dating back several years.  
Most crime thrillers have their twists and turns, but this plot is positively convoluted! I think if anyone spots the killer before the last chapter, it's due to a lucky guess rather than super-deduction.
It's a difficult thing to say whether or not I enjoyed this book - I found the 'buried' sections too disturbing to enjoy, and, now knowing the nature of the crime and who was behind it, I wouldn't re-read it; it's a very personal thing though and other, less claustrophobic, readers will have less qualms.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan

Genre - Adult, crime

Thursday, 28 May 2015

How to set up your own festival ..... Sian Hoyle from Derby Book Festival

 You've probably already seen me talking about a new book festival around this year - and it's not just any old book festival but one right here on my doorstep in Derby. It kicks off this coming weekend, so before it all gets underway I managed to catch the originators and brains behind the project - Sian Hoyle and Jenny Denton - for a quick chat ....

First, could you tell me briefly why you decided to set up a book festival here in Derby....
A glass of wine in QUAD has a lot to answer for!  We were chatting about what books we were reading (we’re both in book groups) and then got onto book festivals … and why didn’t Derby have one!  It seemed like a good idea and not too difficult to organise.  A few authors and venues over a weekend, somewhere to sell tickets …

...and how did you go about it?
We started by doing some research by talking to other Festival organisers who were very generous in their advice and time.  Then started to talk to potential partners in the city to see if they thought it was a good idea – QUAD, Déda, Derby Theatre, Derby City Council, Waterstones, the University of Derby.  And they all were very positive and supportive.

You can read all about how it happened in The Independent on Sunday:

Have you encountered any major problems in the planning?
There have been a few hiccups along the way and for every step forward we sometimes seemed to take one back.  That caused several sleepless nights.  Completing the funding applications was hard work and we were always worried about not receiving funding, but luckily these were largely successful.  Securing authors was relatively easy although it was a waiting game which was stressful. For a very long time there were only two of us and time was always an issue in terms of getting everything done.  We soon realised this was to be a five – even a seven – day a week job.  A real breakthrough moment was receiving the Arts Council funding and being able to employ Helen, who has been such an amazing organiser and has taken on some of the more difficult tasks like managing the ticketing, monitoring the finances, managing the sponsorship etc.  We really would not be having a Festival without her and the 60 strong team of volunteers who we hope will make every event go smoothly!   

Is there anything you'd do differently for another year?
Lots of things, but I think we need to see how it goes and then we are planning a thorough review.  There are also lots of things we’d definitely do again too.

Is there anything you'd like to have more (or less) of?
Money so we could pay for staff!  We don’t think it is sustainable to do it again having nearly all our planning meetings in the evenings and at weekends.  We will definitely be seeking more funding for 2016.  We’d also like to ensure we involve as many communities as we can in Derby and get more ideas from local people about what they want in the next Festival but hopefully the evaluation of this year’s event will give us that. 

Are you a regular visitor to other book festivals?
I’ve only been to two and they have both been in the last year as part of the research.  We now devour other festivals’ programmes to see what they’re planning.  Sadly time has prevented us from attending other festivals this year. 

How did you decide which authors and celebrities to ask along?
We had a wish list and went for those first – and were amazed when they started to say ‘yes’.  We weren’t very systematic about our approach.  It was more a question of – let’s ask so and so!  We’d find who the publisher and publicist were and then we’d send them a pitch.  There was a lot of luck involved. 

We also found out about local authors and approached them direct because we wanted the Festival to celebrate local writing as well as have the ‘big names’.  We decided early on that we wanted an event for schools and the only author we approached was Michael Morpurgo.  We are thrilled that over 500 children from nearly every school in Derby will meet him at a special event on 8 June. 

We also wanted to have authors who would appeal to local residents so included events at the Cricket Club, Football Club and Derby Arena.  We hope to do more of this sort of programming next year. 

Which specific event are you looking forward to? (and why)
It has to be Sarah Waters and David Nicholls as I have loved their books so much.  But also events like the Derby on Board Games as it’s such a great atmosphere there and the Nigel Lowey talk about St Pancras station.  And Dymphna Flynn, the producer of Radio 4 Bookclub, who will have a great story to tell about 12 years of choosing the books, meeting the authors and some anecdotes about the monthly recordings ….. this event is ticketed but now FREE.

To find out more about the festival, check out which authors are appearing and book tickets see here

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

review by Maryom

Eva and Jim first meet at Cambridge in 1958; she is cycling along quickly and swerves to avoid a dog, he steps forward to help, and what happens next will affect the rest of their lives. Do they speak briefly and part, do they go off to the pub? Three different scenarios are offered and from this point the narrative splits, with each version following Eva and Jim throughout their lives - however events play out, the two of them seem linked, their paths destined to cross and part, and maybe cross again.

The Versions of Us is a stunning book, even more so considering it is Laura Barnett's debut novel! With three alternate time-lines playing out over 50 years it's easy to see this book is a cross between Sliding Doors and One Day but for me, in style and story-telling, it has more in common with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.

From that initial meeting Eva and Jim's alternative lives pan out in different directions, and the reader is offered three versions of how their lives could have been, each fully realised; it's almost like reading three different stories. The balance between them is perfect, none is allowed to dominate, but which of them leads to a happier life? At first it seems to be one version, then, as the years pass, another will seem the more appealing. It led me to wonder if I were Eva or Jim and could choose my life, knowing all the permutations, which would it be?

I also wondered how much fun the author had in playing with Eva and Jim's lives; authors frequently say that their characters take charge and will only behave in certain ways - this time it seems like the author has the upper hand and can manipulate the characters at will, sometimes pushing them forward impulsively, sometimes holding them back.

I loved it completely; following Jim and Eva throughout three lifetimes I became familiar with them, their characters and foibles, their friends and family. If there's a drawback, it's that it's not always easy to remember what has happened previously in each version, and I have to admit I had notes to help me keep track of things. Something I'd like to try one day is reading each of the time lines individually, from start to finish as a 'normal' story. It certainly isn't a book to read once and discard; there's still lots to explore after that. I don't belong to a book group and this is one time that I'm missing that because there's lots to discuss with fellow readers - not least that question of which way leads to greater happiness and fulfilment.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Orion (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Genre - adult,

Monday, 25 May 2015

This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David

review by Maryom

Theo is feeling bad about breaking up with Kitty - but when he realises Kitty went missing shortly after they argued he starts to feel even worse. As the day passes without any signs of her, Theo has to face the fact that something really bad may have happened to Kitty - and that it would all be his fault.
Both Jewish, both from North London, both newly moved to Amsterdam, they had so many things in common that Kitty and Theo seemed pushed together by fate. But Theo can't forget the 'unsuitable' love he left behind in London - the reason his parents sent him abroad in disgrace - and Kitty is both attracted and repelled by Ethan, the son of her mum's boyfriend, with his mix of charm and moodiness. Told alternately from Theo's and Kitty's perspective, the story traces their relationship from first meeting to big bust up.... In a love story the hero and heroine meet, fall in love, overcome obstacles in their way and live happily ever after - that's the way it happens in fairy stories, films, and romantic novels, but this isn't a love story and the ending may not be all that happy.
In this Amsterdam-set story of teenage relationships, Keren David presents a love triangle with a difference; three teenagers trying to come to terms with their confused emotions and sexuality, and finding life isn't as neatly packaged as a romantic novel.
 This may not be a love story, but love is pretty much the most important thing on Kitty's mind - whether it's her own relationships with Theo and Ethan, or the one between her mum and Ethan's dad. Kitty is a typical teenager - constantly taking selfies, obsessed with the number of 'likes' on her Instagram account, and seeing any new guy she meets as potential boyfriend material.
 Theo, on the other hand, believes he's already found his true love - and if his family would just stop interfering everything would be fine. But if that's so, why does he find himself attracted to Kitty?
  Ethan is unpredictable - if he wants to, he can turn on the charm but most of the time he's pushing boundaries, wanting to shock people and provoke them into reaction. His dad sees him as moody and uncommunicative; as an outsider, I saw him as someone covering up hurt through attention-seeking. He wouldn't at all appreciate being thought of as lonely or in need of love, but that's how he came over to me.

This is a book that manages to be an entertaining enjoyable read, while at the same time bringing up issues of sexual orientation in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. The author captures what it's like to be a teenager trying to sort through the confusion of their own feelings, and the mixed messages being picked up from others. I was hooked early on by Theo's mounting panic over Kitty's disappearance - I wanted to know what their big argument was all about, why Kitty had gone missing and if she'd be found safe and well. It doesn't have the 'thriller' element of the When I Was Joe series, but Keren David knows how to grab the reader and hold them, teasing them along by holding back the major reveal. 

And all the while you're led to think this isn't a happy-ever-after love story, but there's romance blossoming right under everyone's noses between Kitty's mum and Ethan's dad.

Maryom's review;  5 stars
Publisher - Atom Books
Genre - YA, teenage relationships,

Friday, 22 May 2015

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

review by Maryom

Geralt de Rivia is a witcher, a man mutated by drugs, and trained in the tracking and killing of monsters. He travels the land, saving town and countryside from the ravages of these creatures, but believes that not all non-humans are harmful and that Man should learn to live alongside them rather than wipe them out. This collection of six stories tells of his adventures with dragons, mermaids, dryads, and the disgusting multi-limbed monsters that lurk in middens or under bridges waiting to prey on passers-by, along the way meeting up, and parting from, his sometime lover, the sorceress Yennefer, the bard Dandelion and 'his destiny' the child Ciri.

I always say I'll read anything providing the story and the writing are good, so I've never had any hang-ups about 'genre' but what I've found recently with fantasy is that it comes in massive chunks - a book of six or seven hundred pages which ends on a cliffhanger and turns out to be part of a trilogy or even longer series (and I don't just mean George R R Martin!). Here though it's in a form I love - short stories, each standing alone but part of a wider story arc - in this case all involving the Witcher, Geralt.
The stories all rattle along at a good pace, with sword fights and fearsome creatures a-plenty, but aren't just tales of fantasy and magic for the sake of it. Geralt finds himself in situations that explore all-too-human emotions and failings, from the very personal to wider social issues; destruction of environment or discrimination against and fear of outsiders are things that apply as much in 'our' world as in the Witcher's.

This collection ties in to a wider series of stories, novels and console games, and I'm now sufficiently intrigued that I want to read more of the series ......if only some of the games would play on my old PS2....

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Gollancz
Genre - Fantasy
translated by David French

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Mourner by Susan Wilkins

Review by The Mole

Helen Warner is found dead on the banks of the Thames. It seems like a straightforward suicide - that's what the police want to think. Kaz Phelps, now living as Clare O'Keefe under the witness protection program in Glasgow, doesn't want to think that her ex-lover could have committed suicide and is out to prove she didn't - so is Julia Hadley, Helen Warner's partner.

Julia enlists the help of SBA, a security and private investigations company, to establish the truth behind Helen's death. Nicci Armstrong, the police officer responsible for Kaz having to enter the witness protection program, was forced into early retirement and is now employed by Simon Blake, the owner of SBA and also the victim of political machinations within the Met.

And so the hunt is on for the truth behind Helen's death - a death the police are anxious to sweep under the carpet. Then Joey, Kaz's psychopathic brother, kills a policeman and escapes jail to become another factor in the investigation. Can Julie and Kaz get justice or will they settle for revenge?

Let the mayhem begin.

This book picks up the story two years on from The Informant and it does it rather seamlessly. Within the first book blood letting was rife and when the last page came, although I enjoyed it immensely I was glad to take a break into something less violent. I picked The Mourner up with a little trepidation but while the pace is just as fast the violence is less prolific. Sequels are frequently not quite as good as the début but here I can honestly say that I found it even better.

We continue to pick up the back story of several of the characters and meet again characters that had a lesser role in The Informant and learn a little of their back story. Each of the characters really came to life for me, and both Kaz and Nicci, neither of whom I really liked in the first book, became almost friends to me. Their back stories continued to be filled in and other characters - some from The Informant and others new to us - start to get their stories built.

The trail of evidence followed felt logical and the investigation developed in a sensible way - but with the police against them could they ever make a real difference? When the full extent of involvement in Helen's death becomes apparent the reader starts to realise that this probably won't end in a court case but will there be any form of justice?

As I turned the last page there were so many questions left unanswered that I knew there would have to be a third book - but will there also be spinoffs as characters disappear across the world or will they come back together (well at least those that lived through) to book 3.

A fantastic story but be sure to start with The Informant as this very much builds on it. But maybe one day it would be nice to read the prequel?

Publisher - Pan Macmillan
Genre - Adult fiction, crime thriller

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

All This Will Be Lost by Brian Payton

review by Maryom

April 1943 - grieving for his brother lost over the English Channel, unable to enlist himself, journalist John Easley takes it upon himself to uncover the true facts about a war taking place much nearer to his own doorstep - the invasion of the Alaskan Aleutian islands by the Japanese, an event which the US military want to keep quiet. To this end, he hitches a lift out on a bombing run to the Japanese occupied island of Attu - When the plane is shot down he and one of the crew of six are the only survivors. They've heard the rumours about how the Japanese treat their prisoners and neither want to surrender to them, but the chances of surviving in the inhospitable landscape are slim, almost to the point of non-existence.

Meanwhile back home in Seattle, his wife Helen begins to worry over John's prolonged absence. While 'regular' forces wives are informed of their husbands' fate, there's no one to send news of a missing unofficial reporter. Desperate for news of him she determines to follow him north, the only way she can - by signing up for a forces entertainment troop. She knows she's unlikely to find John or even anyone who's heard of him but she needs to do something, anything, rather than sit and wait.

All This Will Be Lost is a war story with a difference - set in an almost unheard-of war zone, the remote Aleutian islands, which stretch across the Arctic from Alaska to Russia like stepping stones, it's a grim tale of survival against the odds, of grit and determination, of very personal battles and hoping against all the odds.
John is battling for his very survival - although it's 'spring', the weather only moves between snow and fog, there are neither trees nor bushes for shelter or fuel, and the Japanese are encamped just over the next ridge. The two men end up in a cave, surviving on shellfish and an occasional seabird, raiding the Japanese camp despite the obvious risk but growing bolder as their situation becomes more perilous. As he comes close to starvation, John finds himself making difficult choices about what might be considered 'food', choices the reader may not agree with.    
Helen's story is less extreme but her life so far has been cosy and sheltered. Empowered by circumstances, she's forced to step out of her comfort zone, and take on a role for which she feels totally unsuited. I got the impression that even asking questions of strangers was something so completely out of character for her that undertaking this journey required tremendous amounts of courage on her part.

The islands themselves form a third party to this story - windswept and bleak, but with a fragile beauty that is being trampled upon by the opposing armies. Their inhabitants have been forcibly removed, their villages abandoned and make-shift airfields and army bases taken their place. In the way of much fiction, it had me spiralling away and wanting to know more about the background - about this sector of WW2, about the islands themselves and their inhabitants, so summarily evacuated from their homes.

In case this all sounds familiar, this story has previously been published under the title The Wind Is Not  A River.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan

Genre - Adult, war stories, WW2,