Friday, 31 July 2015

Phoenix Rising by Bryony Pearce

review by Maryom 

 Wanted in almost every port, Toby has rarely set foot on land but lives at sea with his father, captain of the pirate ship The Phoenix. With their fiercely loyal crew they make a precarious living salvaging from the masses of junk to be found floating at sea - for in this dystopian future world, the seas are packed with all sorts of rubbish; lorries, aeroplanes, you name it you'll find it floating somewhere out there! Somewhere out there, they believe there is an island where they could live freely - but to reach it, they first need to salvage enough solar panels to power The Phoenix out into open seas, and their rival The Banshee is also on the trail of them and will stoop to anything to get their hands on them.

Phoenix Rising is a non-stop action-packed adventure full of the 'normal' pirate-y sorts of things - sea-battles, escaping from dungeons, hand to hand combat - but against a bleak, post-apocalypse backdrop. Society as we know it has crumbled, the seas are so full of junk that an ice-breaker is necessary to carve a path through it and the water itself is contaminated from all the leaked acids and oils. The emphasis though is very much on the action, which cracks along at speed, with barely a break for Toby (and the rest of the crew) to catch breath.
It is a male-dominated world but the women in it are as tough and brave as the men (if not more-so) - so should appeal equally to both boys and girls looking for an original action adventure.

Maryom's review -  4 stars
Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre -pirate adventure, dystopian, early teens, 12+

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Anne Goodwin - guest post

Today we're delighted to welcome Anne Goodwin to the blog to talk about her debut novel Sugar and Snails and the changes it underwent between first draft and finished book....

Three generations of a novel: the transformations of Sugar and Snails from inception to publication

When I worked as a clinical psychologist, I met many people who were disturbed by their failure to live up to their own ideals or the standards set by others. It wasn’t until I moved to a small town in the former Nottinghamshire coalfields that I saw this perceived failure in terms of gender stereotypes. The 1984 miners’ strike had torn communities apart, and the failure of the strike to prevent the pit closures brought both economic and psychological depression in the area and a sense of emasculation among the men.
Around the same time, the country was marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Amid the pomp, reports began to filter through of elderly men being re-traumatised by repressed memories of their wartime experiences coming back to haunt them. As my own father was of this generation, I was touched by the notion that the stiff-upper-lipped version of masculinity might be unsustainable and curious about its impact on the offspring of such men.

I was inspired by Evie Wyld’s impressive début, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, to have a go at writing something similar. Like her, I would explore masculinity and war across three generations but, instead of being set in small-town Australia, my novel would feature the rise and fall of a mining community in England.
My main character was Leonard, the clever only child of solid working-class parents, brought up to want to be more than a miner like his father, yet always a little ashamed at his mental and physical unsuitability for a job underground. Going straight from school to the army, and from there to a German prison camp, he dreams of the life he’ll have when the war is over: a steady job with a wife and kids.
As I delved more into Leonard’s character, the less need I felt to flesh out the parents who had made him who he was. I was more interested in how he’d fare as a husband and father, and what it was about his wartime experience that he so needed to forget.

So what began as a story of men across three generations was transformed into one about a man, his wife and their problem child. In the early drafts of Sugar and Snails, the story unfolded through alternate chapters set in different time bands: the tale of Leonard and Renée’s marriage over almost three decades interspersed with that of Diana, one of their children, a socially-awkward university lecturer in the early years of the twenty-first century, with a secret troubled past.

One of the problems with this structure was that, because Diana had gone by a different name in childhood, it was difficult for readers to trust that the two strands of the narrative would eventually connect. Furthermore, as Diana’s backstory developed, it came to eclipse Leonard’s, unbalancing the novel as a whole. I was advised to rewrite the novel solely from Diana’s point of view.

I didn’t relish the prospect. It wasn’t so much the extra work – I was starting to appreciate that writing a publishable novel requires numerous re-workings and repeated drafts – but that I had grown attached to Leonard and was reluctant to let his story go. Furthermore, as Diana’s life-changing experience occurs at age fifteen, her parents’ beliefs, attitudes and behaviours have a significant impact on who she becomes. In particular, Leonard’s ambitions for his children are shaped by an event of which Diana would have no direct knowledge, it having occurred at the POW camp before she was born.

Cutting Leonard’s scenes was painful. I’d so enjoyed his solitary hikes in the Peak District; his impatience as a father; his confusion at the funeral of his friend from his army days. But the incisions, and the reworking of some elements, make Sugar and Snails a much better novel. Different readers will find different things within it but I was gratified that one early reviewer felt that “One of the best parts of the novel is her relationship to her father, who is himself troubled by his own actions in the past.” Others, if they look closely, might still detect the theme of masculinity across three generations. But this is very much Diana’s story. I hope you enjoy following her journey towards narrowing the gap between the woman she is and the woman she feels she ought to be.

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her début novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last week by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

See photo above for more of Anne's blog tour, read Maryom's review of Sugar and Snails here,  or catch up on the book's launch

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hild by Nicola Griffith

review by Maryom

Seventh century Britain is a divided land of small kingships, each jostling for power over the others; a world of shifting alliances and almost constant war in which even small children are caught up in the power-play, seen as either threats to power, or useful bargaining tools. When her husband, an exiled possible-heir to one of these kingdoms, is murdered, Breguswith seeks refuge for herself and her two daughters with Edwin, King of Northumbria. The eldest, Hereswith, will follow the 'normal' life set out for all royal daughters, to become a 'peacemaker', married off to a distant king to forge an alliance, but for the younger, Hild, there are different plans - following a dream, Breguswith has raised her younger daughter to become a seer, a "light of the world". Hild's uncannily accurate predictions gain her a place at Edwin's court but her position still remains tenuous and dangerous. Although Hild's visions often give Edwin forewarning of his enemies' plans and enable him to outmanoeuvre them, they don't always predict the future a king wants to hear.

 Hild is a captivating glimpse of life in the so-called Dark Ages, which feels like a mix of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and GRR Martin's Game of Thrones; there's all the intimate observation, the capturing of quiet moments outside the rush of historical events of the former, coupled with the blood-thirsty power-struggles of the latter - and the length of both, for this isn't a short slim volume but a 500+ page epic that only covers the early part of Hild's life.
 Hild is an unusual young woman. With her special position as seer, she doesn't fit in to the expectations and assumptions of those around her. She isn't being groomed for marriage in the way that her sister is, instead she learns to fight and defend herself, and leads her men into battle. Perhaps because of this she feels more 'modern' than the other women but none of them seem mere puppets under men's control. Breguswith particularly is shown as trying to influence events and warp them to her advantage, both through personal connections and trade.

As with Wolf Hall, this isn't a book to hurry over but one that had me wanting to savour almost every page, to absorb the moment as Hild herself does, to sit with her and watch the flight of birds or the ripples in a pond. I loved the depth of historical detail that brought day to day life, well, to life - the women's work in the weaving sheds or dairy proving more fascinating to me than battles.

Although this is described as the story of St Hilda, it isn't one of Christian virtues or evangelism. Seventh century Britain is a violent, turbulent place and Edwin, with designs on becoming High King, is out to gain every political advantage -  adopting the Christian faith is just one of them. I know virtually nothing about St Hilda, but Hild is far from the meek-mannered, deeply-religious woman I'd expected and there's also perhaps more sex than you would expect in the life of a saint. None of this affected my enjoyment of the book but it might come as a surprise to some.

 Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Little, Brown
Genre - adult historical fiction

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Angel City by Jon Steele

Review by The Mole

(Angelus Trilogy 2)

2 years have passed since the happenings at Lausanne Cathedral that resulted in it's total destruction (The Watchers). The "angels" managed to get the building repaired before any of the locals noticed but a chain of events was started that comes to fruition in this, the second book.

Katherine Taylor has had a son and is living in America. Her memory has been wiped of the events surrounding the Cathedral especially any recollection of Harper.

Harper is sent on missions that expose to him more of his own time line through his 2.5 million year life and he learns of his own role in the events that are unfolding.

Meanwhile Astruc, a seemingly mad man and his helper, Goose, are working to hurry the events along.

Action, adventure and plot twists abound as the story develops with violence and explosions figuring highly. Where the story ended up going was very much a surprise to me as fantasy and religious references intertwine to expose the author's take on some of the many bible stories - but not with any irreverence.

My only issue with this book it that it ends on a cliff hanger - and what a cliff hanger!

We very much leap into the characters and pick up the story afresh so much of the work in book 1 is not repeated. Having said that this book COULD be your starting point but you will miss out on so much if you don't start at the beginning of the trilogy. I have started the series late so I don't have long to wait to resolve the cliff hanger but if I'd had a year to wait then perhaps I would be a little frustrated.

Another fantastic fantasy from Steele with just book 3 to go now to resolve all the outstanding issues. And I'm very much looking forward to it.

Publisher -Blue Rider Press
Genre - Adult Fantasy

Monday, 27 July 2015

Anne Goodwin - Author Event

By The Mole

Saturday saw the launch of Anne Goodwin's début novel, Sugar and Snails, at Nottingham Writers' Studio - which has been published by Inspired Quill. Inspired Quill is an independent publisher, happy to publish books that deal with social issues and in this case the issue is gender identity.

As with most book launches the evening started very informally with milling, wine, nibbles and cake (of course cake). We got to chat with the publisher about some of the books they publish and the model under which they print them - a model that relies on modern technology but still enables a high level of quality control that the self published market so desperately lacks.

We also got the chance to chat with the author as well as other independent publishers who had come along to support as friends and colleagues. One subject broached was that of reviewing poetry and we were in agreement that this is a difficult area as just because you don't "get" poems or they wash over you doesn't mean they're not good - or perhaps even brilliant - just that they don't work for you. It's because of this fear - yes that's the correct word - that we tend to keep clear of poetry except for the very young, and so - apparently - do many bloggers.

The formalities then started with the publisher introducing Anne and Anne then talking a little about her road to publication. She then read the first chapter. Before she read she asked if anyone had a "blood phobia" which people seemed to take light heartedly but when she read the chapter I was very uncomfortable-not for the blood but because here was a character who needed support and needed it now yet trusted no-one to give it. I have read other books where issues like this happened and even found myself putting the book down for a while to come to terms with it. Perhaps it's a being a dad thing - perhaps I'm wired wrong. But in order to affect me like this it meant the story was drawing me in - even on the first chapter. Time permitting I shall try to pick this book up some time in the future - it certainly seems like it would be worthwhile and Maryom recommends it.

After the reading there was a question and answer session which may well stand Anne in good stead as several questions were asked which she hadn't considered the answers to before. Forewarned is forearmed for future author events.

The evening ended with further whine, nibbles and cake.

An extremely interesting evening and a great start to what will hopefully be a successful start to career for Anne as a novelist.

Anne will be visiting our blog on Thursday to talk about "Three Generations of a Novel" as part of her blog tour.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Corpse Bridge by Stephen Booth

review by Maryom

On Halloween night a dead body is found at the aptly named Corpse Bridge over the river Dove; once part of a route from remote villages to the consecrated burial ground, now it's merely forms part of a pleasant walk by the river. Investigating the ground around the bridge DS Ben Cooper and his team stumble upon signs of witchcraft - an effigy laid out on a slab and witches balls hanging in trees. Could the murder be a ghastly addition to the strange rituals, so far only involving animals, going on in the area?

As Stephen Booth is a 'local' author and his "Cooper and Fry" crime series is set in the Peak District not that far from where I live, I've frequently seen his novels at the library and in bookstores but till now I hadn't  picked one up and read it. Spurred on by his event at Derby Book Festival I decided it was time I did!
Jumping in at book 14 of a series is never a brilliant idea but actually I found it easy enough to slip into Ben Cooper's world - especially as the relationship between him and colleague Diane Fry had been discussed at the Derby event. For other new-comers, Cooper and Fry started out together as detective constables, have now grown older, been promoted, and so on. They're a bit like chalk and cheese as Cooper is a local lad, happiest in the countryside, while Fry is only at home in the city and can't wait to be transferred back there. I won't say any more because at the Derby event a member of the audience mentioned something that happened in, I think, book 12 and it's only on reading The Corpse Bridge that I realised just how HUGE that spoiler was, and I don't want to fall into the same trap!
Despite the chilling title, the presence of dead bodies and suspicions of witchcraft, Booth's writing has a cosier sort of feel to it than many crime novels I've read recently - more Miss Marple or Midsomer Murders than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Killing. That said, grubby city back-streets or twisted psychopaths don't automatically make for a better read, and Sherlock Holmes always feared empty country spaces where no one can hear you scream. I rather enjoyed this first encounter with Cooper and Fry - the plot has twists and turns enough to keep anyone guessing, and the added appeal of a location I know. I now have a lot of back-story to catch up on and I'm looking forward to getting to know the main characters better.

Maryom's Review - 4 stars
Publisher - Sphere 
Genre - adult crime,

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily

review by Maryom

In October 1943, with German oppression mounting, Chiara Ravello has decided that Rome is no longer a safe place to be; people are being randomly stopped on the street, and either hauled away for interrogation or shot there on the spot. Chiara intends leaving, taking her sister and heading to their grandmother's house in the hills, but before she can, she is witness to yet another atrocity - the rounding up of Jews for transportation to who knows where. Catching the eye of a mother being hustled aboard a truck with her husband and family, Chiara steps forward and claims one of the children as her nephew. This spontaneous action is to change her life. Looking after someone else's child isn't easy but it's made especially hard as the boy, Daniele, doesn't seem glad to have been rescued and has every inclination to run away at the first opportunity. Gradually though a bond forms between Chiara and Daniele, but the lives of both are shadowed by the war and its aftermath.
 Thirty years or so later, Chiara is living in Rome, single but seemingly happy. At heart, though, she's troubled - Daniele, always a source of worry, after causing immense grief and heart-ache, has disappeared. Chiara has no idea where or how he's been living for the past ten years - or even if he's still alive. Then, out of the blue, she's contacted by a teenager, Maria, claiming to be Daniele's daughter, and Chiara finds herself once again taking a troubled youngster under her wing.

Events unfold from three points of view, skilfully woven together - Chiara's during the war, and both Chiara's and Maria's perspectives in the 1970s; Daniele is seen only through their eyes but his behaviour and actions shape their world.
Chiara acted without thinking, but with immense courage - doing what we all hope we would do in such a situation. With Daniele she takes on a burden which almost breaks her - she finds despair and heart-break but also unexpected love and fulfilment. She tries her best to provide Daniele with a stable environment to grow up in but, always wayward and stubborn, as he gets older he seems trapped by survivor guilt.
Maria meanwhile is searching for a different set of answers - who was her father and why has the truth about him been hidden from her? She's stumbled on information that shatters her world, and I really sympathised with her anger and confusion at her mother's deception.
Their characters are built up carefully, with fine touches here and there adding to the whole, and unexpected revelations bringing to light the little 'kinks' that make them seem as real as you or I.
The story unfolds against the backdrop of Rome -
These separate strands weave together to form a gripping read exploring the consequences of an impromptu act and the long emotional fall-out of war through the thoughts and actions of three troubled people; as events unfolded, I fell completely under its spell. I loved the characters, the writing style and the setting -   in the 1940s' scenes Rome is a dark, rain-drenched, shadowy city, in the 1970s it's filled with sunshine and light and in both periods described in a way to make the reader feel there on the same streets as Chiara or Maria. 

If you're looking for a summer read that falls between the summer romances and thrillers, that's literary but above all readable, then try this!

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Virago
Genre - Adult Fiction,