Monday, 26 January 2015

An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel

review by Maryom

It's 1970 and Carmel McBain is off to start a new life for herself, leaving behind her northern mill-town home and heading for London and university. Free from the constraints of the family home and filled with a wonderful sense of opportunity, Carmel embraces her new life with enthusiasm but her childhood isn't that easily abandoned as two of her school friends end up in the same hall-of-residence; Julianne with her string of boyfriends and Karina with her down to earth practicality and enormous appetite. They and the other students at Tonbridge Hall soon find that life isn't as easy as they'd expected and as with so many coming of age stories, there's heartache, disappointment and a brush with tragedy to be encountered along the way.

Mention Hilary Mantel and most people will immediately think of her long historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies ,so it might come as a surprise to know she's also written shorter, more contemporary novels. I first discovered them a couple of years ago with Fludd and An Experiment In Love has been sitting waiting on my TBR pile for frankly too long. What all these books share is the slipping inside another mind-set, the sharing of another person's outlook on life, whether that be an important historical figure like Thomas Cromwell or a fictitious 18 year old such as Carmel.

Instead of the intrigues of the Tudor court, here the reader is introduced to the behind the scenes secrets of a university hall of residence; with just as many hidden agendas and deceptions - from stretching the meagre grant and all-night studying, to boyfriends, unwanted pregnancies, eating disorders and quick-burn resentments.

In style and length it's reminiscent of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Françoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse; a bitter-sweet, first person narrative of the lives of young women on the cusp between child and adult, at a time of life so full of possibilities, but which could easily tip into tragedy.

If you've loved Wolf Hall, or been daunted by its sheer scale, don't miss this. At a personal level I found this to be an unexpected trip down memory lane; although I'm several years younger than the character of Carmel, her childhood echoed mine and brought back things I'd long forgotten from the strange headgear of boys in the early '60s to comics with stories that gripped me.

Is it an adult novel or young adult? Well, in the time it's set, back before YA existed, I'd have read it as a teenager - and Carmel probably would have done too! One for all ages over 16.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Fourth Estate
Genre - YA/adult fiction

Friday, 23 January 2015

Unthology 6 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

Let's admit it... I am a fan of short stories and a particular fan of the Unthology series. This, the latest offering, is a slightly different - but still fantastic - collection.

The first story creeped me out a bit but, yes, it was funny when you get past that. The second story contains a paradox which is both funny and thought provoking. The third story had me wondering "why" but understanding at the same time. And so the collection goes on. Funny, sad, thought provoking, creepy (yes, Jonathan Pinnock!) and frequently a combination of all of them.

I don't normally have a favourite but this collection contains one that really did reach me big time... Stalemate by Simon Griffiths - the story of an older man who is still as sharp as a knife but watching all his friends ageing and dying around him. He is befriended by one of the male nurses who still credits him with everything he is and ever was. A brilliant story amongst a collection of other most excellent stories (even Jonathan Pinnocks! I'm not fond of bees).

Yet another truly fabulous collection compiled by these two editors who, for me, don't seem able to put a foot wrong. Many are a coffee time read but some may take a little longer - but you deserve a longer coffee break.

I have read the previous 3 books in the Unthology collection and you can read their reviews here:- Unthology 3, Unthology 4, Unthology 5

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Salvage by Keren David

Review by The Mole

Aidan and Cass are brother and sister, separated when very young and taken into care. Cass was adopted quickly by a well to do family and has all the breaks. Aidan was rejected and put into care, fostered, fought over and again rejected and has had nothing but the bad breaks in life.

Under the rules they are denied access to each other and so have completely lost touch. When Cass's parents split up it becomes public knowledge as her father is a government minister and Aidan then sees Cass's photo in the papers. Searching Facebook he finds her...

Although I found fault with each character I did find myself caring enough to find that fault. Cass is too compliant - what her parents want her to be then that's what she'll become. Aidan means well but is always sure that he will fail in everything.

The end brings about many solutions that I hadn't expected - as well as many issues that came as a surprise - and rounded the story off excellently. Is the story optimistic? Well, yes but is that such a bad thing? There are many positives in there for youngsters - and parents - to take away with them and that makes the whole thing worth while.

Keren David has a way of writing that holds your attention - if she wrote the shipping forecast then the ratings would go up no end! An excellent and enthralling read that seems all too short when you turn the last page.

Publisher - Atom Books
Genre - YA

Monday, 19 January 2015

Sweet Home by Carys Bray

review by Maryom

This book first came our way nearly two years ago, but short story collections usually end up with The Mole so he reviewed it then and it was only after reading the author's debut novel A Song For Issy Bradley that I thought of reading it for myself. What a delight I'd missed!

These stories all relate in one way or another to home and family, but none really live up to the expected idyll of  "Home, Sweet Home"; rather they explore the stresses and strains of everyday life, and the gap between expectations and reality. Even if they've never been in precisely the same circumstances, parents will find much to relate to here - the tiresomeness of following the 'rules' of good motherhood, a father's fears of accidentally hurting his fragile baby, another's desperate attempts to save his drug-addict son, or the understanding that comes too late of why parents' behaviour can seem so mean to a child.  I hope I'm not making this sound like a collection filled with doom and gloom - it's far from that; laughter bubbles through, sometimes, especially from children, in the most inappropriate of moments. 
 There are also new twists on the Gingerbread House from Hansel and Gretel, and the Russian folk tale Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, and a wry look at what you might actually purchase in the supermarket's 'baby aisle'.

I think it's fair to say I loved each and every story in its own way, and, with a blend of the literary and accessible, Carys Bray is fast growing into one of my favourite authors, for short or longer fiction.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult literary fiction, short stories

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Winter Wolf by Holly Webb

Review by The Mole

Amelia is hiding from Freddie, Tom's rather large dog, as she has a fear of dogs, when she discovers a diary. The diary tells the story of Noah, a young boy in America, who is trying to keep a baby wolf safe from hunters.

Amelia falls asleep and when she awakes she has been transported into Noah's world to help him with saving the wolf.

A beautiful and gentle time shift story that brings to life, for the young reader, life in America during the frontier years.

The story is told in two parts that are interleaved. The narrator tells the story of Amelia while each chapter has an excerpt from Noah's diary that is in a handwritten font and told purely from his perspective.

Black and white illustrations abound throughout the book and the whole thing is an excellent and very easy read.

For readers in the 6-8 age group this book will delight.

Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre - Children's early reader

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Liar's Chair by Rebecca Whitney

review by Maryom

Speeding through country lanes on her way home from a night with her lover, Rachel Teller hits and kills a man. Hastily hiding the body in nearby woods, she carries on home to her husband David - who seems remarkably unfazed by his wife admitting to a hit and run incident, in fact quite comfortable with it providing no one can trace it to them. With the evidence destroyed, he settles back to normal as if nothing has occurred. Rachel, though, becomes increasingly tormented by guilt, and her behaviour turns erratic and self-destructive, putting their business and the luxurious life they've built at risk.

I'm really in two minds about this book. It's well told, gripping, and fulfils all the criteria for an excellent psychological thriller BUT I found it difficult to relate to the characters, and especially to find any sympathy for Rachel. Her marriage was obviously one of convenience rather than love but when David turns vindictive and abusive, trying his utmost to humiliate and degrade Rachel, I couldn't understand why she accepted this and stayed. Maybe her back story emerged too late - as when it does, it becomes clear what a damaged person she is, how worthless she has always felt and how ready to be dominated by a forceful man; maybe I just like my heroines to have more gumption.

This is Rebecca Whitney's first novel and I'm hoping there'll be more - and just hope another time I feel more connection with the characters.

Maryom's review - 3 stars
Publisher -
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adult psychological thriller

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Above by Isla Morley

review by Maryom

 On the day of her Kansas town's annual picnic and carnival, sixteen year old schoolgirl Blythe is abducted. Tricked by someone she knows and trusts into believing her brother has had an accident, she finds herself driven to a disused missile silo - and imprisoned there. At first stunned into disbelief by what has happened, she expects to be found and rescued after at most a few days, but as time drags on she begins to feel she could be there for life. Her captor, school librarian and survivalist Dobbs Hordin, believes he's saved her - rescued her from terrible events which are going to wipe out civilisation. He's got to be delusional though, hasn't he?

 This is a book that I'd heard a lot about through various bloggers on social media, so although the Mole has already reviewed it back in May I thought I'd treat the paperback publication as an excuse to read it myself.
Knowing about it turned out to be a bit of a disadvantage, so I'm hoping not to give away more here. I'd heard in quite some detail about the plot twist in the middle so knew what to expect and how things were more or less going to end. This meant that I raced through the beginning which, in retrospect, I think was the better half of the book. Blythe's plight, initial shock, followed by anger then acceptance coupled with Dobbs' creepy attempts to win her over, are all brilliantly portrayed. Their relationship see-saws with the power first being on one side, then briefly the other, rocking back and forth between Dobbs and Blythe. At times I thought that Blythe, worn down by years of incarceration, missed out on opportunities to manipulate Dobbs, but on the other hand she'd had no other human contact for so long and no chance to mature beyond her age when abducted.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Two Roads
Genre - Adult fiction