Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

review by Maryom

Late 21st century America has found a new way of dealing with criminals - advances in DNA analysis means that boys with a predisposition to violence and criminal behaviour can be identified, removed from their families and brought up in strictly run correctional schools. Within this Goodhouse system, the boys are brought up to be obedient and docile, striving for the goal of being allowed to rejoin the outside world as good upright workers. Like so many systems though it's open to abuse..
James was taken from his family at the age of 3 and brought up within a series of these Goodhouse establishments; his life has been an endless round of Goodhouse-approved books and videos encouraging a productive, well-behaved role when they're reintroduced into society. Now 17, he's getting his first taste of the outside world on a Community Day - a day which should have cemented all his aspirations but instead leads to them falling apart. He spends the day with a 'normal' family but within that family is Bethany, a girl of his own age (and remember he's been brought up in a school of only boys) who proves to be the catalyst that brings down his world.

Goodhouse is a rivetting read - part action thriller and part chilling dystopian vision of a not-so-distant future.
The world, of course, isn't the straightforward prosperous place James has been led to believe in. Various factions have their differing views on what should happen to the Goodhouse boys - not all pleasant - and even those trusted with their care are exploiting them. James' expectations of a respectable life are threatened as much by his teachers and carers as the sudden downturn in his behaviour. His only hope of survival is to find out exactly what is going on behind the scenes at Ione Goodhouse, and somehow bring it to the attention of the outside world - obviously a plan that has its own dangers.

Behind the story, lurks the science- and it's chilling. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that DNA researchers could identify a gene associated with criminal behaviour and it's too easy to envisage a society that would set up houses of correction for anyone born with it. Of course, get a group that no one really cares about effectively imprisoned, and it's a license for the jailers to do as they want. Can it ever be right to step in and control peoples lives, even when it's ostensibly for their own good?

Taken together, the two aspects make an exciting, thought-provoking read for both adults and teens.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre -dystopian

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Review by The Mole

Nick Fox, master con-man, is caught on camera committing a simple but audacious theft. FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare is the only person to have arrested Fox in the past and so she is requested for the case. The problem is that the FBI have recruited Fox and Kate is convinced that the crime is not his style and she trusts him not to be working his stings any more. Another "Fox" crime occurs elsewhere in Europe but this time Fox is with Kate at the time - not that she can admit that to anyone! Between them Kate and Nick take on one of the biggest crime lords on the planet in a scheme that is audacious, dangerous and a massive con.

I have previously read "The Heist" - the first of this series of books - and it was a serious amount of fun. Fast furious and totally unbelievable - escapism at it's very best. This book seems more settled, comfortable in that the writers seem to know the characters better and both Nick and Kate - although Kate still has distinct boundaries - are allowed to get away with more.

And we find listed a recipe for mushy peas... well, the writers are American so I suppose we can forgive them that mistake.

I can really see these books making the big screen as they have all the elements and while little bits are a little "adult" they could so easily be good family fun.

A real pleasure to read - watch out for this pair (Fox and O'Hare OR Evanovich and Goldberg).

Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult thriller

Friday, 12 December 2014

Ruthless by Cath Staincliffe

 review by Maryom

At first an abandoned chapel going up in flames looks like just another case of arson but then a body is found amongst the ashes. Local thugs Neil and Noel Perry, both with previous convictions for arson, were seen in the vicinity but what motive would they have for shooting a harmless homeless guy? And where could they have got the weapon? While DCI Murray's team set to work on door to door enquiries trying to pick up leads, another building in the same area goes up in flames.....

Ruthless fits nicely in-between series 2 and 3 of the Scott and Bailey TV series, as Rachel is settling down to married life, or not, Janet and Ade are back living together but their marriage is definitely on the rocks, and Gill's husband is putting in a most unwelcome appearance. If you're a fan you'll know the set-up, if not the book gives enough back-story to fill you in, without giving too much away. I love the series for its strong female leads - there's not just the odd woman outnumbered in a male dominated department, but a more-or-less evenly split team, including Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey and led by the confident, commanding  DCI Gill Murray - this though is the first of the novels I've read. As I'd expected it very much picks up where the televised story leaves off, following the troubled private lives of the three women while they try to clear up a spate of arson attacks and murder. The plot is twisting, turning and unpredictable, but I think for once the drama in the lives of Janet and her elder daughter Elise might almost overshadow the police investigation.
Helped no doubt by having seen them brought to life on TV, the characters feel like real people that I can relate to, understand the conflict they find between home-life and work, and their desire to do the job to their best ability while still having some semblance of a normal life outside it.

It's definitely a book for fans of the TV series, but even if you've never watched it (why?) give this a read, you won't be disappointed. I really enjoyed it and will be reading more of the Scott and Bailey novels in future.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre - adult crime fiction

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

review by Maryom

For forty years, Odran Yates has been a priest - at first pushed into choosing this career by his mother who claimed he had a vocation, but soon settling into the role. His life has been spent happily enough, mainly at a boys' boarding school, but now, even in his sheltered environment, he can no longer ignore the scandals rocking the Catholic Church in Ireland, or the nagging voice of his conscience. Even when he first entered the seminary at 17, there were incidents between his fellow students which worried him, but Odran has always been able to close his eyes, has never wanted to stir up trouble and always accepted the dubious assurances of his superiors. Finally forced into acknowledging the abuses of trust and power that have been going on around him, Odran comes to realise that by keeping silent he is as guilty as anyone.

A History of Loneliness is a story of shame and pain, the loss of innocence of one man in particular and his country in general. Odran Yates has tried to live a good life in keeping with the dictates of his conscience and his church, but that church has now let him down - not only have some of its members abused their positions of trust and power, but these abuses have been covered up by officials within the church. From being the holder of a revered position, he's now become a distrusted and hated figure, tainted by the guilt of others, reviled by passers by on the street and even his own family.
The story moves from the present, as Odran tries to cope with his sister's deteriorating health and the new troubled world of the priesthood, to his childhood, marred by tragedy, and the progression of his career - his initial enthusiasm, the temptation that nearly led him astray, and the ever-present doubts and qualms to which he resolutely turns a blind eye.  For this is Odran's sin - to have kept quiet, lulled into a state of acceptance and acquiescence by his desire for a peaceful life.

It would no doubt have been easier for the author to have tackled this subject from the standpoint of one of the victims, or their abuser, to have given the reader a clear-cut figure to hate but instead he gives us a character for whom we can feel sympathy; one who at first seems unfairly labelled due to the actions of others, who has tried live up to his ideals but has done as many of us might have - kept quiet for the sake of a peaceful life. Maybe, as his story unwinds, we come to feel that Odran wasn't quite that naive, that his ignorance was deliberate, but ultimately he comes to realise that by keeping quiet he was complicit in the harm that's been done.

I'd expected a moving, hard-hitting read, which A History of Loneliness certainly delivers; I hadn't expected the humour that peeps through from time to time, as it will in life.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult contemporary literary fiction

John Boyne author event 2013

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

After Helen by Paul Cavanagh

Review by The Mole

Irving Cruickshank is an unassuming history teacher grieving the death of his beautiful and headstrong wife Helen. Though their relationship was tumultuous at best, Irving is determined to hold on to his happier memories of Helen. Their teenaged daughter Severn, however, is unable to come to terms with her death. When Severn disappears after stealing a book that may reveal more about her mother than she ever wanted to know, Irving is frantic. He follows her to Toronto where he’s forced to confront his life with Helen; from their chance encounter at her father’s bookshop to his clumsy courtship and their turbulent marriage. Irving gradually realises that some truths can’t be changed and that he must face up to the reality of Helen if he has any chance of repairing his relationship with his daughter.

You know when you pick up a book and then realise you have mistaken the author for someone else and the further you get into the book the more delighted you become to have made the mistake? That.

The story is told chapter by chapter alternating between Irving and Helen's turbulent past and Irving and Severn's confrontational present in smallish chunks. Irving starts out frustrated at Severn's rebellion and her running away. In order to find Severn he joins forces with Marla, the mother of Severn's boyfriend. Slowly, with Marla's common sense approach, the atmosphere settles but can Irving and Severn ever reconcile their differences with everything they have learned about Helen?

This is Cavanagh's first book that was originally published in Canada and while it has received critical acclaim it has only now become available to the rest of the world.

While it is an emotional roller coaster it's not overly sentimental and didn't draw me in the way many books do but is a well executed story of parental relationships with teenage children and the needs of both adult and child, and the space and support they both need from each other and those around them.

I was swept along from page one and only slightly frustrated occasionally when a chapter ended at what felt like an inappropriate point. Was it a story that blew my socks off? Well perhaps not but I still did really enjoy it.

Publisher  - Paperback and ebook from all the usual sources
Genre - Adult Fiction

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Over the Hills and Far Away Collected by Elizabeth Hammill

Review by The Mole

Every small child needs a really good collection of nursery rhymes and here is such an anthology. With many old traditional favourites as well as some from around the world,this collection of 150 is brought together and illustrated by 77 different artists from around the world most of who have become household names as either illustrators or artists in their own right.

Collected together by Elizabeth Hammill the sale of this book supports Seven Stories, National Centre for Children's Books whose aim is to save, celebrate and share Britain's literary heritage for children.

Many of my childhood favourites are featured as well as some that have slipped into current culture from overseas, making this an excellent collection but the illustrations take it one stage further. Because so many artists have added their own illustrations each page turned is a new experience and idea. Sometimes one picture fits two rhymes (Old King Cole/Hector protector) in a clever union and in other cases it's one per poem. My favourite? Am I allowed a Favourite? It has to be Old Mother Hubbard.

If you are looking for a present for a young child then you could do no better than this - and it has a seasonal robin on the front cover!

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's nursery rhymes

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Reaper by Steven Dunne

review by Maryom

DI Damen Brook thought that by leaving the Met and moving to Derby he could put his past behind him ...but he's about to be proved wrong. When a Derby family are brutally murdered in their own home, Brook can feel a familiar hand behind it - that of the Reaper, a killer Brook hunted for so long without bringing to justice. After so many years, why would the Reaper move his attention to Derby? The only answer is that he's out to deliberately provoke Brook ....

Although this is the first outing for DI Brook, I've already encountered him in later books in the series ( Deity and The Unquiet Grave ) so I vaguely knew the turn events would take, but even so The Reaper proved to be a really compelling read.
A psychological thriller that delves into the minds of both ruthless killer and the detective hunting him down, it's dark, brutal and shocking in a variety of ways. I don't want to risk giving the plot away, or the chilling twist of events, but on one hand there's the despondency of police officers who see so many outrages that they become numb to the horror yet are powerless to prevent it, and on the other, the complacency of a killer who believes himself to be above the law - all very grim disturbing stuff and not for anyone who likes their crime to be 'cosy'. 
As I say, I'd met Brook before and wondered how he'd turned into the scarred lonely individual of the later books - well, even the younger Brook is a strange man, obsessed by a series of killings, abandoning his family to stalk the man he believes committed them, who in his turn, manipulates Brook and turns him to suit his own ends. I'm just surprised Brook hasn't turned out even more twisted!

If you're intrigued by Brook and his pursuit of the Reaper, you can read more in this interview  with author Steven Dunne.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins (Avon)

Genre - adult,
psychological thriller