Monday, 27 June 2016

RIDE by Lisa Glass, reviewed by Tamsyn Murray

"As a professional surfer, seventeen-year-old Iris has travelled the sun-kissed beaches of the globe. But after a tumultuous week in Miami leaves her heartbroken, Iris returns to her home town in the south coast of England. Putting her promising career on hold. Leaving behind Zeke, the boy who changed her world. Iris is desperate to get back to her old life, to the family and friends she grew up with. She wants to rediscover her passion for surfing. She needs to move on.
But Iris soon realises it won't be that simple. Because while a summer romance might only last the season, first loves never truly leave you."

Ride is the third and final book in Lisa Glass' surfing trilogy and sees an emotionally-battered Iris returning to her roots in Newquay. Things have moved on in the time she's been gone; her mother has a new relationship, her best friend is the same but different and her ex is engaged to someone else. Only one thing remains constant and that's the sea.

Iris struggles to find her place in Newquay again. She's a celebrity now, the very definition of a local girl made good in a town where professional surfers are rock stars: she's different. And as well as having to cope with the changed perceptions of friends and acquaintances, Iris also has to deflect questions from her loved ones - where is Zeke? Why isn't he with her?

Unwilling to admit the truth, even to herself, Iris lets her emotions overrule her head. She makes some mistakes and has to live with some unpleasant consequences. And every time she surfs, she is reminded of Zeke. The upcoming must-win competition hangs in the balance as Iris loses her edge on the waves. And then she sees Zeke again...

Ride is another perfect summer read from Lisa Glass - I was instantly transported to the beaches at Fistral, Tolcarne and Lusty Glaze in Cornwall. I was impressed at the way Cornish dialect rolls off the page too - not in an intrusive way; readers might not even notice if they don't know the speech rhythms and phrases, but for me it gave the story an added layer of authenticity. I heard Cornwall in every bit of dialogue.

The delicious Zeke is absent for most of the story, but he's written in so cleverly in flashbacks and conversations that I felt he was just off the page, ready to walk in at any moment. Iris herself is a fabulous strong MC and I loved seeing her grow and change. This book is also very much about the value of friendship and I enjoyed the way these were shown: I especially want a best friend like Kelly! Ride doesn't shy away from physical relationships; there's more sex than ever, which is only right as Iris matures and grows up. It's not all romance - there's plenty of drama and of course lots of fantastic surf detail. Be warned, though; the climax of the book will have your heart racing for an entirely different reason - it had me on the edge of my seat. Lisa Glass certainly knows how to end a chapter on a cliffhanger!

I would recommend this YA book for 14+. Published by Quercus, available now!


Saturday, 18 June 2016

HORIZON ALPHA: PREDATORS OF EDEN by D.W. Vogel; reviewed by Gillian Philip

Dinosaurs in space. DINOSAURS IN SPACE!

I could just leave my review there, because let's face it, that is an awesome enough premise, but that would be doing this book a great disservice. The book opens as our protagonist Caleb sets out on a dangerous mission; but there's some unsettling history to the way his small human community met the dinosaurs.

The calamity that has destroyed Planet Earth is, for once, not the consequence of humanity's misdeeds: it's simply a giant cosmic accident. Mercury wobbles in its orbit; Jupiter's gravitational pull alters; Earth's scientists realise they have eighty years to save what's left of humanity. And that's it. From that terrifying moment, it's been a race against time to build four Horizon spaceships that will carry a small sample of humanity to distant, unknown worlds. One of the ships, Gamma, never gets out of the solar system; on the others, generations live and die without setting foot on solid ground.

Horizon Alpha is the first to reach a habitable planet, Tau Ceti e. Horizons Beta and Delta are still somewhere out there, our narrator Caleb assumes: still speeding across unimaginable distances in search of a home. That's a melancholy enough ghost in the story, but because of an explosion as the shuttles are loading, Horizon Alpha is left a wreck in space. Now it orbits Ceti, a spectral and eerie presence that Caleb can't forget – not least because his own father died there, saving as many as he could.

The sheer desperation of the survivors makes this book a nerve-shredding fight for survival from the outset. They're not well-equipped; they have no means of escape; they simply have to endure, and scavenge what they can from the planet's surface and from the wreckage of other shuttles. They can't even be sure of keeping their camp's protective electric fence powered up. And boy, do they need that electric fence...

The creatures that live on this planet aren't Earth dinosaurs, Caleb emphasises; they're what evolved on Ceti instead. Some of them are exactly like ours (what's a dinosaur story without a T-Rex or two?); others are monsters that are entirely native to Ceti. And what monsters – the highly intelligent and terrifying 'Wolves' (called that only because they're grey, and hunt in packs); the motionless, apparently somnolent Crabs, which lie perfectly camouflaged till they lunge to snap a traveller in two; Gilas, creatures that only have to bite once...

The dinosaurs clearly can't be allowed to breach Eden's fence; so fifteen-year old Caleb (who has already lost a brother as well as a father) is chosen for a military sortie, to retrieve a prized power core from a crashed shuttle. Of course, too much can go wrong on this planet; for the mission's own shuttle flight, it goes quickly, violently wrong. Only six members of the party survive the crash.

The good news: they swiftly find the old shuttle wreckage and its precious power core. The bad news: they have to make their way back to their settlement, Eden, on foot and with barely any supplies. And given the hostile environment of Ceti and its native fauna, the expedition becomes a classic, nail-biting, And-Then-There-Were-None horror story.

I was gripped throughout. Caleb has courage – it wouldn't be possible to have survived on Ceti this long without it – but he knows his shortcomings, and he is terribly afraid. His brother vanished on a similar mission, and Caleb is desperate not to become another lost son for his mother to grieve. That makes him cautious to begin with, and the reader can sympathise. The terror only increases as they get closer to Eden, and there are plenty of obstacles, inanimate and living, that threaten to stop them dead. But Caleb's is a classic Hero's Journey, and when things get critically worse, he knows he has to find it in himself to save what's left of their party.

The characters can't help but be sympathetic, given what they're up against – and what they're fighting for, which is the highest possible stakes. They're all individuals, vividly drawn, and you root for every one, from the gruff and competent General Carthage to the eager but nervous naturalist Sara Arnson. You want them all to get out alive. You know perfectly well that won't happen.

D.W. Vogel puts a great deal of care into the technical, natural and scientific detail; the Tau Ceti e ecosystem makes sense, and so does the history of humanity's remnants. There are no laser guns for fighting off alien creatures; humanity didn't have time to invent them. This is a down-and-dirty, desperate fight for survival against impossible odds; The Walking Dead, but with dinosaurs.

The story ends not on a frustrating cliffhanger, but with a development that the reader desperately wants to follow through to its consequences. I'm on tenterhooks for the next instalment.

(currently available only as Kindle edition in the UK)

Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden by D.W. Vogel; Future House Publishing £2.04


Monday, 13 June 2016

MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE by Robin Stevens; Review by Penny Dolan

This review was inspired by a twelve-year-old girl, waiting at the bookshop counter, and enthusiastically clutching a book to her school blazer. When I asked, she proudly showed me the title: MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE by Robin Stevens, and her enthusiasm is why I came away with a copy for myself (and for my bookshelf for occasional young visitors.

MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE, a well-paced and well-plotted crime novel is set in the 1930’s. This title takes place at Deepdean School for Girls, echoing the traditional jolly-lacrosse-sticks boarding school stories of that era. Stevens recreates a world of bells, bun-breaks, tuck-boxes, dorms, pranks and pashes, along with spinsterish teachers and the general social obligation to be “a good sport”.

The plot is, basically, one of those "who done it" puzzles, familiar to readers of Agatha Christie. The novel nips along, full of suspense, bravery and crime-solving but I felt that a particular strength of the book is that Robin Stevens does not hide the bleakness of boarding school life, nor the racism and snobbery of that life and era, possibly hinting that such matters still exist in society now.

The two third-year heroines, Hazel Wong and the Honourable Daisy Wells, have formed a secret Detective Agency. Although Daisy, with her blonde hair, wide blue eyes and energy on the lacrosse field, appears a tall and typical English Rose, she artfully conceals a Sherlockian intelligence and ruthlessness. 

By way of contrast, short, thoughtful Hazel Wong, with her long brown hair and dark eyes, has come all the way from Hong Kong. Sent by her wealthy father so she will have a "good English education", Hazel discovers that she must learn about the often uncomfortable “English way” of doing things, along with coping with the cold weather.  Hazel becomes Daisy's carefully observant Watson, recording their investigations in her Casebook, and we follow the twists and turns of the plot - and the oddities of school life - through her eyes and experiences. 

Daisy is admirably impulsive but shy, reliable Hazel is the one with whom the reader identifies and sympathizes. The plot starts promptly: Hazel returns alone to the “haunted” gym for her pullover but finds the body of Miss Bell lying below the balcony.  However, when Hazel and Daisy return, the science-mistress's corpse has gone. Although the headmistress reports that Miss Bell has been called away, the girls know better and set out to prove it. The short chapters whip along from one excitement to another and, for those who occasionally need to check up on who is who, or where, a helpful plan of the school grounds and list of characters is included at the front of the volume.

In true thirties-detective style, Hazel and Daisy draw up a list of suspect staff, examine their motives and whereabouts, employ clever stratagems (and lies) and pursue the case to the most surprising end. I found this book a very satisfying read, with a healthy display of bold spirits and curiosity!

MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE is the first in a series of four crime novels (followed by ARSENIC FOR TEA, FIRST CLASS MURDER and JOLLY FOUL PLAY) and although the plots do have something slightly predictable in the solution, they all offer enjoyable escapism for 10- 13 year old readers, despite scary moments and neatly murderous contents.

(A very small worry: I am not sure that, without the enthusiasm of my bookshop friend, I’d have come away with the book. The cover art does fit the period and genre extremely well but I am not sure the covers sell the series well enough on their own. I really am hoping I am wrong here!)

Robin Stevens is also the author of one of the twelve stories in the highly-praised MYSTERY & MAYHEM anthology. She also reports on her blog that she is currently working on Book Five of the MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE series. Jolly good show there, Stevens!

Review by Penny Dolan.


Friday, 10 June 2016

The Fairiest Fairy by Anne Booth & Rosalind Beardshaw review by Lynda Waterhouse

This is a warm and charming picture book that should be a staple in every book corner, library and home. Why? Because it tells the story of Betty, the trainee fairy ,who starts at fairy school and find that it’s a tough and hard place to get things right. Her teacher shakes her head and thinks she is such a messy muddle.  Betty’s confidence takes a bashing when she can’t scatter all the dew drops so they sparkle in the sun, perfect her morning spell to wake up every flower or paint a pretty rainbow.
‘But little, messy Betty had a
Broken-hearted cry.
“I’m always in a muddle,
Even though I try and try”’.
This week all 6-year-olds will take their phonic test .. err .. pardon me .. will be screened and, no matter how kind the teachers are, a lot of the children, like Betty, will get into a muddle  and feel heartbroken.  They won’t understand that the main point of this test is so that schools can be held accountable and that their teacher’s pay will be linked to the results. A perfect time to read them this story and show them that there are other things that matter more than getting the ‘right’ answer. Betty is brave and clever and kind. She helps out a rabbit, a baby blackbird and a butterfly with tangled laces. She makes friends and learns the importance of friendship and working as a team.  
Rosalind Beardshaw’s colourful illustrations perfectly capture the mood and rhythm of the rhyming text. The book also includes a free Stories Aloud smartphone audio book.
ISBN 978 -0-85763-316-3
Published by nosy crow


Monday, 6 June 2016

THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING by Marie Kondo. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull.

This book sets out to teach a way of de-cluttering and tidying that ensures that you need never do it again.

"Tidy a little a day and you'll be tidying forever." Marie Kondo believes that tidying in one go is the only way to stay free of clutter. She insists that you discard before tidying, and that you do this by category and in the correct order, namely clothes - which are easiest to discard - books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and finally sentimental items (the hardest to let go of.) You are asked to take each item in your hand and ask yourself whether it 'sparks joy'. As long as you don't take this too literally (your thermal vest may not spark joy, but you'll miss it next winter if you chuck it out) I found this an excellent way of clearing excess clothing; and Marie Kondo's system of folding and storing clothes upright, so that you can see what's there, works well.

However, for the purpose of this review I shall focus on my experiment with de-cluttering my office. I am a writer and work at home from a converted bedroom. There are no clothes in my office, so I started with category 2: Books.

Before we start, you need to know that you are not supposed to do one room at a time. Within each category Marie Kondo advocates collecting up all the items that fall into that category in your entire house and piling them on the floor so that you can see exactly what you've got.

This is where Marie Kondo and I part company. I am more than 40 years her senior, and the thought of putting a heap of stuff on the floor and engaging in all that unnecessary bobbing up and down is a definite no-no for me. So I have to admit to having moved the goalposts right from the start. I piled my stuff on a bed, in batches.

I thought it would be easy to cull the books in my office. I usually have no trouble getting rid of excess books elsewhere in the house. However, the books in my office are mostly those I've bought for research - and since much of my work is historical fiction, that's a lot of books. I often re-visit subjects, and these are all books I use and dip into - so I removed very few.

Anxious to succeed, I moved on to papers. This was much more satisfying. I threw out dozens of manuscripts, huge folders of old research notes, decades of correspondence. I cleared my desk of multiple notes written on bits of paper and put any necessary information in a notebook.

I emptied the bulging carrier bag which used to be my repository for wrapping paper, envelopes for re-use, cardboard, etc., then selected sufficient items and put them neatly in a large shoebox (I have never been able to throw shoeboxes away, so I was glad to find that Marie Kondo recommends them for organising storage.)

I tidied my pinboards. I emptied a whole box file labelled 'Stuff for School Visits' since I don't do them any more. I threw out bulging folders of research notes for long since published books. I sorted and thinned drawers full of stationery.

My office now feels less cluttered, I know what I've got and where it is, and that I only have what I need or love. It's a more pleasant space in which to work. You won't see a lot of difference between my 'before' and 'after' photos but, believe me, I've shifted a lot of stuff - stuff which is unfortunately now piled on the landing, on chairs, and on the cellar steps, since the recycling won't be collected for a fortnight.

Marie Kondo's missionary zeal is easy to make fun of, but most of her advice is sensible. She emphasizes that you should focus not on reducing, but on choosing. Her philosophy - be kind to your possessions, thank them, and give them space to breathe - is not quite as daft as it sounds. It helps you to accept that while some possessions were important to you once, and gave you joy, you can let them go and move on.

The test, of course, is: will the clutter build up again? I hope not. But if it does - well, I've always enjoyed de-cluttering.


Thursday, 2 June 2016

GREY ISLAND, RED BOAT by Ian Beck. Reviewed by Saviour Pirotta

Title: Grey Island, Red Boat
Author and Illustrator: Ian Beck
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Pub date: February 2016
Format: pb

Princess Opal lives on the island of Ashes, a grey place where it's always November and it never stops raining.  Her father, the king, is forever taking off in his grey ballon to remonstrate with the rain clouds and the closest the princess ever comes to excitement is watching the fishermen unload their catch. It makes for a dreary life until one day a fishermen rescues a young man in a drifting boat. A boat with a red hull!

The young man is a sort of Midas figure, except that everything he touches turns
from grey to colourful. His magic touch injects a joie de vivre into the princess' life and soon the whole island is infected with his joy.  Not everyone is happy with this turn of events, though. Especially not the king who considers the young man a threat to the island's way of life! So he has him locked up in the dungeons, much to the chagrin of Princess Opal...

This is an original story but it reads like an elegant European fairytale. The beautifully written text, laden with references to precious stones, flows from one page to another, complimenting the gorgeous, retro illustrations. These start off black and white at the start of the bock and gradually get imbued with more and more colour as the story reaches a multicoloured finale. A little gem of a book, both for its story and its fabulous production.


Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Reviewed by Jackie Marchant

Cara has always been aware of the accident season.  It happens every October and causes falls, injuries and even death – but only to Cara and her family.  Her best friend Bea, despite being close to the family, always survives unscathed, but her ex-stepbrother, who is not  a blood-relative, is prone.  It is the month when their mother does everything she can to stop it – from extra rugs on the floor, padding every corner in the house, making Cara and her sister Alice wear coats and gloves no matter what the weather.

But Cara is seventeen and beginning to ask questions.   What causes this month of danger, which ends at Halloween?  Is there something more sinister going on?  At the same time, she starts seeing shimmery unworldly figures that mirror her close group – herself, her sister Alice, her best friend Bea and her ex-stepbrother Sam.  These alternative people seem to echo the concepts of the faery world Bea is so interested in, while having problems of their own regarding an evil step-father, who bears a striking resemblance to Sam’s long-gone father, who left after three years of marriage to Cara’s mother.   Then there is Alice’s too-good-looking-to-be-true boyfriend and the October bruises that Cara realises weren’t accidents.  Added to the mix is the mysterious Elsie, who has been at school with them all this time, yet no one seems to notice her, especially when she disappears.

These strands are all skilfully woven together in a mix of fantasy and reality, as the mystery deepens and the dangers become more real.  At the same time, Cara has to deal with her feelings for Sam that don’t seem quite right, as well as Bea’s pulling away from her towards Alice.  The tension increases as the story unfolds and hidden secrets come to the surface.

It’s a thrilling, fast-paced read, with well-drawn characters and many heart-in-your-mouth moments.  It’s dark and mysterious, but ultimately a good, satisfying book.  Perfect for fans of Frances Hardinge, I can highly recommend it.