Monday, 24 July 2017

Midnight at the Bright Idea Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan



This was not the book I was expecting , but I am very much richer for the experience. This is the story of Lydia a bookseller with a nice boyfriend, with a reasonable apartment in an up and coming part of town. A bibliophile, respected and adored at work, but secretly a piece of human flotsam. Running from a childhood trauma she hides in plain sight with the  “book frogs”, the disenfranchised homeless and friendless who make the bookshop a home away from home.

The death of Joey one of her young regulars by his own hand, there  in the shop where he  and Lydia both had found succour and solace,sets off a chain of events  that will leave Lydia reeling. Joey’s Sudden and rash act whilst in possession  of something he had no earthly business having and the  resulting mysterious messages  seemingly from the grave that he has left for Lydia embedded in books, bring the vivid and terrifying events of another winter night so many years before into vivid relief for Lydia again. 

Lydia and everyone she has sought to avoid or protect are forced into an unavoidable collision, where truths can bring nothing but heartbreak.

I loved this book for its gritty but sympathetic treatment of people kept on the periphery of society. Lydia’s youth was tainted by tragedy, her future is even now foreshadowed because of that and  ultimately no-one truly escapes this story unscathed. The cleverly twisty plot provides a satisfying mystery but also asks the reader to examine  the true nature of cause and effect. The innocent and the guilty are all scalded by the revelations found within.

I was gripped by this story, where nothing is quite what it appears, It is a quest for a catharsis for Lydia. This journey piecing together the tattered remnants of another person’s trauma so intrinsically linked with her own means she is ends up no longer a helpless child  in an adult’s body, but is ultimately a stronger and more emotionally rounded person, ready to embark on life unencumbered by the ominous weight of the past but changed indelibly.

Many thanks to Netgalley, Penguin Random House and author Matthew Sullivan for the privilege of reading this book prior to realease on August the 24th 2017.





Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Mighty by Michael J Sanford


Subtitle : Book 1 The Druids Guise Trilogy

I found this an absorbing story and I enjoyed the various creatures constructs  and characters very much. I liked the dual realities idea although this first book seemed to move from one to the other in a slightly frenetic way that seemed to interrupt the narrative flow a tiny bit. 

I am not quite sure where it sits in terms of genre, sometimes a little young for a young adult audience, Wyatt seems to be fairly unworldly for a fifteen year old so his innocence in the strangeness of Hagion does not have the degree of contrast that a more considered teen persona might have.

That being said in places  the story is a little old for a  younger child audience, it is heavy on the violent death and has some moderate cursing that would be unsuitable for younger readers.

I am sure  that it will find a niche audience however ,It was a strong foundation for what i think is a very promising series, the action ratchets up at a fair pace as the final third unfolds and the cliffhanger will encourage return readers.


Solid three stars.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

What it means when a man fall from the sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah



This is an remarkably clever and layered short story, one of the best I have heard in the series that LeVar Burton has given us in his newest podcast venture. Written by a woman of colour of Nigerian descent writing in the USA. It is a great science fiction story, but leaves you ruminating on all manner of modern  issues.

It is described as speculative fiction, the "what if" something happens that we recognise might occur, but is outside our thinking on the current trajectory of our planet..

Here mathematicians have found a formula for Human flight, mathematicians have also discovered the way to recognise and determine how to literally subtract grief from people who have suffered a loss. 

Fabulous one might say, except that it is only a service offered to the most wealthy or from the most respected members of society. So far so familiar, although the Grief equation idea is fresh and vibrant.

What raises this story head and shoulders above others is the way it turns our prejudices on their head. Europe and America have been decimated by floods, the populations of those continents a refugee class seeking sanctuary on the African and Australasian land masses.




The British  are painted as an aggressively demanding minority, seeking reparation and special treatment,demanding to live together to protect their culture. A insightful and cutting commentary on the West's attitude to immigration.

All of the  accepted human faiths are now defunct only the truth of the infinite formula exists. Creation might be scientific, not from deities or Gods.

It made me sit and think for a long time after the reading was complete. A truly great story for the reader who likes to make up their own mind.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Blog Tour - Two Cousins of Azov by Andrea Bennett

Two Cousins Of Azov by Andrea Bennett

It seems there is  nothing I like  more(at least in my more recent book choices)  than a cantankerous and mysterious older gentleman. This startling change in my reading habits, coupled with a Russian setting to gently call to my own Baltic roots, makes my acceptance of the kind offer to take my place  as a reviewer stop on the Blog Tour for the new book "Two Cousins of Azov" a foregone conclusion

This second book by Andrea Bennett, a new release from Harper Collins turns out to be a very intriguing  blend. 

As the title suggests, this story centres around two cousins whose lives are being thwarted by constraint and confusion, hobbled by fear or guilt .

Gov, a conjuror of a “certain age” is  trying to stage a comeback whilst wearing in a new magician’s assistant. Gov has suddenly got quite a bit on his  hereto somewhat bland plate of late. Without fanfare, he is recently alarmed by several unusual occurrences, the unfortunate demise of a rabbit, an inexplicable loss of a boiled egg and shocking appearance of a face at the window when he is four floors up.




This apparition seems inextricably linked to the florid tales  of Anatolya, a  man with no memory of how he got there, but who is now the near silent inmate of an asylum. He remembers his youth however and it is there that  a naive and mildly self serving young doctor must allow him to begin 
as he delves into a search for the catalyst for the man’s current mental malaise. 

This callow youth’s attempt to cash in academically on the events leading to his recent breakdown and hospitalisation, unlocks speech and his cache of memories.

The gradual revelation of a shared youth in a Soviet  Siberia seems to provide the origin story that  both boys shared of The Moth Boy that ominous and spectral face that is making  poor Gov begin to question his sanity. This is a book about curtains being lifted to the past and truths it reveals.This all set against a brave new world in Russia where the Soviet Block is being dismantled and opportunism vies with traditional values and folklore for the upper hand.




The wide variety of supporting characters seem at first glance, to be extreme and outlandish. They are great fun for the reader. A Somewhat hyperactive children, neighbourhood gossips, hypochondriacs, mediums and underhanded connivers all pepper the tale. Spicing the mix like the ginger in the sweet treats that bring memories and a simple joy to Tolya, these characters bring colour and humorous variety.

Andrea Bennett’s obvious affinity with the Russian people, no doubt stemming from her studies, is used great effect here. The early post Soviet years are drawn with wide streak of grim humour always bubbling at the surface of the story. It is a stoicism typical of those who have seen great suffering with no outlet  for  complaint that even when faced with startling and frankly terrifying events they just get on with the daily grind. A place where a piece of cake is the epitome of joy and contentment.

These larger than life folk actually nestle into a much deeper more intelligently layered story punctuated with sweetly melancholic examination of  the true nature of loneliness. It excavates  the burdens of guilt we place on ourselves after a long and eventful, the realities of ageing and the ethereal nature of the memory. 

Andrea Bennett has written a story that made me smile and chuckle but simultaneously made me very sad too. There is a gentle pathos to the story and I applaud her ability to make a story magical and a little mythical and yet also desperately honest and real. 

I travelled alongside these two extraordinary men, for a while and when I left them, I felt compelled to reaffirm and reinforce my own relationships.

When a book’s signature resonates into my real world so loudly and with such clear tones, I know I have discovered a winner. I can offer no greater praise than this, when the final page was turned, I wished for amnesia so that I might read it again.


Oh and one more thing...



For an extra treat and a chance to recreate a taste of the book in your own kitchen:



Here is a recipe for the delicious cake-like biscuits that Tolya loves so much!




Pryaniki
Traditional Russian pryaniki use special mounds and stamps, but don’t let the lack of them stop you from trying to make them yourself: traditional cookie cutters do just as well, as does the rim of a glass.
Ingredients: 
3-cups all-purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon of dry ginger
1/2-teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2-teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4-teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8-teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 knob of fresh ginger:  finely grated
1-cup granulated sugar
1-cup of honey
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2-cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
3 tablespoons of lemon zest

 Directions:
1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt.
2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and thick.
3. Gently heat the honey and ginger in double boiler until warmed through. 
4. Stir the honey and vanilla into the beaten egg mixture. Mix in the dry ingredients to form stiff dough. 
5. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

 
6. Make the icing:  combine confectioner sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest together until smooth.  Set aside.
7. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Place the tack in the middle of the oven.  Butter or grease two cookie sheets.
8. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1cm thickness.   
9. Cut the cookies to roughly 5cm diameter, depending on the shape and cutters you use.
10. Place cookies on the prepared baking sheets at 5cm intervals.  Bake for 9 minutes; rotate the sheet, then bake for an additional 9 minutes (total 18 minutes or until the cookies are just golden).
11. Allow the cookies to cool for 2 minutes on the tray, and then transfer them to a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes.  
12. Glaze cookies with icing.


Priyanogo Appetita!


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel


YA Fiction - Netgalley Review

I must start this review by simply stating that this is perhaps one of the best YA books of it’s type I have ever read. Here the emotions are truthful and raw without being mawkish. The story approaches loss and grief in such a way that rather than going for the “big weep” as I like to call it, it is more a process of repetitive cracking and solidifying like an ice flow, those fissures creating weaknesses that might be forced open at the slightest pressure of the ocean below.

Juniper is a marvellous character and I loved her unconditionally.  Her love for her sister and theguilt she feels over her own emotional outburst that is the catalyst for her search -not only for answers about her sister’s secret, but her own perceived culpability in her sister’s death, made her desperately relatable to me.

Her previous relationships and  friendships are fragile and brittle, but the collection of outliers she draws close during her personal journey are the seasoning to this glorious ragout. I fell in love with each of them, the dreamers, the thinkers, the geeks and the rebels in any other setting would seem to be overused tropes but here they became vital and fresh additions. There might have been a love triangle, but Julie Israel never allows her Male protagonists to become truly adversarial which for me is such a boon particularly in a genre where this device has been overused.


The book never allows the reader to know the identity of The Secret love, but this reader has her own ideas about the person Camie might have loved.. the bravery of leaving the question unanswered is a master stroke, in the same way that grief cannot be dealt with uniformly,there are no definitives in love either. We know that Camie’s message is conveyed and that brings peace.

Overall this book was a delight and made me very happy that I shared those chaotic mysterious months with Juniper.




Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Man Who Climbs Trees by James Aldred


This is a simple book unadulterated by stylistic twiddles or literary device. It is a love letter to trees and the natural world as a whole. These are the  stories of the monster trees that James climbs to prepare the way for and assist National History filmmakers get the very best vantage points for their programmes.


 James endures weather and even insect infestation of his very flesh to climb these dangerous trees,so that masters of Natural History such as the Greatest TV naturalist alive, Mr David Attenborough himself!

It is a book of  passionate dedication and the pure joy he experiences when in the canopy. It was a glorious book for anyone who loves to travel vicariously and see the wonders of the world from above.



Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Kin - a short story by Bruce McCallister


This rather wonderful discovery Is  thanks to the brand new endeavour "read by Levar Burton " in his new Short story podcast which seeks to replicate for adult readers the success of his Reading Rainbow series... Think Jackanory in the U.K.

This inaugural story is simple really, young boy calls on Alien assassin to deal with the man who wants to murder his sister and the ensuing relationship between boy and otherworldly visitor.

For such a short tale it packs in a really good chunk of science fiction in a sophisticated and believable way. The existence of aliens is accepted by humanity, in fact school curriculum involves extra terrestrial history and social study. More sinister than this however  is the idea that population control is part of life and choice is no longer the everyday woman's prerogative but that of Government and big business.


There is a hefty emotional punch too, the final paragraphs create a warm and fuzzy glow, more surprising for what was gritty and visceral at the outset. A thoroughly immersive half hour.