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A City Dreaming
A City Dreaming
by Daniel Polansky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual and gripping urban fantasy gem, 28 July 2016
This review is from: A City Dreaming (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When M returns to New York after 5 years away, he finds himself frequenting old haunts, resuming old friendships, dodging a keen wannabe apprentice, meeting new gods and facing unique challenges. A magic user (whose abilities are as mysterious as his name), M is a drifter who’s reluctant to get involved but that isn’t an option in a city run by two warring demi-goddesses – Celise and Abeline – especially when something threatens the heart of the city and M is the only person who knows where the heart is …

In a crowded and sometimes jaded urban fantasy market, Daniel Polansky has produced a real and unusual gem. Ignore what the blurb on the back says – there’s no single unifying story, it’s more a collection of interconnected short stories with each chapter forming an episode in M’s life and although the heart of the city storyline is the most prominent recurring strand (as is the battle between Celise and Abeline, which pitches wealth and money against hipster, hippy chic), it doesn’t come to the fore until the final quarter of the book. Having heard positive things about Polansky’s other books I was not disappointed with this because of the sheer scale of Polansky’s imagination. His New York is home to pocket universes, impossible subway journeys, demonic houses, drugs that can put a god in your brain and a fish that can give you the benefit of all the wisdom in the world. Every chapter is a delight (my favourites involve M and his friends being transported to an alternate universe where they’re forced to play heroes and a truly evil house that eats anyone who mistakenly enters it) and even though the supporting cast of the bullish, violent Boy, naÔve wannabe apprentice Flemel, romantic loser Andre and dashing adventurer Stockdale are thinly drawn what Polansky does put on the page stays in your mind (especially Stockdale, who I thought was a great inversion of the British Empire hero). If I have a criticism I have to say that the drug taking was used too frequently to bash the message of how bored these magic users can become with their longer lifespans but Polansky does it with dark humour and puts a creative spin on it. All in all, I think urban fantasy fans should definitely check this out and I’ll be ordering Polansky’s back catalogue.


Mister Memory
Mister Memory
by Marcus Sedgwick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Mash-up of historical, literary and crime thriller that doesn't quite come off, 27 July 2016
This review is from: Mister Memory (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Paris, 1899. Marcel Despres (known as Mister Memory) and his wife, Ondine, run a famous memory act at the Cabaret of Insults but theirs is a fractious marriage so when Despres finds Ondine committing adultery with another man and shoots her in front of witnesses, it seems an open and shut case. But Inspector Petit is not so sure. Perturbed by the speed with which the authorities close the case by declaring Despres insane and moving him to an asylum, he suspects there’s more to the case. Meanwhile Dr Morel, who’s been charged with Despres’s treatment, makes an extraordinary discovery about his patient: Despres remembers every detail of his life.

As Petit and Morel piece together what’s really going on, they unlock a conspiracy involving sordid secrets and political cover-ups but there are people willing to do anything to stop the truth from coming out, no matter who they have to hurt to do so …

Marcus Sedgwick’s latest novel is a mash-up of historical, literary and crime thriller that features some beautifully written prose but its meandering plot spends too long contemplating the nature of memory and too little time in building a suspenseful plot or a satisfying pay off. The main problem for me is Marcel who is completely passive (especially when he retreats into his memories) and whose marriage with the two-dimensional Ondine didn’t convince me. Dr Morel’s role is mainly confined to exploring the nature of Depres’s memory and discovering its critical flaw, which means that Inspector Petit is the more interesting character – an ex-military man haunted by the murder of his fiancé while he was serving overseas – who becomes determined to uncover the conspiracy no matter what the cost. That conspiracy is itself pretty predictable and while Sedgwick tries to tie in anarchists, Russian agitators and the sordid hypocrisy of the establishment, the pace is so meandering that it lacked tension and this is exacerbated by the fact that some key events happen off page and are recounted third hand by others. There are some beautifully written sections, Sedgwick has a great feel for period and there’s a nice nod to the Dreyfus affair but while I did keep turning the pages, the story never got out of third gear for me. I will always check out Sedgwick’s work but if you’re new to reading him, I’d still recommend starting with his YA novels.


Some Kind of Peace
Some Kind of Peace
by Camilla Grebe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, limp and listless psychological thriller, 25 July 2016
This review is from: Some Kind of Peace (Paperback)
Siri Bergman runs a psychotherapist practice in Stockholm with her best friend, Aina Davidsson. Together they treat patients with a wide range of issues, from self-harm to anorexia. But Siri has a secret that she hasn’t shared with her colleagues: ever since her husband died in a diving accident a couple of years earlier, she’s been unable to sleep with her lights off and always keeps a torch near her bed.

When the body of one of Siri’s patients – Sara Matteus (a self harmer) is found in a lake near Siri’s house, the death is presumed to be a suicide but Siri’s not so sure – Sara had talked of having a new boyfriend and Siri’s has a feeling that someone is watching her, while she’s experiencing weird events that no one can explain, events that make her question her own sanity ...

Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff’s psychological thriller (the first in a series) was a Swedish bestseller and has been translated into English by Paul Norlen. Unfortunately I found this to be a dull and limply plotted affair with a passive and reactive main character I couldn’t relate to and a supporting cast of two-dimensional, dull characters who I didn’t care about. This is a pity because the opening chapter is genuinely interesting with the death of a young girl – but it isn’t until the very last chapters that this comes into play again and the circumstances are so ridiculous that by then I simply didn’t care. Siri herself has a flat first person voice (which may be down to the translation rather than the original version) and is incapable of making connections or vocalising what’s going on. In truth, I found her a self-obsessed ninny and I totally didn’t care about her relationship with her dead husband or the cliché relationship that develops with the policeman investigating what’s happening to her. I can’t comment on how authentic the psychotherapy sessions are, but I did find the patients and their backgrounds to be cliché riddled and dull and the revelation of the killer came out of left field (especially their motivation, which I really thought would have rung a bell with Siri a little earlier than it did). Ultimately, this just didn’t hold my interest and while there’s a suggestion it’s going to move into criminal psychology in later books there’s nothing that makes me want to read on.

Review copy from publisher.


Highly Illogical Behaviour
Highly Illogical Behaviour
by John Corey Whaley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Slick but emotionally unconvincing YA tale about agorophobia, 20 July 2016
17-year-old Lisa Praytor is driven and ambitious. A straight-A student, she wants to get a scholarship to Woodlawn University because it has the second best psychology programme in the US. To do this, she has to write an essay titled ‘My Person Experience With Mental Illness’. Fortunately, three years earlier Solomon Reed – a kid in the year below her at school – had an epic melt down at school, undressing and getting into a fountain. No one’s seen Solomon since, but Lisa figures that if she can find him and cure him, then the scholarship will be in the bag. Roping her boyfriend, Clarke into helping her, she befriends Solomon’s dentist mother and uses her to get to Solomon. But the more she gets to know Solomon, with his agoraphobia and anxiety issues, the more she gets to like him and the harder she finds it to use him for her own ends …

John Corey Whaley’s YA novel is a slickly plotted mental illness issues tale that didn’t come good for me. My main problem with it was that I wasn’t convinced by its depiction of Solomon’s agoraphobia (portrayed as a virtual inability to leave the house, fed into by his decision not to push himself outside). For me it seemed a shallow portrayal with Solomon very dismissive of the treatments and therapies that he’s tried and yet there’s no real attempt to understand what the cause of it is or what feeds into and triggers it (although I did find it easier to empathise with his anxiety attacks, which are sensitively shown). I thought that the progression of his story was predictable but there was little emotional growth beyond the joys of friendship. I found Lisa a very difficult character to form a connection with because she’s so set on using Solomon for her own ends and I really didn’t understand the basis for her relationship with Clark (who’s written as too good to be true and saddled with everyone querying if he’s gay for not wanting sex with Lisa). Ultimately it’s fast paced and events rock along nicely but although it’s obviously making a play for the John Green market, there just isn’t enough here to resonate with readers and emotionally it’s was rather two-dimensional for me. That said, I would check out Whaley’s other work given how tightly this is written.

Review copy from publisher.


Silentnight Hotel Collection Duvet, Microfibre, White, Double, 10.5 tog
Silentnight Hotel Collection Duvet, Microfibre, White, Double, 10.5 tog
Price: £34.99

4.0 out of 5 stars High quality duvet., 19 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I picked this up because my old duvet was well overdue replacement. Silent Night has a reputation for good quality and I was attracted by the 5 year guarantee and although I am a little concerned that a 10.5 tog wouldn't be warm enough (I usually buy 13.5+), the thickness of the filling has allayed my concerns. The duvet filling is consistent throughout the product and it is very soft to touch but doesn't feel heavy to carry. All in all I'm very happy with this.


Time Travelling with a Hamster
Time Travelling with a Hamster
by Ross Welford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Sensitive and intricately plotted time travel novel for readers aged 9+, 18 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Al Chaudhury lost his dad to a freak medical condition 4 years ago. Since then, life has been okay. His mum has moved on and moved in with Steve and his Goth daughter, Carly, and he regularly hangs out with his granddad Byron, who teaches him meditation and memory tricks. But on Al’s 12th birthday he gets a letter written by his dad shortly before his death and his dad reveals an extraordinary secret: he invented a time machine.

Al sees the machine as a way of getting his dad and his family back and helped by a hamster called Alan Shearer, he sets about finding and using the machine. But he soon discovers that time travel is not without its pitfalls and that by trying to change his past, he can make the present a hell of a lot worse …

Ross Welford’s debut novel for children aged 9+ is a sensitively written and intricately plotted science fiction story about grief, acceptance and second chances. Al is a resourceful lead character who’s easy to sympathise with – bullied by both Carly and her on/off boyfriend and isolated, he misses his dad and doesn’t have much in common with the sport-loving Steve. I completely believed in his reactions as he comes to terms with the reality of time travel and its effects and I loved the relationship that develops between him and his dad when they’re both kids (especially the fact that they’re both misfits) almost as much as I loved the relationship between Al and his grandfather. Welford isn’t afraid to tackle race either – this is a great book for those keen to read more diverse books and he makes a point of highlighting both the cultural differences of Al and his family and the things that make them the same as any other family. Although this is a strong debut, it’s not perfect – I found some of the time travel a little convoluted, which meant that the pace dropped off in some scenes. I also found Carly to be a bit too stereotypical and wished that there had been more interaction between her and Al beyond what was needed to keep the plot moving. That said, I did enjoy this book – it’s a clever page turner and I will definitely check out what Welford writes next.


People
People
by Alan Bennett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but slim Bennett play, 16 July 2016
This review is from: People (Hardcover)
First staged in October 2012 at the National Theatre in London, PEOPLE, was inspired by Alan Bennett’s distaste for the National Trust and voyeurism of other people’s lives coupled with the commoditisation of privacy. He writes a fascinating introduction to this play, describing some of the thought processes behind its creation and linking it back to themes in other works that he’s produced. The play itself is a thin affair. Lady Dorothy Stacpoole and her sister Iris live in their ancestral home – a large country house that’s seen better days. Their sister, June, is keen to transfer the house to the National Trust on condition that Dorothy and Iris continue to live there, but Dorothy is desperate to find another way … As you’d expect from a Bennett play, there are moments of high comedy and bittersweet emotion – especially the end, which I admit made me sniff a bit and where I can completely imagine Frances de la Tour’s customary magnificent performance. However, there really isn’t much here and while the moments of farce are well constructed, they can’t mask the fact the lack of underlying material. Ultimately, I did enjoy this but it’s more for Bennett completionists that those looking for something substantial.


Hell and High Water
Hell and High Water
by Tanya Landman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid YA historical novel about family, secrets and dastardly villainy, 11 July 2016
This review is from: Hell and High Water (Paperback)
It’s the late 18th century. 15-year-old Caleb Chappell helps his father, Joseph, run a Punch and Judy show but when Joseph is framed for theft and sentenced to transportation, he sends Caleb to his sister, Anne Avery, who is married to a sailor and lives with her infant daughter, Dorcas and step-daughter, Letty, in the village of Fishpool. Caleb finds life there difficult – his black skin (which always draws comment) makes him a target for gossip and violence. But when he stumbles upon a body on the beach, he and Letty find themselves caught within a dastardly plot that involves family secrets and financial rewards so big that the plotters will do anything to protect them …

Tanya Landman’s historical YA adventure novel is an intriguing tale of racism, family and fraud that’s filled with twists and turns from beginning to end (some easy to get, others altogether more fiendish). I picked this up because I’d enjoyed Landman’s Carnegie winning BUFFALO SOLDIER and this is much in the same quality vein – she’s particularly good at putting non-white characters in historical settings in a way that feels believable and easy to relate to. It’s easy to root for Caleb given his love for his father and his anger at the injustices that he sees and is subject to (including anger at the way the political and legal system protects the elite) and Landman really puts him through the mill in the story. I wasn’t particularly convinced by the romance between Caleb and Letty (mainly because it felt rather forced) but I did like the growing relationship between Caleb and his aunt and the slow reveal of her and Joseph’s background and how it ties in with the on-going plot. I also found the antagonists to be a little two-dimensional, particularly William Benson who only needs a moustache to twirl to cement his villainy and I would have liked a bit more in the author’s note at the end as Landman reveals that this book is based on real life events but doesn’t expand on the same or what happened. For all that, this is a book that held my attention from beginning to end – I can well see why it’s made the Guardian Children’s Book shortlist this year and I look forward to reading what Landman writes next.

Review copy from publisher.


Nevernight
Nevernight
by Jay Kristoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Hogwarts meets Game of Thrones and the Count of Monte Cristo in a new fantasy series, 4 July 2016
This review is from: Nevernight (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
16-year-old Mia Covere was born into the aristocracy of the city of Godsgrave at the heart of the Itreyan Empire but her life of privilege and comfort was ripped away the day her father led a revolt against the Republic. Her father was hung as a traitor and Mia’s mother and baby brother were taken to the Philosopher’s Stone – a notorious prison where few survive (and those who do are usually left insane). Mia should have shared their fate but used the power of the shadows (personified as a cat called Mister Kindly) to save herself. Determined to have her revenge on the Itreyan authorities took up with old Mercurio who taught her everything he knew and sent her as an apprentice to the Red Church where she would learn all of the deadly arts. But competition at the Red Church is lethal and with only 4 places available at graduation, Mia will need her wits and her tricks if she is to survive ...

Jay Kristoff’s latest novel (the first in a new high fantasy series) is a well-crafted revenge tale that weaves together various sources (including Roman and medieval Venetian influences) into its world building. Mia is a driven and dedicated anti-heroine who is fierce in her pursuit of revenge. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with Mister Kindly (whose wry commentary on her antics made me smile) but her relationship with fellow apprentice Tric never really caught fire for me and nor did her rivalry with Jessamine (who was two dimensional). The mythology underpinning the world is well constructed and interesting and the operation of the Red Church held my interest (although I felt that its leader, Lord Cassius remained far too much of a cypher, which was a shame given certain events). Kristoff uses footnotes to expand out small details of his world, which for the most part worked for me although there were a couple of scenes where I thought that they interrupted the action. My only real issue with the book was that the events were a little too predictable for my tastes and given the information given in the introduction about Mia’s successes, I felt that it lacked the tension it could have had. That said, there was more than enough here to hold my interest and certainly enough questions remain unanswered for me to check out the sequel.


Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club)
Mystery & Mayhem (Crime Club)
by The Crime Club
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great anthology of crime fiction stories for readers aged 9+, 25 Jun. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Introduced and edited by Katherine Woodfine, this anthology of 12 crime fiction stories for readers aged 9+ is a perfect introduction to the genre. Woodfine has divided the anthology into four sections – Impossible Mysteries (essentially locked room mysteries), Canine Capers (crimes where dogs help or feature in the mystery), Poison Plots (self-explanatory) and Closed-System Crimes (crimes where only a limited number of people could have committed it) and the stories are as follows:

IMPOSSIBLE MYSTERIES

EMILY AND THE DETECTIVES by Susie Day is a charming and amusing story about Emily Black, a smart and logical girl with a gift for solving crimes who helps her father and his odious patron, Lord Copperbole solve crimes in Victorian England only to see them take the credit for her deductions. I liked the diversity here (Emily is bi-racial and her father from India) and the murder mystery is intriguing while making good use of real Victorian period details.

RAIN ON MY PARADE by Elen Caldecott features Minnie, Flora and Sylvie from her MARSH ROAD MYSTERIES SERIES revolves around Carnival and the dastardly destruction of a designer’s costume. It’s a cute story but I found the villain a bit too easy to guess and the ending a little pat.

THE MYSTERY OF THE GREEN ROOM by Clementine Beauvais sees Marcel and his family (including aunts, uncles and cousins gather at his great uncle Lucian’s house in Brittany, France for the reading of Lucian’s will. When Lucian’s estranged brother, Bill, is found murdered in his locked bedroom, Marcel and his cousin Joseph must solve the mystery. This is an ingenious story and I really enjoyed the characterisation – especially Marcel’s feelings of distance from his older cousin.

CANINE CAPERS

THE MYSTERY OF DIABLO CANYON CIRCLE by Caroline Lawrence is a nicely constructed tail (ha ha) that sees young Darcy try to work out who dognapped Shane the dog. There’s a bittersweet quality to the story and more darkness than I expected (not bad, but it was surprising) and I enjoyed how Lawrence humanises the villain.

MEL FOSTER AND THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Julia Golding features Mel and Eve, the investigators from her MEL FOSTER SERIES who belomg to the Monster Resistance and also happen to be monsters. Here the duo accept a referral from Sherlock Holmes, who sends Sir Henry Baskerville to them after he finds himself terrorised by another fearful hound (even though Holmes solved the initial crime and killed the supposed hound). I really enjoyed how Golding used the classic mystery to weave this new tale and the relationship between Mel and Eve worked well enough for me to be interested in the series.

DAZZLE, DOG BISCUITS AND DISASTER by Kate Pankhurst is another doggy disappearance case, but this one sees Sid Taylor accused of losing Dazzle, bichon fries who belongs to the McCarthys – a well to do family who could destroy Sid’s mum’s dog walking business. Although the villain was easy to guess I did enjoy Sid’s friendship with Fliss.

POISON PLOTS

GOD’S EYE by Frances Hardinge is a beautifully written tale about two feuding artists in Victorian London featuring balloons, dastardly doings, a fiendishly devious murder and a hapless boy who works for (and is mistreated by) the victim. This was one of my favourite stories in the anthology.

THE MYSTERY OF THE PINEAPPLE PLOT by Helen Moss is another historical short story set in 1761 and follows Quality Fruit, a young black boy who stowed away on a ship carrying pineapples from Jamaica and now works as a servant for the Catchpole family. Quality must join forces with young Catherine Catchpole to see who sabotaged Lord Catchpole’s giant pineapple. It’s a well-paced story with a neat ending.

THE MURDER OF MONSIEUR PIERRE by Harriet Whitehorn is another Georgian era story following Angelica, the apprentice to Monsieur Pierre, the most famous hairdresser and beautician in London, who finds her master murdered. She joins forces with Nathaniel White of the Bow Street Runners in an investigation that takes her to the aristocracy and its dark secrets. I really enjoyed this story and the premise is one with potential for expansion – I would definitely read a wider series if Whitehorn goes down that route.

CLOSED-SYSTEM CRIMES

SAFE-KEEPING by Sally Nichols is set post World War I and sees Stanley and the other office boys at a solicitors firm try to clear Mr Conrad (who was left with facial injuries and a tamer) who stands accused of stealing a necklace from a locked safe that only he and his legal partner Mr Mathieson had the combination for. It was great to read a story set in a period that’s not generally covered in children’s fiction and I liked the camaraderie between the boys, even if the villain was easy to guess.

THE MYSTERY OF THE PURLOINED PEARLS by Katherine Woodfine involves Lil from THE MYSTERY OF THE CLOCKWORK SPARROW and THE MYSTERY OF THE JEWELLED MOTH who must find out who stole a pearl necklace from Kitty Shaw, the star of a show that Lil is working in. It’s a well plotted mystery with a satisfying conclusion and I will definitely check out the other books on the strength of it.

THE MYSTERY OF ROOM 12 by Robin Stevens sees young James left alone to run reception of the bed and breakfast owned by his dad one evening when Stella Smith checks in, paying cash. James gives her a room but the next day the room is empty – left un-slept in – and no one else recalls seeing her and there’s no evidence she was ever there. The outcome will be familiar to Agatha Christie fans but it was still interesting to read.


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