Book reviews

BOOK OF THE WEEK Martha's Girls by Alrene Hughes, published by Blackstaff IT'S LATE summer 1939 when the youngest, Sheila finds her father dead in the chair. A Belfast shipyard carpenter, he brought in poor money but essential for his growing family, Martha and his four daughters.

Suddenly, without the meager income, with talk of war and unrest between Catholic and Protestent, life changes for the Gouldings in their Joanmount Gardens home. But this is a resourceful family and reading of their growing up and the challenges each one faces is fascinating and often harrowing. Sheila, the sensitive ones searches out a part-time job after school; Irene works in the linen mill hand-painting the tablecloths; Pat, who's in Shorts is blessed with a beautiful singing voice; and Peggy serves in Goldstein's music shop on Royal Avenue.

Their individual characters are soon established - love affairs, secret adventures, visits to the Plaza dance hall and then coming together as the singing Golden Sisters who join the Barnstormers to entertain the troops - with a surprise visit from Mr Churchill to their RAF Aldergrove concert.

Historical facts are accurate, air raids vivid and horrifying, the late Joe Kavanagh's 'I Buy Anything' shop in Smithfield, clandestine meetings in Whites Tavern, the luxuary of Robb's department store - this book is a delight to those who remember and an education to those who don't.

It's inspired by a family scrapbook of concert programmes and newspaper cuttings about the actual Golden Sisters, Alrene Hughes's mother and aunts.

Anne Hailes

Zom-B Clans by Darren Shan is published by Simon and Schuster. LIMERICK-born author Darren Shan's

incredibly successful Zom-B series continues with Zom-B Clans. In this instalment we pick up where we left off with Becky Smith, a teenage zombie who has regained the use of her brain.

Becky, or 'B', must save the town of New Kirkham from the evil Ku Klux Klan, who are terrorising anyone who isn't white or British. Meanwhile the wicked Owl Man is holding her best friend, Vinyl, hostage. Packed full of action, gore and Shan's characteristic dark humour, young readers won't be able to put this graphic novel down. Illustrations by comic book artist Warren Pleece help bring the story to life.

Zom-B Clans is arguably the best in the series so far. There are plenty of exciting twists to keep the reader guessing and important lessons to learn about racism.

Sure to keep young readers entertained and waiting anxiously for the next in the series.

Chris Morrison

A Mad and Wonderful Thing by Mark Mulholland is published by Scribe Publications A COLD, cruel incident at a British army checkpoint just inside the border crystallises the beliefs of young Johnny Donnelly and defines the trajectory of his life, in Mark Mulholland's debut novel.

The moment it happens, he knows what he will do and how he will do it. What he doesn't know is that he will later fall in love with Cora, and that his love for her will both embody and destabilise his love of Ireland.

Set largely in Dundalk, the story is told in the first person by Johnny himself. We hear of his meticulous training for a special role within the IRA, and his romance with Cora, both stories running hand-in-hand, and both told in a lyrical, tender tone.

The book breaks on tragedy, and shifts in certainty about halfway through the narrative. Johnny, who is presented as a mythic figure in a contemporary world, loses his sure footing and stumbles to the end. Inspired by Mulholland's experience of discovering that his brother was in the IRA, this is a fascinating and profound book - a story of love and brutality and tenderness and death - in which the tone and title are at odds with the subject. It is a book which stays.

Dominic Kearney

A Perfect Heritage by Penny Vincenzi, published in hardback by Headline PENNY

Vincenzi is the author of 15 bestselling books, and this latest offering looks set to be another hit.

In true Vincenzi style, this novel is a saga that includes a vast cast of characters and weaves together various plotlines.

The backdrop to the highs and lows of the characters is the once-formidable cosmetic company House of Farrell. Times and tastes have changed since the business launched in 1953 and the company, still headed by founder Athina Farrell, is now in danger of going under. Bianca Bailey is installed as the confident CEO of the ailing business by the financiers when the Farrells reluctantly seek help.

She has quite the task on her hands however, as she realises Lady Farrell will challenge her new-fangled ideas every step of the way. Vincenzi teases the reader by delivering small snippets from each character's point of view at a time.

This makes the book hard to put down - it's informative as well as entertaining.

Stephanie Murray

The Corpse Bridge by Stephen Booth is published in hardback by Sphere The Corpse Bridge is part of an ancient route that used to be taken by mourners from outlying villages in the Peak District to a burial ground on the other side of the River Dove.

The cemetery now forms part of Earl Manby's estate. When rumours emerge of his plans to deconsecrate the burial ground and turn it into a car park, a body appears by the bridge.

When another corpse is found, it looks like a serial killer may be on the loose and detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry have to put their tangled relationship to one side and find a way of working together. This is the 14th outing for the detective duo, but it is the evocative and haunting Peak District, rather than the murder story, that takes centre stage.

Booth skilfully portrays a stunning landscape with a dark heart that conceals secrets, vendettas and revenge.

Catherine Small

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK Supertato by Sue Hendra is published in hardback by Simon and Schuster IT'S always a good sign when a book makes you laugh out loud, particularly when you're a parent who's likely to be reading said book over and over again. Sue Hendra is known for her wacky heroes, including No-Bot The Robot With No Bottom, Barry The Fish With Fingers and Norman The Slug With The Silly Shell. Her latest invention is a masked and caped potato crusader who does battle with an evil pea through the aisles of a supermarket.

The pea escapes from the freezer section and goes on the rampage, sticking a defenceless carrot to a conveyor belt, bandaging a cucumber and scribbling on some broccoli. He traps more veggies under a shopping basket and makes others walk the plank off a wooden spoon into a vat of humous. Supertato chases him through the cakes, cheese and beans and finally uses his cunning to corner him - let's just say the pea meets a sticky end. Full of bright, beautifully drawn characters, Supertato will be a joy to read over and over and over again.


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