Category Archives: Books

Geis: a Matter of Life & Death

The chief matriarch is dying. Drawing her last breath, she declares a contest: let fate decide the one worthy to rule. Fifty souls are summoned in the night; fifty souls bound to the same fate. But this is no ordinary trial… And so begins the first task.

The first thing I learned was how to pronounce Geis – it is ‘Gesh’ in case you couldn’t wait to pick up the book!

It is a Gaelic word for taboo or curse (that I knew). When a geis is placed upon you, it is like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed. you might be prohibited form calling upon the aid of wolves, for example, or breaking into someone’s kitchen. If you ignore or break a geis, the consequences are dire.

But a geis is always broken.

As soon as it is spoken or written, your fate is set.

The first thing I realised when I opened the book was that I already know Alexis Deacon’s work, he was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal for his illustration of Jim’s Lion and he wrote the award-winning picture book I am Henry Finch.

I was not sure what to expect when I picked it up, possibly an enjoyable fantasy romp through a fantasy world based on Celtic myth.

I was right about the fantasy world – but my God, this story is dark – beautifully illustrated, but utterly merciless! The protagonist is the Kite Lord’s daughter, a young girl who finds herself out of place amongst the high lords and ladies of the chieftain’s court, who are summoned and scattered to find a suitable soul to replace the chief. The desires and humanity of the characters are laid bare as they face the temptation of ultimate power, and as was once said – no good deed goes unpunished!

It is the first part of an epic trilogy – get this book now, trust me I am a librarian!

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How to Survive in the North

A brilliant graphic novel written and illustrated by Luke Healy:

Weaving together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett with a contemporary fictional story. How to Survive in the North is a unique and visual narrative journey that shows the strength it takes to survive in even the harshest conditions – whether that be struggling for survival in the Arctic in the 1900s or surviving a mid-life crisis in the present day.

I finished this book with the impression that Vilhjalmur Stefansson was at best criminally inept and worst culpable for the death of the men he abandoned on two expeditions in the Arctic Circle.

Simply and beautifully illustrated it contains a wealth of history that made me research the histories of the characters once I had finished it. I love Luke Healey’s artwork and the changing colours to denote the different expeditions and the contemporary story is an excellent idea! The isolation of each of the characters throughout the book is the thread that binds the narratives together and the choices they make to survive and stay sane in the face of fraying relationships and loneliness makes the stories as gripping as they are tragic!

As with other Nobrow titles, How to Survive in the North is beautifully crafted and makes a bookshelf look better just by being on it!

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism: a Novel by Grady Hendrix

A novel of friendship, the ‘80’s and demonic possession
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1988 Charleston, South Carolina. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong Gretchen begins to act… different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby.

Abby’s investigation leads to some startling discoveries – and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question:

Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?
 
 
 
 
 
 
I did a lot of my growing up in the 1980’s – South Africa instead of America, I would have been a few years younger than Abby and Gretchen and despite growing up in another country on a different continent I recognised a number of things that were similar to my growing up.

The first was I knew a family like Gretchen’s, overly religious with a habit of handing out holy writ as gifts as well as forbidding many popular television shows (my parents enjoyed watching The Thorn Birds), having religious road-shows come to my schools giving talks on salvation and the satanic panic, seeing the work of the devil in everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Bionic Six to back-masking and rock music being the devil’s music. My Best Friend’s Exorcism awoke some old, weird memories for me.

It was a fantastic and at times uncomfortable read, initially I was not sure where the story was going or if Abby was right in her suspicions or merely going off the deep-end as her friends abandoned her as so often happens in high school friendship arguments – it all seemed plausible and within the realms of normality and then Grady Hendrix started in with the gut-clenching horror that made me nauseous at the same time as forcing me to read further to find out what would happen next.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a ‘80’s, teen angst, horror novel with style! I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can create a playlist from the chapter headings and go on to read all night because once you have started you will not want to turn off the lights or you will start to imagine that you feel a soft touch on the back of your neck…

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge: Not Living the Dream

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About five years ago, I’d just graduated university with a shiny new degree and a heart brimming with hope for the future. Unfortunately, I’d gotten my degree in creative writing. And more unfortunately, I’d done so right when a recession smashed every hope my generation had of an economically prosperous future. So like many great writers before me, I went into food service.

I spent my early twenties slinging lattes for the one percent, and doing a number of other odd jobs besides. Slowly, through careful saving and a lot of luck, I turned my joke of a wage into a living. I found a good apartment, settled in with friends that felt like family, and slowly came into my own as an adult. I was a twentysomething creative in New York City, AKA the plot of at least one sitcom a year for the past three decades.

…and then I turned twenty-four and left behind everything I’d built for myself by moving to Los Angeles. And as I started to rebuild my life from scratch—learning new streets, or remembering how the hell I’d made friends in the first place—I did it while taking stock of what I’d done with my time in New York. And as I thought and remembered, I started to write. And after twenty-two days of writing when I should’ve been looking for a new job, I had a book: the very first draft of what would become Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge.

My heroine, Bailey Chen, is essentially my thoughts and feelings on my early twenties, as filtered through the lens of my mid-twenties. Like me, she was a good student who spent her whole life being told great things were waiting for her after graduation day. Like me, she found her life being pulled in a different direction—in her case, bartending—which she didn’t particularly want. And like me, her biggest challenge was learning to see the worth in what she did, even if others didn’t.

Unlike me, though, her other biggest challenge was using alcohol magic to kick demons in the face until they exploded.

Last Call drew from my lifelong love of fantasy, but it also drew from my attempts to reconcile my dreams of adulthood with the reality I graduated into. When I page through it, I can still see past-me’s frustration lurking underneath Bailey’s. When she grumbles about the unreasonable qualifications needed for an entry level job (“five years experience, two Olympic gold medals, and a phoenix egg in your personal possession”), that comes directly from my hours spent filling in digital job applications. And when the world challenges Bailey to see the value in a job she hates, it’s because once upon a time I was challenged to do the same thing.

Paul Krueger is the debut author of Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, published by Quirk Books, and is available from all good books stores in paperback, priced $14.99 (US) and £11.99 (UK). For more information, please visit www.quirkbooks.com, or follow Paul on Twitter @notlikeFreddy.

How my addiction for Urban Fantasy led me to Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?

So, I have to admit something: I am a fan of urban fantasy, there I have said it! I have been carrying around this secret for over a decade now and I am glad to get it off my chest.

It is all Laurell K. Hamilton’s fault! When I first began working in libraries in the UK (Thamesmead Library to be precise), I had a massive commute, and one evening as home-time beckoned I found myself in need of a book – nothing too strenuous as I like to relax on my train journeys so I picked up Guilty Pleasures by the aforementioned LKH as the cover looked suitably cheesy and fun. Rich in snark, witty repartee and lashings of human on monster violence I loved it and had finished it by the time I got back to work the next day.

I read all the Anita Blake books up to Narcissus in Chains where the increased raunch of the stories began overshadowing the elements that made me fall in love with the series in the first place – the books are still massively popular and I support anything that attracts people to reading but sadly I felt that they were no longer for me! I have recently read Dead Ice and mostly enjoyed it (I am tempted to tentatively pick up the series again when I have more reading time).

Post LKH I discovered the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher who remains one of my go to authors for fun action and adventure but (as many fans discover) waiting for the next book seems like an exercise in eternity!


Fortunately just before I was fully up to date with the adventures of Harry Dresden my buddy Shaun introduced me to Ben Aaronovitch at an all-day board-game session, Ben as many will know is the author of the best-selling Rivers of London series which became the next fix of urban fantasy that I was desiring (and The Hanging Tree is out in October – yay).white barrier

It was through Ben that I discovered the works of Paul Cornell, specifically London Falling; the first novel in the Shadow Police series.

white barrierLondon Falling was amazing, combining the grunt work of metropolitan policing with a team of the Met’s not-so-finest dealing with having unexpected and unwanted abilities to discern magic thrust upon them.

The follow-up Severed Streets was good but left me feeling as if something was missing and I was on the verge of giving the series a break when awesome PR person Jamie-Lee Nardone sent me a copy of Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? as I was unable to make the launch due to dad duty.

What can I say about Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? except that it gave me a new appreciation of Severed Streets and a greater respect for Paul Cornell as a novelist!

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? tied together everything that came before in the first two novels and it made so much more sense! I realised that what bothered me so much about Severed Streets was a lack of understanding on my part rather than anything to do with the novel itself!

Opening with the murder of the fictitious ghost of Sherlock Holmes WKSH? drops us in the midst of an intricately plotted murder-mystery drawing in lightly fictionalised actors from the BBC’s and CBS’s television shows based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as giving the reader more insight into the revelations of Severed Streets while drip-feeding more information about London’s underground magical community while the team struggled to come to terms with what they have learned so far.

The only downside to being dazzled by such an intricately imaginative novel is waiting for book four*.

So if you find the need to get some of the filth of London under your nails and see how they cope with policing magical crime pick up London Falling, start the story at the beginning – you will not regret it, and you may just learn something new about London in the process!

*On the plus side I still have to catch up with Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series…

V for Violet by Alison Rattle a Review

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Battersea, 1961. Britain is entering the swinging sixties. the world is changing – but not for sixteen-year-old Violet. She’s stuck in hr mum and dad’s fish and chip shop, where she can only dream of a more exciting life.

Then she meets Beau. Beau’s a Rocker – a motorcycle boy who arrives in an explosion of passion and rebellion. He blows up Violet’s grey little life, and she can’t believe her luck.

But things don’t go her way for long. Joseph, her long-lost brother, comes home. Then young girls start going missing, and turning up murdered. And then Violet’s best friend disappears too. Suddenly life is horrifyingly much more interesting.

Violet can’t believe its coincidence that Joseph turns up just as girls start getting murdered. He’s weird, and she feels sure he’s hiding something. He’s got a secret, and Violet’s got a dreadful feeling it might be the worst kind of secret of all . . .

Dishing up a story rich in mystery, heartbreak, family drama, friendship crises, more mystery and a cast of characters that will hold your attention! Alison Rattle has given me my favourite mystery book of the year so far!

Born during Winston Churchill’s declaration that the war was over Violet has grown up in the shadow of the memory of her war hero brother. Now ages 16 she sees her life choices narrow to slinging battered cod and chips for the rest of her life.

In Violet we are given a protagonist and narrator who, although she may not be as good a judge of character or worldly-wise as she would like to think is incredibly engaging and worth rooting for as she navigates the mystery of her brother’s return, the threat of a murderer looming over Battersea and the tumultuous feelings of by first love and romance.

V for Violet has several mysteries that unravel slowly through the story and kept me guessing up until the very end. Somewhat appropriately for a tale involving a chippie there were several red herrings that fooled me and I kept changing my guesses as to whodunnit and why while I was reading.

If you feel the need for a genuinely engaging thriller that will keep you guessing then V for Violet is the book for you!

Published by the brilliant Hot Key Books, V for Violet is available from all good bookshops and on-line now!

The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill

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I first encountered William Grill‘s work during my first year as a CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals Judge, his book Shackleton’s Journey won the 2015 Kate Greenaway Medal, this made William the second youngest recipient of the Medal.

His new book The Wolves of Currumpaw swaps the icy wastes of the Antarctic for the rich and fertile Currumpaw Valley of New Mexico. Based in part on Ernest Thompson Seton’s short story Lobo: King of Currumpaw and research about Seton himself it details the fate of a wolf pack and the man who hunted them, and in the process changed from a destroyer to protector of American wildlife.

William is a phenomenal artist, his work on Shackleton’s Journey is sublime, and I can honestly say that with The Wolves of Currumpaw he has surpassed himself. His attention to detail and humour in his sequential drawings is wonderful and expertise in showing the scale of the landscape and the enormous wide-open skies is sheer perfection!

The sense of movement and vitality that he brings to the wolves and other animals on the page is shows us that he is a master of his art!

The Wolves of Currumpaw is sad, beautiful and a wonderful introduction to characters whose work heralded the start of the conservation movement in America.

Published by Flying Eye Books, The Wolves of Currumpaw is out on the 26th May.

BLOG TOUR: The Private Blog of Joe Cowley: Welcome to Cringefest by Ben Davis

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Well, hello there! I’m Ben Davis – author of the Joe Cowley book series. The latest title, The Private Blog of Joe Cowley: Welcome to Cringefest sees Joe in a bad way. The love of his life, Natalie still won’t talk to him and nothing he can do will change her mind. He is about to give up hope when he happens on an inspired idea – The Grand Gesture.

You know what I mean by that, right? The standing outside her window playing her favourite song, the rain-soaked declaration of love, the last minute airport dash? Well, Joe thinks that something like that could be the key to winning back Natalie and that there would be no better place to attempt it than Buzzfest – the greatest music festival of all time.

Now, you’re reading this fine Teen Librarian book blog so you must be an intelligent person, and thus will know that Grand Gestures don’t work in real life. Joe isn’t that clever, though, so of course his every attempt ends in disaster, humiliation, and consequently – cringe.

As the book is largely set at a music festival, I have been asked to come up with Joe’s Ultimate Playlist – a list of songs that relate to Joe’s desperate situation. Anyone who knows me will understand that this is literally a dream come true for me. I compile playlists at every opportunity – parties, barbeques, bare knuckle fights in my shed, everything.

Now, the first song on Joe’s Ultimate Playlist is Frontier Psychiatrist by the Avalanches. Partly because there are many elements in it that crop up in the books – therapists, ghosts, parrots, and partly because the song, and accompanying video, are what I imagine the inside of Joe’s brain to look and sound like.

When people ask me what Welcome to Cringefest is about, I’ve found that it’s quicker to point them in the direction of this song by your granny’s favourite soul band, the Drifters.

Because all the kids love the Drifters, right?

Alternatively, if you prefer your music a bit more twenty-first century, If You Wanna by the Vaccines sums Joe’s predicament up pretty well.

A major element of the book is Joe examining who he is and what it means to become a man. The song Man Up from the Book of Mormon does that, too, and unlike most songs in that show, is pretty family friendly. Well, except the very last line.

Also, this version is performed by Josh Gad, who went on to voice Olaf in Frozen, so you can imagine it’s being sung by a jolly snowman.

On a similar theme, Are You Man Enough by the Four Tops takes a look at masculinity, emphasising the importance of being there for your mates. Plus, listening to it makes you feel dead cool like Shaft or someone like that.

As we have already established, Joe Cowley is thoroughly fed up in Welcome to Cringefest. Two songs that sum up that state of mind are Why Bother by Weezer (the band of my adolescence)

and Zombie by Jamie T.

The latter’s title is particularly relevant to Cringefest.

Now, there is one question that everyone asks themselves in times of strife. One question that helps us decide how best to live our lives – What Would Captain Picard Do?

This song sums up Joes life philosophy, even if he does forget it sometimes. I mean, could you imagine Picard doing something as vulgar as a Grand Gesture? This song is by Hank Green, brother of John.

When I’m writing Joe Cowley, I often listen to songs that remind me of when I was an awkward teenager (before I became an awkward adult) and two of the best are When the Girls Get Here by the Young Fresh Fellows

and Am I Normal by Art Brut.

Nerd rock par excellence.

Similarly, Billy Bragg (ask your dad) absolutely nails the classic but slightly pathetic unrequited teenage love story in The Saturday Boy.

Seriously, it’s so good, it makes me sick.

Punk Rock Girl by the Dead Milkmen

was a big influence on Joe Cowley, particularly the line, ‘She took me to her parents’ for a Sunday meal, her father took one look at me and he began to squeal.’ Also, is it just me, or does the lead singer look slightly Cowley-like?

Moving onto something a bit more modern, (2013 is as modern as I get) Everything is Embarrassing by Sky Ferreira is a great song.

And let’s face it, it may turn out to be the title of Joe Cowley’s autobiography.

Last but not least, it wouldn’t be a Joe Cowley playlist without some Pink Floyd, with a song that is, according to Joe, the best of all time – Brain Damage. This song actually appears in the book. I didn’t quote the lyrics though, because what am I, a millionaire?

And that’s it. To be honest, I think I’ve been neglecting a lot of important duties in the hours I’ve spent honing and refining this list, but the lawn isn’t going anywhere, is it? And I’m sure reports of a previously undiscovered Amazonian tribe living in it are exaggerated.

I’ve also compiled Joe’s Ultimate Playlist on Spotify,




because despite what my taste in music may suggest, I’m not a total granddad.

If you have any comments or questions (besides ‘your playlist needs more 1D’) you can reach me at my Facebook page www.facebook.com/bendavisauthor on Twitter @bendavis_86 or at my website www.bendavisauthor.com

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley: Welcome to Cringefest is out now.

Study Hall of Justice

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My name is Bruce Wayne, and I’m the new kid (UGH) at Ducard Academy.

I can’t say for certain, but I think something fishy’s going on. There’s a gang of clowns roaming the halls, a kid named Bane wants to beat me up, and the guidance counselor, Hugo Strange, seems really, well, strange.
 
At least I have two new friends – Clark and Diana are kinda cool, I guess. We’re going to solve this case no matter what, even if I have to convince Alfred to let me stay up past eleven.

 

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There has been a lot of talk recently about the Justice league of late, mostly due to the forthcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a grim and gritty movie about the formation of the Justice League.

If your desire for super-hero team-ups is getting too much for you then I highly recommend Study Hall of Justice, the first book of the Secret Hero Society by DC Comics and Scholastic.

This book is awesome! Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen take the core concepts and mythologies of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman and render them down into middle school students, losing none of what makes the three characters so brilliant and adding new elements that make them even more enjoyable!

Study hall of Justice is a children’s book but one that will be enjoyed by all ages, the kids for the sense of mystery, menace and ninja that permeate the pages and for older readers who will also enjoy the story as well as spotting their favourite villains amongst the student body and faculty staff..

This book is perfect for fans of JL8 and Gotham Academy

World Book Day 2016 Quiz

Download the Quiz from Dropbox here

Quiz Answers