Category Archives: Reviews

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett book cover
Five hundred people live in in single community in an enclosed valley on the sunless planet Eden where, over a century ago, their two ancestors were marooned.

Calling themselves Family, they still cling to the hope that one day someone will come and bring them back to Earth, where light and heat does not come from trees, but from a bright star in the sky.

John Redlantern defies Family’s most sacred traditions and leads a small group of followers out of the valley and across mountains that are not only covered in snow and ice, but are completely dark, in search of wider lands. It had to happen but it comes at a terrible price, for it brings bloodshed and division into the world.

This is a first for me – I have never reviewed an audiobook before, I have listened to a some over the past few years but generally prefer reading with my eyes rather than my ears.

Anyway – on to my review of Dark Eden by Chris Beckett. To start off I will just say that although Teen Librarian is primarily a site aimed at librarians and people that work with teens in libraries Dark Eden is not a book for younger readers, I would say the more mature year 10s and up that have a liking for science fiction will enjoy it.

The production values of the audiobook are fantastic the narrators Oliver Hemborough and Jessica Martin give a brilliant performance of the male and female characters. At over 13 hours it demands a lot of listening – I found out that I could not do anything too demanding while listening as I tried listening as if your mind wanders you can lose which viewpoints are being narrated or get so engrossed in the story that everything else fades away. when I was cataloguing books in my library but found that I either stopped typing the records into the catalogue or in a couple of instances started typing what I was hearing, so I listened to the story on my way to and from work as well as late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping – as I type this I realise why I have had a number of disturbing dreams lately.

Dark Eden is a dark (ha ha) tale about humanity, survival and hope – any story that has a population of characters descended from a tiny group of progenitors can be a bit squicky if you think about it too much and there is violence, sex and death, it makes for compelling listening. Hearing the narration of taboo subjects makes for uncomfortable listening but it all added to the story of John Redlantern.

Like many of the best science fiction stories, Dark Eden focuses on the characters, their interaction and development rather than the science-y side of things.

Dark Eden is stunning and, if you have already read or listened to the story, the news that there is a sequel coming up should make me very happy!

It was a deserved winner of the Arthur c Clarke Award!

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

emperor-of-thorns“The path to the throne is broken – only the broken can walk it.
 
The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
 
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneed and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don’t look to me to save you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.
 
Follow me, and I will break your heart.”

Writing a review for the third book in a trilogy is difficult – the fans of the story so far will get their hands on it. You don’t need to have read the previous books in the trilogy as Mark Lawrence provides a helpful recap of what has gone before, but if you don’t your enjoyment of the story will be limited.

Jorg Ancrath, King of Renar is on the road to Vyene to attend the congression where the Hundred – the kings of the Broken Empire look for votes to become the Emperor.

He is not a good man, but this is a world where the good die young and to survive one must be brutal and be willing to commit dark acts to take what one wants and committed to holding what has been taken.

Jorg is a bastard and he is very aware of this; this awareness is perhaps that is what is needed to accomplish what he needs – to secure an empire and save the world. His enemies are on the move as well – the ghosts in the Builder’s machines fight amongst themselves some wanting to scour the world and others wanting to make slaves of the living. The Dead King’s hordes are on the move, his emissaries en route to the congression and then there are his human enemies, each desiring power and dominion over the world.

If you like your fantasy bloody and your heroes with flaws then The Broken Empire is for you.

If you cannot bear to reread A Song of Ice and Fire again while waiting for GRR Martin’s next book then why wait?

Mark Lawrence has created a world built on the ashes of our own and peopled with the worst that humanity has to offer – but even their vision of uniting humanity are better than the alternatives.

The Prince of Thorns was a brilliant introduction to Jorg Ancrath and his world.

The King of Thorns cemented Mark Lawrence’s position as one of my favourite writers of modern fantasy

The Emperor of Thorns ends the trilogy the only way it can – with blood, death and an extremely satisfying conclusion to the story.

Seriously start at the beginning and read your way through to the end, you can do this safely knowing you will not have to wait years for the next instalment!

Brock by Anthony McGowan

brockLife’s not easy for Nicky. His mum’s gone, his dad’s on bail, and his brother Kenny needs looking after like a little kid.

When Kenny drags Nicky out of bed ne dark morning, Nicky has no idea that he is about to witness a terrible act of destruction, and the senseless killing of an innocent animal. But Nicky manages to save something precious from the disaster, and his and Kenny’s lives are changed forever…

Brock could so easily have been depressing; it has all the hallmarks of misery lit – two brothers in a single-parent household being looked after by an unemployed, depressed father facing potential jail time. Lives blighted by poverty and bullies and, in the opening chapters, trapped into a brutal , illegal act that could ruin their lives.

Except that it isn’t. Depressing that is – it is so much more! Brock is a novel about bravery, family love and hope.

With an opening chapter reminiscent of Watership Down, Brock plunges into what I have heard described as Kestrel for a Knave but with badgers. I haven’t read Kestrel… or seen the film (Kes) but after reading Brock I have ordered a copy that I will read and hopefully do a comparative review of both.

Nicky is our narrator and it is through his actions that the story unfolds. Juggling his responsibilities as an older brother and trying to do what he knows is right after he and Kenny get involved with the local bullies when they go badger baiting.

Nicky is an archetypal teen stuck between trying to do what is right and the law all the while trying to keep his brother safe and the whole thing a secret from his father, the bullies and everyone else. Anthony McGowan gives a wonderful story of familial love and a positive representation of a dad who is trying to do his best for his sons as well as trying to be a good role-model.

Brock was brilliant I loved it, the only complaint that I have is that is it is too quick read but even this adds to the power of the story!

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

the-school-for-good-and-evil-by-soman-chainani

Every four years two children are stolen away from Gavaldon, never to return. Most children fear being taken to the School for Good and Evil. But not Sophie…
 
She has dreamt all her life of being a princess and believes the school could be her chance.
 
Her friend Agatha has other ideas.
 
When the two girls are taken, things don’t quite go to Sophie’s plan.
 
Because sometimes, the princess and the witch don’t look like they do in fairytales.

 
This book…
 
Is BRILLIANT!
 
 
 
 
Sophie and Agatha are as different as night and day, Where Sophie is blonde and fair and does her best to look perfect, Agatha is dark of hair, lives in a cemetery and does her best to discourage everyone but they are best friends.

Good in pink. Evil in black. The School Master’s perfect pair.

Look, going by the blurb you just know what is going to happen are taken to the school, but what happens after – that is what makes this book fantastic!

The School for Good and Evil is dark, funny and entertaining. It asks the question how far will people go to achieve their dreams and forces the reader think about the nature of good and evil, prejudice, choice and predestination versus free will. It is quite a lot for a novel for young readers and what is more, it does it excellently!

Shining a light on to the characters that populate fairy tales is a brilliant idea, good may be good and evil may be evil but neither are very nice.

A wonderful tale, artfully told – I recommend it unreservedly!

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: a Review

sgZAA killer who shouldn’t exist.
 
A girl who shouldn’t have lived.
 
A thriller which breaks all the boundaries.
 
CHICAGO, 1931. Harper is a man out of time – yet with all the time on the world to stalk and kill his ‘shining girls’. The objects he lays by their violated bodies are more than just clues: they are the glittering threads of his obsession, a web of sick satisfaction glowing through the years.
But these things have to be right. And if a girl lived to tell the tale, well, that would have to be fixed.
 
CHICAGO, 1992. Kirby knows there’s something strange about the man who nearly killed her – aside from being a violent psychopath. Rejected by those who should help her, she searches for others, the girls who didn’t make it.
 
What Kirby finds is … impossible. Murders scattered across the decades, accompanied by totally contradictory evidence. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen …

 
This is going to be a difficult review to write, not because I hated The Shining Girls but because I loved it and trying to articulate how and why I loved it is going to be difficult!
 
The opening chapter – Kirby and Harper’s first meeting is one of the creepiest things I have read in a long time, and sets the tone of the novel perfectly!
 
sgUKThe main characters Harper and Kirby are phenomenal contrasts. Harper a monster from the 1930’s, his life shaped by lifelong sociopathy, poverty, war and violence ranged against Kirby a free-spirited, independent woman of the ‘90’s. Two implacable characters hunting each other through Chicago and time, hurtling towards a confrontation that only one will survive.
 
Time travel, due to its often non-linear nature can make a story difficult to follow but Lauren handles the time stream like a pro. The story bounces from the 1930’s to the 1990’s and snakes through the intervening decades as Harper hunts his prey we learn more about him and the lives of the women he has targeted.
 
Even knowing in advance what happened to Kirby when Harper tracked her down does not make it easier to read when their trails intersect, it reads as a macabre meeting of lovers with brutality and profanity replacing tenderness and sweet nothings
At its heart, The Shining Girls is not about a serial killer although he is a large part of the story; it is a novel about women, more specifically it is about violence and discrimination, and, in jumps between the decades of the 20th century it is about how the roles of women in society change and evolve.
 
sgUSThe Shining Girls has a breathless, multi-layered narrative that kept me guessing, and even towards the end when I thought I had sussed it out I turned out to be completely wrong. It is the type of book that grips you, demanding your attention and then rewards you with a thrilling story and ideas that stay with you long after you have closed the covers.
 
If I had to describe The Shining Girls in one sentence it would be:
 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Doctor Who (if the Doctor were a time-travelling psychopath killing his companions rather than travelling with them!)
 
In closing please let me say AUGH! This book is amazing! You have to buy it, read it then tell your friends to do the same! You will not regret it!

Emilie & the Hollow World by Martha Wells

Emilie-and-the-Hollow-WorldWhile running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry. Instead she lands up on the wrong ship… and at the beginning on a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that teh crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of the enigmatic Lord Engel, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

Emilie & the Hollow World is fantastic it reminds me a bit of James Blaylock’s Balumnia trilogy that i read in my early teens but it is completely kick arse in it’s own way.

A runaway girl trying to escape the shadow of her mother’s reputation and the disapproval of her relatives, aetheric sciences and magic plus a voyage into the hollow world with warring non-human people and a cut throat race between philosopher-mages to be the first to return to the surface with samples of life on the inside of the world.

There is a very neat disconenct between the surface (human) world and the world within hte hollow earth, matriarchal societies ruled by queens and traditionally male roles being taken on by female characters as opposed to the explorers where Lady Marlende appears to be the exception and as the story develops Emilie finds herself becoming more than she hoped to be as an adventuress.

One of my favourite parts of the book included this excellent conversation:
“And I wish to retrieve Kenar as soon as possible.” She paused on the landing to confide to Emilie, “Men are no good left on their own, you know. They pine.”
Emilie had never heard that before and the thought kept her occupied all the way down the stairs.

Seriously what is there not to like? I recommend it most highly!

Emilie & the Hollow World was published on the 4th April by Strange Chemistry.

The Ten Rules of Skimming by Zella Compton & Jess Swainson


Ever had the shivery feeling that someone is walking over your grave?

It’s someone skimming your soul.

Adam finds that skimming brings an amazing rush but joy riding across minds comes with risks.

When he meets Jenny-Ray, he learns about the Board, with their list of approved ‘hosts’ to visit.

The consequences of disobedience are terrifying.

 
The story opens in a dank sub-basement of a hospital where we meet Adam who is being interviewed by a shadowy figure about his illicit activities as a skimmer.

The story is a mix of prose and graphic storytelling which enhances the tale and has the advantage of showing rather than telling what happens during skimming. The story is as much about Adam and his family life and realtionships as it is about the science-fiction aspects of the story but they mesh together well creating a deeper, more enjoyable story. Adam has a relatively unhappy home life and is not the most popular of young people at his school, his faults actually make him more interesting as flawed heroes are often more interesting than squeaky clean characters.

Adam, with his gifts has a range of enemies arrayed against him; and when his sister goes missing, he finds that his only ally is a girl who is studying to join The Board – a group of people that control skimming with an iron fist, but they are not the worst of his problems!

The Ten Rules of Skimming is an exciting, action-packed adventure that mixes science fiction, horror, mystery and intrigue that introduces readers to a world where mind jumping is real if not common- it reads like Inception for YA readers!

I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The Abominators: and My Amazing Panty Wanty Woos!

abominators cover

Mucker, Boogster, Cheesy and Bob, also known as The Abominators, are the most mischievous characters you will ever have come across.

Their interests include chaos, mayhem and filling the school toilets with strawberry jelly.

Their interests definitely DO NOT include making friends with panty-wanty-woo-wearing new boy, Cecil Trumpington-Potts.

Cecil, however, is certain he can change their minds . . .

Before I start with my review I will say that I think that this book would win the award for title of the year if there was such an award – and maybe there should be!

Releasing frogs into the staffroom?

The Abominators did it!

Filling the toilets with strawberry jelly?

The Abominators did it!

Using their body parts during show and tell?

Yes that is the Abominators!

Every school has them, the makers of mayhem, the rabble rousers, the kids who cause chaos for fun and because they can! Grimley East Primary School is perhaps not the best that one can find but it is here that Cecil Trumpington-Potts finds himself after his father Lord T-P loses the family fortune and is forced to enrol his son in the state school system. For young Cecil previously home-schooled it is a dream come true, he will finally get the chance to meet pepole his own age and make friends. Unfortunately he sets his sights on getting into the Abominators, but with his delicate features and love for his panty wanty woos they are not as keen on making his acquaintance…

The Abominators and My Amazing Panty Wanty Woos!
is the first book in The Abominators series, and although aimed at the 7+ market it will be enjoyed by older readers. This book is funny and although I am so far out of the age range as to be positively ancient I still laughed several times! The story boasts five primary characters and a goodly-sized supporting cast the break-out character for me was Cecil’s father Lord Trumpington-Potts, who reminds me a bit of Philip Ardagh crossed with an extremely eccentric character that used to come into one of the libraries I worked in a few years ago.

The main thrust of the novel was hilarious and there are a few side-plots that I am hoping will be developed through the series and as such I am looking forward to further books in the series!
___

Post-script: I read the first chapter to my girlfriend over the phone (we were chatting and she asked me to tell a story) and she asked me if it was a story in the same vein as Wimpy Kid or Horrid Henry which is pretty spot on as it is being marketed as a book for fans of those two series.

Holocaust Memorial Day: Death's Head Revisited

Sunday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2013. Today, please take a moment to remember those communities which were destroyed during the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

twilight-zone-deaths-head-jLocation: Dachau concentration camp years after World War II. A retired German SS captain returns to reminisce about his days in power. Until he finds himself at the mercy of those he tortured, and on trial by those who died at his hands. Justice will finally be served . . . in the Twilight Zone.

Death’s Head Revisited is a graphic reimagining of the classic Twilight Zone episode of the same name. It details the story of former SS captain Gunther Lutze who returns to Dachau from South America to relive his old glory days only to be confronted by the ghosts of those he had murdered decades before.

I had never seen the original episode so the graphic novel was my introduction to this classic story, I have since watched it (video below) and an mot sure which version of the story I find more chilling. It is a brilliantly told and illustrated story of vengeance from beyond the grave.

The horror of the concentration camp is shown in full colour and the charges laid against the captain are chilling to read. Lutze is unrepentant and at first unbelieving of what is happening to him and needless to say gets what he deserves.

An endnote to the story features similarities of the story with that of real-life Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was tried for his crimes around the time the original story was written.

You can watch the original episode here:

Death’s-Head Revisited (Dir. Don Medford, 1961) from CAJ on Vimeo.

The Night Before Christmas: Fuse by Julianna Baggott

Yes it is that time of year for a Christmas Eve review (in rhyme). This year is a preview of Fuse by Julianna Baggott:

fuse
‘Twas the night before Christmas
I was alone in my flat
Wrapped up in blankets
And a warm woollen hat.
 
I had just finished reading
A book titled “Fuse”
It blew me away
Left me emotionally bruised.

The sequel to “Pure”
A series quite apocalyptic
Although the titles don’t hint it
They are in fact cryptic*

The Pure are the dome-folk
Tied up with secrets and lies
They use special forces
As assassins and spies
 
 
Against the Fused, who are people
with a permanent weld
To doll’s, babies and cats,
All things that they held.

They melted together
In the great blast
When society ended
In a nuke holocaust!

Now armies are building
and new plots are hatching
There are heroes a-growing
and the villains need catching!

The series is awesome
I think you should read it
If you have a need for apocalypse
Then these books will feed it!

Fuse is the sequel to the amazing Pure by Juliana Baggott. The book is due out in February 2013 when my full review will be posted.

A few words that will be used in my review: dark, compelling, awesome, intriguing.

* the titles not the story