Category Archives: Reviews

The Night Before Christmas: Trouble by Non Pratt

trouble angle

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring, they were all lying flat.
I put my Doc Martins on and tied the long laces double,
I peered through the window, I was looking for Trouble.

The new YA title by the awesome Non Pratt.
A compelling read, not a sentence was flat!
A story about Hannah and Aaron as well,
a pregnant teenager and her new bestest pal.

A story with friendships and family too,
and the things that can happen when they turn on you.
The tale is a list of the things that teens do.
There are parties and lying, some sex involved too.

If you’re in the market for something to read
and think that teens problems are the last thing you need.
I beg you to please reconsider your choice
or you’ll miss an ace writer with an excellent voice!

Trouble is written by Non Pratt and will be published by Walker Books on the 6th March 2014.

Doctor Who: 11 Doctors 11 Stories

11-Doctors-11-Stories
It is the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who on the 23rd November. To commemorate this auspicious event throughout the year Puffin has been publishing short stories by some of the biggest names in YA fiction.

There has been some comment online about the paucity of female writers in the collection but the authors involved have crafted amazing stories!

Eoin Colfer
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Michael Scott
doctor2
Marcus Sedgwick
doctor3
Philip Reeve
doctor4
Patrick Ness
doctor5
Richelle Mead
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Malorie Blackman
doctor7
Alex Scarrow
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Charlie Higson
doctor9
Derek Landy
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Neil Gaiman
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11 Stories, 11 Doctors, one Time Lord
The Doctor

I have met seven of the authors in the collection over the years at various author and publishing events but the only one I have heard speak about the Doctor in person is Malorie Blackman, I even spoke to hear briefly about Daleks (it was something about the Cult of Skaro but I was so in awe at speaking to her I think I waffled a bit). Anyway… Neil Gaiman may have written two of the best television episodes in the modern canon of the Doctor, but Malorie who spoke so passionately of her love for the Doctor and Daleks is forever burned into my mind as ‘my’ Doctor Who author.

I never had a Doctor when I was growing up – unlike most fans and followers of The Doctor my first encounter with the Time Lord and his companions was not from behind the couch watching TV.

The international sanctions against the Apartheid state in South Africa were barriers that even the TARDIS could not breach.
It was during a wander round a flea market that I found two novels: Doctor Who and the Space War and Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood. Up until that time I had never heard of the Doctor but being a lad that loved science fiction I snapped them up. I read both books that weekend and the Doctor was for-evermore imprinted on my consciousness.

I felt a return to the science-fiction excitement of my youth when I started reading the 50th Anniversary Collection.

The stories run the spectrum between amazingly brilliant and insane. Even if you are not a fan of the Doctor the stories will take you across time and space!

The joy in short story collections as I have been rediscovering of late is that you can gorge yourself on the tales contained within or pick out the ones you want to read first and then go back for the rest. Not being tied to a specific incarnation I did not jump automatically to one story first but instead read my way through in order, from Colfer to Gaiman.

Even now I cannot choose a favourite story, I may one day but at the moment I love them all and am ready to pick the book up again and reread the stories with as much enjoyment as I had when I read them for the first time!

Tinder by Sally Gardner

Tinder by Sally Gardner
Otto Hundebiss is tired of war, but when he defies death he walks a dangerous path, crossing from the battlefields of the past to a timeless world of dark magic and mystery…

While lying bloody and badly wounded Otto Hundebiss encounters Death collecting his harvest during the battle of Breitenfeld.

What happens next is either a dying fever dream or a darkly magical encounter with the supernatural.

Fairy tales were originally dark and bloody stories that were not used to entertain children until they were sanitised and had much of their violence removed. Sally Gardner turns The Tinder Box, (originally a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson) into a dark fable steeped in magic, folklore and shell shock.

Brutally paraphrasing 1 Corinthians here (and adding a bit in) When I was a child, I spoke and thought and read as a child. But when I grew up I put away childish things. I thought that I had lost the gift of being entranced so completely that the sense of wonder and thrill at being so absorbed inside a story that it was like I was there alongside Otto Hundebiss experiencing the horrors and wonders that he endured. It is a feeling I have not experienced since I was a child – it may have something to do with the connecting with the bit of my brain that loves fairy tales or it could be Sally’s skill at weaving a story of such depth and wonder that I could not help but become ensnared!

Otto is a wonderful POV character and Sally’s knack for capturing character’s voices is still as strong as ever!

Tinder is a dark and wonderful a mix of magic, witches, werewolves and curses set during the Thirty Years War in Europe – not a story for younger readers but perfect for readers that like an undercurrent of darkness entwined with their fairy tales!

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell

goth-girl
Meet Ada Goth.
 
She lives in Ghastly-Gorm Hall with her father, Lord Goth, lots of servants and at least half a dozen ghosts, but she hasn’t got any friends to explore her enormous, creepy house with.
 
Then, one night, everything changes when Ada meets a ghostly mouse called Ishmael. Together they set out to solve the mystery of the strange happenings at Ghastly-Gorm Hall and get a lot more than they bargained for…
 
I was a wannabe goth when I was younger, sadly living in Cape Town and wilting in the African sun made it impossible to wear the black and dye my hair or wear make-up and my parents would have killed me if I had come home with midnight-black hair smoking clove cigarettes. So I internalised it – I read the books and listened to the music! I still love the Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and other bands that typify the goth scene.

This is one of the prettiest and shiniest books I have come across all year, shiny silver and purple with stylish art by Chris Riddell made me think of the Hot Topic store I visited in America with one majot difference! This book has substance as well as bucket-loads of style!

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse has shades of Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake and a whole rash of puns and shout outs to gothic novelists and characters from literary fiction. It is a novel for young goths – not emo kids but actual goths! I will not get into the differences between the goth and emo scene but they are different – trust me on this!

Ada has to help Ishmael find out the cause of his death, solve a chilling conspiracy and reconnect with her grief-struck father who still has not come to terms with the death of his beloved wife (Ada’s mother) as well as encounter a new governess with a dark secret and befriend the children working in the rambling hall and help them uncover the secret of the scheming gamekeeper Maltravers.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse a hilarious book,funny amd with lashings of pathos is aimed firmly at a younger audience but with enough foot- & side-notes and puns for older readers to enjoy.

Ender's Game

Enders-Game

The human race faces annihilation.

An alien threat is on the horizon, ready to strike. And if humanity is to be defended, the government must create the greatest military commander in history.

The brilliant young Ender Wiggin is their last hope. But first he must survive the rigours of a brutal military training program – to prove that he can be the leader of all leaders.

A saviour for mankind must be produced, through whatever means possible.

But are they creating a hero or a monster?

This is the multiple award-winning classic ENDER’S GAME – a ground-breaking tale of war, strategy and survival.
 
 
 
 
 
So after The Ender’s Game Panel last night (with Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld in conversation with director & writer Gavin Hood and the producers Bob Orci and Gigi Pritzker) I thought I would revisit Ender’s Game, the novel.


Created with flickr slideshow.

Sir Ben Kingsley looks amazing as Mazer Rackham, the soldier whose actions during the Formic War saved humanity. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Colonel Hyrum Graff the man tasked with creating the next generation of warriors at Battle School is equally fantastic. Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld are also excellent castings, I have only seen Asa in Hugo and Hailee in True Grit and am looking forward to seeing how they handle Ender’s Game.

The panel discussion was incredibly interesting, sadly I was too interested in listening to what they were saying so I did not take notes but what I can remember is that it took two hours for the make-up department to apply Mazer Rackham’s facial tattoo to Sir Ben Kingsley every day and the first time Hailee used a wire harness she was unable to keep upright… oh and Harrison Ford said that for special effects during the filming of Star Wars they actually built model space ships rather than using green screen technology.

Gigi Pritzker spoke of her joy that the book had been adapted for the big screen as she had read the novel after her nephew had suggested she read it an event that united two generations in a love for the story.

As a writer Orson Scott Card is brilliant, sadly his views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage make him a failure on being a decent human being. Ender’s Game is one of my all-time favourite science fiction novels; I read it when I was about 14 years of age and although I have not read it since the story has remained with me to this day.

Ender’s Game – the story of Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin a boy raised to save humanity in a battle of extinction with the Buggers (also known as Formics in later novels) an alien race that almost succeeded in destroying the human race in previous battles.

Using children as soldiers is nothing new – the stories of child soldiers that have been in the headlines over the past few yeas makes this story just as relevant now as it was when it was first published. The parts of the novel in Battle School show his progression from a withdrawn boy into a warrior and leader are brutal and can make brilliant discussion points about the psychological effect war has on children and the moral aspects of turning human beings into weapons.

It is telling that Ender’s Game, along with Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers are on the United States Marine Corps recommended reading lists.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson-SteelheartTen years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadow group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

With great power comes the realisation that you can do anything because the rules do not apply to you!

I love Brandon Sanderson’s writing! He hooked me with the Mistborn trilogy and then with Elantris after which I discovered he was writing more Mistborn stories – The Alloy of Law, which was my favourite fantasy novel of 2011 (it was also the first fantasy western I had read).

Now with Steelheart he has entered into the world of superhumans. Much like The Boys graphic novel series by Garth Ennis, he focuses on the darker parts of human nature and how people would cope with being granted powers beyond those of mortal men.

The prologue was heartbreaking in its intensity, introducing us to the world and to David witnessing the brutal death of his father, in a time when people still believed in heroes.

A decade later and humanity has learned its lesson – there are no heroes – only monsters who do what they will and the best they can hope for is not to be noticed.

Set in the post-apocalyptic city of Newcago (formerly known as Chicago), the story opens with David tracking a minor Epic in the hope that he will be the latest target of the Reckoners whom David has dreamed of joining. We are also treated to a very neatly done introduction to this new, horrific world through David’s point of view. I caught the shout-outs to the creators of superman as David ran down Shuster and Siegel streets and there was possibly one to Neal Adams (or even Adam west) as the bank where the prologue opened was on Adams Street. I need to reread the book just to take notes on the street names as I am sure there are others that I have missed – or maybe I am exposing too much of my comics geek side here… who knows.

Steelheart is not the first novel about super-humans I have read, I have dipped into George RR Martin’s Wild Cards series – and have enjoyed most of them as well as the excellent Sidekicks by Adeline Radloff (highly recommended if you can get your hands on it).

Now I have had a taste of Brandon Sanderson’s magic again, and like before I now have to wait for the second novel. However Steelheart is a book I will be reading again – for like the superhero comics I read when I was (slightly) younger it looks like it will be just as much fun to reread!

Night School: Fracture by C.J. Daughtery

fracture-jacket-image_sm
 
Cimmeria has been more than a school for Allie, it’s been a safe haven. But no longer.

A nefarious group – one that is tied up with Allie’s family in ways she could barely imagine – is trying to destroy everything Cimmeria stands for.

Even worse, it’s clear that somebody they eat with, sleep with, train with, is betraying them. There’s a spy in Night School. As the paranoia grows and the fights begin, it’s not an attack from outside they need to worry about…
 
Fracture is the third novel in the Night School series and like the books that came before it does not disappoint! In this novel (some) questions are answered, loyalties are challenged and after the final page is turned nothing will be the same again!

Ok enough hyperbole and on with the review!

Fracture is good! No it is better than that – I read it in four sessions (it would have been quicker over the summer but my copy arrived when I was in South Africa and languished unread until I returned). The story charts Allie coming to terms with her losses and fills in knowledge gaps about Orion, the Night School and why Nathaniel hates the organisation with such passion. Learning these secrets makes Allie and the reader realise how high the stakes actually are and makes the story that much more gripping.

Allie’s anger and pain at the death of Jo are almost palpable; adding to her twisted feelings is the fact that her ex Carter is dating again. Compounding matters is the fact that the head mistress and tutors seem to be continuing with the school routine as usual, attempting to mask the rising tensions and fears. While it is less overtly action-y than the previous novels, the development of the characters, advancement of the story and the politics fills that gap nicely.

I love a good conspiracy story! But this is so much more! We are given hints of a greater worldwide organisation involving Allie’s family and their associates but the story focuses on the school and Allie’s experiences in trying to keep her friends, herself and the school safe. I find it all rather brilliant and slightly addictive – I want to know more and the gradual unfolding of the story and the global reach of what the Night School is and does is keeping me hooked as a reader and Night School fan!

Close my Eyes – Sophie McKenzie

closemyeyesIt’s been over eight years since Geniver Loxley lost her daughter, Beth.

Since that day, Gen has been floundering. While her husband Art builds his business reputation and their fortune, she can’t let go of Beth.
And then one day, everything changes. A strange woman shows up on Gen’s doorstep, saying the very thing she longs to hear: that Beth is alive. that she is out there somewhere, waiting for Gen to find her…

Close My Eyes is a very demanding read, it demands that you forgo things like sleep, making dinner, being sociable and is extremely distracting when you have to do things like go to work or shop for groceries I was very tempted to say to heck with it and just read.

Anyway on with the review…

Losing her daughter at birth has affected Gen deeply, even eight years later on the cusp of again attempting IVF to have another child she can barely face the thought of replacing the child that she never knew.

When a stranger connected to a member of the operating theeatre team that helped her give birth appears on her doorstep with the shocking news that Gen’s daughter is still alive and that her husband was complicit in the subterfuge she decides to take matters into her own hands by investigating the woman’s claims.

Ignoring advice from her friends and husband she finds an ally in Lorcan an ex-colleague of her husband that has his own agenda in getting involved with Gen and her search. a mystery that, at times had me wondering if it were real or if Gen was slowly going mad.

The chapters of the story are interspersed with twisted tellings of a budding psychopath’s adventures as a child.

This is Sophie McKenzie’s first adult novel, I am a big fan of her young adult books and she has not lost the spark present in her previous writing.

I have already said that Close My Eyes is gripping and it is but it is also wonderfully twisted and comes together brilliantly with a coda that left me wanting more and hoping for a sequel.

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!