Category Archives: Reviews

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


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…
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:

‘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

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch

Boldly Going Where No 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl has Gone Before

How Mirka Met a Meteorite is the second book in the Hereville series. The first being Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl).

Mirka Hirshberg is a spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old who isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing Mirka does want: to fight dragons! But she’ll need a sword – and therein lies the tale!
Mirka is back, and this time she takes on a misguided meteor that’s been set in motion by the troll and turned into Mirka’s twin by the witch. Doppelganger Mirka is out to best the real girl. Our heroine will have to beat her other self in a three-part-challenge – or be banished from Hereville!
My all-time favourite indie comic is the amazing Bone by Jeff Smith – I can honestly say that I never thought I could find another comic to challenge it in my affections; the early Cerebus books by Dave Sim came close but ultimately fell by the wayside as Dave Sim became progressively weirder.

Now there is a new challenger on the block – Barry Deutsh’s stories of Mirka and Hereville. If you had not guessed by the tag lines – Mirka is Jewish, Hereville is a shtetl and an undercurrent of Orthodox Jewish life fills the book, Mirka’s family life centres on Shabbos (Shabbat), the Shabbos rituals and family jobs are laid out beautifully in How Mirka got Her Sword and the disruptive effect having a twin has is shown during Shabbos in How Mirka met a Meteorite. Mirka’s family life and relationships are shown to good effect in the Shabbos pages in both books. The love that Barry obviously has for this comes through in the art and the words he uses.

I am a goy but I have been picking up and using Yiddish words and learning about Jewish culture (and food) for years. I enjoyed immersing myself in a culture that is not my own and even picked up some more words. You do not need to be Jewish or have an understanding of Jewish culture to read or enjoy this book (but it does help).

Mirka is awesome! I do not think there are many comic books that have 11-year-old heroines; let alone snarky siblings as side-kicks. There are trolls, a witch with a pig, extra-terrestrial beings, bullies, family – no orphans in this story, there is a stepmother she is not of the evil variety, more long-suffering and understanding of Mirka than Mirka can actually see. I love that Mirka argues with absolutely everybody but the only one that seems to get the better of her is her stepmother, she is also teeh one that gives Mirka the mental tools to get out of the scrapes that she finds herself in. The scenes where Mirka talks to her stepmother about her mother are some of the most touching I have seen in a comic.

Hereville is hilarious, touching, exciting and the best magically real comic I have ever read!

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Looking for a book to while away the long nights of Hallowe’en and the days of the Dead?

May I present to you The Diviners by Libba Bray.

The Diviners is the sort of book that looks daunting when you pick it up, weighing in at 583 pages in length it is no lightweight.

It gave me pause for a few seconds. I used those seconds to gaze in adoration at the cover, I may have stroked it in awe. It is a thing of beauty to behold! Silver raised text on a hard cover of dark and blues with a flapper girl in silhouette against a modern skyline and hovering above it all is the all-seeing eye.

Then I opened the cover and started reading.

Not having been born in the early years of the 20th century I have no idea what it was like to live through the ’20’s but Libba’s prose swept me away. From the first chapter I was caught up in the final party of the season where young men and women were shaken from their lethargy and boredom by the hostess who produced a ouija board to commune with the other side. I was chilled by the the thread of darkness and unease that wormed its way in that even the bright lights of the mightiest city ever built could not dispel.

New York in 1926 is in the grip of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution better known as Prohibition.It is a time of secret gin parties, flappers and good times that will never end. The Great War is becoming a distant memory, with old anguishes and losses dimmed by time the future has never looked brighter.

Into New York comes Evie O’Neill, flapper, party girl and labelled as that wicked O’Neill girl by the residents of the town of Zenith.

She has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York city – and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926 and New York is fileld with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls and rakish pickpockets. the only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will – and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

If you read only one book this Hallowe’en make sure it is The Diviners by Libba Bray!

The first in a tetralogy, The Diviners will make you ache for the New York of yore while still giving you chills.