Category Archives: Reviews

The Beautiful Dead by Eden Maguire

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Something strange is happening at Ellerton High. Jonas, Arizona, Summer, Phoenix…
All dead within a year.

Darina, Phoenix’s grief-stricken girlfriend, is on the verge. She can’t escape her intense heartache, or the impossible apparitions of those who are meant to be dead. And all the while the sound of beating wings echo inside her head…

When Phoenix suddenly appears before her, he tells her that he is one of the Beautiful Dead – souls in limbo returning to earth to right the wrongs of their deaths. Beautiful and sub-human, they all bear a “death mark” – a tattoo of angel’s wings on the place they were mortally wounded.

Darina is determined to release their souls from limbo, starting with Jonas.

Will love conquer death? And if it does, can Darina set it free?

Jonas died in a motorcycle accident that left his girlfriend a broken wreck. They were young and in love, why was he riding so dangerously? Arizona drowned – committed suicide, so they say. Why would a beautiful, fashion conscious young woman with so much to live for choose a death like that?

Beautiful Dead is one of the most original zombie-related series that I have ever read (or started reading). Darina is our eyes and ears and it is through her that we experience the world that the Beautiful Dead inhabit. Part murder-mystery, part horror, each of the books deals with the unravelling of the circumstances surrounding the death of one of the Dead who have a year to solve the mystery or be forced to return to Limbo forever and denied a release into the hereafter.

Beautiful Dead deals with more than Darina’s role in helping her deceased friends find closure in solving the mystery of their deaths, she is still struggling with the loss (and unexpected return) of Phoenix, as well as other issues that are closer to home. Darina’s involvement with the Dead affects the relationships she has with her still-living friends & family, as well as the families of those that have passed on. There are deeper questions in the series that form an overarching plot apart from the obvious murder mystery of each novel. The mysteries of how they returned and the background and mission of Hunter (their leader) and protector gradually becomes unravelled.

There are a number of authors that are capitalising on the current love of vampires and werewolves in YA fiction but Eden Maguire is not one of them. Her protagonists are all too human, even the Beautiful Dead are as flawed and lost in death as they were in life. Love, friendship and a sense of loss drew Darina to them and it is those human frailties that will appeal to readers. It helps that the books are also very well written, it is one of Eden’s strengths that she can create such well-realised characters that will allow readers to see parts of themselves within them.

Possibly the first books to portray zombies in a sympathetic light

A brilliant heart-breaking series that should be at the top of any Halloween reading list!

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

hush, hushFor Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She’s never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch came along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment.
But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora’s not sure who to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can’t decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.
For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen – and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life.

I have a confession to make – I have a split personality, and my secondary inner mind is a 14 year old goth girl – that is the only explanation I have for what I am about to say.

and that is: I freaking LOVED Hush, Hush!

That is all I can say really, in Nora Grey Becca Fitzpatrick has created a heroine who is normal – no lashings of angst, or whininess that typifies so many Teen characters in modern YA lit. Hush, Hush could easily have been a by-the-numbers stereotypical teen novel, all the markers are there – a heroine with a tragedy in her recent past – check, a dark, mysterious new boy who is always there stirring feelings she tries so hard to deny – check, mysterious happenings – check, danger – check, excitement – check, vampires – ch… wait there are no vampires – not a fang in sight! What there is is something far older and darker with a need that far outstrips a hunger for blood.

Becca mixes these elements into a powerful and hypnotic first novel that delights and terrifies with every turn, along with Nora we experience her life whirling out of control. From her car smashing into a mysterious figure and them appearing untouched to her room being ransacked and reverting to pristine condition then her friend Vee being hospitalised after a vicious attack. Nora questions her sanity, and with a story that hides as much as it reveals we ask ourselves that too and also if Patch is somehow responsible for these occurrences and if so how? Patch is a man of mystery who (as most teen boys do) refuses to divulge any details of his history or who he is.

I had to read Hush, Hush twice before I felt ready to write this review and even now I cannot help but feel that my words are lacking somehow, I want to make people read this book because it is that good – just not my copy as I need to reread it.

I know readers that will read this and lie awake straining to hear the beating of wings.

Hush, Hush is out at the end of October get a copy and read it – my inner teen goth-girl commands you!


Find out more about Hush, Hush!

Review: Al Capone Shines my Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

alcapshinesWhen I picked up the book Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko, the first thing I noticed were the simple drawings on the front and back cover and the irregular colourful lettering of the title. “Hmm,” I thought. “This looks like light holiday reading”. I did indeed take it on holiday with me, and it was indeed light holiday reading, but no less enjoyable for it. Gennifer Choldenko is a good writer. Even in my sunny locale I could see the mists envelopping the prison island of Alcatraz where the story is set in my mind’s eye, and even though I myself am years past the pre-teen angst of growing up, I truly empathised with the main character – Moose Flanagan – a 12 year old boy and felt his internal embarrassment, his awkwardness, his frustration with his friend who doesn’t play baseball and his puzzlement at the vagrancies of his female playmates.

The year is 1935, the United States is battling the Great Depression and Al Capone has been transferred to Alcatraz. Meet a warden’s son – Moose Flanagan. Moose asks Al Capone for a favour – to help his sister get into a special needs school. When his sister is admitted into said school, Moose owes the dangerous gangster. What is he to do? The story then twists and turns through the trials and tribulations of living on Alcatraz, being in close proximity to dangerous criminals, rule-obsessed wardens, impossibly cruel but unbearably pretty girls and the thrill of moving undetected in a place designed to hold the most accomplished of escape artists.

Moose Flanagan as a character has the touch of the Irish about him, he’s well liked by all,
thinks quickly, always manages to say the right thing and has a way with the girls. This”chosen” sort of quality that others see, but he himself does not feel, reminds me greatly of Harry Potter. The story also deals with a young boy who lives in a special place, who faces down a a dangerous enemy and becomes involved in a plot far bigger than by rights he should be expected to handle, all Potter-esque virtues.

In fact, this book is similarly appropriate for the tween and teen markets as the Harry Potter series.
I would therefore not hesitate to recommend Al Capone Shines My Shoes to young adults and adults who are young at heart.

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This review was written & submitted by the awesome Natalie Prescott who currently resides in a medieval town in the Netherlands

The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson

The Nargun and the StarsWhen Simon Brent’s parents are killed he is taken to live with his mother’s cousins on Wongadilla, their 5000 acresheep station. Simon feels like an outisder. But he’s not the only thing that doesn’t belong. The arrival of machines to clear the land brings to life the Nargun, a great rock, older than time itself, that has slowly dragged itself into the valley – and with, it a simmering rage that drives it to kill.
I do not often get the chance to read YA books older than I am, but at a recent Catnip event I was given a copy of The Nargun and the Stars written by Patricia Wrightson.

The creatures in the story are actual figures from Aboriginal myth the water-spirit Potkoorok, the tree-dwelling Turongs, the subterranean Nyols even the Nargun a fearsome creature is present in their tales. The land on which the story is set plays an important role – from the rivers and creeks to the mountains, forests and swamps. It is an isolated area that, until the beginning of the story, is relatively untouched. Into this wild and beautiful land Simon Brent is sent – to live with his late mother’s cousins. His arrival coincides with the beginning of deforestation on the other side of the valley The story mixes Simon’s personal quest for identity and sense of belonging, with a quest to remove a destructive presence from the land – both the Nargun and the Grader & Bulldozer are unwanted intruders in Wongadilla. Environmental themes are present throughout the book – with the destruction of the Turongs environment, the sound and vibrations of the machines driving the Nargun into a frenzy even the concept of land ownership with Charlie seeing himself as the man in charge of the land – a steward rather than owner.

“But you’re not the man in charge! You own it!”
“Do I? For sixty years or so, maybe; but how long do you think the Potkoorok’s owned it?”

Patricia Wrightson’s writing is lyrical and beautiful, her descriptions of the land and its surrounds as well as the interaction between Simon and the other characters is believable and the story drew me in completely – I loved it and did not want it to end!

Rated A for Awesome!

Ember Fury by Cathy Brett

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If there is one thing Ember knows, it’s that the smallest spark of anger can ignite a whole heap of trouble

Ember is not in a happy place, after being expelled from her latest school and a stay in an institution she is packed off to stay with her (absent) rock star father and overly concerned actress stepmother. Her best friend and seemingly the only voice of sanity she listens to is imaginary (or is he) and being emo in California is not fun, until she gets her hands on a pack of matches.

A wonderful book about tragedy, family, loss, reconciliation and friendship! It is as much a work of art as it is an awesome story.

Ember Fury is the debut novel by Cathy Brett, visit her site here.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

fohatIn Mary’s world there are simple truths.

The Sisterhood always knows best.

The Guardians will protect and serve.

The Unconsecrated will never relent.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is the best zombie novel I have read in a long time! Set in a post zombie apocalypse world and narrated by Mary a young woman who is starting to question her place in the limited world of the village and the choices being made for her.

Every zombie-novel and film I have read or seen opens with the world in the throes of a zombie attack. This is the first novel I have read that takes place after the fact (or The Return as it is known in the world of The Forest of Hands and Teeth), where a group of survivors have built a village and thrived in their closed environment. The village life is run on theocratic lines by the Sisterhood who make up the ruling body and the Guardians who protect the village and maintain the fences. The villagers themselves do as they are told and on the whole are content. The portion of the novel set inthe village reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village with its inhabitants living with strict rules to keep them safe, with the one difference being that in this book the villagers often come face to face with the Unconsecrated at the fence, and sometimes they are the people that they have loved and lost.

The village has been protected and kept safe for generations, but as any lover of the zombie genre will know – no location is safe forever against the undead. Mary discovers that an outsider entered the village through the fenced pathways and is being sequestered by the Sisterhood. She later comes face to face with the woman and that is where everything changes. Forced to flee with her fiancee, the man she loves and his girlfriend plus her brother and sister in law, Mary hopes to reach the ocean and to finally be safe.

I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and particularly enjoyed nods to other books and films contained within the pages – specifically the shambling zombies of the original Romero films and the running zombie from the remake. The world creation was fascinating, the tale hinted of other groups of survivors who for some time at least were in contact. Reference was made to The Return and I am hoping to find out more about this world when The Dead-Tossed Waves is released next year.

Vermonia: Quest for the Silver Tiger by Studio YOYO

At the centre of the universe, at the beginning and end of all creation, sits the planet of Vermonia, ruled by Queen Fransinella. All worlds including the fragile Blue Star, orbit around her, following pathways of the net between galaxies, wherein the Turtle Realm also lies.

Queen Frasinella’s reign of harmony is ending in civil war due to the betrayal of the commander of her army, General Uro. Hungry for personal power, he seeks the Queen’s sacred Bolirium, fighting his own twin brother, the Lord Boros to obtain it.

As the final battle rages and Lord Boros suffers defeat at the hands of his brother, Queen Frasinella gathers her four most trusted ministers. She uses her magic to transform them, then bids them to flee in order to safeguard the wisdom of her world and to work for its rebirth.

As her final sovereign act, Queen Frasinella summons from deep within her the four Veras of her Spirit; these four will be reborn on a distant planet as four warriors who will one day restore her reign of harmony

So begins Vermonia: Quest for the Silver Tiger a new manga title by Studio YoYo, published in the UK by Walker Books. It is the first in a series, for all ages and illustrated in the shonen style. Nevertheless Vermonia will have a broad appeal amongst girls as well as boys.

The heroes of this tale are four friends (Mel, Doug, Kim and Naomi), who after falling out at their skating hangout each have an identical dream about a boy being strangled by snakes and pleading for help. The next day Mel is kidnapped by Gazso an agent of the evil General Uro. The group leave earth with the aid of the magical Satorin, a Squelp (the obligatory cute manga mascot), and waste no time in trying to track Mel down to free her, and also, they learn, the planet of Vermonia.

I was thrilled (and surprised) to receive a copy of this book in the post. I had been shown some early proofs of Vermonia when I visited Walker Books late last year. From a purely aesthetic point of view the book is beautiful, published in the traditional Japanese style to be read from right to left, Walker Books has also followed the Japanese habit of giving it a dust jacket and a semi-rigid cover. The contents do not disappoint either, the artwork by artist Saki Uchida who was discovered by Akihuro Miyata, the editor and publisher who nurtured the talent of the extraordinary Haruki Murakami, is stunning. The story is gripping and provides a perfect set up to the future volumes that will follow. The only downside is that the book ends on a cliff-hanger and I want to know what happens next but volume two is still a few months away.

Strange Angels by Lili Saintcrow

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Dru Anderson has been “strange” for as long as she can remember. She travels from town to town with her father, hunting the things that go bump in the night and eat the unwary. It’s a weird life, but a good one–until it all explodes and a zombie busts into her new house.

Strange Angels is Lilith Saint Crow‘s first young adult novel, and tells the story of Dru Anderson, the daughter of a (monster) hunter. When her dad ends up dead she has to use hard-learned lessons and smarts to stay alive long enough to find out who killed him and who wants her dead.

Throwing werewolves and vampires into the mix with her preternaturally gifted heroine, Lilith hits most of the paranormal urban fantasy genre’s stererotypes There is nothing wrong with this as she has managed to craft an excellent story. Her teen characters are well written and believable (within the bounds of the story) and she weaves suspense and horror together well to tell a tale that will keep her YA readers attention throughout the story. The book is the first title in a series about Dru that will appeal primarily to teen girls although boys should also find it gripping. I am a bit out of her target market but I do love paranormal urban fantasy – the more adventure-oriented style, not really the para-romance that is so popular these days and Lili hit the nail on the head with this one (for me anyway). I am currently eagerly awaiting the second volume Betrayal – due out later this year.

The Reformed Vampire Support group by Catherine Jinks

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People often think that vampires live in decrepit old castles, or mausoleums, or sprawling mansions full of stained glass and wood panelling. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Nina is 15 years old (and has been since 1973) when she was attacked by a vampire.Her life since then has been one of suffering from the effects of vampirism, living with her mother, fanging guinea pigs and every Tuesday attending the Reformed Vampire Support Group meetings. The group is composed of all the surviving vampires in Australia – including the vampire that originally brought the infection from Europe.

The Groups’ carefully ordered lifestyle is thrown into disarray by the staking of the oldest vampire among them. What follows is a desperate search by committee that will bring them face to face with a terrified slayer; into contact with the brutal world of werewolf fighting as well as Nina’s acceptance of being a vampire as well as finding a greater meaning to life (and love) after death.

I love monster stories and have a particular fondness for urban paranormal tales by authors like Jim Butcher and Lilith St. Crow (and the early Laurell K. Hamilton). Catherine Jinks’ creations takes the vampire myth in a (humourous at times) direction that I do not see often. They have all the weaknesses that traditional vampires have – burning in the sun, only able to feed of blood, death by staking and none of the strengths. So no transforming in to bats, no super strength none of the sexy vamp. lifestyle popularised by Twilight and the Underworld series – both referenced in this novel. The closest Nina comes to this `way of life is in the novels she writes (under an assumed name) about Zadia Bloodstone. Jinks’ vampires live the lives of junkies desperate for a fix but terrified of spreading their infection and of being discovered and being slaughtered by a population that is unaware of them living in their midst.

Skim by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

Winner of the 2008 Ignatz Award for Best Graphic Novel, and appearing on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book List, Skim is being published by Walker Books in the UK.

Skim The story, told in the form of a diary and comic strip is seen from the perspective of Kimberly Keiko “Skim” Cameron, an aspiring Wiccan and goth who is coping with a broken arm and separated parents when the suicide of (a possibly gay) ex boyfriend of a classmate throws hers and everyones’ lives into turmoil.

Having to deal with a guidance counselor who is concerned about her state of mind (goths being prone to self-harm and suicide) and the antagonism of the girls in the Celebrate Life club; she also has to cope with the growing realisation that she is falling in love with her Englsih teacher Mrs Archer and the fact that her Wiccan circle also serves as a branch of the local AA.

Skim is a brilliantly told and illustrated coming of age tale that will appeal to young readers and adults alike. This book deals with a number of themes that are relevant to teenagers (including suicide, parental separation, youthful alienation, the journey to finding oneself, love and many others) the story is told in a way that is hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure. Skim is a likable (if sarcastic) protagonist who draws you in and makes you feel what she is feeling and at the end leaves you wanting to know what happens next.

It has been described by Paul Gravett as one of the best comics of 2008 and is truly deserving of that accolade!

Skim is due out in May and is highly recommended for all Graphic Novel collections!