Category Archives: Reviews

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.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner


What if the football hadn’t gone over the wall? What if Hector had never gone looking for it? What if he hadn’t kept the dark secrets to himself? What if…

Then I suppose I would be telling myself another story. You see, the ‘what if’s’ are as boundless as the stars.

I am not a person prone to jealous fits, I like to think of myself as living on a fairly even keel but Sally Gardner made me jealous!

Not because she is a fantastic author and a lovely person (she is!) but because she has taken a complex concept (alternate earth, a moon landing conpsiracy theory and a Britain without anything that made it great – except the courage and determination of a boy who missed his friend) and then told the story using simple, accessible language and made a beautiful, haunting story!

Maggot Moon is perfect! I have never said that about a book before – and it is possible that I may never say it again.

If, before I had read it, someone had said to me, “Hey you know that book by Sally Gardner the one with the kid with two different coloured eyes looking out from the cover and a ladder stretching from his head to a moon writhing with maggots, um… Maggot Moon – well that book is perfect!”

I probably would not have believed them. I would have picked up the book and read it much like I hope that you do once you have finished reading this review – find a copy and read it! It might make you smile, it may make you cry but it will make you think!

Narrated in an alternate Britain against the desperate race to the moon, Maggot Moon is a complex story, simply told, by Standish Treadwell (Can’t read, can’t write. Standish Treadwell isn’t bright.) a boy with a dyslexia, in a Britain where the disabled are locked away with dissidents and other non-people that have earned the displeasure of the state.

With his best friend missing, a moon man in his basement and a potential opportunity to escape, Standish must make a choice and possibly find out the truth about what is happening on the other side of the wall.

Exciting
Thought-provoking
Heartbreaking

Perfect!

League of Strays by L.B. Schulman

When Charlotte, a lonely student at a new high school, receives a mysterious note inviting her to join a group called the League of Strays, she’s hopeful it will lead to making friends.  What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative leader named Kade, who convinces them that they need each other for friendship – and for taking revenge on the classmates and teachers who have wronged them in the past.  But Kade has an even bigger agenda.

Vandalizing the school and causing fights between other students aren’t enough.

Kade masterminds a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience.

So, confession time – when I received this book from the lovely people at Abrams & Chronicle I committed a cardinal sin – I… I judged a book by its title.

Yes – I read the title “League of Strays” and honestly thought it was going to be a story about werewolves – in high school with no pack to protect them, which isn’t a bad plot idea but seeing as I have read a bit too much urban fantasy the idea did not appeal.

I was wrong, so very, very wrong!

This novel is about as far away from being a paranormal teen romance as any book can be!

It is a high school revenge fantasy, and not one of those where you cheer on the protagonists as they wreak vengeance against those that had slighted them.  No this tale is darker and more unsettling; it is about revenge, obsession and how far people go to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Told from newcomer Charlotte’s perspective, it details the coming together of a group of lonely and vulnerable teens that fall under the spell of the handsome and manipulative Kade Harlin.

I read League of Strays on Monday (1st October) I picked it up to read while I was sitting with the evening homework club in my school boarding house.  I read the first 44 pages in between helping students with geography, history, English and getting the maths kids to help each other.  It hooked me, and I continued reading after homework club ended.  I finally finished the book at 23:14 – it is the first time in ages that I have finished a book in one sitting on a week night.

I do not think that I was not the only teen that imagined wreaking vengeance on my peers for being belittled, bullied and insulted.  I never attempted to seek vengeance as I did not have a clique that could help me realise my fantasies of vengeance (and I was just too chicken to even attempt it).

Seeing what has happened when outsiders go out looking for payback in schools in the US and UK (sometimes with knives, guns and homemade bombs) I think that it is a good idea to confront issues relating to persecution and the consequences that seeking revenge can bring .

League of Strays was a brilliant read and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Arabesque by Colin Mulhern


ar·a·besque [ar-uh-besk]

noun

2. a pose in ballet in which the dancer stands on one leg with one arm extended in front and the other leg and arm extended behind.

Be the best.

Gymnast. Friend. Thief?

Amy May is the best at everything she does.

But how do you know you’re really the best until you’re tested? Until you are pushed to the limit?

A botched kidnapping drags Amy and her best friend into the depths of a criminal underworld, a world where the players think with bulelts and blackmail. Where they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

And what they want only Amy May can provide.

 
 
 
 
 

So anyway I was at the Lighting the Future YLG/SLG/SLA Conference in June and on the Sunday I popped along to the Catnip/Bounce exhibitor table to say hello to the lovely Non from Catnip who I see far less than I ought as she is great fun to chat to and is a lovely human being ™.

When I got there we aid hello and she said:”I have a book for you!” Now I like it when people say that because it generally means I am going to get a book. Then she said “It is Colin Mulhern’s new title, Arabesque!”

At that point a thrill went through me, because a) Colin is a nice guy and the one time I met him he was super-awesome and b) Clash was a mind-blowingly brilliant book.

Non told me she loved Arabesque, she thought it was excellent and that everyone that had read it had gotten really excited about it and that it is the kind of novel that needs a film to be made of it as it is cinematic in scope.

Well Non was WRONG! No – not about its excellence, but about the fact that it should be made into a film. Arabesque would make a good television mini-series – of the HBO variety even though the novel contains no swearing – seriously I did not even notice the lack of profanity until Non mentioned it when w were chatting and it is not even missed. Although set over a relatively short time-span Arabesque contains more action, terror, thrills and twists than a novel twice its’ size!

I will just say

OH MY GOD! Arabesque is FREAKING FANTASTIC!

Abductions, Murder, Cat burglary, Crime, Twists, Shocks, Thrills and more!

Amy May and Mia are two brilliant characters – Amy has been raised to be an alpha-extrovert and the best in everything that she does, Mia her best friend is content to be in her shadow, as sparring partner and confidant. It is when they are in the grips of the criminals that the story shines, Amy is introduced to the glam side of crime – the bits we see in the movies the high life, wealth, champagne in an attempt to woo her to join the criminal enterprise. Mia gets the stick – she is used to pressure Amy and sees the true face of crime – the poverty and abuse that enables the gang leaders to profit.

Seriously – read this book it is good! It is better than good, my eyes were glued to the page and the ending… I will say nothing about the ending except:

What the hell? Dude that was unexpected!

Arabesque is a powerful thriller, gripping and intense it did not disappoint me it could not have ended any other way (but i can’t believe you left me hanging like that!)

Like all excellent stories it left me wanting more!

Thank you!

Arabesque is published in September by Catnip Publishing

After by Morris Gleitzman

Once, Then, Now and finally After…

After
the Nazis took my parents I was scared

After
they killed my best friend I was angry

After
they ruined my thirteenth birthday I was determined

To get to the forest

To join forces with Gabriek and Yuli

To be a family

To defeat the Nazis after all

After is the fourth book about Felix, but chronologically it is the third in his story falling between Then and Now. Set in the dying months of the Second World War it continues Felix’s story as a refugee and a partisan but always a survivor…
 
 

This book has affected me emotionally more than any book I have read in recently, sure there have been books that made me well up a bit here and there but After is different. It is a work of fiction but one that addresses real events, things that happened that are still within living memory. I have met and spoken to Survivors from the Holocaust and I think that this my be part of the reason that After moved me so much.

After finishing the book I did not think that I would be able to write a review, but here it is. Morris Gleitzman has captured the voice of a 13 year old living through the most horrific of times and by rights this book should be grim, sad and depressing.

Sad it is, grim – in laces definitely but it is leavened by Felix’s youthful exuberance and desires for a normal life, a family, wondering if Gabriek wants a son or Yuli a family. The characters are real, from partisans who hate Jews but hate Nazis just a little bit more to children who are forced into lievs their parents choose for them and moving beyond bigotry and trying to be more humane.

After made me sad and happy, after I finished reading it I walked around with a heavy feeling in my chest, it did more than mess with my emotions – it moved me and I hope that I never lose this feeling!

After is a book about life, loss, acceptance and finally hope.

WIN One of three copies of After by Morris Gleitzman, name the four books in order in the comments field, the competition will run until the 15th August.

School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari

Madeleine Masterton is deathly afraid of bugs.

Theodore Bartholomew is petrified of dying.

Lulu Punchalower is scared of confined spaces.

Garrison Feldman is terrified of deep water.

Which is why this will be the scariest summer of their lives.

The foursome must face their phobias head-on at the exclusive and elusive School of Fear.

There’s no homework and no exams. But if they don’t conquer their fears by the end of the course, they’ll find out just how frightening failing can be.

The first rule of The School of Fear is that you don’t talk about the School of Fear, the second rule is that once you are in you are in! No calling home, no contact with the outside world and the only way out is if you conquer your phobias or break the rules and then you have to confront the dreaded Munchauser & Son Law Firm.

Part of me wishes the School of Fear actually existed as there are several kids I work with who are very similar to the main characters, although only one has a severe enough phobia to be admitted to the school (antidaephobia).

Phobias aside the protagonists would not be out of place in a John Hughes movie, there is the nerd, the jock, the beauty queen and the annoying one. Instead of being stuck in detention they have been sent to an isolated school in the middle of nowhere to be cured of their phobias, no joyful summer for them, they are stuck with Mrs Wellington the possibly insane headmistress with an obsession with beauty pageants, Mr Schmidtey the decrepit handyman and Macaroni the dog, still in mourning for his companion Cheese. Then there is Mr Munchauser the fearsome lawyer and a mysterious figure who lurks in the woods.

The introduction to the main characters was hilarious, never have phobias been quite so funny, dealing with phobias is a serious issue but Gitty Daneshvari imbues it with humour that made me laugh, even as I sympathised with the protagonists. The teens are all portrayed relatively realistically with all the quirks and foibles that one can expect from teens.

Broken up into 23 chapters each one starting with a different phobia I was educated as I read, I had no idea where the story was leading up until the final few chapters when everything meshed together.

School of Fear is a solid, entertaining read for tween and middle grade readers!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Meet Celaena Sardothian.

Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, a seventeen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice, Celaena must represent the Prince in a to-the-death tournament – fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or losse, she is about to discover her true destiny.

But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read Throne of Glass in one sitting, breaking only to make tea and then move out of the lounge as my flat-mates started watching television I devoured ToG in just over four hours.

When it comes to genre fiction my first great love has always been fantasy (science-fiction came a bit later). Tog took me back to my early teens when I discovered a book, got hooked in the fist few pages and then spent half the night reading, much to my parents consternation.

As a main character Celaena is brilliant, young, talented and loves libraries and reading (I am a Librarian ok – that kind of thing scores major points for me!) in fact the inclusion of discussions of books and the derision of Prince Dorian when he discovers a romance novel that Celaena has been reading was brilliant.

Throne of Glass is a melange of fantasy, conspiracy and politics mixed deftly together by Sarah J. Maas. Centred largely at the heart of a brutal medieval-style empire where magic has been ruthlessly stamped out although vestiges of the fantastic remain on the periphery with references to the Fae that once lived in ancient forests and the destruction of centres of magical learning and even libraries that may have held books on magic having been destroyed it takes flashpoints of our reality including massacres, oppression, intolerance & slavery and places them in a fantastical setting.

Celaena’s struggles against mostly unpleasant competitiors to become the King’s Champion made a brilliant backdrop to the story!

What really won me over was the humour contained within Throne of Glass, the characters although constrained by their surroundings and experiences banter and joke as most young people are prone to do when thrown together. The burgeoning romance between Celaena, Prince Dorian watched helplessly by the Prince’s friend Chaol who is drawn to Celaena even though he distrusts her skills as an assassin is well handled and never feels forced.

Overall Throne of Glass reminds me of the works of the late Douglas Hill (Blade of the Poisoner) but is very much its own story, the number of story strands that were left dangling at the end made me hunger to know more!

Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland

 

 

 

There was a country at war, and that is where this story begins.

Told from a child’s perspective Azzi in Between is a sensitively told story about Azzi and her family who are forced to flee their country to survive. Their country is not named and nor is her family’s destination mentioned. This opens the book up to readers that may have experienced forced immigration and can enable them to identify with the family thus helping them to share their stories.

This book has so much potential to be used in education children and adults ignorant of the privations that refugee families and children experience when fleeing unstable regimes.

Sarah Garland has created a beautiful and moving story about fear, loss and hope that can be read and enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Azzi in Between is endorsed by Amnesty International UK.

The Adjusters by Andrew Taylor

They will make you perfect…
But first they will make you scream.

I have read and am a fan of Andrew Taylor’s Superhumans series. So when I opened the package containing my copy of the Adjusters I knew I had received something special*.

The cover illustration is eye-catching and resembles what I imagine a psychopath would have as a coat of arms. I found The Adjusters to be a departure in both style and content to his earlier books but just as tightly plotted and enjoyable.

The opening scenes of body horror promised so much and did not disappoint, what appeared to be the start of an excellent medical horror morphed into an brilliant blend of conspiracy and horror thriller.

We are introduced to Henry Ward the hero of the piece and his mother, on their way to her new job in a Newton, a perfect town in the middle of nowhere. The scene is set perfectly with an unsettling encounter with a runaway and the local police officer at a semi-rundown service station. This is an excellent piece of foreshadowing, setting Henry up against corrupt authority figures and people suspicious and fearful of teenagers.

It reads as a cross between The Stepford Wives and the Manchurian Candidate with a dash of big Brother thrown in to the mix!

The Adjusters also reminded me a bit of a movie from the late 1990’s called The Faculty, it was about a school where the teaching staff was taken over by a malevolent alien intelligence that then set about converting the students into their drones. I loved that film but The Adjusters is better, for one it is more believable. The scariest part of the book for me is that it is not outside the realms of possibility. I am paranoid enough to believe that there are organisations dedicated to making the general population more pliable through brain surgery and implants.

I devoured the book in a single sitting, it reads as a standalone novel but there are enough loose ends dangling that leave it open to a sequel.

*I was not wrong!