Category Archives: Reviews

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!

The Hunt – Andrew Fukuda

Against all odds, 17-year-old Gene has survived in a world where the general population has eaten humans to near extinction. The only remaining humans, or hepers as they are known, are housed in domes on the savannah and studied at the nearby Heper Institute. Every decade there is a government sponsored hunt.
When Gene is selected to be one of the combatants he must learn the art of the hunt – but also elude his fellow competitors as suspicions about his true nature grow…

My copy of The Hunt was an early Christmas present from Simon and Schuster at their December blogger event. To be honest it was the book I was most excited about, but cruel and lovely people that they are, they waited until the very end of the talk and presentation about their upcoming books to give each of us a carefully wrapped package containing one copy each of The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda.

This book will grab you by the throat on the first page with the monstrousness that happens – I will not tell you what it is but it is heart-breaking and wonderful in its savagery. Chapter one will hook you and you will not want to put this book down until you have read every page. I can tell you this because I know it to be true as I started the book on the bus way back in December as I was going to meet friends for a movie and dinner, I can remember everything about that evening as the book was in my pocket, and desire to run home and read it was nigh irresistible! Fortunately I was able to resist this need.
In the world of the Hunt the vampires are humanity’s appetites unleashed – all the things that make us human – restraint, consideration for others, overcoming the desire to have another morsel once our hunger is sated – all those controls are absent. No sparkly, tortured souls that exist in the night these vampires – they are hunger and desire for human blood and flesh unrestrained.

I have heard people I know describe The Hunt as The Hunger Games with fangs – and it is not an inaccurate description, but for me the closest novel that I can compare it to is my favourite vampire novel of all time. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Forget the movie versions starring Charlton Heston (The Omega man) and the newer flashier version with Will Smith, which up until the end was not too bad but they bowdlerised the ending – unforgiveable as I Am Legend is a timeless horror classic and now – in my mind at least it has a sequel.

A world where normal means fangs, an aversion to light and an unquenching thirst for the taste of Heper flesh and blood. A world where the few, uninfected that manage to live hidden amongst their predators must deny and hide their humanity to just survive.
For too long vampires have been the pop stars of the literary world, bright, beautiful and desirable. With The Hunt Andrew Fukuda takes them back to their bloody roots as hungry, monstrous beings – humanity’s apex predator! For that I thank him!

If I scored the books I read The Hunt would get a bloody 10 out of 10.

Buy it, read it and then tell your friends and like me you can wait, hungry for the sequel!

I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga


Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.
But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could – from the criminal’s point of view.
And now bodies are piling up in Lobo’s Nod. In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer but Jazz has a secret–could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

I started reading I Hunt Killers on the train home this evening, as the train pulled in to London Bridge Station and a young family walked past my seat I heard a little girl say “Mummy, Daddy I want to hunt killers! I… want… to… hunt… killers!” Her parents glanced at me sideways and carried on off the train taking the future detective with them.

I Hunt Killers as one of the best covers I have seen this year, well the American version does anyway, the British edition is not out yet. A black and white dust jacket the only colour provided by spots of blood, the cover itself is splashed with blood outlining a white silhouette lightly splashed with directional splatter, it is a thing of gory beauty to behold.

The true marvel lies within it’s pages, Barry Lyga has crafted a compelling tale of a boy who lives in fear that he may be just like his Dear Old Dad, one of the 21st century’s most prolific and horrific serial killers. Forget Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan, Billy Dent is one of the most terrifying killers I have encountered in literary fictionover the past few years! He is notable by his absence throughout most of the book, but his malevolent influence is felt in every chapter.

Jazz is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist and we see the story unfolding through his eyes and thoughts. He is kept grounded through the loyalty and humour his best friend Howie and his girlfriend Connie – one of the few people who actually calls him out on often melodramatic and obsessive behaviour. The supporting cast is brilliant, his unpleasant grandmother – made worse by her creeping dementia, the town sherriff who captured Billy several years before, a social worker determined to do what is best for Jazxz whether he wants her to or not and a selection of suspects all mesh together perfectly.

I Hunt Killers is a brilliant beginning to what I hope is going to be a series of novels, I want to find out more about Jazz’s childhood and tutelage under Billy, and slowly unwrap the layers of mystery that were only hinted at in the pages of I Hunt Killers.