Category Archives: Reviews

Zombie XI a novel by Pete Kalu

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The ghostly players from the winning 1966 England World Cup team tell Leonard that if he follows their instructions, not only will he get off the bench – but Dulcie High XI will start to take control. Leonard obeys, and the team’s prospects surge. But what is the price of the zombies’ involvement? How high will the price be – and what pound of living flesh will they demand?

I have to be honest – I am not really a fan of football, the British teams leave me cold and whenever anyone asks me which team I support, I usually say the Kaizer Chiefs (the band is named after them) and then say that I am usually a rugby man.

But a funny thing has happened – I picked up Zombie XI, mainly because it had the word ‘zombie’ in the title and if you say one thing about me say that I do enjoy a good horror story.

Needless to say this book was not totally what I expected – it drew me into wanting to find out more about football in a subtle way and I am still not totally sure how it happened, I know more about the 1966 team now – the nuggets of history scattered through the book made me pick up a football encyclopaedia to follow up what I read about the players.

There is a streak of humour that winds its way through the story, from a hypnotism assisted attempt to stop smoking to poking fun at some of the more dubious facets of the modern game; the scene where the coach took the team to drama class for acting lessons made me snort out loud! Leonard’s complicated relationship with his family throughout the novel is my favourite strand of the story, and one that most readers will be able to relate to.

The diverse cast and the interpersonal relationships between them including the friendships, rivalries and insecurities are delicately handled and will give readers insight into communities that they may have limited experience with.

Yes, Zombie XI is a football book (with zombies), but it is not about football – it is about the people and their love of the beautiful game and how it unites us.

Peter Kalu is a brilliant author – he got me to care about football, I now know more about the game than I have ever done before and the feeling is not going away!

Zombie XI is the fourth book in the Striker series published by Hope Road Publishers

This book contains: football, drama (acting), more drama (family & interpersonal), friendship, humour and zombies

Recommended for: readers of all ages who love sport, humour and a bit of zombie action

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

Are you on the hunt for a grimy, tech-noir thriller?

If the answer is yes then SP4RX is definitely the graphic novel for you!

It has been years since I last delved into the Cyberpunk realm and SP4RX was a brilliant reintroduction to the genre that did not disappoint!

Written and drawn by Wren McDonald, SP4RX reads as the love-child between William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Epic in scope yet incredibly personal in nature, the story focuses of Sp4rx, a hacker hired to steal a macguffin from a corporation and ends up as a rather less than willing recruit in a battle to save humanity from their evil corporate overlords.
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With echoes of (the original) Robocop using periodic news updates to provide necessary background information without resorting to infodumps and underscoring the humanity of artificial intelligence reminiscent of CHAPPiE, SP4RX is a brilliant graphic novel aimed at older readers.

Nobrow has been consistently publishing excellent graphic novels and with SP4RX this run continues!

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Geis: a Matter of Life & Death

The chief matriarch is dying. Drawing her last breath, she declares a contest: let fate decide the one worthy to rule. Fifty souls are summoned in the night; fifty souls bound to the same fate. But this is no ordinary trial… And so begins the first task.

The first thing I learned was how to pronounce Geis – it is ‘Gesh’ in case you couldn’t wait to pick up the book!

It is a Gaelic word for taboo or curse (that I knew). When a geis is placed upon you, it is like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed. you might be prohibited form calling upon the aid of wolves, for example, or breaking into someone’s kitchen. If you ignore or break a geis, the consequences are dire.

But a geis is always broken.

As soon as it is spoken or written, your fate is set.

The first thing I realised when I opened the book was that I already know Alexis Deacon’s work, he was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal for his illustration of Jim’s Lion and he wrote the award-winning picture book I am Henry Finch.

I was not sure what to expect when I picked it up, possibly an enjoyable fantasy romp through a fantasy world based on Celtic myth.

I was right about the fantasy world – but my God, this story is dark – beautifully illustrated, but utterly merciless! The protagonist is the Kite Lord’s daughter, a young girl who finds herself out of place amongst the high lords and ladies of the chieftain’s court, who are summoned and scattered to find a suitable soul to replace the chief. The desires and humanity of the characters are laid bare as they face the temptation of ultimate power, and as was once said – no good deed goes unpunished!

It is the first part of an epic trilogy – get this book now, trust me I am a librarian!

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How to Survive in the North

A brilliant graphic novel written and illustrated by Luke Healy:

Weaving together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett with a contemporary fictional story. How to Survive in the North is a unique and visual narrative journey that shows the strength it takes to survive in even the harshest conditions – whether that be struggling for survival in the Arctic in the 1900s or surviving a mid-life crisis in the present day.

I finished this book with the impression that Vilhjalmur Stefansson was at best criminally inept and worst culpable for the death of the men he abandoned on two expeditions in the Arctic Circle.

Simply and beautifully illustrated it contains a wealth of history that made me research the histories of the characters once I had finished it. I love Luke Healey’s artwork and the changing colours to denote the different expeditions and the contemporary story is an excellent idea! The isolation of each of the characters throughout the book is the thread that binds the narratives together and the choices they make to survive and stay sane in the face of fraying relationships and loneliness makes the stories as gripping as they are tragic!

As with other Nobrow titles, How to Survive in the North is beautifully crafted and makes a bookshelf look better just by being on it!

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1400 a Graphic Novel by Jag Lall

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1400 is a hard hitting original story that delves into the inner psyche of the emotional battle of 15 year old Sharanjeet, who through her nightmares we see struggle to lift the lid on the trauma of rape and emotional abuse that she suffers at the hands of the monsters.

While stylistically very similar to the Frank Miller’s artwork in his Sin City series the content of 1400 by Jag Lall could not be more different.

Any story dealing with rape and its aftermath should be handled incredibly sensitively as it is an emotive, triggering subject and Jag Lall has done this wonderfully.

Sharanjeet’s mental battle to come to terms with her rape and assault at the hands of her boyfriend and his friends is portrayed as a single-handed struggle with monsters in her dreams. Her struggle in the waking world to open up to her parents and friends, all the while blaming herself for what happened and fear of rejection if she does so will resonate with survivors of many kinds of abuse.

1400 is an upsetting story, powerfully told with an important message to all survivors of sexual assault and everyone in showing that we can all play a role in aiding survivors of abuse.

Visit Jag Lall’s website to find out more about his work and how 1400 can be used in schools:

http://www.jaglallart.com/1400/4588940773

My Best Friend’s Exorcism: a Novel by Grady Hendrix

A novel of friendship, the ‘80’s and demonic possession
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1988 Charleston, South Carolina. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong Gretchen begins to act… different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby.

Abby’s investigation leads to some startling discoveries – and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question:

Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?
 
 
 
 
 
 
I did a lot of my growing up in the 1980’s – South Africa instead of America, I would have been a few years younger than Abby and Gretchen and despite growing up in another country on a different continent I recognised a number of things that were similar to my growing up.

The first was I knew a family like Gretchen’s, overly religious with a habit of handing out holy writ as gifts as well as forbidding many popular television shows (my parents enjoyed watching The Thorn Birds), having religious road-shows come to my schools giving talks on salvation and the satanic panic, seeing the work of the devil in everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Bionic Six to back-masking and rock music being the devil’s music. My Best Friend’s Exorcism awoke some old, weird memories for me.

It was a fantastic and at times uncomfortable read, initially I was not sure where the story was going or if Abby was right in her suspicions or merely going off the deep-end as her friends abandoned her as so often happens in high school friendship arguments – it all seemed plausible and within the realms of normality and then Grady Hendrix started in with the gut-clenching horror that made me nauseous at the same time as forcing me to read further to find out what would happen next.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a ‘80’s, teen angst, horror novel with style! I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can create a playlist from the chapter headings and go on to read all night because once you have started you will not want to turn off the lights or you will start to imagine that you feel a soft touch on the back of your neck…

How my addiction for Urban Fantasy led me to Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?

So, I have to admit something: I am a fan of urban fantasy, there I have said it! I have been carrying around this secret for over a decade now and I am glad to get it off my chest.

It is all Laurell K. Hamilton’s fault! When I first began working in libraries in the UK (Thamesmead Library to be precise), I had a massive commute, and one evening as home-time beckoned I found myself in need of a book – nothing too strenuous as I like to relax on my train journeys so I picked up Guilty Pleasures by the aforementioned LKH as the cover looked suitably cheesy and fun. Rich in snark, witty repartee and lashings of human on monster violence I loved it and had finished it by the time I got back to work the next day.

I read all the Anita Blake books up to Narcissus in Chains where the increased raunch of the stories began overshadowing the elements that made me fall in love with the series in the first place – the books are still massively popular and I support anything that attracts people to reading but sadly I felt that they were no longer for me! I have recently read Dead Ice and mostly enjoyed it (I am tempted to tentatively pick up the series again when I have more reading time).

Post LKH I discovered the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher who remains one of my go to authors for fun action and adventure but (as many fans discover) waiting for the next book seems like an exercise in eternity!


Fortunately just before I was fully up to date with the adventures of Harry Dresden my buddy Shaun introduced me to Ben Aaronovitch at an all-day board-game session, Ben as many will know is the author of the best-selling Rivers of London series which became the next fix of urban fantasy that I was desiring (and The Hanging Tree is out in October – yay).white barrier

It was through Ben that I discovered the works of Paul Cornell, specifically London Falling; the first novel in the Shadow Police series.

white barrierLondon Falling was amazing, combining the grunt work of metropolitan policing with a team of the Met’s not-so-finest dealing with having unexpected and unwanted abilities to discern magic thrust upon them.

The follow-up Severed Streets was good but left me feeling as if something was missing and I was on the verge of giving the series a break when awesome PR person Jamie-Lee Nardone sent me a copy of Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? as I was unable to make the launch due to dad duty.

What can I say about Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? except that it gave me a new appreciation of Severed Streets and a greater respect for Paul Cornell as a novelist!

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? tied together everything that came before in the first two novels and it made so much more sense! I realised that what bothered me so much about Severed Streets was a lack of understanding on my part rather than anything to do with the novel itself!

Opening with the murder of the fictitious ghost of Sherlock Holmes WKSH? drops us in the midst of an intricately plotted murder-mystery drawing in lightly fictionalised actors from the BBC’s and CBS’s television shows based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as giving the reader more insight into the revelations of Severed Streets while drip-feeding more information about London’s underground magical community while the team struggled to come to terms with what they have learned so far.

The only downside to being dazzled by such an intricately imaginative novel is waiting for book four*.

So if you find the need to get some of the filth of London under your nails and see how they cope with policing magical crime pick up London Falling, start the story at the beginning – you will not regret it, and you may just learn something new about London in the process!

*On the plus side I still have to catch up with Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series…

V for Violet by Alison Rattle a Review

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Battersea, 1961. Britain is entering the swinging sixties. the world is changing – but not for sixteen-year-old Violet. She’s stuck in hr mum and dad’s fish and chip shop, where she can only dream of a more exciting life.

Then she meets Beau. Beau’s a Rocker – a motorcycle boy who arrives in an explosion of passion and rebellion. He blows up Violet’s grey little life, and she can’t believe her luck.

But things don’t go her way for long. Joseph, her long-lost brother, comes home. Then young girls start going missing, and turning up murdered. And then Violet’s best friend disappears too. Suddenly life is horrifyingly much more interesting.

Violet can’t believe its coincidence that Joseph turns up just as girls start getting murdered. He’s weird, and she feels sure he’s hiding something. He’s got a secret, and Violet’s got a dreadful feeling it might be the worst kind of secret of all . . .

Dishing up a story rich in mystery, heartbreak, family drama, friendship crises, more mystery and a cast of characters that will hold your attention! Alison Rattle has given me my favourite mystery book of the year so far!

Born during Winston Churchill’s declaration that the war was over Violet has grown up in the shadow of the memory of her war hero brother. Now ages 16 she sees her life choices narrow to slinging battered cod and chips for the rest of her life.

In Violet we are given a protagonist and narrator who, although she may not be as good a judge of character or worldly-wise as she would like to think is incredibly engaging and worth rooting for as she navigates the mystery of her brother’s return, the threat of a murderer looming over Battersea and the tumultuous feelings of by first love and romance.

V for Violet has several mysteries that unravel slowly through the story and kept me guessing up until the very end. Somewhat appropriately for a tale involving a chippie there were several red herrings that fooled me and I kept changing my guesses as to whodunnit and why while I was reading.

If you feel the need for a genuinely engaging thriller that will keep you guessing then V for Violet is the book for you!

Published by the brilliant Hot Key Books, V for Violet is available from all good bookshops and on-line now!

The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill

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I first encountered William Grill‘s work during my first year as a CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals Judge, his book Shackleton’s Journey won the 2015 Kate Greenaway Medal, this made William the second youngest recipient of the Medal.

His new book The Wolves of Currumpaw swaps the icy wastes of the Antarctic for the rich and fertile Currumpaw Valley of New Mexico. Based in part on Ernest Thompson Seton’s short story Lobo: King of Currumpaw and research about Seton himself it details the fate of a wolf pack and the man who hunted them, and in the process changed from a destroyer to protector of American wildlife.

William is a phenomenal artist, his work on Shackleton’s Journey is sublime, and I can honestly say that with The Wolves of Currumpaw he has surpassed himself. His attention to detail and humour in his sequential drawings is wonderful and expertise in showing the scale of the landscape and the enormous wide-open skies is sheer perfection!

The sense of movement and vitality that he brings to the wolves and other animals on the page is shows us that he is a master of his art!

The Wolves of Currumpaw is sad, beautiful and a wonderful introduction to characters whose work heralded the start of the conservation movement in America.

Published by Flying Eye Books, The Wolves of Currumpaw is out on the 26th May.

Study Hall of Justice

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My name is Bruce Wayne, and I’m the new kid (UGH) at Ducard Academy.

I can’t say for certain, but I think something fishy’s going on. There’s a gang of clowns roaming the halls, a kid named Bane wants to beat me up, and the guidance counselor, Hugo Strange, seems really, well, strange.
 
At least I have two new friends – Clark and Diana are kinda cool, I guess. We’re going to solve this case no matter what, even if I have to convince Alfred to let me stay up past eleven.

 

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There has been a lot of talk recently about the Justice league of late, mostly due to the forthcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a grim and gritty movie about the formation of the Justice League.

If your desire for super-hero team-ups is getting too much for you then I highly recommend Study Hall of Justice, the first book of the Secret Hero Society by DC Comics and Scholastic.

This book is awesome! Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen take the core concepts and mythologies of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman and render them down into middle school students, losing none of what makes the three characters so brilliant and adding new elements that make them even more enjoyable!

Study hall of Justice is a children’s book but one that will be enjoyed by all ages, the kids for the sense of mystery, menace and ninja that permeate the pages and for older readers who will also enjoy the story as well as spotting their favourite villains amongst the student body and faculty staff..

This book is perfect for fans of JL8 and Gotham Academy