Category Archives: Reviews

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!

Geis_cover_rgb

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!

HowToSurviveInTheNorth_cover

1400 a Graphic Novel by Jag Lall

1400
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
mbfe80s
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

v4violet

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

currumpaw
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

SecretHeroSocietyBook1-cover
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.

 

x0x

 
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

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption by José Domingo

pablojanex

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption is one of my favourite books, published by Flying Eye Books (the people that brought you the Kate Greenaway Medal winning Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill).

It is a brightly-coloured insane romp that appeals to the cartoon, adventure and monster loving young reader inside of me! The artwork sears itself onto the back of my eyelids so that each time I blink I catch flashes of the story, It is a bit like after-images of the sun when you walk inside on a really bright day.

But – for all the brightness, Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption is a dark, twisty adventure story filled with insane cat scientists, monsters, a heroic mouse and two children on an urgent journey through the monster dimension. The artwork is beautiful and incredibly intricate, it is what you get if you mash up Where’s Wally, Billy & Mandy and fever dreams that Roman Dirge & Jhonen Vasquez would shelve as being too far out there!

It is not just the story and art that is fantastic! Flying Eye has gone all out to make sure that Pablo & Jane feels as wonderful as it looks, from the gleaming soft-to-touch cover to sumptuous end-papers and high quality paper the book is a work of book-making art as well as being a bright and beautiful book to read!

This is an adventure comic book to read again and again, to revel in the art, and work your way over the pages marvelling at all the little things that you missed the first 50 times you paged through the book. If it was purely a written work it may be as long as War and Peace as so much is going on in the pages!

Seriously take a look at the image below:
pjpagepiece

and that is just a part of one page.

If there was ever a book to buy to keep your kids quiet or partner out of the way or even just to full hours of time with looking in amazement at and enjoying the story; then Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption is it!

I don’t often say this, but, buy this book! Support Flying Eye Books and Nobrow Press as they challenge the boundaries of what picture books are and can be!

Find out more about the book and where to get it here:

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption

PABLOJANEbbb

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption written & illustrated by José Domingo and published by Flying Eye Books is available now!

The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty & Carina Rozenfeld a review

The-Secret-Fire-Final
A girl in England

A boy in Paris

Two destinies entwined by an ancient curse

And eight weeks to find each other

Writing is akin to alchemy – taking the magic of ideas and by pinning them down on paper with ink making them real.
CJ is a fantastic author – I have read and loved her Night School series, Carina is a new author to me but has had over a dozen books published in France – none of which are currently available in English!

After having read The Secret Fire I have seriously started thinking about learning French just so I could read her earlier works!

The initial review I wrote made use of so many hackneyed phrases that I deleted it and started again.

Then I thought, just because the words get used so often does not make them untrue!

So yes…

The Secret Fire has no holds barred

and indeed is a thrill a minute

My heart did leap into my throat (that one scene with Sacha and Antoine on the top of the building in chapter 2 did it)

It also include ancient organisations dedicated to fighting evil, at least one evil organisation dedicated to revenge at all costs.

The Secret Fire is brilliant! It is a pure old-school thriller with paranormal aspects woven in so subtly that they are accepted almost without notice. At no times does the sense of danger and mystery seem forced!

I have seen a number of YA thrillers coming out this year and by all means you should read those – but if you listen to one bit of advice I give (and really you should listen to most of my advice – especially about libraries) then read this book!

Go to your library either the one at school* or your public library and request it if it is not already on the shelves or you can even buy a copy yourself. It is not just a thrilling book it is also a beautiful work of art that will complement your shelves wonderfully.

Secret Fire Cover

*if your school does not have a library or librarian then organise a protest about that and do the same if your local library is under threat of closure – this advice you should take!