Category Archives: Reviews

The Nightmare before Christmas by Tim Burton

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For many people of a certain age (if you grew up in or after the ’90’s), Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas is the quintessential Halloween movie!

For many years in the circles that I move in the title has been a topic of discussion when all others have been exhausted – the main bone of contention being why is it Tim Burton’s when it was directed by the awesome Harry Selick.

I recently learned the answer, and a very prosaic one it is at that! Tim Burton had actually written and illustrated a picture book of the same name and I am lucky enough to own a new edition with more illustrations, it is to put it simply: GLORIOUS!

Told in rhyming verse it is the story of Jack Skellington, his search for meaning beyond Halloween and how his journey takes him to Christmas Land and the near ruination of everything. If you have seen the film you will know the story but to read it and gaze upon the illustrations by Tim Burton takes it to another level! The illustrations are wonderful, sketchy and skeletal but imbued with a vitality that makes them leap off the page (sadly it is not a pop-up book).

Truly The Nightmare before Christmas is the perfect book for Halloween AND Christmas!

You should get it now – in fact get two, one for YOU and one for the rest of your family or friends!

Women are Awesome!

This is something I have known for a very long time but it can sometimes be difficult to persuade small boys and also many adults that this is a statement of fact (see Donald Trump for more information).

Fortunately there are two new books out that can help educate the misinformed. The brilliantly titled Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst (and yes she IS actually a descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst)

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The women in this book didn’t set out to be thought of as ‘great’. They achieved extraordinary things simply by following their hearts, talents and dreams. They didn’t listen when people said they couldn’t do something. They dared to be different. And some of them couldn’t resist a crazy adventure, or three.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst is published by Bloomsbury Books
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Wonder Women by Sam Maggs and illustrated by Sophia Foster-Dimino is an amazing collection of 25 biographies of wonderful women from around the world and back through time. Five phenomenal chapters detailing Women of Science, Women of Medicine, Women of Espionage, Women of Innovation and Women of Adventure show that although it may have been a man’s world, women have been at the forefront of the action, discoveries and adventure even though their contributions have, at times, been overwritten by patriarchal society.

Written in a humorous and engaging style Wonder Women is perfect for dipping in and out of for interest and education and is also gripping and interesting enough to read from beginning to end with no drop of interest.

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs is published by Quirk Books

Both of these books should be in all Libraries and possibly, if the publishers read this sent to Donald Trump to help educate him and expand his sadly limited world-view.

The Deviants by C.J. Skuse

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THEN
Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane.

The Fearless five, inseparable as children growing up in a sleepy English seaside town. But when Max’s older sister is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.

NOW
Only Max and Ella are in touch, still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen.

But Ella is hiding things – like why she is afraid to take their relationship to the next level. And when underdog Corey is bullied, the Fearless Five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them.

But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?

 
I would like to take the opportunity to address C.J. Skuse instead of just writing a general review as I feel so strongly about this, please bear with me:

What the boldly hell were you thinking? Toying with my feelings like this?

The Deviants delivered a round-house kick to my emotions, it was by turns gripping, tender, exciting and heart-breaking! I began reading thinking I was reading one type of story and it ended being another type altogether!
 
Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane held my attention over three wonderful, upsetting evenings, the way you told their story in the present time and peeled back time to what had gone before was nothing short of masterful! I ran the whole gamut of emotions while reading and had tears in my eyes at the end.
 
Thank you!

Now dear reader of this blog I implore you to purchase a copy of this book, or go to your local library and borrow a copy*.

*You will not regret it!

A Thing of Beauty: Arthur and the Golden Rope

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Imagine a vault so cavernous that it could contain the world’s greatest treasures, from mummified remains of ancient monarchs to glistening swords brandished by legendary warriors. How did Professor Brownstone come into possession of such a collection?

Hear the tale of the very first Brownstone and his quest for the golden rope as we travel back to the land of the Vikings. A place filled with magical objects, powerful gods and legendary beasts to be conquered!

I am a bit of a fan-boy when it comes to Flying Eye Books and Nobrow and not just for the amazing stories they are publishing but for the frankly amazing care and attention to detail they put into creating books that are beautiful to look at as well as read.

Arthur and the Golden Rope continues in that vein, the cover is one that I spent several minutes admiring before opening it, the golden highlights of the title and on the strands of the rope glinted in the sun distracting me from the beast fading into the shadows of the background, it’s slavering jaws lit up by a burning brand held by the small figure, looking back at the reader as if unsure of what they were doing there.

Opening the book revealed still more treasures – maps on the endpapers, the first of Iceland showing Arthur’s town and the second showing Yggdrasil – the World Tree connecting Valhalla with Midgard and Helheim. The Æsir: Thor, Baldr, Freyja and Odin appear in the map corners of the front and the giant monsters Nidhoggr, Fenrir, Jotnar and Jormungandr appearing on the back.

The true treasure is the story itself, tied in with the wonderfully intricate illustrations with each page rewarding the reader that closely examines each wonderful work of art.

As you may have guessed this story is steeped in Norse lore and focuses on Arthur Brownstone the first adventurer of the famed and legendary Brownstone family and his quest to save his village.

Arthur is not your typical adventurer, looking like he would be more at home with his nose stuck in the pages of a book he is nevertheless an ardent explorer and brave beyond his years and size, living in a world replete with gods and monsters.

Professor Brownstone’s Mythical Collection would give Hogwarts a run for its money, brimming as it is with gods, monsters and all manner of marvellous artifacts.

Written and illustrated by the sickeningly talented Joe Todd-Stanton, Arthur and the Golden Rope straddles the line between picture book and graphic novel comfortably and will appeal to readers of all ages.

Arthur and the Golden Rope, the first book in Brownstone’s Mythical Collection is available from good book shops everywhere from September.

Poison City by Paul Crilley

The name’s Gideon Tau, but everyone just calls me London. I work for the Delphic Division, the occult investigative unit of the South African Police Service. My life revolves around two things – finding out who killed my daughter and imagining what I’m going to do to the bastard when I catch him.

I have two friends. The first is my boss, Armitage, a fifty-something DCI from Yorkshire who looks more like someone’s mother than a cop. Don’t let that fool you. The second is the dog, my magical spirit guide. He talks, he watches TV all day, and he’s a mean drunk.

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Naming a book after a strain of marijuana takes a serious set of stones! (or should I say stoners?)

Set in Durban, a grubby jewel on the East Coast of South Africa, Poison City is one the best urban fantasy novels I have read in ages! It joins a small yet growing pool of weird novels set in South Africa that are muscling in on the global fantasy stage.
Paul Crilley is obviously a fan of the city as he writes about it so well and only a person that has lived there can capture the atmosphere so accurately – he is a brilliant writer (even if he is a bit of a doos about Cape Town).

Look I am not sure why I am even trying to review this dirty, beautiful bastard of a book, when stars like Krysten Ritter give out such amazing quotes:
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Like many people I am a fan of Dog – Gideon Tau’s alcoholic, foul mouthed spirit guide “You forgot the sherry, dipshit” – seriously what is not to like?

By the way if you want to experience what the dog enjoys you can actually buy Sedgwick’s Old Brown sherry (sorry – fortified wine over here due to EU protected designation of origin status laws) at many of the fine South African stores around the UK. It is the perfect tipple for enjoying while you read!

Gideon is a tragic, seriously messed-up individual, with a gift for magic that may kill him if his self-destructive urges do not get that job done first but he has the misfortune to be a man who needs to do the right thing even if it is not necessarily a good thing!

Poison City is a fantasy crime novel soaked in the daily grind of South African life that can be a frustration for many as well as incorporating the mythology of Africa and beyond!

Seriously mythology, magic tattoos, monstrous angels, corruption and a threat of a war to wipe out humanity – there is something in this book for almost everyone!

Perfect for fans of Mike Carey, Lauren Beukes and Charlie Human!

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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

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