Monday, 26 September 2016

All About Mia by Lisa Williamson - some thoughts

So, Friday I got home from work and there was some post for shaped post.
On the plus side it was:

a) book shaped
b) from David Fickling Books

On the not so much of a plus side, the envelope was pink - very pink, very very pink indeed. But, as I said, it was book shaped and that trumps all.

What was inside was a sampler of a 2017 release 'All About Mia' (and a small pack of Harbour - another tick in the + column). 'AAM' is very much aimed at the female YA market, certainly not something I would expect to read, but on Sunday afternoon I needed something to read and AAM was close to hand and you know what? I really enjoyed it.

The story, as far as the sampler goes concerns Mia, a 16 year old middle sister. Oldest sister Grace is the academic one, younger sister Audrey the sporty one. Mia is neither academic or sporty, what she is, is Trouble (with a capital T, and possibly a capital R,O,U,B,L and E too). Not trouble in a nasty way, more Tracey Beakers and I found her fun as a character. The set up is that Grace comes home early from her gap year with 'a surprise' (no prizes for guessing what). When this doesn't get the reaction Mia hoped for from her parents it seems you are left with the idea that she is going to 'have escapades and get into scrapes'. I don't know what these will be but I look forward to finding out.

This is my fifth book from David Fickling Books and so far they have all been high quality, both in story and presentation.

A full review will appear here when the book is published in it's entirety.


Monday, 5 September 2016

Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P Beaulieu - A Review

Of Sand and Malice Made is a prequel to Twelve Kings (Twelve Kings in Sharakhai in the US) and tells a story in the earlier life of Pit Fighter heroine Ceda, aka The White Wolf. The book is made up of 3 novellas that make a whole tale.

In this story Ceda comes to the notice of Rumayesh, one of the Ehrekh, ancient beyond years. What Rumayesh wants she gets, how will Ceda escape her clutches.

With this prequel we return to the desert city of Sharakhai, destined to become one of the great creations of modern fantasy fiction. The whole city is almost a character in itself with it's markets, fighting pits, shadowy back streets and the docks where the mighty sand ships come and go. The story itself is very Arabian in feel, it reminded me of both Aladdin and one of my favourite TV series of recent years, Atlantis. It is certainly a nice change to get fantasy fiction in a different setting to the usual Euro Middle Ages that most Fantasy Fiction seems to have.

As a lead character Ceda really works well, she spans the gap between child and adult without being too much of either. She is a fighter to be feared, one of the best pit fighters there is, but still enough of a child to keep her sense of fear and wonder. Travelling the streets of Sharakhai with her is a joy.

As for the book itself, this is a really nicely put together volume. The cover art is lovely and there are two maps (and I do like a good map). The only down side really is that some of the interior art is a tad on the dark side but that doesn't detract from an excellent story.

As a prequel 'Of Sand and Malice Made' works as both a continuation of Beaulieu's Sharakhai series and an entry point for those who have not visited before. Whichever you are, this exotic, mystical city will catch hold of you and never let go.

5/5 stars

Cat Castles by Carin Oliver (sample) - A Review

Ok,so,in the post today was a sample of a book called 'Cat Castle's (20 Cardboard Habitats You Can Build Yourself) by Carin Oliver, published by Quirk Books.

It is, basically, what it says it is - instructions on how to build various projects for your cat. From cardboard. As if your cat will actually be grateful for all the effort you put in. The book itself has 20 projects, this sampler has 2 - Airplane and Pyramid.

The instructions are fairly easy to follow, but, seriously, why would you want to bother. I like cats, cats are lovely but cats really couldn't care less if you spent half the afternoon building 'Cat Headquarters' or 'Crazy Condo'.

The illustrations are wonderful, I will say that, but probably for the wrong reasons. With cat expressions that range from 'why did you bother' and 'I am not going in there' to 'Seriously, if this gets printed I am going to puke in one of your shoes, and you won't know which one until it's too late' they did make me chuckle.

On a serious note though, one thing troubled me. With the Airplane Habitat there are instructions to make a propeller and attach it with wire, and for me this is wrong - NEVER construct a plaything (which it is when it all comes down to it) for a pet with bits of wire. The wire is not necessary. The cat won't care if the propeller doesn't turn.

So, all in all, a strange little book. If you like crafting and cats this could be just the thing for you (as long as you are prepared for the cat to not be bothered about the time you've put in)

3/5 stars

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Kings or Pawns by J J Sherwood - A Review

Kings or Pawns is the first in J J Sherwood's 'Steps of Power' sequence and a very promising start it is too.

In an Elvish land a young elf becomes king and a general, tired and possibly slightly disillusioned after many years of fighting must carry on leading the army in a war he longs to quit but cannot.

The new king, Hairem, is beset by his corrupt government and even when he tries to right wrongs in said government he is thwarted by those who want to keep their power and ill gotten games. A lot of the early stages of KoP is scene setting and plot building, as you would expect but the ideas are interesting enough to keep the reader hooked in until the sub plots and side quests kick in in the second half of the book. And oh, what a busy second half it is, plenty of twists and turns leading to a satisfactory conclusion (although you may have to stop for breath by the end).

The character list in the second half really seems to explode, and my only fault with KoP (and it's only a little one) is that there is so much going on in the later stages that it feels 'over busy - I had to check it was under 400 pages as it felt like an epic, almost 'Sanderson-esque' in scope.

I will add that, as a long term fan of High Fantasy I have never been a fan of the elven races but the ones in this series look like changing my mind.

A well paced, if at times over busy, introduction to a series that promises to be Epic in size and scale

4/5 stars

Oh, and one final thing, check out the cover art - "HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!"

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Wrong Train by Jeremy de Quidt - A Review

It's late at night, a boy runs for the train but on catching it he realises that it's not the one he meant to catch. He gets off at the first possible station he can but doesn't recognise it. After a while an old man and his dog turn up and regale the boy with a story while he waits for a train to take him back.

And so begins one of the creepiest, scariest books I've read in a while.

The stories the old man tells, you see, are of the ghostly and unsettling variety.

As the night goes on the boy gets more uncomfortable with the old man and the old man himself gets slightly more sinister. It's clear from the off that the old man is in charge of the game, indeed all the events and storytelling seem to be leading towards what he refers to as 'my little game'. And when it comes time to play, when all becomes clear - well, let's just say this reviewer had his socks knocked clean off.

The storytelling here is very much of the highest standard, the stories within a story idea works really well and I'm not ashamed to say, the author unnerved me at times. There were certainly several occasions when I could see where he was taking the story and I thought 'NO!! He's not going to do that. I was wrong and he did.

The Wrong Train is aimed at a Young Adult audience but shouldn't be restricted to that bracket. It is not a comfortable read but it is a very good one. This book will be enjoyed by older readers too.

So, in short, I cannot recommend The Wrong Train Highly enough. Go get yourself a copy soon as you can (it's from David Fickling Books)

5* It's been a long while since a book unsettled me like this and I loved every uncomfortable minute of it

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Call by Peadar O'Guilin - A Review

Imagine, if you will, an Ireland that is cut off from the rest of the world, an Ireland where the Aes Sidhe, the early dwellers in the Emerald Isle who were banished by human settlers have decided it is time to come back. That's what you have in 'The Call' and it makes for a dark, chilling but ultimately rewarding read.

The general gist of the story is that Ireland is now isolated, ever since the day when planes fell from the sky and boats washed up on the shores, all more or less empty. No-one enters or leaves the island. The Aes Sidhe, a kind of Irish fairy folk, have decided it is time to end their exile and are trying to force their way ever closer from their land to this. These fairy folk are not what you might expect though - no tinkerbells here. These are a nasty, vicious race and they are coming for the nation's children.

It is because of this children are sent to special schools where they are taught survival skills so they will be ready when The Call comes.

What is The Call? At some point in each child's life they will be taken, without warning, and transferred to the land of the Aes Sidhe, an horrific, grey land where they have to survive The Hunt. They are gone from this world to that for 3 minutes and 4 seconds but are in the lands of the Aes Sidhe for 24 hours. If they survive The Hunt they are returned to this world, if they are caught they are tortured, disfigured, often (but not always) killed and then their dead bodies sent back. Very few who are Called and survive are without scars both mental and physical.

The schools set up to train the children are brutal places, designed to turn their pupils into warriors that may have a fighting chance. Into one of these schools comes our heroine Nessa. She is not like the other kids as she suffered from polio as a youngster which has left her with weak legs. Some think she should not be there but she is a battler and does what she can to keep up or improve her chances.

Most of the story revolves round the time at school, the interactions between pupils and staff, the training and just waiting to see who will be called next (seriously, they just disappear leaving only a bundle of clothes - they always turn up naked in the AS land - and the surprise never wears off).

Things start to get a bit more frantic though when a fairy hill is discovered on school land, The Sidhe are getting closer, The Calls are getting more regular, sometimes with several pupils going at one time and still Nessa waits till they decide it is time to take her.

I found Nessa to be a quite likeable lead character. Although she has her disability she makes the most of her situation and doesn't get all mopey about life. Quite a large part of the story questions (through some of her fellow pupils) whether she should actually be allowed to be at the school as it is training pupils to survive and it is quite obvious to them that with her disability she will not do so and so should have been 'terminated, at a younger age to allow more resources for those who might have a chance.

I will say that I really enjoyed this book. It is dark, it is unsettling, at times the tortures performed by the Aes Sidhe are downright horrific but above all it is a tale well told.

The Call is classed as YA fiction and would probably appeal to fans of such things as The Hunger Games and Maze Runners. Myself though I would recommend it to all ages (YA and upwards obviously)


Also, a quick nod (and my thanks) to David Fickling Books who published this and were kind enough to supply me with a copy when I asked. They are publishing some cracking fiction, check them out if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling et al - A Review and possibly some general thoughts and meanderings.

So, the Midnight hour between Saturday and Sunday came and went and another chapter in the life of Harry Potter and friends is upon us. When I first heard it was coming out, but would be in script form I wasn't sure if I would bother with it. It's not a 'Harry Potter' book in the form we are used to, it's only 'based on' an original story by J K Rowling and plays are so hard to read - you only get brief descriptions, stage directions and the spoken words.

And the doubts in my head will have lasted about 2 seconds - of course I would be getting the new book. IT'S HARRY POTTER!!!!

And, yes, I will be hoping to see the stage play - again, IT'S HARRY POTTER!!!!

So, Sunday lunchtime saw my better half and I in Waterstones, and Café W (renamed Potterstones for the day). We had excellent food, Harry Potter themed buns and I left clutching HPatCC and eager to make a start on it.

I guess you want to know if it was worth the excitement, well, for me at least, I'd say yes. The story starts 19 years after the end of Deathly Hallows and although we have a new cast of characters in the Potter/Weasley/Malfoy kids there are enough of the original cast around to make it feel like familiar ground. Things are not good between Harry and his youngest son Albus - quite a bit of 'teen angst' going on, how do you live up to your famous father's reputation when you think you are always going to be in his shadow, that kind of thing. The resultant adventures revolve round a good bit of time travel and trying to 'do the right thing'

For me the time travel thing is where it all fell down a bit but as this is a series aimed more at younger people I guess I can let that slide. The paradox stuff just threw me out of the story a little at times (if A happened, then B happened, C couldn't have happened even though it did). It didn't take much for the story to draw me back in though.

The story is very much what you would expect from Harry Potter so if you liked the original books and can get your head around the script format there is nothing to stop you really enjoying it. There are plenty of nods to the original series so some knowledge of events is useful (especially Goblet of Fire). The story feels very much like an expansion of the Potterverse, a continuation of the story, if you will, not, as some people have said, "a blatant cash grabbing venture".

If anything, the book has made me even more keen to go see the stage play at some point. I was entranced by Harry and co right from Philosophers Stone, each new volume added to the wonder and now, with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child we have been given another slice of the cake - and it is good cake. Not perfect but not far off.

In the last few days I believe J K Rowling has said that "this is it for the Harry Potter series". I hope she changes her mind because it seems like there is plenty of life left yet in The Boy Who Lived

4/5 stars