Tuesday 22 March 2016

Hamish and the WorldStoppers by Danny Wallace

I'll be straight with you here, I've been a fan of Wallace's writing ever since I picked up 'Join Me - the story of a man who started a cult by accident' and am usually there to buy his books on day 1. With 'Hamish and the WorldStoppers' though I struggled to find a copy anywhere. This turned out to be because I hadn't done my homework properly.

I knew 'Hamish' was classed as a book for children, what I didn't know was that the children were in the 'age 8-12' bracket. I never looked there, only in Young Adult.

Anyway, to the book in question. The general gist of the story is that our hero Hamish has a problem. The world keeps stopping. That's THE WORLD and EVERYTHING IN IT!!! Except Hamish! At first Hamish thinks he is the only one affected by this but he soon realises there are other children who can move about during the Stopped time. The reasoning behind the Stopped time, you'll not be surprised to find out, are aliens who want this world for themselves and Hamish and his new found friends are the last hope for mankind........and they've only got till Saturday!

As I said earlier this book is aimed at the 8-12 year old child market but please don't let that put you off. I found it to be a really good, fun read and a well told story. Utterly ridiculous and silly at times but in a good way that reminded me very much of the works of Roald Dahl. There are illustrations throughout (by he excellent Jamie Littler) and the occasional newspaper type articles which all add to the humour. The ending sets things up nicely for a sequel (out now - Hamish and the NeverPeople) and I really hope there will be many more to follow.

If you have a child get them this book, they will love it. If you are a teacher or teaching assistant I strongly recommend this to you too (do you still have reading time at school?)And read it for yourself too, you'll thank me later.

The phrase 'a book for children of all ages' is used often I guess but in this case it would be well deserved. Danny Wallace has hit the jackpot again.

10/10 stars

Thursday 17 March 2016

Ghost Love by Nelli Rees - A Review

This was certainly an interesting read. Told in 2 timelines - the present and the last days of the soviet union - it tells the story of Tonia and Peter and their forbidden love. The KGB won't allow it, Peter's family don't approve but they are determined to stay together until Peter disappears.

In the present Tonia is a recent divorcee. When strange things start to happen it becomes apparent that Peter may not have totally left her after all.

Where this book really worked for me was the sections in Russia. It portrays a time of fear and uncomfortableness that can only come from the fact that author lived through those times. The book is promoted as a supernatural romance but the supernatural element of it seemed to be less than the romance side of it. That is not a bad thing though, I actually enjoyed the romance side of things. The characters of Peter and Tonia were believable and the kind of people I was bothered about. Watching them develop was interesting and I certainly will be hoping to read more from Nelli Rees

Satan's Shorts by Heide Goody and Iain Grant - A Review

Last year I bumped into the authors at Edge Lit 4 where they had a table and were selling/promoting their books. It only took me a moment to realise I was going to like these books.......and I was right.

The first book in the series, Clovenhoof, introduced us to Jeremy Clovenhoof (aka Satan) who is now living in the suburbs of Birmingham. He rapidly became one of my favourite comedy characters - it's like sit-com gold, if there is trouble and mischief you can bet that Clovenhoof and his neighbours Ben and Nerys are going to be slap bang in the middle of it all.

Which brings us to Satan's Shorts, a collection of (as you might have guessed) short stories, five of which feature Clovenhoof and friends. His exploits involve going to night school ,dressing up as David Hasselhoff (for wedding entertainment) and his attempts to cure Ben of Arachnophobia. As you would expect, things never go quite to plan.

Add to this tales of Saint Christopher, who has now been demoted from the Sainthood and is now working for the Non Specific Prayer Assessment Unit (a kind of heavenly call centre) and various denizens of Heaven and Hell and what you have here is a chucklesome collection that will have you laughing and cringing in equal measure.

10/10 stars

Wednesday 16 March 2016

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden - A Review

I remember watching this on tv in the mid 1970s and seem to think I read the book then two (but I could be mistaken about the reading - it's nearly 40 years ago and I've been to bed since then. Anyway, it came up in a conversation a few weeks ago and I looked on Amazon.....there it was!

The story is not a comfortable read at times, with the heroine Kizzy, the half gypsy 'diddakoi' of the title being bullied at school, losing her home when her Gran dies and so on. (There is more but I won't spoil your read). As a story it does a good job of showing the problems of being 'different' from both sides - some villagers want to help, some have different ideas and Kizzy herself is no angel, biting, fighting and throwing a strop at times.

I will say that this book is very much 'of it's time', dark and uncomfortable at times but also, there are times (plenty!) of heart warming joy to be had.

I sometimes worry that going back to a beloved story can ruin it by not being as good as you remember. That certainly wasn't the case here

4/5 stars

Wednesday 9 March 2016

The Vagrant by Peter Newman - A Review

They travel across a post apocalyptic wasteland, A man, a baby and a goat. He may be the world's last hope as he is carrying a weapon that may well be all that stands between humanity and demonic infestation.

First things first - The Vagrant himself. Here is a man who feels like a walking threat. The Vagrant (yes, that is his name) has to carry the whole story as he is the main lead but....he is unable to speak. He utters not one word and really that should be a stumbling block. How can someone on whom the story hangs get away with not speaking? The answer, as it turns out, is perfectly well. The author writes his character so well he can convey all he needs to say with a gesture, a facial expression. The Vagrant comes across as a determined and violent man but not an evil violent man. If he hurts you or kills you it is because that is something that needs to be done.

Under his cloak (as well as his sentient sword, Malice) is a small baby whom The Vagrant is looking after. This man will murder, maim, destroy enemies and then stop to feed or change the baby. It isn't something that should necessarily work but again, it does. The final member of our heroic trio is a goat...yes, you heard me correctly, A GOAT!! To say the goat is mainly there for comic chuckles may be stating the obvious but it's a fact and, again, it works well. There is a scene early on in the story where The Vagrant is getting treated for an injury and all through the process the goat just stands there watching and eating a glove it has found. This juxtaposition between the two characters, one a pent up barrel of rage and violence and one a goat who, basically, doesn't seem to give a toss about anything except eating makes for an intriguing time.

The land itself is bleak in the extreme. It is a post apocalyptic wasteland and actually feels oppressive. I guess the impression it gave to me was a cross between Mad Max and Judge Dredd's Cursed Earth. It is broken, every footstep is a risk and may be your last. The 'Big Bad's' of this tale are hideous demonic grotesques, demon's from your worst nightmares - one could almost compare his creations with those of Clive Barker.......almost.

Finally, the actual writing. Is this really Peter Newman's debut novel? (You will probably ask yourself this several times). It is, and a very fine job he makes of it too. The story is told in more or less the present tense (there's probably a fancy term for it but I don't it) and the prose is often very sparing. You know what you need to know and that's often all you know. To put this book in a genre bracket is difficult as it has aspects of fantasy, horror and sci-fi but it would sit well in any.

I'd call it a promising debut but exceptional would probably be a better description. If Mr Newman keeps up this level of quality then we are witnessing the arrival of a big player on the scene

9/10 stars