Category Archives: Review

Demon Road

Derek Landy’s new series has quite a few things in common with Skulduggery Pleasant. We have another young girl going travelling with a to her hitherto unknown man. Both girls have special ‘skills’ as do the men. Both men drive ‘interesting’ cars. There is a lot of violence and fighting, blood and death. They move in circles that are not for the rest of us, among strange peoples.

Derek Landy, Demon Road

Demon Road is, dare I say it, bloodier. I lost track of the body count, but I’d say more people died in Demon Road. Or maybe not. Set in America, we first meet 16-year-old Amber at her Florida school. She is unusually fat and friendless for a heroine, which I heartily approve of. And when her perfect parents try to kill her, everything changes. As it would.

Amber obviously has to escape. Hence the road trip with Milo in his car. Plus the gormless Glen, who’s from Ireland. Demon Road does what it says on the cover. Plenty of demons and plenty of those other kinds of dangerous creatures you have come to expect in YA books. Blood features a lot. Almost too much, but who am I to say?

I like road trips and car chases and mysteries. I haven’t yet solved what’s going on here. I’m still trying to digest all that blood, in a manner of speaking. Not sure how many books there will be; whether Amber’s troubles will be relatively shortlived or if countless complications will set in at every opportunity.

We’ll need some replacement characters in book two.

Mythwinter

I don’t know how he does it. I was under the impression Nick Green was taking things easy, but here he is with a new book. Again. Mythwinter is a sort of fairy tale, about snow and ice and Jack Frost.

Nick Green, Mythwinter

At first I thought it would have been better to wait for winter to read, and even publish, a book like this, rather than do so in summer. I like getting into the mood. But you know, it’s just as well I read this in August. Winter would have been too scary.

Anna is enjoying the snow and the fact that her school is closed due to the weather. She and her dog Casper go out to play in the wintry park, just like everyone else. But then the snow games get a little out of hand and Anna falls out with the others. And when she does, she suddenly meets this boy, who seems both real and not real.

They share the same surname, Frost, and Jack is so pleased to have a sister at last. He does things to entertain Anna, and to impress her, and as so often happens under circumstances like that, he takes things too far.

And too far in winter terms is actually a bit scary.

It takes everything Anna’s got to set things right again and save the world and her friends, and Jack.

As I might have mentioned before, this is just what a children’s book should be like. I’m glad Nick feels he can concentrate on his stories, self-publishing* them, rather than bend in any direction because a publisher believes it might be better. This is good. It doesn’t need changing or adapting. What the world needs is for people to recognise what a great children’s author Nick Green is.

(*£1.99 only. You know it makes sense.)

Fire Colour One

It’s been too long. I’ve missed Jenny Valentine, but she’s been ill. And that’s why she knows how to write a book like Fire Colour One. Finding Violet Park was about death, and so is this one. And it’s also about life.

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Iris is a teenage ‘arsonist.’ No, perhaps that is too strong a term for what she does, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Iris likes setting fire to things. She feels better when there is fire.

Her rather uncaring and unpleasant mother and stepfather don’t exactly help. After many years in the US they have returned to Britain, and as luck would have it, Iris’s long lost super wealthy father is lying on his death bed. In her mother’s eyes this means a great potential inheritance, so off they go to visit and to get a closer look at all those lovely paintings Ernest owns. Iris would rather not go, since she feels she doesn’t know this man who abandoned her as a toddler.

But he doesn’t die immediately, and they get to know each other a bit. We also learn a few things about Iris in America, about some of her fires, as well as her only friend, Thurston, who’s been lost in the move, and whom she can’t contact.

You can guess at some of what will happen in this book, but I didn’t see the really big thing coming. Fire Colour One is a lovely, life affirming story, despite Iris’s fondness for matches and dry stuff. Jenny’s writing really is magic.

No!

This is a most beautiful picture book. There is only one word in it, which is not much even for a picture book, but it is enough. The word is ‘no.’ And if you say it as ‘No!’ it might have more impact than you think.

David McPhail, No!

I don’t believe I have come across David McPhail before, but I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to read his one word, and to see his marvellous illustrations.

We see a young boy writing a letter and then taking it to the postbox. On the way there he witnesses many atrocities towards ordinary, innocent people, in a way that is sufficiently unreal, that I assume it’s not all happening on his way to post the letter, but rather that they are acts he has seen at some point.

But he’s had enough, so when he meets a bully, he utters the one, magic word. Try it yourself; sometimes it has a surprising effect.

There is something so beautiful about the simplicity of the pictures and the single use of the word ‘no’ that makes this a really special book. It’s a book I’d feel the urge to read to many young children, if only I had access to them.

If you do, please consider No!

Nine Open Arms

Nine Open Arms is a rather nice story, set in the Netherlands immediately before WWII. It’s the kind of story we don’t see so much of, and certainly not as much as we ought to, as not enough translated children’s fiction makes it across the language barriers.

I don’t know Benny Lindelauf who wrote Nine Open Arms, which was published in the original over ten years ago, and has finally arrived in the English speaking world in a translation by John Nieuwenhuizen, whose work I have come across before.

Benny Lindelauf, Nine Open Arms

Told by 11-year-old Fing, it’s the story about a family who move around a lot. It seems to have something to do with The Dad’s inability to keep down a job, rather than follow his next dream, taking his seven children and his mother-in-law along. In 1937 they are just arriving in Sjlammbams Sahara, discovering the house they are about to move into is pretty unusual as houses go. But at least it’s bigger than they’ve been used to, and Fing and her sisters Jess and Muulke have their own room.

We never learn  much about their four older brothers, but do see a lot of their grandmother Oma Mei. She tells stories.

Strange house, with strange things happening in and near it. And there is the mystery of their dead mother, and the reputation of their dead Opa Pei. The Dad’s new venture is cigar making, and I think you can guess how well that goes.

Then there is the cemetery next door and the gravestone and the tales from the past about Charley Bottletop and Nienevee from Outside the Walls. It’s all slightly strange, but it makes sense in the end, and it’s really quite a sweet tale, once you know ‘everything.’ It shows you how resilient children are, and how they take the oddest things in their stride.

And we really ought to read more books from the outside.

The Activity Fun Pack

Remember that big yellow atlas I enthused over last winter?

Well now it has a companion, which is not quite as large, nor as yellow. It’s more grey-ish. Lucy Letherland has come up with the Atlas of Adventure Activity Fun Pack. And I reckon it’s just right for this cold and wet summer we have been busy enjoying.

It has stickers! You know how much I like stickers. There is a – large – map with flags on the reverse side. That’s the sort of thing you can study endlessly.

And in this age of colouring-in, the book is choc-a-bloc with pages to colour in. What more could you possibly want?

More rain, so you don’t have to go out? Consider it done.

Ted Rules the World

Wanting to influence the Prime Minister is something I suspect most of us would love to do right now. In Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Ted Rules the World, nine-year-old Ted finds that he actually can do that, much to his surprise.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Ted Rules the World

Just about everything he suggests or talks about starts to happen. I mean, who wouldn’t ask for free Premier League Cards if they had the PM’s ear? If that’s not an end to bullying, I don’t know what is.

The thing is, Ted hasn’t met the Prime Minister. All he does is talk to his best friend, and occasionally to the lady at the till in the local shop. And she remembers that Ted supports Stockport County (yeah, I don’t know how that sneaked into a proper book).

It could be she is not a real till lady. Or maybe she is, and the lesson to us all is to speak more to the people who take our money.

And why Ted? Even if he didn’t support Stockport County, he is still only a small boy.

This book has not one, but two, illustrators; Chris Riddell for the front cover, and Cate James for all that happens inside the covers. It’s a true Little Gem.