Category Archives: Review

Monster

It ends well. Sort of. Ish. Monster is the first of a new trilogy set in the Gone world by Michael Grant. And I don’t really mean that it ended well. So many unbelievably horrible and gross things have happened by the end of it, that the tiny sliver of ‘sunshine’ on the last pages made me say it. Hope. Or the expectation that there might possibly be something positive in the next book, which is going to be called Villain.

Michael Grant, Monster

The fact that I read the whole book is proof of how well Michael writes. By the time the La Guardia incident ended on page 90 I was wondering whether I’d be able to go to bed. And not see what I had just read.

After that evening I took longer reading, because I had to avoid reading last thing before bed, if it was dark, or if I was alone in the house. It got better. Or I grew desensitised. Either way works.

But setting aside just how gross it is, this is another fantastic Michael Grant Gone story. The problem is far ‘worse’ than in the first six books. Believe me. It is. Although, encountering old friends is always good. There aren’t many of them, but more than I’d been led to understand. You get Dekka, and that makes you sort of happy. You feel safe. Ish.

As before, you can never be certain someone is dead, which depending on who it is, can be good, or bad.

I was disoriented at the start, as I felt I wasn’t returning to quite what I had left, four fictional years earlier. I remembered the end to be better than it’s now described as having been. And those survivors didn’t necessarily live happily ever after.

We have some great new characters in Shade, Cruz and Malik, and I grew really quite fond of Armo. Then there were others I didn’t. And when people morph after eating – yuk – bits of the alien rock that caused all this to begin with, it’s all a bit eugh.

Towards the end you come to understand that the La Guardia incident was fairly civilised as gory incidents go.

Happy reading!

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The embargo

Reading Harry Potter a week after ‘everyone’ else never bothered me. I would hope for no spoilers, but I didn’t feel an absolute urgency. We already bought two copies of the book, and three or four would have been ridiculous. Especially as I preferred to take my time over the book, savouring the adventure, not wanting to hurry, and definitely not being an officially recognised reviewer.

I’ve had today’s date in my diary for months, and suspecting a return to the secrecy Harry got, I enquired a few months ago whether this was likely to happen again. Hard to tell whether I was strung along or misunderstood. I wouldn’t have minded the answer, whatever it was. I merely wanted to know what to expect.

As with Harry Potter, I know full well that a review – by anyone – is not needed. Millions of impatient fans will buy the new book. Most of them today.

I want to savour this book as well, so there’s not going to be a hurried review. It would obviously have been different had I been sent an early copy, in good time. I know there are copies. I know of some people who’ve had one. I’ve seen a photo of one. So not only do I know they are numbered (woe if your number ends up on eBay), but I know who’s got the number I’d have liked…

What I don’t know, at the time of writing this, is if today’s post will bring anything, or if I should put my shoes on and walk to the nearest bookshop. That is another bit of information I’d have appreciated, and I could have ordered online, in advance.

While a reply to my emails would have been nice, no one owes me anything.

Resurrection

Thank god for authors like Derek Landy who change their minds! Resurrection is the tenth – of nine – books about Skulduggery Pleasant (not counting the extra book), and I am really grateful it’s here. I’d not understood how much you can miss a witty, and occasionally unrelieable, skeleton detective.

But you can. I mean, I can.

And here he is, back from where we left him, and well, I don’t know, but I can see more books where this one came from. I can, can’t I? Derek?

Derek Landy, Resurrection

The best thing for people like me who don’t always remember where we left things, by which I mean who lived and who died and who was your friend, or who was your enemy, is that it doesn’t matter. Characters change allegiance faster than they do hats, and when the dead can rise again, death means very little.

Valkyrie isn’t feeling so good. Guilt does that to a person and being responsible for so many deaths – even by proxy – isn’t much fun. But hey, we have Skulduggery and we have a whole host of new young things, good ones and bad ones.

Omen Darkly is one of them. Aged 14, he lives in the shadow of his brother, who is the Chosen One. I reckon Omen is really Derek. And/or really me. I have a lot in common with poor Omen. Brave Omen. Except I wouldn’t be brave. As Valkyrie says, ‘The world is a scary place, and it’s only getting scarier. The American president is a narcissistic psychopath. Fascism, racism, misogyny and homophobia are all on the rise…’ And let’s not mention any more cheerful facts about our world just now.

Resurrection is a fantastic return to the magic Ireland we love. Please let there be more! After all, by reviving people, it’s not as if we are running out of characters. Trust no one.

Arra

You were promised a book most of you can’t read, so here it is.

I have continued reading my way through Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. And while I get why her Red Abbey Chronicles were translated into English, I can’t see why her other work hasn’t been too. Consider this an invitation.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Arra

The world that you might have met in Maresi and Naondel is a world Maria uses in her other books as well, rather like our own world. This means that one book is set in one country and one period, while another can be somewhere completely different, but still in the fantasy world Maria made up, and perhaps set earlier or later than the other stories.

Arra is set furthest back in time, and feels very much like many real world settings; the poverty suffered in a far from everywhere small village, somewhere a bit like Finland. Maybe. I can’t place it in time, but they use horses and carts, and candles, and old-fashioned weapons.

The reader meets Arra when she’s born, and you soon discover that her parents really didn’t want her. But for some reason they don’t kill her. She grows up neglected and alone among her many older siblings. Arra is mute, because no one talks to her and she’s considered stupid.

Not our heroine! Arra has plenty to think about in her head, and she has many unusual talents, which unfortunately also bring her trouble. After much deprivation in her first years, Arra ends up in the capital, living with her sister and her family, where she is used as a slave and still treated as a burden and an idiot.

Now, this will sound very fairy tale, but Arra meets and falls in love with the country’s prince Surando. He also experiences difficulties in his life, and more so when he is forced to go out to war, and when things get really bad, Arra goes to search for him, to rescue him.

I know, that too sounds quite unbelievable, but it’s not.

This is a beautiful and stirring tale, with much cruelty, but also beauty and love. I wish you could all read it!

Pandora

Many years on, I am no nearer to understanding the other mothers in the school playground. I had mentioned mending. Ooh, they don’t do that! I could tell. Hems falling down, and worse. I am fine with others not repairing clothes, and buying new instead. When I get stressed with life, I do too. Wasteful though it is. But I see no reason for looking down on the mend/repair/recycle efforts of others.

Our world needs a bit more re-use.

Having got this off my chest, I want to introduce you to Pandora. She is a lovely, but lonely, little fox in Victoria Turnbull’s new picture book.

Pandora lives ‘in a land of broken things.’ Rubbish dump, really. But she has made a home there out of all the things discarded by people. She collects and lovingly restores what she finds. But she has no friends. No one comes to visit.

One day an injured bird comes. Pandora nurses it back to health, enjoying the company, until the day the bird leaves again, and she is alone once more.

Victoria Turnbull, Pandora

But as this is a story for children there is a happy reunion.

I hope there will be a little more recycling in this world as well. Pandora is a sweet and inspiring picture book.

Benny’s Hat

I cried, simply on leafing through this picture book, the way I often do as I want to see what it’s like, even when I’m sure it will be good. And I knew that already, because Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray had posted a brief video online, about their picture book about dying.

And reading Benny’s Hat, I thought my heart would break.

This is not a bad sign, however, and I’d urge everyone to read the book, whether or not you need help right now on grieving or explaining serious illness or what a hospice does, and more.

Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray, Benny's Hat

Juliet Clare Bell has written such a tender story about Friz and her older brother Benny, who is terminally ill. And in this instance, I can’t imagine an illustrator other than Dave Gray, to provide the pictures to Juliet Clare’s words.

There might be one scene of normal life at the beginning, when we see Benny and Friz playing, but from then on the adult reader can see that Benny is unwell, where perhaps the child reader will learn along with Friz that he is ill, and that it’s a bad illness, and an illness where Benny can’t get better. And then we follow the family as Benny’s condition deteriorates, seeing how sad the parents are, how hard they are trying, and the sweet friendship between the siblings.

Until Benny dies, which is handled beautifully, and we see how all three are struggling with their grief. And how there can be better days, and maybe something good again.

And I’m sorry, but I need to go and find a tissue.

Illegal

I must begin with part of the same quote by Elie Wiesel that Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin use in their graphic novel Illegal; ‘no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. … How can a human being be illegal?’

There was never a more important time to remember this than now. We believed we had moved on, learned something. Even that we were fairer and more aware than we (or ‘people’) were decades ago.

Illegal is a disturbing graphic novel about two brothers from Africa trying to reach Europe, for a better life, and hopefully to find their sister who left first.

Giovanni Rigano, with Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Chris Dickey, Illegal

Anyone who says our immigrants come for the easy life of ‘our’ benefits is ignorant. These people work so hard. So very hard, because they need to earn enough money to pay the people-smugglers who put them in unseaworthy vessels and send them out to sea, to drown, or hopefully reach land on the other side.

And when [if] they arrive, they hope to be allowed to stay, and they will look for work. And they will work.

In a way the story about Ebo and his big brother Kwame is not new at all. I’ve read similar tales over and over in books like this, or in the newspapers. But as a graphic novel the horror becomes more apparent, because you see what they are going through. Where they came from, what the – usually very long – journey was like, and the horror of fearing for your life trying to get to a place where they are not welcome or wanted.

This is a beautiful book, with illustrations by Giovanni Rigano and a story told by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, and lettering by Chris Dickey. Or it would be beautiful if the pictures could tell a sunnier story. Instead we see these two boys and their fellow travellers being cheated, robbed, threatened and even turned back when they’ve tried for so long. And after that come the boats, small inflatable ones or big ships overcrowded to the point of sinking.

Some people make it safely all the way. Many don’t.

It’s so easy to root for Ebo and Kwame, but whether or not they are successful, there are countless others who never will be.

I hope the fact that this is a graphic novel will mean that the book can reach readers who might otherwise not read this kind of thing, or learn the truth about our world. A world where a drowning mother might well thrust her little baby into the arms of a young boy who can barely swim, in the hopes of saving her child.

No benefits in the world can make up for this kind of experience.