Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Game Review: Killzone PS4 - My Controller has Teeth Marks!

I wanted my first PS4 game to be a looker, and so I chose Killzone based purely on aesthetics. And yes, it is a beautiful-looking game. The graphics are unbelievable, and the game plays smoothly with no lag or glitches. But what really surprised me was the excellent gameplay. It’s a hard game and I don’t generally do ‘shooters’ mostly due to my nerves of rubber and lack of button-pushing coordination during stressful moments. Despite this, though, I found Killzone to be very playable, even for a keen but unskilled muppet like me. Like any game, there were a few frustrating moments, and my controller now has teeth marks but on the whole I found the level of difficulty a good match, and I suspect the harder settings would be a good match for seasoned shooter fans.

On a side note, I know a few people have complained that they were being thrown way back after re-spawning or re-starting but I suspect there has been a patch to fix that because I always re-spawned almost exactly where I fell flat on my face.

Killzone is a great game to show off a mere fraction of what the PS4 can do, which makes me feel very excited for the console’s future. I think some of the reviews for this game are a little bit harsh. I enjoyed the story, the voice acting was good and the entire game was well polished and delivered. I would recommend it to anyone looking to get shot in the back 20-30 times. Fun.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Book Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6)The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chemist, detective, little girl – Flavia de Luce is a character you can’t help but admire. I like strong-willed characters in my books, especially strong-willed female characters. Alan Bradley has done an incredible job of creating a protagonist that a reader can not only relate to, but also inspire to. In fact, there wasn’t one character I didn’t like – even Flavia’s annoying sisters!

I don’t want to go too much into the plot because there’s nothing worse than looking at a review only to see something along the lines of “I love the end where EVERYONE dies!” What I can say about the plot though, without getting any kind of spoiler-slap, is that it is well though-out, well planned and well executed. This book has a wonderfully peaceful pace. It’s the sort of book you’ll want to read out in the garden under a parasol, on a long winding train journey or perhaps just when you want to block out a too-noisy and chaotic world with something that’s altogether different. Don’t expect action, chocolate-eyed boys and love triangles. Expect mystery, expect murder, expect ESPIONAGE!

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches is perfectly written. The writing is smooth , flawless and screams experience. I haven’t read anything by Alan Bradley before, but I feel confident that his other works are every bit as good. There is some great comedy in this book, little flashes of humour that poke you in the ribs. “I nearly chucked my kippers” is my new favourite catchphrase. But as well as comedy, Bradley is well able to catch the more serious moments, and instead of the ribs, he gets you right in the gut. Some of his thoughts on death and grieving, particularly because they are from a child’s point of view, are incredibly moving and absolutely spot .

A beautifully written book. If you’re looking for something different than the usual YA tropes, give this one a try.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free copy of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1) by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a tough book to review, and it’s almost killed me not to look at the reviews already on Amazon and Goodreads. I do have very mixed feelings about The Bone Season, and sometimes it is difficult to separate my own personal likes and dislikes from what makes a good book or a bad one. Let me start by saying, then, that this IS a good book. The world Samantha Shannon has created is a stunning example of a writer’s imagination. Complex, layered, terrifying – The Bone Season is an incredible story.

I’m not going to repeat any of the plot here, because I dislike that in a review, but I will say that The Bone Season is a world of clairvoyants in many forms. People who possess any of these gifts are feared despised and hunted. At first I got a big Blade Runner vibe, which excited me greatly. I was expecting something more … traditionally fantasy-esque, but instead I found something blacker, something more along the lines of a dark dystopian tale.

Very quickly, though, I found myself getting bogged down by the sheer weight of information about this world. The clairvoyance aspect is complex and abstract. I felt that I needed more detail on the concepts that were being mentioned rather than just a quick mention before moving on to the next term and next concept. At one point I felt as though I was being pelted with words. I thought and still think that was a real shame. I wanted to know more, but the information was being delivered in a brutal fashion. If I’m introduced to the concept of a “spool”, I want to know what it looks like, what it feels like, what it smells like; I want to be able to imagine myself with a spool of spirits that I can chuck at someone, but there just wasn’t enough depth for me to do that. In some ways, I loved the sheer volume of detail. It takes a talented writer to come up with all that, but its delivery needed to be slower. I needed to be shown some things, not told. Last complaint: I love the alternative words for everyday things and I love that most of these words had real meaning but, man, too too too many.

Story-wise, very original and very impressive. Paige was a strong and likable character. Arcturus was perfectly tall dark and handsome, and who wouldn’t fall a little bit in love with Nick? Samantha Shannon’s writing style is enviable, sharp, clear and cliché free. My biggest wish is that the book was longer, much longer. I could have read an entire volume just up to the train incident. I would have loved to read about Paige’s life as a clairvoyant.

I do feel as though I’ve said a bunch of bad things about a good book so I want to reiterate, that this is an excellent read. It kept me intrigued and excited, and it’s very different from anything I’ve read before. Do give it a try. It’s a challenging book and lots of fun.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free copy in return for an honest review.

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Monday, 9 December 2013

Book Review: Big Honey Dog - Message in a Bauble

Message in a Bauble (Big Honey Dog Mysteries - Christmas Special Edition)Message in a Bauble by H.Y. Hanna

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honey the slobbering Great Dane and her group of friends I like to call the D Team, are back in this short Christmas story. There is a new mystery to solve, more cats to cope with, and one of the gang is in serious mischief!

Just like the previous mystery The Curse of the Scarab, Message in a Bauble is well written in a clean and meticulous style that is perfect for middle grade readers. It’s funny and sweet, and Honey does a wonderful Lassie impersonation. The library cat was comedy gold, and in defence of Biscuit the Beagle, I totally would have investigated those crisps. Perfectly understandable.

Talking dogs. Thick humans. Charming little Christmas story. What more could you ask for?? Great stuff.

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Book Review: Big Honey Dog: The Curse of the Scarab

Curse of the Scarab (Big Honey Dog Mysteries, #1)Curse of the Scarab by H.Y. Hanna

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’re feeling ruff, you’ve lost that certain wag, and your ears are a little droopy, Big Honey Dog Mysteries: The Curse of the Scarab is the book to cheer you up. As the saying goes, it’s not to be sniffed at. Seriously, don’t sniff it; read it. That’s generally how books work in the year 2013. If you’re reading this in the year 2113 and sniff technology is the hot new thing, well excuse me.

One fine day, Honey the Great Dane’s life is turned upside down by the disappearance of local puppies. It seems they are being puppynapped! Honey must solve the crime and find the missing puppies before it’s too late. But do not fret, for she has a pack of friends to help her. There’s Biscuit the Beagle with the bulging belly and best nose in town; Suka the Siberian Husky with her tall tails [sic] of mad scientist vets; little Tyson the Terrier with the big personality and sharp teeth; and lastly, Ruffster the cockney mutt. Together they must dig holes, scare cats, learn about Egyptian mythology and find the missing puppies.

The Curse of the Scarab is a charming story. It’s well written, humorous and touching. Lots of dog jokes and adventure. In my opinion, the book is most suitable for the younger end of the middle grade scale, but I reckon dog fans of any age would love it. I’m thirty seven, very much enjoyed it and fell floppy ears-over-tail in love with Honey (who is based on the author’s actual and very beautiful Great Dane). There are some sad parts to the story, and I will admit to a small wobble of the bottom lip and the immediate consumption of chocolate. The sad stuff is handled very well, though, and I’m very much looking forward to more stories in this series. In fact, I’m just off the read the Christmas story Message in a Bauble…

I was provided with a free copy of the book in return for an honest review. This did not change my opinion in any way.

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Map Reveal + GIVEAWAY: Immagica by K.A. Last

Here it is, the moment many of us have been waiting impatiently for (arms crossed, feet tapping). It's the map reveal for K.A. Last's upcoming new YA novel, Immagica.

Title: Immagica
Author: K. A. Last
Genre: YA Fantasy/Adventure
Expected Date of Publication: January 2014
Word Count: approximately 67,000
Map Illustration: Lawrence Mann LawrenceMann.co.uk
Cover Illustration: Lawrence Mann LawrenceMann.co.uk
Cover Designer: KILA Designs – www.facebook.com/KILAdesigns
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19281638-immagica?ac=1

This is the first time I've seen it. I know I'm already a fan of Lawrence Mann's artwork, but this is incredible. I'm so jealous! I need to write a book that needs a map!


Where anything is possible.
Enter at your own risk.

The night before her fifteenth birthday, Rosaline Clayton uncovers a deep family secret. She receives an amulet from her deranged father, and he tells her she must find the book in order to save him. Rosaline is used to her dad not making any sense, so she dismisses their conversation as another of his crazy rants.

When Rosaline’s brother, Elliot, drags her to their Nana’s attic to explore, they find the old leather-bound book tucked away in a chest. It sucks them into its pages, transporting them to a magical world. Along the way Rosaline and Elliot are separated, and the only thing she wants is to find her brother and go home.

The creatures of Immagica have other ideas. After years of war their land lies in ruin. Using the amulet’s power, they want Rosaline to defeat the dragon and restore Immagica to its former glory. But Rosaline is bound to Immagica in ways she doesn’t understand, and when she discovers the truth about her family, she must follow her heart to save them all.


A breeze whipped my hair over my face. I batted it away as I turned in every direction, searching for my little brother.

“Elliot,” I called across the wasteland. “Elliot!” I screamed.


The book blew open and the pages fluttered in the breeze. I scurried over to snatch it up, not wanting to let it out of my sight. This place scared me. Losing Elliot scared me, and I was unsure what to do. If the book could spit me out into a desolate wasteland, it may also be able to take me home. I slipped my fingernail under the edge of the amulet and tried to prise it off the cover, but it wouldn’t budge. The emerald pulsed in a steady rhythm. After a few minutes I gave up and tucked the book into the back of my jeans.

If I decided to walk anywhere, it was going to be tough with no shoes, but I was glad I’d fallen asleep in my clothes the night before. Imagine if I’d ended up in this god-forsaken place in my nightie! Elliot was probably roaming around somewhere in his PJs. The thought made me laugh, but then sadness engulfed me. Elliot. My heart broke thinking about him. I’d lost my little brother. Where was I supposed to start looking for him? Already I missed the way his dark hair flopped across his forehead. The way he’d look at me so seriously with his grey eyes. And how he had a talent for making me smile when it was the last thing I wanted to do.

I stared at my feet and wished I had my favourite pair of Converse to slip on. I sighed and started to walk. Rocks dug into my skin, making me wince with every step. After a few minutes the pain subsided and the walking got easier. I thought I’d lost the feeling in my feet, but when I looked down again I was wearing a pair of black Converse All Stars.

My mouth dropped open and I stopped. “How…?”

It was still just me in the middle of nowhere. The shoes felt real enough, but I gave my toes a little wriggle to make sure it wasn’t an illusion. I even blinked a couple of times to test my eyes were working properly. Yep, the shoes were definitely real, and I was a little more freaked than I’d been when I first arrived.

I continued walking. Where I was walking to was a mystery. How could I know where I was going, if I didn’t even know where I was in the first place? I wished Elliot was with me. Or that I had someone to talk to; someone who could tell me where I was.

“Where am I?” I asked the breeze.

“You know, talking to yourself is the first sign of craziness,” a girl said from behind me.

I spun around to face the most unusual girl I’d ever seen. She held a bronze spear in her right hand. It was fancy like a sceptre, with a decorative head that housed a big emerald. What was it with all the emeralds? Maybe I was in Oz. The eye-shaped stone stared at me and I shuddered. Above all the fanciness was a silver point that could probably slice me in half in one-second flat.

Frantically, I looked around for something to use to defend myself if I needed to. My only option was to brain her with a rock—if I needed to.

“I wasn’t talking to myself,” I said. I totally was talking to myself. “I just wanted someone to talk to.”

The girl laughed. “You should be careful what you wish for in a place like this.”
She looked a little older than me, with pale blue eyes, high cheekbones, and an olive complexion. Silver streaked her long, black hair, and it had several small braids through it.
“And where is this exactly?”

The girl simply stared at me, her mouth all pouty, as if I should know the answer. I wasn’t sure if she would hurt me or take me to meet her equally weird looking friends. She wore a pair of ripped denim shorts, and a strange cream top that looked handmade with lacing up each side and an uneven neckline. Shin-high, chunky hiking boots encased her long legs, and she had a small leather satchel flung across her body. The spear totally completed the outfit.

“Not quite like Dorothy is it,” she finally said, grinning. “She was greeted by munchkins, but you got me instead.”

“You’ve read The Wizard of Oz?”

“Of course.” The girl laughed. “And Alice in Wonderland, The Neverending Story, and Narnia. All the greats.”

Somehow, I found it hard to believe. Where the hell was the library?

“Who are you?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips. I could play smart, too, but I hoped I appeared more confident than I felt.

“So many questions. Which one do I answer first? I hope you know who you are.”

“Never mind,” I said, turning away. She’d done her best to annoy me, and I’d only known her for twenty seconds.

“Don’t take it personally.” The girl fell into step beside me. “You’re not the only one that’s ended up here when they first arrived. Not everyone can expect to land in the thick of things.”

“What are you talking about?” I stopped to face her.

“I’m Brynn.” She stuck out her hand. I hesitated but eventually took it. She pumped my arm up and down a few times before letting go. “So, where’s the book?”

“How do you know about the book?” I frowned.

“You usually can’t get here without the book.”

“Where’s here?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“No, not really. Why do you want the book?” I asked.

“I don’t want the book.”

“Then why did you ask about the book?”

“You’ll need the book,” Brynn said. “The book is very important.”

I sighed. “Of course it is.” I pulled it from the waistband of my jeans, but I didn’t hand it over.

“You don’t trust me, do you?” Brynn asked.

“If you were me, would you trust you?”

“I’m very trustworthy.” She smiled and raised her eyebrows.

“But how do I know that!”

She shrugged. “You don’t.”

“Okay, this place is just weird,” I said.

Arguing with the strange girl was wasting time. I needed to find Elliot. Brynn was the only person, besides me, in this terrible place, so what option did I have? I’d have to ask for help.

“I’ve lost my little brother,” I blurted out. “He was with me, I felt him beside me when … and then he wasn’t there, and I was here, and I hate this place!”

The emerald in the amulet pulsed.

Brynn looked at me as if she couldn’t care less about Elliot. Why would she? She didn’t know him. But I cared. And I was damn well going to make her care!

“You’ll need to get the amulet off the cover if you want to find him,” she said. “Push the emerald.”

Sure, why not. Nothing else in my life made sense anymore. I did as she’d said and pushed it with my thumb. Something clicked and the golden glow shone under the amulet. It popped off the cover and the book healed itself, returning to normal. I ran my fingers over the embossed image on the cover before unravelling the chain and hanging the amulet around my neck. It gave me an odd feeling of security, like I could do anything, or go anywhere.

“Hey! Where are you going,” I called to Brynn. She’d walked off while I was doing weird stuff.

“You can come if you like.” She stopped and waited for me to catch up. “You’re a Clayton. What’s your first name?”

“Rosaline,” I replied. “How do you know my last name?”

“The amulet has been in your family for generations. Your ancestors had a hand in creating this place.”

“My family made this horrid wasteland? What on earth for?”

“You mean you haven’t been told?”

“Told what?” I asked. “No one tells me anything.”

“You don’t know anything about magic?”

“Are you related to my dad? Because he’s all kinds of weird as well,” I said.

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K. A. Last was born in Subiaco, Western Australia, and moved to Sydney with her parents and older brother when she was eight. Artistic and creative by nature, she studied Graphic Design and graduated with an Advanced Diploma. After marrying her high school sweetheart, she concentrated on her career before settling into family life. Blessed with a vivid imagination, she began writing to let off creative steam, and fell in love with it. She now resides in a peaceful leafy suburb north of Sydney with her husband, their two children, and a rabbit named Twitch.


Thank you to Xpresso books tours for allowing me to be a part of this event

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Bounty Hunter: Cover Contest Semi-Finalist

My novel Bounty Hunter's beautiful cover, created by illustrator Lawrence Mann, has made it into the Semi-finals at the Authorsdb Cover Contest in the Teens category. If you have a moment, I would be enormously grateful if you could pop over and give Bounty Hunter a quick 5 star vote. It only takes a click. I know I'm somewhat biased, but it's a gorgeous cover and I would love to see Lawrence recognised for his work.



LawrenceMann - S J HOLLIS – BountyHunty FINAL crop LowRes

Book Review: Champion by Marie Lu

Champion (Legend, #3)Champion by Marie Lu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent ending to a superb trilogy. Great writing, sympathetic and raw characterisation and an engaging plot. The style of narration, both from Day’s and June’s point of view, was fitting with the Legend world – stark, matter-of-fact, bleak and awful but not in any melodramatic way. The Republic of America and the Colonies are both frightening pictures of a potential future – pure dystopian terror. But Marie Lu immerses us into these worlds with a wonderfully distant, cold and atmospheric style of story-telling that is very in keeping with the plot’s major themes and ideas. This is just the way it is, she’s telling us. She’s not trying to shock us. She’s not trying to be clever. She’s simply presenting a horrendous future and the two young people who are drowning in it.

I’m not a lover of romance, but the Day/June relationship touched me deeply. They are two teenagers who understand that the world is bigger than them, and that love isn’t about flowers and meaningless declarations. It’s about caring for another person more than yourself, putting someone else first, protecting that person with your own soul. It’s about holding on and letting go. I adored Eden. What a cutie. Lu perfectly presents an enviable relationship between him and his brother Day. I’d die for him, too. That’s love. And that’s good writing.

Champion has good emotional closure. It’s what I like to call a three tissue ending. I have mixed thoughts about the epilogue. The picky writer in me thinks the book would have been perfect without it, that it in no way needed it. But the emotional wreck of a woman who has a very delicate and breakable heart, needed it like a kicked puppy needs a hug and a promise. It doesn’t matter, though, because I loved the book either way.

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Sunday, 17 November 2013

Book Review: Contaminated by Em Garner

ContaminatedContaminated by Em Garner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I want to get something straight here, right at the beginning of this review. If you are looking for an action-packed, gut-spilling, bucket-of-blood gore fest, you’re not going to get it. You’re also not going to get the grave-bursting, brain-craving undead. This is not a traditional or clichéd zombie novel. Please don’t rush out, buy this book hoping for a YA World War Z, and then complain it’s not what you expected. Consider yourselves warned.

Contaminated is a nice slow burn. Instead of throwing shocking deaths and bed-wetting surprises on every page, it concentrates on an element that is much more vital to a good novel: character. Velvet is in her late teens. Her parents are missing and she has legal custody of her younger sister. Velvet goes to school part-time, holds down a job at a care home and is a mother to little Opal. The diet drink ThinPro turned much of the population into dangerous zombie-like creatures, and Velvet is trying to survive in a world that is dealing with the aftermath of that. The story is told from Velvet’s point of view and it is remarkable how far into her head and life the reader gets. If this book had been about her jumping about beheading the walking dead, I would have become very bored very quickly. But instead, we get to see her struggle in a world that’s already been shaken by death and terror. We see her cope with the change from a world where she was an ordinary child with school, a boyfriend and two normal parents, to a world where she’s on her own. She’s lost almost everything and is expected to behave like an adult and make adult decisions. For Velvet, coming of age means abandonment.

One of the things I love about Contaminated is the stark and very believable reality it portrays. The horror is not in shambling zombie people and their victims. The zombies are the victims. The horror is in the world the contamination has created. People affected by the diet drink (Connies) and not exterminated during the first few waves of infection, were either lobotomised or, later, fitted with special collars. Both methods ‘neutralise’ the Connie and allow relatives to take them home. That Connies wear these collars and are kept in kennels says something about the climate in which Velvet lives. There is a subtle little metaphor slipped in where Velvet see a pack of dogs running loose in her old neighbourhood. What does that say? It says the Victims of ThinPro are hunted, collared, kennelled and even put down – they are treated worse than animals and certainly far less than a human being.

There is a parallel between old age and the Connies. Connies have trouble doing everyday activities for themselves. Many of them need help bathing, eating and even going to the toilet. When a family member collects a Connie from the kennel, they get a complimentary adult diaper and a set of restraints. When you consider the horror ThinPro has caused and then have a look at the goodie bag the kennel gives out, it tells you all you need to know about how much help is available to care for a family member. Assisted housing, transport, carers allowance – nothing is set up to encourage or help someone care for another individual. Just like real life. I was a carer for my grandfather for many years. He suffered from dementia and had mobility problems. But in order for both of us to survive, I had to work. But while I was at work who cares for him? Who stops him wandering into the street? At what point was I expected to lock him up? Use restraints when he became frightening? At what point was anybody going to notice that it wasn’t just him that needed help; I did too. But that help wasn’t there, and it nearly killed me. Why would anyone care for a zombie, some reviewers have asked. It’s unrealistic. Well, is it really? Ask instead why would anyone would give up their life to care for someone they love.

Contaminated is beautifully written. I couldn’t fault a single word. Good chapter lengths, no melodrama, strong and engaging characters, and just enough to spike the adrenaline and keep the reader in a constant state of caution and consternation. No, it’s not action packed, but the story is first class. I read the whole book straight through, only breaking for tea and to re-fill my Scooby Doo hot water bottle. I loved every word and I hope there will be a sequel. Em Garner is an author I will be keeping a close eye on from now on.

I received an ebook copy from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This did not alter my opinion in any way.

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Book Review: Blood Moon (Book Three - The Ravenscliff Series)

Blood Moon (Book Three - The Ravenscliff Series)Blood Moon by Geoffrey Huntington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blood Moon is the third book in the Ravenscliff Series, a saga about a teenage sorcerer who has been orphaned and shipped off to live in a spooky cliff-side mansion. What I love most about these books is the main character himself, Devon. He’s a nice guy. He’s not annoying; he’s intelligent, kind, charismatic and never whines. He’s the sort of teenage son I’m sure many parents long for and will never get. It’s the adults I find irritating. They complicate things, they lie, they hide things and they’re spiteful – just like real life. I feel Devon’s frustration with them. It’s clear at this point that he’s determined to discover his heritage no matter what the danger, so why don’t they help him out? It’s every child’s right to know where they came from. No one would blame him if he used his powers to bang a few heads together.

I love the purity of the Ravenscliff Series. It’s good old fashioned story-telling that doesn’t rely heavily on romance to attract its readers. While Blood Moon does have some elements of the ol’ love triangle trappings, it’s insignificant when compared with the rest of the story, and what a huge story it is. My advice to anyone thinking of reading this series is PAY ATTENTION. There are lots of characters spread over several different time periods and it gets complicated. I’ve scratched a bald patch trying to figure out how everyone fits into Ravenscliff’s mysteries.

My only real complaint is that I don’t feel the reader gets enough of a payoff at the end of the book. Yes, we find out some important things, but there is a lot left hanging, a lot of questions left unanswered and situations left unresolved. I was left hollering a dramatic slow-motion ‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ at the end of the last chapter. Kudos for one heck of a cliffhanger, but I was disappointed that so much hadn’t been resolved.

On the whole, Blood Moon is well-written. There are a few clichéd sections of dialogue, a few too many exclamation marks, and a very confusing moment when the infamous East Wing turned into the West Wing, but aside from that, the writing flowed smooth and easy, and was an absolute pleasure to read. I can’t express enough how much I wish there were more books like this in our book shops. The adventure and the story are central. There’s no fancy showing off with weird metaphors and page after page of the main character brooding over his terrible predicaments. Ravenscliff is pure story, pure magic, mystery and adventure. I love it because it can be read without getting an ulcer.

I can’t wait for the next book. There’s so much I need to know and I’m hoping there’s some big answers coming. I don’t know how many books are planned in this series, but I feel the Nightwing concept could allow more adventures for Devon even after his own personal mystery is wrapped up. I can’t even fathom what’s coming next, but I did hear a rumour about vampires…

I received a free copy of the ebook from the publisher via NetGalley. This did not alter my opinion in any way.

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Friday, 8 November 2013

Book Review: Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1)The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Straight to the point. I find books as good as Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase very difficult to review. Why? Because I’ve enjoyed them so much I find it tough to be critical. A good review, after all, is all about balance and objectivity. Well, stuff that. I loved this book to the point of obsession. While I was reading it, I didn’t want to do anything else. Sleep, work and toilet breaks became inconveniences, and other people only existed to be told how good this book was and why they should be reading it and buying multiple copies as Christmas presents. And if those people attempted to change the subject they were cut off with a perfectly reasonable “Your new baby is pink and boring – goodbye”.

So balanced, this review is not. Obsessed, I proudly declare myself to be. The next few moments will be consist of exactly why I love this book and why I am prepared to hire a secret agent to get my hands on the next instalment asap.

First and foremost: The Screaming Staircase is comedy gold. I have never read Jonathan Stroud before so I have no clue if his other books are funny, if he is generally funny or is descended from a long line of funny family members, but going by this book, the man is in the funny elite. Stroud is the Master of comedy timing. Making a reader laugh is a rare talent. Hilarious dialogue, amusing character monologues and comedy situations all take immense skill to craft. He knows where and when to put in the laughs. He knows how to creep up behind a reader and get them right in the ribs with a tickle tackle. He got me so many times drinking hot tea became a hazard. I switched to squash.

Characterisation is another strong skill of Stroud’s. Anthony Lockwood, lead operative and owner of Lockwood and Co. Investigators is a charming boy, a little scatty around the edges, slightly bonkers and incredibly readable. He reminded me a little of the Eleventh Doctor and the BBC’s Sherlock combined. He’s a bit of a disaster waiting to happen, but his intentions are always good and he seems to know more than he lets on, imploring you to lend him the trust that his agent (and the point of view character), Lucy, already seems to have in him.

Lockwood and Lucy, along with another operative, George, hunt ghosts. They live in a world where a ghost infestation is just as real and likely as a rat infestation. They even have equipment to banish, deter and trap ghosts. It’s honestly spooky stuff, and so original and well thought-out. The plot covers a few dark themes, but the light-hearted and humorous writing style takes the edge off and always keeps it a fun read (although I will admit to a small sniffle at one point plus the occasional urge to check under my bed, inside the oven, fridge etc).

Suitable for children and adults, The Screaming Staircase is written with heart. It’s an incredible book and – now brace yourselves because I’m about to make a bold statement – I will read it again. I don’t say that often, because there are too many good books in the world to read the same one twice, but this is just one of those books that make me want to take it back to bed with a cup of tea, two slices of wholemeal and a mobile phone that I’ve, whoops, accidentally turned off how did that happen.

I can’t wait to hear more about the next book. I can’t wait for a film to be announced because I’m convinced there will be one. Lockwood and Co has the potential to be The Next Big Thing. I see a string of novels. I see myself queuing at midnight for book number seven. I see myself annoying everyone I know by continually boasting that I spotted the Lockwood and Co phenomenon before they did. In conclusion, this is my book of the year, and I look forward to visiting Lockwood and Co World sometime within the next decadeand purchasing my very own miniature ghost head in a jar and plush George.

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley, and this in no way influenced my review.

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Monday, 21 October 2013

Review: Ravenscliff: Sorcerers of the Nightwing by Geoffrey Huntington

Sorcerers of the Nightwing (The Ravenscliff Series #1)Sorcerers of the Nightwing by Geoffrey Huntington

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I chose to read Sorcerers of Nightwing because of the spooky cover and the mention of a haunted mansion in the blurb. Halloween was approaching and I like to get into the spirit of things by watching sanity-curdling films, listening to Black Sabbath and hissing “GET OUUUUUT” through my neighbours’ air vents. When I got my copy, I promptly lit some gothic candles (ignoring the blazing sunshine outside) and spent an entire day searching for my Headless Cross album.

You can probably tell, I was expecting to like this book. And I did. More than that, when I spend an entire day in my pyjamas without tweeting, washing, or eating anything but cheesy Wotsits, it means I loved it.

Sorcerers of Nightwing is a Young Adult book, so don’t expect anything horrifically frightening, but it has what so many paranormal books lack: atmosphere. The descriptions of Ravenscliff are vivid, ambient and fun. The thunder and lightning should be a tacky cliché, but it somehow works. Spooky and mysterious, Ravenscliff is an awesome place that I wish was real. I wanted to explore it with Devon, sneak into the East Wing with him, candle flickering, bravado turned on but fully prepared to run like a Whippet and leave him behind should anything white and floaty turn the corner.

The main protagonist, Devon March, is a nice lad who I didn’t want to slap even once (A true miracle). I felt intensely sorry for him, and even a little bit protective. He’s suffered a trauma or two, but he’s not the wallowing sort or the bad boy rebel type. He’s just a young boy trying to get on and work out who he is and what his place is within Ravenscliff. His character was a refreshing change from the usual emo stereotype. Hey, I loved Harry Potter and still wear my Gryffindor scarf on cold days but, wow, that kid could whinge.

Sorcerers of Nightwing is well-written with a narrative that flows and a plot that is well-paced, mysterious and absorbing. It’s definitely more of a story-based book than romantic-based. I hate it when a romance takes over a perfectly good story. Keep that for an actual romance novel. I came for spooky sobbing and the creepy caretaker, and those things I got. I loved this book. It was a great concept with well-written characters, awesome storytelling and a wicked shock ending. I look forward to the next book in the series.

I received a copy of the ebook through NetGalley in return for an honest review. Much thanks to Diversion Books.

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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book because it was in Amazon’s Daily Deal for 99p and I liked the birdie on the cover. I went in blind, no clue what The Raven Boys was about or what sort of writer I was dealing with. I like to call this literary Russian roulette. I could win or lose, revere it or despise it, become filled with book glory or die of a thousand papercuts to the brain. I loaded my Kindle, pulled the trigger and was pleased to find my brains did not splatter up my living room wall.

The book had a wonderful, slow build up. Which is a good thing. Yes, I said GOOD THING. I know people sometimes complain when a plot isn't instantly filled with smoochy, smoochy “Oh dear I'm helplessly in love with two boys, and I feel so angst-ridden because I'm a teenager and must therefore do stupid angst-ridden things the author thinks a teenager must do”. Notice at this point I have used a very important word: plot. This book actually has one. Truly. I'm not joking. Psychics, ley lines, a dead Welsh king and a complex friendship web. No smoochy smoochy, despite the novel’s tag line. Plotty plotty instead. An actual story. This book is the first part of a series, and from this first volume, I'm expecting something big. The scene has been set.

The Raven Boys themselves are an intriguing bunch, each with their own complicated background, motivation and mystery. Each character is light and dark, flawless and flawed. Each one needs a hug and a firm slap. In other words, they are perfectly human and perfectly believable.

Now, this is the middle bit of the review where I put in my shark dentures and take a bite. Early in the book I found some of the phrasing and word choices to be a little odd. It made me question if I’d read the offending lines properly, if I was a Brit having a dialect issue or if the line just needed the editor to pay more attention. Head-scratching and dandruff occurred. I also thought the very end was rushed. For such a beautifully and carefully constructed build-up, it was strange. More dandruff.

Right, shark teeth out, a little piece of the author’s soul swallowed and back to why I've given this book five stars: It was original. It wasn't dark and depressing. It made my heart beat faster. It made me simultaneously dread and yearn for the next book.

Because I loved every character, because I cried for one of them, and because I know I’ll cry again.

I will only give top marks to a book that leaves a dent. It has to make me smile when I talk about it. It has to make me picture what happened before, what happened between the lines and what will happen next. It has to make me recommend it to random people in Tesco. This book did all of that and left a raven shaped indentation on my heart.

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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd heard The 5th Wave was the next big thing. I'd heard it was all hype. Nothing makes me rush at a book faster than conflicting opinions. It's like waggling a hot dog at a Labrador Retriever. I've got to know what that hot dog tastes like! I will trample anyone who stands between me and that hot dog! I will afterward stop for a pee against the nearest school gate...! No, sorry, went too far.

The books starts slow. Slow in a good way. The most realistic books, the books that want to tether their horror to something real that readers can identify with, tend to do that. I enjoyed the flashbacks immensely. The build up was awesome, the one-liners chilling and I was genuinely terrified for the fate of a teddy bear.

Cassie, Zombie and Sams were great characters. Ringer, Dumbo and co also. The only character I didn't warm to was Evan. He was a little too Clark Kent for me, although it did help to picture Tom Welling. I could have done without the romance tropes, but that really is a personal thing. There's no place for 'chocolate eyes' in my world. To clarify, the romantic stuff was fine, it just doesn't poke my pumpkin.

The best thing about The 5th Wave was that it kept me guessing, kept me on edge, got me pointing a shaking banana at approaching 'interrupters' mid-read and shouting ARE YOU ONE OF THEM?!

Yep, good read.

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