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Slade House
Slade House
by David Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Fade to Grey(er), 1 Dec. 2016
This review is from: Slade House (Paperback)
Had not read anything by David Mitchell before, but on the evidence of this it won't be my last encounter with him. 'Slade House' is a mutli-genre piece of work, that switches between ghost, horror and science fiction, with a fair smattering of psychedelic tropes and black comedy throughout. It could potentially be pulpy material but somehow Mitchell laces it with quality writing throughout so it always feels literary; (without that sounding snobby); it teeters on the edge of preposterousness but balances perfectly; imagine a very intelligent episode of 'Doctor Who' and you'll have some idea of what's in store. It might not appeal to everyone - but what does? - and I think it'll garner fans who might normally steer away from anything that involves time travel, 'soul vampires' and alternate realities. Ok, perhaps it doesn't add up to very much theme wise - a quest for immortality is bound to be doomed? - but it's one hell of a ride. Mitchell is a lord of language and a master of the neat phrase - it begs the question who he's in league with. Damn near perfect!


The Loney: 'The Book of the Year 2016'
The Loney: 'The Book of the Year 2016'
by Andrew Michael Hurley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only the Loney...., 2 Nov. 2016
This is a truly amazing book, not just horror as it has been marketed, but a psychological thriller, a dour post-pastoral read, a death of childhood innocence, a crisis of religious faith, or a murder mystery - you can take your pick, it's all here and above all else there's some masterful characterisation detailing a Easter pilgrimage with the ostensible aim of curing a mute boy 'Hanny.' Even if all things ecclesiastical can put you off don't worry, this is not a niche read. Hurley's debut novel is like a huge jigsaw puzzle but the end result is an abstract image and many of the pieces could fit in elsewhere. You will have your work cut out to get a fully satisfying resolution and this will frustrate many readers who like everything tied up neatly but frankly, life isn't like that and I preferred the ambiguousness. The title obviously suggests the word 'Lonely' and that's what seems to permeate the characters lives, rising off them like steam from a boiling kettle. The 1970's (a decade in which I was roughly the same age as the teenage brothers) is subtly and cleverly realised in all its 'beige' awfulness, and the characters relationships to each other are revealed gradually and almost casually, and although some small details are never explained I never thought the author was being wilfully obscure. I immediately wanted to read it again, and that's got to be a good sign...a true and audacious original.


The Last Days of Jack Sparks
The Last Days of Jack Sparks
by Jason Arnopp
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ghost-bollok(er)s!!, 25 Oct. 2016
Hoping for some pre-Halloween chills I purchased this on a whim. Big. Mistake. Actually, the 'foreword' seemed quite promising, but after those first few pages this quickly took what I can only describe as a kamikaze nose dive into some of the worst writing it has been my misfortune to read in a long time.. Not horror...just horrible, fuelled with risible scenes, bad dialogue, inept characterisation and a lead character (sounding like a 'Poundland' version of Philip Marlowe) who is so unsympathetic that you couldn't care less about him. Granted, there are some decent sideswipes at a media saturated culture but to what end? If this is satire heaven help us. The author clearly thinks name checking every form of pop culture reference gives it the validity it so desperately craves. And it goes on and on forever, globe trotting like some bastard son of a 'Dan Brown' novel, lurching from one ludicrous and implausible scene to another. If you thought 'Ghost Busters' (that gets a name check!) was a genuinely frightening film you'll love this. Indeed some people think it is funny. Yes it is; unintentionally so. And as for the time travel element. Well that's nearly three days of my life I'd like back than you very much. Tiresome.


Goodbye Stranger
Goodbye Stranger
by Rebecca Stead
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.16

5.0 out of 5 stars Hello again Friend!, 15 Oct. 2016
This review is from: Goodbye Stranger (Hardcover)
It's great to have Rebecca Stead back - she is just the most perceptive writer out there about young people and adolescent emotions, and this one gets right to the heart of the nature of the shifting sands of friendships, so it's a coming of age story but much more nuanced and clever than this might suggest. I wouldn't even class her as a YA writer - a demographic that seems to rely on vampires and dystopias too much - she's just a great writer full stop! Although the book will have obvious appeal for teenage girls, it's subplot about the dangers of social media and sexting I think give it an urgent relevance for both genders, and I'm taking it up as a book club choice for the school where I work as librarian. Bridge Barsamian (her first name is metaphorical obviously) and her friends Tab, Emily, Celeste et al and her burgeoning relationship with Sherm will stay with me for a long time to come - partly a farewell to the wonder years but never cloying or sentimental, Stead even works in a second person mystery narrator to keep you guessing right to the end. Essential reading and never less than supremely entertaining, the amount Stead can capture into her short chapters beggars belief - be it a mediation on the moon landings or letters to a grandfather who left his wife at random after decades of married life. Staggering.


How to Survive in the North
How to Survive in the North
by Luke Healy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Go with the Floe, 13 Sept. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This wonderful addition to 'serious' graphic novels interweaves two true stories based on two ill-fated arctic expeditions in the early 20th century, 1913 and 1923 respectively,, under the auspices of arctic explorer Vilhjamur Stefanson, together with a contemporary campus based anecdote about a middle aged lecturer taking a sabbatical after conducting an affair with one of his students. At first I couldn't work out the relationships between the crew member of the Stefansson's 'Karluk' captained by Robert Bartlett and the later expedition which mention's Steffansson by name but doesn't directly involve him, the crux of this thread being the Inuit Ada Blackjack and her nursing of a crew member Lorne Knight but frankly it didn't matter because the two stories are both gripping and tense. The images are beautifully rendered in a pastel simple way, and although I'm no connoisseur of graphic fiction (well, non fiction really) this has got to be in line for some awards surely. My only caveat is the contemporary story which tenuously links up to the others by having the character chance upon an opportunity to do some research on these explorers in the library, and equates his lonely, mid life crisis with the life threatening hardships suffered by the crews on the expeditions, which tends to belittle their endeavours. That aside, though, this is a stunning book as exciting as any film - say 'The Revenant' for example; and the coda abou tAda Blackjack is as moving as any ice floe!


The Travelling Companion: For as Long as it Takes to Get There
The Travelling Companion: For as Long as it Takes to Get There
by Ian Rankin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.79

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You can run...but you can't Hyde, 22 Aug. 2016
Picked this short story up in hardback up last week whilst in Edinburgh, and you'll be able to read in in a pub on the 'Royal Mile' in between two fringe shows. An entertaining riff on Stevenson's 'Jekyll and Hyde' and nothing more, but not knowing about Stevenson's other lost manuscript which gives the story its title, I did learn a little bit more about the author.
I note that this is one of a series of short stories by contemporary authors using infamous texts as their starting point for horror/suspense/crime short fiction, but wouldn't it have made more sense to publish these as compendium paperback in maybe two or three editions? Perhaps that's what will happen eventually. Don't know.


Smart: A mysterious crime, a different detective
Smart: A mysterious crime, a different detective
by Kim Slater
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Get Smart, 6 Jun. 2016
Ever since it was published a dozen or so years ago 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' has cast a fairly long and influential shadow over what has become almost a genre in itself - 'The Dysfunctional Special Needs Teenager Who Solves a Mystery.' And so it is with Kim Slater's Nottingham set debut which has Kieran, who it is alluded to has Down's syndrome, attempting to find out who drowned the homeless man in the river Trent, befriending the dead man's friend Jean, all the while dealing with his own struggles of living with a vulnerable mother bullied by a vile drug dealing step-father and similarly repellent step-brother. Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs does it? Imagine a 'Ken Loach' film but for young people and you'll have some idea of how this plays out, but fortunately there's a great deal of humour and well observed stuff as we are privy to Kieran's first person narration 'I hate PE the most out of every subject we do at school. This is why: PE teachers only like you if you're good at PE.'
Also Kieran's interest in the painter 'L S Lowry' and his ability in drawing become integral to the storyline. Admittedly the ending is rather rushed but overall it's a likeable, unusual and confident read. and - if like me - you just so happen to be a school librarian who runs a 'Book Club' for year 7/8's this is a highly recommended choice - a quite Smart one in fact!


Time Travelling with a Hamster
Time Travelling with a Hamster
by Ross Welford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the Past, Forward to the Future....Straight on to the Present, 24 May 2016
Time travel as a subject feels like it's rather been all but exhausted, ever since H G Well's and his 'Time Machine' but in 'Ross Welford's' wonderful debut book he still manages to find fresh twists, in a complex tale of a boy finding and saving his father. I think I was meant to read this book, the narrator Al Chaudhury has same birthday date as myself (12th May) and it may not directly be about the nature of grief and losing a loved one, but the subtext is all there. I found it incredibly funny, moving and exciting and - for once - the blurb is highly accurate when it states 'This astonishing and original novel will make you.....wish you could turn back time, to start reading it all over again.' Not half! I wouldn't even begin to unravel the plot..at least as mind bending as any 'Steven Moffat' penned episode of 'Doctor Who ever was, this has got all the action, smart dialogue and interesting, sympathetic characters you could wish for. Deserves to be as lauded as 'Curious Incident...' was when it was first released, I can't think of a kids book of late which has generated as much in the way of ideas expertly thought through and executed. Could be a good film too.... even in a parallel universe this is still a work of genius.


The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer
by Sydney Padua
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Computer says 'yes'....and 'no.', 3 Jan. 2016
Ok, to be honest I haven't finished this...and I probably won't...not quite yet anyway, but that shouldn't really be taken as purely negative criticism. For what it's worth I do think it's some kind of masterpiece, and have no doubt that it will probably be judged as a ground breaking graphic book, regularly listed in the 'Top 100 Graphic Novels' etc. Anyway I think I was looking for something a bit different to read this festive season, and I certainly got it with this, something akin to the 'Royal Institute Christmas Lectures.' Not having come across Ada Lovelace before, and only dimly aware of Charles Babbage, it's definitely been educational and informative in equal measure, it's also a gargantuan enterprise a definite labour of love on the part of it's author/illustrator Sydney Padua, and sometimes 'labour' is the correct adjective. The last time I read a book that had this many footnotes was'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' which implies that the story couldn't be neatly shoehorned in format of a graphic novel, and it meanders down so many 19th century alleyways and and cul-de-sacs, taking in every aspect of Victorian society that it hardly makes for clarity of thought. She seems more interested in Ada rather than Babbage, and as represented, the wide-eyed, almost Manga like creation, often perpetually bemused is a beguiling like creation no doubt and there's a great deal of humour as well in some of the dialogue. However, you still may want to get hold of a copy of 'The History of Computing Made Simple' afterwards, even if that doesn't have any pictures.


The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
by Isabel Greenberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Winter Thrills!, 22 Dec. 2015
Since December 2015 has been one of the hottest Christmasses on record here in the UK, the only snow you'll likely to encounter at the moment is this wonderful book, for which the term 'graphic novel' is I'm afraid woefully inaccurate to describe the wonders herein. The author and illustrator is the aptly named Isabel Greenberg who has given us a celebration of storytelling in the Nordic lands, set in a time long long ago....anyone from 8 till 80 as the saying goes will love this, it's got some dry, ironic humour that will appear to teenagers, its approach to narrative is decidedly leftfield, events seem to span the whole of the globe not just the poles, gods are subject to the same prejudices and vanities as humanity, men and women fall in love disguise themselves, old crones defeat giant cyclops, some people are invisible, magicians plot revenge, intrigue takes place in courtyards, towers are built to the heavens etc. etc... Oh and it's illustrated and designed to the tiniest detail making it an object of wonder and awe - the black and white drawings with just the occasional splash of red signifying death would give the average noir comic book a run for its money. Even the author's handwriting has been transcribed as a font further underlying the love that has been lavished on this enterprise. An instant classic!


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