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VINE VOICEon 24 March 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As with some of the other reviewers, this was my introduction to John Connolly, and I was pleased to make his acquaintance. "Hell's Bells" is written for the pre-teen audience, with plenty of innocent comedy, but touches on some of the larger moral issues that you might not expect to see in a children's book, with a very (unstated, but obvious) Christian emphasis, despite there being no mention of the other side ("God", Heaven, angels, clergy, etc). There are obvious nods to Dante's Inferno and Pilgrim's Progress in the architecture of Hell and the episodic progression of the various characters through Hell; the clearest stylistic comparison would be Terry Pratchett, and yet I am also strongly reminded of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. In particular, I loved the footnotes, with their quirky emphasis on the history of science, and wished there were more of them (I am still thinking about the one involving Marat and Lavoisier).

Connolly has two characters "saved" from Hell, in a way: one through willingness for self-sacrifice which indicates repentance; the other implicitly through his friendship with Samuel. The other characters in Hell remain there, damned by their own attitudes, both devils and souls. The nature of the devils and imps was sometimes used for horror, and at other times for comedy; this is an uneasy mixture, resolved by keeping the horrific devils well separated from the comic ones. Glimpses of the Great Malevolence were scarce, rather like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, and therefore not entirely compelling as the opposition, leading to the question: if he is mad, then can he really be the Devil?

This books is very clearly book two in a longer series: I was content enough to read it without having read the prequel, although, as is the nature of most series, I reached the end without feeling that there was a proper resolution, hence the four stars rating.

I'll keep an eye open for other books by Connolly, and I may still go back and read the first book in this series. If you're a parent or a teacher looking for a fun book with some very serious points for discussion, I can think of few better.
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VINE VOICEon 23 March 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Hell's Bells is a book that has a good storyline with the odd unusual twist, plenty of quirky characters and a bent towards educating young and old alike. There are also some similarities with other books which left me with an odd sense of deja vu when I finished the final pages. I also found myself making double-takes when presented with the various moral concepts within the main plot. This does not mean, however, that I did not enjoy the whole experience hugely.

The plot concerns Samuel Johnson and his dog, Boswell, who get pulled into Hell by Mrs. Abernathy, a fiend bent on using him for her own ends (they met in a previous book). Along with Samuel, by mistake, come two policeman, an ice-cream man - complete with his van - and three rather naughty dwarves. The story gives the reader an account of how they all attempt to return home and also a vivid tour of Hell and its innermost workings. The account is extremely engaging, well written and the humour tremendous, so much so that I found myself laughing out loud. I also thought that the tale unfolded sufficiently carefully so that the reader was drawn through the book and the action did not flag.

It is important to say from the start that this story is aimed at children of eight and above. I think, however, that some of the vocabulary would be a little too difficult for the younger ones and many would require input from both adult and dictionary to interpret the text. This does not mean, however, that they would not enjoy the story and the writing style, which is very good indeed. Older children (and adults) would get more from it, however, especially with regard to the reasonably lengthy footnotes covering scientific and background material: I actually applaud the inclusion of these because there are some who may wish to read around the subject matter and this will get them started.

I felt that the book carried more than a few allusions to other authors' works. I can see more than a hint of Terry Pratchett in the pages, not to mention Tolkein. I also kept on detecting a heavy influence from C.S. Lewis and John Bunyan. This did not bother me particularly but was simply intriguing. There is a point in the story where a character actually feels true remorse but it was only by making an act of sacrifice that he manages to escape the bonds of Hell: now, where does that come from, I wonder? Indeed, there are quite a number of references to the nature of evil and good that would appeal to an interested audience.

The real question is whether I would buy this book for a child - or, indeed, recommend it. I think the answer to this is a resounding "yes". The writing is sound, the plot is well constructed, it is genuinely funny writing and there is science education thrown in. In the tradition of many tales, there is also a mirror held up to the nature of life and this is to be applauded.

Oh, and for the adults, there is home-brewed beer!
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on 14 December 2013
In the second book in the series the action takes part in Hell. The descriptions of Hell and the various demons and monsters are very good. It reminded me a bit of The Lord of the Rings only rather better written. There are some very poignant moments such as the part where Samuel and Boswell survive because of the bond they share. There are some very funny bits like the demons making beer, and the dwarfs are great. It is however much darker than The Gates with a lot of gruesome punishments and I think this was why I didn't like it as much.
It may be written for young adults but as a retired woman I'm hooked. I shall definitely read The Creeps.
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on 18 January 2013
Nice to see something different from John Connolly. This is the follow up to 'Hell's Gates' and is just as barking mad as the first one! It's just as fun to read as a grown up as it must be to a child and I'm really looking forward to seeing what other children's books he comes up with in the future.
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on 10 July 2014
Having been a fan of John Connolly since his first Charlie Parker novel I approached the Samuel Johnson books with some trepidation, fearing a new Harry Potter type series. Now that I have read the first two, and cannot wait to read the third in the series, I can but heap praise on the author. These books are funny, dark, exciting and ultimately very satisfying reads. As I read the first two books I couldn't help but think that there is a great series of films just waiting to be made.
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on 15 August 2013
I bought this book not realising that I already had it under a different title,THE INFERNALS. If I had returned the book I would have had to pay the postage and consequently ended up getting only 20p back.
AMAZON should tell customers if books have already been released with a different name.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
John Connolly seems to be trying to tell a story here.
It might even have turned out to be a good story. The
novel revisits territory laid out in his earlier invention
'The Gates', with which I am, admittedly, unfamiliar.

My struggle with the novel rests with Mr Connolly's
persistent, some would say compulsive, interruption of his
own narrative, with asides, parethetical observations and
footnotes which, after a very short while, become irritating
in the extreme. These intrusions are meant, I am certain,
to be both witty and informative but they dislocate the progress
of the adventure to an inordinate and highly frustrating degree.

He laughs at his own jokes and made it impossible for me to laugh
along with him, like an embarrasing uncle at a Christmas party.

It is a shame. Some of his creations, particularly the wicked
Mrs Abernathy and obsequious demon Ozymuth, are well-drawn and
full of potential but are ultimately suffocated by the author's
inability to just let them get on with their dastardly business.

'Hells Bells' is a hugely disappointing experience. Mr Connolly
seems unable to make up his mind what kind of a book he most wants
us to read. A thriller? A comedy? A scientific treatise? By the end
of his ramblings I found that I could not really have cared less.

At your own risk.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I enjoyed this book. It is a very good, well-written adventure story, which is very amusing in places and with a good deal of thoughtful and erudite stuff, too.

This book has a distinct voice of its own, but there are echoes of Terry Pratchett, Radio 4's Old Harry's Game, Tolkien and even Philip Pullman in places. The story, of a young teenage boy with his dog and a motley assortment of friends lost in Hell and trying to prevent its demons invading Earth, got off to a rather slow start and I found some of the humour at the beginning a bit laboured, too. I certainly kept reading, though, and once it got going the book was excellent - very exciting, full of remarkable imagination, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny in places and with some important things to say about good, evil and what it is to be a decent human being.

I thought that the most enduring passages were some Dante-esque encounters which Samuel (our hero) has with people in Hell being punished for their sins by being forced to live them out for all eternity. I found his encounter with the Void very powerful and the episode with The Blacksmith genuinely moving. To include all this in such a gripping and amusing story is quite something, and I think this book will appeal to older children and adults alike. Warmly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'd never heard of the author so was surprised by the blurb about how much he's sold.

I enjoyed the tone of the book which reminded me of Douglas Adams - talking directly to the reader in an observational manner with bits of humor added. But it wasn't overly sarcastic and I liked the fact that these communications took the form of footnotes - not at all difficult to read, they connected nicely to imply the style of a science book...Which was convenient as there are sporadic modern scientific theories mentioned accurately as part of the plot...That is not to say this is in anyway 'educational' it just that the science mentioned is (currently) correct; and I like that very much in a book, especially one aimed at young people.

To be honest the only reason this is a 'young persons' book is that the lead character is a 13 year old boy. There are few other concessions and as such if you are a willing adult you should get as much out of this as the next 'young' person.

Really engaging from the offset, easy to pick up when you've been distracted by life getting in the way of reading. I would happily read the next one in the series - although I'm not sure there would be any point in reading the previous one other than purely for enjoyment as the plot outcome is known.
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VINE VOICEon 14 April 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As is always the case with John Connolly, regardless of whether the book is targeted at adults or children, his stories are engaging. I loved the first children's book The Gates that Connolly wrote. The character of Nurd had me in stitches of laughter, and this book again didn't disappoint. I have to admit, it's a little slow to get going, and all the foot notes tend to be a little distracting. Whatever the case, this story didn't disappoint, nor did the characters.

I'd say this book is for children and big kids alike. With the same writing style as his Bird Parker books, all characters are brought to life and really make the story worth reading.
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