Friday 31 May 2013

The Humans - M's review

The Humans by Matt Haig
Reviewed by M

There’s really nothing like being alien that gets you thinking about home and who you are.

The Humans by Matt HaigForty-three year old Mathematics professor, Andrew Martin, has made a world changing mathematical discovery. This results in his swift abduction by outergalactic alien hosts. Believing humans to be inherently and undeniably violent and greedy, an alien from Vonnadoria is sent to earth as Martin’s physical replacement, his main task being to wipe out any proof or knowledge of the discovery. Narrated by the alien, The Humans is his evidential report about what it is to be human.

The Humans is a compelling and relatively light read that makes you smile more than anything else. Without giving much away and while there is death and destruction, this is a feelgood novel (at least, it was for me but depending on where your headspace is currently situated, you might feel differently).

From the first page, this is a funny book that you know is going to include a fair amount of wryly observed human navel-gazing. My gut (rather than mathematical) instinct sees The Humans as a tenderised cross between The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a David Lodge novel and Baz Luhrmann’s song Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. Little M thought the premise sounded like the film, Meet Dave. If you like any of those, you’ll probably enjoy The Humans.

The main niggle I have is that I didn’t really connect with any of the characters – I’m not sure if this is the point (emotion-free narrator) or if it’s linked to Haig’s style/the novel’s voice. The other thing that might have affected this is that I read this novel on an e-reader (I know, gasp! More about that below).

I’d highly recommend it. Suitable for any reader who can handle the f word and light sexual references.

These two videos both say a lot about The Humans:
The Humans Book trailer featuring Advice For a Human:


 Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen

About the e-reading:
I’ve never read anything on an e-reader. I’ve read plenty of non-fiction onscreen, but never fiction. So this was a first. Quite fitting that it was The Humans that smacked the champagne over this virgin voyage! My experience of reading The Humans was not too dissimilar from the Vonnadorian visitor’s experience on earth. I had to relearn how to turn a page. Plenty of mishaps. And I lost my page. Had to flick back to the beginning because my memory of the first event has been mysteriously wiped. Only, this wasn’t paper so it didn’t flick. But, I finished it and I even cried (slightly) once.

·        A flow of advice for being human is dispensed throughout. I think live in the present because it’s fleeting  and essential was a strong thread in the novel.
·        Rather than a number (prime or anything else) the alien narrator concludes that love is the basis of being human.


Publication details: 9 May 2013, Canongate, Edinburgh, hardback
This copy: digital proof received from the publisher for review

Thursday 30 May 2013

Teri Terry chat

Heads up: Teri Terry reveals her next book title!
(plus a book giveaway)

Teri Terry reveals Shattered as her next title following Slated and Fractured. Slated won the Leeds Book Award.Last Thursday, I had the good fortune of whiling away a morning with Teri Terry as she bit down on her nails, feeling all anxious about the Leeds Book Award announcement later in the day. Her book, Slated, was in the running for it.

She told me she was shattered. She didn’t look it. She was as bright and fresh as a daisy and full of gleeful bounce. As well she should have been because Slated went on to win the day in the age 14-16 category! Congrats to Teri. Little M and I both loved Slated. It’s a really thoughtful dystopian (Teri doesn’t like that term but I do!) that continues in the sequel, Fractured.

Teri spoke to me about growing up with an airforce father, which meant she got to live all over beautiful Canada – and especially Vancouver Island (phew, none of my tourist illusions shattered!). She also lived in Sydney, which as a tourist, I’d loved visiting: going to Manley on the ferry – we both had good memories about that! But, an upside is that living in Australia has cured any fears of English spiders that Teri may have harboured. There’s nothing quite like the Aussie beasties to do that for you! Teri now lives in England with her husband.

We also chatted about publishing and the editing process. Teri’s busy doing the edits on the third book in her Slated trilogy. Teri told me a secret about this. I promised not to tell anyone except Little M. Teri Terry is one of her favourite authors and her world would have been shattered if I’d left her out of the loop. She was already feeling a bit battered about having to miss meeting Teri!

To make up for it, Teri signed Little M’s copies of Slated and Fractured, and answered a couple of questions too:

Little M: Can you remember what book got you into reading?

Teri: I've been an avid reader since I was tiny, so I can't remember if there was a particular book from way back then that really got me into reading. I can remember a picture book that I must have had read to me over and over - Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag - I can still remember some of the lines now (hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats!). Books that really stick out in my mind after that - Lord of the Rings. I read this over and over again. And I really loved Anne McCaffrey's Pern books.

Little M: When you found out that your book was going to be published, what did you do?

Teri: I was very happy! There was definitely some celebrating going on. But there was also this part of me that didn't believe it. Until I actually got the book in my hands and knew nobody was going to change their minds, I kept feeling like someone was going to tap me on the shoulder any minute, and say, 'sorry, it was all a mistake'.

And now, today’s the day where Teri’s said I can spill the beans to the world. Have you spotted it yet?

The title for the next book in the series is.........

Read our reviews of the first two books, Slated and Fractured.
Win a copy of Fractured!
To win a copy of Fractured:
leave a comment on this blog post
e-mail us with FRACTURED as the subject title - wesatdown2 (at) gmail (dot) com.
Entries close on Friday 7th June 2013.
Open to UK and Europe only.

Fractured by Teri Terry

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Half Lives - M's review

Half Lives by Sara Grant
Reviewed by M

I think my teen self would have devoured Half Lives.

Half Lives is an interweaved apocalyptic story moving between the present and the future. A terrorist virus threatens the world and teenaged Icie’s only hope of survival is an old nuclear-waste bunker in a desert mountain just outside Las Vegas. Skip many years forward and a new community, Forreal, find that their defensive, post-apocalyptic life is under threat.

Half Lives by Sara Grant
Half Lives by Sara Grant
The chapters move from Icie’s first person narrative which is written in the present to third person accounts from Forreal, set in the future. Icie’s contemporary teen account reads at first like a ‘get down with the teens’ voice. Soz. But it is the third-person accounts about Forreal that take this even further.

The Forreal community lives on a mountain and worships The Great I AM.  They have a sacred space, rules and sacred texts. They are passive and believe in peace. They have a number of Just Sayings which remind me of the Gods Gardeners’ Hymns in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.

At first, the social media references were slightly irritating for me. It sounds like it’s been crafted for a timebound teen audience who will delight in seeing themselves on the pages. But I stuck with it and I’m glad I did. I think it worked (although it would be interesting to re-read in a few years' time).

The lingo is really an essential ‘point’ of the book: how words, culture, symbols and other forms of communication travel across time and place. Have you ever played Chinese Whispers or Broken Telephone? It’s a bit like that. For me, this was the aspect of the novel that stood out most - and the bit that I enjoyed. While being a very serious novel, it also becomes an interesting and fun parody of contemporary teen behaviour and their reliance on social media (adults too, of course!).  At some points, the novel might well be asking whether there is any real depth to contemporary life? This is a question that the plot may raise for individual readers and one that the narrative leaves them free to work out for themselves. There is no right or wrong in this novel.

When I think of Sara Grant, I immediately think of human rights. She’s shared platforms with Amnesty International and her first novel, Dark Parties (which I have not read), has been endorsed by them.  She also helped to set up the Edge authors blog and so I expected that she would most likely be tackling big or controversial issues and that Half Lives would be gritty. Big issues yes. Gritty, in its issues and the plot – yes, but not in the way it is written.

The novel has many other themes which are prominent throughout the plot:
  • Nuclear power and waste are central to the plot although it didn’t have as much impact on my thoughts as I thought it would/should.
  • Faith, particularly a religious faith: where it comes from, what it does and why we hold on to it.
  • How individuals respond to disasters: not natural disasters but human-made disasters. With whom do we bond in these times and against whom do we separate or even attack? How much do we know or understand before we make a decision? Should we act or not? It’s about human agency.
  • Who and what are terrorists? Is it anyone who is 'not us'? Anyone who is ‘out there’?
 Characterwise, I didn’t feel any great connections to any of them. I should have because, of course, not everyone in an apocalyptic novel survives...!  Ironically, I sometimes found myself asking: “is this for real?” However, on the whole, the plot is highly believable (although  the possible love triangle storyline confused me and the situation Forreal finds itself in felt a bit too fabricated).

While Half Lives addresses some controversial topics, I finished the book with a warm smile on my face. Fans of Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood may enjoy this as the ways symbols and stories carry over time are central to both novels. Fans of Saci Lloyd might also enjoy Half Lives as Sara Grant adopts a stylised teen voice to take on very big topical and interesting issues about the world in which we currently live. I would happily recommend this to any teen reader. It is an issues book but it is also an easy and page-turning read combined with an exciting and thought-provoking plot.

Publication details: Indigo, May 2013, London, trade paperback
This copy: received for review from the publisher


Spoilerish reminders and thoughts:
  • The origins of the Great I AM were wonderfully more substantial than my cynically flippant view of teenage selfhood had imagined!
  • Have fun spotting the links between the present and the future. Especially name spotting: the names of the Forreal people are all taken from To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper, Finch, Atti, Cal, Dill, (May), and Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett).
  • As characters, Greta and Atti seemed little more than plot devices – other readers, especially teens, may view this differently.


Monday 27 May 2013

Day in the Life...of a book publicist

It's the month of May and we love YA - that's what Headline Publishing have been shouting from the rooftops (or book blogs!) this past month. We love all sorts and are delighted to let them shout it all out here today by giving us the lowdown on a book publicist's life and books she likes: welcome Vero Norton!
A Day in the Life with Vero
"I am Vero and I am a publicist at Headline.

Vero Norton book publicist at Headline

 First things first, at the start of the day – I make myself a cup of tea. Usually in an oversized vat-like mug so that it will tide me over for a while and help me forget the usually fraught cycle to work.

Next (once I feel slightly more human after the caffeine hit kicks in) I meet and greet my lovely Publicity colleagues. The team comprises half a dozen of us, though the nature of the job means that morning meetings, events, author tours etc etc take us away from our desk and publicity corner can be bereft of chatter at times.

Next, the inbox is opened like Pandora’s Box. Kidding! Sort of.

Each publicist looks after a wide range of titles so emails cover a spectrum of topics and come from many different sources such as journalists, booksellers, event organisers, authors, bloggers. They could be anything from ‘would xxx like to come and do an afternoon tea event in xxxx’ to ‘could xxx come and talk about the role of the female in politics’ or ‘What is the next Andrew Hammond novel’ to ‘Would you like another cup of tea*’ *this sort of email is only ever sent from my lovely tea-minded buddy Sam.

As well as answering pitches, there are a lot of pitches to be done to get publicity for our fab authors and lots of suggesting and organising author events.

The mid-morning dip is often filled with another cuppa and then there might be meetings in the office or out and about in the wider world.

On days when we are out with authors we could be anywhere – a school event in Crawley; a food festival in Bishop Auckland; a Girls Night In event in Plymouth or an afternoon tea in the middle of the countryside. Variety is the spice of life and I think it’s fair to say the job of a publicist is especially spicy. I love this job!

Fave YA

My favourite YA book is a tough call. So I’m going to cheat and pick two. Can I do that? I’m gonna.

An oldie but a goodie – The Enemy by Charlie Higson. What a book! Ever wondered what might happen if a deadly disease decided to make its mark on the UK wiping out anyone over the age of 14, killing them dead, or worse, turning them in to staggering zombies, oozing with puss and a passion for revenge. Wonder no more – this is exactly the ghoulish world the Young Bond author creates.

This is the first of the series and introduces us to the brilliant characters that Higson deftly creates (Little Sam’s my fave). The action’s all set in London: there’re battles, there’re brooding teens, there’re famous buildings filled with danger and even a little romance thrown into the mix. Just a little mind, Higson doesn’t let the mushy stuff get in the way of the fighting.

Next up is a YA book I’ve recently read: Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. Quick is the mastermind behind the book that was made into the film called The Silver Linings Playbook which scooped up lots of awards a couple of months ago. We meet Leonard on his 18th birthday. Unusually instead of receiving presents, Leonard has his own to give, and each of these has its own story to tell. Brilliantly written, painstakingly sad and dark in parts but at the same time laugh out loud funny. You can meet Leonard yourselves when the book’s published in August. It is worth the wait!"

Oo, Little M liked Charlie Higson's SilverFin (Young Bond). And, we haven't read the book but quite enjoyed The Silver Linings Playbook movie.


Thursday 23 May 2013

Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope - Little M's review

Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope by Cendrine Wolf and Anne Plichota
Review by Little M

Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope is a fantastic novel. You would never guess that it was translated from French. Yes, I know that may seem strange because why would anyone want to translate a French novel when you have millions of other books already in English? But, it's definitely worth it.

Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope translated into English by Sue RoseThe novel is about the Pollock family and their daughter, Oksa, who finds out her family come from somewhere that's not on maps or known by ordinary people. She realises that she can fly, move objects without touching them and produce fireballs from her hands, which is not what teenagers normally do! Oksa's gran creates weird ointments and remedies and her math's teacher is not quite what she thinks he is. Whilst living her life in the French speaking English school, her family are trying to get back to their world, which they have been trapped out of.

I loved this book and I really hope they translate more of this series because it had me totally hooked.

All the characters are believable but I think some of them can be a bit cheesy. My favourite character is Oksa's best friend, Gus. Gus was adopted and he has no special powers but Oksa makes sure he is never left out which is really nice. He is also incredibly brave!

I think the funniest things in this novel are the plants and creatures that Oksa's gran keeps. I will not say anymore about them because it will be a spoiler!

The style is brilliant but I won't go into much about that because it is translated. But the translation is really good.

Altogether, this is a fabulous novel which makes me want to read more by Cendrine Wolf and Anne Plichota. I can't wait for the next one! Whoo hoo!

Publication details: Pushkin Press, 4 June 2013, London, hardback, translated from French bySue Rose
This copy: Uncorrected proof received for review

Wednesday 22 May 2013

8 one line reviews - Little M

Here are eight one line reviews of books that Little M has read this year but has not reviewed.

Covers for Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce, A World Between Us by Lydia Syson, Bluefish by Pat Schmatz, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Hold On by Alan Gibbons and Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Cosmic - John Cottrell Boyce
Very funny; good book; love how a boy looks like a 30 year old.

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
Dystopian; I liked it; very good; would like to read the rest of the trilogy.

Love Ya Babe - Chris Higgins (not pictured)
Funny book though I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did.

Hold On - Alan Gibbons
A very emotional book which shows friendship and how serious bullying is. Excellent

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat - Dave Shelton
I found it too young for me, so I didn’t like it that much, the sea monster ruined it. An okay book

A World Between Us - Lydia Syson
A very thought provoking book, it is set in the Spanish Civil war and when you read it you learn a lot. An excellent, excellent book.

Now for Bluefish and A Monster Calls.......



Bluefish - Pat Schmatz
Very sad, it made me cry when the dog died; a very, very good novel.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Extremely sad, made me cry at the end when his mum passes away.

Monday 20 May 2013

Railsea - M's review

Railsea by China Mieville
Reviewed by M

Railsea is a swashbuckling adventure about a boy who is an apprentice doctor on a moletrain pummelling across the railsea in search of monster-sized, human-eating moles. You’ll meet captains in search of philosophies, marauding pirates in search of treasures, orphans in search of answers, monstrous underground creatures, and a boy in search of something. Plus, the novel is a playful metafiction.  Railsea is a cavorting frolic and I enjoyed it immensely.

Railsea by China Mieville
Railsea by China Mieville
From page one (atually three), Mieville, or the narrator, or both, are playing with you, the reader. He makes it clear that this is metafiction: a story about a story. Throughout Railsea, the narrator pauses the story to talk to you. I love this but as the novel progresses, it becomes infuriating.

All along, I had the feeling that the narrator was smiling and chuckling – at me, at himself and at his characters. He likes his main character, Sham ap Saroop. He likes Captain Naphi with all her multiple flaws. Indeed, I think he likes many of his characters and there are some interesting relationships between Sham and a number of other characters: Daybe the daybat, Naphi and Caldera.

As with most fantasised fiction, Mieville’s world building is taxing on readers (especially those of us more accustomed to more realist fiction). Forget ships and water waves, here we have trains on tracks traversing a sea of rails. The names of the characters are a mouthful too. Sham ap Saroop is our lovely main character.

Of course, Mieville also plays with language and style. Mieville uses plenty of made-up words in a made-up world. He also throws in lots of not made-up words that were challenging enough for me to have a dictionary close at hand. He uses ampersands (&) in sentences instead of using ‘and’.  You might ask why the ampersands. I did. Of course, they’re not there just for fun. They signify a concept. I think there’s usually a reason behind everything in Railsea – even if it’s just to have a laugh  - or even just ‘why not’?

I loved the way Mieville personifies ideas. In Railsea, a major one for me was ‘chasing your philosophy’. Anyone who’s ever been searching for ‘the one’ or who devoutly follows a hobby, lifestyle or interest will recognise themselves in these pages.  Academics and fisherwo-men especially. And if you’re neither of these, you’re sure to recognise someone you know.

Thematically, the novel also carries many underlying thoughts about nation-states and governance in a time of capitalism, and possibly about the end of the world and the afterlife. In some ways, it is a bit of a steampunk dystopia. There is no gender stereotyping in Railsea (and I’ve marked it as one for the ‘feminist’ fiction list). Animal cruelty is a strong thread in the novel. Storywise, if you’ve read Moby Dick or Treasure Island (I haven’t read either), I've heard you may spot overlaps.

A few years ago I tried to read Kraken by China Mieville, one of his adult novels. I couldn’t get into it: it was a bit too horrific in its detail for me. Likewise, this YA cover for Railsea and its plot are everything that I avoid reading. Zero appeal. But, everything else about Mieville that appeals to me is in there and the story took me way beyond its cover and the surface of the plot.

Wonderful and highly recommended for fun-loving and curious readers of any age.
China Mieville author of Railsea
China Mieville

Publication details: April 2013, Pan Books, London, paperback (first published in hardback, May 2012)
This copy: YA paperback edition received for review from the publisher

Thursday 16 May 2013

Transparent - Little M's review

Transparent by Natalie Whipple

Transparent is set in a world where everyone has some sort of superpower. During a war, a drug was created to give you a superpower. Many people wanted to keep it so as time went on their children were born with powers. Then, the first invisible human was born.
Cover for Transparent by Natalie Whipple
Transparent by Natalie Whipple
Fiona McClean is anything but an ordinary teenager; she is invisible, works as a thief for her father and gets almost everything she wants. But there is one thing she really wants: she wants to leave her father and start a normal life without him. Fiona and her Mum run away and start a new life in a small town somewhere in America. She starts school for the first time and meets a boy who has a secret which he won’t tell anyone, not even her. Fiona struggles to hide from her cruel brother who has come to take her back to her father but is she right about him? Is he all so bad?

I read this book during our 24 hour read-a-thon so I may have missed out some sub plots or important details. However, that shows that this book is a page turner because it kept me awake during the night.

I really enjoyed this book because I liked the sci-fi aspect and the small romance. It is an easy read so lots of teens might love it.

I would definitely recommend this book to teens but maybe not much younger than Year 7 due to the fact that the main character is a teen, there is a bit of swearing and also some of the issues e.g. romantic relationships which are aimed at older people.
The publishers' Hot Key Ring has given Transparent around 40% Superpowers, around 30% Romance and around 30% Kick-Ass. Personally I think the term “Kick-Ass” is not helpful because you can interpret it in many different ways like "awesome" or “I’m going to kick your ass” so you could think the book has something in it but then it doesn’t. I wouldn’t put that term on the back of the cover. Instead, I’d put Crime (thieving crime). I think Superpowers should be around 60% and Romance 20%.

Hot Key Books' Hot Key ring for Transparent by Natalie Whipple
Hot Key Ring showing content in the novel Transparent

Publication details: Hot Key Books, 16 May 2013, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof received from the publishers for review purposes

Tuesday 14 May 2013

We sat down for a chat...with Richard Kurti

Monkey Wars is a compelling story about warring monkey troops in the streets of Kolkata, India. More than this, it is a fable exploring power, moralities and histories. We're delighted to have asked its author, Richard Kurti, a few questions. 
Park Street Cemetry. Inspiration for the setting of Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti. Photo courtesy of Melissa Enderle.
Cemetery that inspired the setting for Monkey Wars. Photo copyright Melissa Enderle
M: Can you tell me more about the notion that we create partial histories and truths?

Richard Kurti: Absolutely. I think we’re constantly creating narratives to justify our actions. It’s how we survive, but it’s also how we delude ourselves, and it seems to be one of the mechanisms by which malign regimes hold sway over entire populations of ordinary, well-meaning people.

M: So much teen fiction is currently written in the first person. Why did you choose to use an omniscient third-person narrator?

RK: This is closely linked to the previous question. In the course of the story, the central character makes the dangerous jump from one narrative to another. In order to dramatise this, I wanted to try and show competing world views from the very first page.

The idea was to get under the skin of each character, argue passionately for their point of view, then set them all against each other in the dramatic arena to see what happened.

I was trying to show that there is some truth in each of these competing points of view; if I’d been writing in the first person, I wouldn’t have had the flexibility to do this.

M: Perhaps coincidence, but the names Hani and Castro ring bells for me...Are any of the characters based on historical figures (in the way that Animal Farm did)?

RK: The novel was inspired by numerous historical situations, from Hitler’s rise to power, to the collapse of the Iron Curtain, to the Arab Spring.

The reason I wrote about monkeys though, was that by going one step back up the evolutionary tree I could write about all these situations by writing directly about none of them. It’s the great opportunity afforded by a fable. So the characters are based on amalgams of real historical figures, rather than particular individuals.

Naming the monkeys was tricky; I was aiming at something that was exotic without trying too hard to be different. At the moment, the book is being translated into Japanese – it’ll be interesting to see how the names change!

M: Monkey Wars has inspired me to go back and read some of the political texts that (some of us!) barely skimmed in Politics 101. Are there any political or philosophical theorists/writers that Richard thinks young teens would find inspiring?’

RK: What a great idea! I think you’ve just identified a real gap in the market: an accessible book about political philosophy that could inspire younger readers. With all the apathy and cynicism there is about politics, this would be a terrific project.

For Monkey Wars, all my research was based on undergraduate texts which young teens might find too dry, things like Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, or for the military strategy, John Boyd’s lecture series.
Richard Kurti, author of Monkey Wars.
Richard Kurti, author of Monkey Wars.
You can read M's review of Monkey Wars here.
Richard Kurti has also worked in screenwriting for film and television. You can find out more about him here.

Updated 9th June 2013: here's a sneak peak at the Monkey Wars book trailer - and you have to make a choice!


Monday 13 May 2013

Monkey Wars - M's review

Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti
Reviewed by M

Monkey Wars was a refreshing read, quite different to many other novels that I’ve read recently.

Monkey Wars by Richard KurtiAt first glance, it is a story about monkey troops in Kolkata, India. When humans feel threatened by the mischievous Rhesus monkeys, they bring in the Langur monkeys to get rid of them. Or so the story goes....From here on, it becomes a territorial war between monkey troops. The story focuses on Mico, a young Langur monkey who is small and thinks a lot about what he sees and thinks is going on. And at some point, he has to decide which side he is on – and there are many sides.

At second glance, Monkey Wars is a fable and explores many questions about power, politics and moral decision-making. But it’s also an urban war story packed full of action, gore, military strategy, loyalties and loves, spying and insurgency.

Being a fable, monkeys and their behavioural characteristics (and ways of marking territory!) are part of the plot but they are also humanised for the sake of storytelling. At times, you recognise it’s a monkey (e.g. defecating to mark territory) but at other times, I easily imagined it was human characters. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to this idea but after that I was really into the story and it was quite page-turning. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself rooting for any particular monkey! Mico was one of my favourites, but also Papina and Hister.

Initially, the timescale of the novel seems to be a matter of days but then I realised that it became months and then most definitely years – at least a lot of monkey years (what’s that in human years?). In this sense, it’s a long story told over much of a lifetime.

The novel is divided into three parts. Part two was my favourite. The ending, for me, was slightly disappointing because it came together a bit too easily. However, it brought most threads together – and there were quite a few. The ending definitely leaves with you with a lot to think about where and how the characters who survive might end up. It might make you think about wars and situations that you know about in real life too.

Monkey Wars re-inspired me.  As much as it is a story about power, politics and war, it is also a story about how we create and use history – or rather, histories. How much of our history do we really know? Which parts have we not been told? Which parts have been colourfully embroidered or dulled? And of course, who did the telling? In Monkey Wars, the narrator is omniscient (third-person and all-knowing). I wonder if this was to give us the sense that the whole truth was being told and not just the truth from Mico or Papina or Tyrell’s point of view (author Richard Kurti tells me his reasons tomorrow)? And of course, was there anything important that the narrator may have left out?

Issues touched upon in the novel include power, politics, tyranny, strategy, genocide, war and refugees. I particularly liked the refugees aspect. I would highly recommend this novel to teens. It would likely appeal to anyone who wants to read about war, action, history, and/or ideas. And maybe monkeys. It is recommended for readers aged 11+ but I would say that younger, confident and mature readers would enjoy this novel too (note, there are some graphically violent scenes).

Monkey Wars made me (as an adult) think about:
  • How many times and places this story could be about
  • How the lives of animals (or even other groups of people) can go on around us/me and we don’t even notice. Or if we do, we don’t see them as part of a whole intricate life and social network.
  • George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Publication details: 2 May 2013, Walker, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publisher
Watch out for M's interview with Monkey Wars' author, Richard Kurti.

Thursday 9 May 2013

The Dog Stars - M's review

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Adult fiction review

The Dog Stars was shortlisted for the 2013 Arthur C Clarke Award which annually awards the best science fiction novel in Britain.

I really, really enjoyed this book from the moment I started reading it.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, UK paperback cover editionThe Dog Stars is about a forty year old man called Hig. He lives with his dog Jasper, a man called Bangley, and the Beast, his Cessna plane. Jasper is his best and beloved friend, Hig is partial to the Beast and he despises Bangley. Everyone and everything else they have known has been wiped out by viruses (including Hig's beloved Melissa): the world-as-they-knew-it has ended. There are few survivors, a lot of shortages, and a lot of unknowns. Not an original post-apocalyptic scenario yet still a scary and strangely fascinating one.

Hig is lamenting. Lamenting all that he has lost. Lamenting all that he has and what he has become – if you see something moving, kill it. No questions asked. Do not negotiate. And lamenting the future. Does he dare to change its seemingly inevitable course? This is a story about whether you dare to rename the stars - and then follow them. To boldy go...or not.

It is a compelling and quick read. I even interrupted my reading of another novel (by an established author whose books I enjoy a lot) to read this one. I loved Heller’s writing style, particularly in the first chapter. Short truncated sentences. Ellipses. This is stream of consciousness writing that I could readily understand and beautifully conveys the narrator’s immediate thought processes. It lets you get right inside his head and by the third page I had to put the book down and let the tears flow. Clearly, it hit a nerve.

For an apocalyptic novel, there’s an interesting mix of this being an action, adventure, masculinised novel and an introspective, emotional and relationship novel. In a weird sort of way, I found this exciting: a bit like I was going somewhere I’d never been before with the feminist in me sounding occasional alarm bells yet at the same time rushing forward with the story. If ever there was something that epitomises a man getting in touch with his feminine side (if you think there is such a thing), I think The Dog Stars achieves this. It’s a highly believable novel.

Book One was my favourite part of the novel although Book Two and Three surprised me. There are a few predictable ways the story could have gone. I think it was predictable – but not in the way I’d have predicted.

I thought there was good characterisation for all of the characters: there aren’t many but you have a good sense of who they are even for those characters who only make cameo appearances. I was able to empathise (and like) almost all of the characters (definitely barring one and maybe two). This really is a book about the essence of humanity (at both its worst and its best). Some of the behaviours and thoughts of the characters are really crude and base (and that’s probably exactly how some of them would be). There is a lot of killing in this book and themes of cannibalism but it is also the best kind of love story. In many ways this is a brutal book but based on my reading of The Dog Stars, the UK paperback cover (pictured) is spot on. Sublime.

Spoilerish thoughts

Without giving too much plot away, I was afraid to read this book. I thought it was going to shock me and leave me in despair. Parts of it shocked me. It did not leave me in despair.

The representation of women in the novel:
As a feminist, I did enjoy this book, I would highly recommend it and think that it does challenge sexist behaviour. However, from a gendered analysis, women characters are seen as needing protection and there was some traditionally heteronormative gender stereotyping, e.g. hysterical women and caring women. While heavily challenged, there is still some portrayal of woman as sexual objects. However, the overall point is that Hig is not Bangley.

Publication details: Headline Review, London, paperback publication: 9 May 2013, originally published in hardback 2012
This copy: paperback edition received from the publisher for review

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Judging a Carnegie book by its cover - and then changing it

Book covers change all the time and for lots of reasons. It's interesting to see that some of the covers for the Carnegie 2013 shortlist have been changed. We've had a look (and we also have a giveaway featuring one of them with its new cover)....

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Previous cover
We didn't like this cover.

Little M: looks boring
Daddy Cool: thought Marcus Sedgwick was the book's title
M: didn't like the girl in a nightgown with her head cropped off; didn't think it reflected the multi-layered narrative very well.

The new cover
Little M: I prefer the old cover.
M: It looks wonderful and I thinks it suits the story much better. You can read M' s review of Midwinterblood here.
We have 2 copies with the new cover to giveaway. See end of this post for details.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Previous cover
Little M: It's cool; the falling plane with a bloodstained cloud.
M: It looks cliched - but I like it, the grey and the red, the lipstick circle

The new cover
Little M: I prefer the old cover. The new one looks too modern for the time period of the book's setting. The photo of the girl makes you think one of the characters looks like that and you might have imagined her different.

In Darkness by Nick Lake
Previous cover (hardback)
M loved the hardcover version. It looks like a piece of art and seems to take a lot of inspiration from Haiti and African influenced art. The new cover is also nice and probably reflects the main character, Shorty, in a more contemporary way than the previous cover.
Little M: It's okay but a bit too busy. I often don't like bright yellow on book covers.

New cover (paperback)
Little M: I prefer the new one. I like the boy's realistic looking face rather than the drawn silhouette.
M: I like this cover too. I find both covers appealing.

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
Previous cover (hardback)
We didn't like the hardback cover for this novel, which is the copy we have. For us, it was confusing because it's a bit messy; looks like it's trying to be old-fashioned but isn't; looks weirdly like the print is out of register and is difficult to read the way it's blended into the design; not fond of that shade of yellow and it's too bright. However, the new cover is quite appealing and M thinks it reflects the story in a way that will appeal to a younger readership who will enjoy the story most.

The new cover (paperback)
(note: this is not the cover on the Carnegie site)
Little M: I prefer this one because it is not as jumbled so it's easier to see what's happening in the picture. I like the silhouettes. But, the author's name is way too big because it makes you think that Roddy Doyle is the name of the book.

M: I prefer the new cover. Yes, it looks very much like a Michael Morpurgo cover and is startling similar to Soldier Dog (another longlisted title this year) but I think it suggest more about the story, especially the greyhound's transparency. That is clever.

Midwinterblood Giveaway - UK only
There are 2 copies of Midwinterblood featuring the new cover up for grabs!
- To enter, please e-mail wesatdown2 (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject line MIDWINTERBLOOD
OR leave a comment and a way for us to contact you for your address (if you win).
- If you are younger than 13, please get parental permission to enter.
- This giveaway closes on Sunday 19 May 2013.
- 2 winners will be picked at random and will be contacted by e-mail.
- UK postal addresses only.

You can read M's review of Midwinterblood here.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Lost Worlds - Little M's review

Lost Worlds by Andrew Lane
Review by Little M

Lost Worlds by Andrew LaneCalum Challenger was in a car crash which killed his parents and paralysed his legs. He is about sixteen and lives alone in a flat with a great amount of inheritance money. Calum never goes out and the one thing he hates most  is a wheelchair. He hates the name, the chair itself; he hates anything to do with it. When Gecko, a teenage boy crashes through one of Calum’s skylights, they immediately become friends. College student, Tara, is hacking into Calum’s website about animals that aren’t discovered. He sends Gecko to find her. In his high-tech apartment Calum directs a team on a journey into dangerous lands to get some DNA for him to try and cure his paralysed legs.
Lost Worlds was a brilliant, superb, action adventure novel. I definitely recommend this novel to action-adventure readers. It is fast paced so you never get bored.

My favourite character is Gecko. Gecko is the cool boy who free-runs. Free running is where you run across roofs/buildings without anything to catch you if you fall. He also comes up with awesome ideas and he can think on his feet!

The style of writing is not too difficult but also not too easy. It’s a nice style. One that makes you want to read on! When the second novel comes out I so want to read it!

Lost Worlds made me think about animals or beings that may not have been discovered. It really does make you think.

Andrew Lane is also the author of Young Sherlock Holmes.

Publication details: Macmillan Children’s, 25 April 2013, London, paperback
This copy: received for review from the publisher