Friday, 16 September 2011

Blog Tour: Review of The Last Seal by Richard Denning

(Standard disclaimer: Received in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

In 1380 the warlock Stephen Blake released the demon Dantalion from the Abyss, only for his nemesis Cornelius Silver to banish him straight away. Dantalion has nursed his wounds for nearly 300 years – and in 1666, descendants of the original pair clash as he aims to return to the world, and burn down London by starting the Great Fire. While the fire rages around London, and Dantalion’s followers try to break the seals which hold him in the Abyss, four unlikely heroes join forces to stop them from being destroyed – and to save the world.

The main characters, those four heroes, are a schoolboy called Ben from the renowned Westminster School, and a young thief, Freya. They’re helped by a bookseller Gabriel, who’s one of the secret society that Silver belonged to, and Dr Tobias Janssen, who thirsts for revenge on Dantalion’s latest would-be-releaser, Artemas. The opposition, along with various disposable henchmen, consists of Dantalion, Artemas, and Matthias, a crazed preacher.

It’s a fairly small cast in many ways, although there are plenty of minor parts, but that works well because the characters are all really well developed, particularly Ben, who it quickly becomes clear has a murky past. Denning does a fantastic job of drawing out the background behind his main protagonist, and the camaraderie that builds up between he, Freya, Gabriel and Tobias.

When I first got my hands on it last year in hardback, this was the second of Richard Denning's books that I read and while I've since also really enjoyed Yesterday's Treasures, the follow-up to the excellent Tomorrow's Guardian, this is definitely my favourite of his works. As with his other books, there's fast and furious action, great dialogue - the revision since the hardback has notably improved this - and the characterisation is particularly strong in this one. Denning also has a real thirst for historical knowledge and this certainly shines through in his books, with his descriptions of London in 1666 making you feel as if you were in the middle of the raging fire. It’s the kind of book which I can see lots of parents and teachers buying for children to get them more interested in history – I think some young readers might pick up a lot about the 1660’s as they read it. There’s also some interesting cameos from real historical figures, including Charles II, Samuel Pepys, and Richard Busby, the real headmaster of Westminster at this time. All of them are vividly realized in extremely short appearances.

Tantalisingly, this is now being marketed as book one of the Praesidium series - I'll definitely be on board for book 2! Oh, and before that, it looks like we're getting the third in the author's excellent Hourglass Institute series next year - happy times indeed for fans of historical fiction.

For more about The Last Seal, check out the rest of Richard's fantastic blog tour - details here.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Monday Musings: Review of Lia's Guide To Winning The Lottery by Keren David

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Lia is obsessed with a guy called Raf who barely seems to know she exists. She has a sister who's got some problems at school, a mother who never seems to stop nagging... and an £8 million lottery ticket in her pocket. Suddenly, she's a lot more popular with her family and friends - but is winning the riches on offer all that it's cracked up to be?

I'm a massive fan of both When I Was Joe and the sequel Almost True, both by Keren David, and this latest from the same author didn't disappoint. That said, it's extremely different - much lighter than the two thrillers David has written for teens, as we instead explore Lia's friends and family's reaction to her winning, her pursuit of Raf, and how she copes with the fame that accompanies her win. Lia is a really interesting heroine - to start off with I found her slightly unlikeable, but as we grow to know her better we see that there are plenty of positive things about her. It's also interesting to note the way she pursues Raf, and to compare her behaviour and attitude to those of some of the similarly wealthy youngsters she meets when she takes a short break. It's certainly an easier read than the previous two books by David - which were heartstopping at times - but it has its own serious issues to raise, as the author skewers our attitudes to celebrity, friendship, sex, and gambling. As always with David, the supporting characters are uniformly strong - I particularly liked Lia's kid sister, her friend Jack, and his overbearing mother.

Overall this is a strong recommendation to everyone, particularly fans of David's writing style who are interested to see her tackle a very different theme.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Friday Feature: Five Recent Books Boys Will Love

I haven’t done any Friday features for ages, so thought I’d give one a try. This is partly inspired by the recent discussion about the lack of books aimed at boys in the YA market today – believe me, there are some out there! In many cases I’ve raved about these books several times before – but they’re so wonderful that I can’t leave them out! Order is alphabetical by book/series title as there’s no way I could split them.

1. The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan – Gripping, scary as hell, and utterly, chillingly, believable, this ‘stranger danger’ tale would in lesser hands be one of the ‘’simplistic problem novels that read like after-school specials’’ mentioned in this NYT article. With Kalhan writing it, the end result couldn’t be further away. An incredible lead character in Sam, a plot packed with suspense and action, and it’s short enough not to be daunting to a reluctant reader. I’m tempted to use a phrase like “This isn’t a book young adults should read; it’s a book they MUST read.” but that would be irritatingly preachy so I won’t.

2. The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey

Incredibly, this Victorian gore-fest was cancelled a few weeks ago, just as fans eagerly awaited the third book, Isle of Blood. Thankfully, common sense – aided by a blog campaign – prevailed and Simon and Schuster have assured us we’ll be getting more of the adventures of the mysterious Pellinore Warthrop and his courageous assistant Will Henry. Incredibly well-written, these will draw you into the mysterious world of the 19th century and leave you spending half your time wanting to know what’s coming next, and the other half of your time hiding under your bed at the mere thought of it.

3. Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip

Tell a teenage boy that the first book in the series is about a pair of fairies who cross over the veil from their realm to our world and you may struggle to get them to pick it up. Persuade them to read the prologue, which sees hero Seth wielding a crossbow as he prepares to shoot his brother to stop him suffering the agonizing death of being burnt at the stake, and you’ll almost certainly not be able to get them to put it down. With a wonderful narrator and a style that breathes new life into a tired genre, this is superb.

4. Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling

Sixteen year old Drew sees his mother killed by a wild animal, triggering a change he never suspected, as he unleashes the werewolf inside of him. Fleeing from his father and brother who believe he killed her, he tries to help the people of Lyssia against the evil King Leopold the Werelion and his son Prince Lucas, while finding his own place in the world. Epic fantasy at its very finest, this should be far too long for reluctant readers to even think about but I’ve seen kids who wouldn’t normally look at a book even half this thick devour it because of the fabulous action here.

5. When I Was Joe series by Keren David

After Ty witnesses a stabbing, he’s plunged into a nightmare world of thugs on his trail, forcing him and his mother to go into the Witness Protection scheme. Will he ever be safe? Can he fit into his new school while worrying about the people chasing him? And does a certain girl have a dark secret of her own? This is a modern thriller in every sense, tackling tough contemporary issues which every teen will be familiar with. Ty is a simply fantastic character, the story develops brilliantly, and one particular scene is perhaps the most haunting of the past few years for me.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Walk The Lines by Mark Mason

I was sent this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review, by the way.

Mark Mason, lover of all things London, sets himself a mission. To walk the length of EVERY one of the capital’s eleven Underground lines – but to do so overground. Travelling 403 miles, learning more facts about London than you could ever imagine, and meeting a variety of people – including the Krays’ biographer – and find out that the legendary Circle Line pub crawl (drinks in 27 pubs, one for each station) may not be as much fun as it’s cracked up to be.

This is one of those books that will, if you’re anything like me, take a ridiculous amount of time to read, because it conjures up so many visions of London with Mason’s vivid descriptions of the city that I spent half my time in pleasant daydreams of doing the same thing as the author. Sadly – or perhaps thankfully – I don’t have the time, or the energy, to walk over four hundred miles myself, but I certainly felt as though I was accompanying him on his journey as he made his way to hundreds of stations. It’s also a wonderful book to dip into and read a line at a time, prolonging the enjoyment.

Mason’s style is an extremely easy one to read and he raises a smile not just with his descriptions of the areas he walks through and their history, but also with the people who accompany him on occasions – especially his friend Richard, far keener than the author to plan things out to the nth degree. A massive amount of footnotes adds to the information without breaking up the main narrative, providing plenty of extra facts – did you know how big the Square Mile is now? I’ll give you a clue, it’s not exactly a square mile anymore – but to find out the actual area, you’ll need to buy the book. Or I suppose you could look it up on the internet; but then you’d miss out on dozens, if not hundreds, of similar bits of trivia. (Seriously, you can’t tell me you don’t want to know why City police call the Met the Bantams, can you?)

High recommendation, particularly to London lovers like myself.