B as in…

10 08 2014

1) Brock and Barrington Stoke

Now, I’ve always liked Anthony McGowan and his wittier-than-witty sense of humor in books. Seriously, if you want to know how dark and twisted should be used in the same sentence as humor, go on an read *any* of his other books. I promise you there is no one like McGowan out there. But, I think Brock just made me like him even more! Brock was published by Barrington Stoke. On their website you can read that they are an “independent publisher dedicated to cracking reading. We know that every parent wants their child to become a reader, and every teacher wants their students to make the jump from learning to read to loving to read. Our books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance.” As a teacher I know how hard it can be to get reluctant readers to pick a book, a2014-08-05 12.15.20ny book… and often books that they might pick up are just books they have to read but don’t like anyway, or they pick it up because it only has X number of pages… as few as possible.

With Brock McGowan accomplishes a number of things at the same time, not in the least just telling a really greatand poignant story. McGowan does not compromise on integrity or heart in this book, which is what makes any of his other books also so memorable. Brock is the story of Nicky and his brother Kenny and their ‘adventure’ with a badger.  The brothers themselves don’t have an easy life as is made clear early on, but the story McGowan tells is not just a harsh one. This book is a perfect combination of dark and light, horrifying and sweet. A excellent read for a reluctant and basically any reader.

4 stars


2) The Boy in the Smoke or World Book Day…

In 2014 Maureen Johnson wrote a short little book called The Boy in the Smoke, especially for World Book Day. Bonus for Maureen Johnson fans is that this book is part of the Shades of London series and that it gives the reader an insight into Stephen Dene’s background. Stephen Dene is the lead detective of the Shades, of course, and the more interesting of characters from that set of books. The prequel is nicely done, nothing too special, but a sweet in-between thingie to keep you going until the 3rd book in this series comes out (scheduled for March 2015).

3 stars


The Madness Underneath (by Maureen Johnson)

3 05 2013

madness2A big part of the charm of Maureen Johnson’s first Shades of London installment was the very successful mix of humor (typically Johnson witticisms in the dialogues) and a scary story arc. As such The Name of the Star could almost have been a story on its own: good set-up, good story development, and a fitting ending to the main plot,… except of course some of the characters belonged to the Secret Ghost Police and there were oodles of possibilities to franchise this and make it into a series,… which Johnson did.

The Madness Underneath picks up just a few weeks after the very eventful finale of The Name of the Star. We find Rory in Bristol, and no longer in London, to recover from the Ripper attack. Because she can’t really come clean about what really happened (“Yeah, so I was attacked by a ghost, and now I have these really freak ghost-zapping powers.”) without being put in the loony bin permanently, the therapy sessions she has with her therapist aren’t really that successful. Rory feels the need to open up, but there really isn’t anyone. However, for a reason that will become clear later on, her therapist decides that the best for Rory might be to go back to London and pick up her old life again, have some sort of “normal” routine again. The entire first half of the book is actually a very convincing rendering of Rory as a victim of a violent crime (even though she doesn’t really want to be considered as a victim) and her having to come to terms with what happened. Once she is back at Wexford she (consciously or not) pushes away her old friends. That means that this book is a Jazza- and Jerome-light book (not to mention that also Boo and Callum are well…afterthoughts really). I totally believed “Rory as a victim” the first 150 pages of the book. I bought it. It made sense why she’d be the whiny talkative Rory rather than the funny talkative Rory. Hey, if you’d been stabbed by the ghost of a serial killer you might be whiny too!  Unfortunately, this aspect of characterization might also be a reason for this book to be accused of suffering from “middle book syndrome” (of a 4-part series, that is), though.

Anyway, I can pinpoint exactly where Johnson lost the cat…. Actually, there were two things. The first occurred when it became clear that she is basically setting Wexford up as the Hellmouth (Like, the cracks? Really?).  Still, that in and of itself could have worked, when done right, and more importantly exclusively… Sadly, that doesn’t happen. Let me explain. The book starts with a murder. This murder plotline is abandoned for about 150 pages to focus on Rory and her settling back into school but not really being able to just resume her “normal” routine of studying for exams and all that school stuff because of all the shit that happened to her there. Now, one would hope that the second part of the novel were about that prologue murder right (that’s also how the first book was structured, btw)?

But is it? Mèh…not so much. There are a few hints here and there, but the main subplot is my second (and main) beef with this book: that totally lame-ass subplot involving a therapist and a cult. Had Johnson focused on just the one subplot – that of the murder and “the madness underneath” – this book would have been so much more exciting (without losing the victimization of Rory aspect of the book) and believable. However, as it is now, Johnson will have a hard time trying to reconcile the Buffy subplot with the True Blood subplot. I dunno, I can’t shake the impression that this books reeks of (dare I say it?) derivativeness …

In any case, this book is clearly not as developed as the first book.  Maybe with some more attention to structure (and pacing! I hate it when all the action is crammed into the 30 or so last pages of a book!), it might have been possible to successfully “conclude” this “madness underneath” murder? This book is a mere 290 pages (as opposed to the first book, which was more than 370 pages), so it just really seems only half a book.  The cat still gives this book 3 stars, though, because as always, Johnson’s writing style is very engaging, and she just has you going page after page. I’m not pleased with how half-finished this book seemed, but I’m definitely interested enough to continue with the series.


PS. Cover photo taken @ Soul Coffee (lemon-lime lemonade & cassis-lime lemonade)

The Name of the Star (by Maureen Johnson)

29 10 2011

The cat has got to admit it: she’s not really a card-carrying member of Maureen Johnson’s posse… Though 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Suite Scarlett are sweet enough in and of themselves and – truth be told – are actually quite popular with the kittens, the cat somehow misses something of the spunk, that MJ clearly has as an Internet personality (Twitter much?) and that should form the basis of equally gumptious  prose (European roadtrip! Broadway theater!). Instead, the cat saw straightforward if not predictable writing and down-to-earth and yes, even bland main characters. Needless to say, the cat didn’t really have the highest expectations of The Name of the Star, and as such, was more than pleasantly surprised to see that Maureen Johnson seems to have grown up a bit: gone is the almost formulaic light holiday romance. Read the rest of this entry »

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (by Lish McBride)

28 07 2011

If you want to be taken seriously as a YA writer, the one thing you should probably not do is write a paranormal fantasy novel. What with all those Twilight adepts out there, one would start to think that YA fiction is always dark and it’s a struggle to find anything light on those library bookshelves,… So I guess, writing an urban fantasy book of fiction as your debut novel with the word necromancer in the title is something you would only do when you’re totally desperate and want to hop on that dark desperate wagon of despicable dark YA fiction[1]… ‘Cause, you know, these books are a few of our favorite things. Read the rest of this entry »

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