Sunday, 27 November 2016

Audiobook: Red Dog by Louis De Bernieres ★★★✰✰

Red Dog Louis de Bernieres cover

As a parent I’ve read many stories aimed at young readers- some are amazingly good and some are just tediously dull. I always wonder how much we can expect from children’s books- should they be teachers or entertainers? I have been amazed at the length and depth of books children can enjoy when given the chance and I’m cautious about the idea that books need to be simple for children.

When I first started listening to this I was taken aback as it’s not what I anticipated. I always think of Louis de Bernières as writing dense stories with overlapping narrative. This felt quite bare and stripped down.

As I got used to the style I really enjoyed the yarn. It was familiar of the stories that interweave throughout Louis de Bernières’ work. The characters who have deep tales that interact with each other. The story is of a boy who is removed from his day to day life in urban Australia and taken to live in the bush with his grandfather. The bush is familiar in the descriptions from films such as Crocodile Dundee. It was also reminiscent of the outback from the America conjured up by Laura Ingles Wilder in my youth. The story felt like a good escapist yarn. the boy had considerable amounts of freedom and went out having adventures. He got to know a new world- a world almost entirely populated by men.

Feeling good about the book I started listening to it again with my son. Listening to it a second time I was struck by the number of stereotypes in the book. The men are very mainly and tell him not to cry. They eat ‘bush tucker’ which is big meals of hearty piles of meat. The aboriginals (black fellows) are mysterious and wise. When a woman appears on the scene she is beautiful and clever and all the men fall in love with her. I realised that I’d read very little about the bush and had a fairly stereotypical view of the Australian outback. I felt like this wasn’t based on anything beyond that. I didn’t learn anything and my preconceptions weren’t challenged.

Louis wrote this book after visiting Australia for a literature festival, he spent a couple of weeks in a mining town where the book is set. He saw the outback and the places in the book. He heard the local legends about a dog called Red. The places and the stories are beautifully conjured in this book. The people though I think lack depth- visiting somewhere for only a few weeks doesn’t give you the opportunity to get to know the multi-faceted dimensions of peoples’ lives and being aware a book is for ‘young readers’ discourages complications.

The book is narrated by David Field who has a perfect voice for the places. His reading adds to the sense of place that is so strong in the text.

I give Red Dog three out of five stars.

★★★✰✰

You can buy Red Dog on Audible. The prequel to Red Dog is also out now and available on Audible. Blue Dog tells the story of how Mick meets his dog on arrival in the outback.

 

About the Author


JadeJade is an international spy once masquerading as an accountancy lecturer in Bangladesh and now writing in sleepy England. She loves books, food and indie pop.
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Saturday, 29 October 2016

Reviewed: Liz Kessler's Disappointing 'Haunt Me' ★★✰✰✰

Haunt Me Liz Kessler

A boy wakes up from a long sleep to discover that his family is packing boxes into a van and moving out of home. Where are they going? Why did nobody tell him? That is just the beginning of Joe’s problems. He soon discovers that they cannot see or hear him and that he appears to be incorporeal. What has happened? Is he dead? In a coma?

Seemingly trapped in his bedroom, Joe has no other option but to wait. Soon, another family moves into the house and Erin moves into Joe’s former bedroom. What starts off as a vague feeling soon becomes more as Erin begins to feel and then see Joe.

The pair have a lot in common and begin to fall in love. But what of Joe’s brother Olly? What is he hiding and can Erin trust him?

Haunt Me Liz Kessler coverThe premise sounded so good and I was really looking forward to reading Liz Kessler’s Haunted. I had read her short story “Love Is a Word, Not a Sentence” that appeared in Amnesty UK’s Here I Stand collection and was impressed with her idea that being gay may be punishable by death in many parts of the world but can still be a death sentence in other societies due to bullying and hatred.

I therefore expected a lot from Haunt Me. I expected Kessler to tackle some very serious issues and to be fair, the book does address drug taking, suicide, bullying and bereavement. The problem is that these were more of a backdrop to the story and ultimately, Haunt Me is just another young adult story about an ostracised girl falling in love with a supernatural being and almost destroying herself in the process.

There was also a mean girls sequence that I found to be completely unnecessary. When are authors going to start writing about strong supportive friendships, the ones that start in school and last until old age? Could that not also be a form of wish fulfilment and escapism if written well?

Not surprisingly, I did not enjoy Haunt Me and found the long, descriptive paragraphs describing each character’s point of view to be incredibly laborious. Reading a novel should not feel like a chore.

I give Haunt Me a disappointing 2 out of 5 stars. It's been a long time since I was this disappointed with a novel but comparing it to my last two-star review Rachel Vincent's The Stars Never Rise, I see that I have a theme of disliking stereotypes and tired old clichés in young adult novels.

★★✰✰✰

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Leo Hunt's Thrilling 'Eight Rivers of Shadow' ★★★★★

8 Rivers of Shadow by Leo Hunt

It's been fifteen months since I read Leo Hunt's Thirteen Days of Midnight, easily the most exciting supernatural novel of 2015. In the meantime I stalked Leo on Twitter, hanging on to every word he uttered about the release of the sequel. That day finally came in July but like a squirrel with a nut, I decided in my infinite wisdom to hoard the book away until I could devour it in one sitting.

Fast forward to now. I'm on vacation and I have indeed finished it in one setting and the reason I'm relaying this dull tale is because I'm rendered speechless. I had high hopes for Eight Rivers of Shadow and Leo Hunt has exceeded them in every possible way.

It's difficult to review a sequel without spoiling the first instalment so please proceed with caution if you've not read Thirteen Days of Midnight (but please also rush out and make sure you buy, borrow or steal it immediately).  (And I do mean steal it from your best friend, not download it from illegal sources).

Eight Rivers of Shadow begins about 5 months after the events in Thirteen Days of Midnight. Luke has banished his Host to Hell, struck a deal with the devil and, contrary to his assurances that he destroyed it, buried the Book of Eight in the garden. He and Elza are still together and Ham is still his untrustworthy and cowardly bloodhound.

Thinking he has put his days of Necromancy behind him, Luke has an episode at school which his classmates describe in a viral video as "Boy Gets Possessed at School" but which is closer to the Book of Eight running riot through his brain and threatening to supernova.

Ever on the outskirts of school society since he first inherited the Host, Luke barely has time to register Ash, a strange new exchange student at the school, before things start to go terribly wrong. Again.

Before he can stop himself, he becomes embroiled in the affairs of the new student, a powerful sorceress in her own right. He promises to assist her in resurrecting her comatose sister, so injured by Luke's own father, and in return, she promises to save Luke from the damaging effects of the Book of Eight.

8 Rivers of Shadow - Leo HuntWith promises and betrayal, compromises and loss, Eight Rivers of Shadow is very difficult indeed to put down. Not that you’d want to. What appealed to me most about the book was the original and fascinating accounts of magic, a healthy dose of ghosts and scares, a fantastically imaginative journey through the land of the dead topped off with great characters and an addictive story. 

Luke Manchett also happens to be one of my favourite protagonists of all times, second only perhaps to Gena Showalter’s Aden Stone from her Intertwined series. Although, if Leo Hunt actually finishes his series, unlike Gena, then Luke Manchett will definitely become my favourite.

Luke is a great character and great narrator even when you know he has made an error of judgement. Added that he is now comfortable with being an outcast and as sorry as it sounds, he is also confident of the love that exists in his life which is often his only saving factor.

Readers cannot help but adore Ham, Luke’s cowardly hound and it is wonderful to see him with an even bigger role to play in the story.

I give Eight Rivers of Shadow by Leo Hunt a superb five out of five stars and would highly recommend it to fans of supernatural young adult fiction, fantasy and science fiction.

5 Stars

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Friday, 14 October 2016

Music: The Faint return with 'Capsule 1999 - 2016' ★★★★★

The-Faint

There is a way we refer to The Faint in my household. My other-half likes to refer to it as that ‘really heavy band that you dragged me to see at Scala once’ and I refer to it as the same in order to keep the sanity. The strange thing is that The Faint can in no way be classed as heavy. Lying somewhere at the crossroads of rock and dance music, The Faint have a dance-punk sound that was made more popular in the UK by bands such as New Young Pony Club and Shitdisco. What they are, when you see them live, is loud and ever so slightly eccentric.

Shortly after that fateful night at the Scala in 2008 and following the release of their album Fasciination, The Faint disbanded, leaving fans braying for more new material. They did return in 2014 with Doom Abuse which really was heavy and had less of the tongue-in-cheek humour of previous albums but other than the re-release of the deluxe edition of Danse Macabre in 2012, it has been silence until 2016.

coverHailing from Omaha, Nebraska, The Faint are Todd Fink on vocals and keyboards, Jacob Thiele on keyboards and backup vocals, Dapose on guitars and Clark Baechle on drums and percussion. Fans of the band and lovers of indie electronic music will no doubt be delighted to know that not only are the band touring again but they’ve also released a brand new album.

Sort of.

CAPSULE: 1999-2016 features sixteen of The Faint’s best tracks from Blank-Wave Arcade (1999), Danse Macabre (2001), Wet From Birth (2004), Fasciinatiion (2008) and Doom Abuse (2014) and I do mean the best. “Posed to Death”, “The Conductor”, “Agenda Suicide”, “ I Disappear” and “Mirror Error” feature in a collection of synthesiser-drenched, guitar-laden dance floor killers.

The album also features three brand new tracks. “Young & Realistic” is a catchy, emotional track of the like that we haven’t seen since The Faint’s earlier albums. It definitely has that play on repeat quality. When the video was released in May 2016, it had the fans begging for a whole album just like this.

“Skylab1979” is an edgy, retro-space track that reminded me of the Jetsons and the golden era of space travel.

If I loved “Young & Realistic” (and I did), then I barely have words for the final track “ESP”. The track has a nostalgic feel, rounding off the time capsule through The Faint’s discography. This is a track that reaches back to the birth of electronic music in the 1970s and embraces a genre of cutting edge, futuristic music. It definitely has me wondering why The Faint are holding back; if they have tracks like this in them, why are they feeding them to us in bits?

Do I recommend CAPSULE: 1999-2016? Absolutely. This collection has been perfectly curated, offering fans the best of The Faint’s music since 1999 and will appeal to lovers of indie electronic music and fans who have loved their previous tracks.

But what if you already own all the albums? If you’re a long time fan of the band and have a carnal need to complete your collection (guilty), then yes, pre-order the CD. If you already own absolutely everything they’ve ever released (also guilty), you might just want to buy the three new tracks on digital download which is already available.

I give CAPSULE: 1999-2016 a superb five out of five stars and would highly recommend it to both collectors and fans.

5 Stars

This article first appeared on Blogcritics.org.

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