Sunday, 5 December 2021

Ben Housden's Superb Debut 'Thunderpaws and the Tower of London' (Nature's Claw # 1) ★★★★☆

Thunderpaws and the Tower of London by Ben Housden | Book Review | Book covers

I had a suspicion, from the very first minute I heard about Thunderpaws and the Tower of London, that we are onto something special. I genuinely believe this might be the next great British phenomenon, the children's series to travel around the world and set young minds alight. I'd love to see this series come to life on the big screen and think it would be perfect as an animated series.

Teufel (pronounced Two-Full and translated from the German 'Devil') is a very proud cat of a very nice vicar. He lives a nice, boring life in Devon until one day his world turns upside down. All of a sudden, Teufel is transported to the Tower of London where his vicar is now a chaplain and there are more ghosts than he can shake a catnip tree at. Oh, and there are big, fat ravens too.

In time, Teufel, or Thunderpaws to those who know his clumsy ways, will learn that the ravens of the Tower of London are not to be touched but not before he has a wild adventure that takes him to Battersea Park, St Dunstan-in-the-East and Big Ben, all the while saving London and the world from the biggest threat yet.

Thunderpaws and the Tower of London by Ben Housden | Book Review | Text doodles in print edition

There is a lot to love about Thunderpaws and the Tower of London. The print edition is absolutely exquisite with text doodles and beautiful colour illustrations by Japanese illustrator MonoKubo. If you're buying this book for Kindle, do ensure that you open it on the Kindle app from time to time to see those illustrations.

Thunderpaws and the Tower of London by Ben Housden | Book Review | Colour illustrations by MonoKubo

If, like me, your two major loves in life are cats and London, you're in for a real treat with Thunderpaws and the Tower of London. I really enjoyed the depiction of Thunderpaws as a snarky, teenage boy. I have a much-beloved 15-year-old boycat Seth, an old man now but very much master of his kingdom back in the day; he could be the white-and-black cousin of Thunderpaws, and author Ben Housden captured that big attitude perfectly. He's clearly been owned by a cat or two in his time.

Any good London-based tale will teach you a thing or two about our history and Thunderpaws and the Tower of London is jam-packed full of ghosts and historical figures, especially those who met their demise at the Tower. Speaking of ghosts, there is a whole host of ghost cats and wise mice, heroic rats and misunderstood polar bears.

Ben Housden states that Thunderpaws and the Tower of London is suitable for readers aged 9 to 90. As a seeker of superior middle grade and young adult fiction, would I recommend this book specifically to readers aged 9 to 15? Absolutely. It's funny and silly, with enough cat farts and manipulative miaows to keep most readers entertained.

My only complaint was that much of the book was heavily plot-driven, which can make for slow reading. The story really ramps up towards the end though and we see Teufel's character begin to develop. As I often do at the end of series, I may well revise my rating up once I've read the sequel.

For being the most original book I've read this year, I give Thunderpaws and the Tower of London an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to everybody, especially fans of Rivers of London, A Street Cat Named Bob, A Darker Shade of Magic and The Infernal Devices.

★★★★☆

I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

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Sunday, 28 November 2021

Blog Tour & Review: The Arcane by Andrew S French (The Arcane # 1) ★★★★☆

The Arcane by Andrew S French | Book Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover; 'they' being the type of people who clearly don't read books because I always judge books by their covers. Case in point, I knew I was going to read Andrew S. French's The Arcane the minute I saw that cover, James Helps's design is exquisite and perfect for this book. The good news? I really enjoyed the story too.

Sixteen-year-old child prodigy Alice is studying biology, physics and mathematics at Teesside University when her logical, carefully-curated world of science is turned upside-down. In the course of one particularly life-threatening evening, she learns that the twin-sister-she-never-knew-she-had kills monsters. Cue record scratch.

Part one of the Arcane duology, The Arcane is a young adult, urban fantasy set in the UK. If you're a fan of Supernatural, Buffy, Lucifer or Doctor Who, you'll feel very comfortable with an all-star cast that includes vampires, werewolves, angels, demons and an unexpected encounter with Medusa. There's even some timey-wimey, space travel stuff to add to the madness. I'm definitely not going to spoil more of the story because it was enjoyable letting it unfold. Suffice to say, discovering you have an identical twins raises questions.

The Arcane is a lot of fun. I really appreciated that each twin had a unique voice and personality. It was amusing seeing Alice desperately trying to frame everything she was seeing within logic and science, despite the increasing evidence that physics had left the building. I also loved the pop culture references and the song titles for chapter names.

The only problem I have with The Arcane was that unforgivable cliffhanger. I haven't scrambled that quickly for a sequel in years! The good news, dear reader, is that both The Arcane and sequel The Arcane Identity are out now to buy. I suggest you buy them together. For a wild rollercoaster ride of a book, paranormal shenanigans and making me crave more, I give The Arcane an excellent four out of five stars.

★★★★☆

 

The Arcane Blog Tour

I'm taking part in The Arcane blog tour. Definitely visit the other blogs on the tour for more reviews and other snippets.

I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

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Sunday, 14 November 2021

Graphic Novel Review: 'Olive - Volume 1 - By the Light of a Blue Moon' by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel ★★★★★

Olive Graphic Novel Cover | Vero Cazot | Lucy Mazel

I think what I love most about graphic novels is the ability to pick you up and transport you to incredible, fascinating worlds at the flick of a pen. Comic books present a lurid, impossible view that can alter your consciousness in a matter of pages. I was reminded of this when I picked up writer Vero Cazot and illustrator Lucy Mazel's Olive - Volume 1 - By the Light of a Blue Moon, a tale about the incredibly rich inner world of a neurodivergent young woman that somehow receives a real life visitor.

The Story

Seventeen-year-old Olive has always received a lot of support at her school, with administration respecting her neurodivergency and allowing Olive to board alone. That all changes with the arrival of her room mate and the crisis it unearths in Olive's world. But that's okay. When things in the outer world get too overwhelming, Olive can escape to her own imaginary world complete with a laboratory, observatory and her favourite place of all, a dreamarium. It is all wonderful until one day Olive discovers a visitor.

The Art

The art in Olive is absolutely beautiful. Lucy Mazel captured Olive's inner world perfectly as well as illustrating the trauma of her outer world.

Olive by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel | Graphic Novel Review

Olive by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel | Graphic Novel Review

Olive by Vero Cazot and Lucy Mazel | Graphic Novel Review

Verdict

Like Oliver, writer Vero Cazot is not keen on oral communication and prefers to express herself through the written word. Together with Lucy Mazel, she has created a dreamy, magical illustration of the inner world of a neurodivergent person that I found especially relatable.

I give Olive a superb five out of five stars and will definitely be reading the other three graphic novels in the series.

★★★★★

Buy

Amazon (affiliate link; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using this link at no extra cost to you)

Links

Vero Cazot - Instagram | Lucy Mazel - Instagram

I received an electronic copy of this graphic novel from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

Text & Image Credits © Vero Cazot & Lucy Mazel

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Saturday, 6 November 2021

Graphic Novel Review: Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov (Illustrator), Juanchoi (Color Artist) ★★★★☆

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

I'm a proud zombie fan and lover of the dead. I feel it necessary to get that out the way because I was always going to like Ryan Parrott' and Evgeniy Bornyakov's Dead Day, the question was simply: how much. The thing about the genre is that you can make the rules up as you go along and that is done brilliantly in this latest graphic novel about the dead rising again. To be clear, Parrott states up from that this is not a zombie story.

The Story

The inspiration for Dead Day came from extremely painful events in Parrott's own life: the murder of his grandparents. In the aftermath, he asked himself what he would say to them if they could gone back for just one night. And what would that night look like? What if it happened the whole world over?

Dead Day is set in that world where the dead come back - every now and again - for just one night and loose ends are tied up. The only problem? Dead things are best left as they are.

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

The Art and Letters

Dead Day is gorgeous and I was drawn in immediately by the cover and concept. Evgeniy Bornyakov (Descendent, You Are Obsolete) is the artist and Juancho! is responsible for the vibrant, lush colours. Letterers often go unmentioned but I really liked Charles Pritchett's letters and the manner in which he distinguished between narration and story.

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

Stan Zone

Recommended if you like: The Walking Dead, The Purge

Verdict

I liked Dead Day a lot and will definitely be keeping an eye on what Parrott, Bornyakov, Juancho! and Pritchett do next. Will be great if they work together again.

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

Buy

Amazon (affiliate link; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you)

I received an electronic copy of this graphic novel from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

Image Credits © Evgeniy Bornyakov / Juancho!

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott, Evgeniy Bornyakov and Juanchoi | Graphic Novel Review

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Sunday, 31 October 2021

Horror Film Review: Shepherd (2021) ★★★★☆

Tom Hughes is Eric Black | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review

There is a weight that comes with grief; a drowning, suffocating heaviness that pulls you under moments before guilt begins its reign of carnage. But what of real culpability and true guilt? What of inescapable ghosts and demons? Writer and director Russell Owen tackles these themes in the disturbing and desolate Shepherd.

Eric Black (Tom Hughes) is sleepwalking through life, barely keeping it together following the loss of his pregnant wife. He is plagued by nightmares and living amongst the detritus of their life together. The traces of his wife are all around him - lipstick on a tea cup, an ultrasound in a drawer. Realising that his days of calling off work are numbered, Eric answers an advertisement for a shepherd on a desolate Western Isle.

With just his dog Baxter for company, Eric lands on an island with a barren, windswept landscape and a lighthouse with no working light. It is an omen that he doesn't see, an indication that no lives will be saved here, no souls shepherded.

Indeed, the partially-sighted Fisher (Kate Dickie), part seer, part ferryman, observes that something is haunting Eric and she hopes that he is able to confront it.

Kate Dickie is Fisher | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review

The problem is that Eric's journey of self-ruin began a long time ago and soon life on the island, with the constant tolling of the fog bells and relentless wind, begin to play on the last remaining vestiges of his sanity.

The island plays such a great role in Shepherd that it should be credited as a character. While some cinematographers choose to juxtapose psychological horror with vistas of beautiful landscapes and natural beauty, Richard Stoddard chooses to match the despair and desolation of Eric's grief with barren, grey and monotone cinematography. It is effective and utterly claustrophobic, both within the shepherd's cottage and outside on the hills.

There is but one scene of starlight and beauty, notable for its fleeting appearance. This is no happy tale.

Greta Scacchi is Glenys Black | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review

The cast of Shepherd is tiny. In addition to Hughes and Dickie, Eric's mother is played by an unrecognisable Greta Scacchi while his wife Rachel is played by Gaia Weiss.

Both Scacchi and Dickie provide structure and malice to Eric's rapidly unravelling experience. Scacchi is his sense of guilt and self-flagellation, an utterly cruel and unloving mother who will not let him go. Meanwhile, Dickie as Fisher reminds Eric of the debt he will have to settle, of the inevitability of his reckoning. Both Scacchi and Dickie give superb performances, buoyed by a menacing and well-written script.

While it's true that grief is familiar ground for writers of psychological horror, Shepherd manages to set itself apart with a truly gruesome climax and disturbing reveal. Shepherd opens with a quote from Dante's Inferno, referencing Hypsipyle as pregnant and alone, and the resulting guilt that Virgil must endure. This thread flows throughout the film as we come to realise that Eric is faced with his own version of Hell, with its shackles of grief and guilt, of the fate of his unborn child and the horror that awaits us all.

Tom Hughes is Eric Black | The Shepherd 2021 | Horror Film Review
Directed by horror veteran Russell Owen, Shepherd had its World Premiere at BFI London Film Festival and will be in UK / EIRE Cinemas from 12th November.

Trailer: Shepherd 2021, dir: Russell Owen

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Monday, 25 October 2021

Blog Tour and Review: Wayland Babes by Judi Daykin ★★★★★

Wayland Babes by Judi Daykin | Book Review

I love it when books teach me something I didn't know about myself. For example, I had no idea that I loved spooky short stories with a definite historical slant but then I read Judi Daykin's Wayland Babes and now I know. Based on the terrible tale of the Babes in the Wood, Wayland Babes takes us to Norfolk's Wayland Woods and all the terrible things that have happened over the years following sightings of the ghostly siblings.

If I had to define Wayland Babes in two words, it would be 'delightful' and 'thrilling'. I looked forward to every moment when I could pick up the book again and I really enjoyed travelling through time from the English Civil War through the Blitz to the current era.

There are five short stories in the collection, each linked to a sighting of the Wayland Babes. Each tale was spooky and scary and I loved that none were predictable. I was incredibly inspired by the historical aspects of the stories, learning more about the English Civil War and Victorian sensibilities than ever before. What I enjoyed most is the local setting - Norfolk is not far from where I live and I can't wait to visit again. I might just avoid visiting during winter or in the dark or during times of national crisis and I'll definitely avoid the Wayland Woods!

I loved Wayland Babes and give an emphatic five out of five stars. I consider it high praise to say that I thought I wasn't a short story fan before and now I am. I also thought I wasn't interested in reading fiction set during the English Civil War but I was clearly wrong there too. Wayland Babes was written during the Great British Winter Lockdowns of 2020 / 2021 and I hope that author Judi Daykin enjoyed as much of an escape in writing the stories as I did reading them. Highly recommend to lovers of spooky, historic ghost stories!

★★★★★

Buy

Wayland Babes is available on Amazon (note: this link is an affiliate link; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you).

I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

Wayland Babes Blog Tour

I'm taking part in the Wayland Babes blog tour. Definitely visit the other blogs on the tour for more reviews and other snippets.

Wayland Babes by Judi Daykin | Blog Tour Banner

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Saturday, 9 October 2021

Friendship and Intrigue Across the Berlin Wall: 'The Boy Behind the Wall' by Maximilian Jones ★★★★★

The Boy Behind the Wall by Maximilian Jones | Book Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

August 2021: I'm sitting beside the pool on a long-awaited summer holiday and I cannot lie, it's bliss. I feel so fortunate to finally be away from gloomy, cold England where summer 2021 never seemed to arrive. I've decided that historical fiction is my pick of holiday genre for the week and The Boy Behind the Wall, debut YA novel by Maximillian Jones, is my first book.

Releasing on Welbeck Kids on 14 October 2021 and set in the 1960s, The Boy Behind the Wall is about two boys, Harry and Jakob, living on the West and East sides of the Berlin Wall respectively. The boys become penpals after Harry sends a helium balloon over the wall with two notes attached. The balloon is shot down, of course, but the notes find their way into Jakob's hands.

So begins a tale of friendship, mystery and sabotage set during the fraught and dark times of divided Berlin. The action is non-stop from the very first page and this book is near impossible to put down.

The Boy Behind the Wall by Maximilian Jones | Book Review | Superior Young Adult FictionPerhaps the best thing about The Boy Behind the Wall is the characters that Jakob and Harry meet along the way and the stories they have to tell. There is the comic store owner who tells Harry about how Jews were treated during the war and the cafe owner who tells Jakob about his time in the resistance. Throughout the novel is the notion that a society on the losing end of a world war was further brutalised by an authoritarian regime.

I remember watching with incredulity as the Berlin Wall came down. Now The Boy Behind the Wall can give YA readers a glimpse of what it was like to live during that time and how it felt for a thousands of people whose families were torn apart when the wall went up.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Boy Behind the Wall and give it a superb five out of five stars. I recommend to fans of historical YA as well as those who love a good spy thriller.

★★★★★

I was intrigued about the identity of author Maximilian Jones and have discovered that the author is fictional! From the LoveReading4Schools website:

Welbeck Flame and Tibor Jones have collaborated to develop this book with a talented team of writers, including two German editors, who work collaboratively with a dynamic and creative approach echoing the TV script-writing model. The Boy Behind the Wall, and its sequel publishing in 2022, will be published under the fictional author name Maximillian Jones.

The Boy Behind the Wall is available to pre-order on Amazon and Bookshop.org (note: both these links are affiliate links; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you).

I received an electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

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© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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