Saturday, 17 July 2021

Camryn Garrett's 'Full Disclosure': A Novel About an HIV Positive Teen ★★★☆☆

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett | Book Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

This is a book that battled with its desire to write portray an HIV positive teen in an accepting, affirmative manner while simultaneously realising that a book without conflict would be too neatly wrapped up. So the drama is created by introducing a blackmail plot with an extremely underdeveloped antagonist. We learn nothing about why this character would make the moral decisions he makes.

Full Disclosure is a book about an HIV positive student who has to move schools after her HIV status is discovered and her life made an bearable. There is so much to love about this book including the information that we learn about living with HIV, the normalisation of the experience, the idea that you can live a full life with HIV and that there are precautions you can take to ensure that the disease isn't passed along to those around you.

There are two things that somewhat marred another fantastic diverse interesting novel. The first is that the main character is awful. She creates drama with there is none, she treats her friends terribly and she is a remarkably selfish young woman. The second is that despite the main character being awful there is a rather lovely but unlikely scenario that her friends and her boyfriend are all fabulously accepting of her HIV status when she tells them and they offer her unconditional support. It simply didn't seem statistically probable that everyone would've been so accepting, the more likely scenario being that her friends would've been burnt by her terrible behaviour and somehow hit back at her.

I am a terrible fiction writer. I know this because when I was 15 we had to write a novel for school. I wrote a story about a girl who has a car accident and while she recovers in hospital, her estranged parents reunite and fix their marriage. My teacher told me it was the worst book she had ever read. She said it was a fantastical story and that life just didn't work like that. That's how I felt about this novel.

As mentioned in the intro, there is a thread throughout the novel of the main character being threatened by letters to out her HIV status if she doesn't leave her boyfriend. I thought the theme was very much under-developed and the resolution very dissatisfactory. Although, even though we didn't get to know the perpetrator's motives, his reaction was the most likely in the novel. People suck in real life.

I can see what the author was trying to do. She was trying to create an HIV story that reflected the positivity of having an HIV experience rather than simply focusing on the negativity and the scary things. And I think there could have been ways to express that positivity and to express how HIV positive people can show agency and competency in the management of their condition, without creating a fairytale where everybody was supportive except for the evil jealous boy next door.

I give Full Disclosure an okay three out of five stars.



Sunday, 11 July 2021

Darren Shan's 'Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt' (Archibald Lox #4) ★★★★☆

Darren Shan's Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt | Book Review| Superior Young Adult Fiction

Through the darkness of the past 15 months, one good thing has been introduced to the world: Darren Shan's Archibald Lox series. With stunning covers and equally enticing storylines, this series has been a welcome escape from the real world and is now entering its second volume. In the Missing Princess trilogy, young Londoner Archie discovered the Merge, a whole new world where murdered people go when they die. He also discovered that he was a natural, highly-skilled locksmith, able to unlock portals both to the Merge and within it. Armed with his new skills, Archie becomes involved in a quest to save the Merge from certain destruction.

That should have been the end of it but it clearly wasn't. Welcome to the next story in the Archibald Lox adventures.

When Archie's old nemeses Orlan Stiletto and Argate Axe catch up with him in London, Archie escapes to the Merge once again and travels through it to find himself in a cold and wintery Moscow. With the assassins close on his heels, Archie is rescued by none other than King Hugo, a Merge royal with a love of motorbiking and the Born, the world we know as our own.

Hugo reunites Archie with his old friend Inez, a skilled artisan in her own right, and Cal, former protector to King Lloyd of the Diamond realm of Merge and now Sapphire resident. Hugo, Inez and Cal are about to embark on a new quest in the Merge - one I shall keep secret for fear of spoilers - and they invite Archie to join them again. How can our locksmith possibly refuse?

So the friends return to Cornan, location of their final adventures in the Missing Princess trilogy and they prepare for the Grop tournament of their lives. In the meantime, Archie will hone his already-impressive locksmith skills and discover a secret that has been hidden for 500 years.

Darren Shan's Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt | Book Review| Superior Young Adult FictionArchibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt is the first book in the second volume of the Archibald Lox series. It starts off a little slowly but really speeds up once Archie makes his big discovery and I suspect the action is going to continue apace into the second and third books of the trilogy. With every page, author Darren Shan weaves a richer and more colourful world in the Merge and he's expanded those possibilities even more in the Forgotten Crypt.

What Shan has done with this series is so interesting. Each book is short, at an average of 200 pages each, aimed at young readers and adults like me who've developed the attention span of a goldfish during the pandemic. In turn, each trilogy forms one story and will be combined into a single volume for readers who prefer a meatier volume.

Once again, Liam Fitzgerald has designed the cover and it's exquisite. I think these might be my favourite series of covers of all time.

Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt is the 500th book I've read since I picked up a book about a boy wizard in 2005 and started reading fiction again. I wouldn't have wanted to celebrate this milestone with any other book and I give it an excellent four out of five stars. Recommended to reluctant readers and anyone else seeking an escape to surreal and magical worlds.


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

Support local bookshops and visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations. All links and widgets in this post are affiliate links. I will earn a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you.



Sunday, 4 July 2021

Disney's 'Monsters at Work' Sneak Preview

They're back! If you're a fan of Pixar's Monsters, Inc (and even if you're not) the big news is that the world of Monstropolis is returning to our screens on Disney+ on Wednesday 7 July 2021. Legends Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprise their roles as Mike and Sully and events in Monsters at Work begin shortly after screams were swapped for laughs at the end of Monsters, Inc. Produced by Disney Television Animation and inspired by the world of Disney and Pixar's Academy Award- winning Monsters, Inc, the series introduces new monster characters alongside returning favorites.

Even bigger news? I got a sneak preview of the first two episodes!

Monsters at Work - S01E01 - "Welcome to Monsters, Incorporated"

Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman) graduated top of his class at Monsters University and lands his dream job as a Scarer at Monsters, Inc. Only problem? He arrives on his first day to discover that scaring is out and laughter is in and his skills are not exactly transferable. What's a young monster to do?

Tylor gets reassigned to MIFT, the Monsters Incorporated Facilities Team but like many before him, he's convinced he doesn't belong there. Will he find his place at Monsters, Inc before he causes utter mayhem? Only time will tell.

Monsters at Work - S01E02 - "Meet Mift"

Tylor is initiated into MIFT and the team hope that he will become a fellow mift-fit. Meanwhile, Mike begins giving comedy classes in the hopes of getting more monsters on the laugh floor and he performs a hilarious skit on the dangers of comedy.

Monsters at Work Verdict

Monsters at Work is a lot of fun and a very welcome return to Monstropolis. As can be expected from Disney and Pixar, the animation is superb with incredible detail to the monsters. My favourite aspect is the eyes and how each monster has different experiences based on how many they have.

While we see less of Mike and Sully (and it's uncertain if Boo would ever return), the new characters steal the show and I especially enjoyed the supremely irritating Val Little (Mindy Kaling), Tylor's earnest MIFT-supervisor Fritz (the legendary Henry Winkler) and Tylor's mum Millie (Aisha Tyler).

Most importantly: will kids like it? I think they will. It's fun, irreverent yet very wholesome. This kid will be watching all ten episodes when they're released.

The first two episodes arrive on 7 July 2021 on Disney+ with episodes airing every week thereafter.


Saturday, 3 July 2021

Anthony Kessel's 'The Five Clues' (Don't Doubt the Rainbow #1) ★★★☆☆

The Five Clues by Anthony Kessel | Book Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

Thirteen-year-old Edie Marble and her family have had a tough year. Edie's mother passed away a year before and Edie learns at the stone unveiling that her death may not have been an accident after all. Through five clues that she leaves for her daughter, Edie's mother leads Edie to the truth about her death and a massive corporate human rights violation. The Five Clues is Anthony Kessel's debut novel and the first book in the Don't Doubt the Rainbow series about amateur sleuth Edie who must harness the Three Principles approach to solve crimes.

The Five Clues is cool in many ways. It has an Alex Rider approach to crime fighting in that it is pretty implausible, definitely not something you should try at home, but bucketloads of fun and non-stop action nonetheless. Like Anthony Horowitz's teen crime fighter, London-based Edie is working through her grief over the loss of her mother and couldn't do it without the help of a very good friend.

Unlike Alex Rider, Edie has a tight-knit family, including a loving father and younger brother. It is this love that will determine whether or not Edie is successful in her quest. I loved the music references that Edie and her parents shared and know that this book will appeal to the teens of music-loving parents.

The Five Clues by Anthony Kessel | Book Review | Superior Young Adult FictionWhat I enjoyed most about the novel was Edie's Judaism and the descriptions of the Jewish grief rituals such as the stone laying service. Being half-Jewish myself, I'm most familiar with Jewish funerals and graveside rituals and it felt great to see that represented in a YA novel.

What Kessel does best in The Five Clues is to write complex and detailed villains, especially in Zero, the trained assassin central to the story. It is rare to really get to the heart of a villain's motives and raison d'etre, especially in a young YA novel such as this.

But that is where The Five Clues doesn't quite meet the mark. It is aimed at the younger side of the YA spectrum and the ways the Three Principles are shoehorned in to the story felt a lot like telling, not showing. I'm not certain it was particularly well done either, I have a post-grad in psychology but still have little understanding and appreciation for what the Three Principles entail, besides seeming vaguely Jungian. I do know that it was mentioned so many times in the novel that I lost the will to care about it by the end and I suspect younger readers will feel the same.

Nevertheless, The Five Clues is fun with a well-thought out mystery and well-written antagonists. I give it three out of five stars and recommend to fans of Alex Rider and Ebola Holmes.


The Five Clues will be released on 2nd August 2021 and you can pre-order from Amazon. You can also visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations (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 from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.


Sunday, 27 June 2021

Horror Film Review: Vicious Fun (2020) ★★★★☆

Vicious Fun 2020 | Horror Film Review | directed by Cody Calahan

Minnesota, 1983. The 80s are in full steam: neon lights, wire-rimmed glasses, gel-soaked side-partings and man-perms. No wonder people are getting a little bit stabby. Enter Joel (Evan Marsh), critic for Vicious Funatics magazine, horror film expert and seriously cool guy (if he does say so himself, of course). Steeped in envy over his roommate's boyfriend, Joel follows him to a bar straight out of a new-wave music video and proceeds to consume his body weight in liquor.

Vicious Fun 2020 | Horror Film Review | directed by Cody Calahan

Waking up decidedly worse for the wear in a storage closet, Joel stumbles into a support group and assumes the identity of Phil. Only problem? It's more of a networking seminar for serial killers and Joel will need to draw on every last horror trope at his fingertips to outwit his bloody-thirsty colleagues and avoid becoming their next victim.

Featuring an eyeball on a skewer that I will never unsee, Vicious Fun is exact what it says on the tin - bloody, gory and a hell of a lot of fun. It's directed by Cody Calahan (The Oak Room) who I'm beginning to love for his trademark combination of lurid colours and off-beat storylines and written by Calahan and James Villeneuve. The Oak Room star Ari Millen is a real treat as the unhinged Bob but as a fan of psychopaths and monsters, it was great meeting Fritz (Julian Richings), Mike (Robert Maillet), Hideo (Sean Baek), Zachary (David Koechner) and the impeccably cast Carrie (Amber Goldfarb) too.

Vicious Fun 2020 | Horror Film Review | directed by Cody Calahan
With far more style and sleeker women's hairstyles than we ever saw in the 80s, Vicious Fun takes us through a night of mayhem and delivers a very satisfying ending. I give Vicious Fun an excellent four out of five stars and recommend for fans of horror with equal parts comedy and gore. I'm absolutely looking forward to whatever neon-baked trip Cody Calahan takes us on next.

A Shudder Original, Vicious Fun will be released on 28 June 2021.

Vicious Fun 2020 | Horror Film Review | directed by Cody Calahan

Vicious Fun 2020 | Horror Film Review | directed by Cody Calahan

Vicious Fun (2020) dir. Cody Calahan - trailer


Sunday, 20 June 2021

Darren Shan's 'Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment' (Archibald Lox #3) ★★★★★

Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment by Darren Shan | Irish Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction

A short time ago, Archie Lox was a normal boy living in London. That all changed when he saw a young girl, Inez, being chased by assassins and he followed her into the Merge. The Merge is an alternative dimension full of danger, peril and the aforementioned axe-and-knife-wielding murderers. It is also where Archie learns that he is a locksmith of rare, considerable talent and that he might be the one to unlock the most complicated lock of all.

Following the introduction to the wonderful world of the Merge in Darren Shan's Archibald Lox and the Bridge Between Worlds and their incredible victory in Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan, Archie's adventures continue in Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment.

Archie, Inez and the band of thespians travel to Cornan, the capital of the Sapphire realm. There they will put on the performance of their lives, both on stage and during the Vote of Alignment. The whole safety of the Merge rests of their shoulders and Archie will learn just how important his role is. He'll also get to play a game or two of grop - an extravagant combination of basketball, football and utter mayhem - while eluding those pesky assassins. He may or may not succeed in either endeavour.

Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment by Darren Shan | Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction for BoysI thoroughly enjoyed the festival atmosphere of Cornan, with its intrigues and drama, atmosphere and performances. Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment truly transports the reader away to a different place, far, far away from the real world. I was also completely unprepared for that reveal at the end!

The Archibald Lox series is exactly what the world needs right now. It is inventive, magical and fantastical, terrifically readable and a lot of fun. All the books in the series are short, recommended for even the most reluctant readers, while those who prefer more hefty tomes can binge the full trilogy in one volume. The best thing about coming to the end of The Missing Princess trilogy? This is only volume one and the next book in the series, Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt will be released on 1 July 2021.

I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and give Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment a superb five out of five stars. Highly recommended for fans of superior middle grade fantasy fiction.


Support local bookshops and visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations. All links and widgets in this post are affiliate links. I will earn a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you.



Sunday, 23 May 2021

Odessa by Jonathan Hill: A Graphic Novel About the End of the World (Odessa #1) ★★★★☆

Odessa by Jonathan Hill | Graphic Novel Review

Reading comics is a relatively new thing for me. It was only during lockdown, when I had the attention span of a fig, that I discovered the joy and page-turning wonder of graphic novels. Joe Hill's Locke & Key and The Walking Dead were my gateway series but I soon began to discover a theme with the graphic novels I was reading: they are pure art. A lot of work goes into the art, colour and expressions and the experience can often be deeper than normal novels.

I realise I'm probably the last person on earth to discover this.

Jonathan Hill's Odessa piqued my interest given my obsession with post-apocalyptic landscapes.

Eight years ago an earthquake - the Big One - hit along the Cascadia fault line, toppling cities and changing landscapes all up and down the west coast of the United States

Vietnamese-American Virginia Crane and her two younger brothers have grown up in this landscape, a strange new world based on bartering and luck. The earthquake unearthed primordial species from deep below the earth's surface, resulting in entirely new systems of fauna and flora. All of the strange new plants, creatures and bugs that emerged after the Big One are part of this world that the Crane kids have grown up in.

Ginny, Wes and Harry are used to not having a mom around. She disappeared so many years ago that only Ginny can remember her and their father has brought them up alone. When a strange package arrives from her mother on Ginny's 18th birthday, she sets off across the post-apocalyptic wasteland towards what used to be California. Little does she realise that her two younger brothers have followed her.

Odessa by Jonathan Hill | Graphic Novel Review

In a journey filled with peril, betrayals and deceit, Ginny, Wes and Harry travel across the crumbling remains of America in search of their mother. They meet strangers and long-lost relatives along the way, some of whom they can trust and some of whom they definitely can't.

Will they be successful? Only time will tell because Odessa ends on a heck of a cliffhanger!

I enjoyed Odessa a lot. The art work was simple but powerfully portrayed the desolate and crumbling landscape through which the kids travel. I enjoyed the story too, especially the idea of new plants and bugs being unearthed by the Big One. I'm definitely looking forward to the next graphic novel in the series but there is no news on a release date yet. Hill has mentioned just how much work a graphic novel is - and he is doing both art and story - so hopefully that process is going well.

Odessa by Jonathan Hill | Graphic Novel Review

I give Odessa an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to post-apocalyptic graphic novel lovers.


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

© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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