Tuesday 8 February 2011

Book Reviews

Dancing Jax
Robin Jarvis
HarperCollins Childrens

Available Now - £12.99 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

At the end of a track, on the outskirts of an ordinary coastal town, lies a dilapidated house. A group of teenagers have decided to hang out there. Dismissing the fears of the others, their leader Jezza goes down into the basement... and comes back up with a children's book, full of strange and colourful tales of a playing-card world, a fairytale world, full of Jacks, Queens and Kings, unicorns and wolves.

But the book is no fairytale. Written by Austerly Fellows, a mysterious turn-of-the-century occultist, it just might be the gateway to something terrifying...
As the children and teenagers of the town are swept up by its terrible power, swept into its seductive world, something has begun that could usher in hell on earth. Soon, the only people standing in its way are a young boy with a sci-fi obsession, and his step-dad - an unassuming maths teacher called Martin...

Dancing Jax is one of the rarest things in the world: a genuinely great kid’s novel. It’s easy reading, fast moving, packed full of great characters, and the mystery is always intriguing.

Jarvis writes extremely well, and his descriptive passages are truly his strong point. Action scenes seem to crash out of the book at you, and the eerie passages (usually when exploring Austerly Fellows’ mansion) are enough to give you goosebumps – not bad for a “kids book”. Through his frequent condescension towards pop culture (especially “celebrity” worship) and there’s plenty here to entertain the grown-ups as well...although I certainly hope the youth of today picks up the message there.

“Youth of today”? Fuck, I’m old.

The mystery unfolds at a great pace, and you’ll be absorbed from start to finish. Bring on part two!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Explosions, scuffling, blood, pretty creepy magic/monsters.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some mild uses.
Summary: A great, well-writen horror/fantasy story. Highly recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker’s novels for children. Get on board with this new series now! 9/10

The Fallen Blade: Act One of The Assassini
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Little Brown Book Group

Available Now - £12.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

In 1407, Venice is at the height of its powers. In theory, Duke Marco commands, but Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They seem all powerful, yet live in fear of assassins better than their own.

On the night their world changes, Marco's young cousin prays in the family chapel for deliverance from a forced marriage. It is her misfortune to be alone when Mamluk pirates break in to abduct her - an act that will ultimately trigger war. Elsewhere Atilo, the Duke's chief assassin, cuts a man's throat. Hearing a noise, he turns back to find a boy drinking from the victim's wound. The speed with which the angel-faced boy dodges his dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. He knows then he must hunt him. Not to kill him, but because he's finally found what he thought was impossible - someone fit to be his apprentice.

The Fallen Blade has more than its fair share of action, fantasy and horror, but the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. The main problem lies with the characters being both a) introduced too rapidly, so that several blur together and b) all being similar types of lords, ladies and nobility, so that several blur together.

Weak editing lets the book down on other fronts. The descriptive passages lack cohesion, and there are way too many unimportant minor characters thrown willy-nilly into the mix.

There are several great ideas here, and if you’re into political fantasy, or fancy a blend of horror and historical fiction, there will be enough to satisfy. This definitely will not be to everyone’s taste, however.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Frequent, blood hyperviolence.
Sex/Nudity: Some, and pretty graphic.
Swearing: Mild.
Summary: There are more than a few really good ideas in here, but they get lost amongst all the guff and wank that pads it out. Worth taking a look if you’re into policital/Machiavellian fantasy, but otherwise this isn’t going to win you over. 7/10

Withering Tights
Louise Rennison
HarperCollins Childrens

Available Now - £6.99 (Paperback)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

Picture the scene: Dother Hall Performing Arts College somewhere in Yorkshire, surrounded by rolling dales, bearded cheesemaking villagers (male and female) and wildlife of the squirrely-type.

On the whole, it's not quite the showbiz experience Tallulah was expecting...but once her mates turn up and they start their 'FAME! I'm gonna liiiiive foreeeeeever, I'm gonna fill my tiiiiights' summer course things are bound to perk up. Especially when the boys arrive. (When do the boys arrive?) Six weeks of parent-free freedom. Boy freedom. Freedom of expression... ‘cos it's the theatre dahling, theatre!

This is such a cute and entertaining and cringe worthy book all wrapped into one. Tallulah is such a fantastic protagonist, she is clumsy, caring, emotional, theatrical and completely hung up on boys. It is because of these things I can really see a lot of myself when I was a young teenager in her character. Where Louise Rennison really out does herself is the scene setting and the character development of the village, villagers and classmates that surround her on her six week break from her family. She is surrounded by beautiful homes and nature filled with friendly locals and you can picture a little of all her friends characteristics in all of your female class mates from school.

The only contention I have with this novel is the fact that it doesn’t seem to be a departure from the Georgia Nicholson series that Rennison made her mark with back when I was a awkward young slip of a thing. Rather than being a break from Georgia and her quirks it does seem to be a re-boot of the same idiosyncrasies. Saying that, it is still a damn good read and had me laughing out loud on the train to the office.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
None except being flapped at by a very protective owl.
Sex/Nudity: Some snogging and hand holding.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A sweet coming of age story of a young girl who is completely mad but in the best possible way. This book had me giggling like a school girl. I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to reading about Tallulah’s next visit to Dother Hall. 8/10


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