Category Archives: book reveiews

This month I will be mostly reading…’Supergods’ by Grant Morrison

As is probably the case for most parents, I don’t get as much time to read to myself as I once did. My reading list typically comes from the children’s section of the library but, despite the fact that there are some phenomenal kids’ books out there, it is nice to occasionally read something for ‘grown-ups’.

My ‘grown-up’ read this month is ‘Supergods‘; an effervescent, detailed history of our comic book heroes: those costume wearing vigilantes and demigods who have become an integral part of modern culture. I’m not done reading yet but the thing that stands out most so far is how unusual superhero writing actually is.

In many cases a modern comic book writer or artist is being handed the reins to a character who is older than they are. It’s fiction writing but not as we know it, and to be honest I think I’d find the whole thing pretty intimidating.

If you’re really lucky you’ll create something on par with what has come before, if you have actual talent behind you as well then you may manage to create something that stands out as a new and definitive chapter in that character’s story. However, the flip side is the prospect of fending off negative reactions from fans, and when it comes to comic book fans I’m not sure I’d have the mettle to put myself up to that task.

Two or three of the characters that feature regularly in the Jack Reusen books at least seemed to have come from somewhere outside my own mind. However, it must be a whole other level of adjustment to draw together a tale involving a character that you know was never yours to start with.

What I’ve found from Morrison’s book though is that great comic book writers somehow manage to push past these difficulties. They take charge of a character and sometimes even see themselves as raising the flag for a new and more culturally relevant incarnation of the character.

I’m not typically a non-fiction reader but I’m pleased I picked this up. It’s proving to be an interesting insight into a type of writer that, I’m sorry to say, I never gave much thought to before. Their job clearly comes with its own set of challenges and rules. Their word count is alarmingly tight, yet at times they are expected to convey huge ethical, metaphysical, or even deeply human concepts.

I love comic books (I have a couple of suitcases full of them to testify to that) and now thanks to Morrison’s book I have a deepening appreciation for the talent and work that goes into creating them.

Is there a particular superhero storyline that has struck a chord for you? Do you have a favourite character, is there a version that you consider better than other incarnations?

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

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Filling in the shadows

the_open_door_by_la_duqueBeing immersed in a book is very different to a movie; as events unfold right inside your head, they can elicit much more visceral responses. There’s something so weird (considering you’re just looking at some shapes on a page) but also something completely amazing about the whole process.

However, I’ve always run into problems when it comes to thrillers and/or horror stories. On a recent camping holiday where all tech stopped, I decided to pick up a wee collection of short stories based around ghost tales of Scotland.

During the day it was an enjoyable read and it helped fuel some ideas for the darker elements of future books. Then night fell, and the family went to sleep, and with wind howling around the tent I made the mistake of jumping back in. The horrors in the stories bled out of the pages and into the inky black night outside the tent. I jumped at the slightest sound. At one point the sound of an inconsiderate passing sheep mutated and left me gulping back bile.

It’s safe to say that my imagination likes to run with things at night. As a child reading famous five books the wind rustling leaves in the garden below could be nothing but lurking smugglers or other ne’er-do-wells. In my teens I read alien conspiracy stories and watched the faces of prowling cats distort in midnight lights to become malicious grey aliens preparing to abduct me (or had they already abducted me and wiped my memory?).

It took till adulthood for me to realise that a good night’s sleep would not be mine if I read this style of book. All the same I still forget sometimes and once again my mind will reel as the shadows take form and watch me, always behind my shoulder or just at the peripherals of my vision. Slowly creeping closer whenever my attention lapses.

I thought I’d be safe when I started reading the next book in Lari Don’s ‘Mythical creatures’ series, but no. There is one component perfectly crafted to leave children uneasy but to creep parents out to their core.

Don uses the old myths of celtic ‘Faerie folk’ (also used as part of the inspiration for the Fey folk of my books). However, Don stays closer to the legends as these faeries are far from benevolent; they are notorious stealers of children. Their technique is the worst bit; not only do they take your sleeping child from their bed but they replace them with a ‘changeling’ or ‘glimmer’ enchanted to look identical to the missing child. Your child is gone but you don’t notice, you walk into their room in the morning to find them unresponsive and clearly unwell, then over the next few days this replacement will either ‘die’ or disappear themselves.

What’s more is that by now it’s too late for you to claim your child back, as they have now been sentenced to a life in the land of the faerie folk; by eating their food they are doomed to never be able to eat human food again. Even if you somehow found your child and took them home the first bite of human food would turn them to dust. So..yeh…that’s some nightmares for parents right there.

The creepiest bit of ‘Wolf Notes’ (Don’s second ‘mythical beasts’ book) so far has got to be a wee boy’s little sister telling her mum that the boy in her arms in not her son but is instead a ‘doll’, a copy of her big brother. Somehow this got me worse than anything I’ve read by Stephen King.

Does horror in books get to you worse than horror in movies/on TV? What hides in the shadows in your house?

Feel free to share in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Skulduggery Pleasant

So far I’ve written reviews of books that would appeal to children within the suggested age range of readers of the Jack Reusen books. Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasent series is definitely  not that sort of book.

However, for the parents (and older siblings) out there I feel the need to share my excitement about the re-opening of the Skulduggery’s world.

After a series of nine books no one was surprised when Derek Landy declared the end of the series. We had all followed the sardonic, magic weilding, skeleton detective and his sidekick/partner Stephanie to what felt like a very natural conclusion. Books series end. These things happen, it can’t be helped. 

With a sigh that avid readers will know well I said goodbye to some well-loved characters and looked on to find the next book series. 

That was two years ago and just last week Landy announced a change of heart that isn’t particularly common of writers who have left old book series behind them. Skullduggery’s world is back!

Landy has expertly interwoven the literary styles of noir, fantasy, horror, a lot of comedy, and a good bony handful of other stuff too. These books aren’t for kids but they are most definitely for everyone else.

If you get stuck in now you’ll be in time for the summer 2017 launch of book 10.

Are there any other Skulduggery fans out there? Are you happy to see him (and Valkerie) back or do you think it was best left alone?

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

George’s marvelous medicine

For over a year I’ve struggled to get my eldest to read independently. To be honest that’s not entirely true as he’d happily jump into reading Star Wars encyclopaedias at the drop of a hat. However, with the encyclopaedias he’d put them back down after a page or two.It was pretty clear that we needed to track down a book that really spoke to him.

With p4 and the step up in reading it brings on the horizon I realised that he’d need to get more accustomed to longer stretches of reading than he had before. I hunted for books that would pique his interest but every time we simply find another story for me to read to him and his brother (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

We hunted and hunted, I trailed him through a serious number of bookshops over the past few months. Then, about a month ago we took a trip to Glasgow, walked in to Waterstones, and with the promise of a comfy seat and a chocolate he finally reached a decision; George’s Marvellous Medicine.

Picking the book in person had its own charm to it and I think the setting definitely helped. However, the general idea of a boy messing with a grouchy granny seemed to catch him straight away.

It was a favourite of mine when I was his age but I’d forgotten how good it was. George is precocious and empathetic, and also a bit of a chancer. To be honest I think it was a good match for my son’s personality. On top of this the granny (the recipient of the medicine) is a whole new character once you look at her from an adult’s perspective.

My son read the first few chapters aloud but he’s starting to just grab his book, curl up, and read. Last night he skipped bedtime story and just brought the book into bed with him to read by torchlight. The book geek in me couldn’t be happier, but on top of this I know that what he’s doing will make the change in reading level this year all the easier to keep up with.

It’s a simple book that has been expertly crafted by one of the greatest story tellers I’ve read. Our new challenge will be to find the right book to follow it, but I’ve a feeling that the Roald Dahl back catalogue will keep him occupied for a while.

What were your favourite books when you first started reading? Can you remember any of them still? Let us know in the comments below.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

We didn’t have TV so we all read a book together (it was amazing!)

first aid for fairiesI recently wrote about our lack of connectivity on holiday but another side effect was a complete lack of TV. No cartoons, no youtube minecraft videos (OK they were hard to miss, sorry Stampy, no offence meant), basically no falling back on TV at meal times and other times that we wanted to chill out. This made us fall back on an another old favourite; reading.

Even when we’re at home we read a story together every night, often this becomes a family occasion (like we had with Pugs of the Frozen north). However, this time round I ended up reading myself hoarse as we discovered Lari Don’s ‘First Aid for Fairies and other Fabled Beasts’. We normally read for about twenty minutes to a half hour each night but I’ve been reading for hours to the kids. We read at meal times, we read in the tent, I read in the car on the way home, and of course we read at bed time.

Back home technology has jumped back into our lives (I’ve found my way back on here as well) but we’re still hooked. We’re so close to the end and I’m at that ‘scared to read because it’ll be over soon’ stage. However, with three other books to go in the series I can relax a little.

The first of the ‘Fabled Beasts’ series follows Helen as she discovers that the world of story book creatures is all too real when a centaur appears on her doorstep.

The pace is fast and adventurous whilst giving you a chance to get to know the characters and the stakes get higher as we find out more about the quest that Helen is being drawn into.

It’s a book that has entertained two full grown adult-type people, an eight year old, and even a five year old (who normally still needs a picture or two during a story). No pictures are necessary and it’s been a joy to read the dialogue as well. I can’t recommend this book enough. Please go and check it out.

I’m always interested to hear about good kids books so if you’ve come across any please let me know (I can count it as ‘product research’ 😉 ). Feel free to tell us about it in the comments below and as always, thanks for popping over to read my blog, all the best, John