Billy’s Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

Billy's Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

This cover is from an advance copy and it may look a little different in production. I hope it doesn’t. I’d really like to see it as clean and beautiful as this in the flesh. When I first looked at the cover if was bright and had pretty patterns. Now I’ve read the book there are shapes and the suggestions of nasty things lurking just outside of my vision. This would make a great bus stop poster.

I am a fan of Holland-Keen’s work. I can remember sending him a tweet asking when the follow-up to The Office Of Lost And Found (well worth a read) was going to be released. It was nice to see references to TOOLAF in this book. There is something about this book that makes me think of Dirk Gently but I can’t quite work out why.  This book is all about the spaces in-between. On one level it was about the gaps between worlds but on another it was about the readers imagination filling in the shape and scale of the monsters. This was an important point for me. The fear in this book came from what I carried in my head and that was directly reflected in the story. Simple yet clever.

Boy meets girl, dresses like an idiot and spouts some cheesy cliches and then wanders off to save the world. That pretty much explains the entire book but does it no justice at all. The humour throughout this story works really well and prevents it from becoming too sombre. Although suitable for young adults there will be a lot of grown-ups like me (stop laughing) that enjoy this book and I can see this book being passed around within families.


Banished: The Blackhart Legacy: Book One by Liz de Jager

Banished by Liz de Jager

Banished by Liz de Jager

I like the cover of this book. It is similar to a few others but it is clean and well done. It really fits with the atmosphere of the book. I bought this book because I enjoy reading the blog posts of this author and was pretty sure I’d enjoy her fiction.

I don’t read a huge amount of young adult fiction. I try to avoid the ones that spend a lot of time describing gooey eyed pouting. Somehow this book manages to express the teenage emotions and social awkwardness expected in this type of books without taking anything away from the story. I found it refreshing to see a book like this written in the first person. I think this really helped the pacing of the story. I did find myself becoming totally absorbed and losing track of time whilst reading this book. I surfaced three hours later wondering how that happened. The pace of this story builds really well and I found it really difficult to stop reading the second half of this book.

Kit Blackhart kicks tail. She also gets her butt kicked regularly in this book. I liked that. There is no circumspect shyness. She is a reckless and foolhardy young lady with just enough intelligence and ability to survive. Kit is part of a family that has been protecting the world from the Fae and other interlopers from the other world. She has much to learn, not least when it comes to boys. There is a great balance between story and action that keeps the reader engaged all the way through. If you like fast-paced action in your young adult fiction then this is the book for you.

Warrior Stone by Rob Harkess

Warrior Stone Cover

Warrior Stone Cover

The cover art for this book is by Linzi Goldstone. It is quite simple at first glance but it really does put you inside the story. The subtle steampunk hints are in the art and similarly woven in to the story. Except things are not steam powered. There is a magical field in the Underland.

I’d much rather teenagers read books like this rather than ones about sparkly vampires. Underland is a place between worlds. A magical yet industrialized realm tantalizingly close to this one. Only children can jump between realms and they act as guardians against the encroachment from the other side of the Underland.

I usually have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen when I read a book but this one keeps you guessing until the end. Don’t expect everything to be resolved though. The ending closes off the story nicely but it certainly feels like the first in a series. I still have plenty of questions that I’d like answering.

The characters in this book are believable and real (as much as magic using dimension shifting teenagers can be). I found this book to be a refreshing change of pace from my usual reads. It is bright and positive in a way that left me feeling better about life.

Oh and Evie is every bit the kick-ass heroine without the need for overt sexuality or reliance on a male.

Primal Storm by R.A. Smith

This is the second book in the Grenshall Manor Chronicles. This one is set a year after the first.

I found the pace of this book a little unusual. The only way I can describe it is like a role-playing game. There is the expected gradual rise in tension and pace but it is a lot more spiky than in some books. I can see influences from lots of games in the world and the characters. I liked that. I instantly felt at home in this book.

BEWARE THIS BOOK! It broke my Kindle. Literally. I was sitting there reading it and the screen cracked to the point of uselessness before my eyes. It was bizarre and it took me a few weeks of owning my new one before I braved reading it again. Thankfully my new reader was more hardy to the powers within.

All of the main characters in this book are vivid and interesting. I am still a bit hazy about how some of the world building stuff hangs together but I presume that will become clearer in the final part. I think the author is trying not to give us information we don’t need yet but I can’t help wanting to see how the different realms are connected and the various ways to slide between them. That’s a good sign. There is no obvious romance in this series so far. Instead there is the love the comes through shared experience and friendship. That is a very powerful driver in this book.

This is a good fun read and I will be reading the third part.

The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond

As a man fast approaching forty I am not the target audience for Young Adult fiction. When I do read YA books they tend to be ones me teenage son likes. This is a bit of a departure for me. This is a book about teenagers and and it does show the hormone driven angst and social awkwardness in personal relationships that you’d expect. What this book does really well is not let any of those things get in the way of a good story. The tension between the characters was there but it was subtle and not at all overpowering.

Although this story is set in modern times there is a lot of magic around. This is to be expected when you have multiple pantheons of gods all inhabiting the world alongside mankind. I especially liked the explanation that the ambient magic of the gods interferes with the electricity and causes a realignment of society. The Society of the Sun are the guardians of mankind and keep the balance between man and god.

The background of this story is so rich and colourful that I could easily picture the gods. The story is well paced and kept me engaged all the way through. The cover for this book does not feature a strong and powerful teenager. Instead there are several little bits that make you wonder how they relate to the story inside. I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the cover. The book like the cover will appeal to adults as well as teenagers because it is well put together and puts the story first at all times. I’ll certainly be looking out for more books by Gwenda Bond.

Girls & Monsters by Anne Michaud

I wouldn’t normally buy Young Adult horror as I’d expect some kind of fluffy vampires. I know I’m selling the genre short based on a could of books but I know I’m not the only person who thinks like this. I bought this book because I really enjoyed Anne Michaud’s story in a horror anthology from Anachron Press that I really enjoyed. There is nothing fluffy about this book. It is pleasingly dark. The final zombie story in particular is almost suffocating in darkness. There is a rising tension throughout these stories that makes you completely forget that the blood and gore is purely in your own mind. There is very little in the way of waste in this books and that really helps the flow and speed of reading.

With pet killers, zombies, killer mermaids and a giant arachnid there is something for everyone. There story that really caught my attention though was Black Dog. Western culture is full of Black Dog stories and in nearly every single case the people who see or claim to have seen the dog end up dying in mysterious circumstances. As a teenager I can remember a friend of mine saying his sister was the Black Dog and she died shortly after. Was it true? It didn’t matter. For years after we’d freak out at the sight of a pure black dog without an owner or collar. This story also deals with self-harm in a way I’ve never seen portrayed before. It was particularly interesting to read how the sight of self-harming changes the way people act towards the person who obviously needs help. People don’t cope well with what they don’t understand and this story really does make you think about things.

All of the stories in this collection are self-contained and worth reading. The tension and helplessness in the final zombie story come through really strongly and make for a great ending. This book  is cheap as chips and twice as tasty.