Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

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Normally, when I review a book, I have it on the desk beside me to I can glance through the pages and jog my memory. Not this time though, because I’m soft. After mentioning the book a couple of times to a girl in my class, she somehow got me to promise to give her the book as soon as I’d finished it. Clearly the bookseller in my is dying a hard death. Really, I should charge.

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What genre is Cogheart? If you agree with the assertion  (if you don’t, get out) that children’s literature is not a genre but a movement, and one that actually contains all genres and it not limited to fiction, then this novel is steampunk.

In other words, if you enjoy stories in a Victorian setting, but would gladly trade the constant death, oppression of women, poor sanitation and all morally crippling religiousness for spunky female main characters, clockwork gadgets and moustache (and mutton chops) twirling villains, this is your genre. And it’s fantastic.

I immediately love the no-nonsense, let’s just do it because I don’t wanna die attitude of the main character, Lily. Girl got moxie. We first meet her in an exclusive and stifling boarding school for young ladies, which she attends under a fake name. Needless to say, lock picking, Penny Dreadful reading Lily is the black sheep at school as well as the target for bullying at the hands of both her classmates and her teachers. Another thing that sets Lily apart is the affinity she shoes towards mechanicals. Her father being a renowned inventor, Lily was half raised by the family’s household mechs, and loves them as she would any other family member. To everyone else, however, mechs are treated with contempt, in much the same way lower classes would have been in a parallel setting.

I  appreciate the subtle debate throughout the story on what constitutes as being alive. Bunzl humanises the mechanical characters to great effect, bringing to them a warmth and lovability that many of the “flesh and blood” characters lack.  It makes for some uncomfortable reading during situations where it comes to a toss up between the life of a human and a mechanical person. My approach for this book was usually ‘if in doubt, save the mechanical fox’ because aside from being a talking mechanical fox (come ON!) his often snide wit offsets the more macabre moments in this story. Overall some quality world-building is evident in Bunzl’s writing but never did I feel as though I was wading through information dumps.

Cogheart is a high-flying adventure story with well written characters, plenty of chemistry and truly creepy villains (spoiler: they have mirrors for eyes, and the surgeon wasn’t too neat about it.) It contains a satisfying plot twist and a there is plenty at stake to keep readers of any age mesmerised until the turning of the final page.

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Knights of the Borrowed Dark – and a protagonist with a difference – by Dave Rudden

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Yes, I know. I’m quite late in reviewing this, and I bet I’m the last person to do so. But I’m nothing if not honest and I’m writing a post about this book as part of my promotion of superb MG books that are not by David Walliams. It was only a matter of (not much) time before I started waving this one tantalisingly in front of my class with the promise that it was dark – dark enough that I (loudly) considered not letting them have it.
That worked.
However, you can recommend a book to kids, but unless that book is earth-shatteringly good, those kids will never listen to you again, and then you’re are trapped in teacher/librarian/bookseller purgatory. Thankfully my soul is safe. And after using a passage from this book as the subject of a creative writing lesson on writing action scenes, it looks like I’m going to have to get a couple more copies for the classroom (because they’re not getting my signed copy).
I loved this book because of the nature of the evil in the story. The Tenebrous exist in an in between place between this world and another using shadows to bridge the gap, in order to feed off the misery of humans (especially kids of course), and generally wreak havoc. I love them because they are undeniably scary. Rudden captures what he calls “a fundamental wrongness” to the way they look and move which is hard to pin down and yet deeply unnerving. More effective still is that fact that they are properly, mass-destructive and lethally dangerous. There’s no daring-do hero leaping between the clichéd hap-hazard blows of some blundering monster. These things take no prisoners – except when they do, then it’s a building full of orphans whom they gleefully torment and suck the life from. Aside from that, there’s this feeling that a character is alway seconds from dismemberment throughout the book. Even the adult mentor figures, the Knights that stand between blissfully ignorant people and violent annhialation, however skilled, are often absolutely terrified.
Which brings me to the main character, Denizen. He’s not quite your typical orphan, plucked from monotony to learn about a noble heritage and a grand heroic destiny, which he accepts bravely and graciously. He’s suspicious, sceptical, and spends most of the start of the book being pants-wettingly scared. His sass would give Harry Potter a run for his money. He is righteously angry and resentful upon learning the reasons why he was abandoned to spend his childhood in an orphanage, and expresses this in explosive magical thirteen-year-old style. In other words, he’s a real boy!unknown-1                                             Comment if, like me, you read that in his voice.

Another thing I really, deeply appreciated the concept of power involving a sacrifice, a negative and irreversible side-effect. Gone are the days when readers of any age will buy into the idea of someone just getting away with having awesome powers, especially if they’re the good guys. The effects of “the cost” in KOTBD makes me cringe every time one of the Knights uses their power. The nature of the sacrifice these characters make renders them irresistibly lovable – even the Malleus herself, who makes Judi Dench look like a kitten.

Lastly, and most importantly for me anyway, the quality of the writing is something that you don’t see that often in modern MG anymore. It makes deeply descriptive but smooth reading, effortlessly conveying darkness, danger, humour and tragedy within the confines of an age category some would mistakenly call restrictive. This is my favourite book of 2016, and the UNESCO City of Literature’s pick for Dublin for 2017.

In other words, if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?

I’m Back!

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In proper Inkies fashion, I decided to return to this blog as my New Year’s resolution – in February. Well, better late than never, said no publisher ever, which is why I’m blogging and not yet published.

Well, it’s been nearly two years! How did that happen? How did I get so rubbish at getting stuff done? The truth is, I didn’t. None of us did. Life got in the way and there was a tonne of other stuff to that needed doing. It was one of those years where one has to grab the mane of that mad pony (which was my life) and cling on until it stopped, lest you be trampled underfoot. The shaggy cur got me to the point where I am now secure in a career that I enjoy, but in such a whirlwind that it left next to no time for writing, blogging or even (gasp) reading.

Said mad pony also brought me to the foot of the Andes and made me climb to Machu Picchu (in fairness to him, it is not a pony-friendly path – plenty of goats though) as well as on a number of other wild adventures (that include being stranded on an island and in a desert, as well as riding Aragorn’s horse! Please don’t be jealous, mad pony. Don’t hurt me.) While I am  extremely glad that I held on, it’s an incredible relief to finally set my feet down and remember my first and sadly neglected love; books.

So here we are.

 

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   It can taste your fear.

   So where was I? Yes! Books. The new career thing is great, because I’m working with kids of the age I want to write for. We read the same books. Hell, I think I even share a reading age with some of them. I use big words to make it at least seem as though I’m a couple of steps ahead, which, being almost seventeen years their senior, makes it kind of upsetting when they correct my pronunciation on words that I’ve never heard aloud because I picked them up in books.

Brats.

   I love my brats though. Duty of care aside, it’s hard not to gather a sense of fondness for people you share a space with for six hours a day over one hundred and eighty-three days. Working with them is giving me plenty of excuses to return to my favourite books, all of which belong to the middle grade category, which means I can share my favourites with me class, and they can share their favourites with me.

   But, the gods of learning forgive me, there is an awful lot of David Walliams this year. I mean, an awful lot.

   And maybe my teachers and family felt the same way when I became obsessed with Harry Potter (and never grew out of it) because when finished the books, I picked up the Philosopher’s Stone, and read them all, again and again and again. I wanted to wipe my memory each time, and experience that first reading each time. It took me a while, and the help of one incredible librarian (who, now that I think about it, made me read Harry Potter in the first place) to challenge my bereft reader’s soul and put me in the direction of Ursula le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett and (what were you thinking? I was  twelve!) Bram Stoker.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy David Walliams. I can’t not love him for what he’s done for children’s reading. The problem, which I think is exacerbated by the Irish media (seriously Ryan Tubridy?) is that there is so much out there that kids aren’t aware of, unless they physically walk into a bookshop and talk to a bookseller. Luckily, the children’s bookselling world has risen to the task of diluting the David Walliams frenzy with, you know, other really excellent MG books, that are just as good, or indeed better. That’s a band wagon I want on. It’s not being pulled by ponies so I feel rather safe in declaring myself returned to the world of Children’s books, with an intention to review and promote middle grade across all genres, but especially in fantasy, because that’s where my heart is.

   In my absence, a hoard of incredible authors have emerged, and familiar favourites are setting the bar so incredibly high for this age group. I no longer feel guilt about steeping myself in this sector – among all the beautiful books – I can’t breathe!anigif_sub-buzz-19880-1466793045-16

Despite being really creepy – I know how Mouldy Voldy feels right now.

Ok, so I’ve bored everybody enough with my excuses – I’m the best excuse-maker ever though, right? I mean, Machu Picchu! Machu-freaking-Pich …

Ok. Books.

I’m gathering some reading momentum, and with the help of the lovely Lisas, I’ve come across some absolute gems, and these will be the subjects of the next several posts. So here is my overview of what I will be reviewing in the next couple of weeks.

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And I know these are all big players – but with very good reason. I will be very open to suggestions, recommendations (and post 😉 from now on, and have every intention of sourcing out some hidden gems as I trawl the bookstores –  or more likely, the booksellers brains.

Thank you for listening to my excuses. Be kind in you responses, Mad Pony is watching.
Mara xxx

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Apple and Pain.

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This is a review of Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan. I have to disclose that I did not read her first work entitled The Weight of Water, but I swear that it is now on my TBR list now that I have finished Apple and Rain. What a little gem!
We meet Apple, a girl on the cusp of her own self-discovery, ever so slightly smothered by her adoring, pecking grandmother, under whose rule she lives.
Apple’s mother is not on the scene, and hasn’t been for some time. There are some wrenching scenes of I-wish-my-mother-was-around” though they are written as though these are new thoughts, they ring old and true, which I liked.
As the plot moves gently along, you become as resigned as Apple does in her mundane, yet adorned life, thinking that nothing will ever change until it, quite explicably, does.

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Apple’s mother shows up, looking like a two day old cigarette and Apple is in raptures. The grandmother, needless to say is not.
There are some delicious characteristics written here but I don’t want to ruin anything on future readers, this is a moving book and sweeter to read than eating a bowl of sugar. I recommend it to readers of any age really,  as there isn’t much in it that is too unsuitable for younger readers.
Peace!
Lisa C

Happy Hallmark Card-Giving Day, everyone!

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I don’t have much feeling towards Valentine’s Day, and the merchandising experience that comes about with it.

Don’t get me wrong, any girl loves to get flowers but I prefer them to be given out of randomness, not obligation. That’s why my boyfriend sent me flowers on Monday the 9th of February. An unremarkable day, but a day made sweeter by the ring of a doorbell.

There are books out there that have stories of love so powerful and moving, that 1) You’d wish that you had written, 2) will make you a bit depressed that you don’t have and 3) that lingers with you in the back of you whenever it flutters a little in the hope or the face of an encounter of the heart.

I’m going to attempt to pull together a post about love stories in Young Adult books that I really loved.

First and foremost. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson is a beautiful love story, but also a story of grief, family and the complicated emotions that come with that. It’s one of the books I will always go back to when I’m having a duvet day or a sick day, even though I have read it about 19 times.

Everyday by David Levithan is a gorgeous love story spanning several lives and personalities. I loved it for its uniqueness and the way the character A was written. It was a bold and beautiful book and I highly recommend it.

Soulmates by Holly Bourne. Now this one I almost don’t want to recommend.. I read it with the addictive thirst that I had thought had only existed for the love story of Twilight (when it first came out). You remember that feeling, where you had to know what happened no matter how bad the plot was or the writing? Soulmates sparked a thirst like that EXCEPT that writing and the plot are NOT bad, in fact they are really great. This book made for very urgent reading, I’ll tell you that much for nothing.

Here is the one you HAVE TO READ and I don’t care if you have exams, food to cook or children to collect. You read this book. Or so help me God.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell is the epitome of all love stories for me. It was almost obscenely romantic in places, so much so that I could barely keep up with how fast I needed the pages to move. This is my one for all recommendation to kindle everything in you.

My most recent love forage in books came from Jandy Nelson again. Her new book I’ll Give You the Sun I really loved. It had everything plus that poetic quirky style of writing that is swiftly becoming the trademark of Jandy Nelson.

That’s it from me, short and sweet. Enjoy the day everyone, Saturday only comes once a week 😉
Lisa…out.

Review Time! Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

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Ok so I know that this blog has been a bit quiet of late, but for me at least, having two jobs and dancing too gives me precisely six hours per twenty four to sleep and eat. I had to make survival choices….dammit!

However, I am currently fed and (kinda) well-rested, so I thought that I would write a quick review of my most recently read book. As you all know, I predominantly read in the YA realism genre but have been known to stray off the beaten track once in a while.

I finished Anatomy of a Misfit in about two days, which surprised me because I spent most of the first few chapters frowning at the tone and voice of the main character Anika. It irked me that she was referring to (rather) grown up stuff (like the fact that one of her best friends is a slut and sleeps around) yet her tone and her voice were seemingly at odds with her age.

It felt like I was reading t18340210he voice of a 12 or 13 year old girl, when in reality, Anika is more like 15. So I was intrigued-annoyed-irked by the author’s seemingly blatant disloyalty to the character’s age and interests.

BUT WAIT.

The plot thickens. See, Andrea Portes is one smart mo-fo. Not only did she trick me into believing that all was sweetness and light, selling her character as an innocent and almost Judy-Blume-esque kinda flower girl something something, she did it very well.

Which is why the ending literally made me do a double..nay, triple-take. Andrea, WHY???

Turns out she was dealing with dark and VERY real teenage and family issues the WHOLE TIME and I was sleepily reading a lovely character much akin in tone to Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort or Clarice bean with extra sass, until the shizzle hit the fan.

I literally felt like standing up and applauding because it is such a clever writing device to use. She lures the reader in with the safety of an almost predictable character and then BOOM, you’re dead.

Anika, the main character often describes herself as being a bit candy covered and popular in school, but on the inside she is spider-stew. Well, Andrea Portes, YOU are the spider, and I was indeed lured in, so I guess I’ve been eaten by this book. Kudos!

I would definitely read anything this author publishes. If I can survive the heart-wrenching content of Anatomy of a Misfit, I’d like to think I can survive some more…

Lisa C….. out!

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett

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When I see that Emily Gravett has illustrated a new book, my immediate reaction is a kind of involuntary and urgently clumsy plunge for the auld wallet. I would paper my walls with her illustrations if I could afford to, but even I can see that a twenty-five-year-old who still lives at home doing this is pushing the I’m-an-adult-who-prefers-to-read-kids-books-and-it’s-awesome a little too far. So I’ve held off until I have some actual children. This may be my only motivation for having actual children.

So not to beat around the bush any further, it’s awesome. The strong childlike voice of the narrator (not first person) is gentle and easy but lively. I’ve never read anything by this author before, but he knows how to nail a childlike voice without sounding remotely childish. It would suit a confident eight year old and could be read to much younger children. That said, it is CRREEEPY, in the style of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, though not quite as messed-up. This means that it will appeal to parents who don’t want to traumatise their children THAT MUCH while still enjoying a couple in involuntary shudders themselves.

The story is about imaginary friends, and is told from the point of view of one called Rudger, who is naturally devoted to the little girl who created him. Their ideal childhood is disrupted by the appearance of a man and an (think if every long-haired creepy little dead brat you’ve ever seen in a horror movie) imaginary girl who can see him and take a disquieting interest in the pair. The cutsy and whimsical world of the imaginaries is juxtaposed alongside the real world and an altogether much darker meeting of the two. The book opens with a shock and there are sad bits to boot. Sorry, no spoilers. Overall, this was a fantastic book, with illustrations working in perfect creepy and adorable harmony with the text. The simplicity of the storytelling belies the complexity of the story itself. For the brief time I spent reading it (it is very short) my brain was very happy.

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