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.

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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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.

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.

Warp the Reluctant Assassin reviewed by Leah Dillon aged 10

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Albert Garrick used to be the most celebrated illusionist in the West End, Known as the Great Lombardi, until during one performance, he actually sawed his beautiful assistant in half. Garrick discovered on that night that he enjoyed taking a life almost as much as he enjoyed the delighted applause from the stalls, and so the magician made a new career of assassination. Riley is Garrick’s apprentice and he must pass a test. The rules are kill or be killed. But Riley doesn’t seem to want to follow in his master’s footsteps…

I read the start of this book and I loved the author’s writing style but I am sorry to say that I didn’t finish it because it wasn’t really suitable for me. It kind of freaked me out…

So I guess that means it’s more suitable for teenagers and young adults. Then again, I’m more on the sensitive side so maybe some kids my age would like it, I don’t know. Anyway, the writing is great and the plot seems very interesting so those who the book is suitable for should love it. And after the author’s Artemis Fowl series’ success, you can only expect it to be good!

Guest Post from Bleach House Library Blog

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Mia interviews author Erika McGann about the award winning “The Demon Notebook”

Last week Mia and I were lucky enough to meet with the fantastic Erika McGann and have a chat about her award winning children’s book The Demon Notebook.  Mia had lots of questions and was truly delighted to be able to chat with Erika about books, cakes and Ouija boards!

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Debut Irish children’s author Erika McGann has been announced as the winner of this year’s Waverton Good Read Children’s Award. McGann scooped the award for her deliciously spooky debut novel,The Demon Notebook, beating seventeen other shortlisted titles for the top spot.

More young readers will soon fall under the spell of The Demon Notebook as it has been selected as a recommended read in the fantasy/sci-fi category for this year’s ‘Read for my School’ campaign run by Booktrust.

The story continues in the sequel, The Broken Spell, which is out now and the third book in the series,The Watching Wood, will be published in Ireland and the U.K. in September. U.S. rights for both The Demon Notebook and The Broken Spell have been sold to Sourcebooks, with The Demon Notebookset for publication in the U.S. next month.

Here is a sneak peek at the wonderful USA cover of The Demon Notebook : 

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Mia’s review of The Demon Notebook

 

Grace and her four friends want to be witches, but it turns out to be harder than they thought! After a session with a Ouija Board, strange things start to happen and the girls lives are about to change.

This book is definitely in my top three reads of all time.  The story is full of mystery and magic. The five friends are in secondary school and often get picked on by the school bully, Tracy Murphy, and want to get even. Unfortunately, things get a bit out of control and the girls need to get help from a local witch, Mrs Quinlan,  to get things back to normal.  Miss Lemon, their French teacher is also called in to help and she is shocked with all the drama.

I really like the way Erika writes and even though I am in primary school, this was a perfect read for me.  I kept turning the pages and tried to read past my bedtime!  I have already started the next book, The Broken Spell and cannot wait for the third one, The Watching Wood, due out this September. I will recommend this book to all my friends and would give it 5 out of 5 !!!

Mia’s Interview with Erika McGann

 

1. How long did it take for you to write The Demon Notebook?

 

“It took me about eight or nine months, which is quiet a long time, but it was my first go at writing and I was kind of learning as I went.  It was a little bit slow and a little bit clunky and it took me kind of a while to work things out.”

 

2. Was it fun to create Mrs. Quinlan?

 

” Yes, it was. I love Mrs. Quinlan. I think she is one of my favourites. I love her. I always describe her as that neighbour in your street that if your ball went over into their back garden, you don’t go and get it. You know that kind of neighbour that you are kind of scared of? I loved creating her. You can kind of say whatever you want as her aswell, she’s so rude to the girls, you don’t have to be careful, you don’t have to be polite, so I love her!”

 

3. How did you come up with the Non-Una character?

 

“The girls are all kind of based on my friends, that I was in secondary school with, which is fun because they are trying to pick themselves out of the book now! I love the fact that when Una changes, she changes so much, she becomes really polite and she essentially became like me, when I was in school, all hand up, collected the books for the teacher and I loved that thing where they knew something was wrong as she was way too nice, way too polite.”

 

4. Is there going to be a third book about Grace and her friends?

 

“Yes there is, and it’s out in September. I’m working on the edits right now.  It is called “The Watching Wood”. I’m loving it at the moment and hoping it goes down really, really well.  It’s really exciting and I can’t wait for that one.”

 

5. Did you ever use a Ooija Board?

 

“Yes I did. I always wondered if it was that little button that was too far? When I was doing sessions I was kind of nervous, that it was the one thing that was going to get me in trouble, but to be honest, I think it is a different time now, it’s not taken so seriously.  I actually own one of the proper ones, that I got in America, the ones that you see on TV, as you just can’t get them here.

I was never afraid of it. I just wanted to believe in it, I wanted to believe in ghosts and spirits. It was more fun than anything. Everybody has a story of a friend, of a friend, not someone close to them though. But I can understand some people being nervous of them.”

 

6. Why did you choose to write children’s books?

 

“I think because I’m not grown up enough to write adult books, I think there’s too much of a kid inside me and there is real freedom in writing kids books. There’s no restrictions or anything, you can kind of do what you want.”

 

7. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 

“When I was really young, I wanted to be an author. I used to read and write stories a lot. But then when I got a little bit older I wanted to be a vet, but that is hard to get into in Ireland so I found a course in England called animal behaviour and welfare and I decided I wanted to be David Attenborough! I went to college and did that degree.”

 

8. Have you always been interested in Witchcraft and the occult?

 

“Yes, I think that’s what drove the book really. It came from me and my friends in school. we loved the idea of witchcraft, anything supernatural, ghosts and all that kind of thing.”

 

9. What were your favourite children’s books or authors as a child?

 

“I think probably my favourite children’s author would be Roald Dahl. I think it always will be Roald Dahl ! I loved him when I was young. The BFG was my favourite, but when I went back to read them, it’s not my favourite now at all. I really like Matilda.  There weren’t a lot of books like his, he was kind of nasty and grotesque and still now there’s nothing quite like him. I loved the Narnia books aswell and I loved The Worst Witch.”

 

10. Did you use the library or buy books when you were young?

 

“The library. It was all about the library. When I was pre-teen, me and my friend used to make a trip to the library every two weeks together. The library was a big thing when I was young. It was our access to books.”

 

11. Tell us three things that most people don’t know about you.

 

” I’m actually afraid of balloons. I worked briefly in a party shop and we used to do balloon arrangements and when you are working on them, some of them pop and it just made me so tense!

I did a volunteer placement in the Bahamas and I got to work with sharks, even swimming with them!

I read a lot of YA books. Grown up, mature books, I can’t handle at all. When I’m in a book shop, I ignore the adult section entirely. ”

 

12. What is your favourite dessert?

 

“Anything with chocolate! I am a chocolate fiend! I think, chocolate fudge cake…..”

 

13. What was your favourite childhood holiday?

 

“We went to France a lot, which I loved, as we have relatives over there.  My Mom speaks very good french and she double, double checked all the french I wrote in the book. But if I was to choose a great, really mad holiday, we used to go down to Trabolgan in Co. Cork and remember that being the awesome, awesome holiday !! We were set free and had so much fun ….”

 

14. What famous person, alive or dead, would you give your last Rolo to?

 

 

 

“I would give it to Jane Austen because, despite Mansfield Park, I absolutely adore her. I re-read her books constantly and  for the time, she was so advanced, talking about women, and she was so witty. I think she would be really, really fun.”

 

 

Thanks so much to Erika for agreeing to meet us and allowing Mia to ask her all those questions!  We cannot wait for the new book in September………

The Demon Notebook and the Broken Spell are published by The O’Brien Press and are available in all good bookshops or in e-book format.

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