Tag Archives: adventure

Book Review: Big Game by Dan Smith

Published 1st January 2015 by Chicken House books.

22892753Goodreads Synopsis: Written by acclaimed children’s novelist Dan Smith, BIG GAME is a stunningly told survival story set in the icy wilderness.

13-year-old Oskari is sent into the cold wilderness on an ancient test of manhood. He must survive armed only with a bow and arrow. But instead, he stumbles upon an escape pod from a burning airliner: Air Force One. Terrorists have shot down the President of the United States.

The boy hunter and the world’s most powerful man are suddenly the hunted, in a race against a deadly enemy…

My Review: I started Big Game a little apprehensively. I had read and really enjoyed Dan Smith’s previous historical novel, My Brother’s Secret (review here!) – though this new book is a novelization of a movie script, for a film of the same name. I wasn’t sure how I’d find it, because of that – would it be as good as Dan Smith’s historical YA? Would it be as enjoyable? I was a little nervous but very eager to read it, as the synopsis was awesome.

I loved Dan Smith’s writing yet again. It was fast paced and I was sucked straight into the story. I really loved Oskari’s narration. He’s comes across at first as a character defined by his flaws, but he flourishes throughout the story as an incredibly brave, powerful protagonist. He was so fun to read about! I really enjoyed seeing him develop.

The plot was so great and I am really looking forward to seeing it played out on a big screen. On the night before Oskari’s birthday, he must embark on a journey to the Finnish forest, and stay there for a night and a day. When he returns, he will be a man and must present a trophy – a hunted animal that will reflect his personality.

However, when he finds the president of the U.S.A in an escape pod after witnessing terrorists land close by, Oskari realises there’s a much bigger game being played than his own hunt. It felt really original and exciting to me; a real pulse-raiser of a book.  The ending felt a little abrupt, but made me smile.

Overall, I enjoyed Big Game a lot and I definitely recommend it. Smith’s writing is fantastic and enthralling, and he’s channelled the personalities and emotions of the characters brilliantly. I felt really attached to Oskari by the end and found myself wanting to read some more about him – the ending did make me smile but was a little abrupt. I can’t wait for the movie, which features Samuel L Jackson as the president – and I’m also eagerly awaiting Dan Smith’s next book now. 🙂

My Rating:

four

I received a copy of Big Game from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

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Book Review: Catalyst by S. J. Kincaid

[I have a spoiler-y thing to say about CATALYST but I’ve put the spoiler BELOW my review – under the rating – so you can read this review if you haven’t read the book yet! 🙂 ]

Published 6th November 2014 by Hot Key Books.

23927683Goodreads Synopsis:  Tom Raines is about to break through the impossible…

Tom Raines and his friends return to the Pentagonal Spire for a new year, eager to continue their training for the elite Intrasolar Forces. But they soon discover troubling changes. Strict new regulations, suspicious agents in positions of power and the revelation that the Spire is under military control. The trainees are now cadets.

What begins as an irritating adjustment soon reveals a dangerous shift in reality. Those in control have a ruthless agenda. And when the military academy begins welcoming suspicious new cadets, they reveal a plan with horrifying worldwide ramifications. Tom is desperate to stop it, and it seems he is not alone. But when the enemy comes for Tom, how much can he endure in the battle to save himself?

read my review of INSIGNIA, book one || read my review of VORTEX, book two

My Review: When I received this in the post I was ridiculously excited, because I’ve been a fan of S J Kincaid since I read INSIGNIA, in 2012! I got a little nostalgic feeling, too, because INSIGNIA was the first ever book I reviewed for Hot Key Books. I was very eager to start reading it, as I’ve been waiting for the last book for so long – but also it was pretty sad to realise it was time to let Tom, Wyatt, Vik, Yuri and Medusa go…

It took me a few pages to regain my memory of what had happened at the end of VORTEX, but as soon as I had, I was completely absorbed in Tom’s world. I’d forgotten how much I’d loved it. From Tom’s realistic narration, to the eerily believable future world, to the hilarious banter between Tom’s friends, the supporting characters.

CATALYST was, needless to say, action packed. There was never a dull moment – I think I’ve said that before about the previous books, but it’s true – and CATALYST is without doubt the most intense, eventful novel of the trilogy. It was hard to put down! The events of the book played out really cleverly, and the twists in the story were utterly unpredictable. I did get a bit confused at a few points, as the pace was really fast and there was a lot going on, but it was overall such an enthralling read.

Overall, CATALYST was such a great read, and a compelling end to a memorable trilogy. I really recommend it, as it was a satisfying end to Tom’s story – and also if you haven’t picked up the trilogy at all… whhhyyy not? I wouldn’t have ended the plot on a different point: S J Kincaid did such a good job at tying up all of the loose ends, and creating an unforgettable finale to what’s most definitely the most inventive Sci-Fi tale I’ve ever read.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of Catalyst from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

*SPOILER KLAXON* Don’t read this bit if you haven’t read CATALYST…

There’s a huge plot twist within the first third of the book that literally had me on the edge of my seat! The meteor was such a tense, thrilling part of the story. It was really well written, but if I could change one thing about CATALYST, I’d love to know the true after-effects of the crash, because it was left unmentioned for the much of the book, and I was really interested to see how the future world could have coped.

Book Review: The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold (Illustrated by Emily Gravett)

Published October 23rd by Bloomsbury.

22443909Goodreads Synopsis: Rudger is Amanda’s best friend. He doesn’t exist, but nobody’s perfect.
Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend – until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda’s door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he’s sniffed out Rudger. Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up?
A brilliantly funny, scary and moving read from the unique imagination of A.F. Harrold, this beautiful book is astoundingly illustrated with integrated art and colour spreads by the award-winning Emily Gravett.

My Review: I opened The Imaginary looking forward to a really cute story about friendship, and intending to read just the first few chapters before I did some blogging. I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting, and getting what wasn’t quite a cute story, but a beautifully told tale full of hope, friendship, terror and adventure. Pageturner is definitely the right word to describe it: I simply couldn’t stop reading… And there was a surprise around every corner, none of which I was expecting.

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The Imaginary is marketed as an Middle Grade book, but I’m confident that teenagers and adults will fall in love with the story too – it’s got lots of crossover appeal. The plot was actually quite a bit darker than I was expecting – the antagonists were really freaky and sent shivers up my spine. However, the eerie elements of the story contrasted with the beautiful aspects of friendship and the power of imagination.

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The characters were perfectly crafted and realistic: Amanda and her imaginary friend, Rudger, are truly unforgettable. Amanda is such a bubbly and bright character, and her personality made me love her instantly! Rudger was everything I’d love in an imaginary friend for myself, and I was unable to put the book down, wanting to know what he did next.

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The story was captivating by itself, but Emily Gravett’s illustrations brought it to life. The character depictions were just as I would have seen them in my mind if the story wasn’t illustrated. I loved poring over the gorgeously detailed spreads. The use of Black and White versus colour was a very clever and pretty way of depicting normality/reality versus imagined worlds, too. I hadn’t seen any of Emily Gravett’s work before but after The Imaginary I’d love to read more MG books with her illustrations!

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Overall, The Imaginary was a really stunning book and definitely exceeded my expectations. As soon as I’d started it, I didn’t want to stop reading – and as soon as I’d finished it, I wanted to flip back to the start to read it again! A F Harrold’s writing was fantastic; it’s sad, sinister, unforgettable and magical-feeling all at once – perhaps a little nostalgic too for everyone who’s had an imaginary friend. I really recommend Harrold & Gravett’s book – whether you’re an MG reader or older, looking for a very beautiful and captivating book.

My Rating:

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I received a copy of The Imaginary from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review: The Memory Keepers by Natasha Ngan

Published September 2014 by Hot Key Books.

18196516Goodreads Synopsis: “No one can take your memories from you… can they?”

Seven is a thief with a difference – he steals downloadable memories from banks and memoriums to sell onto London’s black market, trading secrets and hidden pasts for a chance at a future of his own. He makes sure he keeps some special stuff back to ‘surf’ himself though – it’s the only real form of entertainment he can afford. But one night, as Seven is breaking into a private memorium in a wealthy part of London, he is caught in the act by one of its residents; Alba, the teenage daughter of London’s most famous criminal prosecutor. Instead of giving him away, Alba promises to keep Seven’s secret – as long as he allows her to go memory-surfing herself. In doing so, they discover a hidden memory about Seven’s past, revealing a shocking secret about Seven’s childhood, the government and a mysterious experiment known as The Memory Keepers…

Now Seven and Alba will have to race against time to unlock the maze of The Memory Keepers – but can they keep themselves out of harm’s way before the London Guard – and Alba’s father – catches up with them?

My Review: I read and loved Natasha Ngan’s striking fantasy début, The Elites, when it was released last year. Ever since I finished the last page of it I was eager to read more from Natasha! I was so glad when this arrived in the post, I delved straight into it and devoured the story in a day. It’s richly fantastical, but scarily real and possible at the same time. I’m so glad I enjoyed it as much as The Elites!

I adored Natasha Ngan’s world-building in her début novel, and was eager, but nervous, to see what her new dystopian world would be like. Ngan is so inventive and creative: Long after I put the book down, I was wondering about the futuristic imagining of London. It’s divided completely between a rich north and a poor south, with technological advances like memory recording. The book explores so much of the city and there were a lot of well developed parts, like the Underground communities… I’d really love another book set in the world of The Memory Keepers, as I was fascinated by the world-building.

The plot was really awesome. It was actually much darker and much more action-packed than I’d initially anticipated, though that’s not to say I didn’t love it! I was hooked from start to finish. I thought I’d guessed the ending, but it turned out to go in a completely different direction! I think the only thing that I would’ve liked in the book was to see more about the whole “memory” viewing technology. Of course, it’s a hugely central part of the book – but being really nerdy, I wanted to know a bit more about the history of it and how it came to be. That sci-fi element really interested me 😀

The book is written in switching narratives between Alba and Seven, who both lead completely different lives but are brought together when Seven breaks into Alba’s house to steal one of her family’s memories. I loved the narration immensely. The switching narrative was perfect for the story and Natasha Ngan has crafted two great, individual voices. I love Alba and Seven, the protagonists, too! I connected with them a lot and really didn’t want to put the book down while reading, eager to know what happened next to them.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Memory Keepers – there was a part of me a little nervous I wouldn’t love it like I did Natasha Ngan’s first novel… but it exceeded me expectations and was a total thrill ride of a book. The sci-fi elements of the story are imaginative, inventive and really clever. I loved Ngan’s writing even more with her second book. I think the narration was brilliant. Highly recommended, whatever your genre preference:)

My Rating:

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I received a copy of The Memory Keepers from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

Published April 24th 2014 by Random house.

18160169Goodreads Synopsis: Alice always thought fairy tales had happy endings. That–along with everything else–changed the day she met her first fairy…

When Alice’s father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon–an uncle she’s never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it’s hard to resist. Especially if you’re a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.

It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice.

My Review: The Forbidden Library series is bound to be the next big children’s fantasy sensation. The concept was really original and fun- I really recommend this is you’re a fan of The Chronicles of Narnia!

As soon as I’d started, I knew I was going to really like it. I was drawn in straight from the start; I really liked the quiet, hard-working protagonist Alice, and felt like crying with her after she finds out about her father. I was really absorbed in the story as she finds herself in a new, strange house with a relative she never knew she had.

After enjoying about a third of the book, I don’t know why, but I lost interest a little… I thought maybe I was just in the mood for another genre, so I read a couple of books  in-between. It took me a while to get back into the story. I really, really did love the concept and the magical books idea, it was so awesome, but for some reason up until the last hundred pages or so, I found myself just reading and not enjoying it as much as I thought I would. I’m really not sure why!

Django Wexler’s writing really is great, it felt so descriptive and fun.I did find bits a little fast paced…. But it’s definitely worth a read, though, if you love fantasy; it ticks all of the boxes.

I really liked Alice, for the most of the story. She was a really relatable girl. She’s a bit lonely,but very adventurous. And, of course, she loves reading. 😀 A little way into the story, though, her personality just suddenly seemed to change. She was really… quiet sounding at the start, though very inquisitive, and then once the supporting character is introduced she suddenly seemed a lot different, I can’t quite put a finger on why… she just seemed randomly snappy? I couldn’t quite get my head around it. I’m not sure if that was just because I’d been dipping in and out of the story, though!

Overall, The Forbidden Library is definitely worth reading if you love fantasy books. I’m sure it’s going to be the Next Big Series for middle grade readers! I really did love the concept of the story… it’s a book about books, how can you not love that? 😀 Mostly, I was really absorbed in the story. It did take me a long time to read, and I was mixed a little about the protagonist, but I will most definitely be looking out for more from Django Wexler in the future!

My Rating: 

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I received a copy of The Forbidden Library from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

 

An interview with SF Said!

My first author interview of the year, and probably one of the most exciting ones I’ve ever gotten to do!

SF Said wrote Phoenix, most recently- a sci-fi epic about a boy searching for his missing father. I fell in love with it; it was beautifully written and really captivating. You can read my glowing (No pun intended- the book’s about stars!) review here!

First up, here’s a little about SF… (I felt arty! So this looks relatively cool!):

SFbio

Onto the interview questions, in which writing, book themes and illustrations are covered… The images are all of Dave McKean’s beautiful artwork for the book, aside from the photo!

Where did the initial idea for Phoenix come from?

The initial idea was about a boy who goes on an epic quest to find his missing father.  That was all I had at the start.  I didn’t know who the boy was, or where the quest would take him – until I got the idea of setting the story on a starship.  This idea popped into my head one afternoon, and I immediately knew it meant we’d be crossing the galaxy, and there’d be aliens… and that’s when I got really excited about it!

The book took off from there.  But I have to admit, it changed a huge amount over the seven years it took to write it!

What was the hardest scene to write in Phoenix? (Don’t worry, no spoilers here- thanks, SF!:))

The beginning and end were both very hard.  But the thing I found hardest runs all the way through.  It’s what you might call the mythic background.

sf image 1The aliens in Phoenix believe that all the mythological gods are really stars who come down from the sky.  They take different forms in different times, but they’re always the same immortal beings, returning again and again through history.  They call them the Twelve Astraeus.

Originally, I wrote lots of material about the Twelve Astraeus, to explain this background.  But it was impossible to find words powerful enough to describe them.  After all, gods and stars should be mysterious and awe-inspiring beyond words!

Then I came up with the idea of describing them through illustrations and song fragments.  I gave Dave McKean a list of the Twelve Astraeus, with their names and attributes in different mythologies (Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, sf image 2Mesopotamian etc.)  The images he created have exactly the sense of mystery and awe that I wanted.

I also wrote song fragments to go with the pictures, which give you little hints about them.  So when readers encounter the Astraeus of Love, for example, they can work out for themselves that she’s been called Venus, Aphrodite, Ishtar, Astarte, and so on; and even if they don’t, they’ll just feel who she is, without being told.  I find that much more powerful and evocative than ordinary prose – but it took me a long time to work out the best way to do it!

Why did you decide to write a book set in Space- what that inspired by anything in particular?

I’ve always loved space stories.  The stars have always filled me with a sense of wonder.  I love the thought of other life; other worlds, out there in the universe…  and I know I’m not alone in these feelings.  Yet there aren’t many books set in space for younger readers, given how popular it is on TV and in films (Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek…)  So because I wanted to read more space stories myself, I had to sit down and write my own!

I’m also very interested in space science and astronomy, and the incredible things that are being discovered all the time.  I love the idea of Dark Matter, for example.  It seems that most of the matter in the universe is ‘Dark Matter’; it’s usually invisible and undetectable, but it’s what holds everything together.  So I put this idea into the book, and Dave McKean made some beautiful images of it, partly based on fractals.

But it turns out that his illustrations are incredibly close to the reality!  Just last week, astronomers captured the very first image of the web of Dark Matter that holds the universe together – and it looks astonishingly like Dave’s pictures!

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Are any of the characters based on real people?

The one that’s closest to reality is probably Mystica Grandax, the Startalker.  She is largely based on my grandma, who died during the writing of the book.  She was pretty much the nicest grandma you could imagine, and I wanted to have a character as nice as that!  A lot of strange and difficult things happen to the main character Lucky in the course of the story, so I wanted there also to be someone who was just unconditionally good and kind and loving towards him.

I loved Dave McKean’s illustrations! Do you have a favourite from Phoenix?
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Thank you, I love them too, as you can probably tell from my other answers!  He is a brilliant artist and a great collaborator, and we spent a lot of time talking and thinking about how to do it.  Many of the things the book describes are impossible and unimaginable, so it wasn’t easy!  And yet I think he pulled it off.

It’s impossible for me to choose a single favourite.  But I have to admit, the cover blew my head off when I first saw it!

I also love the book trailer that he made for Phoenix, which animates many of his illustrations in a really beautiful way.

[My blog doesn’t seem to like YouTube Video embedding… but you can just click on the link above, for the book trailer! It’s worth watching… it really is gorgeous (: ]

Finally, do you have any hints about current writing projects?

I’m just beginning the third draft of my new book right now!  The working title of this one is TYGER.  It’s science fiction too, although it’s not space; it’s more of a parallel worlds story.  I’m really excited about it!

My usual routine is: get up in the morning, go to the library, and write.  I write in the library because I’m not disciplined enough to work at home; there are just too many distractions.  Much as I love Twitter (where I’m @whatSFSaid), it’s disastrous for your concentration!  I find it much easier to focus in the library, and I work there every day, unless I’m doing a school visit.

But my aim is always to make my books as good as they can possibly be, and that takes a lot of drafts, and a lot of time.  Phoenix took 13 drafts in the end (Varjak Paw took a horrifying 17!) so it might be a while till it’s ready…  but I hope not too long!

Wow! I can’t believe it took 13 drafts- but it was definitely worth it. Phoenix is an awesome read, and I really recommend it! Thank you so much to SF Said for the interview. I really loved it, so I hope everybody else does!