Showing posts with label coming of age. Show all posts
Showing posts with label coming of age. Show all posts

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Book Review: Dead by Morning by Kayla Krantz



Obsession is deadly. No one learns that better than Luna Ketz, a pessimistic high school senior. She wishes more than anything to graduate but things don’t always go as planned. Luna quickly finds herself trapped in a web of lies and murders, spun by the least suspected person in her hometown. It’s not long before she realizes she’s being targeted by the person she despises most in the world. When Luna figures out who is behind the killings, things make a turn for the bizarre when she is contacted by a friend she has not heard from in years. It is then Luna realizes she is very much in danger, but although she can avoid the killer in reality, she cannot avoid him in her dreams.


What a brilliant introduction to the series Dead By Morning makes. Here’s a horror story with heart – but it’s of the pulsating, thrilling kind.

Luna and Chance are the main characters, but readers will enjoy the interplay and realism between Luna and her father. This is a well written coming of age story that seems to be going one place before Chance decides to take things into his own hands – literally.

"It is almost like we are inside Luna’s head, just a nano-second before things just happen to her."

The horror genre has been done to death, but there are shades of great originality within the pages, and though it is a long story, it does pull you along.

I didn’t know what to make of Chance – and in the first third of the book, I bet readers won’t either. It works because we are not spoon-fed information before it happens. It is almost like we are inside Luna’s head, just a nano-second before things just happen to her.

This is a strong debut that cannot be dismissed as yet another YA story. There are more in the series so I would like to see where this goes.

Luna may not be a character one instantly warms to, but she is drawn out of realism, and I actually prefer a girl with flaws than some honey-dewed Mary Sue. It was the braver decision by the author to create her this way, and the story is all the more powerful for it.

One of the best blood-curling stories I have read for a long time.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Book Review: Little Big Boy by Max Power


Synopsis: Little Big Boy tells the often harrowing tale of a small boy, struggling to cope in an environment of violence and fear, in 1970’s Dublin. All he wants is to be a big boy, but that comes with a price. At home, he faces an increasingly violent father and at school, he encounters new threats from other boys and more menacingly, from one Christian Brother in particular. In the midst of his turmoil, the one person that stands up for him and keeps him safe is his mother. But a series of seemingly unconnected events, conjure up a storm of epic proportions, with this little boy in its path


Review: Two years ago I read a book that was to become my favourite book of 2014. That book was Darkly Wood by Max Power. Its mix of dark fairytale, myths and legends, stories within stories, along with an amazing narrative meant that I was thinking about it long after I had finished it, and I still think about it.

Perhaps that’s why I took so long to read another Max Power title. What if it didn’t live up to Darkly Wood? What if it didn’t live up to my expectations?

But enough of the what ifs. They are not relevant and certainly not helpful.

Little Big Boy is a personal, heartfelt account of a young boy growing up in Ireland. I admit I was a little reticent to read it, as another personal account by Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes was on such a level that similarities between the two would have been unfair, but it’s not totally unavoidable either.

Through a first person narrative we see the Little Big Boy of the title go through various growing pains. We see his brother Eamonn doing various rounds with his brutish father. His mother is no wilting wallflower but it’s obvious she is far down the list of priorities of her husband. But I come from an Irish Catholic family, even though I am English born. I actually love and embrace my Irish heritage, whereas my other siblings, especially my brother was less endeared to Ireland. It irritated me a lot that they would act this way, but I am sure many Irish / English Catholic families have similar issues. 

"The author never flinches from hard details, but he laces the story with light to laugh out loud humour."

Little Big Boy has a lot of scenes where the boy is getting into fights a lot, especially at school. For me, this was more interesting than the home life stuff, because I too would fight with other boys and befriend (kind of) some of them later. Of course there were many occasions where a truce was never made and yet I look back now and think it was character building. One has to take a positive angle on things, even something as serious as bullying, because the alternative (killing yourself) is too horrid to think about.

I loved the scenes that included the gaelic language. It is beautiful to listen to, but on the page you can only guess at what it means, but the author never leaves us in doubt about that. Perhaps my favourite example of this was how a boy wanting to go to the toilet had to ask permission in the precise gaelic terminology, otherwise they would not be allowed to go. Now I like languages but will admit I am lazy at learning them…conversational Chinese and a working French is what I am best at, along with a very basic knowledge of Italian and French. My mother would sometimes use a gaelic term but not very often. But I saw some similarities with my own upbringing and the main characters, though I had ‘teachers’ at school, not Brothers or Nuns (my mum was taught by nuns, though she had a choice gaelic word for them).

Midway through the story, it takes a rather sinister turn. If you read it, you will know what I am on about. But it links masterfully with the last third of the book. It’s here that Little Big Boy truly strikes gold. The short chapters allow you to make progress through the book quickly without losing the plot. It’s like some of the chapters are stories all on their own, such as the time the boy is out with his father (who is in the pub) and he has to stay by the car until he comes back. I could relate to that – my own father stayed out until 3 or 4am most nights, and made up stories to my mum about where he had been. But she knew, of course she knew. 

The author never flinches from hard details, but he laces the story with light to laugh out loud humour.

So my recommendation is that you should definitely read this story if you like a story that jumps out at you on every page. It’s not fair to compare it to Darkly Wood as it is a very different story. However, it just shows the author’s talent, breadth and depth of writing ability, and bravery in committing such a tough upbringing to the page for us avid readers to consume.

It’s another winner from Max Power.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Book Review: Ethan's Secret by Patrick Hodges



Alpha Academic Press is pleased to announce the second novel by the renowned author of Joshua's Island. Kelsey Callahan is smart, tough and fiercely loyal to her friends. She wants nothing more than to follow in her father's footsteps and become a detective just like her hero, Sherlock Holmes. A natural leader, problem-solver and lover of mysteries, Kelsey finally gets the chance to solve a mystery of her own when Ethan, a cute but enigmatic loner, appears in her class. At first mildly infatuated with him, she becomes even more fascinated by his behavior: namely, that he dresses like a 'bad boy' but doesn't act like one. As her friendship with Ethan deepens, Kelsey soon learns that there are events at play in Ethan's life that are both tragic and dangerous: events that, the deeper she digs, could end up threatening not only their relationship but their very lives. 


After hearing a lot of buzz about this book's predecessor, I decided to jump in and take a look. I wasn't disappointed. It was an entertaining read, yet was also a terrific coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of bullying. 

That's not as depressing as it sounds, because author Patrick Hodges created good, believeable characters. Not a Mary Sue in sight. However, as I reached the book's end, whilst I was happy with it, I wanted more, and with Ethan's Secret, we get more.

Frankly, had I known one of the characters from the first book was taking a major role in this one, I think I would have snapped it up earlier. Error corrected. I grabbed book three at the same time as getting Ethan's Secret.

I was't sure where the author would take us this time. And I was unsure whether I wanted to read more about school bullies. If I could go back in time, I would have started martial arts training at age 1, not 13. Bullies only remain bullies to you if you let them. I found once they were hit, they kind of deflated.

And here's the beauty and realism of the author's writing, and also why this is a superior book to its older brother. In one scene a bully is referred to as a beach ball, because one punch and they deflate easily. So true! 

So children - if you are reading this book or have read Joshua's Island, remember you can be the happy child at school. Bullies are idiots who use their aggression to make themselves feel better.

However, this is not just a book for children. It clearly pays homage to the Nancy Drew mysteries and the wholesome quirkiness of many of Judy Blume's books, both of which I read when growing up as a kid.

Ethan is the new boy, and like all new boys at school, he's mysterious, brooding and to some of the schoolchildren....he is cool! The author has not inserted a character cliche, in fact, as you read one chapter narrated by Kelsey you will then be reading Ethan's thoughts next. I thought this was a really clever way to write characters and etch their behaviours, thoughts and motivations into our minds. Within a couple of chapters, readers can easily get a handle on who Kelsey and Ethan are.

"So children - if you are reading this book or have read Joshua's Island, remember you can be the happy child at school. Bullies are idiots who use their aggression to make themselves feel better."

Kelsey is one of the girls who does take a shine to Ethan. And we are treated (with annoying levels of skill by the author) to the behaviours of 13 year olds finding themselves attracted to the opposite sex for the first time. It's a confusing age for anyone. But this is just one of many layered plot lines that the author gives us.

Ultimately, what is Ethan's Secret? Is he desperate to fit in to the 'bad boys' group - a rock group fronted by Bono hating Baz (Sebastian). Ethan wears black all the time. He's not hiding something...all kids do this, I know I did.

But Kelsey can't leave it there. She has a book that she has read four times - a Sherlock Holmes novel and her father is in the police force. So Miss Detective tries to uncover things whilst still getting close to Ethan, and doesn't want to hurt him, because she finds herself falling for him.

Then, there's the interaction between her friends, like April, Bree and Penny. It all works, because on some level the dialogue, though well presented, annoyed me because I was thinking 'wow, girls really do talk like this'....and it's the same when Ethan, his brother Logan and members of the group chat. Boys being boys.

I nitpicked over Joshua's Island and it is true that you could read either book as a standalone, but is best to read JI first. 

Kelsey is one of the best characters I have encountered in a book for quite some time. I would have perhaps preferred a title of Kelsey's.....something (!) but I guess the treat for us readers is that Kelsey is every bit a strong character as is Ethan in this book.

I really loved the interplay between Kelsey and her father....I might have added a few more arguments here and there but it's better that K-Bear (his pet name for her) doesn't fight much with him. The dynamics are clearly drawn out and have been thought over. I don't think there is a scene in the book that the author didn't work hard on.

There's also an amazing, poignant scene between Kelsey and one of her friends. 

In essence, whilst keeping the story wholesome and accessible for all ages, the author treats serious subjects with dignity...and yes - a sense of humour.

The ending is has me thinking 'oh it could have ended like this...or that'...but it is not my book. This is one ending the author has offered us, and that, much like all that precedes it, I am sure will be welcomed by readers.

Onto book three in due course!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Book Review: Joshua's Island by Patrick Hodges


Synopsis: Joshua is small for his age. He has been bullied relentlessly for years, and all of his friends have drifted away from him. Eve is a pretty girl who has just been recruited into the popular girls’ clique. They couldn't be more different. But as they begin their final year of middle school, their lives intersect when they are paired together as lab partners in Science class.

At first reluctant to be near him, Eve soon realizes that not only is Joshua nothing like she’d been led to believe, but that their school hides a very nasty secret. The unlikely pair enter into a dangerous relationship that will teach them both the true meaning of friendship, loyalty, and most of all, love … a relationship that will not only change both of their lives forever, but the complexion of their entire school. 

Review: There's many reviews that talk about the story of Joshua's Island. I would like to offer my story, as well reviewing this one. You see, when a child is bullied - and this extends to both girls and boys (just it is more common with boys) it makes their life a total misery, to the point that they would rather kill themselves than go to school for one more day.

The fear of the 'school tough', and his horrid group of 'friends' who zero in on someone because they are quiet, or studious, or even popular ruined many a school education. For my own part, when I was bullied, I never understood their behaviour, nor the teachers inability to deal with them.

As I read this book, the line 'where are the teachers?' stood out for me. A young child is being attacked, and needs help. The adults have to come to their aid, surely?

Throughout Joshua's Island, this tells a story of a boy who is mercilessly bullied and is brutally beaten in one terrifying and yet very realistic scene.

You might be forgiven for thinking the tale is too dark, but help is at hand in the shape of beautiful, popular Eve, who becomes Joshua's girlfriend. This is where my experience was different - I was too busy focussing on how to get through the day without trying to get a girlfriend (though I did have some happy times in that regard so it's not all bad).

My first two years at senior school was hell for me. It wasn't until I discovered martial arts and a way to fight back that things change.

Joshua's Island provides a strong message about not giving up, knowing who cares about you, and staying the course. Some children will be going home tonight, slinking into their bedrooms without barely a word to their parents, because what can they do, really?

In the end, bullies need to be shown for what they are - cowardly little scumbags who deserve all that's coming to them. In this story, the retribution is handled well. My only small qualm was Eve's involvement in the key scene between Brent (the bully) and Joshua. But the story's overall message is strong, powerful and positive. It' an extremely well written tale that actually - bullies should be made to read too. When I was at school, we read the classics - Dickens, Austen, Orwell, as well as many American authors. I would like to see schools be braver with the curriculum and choose books like this one.

A teacher reading this book could end bullying in one day by getting the whole class to read this. There is no excuse - ever - for bullying, it's disgusting, distasteful and it must stop. Joshua's Island never makes a victim out of its MC, and the switching chapter focus between Joshua and Eve is again, well constructed.

A simple, straight forward 'must read' of a book.