Author Archives: jacob

Breathing Underwater

Julia Green

Bloomsbury

0747595461

May 2009

My thoughts drift. I think about the world beneath us, down,down, down. Water washing stone, grinding it slowly into sand. There are stretches of sea-bed between the islands which used to be valleys with village settlements, thousands of years ago. The sea level has slowly risen, covering it all up. Deep down, a whole flooded life is metamorphosing into something else.

In protagonist, Freya, Julia Green combines the contradiction of binding a palpable zeal for life together with the grief of losing her brother, Joe. The result is that an affinity between the reader and Freya is instantly wrought and it is upon this special relationship that its subtlety and, at times, jagged, raw, emotional truths depend.
Visiting her grandparents on the island where they live and where Joe’s tragic accident at sea occurred forces a confrontation with a past that Freya remains deeply affected by. The death of Joe is downplayed meaning that it is Freya’s grappling with what this means and how the events came about that take centre stage within the novel.
In spare prose, a sense of community is built up around the island and gradually, through immersion into the ebb and flow of her emotions, Freya is able to reach a level of understanding as to the continuing breadth of feeling she has for her brother, the expectation she retains that he will still be there for her and the yearning that is bestowed upon her because of this.
Julia Green makes a welcome return with this tender, affecting tale.

Banb, Bang, You’re Dead!

Narinder Dhami

Corgi

055256043X

May 2009

I snatched the gun from him. It felt cool and smooth to the touch, and the weight and shape of it in my hands was completely alien and therefore completely fascinating.

Mia shares a highly unusual relationship with her brother Jamie, one that is dominated by obsessive fascination. The reasonsfor this appear to be apparent from the outset, their mother suffers depressives phases, the severity of which has increased since the death of her father.
The childhood that Mia and Jamie share in this gritty, urban novel is one that is foregrounded constantly by the state of their mother’s mental health. A crisis point is reached when Jamie’s tolerance finally wears thin and he resolves to push his mother ‘to the edge’, forcing her to ‘sit up and take notice’.
Having set the familial thrust for the novel, the novel turns into a relentless thriller set amidst a suitably chilling evacuated school building within whose realms lies a gunman. Conscious of her brother’s resolve to force his mother’s hand, Mia believes her brother to be the gunman. She sets off determined to find him and dissuade him from continuing his scheme.
This is a fast-paced, race of a read with twists and turns that keep you guessing and gulping throughout. It represents a departure from Dhami’s writing style and is a highly contemporaneous story exploring bereavement and familial uncertainty. The shock ending certainly comes as a surprise and draws question to the weight of significance our individual backgrounds exert upon our present. It leaves readers with a lasting sense of the desperation and desolation Mia has faced. An accomplished novel.

The Soul Trade

E. E. Richardson

Corgi

0552553891

Mar 2009

“Nick didn’t answer. The ring ofmetal around his arm burned like a radiator, getting progressively harder to bear as it stayed pressed against his skin. Where the hell was the heat coming from?

Looking for a gift for his mother, Nick Spencer calls in at a shop intrigugingly named BARGAINS. Inside the shop his curiousity is raised by the strange glass orbs that are displayed there. They are like paperweights and each contains a captivating image and a sense of knowledge or sense of skill related to their subject accompanies their being held. The shop owner, a malign Mr Grey, brokers a deal with Nick whereby he will trade a drawing for one of the orbs. The deal, however, involves rather more than one of his drawings and Nick is horrified on realising the extent of the bargain he has undertaken with Mr Grey.
In an attempt to regain what has been lost, Nick brokers another deal with Mr Grey and becomeshis assistant. He quickly finds himself embroiled in situations that are increasingly uncomfortable and that draw more and more fully upon his time and emotions.
E. E. Richardson writes the dark arts credibly, she has a full understanding as to the lasting effects neurosis plays upon the psyche and the means this has to cripple its subjects. A memorable and strongly written novel.

Season of Secrets

Sally Nicholls

Marion Lloyd Books

1407105132

Apr 2009

It is the subtext of Sally Nicholls second novel that makes it so powerful. There is a sense of pain and of grief that permeates through the novel and nowhere is this more poignantly felt than in the absence of Molly and Hannah’s cripplingly bereaved father, a gap that gains a weight of significance every bit as heavy as the sudden, unexpected death of their mother.
Solace and resolve is found for the bookish Molly – whose favourite reads include the ouevre of Enid Blyton and Jacqueline Wilson – when the myth of the Green Man manifests itself in fully realised formbefore her. Choice of this analogy feels apt in as much as there is a cyclical quality to where death and life are found with each counter-balancing the other.
There is a quiet, subtleness about the message of regrowth and of what it is to be alive that permeates the novel building to a head of steam that invigorates and inspires readers. Unlike in Nicholls’ first novel, ‘Ways to Live Forever’, where the writing is pinioned constantly by the emotional response that is wrought solely by its subject, here the style is lighter and more balanced and it benefits from this.
Myth, nature and magic combine to create an enlivening story of individual and ultimately environmental growth in this moving work.

Blood Water

Dean Vincent Carter

Corgi

0552555738

June 2009

Dark tendrilsof water streaked across the floor like tentacles seeking something to grab hold of. They all stopped to watch in shock as the wide, slow-moving water saturated the carpet and spread round the corner out of sight.
After taking part in a race and succumbing to severe dehydration, Sean finds himself embroiled in a nightmare scenario whereby a newly discovered creature has unleashed a deadly threat upon humanity in its quest not only for survival, but for complete dominance.
Surrounding this central storyline, the town concerned is subject to severe flooding, a fact that notches tension levels to dizzying new heights, introducing a sense of isolation into the plight of brothers Sean and James who endeavour to avert the catastrophe facing their hometown.
Underpinning the action, adenture and the brooding malevolence that saturates each page, seeping its way into readers’ imaginations, there is a real sense of urgency and danger. Dean Vincent Carter has a tangible awareness as to the way fear manifests itself upon us and the loss of control that affects the afflicted in the novel is genuinely chilling.
A frightening expose of the role abnormal psychology plays in determining survival and evolution, and one whose reach can easily be transposed upon parts of humanity’s history, this represents another fine offering to the young adult horror genre.

Marvin Gets Mad!

Joseph Theobald

Bloomsbury

0747594864

Jul 2008

Marvin the sheep with the big appetite who made his first appearance in ‘Marvin Wanted More’ makes a second appearance in this picture book. Together with his friend Molly, Marvin happens upon a trees of big juicy apples. Despite the abundance of fruit that the tree is laden with, the very apple Marvin wants most lies tantalisingly out of reach.
Exhausted by his efforts and the patience he has exerted, Marvin falls asleep only to awaken and find that the apple has fallen and Molly is eating it. Transformed and enraged by his anger at this, Marvin sets outon a rampage stamping on flowers, knocking over chicken sheds, frightening ducks and even biting a cows tail – this is one angry, even-toed ungulate.
Amidst a fit of pique, the very grounds open beneath him and the silence, isolation and darkness lead him to consider the folly of his fury. Eventually rescued by Molly, he returns to the pastures where he beholds a fruit laden pear-tree only to discover the very apple he wants most lies tantalisingly out of reach…
Theobold’s use of the docile sheep as the cantankerous protagonist heightens the humour of Marvin’s rage in this witty book which explores the folly of irrational desires leading those who suffer temper tantrums to feel somewhat sheepish.

The Ship’s Kitten

Matilda Webb ill. Ian Benfold Haywood

Happy Cat

1905117833

Jun 2008

The poetic diction of the book’s opening immediately locates the microcosm of the lilting ebb and flow of sea sounds and of the various comings and goings of lives lived along the harbour lines. At the heart of the book lies a nameless and homeless kitten whose desire for a place amongst peers forms the premise for the book.
Strengths are the deft descriptions of the harbour and its various component parts, these are explored from the minutiae of fish schools, swimming and circling in the surrounding seas, to the domineering image of the cruiser which comes to dock. The polarity of these extremes is captured adeptly in Ian Benford Haywood’s illustrations which evoke, the various movements and motion of the sea.
The novel’s evocation of the haughty, proud manner and demeanour of the cats inhabiting the various vessels humorously references the archetypes of sea-life. Implicit in these are feline character traits that will instantly provoke an affinity amongst any and all cat-lovers.
Searching for a home to call her own, the cat’s tale is one that is appealing and resonant to all who have considered, even in the vaguest terms, their identity and role in society. A satisfying resolve is marred only, perhaps, by the implausibility of its practicality, but these are small faults in a book that encapsulates a whole world, way of life and method for working out our positions alongside that of others…

How to get Famous

Pete Johnson

Yearling

0440868173

Jun 2008

“In my opinion fame is like a giant blue bubble… This blue bubble can quite suddenly come floating and shining towards you, showering you with glory. And it’s great being even a bit famous… But the thing is… this blue bubble of fame appears when it feels like it… But I know it can vanish in an instant…”


The frail, fickle nature of fame has been a recurring theme in Pete Johnson’s fiction, in ‘I’d Rather Be Famous’, astute comment was made as to the types of decision that are driven only by outward appearance, by what others think rather than what we ourselves actually feel. In ‘The Hero Game’, Charlie’s idolisation of his grandfather and his sheer determination to immortalise him are challenged by revelations as to his grandfather’s past, that he finds difficult to equate with his present perception of his uncle.
‘How to get Famous’ sees friends Tobey and Georgia desperately seeking the lime-light but learning the bitter consequences that follow failure and rejection. This is exacerbated further still by the crushing humiliation Tobey faces at an audition in which Georgia is successful. Pressures of personal hopes that are defeated alongside the achievement of friends’ achievement places friendship into a fragile context.
In a surprise turn, however, Johnson achieves a twist that demonstrates incisively the spontaneous manner via which we affect and influence others through our actions as compared with the forced nature of acting and rehearsal.
Tobey’s comic capers, retold through an approachable epistolary style, make for a humorous and affectionately told story that is elevated through the characteristic social comments and human observations that permeate this author’s work.

Little Leap Forward: a boy in Beijing

Gue Yue, Clare Farrow, Ill. Helen Cann

Barefoot Books

1846861136

Jul 2008

“With music and your imagination you can travel anywhere; you will always be free.”

Barefoot Books have drawn upon the self-same creative sensibility, attention to detail and high production values that have earned them the place as one of the most distinctive and stylish picture books lists, in this their first forray into fiction.
The construction of childhood presented here is a decidedly pastoral one with its kite flying competitions, trips to market and sibling cookery sessions. Behind the surface of this, however, are the shifting political tectonics that lead to Mao Zedung’s Cultural Revolution of 1966.
Ramifications of this are both clearly and cleverly drawn through the capture and subsequent decline of a bird which Little Leap Forward keeps trapped in a bamboo cage. The bird’s refusal to sing and its inability to fly are consequences of its being held captive away from the natural influences that allow its replenishment. The creeping oppression whose reach is felt towards the end of the novel is wholly juxtaposed by the real sense of hope and liberation that the bird’s release and free flight signify.
Gue Yue and Clare Farrow’s text is marked by its reflective lyricism. This is complemented beautifully by the sights of Beijing, captured so evocatively through Helen Cann’s full-colour illustration plates that intersperse the novel. Combining freedom of thought, action and imagination, this is a welcome first fiction offering from Barefoot Books that leaves one eager in the hope that a subsequent, more regular publishing plan might follow in a similar vein.

The Bare Bum Gang and the Football Face-off

Anthony McGowan

Red Fox

186230386X

May 2008

Watch out people here they come
They are the gang with the big bare bum


The brilliance of this book is its bare faced cheek in taking the Blytonian ideal of a secret society and bringing this bang up to date with Smartie-fart-tube traps, a sassy and irreverant gang name and battle for supremacy against rivals ‘The Dockery Gang’ played out in a frenetic football face-off.
Following the success of his irreverant style in the teen arena, Anthony McGowan transposes that self-same humour, yet understanding of child social groupings to a younger age range. Fans of ‘The Secret Seven’ will no doubt recognise several reference points here, not least, Jennifer Eccles, a sister who like Susie is keen to join-up.
Latent concerns about the toilet humour can be flushed aside against the vicarious access here granted to a secret society replete with its own covert initiation rituals… Despite its exclusive membership, this is an inclusive romp that developing readers will race through.