Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Demon Collector, by Jon Mayhew

First published by Bloomsbury, 2011.

From the get go, we are straight into the action. Edgy Taylor is no one much, cleaning up poop on the streets of London and working for his brutal and abusive master in a tannery. He is saved from this life by a curious old man and taken back to the Royal Society of Daemonologie. They want him, Edgy Taylor – because he has the ability to see Demons in their true form. But they also want something else ...

It’s not long before he is embroiled in the mysterious and often deadly goings on in the strange, eerie building the society calls home. Here he has constant run ins with demons, both malignant and benign, sulky ghost girls, the library snake, pompous members of the society who just can’t seem to accept him, and, most important of all – constant attempts on his life. What is it about Edgy that sees him hunted throughout the society, the streets of London, across the sea and into icy caverns? With the help of his few friends and his own wits, he must find out ... before he runs out of chances.

For kids, The Demon Collector pushes all the right buttons – Mayhew has got his formula down pat. A constant chase, chapters that almost always end on a cliff-hanger, great adventure, intriguing settings, colourful characters. There is great fun to be had and more than a few thrills and grisly bits to satisfy those more gruesomely inclined. As it is, I am always going to compare it to Mayhew’s first book, Mortlock – a great first novel, and one that I really enjoyed. Formulaically, this book is very similar, but I think it lacks the great atmosphere that so pervaded the first. It is perhaps not quite as ‘fresh’, but that’s to be expected. As an adult reader, I also found the stylistic choices/formula a bit obvious – I could predict just about every outcome and felt like I was being ‘pushed’ into feeling things, which doesn’t sit so well. But that’s just really me being cynical. For a kids audience, particularly those slightly resistant readers, this kind of encouragement is perfect.

I do wish the two major deaths could have been drawn out a little more – the big baddies need a big send-off! Mayhew does baddies well – they are suitably larger than life and creepy and constantly seeming to change alliances. The demon mythology Mayhew draws on to tell his story is just enough – interesting spin but never bogs down the plot. Also, I loved the demon Slouch.

Really works as a companion novel to Mortlock. I feel like Mayhew knows his stories and knows how he wants to tell them and just goes for it. If Mortlock’s emphasis was on gothic creepiness, The Demon Collector feels more like a mystery adventure. A good, fun and creepy read. Does just what it should.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

National Bookshop Day


"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.
~Emily Dickinson

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
~Victor Hugo

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.
~Doctor Suess

I come from a bookselling background, a job I absolutely loved - even something like getting a new delivery and seeing all these boxes from all the different publishers and opening them up and digging past all the styrofoam packaging, and having that wonderful feeling of excitement: what will be in here this time, what will they look like, who are they for?

I love bookshops and libraries - how wonderful, for someone who loves books, to have a place to go where they are surrounded by them, and by other people who love books, and having booksellers at hand who are excited and knowledgable and so very passionate about them as well.

Back when I was doing my undergrad degree I used to have a very long break on Monday between my morning and afternoon class. How I looked forward to wandering down the street and knowing that for the next few hours I could go watch a movie, by myself, in the quiet dark theatre, and afterwards go next door to the bookstore and while away the remaining hour looking at books and dreaming about all these stories and feeling that, at that moment, that was exactly where and how I needed to be. This is the feeling bookstores give me, and I love it.

And, lastly, a couple of my favourites:
(probably only of interest to you if you live in Melbourne, but anyway:)

Book Bonding:

Recent article featuring fabulous owner Natasha Boyd, on state of the bookselling industry

Book Bonding

Little Bookroom:

Little Bookroom

The Sun Bookshop & The Younger Sun:

The Sun Bookshop

The Avenue

The Avenue Bookstore

R.M.C  Stamps

This is a fabulous secondhand bookstore which you should check out if you're ever over near Moonee Ponds - rambling, dark and dingy in a lovely kind of way, books crammed on top of the other, spilling out of shelves - love it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Literary Musings

"This extreme air of abstraction, of empty and bland removedness, was almost terrifying. It was that kind of unconcern that humbled the ardent, the passionate of nature, and made them wonder why they were expending so much energy of body and spirit when every day but led them to the worms."

~From Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Raven Mysteries, #1 Flood and Fang

By Marcus Sedgwick

#1 First Published in 2009 by Orion

Ooooh, The Raven Mysteries. I love it when you discover a terrific kids series. This one’s been out for a couple of years now but it’s only just recently been on my radar – a series of books narrated by a cranky raven? Yeah, I’m down for that. An ancient, gothic-style castle? Defs. And an assortment of oddballs, lunatics and fruitcakes that inhabit this castle? Totally. And the first book, Flood and Fang, was a fun, easy and quirky, with gorgeous illustrations perfectly suited to the tone of the book. There is great delight taken in the silly and the ridiculous, turning oddity and quite often stupidity into one big, enjoyable laugh.
The real drawcard is Edgar, the Raven, who is lovely and funny and bitter and arrogant in all the right amounts, although I do have a soft spot for cranktastic ravens, having written a novel about one myself. His voice and narration gives Flood and Fang a great novelty factor – I’m not sure if it would lose some of its charm further into the series, but for the moment take great pleasure in his witty asides and comical derring-do. Of course Edgar is the hero of the book, as he should be, but he does it all with a great deal of irony and world-weary air. If I was Solstice, I would totally fall for his postures of noble pain.
The only real thing lacking in Flood and Fang was a sense of emotional attachment – this is a great read – fun and funny – but it is all so breezy nothing deeper ever really sinks in. But for this series, I don’t think it has to. The focus is on the humour and the adventure and the oddities in and around the castle. Maybe as the series develops it becomes easier to understand and even get attached to the Otherhand family, but to begin with, as we view them through Edgar’s already familiar and slightly distasteful eye, they are really just a set of characters whose self-centeredness and stupidity are really just there for Edgar’s discriminating judgement.
But you know what – this is the Edgar show, and read these books for him. If I was a lady raven, he would totally be to die for ;) A fun and fabulous read with adventure for the kids and more than a few sly, knowing asides for the adults.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres

First published by Random House, 2011

I read Burn Bright because I’ve read some great reviews and a while back it was a really hot book – I saw it everywhere, the concept was being talked up, blogs were raving about it. This is mostly what makes we want to read a book, and inevitably how I make most of my reading choices – word of mouth, other reviews. Blogging has been so awesome for discovering great books – what a great platform for authors and publishers. And while for the most part I can see what made everyone rave about Burn Bright, I was left with the lingering sense that I just don’t think it’s suitable for a YA audience.
As a work of adult fiction, I think MdP could have made a really fantastic, controversial read. And although the writing in Burn Bright is not too ‘in your face’ or erotic, the ideas behind it, what it suggests, is not something I would market to a YA audience. I’m not a prudish person by nature, but the idea of an island devoted to ‘pleasure’, and most of it sexual, plus some of the acts that occur, just didn’t sit comfortably with me. If I came across this book in my high school library and started reading it I would have felt like I had something to hide.
I would certainly not classify Burn Bright as ‘bad’ – putting aside my main concerns, the writing is okay, although sometimes the dialogue is a bit stiff. Apart from the sexy stuff, there are a lot of other good plot points going on (sometimes almost too much, to the point where I couldn’t keep track of all the different groups). The setting is used well, it is really the stuff dream stories are made from – all those caverns and temples and hidden paths and shadowy places – awesome. I also really liked the idea that when people get too old they get taken away, and the later reveal of what happens to them is shocking in the best kind of way. Like I said, some really clever, wonderful stuff to be found. With a slightly different slant on it, I would have loved this book.
Also, points to MdP for writing a book driven by a brother/sister relationship.  A lot of the YA I read, the main relationship is driven by romantic love. Sibling love, I think, always goes a little deeper. I really wanted Retra to find her brother, and could have done with just this rather than the little romantic sub-plot that was thrown in.
A decent read, interesting, although not one I would reccommend for parents or teacher-librarians.