Sunday 5 July 2015

Review: The D'Evil Diaries by Tatum Flyyn

Twelve-year-old Jinx is hopeless at being evil. Which is a bit of a problem when you're Lucifer's youngest son. But when Jinx runs away from Pandemonium, the walled city he's lived in all his life, he bumps into dead girl Tommy - who's been sent to Hell for accidentally feeding her nasty uncle to a circus lion - and unearths a conspiracy that could up-end the entire underworld.

Cue shenanigans involving carnivorous carousel horses, death-trap-riddled libraries and hungry quicksand. Now the fate of the realm rests in the hands of its most unlikely demon and a girl who shouldn't be in Hell at all...

The concept of Satan having a hapless son is not a particularly new one, but never has it been as funny as it is in Tatum Flynn's The D'Evil Diaries. In fact, Adam Sandler would have been much better off handing over the co-writing duties on the truly dire Little Nicky to Tatum Flynn - it would have been a hell of a lot funnier if he had (pun intended)!

Jinx D'Evil, the main character of this book, is the son of Lucifer, but he is a pretty poor excuse for a demon. Only he could make the monstrous Nemesis Tree in The Poison Gardens blossom with beautiful pink (and totally harmless) flowers. And the less said about his flying abilities the better. His poor father has tried everything he can think of to make his son a better demon, including sending to various points in Earth's history to learn from some of the planets most despicable villains. But all Jinx seems to do is make them good. With his self-esteem at an all-time low, and before he gets sent to a military academy, Jinx does what many other children his age have thought about doing - he runs away from home, and stumbles straight into a conspiracy that threatens the whole of hell, and possibly heaven as well.

Jinx is aided and abetted in his adventures by Tommy, a young girl who has somehow ended up in hell by mistake (even Lucifer has morals - he doesn't accept children into his realm). Tommy is everything that Jinx isn't - kick-ass brave, clever, resourceful - and the relationship that develops between them as the learn to trust each other (or not, as the case may be at times) is both hilarious and heartwarming.

The D'Evil Diaries is comedy adventure at its best, and it will have children giggling all the way from page one to the final chapter. It is great to see that the author does not patronise her readers - she has obviously done her research and/or knows her mythology and classical depictions of hell very well, and she uses these to great effect without ever dumbing things down for her young audience. Where some funny books for this age group can fall foul of too much emphasis on laughs and not enough on plot, The D'Evil Diaries strikes that perfect balance between the two.

The hilarious and irreverent manner with which the author treats her theology-inspired subject will no doubt have those 'good'(?) people of the Westboro Baptist Church rattling off fire-and-brimstone hate emails by their hundreds, but I'm sure that Ms Flynn can give as good as she gets if she so chooses. She should team up with the brilliant Barry Hutchison, and other authors who have received such missives and find someone to publish an anthology of them. I think it would make a great Christmas stocking filler!

My thanks go to the fab people at Orchard Books for sending me a copy of the book to read.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Review: Stonebird by Mike Revell

When ten-year-old Liam moves house to be closer to his dementia-suffering grandma, he's thrown into an unfamiliar place, with a family that seems to be falling apart. Liam doesn't remember what his grandma was like before she became ill. He only knows the witch-like old woman who snaps and snarls and eats her birthday cards. He wants to fix it, but he can't.

Walking his dog one day, Liam discovers an old stone gargoyle in a rundown church, and his life changes in impossible ways. The gargoyle is alive. It moves unseen in the night, acting out Liam's stories. And stories can be dangerous things...

Seeking revenge against the bullies at his new school, Liam tells a story about the gargoyle attacking them. When one of them ends up in hospital, a regretful Liam vows never to go near the gargoyle again.

But his grandma's illness is getting worse, his mum isn't coping, and his sister is skipping school... What if the gargoyle is the only thing that can save Liam's family?

I've said this before, but one of the best things about being a book blogger is the way you quite often end up reading truly amazing books that may otherwise have slipped by the wayside. I'm not sure whether Stonebird by Mike Revell would have suffered this fate as the cover artwork by Frances Castle is stunning and grabs your attention immediately, but I am still really grateful to those fab people at Quercus for sending me a copy as my reading life is all the better for it.

Stonebird is one of those magical books that has true crossover potential, with something special to offer for children, teens and adults. In my mind it falls into the same category as books like Wonder by RJ Palacio, Smart by Kim Slater, A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson and Brilliant by Roddy Doyle. These are all books that deal with real world issues that often get overlooked in children's literature, including disability, family break-up, depression and mental health. Stonebird joins this stellar list with its gentle and touching exploration of dementia and how a family copes, or doesn't, when a loved one is slipping away from them.

Liam struggles to cope with understanding his gran's illness, his mother's inability to cope and her use of alcohol to dull the anguish she feels, and his sister's seemingly selfish indifference to everything that is going on around her. As the new boy at school he is also an instant target for the resident bullies, so all in all life seems pretty grim for him right now. Add all this together and Stonebird really was not at all what I expected when I picked it up. From the cover I expected it to have a much greater fantasy element, a story about a boy striking up a friendship with a magical gargoyle, with a shared love of stories. Sort of a modern day Neverending Story type book. However, the gargoyle makes very few appearances, and the 'relationship' Liam has with it is not at all fluffy and friendly. Ultimately, Stonebird is actually a contemporary story with a fantasy thread woven through it. It was also a lot darker than I expected, but it is a darkness that is needed given the themes it covers, and the story is all for better for it.

Stonebird would be a great read for any 10+ child, but especially one who is experiencing similar issues at home. It is the kind of book that would make a great class reader, enabling children to be involved in discussion about dementia, bereavement, and depression leading to alcoholism. I know I'm not alone in loving this book and many of my fellow bloggers have mentioned to me their love for it too, and I really hope that it is finding its way into the hands of young readers as well.