THORNHILL (Book Review)

Written and illustrated by: Pam Smy

Published in the UK by: David Fickling Books / Publication date: 27th August 2017

Pages: 544


A TIMELESS FRIENDSHIP

Weighing in at a daunting 544 pages, APU graduate and Cambridge lecturer Pam Smy’s debut solo work (the first she has both written and illustrated) is actually a deceptively quick read, and one which I blasted through in a matter of hours.

… Keep Scuttling!

Flesh and Blood (Book Review)

Written and illustrated by: Chris Priestley

Published in the UK by: Barrington Stoke, 15th April 2017

121 pages


 

BEHIND THE MASK

The first of three new releases from the macabre mind of Anything That Isn’t This author and illustrator Chris Priestley to fill children and young adults with equal measures of fear and wonder in 2017, this dyslexic-friendly “easy reader” from publishers Barrington Stoke may be the shortest and most simplistic, but Flesh and Blood does not suffer for its ease of accessibility.

… Keep Scuttling!

A Boy Called Christmas (Book Review)

Written by: Matt Haig

Illustrated by: Chris Mould

Published in the UK by: Canongate, 2015

266 pages


 

YOUNG SAINT NICK

While I openly appreciate that I am far beyond the target demographic for this Primary school-skewed prequel detailing how a lonely and underprivileged woodcutter’s son grew up into the magical gift-giving, mince pie-munching Father of the festive season, I was on the lookout for an easy Christmas read to get me in the spirit. This much-applauded “future Classic” (as broadcaster-cum-novelist Simon Mayo hailed it) from the Number One Bestselling author of The Runaway Troll sounded like the perfect pick.

… Keep Scuttling!

Fire Witch (Book Review)

Written by: Matt Ralphs, 2016

Published in the UK by: Macmillan Children Books

Pages: 276


Image result for fire witch book

NO ORDINARY GIRL

In the Acknowledgements at the rear of Matt Ralphs’ recent sequel to his 2015 breakout hit, Fire Girl (which I reviewed HERE), the blossoming children’s author openly acknowledges the “breakneck speed” at which his editors at Macmillan Children’s Books dictated he write the follow up. Whereas he was able to spend close to five years “scribbling feverishly” on his debut during his spare time, following a publication deal he had a turnaround period of just one-fifth of that time in which to spin a successive yarn.

… Keep Scuttling!

The Monstrous Child (Book Review)

Written by: Francesca Simon

Illustrations by: Olivia Lomenech Gill

Published in the UK by: Faber & Faber and Profile Books, 2016

287 pages 


 

HEL HATH NO FURY LIKE A TEENAGER SCORNED

Embarrassed by her parents, peeved at her violent brothers, lonely, hateful and self-deprecating, Hel sounds like any normal teenage girl… except her father is a god, her mother a giant, one brother a wolf and the other a snake… Oh, and she’s half rotting  corpse! Meet Hel, Queen of the Dead, ruler of the Underworld and general cynical soul.

This curious genre-mashup of dysfunctional family drama, growing pains memoir and biblical fantasy comes from the rebellious mind of globally-bestselling Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon. The Monstrous Child is her first book for the booming Y.A. demographic.

With short pages and a large font type, the near-300 pages fly by – the swift pace accelerated by some scathingly wry black humour from Hel’s first person perspective. This is her tetchy testament and she demands you listen as she moans on about being banished from Asgard to the depths of her own self-named kingdom of ‘Hel’.

“I spent an eternity of hating… I spent eternity lying on a stinking bed. Sunk into myself, plotting and moaning and… dying.”

Dividing her time between fawning after the only person she has ever felt any feeling of love and joy towards (the charming but already-married Baldr) and moaning about her agonising eternity of isolation with only a dragon, a monstrous howling mutt and two near-static slaves for “company”, the book’s rapid tempo does little to enforce Hel’s timeless torment as the ages creep by towards The End of Days.

It’s also fair to say that as clever as the concept is, the novel does begin to feel a little repetitive at times, with Hel’s fixation on her niggles and teenage tendency to mope in her chamber with her bed hangings drawn (which she has sarcastically nicknamed Glimmering Misfortune) occasionally slowing down the procession of her life(less) story.

Essentially a diary of a teenage goddess, The Monstrous Child is a decent and well-observed experiment which will certainly leaving you smirking at its cruel, pitch-black sense of humour. However, it does also feel like more of a one-joke short story concept spread painfully thin – even if the hardback release does look glorious.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

The BFG (Cinema Review)

PG – 117mins – 2016 – 3D


 

A WHOOPSY-SPLUNKING ADVENTURE

“Human beans is not really believing in giants, is they? Human beans is not thinking we exist.”

A Steven Spielberg blockbuster is usually a safe bet – doubly so when he is re-teamed with ET scribe Melissa Mathison; triply so when working from the source material of the world’s number one storyteller. But my reservations before sitting down to this centenary-marking Roald Dahl adaptation last night came from growing up with repeated rewatches of Brian Cosgrove’s BAFTA-winning 1989 animated interpretation. Voiced by David Jason, it nailed the look and sound of the benevolent twenty-five foot high dreamcatcher in a way I feared a motion-captured Mark Rylance possibly could not.

Additionally, The BFG 2016’s trailers had me worried, as the titular Big Friendly Giant just didn’t quite look right – his neck too long and his eyes too small for his flapping ears… But in all his visual splendour, away from the brief snatches of footage teased in the previews, my fears were allayed by Oscar-winner Rylance’s country bumpkin approach to the towering sandal-wearer. It is a reserved and charming portrayal – even if on paper he is a lonely old man kidnapping a young girl…(!!)

Ruby Barnhill as bespectacled ten year old orphan Sophie occasionally veers into “little madam” territory, but some concessions to fear and anxiety do soften the feisty-but-diminutive redhead, making for an assured performance from the newcomer in her debut big screen performance.

Kiddles (that’s children to you and I) will be positively awestruck by the wondrous realisation of the magical rainbow-lit dream tree and the misty mountains of Giant Country, with John Williams once again expertly orchestrating the necessary emotional undercurrent. The nine “filthsome” 50 foot brutes – with names such as Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) – who plague the reserved “runt” of the litter are just about silly enough not to give little ‘uns “trogglehumpers” (nightmares).

By having the same group of actors portray the CG-enhanced “frightsome” Giants as were early-on reprimanded by insomniac Sophie for causing a drunken scene during the witching hour, I was deceived into expected an additional narrative twist to Dahl’s classic tale (for instance, is it all a “ringbeller” dreamt by Sophie?), but Mathison – in what was to sadly be her last screenwriting credit – sticks to the well-known plot, with the final act visit to “Her Majester” Queen Victoria (Penelope Wilton) propelling the narrative – and cast list! – far beyond the slower and more tranquil pace of the opening half.

Once you have adjusted to the unconventional “gobblefunk” dialogue, human beans of all ages (and heights!) will find something to smile about in this family film, while the target demographic will be howling with delight – particularly when the royal corgis are “whizpopping” around Buckingham Palace after lapping up some “frobscottle”. Add an extra CR@B to The BFG’s Claw Score if you’re below double digits.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

Tuck Everlasting (DVD Review)

PG – 90mins – 2003


 

I WANT TO LOVE FOREVER

From Jay Russell, the director of My Dog Skip (2000), comes this sweet but conservative family-friendly fable about the romance which blossoms between an immortal son (Jesse Jackson) and the upper class socialite (Alexis Gilmore Girls Bledel) who discovers his family’s long-hidden secret.

Set in 1914 and largely based in a timeless woodland homestead, Tuck Everlasting’s unpretentious plot is undeniably charming and chock-full of rose-tinted awe, but ultimately this A-to-B adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s beloved children’s book doesn’t play around with its magic-infused, era-spanning narrative enough.

Ben Kingsley is sufficiently stuffed with smarm as an enigmatic yellow-suited profiteer of the Tuck’s blessing/curse, but his menace – and the ramifications of his fate – are dulled down for a Disney demographic. So too is the fact that baby-faced Bledel’s protagonist Winnie is kidnapped by William Hurt’s age-defying brood in order to hold her tongue from babbling about their magical spring of youth.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Fire Girl (Book Review)

Written by: Matt Ralphs
Published in the UK by: MacMillan Children’s Books, 2015
272 pages


 

SEARING EXCITEMENT

Set in an alternative seventeenth century England over a decade after a Witch War where all Wielders were purged by Cromwell’s army, 11 year old Hazel Hooper has been brought up by her magic-using mother in an isolated enclave of Wychwood Forest. When her sole guardian is snatched by a vicious demon, Hazel must leave behind all that she has ever known and set off into the big wide world with only a grumpy dormouse called Bramley for company, to bring her mother home.

First time author Matt Ralphs has constructed a dense and well-realised (if hardly original) olde worlde universe for his characters to inhabit. The world-building fusion of historical research with fantastical embellishments helps to ground some of Fire Girl’s more out-there aspects into a more relatable read for its young audience.

Discovering she is endowed with a fiery ‘gift’ she has yet to adjust to, much less hone, young Hazel has not only demons and wicked adversaries to contend with, but also the Witch Hunter’s who roam the land hoping to collect a bounty for any Wielder’s who escaped the purge. Desperately alone in a strange and dangerous new world with no plan and no-one to turn to, Hazel’s never-say-die spirit in the face of persistent adversity is commendable and makes her an endearing and heroic protagonist, whilst her sharp-tongued familiar Bramley makes for an amusing and spunky, scene-stealing counterpart.

As Hazel ventures beyond the hedge and enters the communities of Wychwood and Rivenpike, she must choose who to trust and who to flee from as all manner of supernatural dilemmas threaten to derail her quest, from poisonous Spider demons to doll-trapped souls calling out to their zombified mortal remains! As diverse and dynamic as these scenarios are, I did start to lose faith in Ralphs’ overtly sequential structuring as the chapters began to rack up in a rather episodic fashion.

However, as Fire Girl progressed, the sense of peril becomes palpable and the scale escalates to a scintillating climatic apex, with elements established in earlier chapters reappearing to find satisfactory relevance to the greater story arc (the grieving Woodsman and the abandoned cabin in the woods being prime examples), rewarding eagle-eyed readers who pay attention.

With this first novel concluding with a heart-rending sacrifice and a shocking twist, we are left with a clear signpost for where Hazel’s ripening adventure will take her next – down into the Underworld. It’s an enticing prospect and a journey I will certainly be joining her on when the sequel Fire Witch bursts onto bookshelves in August.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

The Jungle Book (Cinema Review)

Image result for the jungle book 2016

PG – 108mins – 2016


 

UNCANNY FANGY

With revenge-hungry Bengal tiger Shere Khan (the voice of Idris Elba) vowing to murder him as payback for the disfiguring scars man’s “red flower” (fire) left him with, abandoned man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is forced to flee the pack of his wolfen guardians and return to the human outpost on the jungle’s edge. As he makes his way through the dense Indian vegetation, young Mowgli encounters all manner of furry friends and ferocious foes in this extravagant coming-of-age ‘tail’.

… Keep Scuttling!