Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: Monster Slayer by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell.

Review: Monster Slayer by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell.

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Synopsis: 

In ancient times, long ago, a King built a Great Hall. He intended it to be a special place for all his people, a place of peace and celebration, but the sound of music awoke a monster. Grendel feasted upon the sleeping warriors and left the community in devastation.

Warriors came from distant lands, but none could defeat Grendel. Then Beowulf came, and with his tricks and cunning, he defeated Grendel. But little did Beowulf know that an even greater monster lay in wait …

A strong retelling of a classic tale.

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Review:

Have you ever played the ultimate bookish game of thinking up dream author/illustrator partnerships for classic or modern classic tales? Just me? Monster Slayer is a fine example of a retelling done right. Brian Patten is a champion wordsmith whose prose chimes in all the right places. Chris Riddell is famed for his slightly gothic line drawings. Together they make the perfect team to tell one of the oldest tales around.

I was nine or ten, and a true bookworm, when Beowulf was put under by nose. I was supposed to like it. I turned it down. Thinking back, I couldn’t picture the historical setting and the author tried too hard to be clever with language in homage to the original text. A clear, well-told story is the very best thing. Monster Slayer reads as if it is being read aloud. The twists and turns come in all the right places and the set-up allows the reader to truly care about the community that is being ravaged by Grendel’s visits.

Together with the illustrations – think full-page line drawings of drooling monsters – and this makes a book that is impossible not to pick up. 

 This edition follows Beowulf up until his battle with Grendel’s Mother and ends on a heroic note. 

Barrington Stoke is committed to breaking down barriers to reading. Shortened versions of classic tales allow readers to get the story into their heads and enjoy the drama of the tale. This is a fabulous introduction to a timeless story. The engaging text, together with the illustrations, make an experience for everybody to enjoy. 

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for my copy of Monster Slayer. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

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‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

Alice would, I feel certain, approve of this edition of her tale. There are pictures and graphics and a wealth of patterns. The Mina Lima classics range has become something of a cult hit in the book community and they also make the most beautiful Christmas presents known to bookish kind. 

MinaLima is a design studio based in London. Best known for their contribution to the Harry Potter films (look out for the Daily Prophets and Quibblers and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes logo), their iconic style and meticulous attention to detail make their work instantly recognisable to their many fans. My favourite aspect is their distincitve use of pattern. 

What makes their work so suited to Alice In Wonderland? 

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Anyone who is familiar with previous editions of Alice will be aware that – with several ntoable exceptions – it is often perceived as a mildly scary story. Think of Tim Burton’s films or the seminal work of Sir John Tenniel. While the book is never portrayed as a horror, the darker side of Wonderland often comes out in the artwork. MinaLima’s editon builds on this with a sharp-clawed Cheshire Cat, thorned plants and the scariest card people since Tenniel’s edition. 

Interactive elements include fold-outs and tabs and lavishly-illustrated game boards. This is not only a book but a fully immersive Wonderland experience. 

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It is always a pleasure to revisit classic texts. Too often we think we are familiar with these stories because they have been retold and animated and become part of our pop-culture. Going back to the original prose teaches us more about the world than anything else ever could and a beautiful gift edition is a perfect reason to dive back into the story. 

I own the MinaLima Peter Pan and spent Christmas 2015 enthralled by the detail, and drinking in the story as a result. Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass lives up to the high MinaLima standards and I expect it to be popular this holiday season. 

 

Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR and Harper Collins Publishers for my copy of Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass (Illustrated by MinaLima). Opinions my own. 

Guest Post

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

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About In The Shadow Of Heroes

Emperor Nero has decreed that he shall have The Golden Fleece of Greek mythology, and nothing will stand in his way. 

When scholar Tullus goes missing, his slave Cadmus knows he must go after him. When a girl called Tog turns up with a secret message, the pair set out to help Tullus on a quest which will take them to the edges of the Roman Empire and force them to question what is reality and what is a myth. 

One of my favourite subjects at school was Latin. Both the language itself and the stories we learned about Roman culture. I thought at once of a Classics teacher when I began this story and was delighted to find out that Bowling is a Latin teacher and a classics graduate. His interest in the past and in the myths of those times is all over his work. Cadmus and Tog behave in ways which are realistic for their times and are fully engaging to the modern audience. 

The quest opens up an amazing world where the objects from Greek mythology are up for grabs. I always think it is interesting to imagine how mythological items would be abused by people in power. 

I am delighted to welcome Nicholas Bowling to my blog. He has written a guest piece which explains how Nero (a legendary figure himself) had an interest in mythology. 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR for arranging this opportunity, and to Nicholas for your time. 

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The Myth of Nero by Nicholas Bowling. 

In 69 AD, reports spread through Greece and Asia minor that the Roman Emperor Nero had arrived on the island of Kythnos. He had robbed traders, had armed slaves for an insurrection and had ousted the Roman commander. The arrival of the Emperor anywhere in his empire was bound to cause anxiety to the locals, regardless of his behaviour. This instance was particularly troubling, though, because Nero had killed himself the previous year.

In all there were three “Pseudo-Neros” who came out of the woodwork following his death. Oracles and historians alike spoke of the “Nero Redivivus” legend, in which the monster returned from hiding to wage war on the empire he had once ruled. St Augustine and the early Christians foretold his return as late as the 5th century, and went so far as to label him the Antichrist. Such was the cruelty, decadence and downright weirdness of Nero’s reign, he had already become an almost mythical character within his own lifetime; once he was dead, the myth took on a life of its own. Nowadays the name “Nero” is still a byword for tyranny.

Not only did Nero become a myth himself, but he also had a fascinating relationship with myth while he was alive. He was obsessed with Greek culture and art, in particular with poetry and singing. In fact, he fancied himself the greatest singer who had ever lived, Apollo reborn, and – to the great shame of Rome – participated in poetry recitals dressed as the god himself. The famous story of him singing about the fall of Troy while the Great Fire of Rome raged around him is probably apocryphal but still gives an insight into how he was perceived by his subjects. In Nero’s deluded mind, reality and fiction seemed to blur. The historian Suetonius called him “scaenicus imperator” – “the emperor of the stage”, whose whole life seemed to be a story he was enacting.

When it came to writing “In the Shadow of Heroes,” Nero was a gift of a character – in fact, he was the starting point for the whole thing. The book re-examines myths we think we know and asks readers to imagine that those stories really took place, and left real, tangible objects for us to find. As a choice of antagonist, who better than Nero: the mythical bogey-man who couldn’t tell the difference between story and reality?

 

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on twitter @thenickbowling