Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hollow City - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children II - Don't miss the absolutely fantastic book trailer!

Ransom Riggs' fantastic Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children  rocked our world back in June and the sequel - Hollow City - is about to arrive. The New York Times Best Seller gets darker second time around as we once again catch up with Jacob, and the incumbents of the mysterious parallel universe - centred around a creepy home for 'gifted' children. 

We're on the edge of our seats for this one and can't wait...meanwhile enjoy the spooky book trailer for this. 

"Hollow City" (Miss Peregrine II) by Ransom Riggs is out on the 14th January 2014 from Quirk Books



Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hive Monkey by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris Books)

"Hive Monkey" by Gareth L. Powell. Intelligent, effortlessly cool sci fi. 
Back before I decided to put all the 'grown up' books I review in a more grown up place, I reviewed "Ack Ack Macaque" by Gareth L. Powell on my other blog ReadItDaddy - bought purely on the strength of a glowing write-up on BoingBoing (who cost me an arm and a leg in book recommendations, the beggars!)

A whirlwind mix of virtual reality gaming, primates, hot ninja chicks and kick-ass action, it was just my kind of novel.

"Hive Monkey" is the sequel, and (spoilers ahead) now Ack Ack Macaque is a real and tangible being rather than a computer game character, life doesn't really get any easier for our banana dacquiri-swilling antihero.

The world, it seems, is caught up in change - and not for the better.  In hiding aboard a nuclear powered Zeppelin, we find Ack Ack kicking his heels up, craving action.

The saying "be careful what you wish for" rings in his ears as K8, kick ass sidekick and friend is kidnapped, for indoctrination into an insidious organisation known as The Gestalt. Ack Ack's only hope is to break K8 out, with the help of some old friends and more than a goodly dose of gung-ho, Spitfire fuel and machine gun bullets.

Reading "Hive Monkey" reminded me that Powell's style is to lull you into a false sense of security. At first, the novel feels like a slightly slower paced adventure than Ack Ack Macaque - But before long your arse is sliding down a razor-blade of tension, action and inventive characterisation as Ack Ack's "shoot first, ask questions later, then shoot again" approach begins to bear fruit.

Again without spoiling too much, there's the distinct feeling that a third book in the story arc (or indeed a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh) certainly won't go amiss. I stick to my machine guns on this though, if they ever cast a movie without Ron Perlman as Ack Ack, I'll be beside myself with grief.

Third book soon please Gareth!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

World-building. Like a sandbox, they're only interesting if they've got more than just sand in...

A fascination with dystopian worlds doesn't have to mean clanging emptiness
I've been concerned for a long time about huge heavy-hitting best selling books "building better worlds", books where the actual setting becomes as much of a 'star' as the characters.

The lure of dystopian pasts or futures, like the divided "Districts" in Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" or the sprawling Elder-Scrolls / King-of-Thrones style fantasy landscapes of "The Future King - The Waking World" by Tom Huddleston, feel like places we can't wait to visit as vicarious observers hovering far above the landscape safe from its troubles and torments.

So many authors tie themselves to creating rich and detailed worlds - but what of the world's contents? What of the characters who populate these worlds? Is it possible that the newest trend in writing is also leading us down a path where 'literary tourism' is the substitute for dialogue and character development?

We've seen this happen in video games. With the advent of more powerful systems, we have seen "The Sandbox Game" become more and more popular, as developers begin the process of world-building themselves. But as the caption on our header image suggests, are authors now falling into the same trap that games developers are already struggling to claw their way out of - where those worlds are just empty hollow clanging shells, suffering because of a lack of content?

World building is tempting, inveigling. As an author, you are god - you possess the creative power to build a world, shape it, fanny around with the wibbly wobbly Norwegian coastline and all those Fjords, you can make cities rise or fall, produce architectural wonders to rival the ancient seven wonders of this world. But will you lose yourself so entirely in the process of world creation that you suddenly realise you need characters to populate that world that have as much impact as the scenery?

Worth a thought...

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Feathered Man by Jeremy De Quidt (David Fickling Books)

"The Feathered Man" by Jeremy De Quidt. Something wicked this way flaps!

Darkness and devilry abound in Jeremy De Quidt's latest book "The Feathered Man". Set in a German town (the exact time period is never mentioned but seems to be around the 18th century perhaps), it's a roiling tale of avarice and greed, and sinister beings. 

We meet Klaus, "The Tooth Puller's Boy" who is drawn into the centre of a maelstrom of chaos after a cadaver arrives at his master's business (Tooth pulling was apparently common practice in Europe from the 17th Century onwards, as precious metals were used as fillings - and obviously harvested back by illicit individuals when the person died!) This particular cadaver has a few gold teeth but it's a diamond - disguised as a tooth - that causes uproar, and soon results in the tooth puller's death when an avaricious boarding house owner and her son (the dead man's landlady, in fact) want that diamond back. 

Drawn also into the plot is Leisl, who is a servant girl under Drecht's harsh instruction. Tortured and threatened into reclaiming the diamond back from Klaus, Leisl meets other nefarious characters who cross her path and are also very interested in that diamond. 

Worst of all though is a character whom Klaus encounters by chance, a terrible feathered supernatural being who seems to be inextricably linked to the gem and the deaths of several folk involved with it. 

De Quidt's dark and horrific story is a real slow burner at first, taking a while to get going before it gets its nasty bird-like talons into you and hooks you in. As the plot tightens, the characters - reminiscent of horrific Bosch-like caricatures - become almost frenzied as the novel draws to a satisfying 'whump' of a close. 

Close the shutters, close your mouth, hug the bedclothes tight - but don't close your eyes for a second!

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Seven Deadly Sins of Reading - a Book Blogging Meme

Nice wedding gift...!


I spotted this meme over on the awesome Child-Led Chaos blog, so naturally I couldn't resist pinching it.
(The original meme was posted on Plastic Rosaries)


GREED: What is your most inexpensive book? What is your most expensive book?

Does 'free' count? If not, I guess the cheapest book I've actually paid money for was a 5p copy of an excellent Origami book by Heath Werner. Unfortunately it was a poor purchase because the origami in it is SO HARD!


Most expensive book - would probably be any of the Microsoft Inside Out stuff I have at work - they're ridiculously priced (£60 up for a book that's so dull it works beautifully as a cure for insomnia)


WRATH: What author do you have a love/hate relationship with?

Alan Moore. At his best, he's thought provoking, surreal, clever and brilliant. At his worst he churns out some really dreadful stuff that I can't bear to read more than once.


GLUTTONY: What book have you deliciously devoured over and over with no shame whatsoever?

Oh dear. It's probably not a good idea to admit that I've read "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis more times than is probably good for a sane rational person. Other than that, "The Time Traveller's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger because I seriously wish I could write like that. Write something that made people cry.


SLOTH: What book have you neglected to read due to laziness?

I never pass up a book due to laziness but I have passed up a lot of books because you get part way in and realise it's not 'sticking'. That particular list is too huge to mention!


PRIDE: What book do you most talk about in order to sound like a very intellectual reader?

I don't think I've ever bothered to read anything just to look 'trendy' or 'clever' but there are probably a few poetry books I've dropped the names of but have actually genuinely enjoyed. "Grinning Jack" by Brian Patten definitely fits into that mould.


LUST: What attributes do you find most attractive in male or female characters?

I am a sucker for kick-ass girls who basically don't take any crap from their male counterparts, save the day, and pause only to pick their knickers out of their bum-cracks. So Tank Girl then!


ENVY: What books would you most like to receive as a gift?

Anything by Shaun Tan, any graphic novels that aren't "teen w**k", real sucker for pretty books so anything along those lines. Absolutely and positively NOT books that have titles like "50 things a baldy can do to cover up their bald spots" or "A Big Book about Bottoms"

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury Publishing)

"The Bone Season" by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury)
You know that feeling, that rather delicious feeling when a book 'nags' away at you and begs you to return to it when you're not reading it. That.

Samantha Shannon's "The Bone Season" is set in a twisted alternative future. It's 2059, and the world is a very different place to the world we know. Psychics are like currency, often actively subversive but more frequently press-ganged, corralled and drummed into service against a nefarious government known as "Scion" that would have them all destroyed on sight, and an alien race that are the true puppetmasters on this alternate Earth.

One such psychic, 19 year old Paige Mahoney, finds herself immersed in the machinations of a criminal gang of talented psychics who have different specialities. Her own unique talents as a dreamwalker are of great value to the Mime Lord who controls the Seven Dials Gang, one Jaxon Hall. But when it comes to choosing sides, the lines are infinitely blurred so can Paige be sure of herself, and that she's doing the right thing?

I'll say no more other than to urge you to seek out this book. Samantha Shannon's debut is just the first part of an intended 7-book series (Seven!) For a young author to tie herself to such a commitment is nothing short of astonishing, but the world Sam has created - and the fabulous characters therein can stand up to a long haul, so I seriously cannot wait to see how more pieces of the puzzle slot together in Book Two.

As well as the enigmatic and charismatic Paige, Jaxon Hall is just the sort of bombastic ne'er do well that you'd want in a novel to offer a pivot point but the true villain of the piece, the insidious yellow-eyed alien known as "Warden" who holds court over a ruined Oxford, now turned into a hellish prison for psychics, is akin to President Stone in "The Hunger Games" - with very similar tastes in physical and psychic torture.

I'm slightly baffled by some of the press surrounding the book, making comparisons between Samantha Shannon and J.K Rowling. The books couldn't be further apart in subject and tone, and aside from the fairly heavy commitment of a long book series - and the fact that they're both female and writing what seems to be coined as 'Young Adult' fiction (when really this is a novel that can be enjoyed right across a range of ages) there's no detectable similarity between the two. If anything, it'd be easy to compare "The Bone Season" to Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series - set in a similarly dystopian yet eerily familiar Oxford but again the comparison would be fairly weak if purely based on each book's setting (again wildly different).

For someone who lives in Oxford and has direct links to academia I rather enjoyed Sam's gentle allegorical hints and digs in the book, and the familiarity of her described alt-universe that still has hooks into the ground-in patina of tradition and an almost stifling overbearing weight of 'knowledge as power'.

As I said at the beginning of the review, this is a book that'll grip you and keep you reading into the wee small hours - then dash you on the rocks at the end in preparation for book two. Be ready, Samantha Shannon and "The Bone Season" are going to be huge and the book's already been picked up by Andy Serkis' "Imaginarium" company for film options, so it probably won't be long before it hits the silver screen too.

(Kindly supplied to us for review through NetGalley by Bloomsbury Publishing)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Art of "The Last of Us" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin (Dark Horse Books)

"The Art of 'The Last of Us'" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin. Haunting, beautiful, essential. 
I can't imagine what it must've been like to be a developer or artist involved in Naughty Dog's hugely acclaimed game "The Last of Us".

Imagine being in a meeting on day one and being told "Your next task is to come up with Naughty Dog's next successful franchise."

No mean feat for any developer, but one with the pedigree of Naughty Dog? The developers behind the massively successful Jak and Daxter and Uncharted series?

When I first heard about "The Last of Us" I was so burned out on zombies and zombie-based games that I barely paid any attention to it at all. But as those first beautiful pieces of concept art were leaked to the press, and the first game trailer came along I started to pay a lot more attention.

The Last Of Us does ruined civilisation better than any other game you'll see in the current console generation. 
For starters, the game's "infected" aren't just your run-of-the-mill undead. They're twisted humans, infected with a fungal parasite that at least has a basis in science fact rather than science fiction. Based on the blight that some insects carry, that warps and twists their bodies into new and interesting - and entirely unnatural - shapes, Naughty Dog set out to twist the expectations that folk would have about their main 'baddies' and at least make an attempt to make them original and through that, more menacing.

Early expressions and concepts for Joel, one of the game's main characters
In the book we see how both Joel and Ellie (the main characters in the game) evolved, and how their looks changed as the game progressed. Having such a charismatic character as Nathan Drake to follow, Joel had to be sufficiently different enough, but with the dual-edged sword of being a bit of a nasty piece of work but still caring, even fatherly at times, it must've been a tough gig to design someone who would live on in the memory through being pretty ordinary but forced into extraordinary circumstances.

The stunning dystopian urban landscapes, shattered by years of neglect and slowly melting away and succumbing to nature are some of the game's real 'wow' moments.

No Through Road!
In the book the original concept paintings are shown alongside target renders and stuff that actually appears in the game. So many games have attempted to show the fall of civilisation, the slow drip-feed of nature's encroachment on humankind's domain, but The Last Of Us nails it perfectly. Seeing the full colour plates in the book makes you appreciate just how detailed these are, and how many reference pictures from disaster / war zones the artists must've picked through to get the look just right.

Broken into sections that describe how the game unfolds, the book offers tantalising glimpses into what might have been. For instance, imagine the game with a female protagonist instead of Joel. Imagine Ellie as a wispy blonde girl rather than the gutsy dark haired teen we now know.

There's also artwork from the limited edition comic that served as a prequel to the game, and though the art style is radically different, it's still interesting to read about things that pop up in the game as backstory.

Most game-art books are fairly light on content and ridiculously expensive for what they offer. "The Art of 'The Last of Us'" is packed to the gunnels with brilliant and beautiful illustrations, so if you've played through the game so many times you could so blindfolded (yep, that'd be me), dive into the book to reveal even more of Joel and Ellie's world. An essential purchase not just for fans of the game but for folk who want to delve into the processes and evolution behind games and game characters.

Probably my favourite illustration in the book. Brilliant!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Saga Volume II by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Saga Volume II. Red in tooth, claw and horn
If you've already seen my review of Saga Volume 1, you're already aware that I'm won over by the heady cocktail of uber-violence, romance and space-going surreality that has been poured lasciviously into Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples sprawling series.

With Volume 2 we play catch up for a while or two, with more of an introduction into the stories of Alana and Marko. When they met it wasn't quite murder, but as you see in this frame, it wasn't a bed of roses either. Owch!

Thwok!
On the run from ruthless mercenaries, the duo with their newborn daughter in tow have a less than happy "Meet the Parents" moment when Marko's mum and dad drop in (Marko's dad is eminently cool, have to say).

Meanwhile menacing "The Will" and Lying Cat team up with Marko's spurned ex who wants more than just cold hearted revenge (LYING!), and a couple of rather important family heirlooms back. Help comes from a surprising source but I'll leave you to discover that little nugget in the story yourself.

It's not exactly spoilerish to tell you that as you reach the end of Saga Volume 2, you're left hanging in the breeze waiting for Vaughan and Staples to polish up the rest of the Saga and deliver Volume 3 (If you're already voraciously consuming the original comic series rather than, like me, playing catch up with 'the box set' then you're in for a bit of a wait.

Suffice to say that this should not put you off enjoying a wholly fresh-feeling and deliciously dark pair of graphic novels. If you're not in love (or at least lust) with Alana or Marko by the end, there's probably something wrong with you. Once again, this is a comic for grown ups so expect nudity, sex and the world's droopiest and crustied sore-covered ballsack. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Saga Volume 1 Cover - Horny Horny Horny!

For the first official Graphic Novel review here at Daddy after Dark I wanted to look at something that may have slipped by completely unnoticed, but is well and truly worthy of your attention.

Brian K. Vaughan may be a name familiar to Lost fans. Someone who can weave a plot so intricate and deliciously dark that it's irresistible even when it makes no sense whatsoever, Brian has turned his talents to producing a sprawling sexy spacefaring science fiction masterpiece in the shape of Saga. With  the formidable illustrative talents of Fiona Staples, Volume 1 introduces us to Marko, a horned footsoldier on one side of a global conflict and his wife Alana, the sultry, sexy and kick-ass winged member of a technological coalition on the 'other side' of the war.

This is an adult graphic novel, so don't be surprised when it kicks off with a rather bizarre birth scene introducing us to Marko and Alana's daughter Hazel (the narrator of the story), and also has sex scenes and suggestive content (including something that deals with a subject that is really pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in an adult comic later on in the story).

But for all that, this isn't something that tittilates, it's something that deals with huge issues in a way that comics often steer around - or jump in with both feet and make a mess of things. Allegories of war, and even some rather tongue-in-cheek observations on becoming a parent for the first time are in here.

Prince Robot IV. Not to be trifled with. 

For my money though, it's the characters that make Saga stand out. Alana and Marko are seriously sexy characters who feel like they're reining in their awesome power and just trying to get along with being a family

But oh, then there's Lying Cat.

Lying Cat and "The Will" Again, don't mess with this pair! They'll turn you into a beanbag. 

A psychic cat as a sidekick, that can tell if folk are telling fibs? What's not to love. With his handler "The Will", a psychotic mercenary hunting for Alana and Marko - with the odd dalliance here and there to a prostitution colony, Lying Cat is utterly fantastic.

Saga is inventive, stunning to look at, and I cannot wait to dive into Volume 2 (it's so difficult not to dive through both volumes and consume them voraciously in one sitting). Watch out for a review soon.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna (Definitions - Young Adult)

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna. Original and thought provoking stuff
When I'm on holiday, one thing's certain. I will voraciously consume books. When you've got a young child and you're all sharing a room, there's nothing better than escaping out onto the balcony with a good book and diving through it.

We were originally sent "The Lost Girl" by Sangu Mandanna some time ago, and though it's taken till now to have a platform to review it on, it's worth taking a closer look at as it is original and thought provoking stuff.

In a society mirroring our own, the technology exists to produce "echoes" - parallel living beings that are more than just clones of a person. Designed to step in and replace the original person in the event of an accident, echoes are created on "The Loom" and spend their lives learning all the intricate traits, mannerisms and lifestyles of their 'originals'.

The novel concerns one such echo, a girl whose 'original' is named Amarra but chooses to call herself Eva (named after a mischievous elephant she sees in a zoo during an illicit day out). The girl she's designed to 'replace' is feisty, somewhat spoilt perhaps (my wife described her as 'whiny' even, eek!) and privileged.

When tragedy strikes and Amarra is killed in a car accident, Eva is destined to fulfil her role, to replace Amarra and live with her grief-stricken family. The aim is that Eva will neatly assume Amarra's role, soak up Amarra's lifestyle, share Amarra's friends and her boyfriend Ray, and no one will notice.

But of course, the best laid plans of mice, men or weavers are never as clear cut and never run strictly to plan. Eva is spirited, more so than Amarra. Eva is different, and despite being an echo, Eva is her own person with her own wishes and desires. Wishes and desires that are not a neat fit for her new life, or any kind of fit at all for the weavers who created her.

Sangu Mandanna has produced a work that dances neatly between science fiction and fact. It does not blather or babble or befuddle us with technicalities, but it does deliver a story that calls into question everything we consider moral, deals delicately with the multi-layered nuances of grief, and delves into ethical questions that will, undoubtedly, one day become as real as humanity's desire to answer questions about our own creation, how we came to be, how we evolved to a state where we feel we're masters of the universe rather than pawns.

The book heavily refers to one of my favourite books of all time, Mary Shelley's scintillating "Frankenstein; or the modern prometheus" - in fact it's more a totem to Eva than anything else she encounters.

There are times when the novel forces us to evaluate whether we actually like Eva, but we can't help but admire her quest to prove that any living being - artificially created or otherwise - has a right to live in the way they choose not at the whims of others.

A fantastic, original and wholly absorbing debut.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre Books)

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman. Winners can be Loesers!
This book has been on my wishlist for what feels like an eternity. They say that a book can lull you in with the awesome draw of "cover power" or make you stand up and take notice with a brief but tantalising blurb. That was the case here and thanks to a timely spot at our fabulous local indie (Mostly Books in Abingdon) who were running a promotion to nab this and several other brilliant titles for the paltry sum of £2.99, I seized my chance to wrap myself up the world of one Egon Loeser  (yes I kept pronouncing it "lew-ser" when I think it's closer to "loo-sser") while on holiday. Twice in fact, it's that great!

Antihero? Lust monster? Meldrew-esque misery guts? It's difficult to categorise a central character that utterly defies you to find anything about him to like - yet you can't help but do so. A theatrical set designer by trade, we first meet Loeser in Germany during the rise of the third reich but long before the first bullet of World War 2 is fired.

Loeser's world is governed by typically male pursuits. Lusting after unattainable females, experimenting with drugs and spending far too many waking hours as drunk as a skunk, Loeser meets a former student, Adele Hitler (yes, really but no, no relation) at a party and becomes so pivotally entranced by her, and his single-minded pursuit of her that his entire life becomes consumed by his quest.

So why "The Teleportation Accident?"

No there's no fancy fiddly fantastical messing around with temporal or physical displacement in the novel (which is what I was actually expecting), more the notion that a 17th century set designer came up with a physical device to move an actor instantaneously from one part of the stage to the other. This notion becomes a recurring motif for the novel as it explores surreal, comic and sometimes darkly disturbing themes during Loeser's chaotic and dishevelled mission.

Ned Beauman's comic touch is worth a huge mention here. Novels that make you burst out laughing loudly on aeroplanes are probably to be frowned on (as, possibly, are novels that make you uncomfortably titter at things you probably shouldn't be laughing at). Loeser and the supporting cast are so vividly hewn that it's almost impossible not to 'see' them despite several leaps across the globe as Loeser achingly gets closer yet thousands of miles away from his 'quarry'.

Reminiscent of bawdy 18th Century tales led by the nose through the 1930s like a wide-eyed staring adolescent, "The Teleportation Accident" does not disappoint and it's not hard to see why it was longlisted for the 2012 booker prize.

In fact with Beauman's previous novel "Boxer, Beetle" already winning awards - and Beauman himself described as one of the 12 best new British writers by The Culture Show, you're in for a heck of a ride. Just make sure you tuck some clean underwear (and a suit that doesn't smell of dead skunks) into your travel case.

"Black Arts" by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil (David Fickling Books)


"Black Arts" by Prentice and Weil. A Jack of Dark Trades 
Rip-roaring, roister-doistering and with such a deliciously dark blood-red vein of tense narrative running through it, Prentice and Weil's "Black Arts" is the sort of darkly delicious novel I just cannot resist.

Set in the stinking decrepit streets of Elizabethan London, "Black Arts" introduces us to a young street-thief named Jack who is about to undertake his first step on the 'career ladder' with notorious underworld crime king Mr Sharkwell.

But Jack's light fingers get him into more trouble than he bargained for when he steals a mysterious pouch containing seemingly innocent items. One of the items, a clay pipe, completely transforms Jack's life, bringing personal tragedy and dark magic hand in hand to land smack bang on his doorstep.

Fuelled by revenge, and the thirst for knowledge as to what his blood-red arm and mysteriously disrupted visual senses mean, Jack finds that his new talents are of particular interest to both sides of an unseen and wholly world-shattering conflict raging as London sinks further and further into moral degradation.

Jack is an interesting character, at first damaged and fragile but given new courage by vengeance and his first faltering dalliances into what his new powers can accomplish. With the aid of Sharkwell's own grandaughter, and other sympathetic characters, Jack soon finds that the mysterious and powerful enemy he makes early on in the story is perhaps an unbeatable foe. Or is he?

"Black Arts" happens at such a pace that you barely have time to draw breath. At times, Jack is seemingly lost in the morass as he struggles to make sense of his powers, and who can truly be trusted to help him exact revenge.

With luscious descriptive landscapes of rotten London painted in broad bloody strokes, and a strong and memorable cast of characters stretching as high as the Queen's own trusted advisers, this is a novel that is wrought from the darkest hues, but doesn't shy away from providing moments of comedic relief when things get too intense.

One for the blackest nights when you crave a page turner that will haunt you even as you dance between the waking world and your own darkly delicious nightmares.


Monday, 1 July 2013

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman (Quirk Books)

The spookiest covers in children's chapter books? You betcha!
I've been taking a look at a fab range of children's chapter books that are a little on the spooky side. One look at the lenticular covers (as you can see above, these slowly transform right before your eyes as you move the cover around) might be enough to sell this range of books to you, but what about the books themselves? How good are they?

In "Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" Book 1, we're introduced to our hero, Robert Arthur, as he begins his first year at Lovecraft Middle School. Most of his friends have gone on to other schools. Unfortunately for Robert, the school bully Glenn Torkells is still around, and still extracting "Nerd Tax" every time he sees Robert. One of the many annoyances about Robert's first few days at the school.

Most of the other kids in class seem a bit weird and distant, except for one girl, Karina Ortiz, who urges Robert to stick up for himself against Glenn. Karina isn't quite as she seems though as Robert finds out later in the book (I won't spoil the twist).

In fact Karina isn't the only odd thing around Lovecraft Middle School. Kids disappear, and one particular teacher - the science teacher, Professor Goyle - seems more menacing than others.

Weird things start happening too. A plague of rats erupt from children's lockers (and one particular two-headed rat is soon adopted by Robert as a fuzzy friend), and the school library is a bizarre portal to another realm as Robert, Karina and eventually Glenn (who Robert saves from a particularly nasty near-miss) discover that Lovecraft Middle School is seriously warped in every sense of the word.

Charles Gilman's spooky stories have a whiff of Eerie, Indiana about them, and there are plenty of spooky goings-on to entertain kids who love the supernatural or a good old fashioned monstrous tale. It'll be interesting to see how the series develops. "Professor Gargoyle" was a neat introduction, a nice easy read but with plenty of spookiness to carry it through. I'm currently reading the second book (The Slither Sisters) and now the introductions of the main characters and the grist of the story have been laid down, Slither Sisters feels a lot more involved and sinister.

Perfect early readers for children. The books aren't particularly scary but they're great fun and those covers just leap out at you, who could possibly resist!

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman, is available from Quirk Books and of course your friendly local independent bookstore.



Monday, 24 June 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Quirk Books)

If the cover image alone doesn't make you instantly want to read this book,
then there's something wrong with you :)
On DaddyAfterDark you may have noticed I have a tendency to favour the surreal, the supernatural and the fantastical. Fantasy books have always been the staple on my bookshelves (with a few notable exceptions here and there), simply because it feels like you're reading the work of authors who know they're well and truly off the leash, can let their imaginations roam free, present any character or situation to you (the reader) and get away with it.

So it is with "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" which at first glance may look like 'just another ghost novel' but is absolutely anything but.

16 year old Jacob enjoys a close relationship with his Grandfather, who always weaves amazing fantastic tales of his life and the things he got up to before he settled down. Producing a box of strange photos to back up his claims, Grandpa tells Jacob all about an orphanage he grew up in, and the 'peculiar' children there.

Jacob, being a typical teenager, always takes Grandpa's stories with a pinch of salt but when Grandpa phones in the middle of the night with a note of urgency and terror in his voice, Jacob rushes to the scene - to find Grandpa dead in the forest. Not merely dead, but clawed, attacked, ravaged by something. Something that Jacob sees fleeing from the scene out of the corner of his eye. Something wholly terrible and unnatural.

The incident has such a profound effect on Jacob that he searches out Grandpa's photo box to look at the pictures again, finding more than he bargained for...

Strange photos of children, that Jacob at first takes as photomanipulation but begins to question whether they might actually be genuine.

On the advice of his therapist, Jacob petitions his parents to let him visit the island which his Grandfather spoke of, to seek out the orphanage and the mysterious Miss Peregrine - who featured in several letters also in his grandfather's possession.

What is actually going on in the photos? Did the stories that Jacobs grandfather told him have an air of truth about them?

After much cajoling, Jacob gets his wish and he sets out with his birdwatcher father to make a vacation out of the trip.

Ransom Riggs creates an other-worldiness in this novel that is boosted by the photos - included as counterpoints to the story throughout the book. Many may argue that books of this ilk do not need illustrations but in this particular case, I think they work beautifully and add bucketloads of atmosphere and spine-chilling surreality, to put flesh on the bones of the characters within.

As Jacob reaches the island, we soon learn that there is far more at stake here than Jacob's journey of closure, and though the island initially seems like a dead end, the boundaries of time and space are broken and Jacob will find more questions than answers.

Without spoiling too much of the novel, I came in with the expectation that this might be a spooky story, but left wanting - nay craving the next book in the series (The Hollow City - which is published next January - a very long time to wait, ack!)

Jacob's journey of discovery - not just about the truth behind his grandfather's stories but his own self discovery too, is a nail-biting and fascinating read.

It's a book that effortlessly paints each scene (with or without the aid of the aforementioned photos) so strongly in the mind that you can almost hear the whirr of diesel generators feeding the island's makeshift electricty supply, and later on almost feel the flecks of blood spattering across your cheek as things take a seriously dark turn as this first book in an eventual trilogy draws to a close.

I seriously cannot wait to read more. If this doesn't end up as a Tim Burton film I'll eat my hat (in fact I'm not really sure I would want Mr Burton to touch this particular book, I really can't see how Johnny Depp could play a 16 year old!)



(Kindly sent to DaddyAfterDark for review by Mat @ PGUK / Quirk Books)

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman (Doubleday)

Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman. Heaven in a hand-grenade
It seems like a long time ago that a mysterious PR flyer arrived through the letterbox at ReadItDaddy Towers. A lot has happened since then. We now have this darkly delicious blog to talk about 'grown up' books (or should I say 'more grown up books') and Malorie Blackman's star has deservedly gone stratospheric as she is now the new Children's Laureate.

I'm new to her work but I'm hooked, simply because Noble Conflict weaves exactly the kind of story world I'm inexplicably drawn to. Talk about dystopian futures, divides in society, conflict and rebellion and I am there with knobs on - and that's what you'll find wrapped between these black luxurious covers.

The story begins with an introduction to the main character, one Kaspar Wilding, a freshly scrubbed new recruit to the Order of Guardians. Call them peacekeepers, a security force, but they are the front line in a futuristic world where the thread of order is frayed and dwindling.

We follow Kaspar's progress through boot camp initially, but soon we also encounter the main meat and bones of the story as The Guardians are repeatedly attacked as insurgents strive to undermine their ordered society.

Kaspar soon finds that there is far more behind the scenes with the seemingly random acts of terrorism. In conjunction with computer genius Mac, a cute purple haired 'civvy' working alongside the Guardians, Kaspar uncovers a plot and becomes more directly involved with the insurgents as he meets one face to face after a traumatic incident while out in the field.

Kaspar soon finds himself on the wrong end of both the Guardian chain of command and the insurgents themselves as he fights to uncover the truth.

As we follow Kaspar's quest, it's easy to draw comparisons with what's happening in the world today and from what I read, this is something that Malorie Blackman specialises in. Drawing allegorical comparisons between the fight for liberty versus the war against terror, "Noble Conflict" is addictive stuff and I particularly love Malorie's 'balls out' approach to her character's dialogue and depth.

You'll be expecting a twist, and there is a huge one. You may also be expecting closure and resolution but unless we get to revisit Kaspar's world (and I dearly hope we do) you'll be left wanting more by the time you finish this book.

"Noble Conflict" By Malorie Blackman is from Doubleday, and was released on 6th June 2013. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

DaddyAfterDark's first official review - "Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase" by Jonathan Stroud (Random House)

Spooky goings on? You don't know the half of it...

Title: Lockwood and Co (subtitled "The Screaming Staircase")
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 29th August 2013 (UK) 17th September 2013 (US)

Welcome to our first official "Daddy After Dark" review and for our first dip into books that we can't cover on ReadItDaddy (our children's book blog) we thought we'd jump right in at the deep end with a book that chills the very spine (not the spine of the book, dafty - your spine!)

In an alternate reality, ghosts are a serious problem. They're not content with just rattling a few chains, or spooking celebrities on silly late night TV programmes, they're as real as the nose on your face and represent a serious threat.

Adults have real problems detecting ghosts (so no need for Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddemore here) so it's up to children to become ghost hunters. Sensitive souls who can detect psychic emanations from buildings and objects, or actually see ghosts going about their nightly business soon end up in the employ of ghost detection agencies - such as Fittes or...Lockwood and Co.

Anthony Lockwood is recruiting for a new 'specialist' for his own agency and after a fairly shocking kick-off the novel introduces us to Lucy Carlyle, a talented young psychic agent who joins Lockwood and Co after passing their spooky interview process and tests.

Along with George Cubbins, another operative with more of a penchant for biscuits than spectres, the three set out to establish the agency as a force to be reckoned with amongst London's larger psychic detection outfits.

Haphazard, chaotic and with some success, their methods soon lead them to a case that goes horribly wrong and ends up with destruction of property and threat to life and livelihood.

Soon Lockwood and Co are under the scrutiny of DEPRA, the government's regulating body for psychic detection agencies, and with the threat of lawsuits and financial ruin, they must take on one of the biggest most dangerous unsolved ghost cases in London in order to save the company.

Are the three up to the challenge?

You'll have to find out by reading the book, of course. The preview copy came with a rather neat app download - Hold up your favourite smart device with the Random House reader app, and you'll get to hear Jonathan Stroud telling you a bit about the book (on the back cover) with a rather neat AR style video.

Turn the device on the front cover though, and you'll find out why the book comes with the warning that a type 2 apparition is nestling somewhere between the covers.

"Lockwood and Co" is fast paced, absolutely chock full of ghostly thrills and though it's set in contemporary times, there's enough of a whiff of victoriana and steampunk about it (particularly in the methods that Spectral Agents use to dispatch their ghostly foes) to instantly grab the attention and keep you hooked.

Alas, mere mortals like yourselves will have to wait all the way until the 29th August 2013 to get your hands on a copy of Lockwood and Co (US folks will have to wait until 17th September, poor things) but it will be worth the wait. It's a real belter of a book that packs a psychic punch. Essential bedtime reading (unless, like me, you quake under the bed scooby-doo style at the mere mention of ghouls and ghosties!)

Author Jonathan Stroud. If your party needs a smartie, just hire...RentaGhostExpert!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

'Daddy' reviews on ReadItDaddy - A roundup

Here's a handy dandy link-o-tron through to reviews on ReadItDaddy that were purely for 'grown up' or YA books (that my daughter had no input on).

In no particular order:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Corgi)

The Battles of Ben Kingdom Vol 1 by Andrew Beasley (Usborne)

Taft 2012 by Jason Heller (Quirk Books)

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

Countdown City (The Last Policeman 2) by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris Books)

The Palace Library by Steven Loveridge (CreateSpace)

The Last Minute by Eleanor Updale (David Fickling Books)

Welcome to Daddy After Dark!

The Shadow in "Deathhouse Rescue" (art by Fancesco Francovilla)
The problem with running a children's book blog is that sometimes it feels like that's all you get to read. Not so, my lieblings! Daddy does read after dark, usually before collapsing in an exhausted heap from a day of BEING a daddy.

So at the risk of kicking off yet another blog (like I said on Twitter earlier, too little butter spread across too much bread) here's a book blog for the 'other' stuff ReadItDaddy reads. The darker stuff, the grown up stuff, the stuff that won't go anywhere near the children's book blog.

Stick around for Daddy after Dark. Coming to a web browser near you.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hollow City - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children II - Don't miss the absolutely fantastic book trailer!

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Ransom Riggs' fantastic Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children  rocked our world back in June and the sequel - Hollow City - is about to arrive. The New York Times Best Seller gets darker second time around as we once again catch up with Jacob, and the incumbents of the mysterious parallel universe - centred around a creepy home for 'gifted' children. 

We're on the edge of our seats for this one and can't wait...meanwhile enjoy the spooky book trailer for this. 

"Hollow City" (Miss Peregrine II) by Ransom Riggs is out on the 14th January 2014 from Quirk Books



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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hive Monkey by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris Books)

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"Hive Monkey" by Gareth L. Powell. Intelligent, effortlessly cool sci fi. 
Back before I decided to put all the 'grown up' books I review in a more grown up place, I reviewed "Ack Ack Macaque" by Gareth L. Powell on my other blog ReadItDaddy - bought purely on the strength of a glowing write-up on BoingBoing (who cost me an arm and a leg in book recommendations, the beggars!)

A whirlwind mix of virtual reality gaming, primates, hot ninja chicks and kick-ass action, it was just my kind of novel.

"Hive Monkey" is the sequel, and (spoilers ahead) now Ack Ack Macaque is a real and tangible being rather than a computer game character, life doesn't really get any easier for our banana dacquiri-swilling antihero.

The world, it seems, is caught up in change - and not for the better.  In hiding aboard a nuclear powered Zeppelin, we find Ack Ack kicking his heels up, craving action.

The saying "be careful what you wish for" rings in his ears as K8, kick ass sidekick and friend is kidnapped, for indoctrination into an insidious organisation known as The Gestalt. Ack Ack's only hope is to break K8 out, with the help of some old friends and more than a goodly dose of gung-ho, Spitfire fuel and machine gun bullets.

Reading "Hive Monkey" reminded me that Powell's style is to lull you into a false sense of security. At first, the novel feels like a slightly slower paced adventure than Ack Ack Macaque - But before long your arse is sliding down a razor-blade of tension, action and inventive characterisation as Ack Ack's "shoot first, ask questions later, then shoot again" approach begins to bear fruit.

Again without spoiling too much, there's the distinct feeling that a third book in the story arc (or indeed a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh) certainly won't go amiss. I stick to my machine guns on this though, if they ever cast a movie without Ron Perlman as Ack Ack, I'll be beside myself with grief.

Third book soon please Gareth!
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Thursday, 26 September 2013

World-building. Like a sandbox, they're only interesting if they've got more than just sand in...

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A fascination with dystopian worlds doesn't have to mean clanging emptiness
I've been concerned for a long time about huge heavy-hitting best selling books "building better worlds", books where the actual setting becomes as much of a 'star' as the characters.

The lure of dystopian pasts or futures, like the divided "Districts" in Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" or the sprawling Elder-Scrolls / King-of-Thrones style fantasy landscapes of "The Future King - The Waking World" by Tom Huddleston, feel like places we can't wait to visit as vicarious observers hovering far above the landscape safe from its troubles and torments.

So many authors tie themselves to creating rich and detailed worlds - but what of the world's contents? What of the characters who populate these worlds? Is it possible that the newest trend in writing is also leading us down a path where 'literary tourism' is the substitute for dialogue and character development?

We've seen this happen in video games. With the advent of more powerful systems, we have seen "The Sandbox Game" become more and more popular, as developers begin the process of world-building themselves. But as the caption on our header image suggests, are authors now falling into the same trap that games developers are already struggling to claw their way out of - where those worlds are just empty hollow clanging shells, suffering because of a lack of content?

World building is tempting, inveigling. As an author, you are god - you possess the creative power to build a world, shape it, fanny around with the wibbly wobbly Norwegian coastline and all those Fjords, you can make cities rise or fall, produce architectural wonders to rival the ancient seven wonders of this world. But will you lose yourself so entirely in the process of world creation that you suddenly realise you need characters to populate that world that have as much impact as the scenery?

Worth a thought...
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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Feathered Man by Jeremy De Quidt (David Fickling Books)

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"The Feathered Man" by Jeremy De Quidt. Something wicked this way flaps!

Darkness and devilry abound in Jeremy De Quidt's latest book "The Feathered Man". Set in a German town (the exact time period is never mentioned but seems to be around the 18th century perhaps), it's a roiling tale of avarice and greed, and sinister beings. 

We meet Klaus, "The Tooth Puller's Boy" who is drawn into the centre of a maelstrom of chaos after a cadaver arrives at his master's business (Tooth pulling was apparently common practice in Europe from the 17th Century onwards, as precious metals were used as fillings - and obviously harvested back by illicit individuals when the person died!) This particular cadaver has a few gold teeth but it's a diamond - disguised as a tooth - that causes uproar, and soon results in the tooth puller's death when an avaricious boarding house owner and her son (the dead man's landlady, in fact) want that diamond back. 

Drawn also into the plot is Leisl, who is a servant girl under Drecht's harsh instruction. Tortured and threatened into reclaiming the diamond back from Klaus, Leisl meets other nefarious characters who cross her path and are also very interested in that diamond. 

Worst of all though is a character whom Klaus encounters by chance, a terrible feathered supernatural being who seems to be inextricably linked to the gem and the deaths of several folk involved with it. 

De Quidt's dark and horrific story is a real slow burner at first, taking a while to get going before it gets its nasty bird-like talons into you and hooks you in. As the plot tightens, the characters - reminiscent of horrific Bosch-like caricatures - become almost frenzied as the novel draws to a satisfying 'whump' of a close. 

Close the shutters, close your mouth, hug the bedclothes tight - but don't close your eyes for a second!

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Monday, 9 September 2013

The Seven Deadly Sins of Reading - a Book Blogging Meme

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Nice wedding gift...!


I spotted this meme over on the awesome Child-Led Chaos blog, so naturally I couldn't resist pinching it.
(The original meme was posted on Plastic Rosaries)


GREED: What is your most inexpensive book? What is your most expensive book?

Does 'free' count? If not, I guess the cheapest book I've actually paid money for was a 5p copy of an excellent Origami book by Heath Werner. Unfortunately it was a poor purchase because the origami in it is SO HARD!


Most expensive book - would probably be any of the Microsoft Inside Out stuff I have at work - they're ridiculously priced (£60 up for a book that's so dull it works beautifully as a cure for insomnia)


WRATH: What author do you have a love/hate relationship with?

Alan Moore. At his best, he's thought provoking, surreal, clever and brilliant. At his worst he churns out some really dreadful stuff that I can't bear to read more than once.


GLUTTONY: What book have you deliciously devoured over and over with no shame whatsoever?

Oh dear. It's probably not a good idea to admit that I've read "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis more times than is probably good for a sane rational person. Other than that, "The Time Traveller's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger because I seriously wish I could write like that. Write something that made people cry.


SLOTH: What book have you neglected to read due to laziness?

I never pass up a book due to laziness but I have passed up a lot of books because you get part way in and realise it's not 'sticking'. That particular list is too huge to mention!


PRIDE: What book do you most talk about in order to sound like a very intellectual reader?

I don't think I've ever bothered to read anything just to look 'trendy' or 'clever' but there are probably a few poetry books I've dropped the names of but have actually genuinely enjoyed. "Grinning Jack" by Brian Patten definitely fits into that mould.


LUST: What attributes do you find most attractive in male or female characters?

I am a sucker for kick-ass girls who basically don't take any crap from their male counterparts, save the day, and pause only to pick their knickers out of their bum-cracks. So Tank Girl then!


ENVY: What books would you most like to receive as a gift?

Anything by Shaun Tan, any graphic novels that aren't "teen w**k", real sucker for pretty books so anything along those lines. Absolutely and positively NOT books that have titles like "50 things a baldy can do to cover up their bald spots" or "A Big Book about Bottoms"
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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury Publishing)

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"The Bone Season" by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury)
You know that feeling, that rather delicious feeling when a book 'nags' away at you and begs you to return to it when you're not reading it. That.

Samantha Shannon's "The Bone Season" is set in a twisted alternative future. It's 2059, and the world is a very different place to the world we know. Psychics are like currency, often actively subversive but more frequently press-ganged, corralled and drummed into service against a nefarious government known as "Scion" that would have them all destroyed on sight, and an alien race that are the true puppetmasters on this alternate Earth.

One such psychic, 19 year old Paige Mahoney, finds herself immersed in the machinations of a criminal gang of talented psychics who have different specialities. Her own unique talents as a dreamwalker are of great value to the Mime Lord who controls the Seven Dials Gang, one Jaxon Hall. But when it comes to choosing sides, the lines are infinitely blurred so can Paige be sure of herself, and that she's doing the right thing?

I'll say no more other than to urge you to seek out this book. Samantha Shannon's debut is just the first part of an intended 7-book series (Seven!) For a young author to tie herself to such a commitment is nothing short of astonishing, but the world Sam has created - and the fabulous characters therein can stand up to a long haul, so I seriously cannot wait to see how more pieces of the puzzle slot together in Book Two.

As well as the enigmatic and charismatic Paige, Jaxon Hall is just the sort of bombastic ne'er do well that you'd want in a novel to offer a pivot point but the true villain of the piece, the insidious yellow-eyed alien known as "Warden" who holds court over a ruined Oxford, now turned into a hellish prison for psychics, is akin to President Stone in "The Hunger Games" - with very similar tastes in physical and psychic torture.

I'm slightly baffled by some of the press surrounding the book, making comparisons between Samantha Shannon and J.K Rowling. The books couldn't be further apart in subject and tone, and aside from the fairly heavy commitment of a long book series - and the fact that they're both female and writing what seems to be coined as 'Young Adult' fiction (when really this is a novel that can be enjoyed right across a range of ages) there's no detectable similarity between the two. If anything, it'd be easy to compare "The Bone Season" to Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series - set in a similarly dystopian yet eerily familiar Oxford but again the comparison would be fairly weak if purely based on each book's setting (again wildly different).

For someone who lives in Oxford and has direct links to academia I rather enjoyed Sam's gentle allegorical hints and digs in the book, and the familiarity of her described alt-universe that still has hooks into the ground-in patina of tradition and an almost stifling overbearing weight of 'knowledge as power'.

As I said at the beginning of the review, this is a book that'll grip you and keep you reading into the wee small hours - then dash you on the rocks at the end in preparation for book two. Be ready, Samantha Shannon and "The Bone Season" are going to be huge and the book's already been picked up by Andy Serkis' "Imaginarium" company for film options, so it probably won't be long before it hits the silver screen too.

(Kindly supplied to us for review through NetGalley by Bloomsbury Publishing)
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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Art of "The Last of Us" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin (Dark Horse Books)

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"The Art of 'The Last of Us'" by Naughty Dog Studios and Rachel Edidin. Haunting, beautiful, essential. 
I can't imagine what it must've been like to be a developer or artist involved in Naughty Dog's hugely acclaimed game "The Last of Us".

Imagine being in a meeting on day one and being told "Your next task is to come up with Naughty Dog's next successful franchise."

No mean feat for any developer, but one with the pedigree of Naughty Dog? The developers behind the massively successful Jak and Daxter and Uncharted series?

When I first heard about "The Last of Us" I was so burned out on zombies and zombie-based games that I barely paid any attention to it at all. But as those first beautiful pieces of concept art were leaked to the press, and the first game trailer came along I started to pay a lot more attention.

The Last Of Us does ruined civilisation better than any other game you'll see in the current console generation. 
For starters, the game's "infected" aren't just your run-of-the-mill undead. They're twisted humans, infected with a fungal parasite that at least has a basis in science fact rather than science fiction. Based on the blight that some insects carry, that warps and twists their bodies into new and interesting - and entirely unnatural - shapes, Naughty Dog set out to twist the expectations that folk would have about their main 'baddies' and at least make an attempt to make them original and through that, more menacing.

Early expressions and concepts for Joel, one of the game's main characters
In the book we see how both Joel and Ellie (the main characters in the game) evolved, and how their looks changed as the game progressed. Having such a charismatic character as Nathan Drake to follow, Joel had to be sufficiently different enough, but with the dual-edged sword of being a bit of a nasty piece of work but still caring, even fatherly at times, it must've been a tough gig to design someone who would live on in the memory through being pretty ordinary but forced into extraordinary circumstances.

The stunning dystopian urban landscapes, shattered by years of neglect and slowly melting away and succumbing to nature are some of the game's real 'wow' moments.

No Through Road!
In the book the original concept paintings are shown alongside target renders and stuff that actually appears in the game. So many games have attempted to show the fall of civilisation, the slow drip-feed of nature's encroachment on humankind's domain, but The Last Of Us nails it perfectly. Seeing the full colour plates in the book makes you appreciate just how detailed these are, and how many reference pictures from disaster / war zones the artists must've picked through to get the look just right.

Broken into sections that describe how the game unfolds, the book offers tantalising glimpses into what might have been. For instance, imagine the game with a female protagonist instead of Joel. Imagine Ellie as a wispy blonde girl rather than the gutsy dark haired teen we now know.

There's also artwork from the limited edition comic that served as a prequel to the game, and though the art style is radically different, it's still interesting to read about things that pop up in the game as backstory.

Most game-art books are fairly light on content and ridiculously expensive for what they offer. "The Art of 'The Last of Us'" is packed to the gunnels with brilliant and beautiful illustrations, so if you've played through the game so many times you could so blindfolded (yep, that'd be me), dive into the book to reveal even more of Joel and Ellie's world. An essential purchase not just for fans of the game but for folk who want to delve into the processes and evolution behind games and game characters.

Probably my favourite illustration in the book. Brilliant!

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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Saga Volume II by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

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Saga Volume II. Red in tooth, claw and horn
If you've already seen my review of Saga Volume 1, you're already aware that I'm won over by the heady cocktail of uber-violence, romance and space-going surreality that has been poured lasciviously into Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples sprawling series.

With Volume 2 we play catch up for a while or two, with more of an introduction into the stories of Alana and Marko. When they met it wasn't quite murder, but as you see in this frame, it wasn't a bed of roses either. Owch!

Thwok!
On the run from ruthless mercenaries, the duo with their newborn daughter in tow have a less than happy "Meet the Parents" moment when Marko's mum and dad drop in (Marko's dad is eminently cool, have to say).

Meanwhile menacing "The Will" and Lying Cat team up with Marko's spurned ex who wants more than just cold hearted revenge (LYING!), and a couple of rather important family heirlooms back. Help comes from a surprising source but I'll leave you to discover that little nugget in the story yourself.

It's not exactly spoilerish to tell you that as you reach the end of Saga Volume 2, you're left hanging in the breeze waiting for Vaughan and Staples to polish up the rest of the Saga and deliver Volume 3 (If you're already voraciously consuming the original comic series rather than, like me, playing catch up with 'the box set' then you're in for a bit of a wait.

Suffice to say that this should not put you off enjoying a wholly fresh-feeling and deliciously dark pair of graphic novels. If you're not in love (or at least lust) with Alana or Marko by the end, there's probably something wrong with you. Once again, this is a comic for grown ups so expect nudity, sex and the world's droopiest and crustied sore-covered ballsack. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

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Saga Volume 1 Cover - Horny Horny Horny!

For the first official Graphic Novel review here at Daddy after Dark I wanted to look at something that may have slipped by completely unnoticed, but is well and truly worthy of your attention.

Brian K. Vaughan may be a name familiar to Lost fans. Someone who can weave a plot so intricate and deliciously dark that it's irresistible even when it makes no sense whatsoever, Brian has turned his talents to producing a sprawling sexy spacefaring science fiction masterpiece in the shape of Saga. With  the formidable illustrative talents of Fiona Staples, Volume 1 introduces us to Marko, a horned footsoldier on one side of a global conflict and his wife Alana, the sultry, sexy and kick-ass winged member of a technological coalition on the 'other side' of the war.

This is an adult graphic novel, so don't be surprised when it kicks off with a rather bizarre birth scene introducing us to Marko and Alana's daughter Hazel (the narrator of the story), and also has sex scenes and suggestive content (including something that deals with a subject that is really pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in an adult comic later on in the story).

But for all that, this isn't something that tittilates, it's something that deals with huge issues in a way that comics often steer around - or jump in with both feet and make a mess of things. Allegories of war, and even some rather tongue-in-cheek observations on becoming a parent for the first time are in here.

Prince Robot IV. Not to be trifled with. 

For my money though, it's the characters that make Saga stand out. Alana and Marko are seriously sexy characters who feel like they're reining in their awesome power and just trying to get along with being a family

But oh, then there's Lying Cat.

Lying Cat and "The Will" Again, don't mess with this pair! They'll turn you into a beanbag. 

A psychic cat as a sidekick, that can tell if folk are telling fibs? What's not to love. With his handler "The Will", a psychotic mercenary hunting for Alana and Marko - with the odd dalliance here and there to a prostitution colony, Lying Cat is utterly fantastic.

Saga is inventive, stunning to look at, and I cannot wait to dive into Volume 2 (it's so difficult not to dive through both volumes and consume them voraciously in one sitting). Watch out for a review soon.

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Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna (Definitions - Young Adult)

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The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna. Original and thought provoking stuff
When I'm on holiday, one thing's certain. I will voraciously consume books. When you've got a young child and you're all sharing a room, there's nothing better than escaping out onto the balcony with a good book and diving through it.

We were originally sent "The Lost Girl" by Sangu Mandanna some time ago, and though it's taken till now to have a platform to review it on, it's worth taking a closer look at as it is original and thought provoking stuff.

In a society mirroring our own, the technology exists to produce "echoes" - parallel living beings that are more than just clones of a person. Designed to step in and replace the original person in the event of an accident, echoes are created on "The Loom" and spend their lives learning all the intricate traits, mannerisms and lifestyles of their 'originals'.

The novel concerns one such echo, a girl whose 'original' is named Amarra but chooses to call herself Eva (named after a mischievous elephant she sees in a zoo during an illicit day out). The girl she's designed to 'replace' is feisty, somewhat spoilt perhaps (my wife described her as 'whiny' even, eek!) and privileged.

When tragedy strikes and Amarra is killed in a car accident, Eva is destined to fulfil her role, to replace Amarra and live with her grief-stricken family. The aim is that Eva will neatly assume Amarra's role, soak up Amarra's lifestyle, share Amarra's friends and her boyfriend Ray, and no one will notice.

But of course, the best laid plans of mice, men or weavers are never as clear cut and never run strictly to plan. Eva is spirited, more so than Amarra. Eva is different, and despite being an echo, Eva is her own person with her own wishes and desires. Wishes and desires that are not a neat fit for her new life, or any kind of fit at all for the weavers who created her.

Sangu Mandanna has produced a work that dances neatly between science fiction and fact. It does not blather or babble or befuddle us with technicalities, but it does deliver a story that calls into question everything we consider moral, deals delicately with the multi-layered nuances of grief, and delves into ethical questions that will, undoubtedly, one day become as real as humanity's desire to answer questions about our own creation, how we came to be, how we evolved to a state where we feel we're masters of the universe rather than pawns.

The book heavily refers to one of my favourite books of all time, Mary Shelley's scintillating "Frankenstein; or the modern prometheus" - in fact it's more a totem to Eva than anything else she encounters.

There are times when the novel forces us to evaluate whether we actually like Eva, but we can't help but admire her quest to prove that any living being - artificially created or otherwise - has a right to live in the way they choose not at the whims of others.

A fantastic, original and wholly absorbing debut.

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre Books)

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The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman. Winners can be Loesers!
This book has been on my wishlist for what feels like an eternity. They say that a book can lull you in with the awesome draw of "cover power" or make you stand up and take notice with a brief but tantalising blurb. That was the case here and thanks to a timely spot at our fabulous local indie (Mostly Books in Abingdon) who were running a promotion to nab this and several other brilliant titles for the paltry sum of £2.99, I seized my chance to wrap myself up the world of one Egon Loeser  (yes I kept pronouncing it "lew-ser" when I think it's closer to "loo-sser") while on holiday. Twice in fact, it's that great!

Antihero? Lust monster? Meldrew-esque misery guts? It's difficult to categorise a central character that utterly defies you to find anything about him to like - yet you can't help but do so. A theatrical set designer by trade, we first meet Loeser in Germany during the rise of the third reich but long before the first bullet of World War 2 is fired.

Loeser's world is governed by typically male pursuits. Lusting after unattainable females, experimenting with drugs and spending far too many waking hours as drunk as a skunk, Loeser meets a former student, Adele Hitler (yes, really but no, no relation) at a party and becomes so pivotally entranced by her, and his single-minded pursuit of her that his entire life becomes consumed by his quest.

So why "The Teleportation Accident?"

No there's no fancy fiddly fantastical messing around with temporal or physical displacement in the novel (which is what I was actually expecting), more the notion that a 17th century set designer came up with a physical device to move an actor instantaneously from one part of the stage to the other. This notion becomes a recurring motif for the novel as it explores surreal, comic and sometimes darkly disturbing themes during Loeser's chaotic and dishevelled mission.

Ned Beauman's comic touch is worth a huge mention here. Novels that make you burst out laughing loudly on aeroplanes are probably to be frowned on (as, possibly, are novels that make you uncomfortably titter at things you probably shouldn't be laughing at). Loeser and the supporting cast are so vividly hewn that it's almost impossible not to 'see' them despite several leaps across the globe as Loeser achingly gets closer yet thousands of miles away from his 'quarry'.

Reminiscent of bawdy 18th Century tales led by the nose through the 1930s like a wide-eyed staring adolescent, "The Teleportation Accident" does not disappoint and it's not hard to see why it was longlisted for the 2012 booker prize.

In fact with Beauman's previous novel "Boxer, Beetle" already winning awards - and Beauman himself described as one of the 12 best new British writers by The Culture Show, you're in for a heck of a ride. Just make sure you tuck some clean underwear (and a suit that doesn't smell of dead skunks) into your travel case.
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"Black Arts" by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil (David Fickling Books)

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"Black Arts" by Prentice and Weil. A Jack of Dark Trades 
Rip-roaring, roister-doistering and with such a deliciously dark blood-red vein of tense narrative running through it, Prentice and Weil's "Black Arts" is the sort of darkly delicious novel I just cannot resist.

Set in the stinking decrepit streets of Elizabethan London, "Black Arts" introduces us to a young street-thief named Jack who is about to undertake his first step on the 'career ladder' with notorious underworld crime king Mr Sharkwell.

But Jack's light fingers get him into more trouble than he bargained for when he steals a mysterious pouch containing seemingly innocent items. One of the items, a clay pipe, completely transforms Jack's life, bringing personal tragedy and dark magic hand in hand to land smack bang on his doorstep.

Fuelled by revenge, and the thirst for knowledge as to what his blood-red arm and mysteriously disrupted visual senses mean, Jack finds that his new talents are of particular interest to both sides of an unseen and wholly world-shattering conflict raging as London sinks further and further into moral degradation.

Jack is an interesting character, at first damaged and fragile but given new courage by vengeance and his first faltering dalliances into what his new powers can accomplish. With the aid of Sharkwell's own grandaughter, and other sympathetic characters, Jack soon finds that the mysterious and powerful enemy he makes early on in the story is perhaps an unbeatable foe. Or is he?

"Black Arts" happens at such a pace that you barely have time to draw breath. At times, Jack is seemingly lost in the morass as he struggles to make sense of his powers, and who can truly be trusted to help him exact revenge.

With luscious descriptive landscapes of rotten London painted in broad bloody strokes, and a strong and memorable cast of characters stretching as high as the Queen's own trusted advisers, this is a novel that is wrought from the darkest hues, but doesn't shy away from providing moments of comedic relief when things get too intense.

One for the blackest nights when you crave a page turner that will haunt you even as you dance between the waking world and your own darkly delicious nightmares.


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Monday, 1 July 2013

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman (Quirk Books)

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The spookiest covers in children's chapter books? You betcha!
I've been taking a look at a fab range of children's chapter books that are a little on the spooky side. One look at the lenticular covers (as you can see above, these slowly transform right before your eyes as you move the cover around) might be enough to sell this range of books to you, but what about the books themselves? How good are they?

In "Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" Book 1, we're introduced to our hero, Robert Arthur, as he begins his first year at Lovecraft Middle School. Most of his friends have gone on to other schools. Unfortunately for Robert, the school bully Glenn Torkells is still around, and still extracting "Nerd Tax" every time he sees Robert. One of the many annoyances about Robert's first few days at the school.

Most of the other kids in class seem a bit weird and distant, except for one girl, Karina Ortiz, who urges Robert to stick up for himself against Glenn. Karina isn't quite as she seems though as Robert finds out later in the book (I won't spoil the twist).

In fact Karina isn't the only odd thing around Lovecraft Middle School. Kids disappear, and one particular teacher - the science teacher, Professor Goyle - seems more menacing than others.

Weird things start happening too. A plague of rats erupt from children's lockers (and one particular two-headed rat is soon adopted by Robert as a fuzzy friend), and the school library is a bizarre portal to another realm as Robert, Karina and eventually Glenn (who Robert saves from a particularly nasty near-miss) discover that Lovecraft Middle School is seriously warped in every sense of the word.

Charles Gilman's spooky stories have a whiff of Eerie, Indiana about them, and there are plenty of spooky goings-on to entertain kids who love the supernatural or a good old fashioned monstrous tale. It'll be interesting to see how the series develops. "Professor Gargoyle" was a neat introduction, a nice easy read but with plenty of spookiness to carry it through. I'm currently reading the second book (The Slither Sisters) and now the introductions of the main characters and the grist of the story have been laid down, Slither Sisters feels a lot more involved and sinister.

Perfect early readers for children. The books aren't particularly scary but they're great fun and those covers just leap out at you, who could possibly resist!

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1 - Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman, is available from Quirk Books and of course your friendly local independent bookstore.



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Monday, 24 June 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Quirk Books)

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If the cover image alone doesn't make you instantly want to read this book,
then there's something wrong with you :)
On DaddyAfterDark you may have noticed I have a tendency to favour the surreal, the supernatural and the fantastical. Fantasy books have always been the staple on my bookshelves (with a few notable exceptions here and there), simply because it feels like you're reading the work of authors who know they're well and truly off the leash, can let their imaginations roam free, present any character or situation to you (the reader) and get away with it.

So it is with "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" which at first glance may look like 'just another ghost novel' but is absolutely anything but.

16 year old Jacob enjoys a close relationship with his Grandfather, who always weaves amazing fantastic tales of his life and the things he got up to before he settled down. Producing a box of strange photos to back up his claims, Grandpa tells Jacob all about an orphanage he grew up in, and the 'peculiar' children there.

Jacob, being a typical teenager, always takes Grandpa's stories with a pinch of salt but when Grandpa phones in the middle of the night with a note of urgency and terror in his voice, Jacob rushes to the scene - to find Grandpa dead in the forest. Not merely dead, but clawed, attacked, ravaged by something. Something that Jacob sees fleeing from the scene out of the corner of his eye. Something wholly terrible and unnatural.

The incident has such a profound effect on Jacob that he searches out Grandpa's photo box to look at the pictures again, finding more than he bargained for...

Strange photos of children, that Jacob at first takes as photomanipulation but begins to question whether they might actually be genuine.

On the advice of his therapist, Jacob petitions his parents to let him visit the island which his Grandfather spoke of, to seek out the orphanage and the mysterious Miss Peregrine - who featured in several letters also in his grandfather's possession.

What is actually going on in the photos? Did the stories that Jacobs grandfather told him have an air of truth about them?

After much cajoling, Jacob gets his wish and he sets out with his birdwatcher father to make a vacation out of the trip.

Ransom Riggs creates an other-worldiness in this novel that is boosted by the photos - included as counterpoints to the story throughout the book. Many may argue that books of this ilk do not need illustrations but in this particular case, I think they work beautifully and add bucketloads of atmosphere and spine-chilling surreality, to put flesh on the bones of the characters within.

As Jacob reaches the island, we soon learn that there is far more at stake here than Jacob's journey of closure, and though the island initially seems like a dead end, the boundaries of time and space are broken and Jacob will find more questions than answers.

Without spoiling too much of the novel, I came in with the expectation that this might be a spooky story, but left wanting - nay craving the next book in the series (The Hollow City - which is published next January - a very long time to wait, ack!)

Jacob's journey of discovery - not just about the truth behind his grandfather's stories but his own self discovery too, is a nail-biting and fascinating read.

It's a book that effortlessly paints each scene (with or without the aid of the aforementioned photos) so strongly in the mind that you can almost hear the whirr of diesel generators feeding the island's makeshift electricty supply, and later on almost feel the flecks of blood spattering across your cheek as things take a seriously dark turn as this first book in an eventual trilogy draws to a close.

I seriously cannot wait to read more. If this doesn't end up as a Tim Burton film I'll eat my hat (in fact I'm not really sure I would want Mr Burton to touch this particular book, I really can't see how Johnny Depp could play a 16 year old!)



(Kindly sent to DaddyAfterDark for review by Mat @ PGUK / Quirk Books)
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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman (Doubleday)

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Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman. Heaven in a hand-grenade
It seems like a long time ago that a mysterious PR flyer arrived through the letterbox at ReadItDaddy Towers. A lot has happened since then. We now have this darkly delicious blog to talk about 'grown up' books (or should I say 'more grown up books') and Malorie Blackman's star has deservedly gone stratospheric as she is now the new Children's Laureate.

I'm new to her work but I'm hooked, simply because Noble Conflict weaves exactly the kind of story world I'm inexplicably drawn to. Talk about dystopian futures, divides in society, conflict and rebellion and I am there with knobs on - and that's what you'll find wrapped between these black luxurious covers.

The story begins with an introduction to the main character, one Kaspar Wilding, a freshly scrubbed new recruit to the Order of Guardians. Call them peacekeepers, a security force, but they are the front line in a futuristic world where the thread of order is frayed and dwindling.

We follow Kaspar's progress through boot camp initially, but soon we also encounter the main meat and bones of the story as The Guardians are repeatedly attacked as insurgents strive to undermine their ordered society.

Kaspar soon finds that there is far more behind the scenes with the seemingly random acts of terrorism. In conjunction with computer genius Mac, a cute purple haired 'civvy' working alongside the Guardians, Kaspar uncovers a plot and becomes more directly involved with the insurgents as he meets one face to face after a traumatic incident while out in the field.

Kaspar soon finds himself on the wrong end of both the Guardian chain of command and the insurgents themselves as he fights to uncover the truth.

As we follow Kaspar's quest, it's easy to draw comparisons with what's happening in the world today and from what I read, this is something that Malorie Blackman specialises in. Drawing allegorical comparisons between the fight for liberty versus the war against terror, "Noble Conflict" is addictive stuff and I particularly love Malorie's 'balls out' approach to her character's dialogue and depth.

You'll be expecting a twist, and there is a huge one. You may also be expecting closure and resolution but unless we get to revisit Kaspar's world (and I dearly hope we do) you'll be left wanting more by the time you finish this book.

"Noble Conflict" By Malorie Blackman is from Doubleday, and was released on 6th June 2013. 
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Monday, 3 June 2013

DaddyAfterDark's first official review - "Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase" by Jonathan Stroud (Random House)

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Spooky goings on? You don't know the half of it...

Title: Lockwood and Co (subtitled "The Screaming Staircase")
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 29th August 2013 (UK) 17th September 2013 (US)

Welcome to our first official "Daddy After Dark" review and for our first dip into books that we can't cover on ReadItDaddy (our children's book blog) we thought we'd jump right in at the deep end with a book that chills the very spine (not the spine of the book, dafty - your spine!)

In an alternate reality, ghosts are a serious problem. They're not content with just rattling a few chains, or spooking celebrities on silly late night TV programmes, they're as real as the nose on your face and represent a serious threat.

Adults have real problems detecting ghosts (so no need for Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddemore here) so it's up to children to become ghost hunters. Sensitive souls who can detect psychic emanations from buildings and objects, or actually see ghosts going about their nightly business soon end up in the employ of ghost detection agencies - such as Fittes or...Lockwood and Co.

Anthony Lockwood is recruiting for a new 'specialist' for his own agency and after a fairly shocking kick-off the novel introduces us to Lucy Carlyle, a talented young psychic agent who joins Lockwood and Co after passing their spooky interview process and tests.

Along with George Cubbins, another operative with more of a penchant for biscuits than spectres, the three set out to establish the agency as a force to be reckoned with amongst London's larger psychic detection outfits.

Haphazard, chaotic and with some success, their methods soon lead them to a case that goes horribly wrong and ends up with destruction of property and threat to life and livelihood.

Soon Lockwood and Co are under the scrutiny of DEPRA, the government's regulating body for psychic detection agencies, and with the threat of lawsuits and financial ruin, they must take on one of the biggest most dangerous unsolved ghost cases in London in order to save the company.

Are the three up to the challenge?

You'll have to find out by reading the book, of course. The preview copy came with a rather neat app download - Hold up your favourite smart device with the Random House reader app, and you'll get to hear Jonathan Stroud telling you a bit about the book (on the back cover) with a rather neat AR style video.

Turn the device on the front cover though, and you'll find out why the book comes with the warning that a type 2 apparition is nestling somewhere between the covers.

"Lockwood and Co" is fast paced, absolutely chock full of ghostly thrills and though it's set in contemporary times, there's enough of a whiff of victoriana and steampunk about it (particularly in the methods that Spectral Agents use to dispatch their ghostly foes) to instantly grab the attention and keep you hooked.

Alas, mere mortals like yourselves will have to wait all the way until the 29th August 2013 to get your hands on a copy of Lockwood and Co (US folks will have to wait until 17th September, poor things) but it will be worth the wait. It's a real belter of a book that packs a psychic punch. Essential bedtime reading (unless, like me, you quake under the bed scooby-doo style at the mere mention of ghouls and ghosties!)

Author Jonathan Stroud. If your party needs a smartie, just hire...RentaGhostExpert!

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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

'Daddy' reviews on ReadItDaddy - A roundup

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Welcome to Daddy After Dark!

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The Shadow in "Deathhouse Rescue" (art by Fancesco Francovilla)
The problem with running a children's book blog is that sometimes it feels like that's all you get to read. Not so, my lieblings! Daddy does read after dark, usually before collapsing in an exhausted heap from a day of BEING a daddy.

So at the risk of kicking off yet another blog (like I said on Twitter earlier, too little butter spread across too much bread) here's a book blog for the 'other' stuff ReadItDaddy reads. The darker stuff, the grown up stuff, the stuff that won't go anywhere near the children's book blog.

Stick around for Daddy after Dark. Coming to a web browser near you.
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