For many people clowns are the stuff of nightmares and there they should remain. In the modern age you can pretty much live a life free of these demon entertainers; just avoid going to the circus, CBEEBIES and any films about IT. But what about if the clowns of your dreams decided to leave and come to the real world? In the world of ‘Night Terrors’ not only do you have to get along with your nightmare, but you may just have to buddy up with them as cops.
The line between the real world and dreams is a surprisingly thin one. To the majority of us we will never know, but some people bond with their nightmares and can travel from one world to the other. Audra is one such person and with the help of her psychotic clown sidekick, Mr Jinx, she must help police this line. Usually, the job is the occasional chasing of a nightmarish creature along the city streets, but recently these events have been happening more regularly and covering them up is becoming impossible. Are the worlds of the wake and the asleep about to collide and what happens if it does?
I am a fan of Tim Waggoner and in particular his Nekropolis books that star Zombie PI Matt Richter; a series of great action adventure books that took place in a brilliantly realised world. ‘Night Terrors’ does not stray too far from this template as the world of Hell is similar to that of dreams. However, in this series it allows Waggoner to bring in far more human elements to the story as half is set on Earth. On a plus note this means that you can identify well with the characters, especially Audra, but best of all is seeing the dream and wake versions of the same characters.
The element I found most interesting was Jinx’s insane dream version compared to his more benign and intelligent wake version. The relationship between the two partners is complex, Jinx was born of Audra’s nightmares, but has become somewhat of a protector to her. Although a beast of nightmarish qualities, Jinx knows what he is; it is Audra’s lack of professionalism that is the biggest danger at times.
The characters of the book work well and there are some fun sidekicks included later. However, the book concentrates too much at times on the action. There are big set pieces as supernatural beings take on one another. These are ok in moderation, but are a little too numerous here. It is not helped that there is often little consequence to the action as a team of dream weavers just repair things and make humans forget.
There is a nugget of a good idea at the centre of ‘Night Terrors’, but it suffers as much from anything from being similar to the Nekropolis books, but not as good. I would have preferred more Richter stories than spending time here. Waggoner seemingly wanted to merge his ideas of hell with the real world, but rather than enhancing the tension, it has lessened as all he consequences are tidied away.
When did children’s books become so Meta? Back in the day each Thomas the Tank Engine adventure was separate from the other as if they lived in their own episodic wildness, but not today. In this world of Nintendo Switches and online platforms the average adult is too scared to venture onto, we have metaphysical children books. Books that reflect back on previous outings in the series. If you are going to get the most out of ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, you best know about your ‘‘Oi Frog!’’ and ‘‘Oi Dog!’’ too.
When we last left the creatures of ‘‘Oi Frog and Friends’’ world they perched precariously on a selection of odd items. One unhappy customer of Frogs rhyming solution was Cat. This feline found itself having to sit on gnats and that is not a comfortable place to be. Therefore, Cat goes about looking for an alternative place to nestle, but Frog won’t let Cat off easily – you must follow the rules.
Both original outings by Kes Gray and Jim Field were examples of daft excellence. ‘‘Frog’’ and ‘‘Dog’’ are basically books about rhyming animals with silly things. The fun is in seeing Field’s illustrations as he shows a pony having to sit in macaroni etc. Things are little different in ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, but there is a twist. The rules that Frog makes everyone live by come to the fore. In this dictatorial landscape we find our hero, Cat. The book plays a little on gentle questioning of authority, but really it is still an excuse to have a load of animals doing silly things.
The combination of Gray’s writing and Field’s illustrations work wonderfully once again, no matter what Gray fires at Field, he can draw it. Fans of the series will love this outing as it is essentially more of the same, but delve a little deeper and it is playing with the lore of the world. Not many children’s books create a universe in which the characters inhabit, but Gray has achieved it. New readers to the books would be best tackling them in order as you will otherwise lose out on some of the in jokes and the bigger picture. Fans should grab this with abandon, they will especially love the ending.
There are certain subject matters that seem to resonate well with the toddler demographic; dinosaurs, animals, pirates. ‘Knock Knock Pirate’ by Caryl Hart and Nick East takes one of these big hitters and brings the pirates to the child. When a child is visited by some pirates she is in for more than she bargained for as they confiscate her house and sail it away to look for treasure. Can the child help the salty crew before they make her walk the plank?
‘Knock’ is a charming book that really plays up a child’s love of pirates. If you know a child like this, then this book will have instant appeal. It hits many a cliché and East’s illustrations really give the book a sense of fun and movement. The pirates bring with them a sense of anarchy and many a mischievous kid will enjoy their antics. There are so many things to look at on each page that a lot of entertainment is just had talking about what is going on and not really focussing on the narrative.
It is some of Hart’s choices that bring the book down from being a must have. Within the book is a counting element, but it feels a little sporadic. One minute you are counting up, then next the story is progressing. It gives the story a slightly stilted feel and this is also seen in some of the rhymes. They don’t all scan perfectly, so you find yourself stumbling over some of the words as the timing is slightly out.
There is enough contained within the illustrations and daft nature of the tale to entertain most children, but especially those that love the high seas. With a little more finessing on the wordage front, it would have been one for all, as it is, stick to pirate loving children.
What is it that gives us humans drive? Death. The knowledge that our time is finite and that we will all die drives humans to get things done whilst there is still time. Therefore, what would you do if you think you are already dead? I surmise, not much. What’s the point of getting out of bed if you are already dead? The concept of walking around and being able to understand you are dead, means that you can’t really be dead. This does not stop Jacob being good at what he does. He may think he is dead, but rather than sitting around all day, he gets up and does his day job as an assassin for a shadowy corporation.
Jacob has an illness called Cotard’s Syndrome that makes him think he is dead. For his own safety he should be kept in a hospital, but that is not what corporation DBG have in mind. They get Jacob released and use his lack of empathy to their advantage. A good killer goes about their business with no feelings and Jacob is unable to feel any. That is until he is send out on one job and the small Spark that remains in him starts to flicker once more.
‘Spark’ is a high concept thriller that never forgets to get down and dirty when it needs to. The premise is ‘Jason Bourne’ like as Jacob is almost an engineered killer, developed because he has the rare ability to have no empathy. As a main character this makes him a little odd as he perceives the world in a strange manner. Thankfully, John Twelve Hawks does a great job of slowly revealing what happened to Jacob and explaining why he is like he is. The sections where Jacob goes into details about his Spark are a little plodding, but don’t go on for too long.
A book like ‘Spark’ could have struggles by changing the character of Jacob too quickly. One minute a mindless killer, the next in love. This does not happen. Hawks slowly builds up Jacob’s character so that he has enough motivation to be a little human, but never truly becomes like the rest of us. It is great to see a damaged character, remain damaged. Hawks works around the edges of Jacob’s personality to make him sympathetic and does not alter him fundamentally.
As well as being an interesting character study, ‘Spark’ has some great action scenes. Jacob is a killer and death follows him. His inability to read other people means that he finds himself being betrayed often. No one in this book can be trusted as we see through the eyes of Jacob’s and these themselves cannot be trusted. ‘Spark’ is an intelligent thriller that does not forget to be fun, with only a few nagging pace issues, it is a fun book and one of Hawks’ best.
One of the issues with religion is which one is right? Many of them don’t really work if the others are correct. Perhaps they are all right and there are a bunch of Gods and Demigods that walk amongst us. What would an ancient power do in the modern world? I imagine that they would just want to get on with a normal life and every now and again pull off a miracle or two. In Michael Boatman’s ‘Last God Standing’, God is back, but is keeping a low profile as a wannabe stand-up comedian Lando.
God just wants his time on Earth to go unnoticed and enjoy some of the pleasures of being human, but his absence from the heavens has been noticed by some of the other deities whose power has waned over the millennia. The likes of Odin have seen an opportunity to become top dog again. Can God juggle being a rising star in the comedy scene whilst having to fight increasingly confident other Gods?
As a premise ‘Last’ is one that should work; a comedy about a very human feeling God who has to deal with other worldly powers. At its best the book is about Lando himself, his family and his love. There is enough material in the book just trying to juggle saving the world from natural disaster, whilst remembering to turn up for dinner. However, like so many fantasy novels in recent years it appears that the author was a little scared to keep things simple. The rest of the Urban Fantasy genre is full of action packed books, shouldn’t this one follow?
The simple answer is no, but this did not stop Boatman. For all the enjoyable family drama on offer, there is also far too much empty headed action. Lando/God goes up against several other deities in the book, normally in the form of a supernatural fight amongst men. These battles are the usual empty headed nonsense seen in the genre and although epic in scale are just a bit dull. It is not helped that in most cases Lando also manages to heal the rip in the space-time continuum and it’s as if the fight never happened. What is the point of them at all then?
There are some interesting ideas in the book; suppose that the Gods did decide not to get involved in human business anymore and set up shop on Earth? The book could easily have worked as a pure comedy book of errors as the Gods juggle the simple and the divine. Instead the book is dominated more by the bland action sequences.
Most right minded people have had enough of politics in recent years so the last thing that you want to read to your child is a book all about an election. At least this election is set on a farm, but anyone familiar with a certain George Orwell novel will know that this does not always turn out for the best. Surely a kid’s book is not going to reflect modern politics? I mean, when have we recently seen turkeys voting for Christmas?
Every year Christmas comes and goes on Pear Tree Farm with nary a celebration because it is put to a vote. With a sizable turkey population they always block vote against it, but this time a pugnacious turkey called Timmy has taken it upon himself to get the vote passed. What can possible go wrong for a turkey at Christmas? It is not like they are the mainstay of many a Christmas lunch.
‘‘The Turkey That Voted For Christmas’’ by Madeleine Cook and Samara Hardy is a book with a strong idea at its centre, but confusingly executed. The premise requires the reader to know from the offset what the phrase turkey voting for Christmas means. To most adults this is not a problem, but to a child could easily be confused. On a basic level it means that the turkeys are voting to get themselves eaten. At a deeper level it is whether the animals are aware of what they are voting for or not. The book also lacks any real Christmas spirit, politics does not often instil a sense of goodwill to all men.
It appears that most turkeys are aware, but why did no one bothers to tell Timmy? Ten seconds explaining what giblets are and the wonders of sage stuffing would soon have got him back on track. However, for the book to work Cook had to ignore this obvious solution and instead have an ambivalent Timmy carrying on regardless. To add tension to the book it appears that the farmer is ready to take Timmy to the chopping block. Therefore, the reader assumes that things will turn out badly for the animal population, but there is a twist. It is safe to say that nobody dies, but the turnaround in the book comes from nowhere. I was left confused as to why a farmer would bother to raise these animals except for slaughter.
‘‘Turkey’’ is meant to come across as a cutesy look at politics, but it really just highlights some of the worst pig-headed elements of it and then when the party you want comes to power they don’t deliver what they promised anyway. Thankfully Hardy’s illustrations are bright and colourful giving you some of the Christmas cheer back stolen from you by the story. I can forgive a book for children being about politics, but children will just be confused with the concepts and the fact that the conclusion is a little jumbled. Hidden within this book is a good idea, it just got lost – remind you of politics at all?
The world is an exciting place, although it may not seem like it when you live in a grey town. Simon Chapman is an explorer and nature lover who has travelled the globe looking for excitement and some of the world’s most majestic creatures. He has several books that cover different countries and biomes and in the case of ‘Indian Lowlands’ he starts off in New Delhi and goes out on the search for animals including the elusive Bengal Tiger.
Chapman is part of the modern safari lover that is more likely to shoot with a camera than a gun. Chapman goes beyond this as he is an illustrator, so he draws what he sees, this gives the book a vibrant feel as he draws animals as he sees them. There is a quality to the drawings, but also a speed; he has just that moment to get the image on paper. The book takes the form of a diary and is full of factoids, but it also details his adventures. The main thrust is the search for a Bengal Tiger, but that does not stop Chapman from seeing many other animals as well and capturing them using pen and paper.
There is an earnest feel to ‘Indian Lowlands’ that portrays Chapman’s passion well, but it is a book for the animal loving child only. There is no pandering to the very short attention span – poo jokes or gross out moments. This is a real adventure written and illustrated in a way that a 9-12 year old can understand. Those tweens that love animals and geography will get a lot from this book, whilst others may not. The book itself is a quality hardback with colour imagery throughout. It is Chapman’s on the fly drawings and passion for the subject matter that makes the book stand out.