Saturday, 31 December 2011

TOP EIGHT: Books to look out for in 2012

Tidings of cheer and beards to you all, my festive friendies. As there is not much left to do in 2011 but eat, (not that I'm complaining) I thought I'd look impatiently into 2012. 

Here are some books that I've either been lucky enough to peep at already or am just silly with excitement about. 

(Published May 2012, Stripes Publishing)

Archie is a Geek. And he's happy doing geeky things with his friends (who also err on the side of Geektion) - that is until a GIRL walks into The Goblin's Hovel. (Girls don't usually do this sort of thing - or at least Archie thinks so, he doesn't know many.) Goth Girl changes everything. And she's arrived just when other things in Archie's life are changing - he's had to move into a new house with his mum and her boyfriend, Tony the Tosser. Archie starts to think about his life. Does he need to stop playing with goblins and dragons if he's going to get the girl?

This is a funny, heart-delighting and utterly real tale that will have you punching the air at times. It teaches you that we are all geeks in our own ways, whether it's dungeons and dragons, football, books or -ahem- bonnets that gets our geek boat floating. I'll be writing more about it come May, but get ready to embrace your geekhood! 

(Published Jan 2012, Catnip Books)

I've written an in-depth review here, so I will just say that you MUST start your year with this spooky and thrilling historical fable about art and reality. I am finding it hard to stop writing about it. I'll write a little tiny bit more. It is a book that really stays with you and makes you think - in a 'sitting staring out of the window and thinking about art and life and truth and thinking "I wish I was more cleverer" sort of way' - but most of all it's a very very good story. 

3. Beat the Band by Don Calame 
(Published February 2012, Templar Publishing)

If you've read the FUNNIEST book of last year, Swim the Fly, then you'll already be restitching your sides in preparation for Beat the Band. If you haven't read Swim the Fly then this kitten will stare at you in a disapproving way until you do.

Read it? Good. Swim the Fly documented Matt, Sean and Coop's quest to see a naked girl (it had to be a real, live naked girl. Which is good, because a fake, dead one would have made it a very different book.) It was written from Matt's point of view, as he tried to impress swim-team hottie Kelly West with another unlikely mission - swimming the butterfly for the school. You can see my review here (if you wish). 

Matt found a nice girl in the end and in book two has become 'the Whipped One' according to Coop, who now takes over the narration. Coop is the Stifler (or the Inbetweener Jay) of the group - offensive, sex-obsessed and very funny. He was one of my 2011 book boyfriends as you may see here. In this book he's made the new challenge to 'tag as many bases as possible'. But his plan seems to be already in danger when he is paired with loser 'Hot dog Helen' to do a presentation on safe sex. He decides that to get the hot girls the boys need to be rock gods and so he enters them in the Battle of the Bands. No musical talent could be a problem, but Coop's sure he'll come out on top (that's what she said). 

And you'll never look at a fortune cookie in the same way again.

(Published 1 Feb 2012, Nosy Crow)

Christopher Edge is the author of The Dead Ways, which featured on my spooky Halloween blog. The Dead Ways was a pacey, cinematic conspiracy thriller with a generous helping of two of my most fave ingredients: antiquarian bookshops and zombies. 

Twelve Minutes to Midnight has the same breakneck pace and spookiness, with a Victorian setting. You may know that I am quite partial to the nineteenth century (I WANT TO LIVE THERE) and so I found this very exciting. Read my full n' proper review here!

(Published Jan 2012, Indigo)

This book is a dystopian thriller with friendship, love, family and sacrifice at the core. Or, to put it more succinctly, a 'corker'. 

Neva and everyone she knows are shut off from the rest of the world, literally - the government has built a protectosphere over the whole country, keeping immigrants out and everybody else in. The result, and goal, is that everybody begins to look the same and it becomes a place without racial difference. However, this is no peaceful idyll; it is a repressive regime where individuality is not tolerated. Those who try to rebel against the regime are disappearing as if they never existed. Neva keeps a list of 'the missing' and when her grandma is becomes one of them, the list becomes Neva's act of rebellion - she is determined to find the missing or at least to keep them alive by remembering them. Neva and her friends, including boyfriend Ethan, best friend Sanna and Sanna's boyfriend Braydon, subvert the regime with acts of individuality, such as tattooing themselves and graffiting government signs. They also hold 'dark parties', where, unobserved and in complete darkness, anything can happen. The book starts at one of these events, where an encounter with a boy with red shoes changes everything for Neva.

Forbidden love always adds a compelling element and I loved how the personal stories - Neva and Braydon, Neva missing her grandma - are always at the surface, even though the dystopian setting shapes everyone's lives. That is not to say Neva's quest against the regime isn't exciting though - I particularly liked that Neva's job working for her dad gives her access to top secret files (probably because, as a book geek, my secret agent alter-ego would most definitely solve mysteries in a LIBRARY). This also allowed for a nice touch where, because the protectosphere has stopped any new technology being imported, things like i-Pads and smartphones have become things of the past and everything is second-hand and falling apart. For those who like their thrillers less archive-centric, there are also chases, hiding and secret police.

The intense, forbidden romance made edgy by the dystopian setting makes for an unputdownable book. If you read it on a train you may miss your stop. 

6. Arabesque by Colin Mulhern
(Published September 2012, Catnip Books)

Arabesque isn't published until September and so I don't know much about it yet, apart from this very teasing teaser on Colin Mulhern's website. And this is his teasing blurb:

"When small-time criminals turn to kidnap and extortion to get them out of a dangerous situation, they think two talented gymnasts are a safe bet. They couldn't be more wrong."

From reading Colin's previous book, Clash, (and interviewing him for Armadillo magazine) I know that Arabesque will be good, and will have those gritty, shocking and psychological elements that made Clash such a gripping read. Clash took you right inside the heads of two teenage boys - one a cage-fighting 'psycho', the other an 'ordinary' type with a secret talent for art  - and studied what made them behave in the way they did and not flinching at the less pleasant parts of their lives. It also showed the boys trying to do something - be that drawing or fighting - that gave them an escape from feeling controlled. It looks as though Arabesque might explore these areas of creativity and gritty real life, and I'm sure it will more than live up to its predecessor.    

(Published Jan 2012, Puffin)

This is also a follow up to a very successful first book (well, to be chronologically strict, it is a prequel). You may have only just recovered from the punch to the gut of your emotions delivered by Phil Earle's debut, Being Billy, when you're about to be knocked down all over again by Daisy. Daisy was the girl Billy met in the first book. She was from a broken background like Billy, a 'lifer' in a care home, and her friendship helped set him on the path to sorting himself out. This book is Daisy's story. 

A tragic turn of events leaves Daisy all alone. Unable to see that others have let her down, she blames herself for everything and copes with the pain by cutting herself. She is sent to a care home that also deals with mental health issues, with a key worker, Ade, who is determined to show Daisy that, rather than worthless, she's a 'lucky charm'. The book shows with stark clarity what a slow and painful process it is for someone to heal themselves. But most of all, the characters are so utterly real that they draw you in. I felt like Daisy and Ade were people I knew. Even characters like Naomi, another care home resident who is difficult, violent and even a bully, have your sympathy, because you know that people like her have been made the way they are because of the things that have happened to them.  

I found this book very emotionally affecting and it really made me think. Phil Earle explores mental health, particularly depression and self-harm, in a stark and honest way and with characters so vivid and individual that it never reads like an 'issues' book. The characters drive forward the story and events unfold in the messy and confusing way that they do in real life. 

8.The Phoenix Comic
(Published weekly from 7 Jan 2012, David Fickling Books)

Not strictly a book, but I am not a strict person. I CANNOT WAIT for the The Phoenix - weekly comic full of new characters from the creators of The DFC (the David Fickling Comic). Some of the super stories from The DFC were made into graphic novels in the DFC Library series and I wrote a little feature over on Armadillo where I interviewed the writers and artists behind all six books. The characters included Sarah McIntyre's Vern and Lettuce - a bunny and a house-proud sheep who are best friends, Monkey Nuts - the story of a monkey and robot crime-fighting duo - by the Etherington Brothers. 

The Etherington Brothers return in The Phoenix with Long Gone Don, a man who's found himself in a strange place where pianos fall from the ceiling and a crow talks to him. Another DFC dude is Neill Cameron, who created Mo-Bot High - a school where everyone has a robot that they control with their mobile phone. He's back with Pirates of Pangaea a strip that combines pirates and dinosaurs in 'an epic tale of cutlass and claw'. He's also writing a feature called 'How to Make Awesome Comics', which I will be reading avidly while I wish I was as cool as a comic book creator. 

I am perhaps most excited about the strip Corpse Talk, in which every week a famous dead person from history is brought back to life and interviewed. An interviewer of historical dead people would obviously be my ideal job and, as things like 'science' and 'fact' will probably get in the way of this dream, it will be nice to read about it. 

Get yourself over to  if you fancy getting all subscribed and comic-y.

And have a fab last day of 2011 from me, a monkey and two kittens (one of whom looks a bit like a ghost but is actually real). 

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