Tag Archives: Nigel Quinlan

Some Mini-Reviews!

I’ve read so many excellent books lately. So many! It feels like you can’t blink, these days, without ten world-class novels being published. Every time I set foot inside a bookshop I come out with a lighter wallet, and I couldn’t be happier about it. So, today I want to take the time to write some mini-reviews of a selection of books I’ve loved lately, and tell you all where to get your hands on ’em. Because, take it from me, they’re worth it.

Great New Books

Great New Books!

So. From the top:

Frida Nilsson’s The Ice Sea Pirates

Siri and her little sister, Miki, live with their ageing, infirm father in the Arctic, where they spend their lives in fear of the notorious pirate captain Whitehead. One day, when Siri lets her guard down, Miki is stolen by Whitehead, destined to be put to work in his distant mines. So, like any good sister, Siri sets out to rescue her. This is an epic book, long and full of digressions and luxurious detail; at the same time, its adventure is full of heart and is profoundly moving.

Nigel Quinlan’s The Cloak of Feathers

Nigel Quinlan’s books are a riot. They’re filled with life and vigour and wit, folklore and history and humour, and they’re completely unique. The Cloak of Feathers is set in the town of Knockmealldown, which – every hundred years – sees the Good Folk (never call them fairies!) join in for a spectacular Festival, organised by the townsfolk. Except, this time it’s being (dis)organised by Brian and his friends, who manage to muck the whole thing up. As well as that, the fairy princess has gone missing – but Brian holds the key to finding her. Can he get all his pigs in the pen before the town is wiped off the map?

James E. Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch and A Witch Alone

So, this one is a bit of a cheat: I read The Apprentice Witch when it was newly published, but its sequel, A Witch Alone, has just been published, and I read it with as much enjoyment as its predecessor. They tell the story of Arianwyn Gribble (has there ever been a heroine with a better name?), a newly-qualified witch (and granddaughter of a respected Elder in the magical community), and her struggles to find and prove herself in her new life. She has to deal with magical creatures, dark magic, cursed hexes, and a budding first love – not to mention her own remarkable powers. Charming, lovely and heartwarming, these are books not to miss.

Vashti Hardy’s Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure

I want to preface this mini-review by saying EVERYBODY NEEDS TO READ BRIGHTSTORM AND AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! *ahem* Now that’s out of the way – everybody needs to read Brightstorm, and as soon as possible. It’s a marvel: beautifully written, evocatively imagined, with a cast of brilliant characters (child, adult and animal alike) and a compelling quest at its heart. Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm are twins whose father, a noted explorer, has gone missing. Not only that, but he has been accused, in absentia, of having broken the Explorers’ Code, something his children know cannot be true. They are set on rehabilitating their family’s sullied reputation, and they also want to find out the truth about what happened to him. Expect sky-ships, expeditions through the great Wide, clues to a great mystery, and majestic thought-wolves – along with a truly boo-hissable villain in the shape of Eudora Vane. I adored every word of this book.

Juliette Forrest’s Twister

Twister is a storm-born girl who lives with her Ma, her Aunt Honey and her faithful dog, Point. Her Pa has gone missing, and a shadow follows his track – a terrible fire that claimed two lives has been pinned on him, but Twister knows he couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with it. As she searches for her Pa, Twister comes across a strange witch-woman named May May who owns an even stranger thing: a necklace called Wah, which has the power to transform its wearer into a wolf, a storm, a rushing river – anything with a soul. But something so powerful has attracted the attention of a terrible enemy, who will do anything to own Wah… Filled with beautiful language, evocative description, and a story with the deepest love possible at its heart, Twister is wonderful.

Pádraig Kenny’s Tin

Tin is a marvellous, moving exploration of what makes us human (can we really be sure?), the nature of war, the morality of genius, and the profound power of love and friendship. Telling the story of Christopher, a ‘Proper’ boy whose life changes completely in the wake of a terrible accident, and his band of ragtaggle mechanical friends who set out to rescue him from captivity, it is a fantastically exciting story of companionship, courage and love. Beautifully written and evocatively described, with a cast of distinct characters both human and mechanical, this is a book to treasure.

J.R. Wallis’s The Boy With One Name

Oh, how I loved this book… It’s the story of Jones, the titular Boy, who is apprenticed to Maitland, a monster-hunter. They keep the world safe from the creatures of the Badlands, which is filled with horrors most of us prefer to ignore. He wants, more than anything else, to be normal and leave all this terror behind – but then Maitland is killed fighting an ogre, and Jones’s life changes completely. With the aid of Ruby, the first and only girl he has ever known (and one who is determined to prove she is as good as any boy – booyeah!) Jones has to unravel a mystery at the heart of his own existence. This book is excellent. If you like Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood books, this is one for you.

Kieran Larwood’s The Peculiars

Sheba, along with her friends Sister Moon, Mama Rat, Gigantus and Monkey Boy, are part of a Victorian sideshow act. Their lives are hard enough, but then someone – or something – starts to pluck poor mudlark children from the banks of the Thames. Nobody else cares enough to investigate, so the case falls to Sheba and her band of Peculiars. With steampunk monsters, intrigue, and a historical flavour, this is a thrilling, fast-paced read which begs for sequels.

 

 

Celebrating Ireland

Yesterday, among other things, it was St Patrick’s Day. I’m proud of my nation’s day, even though, truth be told, my nation itself causes me more problems than pride most of the time. I spent yesterday huddled indoors hoping it would stop raining for long enough to get to our local parade (spoiler: it didn’t), and so it passed mostly unremarked; this was a pity, as I love St Patrick’s Day parades with all their mismatched, homemade, amateur whimsy. They’re a true celebration of what living in a rural town in Ireland looks and feels like, and though some of it doesn’t deserve to be romanticised, some of it is pure fun. If you celebrated it, I hope you enjoyed yourself.

In honour of the national day, I wanted to spend a bit of time bigging up my fellow Irish writers, just because. There are a lot of them, so I’m beginning this post by apologising (which is, of course, the most Irish thing of all); I’m bound to forget someone, and I mean no disrespect. I put it down to my being old and grey(ish) and not having enough space in my brain-pan for everything that needs to fit into it. So, if you don’t see yourself here and you feel, all told, that you should be, do let me know. Also, I’m going to focus on kidlit/YA types, mostly because I’m lazy and this is the age-group I know best – but also because the best writing happens there, and because if I opened my focus to literary fiction I’d literally be writing this blogpost for the rest of my life. We Irish, we know our words.

Irish Books

With apologies to Mr Walliams, who isn’t included in my Irish roundup! Photo: SJ O’Hart

Right. To begin at the beginning.

If you haven’t already made the acquaintance of the one-man wonder show that is Dave Rudden, I heartily recommend you do. His second novel, The Forever Court, is imminent, and as his first – Knights of the Borrowed Dark – was one of the best books I have ever read (and I have read many books, so this is A Good Thing), I fully expect the second book in this series to be stupendous. As well as that he’s one of the nicest people around, full of excellent writing advice and general nerdery/geekery on Twitter, and he sports a beard of wonder which deserves to be more widely admired.

I also kneel before the throne of Claire Hennessy, who has been around so long in Irish writing circles (despite still being a very young lady) that she practically functions as its fulcrum. She has a publishing record as long as your arm, having released her first book into the world while she was still in her teens, and her novel Like Other Girls is forthcoming from Hot Key Books in May. This is only the latest in a body of work which is noteworthy for its feminism, intelligence and social awareness, and Claire is one of the most interesting writers, speakers and  human beings I know. She’s also an awesome creative writing teacher with Big Smoke Writing Factory, as I can personally attest.

I am a Celine Kiernan completist, and I wait with bated breath whenever she mentions she has another book coming. Her Moorehawke Trilogy is world-class fantasy, and her novel Into the Grey is a stunning piece of work. My favourite of her works is Resonance, her most recent, which is an incredible piece of writing, storytelling, world-building and imagination, and I can’t recommend it more highly. She can’t write her next book fast enough for me.

Then there’s the one-woman powerhouse that is E.R. Murray, who manages – it seems – to constantly be writing four books at once, and all of them to an excellent standard. Her Nine Lives series about Ebony Smart, a young girl with the power to reincarnate, is published by Mercier Press. As if that wasn’t enough, her YA story about a young girl struggling to cope with the challenges of her family life with the help of her mother’s recipe book is called Caramel Hearts, published by Alma Press. E.R. is widely regarded as an in-demand speaker, creative writing teacher, and author, and she is a warm and welcoming presence on the Irish literary scene.

Kieran Fanning (who daylights as a teacher) is the author of The Black Lotus, published by Chicken House Books in the UK and Scholastic in the US, which is one of the best books for kids I’ve read in years. It encompasses adventure, martial arts, time travel, history, superpowers and an epic battle – and I loved it. He’s a supportive and helpful voice on social media, a source of huge encouragement for newbies like me, and an authority on making books and literature accessible and interesting to children. Anyone who writes for children in Ireland should be following his every word.

Nigel Quinlan’s The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox stands, in my humble onion, shoulder-to-shoulder with Pat O’Shea, a legend of Irish children’s literature. When I read Weatherbox I was reminded of nothing more than O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigana book which was a gigantic part of my childhood. In its zany humour, utterly Irish turns of phrase, and completely bonkers family, it’s a book which made me laugh while keeping me glued to the plot. I enjoyed it so much, and I can’t wait to see what Quinlan does next. Also, if you’re looking for bonkers zany humour on Twitter, Nigel‘s your man.

I can’t write a post like this without mentioning Louise O’Neill, who has – deservedly – enjoyed worldwide success with her novels Only Ever Yours and Asking For It, which tackle some of the most complex aspects of modern life as experienced, primarily, by young women. They are books which can be searingly painful to read, simply because they are so true, and so important. Her work has drawn comparison with that of Margaret Atwood, and the clarity O’Neill brings to her dissection of what it is to be female in a world which seems to hate women is utterly compelling.

There are so many more incredible Irish writers I could mention, including Sarah Webb, Sheena Wilkinson, Siobhan Parkinson, Deirdre Sullivan, Eoin Colfer, Oisin McGann, Derek Landy, Sarah Crossan, P.J. Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Shane Hegarty (who has enjoyed recent film success with his trilogy of Darkmouth books), Alan Early (whose Arthur Quinn novels about resurrected Vikings and Norse Gods taking over Dublin city are fantastic), Oliver Jeffers, Máire Zepf, Tarsila Kruse (who I’m claiming as Irish!), and more who I’m sure I’m forgetting that I really would be here all day, so I’ll have to leave it at that. Ireland is producing some top-notch writing for children, teens and young readers, as well as its already enviable record in relation to literary fiction, and it’s a great time to be part of it.

So, Beannachtaí lá le Phádraig oraibh go leor, and take my word for it: the best way to celebrate St Patrick is to check out a book by an Irish writer. Maith thú, beir bua, is bain taitneamh as na leabhair!

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox’

The first thing I’ll say about this book is: it made me laugh, people.

Image: goodreads.com Artist: Erwin Madrid (erwinmadrid.blogspot.ie)

Image: goodreads.com
Artist: Erwin Madrid (erwinmadrid.blogspot.ie)

It made me laugh because it’s a madcap, rollicking tale, but also because it reminded me so much of the zany weirdness of Flann O’Brien, whose novel At-Swim-Two-Birds is all over this work, and the linguistic artistry of Pat O’Shea, whose masterwork Hounds of the Morrigan has a similar feel to the dialect and dialogue on display here. In terms of the sheer unpredictability of the plot, the rich peppering of myth, mysticism and barely-controlled insanity which flows through it, and the pure belly-shaking fun of it, these two literary giants live on in Nigel Quinlan’s work. It’s so Irish, but it’s meta-Irish; Gaelic in a knowing, tongue-in-cheek way, at once honouring and taking the mick out of the traditions which, deep down, underpin it.

This isn’t to say you need a degree in English literature to appreciate it. Far from it. All you need to get on board with this book is a working sense of humour and an ability to leave your sensible shoes at the door.

Nigel Quinlan’s The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox (Orion, 2015) is the story of the Maloney family, who live in the Irish Midlands. They are siblings Owen, Neil and Liz, along with Mum and Dad, and they run a B&B to make ends meet. However, that isn’t their real role: Mr Maloney is the Weatherman, one of four very powerful beings who exist at the corners of the world and whose role it is to usher one Season in and another out at the appropriate times of year. If this job isn’t done, and done correctly, chaos and all manner of nastiness will ensue. The book is told through the alternating viewpoints of the two older children, Neil and Liz, both of whom are fun and interesting – but particularly Liz, who is a little firecracker armed with a bow and arrow, full of life and a fiery sense of the injustice of the world. I loved her, and I loved how her narrative arc ends up. The story begins just as Summer is supposed to become Autumn, and the family are preparing for the change of Season – but then, for some reason, it doesn’t happen. The expected chain of events doesn’t take place. Instead, they get a Tourist named Ed who turns up out of the blue looking for a room, and two cracked old hags begin to wander in the wood, and a Bog Beast turns up out of nowhere – and to top it all off, the neighbours begin to act very strangely indeed…

Ed is a tourist of magic who knows all about the legend of the Weatherman and is delighted to have found him. The inexplicable hags are straight out of Irish legend (via the aforementioned Flann and O’Shea), changing shape and appearance as the story goes on, and delivering some of the laugh-out-loud dialogue that this book is full of. I’ve read some reviews which compare them to the witch characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but as a lifelong fan of those books I have to admit I didn’t see any resemblance between Pratchett’s witches and these powerful gals at all. They’re far more like the triple-aspect goddess Morrigan in Pat O’Shea’s work, fast-paced and sometimes nonsensical dialogue and all. The Bog Beast (who becomes Neetch the cat, adopted wholesale by the youngest Maloney) is sometimes a terrifying creature and sometimes a tiny kitten, but always interesting to read about. The evil Mrs Fitzgerald, who (along with her brutish husband John-Joe and their odious son Hugh) is the baddie of the piece, is never less than compelling, and her connection to some of the other characters in the story is interesting. The Fitzgeralds live beside the Maloneys, though they’re hardly ‘neighbourly’, and the families have a long and twisty relationship which goes far beyond the usual issues about land ownership and boundary lines and who left grass clippings on whose lawn, and the sort. I really enjoyed reading about the families and how they are connected; these connections deepen as the book goes on.

Some of the book’s mythology – by which I mean its use of the weather and the changing Seasons as a motif – is a bit confusing or vaguely explained (particularly Mrs Maloney, who seems to be a figure of some power in her own right but who we never really learn about properly), and I wasn’t always on board with the need for the role of a Weatherman at all, or why such an arrangement between the powers of nature and humanity was ever arrived at. But this isn’t even important, really. The sheer fun of the story and the relentless pace of the goings-on is more than enough to keep any reader invested. I had so many moments when this book made me genuinely laugh, and I hope the humour would translate well whether you’re an Irish reader or not (though I do think an Irish reader might get a little more out of it than someone of another nationality), and I was particularly amused by the Shieldsmen, who were the traditional guardians of the Weatherman before being unfortunately exiled some years before. When we first meet them, their fast-paced dialogue and verbal eccentricities just carry the reader away, and despite the fact that they’re completely ‘out there’, they were among the most memorable characters for me.

So. Plotting isn’t this book’s strong point, but it more than makes up for that with superb characterisation, cracking dialogue and a great depiction of a flawed but realistic family, prepared to do anything it takes to support and protect one another. The humour and the pace of the action are the cherries on the cake. A definite recommendation for anyone willing to try something a bit different, and for any kid out there who likes Doctor Who, or who is looking for a story which will make them laugh – guaranteed!*

*Refer all claims in relation to this guarantee to Nigel Quinlan, c/o anyone but the proprietress of this blog!