Reviewed by Tahlia Newland
January 7, 2013
This is the second book in the Pan of Hamgee series. I loved the first one and this is even better. The author has created a bunch of truly loveable – and in one case, truly scary – characters that I just love to hang out with. They come from an alternative reality, the same earth but populated with a variety of different sized and coloured creatures, some more human looking than others. The Pan – basically human – enters our reality with the help of a portal in a thimble to rescue the one chosen by the Candidate for the role of spiritual and temporal leader of his country, but the arch bad guy follows him. A destructive chase through London in flying cars starts off the action and it just keeps moving.
The Pan of Hamgee is one of my favourite characters of all time, the best getaway ever because he’s a coward – or so he says; it makes him good at running away. But the Pan is much more than just the getaway man he thinks he is; he’s funny, smart, noble, humble and, best of all, is just a really a good bloke. He always does what’s right even when he’d rather be running in the opposite direction. However in this, the second of the Pan of Hamgee series, his negative opinion of himself is holding him back from realising his true potential.
Ruth is another wonderful character, one we didn’t have the chance to get to know in the first book, but in this one, she plays a major role, and her feisty interactions with the Pan are just delightful. Their relationship grows as the story progresses. First, he rescues her from a couple of Grongles who want to take her to the very nasty Lord Vernon. She has never met the Pan before and is, quite rightly, suspicious, but they end up spending a lot of time together because they’re on the run, and he’s not only the best getaway man in the business, he’s also pretty adorable.
Big Merv, the bright orange Swamp Thing also deserves a mention, as another delightful character, and Lord Vernon deserves an award for one of the creepiest bad guys ever.
The story is tight and unpredictable and the pacing excellent. The characterisation is superb and the humour delightful. I don’t like the use of the word alright instead of the more correct, all right, but since this is becoming an acceptable usage in dialogue, I’ll have to pass it. The copy editing could be better; it’s not bad, just the occasional lack of punctuation where it would have been helpful, certainly not enough of a problem to stop you enjoying this delightful story.
October 14, 2013
Ravana O’Brien resumes her role as an intrepid teenage heroine in this sequel to Hollow Moon, which ends with… well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say you should not count your dead villains until you see their desiccated corpses. In this story, the residents of her home inside a recently crippled hollowed-out asteroid have become refuges on Ascension, a nearby planet orbiting Barnard’s Star. They are not entirely welcome. In fact, they are not at all welcome. Ravana, now a student at Newbrum University, is not there, though. Her father believes she is on an archeological dig on the distant and inhospitable planet of Falsafah in the Tau Ceti system, but when the story opens, she finds herself in a hospital with very unlikely nurses, and she has no idea how or why she is there. Thus begins a well-told tale of mysteries, escapes, cyberclones, aliens, spies, spaceships, and giant spiders. It is a hard-to-put-down book.
I found the prose, editing, and formatting for the digital edition above average. Pacing is also good. Although some of the science is highly speculative, it is not outlandish within the context of the story. A little suspension of disbelief is required, but this is YA science fiction, so you expect that. The story is written with an omniscient point of view from the perspective of several characters, although primarily from that of Ravana. I had no trouble following it, and it was clear who was on center stage at all times. I found the characters quite believable, and I would put Ravana ahead of most teenage heroines I’ve seen in recent fiction. She is brave, intelligent, resourceful, and kind to short grey aliens and rude little boys.
YA science fiction has become something of a rarity these days, and it was delightful for me to find some that was so well done. I highly recommend Paw-Prints of the Gods for YA science fiction readers, but I suggest reading Hollow Moon first.
Full Disclosure: I received a promotional digital copy of this book through Awesome Indies.
Reviews by Awesome Indies' Assessor
August 4, 2014
A Joy to Read
The Scottish Movie by Paul Collis is a well-crafted revenge tale that even Shakespeare naysayers can enjoy. The novel begins with William Shakespeare’s creation of his play, MacBeth. We learn that the bard overheard the plot being described by another playwright at a pub and, wanting to really impress King James with his next piece, promptly goes home to write it. When the original creator finds out the Globe Theatre is performing his play, without his consent, he sets out to sabotage the performance. As it turns out, this story is just that, a story that a modern day author has penned. In a very similar turn of events, Harry Greenville discusses his novel with his friends at a diner, only to have an eavesdropping Hollywood executive steal the idea for his own. Once Harry discovers that someone has ripped off his idea and the movie is to begin production, he takes a page from his own novel and proceeds to sabotage the film.
This novel was a joy to read. The author used the lore surrounding the Scottish Play and turned it into an intriguing story with snappy dialogue, and hilarious actions scenes. Though the author completely has his own voice, the style of the story reminded me of a Christopher Moore novel. Through complete dumb luck and sheer brazenness, Harry Greenville is hired onto the film’s production staff and given an all-access pass to conduct his revenge on the story thief. Harry is the everyman stepped on by the corporate big shot, and you just can’t help but root for him.
The strongest part of the book was the author’s ability to seamlessly change between character points of view, sometimes multiple times in one scene. This allowed the reader to see the story angled from both main and supporting characters. Sometimes the switch was only for a few paragraphs; however, it added color to the story, almost like seeing a facial expression in a film that only the audience is supposed to see.
My only concern is that, as the characters use many modern references to Hollywood stars, movie titles, or general hat tips to modern culture, this novel may not age well. If the reader cannot place what actress a character is referring to when only using her first name, some of the dialogue charm could be lost. Even still, a good revenge story is always an indulgence, and this one does not disappoint.
Review by Awesome Indies Assessor
May 20, 2014
Sometimes you can tell from the beginning that a book is going to be awesome. Kaleidoscope by Kevin Berry was one of them, and it was primarily due to the strength of the author’s voice. Chloe leapt off the very first page like the vibrant and delightfully individual character that she is, and her unwavering honesty and cheerful acceptance of her various ‘conditions’ made her highly endearing.
This book follows on from STIM, but you don’t need to have read it first. The central character in STIM is Robert, Chloe’s boyfriend, and near the end of that book, they experience the earthquake that shocked Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 2010. Kaleidoscope is narrated by Chloe, a bipolar Aspie (person with Asperger’s syndrome), and near the beginning of this book, she and Robert experience the more disastrous February 2011 Earthquake that demolished Christchurch’s central business district and killed over 100 people. The earthquake and the difficulties it imposes on the people of Christchurch in the following months makes this book more dramatic and action orientated than STIM, which for many will make it the better book, but both books are excellent; STIM simply has a different kind of energy. It reflects Robert’s placid and stable nature, whereas Kaleidoscope reflects Chloe’s volatility. She is prone to impulses and wild schemes, which allows for more surprises.
People with Asperger’s syndrome find change difficult to handle, so Chloe has particular difficulty adjusting to the aftermath of the earthquake. Her task in this book is to come back to some level of personal stability.
As with STIM, this book has a striking ‘realness’ about it. There is no pretense or artifice; like the characters, Berry simply tells it as it is. I have read the speculative fiction books Berry co-authored and, though well worth a read for those who like fantasy parody, they pale into insignificance beside these simple and charming masterpieces. It is wonderful to see an author’s true talent emerge in this way, and I hope we can look forward to more books written with the same honesty and integrity.
One of the charming things about this book is Berry’s humour. It comes out in puns and delightful neologisms, e.g. ‘The university towers quagswagged like populars in a breeze’, and the dialogue about time travel between Chloe, who is in the middle of a manic episode, and a woman waiting outside a portable toilet had me chuckling. ‘It’s a freaking port-a-loo, not a tardis,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t go anywhere and it’s definitely no bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.’
We also get a real glimpse into the Kiwi spirit in how they handle life in post-quake Christchurch. Chloe and Robert are trying to have sex in a tree when an aftershock happens. They are shaken from the tree and fall in the river. When their neighbour hauls them out, he makes no comment on what they were doing in the tree, simply gives his estimate of the strength, depth and epicentre of the quake. Apparently, the locals are very good at guessing now. Another interesting point is how Chloe receives her first information immediately post-quake about what’s happening in the Christchurch CBD via a text from her father in Melbourne who is watching it unfold on television.
Chloe’s dreams of the CBD Red Zone, the demolition area roped off by the army, are particularly powerful, as is her reaction when she skates around the perimeter and looks in at the destruction. Her thoughts and feelings mirror mine exactly when I saw the damage for myself a year after the quake.
All up, this is a wonderful book, I highly recommend it to all readers, especially to anyone with someone with Asperger’s or bi-polar disorder in their life. Berry brings this charming and ruthlessly honest story alive with a clear and distinctive voice.
Awesome Indies Assessor
November 7, 2013
STIM is a sensitive and charming portrayal of an autistic man’s search for a girlfriend. Robert lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has Autistic Spectrum Disorder which means that he finds social situations awkward. He has difficulty reading social signals and understanding social conventions, hence finding a girlfriend is much harder for him that it is for NS (Non Spectrum) people.
This simple story glows with Robert’s earnest and honest character. His straight forward nature is the cause of much confusion for him and many chuckles for the reader, but there’s a serious side to the story, a call for celebrating neural diversity rather than shunning those whose brain works slightly differently to the norm. Reading this book will help you to understand what life is like for an autistic person and for anyone with clinical depression, that’s the kind that can be treated with medication – happy pills, as Robert calls them. You’ll also gain some insight into bipolar disorder. Robert isn’t bipolar, but he does have a manic episode when he ups his dose of happy pills.
Mr Berry draws this endearing character so well that we see the logic of Robert’s perception. Some of the things we Neuro Typical people find normal, like figurative speech for example, are ridiculous when seen from Robert’s point of view. Robert is somewhat like Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory. He has the same innocence, social ignorance, logical brain and ability to focus on obscure areas of study. Roberts language is very formal; he even speaks without contractions. At first it seems rather stiff and odd, but I soon realized now perfectly his speech patterns expressed his character.
Chloe is another wonderful character, also an Aspie, and a good friend who helps Robert to become comfortable in his own skin. In this way, it’s a coming of age story, that of a young autistic man finding his place on the world. Steph, their flatmate, is an excellent role model for how understanding NS people can be towards those with different neurological wiring. I loved it when he sent her aggro boyfriend packing.
Journal entries detailing what Robert had read recently and how much sexual activity he had had peppered the novel. The book titles and his descriptions of them were delightful as were his reactions to the question of sex. The author uses the format extremely well at the end. The book is undoubtedly well written. The character, the issues and the challenges come over loud and clear, and in an entertaining package.
This is not an an action packed book, and yet I didn’t want to put it down – an indication of the author’s skill. Robert’s life had enough tension in simple things like going to a party and working a job, and the addition of his experience in the Christchurch earthquake ramped it up at just the right point in the plot line. I really wanted Robert to find a girlfriend, but the odds seemed stacked against him. The end was not a surprise, but it was a delight.
I think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes literary or contemporary fiction and it really should be read by anyone who knows or works with autistic people in any way. The first person point of view really gets you inside Robert’s head. Stories about people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are not as rare as you might think, but they are rarely touted as such – take Sherlock Holmes for example.
Well done, Mr Berry. STIM undoubtedly deserves 5 stars.
(2) Review by Tahlia Newland
This is a truly wonderful book. The author has a very strong voice, the characters are real, the subject matter relevant, and the book is immaculately edited.
(3)Review by Vivian
Highly recommended. I don’t know if the author wrote this book in the hope of giving a moral lesson, but the main character’s different-ness made me look at life and people differently. Funny and sad and tender.
(4)Review by Marsha Cornelius
I loved this book, and his second one, too, Kaleidoscope. Such unusual characters, and a wonderful story. Can’t recommend it enough.
(5)Review by Adan Ramie
I didn’t think this was as funny as others have, most likely because I have an intimate connection with two autistic people and have an understanding (admittedly, the small amount I can from being closer to the neurotypical side of the scale) about the way their minds work.