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Mondays are Red

Today I'm delighted to be reviewing an e-book for the 1st time.  'Mondays are Red', written by Nicola Morgan and originally published in 2002 has been republished by Nicola's own publishing arm Crabbit Publishing in e-book format only. This has been a brave decision by Nicola but one which I'm sure will delight her readers.


Mondays are Red; Crabbitt Publishing; November 2011 (Kindle Edition)

Book summary(from Nicola Morgan press release):
When Luke wakes from a coma, his world has altered. His senses are confused and a sinister creature called Dreeg inhabits his mind. Dreeg offers him limitless power – even the power to fly. The temptations are huge but the price is high. Who will pay? His mysteriously perfect girlfriend? His sister, Laura? When Laura goes missing, Luke realises the terrible truth about himself and his power. His decision is a matter of life and death, and he will have to run faster than fire.

This book has given me one of the strangest reading experiences I've ever had!  From the very 1st page it was a complete and utter attack on my senses. My mind was filled with colours, sounds, tastes and smells as Nicola Morgan introduced me to the world of synaesthesia. A world where "Mondays are Red, sadness has an empty blue smell and music can taste of anything from banana puree to bat's pee."

We meet teenage Luke as he lies awakening from a meningitis induced coma.  As he lies on his hospital bed he becomes aware of someone (something?) lurking inside his brain. This character is Dreeg who will lead Luke astray, encourage him to rebel and offer him unrivalled power and glory. However as the story progresses it is clear that Luke will pay the price for this power.

'Mondays are Red' is a thoroughly interesting book which will definitely make the reader think when they put it down.  With clear roots in Faustian legend Dreeg is a compelling character.  Able to transform at a moment's notice into various nauseating beings he is Luke's personal Satan, willing him down the path of trouble.  

As Luke continues on his quest for power Morgan continues to mesmerise us with her use of language. The fact that Luke is suffering from synaesthsia allows her to attack our senses from all angles. Descriptions and language are at times a "...kaleidoscopic shower. Beautiful and confusing."

Running alongside this combination of imagery and legend is a an extremely creepy horror story. It features metal masked men, spooky woods, missing teenagers and many 'not sure if I really want to read on' moments. The whole book is extremely atmospheric and in the last few chapters you can almost hear the crackles of the flames as they leap from tree to tree in the aforementioned woods.

This is a book which has taken a serious issue and dealt with it in an unusual but effective way.  Love may be at the heart of the story but this is no traditional love story. It's a gripping read which will scare you, enlighten you and will leave you with more questions then answers when you are finished.

Marks out of 10:8

(Thanks to Nicola Morgan for supplying the Kindle copy of the book)

This new Kindle edition of the book includes creative writing from pupils at St Laurence School, Wiltshire, based on 'Mondays are Red' as well as some extra information from Nicola herself.

For more information on Synaesthesia you may wish to visit the UK Synaesthesia Association

For more information on Nicola Morgan visit her website

Here is the trailer for 'Mondays are Red'...


Joe Craig Interview

Joe Craig is an award winning author whose first book 'Jimmy Coates: Killer' was published by HarperCollins in 2005.  Since then Joe has written a further six books in the 'Jimmy Coates' series.  The books are immensley popular and Joe has been  bracketed alongside Anthony Horowitz, Charlie Higson and Robert Muchamore as "one of the best spy kids authors... outstanding at both writing and plotting." (The Times)

Before embarking on his writing career Joe studied Philosophy at Cambridge University after which he became a songwriter, winning numerous awards for his compositions. He's now a full time author and Literature for Lads was lucky enough to catch up with him recentley and gain an insight into where he got the idea for the 'Jimmy Coates' series, what he's reading and listening to currently and why you should never attempt to make him a sandwich!
How would you describe the Jimmy Coates series?
“The Bourne Identity for kids,” is how it’s been described in several reviews, and I think that’s a very flattering comparison, so I’ll take it. It’s also an apt description of the series, even though the stories are different, of course.
When I first read that in a review I hadn’t read anything by Robert Ludlum (who wrote The Bourne Identity) so I thought I ought to. Since then I’ve become a huge fan of Ludlum, whom I now consider to be the master of the thriller novel. I’ve learned a lot by reading his work – and enjoyed every minute of it.
Where an earth did you get the idea to write about a child assassin?!
That’s not the idea I had! My ‘idea’ was actually a thousand little ideas pieced together to form a plot. It started with the image of men turning up at a suburban family home and announcing, “We’ve come for the boy.” It carried on with the idea that the parents knew these men. Things got kicked into the next gear when the next thought was that the boy would be able to get away because his body responded to the perceived danger by boosting itself to previously hidden extremes of ability. Powers.
Suddenly, these little ideas had coagulated into a situation where a boy with strange abilities he never knew about before was on the run from some kind of organisation and his parents had known that these people would be coming for him.
From there, I unknotted the rest of the story. It happened piece by piece, little by little, each image building on the last in my head, until the whole story was mapped out. Then I started writing.
At no point did I ever think, “I’ll write about a young assassin.” First of all, Jimmy isn’t really an assassin – or is he? That question is one of the fundamental thoughts behind the whole book: whether his identity is determined by his actions or his genetics.
I presume you needed to do research for the series so what did this entail?  At any point did you embark on training to be an assassin?!
‘Believable’ is much more important than ‘realistic’. Most of my research was into the particular workings of cutting-edge military hardware, which I then discarded to create something of my own that people could actually believe in. Most of the real stuff is incredible, but too distracting to put in a book. You’d need to spend too long explaining the physics of it and putting in footnotes saying things like, “I know this sounds ridiculous, but they can really do this – trust me.
It’s obvious from the 1st Jimmy Coates book that you enjoy living in London. What’s the best thing about living in the capital?
I’ve always lived in London. I love it. Wouldn’t live anywhere else.
The first thing that comes to mind is the food. Amazing restaurants of a thousand different kinds on your doorstep. I could fall out of bed straight into a bowl of Chinese, Japanese, French, English, Russian, Ethiopian, Spanish, Moroccan, Italian, Hungarian, Scandinavian, Mexican, Thai or Indian food. And I often do. I should get a bigger bed.
The parks, the skyline, the markets, the shops, the caf├ęs, the people, the transport, the cutting edge of everything, the cosmopolitan attitude, the liberal ethos, the all-welcoming attitude, the theatre, the music, the random events that spring into life unexpectedly… London rocks.

Is there anyone who you feel has been particularly influential on your writing?
I learned to write by writing and being edited by some very astute people. My wife, Mary-Ann and my agent, Sarah Manson, have played a huge hand in that. Without them I wouldn’t write the way that I do. Maybe I’d be better. Yeah, let’s blame them.
Music is obviously a big part of your life as well.  What do you find easier – writing music or writing books?
There is no ‘easier’ or ‘harder’ when it comes to comparing writing music or books. That’s sounds odd, but in some ways they feel too different to compare and in other ways they are exactly the same. In any case, they’re both easier than doing real work, so I’m very lucky I’ve managed to get away with doing both before having to do anything else.
Writing a song is quicker than writing a novel. But when I’m writing a novel I don’t envisage the whole thing as one task, so it’s broken down into chunks of activity that aren’t that much different to writing a song. You can only produce anything in the moment you currently occupy.
Writing books is less collaborative than writing songs. I like that. With books, there’s also a more direct connection between my original vision and the final outcome. One of the biggest frustrations for me when writing music has always been that no recorded version of anything I’ve written has ever recreated what I wanted it to sound like when I wrote it. 

I’m not a good producer. I can write a song, I can perform it, but recording it is a different skill and it’s one where I’m lacking.  The closest I’ve come to satisfying recordings of my songs has been thanks to a talented producer who didn’t mind helping me out. (Joe’s 1st album, The Songman and Me Vol. 1 is available here)
If you could have any artist or band produce a soundtrack for Jimmy Coates who would it be?
I’d do it myself! In fact I’ve already written and recorded the ‘Jimmy Coates Theme’. It’s ready to go. (Ed – Where can we listen to this?!)
If I didn’t have time to do the soundtrack to the whole story I’d ask my very talented friends Mocean Worker and Oli Rockberger 
What are you currently reading and listening to?
Right at this moment I have my computer playing my entire music collection on shuffle. I love shuffle, especially while I’m working. Shuffle works particularly well for me because I have 20,000 tracks, which span almost every genre. The only 3 types of music I can’t stand are house, reggae and Terry Callier.
My favourite musical artists at the moment are, off the top of my head: Oscar Peterson, Billy Joel, Toby Keith, Craig Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Aretha Franklin, Lamont Dozier, Paul Simon, Keith Jarrett, Egberto Gismonti, Astor Piazzolla, Hobo Jim, Gabe Dixon, Jason Mraz, Maroon 5, Chromeo, Ari Hest, Mr Barrington… I won’t go on, but that should do for now.
As for reading… I tend to have several books going at once. It helps if I leave one in each room. My bedroom book at the moment is ‘Quantum’ by Manjit Kumar; in the bathroom I’ve got ‘Half Brother’ by Kenneth Oppel; in my study I seem to have 2 books going: ‘Cognitive Surplus’ by Clay Shirky and ‘Second Nature’ by Gerald Edelman. The only reason I have two books ‘mid-read’ in my study at the moment is because I bought the first one as a present for somebody then changed my mind, and the second one I found in the street.
Yes, I found a book in the street. It was in a box on the wall outside someone’s house with a sign that said ‘help yourself’. There was a DVD box set of ‘Dexter’ as well, so I ‘helped myself’ to that too, though I haven’t watched any of it yet.
It’s clear from your blog you love a good sandwich – what’s your dream sandwich filling?
Never try giving me a sandwich. Not unless you’re really sure it’s something special. I’m spoiled. A year or two ago I discovered that I live a couple of minutes from a deli run by a sandwich genius. His name is Lee. Lee’s sandwiches are events, each one unique. Two or three times a week, he makes me my dream sandwich. Like all good dreams, these sandwiches are constantly shifting worlds of emotion and passion, an artful balance between the sweet and the sour, the salt and the spice.
The base is great bread, usually a Kentish flute or a ciabatta. The filling is always different, but it’s a combination of a salami and a cheese. Within that simple equation there are almost infinite possibilities, but the quality of each ingredient is always second-to-none. Then there are extras, which round out the experience and bring the flavours to their best – embellishments that might at first sound like too much, but like the timpani in a symphony, it becomes impossible to imagine the finished product without them. The possibilities include grilled artichoke and aubergine, sun-dried or semi-dried tomatoes, and several different flavours of fresh pesto.
Lee has taken the concept of the sandwich to a higher level. You won’t find anything like his creations trapped in plastic in a supermarket or laid out on a catering tray.
Outside the special world of sandwich mastery that Lee has pioneered, the only decent sandwiches are made at home, by me. The best of these is a roast chicken sandwich, honed over many years of exploration and experimentation.
The Quick 5…
•    Amazon No1 Bestseller or Number 1 Album?
 Amazon No 1 bestseller, please.
•    Reading books or writing books?
Writing
•    Twitter or Facebook?
At the moment, twitter (@joecraiguk), but I like Facebook for certain things 
•    Print book or e-book?
Print, until I’ve finished every book on my shelves, which will probably take 4 to 5 years.
•    Scrooge or Santa?
Scrooge. Definitely Scrooge. I buy decent gifts, but not at Christmas.
More information on Joe can be found on his website

Jimmy Coates: Killer

Our next review is the 1st in the 'Jimmy Coates' series written by Joe Craig.  Rather excitingly in advance of our review we interviewed Joe and you can read what he had to say here.  Joe gives us a great insight into where he got his ideas for the book, introduces us to one of his other passions music and gives us an in depth analysis of what makes the perfect sandwich!

Jimmy Coates:KillerHarper Collins Children's Books; 2007

Book summary (taken from Amazon uk): An eleven-year-old boy discovers he has strange powers, and a future that holds mystery, adventure -- and death! Bending his knees, Jimmy let go of the windowsill and slowly tipped backwards. Surely this is impossible, he thought, even as he could feel himself doing it. He pushed out with his legs and the thrust sent him flying backwards into the air! Then his fingers locked on to the cold wire of the fence, poised in a perfect handstand on the top. Who are the mysterious men chasing Jimmy across the city? Why are they after him? What are Jimmy's parents keeping from him and who can he trust? And how come he can suddenly do all this really cool stuff!? Find out in this electrifying debut novel from Joe Craig.

Literature for Lads review:
Lets get straight to the point here - this is a cracking read! Full of action, adventure, intrigue and the odd dash of humour, Joe Craig has written a novel that will have you hooked from the very 1st chapter.

The central character in the book is of course, Jimmy Coates, who we discover almost immediately is not who he thinks he is. As he sets out to find the reasons why mysterious men are chasing him across the city of London we are treated to numerous high octane, full on action scenes, including a mesmerising helicopter chase down the Thames.

With the relentless pace and inventive plot twists you will be totally gripped by this novel. One of the tag lines on the front of the book is that it is '100% compulsive'- it's a pretty apt description!

However it's not just the adrenalin rushing action that makes this book such a good read.  From the very 1st chapter there is an element of mystery to the whole story and Joe Craig continues to keep us guessing as the story progresses.  Just when we think we are fully beginning to understand the strange world that Jimmy inhabits we are once again left feeling perplexed as the next part of the mystery is revealed.

The setting of the book in a UK not so different from the one we live in today also adds depth to the story.  Playing out beneath the story of Jimmy and his own adventures is the tale of an Orwellian style Government and how they are shaping society for their own means. It's a great introduction for younger readers to the whole concept of the 'Big Brother' society.

The Jimmy Coates series is a brilliant concept and this 1st book sees Jimmy and the other chracters explode onto the pages with a bang.  By the time you turn the last page of this book I'm pretty sure you will be working out how to get hold of the next in the series.

Marks out of 10: 9

In this video Joe Craig walks through the route that Jimmy Coates takes from Finchley Central station when he's shadowing Christopher Viggo in the book Jimmy Coates: Killer. (contains spoilers)

There is also loads more Jimmy Coates information at the official Jimmy Coates website

Exciting news...

I'm delighted to be able announce details of our 1st guest blog and also our 1st author interview.  
 
Our 1st guest blog will be written by the wonderful Nicola Morgan and will appear on the blog on the 8th December. Nicola is re-releasing her debut novel, 'Mondays are Red' as an e-book on the 28th November and Literatureforlads has been lucky enough to have been invited to be part of the blog tour for the book.  Nicola's blog will focus on why she has taken the decision to re-release the book as an e-book and I'm sure it will be an interesting read.


The 1st author to brave the literatureforlads intense questioning is Joe Craig author of the 'Jimmy Coates' series of books.  Joe will be telling us amongst other things where he got the idea for a book featuring a child assassin, how he researched the information for the book and also whether he's a scrooge or a Santa when it comes to Christmas!  Joe's interview will be live on the blog from the 27th November.


Let the Games begin!!

The countdown has begun!  In 126 days time the epic 'Hunger Games' trilogy will be brought to life on the big screen! The 1st part of the immensely popular and stupendously brilliant dystopian adventure series, written by Suzanne Collins, will be released in cinemas in the UK on the 23rd March 2012.

This week we have been treated to a two and half minute trailer (watch it below) and it looks like the film might just live up to our expectations. There is lots packed into the short amount of time including scenes which show Katniss' brave decision to volunteer as tribute ahead of her sister, the breathtaking start to the Games themselves before the short montage ends with the haunting melody of little Rue's song.

The 'Hunger Games' books set in a dystopian future are thrilling, adventure stories.  They rattle along at an unrelenting pace and will have you hooked from the first few pages.  However the books also tell stories of friendship, loyalty and love, and the combination of these elements ensure they will be regarded as future classics.  If the rest of the film is as good as the trailer the film is also destined to be a classic.




Boyracers and Pack Men

This is a special two book review.'Boyracers' was Alan Bissett’s first novel and features a band of four teenagers as the central characters.  In his latest novel 'Pack Men' readers are reacquainted with 3 of these characters as young men. Although both of these books are perfectly suited to being read without the other I decided to read them in sequence.

Please note both these books are intended for a 16+ audience

BoyracersAlan Bissett; Polygon; 2011 & Pack Men; Alan Bissett; Hachette; 2011

Book Summary (taken from Amazon UK):
Since its first publication ten years ago Boyracers has established itself as a contemporary Scottish cult classic. It is a totally fresh, savvy and supremely honest take on being young, naive and hopeful, and the pains of living life at hyperspeed in a mad pop-culture world. It is fast, pacy and funny - an exhilarating joyride through the formative years of four Falkirk teenagers.

Book Summary (taken from Amazon UK):
In 2008 Glasgow Rangers Fc reached a major European final. It was held in Manchester, a short hop from Scotland into England. Cue a colossal invasion: the largest movement of Scots over the border in history and the first time in hundreds of years that an English city was taken over. Chaos reigned.
Pack Men is the fictional story of three pals and one child trapped inside this powderkeg. In a city rocking with beer, brotherhood and sectarianism, the boys struggle to hold onto their friendship, as they turn on each other and the police turn on them. And somehow one of them has to disclose a secret which he knows the others won't want to hear...


Literature for Lads Review:
'Boyracers' is a wonderful coming of age story which gives us an insight into the lives of 4 teenage boys growing up in the Scottish town of Falkirk.  Bissett brilliantly captures what it feels like to be a teenager with the pages almost dripping with angst, sexual tension and the fear of not really knowing where your life is going.

The story is told through the eyes of fifteen year old Alvin with his slightly older friends, Frannie, Dolby and Brian all playing their part in the story.  We witness a number of Alvin's teenage milestones, including getting drunk for the first time, driving for the first time and his first sexual experience.  Bissett describes these moments wonderfully, making it feel like we are almost back there reliving the moments ourselves.

The friendship the four boys hold is a central theme in the book. It gives them something to be alive for in what they view as a dead end town which is going nowhere. Each of the boys is dealing with issues of their own (an alcoholic mother, being stuck in a dead end job) but they attach a unbelievable value to the friendship.  

As the book progress' it's clear Alvin has an opportunity to move away from Falkirk and 'the boys'.  The way he struggles to wrench himself away from the rest of the group will resonate with all teenagers as they face the uncertainty of making the next step in their life.

Pop culture references are littered throughout the book and despite the book being published ten years ago they do not make it feel dated. Rather they remind us how important music, film and television were in our formative years. Stylistically some of the dialogue between the boys is in the Scot's dialect.  Those unfamiliar with the language might struggle to begin with but they will soon become too absorbed in the story to notice.  

Bissett has captured superbly what it's like to be a teenager. For those of us (thankfully?) past those years it's a wonderful reminder of what it felt like to be free, up for it and yet petrified of the unknown. For the teenagers of today it will be reassuring to read that they maybe aren't that different after all.

Marks out of 10: 8

We are reintroduced to Alvin in Bissett's latest novel 'Pack Men'.  The book opens with Alvin on board a Rangers supporters bus en route to Manchester for the UEFA Cup final. What follows is a story of a man unsure of who he is, wrestling with issues of class, sexuality and sectarianism.  The football, or rather the build up to the game, merely acts as the backdrop to Alvin's unfolding story.

Alvin has now graduated from university and is living in Edinburgh and the UEFA cup final is a convenient excuse for him to get together with old pals, Frankie and Dolby. Brian has emigrated and is cleverly replaced by Dolby's young son, Jack, ensuring the pack of 4 remains.  Other members of the supporters bus also feature heavily in the story including the man mountain of testosterone Cage and the engaging Chrissie.

As we progress through the book it's clear each character has their own story to tell yet Bissett expertly entwines the characters stories around each other.  This allows the book to unfold naturally, with each character given their place in the spotlight at the appropriate time.

From the 1st page of the book the issue of Sectarianism, quite literally, shouts out at us.  Throughout the book the issue is debated, discussed and in some cases disregarded by each of the characters. Bissett's fresh approach to discussing this ever thorny subject, prevalent across Glasgow and other areas of Central Scotland, is to be commended. He opens up the debate in a much more honest, open way than others before him have.  He is also quick to challenge our preconceptions of some of the supporters we encounter, dispelling the myth that all football supporters are knuckle dragging neanderthals.

It is however Alvin, struggling to come to terms with his own identity, who is the star of the book. As his story unfolds, with clever flashbacks to his student days interspersing the ever more chaotic scenes from Manchester, it becomes clear he has a secret he wishes to share.

This book is much more than a novel about a fan's trip to see his team play football. It will make you laugh, make you think and when you reach the last page you will hope it's not the last time you encounter Alvin and the boys from Falkirk.

Marks out of 10: 9

Here is a video of Alan talking about the writing process (and also giving you a tour of his flat!)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again; Frank Cottrell Boyce; Macmillan Children's Books; 2011

Book summary (taken from Amazon UK):
The first ever sequel to Ian Fleming's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", written by bestselling author Frank Cottrell Boyce and endorsed by the Fleming family. When the Tooting family find a vast abandoned engine and fit it to their camper van, they have no idea of the adventure that lies ahead. The engine used to belong to an extraordinary flying car - and it wants to be back on the road again...fast! The Tootings can haul on the steering wheel and pull the handbrake as hard as they like, but their camper van now has a mind of her own. It's not long before they're hurtling along on a turbocharged chase as Chitty tracks down her long-lost bodywork. But there are sinister forces at work too. When it comes to a car as special as Chitty, everybody wants a piece of her...

Literature for Lads Review:
I think it's safe to say the Fleming Estate will be delighted with the sequel that Boyce has written to the original 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". This is a wonderfully entertaining, fun filled, enjoyable story which boys in the later stages of Primary school will love.

The book centres around the Tooting Family and their adventures in a VW Camper Van. The van is fitted with an old engine rescued from a rather peculiar scrapyard and it soon becomes clear this engine has transformed the camper van into something rather extraordinary. Before too long the Tootings discover their camper van has a mind of its own and their magical mystery tour begins.

Boyce enthralls us with the various escapdes of the Tootings and Chitty as they travel across the English channel, onwards to Paris and then beyond to the African Continent. The story is pacy, entertaining and laced with humour throughout. As we arrive in each destination we are given snippets of factual information which adds another interesting angle to the story.

The family themselves have been expertley created by Boyce. They are a very modern family, with a father recently made redundant (a nod to the current recession?), a mother trying to hold things together, Lucy the Goth teenager, and her brother Jem, and not forgetting little brother Harry. All of the characters are engaging, the dialogue between them feels natural and Boyce makes reference to various modern day issues affecting families.

He also litters the book with references to modern day technology, including the use of Facebook and the regular use of a mobile phone to give us the factual information on their destinations. There is no doubt this will appeal to boys as will the description of the Aston Martin halfway through the book (A nod to James Bond perhaps?)

Boyce has written a great book which firmly transplants Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang into the 21st Century. It's full of fun, adventure, mystery and suspense and the ending leaves us in no doubt that the Tooting family adventures are far from over. I look forward to catching up with them and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang again soon!

Marks out of 10: 9

Here is Frank talking about the book...