Friday, 28 May 2010

8+: Urban Fantasy: Demon Defenders: Playground Plague - Jake Lancing


When another experiment goes disastrously wrong and the gang end up falling through the ceiling into the bathroom (where a shower-cap adorned Tabbris sits fuming at his young angel charges) the gang decide a change of leadership is required. Spit takes over and suddenly things seem to be going OK - trouble seems to be a distant memory. That is, until the gang's pet rat goes missing and the footprints in the fridge are bigger than any rat they've ever seen - or ever want to . . .


Having read and enjoyed a previous instalment of this series, I love to see how an author will adapt and change the plot outlines as well as allowing the characters room to grow. What unfurls within this offering is a tale where the group dynamics have changed and the characters have a great amount of room to adapt and change which presents a freshness that the readers will love.

Add to the mix a terrible plague of epic proportions alongside a villain so hideously evil that you really want to Boo and hiss at and you know that its going to be a fun ride. A great offering in this series and one that endear the heroes to the regular readers as well as allowing new readers to pick up this offering with no knowledge of the previous instalments.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

11+: FANTASY REVIEW: Voices in the Dark - Catherine Banner


Anselm Andros has always thought he had a normal life - confidante to his mother, Maria, confessor to his stepfather, Leo, a man haunted by the secrets of his past, and support to his sister Jasmine. But when the political landscape of Malonia starts to shift, this unassuming family begin to unravel. Even though they have spent the past fifteen years leading a quiet life, Maria and Leo's actions are forever linked to the turbulent history of Malonia and its parallel world, modern-day England. The voices from the past still echo in the present and Anselm must pull all the pieces together - whatever the cost.


After numerous problems with the first offering by Catherine, I was left wondering whether I should actually pick this title up and give it a go. On a day when I felt that I had nothing better to do, I prepared myself for a substandard offering and opened the first page.

What unfurls is a marked improvement on the first tale that shows that the author has not only listened to a lot of the criticism that was left and improved upon her weaker area’s. Add to this, better world building, greater prose and a greater handle on the characters making this a slightly better than average offering.

Monday, 24 May 2010

3+: Educational - I Can Draw Series - Simon Abbott


A new series that encourages very young children to develop first drawing skills

Child-friendly ‘wipe-clean’ spreads allow children to draw and copy pictures and shapes. Each book has a special pen and six spreads. The wipe-clean element allows children to copy pictures again and again, as well as teaching them basic drawing skills. The colourful design treatment makes these interactive books highly appealing.


After reading the greatest gift you can give a child is perhaps the skills to help create things from their own imaginations or from real life, in short the gift of art. Contained within this series of eight books is a great way to get them started and will once begun give them hours of fun as they learn to hone the skills that they’re developing.

My own target for this was my nephew who whilst having art teachers for parents, is only just starting to learn the basics. What makes these titles so much fun is that they’re easy to follow, use white board technology so that they can draw inside the book and improve until they perfect the task at hand.

Its great fun and you can, with these titles, help generate a great start for your child alongside teaching yourself some of the basics. After all, a great many of us were never taught to draw as children and as such always disliked classes that forced us to face our fears yet these books make sure that no matter what skill level you have, you can learn the basic shapes to turn out a reasonable effort that will delight and amuse the child concerned.

Add to this at the end of the day that you can pick up the ones that appeal most and help them learn the basics so that they can then draw and colour in pictures for family and it really will make your day. I’ve also managed to turn it into not only drawing fun but Garden fun as my nephew is currently obsessed with Bugs. So after practicing drawing a selection of garden creatures (as well as using some of the others such as Pets, Park etc) we had creatures we had to spot on our paper. When he saw one, he had to shout out and point to the picture and we’d add a tick and see what we saw most of.

He had tons of fun in not only playing and spotting but perhaps more importantly learning that a curve here and a straight line there make animals that he can identify. You can imagine the fun that he’s going to have on our next trip to the beach…

On a side note the only thing I will add is make sure you know where the pens are and keep them safe as to be honest you don’t want your budding artist to practice on wallpaper etc.

Monday, 17 May 2010

5+: Little Ogre's Surprise Supper - Timothy Knapman and Ben Cort


Everyone knows that ogres eat children. Everyone except Jack.

So when Little Ogre meets Jack and says, "I want you for supper," Jack does a funny thing. He doesn't scream or run away - he's delighted to be invited! Poor Jack doesn't realize he IS the supper - a special birthday supper for Little Ogre's Mum! But Little Ogre and Jack get along well, and when it's time to put Jack in the cooking pot Little Ogre is faced with a very difficult decision. Will Jack become a meal, or a new best friend?
A deliciously dark and funny tale, in which friendship comes before food.


Tales for children have to have a couple of things going for them. First of all they need to be well written and engaging for the reader and likewise they tend to need some seriously beautiful artwork to enchant the reader. That’s exactly what this offering has, a tale about a party, a friendship against the odds and above all else a surprise ending that readers will just love. It’s a great offering and when you top it off with a moral it makes it an offering worth pursuing.

Friday, 14 May 2010

INTERVIEW: Chris Bradford

It's always a great thing when you discover an author and know that you have a series to be getting on with whilst you await the latest offering. So as late comers to the Young Samurai series we were absolutely blown away, so much so we knew that we just had to chat to Chris.

Here, we talk about life, cats and the best way to defeat a samurai, chocolate chip cookies...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Chris Bradford: I’ve always been driven by a need to ‘create’ - whether that be writing a book, composing a song or producing a film script. I don’t think I have a choice in the matter. Lucky I love what I do and therefore I don’t see it as an affliction, I consider it a gift.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

CB: When I was offered a publishing deal! In fact, I spent most of my working life as a musician and songwriter. I never dreamed I’d be an author. But through the music I was given the opportunity to write a book on songwriting(Heart & Soul: Revealing The Craft of Songwriting) and it was then that I realized I could and wanted to write.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

CB: I’ve now written three short stories – Young Samurai: The Way of Fire for World Book Day 2010, Virtual Kombat for Puffin’s 70th birthday celebrations and NINJA in aid of Stella, a 2-year-old girl with cancer (please help her by donating at Through my experience of these, I would say it’s far harder to write a good short story – there’s so much to cram into a limited number of words. But I’m not sure writing a short story necessarily means you can write anything. All I know is that I loved writing them!

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

CB: I’d stand right next to them with my samurai sword and gently persuade them their life depended upon it!

In terms of defining Young Samurai, I’d say the series is a non-stop action-packed adventure with something for everyone. Think Black Belt Young Bond, Artemis Fowl with Swords and Percy Jackson with Ninja. That’s how my publisher Puffin describes it.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

CB: Whether you’re into action, adventure, romance, history, Japanese culture, philosophy or heart-stopping martial arts, you’ll be hooked by Young Samurai.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

CB: Two must haves are Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (one of the funniest books ever written) and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (one of the most simple, yet powerful books ever written).

I’m always eager for Stephen King’s next release. For me, he’s one of the greatest storytellers. His book, IT, is terrifying, but Stephen King isn’t only a horror writer; he also wrote brilliant stories such as The Green Mile, Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

CB: When I first came up with the idea for Young Samurai, I knew the end of the 3rd book and the 8th book!

I always plot out the entire story before starting the writing process. I use this plot as a ‘rough guide’ to the book, as often the story will diverge in different directions as the characters take hold and live a life of their own. But somehow the book always ends up where I’d planned it too.

Character profiles are a must. I have a short biography for each, with character descriptions, personal traits and photos. This is how I give ‘birth’ to all my characters. After that, they grow on their own during the story.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

CB: For relaxation, I go hiking with my wife, run every day through the National Park outside our house, and go to martial arts training three times a week – ninjutsu and iaido (the art of the samurai sword).

My last book was Under The Dome by Stephen King (surprise! surprise!). It was pretty good and really engaged you in their world. I couldn’t even begin to imagine writing such a vast and character-filled epic.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

CB: Eating chocolate chip cookies while writing. One day I’m sure I’ll suddenly balloon in size from having eaten so many, but that’s why I go running every day!

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

CB: I have two cats – Tigger and Rhubarb. Tigger (the boy) is a big softie, while Rhubarb (the girl) is an attention-seeker. See the photo for proof…Rhubarb is the smaller one looking at the camera!

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

CB: The next book (4th!) in the Young Samurai series is The Ring of Earth (out in August 2010). In this story, Jack gets to meet the Grandmaster. He was a lot of fun to write! Despite his ancient appearance, this character is the head of ninjutsu and is completely opposite to all Jack’s teachers at samurai school. I also quite enjoyed creating Moriko, a female ninja who becomes a potential rival to Akiko in Jack’s affections…

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

CB: I based the idea of Jack Fletcher on a true historical figure – William Adams, a real English samurai in the 1600s. However, for the purposes of my story, I made him a boy instead.

If I’m honest, parts of me do form Jack’s character, his blond hair and his determination never to give up, for instance; but equally he could represent any reader who learns about life through martial arts.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

CB: My main hobby is martial arts, so clearly my knowledge of samurai and ninja skills forms an important part of my writing. In particular, it allows me to describe battle scenes in true detail, so that the reader really believes they’re participating in the fight and taking the punches!

This knowledge also allows me to interweave the philosophy of martial arts into the storyline, so the reader learns about the importance of bushido, ‘the way of the warrior’ – the moral code of the samurai which includes respect, honour and courage.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

CB: Inspiration comes from my own life and my travels to different countries around the world. Many of the scenes in Young Samurai have an element of truth in them, whether it be a lesson learnt, a place visited or a problem overcome. The initial idea for Young Samurai developed from the fact that I began learning martial arts at an early age and have always dreamed of what it would be like to be a true samurai.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

CB: Once. I have regular little blocks that I overcome with a run or a walk or a cookie! But once I suffered a month long block due to creative exhaustion. The solution: 2 weeks in South Africa with no computer or mobile phone, and just a bunch of giraffes, lions and cheetahs for company!

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

CB: I try to write in ‘blocks’ i.e. 2 to 3 months in a row. I get up at 7am – wash, have breakfast, then go for a short 10 minute walk to wake myself up. Then I will write from 8am until 6pm or until I have completed a chapter. That’s approximately 1500-2000 words a day.

My wife is very tolerant as I often only start to ‘flow’ at the end of a day of thinking and pondering, and I often overrun into the evening. But after several months of 7 day weeks last year, we now have a rule of ‘no work’ on Sundays!

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

CB: Oddly, I enjoy listening to country music when I write. Alison Krauss and Tim McGraw in particular. Otherwise, it’s trance or chill-out dance like Chicane or Madonna’s Ray of Light.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

CB: Having worked as an international sales & marketing manager for a book publisher, I had no misconceptions. I just knew I would have to work very hard and not only be a great writer, but a good marketer, performer in schools, PR guru, webmaster, etc. An author nowadays has to be so much more than just a writer.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

CB: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” as Joseph Addison (English Writer and Statesman, 1672-1719) once said. I think reading and writing stretches the mind, taking it beyond its usual boundaries, testing its creativity and embarking it on fantastic journeys of the imagination.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

CB: In Young Samurai: The Ring of Earth, Jack Fletcher is in mortal danger.

With no sensei to protect him, Jack is on the run with just his wits and his swords against new and unknown enemies on the treacherous road to Nagasaki and home...

But the Shogun’s samurai are hot on his trail. Barely escaping their clutches, Jack runs headlong into a trap. Kidnapped by ninja and led to their village deep in the mountains, Jack has no means of escape.

Discovering his fate is now bound by the Five Rings - Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Sky - Jack must learn all he can from his sworn enemy.

The only question is who will kill him first – the ninja or samurai?

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

CB: 1. My Young Samurai Facebook fanpage -

2. Oxford School of Martial Arts (a great club, which has the amazing Team Taurus display team) –

3. National Rail enquiries – to book train tickets for my Young Samurai school tours around the UK

4. The Shortlist competition page – I’m trying to win a flatscreen TV for our house!

5. Isle of Wight ferry booking page – I’m going with my wife and two friends on a short break there in the summer and staying in a teepee!

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

CB: No, but I did read Stephen King’s book On Writing (surprise! surprise!). This is a brilliant guide to the art of writing and I recommend to any aspiring author.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

CB: I call it ‘rejection karma’. During my music career, I was ‘rejected’ so many times that when I became a writer, everyone started to say ‘yes’. I’ve not had a single project rejected since I’ve been an author…touch wood!

I think rejection is good – it’s a learning process. Don’t let rejection beat you, learn from it. As I say in Book 1 The Way of the Warrior, ‘seven times down, eight times up’ – persevere!

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

CB: The hardest part is always starting – the fear of the blank white page and the knowledge that I have to write 70,000 words or more by a deadline. But once I get going, the writing flows.

The most enjoyable part of the process is discovering where the characters will take the story. I may be the author, but they are writing it and they often surprise me!

11+: The Young Samurai Series 1-3: Way of the Warrior, Way of the Sword, Way of the Dragon - Chris Bradford


August 1611. Jack Fletcher is shipwrecked off the coast of Japan – his beloved father and the crew lie slaughtered by ninja pirates. Rescued by the legendary sword master Masamoto Takeshi, Jack's only hope is to become a samurai warrior. And so his training begins. But life at the samurai school is a constant fight for survival. Even with his friend Akiko by his side, Jack is singled out by bullies and treated as an outcast. With courage in his heart and his sword held high, can Jack prove himself and face his deadliest rival yet?


I’m always on the look out for something a little different to any number of titles out there so when I discovered Chris Bradford’s Young Samurai series I was hoping for something pretty impressive but expecting something that would fall short of my expectations.

What unfurled in this first offering was an adventure unlike any other. Its essential Clavell’s Shogun but for the Young Adult Audience and really does it well. The writing is crisp, the characters fully rounded with emotional conflict as well as physical challenges. Great adventure with an author who shows that he plays not only for keeps (there’s a body count within) but one that tips the hat to the better psychological traits that every young person will wish they exhibited. Honour, Courage and Loyalty are the core essentials and ones that pass a message on that many will hopefully hear. Great stuff.


One year of training in samurai school and Jack Fletcher is in real trouble . . . Not only is he struggling to prepare for the Circle of Three, an ancient ritual that tests a samurai’s courage, skill and spirit to the limit, he’s caught in a running battle with fellow student Kazuki and his gang. But these are the least of Jack’s problems. He knows his deadly rival – the ninja Dragon Eye - could strike at any moment. Jack possesses the very thing he will kill for. Can Jack master the Way of the Sword in time to survive a fight to the death?


Having loved the first novel, I always know that the second is a challenge that the author will either fail miserably at just sail through relying on the original to keep the reader hooked or surpass the first offering with bags of talent to spare. The last of which is exceedingly rare.

What the reader gets within is a greater understanding of an alternative culture from an author who has a deep understanding of the way in which it not only functions but passes the knowledge on in such a way that its interesting and not an info dump. As with the original, the writing is beautiful, the prose ideal and above all the dialogue between the developing characters not only wonderful but ideal to help ingrain them to a new generation. Chris is definitely a writer to watch.


June 1613. Japan is threatened with war and Jack is facing his greatest battle yet. Samurai are taking sides and, as the blood begins to flow, Jack’s warrior training is put to the ultimate test. His survival – and that of his friends – depends upon him mastering the Two Heavens, the secret sword technique of the legendary samurai Masamoto Takeshi. But first Jack must recover his father’s prize possession from the deadly ninja Dragon Eye. Can Jack defeat his ruthless enemy? Or will the ninja complete his mission to kill the young samurai . . .


Sadly for now, the last offering in the series to date (although don’t worry there is a fourth part arriving later in the year) and one that really doesn’t pull any punches (or weapons for that matter) as the brutal side of the Japanese Feudal system rears its ugly head. Whilst the darkest of the series to date its one that the reader really will have problems setting to one side as this heart in mouth offering will keep you glued to each event as you try to figure out what is going to happen next.

Add to this a breakneck pace, harsh combat alongside honour, friendship and sacrifice which will make this a tale that will tick all the boxes for a vast majority of 11 year old readers. It’s going to be a long wait for the next part but one that will be devoured as soon as it lands in a series that demonstrates that young adult fiction can be as complex as adult and just as rewarding.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

TEEN: Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy 3) - Richelle Mead


It's springtime at St. Vladimir's Academy and Rose is close to graduation, but since making her first Strigoi kills, things haven't felt quite right. She's having dark thoughts, behaving erratically, and worst of all ...might be seeing ghosts. Consumed by her forbidden love with her tutor Dimitri and protecting her best friend, the Moroi princess Lissa, Rose is in no state to see the deadly threat that will change her entire world - and make her choose between the two people she loves most.


As a fan of Richelle’s Succubus series I quite enjoyed the first offering in her Vampire Academy series however I did feel that the emotional context and way in which the protagonista is acting in her relationships is inappropriate for her age group. Whilst a number of her fans may feel that the relationship is fine I wasn’t happy and as such felt that it ruined the title for me as the character felt more like a person acting on the spoilt brat emotional level and really didn’t allow myself as a reader to fully engage or like her.

The series has its merits, for example its well planned, it has great dialogue but with emotional immaturity alongside a character I really couldn’t get a fix upon, I really felt that it’s a title best missed.

Monday, 10 May 2010

5+: Monsters: An Owner's Guide - Jonathan Emmett, Mark Oliver


With a Monstermatic toy you can experience the thrill of caring for a huge half-crazed creature in the comfort of your own home. This guide contains all you need to know about assembling and operating your monstrously marvellous companion. It is a ferociously funny spoof user guide that covers everything from 'monster identification' to 'cleaning and care' and the important 'do's and don'ts'. It is full of comic detail, deadpan humor and absolute monster mayhem!


There’s plenty of titles out there that follow the tale of a creature with its friends but this one is something new. Jonathan looks at monsters as if they’re machinations and need to be looked after in an amusing owners guide that will entertain both young and old readers alike. Its witty, its quirky and above all a title that made me chuckle a few times as well as transforming itself into a book beloved by my own personal monster (my nephew.) LOL