Archive for the reviews Category

Timeslip Tuesday Review from America

Posted in Book news, New York, reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2011 by keithmansfield

Some of my favourite stories include the possibility of time travel. From Hermione’s time turner to Clare Abshire being forever left behind, it’s a theme that can lead to engrossing books. So it was exciting to discover a whole review section of Charlotte’s Library (a book site for kids and teenagers) called Timeslip Tuesdays.

For the weekly feature, Charlotte’s reviewed Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. As far as I know, it’s the very first US review of Johnny’s books and hope it paves the way for more to come. Having lived in the US (I spent some time growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania) and travelling there often for work, it’s a country I’m especially fond of and I hope New York readers of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze will vouch for the accuracy of Johnny’s escape through the city.

Readers of this blog will know that there was recently a review of Star Blaze from Australia. For an author, it’s an amazing treat to discover people in other countries reading your stories. I’ve also seen reviews from South Africa and heard of people seeing the books on the shelves in Singapore! Sadly, world domination still seems some way off, but it’s good to know that the books are slowly percolating around the globe.

Charlotte’s timeslip review says:

“Lots of action, twists and turns of plot, and a generous dollop of suspense make for a page-turning adventure that is, I think, just the ticket for a sci fi loving upper middle grade reader (and the sort of book an adult reader who’s willing to suspend disbelief and who’s looking for something fun should appreciate as well). The story is told strictly from Johnny’s point of view, so the reader only knows what he does, keeping things very interesting indeed.

“… I’ll be passing this one right over to my ten-year old, and I bet he enjoys it (space ships! computers! aliens! dinosaurs! sinister bad guys!).

“Time travel-wise–the journey of Johnny and Clara back in time leads to interesting sub-plots and intriguing explorations of paradox. It’s a key part of the plot, in a very sci-fi way (as opposed to time-travel for the sake of exploring the past, or for the sake of exploring characters). And as such it works well, adding zest and excitement to a story already full of both.”

For those who want to read more about time travel, take a look at my Science of Johnny Mackintosh page.

Johnny Mackintosh and Harry Potter down under

Posted in Harry Potter, reviews, star blaze with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2010 by keithmansfield

When you’re a writer you have a clear idea of your story in your own mind, but inevitably you wonder how much of that your readers will actually “get”. I’ve been so lucky with the Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze reviews so far, because everyone who’s looked at it seems to have picked out different elements that delighted me.

The latest is Danielle Mulholland, whose written a detailed and thoughtful piece for the Australian website Media-Culture Reviews. The way she summarizes the story at the beginning of her article shows how perfectly she’s grasped it, before going on to say:

“This is a well written book with wonderful descriptions, exciting new concepts for the young adult mind and set in a futuristic world where space travel and various gadgets are common place for Johnny Mackintosh, the protagonist and albeit unrecognised and unknown saviour of the world.”

Danielle stresses that anyone reading a book series should start with the first one, and of course that’s absolutely right. I worked very hard to make Star Blaze work as a standalone book and some reviewers have picked up on that, but it’s absolutely the case that someone’s enjoyment will be deeper if they follow the story from the beginning. A paragraph follows that:

“Having been compared to J K Rowling, Mansfield has certainly used her tried and true double life technique to justify his main character’s peculiarities. In his ‘normal’ life, Johnny has Mr Wilkins to give him grief like Harry Potter had the Dursleys making his life miserable. In his alternative life, Johnny confronts other enemies, similar to the Potter versus Voldemort saga.”

There are plenty who’d claim to be Jo Rowling’s biggest fan, but I’d put myself forward as a contender for the label, and may at least be her number one author fan. It was a great honour to be able to write the Sunday Telegraph’s Harry Potter quiz a couple of years back. Until I read the Potter books I’d only written for adults, but I fell in love with her story and knew I could be passionate about writing for a similar audience, in a way that wasn’t reflected so well in my more grown up scribblings.

I think to really love a book you’ve got to be able to empathize with its characters. That’s why I didn’t write Johnny Mackintosh as “A long time ago in a galaxy far away”. I’m delighted Danielle’s review has picked up on Johnny’s double life, and the problems he has at his children’s home, of course compounded by goings on at school. That’s because I want my younger readers to be able to put themselves in his shoes (or maybe trainers) so they can relate to half his life, while wishing the other half is something that may just happen to them. Personally, I never found myself longing to be a wizard, but as a child I always dreamt of being whisked off into space by aliens.

It goes without saying that any review of Johnny that also mentions the Harry Potter books is going number among my favourites. As a writer, the most impressive thing about Rowling is the architecture of her story, over all seven volumes. If you re-read her books (and I’m a great re-reader) you’ll be amazed at the clues planted in the first couple that point the reader all the way through to the end of the story, without giving too much away. It’s a balance I’ve tried to follow.

I’ve heard Rowling say her early drafts practically gave the whole story away and she had to rein in some of the narrative to keep us all guessing – I’m so glad she did. Another technique she used was to write everything from Harry’s point of view and that’s something I’ve followed for Johnny. There are plenty of times I’d like to describe what Clara’s doing when she goes off on her own, or what’s happening on the other side of the galaxy, but so far I’ve stuck rigidly to showing everything through Johnny’s eyes. The review ends by saying:

“Each chapter begins and ends rather dramatically. This technique keeps the young reader constantly engaged and eager to read more. It has all the ingredients sure to capture the young adult mind which is the target audience: betrayal, uncertainty, loyalty, courage, adventure and a thrilling ride into the unknown.”

It’s great to hear when Johnny Mackintosh has been well received outside of the UK. I hope Aussie readers will be pleased to discover that Johnny pays Sydney a visit in the third book in the series. It’s several years now since my own one and only trip down under, but I plan to race my young hero to see who’ll get there first.

More Reviews as The Empire Strikes Back

Posted in reviews, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

Another week and two more reviews. I’m still waiting for someone to say something bad about Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, but so far so good.

It was really touching that The Bookbag didn’t want to read the second book because they enjoyed Johnny Mackintosh and he Spirit of London so much. The Book Zone (for Boys) said exactly the same thing. I might have said before that I pitched Johnny Mackintosh to Quercus, my publisher, as “Harry Potter meets Star Wars” so it was wonderful to read The Book Zone’s description of the dilemma as to whether or not to read the second book:

“Ever since reading (and being disappointed by) Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator I have often felt a little pessimistic before reading sequels to books I had thoroughly enjoyed – will the author manage to recreate the magic with their second book? … However, with Star Blaze my pessimism was totally unfounded – in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back improved on Star Wars: A New Hope, so too does Star Blaze improve on its predecessor, and that is praise indeed. And the parallels don’t end there – like Empire, Star Blaze is also a much darker book in places than the first in the series.”

Sometimes in my school talks I’ve polled the kids on their favourite Star Wars films and then re-enacted a key scene from The Empire Strikes Back, much my own favourite of the series, precisely because it’s so much darker. Real life isn’t often black and white and I prefer a level of ambiguity in the books and films I read and watch. I don’t like the goodies winning through too easily and, if they get there in the end, it shouldn’t have been straightforward – there need to have been some tough choices along the way. I had been thinking the third Johnny Mackintosh book needed to be a bit darker to reflect this, but maybe I’ve already got there if The Book Zone’s picked up on this.

There were some further gems in the review:

“There are so many things I loved about this book that I don’t really know how to start … the characters are very well developed…. all of them, not just Johnny … The world building is also outstanding … On top of this, there is also enough action to rival the glut of boy secret agent books we have seen in recent years, and the plot twists and turns so it is difficult to second guess exactly what will happen next.”

I’m not sure there’s any greater satisfaction for an author than when someone really gets your book, so a huge thanks to The Book Zone. The pressure’s on to make sure number three isn’t full of silly Ewoks like The Return of the Jedi!

Also this week, Justine Crow of the brilliant Crystal Palace indie bookshop The Bookseller Crow on the Hill gave Star Blaze a mention on p.10 of the latest Families London & SE Magazine :

“While we are on the subject of world domination, coming out this month is a new adventure for medium sized readers starring the space-buckling hero who thinks nothing of zooming off on his private spaceship, The Spirit of London, to save Earth, though clearly jetting round the galaxy is gonna play havoc with his GCSEs.”

It’s always been important to me that Johnny’s life is grounded here on Earth, facing lots of the same problems as his readers. I did cut a whole load of stuff out of Star Blaze that showed how Johnny learns the national curriculum, and am delighted Justine realizes those exams aren’t going to be plain sailing.

Here come the reviews

Posted in Book news, reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by keithmansfield

Naturally, authors never read reviews. It’s purely an accident I have a Google alert set up to tell me when anyone, anywhere writes something about Johnny Mackintosh. It would be madness to pay too much attention as there are bound to be people who don’t like a book – happily, though, this has been a sane week and people have had only lovely things to say about both Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze and also Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.

The Bookbag has given Star Blaze a whopping five stars and said such nice things that I’m reluctant to repeat them here. Well, go on – you twisted my arm. Their reviewer, Jason Mark Curley, liked Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London except its title and made my year by saying it was “reminiscent of Rowling”, my writing idol. This one he seems to have enjoyed even more.

“it must be hard to write a sequel to a book that was so good and get it right … I enjoyed the first book so much that I didn’t want to spoil it by reading a duffer of a follow up. I really shouldn’t have worried; Star Blaze is everything that its predecessor was and a lot more besides … shades and echoes of those sci-fi novels I used to read as a kid: Asimov, Clarke, Moorcock and Dick. … great characters, action, mystery and adventure … A great read; go get it. And, more please Mr Mansfield.”

I am blushing as I type and will gladly buy anyone claiming to be Jason a beer should they approach me in a pub. Earlier in the week, the Bridgend County Council posted some user reviews of books in their libraries and the second one they showed was Johnnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. A young reviewer by the name of Master Dylan James Morgan wrote:

“Awesome! The book cover just makes you want to pick it up straight away because it is so colorful and looks exciting. Flying around in a spaceship disguised as the London Gherkin! WOW!!! This is the first Johnny Mackintosh Book and I hope there will be more to come.”

I hope Master Morgan discovers Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze soon!

The first Star Blaze review of the week was from the lovely people at Chicklish. Even though I’d love everyone to read Spirit of London first, I’m delighted Alexandra picked up that you could read the second book independently and still enjoy it as I worked very hard on that. She’s also given a great short summary:

“In Star Blaze, Johnny becomes involved in a deadly plot against the Earth’s sun. Exploding the sun into a supernova should be impossible but intergalactic enemies have found a way. Only Johnny and his sister appear to know what’s happening. Can they save the day? … You can read this novel without having to read the first in the series. Definitely a hit for sci-fi fans.”

Chicklish is a great site run by authors Luisa Plaja and Keris Stainton.

If you like either of the Johnny Mackintosh books, it really helps spread the word if you post reviews online, with Amazon of course being particularly visible. If you hurry, you can be first up for Star Blaze!

An interview with BFKbooks

Posted in Book news, Interviews, reviews, Website news with tags , , , , on January 5, 2010 by keithmansfield

There’s a page on this site called “What other people say about Johnny Mackintosh” which is where I began listing reviews, but now realize I’ve been very lax about updating it. In particular, I’ve only just added a review and link to an interview that I did a while ago for BFKbooks.

I loved the interview – Jayne asked some great questions – and she wrote some very kind things about Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. I hope she enjoys Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze just as much.

BFKbooks is a great site to raise awareness about adults with autism. I’ve been interested in the subject ever since I edited a book by Simon Baron-Cohen (yes he is related to Ali G) and Patrick Bolton called Autism: the Facts. We’re used to acknowledging that there are children with autism and recognizing the difficulties they must sometimes face, but of course those children grow up. I hope some of you are able to visit their pages.

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