You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Stories can take us out of our own heads and put us into the heads of other people.  I don’t think I’ve ever met myself in a story but I’ve certainly met many characters whose lives and personalities are very different from mine.  I love getting inside the heads of these characters who help me to see the world from a completely different perspective.  This is why I love David Levithan’s books so much.  His characters are very real and always stick with me long after I’ve finished the book.  David’s latest book, written with Nina LaCour, takes us inside the head of two lovesick teens, a gay boy, Mark and a lesbian girl, Kate, and their friendship that comes along at exactly the right time.

9781925355529Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

I loved You Know Me Well but I didn’t want the story to end.  I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to Mark and Kate.  I carried them around with me everywhere while I was reading their stories and I kept hoping that they were going to get everything that they wanted.  It’s a story about friendship, love, discovering yourself and having the courage to be that person.

Mark is gay and everyone knows this.  He’s in love with his best friend Ryan, and the two of them have fooled around plenty of times in the past.  Ryan, though, doesn’t seem ready for the world to know he’s gay and certainly doesn’t see himself as Mark’s boyfriend.  Things get complicated when Ryan hooks up with a guy in a bar and starts a relationship with him.  Onto the scene comes Kate, a girl in Mark’s class who he has never talked to.  Kate is running away from the chance to finally meet the girl of her dreams.  Mark and Kate get talking and realise that they have found the friend they didn’t know they needed.  They help each other to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

It always amazes me how well dual-author books work.  The two different characters and perspectives, written by these two fantastic authors, weave perfectly together.  You really get inside Mark and Kate’s heads, feeling all of their insecurities, their heartbreaks, as well as their hopes for the future.

David and Nina show you how tough life is  for LGBTQ teens as they figure out who they are, while at the same time showing you that they have the same problems as straight teens, especially when it comes to finding love. Although the story centres on a gay and a lesbian teen it’s ultimately about being proud of who you are, no matter what your sexual orientation.

I know that Mark and Kate are only fictional characters but I wish that I could check in on them from time to time and see where their lives have taken them.  Grab a copy of You Know Me Well and get to know them yourself.

 

 

School Holiday Mystery Giveaway

The school holidays are here and there is nothing better to pass the time than curl up with a good book.  It might be cold and wet outside but you can open a book and journey to somewhere warmer and make new friends along the way.

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You can get your hands on a FREE book to enjoy in the school holidays.  The catch is you don’t know what you’re going to get!  I’m giving away some mystery kids and YA books, you just have to let me know whether you want kids or YA.

Thanks to everyone who entered. The winners are Kerry, Jessie, Lynley, Di, Jeanna, Debbie and Stacey. Enjoy your mystery reads.

Interview with Mark Smith about The Road to Winter

Mark Smith is the author of the amazing new YA book, The Road to Winter.  I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population. Check out my review here.

I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Mark about The Road to Winter.  Read on to find out what he couldn’t live without, what inspired him to write The Road to Winter and what books you should read next if you like his book.

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  • What inspired you to write The Road to Winter?

The Road To Winter (TRTW) evolved from a short story I wrote in 2013, entitled Breathing In and Out. When I decided to turn it into a novel I was determined to write a page turner that would engage younger and older readers alike. It is largely an adventure story told through the eyes of a sixteen year old boy – but it touches on a number of very relevant issues, including conflict, attitudes to violence, relationships, loyalty and the treatment of asylum seekers.

  • The Road to Winter is set in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out a significant part of the population.  Would you survive if you were in Finn’s position?

I’d like to think I would! The advice when writing is to “write what you know” and Finn’s understanding of the environment – and how to survive in it – is largely my own. He hunts, fishes, grows veggies and trades food. I think the hardest test Finn faces is the isolation – which, of course, is broken when Rose arrives in town in need of his help.

  • What is one thing that you absolutely couldn’t live without?

Coffee! I actually thought of weaving that idea into the story somewhere but it didn’t make the cut. When you are creating a dystopia there are lots of these decisions you need to make – what’s still there and what’s not. In TRTW though, I deliberately didn’t take a lot of time to explain the dystopia because I wanted it to be a character driven novel, rather than one dealing just with the consequences of living in a post-apocalyptic world.

  • Finn has his dog Rowdy but who would you want by your side if you were in Finn’s situation?

Finn feels the loss of his family very deeply and I certainly would too. If I were forced to survive in a world like his, I’d want my family there with me to help!

  • What is your favourite survival story and why?

As an outdoor education teacher I’m a huge fan of adventure non-fiction. I consume books about survival in extreme circumstances – Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Joe Simpson’s Touching The Void. Simpson’s story is an incredible tales of survival. I’d also recommend the account of Ernest Shackleton’s epic journey of survival in Antarctica in 1914 and Tim Cope’s On The Trail of Genghis Khan.

  • The Road to Winter is your first book.  How was your road to publication?

By 2014 I’d had more than twenty short stories published in magazines, journals, anthologies and newspapers in Australia. I learned my craft as a short story writer but I always wanted to write a novel. It took me 18 months to get the manuscript of TRTW ready to submit to a publisher. I chose Text because they have a strong reputation for supporting new writers. They loved the manuscript and offered me a three book deal. The sequel to TRTW is due for release in May 2017. I know the road to publication is a long and difficult one for most writers and I am incredibly thankful that mine was relatively smooth – but, in the end, it’s the quality of the writing that will decide whether your work is published or not.

  • The Road to Winter is marketed as YA but it has the look of a gritty adult thriller.  Did you write it for a particular audience or just because you wanted to tell this story?

It’s a really good question! I didn’t consciously write a YA novel – I wanted to tell a particular story in a particular way – through the eyes of a sixteen year old boy. I do think that we often categorise books by their protagonist rather than by what the story is saying and whom it may appeal to. I think TRTW will crossover into the adult reading market very easily – and Text have printed it in trade paperback format to encourage that. As you say too, it has the look of a gritty adult book – again, the cover design being part of the crossover appeal.

  • What other books would you recommend for fans of The Road to Winter?

In writing TRTW I was influenced by reading a number of books – some obvious, some less so. The obvious ones are John Marsden’s Tomorrow series and The Ellie Chronicles. But I also enjoyed The Dog Stars (US) by Peter Heller, Clade by James Bradley and Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Sometimes you get that feeling when you start reading a book that you know you are going to love it.  Something about it, whether the characters or the tone of the story just clicks with you.  Mark Smith’s debut novel, The Road to Winter, is one of those books for me.

9781925355123Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.

And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population.  There’s lots of action and twists to keep you reading, but there are also some lulls in the action that give you a chance to breath and prepare yourself for the next part.  It’s a story that I couldn’t stop thinking about either.  When I wasn’t reading I was wondering what was happening to the characters and how the book was going to end.

Finn’s story takes place in the aftermath of a virus that has wiped out a huge percentage of the population.  The virus affected females mostly so it is mostly males that have survived.  Gangs of men, called Wilders, wander the countryside and control the north where Finn lives.  With a lack of females around to keep them in check these men have lost their humanity and have become violent and ruthless.  You certainly don’t want to bump into them!  Finn has hidden himself away in his house, with a secret store of food, gas, and other supplies, and he and his dog, Rowdy, have survived by themselves fine.  However, when Rose turns up, she brings trouble to Finn’s door and his quiet life is disturbed.  Being the kind of guy that he is though, Finn has to help Rose, both to help her hide and recover and to help her find her sister, Kas.

The Road to Winter reminded me of other books that I’ve really enjoyed, including one of my favourite books, Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go.  The tone of the book felt quite similar, as Finn has to try and help the girls escape the clutches of the violent men who want to harm them.  There is the suspense of them evading capture but not really knowing if they’ll be able to outrun them.  The other similarity to The Knife of Never Letting Go that I really liked was the relationship that Finn has with his dog Rowdy.  Rowdy is his constant companion and is incredibly loyal, much like Todd and Manchee.  The story also reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet because it’s all about Finn’s survival on his own, becoming aware of the land and the ocean to find hidden trails to get around and hunt for food.

I loved Mark’s characters too, especially Finn.  While the other males have lost their humanity, Finn has held onto his and leaves the safety of his home to go out and try to find Rose’s sister.  He cares for the girls and is willing to do anything he can to protect them and keep them alive.  I loved the special moments of hope that Finn shared with the females in the story.  Even with everything that was happening to them they still managed to laugh and enjoy having full stomachs.

My only complaint with The Road to Winter is that now I have to wait to find out what happens next.  I need to know what happens to these characters and whether they can find some peace eventually.  The book comes with a money back guarantee but you are certainly guaranteed a great read and I highly recommend The Road to Winter.

My Top July Kids & YA Releases

Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)

Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.

But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

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Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant

Siblings Miracle and Zac have moved between foster homes ever since they can remember. When they are moved to a group home called Skilly House, they think everything is about to break, but it may just be the beginning of their news lives.

Simple, heart-breaking and ultimately full of hope.

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The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon

Meet Hel, an ordinary teenager—but she just happens to be goddess of the underworld too. Why is life so unfair? Still, Hel tries to make the best of it, creating gleaming halls in her dark kingdom and welcoming the dead whom she is forced to host for eternity. Until eternity itself is threatened… A hilarious and thought-provoking sideways look at life—and death—through the eyes of the funniest teenager in all the (under)world.

 

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My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord by David Solomons

Zack and Lara have superpowers. Luke has new school shoes and a burning sense of resentment. He KNOWS that aliens disguised as gym teachers are about to attack Earth but will anyone listen? No. So one dodgy pact with a self-styled supervillain later, and Luke is ready to save the world. He just need to find his trainers.

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Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman

When his father is arrested and transported to the Colonies, Caleb is left alone. After a desperate journey in search of an aunt he’s never met he receives a strange, cold welcome. Then a body washes up on the nearby beach and Caleb is caught up in a terrifying net of lies and intrigue. Soon he and his new family are in mortal danger.

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Dan vs. Nature by Don Calame

Shy and scrawny Dan Weekes spends his time creating graphic novels inspired by his dream girl and looking out for his mom as she dates every man in the state of California. Then his mom drops a bomb: she and her latest beau, Hank, are engaged, and she’s sending her “two favorite men” on a survivalist camping trip to “bond.” Determined to trick Hank into showing his true – flawed – colours on the trip, Dan and his nerdy germaphobe best friend, Charlie, prepare a series of increasingly gross and embarrassing pranks. But the boys hadn’t counted on a hot girl joining their trip or on getting separated from their wilderness guide – not to mention the humiliating injuries Dan suffers in the course of terrorizing his stepdad-to-be. With a man-hungry bear on their trail, no supplies, and a lot of unpleasant itching going on, can Dan see his plan through now that his very survival depends on Hank?

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Sunken Forest by Des Hunt

Sent to live with his grandmother in Hastings after his father is jailed, Matt becomes the victim of bad friends and false accusations. Sent off on a military-style school camp to the wilds of Lake Waikaremoana, Matt again gets in trouble for something he didn’t do, and is unjustly punished. Not allowed to join his school friends on their activities, he spends time alone down by the lake where he discovers a massive eel. Unfortunately, news gets out about the eel Matt has nicknamed Elsa, and the class bad-boy, Cameron, is determined to kill it. Matt is determined not to let him … but then, following a night of torrential rain, catastrophe strikes the camp and Matt ends up saving Cam’s life.

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The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.

And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

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When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

A boy’s chance encounter with a scruffy dog leads to an unforgettable friendship in this deeply moving story about life, loss and the meaning of family.

Ben Coffin has never felt like he fits in. A former foster kid, he keeps his head down at school to avoid bullies and spends his afternoons reading sci-fi books at the library. But all that changes when he finds a scruffy abandoned dog named Flip and befriends the librarian’s daughter, Halley. For the first time, Ben starts to feel like he belongs in his own life. Then everything changes, and suddenly Ben is more alone than ever. But with a little help from Halley’s magician father, Ben discovers his place in the world and learns to see his own magic through others’ eyes.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

You know a book is really good when you can’t stop thinking about it.  You want to shirk all your responsibilities just so you can read it in one sitting.  The Leaving by Tara Altebrando is one of these books.  You will not want to stop reading it until you’ve reached the last page and finally know what the hell happened!

26073074Eleven years ago, six five-year-olds went missing without a trace. After all this time, the people left behind have moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Now five of those kids are back. They’re sixteen, and they are … fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mother she barely recognises, and doesn’t really know who she’s supposed to be, either. But she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, but they can’t recall where they’ve been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn’t come back and everyone wants answers.

I absolutely loved this book!  The Leaving is super twisty, tense and heart-pounding.  Tara Altebrando had me at the tag-line ‘Six were taken.  Five came back.’ The blurb completely gripped me and I had to read it straight away.  I got completely lost in the story and couldn’t stop thinking about it when I had to put the book down.

It’s one of those books that I feel that I can’t say much about, for fear that I’ll give something away.  The whole premise of the story is intriguing.  Six kids went missing when they were 5 years old.  They have turned up at home again eleven years later.  Why now? Where were they? Who had them?  Tara is very good at stringing the reader along, giving you tantalising pieces of the puzzle so that you have to keep reading to find out how all the pieces fit together.  When I started I had my own theories about what had happened to the characters but I couldn’t have picked what actually happened.

The story takes place over fifteen days from when the kids return and throughout the story we get the perspectives of different characters. We follow two of the returned, Lucas and Scarlett, as well as Avery, the sister of the kid who hasn’t returned.  The returned desperately try to remember what happened to them, while their families adjust to having them back again (or wondering why they haven’t returned, like Avery and her mum).

I think this is one of the best YA books this year and I highly recommend it.  It’s a great read for those Year 7/8 readers who want to be reading YA too.  Grab a copy of The Leaving now and get lost in this incredible story.

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

As a male I really value authentic male teenage characters in YA books.  I find those ‘hot, bad boys’ very fake, whereas the nerdy, sweary guys feel like the guy I was and a lot of the guys I knew.  I’m always on the look out for books with authentic male teenage characters and books that focus on male friendship, because it’s these books that I want to get into the hands of teenage guys.  The new book by Aussie author Will Kostakis, The Sidekicks, is one of these books, and I think every teenage guy should read it.

9780143309031The Swimmer.

The Rebel.

The Nerd.

All Ryan, Harley and Miles had in common was Isaac. They lived different lives, had different interests and kept different secrets. But they shared the same best friend. They were sidekicks. And now that Isaac’s gone, what does that make them?

I loved The Sidekicks!  I wish this book had been around when I was a teenager because it would have totally clicked with me.  Will makes you feel like you are part of the characters’ lives and that you’re one of the Sidekicks too.  Will absolutely nails what it’s like to be a teenage guy and the often awkward friendships between different guys.

The Sidekicks follows three teenage guys after the death of their friend, the one guy who was holding their group together.  They are all quite different guys who were friends with Isaac, but they don’t have anything in common with each other.  Ryan is The Swimmer, whose mum teaches at his school (which creates its own problems), and who is hiding a secret.  Harley is The Rebel, the guy who would drink with Isaac and was with him on the night that he died.  The papers imply that Isaac killed himself but Harley knows he wouldn’t do this and tries to set the story straight.  Miles is The Nerd, the intelligent one of the group who works hard, but also has a side business that he ran with Isaac selling essays.  Although Isaac is no longer around their friendship with him might be enough to help them through.

This is not just about friendship though.  It’s about three guys who are dealing with grief in different ways.  Like a lot of males they don’t really want to talk to anyone about it, especially the school guidance counsellor. Harley feels guilty because he could have stopped what happened to Isaac, and he wants to do what he can to set the story straight.  Miles holds on to Isaac through the film that he made starring Isaac.  Through his film Miles continues to have conversations with Isaac, even if it is just Isaac’s smiling face paused on the screen.

The ending of The Sidekicks is absolutely perfect and it made me want to go right back to the start and take that journey with those characters again.  I’ll be eagerly awaiting Will Kostakis’ next book and putting The Sidekicks into the hands of any teenage guys I can.

Front Lines by Michael Grant

I’m a huge fan of Michael Grant.  His Gone series is one of my all time favourite series.  His books are dark and he’s particularly good at writing gory scenes.  One of the things I love most about his books is his characters.  You really get to know his characters and they end up feeling like your closest friends (and in some cases your worst nightmares).  Michael introduces us to a new cast of characters who will grow to be your friends in the first book in his new series, Front Lines.

y450-293It’s 1942. The fate of the world rests on a knife’s edge. And the soldiers who can tip the balance . . . are girls.

A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.  Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves.  Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans.  For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war. These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines.  They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.  But not everyone believes that the girls should be on the front lines of war.

Now Rio and her friends must fight not only to survive, but to prove their courage and ingenuity to a sceptical world.

Front Lines is an epic read! It’s a fresh and exciting alternate history that makes you look at World War II in a completely different way.  In Front Lines, Michael Grant has reimagined World War II with females fighting on the front lines.  I’ve read quite a lot of fiction for kids and teens about World War II and it’s rare to find a story told from an American point of view, let alone from a female point of view.  These girls aren’t keeping the home fires burning though, they are ‘Soldier Girls,’ fighting alongside the boys.  They may be allowed to fight but they are not accepted, especially by some of the older men.  However, just like the boys and men they are about to grow up very quickly and see things they won’t be able to forget.

Like the characters in Michael’s other books, the characters in Front Lines will get stuck in your head and you won’t be able to stop thinking about them.  We follow three girls, Rio Richlin, Rainy Shulterman and Frangie Marr.  Rio is a white girl from California who has lived a fairly sheltered life.  Rainy is a Jewish girl from New York who wants to be part of army intelligence. Frangie is an African American girl from Oklahoma who wants to join the army to help support her family.  We know straight away that Rainy and Frangie aren’t going to have an easy time in the army and they’re often the target of abuse.  We follow each of these girls through their training and onto the front lines of the war.

Michael paints a very vivid picture of war.  His descriptions of the battles and the injuries that the soldiers sustain in battle are harrowing and gruesome.  War takes its toll on all of the characters and none of them are the same person they once were by end of the book.  The story is told to us through a mysterious narrator, who is looking back on the war from a hospital bed.  I’m curious to find out who this person is.

Front Lines is the first book in the Soldier Girl series and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Rio, Rainy and Frangie next.

Check out Michael Grant’s guest blog post here on the blog as part of his Front Lines Australia/NZ Blog Tour.

Desolation by Derek Landy

In the first book of his Demon Road Trilogy Derek Landy took us to a darker place than the world of Skulduggery Pleasant.  This was a world of demons, serial killers, vampires and witches and set on a completely different continent, America.  We met our new heroine, Amber, her mysterious companion/bodyguard Milo, and plenty of other creepy individuals.  Derek left us with a sense of foreboding, with a promise that something really bad was coming.  Desolation drops you right back into the action.

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Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City at the end of Demon Road, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose. And that night is coming.

Desolation is a darker, bloodier and more violent follow-up to Demon Road.  Throats get ripped out, heads roll, demons get eaten, and there are some incredible fight scenes.  Overall I enjoyed this sequel but there were times that I felt the story lagged.  It’s a big book that maybe could have been a little shorter to help the story move faster.  Unlike the first book, where Amber and Milo were on the run the whole time, the action of Desolation is focused in a strange little town in Alaska called Desolation Hill.  Amber is being chased by the Hounds of Hell and she has been told that she will be safe from the Hounds in Desolation Hill.  Amber and Milo get to their destination and what they have been told is correct – the Hounds are kept out of Desolation Hill by an invisible barrier.  Their main problem now though is that the people of Desolation Hill don’t want them there and try everything to get them to leave.  Something weird is going on in this town and it’s up to Amber and Milo to find out what.  Things go from bad to worse, and just when you think it can’t get any worse Amber’s family turns up.

There are several strands to the story that all eventually come together.  Of course, we follow Amber and Milo, but we also meet Virgil and Javier (two old TV stars who live in Desolation Hill and want to relive their glory days), and Ronnie, Kelly, Linda, Warrick and Two (a group of teens and their do who travel the Dark Highway to fight monsters).  Ronnie and the gang travel the Dark Highway in their van and I thought of them as the Scooby Doo gang traveling in the Mystery Machine.  You wonder which of these characters are going to make it to the end of the book alive.  There are demons everyone so you just don’t know.

I think the one thing I missed while reading Desolation was Derek Landy’s humour.  Sure, it’s a dark story and people are being killed left, right and centre, but there is always room for Derek’s humour.  There are some funny parts that made me laugh, usually involving bumbling, idiotic serial killers.  My favourite part involved the interactions of four serial killers when they had trapped Ronnie and the gang.

Although I didn’t enjoy Desolation as much as Demon Road I’m still looking forward to finding out how it all ends.  The end of Desolation leaves you with plenty of questions which I need to know the answers to.  The final book in the trilogy, American Monsters, is released on 25 August.