Ghoulies and Deserts and Smiles, Oh My!: A Trio of YA Indie Titles for your TBR pile…

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Attention YA fans and fiends, strap on your hipster reading monocles, fire up your fancy e-reading devices and carefully pour your beverage of choice because today I have a collection of wonderful indie YA titles from emerging authors to which your attention needs to be drawn.  And for lovers of variety, I have a dystopian, a coming-of-age/first romance and a creepy paranormal fantasy, so hopefully there’s something here for even the fussiest of YA readers.

I received all these titles from the respective talented authors in return for review, so thanks ladies!

First up, we have the coming-of-age story – Edna in the Desert by Maddy Lederman.

This book introduces us to thirteen-year-old Edna as she is being forcibly removed by her parents to the aforementioned desert, to live with her grandparents for the summer.  This exile follows a spate of less-than-becoming behaviour from young Edna, and when she discovers her parents dastardly plot (as they drive away in a cloud of dust!), Edna believes that life as she knows it may just be over.  During a brief and eventful attempt to wander off into the desert to die, Edna is rescued by local good guy Johnny, sparking a crush that has Edna waiting by the gate, so to speak, for Johnny to turn up with the groceries one day each week.  But how is a girl supposed to get a boy to notice her when she’s stuck in the desert with a surly grandma and a zoned out, war veteran grandpa who does nothing but sit on the porch all day staring into the distance?  Is Edna, the queen of the sassy comeback, up to the challenge?

edna in the desertYou know how sometimes you read a blurb or someone tells you something about a book and you think you know exactly how the plot is going to unfold and what the tone of the book will be? Well, I was utterly, utterly wrong in the case of Edna.  After reading the book I am still surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how the characters have left an impact on me.  I actually got so caught up in it that I finished it in one sitting.

I initially thought that the book was going to be focused mostly on the whole “technology-reliant city slicker young person is forced to spend time without modern conveniences and in the process learns important life lessons and connects with their grandparents’ generation” sort of plotline.  While that does factor into the story in significant ways, this book was so much more than a predictable tale of growing up and noticing the world around you.

Edna in the Desert is a relationship-driven narrative and the strength of the story (and I think the reason it stuck with me after reading) is that the characters are completely authentic and believable.  Lederman has perfectly captured the genuine fears and hopes of a young girl who finds herself outside her comfort zone, but determined to become the person that those close to her believe she can be.  Johnny is also a well-rounded character, with an obvious system of values, which is a nice change from more two-dimensional portrayals of the hot guy who rescues the girl and sweeps her off her feet.  Edna and Johnny’s friendship follows a natural progression with all the false starts and challenges that any new relationship may encounter.  The relationship between Edna and her grandparents also emerges organically throughout the story, and the reader is treated to Edna’s experience of gradually coming to understand how the decline of her grandparents’ relationship due to illness has irrevocably changed who her grandmother is.  Grief, loss and growth are key themes of this novel and it was a wonderful surprise that I enjoyed it so much.  I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy the coming-of-age genre with a little bit of romance thrown in.

We recommend Edna in the Desert for:

* YA readers at the lower end of the age bracket looking for a gentle introduction to the romance genre

* veteran readers of YA contemporary who don’t mind a youngish protagonist

* readers who like a funny, gentle coming-of-age tale of any description

Now for the dystopian utopia…Among the Joyful by Erin Eastham.

In Among the Joyful, we are introduced to Alaire, a happy, successful high school senior who is a productive, joy-sharing bringer of happiness in the Golden State – a country that has outlawed the appearance of negative emotions in its citizens.  In Alaire’s town, everyone must have a smile on their face at all times when out in public, lest their sad/angry/otherwise-unjoyful facial expression contaminate others and spread sadness/anger/unjoyfulness throughout the population.  Up until very recently, Alaire hasn’t found maintaining a perpetual smile to be an onerous task, as the joy within her matched the joy projected through her expression.  When Alaire has a short conversation with an Inder – a sufferer of Interpersonal Negativity Disorder and social outcast – during Service Day however, her effortless smile begins to slip.  And when, soon after, she finds and reads a forbidden book in her aunt’s house, Alaire begins to experience an inner turmoil that she has never known.  Brought before the Council, placed on probation, and facing possible classification as an Inder, Alaire must make absolutely certain her smile is fixed, even when no one is looking.  But with new emotions emerging from her forbidden reading, new knowledge about life outside the Golden State, and a mysterious new man posing as an Inder asking Alaire to make a decision that might place the Golden State in jeopardy, is there any way that Alaire can put on a happy face?

Before we go any further, let me say that if you’re looking for a dystopian but you’ve had your fillamong the joyful of young people used in perverse murder tournaments, then this is the book for you!  Among the Joyful is what I’m going to call a psychological dystopian, because while the city is imposing certain behaviours on its citizens, the story really focuses around Alaire and her discovery that not everybody in the Golden State actually feels the joy that they show outwardly in public.  I’ve mentioned in other reviews that books with long monologuing, or a prolonged focus on one character’s actions, generally poke my “tedium” button and are swiftly abandoned, but while Alaire carries the story for probably 80% of the narration, I didn’t find it irritating or that Eastham was forcing the story forward.

This could be because the world building here was extremely solid.  The implications of living in the Golden State are drip-fed to the reader throughout the story, both from the plot and in quotes from certain pieces of Golden State literature at the beginning of each chapter.  This was a very neat way to get some extra detail into the world-building that otherwise would have to have been accomplished through explanations that would have stalled the action.

What I appreciated most about this book was the fact that the premise was original.  Eastham has done a great job of taking a simple idea – “what if people weren’t allowed to frown or cry in public?” – and has executed it well.  The book is also the first in a series, but again, the author has done a great job of keeping the focus on Alaire as she discovers that her world is not what she thought it was, so it feels very much like a standalone.  The other plotline about life outside the Golden State, and how Alaire might have a role in improving it, is revealed at the end of the book and opens up the possibilites for new directions in the plot for the next book.

Oh and there’s also a bit of romance and some interesting appearances from current and past popular novels that pepper the storyline, just FYI.

We recommend Among the Joyful for:

* those with a love of dystopia, but a hankering for a new take on the genre

* those who, like me, are sick of dystopia because of plotlines that have been done to death

* readers who prefer a book focusing on inner turmoil rather than external action

And finally, the creepy paranormal fantasy…Moonless by Crystal Collier.

In Moonless we encounter Alexia, a young woman with…how shall we put this…an unfortunate face.  After being dragged along to a gathering at a neighbour’s estate, Alexia has a vision of the host, dead from an obviously violent altercation.  Later in the evening, Alexia comes across a ghostly-yet-real girl hidden away in a bolt-hole and is led to the entrance hall of the estate, whereupon she discovers that her vision has become reality and a beautiful blue-eyed man is standing over the corpse of her host.  On returning home, Alexia is amazed to discover that she has suddenly become beautiful, but confused by the fact that no one wants to mention her bizarre change in appearance.  On visiting her aunt, Alexia has another vision that ends up coming true and she is certain that the blue-eyed man has something to do with her newfound ability to predict violent death, as well as her sudden beauty.  Things are changing in Alexia’s world and she knows that soon she must make a decision about whether she will accept these changes, and whether she’s prepared for who she might become.

moonlessMoonless is a strange blend of historical fiction, paranormal romance and horror that will certainly appeal to readers of any of those genres.  Collier has adopted a writing style that is a tad affected, but suits the historical setting and adds to the atmosphere of dread-induced mystery that follows Alexia around for the first third of the book.  In fact, the story is heavy with mystery right from the beginning as the reader and Alexia try to work out what is going on with Alexia’s strange visions, and most obviously, her transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan that seemingly goes un-commented upon by anyone in her circle of acquaintance.  These mysteries are slowly revealed though, in a piecemeal fashion that is designed to keep readers turning the pages.

There’s a mysterious, tall, dark and handsome love interest here that will catch the eye of lovers of paranormal romance and this blue-eyed phantom takes up a lot of Alexia’s mental energy as she wonders, fantasises and wonders some more about who he is and how he is involved in the sudden changes that are taking place around her.  On the horror side of things, there are some very frightening wraith like creatures that chase Alexia down, there’s the creepy-as-all-get-out Bellezza (the aforementioned ghostly-but-real girl)and a nice bit of capture-and-torture to round things out.

Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of paranormal romance, because it’s really not my thing, and there is a strong vein of it in Moonless.  That being said, I think fans of paranormal romance will Lap. This. Up.  It has everything a reader of this genre could want and then some, and the pervading twin atmospheres of spine-tingliness and allure will keep people engaged until the end of Alexia’s…transforming…adventures.

We recommend Moonless for:

* fans of paranormal romance who don’t mind a bit of …unpleasantness…in the courting process

* readers who enjoy a historical setting in their fiction

* readers who like a plot to unfold slowly, with the intrigue drawn out

 

So there you are.  Let it never be said that I don’t offer you variety.  And reviewing these three titles has really opened my eyes to the value of giving authors using Indie publishers or smaller publishing houses a go.  There’s a wealth of talent out there for those who are prepared to look (or in my case, those who are prepared to glance at emails offering review copies) and you never know, you might just find your new favourite author tucked away behind the bestsellers shelf, just waiting for your appreciative murmers and word-of-mouth/social media recommendations.

Until next time then,

Bruce

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Death and Dentistry: A Double ARC Read-it-if Review…

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Morning me hearties.  Today we will journey together into the depths of the human soul…face deep philosophical musings about our very existence…question everything we know about what happens after death…and talk about a really cool book I just read.  It’s book number one in a new series and it’s called The Terminals: Spark by Michael F. Stewart.  I received a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!  After that, we’ll examine in close detail why it’s never been more important to get your teeth checked regularly, preferably by a Mormon dentist, with Extreme Dentistry by Hugh A. D. Spencer.  I also received a digital copy of this one for review from the publisher via Netgalley - again, thanks!

But let’s begin with death, shall we, and work our way up to the far more frightening world of dentistry.

The Terminals begins with a death. Well, a lot of deaths really, as we are first introduced to Christine Kurzow – Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, recent accidental “murderer” of eleven of her unit’s finest, and even more recent suicide attemptee.  On her almost-deathbed, Christine is coerced into joining a secret government unit known as the Terminals, made up of terminally ill soldiers who are being kept alive in order to die at the right moment.  Working with the Terminals is Atilla, a young psychic who can form a connection with the soldiers after they embark on their final mission to glean important information from criminals, terrorists, secret-keepers and others who have also passed on.  Essentially, those in the Terminals elect to die in order to chase unsavoury characters into a given religion’s afterlife in order to …persuade…them to spill the beans on where they hid the body, when exactly that bomb they hid is going to explode, or where they left the car keys. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Just as Christine is brought into the unit, Hillar the Killer, a prolific serial killer who has stashed eleven (still living) children away somewhere meets an untimely demise.  The race is now on to find Hillar in the (Gnostic) afterlife and get him to give up the secret of the children’s whereabouts before their time runs out.  And after that….well, things get a bit complicated.  Do you have the ticker to jump in with the Terminals and ride this mystery out until the bitter, blood-splattered, eyeball-dangling end? Yes, I thought you might.

Terminals Read it if:

* you like your fiction filled with action…blood-splattered, eyeball-dangling, retch-inducing action

* you like your murder mysteries filled with the reckless pursuit of justice … and the promise of criminals being pursued even after they’re dead

* you like your paranormal filled with philosophical and ethical conundrums…like whether commiting suicide to chase a criminal into the afterlife to potentially save some children is more or less worthy than living out a few extra months of a terminal illness because…well, you quite enjoy breathing

Now for some reason, despite the look of the cover and the tone of the blurb, I was under the misconception that this book would be funny.  I have no clue why I assumed that.  Sure, there are some funny bits, but this is mostly a gritty, complex novel that has lots of layers.  There’s lots of action and violence, there’s a bit of philoshopy and religious debate, there’s ethical conundrums a-plenty, there’s romance (well, sex), crochety old bastards with dubious moral standards, gods and hells and pain and suffering, and there’s eyeballs. On strings. So you can tick that one off if it happens to be on your list of must-haves in your crime/murder mystery fiction.

This was a lot darker than a lot of the fiction I usually read, so while I was engaged throughout the book, I don’t think I’ll be going back for the next in the series.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book because the premise is so different.  The paranormal aspect of the book allows for a whole range of afterlifes afterlives religious theories about life after death (or the absence of the same) to be explored and delved into.  The coupling of paranormal with what is essentially a murder mystery (not so much of a whodunnit, but a wherewasitdun) through world-building rather than through giving a character a particular power or gift is something that I haven’t come across before.  For those who read a lot of either crime or paranormal books, I think this will provide plenty of new fodder for the collective imagination.

One of the best aspects of the book is the way the author shifts the perspectives with each chapter so that the reader really gets a good chance to take in as much of both the paranormal and crime elements as possible.  In some chapters we get taken along with Christine as she attempts to make sense of her own life (or lack of it) and her efforts to find the missing children before it’s too late.  In other chapters we are dumped into the afterlives of various religions, following terminal agents as they try and get the information the unit needs.  It breaks up the book nicely and allows time for the reader to decompress between reveals so as not to suffer from plot twist overload.  It also provides a nice balance between the spiritual/paranormal and mundane action, so as to avoid becoming too much of one or the other.

Overall this book has a great new twist on your standard crime novel and I think it will appeal greatly to readers of crime fiction who are looking for something different that will leave them with something to think about long after the crime has been solved.

The Terminals: Spark was published on April 15 by Non Sequiter Press.

Now onto the really frightening topic – festering gum infections!

Extreme Dentistry follows the recent life experiences of one Arthur Percy, lapsed Canadian Mormon, as he undergoes some fairly major dental surgery and in the process, becomes acquainted with a race of parasitic alien beings sharing communal intelligence.  This exciting new race of predators is known as the Hive, and appear to latch onto their victims through the sharing of bodily contact.  After experiencing toothache of quite spectacular proportions, Arthur, through his new (non-lapsed Mormon) dentist Cal, discovers that he has been exposed to the alien race.  From this point forth, things get a bit weird, and it is up to Arthur, Cal and a range of other alien-whomping Mormons (and others, on a need-to-know basis) to take on the Hive and take back humanity’s retail and consumer outlets.

extreme dentistryRead it if:

* you believe that the only reasonable explanation for the exhorbitant fees charged by your dentist is that s/he is not merely placing a filling in that molar, but also protecting you from invasion by parasitic, shape-shifting, mind-absorbing aliens

* you are a Mormon (lapsed or otherwise), and were hitherto unaware of the role your church has been playing in the fight to keep humanity for the humans

* you like your tea warm, your beer cold and your science fiction utterly and completely bizarre

This was undoubtedly a weird reading experience.  I requested this one because the blurb sounded both hilarious and reasonably believable and on both counts the book has acquited itself quite well.  This is my first encounter with Spencer’s writing and I’ve got to say he knows how to keep you reading.  For some reason I couldn’t put this book down even though I had a hard time managing the format (which I’ll get to in a bit) and there were big chunks of the book that had me wondering about their relevancy to the overall plot.  More than halfway into the book I still only had a vague notion of what was really going on.  There were a number of sections in which I thought to myself, “Hang on, why am I being treated to (for example) an outline of the basic tenets of Mormonism?”  And yet I kept reading because even though I couldn’t see where these bits were going…they were pretty interesting nonetheless!  That’s got to be a mark of good writing.

So there are a few elements to this book that some people will love and others will hate.  Foremost amongst these is the use of multiple time periods and multiple points of view to tell the story.  The first bit of the book jumps around from Arthur’s experiences in various bits of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the time in which the story is currently unfolding.  About the first third of the book is told solely from Arthur’s point of view, and then without warning Cal is introduced as a co-narrator and from that point forward the story jumps back and forth between Cal and Arthur.  We’re also treated to a bit of Cal’s back story too, so there is a remarkable amount of jumping around and for some readers this may be enough to give up on the story, because in certain parts it can be quite difficult to follow who’s who and what’s what.

On the other hand, the book is funny, the premise is certainly attention-grabbing and the main characters are likeable, distinctive and fun to hang out with.  So I suppose that overall, this one is going to appeal to fans of Spencer’s work first and foremost, and then also to those who like a funny read that has lots of weird twists, a bit of rumpy pumpy, some treatises on the development of the modern shopping mall and a lot about Mormonism.  I suspect that I shouldn’t recommend this to Mormons (lapsed or otherwise) unless they’ve got a decent sense of humour.

Extreme Dentistry was published on April 4th by Patchwork Press.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Mondays with Marple: The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side…

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Afternoon mystery lovers!  It’s time for another Monday with Marple, a time to sit back, relax and find out what’s going on in the world of Jane Marple – knitter, spinster, murder-solver.  Today’s pick is The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.  I selected this one to be second in the MwM review series for the simple reason that it happened to be on the shelf at a second-hand bookstore I happened to wander into.   And I quite liked the title.  So join me as I delve into the world of …

mirror coverPlot Summary:

Marina Gregg, famous actress and possessor of a nervous temperament, buys the big house at St Mary Mead hoping that it will be her “forever” home.  At a fete for the St John Ambulance hosted at the house, Heather Badcock – local chatterbox and ardent fan of Marina Gregg – dies suddenly after drinking a cocktail offered at an exclusive soiree in the house.  After initial inquiries from the police, it appears unlikely that anyone would intentionally wish to do away with Mrs Badcock and the hottest tip is that the poisoned cocktail was actually meant for Marina.  Miss Marple, although largely housebound and under the ever-watchful eye of housekeeper Mrs Knight, nevertheless has some suspicions of her own.  But will she be able to unravel the mystery before others meet an untimely end??  Well, no she won’t.  But that’s part of the fun really, isn’t it?

The Usual Suspects:

The charming and unstable actress, her ugly but nice-personality-ed fourth husband, the gossipy fan, the henpecked husband of the gossipy fan, the dark, brooding American and famous actress number two, the foreign butler, the previous owner of the big house, the servants, the producer, the fussy and efficient social secretary….there’s thousands and thousands….Well, not quite that many.  But there’s no elderly, blustering military man retired from service in India, which I thought was a bit of a shame.

Level of Carnage:

There are multiple murders. Satisfying.

Level of Wiley-Tricksy-ness of the Plot:

This was a landmark book for me.  I actually picked the important elements of the ending very early on in the book.  This is the first time that has ever happened, which indicates to me that either I have suddenly become significantly more intelligent, or that Agatha didn’t really try her hardest in this one.  Nevertheless, the plot twist and reveal is pretty tricky. *smug expression*

Overall Rating:

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Three out of five knitting needles. It was a fun read, but I really felt the lack of a Colonel. Or a Major.  Or a Captain.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Adult Fiction Review: The Bone Road…

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Morning me hearties! Today I have a book for the grown ups.  It was released a while back, and I remember picking it up at that time but for some reason I didn’t get very far into it during that attempt.  This time however, I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley (thanks!) and I was hooked after the first few chapters.  I give you…The Bone Road by Mary Holland.

In The Bone Road, we are first introduced to Rhona and Jak as they attend to the burial rites of their mother and grandmother respectively.  In the culture of those who travel the Bone Road, the dead are placed in the ground beside the road and left to return to the soil, and become part of the road that gives life to the Wid and the Zeosil who travel and camp along it.  Rhona then, must decide whether she will continue her mother’s work as a divvy – a woman gifted with the ability to sense life in the unborn, and to predict whether the child will be born a Wid, a Zeosil or a Shun (unable to breed) – and how she will fulfil her mother’s death bed task.  With unforseen danger closing in all around, Rhona will have to use all her resolve to fight for her place in a changing society.

 

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Now, first let me say, this is a complex book.  I was trying to decide whether to give it a Read-it-if review or hand it over to Mad Martha for haiku-reviewing, but neither of those seemed to fit this story, so I’m just going to do a plain old review.  (Never fear though, emergency protocols have kicked into place since this event and the hasty formation of the Maniacal Book Club has occurred to deal with such odd books out in the future!).

There is so much going on in this book.  In fact, I have got so used to reading kid lit and lighter adult fare, that I didn’t realise how hefty a read this was going to be…but I really didn’t notice the time I was spending on it because I was so engaged with the story.

Basically, the book is told in a number of parts that span many years – initially, Rhona and Jak stop in at a major camp and Rhona takes the decision to form a life partnership with Matteo, a Shun, whom she has loved for many years.  In the culture of the Wid and Zeosil, Shun people are a sort of untouchable class, and Rhona’s decision causes shock and some measure of outrage in the camp.  The initial part of the book deals with this circumstance, as well as Rhona’s attempts to put to rest the task that her mother gave her on her deathbed – to find and warn a lander woman (a person living in a settled community) named Selina about “the Rider” and the dangers he poses to the stability of Wid and Zeosil society.  The second part of the book…well, I can’t tell you much because it would be a big spoiler…but it focuses on Selina and her attempts to take revenge on a person in her household who has wronged her.

Essentially, The Bone Road tells the tale of a society that is in flux.  The travelling culture of the Wid and Zeosil is coming under threat from landers who are gaining more power and control of the Bone Road.  New alliances and enmities are being formed between Wid, Zeosil and Shun, and new ways of thinking about the Shun are causing friction within the travelling community.  So amongst all the action, there is a tangible thread of social commentary running through the novel.  There’s also a fair bit of violence, a bit of romance, a bit of mystery….a bit of everything really!

I would recommend this book for those who like a light fantasy – and by that, I mean where the fantasy is in the building of a different world, rather than in magic and mythical creatures.  I would also say that this book would appeal to those who enjoy women’s lit (I’d say Chick Lit, but there’s almost a disparaging twang that goes along with that term…) and stories set in worlds in which women have a dominant role to play.  Finally, I’d say this would be a great choice for those who like novels that fully explore relationships – between individuals, and also between communities.

This felt to me like a long read, even though it comes in at under 400 pages, simply because there is a lot going on.  There’s a lot of cultural information that needs to be explained, which may account for some of that lengthy-feeling, but also there’s a lot of complex things happening.  It’s certainly a book to pick up when you have time to spare, so you can really focus on slipping into the world and the culture and taking it all in.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Read-it-if Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain…

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Howdy superfriends! Today I have a very different YA novel for you filled with action and gadgets and cool outfits.  It’s Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, and I received a digital copy of the book for review from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, via Netgalley – thanks!

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain is told from the point of view of Penelope, a young teen with superhero parents who is anxiously waiting for her own superpowers to appear.  Her friends, Claire and Ray, are similarly eager to come into their superpowers, and when Penelope unexpectedly builds an incredible machine that responds to her every command, without quite knowing how she did it, it appears the dream has become reality for at least one of the trio.  After some usual teenage unpleasantness involving another girl at her school, Penny and her friends seek revenge by using their newfound powers for evil, rather than good, and in doing so they inadvertently style themselves as supervillains rather than heroes when their antics (but not their identities) are caught on camera.  Working under the name The Inscrutable Machine, the trio venture out onto the town – but is it ever really too late to make a new name for yourself as a superhero? Or is it true that supervillains just have more fun?

please don't tell my parents

Read it if:

* you have a secret identity that you keep hidden at all costs…down the back of your undies drawer with your super-stretchy super-lycra superhero suit

* you’ve ever suspected that, if they found out the truth, your parents may be slightly disappointed in your chosen (or potential) career path

* you believe your teachers when they tell you that advanced mathematics has numerous practical applications in everyday life

* you believe that the ability to be cute and charming in order to get your own way is, in fact, a superpower

Now I first requested this title because (a) the cover is eye-poppingly awesome and (b) the title had me instantly interested.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t 100% live up to my high expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of bits I enjoyed and I appreciated the unusual premise, but the execution didn’t get me that excited for some reason.  Let’s start with the positives though.

I suspect that this book is going to be a hit with discerning readers in their early teens who are looking to move on from the prolific middle grade market, but also want to read a book with ordinary teen problems played out with action and humour.  The thing that really stood out for me while reading the book was the fact that the premise is so different form anything else that’s out there at the moment.  The superhero content seems to be an area that isn’t really featured in a lot of books for this age group just now, and it should certainly be a drawcard for younger readers, as it was for me.  There’s also plenty (PLENTY!) of action in the book, with superhero-versus-supervillain clashes aplenty, as well as some great one-liners and comedy woven into the action.  So in that regard, I think this will be a book that appeals to both genders, as there’s something for everyone here.

I think the main reason this didn’t grab me in the way that I thought it would is that I suspect it’s a bit overly long.  It takes a reasonably long while for Penny to unleash her superpower and then after she gets a handle on her newfound talents, it takes another reasonably long time before the first showdown occurs.  For some people this may not be a problem, but I felt that there could have been a bit of judicious editing here and there to tighten up the flow of the story and keep it moving at a steady pace, particularly as this is a book aimed at the young adult bracket (read: those of us with shortish attention spans…ooh, a shiny thing!).  Also, I suspect that the book will require readers who don’t mind a bit of explanation - there’s a lot of jargony, computery, mathsy, type language in there (due to Penny and her father having superpowers relating to the field of mathematics and computation) and that may put off those who just want the guts of the story without having to wade through such specifics.

So overall, I don’t think this one is for me unfortunately, but I think that there will definitely be a fan base out there for whom this is exactly the type of quirky YA action-adventure they’ve been waiting for.  I’ve also had a look at some of Richard Roberts’ other works, and there are definitely some in there that I want to get my paws on despite not quite loving this effort.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human: An R-I-I Review, Author Interview and Giveaway!

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Cheerio my flesh and non-flesh friends and compatriots! I have a delightful little cross-species tale for you today, and for extra delightedness, it has a delightfully long title.  I speak, of course, of middle grade sci-fi adventure story, Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human by Lynn Messina.  The book was published in 2012 and it has been a grave disservice indeed that I have not been exposed to it earlier than this, for it is a fun, funny and very clever read.  So it was incredibly lucky that I received a digital copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

The book follows the story of young robot Henry Jacobson, who has a tough time in Bot school due to a problem in his processor that causes him to shut down at inopportune moments when he is under stress.  As well as teasing at school, Henry has to put up with working with the drooling, stupid and frustrating human units that do the drudge work at his mother’s Beauty Salon.  After one of the human units goes beserko, smashing up the store with a mop and repeating nonsense at regular intervals, Henry finds himself teased even more at school when his mother gets the credit for sorting out the beserko unit and saving the lives of all the bots in the salon.  Things get even stranger for Henry when, after a mysterious visit from his father’s boss, an experimental human unit (the HueManTech ETC-420- GX-2) comes to live in his home.  After an initial period of distrust, Henry begins to discover that this particular unit seems to be able to do far more than just drool and threaten bots with household cleaning products.  Soon, Henry and E (as he comes to be known) are playing video games, making up new words and generally doing plenty of things that Henry would have thought were impossible for a lowly human.  When a threat is made to send E to be compacted, Henry knows that he must find out the truth behind this seeming superhuman who has become his friend.  Cue misadventure! Cue sneaking around! Cue the uncovering of secrets that will change the Bot universe….forever!!

Henry coverRead it if:

* you ever have days when you suspect that your reality affirmulator might be on the blink

* you have ever had fond feelings…the basis of friendship really, …for a household appliance

* you are acquainted with some human units who are capable of little more than drooling and mopping…on their good days

* you know a bot or two in their tweens or teens who can’t go past a good adventure based sci fi

I am so pleased that I was introduced to this story.  For a middle grade sort of a story, it is very, very clever.  There’s a lot to appreciate here for older readers, with lots of little wry observations of human nature, reflected back through robot society.  Henry is a very believable bot, with all the flaws and worries of any thirteen year old being and human unit E is laid back, quietly confident and a joy to read about.  The book is great fun with heaps of funny situations and some fantastic one-liners.

To top all of that though, there’s also plenty of action and suspense.  At one point, Henry and E break into a government agency and get chased by the authorities, get captured, uncover some shocking secrets and use their wits and wiles to save themselves from danger.  I was really worried for the lads during this part as there were some real challenges for them both to surmount.

If you’ve got young male readers around your dwelling, this is definitely a book you should add to your collection.  It will be thoroughly enjoyed by confident independent readers, but if you have to read it aloud to less confident readers, there is plenty here for grown ups to enjoy along with their mini-fleshling.

So who exactly came up with this highly read-worthy tome? Well I’m glad you asked because you’re about to meet her!

Lynn Messina grew up on Long Island and studied English at Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked at the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media), TV Guide, In Style, Rolling Stone, Fitness, ForbesLife, Self, Bloomberg Markets and a host of wonderful magazines that have long since disappeared. She mourns the death of print journalism in New York City, where she lives with her husband and sons. She is author of seven novels, including Fashionistas, which is in development as a feature film and has been translated into 15 languages.

You can find out more about Lynn’s work here, but for your convenience, I asked her some questions about Henry, E and her writing so you can be well prepared if you bump into her at a dinner party/sock hop/other impromptu social occasion.

Why Henry and E? What was it about their story that won out over other stories that may have been jostling for space in your CPU?

To be honest, my CPU isn’t as busy as you think it is. I find good ideas are really hard to come by, and when I get one, I run with it. I might not sit down and start writing immediately, but the idea takes up all my mental energy. So when I came up with the idea of robots inventing humans it was all I thought about for months. I jotted down notes about it everywhere. In fact, I was just cleaning out a drawer yesterday and found a scrap of an envelope from, like, six years ago on which I’d written some early ideas while at my day job.

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of Henry?

The ideal reader for Henry is the same ideal reader I have for all my books, and it’s the sort of reader I am: someone who will love the story enough to reread it at least once to discover all the little things she missed the first time around.

The title is absolutely astoundingly all-round alliterative…Are you a fan of wordplay? And how did you choose the title?

The title has been a problem for me from the start. The working title was Henry, ETC, and that’s the title under which I submitted it to publishers. When I decided to put it out on my own, I realized I needed a much more descriptive title, one that really said what it was about, so I threw in all the adjectives and made them alliterative because I think that’s so much fun. I wasn’t daunted by the long title because one of my favorite books when I was little wasAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Recently, however, a librarian suggested that the title was off-putting to young readers, and now I’m conflicted. But, yes, I love wordplay, and that was one of the things that made me really excited about the story. There were so many opportunities to turn words on their heads.

What are the best parts about writing for young readers?

I feel like the answer should be that writing for young readers allowed me be as silly as I wanted, but the truth is I love writing silly scenes and all my books descend into silliness at one point or another. The unique thing about writing Henry—and this was all the best part—was that it was science fiction. Henry was the first book I ever wrote that left the real world behind. I got to invent everything and make up all the rules (and change them when they no longer suited my purpose) and use my imagination freely. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

This is tough because I feel like the authors I mention should be relevant to the genre and I can’t think of many middle-grade writers I’ve read. Recently, I’ve been reading the Ivy & Bean series to my six-year-old and have been really enjoying it. I will say that J.K. Rowling (of course!) was a big influence because she’s so good with language and wordplay. I had Diagon Alley in my mind almost the whole time I was writing as a sort of talisman of the wit I was going for.

What do you imagine Henry will be doing when he reaches his 21st upgrade? And E?

This is an impossible question for me to answer. I have notes somewhere with ideas for two sequels and I’m fairly certain the trilogy ends with the entire transformation of robot society. But I can’t see beyond that. To be honest, I can’t even see that far because the ideas are so vague. I hope to write at least one of the sequels one day, but it’s been six years since I wrote the book and now there are definitely other things taking up space in my CPU.

And now, the giveaway!  We are offering one lucky reader the chance to win a print copy of the book and better yet, the giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY!

Here’s the deets:

- The giveaway is open internationally, so provided you live on planet Earth and have a postal address, you should be right to enter

- One winner will be chosen at random via rafflecopter and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a redraw will occur.

- No responsibility will be taken for packages lost in the mail. Sorry.

- The giveaway is in no way related to WordPress, Goodreads, Rafflecopter, Facebook or any other individual or company that is not me.

- I will be checking entries, so be honest.

click to enter button

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I should probably also point out that the book would fit nicely into a couple of categories in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge…category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category eight (a book with wordplay in the title).  Click on this attractive button to find out more and jump on the safari bus!

small fry

In short? Get it, it’s clever. And we all know that there’s nothing better than a clever book that’s meant for kids but sneakily discovered by a grown up.

Until next time,

Bruce

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From Poignant to Peppy: A Double Haiku Review…

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Good morning to you, loyal friend of the shelf! Or alternately, if this is your first visit, welcome soon-to-be loyal friend of the shelf! It is Mad Martha with you today and I am delighted to be sharing with you two very different illustrated books for young readers.  One is poignant, grave and yet abundant with signs of hope, while the other is peppy, cheerful and abundant with moments of unexpected quirkiness.  I was lucky enough to receive print copies of today’s books from Book Guild Publishing for review – many thanks!

Let us begin with poignancy, shall we?

West of the West Wind is the third in a series of short story collections by Norwegian author Nils-Johan Jorgensen that feature folk tales for children aged nine plus.  This collection is comprised of three stories that all revolve around hope and endurance in the face of hardship.  The Library, the first story in this edition, follows a young boy who tries to rescue some books that are to be burned by the Nazi occupying forces.  In his mission, the boy discovers that allies can be found amongst supposed enemies, and that as long as there are those prepared to demonstrate courage, the written word will endure.  The Wolves is also set during World War II and in it three young siblings and their (acquired) canine friends are confronted with the consequences of showing love and kindness during a time of distrust and violence.  Finally, The Silence of the Sail, introduces the young sailor Thomas as he attempts to forge a new path in the new world and leave his small island home in Norway behind.

west of the west wind

Books in a satchel,

Unlikely friends; dreams pursued.

Out of darkness, light.

West of the West Wind was my first encounter with Jorgensen’s work for children (or indeed, adults!) and after reading this tome I am very interested to seek out the prior two in the series, North of the North Wind (based on Nordic fairy tales) and East of the East Wind (modern-day fables featuring oriental themes).  The book is only short, at 64 pages, but it certainly packs in some highly emotional content.  From an adult reader’s point of view, the stories revolve around heartbreak, loss and the pervasive fear that looms when something or someone that we hold dear is threatened with destruction.  But alongside these emotions are the sparks of hope and rebellion that are woven through the story, from the boy in The Library, desperate to save just one more book from the pyre, to the little family that is forged in the mountain hut in The Wolves, and the decision to break out of one’s ancestral mould in The Silence of the Sail.  I suspect that young readers may not appreciate the nuances of emotion in the same depth as adult readers would, but in reading, or being read to from these stories, they would certainly understand the sense of integrity, and the choice to act against opposition and fear that is common to the characters in all three stories.

The line drawings that appear throughout the book are just beautiful and perfectly compliment the subdued atmosphere of the stories.  My favourite of the three stories was The Wolves, because of the lighter tone that coloured most of the story.  The Library however, has the most favourable ending of the three.  The Silence of the Sail left me a bit melancholy, and the ending was rather abrupt (in a few senses!) which jarred a little.  Overall though, this was a thought-provoking and memorable read, dealing with a period in history that we often think young children may not be able to handle.  Of course, the ability to process the negative experiences of death, separation and war that are featured here will vary from child to child, so it may be useful for parents or teachers planning on sharing this book to consider ways in which the stories might lead to deeper discussions about the content.

West of the West Wind was released in March.

Now on to the peppy!

The double delight that is One Red Heart & Mindy’s Birthday by Nao A. Weaver is certainly something different from your average picture book for kids.  The book contains two little stories accented with quirky illustrations that make you look twice.  One Red Heart is about a little mouse who is given a little red heart as a gift.  The story proceeds as a counting adventure, with the mouse gathering friends around him until all they all come together to make music with their ten colourful hearts.  In Mindy’s Birthday, a surprise party is afoot and a host of odd little munchkins spend their day making decorations, baking cakes and generally preparing a birthday of epic proportions.  The effort turns out to be worth it as the guests party on into the wee small hours before curling up together in a “sweet-scented flower”. As you do.

 one red heart

The word “whimsy” is

often overused these days,

but accurate here.

I don’t like to describe things as whimsical, because I think the word is getting a bit trite and cliched, but really, there’s no other word to describe Weaver’s work.  Well, actually I could probably use odd, or unusual or cheerful or playful or fanciful….okay, so I probably should have thought a bit harder before I went with whimsical, but it’s done now.  In any case, this book has a very original look about it.  The colourful line drawings really add to the overall feel of the stories, as the text is sparse, but I would have liked the illustrations to be bigger so I could better appreciate the detail in them.  In some cases the text, though sparse, was quite helpful, as it helped me to figure out what was going on.

While examining the pictures and the text together, the book reminded me of nothing so much as a child’s unexpected response to an artistic instruction.  For example, I know that in response to the line “Don’t be late!” I would probably draw something mundane. Like a watch. Or an admonishing finger.  Not Weaver. Check this out:

image

A bunch of jaunty creatures riding a luck dragon (or related genus).  And might I just add, commuting by public transport would no doubt become a lot more popular if people got to travel by luck dragon (or related genus).  Take note, Brisbane City Council!

Weaver is a Japanese author (as well as artist and illustrator) and like many things that come out of Japan, pop culture wise, this book may have you thinking, “Well, that was a bit strange, but I liked it”.  I was certainly thinking that as I turned the pages.  With that in mind, I suspect that this book will find its niche with those who like their stories to be a springboard into hitherto unexplored mindscapes of the imagination, rather than a linear story with a familiar characters and a reasonably predictable beginning, middle and end.

One Red Heart & Mindy’s Birthday was released in February.

I also feel compelled to mention that it would fit perfectly into category four of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with someone’s name in the title, or indeed, category six – a book with something precious in the title.  Similarly, West of the West Wind could fit into category one – a book with something relating to Safari in the title.  To find out more about the challenge, click on the button below, then sign up so we can welcome you aboard the Safari bus!

small fryUntil we meet again friends and newcomers,

Mad Martha

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Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

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