Tomes from the Olden Times: Heaven Cent…

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Afternoon there intrepid book-wranglers!  It’s about time I delved back into those books I read as a youngster, into the books that have shaped my reading journey.  I used to call this spot “Retro Reading” but as other blogs are using that title, I’ve decided to rebrand my nostalgic wanderings as (cue deep, booming voice) “Tomes from the Olden Times”.  The image above is particularly relevant for today’s pick, because it features an animated skeleton.  Animated as in sentient and capable of movement, not animated as in cartoonish. Although…

Allow me, if you haven’t already made its acquaintance, to introduce you to the Xanth series, by shelf-bracingly prolific author Piers Anthony.  The series (one of many….and I mean MANY) series that Anthony has authored, features the magical world of Xanth, that lies in geographically the same area as our Florida, but is entirely separate from it.  One of the main features of Xanth (apart from its magicality) is its fondness for punnery.  Puns abound.  They’re everywhere.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the title of the first Xanth book (indeed the first Piers Anthony book) I ever encountered:

Heaven Cent

Heaven Cent is book number eleven in the Xanth series.  Why did I start with eleven? Your guess is as good as mine.  Perhaps I was eleven when I first picked it up.  Regardless, this book follows nine year old Prince Dolph as he sets out on a quest to find the missing Good Magician Humphrey, chaperoned by the aforementioned animated skeleton, Marrow Bones.  If you are wondering who these characters might be and how they fit into the world, I can assure you that in all honesty, it really doesn’t matter.  As I said, I started with book eleven, and I followed the story just fine.  Dolph and Marrow encounter various challenges along the way, including that of Dolph becoming betrothed to two girls simulataneously and everything ends happily (as, I was to find out later, often happens in the land of Xanth).

I particularly chose this book as a Tome of the Olden Times because it is chock full of puns and obvious humour and a pretty basic storyline.  I had loved this series as a kid, but I could simply not imagine how an adult could stick with such a book for 300 plus pages, let alone do this repeatedly over a VERY long running series.  So I was very interested to see what my feelings were for this pivotal childhood book as an adult.

The long and short of it is….it held up okay.  Admittedly, I read this story multiple times as a kid, so it was like revisiting an old friend.  Weirdly though, there was nothing more that I got out of it as an adult than I had as a kid.  There were no jokes that I discovered anew that had gone over my head as a younger reader, no insightful twists that I had blithely skimmed over in childish innocence.  Essentially, I felt that while I had grown and matured over the years, the book was exactly the same read for me now, as it was then.  I did not expect this turn of events, but in some ways it’s kind of reassuring.  The book (and the whole series really) would make great candidates for my Utopirama reviews, in that nothing truly bad ever happens and things always right themselves in the end.  In that regard, the Xanth series would be a great choice for those times when you want something light on drama, and heavy on fantasy and punny humour.

A word of warning however.  I read a lot of Piers Anthony as a kid, and as an adult, I have come to the conclusion that he must be a bit of an oddbod.  While Xanth is pretty harmless, there are plenty of other books of his that are spectacularly inappropriate for children (but I read them anyway…why? Who knows).  I remember absolutely LOVING his Mode series (which I’ve since found out has continued past the last book I read many years ago) as a young teen and it features suicidal ideation, self harm, a very dubious romantic relationship clearly involving a minor and a whole lot of other guff that really, I probably shouldn’t have been reading at that age.  I suspect that should I pick that one up again as an adult, there would be plenty of new and interesting material that my kid-brain missed the first time around.  I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing. I’ll let you know if I decide to give it a second airing.

So if you’re looking for light and fluffy, stick with Xanth.  If you’re looking for hot and heavy, Mr Anthony can furnish you with some of those sort of tomes also.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from any of you who have read these books, to find out what you think of them!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fiction in 50 April Challenge: Only Joking…

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Welcome to the Fiction in 50 challenge for April.  This month’s prompt is…

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If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry or whatever in 50 words or less.  If you want more information, just click on the button at the top of this post.  We love to have new players joining in – the more the merrier (particularly given this month’s prompt!). You can link up your entries in this linky right here or just add your link in the comments:

Now I’m feeling a bit under the weather this time around, so I apologise if my submission is not up to its usual mediocre standard, but here we go…I have titled this piece

Watch Out!

“He’s gone too far this time. I’m going to say something.”

“Why? It’ll all be water under the bridge by now.”

‘She’s trying to help and he humiliates her!”

He grabs the remote.

“It’s fine love.   I’ve got a new rule for evenings in: no more bloody Jeremy Beadle repeats!”

For those lucky individuals who don’t get the pop culture reference of the 1980s and 1990s, you can get a small taste of the “comic genius” of Jeremy Beadle right here.  I’d love to hear from my British friends – was Beadle really as universally enjoyed as his youtube fans suggest? I have a faint feeling of dread that bubbles up every time I hear that theme song….*shudder*

For those who like to be ultra-prepared, next month’s prompt is…

what comes after button

I look forward to reading your efforts, you crazy jokers!

Until next time,

Bruce

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If it Rains Pancakes: A Lantern Review…and a Fi50 reminder…

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Cheerio my dears, it’s Mad Martha with you today for a brand new poetical review…and a reminder from Bruce about the Fiction in 50 challenge for this month.  April’s Fi50 challenge will open on Monday for your links and entries and the prompt for this month is:

only joking button

All you have to do is create a piece of fiction in any form in 50 words or less!  For more information on how to participate, click on the button at the top of the post.  New players are always warmly welcomed.

Today I am reviewing a poetry tome for the mini-fleshlings and to add to the excitement I have no doubt just generated with those tantalising words, the book focuses on my favourite type of poetry – Haiku!  It also has a second type of Japanese poetry that I will be trying out later in this post – the Lantern, or lanturne.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The book is authored by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated in alluring fashion by Andy Rowland, and bears the wishful title If It Rains Pancakes. I was very pleased to receive a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

The book is split into two parts, each dealing with one style of poem.  The poem type is briefly explained and then a good number of examples is presented, each with it’s own quirky illustration.  The haiku form gets first billing in the book, and my favourite example from this section is the beautifully descriptive:

My pet pig, Betty

in her full karate stance

performs the “pork chop”

The poem is illustrated with Betty in full karate gi, energetically pork chopping the air. Perfect.

The second half of the book focuses on Lantern (sometimes called lanturne) poems, which are also based on syllables and follow the form of 5 lines with one, two, three, four and one syllables respectively.  I had not heard of this form of poetry before and couldn’t wait to give it a bash.  So without further ado, here is my review of If It Rains Pancakes…

rains pancakes

Rhyme:

it’s not

needed when

hatching haiku.

Word.

(I hope you appreciate my little attempt to be down with da hip crew of mini-fleshlings with my blatant display of their colloquial use of the word “word”.  Subtle, wasn’t it?)

This would be a fantastic addition to the shelf of any teacher who either (a) loves poetry of all kinds and can’t wait to engage students in the joy of creating Japanese poetry or (b) is terrified of teaching poetry and can’t wait to find a book that will make the job easy for them.  The funny examples and the quirky illustrations make this a very user-friendly tome and one that will also appeal greatly to kids who may be labouring under the misconception that poetry is boring, tricky, too hard or just not for them.  As I can personally attest, there is nothing funner…er, sorry, more fun…than attempting to squeeze syllables into a particular pattern for the glory of having produced a witty little haiku.  They can become quite addictive, and this book will help give a whole new generation a poetry habit.  That can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

If It Rains Pancakes will be released on May the 1st.

Adieu until we meet again,

Mad Martha

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Skycastle, The Demon and Me: Introducing the GSQ Review!

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Good morning all! I am very excited today because not only do I have a fun, cheeky fantasy book to share with you, but I’ve also got a whole new review format to unleash! You see, my psychologist decided that I was too stony faced…not adept at sharing my emotions…unskilled in letting forth my true feelings about books…and so I have delved deep into my psyche to present a review that really encompasses a range of emotions about this book. I give you the very first “The Good, The Sad and The Quirky” review!

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So away we go! Today’s offering is Skycastle, the Demon and Me by Andy Mulberry, the first in a new series for middle grade lovers of fantasy and adventure and unhelpful demons who have been accidentally foisted on you.  The book follows Jack Harper, who discovers a strange piece of advertising under the fridge (as you do) and inadvertently uses it to order a demon for his castle-turned-museum home.  Brinkloven Crowley (III), or Brink to his (non-existent) friends, is the aforementioned demon, and a more surely young example of his kind you would be hard pressed to find, although part of the surliness may be attributed to Brink’s imprisonment in a reasonably small crate prior to delivery at Greencastle.  As Jack attempts to use Brink as a hauntingly exciting addition to current tours provided at the castle (with mixed results), he begins to think that maybe having a demon around isn’t such a bad idea after all.  But when the Demon Collection Agency shows up to receive payment for Brink (or to repossess the demon…no pun intended), if Jack can’t come up with the money Brink might be looking at another eternity stuffed in a crate.  What are a boy and his demon to do?!

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What else can I say but, this book was meant for readers of my ilk.  That is, readers who love a story about unearthly creatures that is mixed with the funnies.  I loved this story and I predict that middle graders will love it too.  Jack is your typical “everyboy” and Brink is your typical slightly emo, understandably cranky demon kid.  It was a fun, fast-flowing romp/cautionary tale that everyone should read prior to ordering a demon for their home.  So here’s the Good:

image* Characters with loads of kid appeal (and grown-up who likes kid stories appeal)

* A well-paced plot that doesn’t waste time on overburdening the reader with detail, but leaves plenty of space for humour

* The provision of a useful cautionary tale for those considering demon-ownership…remember kids, a demon is for life, not just for Christmas.

 

The only problem I had with the story (if problem it could be called, was that I was left wanting more…and more and MORE!  I know this is the first book in the series (and I will certainly be hanging out for the next), but after finishing the book in one quick sitting, I had that feeling that I often get when reading graphic novels – the bittersweet pang of contentment at finishing a good story, mixed with a yearning to know the next bit. Immediately.  This struck me as an adult (and super-speedy, if I do say so myself…and I do) reader, but may not affect readers of the target age-group quite so much (due to their inferior reading speed, you understand).  So here’s the Sad:

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* As I finished it in one sitting, I was left wanting more, which is a little painful when the second book hasn’t been released yet.

This book has got quirky in bucketloads.  While reading I was reminded of  the cheeky characterisation in Matt Haig’s “Shadow Forest”, and the wry tone of Caro King’s “Seven Sorcerers”.  This book is a lot shorter than either of those though, so it was just enough of a hit to keep me going until the next wry, cheeky novel comes along to entice me.  So here’s the quirky:

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* A cliffhanger ending that involves an inanimate structure in a very deft piece of escape artistry

* The hiding of a very important plot device in the last place you would ever look…under the fridge

So there you have it.  My emotions laid bare for your entertainment.  And if that wasn’t enough, I will also be featuring Andy Mulberry, author of Skycastle, the Demon and Me in an author spotlight in the very near future.  And there may even be a giveaway.  You’ll just have to wait and see…..oh, who am I kidding, there’ll DEFINITELY be a giveaway.  So keep your eyeballs peeled!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the various facets of his personality)

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Double Dragon: Two New Release Books for Boys…(and girls who like boyish stuff)…

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Tally-ho and away we go with two new-release titles for the young and young at heart and old-but-still-funky set.  I’m very pleased to present you with two exciting tid-bits today – an original fantasy tale that mashes science with magic and just about everything in between, and a modern makeover of the adventures of one S. Holmes, Esq. and his trusty pal, John Watson.  Both are worthy of your attention, but will probably appeal to different audiences…although they’re both great picks for young male readers.

To Dragon Number One!

The Curse of the Thrax (Book 1 of the Bloodsword Trilogy) by Mark Murphy is a pacey, original story within a traditional fantasy context, but one that I can guarantee will not go in the direction you expect.  The story is set in a world possibly in our distant future, wherein science and modern technology as we know it has given way to simpler lifestyles of farming and hunting.  The book follows Jaykriss and Marda, two young friends who are learning to be hunters and warriors in the shadow of heroic fathers who have died.  While out hunting one day, the boys are chased by the Thrax – a ferocious and almost-unstoppable dragon – and take refuge in a cave.  Inside the cave, they discover Zamarcus, an old man who possesses many relics of the “Time Before” – relics that have been forbidden by the tyrannical Dark King – and Jaykriss and Marda are drawn into a quest that could see Jaykriss take his rightful place as King, wielding his father’s weapon, the Bloodsword.  Sounds simple enough right? From this point in the book, things start to deviate from your standard fantasy plot as we are introduced to  a whole host of other elements that move this story from your average “boy-who-would-be-king” fare, to a tome that takes in post-apocalyptic themes, coming-of-age themes and a twist at the end that turns the the tables and will have you second-guessing who the real enemy is in this tale.

thraxIf you are looking for a book for boys (or girls who particularly love action and adventure), then The Curse of the Thrax will tick every box.  There’s hunting, fishing, warriors, monsters, thugs, sailing, science, myth, kidnappings, a Dark King, a Queen of a Dead City, swordplay, archery, battles, and a talking raven.  This is not an exhaustive list of the boy-appeal in this book either, just a small sampling.

The main characters, Jaykriss and Marda, are typical young teens who live an ordinary life of hunting, school, girl-admiration (from afar!) and general tomfoolery.  Marda is a joker, while Jaykriss bears the burden of a famous father on his shoulders.  Zamarcus, who becomes something of a mentor and father-figure for the boys, is the quintessential wise old man, but also maintains a rebellious streak that fires the boys’ curiosity about their world and the time before.

It took me a little while to get into this book – about six or seven chapters – but once Zamarcus enters the narrative I was well and truly drawn in.  The story has a strange pacing, with ordinary, everyday sort of events in the boys’ home village interspersed with action, questing and battles and I did find this a bit jarring.  I suspect that the pacing lends itself to a story that is best read slowly, as to allow all the complicated bits and pieces to percolate through one’s mind.

Because this is a very complicated story (don’t let the cartoonish cover fool you!), there are elements to the plot that I haven’t described, just because to do so would make this review untenably long.  Suffice to say, this is both like and unlike fantasy stories that I have read before.  I think the standout part of this book is the way that science and fantasy have been used together in the world-building.  I also think that this book would have been much, much more enjoyable in print – the complexity of the story and the high fantasy elements deserve to be read on proper skin-of-dead-tree.

I highly recommend this one to lovers of fantasy who don’t mind a mild twist on an old genre, and to those who like to savour and draw out their stories, rather than rush through to the end.

Now, to Dragon Number Two!

The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon (Book 1 in the Elementary, My Dear Watson series) by Jose Prendes is a modern re-working of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, featuring Holmes and Watson as school boys at the same boarding school.  In this first adventure, Watson is sent to Candlewood school when his mother becomes terminally ill.  While there, he meets Sherlock, and is at first put off by his abrupt, seemingly anti-social manner, but becomes drawn into a mystery regarding a number of students disappearing from the school.  With Holmes and Watson on the case the villains cannot hope to make good on their nefarious plans, but before the crime can be stopped the boys will need to find the answers to some very tricky problems…such as why does the kidnapper only seem to take girls? How can they conduct their investigations with the Head Mistress keeping her beady eyes on their every move? And is Inspector Lestrade as inept as he makes out? (Just a tip: the answer to that last one is “Yes. Yes he is.”)

This is the book that I was hoping Knightley and Son was going to be.  Where I found that one to be lacking was in the area of character development, and I’m pleased to say that The Astounding Ancient DragonAdventure etc etc has a strong narrative voice and a likeable and believable narrator in young Master Watson.  For those loyalists, there’s not too much movement away from the original characters if you excuse the fact that they’re much younger than Sir A. Conan Doyle originally wrote them, but the characterisation is simultaneously faithful to the originals, and creatively interpreted for younger readers, with plenty of (lovely, dry) humour (and a bit of innocent romance) thrown in.

The investigative action is interspersed with some exciting fight and escape sequences (who knew Sherlock was a dab hand at the fighting arts?!) so the story contains elements that will appeal to fans of action-based narrative, without putting off those who are drawn in by the cerebral elements of crime investigation.  The crime (or mystery, I suppose) that is being investigated is pretty simple, with only a small pool of possible suspects, but Prendes has done well to create an unexpected ending that is much more involved than I anticipated.  I suspect however, that the focus for this book, being the first in a series, is to introduce the characters and set up their relationship and modus operandi.

I am looking forward to the next in the series because I think that, while this didn’t draw me in spectacularly well (as an adult reader), I’m interested to see how it will progress and I liked the diary-style format and the wry, oft-bemused narration of Watson.  Also, in my opinion, there can’t be enough good detective stories for this age-group; mystery-solving is the spice of childhood life!

I recommend this one to lovers of mystery, intrigue and meddling kids!  Oh, and to fans of Holmes and Watson who don’t mind a few cheeky twists on the original.

I should probably also point out that both of these books would fit nicely into the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge!  The Thrax of course, is something unsightly (category seven), and The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon could slip in under wordplay in the title (category eight) or a book with someone’s name in the title (category four).  Click on the image below to find out more and sign up for the challenge – we would love to meet some fresh meat new players!

imageUntil next time,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of The Curse of the Thrax from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.  I received a digital copy of Elementary, My Dear Watson: The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, in exchange for an honest review*

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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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