Favourites Giveaway Hop: Winning!

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Allow me to apologise for my mildly lengthy absence from the blogosphere by providing another giveaway! Welcome to my stop on the Favourites Giveaway Hop hosted by Stuck in Books.  The hop runs from February 1st to 14th and is all about books that we luuuuuurve.

This is a hop, so don’t forget to hop around to all the other participating blogs and try your luck at more fantastic prizes.

Now. To my giveaway.

I am offering ONE winner their choice of one of my favourite books.  My giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  The winner will be chosen by a random number generator and have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen.  And sorry, I am not responsible for prizes lost in the mail (although this has never happened before to any of my past giveaway winners, so you probably don’t have to worry too much about that).

So how do you win?

It’s a guessing game!

All you have to do is correctly guess ONE of the books partly pictured below by title and author. Each of these books holds a special place on my shelf and has one or more elements that has caused me to cherish (and in some cases, re-re-re-read) them.  Some are recent finds and some have lingered on my shelf for years.  Almost all have been featured on this blog, somewhere or other.

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To enter, leave your answer (title AND author) in the comments.  Feel free to guess more than once if you like! The winner will get to choose one of the books pictured as their prize.

Oooooh, I love a guessing game!

Now don’t forget to visit the other hop-hosts…

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Indie Trilogy Feature: The Nightfall Gardens Series…

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imageAaaaaaaaaand, we’re back!! Yes, Wifi is connected, the big computer has been set up and I am once again able to communicate with you in more than short, texty bursts.  To celebrate, I am bringing to you a special feature on a very unusual and beguiling fantasy trilogy – the Nightfall Gardens series by indie author Allen Houston.  And it has a gargoyle in it. Bonus!

Now, I was contacted by Mr Houston a little while back asking if I would review the first book in the series, Nightfall Gardens, with a view to maybe reading and reviewing the remaining books later on.  It was one of those unexpected moments that made me grin a little bit because, you see, I had already hunted down, bought, read, enjoyed and reviewed Nightfall Gardens back in April, 2014 on Goodreads, but hadn’t featured it on the blog.  So of course, I jumped at the chance to review the next two books in the series, thereby reducing my mountainous TBR pile by two.

So now my friends, you will be treated to a review of a whole series! This doesn’t often happen for this blog….in fact, in never happens because I generally make it a rule not to review subsequent books in a series on here if I’ve already reviewed the first (although I will be making a second exception to this rule in the next few weeks – stay tuned!).

On this momentously unusual occasion then, allow me to introduce to you the maverick, mould-breaking fantasy world to which Nightfall Gardens belongs. Here’s the blurb for book one from Goodreads:

Vain Lily Blackwood and her shy brother Silas wonder if their family will ever settle in one place long enough to lead a normal life. When a mysterious stranger arrives claiming to be their uncle, they discover their parents have been hiding a secret that turns their world upside down.

The two are kidnapped to Nightfall Gardens, the family’s ancestral home, a place shrouded in ancient mystery, where they meet their dying grandmother and learn of an age-old curse placed on Blackwood females.

Lily must take over as protector of the house and three haunted gardens that hold mythical beasts, fairy-tale nightmares and far worse. If she doesn’t, the evil trapped there will be unleashed and bring on a new dark age.

While she deals with malevolent ghosts inside the house, Silas is put to work in the gardens, where one wrong step means death.

Along the way, they search to unlock the secrets of the house and to stop the creatures in the gardens before time runs out and the world is destroyed.

NightfallGardenscover

Now as it’s been nearly a year since I read this book, I’m going to share with you my original Goodreads review as it is probably a more accurate representation of my thoughts about the book than anything I could dredge up now. So this is what I thought:

Ten Second Synopsis:
Lily and Silas are taken against their will to Nightfall Gardens, their ancestral home in a void between our world and the next, and repository of all ickiness.

It is nice to find a YA horror/paranormal/fantasy sort of a book with an original premise and setting. Nightfall Gardens (the book) was as creepy as all the reviews I read promised it would be. In fact, Nightfall Gardens (the house and grounds) was almost too depressing and hopeless for my liking. The section in which Silas and Arfast come upon the creatures from the White Garden having a raucous party reminded me strongly of the scene of Aslan’s sacrifice in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – it had that sense of the despair associated with the triumph of evil and the knowledge that hideous things are now inescapable. Essentially, it had a real sense of “things are going to get worse before they get…well, even worserer than that!”

I would have liked to see a bit of humour or something to flesh the child characters out a bit as I did feel that the oppressive atmosphere was too much at times, but that’s just my preference.The servants in the house – Polly and Ozy, and Ursula, the ever-cheerful Glumpog maid – were a highlight and I could just see them being brought to life in a Henson-esque movie masterpiece.

Overall this is an original and engaging read for those who like a dark twist on their fantasy books.

But if I thought Nightfall Gardens was both original and engaging (and I did, because I gave it four stars), then I was about to be drawn ever-deeper into the tangled world that Houston has created in book two – The Shadow Garden.  Here’s the synopsis, again from Goodreads:

Precocious Lily Blackwood carries a responsibility far greater than other people. As the last female Blackwood, she must keep the evils in Pandora’s Box from destroying the world.

With the help of her younger brother Silas, the dusk riders and her best friend Cassandra, she must protect Nightfall Gardens and ensure that the fairy-tale monsters, old gods and deathly shades stay separated from humanity.

But now, the creatures bound to the Gardens are gaining strength and threatening to break loose. Bemisch, a malevolent witch, has escaped into the mist land to join forces with Eldritch, a powerful nature god. The mysterious Smiling Ladies hold the key to a dark secret from the Blackwood family’s past, and something once again roams the halls of the manor, trying to kill Lily.

Worse yet, her fourteenth birthday is approaching and with it a dangerous rite of passage. Lily must enter the Shadow Garden, home of all that is nightmarish, and come face to face with her most terrifying threat yet.

the shadow gardenFirst let me say – that is an awesome cover.  Because I read the second two books on the Kindle, I never really paid attention to their covers (or blurbs) and just jumped on in.  But this, that, is an absolute ripper and gives you a pretty good representation of just how creepy and disturbing some of Houston’s creations are.  Those delightful maidens on the cover are the Smiling Ladies, three mightily icky sisters who mysteriously appear at every moment of major human suffering.

This book was again divided into chapters alternating in viewpoint between Lily, as she attempts to figure out how to survive her rite of passage in the Shadow Garden, and Silas, as he and his dusk rider friends become entangled in a deadly mission to rescue some villagers from the evil deity Eldritch and his witch Bemisch.  I really enjoyed the alternating viewpoints because there was so much action and intrigue in this helping that it was good to have a break every chapter and jump between the various dangers being faced by the siblings.

The Shadow Garden moved a lot more quickly than Nightfall Gardens and I was far more engaged emotionally with the characters in this offering.  We get to find out a lot more about other minor characters also, with some focus being placed on Cassandra, Jonquil, Villon and others which was a nice expansion to the main event.

My favourite part of this story was Lily’s trial in the Shadow Garden itself (and an unexpected meeting with one of Polly’s relations!).  The narrative at this point reminded me so strongly of the sacrifice of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as Houston describes all the vile and vicious and just plain bizarre creatures that inhabit the part of Nightfall Gardens that is home to the incarnation of human nightmares.

This was my favourite of the three books and a real step up for Houston in terms of the tightness and pacing of the plot.

Now, onto the finale!  The Labyrinth rounds out the trilogy and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Time is running out for Lily and Silas Blackwood in their hunt to destroy Pandora’s Box before the beings of Nightfall Gardens unleash its evil upon an unsuspecting world.

Loyalties will be tested and friends will make the ultimate sacrifice as the two face off against an army of horrors that live in the Gardens.

At the center of it all stands the Labyrinth, a maze haunted by dying gods and startling secrets that Lily must navigate to find Pandora’s Box. But will she be too late?

the labyrinth

Book three really does pick up exactly where the last book finished and once again plunges straight into the action.  This is probably the most anomalous of the three books as in it we get to journey into the Labyrinth, the home of all the lost, almost-forgotten and mostly ancient deities that are trapped, waiting for a chance to re-exert their power over humans in the real world.  This section of the story still had the menace of the rest of the action (especially when the Smiling Ladies decide to make an appearance) but also lent a sense of otherworldliness and hope to the pervading sense of anticipated loss that coloured the first two books.

The book has the classic “building up to the final battle” atmosphere throughout, but we are also treated to some new (and unexpectedly jocular) characters and a little bit of romance in the air for Ursula, the Glumpog maid who spreads despair (unintentionally) wherever she goes.  Ursula ended up being one of my favourite characters of the series, mainly because of the comic relief that she tends to provide whenever she’s in a scene.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was the fact that the final battle and resolution had all the feeling and action expected of the climax of a fantasy trilogy, without the blow-by-blow descriptions of the final fights that are so characteristic of this genre, and which I tend to find rather tedious.  I was very grateful to the author for giving us the meat of the resolution without all the tiresome chewing of gristle that just draws out the ending for no discernible benefit to the telling.

My thoughts on the series in a nutshell?

By the time I left Nightfall Gardens I had garnered a deep respect for Houston’s abilities as a storyteller, but more so for his incredible commitment to the world he has built.  The construction and population of Nightfall Gardens is vastly imaginative, undisputedly arresting and something that will no doubt be greatly appreciated and devoured with relish by those hoping to discover a fantasy tale that touches on the classic themes of the genre in a downright refreshing environment.

I was so pleased that Allen approached me to review the rest of this series, because otherwise those books might have sat on my TBR list forevermore, with me thinking that they would be much the same as the first.  This is one of those rare (almost endangered, in fact) beasts – a series that gets better book by book.

It also makes me wonder why on earth books of this quality, with such interesting takes on a familiar genre aren’t picked up by the big publishers.  It’s one of those times that I am super-thankful for indie authors.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Intermission…

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Good morning loyal readers (and disloyal ones too!). This is just a quick post to let you know that my shelf buddies and I will be having another few days off.  The wifi does not get connected to the new shelf until the 30th of January, so do not be alarmed if no new content springs into your inbox this week.

Once that wifi is switched on however, prepare to be flooded with a veritable cartload of quality bookish stuff.  There’ll be a feature on indie author Allen Houston’s incredibly imaginative and creepy Nightfall Gardens trilogy, a graphic novelish double dip and a twin helping of Mondays are for Murder.

In the meantime, perhaps you could participate in Fiction in 50 for this month (or read some of the stellar contributions), or have a bash at the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge.

Or you might like to hum quietly to yourself, start a social movement to bring peace to our troubled world, or invent a new flavour of waffle.  The choice is yours!

See you all again in a bit.

Bruce (and the gang)

Fiction in 50 January Challenge: A Dawning Realisation…

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Welcome to the first Fi50 of 2015.  Thank you for joining us for another year of minifiction.  The prompt for this month is:

dawning realisation button jan2015

To participate, all you have to do is create a piece of fiction in fifty words or fewer and post a link to it in the comments so we can all appreciate your brilliance.  For more detailed instructions and later prompts, just click on the challenge image at the top of this post.

Now, ideflex from Across the Bored mentioned casually that this month’s prompt could be seen as a continuation or sequel to December’s prompt (which was, of course, Into the Great Beyond).  Being a reasonably lazy individual, I decided that rather than think up a whole new story, I would indeed pen a sequel to my effort from last month.  If you missed it, you can read that piece here…..

Go on, we’ll wait.

Up to speed? Great.  Because now I present to you Part 2 of the “On Hold” saga, which I have titled:

Call Connect

I pressed “2”.

“Purgatorial Enquiries…”

“There’s been a mistake.”

“Purgatory is the transitioning point between biological existence and its cessation, wherein the soul integrates the post-death experience with the deceased’s post-life expectations.”

“But I’m an atheist!”

“Yes sir.”

I stared at the receiver..

I shouldn’t be here.

I shouldn’t –

New players are ALWAYS welcome, so if you haven’t plucked up the courage/bothered to get around to joining in, we’d love to have your contribution.  There’s no time like the present.  Except maybe some bits of the past, so feel free to dig out any old story ideas and modify them to fit if you like.

Next month’s prompt will be….

sincerely yours

Until next time,

Bruce

2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Hop!

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2015-ausdayWelcome to my stop on the 2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by Book’d Out and running from the 24th to the 27th of January.  This hop is all about promoting Australian authors and Aussie books, so I thought I couldn’t do that without highlighting works about or by our First Nations mob.

indig flag ti flag

So to that end I am offering one winner a choice – they can take the prize of a print copy of Riding the Black Cockatoo by John Danalis, an engaging, funny and moving memoir about John’s journey set right a wrong in his family history…click on the cover to find out more:

riding the black cockatoo

OR

the winner’s choice of ANY book BY AN AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS AUTHOR.

You see, there are so many out there that I couldn’t choose just one or two to feature.  There are picture books, memoirs, socio-political works, YA novels, comedic works, chick lit….so I thought I’d let the winner’s personal taste dictate their prize, if that is their desire.

My giveaway is open internationally provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link.  Ts and Cs are in the rafflecopter form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now this is a hop, so don’t forget to hop along to all the other participating blogs and booksellers and try and win some goodies:

https://bookdout.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/its-the-2015-australia-day-book-giveaway-blog-hop/

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Start the year off right….by joining in Fi50!

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that you would be a fool to yourself and a burden to others were you to miss out on participating in Fiction in 50 in 2015.  So I’m here to remind you!

Fi50 kicks off on Monday for this year with the prompt:

dawning realisation button jan2015

To join in, create a piece of fiction or poetry or whatever in 50 words or fewer then pop back on Monday and add a link to your masterpiece in the comments so others can appreciate your brilliance.

For more detailed rules and to find out prompts for the next few months, simply click on the large image at the top of this post.

Until next time,

Bruce

Alice and the Fly: A YA, GSQ Review…

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imageIt’s time to unleash my psyche’s personas once again, appropriately enough to review young adult offering, Alice and the Fly by James Rice.  I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley (drawn in, once again, by the beautiful cover and the promise of content relating to mental health – I’m becoming predictable, aren’t I?).  Unfortunately however, these intriguing lures did not result in my arrival in readers’ paradise.  But let’s press on anyway, shall we?

It’s safe to say that Greg is a bit of an outsider.  Shunned by his peers and watching life from the bus window (when he’s not getting soft drink poured over his head), Greg records his thoughts in a notebook given to him by his would-be counsellor and actual teacher, Miss Hayes. As Greg records various traumatic incidents that happened (and continue to happen) to him, the reader finds out more about this troubled young man.  But then Greg finds what could be a friend…she doesn’t really know he exists, but Greg is determined to change that.  And that’s what leads to the terrible incident.alice and the fly

 

The Goodimage

The best thing about this book is its interesting format.  As well as excerpts from Greg’s journal (which  makes up the bulk of the narrative), the reader is privy to police interviews with a variety of Greg’s relatives and peers interspersed throughout the book.  These are welcome intrusions into Greg’s monologuing and also serve the purpose of giving the reader a few glimpses of the entire puzzle before the incident described at the end of the book.

The Sad

There were a number of things that didn’t work for me in Alice and the Fly.  The first is the fact that image there is a LOT of monologuing in this book.  It’s a personal preference, but I prefer my monolouing in moderation.  There were quite a few times during reading, particularly during the middle of the novel, that I just wanted Greg to shut up and/or stick to the point.

The thing that particularly annoyed me about this book is that there were quite a few things that just didn’t ring true while reading.  Greg’s father is a surgeon.  Greg, it appears, has some unspecified mental illness (loosely labelled schizophrenia), as well as at least one crippling phobia, that require him to be on serious medication (one would presume these to be antipsychotics).  I simply could not believe that a doctor who has a child with a serious, rare (in young children – Greg was supposedly diagnosed at 6) and debilitating mental illness, coupled with obvious social and emotional problems could be so detached from his son’s care and treatment.  Particularly after a violent incident that required Greg to be separated from the family many years previously.

That just didn’t work for me.  Nor did the fact that Greg’s problems were obvious to and identified by pretty much every adult in his life, yet he received no real therapy for his issues, aside from that provided by his well-meaning teacher.  I got the sense by the end that Greg was really just being portrayed, despite efforts to provide Greg’s side of the story through his narration, as the stereotypical dangerous, violent  loony, which just left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Quirky

The quirkiest bit of this novel is the fact that it’s written by an unreliable narrator.  Greg haimages memory blocks that are slowly chipped away, drip-feeding the reader with clues to his overall situation.  Later in the book he also experiences some dissociation that muddies the waters as to what actually happens during the incident, as I shall refer to it.  The mysterious “Them” that Greg is afraid of is also a quirky drawcard, but what “They” are becomes pretty obvious early on in the story and I don’t think the author did a good enough job of describing Greg’s state of mind when in the throes of an attack of his phobia.

I had high hopes for this book, but I was disappointed.  Having a look at Goodreads, plenty of others really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it though, so if you are interested in the themes here I wouldn’t necessarily pooh-pooh this book out of hand just because it didn’t work for me.  On the other hand, if you are interested in searching out other books featuring dissociative disorders and their effects (on children and others) I would highly recommend the novel The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (which I never reviewed on the blog but probably should have!), The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod, or any of the gut-wrenching and eye-opening memoirs about schizophrenia that are out there such as Flying with Paper Wings by Sandy Jeffs, Tell Me I’m Here: One Family’s Experience of Schizophrenia by Anne Deveson, or Henry’s Demons: Living With Schizophrenia, A Father and Son’s Story by Patrick and Henry Cockburn.

In completely unrelated news, the shelf is moving! Not this virtual shelf. You can still find us in cyberspace exactly where we’ve always been.  It’s the real, physical shelf that will be moving to a new home in the next week.  I mention this because that flightly mistress, WiFi, may or may not choose to make an appearance in our new home on time, and therefore we will be taking a week off from blogging from tomorrow (that’s January 17th).  I’m sure you’ll all miss us terribly, but we will be back with you as soon as we possibly can, hopefully on the 26th for 2015’s first round of Fiction in 50! Join us, won’t you?

Until next time,

Bruce