We Are Monsters: An Adult Fiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review …



Ready to be party to some deep, well-pondered insights? Then you’ve come to the right place my friend. Today I have an adult fiction, horror tale for you in We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk. I was lucky enough to receive a copy from those masters of spookiness, Samhain Publishing, via Netgalley for review. Got your reinforced, monster-proofed reading gauntlets on? Then let’s have at it.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Apocalypse has come to the Sugar Hill mental asylum.

He’s the hospital’s newest, and most notorious, patient—a paranoid schizophrenic who sees humanity’s dark side. Luckily he’s in good hands. Dr. Eli Alpert has a talent for healing tortured souls. And his protégé is working on a cure for schizophrenia, a drug that returns patients to their former selves. But unforeseen side effects are starting to emerge.

Forcing prior traumas to the surface.

Setting inner demons free.

Monsters have been unleashed inside the Sugar Hill mental asylum.

They don’t have fangs or claws. They look just like you or me.

we are monsters

So here are

Five Things I’ve Learned From

We Are Monsters

1. If you believe fiction writers, psychiatrists are always higher up the “Batshit Crazy” scale than their patients.

2. Psychiatrists always, ALWAYS have an ulterior motive. Even if it’s subconscious.

3. Unmonitored, experimental medicine always leads to trouble. Or a miracle cure. It depends on your viewpoint. And how uncomfortable you are about the possibility of having your psychotic hallucinations made flesh.

4. Reality is subjective. Unless you’re an inpatient of a mental institution. Then reality is objective and your version of it is clearly wrong.


5. If you are seeking inpatient care for mental health issues, always remember to ask about whether you will be subjected to experimental medicine. If yes, refer to point 3.


I’m in two minds about this book. On one hand, it is a hefty, action-packed, original tale with lots of twists and turns and characters with comprehensive backstories. On the other, it felt a bit overly long, used every cliché about psychiatrists (and patients) it is possible to use and kind of lost the plot in the middle.

Did I enjoy it? Yes.

Would I read it again? No.

Would I recommend it to lovers of psychological horror? Definitely.

So as you can see, We Are Monsters has inspired a crisis of ambiguity in me.

To begin with the positives, I thought that the first half of the book was very well-written, with a slow-build toward the inevitable catastrophe that is promised right from the start. As we are introduced to the three main characters – Eli, Alex and Angela – we get to see how the dynamics at Sugar Hill are primed for disaster, as Alex experiments with a new wonder drug for schizophrenia, Angela attempts to relate on a human level with a convicted serial killer and Eli wanders around in a fog of hippy altruism. We are treated to a few cheeky twists early on, discovering some possible motives around why Alex might be so desperate to perfect his new medicine and why he wants to keep Eli in the dark.

After a mini-climax in the middle of the book when the proverbial excrement hits the proverbial rotating cooling device, I did feel that the story lost its way a little. When our three main characters are plunged into what can only be described as an altered version of reality, the author spends a lot of time reliving the main characters’ backstories. I found that this section was overwhelming and slowed the pace considerably. By the end of the book, the rapid pace has resumed as certain characters regain normality and attempt to resolve the significant problems that have arisen during the time they were taking a holiday from conscious thought.

I suppose the way the author melded the realistic elements with elements of a psychological thriller and a paranormal story didn’t quite work for me. I definitely related to the jarring and disorientation that the main characters were experiencing, but I didn’t care enough about them to want them to come out the other side. In fact I would have been quite happy for them to have succumbed to unreality. I suspect this is because Eli and Alex in particular did really read like every bad stereotype of a psychiatrist that I’ve ever read, with Eli being all heart and Alex being all head. As for Angela…well, I just didn’t care for her. The serial killer seemed a nice enough chap though.

We Are Monsters will definitely satisfy if you are in the mood for a mind-bending tale that jolts you around and makes you question what is really going on. While elements of it didn’t really work for me, I think this is just due to personal tastes and I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this out if it’s your preferred genre.

Until next time,



Fiction in 50 June Challenge: Exit, Stage Left…



Welcome to the halfway point for micro-fictioneers: the June challenge for Fiction in 50!  We always love new (and sporadic!) contributors, so if you’d like to play along simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and pop your link in the comments for this post.  For more detailed instructions and to get a heads-up on upcoming prompts (the next six months’ worth are now up!) just click here.  Don’t forget if you’re sharing on Twitter to use the hashtag #Fi50.

So the prompt for this month is the rather theatrical…

june fi50 button

..and so I have written an appropriately non-theatrical, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, dram-com.  I have titled it:

Earth’s Technopolypse: The Aftermath

The Intergalactic Alliance reported they’d never seen such a swift decimation of a dominant species. The rescue ships found only sporadic enclaves of senior citizens; their natural immunity to modern tech proving redemptive.

The survivors claimed resettlement on a resort planet.

It was the first extinction attributed to ageing disgracefully.  

Go you good (old) things! I can’t help but fondly hope that Wilfred Mott was among their number, at least in spirit.  Now let’s see your efforts!

For those who like to plan ahead, July’s prompt will be…

public enemy button

Until next time,



Rickety Cossacks and an Fi50 Reminder…


image image

Before we get into the meat (and bones) of today’s book, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 will be kicking off for June on Monday. This month’s prompt is…

 june fi50 button

…and I can’t wait to see your contributions. If you’d like to play along, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words then pop back here on Monday and add your link to the comments of my post. For more detailed information about the challenge, just click on the large attractive Fi50 button at the beginning of this post.

Now on to the bookishness! Today’s book was a strange choice for me given that I don’t really know much about paleoanthropology….hardly anything in fact…but I was drawn in by the exciting cover, chuckle-worthy title and general “that sounds quite interesting” vibe of the whole package. The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution by Ian Tattersall is a going-over of the history of human paleoanthropology with an eye to debunking (or at least, highlighting) the specious reasoning that seems almost inherent in some historical views of human evolution as a process.   I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. Note the armchair as an indication of my intention to submit this tome for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.

Without further faffing about, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In his new book The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, human paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall argues that a long tradition of “human exceptionalism” in paleoanthropology has distorted the picture of human evolution. Drawing partly on his own career–from young scientist in awe of his elders to crotchety elder statesman–Tattersall offers an idiosyncratic look at the competitive world of paleoanthropology, beginning with Charles Darwin 150 years ago, and continuing through the Leakey dynasty in Africa, and concluding with the latest astonishing findings in the Caucasus.

The book’s title refers to the 1856 discovery of a clearly very old skull cap in Germany’s Neander Valley. The possessor had a brain as large as a modern human, but a heavy low braincase with a prominent brow ridge. Scientists tried hard to explain away the inconvenient possibility that this was not actually our direct relative. One extreme interpretation suggested that the preserved leg bones were curved by both rickets, and by a life on horseback. The pain of the unfortunate individual’s affliction had caused him to chronically furrow his brow in agony, leading to the excessive development of bone above the eye sockets. The subsequent history of human evolutionary studies is full of similarly fanciful interpretations.

With tact and humor, Tattersall concludes that we are not the perfected products of natural processes, but instead the result of substantial doses of random happenstance.

rickety cossack

Let me say straight off that I found this book to be informative, engaging and generally thought-provoking. I suspect, however, that I am not the target audience for this tome, given that the content seemed to be pitched at a reader with slightly more prior knowledge in this field than I currently possess. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t know very much about the history of evolution and you think this book sounds interesting, I would DEFINITELY recommend that you pick it up, but I was mildly surprised to note how technical the content turned out to be. On the other hand, my Kindle dictionary feature got a cracking workout, which I always enjoy.

Essentially, after a short introduction featuring lemurs and an unexpected coup, Tattersall takes the reader from the early years of paleoanthropology, during which little was known and much was surmised (and just plain old made-up!) about discovered remains and what these remains meant for how modern humans came about, to current scientific practice in dating remains and hypothesising about evolutionary processes. For each historical period, Tattersall introduces the reader to the main players on the evolutionary scene and the theories that they endorsed, with detailed examination of their background to establish the context in which their theories were developed. Clearly, this is an author that knows his stuff and has put together a comprehensive critique of the assumptions that have historically influenced the way in which people think about human evolution.

Now, my next criticism is going to sound a akin to someone ordering sushi and complaining it doesn’t taste like pizza, but I expected this book to be funny. That might sound odd to those who regularly read such scientificky books, but I feel I was misled by the highly amusing “Rickety Cossack” theory and expected that the book would have a lighter tone. It doesn’t. And to me this was mildly disappointing. On the positive side though, I do feel like I gained a solid base of knowledge about human evolution and the current theories and pitfalls of assumption that I did not have prior to reading this book.

The other desire that made me feel a bit childish while reading this was that of wanting more illustrations. Throughout the book there are a few comparative drawings depicting various human fossils to which the book alludes, but given that I am a newbie in this subject area, I desperately wanted more visual information. A map, for instance, showing where each of the bits were discovered would have been incredibly helpful, as I did have a bit of trouble keeping the place names straight in relation to the fancy names that were given to different sets of remains. Again, I suspect Tattersall was aiming for a reader with slightly more knowledge in the area than I, but all the same, a bit of visual prompting would have enhanced my reading experience no end.

Overall, if not for the amusing title and blurb anecdote, I doubt I would have picked this book up. It didn’t turn out to be what I was expecting, but I still had an enjoyable, brain-stretching experience while reading it. I’m not sure whether someone more deeply versed in this particular subject area would feel the same, but if you are a paleoanthropogical novice with a desire to enrich your knowledge in this area, then I recommend riding into battle with Tattersall and his rickety Cossack.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge goal: 7/10

Until next time,


Tomes from the Olden Times: The Third Form at St. Clare’s…



So today’s Tomes from the Olden Times – the feature in which I re-read a book from my ancient past and pass on some insightfully insightful insights into the experience – has gone off the rails a little bit.   The reason for this will become apparent as you read on. I did intend for this to be the crème de la crème of Tomes of the Olden Times posts; a real ripper that shot you straight back to childhood and in a way, that could still happen. It did for me while I read this offering. And afterwards, it has left me wondering if I don’t have some kind of early onset senility. But anyway, on with the show!

Today’s tome is The Third Form at St. Clare’s, part of Enid Blyton’s wildly popular boarding school stories (the other of course being Malory Towers, in which I also indulged long ago), featuring twins Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan as the main players. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The holidays are over and twins Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan are dying to get back to school. The big question on everybody’s lips is, who will be head girl? But a terrible accident and an hilarious school play show the true leaders in the third form, but they also show up the cheats and cowards.

third form

Sounds like a typical Enid Blyton adventure, right? Well, my friend, I thought so too. But herein lies the confusion. This title is, in fact, NOT part of the original series, but an add-on penned by Pamela Cox as a way to flesh out the original Blyton series.


So was I. Not so much by the fact that another writer had been called in to modernise Blyton’s work, but by the fact that I would have sworn blind that I had read this book as a kid. And yet I couldn’t have, because it was written in 2000. This was the bit that had me scratching my head and trying to remember the number for the Alzheimer’s hotline. As I was reading this story, I even deluded myself that I knew how it was going to turn out (due, of course, to my incredible ability to recall children’s literature). I predicted correctly, but I suspect that this was because the story follows the expected Blyton formula, rather than the fact that I had read it before (which I obviously hadn’t).

Confused yet?

Yes, me too. So it turns out, on further research, that for some reason Blyton didn’t stick to the one-book-per-year formula found in most boarding school series (including her own) for the girls of St. Clare’s but instead wrote three first form stories, one second form story, skipped third form altogether, wrote one apiece for forms four and five and left sixth form out. Cox was brought in around the time of the series’ latest re-release to pen tales for the missing form years and it was one of these gap-fillers that I managed to pick up in my search for a blast from the past.

On the surface, everything appears as it should be. All the familiar characters are there, including wild circus gypsy girl Carlotta (who was a favourite of mine back in the day) and the book obviously reads enough like a Blyton to have tricked me into thinking I had already read it. There are a few little signs along the way that the story has been brought into the new millennium, with mention of coffee shops (Egad! Surely tea is the only reputable beverage in an English boarding school!) and a few turns of phrase that didn’t ring quite true to the old stories. There are also the old favourite plotlines of practical jokes, midnight feasts and sending people to Coventry.

I did feel that the retribution of the girls toward one particular wrong-doer in the story read entirely differently in a contemporary setting though. As the entire form decide to punish a girl for her underhanded behaviour by sending her to Coventry (ie: completely ignoring her and actively excluding her from membership of the form group), I did get a strange sense that this scene might come off seeming far more sinister to modern-day youngsters than Cox might have bargained for. As a youngster, when I had read such a scene in Blyton’s works, I’m sure I didn’t bat an eyelid and probably cheered along at such justice being done to an obviously guilty party but on reading it with the current social climate in mind, the scene felt uncomfortably like mass cyberbullying of the sort that sends young people to mental health wards or, in some tragic cases, suicide. It’s probably lucky that the St. Clare’s girls didn’t have access to social media or things could have gotten completely out of hand.

Overall, I think Cox has done an admirable job in penning a story that could slot right into the series without a second thought and young contemporary readers discovering Blyton’s school stories for the first time will no doubt be thankful that the series has been given these additions.

As a “Tomes from the Olden Times” pick, this turned out to be an incredibly disorienting experience. I feel mildly cheated that I haven’t actually re-read a St. Clare’s book and so now I have to go and seek out another one (although I suspect I’ll jump ship back to Malory Towers – you know where you are with the Malory Towers girls).

I’d love to know from any of you though: What are your favourite St. Clare’s moments? And have you read any of Cox’s new additions? What did you think?

Until next time,


Scaling Mount TBR with some Irish MG Fiction: Brilliant…



Believe it!

I have managed to knock another tome from atop the teetering peaks of Mount TBR!

Today I present to you Brilliant by Roddy Doyle, a delightfully Irish bit of middle grade fiction, dealing with depression – both psychological and economic – and its insidious effects, with a touch of magical realism. I spotted this one a while back and was taken in by its enticing cover and promise of mental health related content. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Uncle Ben’s Dublin business fails, it’s clear to Gloria and Raymond that something is wrong. He just isn’t his usual cheerful self. So when the children overhear their granny saying that the Black Dog has settled on Ben’s back and he won’t be OK until it’s gone, they decide they’re going to get rid of it. Gathering all their courage the children set out on a midnight quest to hunt down the Black Dog and chase it away. But they aren’t the only kids on the mission. Loads of other children are searching for it too, because the Black Dog is hounding lots of Dublin’s adults. Together – and with the help of magical animals, birds and rodents – the children manage to corner the Black Dog …but will they have the courage and cleverness to destroy the frightening creature?


Regular followers of this blog would know that I adore a good bit of UK fiction, and if it’s aimed at a young audience, then that’s even more reason to rejoice. It’s not often though, that I come across an Irish fiction novel that is so quintessentially Irish. Prepare yourselves now for stereotypically twee cooing over the wonderfulness of the Irish and their Irishness.

I could not help laughing and laughing at the dialogue in this book. Not because it’s hysterically funny, but because it’s so delightfully, drolly, mirthful. Observe this exchange between the protagonists’ parents (and their granny, chipping in alzheimically at the end):

“Is there anything worth watching on telly?”

“Your man is on.”


“That fella who used to be on the other thing. That fella with the hair. You know him.”

“I don’t.”

“Ah, you do.”

“I don’t. What about his hair?”

“It’s not his. It’s a rug.”

“Oh, him?”


“I’m not watching him.”



Honestly, it’s just brilliant. And obviously, I had the whole story narrated by Ardal O’Hanlon in my head which upped the mirthfulness by the power of one million. If they don’t get Ardal O’Hanlon to voice the audio book, it will be a travesty.

In fact the linguistic patterns of English-speakers in Dublin are key to the plot of this book. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that as a reader with a non-preference for magical realism, the magical realism in this book is deftly done.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit with this review, but I suspect it’s the lingering after-effects of reading this book. It really is a surreal adventure that will have your head spinning by the end with the wonder of it.

And the silliness of it.

And the seriousness of it.

And the brilliant Irishness of it.

It’s even got a real life vampire.


I’d definitely recommend this to any readers of middle grade fiction looking for something with a voice all its own.

Although I wouldn’t recommend choosing it as a read-aloud unless you’re proficient in the accent of a Dubliner.

Until next time,




Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Not What Your Were Expecting” Edition…



Welcome to another Reading Round-Up, wherein I skilfully lasso some of the wily beasts that have been lumbering across the plains of my shelf of late. Today’s edition should probably be retitled the “Not What I Expected” edition because all of these books were surprising and, well, not what I expected. Saddle up readers – let’s ride!

Twisted Dark, Volume 3 (Neil Gibson)

I received this title from the publisher via Netgalley.

Two Sentence Synopsis:  twisted dark

A collection of graphic short stories that are linked by a theme of twisty darkness. The stories are illustrated by a range of artists and broach a diversity of content.

Muster Up the Motivation because:

If you enjoy stories that lean towards the dark side of human nature and have a twist in the tail, you should find something to appeal to you in this collection. The stories range from the consequences of crossing a torture-loving drug lord to the inner anguish of body image distortion and pretty much everything in between. A few of the stories left me a bit underwhelmed by their endings, but overall this is a gripping and gritty collection with some stunning artwork to flesh things out. I’d recommend this to horror and short story lovers looking for something new to surprise them.

Brand it with:

Twist in the tail, tortured souls, eye-popping artwork

World of Shawn (Jordan M. Ehrlich)

I received this title as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers giveaways.

Two Sentence Synopsis:  world of shawn

Shawn’s attempts to create a fantasy sandbox game using a map-rendering program go disastrously wrong when he discovers that the program seems to be creating its own reality. With his two good friends by his side, Shawn must go into the game to try to tame the beast he’s created.

Muster Up the Motivation because:

This is a nicely original take on the whole “falling into a parallel universe” tale with a definite skew toward the young adult gamer community. I found the plot to be reasonably tricky to follow at some points as multiple versions of characters are spawned from the malfunctioning program, but overall the story is a fun read, featuring all the banter and humour one would expect from young lads attempting to kill the (virtual) dragon and win the heart of the princess. The author does take some pains to explain various bits of the programming to the uninitiated (ie: me), which I appreciated, but if you are into that sort of thing to begin with, this book should provide a light, non-digital diversion from the gamersphere.

Brand it with:

Weird science, create-your-character, role-playing in the real world

normalisedNormalized: The Complete Quartet (David Bussell)

I received a digital copy of this title from the author for review.

Two Sentence Synopsis:

The once mighty Captain Might has to come to terms with living an ordinary life after his superpowers are snuffed out. Fortunately, he has documented this process in a journal for any other aspiring supers who may fall victim to similar villainy and be forced to return to the anonymity of normal life.

Muster Up the Motivation because:

It’s quite nice to see a superhero – and an arrogant one at that – get a bit of comeuppance. This is the complete collection of four novellas tracing the demise of Captain Might. If you are a fan of the superhero genre and have been waiting for a tale that is prepared to go no-holds-barred into that good night, then this will probably tickle your fancy. The books are replete with (fairly male-oriented, it must be said) humour and a bunch of supercharacters who are remarkably similar to common-or-garden a**holes that you’d find in any social circle, were you to discount their super abilities. I suspect that Bussell’s writing style won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a brash, unflinchingly politically incorrect character on an inner journey of identity renewal, then you couldn’t find better than the travails of Captain Might (and his infinitely less talented brother, Birdy).

Brand it with:

“Oh no he di’n’t!”, super-narcissism, men in lycra

As I said, this round up ended up being a collection of books that came out of left field, so if you’re looking for something that deviates from the norm, genre-wise, I’d recommend having a look at these three titles.

Until next time,


An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Trivia Man…




Today I have a tale for you that is just darling and guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart like some sort of handmade heart-cockle-cosy that your granny might have knitted.  The Trivia Man by Australian author Deborah O’Brien was just the thing to tide me over during an unexpected wave of insomnia and I ended up reading it in one sitting, so enamoured was I with Kevin and Maggie, the protagonists.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Penguin Random House, via Netgalley, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

‘Trivia is a serious business, not a social occasion’ Kevin Dwyer, the ‘trivia man’

Dubbed ‘brainbox’ by his peers and ‘weirdo’ by his sister, Kevin Dwyer is a middle-aged forensic accountant who has never had a real friend, other than his eight-year-old nephew Patrick. When Kevin joins the Clifton Heights Sports Club trivia competition as a one-man team, and convincingly wins the first round, he is headhunted by the other contestants. But Kevin would prefer to be on his own. That is, until he meets Maggie Taylor . . .

Maggie is a Latin teacher and movie buff, who’s good at her job but unlucky in love. In fact, she’s still besotted with the man who dumped her years ago. Nagged by her friend Carole about getting out and meeting people, Maggie reluctantly joins the trivia team founded by Carole’s husband, Edward.

Over a season of trivia nights, Kevin, Maggie and her team will experience arguments and crises, friendships and romances, heartbreaks and new beginnings. And maybe, just maybe, Kevin will find his happy ever after . .

the trivia man

Read it if:

* you like your trivia questions to be unequivocally unambiguous

* the phrase “themed dress-up night” has you making a swift and silent dash for the emergency exit

* if you had the choice between accountancy and tide-watching for a career, you’d choose the tides

* you think “forensic accounting” involves figuring out how to lower the incidence of office paper-cuts from spiral-bound ledgers

Given that this book is by an Australian author, features a main character who may have some characteristics synonymous with a certain social-emotional syndrome, and has a blurb indicating some romance, the comparisons with Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project are inevitable. But while The Rosie Project is more of a comedy of errors with Don Tillman stumbling, cycling or salsa dancing from one awkwardly hilarious social encounter to the next, The Trivia Man plays it straighter and I think this is its greatest strength.

Kevin is a believable character – an ordinary bloke with some extraordinary general knowledge and a below-average ability to read social situations – and I warmed to him immediately. O’Brien has done a great job fleshing Kevin’s character out beyond the basic “socially awkward misfit with a talent” through introducing the reader to Kevin’s relationship with his nephew, Patrick. The friendship between the two of them and the admiration for Kevin from Patrick brings depth to Kevin’s character and demonstrates that he is more than the sum of his characteristics.

Maggie is the quintessential mother-figure who has been denied her own children through various acts of nature and relationship and is left to mother her teenage charges through her high school teaching of French and Latin. After being dragged through multiple broken relationships with the man she believes is the love of her life, Maggie reluctantly agrees to join her friend’s trivia team and a friendship with Kevin blossoms.

Admittedly, I found Maggie’s infatuation with the ex-lover who unexpectedly turns up in her life again to be a bit far-fetched. It seemed to me that, as a character, Maggie was marked out as particularly stable and so while her romantic plotline was necessary to move the story along, it didn’t altogether ring true. That aside though, I particularly enjoyed the realistic way in which Maggie and Kevin’s friendship developed throughout the story, as the romance factor (something I generally don’t enjoy in books) was left as a slow-burn.

The story is told in alternating perspectives as the trivia competition rolls on from week to week. The inclusion of the trivia questions was great fun and I cringed along with Teddy and the Dreamers when an ambiguous question came up, silently argued for my preferred answer along with the characters, and happily snuck away from the intermission karaoke with Kevin and Maggie.

Overall, I found this to be a delightful, light and fulfilling read that was just the thing as a pick-me-up during an exhausting few weeks. I’d heartily recommend The Trivia Man as a winter warmer (for we southern-hemisphere dwellers) or the perfect beach read (for you sun-soaked northern hemisphere lot). The story will restore your faith in finding friendship in unexpected places as well as provide you with the answers to a whole slew of possible trivia questions. After all, you never know when you’ll be called on to name the part of the body affected by Lady Windermere Syndrome.

Until next time,