Shouty Doris Interjects during…TrollHunters!

5

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Bruce and Doris with you today with a new release YA novel that features trolls, adventure and illustrations! I excitedly received a copy of Trollhunters by Guillermo del Torro and Daniel Kraus from Five Mile Press and was happy to dive right in. Let’s get stuck in before Doris falls asleep.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing. The townspeople don’t believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jnr knows that they’re a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe? TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan’s Labyrinth.

trollhunters

As well as being wildly excited to read this book based on the awesome cover, the eye-poppingly brilliant illustrations and a terribly engaging extract, on discovering that Daniel Kraus was a co-author, my anticipation levels went into overdrive. Kraus is the author of Rotters, one of the most compelling and unforgettable books I have ever read and so I was expecting big things from Trollhunters. I have to say that all up, while the story was interesting enough, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first chapter drew me straight in, finding out about how Jim Jr’s uncle went missing all those years ago, and I was gearing up for a fast-paced romp until…..we meet up with Jim Jr at school. With his fat best friend and handsome jock bullies.

I have reached a point in my reading life at which I am confident to say that I am thoroughly over the popular/sporty boy bully picking on the weedy and/or fat unpopular kids.

Seriously.

Over it.

Shouty Doris interjects

You can say that again! How many stereotypical handsome, sporty, popular bullies can we stomach before we start feeding authors to their own tedious creations? Honestly, get some new material! Fancy being creative enough to come up with trolls and troll hunters and a missing child conspiracy and then fobbing us off with a bullying plotline that’s been done ad nauseum!

Indeed. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the predictable, tedious chapter at the start of the book was setting up some interesting twist later on, but unfortunately it just led up to a quick, also fairly predictable incident after the climax.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yep. Even I could see that one coming from a mile off, and I lost my glasses six years ago.

One of the things I loved about the book was the incredible illustrations.   I really think more middle grade and YA books could benefit from the kind of sporadic, full page illustrations that appear in Trollhunters. Apart from the fact that they are gorgeous to look at, I love being immersed in a tale only to turn the page and be surprised by an eye-popping bit of artwork. It’s like a secret reward for being engaged in the story.

I also loved the two main troll characters in the story. I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but these two really lifted the humour and pace of the story whenever they appeared. The ending gives a fitting tribute to the role that they played in Jim’s journey and was both sentimental and all kinds of awesome. Tub, Jim’s only friend, provided great comic relief and while I was mildly irritated by the fact that there was a romantic plotline added when it really didn’t need to be, Claire was a spot of sunshine also. The twist in her narrative arc was actually quite satisfying and I didn’t see it coming, so that was definitely a plus.

On the other hand, Jack, the uncle who disappeared forty years earlier and reappears in an unexpected fashion had the uncanny ability to slow things down and generally be a bit annoying every time he turned up.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, you’d think that after forty years he’d get a bit of maturity about him. Surly little bugger.  For someone who didn’t say a lot, I certainly dreaded him opening his mouth.

After finishing the book I am overwhelmed with the sense that this COULD have been a brilliant, engaging, fast-paced read…..IF it had been pitched at a middle grade audience.

As a YA fantasy/urban fantasy with humour, this fell far short of other books I have read in the genre, such as Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez or Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron. It didn’t have either the mythical complexity or the humour that I was hoping for and I just wanted things to move a bit quicker. However, with a slightly younger protagonist and cutting out all of the bullying and girl-angst stuff that did nothing but add mediocrity, this could have really taken off. As it is, I feel that it misses the mark.

Shouty Doris interjects

More trolls, fewer kids, I say.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult, Sci-Fi Read-it-if Review: Master of Formalities…

1

image

As strange as it may sound, while today’s book is clearly a futuristic science fiction novel, I am certain it would also appeal to lovers of Jane Austen. With that bold and ufounded claim I would like to welcome you to today’s Read-it-if review. I received Master of Formalities by Scott Meyer from the publisher via Netgalley, after requesting it due to the promise of a sci-fi comedy of manners from an author who has employed puns in the titles of his past works. If that’s not an iron-clad formula for successful book-choosing, I don’t know what is. But let’s crack on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Even when finding oneself engaged in interstellar war, good form must be observed. Our story is set thousands of years after the Terran Exodus, where two powerful, planet-dominating families—the elegant House Jakabitus and the less refined Hahn Empire—have reached a critical point in their generations-long war. Master Hennik, the Hahn ruler’s only son, has been captured, and the disposition of his internment may represent a last and welcome chance for peace.

Enter Wollard, the impeccably distinguished and impossibly correct Master of Formalities for House Jakabitus. When he suggests that Master Hennik be taken in as a ward of the House, certain complications arise. Wollard believes utterly and devotedly in adhering to rules and good etiquette. But how does one inform the ruler of a planet that you are claiming his son as your own—and still create enough goodwill to deescalate an intergalactic war?

master of formalities

Read it if:

*you believe that an argument will always be won by the person who presents the precedent that is simultaneously the most relevant and the most obscure

*you believe that servants should always be stealthy and unseen when carrying out their lowly occupations…unless they make an embarrassing mistake, in which case their humiliation should be paraded around to the maximum number of viewers

* you suspect that the futuristic Hahn Home World could well have picked up the foundations of its culture – enacting the greatest inconvenience on the greatest number, whenever possible – from observing the modern-day customer service models employed by health insurance companies

*you support activities that foster the father-son bond

What a strange and amusing little offering I found this to be! I fear I am going through a minor aversion to science fiction at the moment, simply because engaging in new futuristicky worlds seems to be far too much effort. I must say though, that I thoroughly enjoyed this little romp for the strangely compatible senses of familiarity and originality that it provided.

I did find the first two or three chapters a little confusing as Meyer drops the reader in at the deep end of world-building, requiring that salient points about the world be deduced from general conversation. By the time we’re introduced to Master Rayzo’s first “Sports” meet though, I was swinging along with the strata of characters and revelling in the dry, understated approach of Meyer’s humour.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I honestly think that this book is going to have a much wider appeal than just to those who enjoy science fiction, because while the setting is a futuristic, interplanetary society, the subterfuge, social manipulation and general political skulduggery will be familiar to and enjoyed by lovers of any type of social comedy. While the blurb might give the impression that there are fairly solemn issues at play here, Meyer keeps the tone firmly tongue-in-cheek and I found it very easy to be drawn into the various awkward social conflicts of the various characters.

My favourite scenes were undoubtedly those featuring Rayzo and his “adopted” brother Hennik. I couldn’t help laughing aloud at Hennik’s valiant attempts to retain control over his predicament, as well as his impressive commitment to being a complete little turd at every opportunity, as dictated by his culture. The late inclusion of the ruler of a third planet – one that delights in finding himself in annoying and inconvenient situations for the opportunities these provide for self-betterment – added a wonderfully unexpected tonic to the superciliousness of the Hahn ruling family.

I feel I should also mention that another late highlight in the tale was the highly amusing and completely ridiculous walking chair that one of the rulers uses. It’s making me laugh again now just thinking about it.

I also enjoyed the ebb and flow of power in the novel, as those who appear to be on top take a metaphorical tumble, providing the impetus for some unexpected characters to rise to the top of the social food chain. I can’t say too much here without spoiling some of the twists, but Meyer has done a good job of fleshing out his characters so that you can never be certain that your alliances won’t change as more information comes to light.

Master of Formalities turned out to be an unexpectedly light and twisty foray back into science fiction for me and it has certainly given me a reminder to check whether I still have one of Meyer’s previous titles, Off to Be the Wizard, on my Kindle. I remember reading mixed reviews of it on its release, but having enjoyed Meyer’s writing style and sense of humour so much here, I will definitely give it a go….just as soon as I have an opportunity to hack away a bit more at Mount TBR.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 July Challenge…

4

image

Welcome to the Fiction in 50 challenge for July! Our prompt this month is…

public enemy button

To join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry related to the prompt in fewer than 51 words, then link your effort to the comments of this post.  For more detailed information on the challenge just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

So with all of the paper tiger public enemies being put up round our neck of the woods in recent months (and years), I thought I would go for a little bit of dystopian fiction.  Once again I’ve clocked in at 51 words, but I just couldn’t find a word I wanted to cull.  Suggestions, as always, are welcome.

My contribution is titled…

A Public Information Notice From Your Government

Citizens are reminded that members of the never-were class have been retroactively dehumanised to maintain government-imposed peace.

Although never-weres may have been your spouse, child, parent or friend, government thought-monitors have detected anti-government sentiments within their private thoughts.

Citizens are reminded that harbouring a never-was carries a penalty of retroactive dehumanisation.

***

I’m looking forward to seeing your efforts this month! If you’re sharing on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50.  For those who like to be prepared, next month’s prompt is…

calculated risk button

Until next time,

Bruce

An Fi50 Reminder and a Time Travel Murder Mystery…

4

imageIt’s almost time for everyone’s favourite micro-flash-fiction challenge once again – Fiction in 50!  July’s challenge will open on Monday and the prompt for this month is…

public enemy button

If you’d like to play along – and we sincerely hope you do – just create a piece of fiction comprising fewer than 51 words and pop back on Monday to add your link to the comments on my post.  For more detailed information and prompts for the next six months, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

Now on to the bookery!

image

Today I have an unexpected delight for you that involves murder, mystery, magic doors, time travel and pen pals. Not necessarily in that order. We received a copy of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.

Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.

lemoncholy

The Good

image

As far as time travel mysteries go, this is very well put together with a lovely blend of action between the present and the past. The tale starts off slowly (and innocently) enough, with two ladies becoming trans-temporal pen pals after each suddenly discovers the other’s house in their back garden. As  Annie and Elsbeth try and figure out why they are suddenly connected in this manner, more pressing issues come to light and the ladies are drawn into trying to stop a murder that may (or may not) already have happened.

As the story unfolds, the author deftly reveals subsequent layers of the connection between the two women and the events surrounding Annie’s current circumstances in the present. The characters of Christian (Annie’s long-time, stuttering friend), Edmond (befriended by Christian due to an inexplicable familiarity of face) and Nathaniel (old-fashioned romantic interest for Annie) all add to the depth of the story and kept me guessing about who was who and how they were all linked. Or not linked.

The villains, Culler and Danyer, are violent and unpredictable and cast a deliciously creepy shadow over proceedings that is necessary to dispel Annie’s unfailing belief that meddling in time will result in things turning out perfectly alright. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the ordinary issues of Annie’s life melded with the time-travelly, magical aspects of the tale and I think this book will have a wide audience that encompasses those who enjoy plain literary fiction as well as those who like an unreal twist to their novels.

The Sad

image

The only thing that mildly soured the experience of this book for me was the fact that I felt the pace slowed unnecessarily in some places, making the book feel a bit overly long. This is one of those books that, like the final film in The Lord of the Rings franchise, has an action-packed climax and then continues on for another half hour or so as all the loose ends are tied up. While the post-climax information is interesting and enlightening, and a satisfactory conclusion to the tale, it falls into the category that I like to call the “pre-empted bladder annoyance”. This may be familiar to you (or not), being the situation in which you think something (usually a film) is about to end and therefore you give your bladder permission to relax, knowing that within minutes you will be free to attend to its needs. When the film (or book, or play or whatever) then continues for longer than expected, you are forced to fidget uncomfortably while the author takes the time to neatly tie off the ends of the narrative.

Again, this certainly wasn’t a big enough complaint to sour the experience for me, but I do like a bit of warning where bladder pre-empting is concerned.

The Quirky

image

The thing that stands out for me about this book as opposed to other time-travel jaunts I’ve read is that it really does read like a family drama/comedy with time travel thrown in, rather than focusing on the mechanics of the time-travel and paradoxes and so forth. As a veteran reader of time-travel novels, this felt like a lovely, gentle yet exciting entry into the genre.

If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that doesn’t feature any unbelievable or magical elements, I would definitely recommend you give this book a try because it has all the best features of contemporary and women’s fiction (the friendships, the focus on relationships – both romantic and otherwise, the growth of the characters) as well as the added interest of the problems posed by finding a magic door at the back of your house and being unwittingly drawn into a century-old murder investigation.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the buoyant tone of this book and the way in which the author has intertwined time-travel with the general excitement and intrigue of a murder mystery. Annie and Elsbeth are both strong characters with a great sense of humour and wills of iron. The male characters run the gamut from shrinking violet to homicidal maniac and flesh out the narrative so that you can never quite be sure where each fits in (or will fit in in the future).

Give it a go, I reckon. If nothing else, you will find out the meaning of the word “lemoncholy” which you can then use in general conversation to annoy those who don’t know what it means, while simultaneously feeling superior in your ever-expanding vocabulary.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Fishbowl…

1

imageToday’s book is one that drew me with promises of weirdness and hilarity and therefore I had it pegged as a submission for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge before I even had my grubby paws on it.

Upon finishing it, I was slightly underwhelmed with the levels of both weirdness and hilarity, but I do admit to having ever higher standards in these areas for new books. It is a result of reviewing obsessively and chewing through more than one hundred books a year; after a while you feel like you’ve seen it all and it takes something pretty special to impress.

Hmm. I’ve just re-read that introduction and it might give the impression that this book isn’t up to much. Stay with me though – it’s worth it just for the explanation of inexplicable incidents of fish falling from the sky. And the ending. What a great ending!

I received a copy of Fishbowl by Bradley Somers from the publisher via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He’s longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.

There’s the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building’s super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time.

Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become. Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, “An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had.”

fishbowl

So I’m submitting this one to the Odyssey in the category of “odd character” given that the main character is a flying (plummeting) goldfish. On reading the blurb on this one, I got the impression that Ian (the fish) would be the narrator and for that reason alone, I wanted to read this book. It turns out that Ian, while having significant input into the story, is not actually the narrator and the story is told from the alternating perspectives of Ian, Katie (the downtrodden girlfriend), Connor (the villainous boyfriend), Faye (the unassuming homewrecker), Petunia Delilah (the pregnant homebirther), Jiminez (the building superintendent), Garth (the labourer with a hidden hobby), Herman (a time-travelling homeschooler) and Clare (an agoraphobic sex-line telephonist). I may have missed someone there, but those are the main ones I remember.

As one might expect, at the beginning of the tale, the characters mostly know each other from brief nods in the stairwell or lift (or in some cases, not even that) and by the end of the tale, also as one might expect, their lives have intersected in unexpected ways. As is often the way in multi-perspective tales, there were some characters that interested me far more than others. I quickly grew bored with the Katie/Connor/Faye debacle, following as it did the general scorned lover storyline. I experienced a sense of satisfaction with Garth’s narrative arc and the eventual happiness that he discovers after revealing his secret. Clare provided a good laugh in places, but for me the hero of the tale was Petunia Delilah and the live-action homebirth that we are treated to toward the end of the book.

I also enjoyed Ian’s interjections and the big reveal that finally explains those strange occurrences in which fish have been reported falling from the sky.  You thought it was tornadoes lifting the fish from lakes and depositing them over land in unexpected places, didn’t you? Please.  You’ll forgive me for mentioning how naïve you must be if you believe that “scientific” explanation. I won’t shatter your simple assumptions here though.  If you truly wish to see the light, you’ll have to read the book.

Given that I didn’t absolutely love all of the characters’ tales, my interest peaked and troughed. Overall though, I think this is an appealing story with enough humour to lighten things up, enough twists to keep the reader guessing (oh, that ending!), and enough diversity in the cast of characters to produce a hero for every reader. The tone is generally light and conversational and as such, I think this would be a great pick for a holiday read.

Provided, of course, you like your holidays to include a bit of weirdness and hilarity.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 12/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Non-fiction Reading Challenge: The Norm Chronicles (Stories and Numbers about Danger)…

3

Nonfiction 2015

The comfy couch is at the top of this post, so that means I have another submission for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader. I stumbled across today’s book in an online bargain book sale and couldn’t resist adding it to my cart. The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers about Danger by David Spiegelhalter and Michael Blastland is a foray into the myriad of risks and dangers that plague our everyday life. Have you ever wondered just how dangerous car travel is in comparison to air travel? Or whether having that extra sausage at breakfast will really increase your risk of cancer? Well this is the book for you! Rather than just present bland and confusing statistics, The Norm Chronicles delves into the consequences of risky behaviour and tries to balance the numbers against the personal stories.

Here’s the blurb from Profile Books:

Meet Norm. He’s 31, 5’9″, just over 13 stone, and works a 39 hour week. He likes a drink, doesn’t do enough exercise and occasionally treats himself to a bar of chocolate (milk). He’s a pretty average kind of guy. In fact, he is the average guy in this clever and unusual take on statistical risk, chance, and how these two factors affect our everyday choices. Watch as Norm (who, like all average specimens, feels himself to be uniquely special), and his friends careful Prudence and reckless Kelvin, turns to statistics to help him in life’s endless series of choices – should I fly or take the train? Have a baby? Another drink? Or another sausage? Do a charity skydive or get a lift on a motorbike? Because chance and risk aren’t just about numbers – it’s about what we believe, who we trust and how we feel about the world around us. From a world expert in risk and the bestselling author of The Tiger That Isn’t (and creator of BBC Radio 4’s More or Less), this is a commonsense (and wildly entertaining) guide to personal risk and decoding the statistics that represent it.

norm chronicles

If you are a reader of the internet, you will be aware that anything from eating food that you haven’t hunted/grown/cultivated yourself, to letting your child play alone in the backyard to expressing an opinion at a friendly barbeque could all be considered HIGHLY DANGEROUS. It seems that every time one turns around these days there’s another behavior that seemed perfectly commonplace before that now has some kind of risk attached to it. What The Norm Chronicles does brilliantly (and with plenty of humour) is demystify the numbers and rhetoric and cut through to the likelihood of various unpleasant events happening to you, while deconstructing the fear that can run rampant through a populace.

Each chapter deals with a particular event or category of risk using Norm (the average guy), Prudence (the anxious, overprotective mother) and Kelvin (the danger-loving, risk-dismissing, wild man) as examples. The great thing about the format of the book is that while the assertions are based on statistics and measurable data, the authors never discount the potency of our almost unavoidable tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios as they apply to our own lives. The “what-ifs” that cripple our rational minds – “What if I let my child walk alone for 500 metres to school and they’re hit by a car? Kidnapped? Blinded by a swooping magpie? Slip on a discarded cigarette and break both their legs??!” – are neatly placed beside the statistical likelihood of these things actually happening.

Strangely enough, this almost made the “what-ifs” worse for me because, as the authors note in one chapter, it is impossible to “beat the odds” – even if the odds are 1 in 20 million that something tragic could occur to you, there is still a chance that you could be the one!

(But how likely is that? Not very. Miniscule likelihood actually. But still, it has to happen to someone. It could be you. It could be ME!)

On the plus side, it turns out that as long as you are older than one year old, you’ve passed the riskiest time of life. That’s a relief, isn’t it?

Overall, I found this to be a fascinating and funny read and one that would be a great conversation starter for a book club. Not that I’ve ever been part of a book club outside the shelf. Far too much risk involved. This is the kind of book that works just as well for dipping in and out as it does as a read-from-cover-to-cover. If you’ve ever wondered about the actual risks associated with train travel, using drugs or having a baby (or indeed, any combination of those three and more!) then this book is essential reading.

I’d have to say that Norm turned out to be better than average in this instance. As a side note, if you’d like to try before you buy (or borrow from the library), the book also has a connected website that has a few interactive fascinating facts to whet your appetite. You can find it here.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 8/10

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop!

12

no-stings-attached-July-I’m feeling generous again so I thought I’d participate in the No Strings Attached giveaway hop, hosted by the lovely folk at Bookhounds and running from July 17th to the 22nd.  The beauty of this hop is that it offers you a chance to win by exerting very little effort – no follows, no retweets, no commenting required!  All you have to do is leave an email so I can contact you if you win.

I will offer one winner their choice of book from the Book Depository up to the value of $15 Australian dollars.  To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And don’t forget to hop along to the other participating blogs:

Powered by Linky Tools

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

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

The Maniacal Book Club Reviews….Lilliput!

3

manical book club buttonToday you, the Book Club and I will follow along with Gulliver on a little side-track from his famous Travels and muscle in on an adventure and daring escape with Lily, a feisty Lilliputian with a no-holds-barred attitude to getting away from her giant captor and making it safely to her diminutive home.  We gratefully received a digital copy of Lilliput by Sam Gayton from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput is an exhilarating adventure filled with cunning escape plans, evil clock makers, and very talkative parrots. Join Lily as she travels through 18th century London over rooftops, down chimneys, and into chocolate shops on a journey to find the one place in the world where she belongs…home.

lilliput

Now let’s turn it over to the Book Club!

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

When the world looks small, perhaps it is time to consider it from a new perspective. What Gulliver did, he did out of ignorance and wonder, never considering how his actions may affect young Lily. Can we really blame her for wanting to return to her home? We can learn a lot from Lily’s adventures but it is to Finn Safekeeping, Lily’s stalwart friend, that we must turn to find the real gentle hero of this tale. It is in him that we can claim the redemption of the big people. If we were all a little more like Finn Safekeeping, we might use our wasted minutes for the benefit of the little people in our world.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothless

No dragons in this book. There is a talking parrot but, who is pretty funny and says funny things in Spanish. There’s a scary clockmaker with a scary, nasty watch and it cuts up Finn’s arm. Finn was my favourite. He’s pretty brave. There’s a brave bird called Swift too. I would have carried Lily back to Lilliput but she didn’t ask. It would have been good to have a dragon in this book.

 

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaHome!

Not too big, not too small.

Just right for a feisty, angry girl,

Imprisoned by giants.

Nothing will stop her.

Not time. Not fear. Not pain.

Fly Swift, fly!

For home!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

Lilliput was an out-of-the-box, pleasant surprise for me to say the least. Not having a particularly in-depth prior knowledge of Jonathan Swift’s famous tale about Gulliver, or indeed any particular interest in finding out about the same, I requested Lilliput solely on the striking, atmospheric beauty of the cover art and the promise of a (slightly) familiar tale told from a new perspective. I found this book to be a deeply engaging and action-packed story about freedom, friendship and perseverance against all odds.

Lilliput is aimed at a middle-grade, or even slightly younger, audience but I think it will have a much wider appeal due to the strong, fairy-tale style of the narrative and the promise (for adult readers) of an adventure based on a familiar and much-loved story. The events of Lilliput occur after the events of Gulliver’s Travels and Gulliver has essentially kidnapped Lily and brought her back to London in an attempt to prove that his travels actually happened. The action moves apace throughout the book, beginning with Lily’s unsuccessful escape attempts from a birdcage in Gulliver’s study, to a dynamic and dangerous ending that requires the combined efforts of all of Lily’s new friends to pull off.

I appreciated the way that Gayton did not shy away from portraying the less attractive features of his characters. Gulliver is portrayed as a cruel kidnapper, Lily can be truculent, vituperous and hot-blooded, the clockmaker is violent and conniving and even a group of three little girls, to whom Lily falls victim, are by turns grubby, sly and unfeeling. Finn Safekeeping really is the hero of the story in my opinion and provided a foil for the baser aspects of humanity portrayed in the other characters. With Mr Ovinda and his jive-talking parrot providing the comic relief, this story really does have everything you could want in a neat little package.

The story has the feel of a traditional fairy-tale in some parts due to the realism with which Lily’s plight is portrayed. She is not simply a funny little fairy person in an uncomfortable new home – Gayton has deftly drawn out the real emotions behind Lily’s imprisonment and her desperation to return to her loved ones before time catches up with her. This aspect of the book would be a great conversation starter for young readers about perspectives and needs in our own world, particularly with regard to displaced peoples and indigenous populations.

The short chapters and eye-catching illustrations also add to the appeal of the book and overall I think this would be a wonderful choice for adult fans of Gulliver’s Travels to read with their offspring.

The Book Club gives this book:

image image image image

Four thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

An MG/YA Double Dip: Sinister Cloaks and Ghostly Gargoyles…

2

image

It’s been quite a while since our last double dip so I hope your condiment of choice isn’t on the turn, but even if it is, you’ll have to buck up, grab a cracker and plunge on in with me. Today I have a middle-grade spooky adventure and a YA ghostly trial for your dipping pleasure. I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley. Let’s take a dip!

First up, for the middle-graders (and the middle-grade-at-heart) we have Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there and they will ensnare your soul.” Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast home, but she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember. But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night.

Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity before all of the children vanish one by one. Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic that is bound to her own identity.

In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

serafina and the black cloakDip into it for…

…a fast-paced story that combines some familiar fantasy tropes with some satisfyingly original elements. The villainous and merciless owner of the cloak actually comes across as pretty terrifying and there is a twist in this tale that I certainly didn’t expect. Young readers who enjoy a bit of darkness in their adventure tales will find new and creepy delights in this one.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a fantasy/paranormal tale with a simple plot. There are quite a few competing mysteries here, from the question of who the cloaked child-stealer actually is, to why Serafina must not be seen by the owners of the big house. This makes for quite a hefty story, so if you’re looking for a light, fluffy romp, this might be too heavy.

Overall Dip Factor:

Two elements of this tale stood out for me as particularly original and engaging. The initial chapters, in which Serafina (and the reader) first stumble across the man in the Black Cloak are genuinely spine-tingling and the fate of the missing children is an immediate puzzle. Also, the twist at the end of the book, in which Serafina finds out some important information about her past, gave an original and unexpected boost to the resolution of the story. These elements lifted this one out of the common herd for me and should provide a bit of solace to world-weary readers of MG fantasy.

Now, for a marginally older audience, we have Girlgoyle by Better Hero Army. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Tiffany Noboru has just awaken from her death, only to be drafted into the Gargoyle Ghost Hunter Corps. Soon she is fighting jealous rivalries within her own ranks, struggling to unravel the mystery of her recent death, and trying to avoid being killed a second time by a maniacal ghost named Bones who is seeking the destruction of the gargoyle world.

In this full-length novel, appropriate for teens and young adults, a new twist on the role of gargoyles is imaginatively brought to life in spellbinding fashion. Woven in are twenty original works of art by Miimork, which breathe life into its ghostly pages.

girlgoyle

Dip into it for…

…Gargoyles! Obviously. This is a unique take on the “afterlife” fantasy sub-genre and while the world-building is a little confusing at times (due in part to Tiffany’s own confusion over her untimely death) it’s not something you see every day. The first half of the book focuses on Tiffany unravelling the mystery of where she is (and learning how to fly!) and there’s plenty of action in the second half of the book, during which Tiffany and her fellow gargoyles attempt to bring low a seriously unhappy ghost and his army.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for something pacey, with a recognisable fantasy world. Because the gargoyley afterlife is such a different concept, a fair bit of time is devoted to steeping the reader in its workings and this does result in a slow start to the story. The pace does pick up eventually, but the leisurely pace in the beginning may put some readers off.

Overall Dip Factor:

This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed the appearance of gargoyles in such a surprising and unexpected world, but I did feel a bit all at sea during the initial world-building phase. The artworks throughout the book really added to the reading experience, and I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Tiffany learning how to fly (and plummet!). I suspect this might appeal to a niche market of fantasy fans looking for a twist on the angel/demon dichotomy.

So there you have it. Wipe the corn-chip dust of your hands and add these little gems to your TBR!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A bit of Friday Horror: Bottled Abyss (Read-it-if…)

0

image

Welcome to another Read-it-if review, this time with a little horror on the side. I received today’s novel for grown-ups through the LibraryThing member giveaways and although it’s taken me a little time to get to it, it was worth the wait. Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Etheridge is an atmospheric and twisted tale featuring some Greek mythology, common-or-garden grief and loss and a spattering smattering of violent retribution.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Herman and Janet Erikson are going through a crisis of grief and suffering after losing their daughter in a hit and run. They’ve given up on each other, they’ve given up on themselves. When their dog goes missing, Herman resolves to find the animal, unaware he’s hiking to the border between the Living World and the Dead. Long ago the gods died and the River Styxx dried up, but a bottle containing its waters still remains in the badlands. What Herman discovers about the dark power contained in those waters will change his life forever.

bottled abyss

Read it if:

*you enjoy boating or have ever harboured a desire to be a Venetian gondolier

*you would happily add any strange looking, rare coin to your extensive collection, citing the fact that you obtained it through less-than-honourable means as a value-adding feature

*you can quite easily think of a handful of people you would tag without a second thought to suffer an unexpected and spectacular punishment

*you can’t help but indulge in a little schadenfreude now and then, particularly when it pertains to someone for whom a comeuppance has been wanting

If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, particularly stories featuring Charon and the Furies, then this book will seriously float your boat. Sorry, had to get that pun in. Bottled Abyss is a contemporary urban fantasy/horror tale that features elements of these myths in an original and genuinely creepy way. The opening scene, in which Herman bumps into an evasive (yet supremely helpful) Charon, drew me straight in and I found Etheridge’s writing style to be pretty engaging throughout, despite the fact that towards the middle there is a good deal more violence and unsavoury goings-on than I’m used to in my reading.

The blend of reality, myth and fantasy will certainly appeal to a lot of readers who enjoy the feel of urban fantasy with an edge. I quite enjoyed the character development of a number of the main players – particularly Janet, who certainly makes a change from the grief-stricken drunkard that she appears to be at the beginning of the book – as events become stranger and the worlds of the living and the dead start to blend together. There are a number of characters that readers will no doubt love to hate also – my unfavourite being the odious childcare teacher who isn’t what she appears, closely followed by the thuggish and brutal Vincent. I found it satisfying that many of the characters are linked in ways that aren’t immediately apparent, even to the characters themselves. I felt this was the mark of some clever narrative planning and added to the reading experience overall.

While tending toward more violence and visceral suffering than I generally like to see in books, Bottled Abyss certainly delivers on both the fantasy and horror elements of the tale. I found myself still thinking about the story a few days after finishing, so obviously this is more than just a blood-splatting, clichéd yarn, so if you are stout of heart (and stomach) and enjoy a bit of mythology and horror in a contemporary setting, I’d definitely suggest trying this one out.

Until next time,

Bruce