The Round-Up to (Figuratively) End All Round -Ups!

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And so I’m back!  The laptop remains unfixed, but will hold out until after Christmas at least so I can round out the year with new content.  To kick us off, I will now bombard you with all the books that I was supposed to review in the last week – eight in all!  I’ve got fantasy, sci-fi, non-fiction self-help, YA, schlock horror, a graphic novel and some literary fiction, so if you can’t find something to tickle your fancy in this post, you probably actually don’t like reading all that much.  I received all of the following books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s get into it while we’re still young.

Broken Prophecy (K. J. Taylor)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  broken prophecy

Despite appearances to the contrary, Ambit is determined not to be the Chosen One.  Things quickly go pear-shaped however as Ambit is burdened with annoying companions and bizarre coincidences that push him toward greatness against his wishes.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

If you enjoy a bit of fantasy and don’t take yourself (or your fantasy tropes) too seriously, then you should find lots to enjoy in Ambit’s adventure.  Ambit is the quintessential anti-hero who, against his will, appears to be the Chosen One who will fulfil the prophecy and save humanity from the demon menace.  As Ambit’s best friend happens to be a demon, it is unlikely that motivation to act as the Chosen One is going to arise in him anytime soon.  Ambit is irreverent, dismissive of authority and generally perfectly happy to do his own thing and let destiny take care of itself.  Unfortunately, in his quest to not be the Chosen One, he becomes burdened with a bunch of companions with a diverse  range of irritating characteristics and for a while there it looks like destiny will have her way with Ambit regardless.  The only problem I had with the book was that in between the main action sequences, it felt like the author got a bit bored with the story and just wanted to hurry things along with some bland padding.  At one point, Ambit begins to remark on how, despite what he does, his goals start to be met and the right people pop up out of the woodwork, and although this is part of the spoof factor of the story, it doesn’t really make for interesting reading.   Overall, however, I found this story to be fun, full of comic situations and generally a solid choice for those who enjoy a bit of spoof of the fantasy genre.

Brand it with:

Marked by fate, band of companions, demons v humans

The Midnight Gardener: The Town of Superstition #1 (R. G. Thomas)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the midnight gardener

Thaddeus moves to a new town and is entranced by a whistling gardener next door who only seems to work at night. After a chance meeting, it seems that the gardener may hold the answer to the disappearance of his mother years ago.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

Garden gnomes. That’s why.  Yes, along with dragons, were-beasts and faeries, this book features garden gnomes, a group of fantastical beings that is woefully underused in my opinion, especially in YA.  This book has a nice blend of urban and traditional fantasy with the added bonus of a relatable main character and romance that isn’t overdone.  The people who populate the town of Superstition are all just a bit too good to be true and of course many of them turn out to be embroiled in the secrets surrounding the disappearance of Thaddeus’s mother and the reasons Thaddeus and his father have spent so many years moving from place to place.  It’s also refreshing to see a YA book featuring a father that isn’t a deadbeat, absent and antagonistic or generally incompetent in some way.  This is a strong YA offering alternating between mystery and heart-pounding action, that will appeal to readers looking for a book that features a mythical creature we don’t often get to see and a slow-burn adventure that really takes off toward the end.

Brand it with:

LGBQT heroes, Not-your-nanna’s-garden-gnomes, appropriately-named-small-towns

** I am submitting this book for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of Odd Subject Matter – garden gnomes being ones I have never before encountered in YA fiction**

The Tea Machine (Gill McKnight)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the tea machine

Plunged into a violent battle against giant space squid, Sangfroid witnesses the deaths of her fellow soldiers.  Waking up after being rescued from a similar fate, she discovers that time is not what it seems and there may be a way to right the wrongs of her past, with the help of a time-travelling, inventoress named Millicent.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This story will greatly appeal to those who love being thrown in the deep end of an original, fantasy or sci-fi world.  I only received a few sample chapters of the full novel (which explained why the whole thing was so short!!) but right from the first page, the reader is plunged into gory, squiddy warfare in which only the toughest (quite literally) will survive.  I found the learning curve of the first few chapters pretty steep and just as things started to make a bit of sense, the sample chapters came to an end, which was disappointing to say the least.  This certainly looks like the promising beginning of a series that will be snapped up by those who love crazy, unexpected adventures laced with time-wimey stuff and strange, speculative worlds.

Brand it with:

Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-beardie-weirdie stuff, squid soldiers, when in (speculative future) Rome…

F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice For Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems (Michael I. Bennett & Sarah Bennett)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fuck feelings

A solid, well-categorised self-help guide to getting a grip on the problems that are stopping you from being at peace with your life (crap as it may be).  Essentially, this is the slightly, more in-depth version of Bob Newhart’s “Stop It” sketch.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is one self-help book that actually does what it says on the tin.  Without resorting to technobabble or therapy-speak, the authors set out in an easy-to-follow format their theory for getting over “issues” and accepting life as it is.  Each issue – be it alcoholism (your own or others’), disconnection from family, social awkwardness or something else – is given its own little section, with dot points laying out why this is an issue in your life (or someone else’s) and what you can do (and think) to stop it leeching the living out of you.  There’s even a little script for each issue that you can say to yourself (or some other relevant person in your life) to reinforce the thinking that should help you accept that sometimes life will be sh*tty and there’s not a great deal we can do about it.  I wouldn’t recommend reading it cover-to-cover (unless you’ve got some serious problems!!) but it would be a handy tome to keep on the shelf to dip into and reference when life throws unexpected (or inevitable) sh*tstorms your way.

Brand it with:

Life sucks and then you die, Dr Phil on steroids, help is on the way (maybe. Probably not though)…

Demon Road (Derek Landy)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  demon road

Amber is an uber-ordinary girl with distant but adequate parents. Until she turns into a demon and her parents try to eat her heart. Then sh*t gets real.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a right little cracker of a read that will satisfy existing Landy fans and bring on board Landy newcomers.  I have only read the first of the massively successful Skulduggery Pleasant series (and that was years ago) but I immediately recognised Landy’s action-infused and subtly humorous style.  Readers looking for a fun, fast, bloodthirsty (in parts), fantasy road-trip adventure will lap this up and rightly so – it has all the elements of a fantastic, engaging read.  My only problem with the story was Glen – the most anti-stereotypical and annoying Irishman ever penned – and I would have been quite happy if he’d been eaten by some sort of mythical creature early in the piece.  The banter between he and Amber was just irritating to me and so I was quite happy when….spoilers, sorry.  I got sucked right into this from the early pages – which feature some quite shocking violence and stomach-churning, angry-making verbal and physical violence toward women (and specifically woman…Amber).  This is part of the story and not gratuitous, but it still got my adrenaline pumping for a rumble and therefore I was also majorly happy when …spoilers again.  This is definitely for the upper YA/adult market due to strong violence, language and a few sexual references.  Highly recommended for some demonical fun.

Brand it with:

You think your parents are tough?, Great American Road Trip, an Irishman walks into a bar

Monsterland (Michael Phillip Cash)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monsterland

When Wyatt practices a good deed, he inadvertently receives an invite to the grand opening of the worldwide phenomenon, Monsterland – a theme park, the brainchild of inventor Vincent Conrad and touted as the new, humane solution to the worlds’ vampire, werewolf and zombie problems.  Vincent Conrad is Wyatt’s idol – but will seeing the park close up change Wyatt’s mind?

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a wonderfully fun, schlock horror, gore-fest that can best be described as Jurassic Park with zombies, werewolves and vampires instead of dinosaurs.  Vincent Conrad plans to open multiple parks simultaneously across the globe, housing zombies (victims of a plague infection), werewolves and vampires, in an act of humane containment and providing the opportunity for research and cure of the poor unfortunates’ conditions.  All of the worlds’ rulers, presidents and government officials have been invited to said openings.  What could possibly go wrong?!  Plenty, as I’m sure you can imagine.  If you are expecting some kind of original twist on the “monsters breaking out of confinement and reigning merry hell on their captors and innocent bystanders” theme you’ll be disappointed.  If however, you are looking forward to the “monsters breaking out of confinement and reigning merry hell on their captors and innocent bystanders” theme playing out in a graphic and action-packed fashion, then this will be right up your street.  I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it is: good old-fashioned escapism at its pacey, predictable, “it’s behind you!!!” best.

Brand it with:

It’s behind you!!, I heart monsters, stragglers eaten first

Camp Midnight (Steven T. Seagle & Jason Katzenstein)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  camp midnight

Skye is sent to summer camp and is determined to have a bad time just to spite her father and stepmother – but she ends up on the wrong bus and bad times are about to catch up to her.  Finding herself in a camp full of (literal) monsters means that Skye is going to have to be extra crafty to outwit, outplay and outlast her fellow campers if she doesn’t want them to discover a human hiding in plain sight.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a fun and fast-paced story about friendship, family and getting your fright on.  Skye is a typical early teen with a surly stepmother who will do anything to get Skye out of the way on her annual stay at her father’s house.  Although ending up on a camp full of monsters wasn’t part of the plan, Skye discovers that the term “monster” is subjective and those that look like monsters may be harbouring some very down-to-earth wisdom behind a frightening exterior.  This is a pretty typical story arc, with Skye learning some lessons about herself by the end, but the narrative is presented with plenty of humour and middle-grade graphic novel fans should really enjoy it.  It is also a reasonably long read for a graphic novel, which is satisfying for those of us who always find this format too short.

Brand it with:

Stepmonsters, unhappy campers, born to be wild

The Children’s Home (Charles Lambert)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the childrens home

Morgan, a recluse with a facial disfigurement, resides in his family estate far from civilisation with only his housekeeper Engel for company.  When children begin appearing at the estate one by one, it is the catalyst for Morgan’s re-entry into the world and his discovery that wilful ignorance is no guarantee that the truth will not find you in the end.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is literary fiction that is thoroughly accessible to the non-literary fan.  While there are clearly elements to the story that are allegorical, symbolic of some greater issue or providing subtle commentary on humanity’s obsession with power and suffering, the tale can also be read as just a slightly off-kilter, mildly creepy examination of one man’s journey to self-acceptance.  Morgan, Doctor Crane and Engel are all very likeable characters and this really helped me to stay engaged with the story when things started to get weird.  One of the things that annoys me most about literary fiction is its tendency to be unnecessarily hefty, with pages and pages going by in which nothing happens but elliptical conversation or self-indulgent musing.  Thankfully, in The Children’s Home, time is not wasted on edit-worthy navel-gazing and there always seems to be something new happening – a new child coming into the home, an unexpected discovery in one of the rooms, some information about the characters’ back stories – to gently nudge the plot forward.  I think, for the right reader, this could definitely be a highly moving piece, with its themes of loss, disconnection, abuse, responsibility and personal morality in the face of injustice, but for me it ended up being just a deeply engaging story about some very interesting characters, some extremely unusual medical models and one supremely annoying young man (who comes good in the end).

Brand it with:

Unexpected parental responsibilities, personal growth, unusual gardening methods


Do your eyeballs feel like sandpaper after all that reading?  One of the advantages of being made of stone is that I can read for hours with little to no eyeball drying.  I hope you’ve found something within this herd to make you perk up a little.

I look forward to presenting you with a very exciting offering on Christmas Day!

And for those that are interested in participating, Fiction in 50 will be kicking off on Monday the 28th of December, with the prompt:

venturing forth buttonUntil next time,

Bruce

 

 

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5 thoughts on “The Round-Up to (Figuratively) End All Round -Ups!

  1. Pingback: A YA, Road-Trippin’ Double Dip of Lies and Desolation… | The Bookshelf Gargoyle

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