Adult Fiction Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day…

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Today’s book is an original ghostly tale that delves into the question, “if your afterlife was spent stuck on Earth, how would you spend it?”  The characters in this story answer that question in a range of ways that you might not expect.  We received a copy of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it for the Colour-Coded Reading Challenge 2017 and the PopSugar Reading Challenge, under the category of a book from a non-human perspective.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Considering that, at its heart, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, there is a significant amount of philosophising about the nature of life and the meaning of atonement in this book.

This is not a bad thing.

In fact, it gives what could have been a basic urban fantasy (or urban paranormal, possibly) story a deeper element on which to ponder.

I found Jenna to be an immediately likable narrator.  Having accidentally met her own death while grieving after the suicide of her older sister, Jenna spends her afterlife working on a volunteer suicide prevention hotline in order to avoid other families having to experience the death of a loved one by their own hand.  In doing so, Jenna is “earning” her way towards her final death – the day on which she was intended to die, had she not run out into a lightning storm and been prematurely frazzled.

The early parts of the book are heavy with world-building, because the author has set up specific rules regarding the type of person who can become a ghost, what ghosts can affect in the living world and why some ghosts have been around longer than others.  In fact, the bulk of the story involves Jenna finding out more about the laws that govern her afterlife, as ghosts start disappearing and her semi-comfortable existence begins to crumble.  For those who like a fantasy twist in their paranormal, McGuire’s world also includes witches (who can be male or female), whose powers link them to a particular object, be it organic or built, and shape how that power might be wielded.

The characters are the strong suit of this particular story, with Jenna ably accompanied by Delia, an elderly ghost who provides cheap housing for both living and dead tenants, Sophie, a homeless young woman with an affinity for rodents, and Brenda, a corn witch who has made Manhattan her home.  This is definitely as much a story of relationships and social connections as it is a ghost story.

After all the build up and time spent developing the afterlife concept at the beginning of the book, the resolution came along quite quickly and was all tied up in record time, which surprised me a little.  Having said that, I was quite satisfied with the pace of the final chapters because there is nothing worse than having a book drag out the denouement when there is no need to do so.  There is plenty of action and some unexpected reveals regarding who is behind the ghostly disappearances that I certainly didn’t see coming and by the end of the book, Jenna comes to terms with her misplaced guilt regarding her role in her sister’s death.

While I didn’t find this to be an absolutely stellar read, it was certainly original and had a tone that will appeal to those who enjoy books about female and family relationships, as much as those who enjoy paranormal and fantasy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

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February Book of Choice Giveaway Hop!

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I’m more than a little excited to be participating in a new (to me) giveaway hop – the Book of Choice Giveaway Hop hosted by Lonna at FLYLeF.  This is a monthly giveaway hop that also offers a prize for participating blogs, so get on over there if you are a blogger and link up for upcoming month’s hops.  The February hop runs from February 1st to 15th.

I will be providing one winner with their choice of book from the Book Depository up to the value of $15AUD.

My giveaway is open internationally provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  Other Ts&Cs are in the Rafflecopter.

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t forget to visit the other participating blogs!  Click on the link below to see all the participants:

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 January 2017 Challenge

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Welcome to our first Fiction in 50 micro-narrative writing challenge for 2017!  If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words inspired by our monthly prompt, then link your effort to the comments of this post.  For more information, click on the image at the top of the post!

Our prompt for this month is…

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…and I have titled my contribution:

New-Age Man

All around Kenneth, revellers kissed and threw streamers. 

1992.

The world had changed and Kenneth knew that he must change too lest this exciting new world pass him by.

Resolutely, he decided on his first act as a new, more forward-thinking man: the purchase of an up-to-date globe.


 

With two words to spare!  I can’t wait to see what everyone else has come up with.  Don’t forget to share this challenge around if you know anyone who might want to have a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Fi50 Reminder and Gabbing about Graphic Novels…

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It’s nearly time for our first Fiction in 50 challenge for the year!  Fi50 for 2017 will kick off on Monday and out post for January is …

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To participate, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it and add your link to the comments of Monday’s Fi50 post.  For more information and future prompts, click here.


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It’s time to get gabbing about graphic novel goodness and today I have two options for you, each weirder than the last.  First up, there’s Chickenhare by Chris Grine.  I’m submitting this one for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 and for the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge under category two: a book with the name of a bird in the title.  You can check out my progress in all of my challenges for this year here.  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chickenhare: half chicken, half rabbit, 100% hero!

What’s a chickenhare? A cross between a chicken and a rabbit, of course. And that makes Chickenhare the rarest animal around! So when he and his turtle friend Abe are captured and sold to the evil taxidermist Klaus, they’ve got to find a way to escape before Klaus turns them into stuffed animals. With the help of two other strange creatures, Banjo and Meg, they might even get away. But with Klaus and his thugs hot on their trail, the adventure is only just beginning for this unlikely quartet of friends.

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I’ve had this one on my TBR shelf for about four months or so after I impulse bought it because it sounded wacky.  Wacky it certainly is, and I didn’t quite expect how dark it would get in some places.  I’d have to say that while middle graders could certainly read and enjoy this, it’s probably more suited to slightly older readers who aren’t easily shocked (or grossed out).

So Chickenhare and Abe are sold to a taxidermist and in order to affect an escape, they must team up with a mad monkey (or is he?) and a strange girl creature with horns.  All is not so simple as it seems however, because Klaus, the taxidermist, has vowed never to let any of his “pets” escape since he lost his most beloved animal, a goat called Mr Buttons.  Whacking and falling out of windows ensues (on the part of the enemy) and while our heroic quartet manage to escape, it is out of the frying pan and into the fire as the team tries to navigate pitch dark tunnels that are plagued with Shromph, little trollish creatures with big pointy teeth.

And this is where the goat corpse comes in.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but just be warned that the half decomposed corpse of Mr Buttons plays a major role in the denouement of this adventure.  I will readily admit that it is easily the best characterisation of a deceased goat that I have yet seen in children’s literature.

The story ends on a mild cliffhanger and while there were certainly parts of  this that had me going “Eeergh”, “Blaaagh” and “Oooh, that’s not cricket!” respectively, I do actually want to know what happens to our four friends because there is a bit of a suggestion that at least two of them may not be exactly what they seem.

Again, even though the art style is quite colourful and cartoonish, the content and tone of the book is probably best suited to the YA aged reader and above.

Next up I have the first volume of stories from the popular Adventure Time TV series, Adventure Time, Volume 1 by Ryan North, Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s ADVENTURE TIME! Join Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, and Princess Bubblegum for all-new adventures through The Land of Ooo.

The totally algebraic adventures of Finn and Jake have come to the comic book page! The Lich, a super-lame, SUPER-SCARY skeleton dude, has returned to the the Land of Ooo, and he’s bent on total destruction! Luckily, Finn and Jake are on the case…but can they succeed against their most destructive foe yet? Featuring fan-favorite characters Marceline the Vampire Queen, Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess and the Ice King!

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I picked this up from the library on a whim in the hope that it would allow me to find out the basic gist of the TV show without having to actually watch it.  Being a trendy sort of a gargoyle, I like to try and keep up with what the young folk are watching, if I can manage it.  While I do feel that having read this has given me a basic grasp of who’s who and what’s what, I can’t say for certain that I actually enjoyed the read.

Essentially, in this volume, a big, nasty skeleton warrior called the Lich turns up with a nefarious sack which has the power to suck all matter into its depths.  Unsurprisingly enough, Jake, Finn and all the inhabitants of the Land of Ooo (and then some), get sucked into the bag and end up in a desert landscape, from which there is no escape, let alone any sandwiches not actually made of sand.

As more of Finn’s friends (and enemies) get sucked into the Lich’s sack, it becomes apparent that they will all have to work together to save Ooo and the planet.  And that is exactly what they do.  Having not seen the show before, this graphic novel does give a good overview of who the important characters are and what their general roles and characteristics and catchphrases happen to be in the series.  There were a number of pretty funny scenes and bits of dialogue throughout, but I found a lot of the “catchphrase” type bits rather tedious.  I don’t think they translated as well to paper as they might in the actual TV series.

While I feel that I now do have a bit of an idea what the show is about, I would still like to know more…but I think I’ll just have to bite the bullet and actually watch the damn thing and save myself the bother of having to read pages and pages of high fives and such.

Don’t forget to join in with Fi50 on Monday!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Mad or Bad: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain…

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It’s time to classy things up a bit round the shelf with some nonfiction.  I requested Mad or Bad: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain by David J. Vaughan for review due to the fact that last year I read two books on a similar theme: The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann and The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, both of which have a bit of crossover content with Mad or Bad.  Before I get into dissecting the book, I should say that we received a copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In a violent 19th century, desperate attempts by the alienists – a new wave of ‘mad-doctor’ – brought the insanity plea into Victorian courts. Defining psychological conditions in an attempt at acquittal, they faced ridicule, obstruction – even professional ruin – as they strived for acceptance and struggled for change. It left ‘mad people’ hanged for offences they could not remember, and ‘bad’ people freed on unscrupulous pleas.
Written in accessible language, this book – unlike any before it – retells twenty-five cases, from the renowned to obscure, including an attempt to murder a bemused Queen Victoria; the poisoner Dove and the much-feared magician; the king’s former wet-nurse who slaughtered six children; the worst serial killer in Britain…and more.

Having read the two aforementioned tomes about crime in Victorian Britain, and having digested the above blurb thoroughly enough, I expected that Mad or Bad would be a similarly accessible foray into the vagaries of the insanity plea in capital crimes, with case studies that illuminate the atmosphere of the time and give an insight into the human elements of each case.

Mad or Bad is a lot drier than that.

Although the case studies aim for an accessible tone, the complexities of the laws surrounding the insanity plea and the brevity of description of each case meant that by the end of the book I just felt confused and ready to put the whole topic to bed.  It seemed to me that in trying to highlight the seemingly random nature and chaotic legal background of the insanity plea, the author has been drawn into the chaos, resulting in a collection of case studies that seem disconnected and lacking in context.

Having said that, there are some extremely interesting points raised about the use of the insanity plea, particularly with regards to women committing crimes.  I was hoping for a more narrative tone to the case studies, rather than dry information, but regardless, there are certainly some studies that boggle the mind in terms of evidence that was acceptable at the time and evidence that was overlooked or counted as irrelevant to the proceedings.

The biggest problem I had with this book was in its organisation and format.  Bear in mind that I was reading an uncorrected proof and certain of my criticisms may have been ironed out before publication, or in subsequent editions, but I would have preferred to have seen the case studies grouped under relevant headings rather than placed one after the other.  As a couple of the case studies reference previous (or subsequent) studies mentioned, it would have been helpful to have a mental framework, in the form of similar studies collected together, on which to hang (pun unintended) the information.  I suspect I would have got more out of this book had I been able to, at a glance, look over and compare all the cases in which the prisoners received a reprieve for instance.

As ever, pictures would also have been helpful!

On the whole, if you are looking for a book about crime in Victorian Britain, I would probably plump for either the Stratmann or Summerscale tomes that I mentioned at the beginning of this post before going to this one, but if you are specifically looking for some background to the treatment of the “insane”, you should find what you’re looking for here, even if it takes a little while to find it.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 and you can see my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Lucky Dip: New Year, New Hobby 2017 Edition

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I haven’t run a Lucky Dip post since 2015 apparently, so it’s high time I got back into it.  In case you are unaware, in my Lucky Dip posts I pop a search term into the Book Depository’s mighty search engine and bring you the most chuckle-worthy results.  I last ran the New Year, New Hobby lucky dip in 2015 (was it really that long ago?!) and have decided to repeat the performance today.  Sit back and peruse these ideas for potential new ways to spend your time in 2017.

For the person who remains traumatised by 2016 and has begun the year with a grim outlook:

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Do-It-Yourself Coffins For Pets and People: A Schiffer Book for Woodworkers Who Want to Be Buried in Their Work by Dale Power

For the person who remains traumatised by 2016 and has decided to take matters into their own hands:

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DIY Drones for the Evil Genius by Ian Cinnamon

For the person traumatised by 2016 who would rather forget the whole thing and masquerade as an animal:

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Animal Hats: 15 Patterns to Knit and Show Off by Vanessa Mooncie

For the person traumatised by 2016 who would rather forget the whole thing and BECOME an animal:

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How to Transform Yourself into Any Animal: A DIY Guide to Surgical Procedures by Orca Man

For the person excited about new beginnings, and too much time (and too many hamsters) on their hands:

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Homemade for Hamsters: Over 20 Fun Projects Anyone Can Make, Including Tunnels, Towers, Dens, Swings, Ladders and More by Carin Oliver

Or indeed, too many cats:

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Cat Castles: 20 Cardboard Habitats You Can Build Yourself by Carin Oliver

And finally, one for the booklovers…a sensible one, I promise:

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Bookcases: From Salvage to Storage (14 DIY Designer Projects) by Aurelie Drouet

I hope you’ve found something in this lot to inspire the creative juices for the coming year.  Do tell me how you plan to spend your down time and whether you plan to write an amusingly-titled book about it, won’t you?

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Beastly Bones…

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Welcome to our first murderous Monday for the year!  I have taken the liberty of choosing a murder mystery out of left field for today because it also allows me to knock another book off my Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 and my Colour-coded Reading Challenge, both of which are hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block.  Beastly Bones is the second book in the Jackaby series by William Ritter, a historical mystery series with a paranormal twist. You can see our review of the first book here – I’m surprised that it’s actually been two and a quarter years between drinks for me and this series!  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I’ve found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I’ve known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality . . .

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.

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Plot Summary:

Abigail and Jackaby are called in to consult when a lady’s cats seem to be morphing into another species entirely. When said lady is found dead within days of the visit, the pair are drawn into a mystery that may have explosive consequences.

The Usual Suspects:

Not being your typical murder mystery, there is really only one suspect in the murders here and that suspect can be described as having at least two long, piercing fangs.  Or a particularly deadly set of cocktail forks.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is what annoyed me most about this book.  The hunt for the murderer/s, and indeed the murders themselves, took a backseat to the matter of the “beastly bones”, an archaeological dig that quickly turns mythological.  By the end of the book we are none the wiser as to who the murderer is, and the murders of this book look like they will end up being solved in the next book in the series.

Overall Rating:

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Two poison bottles for the fleeting sensation of discovery before it evaporates in the face of distraction from shiny things

I was disappointed with this book.  It lacked the charm and novelty of the first book in the series, and, most dispiriting of all, the most interesting parts of the book – the inexplicable murder and Jenny the ghost’s complete freakout – are completely ignored in favour of mythical beast hunting.  I found the middle section of the book, which dealt with the discovery of gigantic, mystery fossils to be interminably boring and it seemed particularly odd that the author spent so much time developing the characters and backstory of the two archaeologists in the story at the expense of developing suspense or highlighting the murders connected with the archaeological dig.

The final few chapters do bring things back into line and the protagonists finally see their way to making strides on the murders and who might be behind them.  This was the best part of the book for me because even though it was only a chapter or two, the suspense was suddenly back.  While this offering was a big thumbs down generally from me, I am excited to see what happens in the third book because there are hints that Jackaby and Rook will be back on the trail of deadly, secretive murderers, or at least finding out more about Jenny the ghost, rather than gadding about in the dirt with bones.

The third book in the series, Ghostly Echoes, is already out.

To make up for bringing you a book I’m not overly enthusiastic about this month, next month I will have TWO murderous Mondays for you.

You can check out my progress toward my various reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce