DNF with Massive Potential: Give Me the Child…

2

did not finish button

Although today’s book was a DNF for me, I would still heartily recommend it to you if you enjoy psychological thrillers featuring creepy children.  We received Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath from Harlequin Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

An unexpected visitor.

Dr Cat Lupo aches for another child, despite the psychosis which marked her first pregnancy. So when Ruby Winter, a small girl in need of help, arrives in the middle of the night, it seems like fate.

A devastating secret.

But as the events behind Ruby’s arrival emerge – her mother’s death, her connection to Cat – Cat questions whether her decision to help Ruby has put her own daughter at risk.

Do we get the children we deserve?

Cat’s research tells her there’s no such thing as evil. Her history tells her she’s paranoid. But her instincts tell her different. And as the police fight to control a sudden spate of riots raging across the capital, Cat faces a race against time of her own…

give me the child

Even though I DNFed this at 81 pages (chapter nine), it is not for the reasons you expect.  In fact, for the 81 pages I read, I was engaged, creeped out and thoroughly looking forward to the storm of batsh*t crazy that was no doubt going to explode in the second half of the book.  The reason I put this book down is purely because I could no longer bear to read about one of the characters – Cat’s “King of the Manchildren” husband, Tom.

But back to the good bits.  The book is a psychological thriller based upon the question of what would one do if a long-lost child turned up on the doorstep needing sanctuary…but said child was also significantly emotionally damaged.  This is the situation in which Cat finds herself, when the product of Tom’s affair (undertaken when his wife was in the HOSPITAL, PREGNANT and suffering from PRE-NATAL PSYCHOSIS!!) is unexpectedly thrust into the bosom of their family after the death of the child’s mother.  From the get-go, Cat is uneasy about the arrangement (perfectly understandably, one would think) and as she goes about tying up the loose ends of the child’s life, discovers some events which give her pause…not least because Cat is a doctor who deals with children displaying characteristics of psychopathy.

The story begins to unfold as you would expect.  There are incidences that send a shiver up your spine.  Cat tries to be welcoming to Ruby (the child) but is conflicted by her resentment of her manchild husband whose manchild actions have caused such disruption to the family.  Tom begins to show more loyalty to Ruby than Cat.  The suspense is taut, the potential for exciting and thoroughly spine-tingling disaster is ready for tapping….

…but then I just snapped.  When Tom – philanderer, crap husband and emotionally immature asshat – tells Cat that she’s being paranoid (a direct attack designed to shame her for having a completely unavoidable episode of mental illness in pregnancy) and that he won’t get his new child (who has obviously experienced trauma and neglect) therapy in order to ease the transition into her new family, I could not stomach reading one more second of book that had Tom in it.  In fact, I was wishing fervently that Tom could somehow be whooshed out of this book and into the Game of Thrones series, there to be eviscerated by whatever would be the most painful means.

Perhaps my irritability trigger is heightened at the moment.

But I just couldn’t bear to share the story with Tom any more.

However, I would love to know how it ends.  If you do happen to read it – and I really hope you do because it has all the hallmarks of a spectacular psychological thriller – please let me know how it ends.

And if Tom somehow manages to get off scot-free, feel free to make up some horrible fate for him.  I’ll believe you.

Until next time,

Bruce

Advertisements

Corpselight: Paranormal Creatures and Pregnancy on the Streets of Brisvegas…

4

corpselight

If you are as much a fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series of paranormal police procedural novels as we are, you really should prick up your pointy, furry ears for the book we have for you today.  We received Corpselight, being the second book in Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder paranormal detective series, from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use – it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing – but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

Corpselight is the sequel to Vigil and the second book in the Verity Fassbinder series by award-winning author Angela Slatter.

It must be noted that Brisbane, my ancestral home and current shelfing ground, is not commonly the setting for books featuring fantasy and paranormal happenings.  In fact, the last one I read with Brisbane as a setting was Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw, four years ago.  Despite this, Slatter has had a damn good crack at trying to create a paranormal paradise in our fair city in Corpselight, with, among other creatures, a mud-slinging Scandinavian nasty and a skulk of kitsune who have no doubt taken advantage of the quick nine hour flight from their home country.

The quick-witted tone of Verity’s narration moves the plot along apace and despite the many, many references to her pregnancy in the first few chapters (including the truly remarkable revelation that at thirty-two weeks along, she sleeps soundly all night), it’s easy to get sucked in to the initial mystery on offer – the mysterious repeat appearance of stinky, coating mud inside an upmarket Paddington house.  Much like in the Peter Grant series, Verity works with various connections in the paranormal underworld as well as seemingly ordinary people who have taken advantage of Weyrd-Human relations – the ubiquitous insurance agency chief amongst them – to dig deeper and uncover the truly unexpected source of the mud-slinging.  I did find that the narration was slowed a little in the early chapters by information dumps about the events of the previous book.  These were necessary from my point of view, considering I hadn’t read the first book, but I wonder whether there might have been another way to accomplish the same task without slowing the narration – a cast of characters at the beginning, perhaps, or something similar.

I’m sure that most readers won’t have any problem at all with Brisbane as a setting, but for some reason I found it enormously difficult to try and pair places mentioned that I know with the existence of fantasy elements.  I’m not sure why that is. I’m sure if the setting was Melbourne or Sydney or some other Australian city I wouldn’t have had this problem, but because Brisbane seems so unlikely to me as a paranormal setting, what with being a resident, it took an awful lot of effort to suspend my disbelief.  Although I will admit to a little flash of schadenfreude when I noted that the mud-afflicted house was in Paddington.  Sucks to be you, richy rich!

There were some reasonably complicated reveals toward the end of the book relating to Verity’s mother and other family members, that may have been clearer to those who have read the first book, but provided for an action-packed finale.  The fact that Verity gives birth halfway through the book was also an unexpected spanner in the works but provides a new lens through which Verity views the sinister events that are unfolding around her.

Overall, if you enjoy urban fantasy novels and appreciate some diversity in the paranormal creatures you encounter in your reading then you should definitely give Corpselight a go.  If you aren’t a fan of jumping in at the middle of a series, start with book one instead – Vigil.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Deadly Perils of Social Media: Friend Request…

0

friend request

Today’s book is a psychological thriller that deftly describes the perils of getting back in contact with people from your past.  We received Friend Request by Laura Marshall from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Uncensored and unapologetic. Days into their acquaintance, Maria and Louise are quickly on their way to becoming fast friends.

Decades later, when Maria reaches out over social media, Louise’s heart nearly stops. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface–those first days of their budding connection, the awful judgment of the young women who felt at the time like her sole gateway to belonging. The fateful, tragic night that would change all their lives forever.

Her entire adult life, Louise has known if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reemergence threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to get away from the past. Trying to piece together exactly what happened that night, she soon discovers there’s much she didn’t know. The only certainty is that Maria Weston disappeared that night, never to be heard from again–until now.

I will be the first to admit to being reluctant to reconnect on social media with acquaintances from the distant past and this book did nothing to dissuade me from clinging to this anti-social stance with a vengeance.  Louise made some poor choices (as they would be described in today’s school disciplinary lingo) as a high school student and carries immense guilt due to the terrible outcome of a vindictive prank in which she was involved.  Years later, with a child, successful career and recent divorce under her belt, Louise is disconcerted to receive a friend request on Facebook from the victim of her high school stunt, a woman Louise – and all who knew the girl at the time – thought to be dead.  The request sends Louise plummeting back into the insecurities and confusion of her high school-aged self as she is forced to confront her past actions while trying to ensure that her son Henry is untouched by this new danger.

This was a book that I enjoyed while I was reading, but in the end, lacked a certain something.  There is certainly suspense throughout as we puzzle out with Louise who it might be who has sent the request and the associated questions – why Louise? Why now? – and a mounting sense of dread as Louise’s old school friends come in for a request as well.  The ending, although unexpected, just lacked that heightened sense of terror that I was hoping for, in which I’m flipping pages and trying to read faster and faster to find out if the worst will happen.  Rather, on discovering whodunnit, I had more of a feeling of “Well, that was unexpected!”  The story also has a bit of a double-header in terms of who did what to whom, so the mystery is extended beyond a single reveal.

The author did a good job of providing multiple red herrings with plenty of characters both from Louise’s past and new acquaintances, with something to hide.  The book flicks back and forth between the present and Louise’s final year of high school, during which the turbulent relationship between Louise, Maria and Louise’s girl-idol, Sophie is played out with tragic results. The actions of the fateful leaving party, during which Maria dies – or does she? – are revealed piecemeal throughout the book, so it is quite a long while before the reader has a good grasp of why Louise might be a target for Maria’s posthumous friend request.

Overall, this was an arresting read for the most part and one that I would recommend if you are a fan of contemporary mysteries that feature a bit of murder and suspense.  Reading this one might be a good reminder to check your privacy settings on your social media accounts too!

Until next time,

Bruce

Graphic Novel Double Dip Review: Fears and Fantasy Lands…

2

image

You’ll require a nice light, colourful snack to accompany today’s illustrated double dip, in keeping with the theme of dark places and a desire for the light.  Let’s kick off with The Creeps by Fran Krause, being the follow-up anthology to Deep Dark Fears, and which we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A follow-up to the New York Times best-selling Deep Dark Fears: a second volume of comics based on people’s quirky, spooky, hilarious, and terrifying fears. 

Illustrator, animator, teacher, and comic artist Fran Krause has touched a collective nerve with his wildly popular web comic series–and subsequent New York Times best-selling book–Deep Dark Fears. Here he brings readers more of the creepy, funny, and idiosyncratic fears they love illustrated in comic form–such as the fear that your pets will tell other animals all your embarrassing secrets, or that someone uses your house while you’re not home–as well as two longer comic short-stories about ghosts.

Dip into it for… the creeps cover

…another hilarious collection of unexpected yet deep-seated fears, presented in four-frame comic format.  This edition also features two longer fear “stories” that take up a few pages each.  I had just as much fun with this collection as I did with the first and the real beauty of these collections is that, for many of the fears depicted, I was totally unaware I might harbour such outlandish concerns until they were pointed out in comic form.  My two favourites from this collection were the potential horrible circumstances behind how our favourite plush toys come to be, and the deaf ear that we might unwittingly turn to the suffering of peeled vegetables.  I have included both of these below for your perusal.

Don’t dip if…

…you are the suggestible, anxious type and don’t like the idea of having new, hitherto unconsidered fears worming their way into your consciousness.

Overall Dip Factor

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it simultaneously provokes laughter and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  I read this in one reasonably short sitting, but as with the first collection, it really is the perfect choice as a coffee table book or to leave in a waiting room for the enjoyment of unsuspecting victims.  Highly recommended.

creeps pic 1 creeps pic 2

Next up we have The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish, which is a YA graphic novel we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

16-year-old Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers in the backseat. When she wakes in the hospital, she is told that her youngest brother, Michael, is dead. Wendy — a once rational teenager – shocks her family by insisting that Michael is alive and in the custody of a mysterious flying boy. Placed in a new school, Wendy negotiates fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw. But is The Wendy Project merely her safe space, or a portal between worlds? 

Dip into it for… the wendy project

…a thoughtful and fast-paced graphic novel dealing with themes of grief, loss and the pressure to move on after losing a loved one.  Wendy and her family are involved in a car accident in which her younger brother Michael is killed – although Wendy is certain that she saw Michael fly away from the crash and is therefore still alive.  Understandably concerned, her parents involve Wendy in therapy, in which she is encouraged to keep a visual diary in order to make sense of her thoughts about the loss of her brother.  Despite the heavy subject matter, the author and illustrator have infused this story with magical realism based upon the Peter Pan story.  Different characters, as well as sharing names with characters from Peter Pan, take on characteristics of their fantastical namesakes, culminating in a trip to Wendy’s very own Neverland.  It is through this experience that Wendy comes to terms with who she is now and how her life will change.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of stories based on famous books.  This one does borrow heavily from the Peter Pan narrative, and I will be the first to admit that Peter Pan is one of my least favourite stories (what with Peter himself being the poster boy for man-children everywhere)…but this didn’t put me off as much as I thought it would, and I think the creators of The Wendy Project have achieved a good balance between original story content and content based on the more famous work.

Overall Dip Factor

This turned out to be quite a quick read but one that manages to explore serious themes with some depth despite this.  With a balanced blend of fantasy and real life, the authors have done well to highlight the difficulties that can be faced by young people, and all of us really, in the situation of a sudden bereavement, particularly when, as Wendy is here, there is guilt, be it actual or misplaced, about the circumstances in which their loved one died.  I would recommend this to those who enjoy graphic novels about real life issues told in creative ways.

I am submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 in the final category, because the cover features a plethora of different colours.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

So are either of these your cup of tea (or bowl of nachos)?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Room, with a Dog: Goodnight, Boy…

0

goodnight boy

I’ve got some YA/adult fiction crossover for you today that is highly reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room, in that it features a child imprisoned in a suburban home for reasons that aren’t exactly clear at the beginning.  We received a copy of Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A tale of two very different worlds, both shattered by the loss of loved ones. Tragic, comic and full of hope, thanks to a dog called Boy.

The kennel has been JC’s home ever since his new adoptive father locked him inside. For hours on end, JC sits and tells his dog Boy how he came to this country: his family; the orphanage and the Haitian earthquake that swept everything away.

When his adoptive mother Melanie rescues him, life starts to feel normal again. Until JC does something bad, something that upset his new father so much that he and Boy are banished to the kennel. But as his new father gets sicker, JC realizes they have to find a way out. And so begins a stunning story of a boy, a dog and their journey to freedom.

I’ve got two separate warring opinions on this book which is making it a little difficult to come to a cohesive overall feeling about it.  Goodnight, Boy is narrated by JC, a teen boy who has been adopted from Haiti by an American couple.  The story is revealed as JC talks to his dog, Boy, with whom JC is imprisoned in a kennel in the backyard of his suburban home.  As the story unfolds, the reader finds out that JC’s adoptive mother, Melanie is missing, gone away or otherwise absent, for reasons that are also unclear, and that JC’s angry adoptive father is responsible for JC and Boy’s captivity.

If you are hoping, as you read, that the reasons behind JC’s imprisonment will be revealed in a timely fashion, you will be sorely disappointed.  The reasons are not revealed until the very end of the story and by that time I was a bit baffled as to why Melanie thought leaving JC alone with her obviously abusive partner, who had expressed no liking for JC, was a good idea in the first place.  

But I digress.

The main things I enjoyed about this book were the easily readable narrative voice and JC’s descriptions about his childhood in Haiti.  The book has a conversational tone and it is easy to fall into the flow of the words and get caught up in the story, despite the constant interruptions in which JC takes issue with Boy’s doggish behaviour.  Similarly, although often sad, JC’s recounting of his childhood I found to be absorbing and fascinating and revealed much about the factors that have moulded his personality.

The thing that I found difficult about the book was that it didn’t have the shock factor of a book like Room, which dealt with a similar situation, and I felt that without this, something was lacking.  From the beginning of the story it was obvious that something seriously bad was going to happen – or possibly was already happening – but this didn’t pan out in the way I expected and I felt that the ending was a bit of an anti-climax.  Not that I’m unhappy that there was a satisfactory ending for JC and Boy – far from it – but I was hoping for a bit more suspense and emotional turmoil than was delivered.

I think I would have preferred it had the book had a second story thread, narrated by Melanie or her husband, to flesh out some of the issues and heighten the suspense.

Overall I found this to be an interesting read with some original qualities, but it didn’t quite stand out as a stellar story for the reasons I’ve mentioned.

I am submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #31: a book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you.  You can check out my progress toward all my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Post-Natal Exhaustion and Creepy House-guests: The Hours Before Dawn…

2

the hours before dawn

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin is a psychological thriller based upon those oft hideous first months of sleeplessness, exhaustion and physical and mental barrenness that can follow the birth of a child.   The book was first published in 1959 and won the Edgar Award in 1960 for best mystery novel.  We received a copy via Netgalley for review as Faber & Faber have reissued the book.  We are so glad we came across this novel because even as the attitudes and situations depicted in the book are clearly of their time, I have yet to come across a book that so flawlessly transcends social change to appear as relevant and likely today as ever.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Louise would give anything – anything – for a good night’s sleep. Forget the girls running errant in the garden and bothering the neighbours. Forget her husband who seems oblivious to it all. If the baby would just stop crying, everything would be fine.

Or would it? What if Louise’s growing fears about the family’s new lodger, who seems to share all of her husband’s interests, are real? What could she do, and would anyone even believe her? Maybe, if she could get just get some rest, she’d be able to think straight.

In a new edition of this lost classic, The Hours Before Dawn proves – scarily – as relevant to readers today as it was when Celia Fremlin first wrote it in the 1950s.

Although the book is a mystery with a psychological focus, Fremlin deals with the events with a remarkable sense of dry wit.  I initially thought that the book might be a bit dreary in tone, dealing as it does with an exhausted new mother, but Fremlin’s writing is incredibly enjoyable and droll and I couldn’t help having a bit of a giggle at certain wry observations.  This really helped carry the book and was part of the reason, I suspect, that I got through this one in a couple of chunky sittings.

The descriptions of the life of a stay-at-home mother with multiple children and a new addition are so absolutely spot on that it is obvious that Fremlin knows whereof she speaks.  Indeed, this edition features an introduction that describes how Fremlin based the story on her own experiences with one of her children.  The walking-dead exhaustion, the scrutiny of judging members of the public, the feeling that one must certainly be losing one’s mind when sleeping and nursing upright in a kitchen cupboard seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do to avoid waking the household during a night feed will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to live with and care for an infant who is a difficult sleeper.

Similarly, contemporary readers will recognise people of their acquaintance in Mark, Louise’s “man of the house” husband, who seems to have little idea why Louise can’t keep it together on less than three hours of sleep a night, and the family’s neighbours who are by turns nosy, complaining and downright outrageous.  There are a few bits of the book that are “of the period” such as the moments when the mothers in the story are quite happy to leave their unattended infants for hours on end to attend to some other task or errand, but overall, the situations faced by Louise and new mothers of today are remarkably similar.

The psychological thriller aspect of the story relating to the family’s lodger, the mysterious Ms Vera Brandon, unfolds slowly and almost as an afterthought in Louise’s hectic, chaotic life.  This is somewhat made up for in the end however, with an action-packed and sinister denouement that features danger, death and daring escapes.

I thoroughly recommend this as the perfect pick for a fun and creepy holiday read, although it may not be wise to pick it up just now if you are a new mother.

I’m going to submit this one for the Popsugar Challenge under category #29: a book with an unreliable narrator.   You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for the year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Quirky Take on Parental Frailty: Goodbye, Vitamin…

0

goodbye vitamin

I’ve read quite a number of books featuring characters with Alzheimer’s or dementia in my time, but I’ve never come across one quite like Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  We received a copy of this one from Simon & Schuster for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year.

Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.

Most books about Alzheimer’s that I’ve come across tend to feature, at some point during the story, a scene or scenes that really bring home to the reader the harrowing disease that Alzheimer’s is – the way it erases the personality and memories of an individual and shatters the familiar ways in which family and friends have connected with the sufferer throughout their lifetime.

Goodbye, Vitamin is nothing like that.

In fact, Goodbye, Vitamin forgoes the inevitable destruction of the human brain and any relationships in which said brain was involved, and instead focuses on the ways in which Ruth, chaotic and underachieving daughter of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, tries to adjust to a life put on hold, while she helps out her mother for “just a year”.

I must admit, it was quite refreshing to read a book featuring a character with Alzheimer’s and not come away feeling angsty and unsettled at the prospect of literally having one’s mind slowly eroded from within.

The book is written in a sort of diary format, as Ruth recounts events in chronological order during her year back at home.  I generally find diary-type books engaging and so it was in this case.  I tend to enjoy that the sections can be quite short and so I feel like I’m getting somewhere with the book quickly.  Having said that, this isn’t an overly hefty read and things move along apace from the moment Ruth decides to give it a year until the poignant but hopeful ending.

Ruth has a dry and self-deprecating sense of humour and manages to reminisce on both her broken past relationship and her childhood relationship with her father without being particularly maudlin, but highlighting the weirdness that we accept as everday life.  Her father’s ex-students play a surprising and uplifting role in attempting to halt her father’s decline and I had a bit of chuckle at their cloak and dagger antics as well as their finding new excuses to take their “classes” off campus.

As much as this is a story about the decline of a family member and a change in the parent-child relationship, it is also a story about the chaos of early adulthood – yes, even up to one’s thirties!  Ruth is in as much a period of flux as her father as she tries to forget past mistakes and forge a new path in her career and life in general.

I would recommend Goodbye, Vitamin if you are looking for a convivial tale about an unwanted mental guest and the ways in which people choose to remember.

Until next time,

Bruce