Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Eclectic Chaos” Edition…



I’ve got five books for you to chase down today, from middle grade adventure to adult paranormal to non-fiction art and photography, so saddle up, get your eye on your quarry and let’s hunt those tomes!

Tree Houses Reimagined: Luxurious Retreats for Tranquility and Play (Blue Forest & E. Ashley Rooney)

*We received a copy of Tree Houses Reimagined from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  treehouses-reimagined

Did you have (or yearn for) a treehouse as a kid?  This book is a collection of imagination-expanding treehouses featuring child-like creativity and adult engineering.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you love to browse Pinterest or other sites for inspirational images, then this book will be one you’ll want to “pin” to your coffee table for easy access.  The book features a diverse collection of actual treehouses from around the world (although mostly in the UK) that have been designed to reflect the imaginings of their owners.  Some look like fantasy castles with turrets, while others are designed to blend into the environment.  Quite a number feature those metal slippery slides of old that would take the skin off the back of your legs on a hot day.  The images also show the interiors of many of the treehouses, noting their special features. It was quite fascinating to read about how the builders had to use special techniques to place the foundations of the treehouses without disturbing the root systems of the trees.  It also includes lots of architectural drawings and floor plans of the featured houses.   I really wanted (and expected) to love this book and hoped it would fire my imagination and provide me with a warm fuzzy feeling that these places truly exist, but instead I became more and more irritated by the fact that the majority of these treehouses are owned by rich people and therefore beyond the reach of the average person ever to attain.  The further I read, the more bitter I became, until by the end I was angrily swiping the pages and thinking, “Keep your damn treehouses, Richie Rich!” If you are not as small minded and bitter an individual as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this tome.

Brand it with:

Up where we belong; hangin’ out; fun with timber

The Ferryman Institute (Colin Gigl)

*We received a copy of The Ferryman Institute from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-ferryman-institute

Charlie is a Ferryman – a guide charged with catching souls as they die and guiding them towards their individual afterlife – for over 200 years and has never failed on an assignment.  When, during a fairly simple assignment he is faced with a hitherto unencountered choice, Charlie must decide whether to take the opportunity presented to him or carry on with the status quo.

Muster up the motivation because:

As “afterlife” stories go, this one is well-constructed with a deeply considered world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to have the pace and action to go with the deeply considered world and DNFed at 34%.  While I found the first part of the story and the set-up of the institute and its patrons, and Charlie’s surprise choice, quite interesting, the author continually slowed down the action by introducing Charlie’s philosophical issues with his life as a Ferryman through extensive chunks of dialogue with his colleagues.  I certainly feel like I was reading long enough to have covered far more than 34% of the story.  The book flicks back and forth in time and place, opening with the events that lead to Charlie being presented with an unexpected choice, and then swapping between Charlie’s life at the institute and the events in Alice’s life that lead to her being moments from death, and a major factor in Charlie’s fate.  For me, this was a slow-burner that I just wasn’t prepared to be patient with.

Brand it with:

Key in the door; decisions, decisions; change of career

The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey (Carlo Collodi & Alessandro Gallenzi)

*We received a copy of The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  pipi

Pipi lives with his monkey family in the jungle and happens to be pink.  This isn’t the only thing that sets him apart though – Pipi is the most mischievous monkey you’ll ever meet!

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a re-branding of Collodi’s (of Pinocchio fame) Pipi stories which were originally published in the early 1880s.  The tone of the stories exudes that old-fashioned feel, with the language reminiscent of Blyton or your standard fairy tale, with a dash of Roald Dahl.  Pipi really is a naughty little monkey; a risk-taker who isn’t afraid to break the rules if doing so will satisfy his curiousity.  Young readers will find plenty to giggle about in Pipi’s tricky adventures, and parents will be pleased to see that Pipi gets his comeuppance a few times, though it is never enough to put him off his next bout of mischief.  There are small illustrations peppered throughout the text (by Axel Scheffler, no less!) but I would have liked to have seen more of these to make the book a little more accessible for youngsters.  The final pages of the book include some easy-to-read information about Collodi’s life and works (including a hilarious letter from the author to his young fans about the importance of keeping your word), the characters in Pipi, and a quiz about the events of the book.  If you are a fan of classic stories (or would like your mini-fleshlings to become so), this is a quality revision of the original tales, with added extras to entice the youngsters in.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; truth and fibs; classics reimagined

Fizzlebert Stump and the Great Supermarket Showdown (A.F. Harrold)

*We received a copy of Fizzlebert Stump from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fizzlebert

Fizzlebert (Fizz to his friends), member of a travelling circus, finds himself in an unexpected position when the circus is sold to a local supermarket.  Will Fizz and his friends be able to use their special skills to serve the supermarket – or is there a way to return to the circus?

Muster up the motivation because:

Fizzlebert Stump delivers plenty of offbeat humour and general silliness and if you are a fan of the humorous stylings of folk like David Walliams, you should find plenty to enjoy here.  I was quite relieved at the book unexpectedly beginning with Chapter Four, given that it made me feel like I had made progress before I had even started reading, but this is cleared up in due course and the book re-starts at Chapter One.  Having not read the earlier five books in the series was not a problem thanks to the very thorough narrator (who interjects at regular intervals to take the reader off at a tangent) thoughtfully presenting a concise recap of important things to know about Fizz and the circus.  Essentially, this story features a blackmail attempt that results in the circus folk being forced to work as cashiers, packers and night staff at Pinkbottle’s supermarket, with predictably ridiculous results.  Luckily though, Fizz and his friend Alice are on the case and all ends well, provided you consider police officers being shanghaied into impromptu circus acts a satisfying ending.  The book is peppered with black and white illustrations throughout, and the general presentation is designed to inspire fun and reflect the chaotic and quirky life of Fizz and his circus family.  If you have a mini-fleshling who is at chapter book level and loves stories featuring silliness and slapstick, the Fizzlebert Stump series, and this offering in particular, could be a savvy choice.

Brand it with:

No business like show business; the daily grind; this place is a circus

Quest of the Sunfish: Escape to the Moon Islands #1 (Mardi McConnochie)

*We received a copy of Quest of the Sunfish from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  quest-of-the-sunfish

In a world suffering the effects of rising sea levels, Will and Annalie live a simple existence with their father Spinner.  When Spinner must suddenly disappear to avoid capture by the Admiralty, Will and Annalie discover that there was more to their father than they could ever have imagined.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an adventurous story set in a world that has adjusted to rising sea levels and the unexpected loss of livelihood and lifestyle.  The book begins with an exciting scene in which Spinner has moments in which to escape from mysterious people coming to get him and Will is left in the dark as to what is happening and why.  His sister, Annalie, ensconced at her fancy boarding school, is questioned by members of the Admiralty as to her father’s whereabouts, and it is obvious to both siblings that their father is in danger.  Being a general fan of seafaring stories, I expected to enjoy this one but I ended up DNFing at page 77, after about ten chapters.  I could see that the adventure part was about to get underway, but the pace was moving too slowly for my liking so I made the decision to leave the story there.  The author has gone to a lot of trouble to set up the world and the characters, but I felt that there was too much “telling” rather than “showing” going on and I couldn’t conjure up any imagery of the world as I was reading to anchor me in the story.  I suspect I could have enjoyed this more if I had no competing reads to compare it with, but after an interesting opening few chapters, this one didn’t measure up for me.

Brand it with:

Salty seadogs; environmental disaster; escape!

So, me hearties, which of these titles will you be rounding up today?

Until next time,






A Middle-Grade Round-Up of Epic Proportions…


imageI hope you’ve picked your most comfortable saddle and spats for today’s Round-Up, because I have no less than SIX middle grade reads to hunt down with you.  We received all but one from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  These titles run the gamut from silly to super realistic so hopefully there’s something here for every middle grade fan.  Let’s ride out!

The Thickety: A Path Begins (J.A. White)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the thickety

Twelve-year-old Kara has been shunned by the villagers ever since her mother was executed as a witch when Kara was five years old. Now it seems that her mother’s powers are developing in Kara and the whole foundation on which the Village is built could crumble if Kara isn’t careful in mastering her new skills.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is an impressively-written, complex read for advanced middle grade readers and even those at the lower end of the YA bracket.  The content gets quite sinister at times, not least of those times being the execution of Kara’s mother in the first chapter.  The characters, while somewhat clichéd in some cases – the beautiful, powerful mean girl for instance – are well drawn to fit into the suspicious, insular world of the Village.  I was stunned at reading, towards the end of the book, that Kara is only twelve years old.  I’m sure this was mentioned earlier in the book, but because of the complexity of the language and plot, I had imagined Kara as closer to sixteen or seventeen years old.  It seemed unbelievable to me that the maturity of the protagonist here could be attached to such a young character, but that may just be my old fuddy-duddy ways.  I would definitely be interested in reading the next in this series, but this first instalment was so full of action and twists that I feel I need a bit of a rest before I seek it out.  I highly recommend this to those looking for an absorbing adventure and I’m happy to knock this one off my TBR list! Hooray!

Brand it with:

Beyond the perimeter; nature magic; dangerous books


**Bruce just knocked another book from Mount TBR!**

Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings (Edward McLachlan)

Two Sentence Synopsis: simon in the land of chalk drawings

A fully illustrated collection of four short stories featuring Simon and his chalk drawings and all the mischief that befalls them.  Simon’s penchant for becoming distracted while drawing leads to a whole range of disasters that need to be mitigated with the clever use of chalk and creativity.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is a fun collection of stories pitched at the lower end of the middle grade bracket and would work well as pre-bedtime read-alouds.  The stories aren’t particularly complicated and all follow the same format: Simon draws (or forgets to draw) something that then causes havoc in the land of chalk drawings, which is accessed by climbing a ladder over a fence.  The illustrations are appropriately naïve and chalky and the stories should inspire creativity in eager young readers.  I haven’t seen the TV series, so had no prior knowledge of Simon and his chalky world, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the stories.  I’d recommend these stories for some simple, charming fun.

Brand it with:

Losing control of one’s creation; fostering creativity; boredom busters

The Girl in the Well is Me (Karen Rivers)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the girl in the well is me

Kammie has fallen down a well and may never get out. Come along with Kammie as her feverish mind wanders while she waits for rescue.

Muster up the motivation because…

…It’s not often you get to be privy to the ever more desperate rantings of a young person stuck down a well through only slight fault of her own.  I had massive hopes for this one but there was just a bit too much monologue for me by the end.  Obviously, when your protagonist is down a well, there isn’t much character interaction that can be expected, but I was hoping for either more humour or more oddness from Kammie’s narration.  I wasn’t entirely convinced of the reasons why she ended up down the well in the first place, given that Kammie doesn’t seem like the kind of kid that would crave the attention of the popular/mean girls’ clique, but this is addressed somewhat in the tale.  The Girl in the Well is Me is certainly a quirky, unusual read for middle graders – albeit with some familiar and ten-a-penny elements – but didn’t quite deliver in the way I was expecting.  Younger readers may have more luck, however.

Brand it with:

Caution: Well!; Mean girls; Family Dramas

The Dog, Ray (Linda Coggins)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  The Dog ray

Daisy takes a wrong turn in the afterlife and accidentally ends up in the body of a dog. While she is desperate to find her parents and assuage their grief, life as a dog isn’t quite as free and easy as Daisy expected and she has to lean on her friends and strangers to attain her goal.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is an interesting new take on “afterlife” themed books, managed deftly and with lightness and humour.  I was absolutely certain that the title of the book would end up being a quote from Daisy’s mother – “The Dog, Ray! Look at the Dog! It’s our daughter!” – but Ray is the name that is given to the dog that Daisy becomes.  There’s a lot going on in this book as it touches on homelessness, loyalty, family connections and the treatment of animals, but there is a solid friendship story at the core that drives the action.  Daisy/Ray is an upbeat narrator whose cheery optimism was reasonably irritating to this curmudgeonly old reader at times, but I particularly appreciated the unexpected ending of the book.  The author takes the story up a notch in the maturity stakes here and trusted her readers to make their own conclusions, which is always welcome in books for this age group.  I’d recommend this one to animal-loving readers of middle grade who are ready to move on from the seemingly endless “cute puppy” themed series and step up to a story with a bit of heart and realism – apart from the “girl becoming a dog” bit, obviously.

Brand it with:

“Here girl!”; boys’ best friend; homeward bound

These Dark Wings (John Owen Theobold)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  these dark wings

After the death of her mother in wartime, Anna finds herself apprenticed to the Ravenmaster – her uncle – at the Tower of London. As the horror of the blitz unfolds and the ravens come to harm, Anna must make difficult choices and find the courage to face secrets and lies.

Muster up the motivation because…

…This is an unusual and welcome interpretation of a period in history on which almost everything that can be said, has been said.  The story has a maturity about it which lends itself toward the upper end of the middle grade bracket, and the lack of many characters of Anna’s age adds to a pervading atmosphere of grim reality and responsibility.  The setting is interesting and lends its own character to the proceedings.  The book sneakily provides fascinating social history lessons around ways in which rationing and the Blitz affected all the residents of London during the early 1940s.  The plot is complex and it is obvious that Anna is not being given the whole story about many things, including her parents and some of the goings-on at the tower.  I was quite disappointed when I reached the end of the book and discovered it was, in fact, a series-opener.  There is so much going on in the story that is only hinted at, that I felt like I wanted it all on the table by the end of the book.  Sadly, this was not to be and the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger reveal.  I’m not sure whether I will pursue the second book in the series.  The writing is certainly of high quality, but the looming sinister atmosphere throughout means that I would have to be in the right sort of mood to enjoy it.  I’d recommend this one to readers who enjoy works by an author who isn’t prepared to talk down to a young audience.

Brand it with:

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler?; Blitzed Brits; Birds as Pets

Diary of Anna The Girl Witch # 1: Foundling Witch (Max Candee)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  diary of anna

A baby found amongst a family of bears, Anna was rescued by an uncle and brought up in a convent orphanage.  On her thirteenth birthday, Anna discovers that there is a lot she doesn’t know about her past – including the strange powers she seems to be developing – and that these powers may have a key role in stopping a horror being perpetrated on her friends.

Muster up the motivation because…

…While this isn’t the most sophisticated middle grade magic story getting around, it has a certain charm and a method of magic that is different enough to pique the interest of youngsters.  Anna is a delightful and optimistic narrator with a mysterious past that isn’t ever fully explained.  As her powers develop, Anna realises she may have to use them to save her friends from some adults who know more than they are saying about Anna’s magic, and who will stop at nothing – even kidnap – to ensure their plans come to fruition.  At times it felt like the author couldn’t decide whether this would be a bit of a girls’ own, Famous Five sort of adventure or a more deeply imagined fantasy tale but overall the plot blends enough action and magic to keep younger readers turning the pages.

Brand it with:

Raised by bears; magical orphans, Kidnap!

Saddle sore yet?  I hope you’ll muster up the motivation to round up at least one of these diverse middle grade titles!

Until next time,








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



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.


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,



A Ripping, YA Read-it-if Review: Boo…



Today’s Read-it-if Review book, I am pleased to announce, has made it onto both my “Top Books of 2015 (so far)” list (which currently only has two other listings) as well as….drum roll please….my Goodreads Favourites list!

*spontaneous applause*

I should probably warn you then that this review WILL include gushing praise.

Today’s book is Boo by Neil Smith. I received a copy of this YA book – which I think is actually adult fiction cleverly disguised as YA – from the publishers via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in heaven, the eighth-grade science geek thinks he died of a heart defect at his school. But soon after arriving in this hereafter reserved for dead thirteen-year-olds, Boo discovers he’s a ‘gommer’, a kid who was murdered. What’s more, his killer may also be in heaven. With help from the volatile Johnny, a classmate killed at the same school, Boo sets out to track down the mysterious Gunboy who cut short both their lives. In a heartrending story written to his beloved parents, the odd but endearing Boo relates his astonishing heavenly adventures as he tests the limits of friendship, learns about forgiveness and, finally, makes peace with the boy he once was and the boy he can now be.

boo cover one

Read it if:

*you like books that feature diverse characters. Even if they’re dead.

*you are either (a) energised or (b) repulsed by the thought of being stuck as a 13-year-old in the afterlife

*you’ve ever been part of a chanting mob

*you like nothing more than discovering something curious turning up in an unexpected place

Now on to the gushing praise!

I have not experienced the kind of satisfaction that I felt on finishing Boo in a long, long time. Here, thought I, is a perfectly constructed tale that is expertly paced, filled with authentic characters, and can be appreciated by those well beyond the YA age-range at which it is marketed. I picked up Boo thinking it would be a reasonably quirky take on the paranormal, life-after-death plot that I generally enjoy, but Smith has created much more than just a fun, creative read here.

For a start, the afterlife that he has created is both expansive and perfectly contained, as well as being pretty original. For in the afterlife in which Boo finds himself, all the residents are 13 years old – the age at which they died. Some died years ago and some are “newborns” like Boo, but all can expect (barring a few exceptional cases) to hang around “Town” as they call it for approximately 50 years, before disappearing into Zig-knows-where. The concept of “Town” reminded me strongly of Neal Shusterman’s afterlife in the Skinjacker series that begins with Everlost. While the similarities are there, Smith’s afterlife doesn’t have the menacing, mysterious undertones of Shusterman’s post-death experience, and feels like a place in which all things have the potential to be made right.

The characters here are diverse (in ethnicity, ability and personality) and felt particularly authentic to me as an adult reader. All of the four main characters have their flaws but come across as complex and layered. I admit to having a soft spot for Esther, the young lass with dwarfism who is applying to be a do-gooder but can sling a stinging one-liner with the best of them. Boo is also a delightful narrator and it didn’t take long for me to relax into his easy narration.

The highlight of the story for me was the depth to which Smith is prepared to take young readers as the narrative unfolds and the events surrounding their untimely deaths are brought to light in Boo and Johnny’s memories. There are twists in this tale, but it didn’t feel like they were thrown in to shock, but to provoke thought from the reader. As these plot twists are revealed I was more and more impressed with the way the author constructed the story. This could have so easily been a two-dimensional, didactic tale in which certain characters were labelled goodies and baddies, but Smith has taken his characters far more seriously than that. The sensitivity with which the boys’ story is rendered was simply a joy to behold.

If you’re looking for a YA read that is, in my opinion, above the common herd, then you should make a point to search out Boo. I will certainly be making it my mission to collect it in print for my shelf.

Until next time,


Fiction in 50 January Challenge: A Dawning Realisation…



Welcome to the first Fi50 of 2015.  Thank you for joining us for another year of minifiction.  The prompt for this month is:

dawning realisation button jan2015

To participate, all you have to do is create a piece of fiction in fifty words or fewer and post a link to it in the comments so we can all appreciate your brilliance.  For more detailed instructions and later prompts, just click on the challenge image at the top of this post.

Now, ideflex from Across the Bored mentioned casually that this month’s prompt could be seen as a continuation or sequel to December’s prompt (which was, of course, Into the Great Beyond).  Being a reasonably lazy individual, I decided that rather than think up a whole new story, I would indeed pen a sequel to my effort from last month.  If you missed it, you can read that piece here…..

Go on, we’ll wait.

Up to speed? Great.  Because now I present to you Part 2 of the “On Hold” saga, which I have titled:

Call Connect

I pressed “2”.

“Purgatorial Enquiries…”

“There’s been a mistake.”

“Purgatory is the transitioning point between biological existence and its cessation, wherein the soul integrates the post-death experience with the deceased’s post-life expectations.”

“But I’m an atheist!”

“Yes sir.”

I stared at the receiver..

I shouldn’t be here.

I shouldn’t –

New players are ALWAYS welcome, so if you haven’t plucked up the courage/bothered to get around to joining in, we’d love to have your contribution.  There’s no time like the present.  Except maybe some bits of the past, so feel free to dig out any old story ideas and modify them to fit if you like.

Next month’s prompt will be….

sincerely yours

Until next time,


Fi50 December Challenge: Into the Great Beyond…



Well, it’s the last one for the year – Fiction in 50, the perfect antidote for those still hung over from NaNoWriMo.  To participate, all you have to do is create a piece of fiction or poetry or a very short play with a maximum of 50 words.  Then post it and pop a link in the comments, so others can survey your genius.  For a longer explanation of the rules and to see the new prompts for the first half of 2015 just click on the challenge image at the top of the page.

So this month the prompt is …

into the great beyondAnd my contribution is titled…

On Hold

Even as a confirmed atheist, my posthumous experience so far had been fairly unexpected.  I picked up the courtesy phone.

“Welcome to Purgatory.  To petition your chosen deity, please press one.  For all other enquiries, please press two.”

Hanging up the receiver, I sat.

I needed time to think.

So that wraps up my efforts for this year.  I look forward to reading everyone else’s take on this prompt.  I often share your contributions on twitter, using the hashtag #Fi50 so feel free to do the same if you frequent that particular social media platform.  For those keen beans who want to get straight into it, January’s prompt will be…

dawning realisation button jan2015

Enjoy the last few days of 2014 and I’ll see all you mini-narrativeers again in the New Year!

Until next time,


Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Secret Dead…


Welcome to you, friend of the fantastical creatures lurking in your midst.  Today I have an indie offering for fans of urban fantasy and murder mystery (which, I am sure, is most of you).  The Secret Dead by S.W. Fairbrother is an enticing addition to the urban fantasy genre in the vein (I thought) of Ben Aaronovitch’s series featuring DC Peter Grant.

The Secret Dead follows Vivia Brisk, a hag – or death witch – who is employed by the Lipscombe Trust, an agency that assists non-human entities to rub along happily in a human society that has already implemented strict laws to deal with the ever-present threat of a zombifiying virus.  When she’s not dealing with trolls requiring rent assistance or shape-shifters being unfairly discriminated against in the workplace, Viv looks after her sister Sigrid, whose soul is trapped in the Underworld, even as her body requires round-the-clock care.  When office philanderer and all-round sleaze Malcolm Brannick unexpectedly zombifies at home and is spirited away by his winged son, Viv is drawn into a decades-old mystery that quickly turns dangerously sinister.  As the macabre discoveries mount up in her investigation, Viv is called upon to enter the Underworld (in effect, die) to gain answers for the police.  With questions piling up around her, Viv has to use all her contacts in non-human society to unravel this mystery before it becomes personal – and she gets stuck in the Underworld for good.

the secret dead

Read it if:

*you suspect that if a government agency ever examined your family situation in any kind of detail, you would have a lot of explaining to do…particularly about the body of your dead mother being reverentially concealed in the attic by your immortal step-father

* you believe that zombies were people too…and therefore should be treated with dignity and respect, even as they attempt to gnaw at your flesh

* you would be secretly happy if the office sleaze-bag suddenly turned into a zombie

* you believe that police work is always made better by a few trips into the Underworld

I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the mystery that Fairbrother has created here.  The story seems to unfold in layers, as Viv discovers new information about people she thought she knew well.  Then there’s Viv’s personal struggles with earning enough money to keep herself, her (immortal) step-father and her disabled sister in housing and food.  And underlying this is a very tightly written world that believably incorporates humans, a whole range of non-humans and part-humans, as well as undead humans.

I found the zombie theme a fresh new touch to the more traditional urban fantasy elements and I was surprised that it actually worked really well and gave the story an interesting twist.  My favourite thing about the zombie threat in this particular book is that it was given a historical basis – the zombifying virus is one that has been present in the population for generations and therefore societies have developed to manage outbreaks and those that are carriers of it.  Because Fairbrother has integrated the zompocalypse theme in a historical way, it doesn’t have that over-used vibe that can come across in other novels.

If you enjoy the sort of crime investigation/magicality mash-up in Ben Aaronovitch’s novels, this might be a good choice for you.  The mystery element is pretty complex, involving lots of different characters and backstories, and the world building is solid and believable.  I’m not sure whether Fairbrother plans to turn this into a series, but it was pleasantly satisfying to see an ending that wrapped up the events of the book, but left the characters with some options.  There’s also plenty of lighter moments sprinkled amongst the death and unsightliness, so really, this book should appeal to a wide group of readers.

Until next time,


*I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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