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

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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

Keep in a Cold, Dark Place: Good Advice for Potatoes and Monsters…

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Today’s middle grade creepy, action tale features a brilliant cautionary tale for those who like to keep unusual pets at home.   We received Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Reaching for her dream, Limpy unleashes a cute, fluffy, NIGHTMARE …

Keep in a cold, dark place. That’s what’s written like some ancient law on every bag of potatoes the family farms. And it’s where Limpy fears she will always remain.

It’s also carved on a box of spheres she discovers in the cellar. Spheres that hatch.

Cute at first, the creatures begin to grow. Then the chickens disappear. The cat is hunted. And something sets the barn ablaze. To survive, Limpy will need to face her greatest fear. The whole family will. Or they may end up in a cold, dark place indeed.

keep in a cold dark place

Limpy is the only daughter in her family and was unlucky enough to have her mother die while giving birth to her.  Her father is so stricken by grief that he keeps a potato-sack effigy of his dead wife in their home, her brothers are alternately bullying and selectively mute and Limpy wants nothing more than to escape her dreary existence and go to art school far away from their failing potato farm.  After discovering a strange box in the potato cellar, Limpy begins to hope that maybe her impossible dream isn’t so unlikely after all…but at the same time, she may have just unleashed an unholy terror onto the farm that could be the end of her broken family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this original and layered middle grade horror-action story. Other reviewers have compared the story to the film Gremlins and there are certainly shades of that fun film in the parts of the book relating to the “pets” that Limpy discovers, but in addition to that, Stewart has crafted an emotional story about grief, moving on and coping with change that is forced upon you.  There’s a definite atmosphere of oppression and depression that emanates from the descriptions of the farm and the town in general and the reader can definitely understand Limpy’s deep need for escape.  The depictions of Limpy’s family life were, at times, difficult to read as the grief and anger of her father, particularly, is raw and toxic despite the passing of time.

When the creatures that Limpy discovers stop being so cute and fluffy in favour of being more scaly and rampaging, the book alternates between bursts of chaotic action and poignant personal discoveries, as Limpy and her family face their deepest fears in order to save themselves.  Part of the emotional draw at the end of the story, I think, depends on the fact that Limpy is the only girl in this part of the story, and it is her older brothers and father (as well as some male neighbours) that have to put aside their bravado and acknowledge those things that make them frightened and hold them back.

I love that the author has selected a monster that isn’t so common in children’s literature, or “monster” stories generally, so the book provides an opportunity for young readers to discover a legend that they may not have encountered before.  I would highly recommend this book to adventurous young readers who enjoy action and fantasy elements blended with real-life problems.

I’m submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 in the brown category.  Check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Deathly Dangerous Double Dip Review: Cell 7 and Circus Werewolves…

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If you are hankering after a book-sized snack with a dangerous flavour, then I’ve got just the thing for you today.  Two things in fact – one YA suspense tale and one MG horror comedy (horromedy?), so let’s jump straight in!

First up I have the fourth book in indie (yes, I know I said I wouldn’t, but I love this series too much), middle grade scary humour series, The Slug Pie Stories: How to Protect Your Neighbourhood from Circus Werewolves by Mick Bogerman.  We received this one for review from the author.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The circus is in town, and Mick Bogerman has a fail-proof plan to sneak inside the adults-only Macabre Pavilion. But there’s something weird about the A. Linville & Purnima Bros. Circus this year. Angry parents and crying kids exit early by the carload. Maybe it’s the clowns. Yes, they wear the standard stark-white faces and red bulbous noses, but underneath their painted smiles, there’s something not quite right. What’s more, after the full moon rises . . . they howl.

When Mick and his friends rescue a caged boy from the clown’s clutches they set off a series of disasters that threaten their entire neighborhood. Can Mick become the leader his neighbors need and protect them from the pack of hungry predators infiltrating their town?

Dip into it for… circus-werewolves

… fast-paced adventure, escaping death by the skin of one’s teeth and improvised werewolf deflecting weaponry.  It’s no secret that I love the originality of this series as well as the salt-of-the-earth narration from Mick Bogerman himself.  There are no frills to Mick – he’s a boyish boy with a strong sense of justice, a stronger sense of humour and a fierce protective streak for his younger brother Finley.  In this offering, Mick, Finley and their friends are excited to visit the circus, as they do every year, but are also wary of the reports they’ve been hearing about clowns that are far scarier than clowns have any right to be.  After the boys make a split-second decision to rescue a boy trapped in the “freak show” tent, they discover that they will now have the opportunity to see the clowns up close and personal.  

Don’t dip if…

…you’re a wussy wussbag.  Each of the books has a (possibly tongue-in-cheek!) warning to parents at the beginning, noting that the books are not for the faint-hearted and should only be read by kids of a strong constitution.  Otherwise, there’s nothing not to like.

Overall Dip Factor

The best thing about this series is that it is evolving with every book.  In this book a collection of Mick’s friends are integral to the action, and Mick and Finley’s globe-trotting Uncle George makes an important (and life-saving!) appearance.  The addition of so many extra characters gave the story a fresh energy, and as each of the characters is a bit quirky and unusual, the group of friends has quite a collection of unexpected skills and resources to hand, which is lucky when terrifying monsters seem to pop up around every corner. This book, like the others, is a reasonably quick read and the clever pacing means that there is no time to sit on one’s hands, as the action unfolds so quickly.   I’d highly recommend this one, especially to male readers of middle grade age.  Did I mention that you can also vote for the plot of the next Slug Pie Story by visiting their website?  I don’t want to get too excited, but the story featuring GARGOYLES is at the top of the rankings right now!! You can check it out and cast your vote here.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Now that that’s sorted, if you haven’t read the others in this series, you really should rectify that as soon as possible.

Next up we have Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery, a YA tale of suspense, privilege, choices and reality TV set in a speculative near-future.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Should she live or die? You decide

An adored celebrity has been killed. Sixteen-year-old Martha Honeydew was found holding a gun, standing over the body.

Now Justice must prevail.

The general public will decide whether Martha is innocent or guilty by viewing daily episodes of the hugely popular TV showDeath is Justice, the only TV show that gives the power of life and death decisions – all for the price of a phone call.

Martha has admitted to the crime. But is she guilty? Or is reality sometimes more complicated than the images we are shown on TV?

Dip into it for…cell-7

…an intriguing take on the mob mentality and the ways in which mass media, entertainment and critical thinking intertwine in today’s society.  In a near-future that doesn’t look too far different from our present, courts have been abolished and the fate of prisoners is decided over a seven-day public voting period.  The motto “an eye for an eye” is the driver behind the TV program Death is Justice, and the viewers feel that they have a personal stake in dealing out deadly justice to perceived wrong-doers.  This book is a bit unusual in that it flicks between a number of points of view – Martha, from the inside of her death row cell; and Eve, her counsellor, in particular – as well as employing flashback scenes and running scripts from the Death is Justice television show.  This variety of style actually kept me more interested in the story than I otherwise would have been because it allows the situation in which Martha finds herself to be explored from a number of angles, and exposes the motivations of various characters.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a pacey story.  This book takes its time in giving the reader the full picture, although the information that is held back at the start of the novel does provide for an interesting mystery.

Overall Dip Factor

There was something about this book that screamed “high school set text” to me because it is such an issues-focused book, with justice, fairness and power being the issues under examination.  It was obvious from the beginning that there was more to Martha’s case than initially meets the eye, and it seemed to take quite a while to get to the crux of the issue.  I did enjoy the final few chapters of the book, when the flaws of the public voting system become apparent for all to see.  This part of the book was faster-paced than the earlier sections, and the impending and inevitable sense of danger added a bit of excitement to proceedings.  Because this did feel a bit didactic to me as an adult reader, I was a little disappointed to find out that there is a second book in the works.  I was quite satisfied with the ambiguity of what might happen to the characters given the events of the ending and I think it would have been a stronger conversation-starter if the story was left there.  Whatever the case, you should probably give it a read and let me know what you think!

After all that danger and daring, you could probably do with a cup of tea and a good lie down, so I’ll let you go, but do let me know which of these books takes your fancy.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monster McGhost-Face” Edition…

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Yep, you read that title correctly – today’s books are a selection of monstery-ghosty tomes for the young and the slightly-not-so-young-anymore.  If you are into social history, cryptids or actual genuine science, you might want to strap on your spats and saddle up as we ride on it.  Yeehah!

Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) In the Real World? (Helaine Becker & Phil McAndrew)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monster science

A high quality meeting of science and mythology in which everyone’s favourite monsters are placed under the cold, hard microscope slide of fact. Kids can read up on the facts behind the myths to see if their favourite monster could exist in the real world.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented tome featuring a topic that most kids love to read about (monsters, of course!), covering some pretty complex scientific principles in a fun way.  I was impressed with how much detail this book provided on the hows and whys of whether a monster could actually exist.  For instance, in the first chapter on Frankenstein’s monster, the book gives information about organ transplants, the electrical workings of our brains and bodies, historical information about grave-robbing and how early doctors made discoveries, and the principles of genetic engineering.  The page spreads are colourful, and although there is a fair amount of text per page, there are also plenty of diagrams and illustrations to break things up a bit.  I would definitely recommend this to those with a mini-fleshling who loves non fiction reads, especially those filled with wacky facts.

Brand it with:

Monster mash-up; mad scientist in training; science is cool

Haunted Bridges: Over 300 of America’s Creepiest Crossings (Rich Newman)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  haunted bridges

Apparently, ghosts love bridges.  This handy tome gives an exhaustive run down on the paranormal stories and phenomena associated with specific bridges across the US.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a concise and well-formatted collection that neatly summarises social oral histories of the paranormal in localities across the US.  I will admit to being unaware of the apparently strong link between paranormal sightings and bridges, but this book certainly opened my eyes on that score.  The author is a self-confessed ghost-hunter of sorts and the aim of the book is to provide other would-be ghost hunters with some well-worn paths to tread in their pursuit of supernatural phenomena.  Happily though, the book can also be read as a collection of popular urban myths and oral histories of specific areas, as the author throws in some definite tongue-in-cheek comments throughout.  The book is divided into categories related to the content of the stories – hangings, invisible hands (this is a ghosty “thing” apparently), historical hauntings, criminal hauntings and so on – and this makes it easy to see the common motifs in stories from varied locations.  My favourite section was the “Unaccounted Oddities” chapter, which deals with bridges that have an original or bizarre story attached – a portal into hell, for instance or a unidentified monster or some sort.  If you live in the US, this would be a fun book to have handy when planning a holiday or day trip!  While these hauntings aren’t local to my area, I still found plenty in this book to draw me in and fire the imagination, as well as give me a picture of how social stories develop over time.  Recommended for when you’re feeling in a quirky, paranormal mood.

Brand it with:

Ghost crossings; unlikely travel guides; social science is cool

A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts: Encounters with Cryptid Creatures (Ken Gerhard)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  menagerie of mysterious beasts

A collection of the author’s own encounters and research on a range of cryptids.  Includes witness accounts and case studies of the same.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of monster-hunting, or just have an interest in mythical creatures that may (or may not) walk (or crawl or slither or swim) among us, then this will provide an irrepressible outlet for your interest.  I DNFed this one at 12%, after the first chapter on the Minnesota Iceman because although the author claims to be approaching these sightings from a scientific angle, it is obvious that he is, in fact, not.  He makes note of the fact that his viewing of the Minnesota Iceman as a child (that is, when the author was a child, not the Iceman), was one of the events that sparked his interest in monster-hunting and it is clear that this is a man who wants to believe.  He makes links between accounts of iceman-type encounters from places as disparate as the USA and China, glosses over the highly dubious provenance of the specimen, and makes wild leaps of fancy as to how the Iceman could have made it to US soil.  As I said, if you are looking for a book on cryptids that will pique your adrenaline levels, this is probably a good choice.  If you are looking for a book that actually takes a scientific approach to the evidence on cryptids, read Darren Naish’s excellent and engaging Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths.

Brand it with:

We’re going on a cryptid hunt; the extraordinary; beyond belief

Got your monster-trapping gear ready by now? Of course you have, because I know you’ll want to track down at least one of these beauties!
Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mega Supersized” Edition…

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Well, I said that this week would be devoted to catching up on books that have been awaiting their time in the spotlight and today I am starting to make good on that promise.  I have no less than six books for you to round up today, covering everything from picture book to adult fiction to historical non-fiction to short stories.  We received all of the following books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  I suggest you let your eye rove over the herd and lasso the ones you find most appealing.  Let’s ride in!

Blame (Simon Mayo)

blame

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Ant and Mattie are locked in prison due to the crimes of their parents, under the new “heritage crime” laws. Never one to go quietly, Ant discovers a way to maybe break out – but the prison is going into meltdown and before she can escape the whole place might just explode.

Muster up the motivation because…

There is a veritable firestorm of action going on in this YA bit of speculative fiction set in the near future.  Mayo has managed to sneakily incorporate a fantastic amount of philosophical debate about crime and punishment into what is essentially a tension-filled flight of revenge, evasion and emancipation from start to finish.  The book starts with a huge concept – “heritage crime” and the question of how justice can be seen to be done when an individual seemingly evades the letter of the law – and Mayo skilfully explores this through action and character behaviour, held together with an exciting and pacey plot.  As one would expect of a book set in a prison, there is a fair amount of violence and general skulduggery, but the majority of it is appropriate to the telling of the story and not gratuitous.  There are two main sections to the book, the first set inside the prison and the other…well, I won’t spoil it for you, but the change in setting about two thirds of the way through breaks the plot up nicely and allows for a complete change of pace and new and unexpected dangers for our protagonists to face.  I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of grittier YA stories, who are happy to see a melding of young adult and decidedly grown-up worlds in their reading.  This would also make a fantastic class read for upper secondary students, to spark discussion and debate around scapegoating, delayed justice and the treatment of prisoners – especially juveniles.

Brand it with:

British badassery, the sins of the father, foster families

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer (Kate Summerscale)

the wicked boy

Two Sentence Synopsis:

A boy who kills his own mother turns out, after much investigation, to end up living an extraordinary life.

Muster up the motivation because…

If you enjoy painstakingly researched recounts of the lives of extraordinary individuals, you should find something to like here.  Beginning the tale in 1895, in England, Summerscale tells the story of one Robert Coombes, then aged 13, who murders his mother, covers it up and then goes on to have an unexpectedly eventful life, ending up in Australia of all places. I was under the impression that the book would confine itself to the murder and trial of Coombes, but this section makes up only a quarter of the story.  The rest deals with the aftermath of the trial, Coombes stay in Broadmoor prison asylum, his eventual release, his time in the Australian armed forces and most bizarrely of all, his father-son relationship with an ill-treated young neighbour.  To be honest, I found the last two sections of the book, dealing with Coombes’ adult life, far more interesting than the first, which was the reason I picked up the book to begin with, so overall it was a strange and not particularly satisfying reading experience for me.  While the content of the book is quite absorbing, the execution is unnecessarily long winded and the author seems to find joy in going off at arguably interesting but lengthy tangents.  I have heard the same complaints about Summerscale’s earlier works, so I suspect this might just be her particular style of writing.  This one would certainly be of interest to lovers of historical true crime stories but be aware that this is more than just a “murder” book and that the telling leaves out no detail, however tangentially related to the story.

Brand it with:

Tiny evil things, cool story bro, been there, done that, bought the t-shirt

Bigfoot Trails: Pacific Northwest (S.A. Jeffers & Catherine Strauss)

bigfoot trails

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Use the rhymes to aid you in hunting for Bigfoot in the illustrations, while learning some information about the Bigfoot legend along the way.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fun, fully illustrated Bigfoot adventure that allows the reader to decipher clues as to where Bigfoot might be lurking.  I will admit to being overly excited at the thought of an book that touted itself as an interactive Bigfoot hunting experience and it was these expectations that possibly led to me being a little disappointed with the interactivity of the story.  Essentially, this is a search-and-find style of book, with clues given in the rhyming text as to where to search for Bigfoot in the (admittedly pretty impressive) illustrations.   Some of the rhymes aren’t that flash to be honest, but the illustrator has definitely gone next-level serious on making sure Bigfoot won’t be found after a simple cursory glance at the page.  The book also includes some extra Bigfoot-related things to find at the end of the book (scat, for instance), so readers can extend their searching pleasure by going back through the illustrations to look for things they missed the first time.  Overall, I think kids will probably love this book and find plenty to occupy their time and imagination.

Brand it with:

Cryptid hide-and-seek, Where’s Weirdo?, future employment opportunities

Untethered: A Magical iPhone Anthology (Janine A.Southard ed)

untethered

Two Sentence Synopsis:

A collection of short stories that speculate on the magical and paranormal properties of the smartphone.

Muster up the motivation because…

If you’ve ever thought that your phone was possessed, or otherwise controlled by nefarious outside sources then this is the anthology for you!  The stories range from servers run by demons to sentient apps to phones that can contact the dead and with twenty stories in the collection, you’re bound to find something to awaken the spark of imagination and have you eyeing your smartphone with more than a little mistrust.  My favourite of the collection was “What You’re Called to Do” by Dale Cameron Lowry, which features an app with a mind of its own and a gender-twist on the “crazy cat lady” theme.  I also particularly enjoyed “Voices From Beyond the iPhone!” which explored the human desire to get in touch with the other side and used a quirky email correspondence format, and “Real Selfies” by John Lasser, a quick dip into the psychological horror genre and a hot potato that no one wants to be left holding.  I love the concept behind this anthology and while some of the stories didn’t really hit the mark, there were enough that I enjoyed to keep me dipping into it.  I’d recommend this one for short story lovers who like their technology bang up to date.

Brand it with:

ShortStories 2.0, Next gen, magic in your pocket

The Mighty Odds (Amy Ignatow)

the mighty odds

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Four students with no social connections between them are involved in a bus accident on the way home from an excursion. When they start to discover some strange new powers after the accident, the four disparate protagonists must work together to figure out the mystery behind their new abilities.

Muster up the motivation because…

This is a worthy addition to the middle grade humour genre with some standout features.  The thing that drew me in to the story first was the silliness of the powers developed by the protagonists – the ability to teleport four inches to the left, for instance and superstrength only in one’s thumbs – but this wry sense of the ridiculous isn’t really brought to the fore until about halfway through the book.  The author spends a lot of time developing the back stories of the protagonists prior to the bus accident in which the kids gain their powers, so by the time the silliness starts, a lot of serious issues – such as the prolonged bullying and exclusion of one of the four – have been highlighted.  There was a sense of authenticity about the characters as children on the verge of adolescence that you don’t always come across in middle grade fiction, particularly humorous stories, and I was surprised, but gratified to find it here.  The book also champions racial diversity, with a mix of racial and cultural backgrounds among the four main characters.   Another quirk of the book is that it is illustrated, with much of Martina’s story told in graphic novel format.  I really enjoy it when authors take risks with formatting and the graphic novel sections, though short, provide a good break in the reasonably heavy text sections.  Reflecting on the reading experience, this reminded me a bit of Louis Sachar’s work, with its focus on middle grade kids with all their brashness and insecurities, as well as the focus on changing one’s mind regarding people about whom one already has firm (generally negative) ideas.  I’d recommend this for confident readers of middle grade who like a bit of realism mixed into fantastical adventures.

Brand it with:

What’s your superpower?, unlikely team mates, beyond first impressions

Mister Memory (Marcus Sedgwick)

mister memory

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Marcel has an incredible gift – he is unable to forget anything that has happened in his life. When he is accused of the murder of his wife and packed off to an asylum while awaiting his capital trial, one detective decides to get to the bottom of this bizarre crime…and the man possibly behind it.

Muster up the motivation because…

As historical murder mysteries go, this one has an intriguing premise.  A man who remembers everything – EVERYTHING – is accused of murdering his wife but may not actually have done it.  It was this premise, as well as the fact that Marcus Sedgwick is the author, that inspired me to have a crack at this one.  Unfortunately, I DNFed at 28%.  For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to care much about Marcel or the faintly ridiculous doctor investigating his case.  I’ve mentioned before that my subconscious seems to take issue with books set in France for reasons I am unable to grasp, and so it was with this book.  There was something about the narrative style that felt particularly ponderous and I never felt like I could get up a good reading rhythm.  Having said that, I have enjoyed books by Sedgwick before, so it may just be that this particular book and I did not click.  If the premise sounds intriguing to you, I would encourage you to give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Brand it with:

I forget

So there you have six of my latest reads – some winners and some…not so winning – but I encourage you to hunt down and corral any that take your fancy.

Until next time (and another round-up!),

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Mythical and Otherwise” Edition…

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imageReading Round-Up is here again and today’s prey of choice is books about monsters.  Be they mythical or firmly accepted in reality, we’re on the hunt for monsters big and small.  But mostly big.

I’ve got two nonfiction tomes and two middle grade adventure novels for you today, all but one of which we received from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  The last we received from Bloomsbury Australia  Let’s kick off with some excellent nonfiction….

Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths (Darren Naish)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Hunting Monsters is a thorough treatment of the state of cryptozoology today and the hunting monsterschanging face of this oft-maligned (by real scientists) field over time. It covers all your favourite monsters of lore plus some you’ve probably never heard of, including monsters from the African continent and Australia.

Muster up the motivation because…

Don’t let the naff cover design fool you – this is a remarkably engaging read that had me pondering various monstrosities days after I finished reading it.  The book is divided into handy sections – from sea monsters, to hominids, to giant mammals and more – so you can flip around to get the latest on your favourite cryptid, or alternately, as I did, read it cover to cover and fill up your empty brain space with all sorts of in-depth information.  I, for one, was unaware of the varieties of sea monster sightings on record, or of the purported existence of an enormous quadrupedal beast (other than an elephant or giraffe, obviously) getting around in Africa.  Naish also examines how no solid evidence exists  that withstands scientifically rigorous scrutiny that would point in favour of these beasts being actual living beings, but proposes a different direction for the field of cryptozoology regardless.  The only thing I wanted more of in this book was photographs – many “famous” photographs were mentioned throughout, particularly in the Loch Ness Monster section, but it would have greatly enhanced my experience if I’d been able to lay eyes on these photos, rather than having to go and google them later.  Nevertheless, this is a highly recommended read for those who are interested in monsters that may, but almost certainly don’t, wander about in the undiscovered wilds of our planet.

Brand it with:

Did you see that?; The truth is out there; If you go down to the woods today…

Now on to some middle grade adventure fiction with…

The Venom of the Scorpion: Monster Odyssey #4 (John Mayhew)

Two Sentence Synopsis:venom of the scorpion

Dakkar, Indian prince and agent intent on dismantling a group of brothers who are trying to take over the world, is accused of murder and drawn into a complicated web of goddesses, tyranny and violence. As the plot thickens, will Dakkar be able to trust those closest to him?

Muster up the motivation because…

Apart from the attraction of giant scorpions and a plot that reads like Indiana Jones, but without the archaeology, there’s something that no young lover of adventure could pass up featured in this book: Dakkar has his own steampunk-esque submarine!!  This is the fourth book in this series, but the first I have read, so I did find myself in the deep end considering much of the plot surrounding Dakkar’s mission to destroy an evil organisation run by a group of brothers is only glossed over here.  Similarly, not much quarter is given in allowing new readers of the series to get to know the characters and their background and relationships, so I would definitely recommend interested punters start at the beginning of the series.  There is action galore in this book however, so I can imagine it appealing greatly to young male readers who are happy to trade complex character development for the excitement of monsters, piracy, murder, desert cults worshipping giant insect gods, sea battles and the aforementioned steampunk submarine!!  I would be interested in going back and having a look at the earlier books in the series, because although this isn’t my preferred style of middle grade book, the character development and complex plot that are hinted at in this book indicate some high quality adventure in the earlier books.

Brand it with:

Is there a (giant) insect in my hair?; Young Indiana Jones; murder most foul

You’d like more nonfiction, you say?  Coming right up…

Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species (Jeff Campbell & Adam Grano)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This is an in-depth exploration of giant species – loosely defined – that have become last of the giantsextinct, aimed at a secondary-school aged audience.  The book features recent and historical extinct species and examines how these extinctions can inform our conservation efforts today.

Muster up the motivation because…

You’ll definitely find out some things you didn’t know – or expect – while exploring the life patterns of extinct animals while reading this book.  I, for instance, discovered that Maoris of old apparently epitomised that “hangry” feeling and that if you happened to be a large, tasty reasonably defenceless sort of creature in the olden times, chances were high that you, and all of your relatives, would eventually end up as a human’s dinner. The Steller’s Sea Cow case study I found to be appallingly sad – it beggars belief the amount of times you humans have continued to eat a species until it was extinct! The most interesting thing about this book is that the author  has not just defined “giant” as “physically large”, but includes the Passenger Pigeon, due to its immense swarming impact, and the Tasmanian Tiger, due to its achievement of hanging on to top predator spot when other large mammals in the same location went extinct.  Overall, this is an interesting read with some concerning implications for the current state of the world’s wildlife…including humans.

Brand it with:

My, what big teeth you have!; dominant species; it’s the end of the world as we know it

And finally, one more middle grade adventure…

City of the Yeti (Robert A. Love)

Ten Second Synopsis:city of the yeti.png

It is 1922 and Danny and Rachel leave their home in India and travel to Nepal, pursuing Danny’s interest in the Yeti.  What they discover will change their ideas about humanity forever and plunge them into deadly battles, undiscovered cities and a search for their long-lost grandfather.

Muster up the motivation because…

City of the Yeti is historical fiction with a fantastical twist in a setting that is certainly not often seen in books for this age group.  There is plenty of action and excitement throughout the story, tempered with sections in which our young protagonists must make difficult decisions in an unfamiliar environment.  The one thing that really got my (mountain) goat while reading was that while this is obviously a historical novel, set toward the end of British rule in India, the language is not true to the period.  At one point, Danny’s father, a British aristocrat, says, “Well, uh, sure. That would be nice,” in a spectacularly uncharacteristic display of vernacular speech from a different time and place.  Similarly, the word “spelunking” is used, which, apart from not being coined until some twenty years after this story is set, is decidedly North American in tone.  While younger readers may not mind this so much, I find historical fiction that doesn’t accurately reflect the time that it’s written hugely annoying to read.  If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you however, and you are after an unusual and rollicking adventure that will have you thinking about differences in culture, then definitely give this one a try.

Brand it with:

Under the misty mountains cold; monsters with brains; untouched by civilisation

I will be submitting Hunting Monsters for the Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward this challenge, here.

Until next time,

Bruce