TBR Friday: The Filth Licker

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TBR Friday

Aaaaand next up in my climb up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 is book two in Cristy Burne’s Takeshita Demons series, The Filth Licker.  I finished the first book of the series back in February and since I’m being crushed under the weight of my review pile at the moment, I really needed a quick read to keep up the momentum for this challenge.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Miku is going to School Camp in the forest, with her friend Cait and the rest of her class. It should be fun. But Miku has premonitions of danger, and when Oscar goes down with a festering rash, and a rushing wind blows out the bonfire she’s sure something bad is going on. Then Alex finds the frog-like Filth-Licker in the boys’ toilets, and all at once Miku, Cait and Alex are on a secret mission to overcome the vengeful Shape-Shifters or Super Demons before it’s too late…

Later that night, with Alex kidnapped by a pyromaniac fox, and Cait possessed by some angry sickle weasels, it’s up to Miku and the Filth-Licker to save them all from disaster.

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Ten Second Synopsis:
Miku, Clair and their class are going on school camp – but Clair seems absentminded, to say the least, and before the class even gets to the camp one of Miku’s classmates has been preyed upon by a Yokai. When the camp leader suggests telling ghost stories around the fire, Miku knows that they are risking the Hyaku Monogatari – an ancient ritual that creates a super-demon.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

A year, roughly

Acquired:

I picked up the first three in this series from the Library Cast-offs bookshop at Nundah, because they featured Yokai and I hadn’t heard of them before.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

A misguided belief that I would have to read all three in the series one after the other.

Best Bits:

  • The Filth Licker featured far more yokai than the first book in the series, with everything from the titular Licker, to weasels with sickles for hands, an invisible set of footsteps that just wants you to get out of his road and a devious, tofu-wielding monk. This one was so packed with yokai that it was a little hard to keep track of who was working with or for whom, and who had or hadn’t taken over which character’s body/thoughts/memory.
  • There is a lot of action in the second half of the book as the three protagonists head into the forest and are chased, kidnapped, set on fire, frozen and generally given the run around by various nefarious spirits.
  • I really like the idea of a Filth Licker demon (I’ve come across it before in other books – particularly Kathryn Tanquary’s The Night Parade – and the one in this story is just adorable.
  • I’m still enjoying coming across inexplicable spirits, like the tofu monk.  These little insights into yokai culture make me want to bust out my Yokai encyclopedia and dive on in.  It’s sitting on my TBR shelf waiting, in case you’re wondering.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This story was lacking the creepy atmosphere of the first book, and seemed to focus on the action scenes rather than developing any sense of suspense.
  • Much was made early on of Cait’s loss of memory and mood swings and I thought this was going to be more of a focus than it actually became.
  • We still don’t really know much about Miku’s inheritance of her powers.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I’m still glad I bought all three at once, because otherwise I would be umming and ahhing about whether to get the third one since I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.  One more to go in the series!

I feel like I’ve lost a bit of momentum this month with my TBR challenge.  I have a massive stack of books that I have to get through for April and the stack seems to be getting higher rather than lower unfortunately.  I’m going to aim to knock over Greenglass House next month.  Even though it’s quite a thick book I’ve been waiting literally years to read it, so I’ve made the decision that it is time to get to it.

Check out my progress toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Takeshita Demons

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TBR Friday

I know, I’m killing it!  It’s only February and I’ve already knocked over four out of my goal of twelve books from my TBR shelf for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017!  Today’s book is also going to count toward my progress in the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category #17, a book involving a mythical creature.  You can check out my progress toward all of my reading challenges here.

Today’s book is the titular book in Cristy Burne’s middle grade Takeshita Demons series, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Miku Takeshita and her family have moved from Japan to live in the UK, but unfortunately the family’s enemy demons have followed them! Miku knows she’s in trouble when her new supply teacher turns out to be a Nukekubi – a bloodthirsty demon who can turn into a flying head and whose favourite snack is children. That night, in a raging snowstorm, Miku’s little brother Kazu is kidnapped by the demons, and then it’s up to Miku and her friend Cait to get him back. The girls break into their snow-locked school, confronting the dragon-like Woman of the Wet, and outwitting the faceless Nopera-bo. At last they come face to face with the Nukekubi itself – but will they be in time to save Kazu?

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Ten Second Synopsis:
Miku, who loved hearing stories of Yokai from her Baba, has moved to England with her family. When a disappearing visitor knocks on the door, Miku is thrust into a dangerous situation, as Yokai of all types begin troubling the Takeshita family.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Close to a year

Acquired:

I picked up the first three in this series from the Library Cast-offs bookshop at Nundah, because they featured Yokai and I hadn’t heard of them before.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

A misguided belief that I would have to read all three in the series one after the other.

Best Bits:

  • These are by an Australian author – yippee!
  • If you are a fan of fantasy and mild horror for middle grade readers, then this should be a delightfully dangerous change of pace, featuring, as it does, monsters from the rich and complex mythology of Japan.  This opening book alone includes a nukekubi (a demon that can detach its head at night and send it out hunting), an amazake-baba (a demon that takes the shape of an old woman but brings sickness and disease if you let her in) and even some murderous curtains.  And that’s not the half of it.
  • If you are on the lookout for books featuring characters from diverse backgrounds, Miku and her family are Japanese, living in England.  There are plenty of Japanese words and descriptions of various customs scattered throughout, as well as a glossary of the demons that appear in the story at the end of the book.
  • The plot is deliciously creepy without being outright scary and so is perfectly suitable for younger readers.  As an adult reader I found it a fast and fun romp with a few spine-shiver-inducing elements.  Even though the protagonists are female, the action and monsters should appeal to young male readers also, making this a book that should be a winner for everyone!
  • It’s illustrated!  Throughout the book there are single page illustrations that help to bring the monstrous demons to life.
  • It’s only reasonably short.  I read it over about three days in short bursts, so it’s not an overwhelming read for independent young readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I had a few cringes at the plotting at some points.  The heroines do overcome the demons at the end, but have a bit of help that comes along in quite a handy fashion.  There are obviously parts of this book, such as the references to the Takeshita’s house-spirit back in Japan, and the allusions to the powers inherited by the female line of the family, that will be expanded on further in later books in the series.  This didn’t bother me too much, because I already have the next two stories in my possession, but may be an sticking point for someone reading this as a standalone story.
  • The author has a tendency to throw in apparently random occurences here and there, such as the noppera-bo (faceless ghost) and the yuki-onna (woman of the snow).  These characters don’t end up having much to do with the story, so either they’ve been introduced to give the reader an idea of the variety of Japanese spirits getting around the place, or they might play a part in later books.  Either way, their inclusion did amount to a number of red-herrings that ended up being a bit annoying because I wanted to know what their role in the story was going to be.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes.  In fact I’m glad I’ve got the first three because I can continue the story at my leisure.  I’ll probably end up buying the fourth book before the year’s out too.  Reading them will also give me a good chance to use my brand new Yokai encyclopedia – yipee!

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf, to await its brethren.

Can I just say how much I’m enjoying the TBR challenge this year?  I feel really motivated to get those books that I bought with such excitement off the TBR shelf and into my brain, via my optic nerves.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Top Book of 2017 Pick!

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Today’s book is one that I definitely didn’t think I would enjoy as much as I did.  It features an absorbing story, flawed characters, a bleak, unforgiving landscape and intricate, fleshed out folklore, and for these reasons and more it is our first Top Book of 2017 pick for the year!  We received our copy of The Bear and the Nightingale by debut author Katherine Arden from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

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I was a little afraid on starting this book that it would turn out to be a bit like wading through molasses, but although its a hefty tome the narrative voice is so compelling that I could have happily gone on reading for another hundred pages once it had finished.  The book begins before protagonist Vasya’s birth and the reader is made aware of the fact that there is something special about this child.  Even though her birth results in her mother’s death, we are aware that this is something Vasya’s mother chose, because Vasya will be the key to…something…in the future.  As the tale progresses we find out that Vasya has the ability to see household and woodland spirits and she, like the people of her village, ensures that these spirits are kept happy with small offerings of bread and the like.

Later, when a charismatic priest is sent to the village, the delicate balance between the people and the spirit world is upset, resulting in catastrophic changes for the village – crops fail, children die, and the muttering of the villagers begins to turn against Vasya, with the aid of her stepmother’s urging.  From here the story takes on more of a traditional fantasy atmosphere, as Vasya ventures further into the spirit world in order to save herself and her loved ones.

The greatest thing about this book is the fact that the author has remained true to the humanity of the characters while intertwining indispensable parts of the narrative that feature fantasy.  This gives the overall story an incredible feeling of authenticity even as winter demons and the walking undead plague Vasya’s village.  Real lives, innocent lives, are at stake, through folly brought about by flawed human behaviour, yet at the same time the ethereal, and the way it has been traditionally linked with the mundane by the villagers, is the key to a return to normalcy.

Vasya is a well-developed heroine, growing from the headstrong and flighty young girl into a determined young woman who is not afraid to take risks in order to secure her own path.  The women in the story are confined by the roles assigned to them by society but Vasya is different and refuses to be hemmed in, even when it seems impossible for her to resist.  Alongside Vasya are two women who are foils for each other – Dunya, the long-standing nurse of the household, who protects her charges as if they were her own children, even to her death; and Anna Ivanovna, Vasya’s stepmother, who cares more for herself than even for her own child, unless that child, Irinya, is reflecting credit on her mother through her beauty.  The male characters of Vasya’s family are both strong and gentle, fiercely protective of their daughters and sisters, yet bound to societal expectations.  The priest, Konstantin, is deeply flawed and blinded by his ego and need for attention.

While the fantasy elements of this tale, drawn from Russian folklore, are fascinating and terrifying by turns, the real heart of this story is in its humanity, and the decisions that individuals make when adversity falls in their lap.  I honestly thought that the fantasy creatures, the household spirits and the completely creepy upyr would be the highlight of the book for me but the ordinary characters were so engaging that while I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy elements, it was Vasya and her family that tipped this story over into brilliance.

I have to say that if this is the first offering from Katherine Arden, she is certainly going to be an author to keep on my watch list from now on.  If you are looking for a totally absorbing fantasy tale that never loses sight of its humanity, and have the time to devote to an epic story, I highly recommend getting lost in The Bear and the Nightingale.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Finales and New Beginnings: A YA Double Dip Review…

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Today’s YA Double Dip Review will require a snack that won’t repeat on you easily because today’s books feature a fair bit of graphic gore.  We received both of today’s titles from HarperCollins Australia for review, so let’s get dipping!

First up is the conclusion to Derek Landy’s action-packed, monster-fuelled Demon Road series, American Monsters.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Bigger, meaner, stronger.

Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face.

For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

Dip into it for…  american-monsters

…a finale that really does the series justice.  I am so glad that Landy didn’t fall into the trap of trying to draw the ending out as long as possible while attempting to eke every last ounce of readability out of the story because its an all too common tactic of authors finishing up a profitable series.  American Monsters is perfectly paced, switching between action and banter, with some excellent twists to keep the ending interesting.  The book is a reasonably quick read, which I was pleased about, and there is no faffing about introducing new characters or new plotlines that take up space. Rather, Amber and Milo get straight down to the business of hunting down her parents (with a few Astaroth-ordered stop offs along the way) while trying to figure out a way to backstab both her parents and Astaroth in one (or at the most two) easy manoeuvres.

Don’t dip if…

…you haven’t read the other books in the series.  You could probably still enjoy the action parts of the book, but as all of the characters and back story are well and truly established, you may find yourself a tad confused about what’s going on.  I myself had a bit of trouble remembering exactly who was who with a few of the bad guys and serial killers that made an appearance, and a character glossary at the beginning would have been helpful for old fogeys like me who suffer from a touch of the Old Timer’s disease.

Overall Dip Factor

I have to reiterate what a satisfying series finale this is.  It’s pacey, familiar faces turn up in unexpected places and while I did say there are no new characters to muddy the waters, there is a hitherto unmet mysterious trucker who certainly throws a few hellish spanners in the works for Amber and Milo.  There’s a lot more soul-searching going on for Amber here (although not so much that it slows the pace) as she attempts to reconcile being a demon’s servant with the more human and humane parts of herself.  The ending wraps things up nicely, while leaving the way open for a possible fourth story, but Derek Landy returning to a series after it’s obviously finished? Pfft, as if that’s likely to happen!

Next up is a story of new beginnings: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

A deeply moving portrait of a teenage girl on the verge of losing herself and the journey she must take to survive in her own skin, Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

Dip into it for… girl-in-pieces

…one part standard psychiatric hospital story, one part standard recovery story and one part interesting take on “homeless girl makes good” story.  What Glasgow has done particularly well here is the realistic depiction of the post-hospitalisation experience, in which Charlie is left on her own with no support and is expected to manage both her illness and the basic problems of life, like finding a job and somewhere to live. The short, choppy chapters, particularly at the start and towards the end of the book, reflect Charlie’s state of mind and her precarious situation. It’s obvious that Glasgow has insider knowledge about the internal conflict experienced by someone trying to recover from trauma or mental illness that swings between choosing life-affirming strategies and giving in to familiar impulses.  Charlie is a young woman who has experienced abandonment, the loss of family and friends, drug abuse, homelessness and sex trafficking before her sixteenth birthday and as a result, is left with a steep hill to climb towards a comfortable life.  Hope prevails though, surprising as that is, and Charlie keeps putting one foot in front of the other, despite being rocked by those around her.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a story bathed in sunshine and rainbows.  Even though there are some hopeful aspects to the story, overall it can come across as a pretty depressing read.  The amount of struggling that Charlie has to do just to catch a break is a bit of a downer, but once again, that’s often the reality for people on the bottom rung of society trying to climb up.  There’s also a fair amount of violence (self-harm in particular), drug use and sexual assault, so if those are topics that you’d rather steer clear of, this is definitely not the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor

While I think this is an authentic and engaging story about a traumatised young woman trying to make a go of her life against all odds, I still feel like I’ve read this all before.  Call it an occupational hazard of blogging, or the consequence of having a special interest in fiction (and particularly YA fiction) relating to mental health, but I do feel like I’ve seen this story, or versions of it, umpteen times before, in Girl, Interrupted, The Mirror World of Melody Black, The Pause, Skin and Bone, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Cracked and pretty much all of Ellen Hopkin’s work, not to mention the memoirs of Kate Richards, Sandy Jeffs, Anne Deveson and Patrick Cockburn.  If you have not delved quite as deeply as I into the realms of fiction relating to mental illness and trauma, then Girl in Pieces would probably be a good place to start, provided you are prepared for some confronting content in places.  Glasgow has left out no detail of the travails and triumphs on the road to recovery from a place of deep suffering and readers will be wishing Charlie the best of luck and all good things by the time the novel reaches its conclusion.

Have either of these titles given you an appetite for more reading?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A YA, Road-Trippin’ Double Dip of Lies and Desolation…

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I hope that you have selected a snack that is easy to transport for today’s Double-Dip because if you haven’t, there’s a high probability that you might be wearing it by the end of the trip!  Both of today’s YA titles feature road trips and nicking off in a big way, so hold onto your snacks and let’s hit the road.

First up we’re travelling with Desolation, the second book in the Demon Road trilogy, by Derek Landy.  We gratefully received a copy of this one from Harper Collins Australia for review.  In case you missed our review of the first book in the series, you can check that out here.  And here’s the Desolation‘s blurb from Goodreads:

Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.

Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose.

And that night is coming.

Dip into it for…  desolation
…another adrenaline-fuelled trip featuring violence, banter and a whole bunch of new characters.  The tale takes place in Desolation Hill this time around, a small town that might offer protection from the Hounds of Hell, and as small town oddities go, Desolation Hill has the mother of all quirks.  I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what it is, but I can tell you that Amber isn’t the only supernatural being getting around the place this time around.  I enjoyed the plethora of new characters that were introduced in this book, which include (but are not limited to) a Scooby-esque supernatural crime fighting squad that travels the Dark Highway in a van, some town officials that are older than they look, two old actors in the middle of a personal feud, a very shady police department and a character from urban legend come to terrifying life.  The fact that the story unfolds in one place means that more space is given over to developing characters and delving more deeply into the nature of Amber’s demonhood.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not up for face-shredding violence and general debauchery.  If you’ve read the first book you’ll notice that apart from the violence, Landy doesn’t shy away from including really horrible misogynistic and/or generally depraved characters.

Overall Dip Factor

I felt that this book had a bit more of a male skew to it, with some token lesbian action and more of the poor attitudes to women exhibited by many of the male characters.  While I enjoyed the changes in the story and the interesting possibilities generated by the twist at the end, the general tone of this book felt more adult and grimy that the first.  It’s certainly a series for the upper end of the YA bracket, merging into the adult market, rather than for younger readers.  I’m expecting that the final book in the series is going to shake things up even more.

Next up we have There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake, which has been shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal.  We received our copy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, she and her mother will leave the hospital and set out on a winding journey toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travelers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.

Award-winning author Nick Lake proves his skills as a master storyteller in this heart-pounding new novel. This emotionally charged thrill ride leads to a shocking ending that will have readers flipping back to the beginning.

Dip into it for…  there will be lies

…an unscheduled road trip that will leave you wondering what’s real and what the future holds.  There is an awful lot going on in this book including a mysteriously protective and manipulative mother-daughter relationship, some magical realism with a possibly North American indigenous twist, and the limitations (and advantages) of disability.  Shelby is certainly an authentically teenage narrator who is obviously working things out along with the reader.  The ending is quite satisfying in a strange, unexpected sort of way – at least I was happy to see Shelby making decisions for herself, even if they were a bit odd from an ordinary person’s perspective.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a straightforward contemporary with some mysteries along the way. When the story begins to alternate between Shelby’s journey in the real world and her quest in the strange dream-state, I felt a strong preference for the bits anchored in reality.  In my opinion, the dream-state bits felt contrived and didn’t particularly add anything to Shelby’s actions in real life.

Overall Dip Factor

Overall, I was quite engaged with the real-life bits – which featured enough twists, reveals and unexpected surprises to carry the story on its own merits – and could take or leave the dream-state bits.  This is certainly an ambitious way to tell a story and I’m sure some people will love the parallel narratives of Shelby’s life, but for me there was too much interference from flights of fancy in what was essentially an absorbing read about a teenager with an atypical past discovering who she is and who she wants to be.

If you’re in the mood for a road-trip featuring violence and/or the supernatural, you could do worse than pick up one of these two new release offerings.  Let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A “Top Book of 2015” MG Read-it-if Review: Hoodoo…

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If you’ve been wandering around in a fog of “what-do-I-read-next?” then you have stumbled into the right place. I heartily recommend today’s cracking and original tale and I have taken the rather rash and possibly disputable decision to elevate it to a place in my “Top Books of 2015” list. I received a copy of Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith from the publisher via Netgalley. Apart from that stunning cover, this historical tale has folk magic, family secrets, stranger danger, talking crows, dream travelling and one very nasty demon…not to mention the fact that it is a book that could easily slot into the “promoting diversity” category.

But enough with the tantalising descriptions! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can’t seem to cast a simple spell.   

Then a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, and Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger’s black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He’ll just need to learn how to conjure first.     

Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, Hoodoo is infused with a big dose of creepiness leavened with gentle humor.    

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Read it if:

*you’ve ever had a bad dream that seemed incredibly real…then woken up to discover that it was actually…incredibly real.

*you are possessed of a name that implies characteristics that are absent from your personality

*you’ve ever thought the whole “Stranger Danger” thing is a big overreaction from helicopter parents

*you’ve ever ignored sage advice from a trusted elder. Or a deceased relative.  Or indeed, a talking bird.

What an original little offering this book is! I truly enjoy meeting books that stand out from the thoroughly well used plotlines and characters that have populated middle grade fiction since Moses was a lad. On reading the blurb, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was, in fact, a typical “chosen one finds magic within himself and saves the world” sort of a story, but there are some important details that set this one apart.

First off, this is historical fiction, with events taking place in the 1930s, when segregation was alive and well. The author manages to weave in aspects of the period as well as some nifty little informational nuggets while keeping the plot flowing and the setting authentic. I quite enjoyed the little historical tidbits and as the book is set in the US, there were some interesting things I learned from the tale, such as the use of patterned quilts hung in cottage windows that held secret instructions for slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. I always liken fiction that teaches you something to a bonus prize you win after you think the game is over.

The sinister elements of this book are very sinister indeed, and I was surprised at how creepy the content got considering that this is a middle grade offering. Apart from the Stranger (who starts off merely unsettling and finishes in full-blown demon possession), old sulphur-boots himself makes an appearance (albeit off-stage) and the second half of the book certainly felt to me like it had a fog of malevolence blanketing the action. The plotline that requires Hoodoo to solve the riddle of the Stranger and use his folk magic to protect himself is tightly woven and will provide a challenge to those who like to puzzle things out along with the hero.

I almost wish that this was part of a series because Hoodoo is such a likeable character, and I really felt like part of his extended family as I followed his adventures. The supporting characters are well developed and there is a distinct theme of loss and re-connection as the story unfolds. The sense of warmth and welcome that exudes from the descriptions of Hoodoo’s home with Mama Frances and the obvious reliance on others that is evident in the community definitely balances out some of the more frightening aspects of the story and provides a consolation for the losses that Hoodoo has experienced in his young life.

Having read a few early reviews of Hoodoo, I do agree with some reviewers that there is something lacking overall in the execution of the tale. While I was highly impressed with the originality of the story and the way in which the author has pulled off the scarier bits, I did feel mildly dissatisfied at the end. Strangely though, I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly was missing or lacking. I did find the pacing to be unusual, with the earlier chapters almost devoid of anything magical at all (except Hoodoo’s first encounter with the Stranger) and the later chapters particularly intense in terms of danger and macabre doings. Perhaps it was this disparity in pacing that put me slightly off, making Hoodoo seem younger than his twelve years in the beginning and much older by the end.

Having said that, this was definitely a stand-out book for me for this year, for its original content, historical setting and the masterful way in which the author has developed the more frightening aspects of the story. This is certainly not a read for the faint-hearted or suggestible, but for advanced middle grade readers of stout heart and steady nerve this would be an excellent choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageI seem to be on a bit of a minor roll at the moment, with unexpectedly wonderful books popping up here and there, and I am pleased to be able to add another to my (very short) list of “Top Books of 2015”.

Today’s book is as unexpected and wonderful as it is singular and extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley. The tome in question is The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee, being the first in a new series relating The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. I hasten to warn that this book, with its oddities and profanities, will not be for everyone but if you are hankering after a blindingly original array of characters forced into unruly submission by an author with an obvious mastery of the written word, then there is a good chance that this book will be for you.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

1888.  A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.

Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

mirror and goliath

 

Here, then, are five things I’ve learned from

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath

1. Never trust a man in a waistcoat. Particularly one made of whimsically decorated fabric.

2. Never trust anyone who names themselves after an opposable body part. 

3.  Should you ever be invited to take an especially close look at the workings of a coffin-sized clock, it would be prudent to decline. 

4. When being pursued by demons and humans of dubious origin, it is recommended that you seek the services of a large, battle-trained protector with the ability to shape-shift.

5. Socks, while generally considered an unimaginative gift for older male relatives, are also much less likely to see the giver murdered for the immortality-inducing properties of their soul.

 

I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than a few times how highly an original story is valued in my reviewing world. Being that I churn through a stupidly high number of books a year – my Goodreads challenge chart is telling me that I have read 68 books this year so far – it is only reasonable to expect that much of the time there will be a niggling feeling of having read something like the story in which I find myself immersed, at any given time, before. It is a real and almost tangible treat then, to come across a tale about which one can truly say, “This is different!” The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath is one such book and I put its originality down to the obvious and remarkable talent of the author.

The story is all over the place – and I mean this in the exciting and invigorating sense, not in the “Good Lord, this book is all over the place!” sense that is usually uttered with head in hands – as various characters (both main and minor) muscle in on the telling. The setting ranges from a woody cottage to the depths of the Underworld to the deserts of Cairo to a less-than-reputable clock shop. The characters are human and demon and almost, not-quite. There’s violence and one-liners and escapes and unsavoury dinner parties. Over the course of the tale, a number of characters are referred to as mad – “mad as a spoon”, “mad as a hat”, “mad as scissors” – and while a definite atmosphere of mild insanity hangs over the proceedings, at no point did I feel that the author was letting things get out of (her) hand.

Apart from the welcome and inspiring originality of the tale, the shining light has to be the book’s narrative style. Bee manages to be simultaneously lyrical and distinctly unnerving, mixing dry wit with outlandish, almost slapstick violence and a sense of the poetical with deeds unequivocally wicked. While the title refers to Mirror and Goliath, the main character here turns out to be John Loveheart, Esq., who embodies this sense of innately flawed hilarity and carries it to the nth degree.

By the end of this book I was utterly convinced that I want to read more from Ishbelle Bee, whether in this series or elsewhere. It is rare, in my experience, to come across such finesse with the use of language that one feels excited just to be experiencing the words on the page. I therefore have to commend this book into place number four on my “Top Books of 2015” list, which is growing at a slow but steady pace.

Until next time,

Bruce