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

 

 

The Round-Up to (Figuratively) End All Round -Ups!

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And so I’m back!  The laptop remains unfixed, but will hold out until after Christmas at least so I can round out the year with new content.  To kick us off, I will now bombard you with all the books that I was supposed to review in the last week – eight in all!  I’ve got fantasy, sci-fi, non-fiction self-help, YA, schlock horror, a graphic novel and some literary fiction, so if you can’t find something to tickle your fancy in this post, you probably actually don’t like reading all that much.  I received all of the following books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s get into it while we’re still young.

Broken Prophecy (K. J. Taylor)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  broken prophecy

Despite appearances to the contrary, Ambit is determined not to be the Chosen One.  Things quickly go pear-shaped however as Ambit is burdened with annoying companions and bizarre coincidences that push him toward greatness against his wishes.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

If you enjoy a bit of fantasy and don’t take yourself (or your fantasy tropes) too seriously, then you should find lots to enjoy in Ambit’s adventure.  Ambit is the quintessential anti-hero who, against his will, appears to be the Chosen One who will fulfil the prophecy and save humanity from the demon menace.  As Ambit’s best friend happens to be a demon, it is unlikely that motivation to act as the Chosen One is going to arise in him anytime soon.  Ambit is irreverent, dismissive of authority and generally perfectly happy to do his own thing and let destiny take care of itself.  Unfortunately, in his quest to not be the Chosen One, he becomes burdened with a bunch of companions with a diverse  range of irritating characteristics and for a while there it looks like destiny will have her way with Ambit regardless.  The only problem I had with the book was that in between the main action sequences, it felt like the author got a bit bored with the story and just wanted to hurry things along with some bland padding.  At one point, Ambit begins to remark on how, despite what he does, his goals start to be met and the right people pop up out of the woodwork, and although this is part of the spoof factor of the story, it doesn’t really make for interesting reading.   Overall, however, I found this story to be fun, full of comic situations and generally a solid choice for those who enjoy a bit of spoof of the fantasy genre.

Brand it with:

Marked by fate, band of companions, demons v humans

The Midnight Gardener: The Town of Superstition #1 (R. G. Thomas)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the midnight gardener

Thaddeus moves to a new town and is entranced by a whistling gardener next door who only seems to work at night. After a chance meeting, it seems that the gardener may hold the answer to the disappearance of his mother years ago.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

Garden gnomes. That’s why.  Yes, along with dragons, were-beasts and faeries, this book features garden gnomes, a group of fantastical beings that is woefully underused in my opinion, especially in YA.  This book has a nice blend of urban and traditional fantasy with the added bonus of a relatable main character and romance that isn’t overdone.  The people who populate the town of Superstition are all just a bit too good to be true and of course many of them turn out to be embroiled in the secrets surrounding the disappearance of Thaddeus’s mother and the reasons Thaddeus and his father have spent so many years moving from place to place.  It’s also refreshing to see a YA book featuring a father that isn’t a deadbeat, absent and antagonistic or generally incompetent in some way.  This is a strong YA offering alternating between mystery and heart-pounding action, that will appeal to readers looking for a book that features a mythical creature we don’t often get to see and a slow-burn adventure that really takes off toward the end.

Brand it with:

LGBQT heroes, Not-your-nanna’s-garden-gnomes, appropriately-named-small-towns

** I am submitting this book for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of Odd Subject Matter – garden gnomes being ones I have never before encountered in YA fiction**

The Tea Machine (Gill McKnight)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the tea machine

Plunged into a violent battle against giant space squid, Sangfroid witnesses the deaths of her fellow soldiers.  Waking up after being rescued from a similar fate, she discovers that time is not what it seems and there may be a way to right the wrongs of her past, with the help of a time-travelling, inventoress named Millicent.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This story will greatly appeal to those who love being thrown in the deep end of an original, fantasy or sci-fi world.  I only received a few sample chapters of the full novel (which explained why the whole thing was so short!!) but right from the first page, the reader is plunged into gory, squiddy warfare in which only the toughest (quite literally) will survive.  I found the learning curve of the first few chapters pretty steep and just as things started to make a bit of sense, the sample chapters came to an end, which was disappointing to say the least.  This certainly looks like the promising beginning of a series that will be snapped up by those who love crazy, unexpected adventures laced with time-wimey stuff and strange, speculative worlds.

Brand it with:

Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-beardie-weirdie stuff, squid soldiers, when in (speculative future) Rome…

F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice For Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems (Michael I. Bennett & Sarah Bennett)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fuck feelings

A solid, well-categorised self-help guide to getting a grip on the problems that are stopping you from being at peace with your life (crap as it may be).  Essentially, this is the slightly, more in-depth version of Bob Newhart’s “Stop It” sketch.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is one self-help book that actually does what it says on the tin.  Without resorting to technobabble or therapy-speak, the authors set out in an easy-to-follow format their theory for getting over “issues” and accepting life as it is.  Each issue – be it alcoholism (your own or others’), disconnection from family, social awkwardness or something else – is given its own little section, with dot points laying out why this is an issue in your life (or someone else’s) and what you can do (and think) to stop it leeching the living out of you.  There’s even a little script for each issue that you can say to yourself (or some other relevant person in your life) to reinforce the thinking that should help you accept that sometimes life will be sh*tty and there’s not a great deal we can do about it.  I wouldn’t recommend reading it cover-to-cover (unless you’ve got some serious problems!!) but it would be a handy tome to keep on the shelf to dip into and reference when life throws unexpected (or inevitable) sh*tstorms your way.

Brand it with:

Life sucks and then you die, Dr Phil on steroids, help is on the way (maybe. Probably not though)…

Demon Road (Derek Landy)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  demon road

Amber is an uber-ordinary girl with distant but adequate parents. Until she turns into a demon and her parents try to eat her heart. Then sh*t gets real.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a right little cracker of a read that will satisfy existing Landy fans and bring on board Landy newcomers.  I have only read the first of the massively successful Skulduggery Pleasant series (and that was years ago) but I immediately recognised Landy’s action-infused and subtly humorous style.  Readers looking for a fun, fast, bloodthirsty (in parts), fantasy road-trip adventure will lap this up and rightly so – it has all the elements of a fantastic, engaging read.  My only problem with the story was Glen – the most anti-stereotypical and annoying Irishman ever penned – and I would have been quite happy if he’d been eaten by some sort of mythical creature early in the piece.  The banter between he and Amber was just irritating to me and so I was quite happy when….spoilers, sorry.  I got sucked right into this from the early pages – which feature some quite shocking violence and stomach-churning, angry-making verbal and physical violence toward women (and specifically woman…Amber).  This is part of the story and not gratuitous, but it still got my adrenaline pumping for a rumble and therefore I was also majorly happy when …spoilers again.  This is definitely for the upper YA/adult market due to strong violence, language and a few sexual references.  Highly recommended for some demonical fun.

Brand it with:

You think your parents are tough?, Great American Road Trip, an Irishman walks into a bar

Monsterland (Michael Phillip Cash)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monsterland

When Wyatt practices a good deed, he inadvertently receives an invite to the grand opening of the worldwide phenomenon, Monsterland – a theme park, the brainchild of inventor Vincent Conrad and touted as the new, humane solution to the worlds’ vampire, werewolf and zombie problems.  Vincent Conrad is Wyatt’s idol – but will seeing the park close up change Wyatt’s mind?

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a wonderfully fun, schlock horror, gore-fest that can best be described as Jurassic Park with zombies, werewolves and vampires instead of dinosaurs.  Vincent Conrad plans to open multiple parks simultaneously across the globe, housing zombies (victims of a plague infection), werewolves and vampires, in an act of humane containment and providing the opportunity for research and cure of the poor unfortunates’ conditions.  All of the worlds’ rulers, presidents and government officials have been invited to said openings.  What could possibly go wrong?!  Plenty, as I’m sure you can imagine.  If you are expecting some kind of original twist on the “monsters breaking out of confinement and reigning merry hell on their captors and innocent bystanders” theme you’ll be disappointed.  If however, you are looking forward to the “monsters breaking out of confinement and reigning merry hell on their captors and innocent bystanders” theme playing out in a graphic and action-packed fashion, then this will be right up your street.  I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it is: good old-fashioned escapism at its pacey, predictable, “it’s behind you!!!” best.

Brand it with:

It’s behind you!!, I heart monsters, stragglers eaten first

Camp Midnight (Steven T. Seagle & Jason Katzenstein)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  camp midnight

Skye is sent to summer camp and is determined to have a bad time just to spite her father and stepmother – but she ends up on the wrong bus and bad times are about to catch up to her.  Finding herself in a camp full of (literal) monsters means that Skye is going to have to be extra crafty to outwit, outplay and outlast her fellow campers if she doesn’t want them to discover a human hiding in plain sight.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is a fun and fast-paced story about friendship, family and getting your fright on.  Skye is a typical early teen with a surly stepmother who will do anything to get Skye out of the way on her annual stay at her father’s house.  Although ending up on a camp full of monsters wasn’t part of the plan, Skye discovers that the term “monster” is subjective and those that look like monsters may be harbouring some very down-to-earth wisdom behind a frightening exterior.  This is a pretty typical story arc, with Skye learning some lessons about herself by the end, but the narrative is presented with plenty of humour and middle-grade graphic novel fans should really enjoy it.  It is also a reasonably long read for a graphic novel, which is satisfying for those of us who always find this format too short.

Brand it with:

Stepmonsters, unhappy campers, born to be wild

The Children’s Home (Charles Lambert)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the childrens home

Morgan, a recluse with a facial disfigurement, resides in his family estate far from civilisation with only his housekeeper Engel for company.  When children begin appearing at the estate one by one, it is the catalyst for Morgan’s re-entry into the world and his discovery that wilful ignorance is no guarantee that the truth will not find you in the end.

Muster Up the Motivation Because:

This is literary fiction that is thoroughly accessible to the non-literary fan.  While there are clearly elements to the story that are allegorical, symbolic of some greater issue or providing subtle commentary on humanity’s obsession with power and suffering, the tale can also be read as just a slightly off-kilter, mildly creepy examination of one man’s journey to self-acceptance.  Morgan, Doctor Crane and Engel are all very likeable characters and this really helped me to stay engaged with the story when things started to get weird.  One of the things that annoys me most about literary fiction is its tendency to be unnecessarily hefty, with pages and pages going by in which nothing happens but elliptical conversation or self-indulgent musing.  Thankfully, in The Children’s Home, time is not wasted on edit-worthy navel-gazing and there always seems to be something new happening – a new child coming into the home, an unexpected discovery in one of the rooms, some information about the characters’ back stories – to gently nudge the plot forward.  I think, for the right reader, this could definitely be a highly moving piece, with its themes of loss, disconnection, abuse, responsibility and personal morality in the face of injustice, but for me it ended up being just a deeply engaging story about some very interesting characters, some extremely unusual medical models and one supremely annoying young man (who comes good in the end).

Brand it with:

Unexpected parental responsibilities, personal growth, unusual gardening methods


Do your eyeballs feel like sandpaper after all that reading?  One of the advantages of being made of stone is that I can read for hours with little to no eyeball drying.  I hope you’ve found something within this herd to make you perk up a little.

I look forward to presenting you with a very exciting offering on Christmas Day!

And for those that are interested in participating, Fiction in 50 will be kicking off on Monday the 28th of December, with the prompt:

venturing forth buttonUntil next time,

Bruce