TBR Friday: Over My Dead Body…

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TBR Friday

Following hot on the heels of last week’s TBR Friday, I have another contribution for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 climb! I’ve snuck in a sneakily short read that’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for ages.  It wasn’t on my list to get through this year but because it was so quick to read, and I’m behind on my review schedule, I thought I’d knock it over and at least feel like I was making progress toward some kind of reading goal.  This week it’s book two in Kate and Sarah Klise’s 43 Old Cemetery Road middle grade series, Over My Dead Body.

Ten Second Synopsis:

Following on from the events of book one of the series, 43 Old Cemetery Road, abandoned child Seymour Hope, cranky writer Ignatius Grumply and ghostly Olive C. Spence are dwelling happily at Spence Mansion, when nasty sort Dick Tater investigates the living arrangements, and throws Seymour in an orphanage and Ignatius in an asylum.  Determined to reunite, Olive must put her ghostly skills into action to defy Tater and bring her boys home.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Three years less a month.  Bought in July 2014!!

Acquired:

From the Book Depository.  I bought all four of the books in the series at the same time and have since left all but the first languishing on the shelf.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a short book so I’ve always had the feeling that I could rip through it any old time.  Of course, with its series brethren on the shelf there has always been the lingering sense that I’d have to read them all at the same time.  Still, this is no excuse, because I could probably get through all of them in less than two hours total.

Best Bits:

  • I had completely forgotten that these books are formatted as a series of letters, newspaper articles and illustrations (which means I’ll also be submitting it for the Epistolary Challenge – hooray!).  In fact, Olive, the ghost, ONLY communicates through letter writing (and interrupting other people’s written work).  The constantly changing fonts and heavy emphasis on illustration is a major strength of the series.
  • I had sort of forgotten what had happened in the first book, since it’s been three years since I’d read it, but it was easy enough to pick up again.  The book has a little illustrated recap at the start so any readers new to the series will be brought up to speed.  It was interesting to see Ignatius being not so grumpy this time around, but Seymour’s parents are even nastier and more conniving here, if that’s possible.
  • Once again, Olive is beguiling as the ghost of an elderly mystery writer.  I loved how the townsfolk help her out despite claiming not to believe in her existence.
  • I still think this series is an absolute winner for early middle grade readers.  The story is quick and engaging, the format is brilliantly accessible and the characters are quirky enough to keep the attention.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This story didn’t grab me quite as much as the first book did.  The plotline of Dick Tater trying to burn books and cancel Halloween seemed a bit silly really.  Luckily, it’s such a quick read that even if the story was a bit underwhelming, the format and the brevity make up for it.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I’m glad I’ve got the series ready to go, because I want to see if the next book is as good as the first.

Where to now for this tome?

Not sure.  I might hang on to all the books til I’ve finished the series, then put them in Suitcase Rummage as a set.  Or donate them to the mini-fleshlings’ school library.

And with that, I have reached Pike’s Peak – twelve books – and my Mount TBR Challenge goal for the year.  I haven’t officially made the decision to extend my goal yet.  I’m going to ponder it a little more.  Stay tuned!  And you can check out my progress toward this year’s reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Death Tourism, Mountain Climbing and the Third Man: The White Road…

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the white road

If you are the sort of person who enjoys caving, climbing and generally squeezing yourself into dangerous and risky spaces, I should probably let you know that you and I may well have personalities that are polar opposites.  Not being a fan of tight spaces like caves (gargoyle generally showing more preference for wide open spaces) and not seeing the point of pointlessly risking one’s life to climb Everest, it was with slight misgivings that I delved into The White Road by Sarah Lotz, which we received from Hachette Australia for review.  Brace yourselves my friends, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Adrenaline junkie Simon Newman sneaks onto private land to explore a dangerous cave in Wales with a strange man he’s met online. But Simon gets more than he bargained for when the expedition goes horribly wrong. Simon emerges, the only survivor, after a rainstorm trap the two in the cave. Simon thinks he’s had a lucky escape.

But his video of his near-death experience has just gone viral.

Suddenly Simon finds himself more famous than he could ever have imagined. Now he’s faced with an impossible task: he’s got to defy death once again, and film the entire thing. The whole world will be watching. There’s only on place on earth for him to pit himself against the elements: Mt Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.

But Everest is also one of the deadliest spots on the planet. Two hundred and eighty people have died trying to reach its peak.

And Simon’s luck is about to run out.

Despite my pathological fear of getting stuck in a tight space, the first chapter of this book – which deals with protagonist Simon’s ill-advised venture into a disused cave system with a complete nutter of a guide, to photograph the corpses of some lads who had previously undertaken the same ill-advised caving venture – had me hooked throughout.  The author manages to blend mental banter with a fear of the dark and the off-putting instability of Simon’s guide Ed to create a thoroughly absorbing situation.  It is in this first experience that the ills that plague Simon for the rest of the book are set up and it is certainly masterfully done.

There are a few convenient plot twists immediately after this.  Simon’s blog partner and cold-hearted prick of a room-mate Thierry decides that after the “success” of Simon’s caving mission – in website traffic, if nothing else – Simon should pop off to Everest to film some corpsicles.  The money is duly raised and after mild protests from Simon due to his fragile mental state, the plan is enacted.  These little niggles with Thierry’s actions were forgivable I found, because this is really a book about Simon and his demons; an introspective thriller, if you will, based on why things happen rather than how they happen.

The book is split into a number of parts.  The first deals with Simon’s caving experience.  The second part introduces Juliet by means of her diary.  Juliet is a female mountain climber of some repute (both good and bad) whose goal is to summit Everest without oxygen aids.  Her diary reveals her interesting mental state at the time and her story becomes intertwined with Simon’s bid to scale Everest and take photos of frosty corpses, both as its happening and once it’s finished.  The next part deals with Simon’s ascent of Everest and the complex interpersonal relationships between the climbers and the secrets they seem to be hiding.  Finally, the denouement observes Simon’s descent into unreality as he grapples with the need to bring closure to his experiences.

I became gripped by Simon’s struggles the further into the book I read.  The thriller part of the story was being enacted totally within Simon himself but was beautifully balanced with the physical action of the caving and mountain climbing sections.  The dark, frosty atmosphere of the settings made this a perfect winter read – if you can call Brisbane’s mild drops in temperature “winter” – and I quite happily rugged up under the covers to escape into Simon’s deteriorating sense of self.  (Schadenfreude for the win!)

Overall I was impressed with the way that the author managed the multiple threads of each character’s story to create a complex mix of psychological thriller and action.  The ending was satisfyingly ambiguous and deliciously creepy, which was a nice payoff for having slogged up Everest and through a horrid cave system with Simon while plagued by the thought of a malevolent watcher – twice each.  If you are looking for a book that will truly provide an escape from the mundane, I can heartily recommend The White Road.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Furthest Station: A DC Peter Grant Mini-Mystery…

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the furthest station

Long time readers of the blog will be aware of we Shelf Dwellers’ love of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant urban fantasy/police procedural series of novels.  Happily, instead of making fans wait ages for the next book in the series to come out, Aaronovitch has cleverly taken to including short stories, graphic novels and exclusive audiobooks to sate the appetites of his fans.   The Furthest Station is one of these stories and it is set between books five and six of the series (that’s Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree, for those interested).  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

More than just enjoying the story presented here, I absolutely adored the shorter format.  If you have been following my reviews of this series, you’ll know that my high expectations garnered from reading the first three books led to some disappointment with some of the later books in the series.  One of my main complaints in these reviews was directed at the filler material and slow pacing that seemed to plague the stories and the shorter format of The Furthest Station rectified that problem beautifully.

Even though the tale is short, it misses none of the humour, action and unexpected twists of the novels.  The story starts off as a ghost hunt; reports of apparitions on the Chesham train line are compounded in weirdness when the victims doing the reporting apparently forget all about their complaint within a few hours of making it.  Then a chance encounter with a roving spirit on a train leads to a tip off as to the whereabouts of a possible missing woman.

There is enough in the way of mystery here to keep readers guessing and while  the magical booms and bangs are kept to a minimum there are more cerebral problems for readers to engage with.  The inclusion of Abigail, Peter’s younger magically endowed cousin, adds variety to the story as well as raising the question about how to address Abigail’s magical abilities with her parents. A new river god also makes an appearance, which, given his tender age, could make things interesting in later stories.

Having enjoyed this reading experience, I will definitely be making a point to scout out the extra material that has been included in this series, hopefully beginning with the graphic novels.  If you’re a fan of the series already, you should definitely add these short stories to your TBR and if you haven’t got started with DC Grant yet – what are you waiting for?

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Greenglass House

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TBR Friday

I’m struggling to keep the momentum up this last month for the Mount TBR Challenge 2017, but I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve finally knocked over Greenglass House by Kate Milford which has been on my TBR list since I pre-ordered it in 2014.  Never mind that it took two years to arrive, but that’s another story.  Let’s crack on.

greenglass house

Ten Second Synopsis:

Milo and his parents are settling in for Christmas at their historical inn when a collection of strangers arrive unannounced for a prolonged stay. At first it seems the travellers aren’t connected but after Milo and his friend Meddy begin investigating, it appears that all of these disparate people are at Greenglass House for the same reason.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Technically since mid-2014, physically since October 2016.  See below for details.

Acquired:

I first put this on pre-order at the Book Depository back in mid 2014, when it was originally released.  I put the pre-order on the paperback, which was releasing in the middle of 2015 because I’m cheap and  I figured I could wait that long.  Then the release date got pushed out to September of 2015.  I was tetchy, but accepted this.  THEN the release date got pushed out to September 2016!  It arrived in October 2016.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Because it only arrived seven months ago.  Obvs.  Also, it’s quite hefty, so I had to find make time to fit it in.

Best Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  The mystery is drawn out and is also quite cerebral, since the players in the mystery are confined to one house in bad weather.  The story does has some echoes of the golden age of crime fiction about it, but since no crime has been committed (at least at first), it also has the feel of a fun, imaginative adventure game.  I’ve heard it compared to The Westing Game and there is definitely a similarity in the plotting, but Greenglass House doesn’t have the urgency or high stakes of that book and so is a bit cosier overall.
  • Tabletop roleplay gaming is a big feature of the story, with Milo and Meddy taking on characters as they solve the mystery.  Milo’s blackjack/escaladeur character, Negret, allows Milo to think outside the box and take risks that Milo himself normally wouldn’t, while Meddy’s Sirin, a scholiast, or invisible angel type character has a great significance to the story that didn’t strike me until close to the end of the book.
  • Because there are only two child characters in a house of adults, the book avoids annoying middle grade tropes and gets down to brass tacks as the kids use all their cunning and game-smarts to uncover the adults’ secrets.
  • The adult characters tell stories throughout the book, so we are treated to stories within the greater story and you can be sure each of these stories drops some clues about the adults who tell them and secrets they might be hiding.
  • The story, house and myths about the area feel like they could really be true, which adds a sense of realism to the magical realism.
  • Milo’s parents are ordinary people – hooray!  It’s so rare to have parents in middle grade stories that are (a) present (b) completely normal (as opposed to being gods, magicians, spies or generally not what their children think they are) and (c) involved in their child’s life.  I also liked that Milo is adopted, which plays something of a role in the story, but isn’t the big clincher – just a part of who he is.
  • The book is set at Christmas, but has very little to do with Christmas, and so is a perfect choice for when you want that Christmas time feeling without having to actually read about Christmas.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  That means that the pacing is quite slow and discoveries are rationed out over the course of the book.  While I enjoyed the read and was absorbed throughout, I won’t be picking up the sequel straight away.  I’ll need some time to decompress before I become sucked into the second mystery in the series.
  • There is a twist toward the end of the book that I didn’t see coming and although I came to terms with it reasonably quickly, I felt a little betrayed that the author had taken such a route when the rest of the book seemed so authentic and grounded (barring the smugglers, strangers, thieves, spies and customs officials).  I’ll have to wait and see how it pans out in the second book before I make too many judgments though.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes, because it is highly unlikely that I would have ever borrowed such a hefty book from the library.  To balance that out though, I’m not sorry I had to wait so long before getting to it.

Where to now for this tome?

The permanent shelf…for now.

I’m also submitting Greenglass House for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in category #35: a book set in a hotel.  You can check out my progess toward all my 2017 challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through (Aussie) Middle Grade: The Turnkey…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

Today I’ve got the final book in my recent run of World War II related reads, with The Turnkey by Aussie author Allison Rushby.  We excitedly received this one from Walker Books Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?

turnkey

The Turnkey is a solid, original and intriguing tale that has the perfect blend of mystery, history and paranormal activity.  Flossie is the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery in London, a job which involves ensuring that the dead interred in the cemetery remain – for the most part – peacefully at rest.  With the Blitz causing chaos every night, Flossie seeks solace in visiting some of the other Turnkeys in London’s major cemeteries.  On a midnight sojourn to St Paul’s Cathedral – a favourite thinking spot – Flossie encounters a ghost who shouldn’t, by the laws of the afterlife, be there (never mind that he’s dressed in the uniform of a Nazi SS Officer) and is drawn into a mystery that could tip the scales of the war in favour of the Nazis.

Flossie is an immediately likable character and throughout the story demonstrates her resilience, courage in adversity and compassion for those in difficult situations.  The Nazi officer, who we discover has an unexpected link to Flossie herself, is suitably evil and frightening, and each of the Turnkeys that we meet has his or her own personality, quirks and in some cases, secrets.

I always love books for young readers that aren’t set in schools.  Apart from the fact that being school-less allows the author to neatly avoid all those boring, repetitive, school-bully-based tropes, the non-school setting also makes books for young readers more accessible and interesting for grown up readers.  Such was the case with The Turnkey.  In fact, I kept forgetting that Flossie was meant to be twelve years old – albeit a reasonably long-dead twelve years old – such was the adult appeal of the novel. I love a good set-in-the-Blitz story also and the mix of bombed out London with the atmospheric cemeteries really worked to give a sense of the never-ending clean up and rescue operations that coloured that particular time in London’s history.

The pacing of this story was spot-on, with no filler material included to slow things down.  Reveals came at regular intervals with just enough new information to spur the reader on to discover the next twist in the ghostly Nazi’s plans.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to maintain all the threads of the story without losing the quality of each along the way.  By the end of the book the reader gets to experience the paranormal aspect of the Turnkeys working together (plus some patriotic and enthusiastic ghostly members of the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital), a journey into Churchill’s war rooms and the war rooms of the Nazis, a glimpse into the reality of those living and dying in the rubble and shelters and hospital wards of London during the Blitz, and a fantasy element featuring ancient artifacts.  None of these separate plot threads felt forced or tacked on and taken together they added greatly to the originality and atmosphere of the novel.

The only thing that could have made this book better – as I say with pretty much every book, everywhere – would be pictures.  I remember seeing a documentary or something on the Chelsea Pensioners and their red jackets and it would be awesome (and instructive for younger readers) to see some images of these iconic characters, as well as some images of the actual cemeteries or London during the Blitz for example.  There is a little author’s note at the back with some historical information and it was nice to see that the author had also consulted that seminal of cemetery-related tomes, Katherine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead.  **I read this ages ago and thought I was amongst a select few, but it keeps popping up as a reference authors have used for lots of fiction books that I’ve come across.  Give it a read if you feel inclined.**

 

I’m fairly sure that this is intended as a standalone novel but I would be interested in seeing what happens next for Flossie.  Given that she’s dead and doesn’t have to age or experience the changes of growing up, it would be cool to see a progression of historical/fantasy/mystery novels featuring the Turnkeys of London’s major cemeteries in different time periods up to the present.  I’d read them, anyway!

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly World War II fiction and you can’t go past a paranormal twist I would definitely recommend hunting down The Turnkey.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Lockwood & Co #4: The Creeping Shadow…

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lockwood-and-co-creeping-shadow

We Shelf-Dwellers love Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series.

We know it.

You know it.

Let’s just accept it as fact and move on.

If you haven’t had a crack at this series yet and you are a fan of paranormal, ghost hunting books, you are missing out.  Enough said.  We jumped at the chance to review book four in the series – The Creeping Shadow – when it was offered by the publisher via Netgalley (even though we haven’t got to book three yet), and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy has left Lockwood & Co. A freelance operative, she is hiring herself out to other agencies – agencies that might value her ever-improving skills.

But now Lockwood needs her help.

Penelope Fittes, leader of the well-renowned Fittes Agency wants Lockwood & Co. – and only them – to locate and remove the ‘Source’ for the legendary Brixton Cannibal.

It’s a tough assignment. Made worse by the tensions between Lucy and the other agents – even the skull is treating her like a jilted lover!

What will it take to reunite the team? Black marketeers, an informant ghost, a Spirit Cape that transports the wearer, and mysteries involving their closest rivals may just do the trick.

But not all is at it seems. And it’s not long before a shocking revelation rocks Lockwood & Co. to its very core . . .

*There may be spoilers here from book two and beyond.  Read at your own risk*

I think this is the most intriguing book of the series so far (although, admittedly, I haven’t read the third book yet – The Hollow Boy), with Lucy’s relationship with Lockwood & Co being first and foremost in the mind of the reader the whole way through.  Having skipped straight to book four when opportunity arose meant that I haven’t been privy to the events of book three in which Lucy parts ways with Lockwood & Co and strikes out on her own as a freelance operative, ably aided by the skull in a jar.  Even though it’s obvious that book three dealt with some pretty major events, I didn’t feel particularly out of the loop here because essentially, all the reader needs to know is that (a) Lucy left Lockwood & Co and (b) the skull played a part in this leaving.

The early chapters of the book have a distinct air of melancholy about them as Lucy spends most of her time, when not freelancing for various sub-par agencies, alone in her bedsit with the skull, which, I’m sure we can all agree, is a bit depressing really.  It’s obvious that she misses the team, but feels that she must stay away for the greater good of everyone and Lockwood particularly.  Soon enough though, excitement kicks off as Lockwood invites Lucy back for a one-off job that quickly turns into a second job and so on.  The initial two ghost hunts (involving a historical witch and a seriously creepy cannibal serial killer) are particularly atmospheric and frightening.  The unexpected inclusion of Quill Kipps – ex-Fittes agency smug git and Lockwood & Co antagonist from way back – adds a new dimension to the tale as the team swells to five members, all of whom seem to have a bit of a beef (or at least a niggling irritation) with at least one of the other members.

There are some amazing reveals at the end of the story that I didn’t see coming and these will certainly be of great interest in the fifth (and final, apparently – booooo!) installment when it is released.  I won’t spoil any of the action for you, but the final hunt for the team involves a seriously haunted village that seems to be experiencing a sort of plague of ghosts, ever since a well-known research institute moved in down the road.  If you count the skull as the sixth member of the team – which Lucy obviously does – it is apparent that all six members will need every ounce of their wits about them for the next book, due to a “warning” (read: threat) from one of the top folks in the ghost hunting field, as well as a shocking tidbit of information that gets dropped just pages before the end.

The Creeping Shadow is simultaneously more of the same from the Lockwood & Co gang and the potential for fascinating new directions, so I am definitely looking forward to the final book in the series.  Now I just have to go back and read book three before number five is  released.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: The Hounds of Penhallow Hall

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meandering-through-middle-grade

We’re back with what is arguably my favourite reading age-group today – middle grade, with its boldly imagined worlds and indomitable characters.  Today I have a story we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  The Hounds of Penhallow Hall: The Moonlight Statue by Holly Webb and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft is a classic tale of a new home, loneliness and finding friends in unexpected places.  Here’s the blurb from Netgalley:

For Poppy, moving to Penhallow Hall is the fresh start she’s been longing for since the death of her father. Her mum has got a job managing the stately home and once the last of the visitors leave for the day the place is all theirs! One night, Poppy sleepwalks into the garden and wakes to find her hand on the head of one of the stone dogs that guard the steps down to the lawn. Then she feels him lick her cheek! The dog introduces himself as Rex, an Irish Wolfhound who lived at Penhallow many hundreds of years earlier. And he is not the only resident ghost – Poppy has also glimpsed a strange boy around the place. With Rex’s help she finds herself unravelling the story of his beloved master, William Penhallow, who was killed in the First World War aged only 17.

hounds-of-penhallow-hall

Having a quick browse on Goodreads, it became apparent that Holly Webb has written quite a significant back catalogue of cutesy books about puppies, kittens, fairies and princesses for the younger end of the middle grade age bracket.  While there is a definite whiff of the cutesy about The Hounds of Penhallow Hall, the story overall fits nicely into the typical tropes about moving to a new, unexpectedly magical home with which the middle grade fantasy genre is replete.

There is really nothing new or particularly original about this story – a girl moves to a Big House with her mother, gets very lonely, discovers a fluffy magical companion and solves the mystery (such as it is) of a boy haunting the house.  There are no major problems to  overcome, no sense of particular danger or suspense and everything gets wrapped up quickly and easily with little struggle or fuss.  For that reason, this is one of those middle grade books that will appeal much more to younger readers than it will older readers of middle grade.

The story itself had a bit of an old-timey feel, probably due to the oft-used content, but Polly is instantly likable, Rex is the kind of companion anyone would love to have, and the ghost boy, William, caves quickly enough from his stroppy mood to make us like him too.  I will admit that reading this book did strengthen my already quite strong desire to make a wolfhound part of the Shelf family, however impractical that may be.

I would have liked to see a bit more conflict in this book; conflict in the sense of a problem that Polly has to solve or overcome to give the narrative a bit of oomph or suspense.  As it is, the story arc is basic and there didn’t seem to me to be enough of a hook to keep independent readers engaged, unless they particularly love dogs.

Overall, this is one that fell short of my expectations, but should appeal to the younger end of the middle grade audience and those who would love the idea of a magical doggy companion.

Until next time,

Bruce