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?

takeshita-demons

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

Adult Fiction Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day…

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Today’s book is an original ghostly tale that delves into the question, “if your afterlife was spent stuck on Earth, how would you spend it?”  The characters in this story answer that question in a range of ways that you might not expect.  We received a copy of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it for the Colour-Coded Reading Challenge 2017 and the PopSugar Reading Challenge, under the category of a book from a non-human perspective.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Considering that, at its heart, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, there is a significant amount of philosophising about the nature of life and the meaning of atonement in this book.

This is not a bad thing.

In fact, it gives what could have been a basic urban fantasy (or urban paranormal, possibly) story a deeper element on which to ponder.

I found Jenna to be an immediately likable narrator.  Having accidentally met her own death while grieving after the suicide of her older sister, Jenna spends her afterlife working on a volunteer suicide prevention hotline in order to avoid other families having to experience the death of a loved one by their own hand.  In doing so, Jenna is “earning” her way towards her final death – the day on which she was intended to die, had she not run out into a lightning storm and been prematurely frazzled.

The early parts of the book are heavy with world-building, because the author has set up specific rules regarding the type of person who can become a ghost, what ghosts can affect in the living world and why some ghosts have been around longer than others.  In fact, the bulk of the story involves Jenna finding out more about the laws that govern her afterlife, as ghosts start disappearing and her semi-comfortable existence begins to crumble.  For those who like a fantasy twist in their paranormal, McGuire’s world also includes witches (who can be male or female), whose powers link them to a particular object, be it organic or built, and shape how that power might be wielded.

The characters are the strong suit of this particular story, with Jenna ably accompanied by Delia, an elderly ghost who provides cheap housing for both living and dead tenants, Sophie, a homeless young woman with an affinity for rodents, and Brenda, a corn witch who has made Manhattan her home.  This is definitely as much a story of relationships and social connections as it is a ghost story.

After all the build up and time spent developing the afterlife concept at the beginning of the book, the resolution came along quite quickly and was all tied up in record time, which surprised me a little.  Having said that, I was quite satisfied with the pace of the final chapters because there is nothing worse than having a book drag out the denouement when there is no need to do so.  There is plenty of action and some unexpected reveals regarding who is behind the ghostly disappearances that I certainly didn’t see coming and by the end of the book, Jenna comes to terms with her misplaced guilt regarding her role in her sister’s death.

While I didn’t find this to be an absolutely stellar read, it was certainly original and had a tone that will appeal to those who enjoy books about female and family relationships, as much as those who enjoy paranormal and fantasy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects during… The Women in the Walls!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s been a while, but today Shouty Doris is back to interject during my review of The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, a YA thriller that we received for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

women-in-the-walls

Before we get into it I have to ask: Doris, where have you been for so long?

Shouty Doris interjects

Washing my hair.

For seven months?

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes.

But surely you couldn’t ha —

Shouty Doris interjects

Just get on with it Bruce.

Haven’t lost your charming personality, I see, Doris.  Right.  Let’s crack on.  Just a warning – there will be some spoilers in this review.    

I had high hopes for The Women in the Walls when I requested it for review.  The blurb sounded spooky and mysterious, the cover was creepy, with a hint of old-time menace.  I honestly thought that this would be a five-star read and something I would thoroughly relish.  But….

Shouty Doris interjects

It wasn’t.

Well, quite.  From the very first chapter I started to have misgivings about how creepy this book would turn out to be, mostly because from the very start it seemed that the author was having trouble getting a handle on her protagonist’s voice.  I was finding it hard to pick up from the dialogue, thoughts and actions of Lucy, the main character, just what kind of a person she was – what made her tick, what her strengths might be…in short, who she was going to be as a character.  But, I decided to press on regardless because I didn’t want to give up on the prospect of creepy voices in the walls.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well, that was a mistake.  

How so?

Shouty Doris interjects

The voice problem never gets any better.  It’s like the author decided to pick obvious, wooden dialogue for all the characters and just throw it at the page in the hope that it would create a spooky atmosphere.  Quite frankly, I would have been happy if the walls had collapsed on the lot of them by the end of chapter five.  Spoilt, selfish brats, all.  Even the adults.

You’ve got a point there, Doris.  None of the main characters – Lucy, her cousin Margaret, and Lucy’s father – were particularly likable and none were developed in any deep way.  We get told (through Lucy’s thought processes) about the various tragedies that have befallen each of them, but their behaviour toward each other is so cold and unlikely that I couldn’t muster up the motivation to care about what happened to any of them.  Yet still I pushed on, hoping for the atmosphere to take a turn for the creepy.

Shouty Doris interjects

Strike two!  The author doesn’t know anything about creepy.  There’s no suspense, no atmosphere, no tension; just a bunch of whinging young girls bickering and some supposedly spooky happenings plucked out of thin air and slapped down in front of us with no build up.  I think the author was going for shock value rather than bothering to craft a story that felt suspenseful.  It’s like bringing a bag of salt and vinegar chips to a party – people will be disgusted on first seeing them, but it won’t leave a lasting impression (luckily for you.  Who brings salt and vinegar chips to a party?)

I’d have to agree, Doris.  I was hoping for this to be a real psychological thriller, with voices in the walls causing madness and mayhem to ensue.  It does ensue, admittedly, but the execution is so ham-fisted and unsubtle that any sense of tension is completely lost.  There are a couple of violent and outwardly gruesome scenes – Margaret’s death being one of them – that the author describes in detail and then keeps bringing up, as if to try and raise the scare factor, but the narration and plot arc are so clumsy and signposted that these scenes feel like they’ve been included simply to add a bit of gore to the book.

There were also parts of the narration that made absolutely no sense.  My particular favourite of these is Lucy noting, after Margaret’s brutal and frankly dubious (according to the laws of physics) method of suicide – she throws herself out of a window, landing on a spiked fence, causing her to be impaled through both body and head, in case you’re wondering – that she had no idea why Margaret did what she did.

Shouty Doris interjects

HA!! Yes, that had me chuckling a bit too.  No idea why she did what she did? Really, girly? So the inappropriate giggling in the middle of the night, the claim about hearing voices of dead relatives, the scribbling out her mother’s face in every photograph in the house, the waking to find her standing over you with scissors, the dissection of a rat, the previous gruesome suicide of another member of the household ….none of this gave you a hint that Margaret was unhinged and might do something even more unexpected? Like launch herself out of an unfastened window onto a fence worthy of Vlad the Impaler’s summer home?

Exactly.  That, and the intermittent introspection about “Did I ever really know *Margaret/Penelope/My Father/insert name of character here* at all?” felt stilted and pedestrian and did nothing to add any depth or realism to Lucy as a character.

I think the author had some good ideas for a truly creepy story here, but the execution is amateurish.  There are supposedly interweaving plotlines involving magic, the disappearance of Margaret’s mother and the involvement of a country club, but the author couldn’t seem to bring these together in a coherent, suspenseful story.  Every time I felt any kind of suspense building, the author would cut to a scene that allowed the suspense to deflate.  The parties with the country club were a big culprit here.  I mean, her aunt has disappeared, her cousin has killed herself and Lucy is quite content to hang out with her father’s country club buddies?

Shouty Doris interjects

I don’t know why you bothered to finish it.

Weeeellll.  I didn’t.  I pushed on for 227 pages and then I just couldn’t face wading through any more stilted, disconnected events narrated by a bitchy, self-centred teen.  It’s sort of my two-fingered salute to the book for not being what I expected.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’m sure the author is cut to the bone that you read seven eighths of the book and then put it down in protest.

Yeah, yeah.  I just honestly kept hoping it would get better.

Shouty Doris interjects

Let that be a lesson to you, boyo.  Now, I have to go and wash my hair.

But didn’t you just wa —

Shouty Doris interjects

Get on with it.

Right.

In case you haven’t picked up on my mood yet, I was disappointed with this one, but at least I know I gave it every chance.  Have you read The Women in the Walls?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Enticing YA” Edition…

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If you are fan of young adult literature, be it quirky-cute romance, gripping historical fiction, paranormal menace or angsty growing-up tale, you will no doubt want to saddle up and ride with us today.  I have four enticing YA titles for you, each with its own niche audience, so scroll on down and see what you can round up!

Hotel for the Lost (Suzanne Young)

*We received a copy of Hotel for the Lost from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  hotel-for-the-lost

Audrey and her brother Daniel are being driven to their grandmother’s house, to take a break after their mother’s untimely death three months earlier. After stopping for the night at a hotel, the family dynamic seems more functional…but that’s only the first of a lot of strange things that are going on at the Hotel Ruby.

Muster up the motivation because…

…There’s a lot of ghosty goodness going on in this one that will have you guessing ahead to try and figure out the mystery before the big reveal.  I happened to be reading this one around Halloween time and it was charmingly atmospheric, what with its big gothic hotel in a lonely setting, odd nightly parties and collection of delightfully (and in some cases, creepily) bizarre guests.  Audrey is stuck down a well of grief and guilt since her mother’s death, while her brother Daniel is surly and their father seems to have mentally checked out.  On arrival  at the Ruby, things start looking up, but it isn’t long before Audrey starts to notice cracks in the hotel’s posh facade, not least of which being the overlord-like attitude of the concierge.  As Audrey meets more guests and her father becomes more and more plugged in to the family, Audrey decides that things might be looking up and it won’t be so hard to hang out for a few days until the family checks out, despite a few hard-to-explain incidents.  As ghostly, paranormal stories go, this one has plenty of threads to both entice and confuse the reader, with clues about the mystery dropped left, right and centre: there’s the mystery of the invitation-only nightly party, the tragic history of the building, the gossip about some of the guests and the strange flashes of vision that Audrey is experiencing.  I know I was hurriedly trying to piece together the tidbits of information in order to figure out what was going on before the reveal.  I suspect that experienced readers of paranormal stories will pick the obvious signs early on, but there were definitely a few aspects of the reveal that I did not see coming.  I was quite impressed with the ending that Young chose to go with here, because it is a bit more ambiguous and dark than I would have expected.  Overall, this was a fun read, albeit a tad predictable in places, that will satisfy those looking for an atmospheric story that will give a whole new meaning to the term “life of the party”.

Brand it with:

Complimentary late check-out; all in the family; what goes on below stairs

The Graces (Laure Eve)

*We received a copy of The Graces from Allen & Unwin for review*

the-graces

The Graces by Laure Eve. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

River is starting afresh at a new school and like everyone else, is drawn to the Grace siblings like a moth to a flame. When River manages to form a friendship with Summer Grace, her life becomes all that she wants it to be…but are the rumours of a Grace curse true?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a deep exploration of identity, loyalty, belonging and exerting one’s power in the fraught social world of the teenage years.  I didn’t think that I would be pulled in to The Graces as much as I was, but I was quickly won over by the focus on character development and the ways in which people will lie, keep secrets and remake themselves in order to fit in.  Everyone in River’s town believe that the Grace family are witches.  The three Grace siblings – twins, Fenrin and Tahlia, and younger sister Summer – float through school untouched by the problems of the common people, despite rumours of revenge and trouble that may have been dished out to those who defied the Graces in the past.  River, desperate to remake herself in this new environment, is somehow able to find her way into Summer’s good graces, and from there into the Grace family itself.  What she discovers is a tight-knit, exclusionary, possibly paranoid vision of their place in the world – a place she wants to share.  For the most part, this story is one firmly grounded in human relationships – parents exerting their will (and fears) on children, sibling loyalty, friendship defined by secrecy – but towards the end, a more obvious element of fantasy emerges.  I was slightly disappointed by this, because I thought that the character development and psychological twisting and turning between the Grace siblings and River was compelling enough that the story didn’t need any fantastical trappings.  Also, the fantasy element shows the story up as a series-opener, which heightened my disappointment.  I felt that this story had everything it needed to pack a memorable and thought-provoking punch contained within its pages, without having to add anything other-wordly to the story, and I don’t want to see that watered down by a focus in the next book on fantasy, rather than human nature.  Despite that little niggle at the end, I can heartily recommend this to readers of YA who are looking for an examination of human relationships and the price one might be willing to pay in order to be included.

Brand it with:

One of us; On the outer; Believing the rumours

The Lie Tree: Illustrated Edition (Frances Hardinge & Chris Riddell)

*We received a copy of The Lie Tree from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-lie-tree

Faith yearns to take a place alongside her famous scientist father, but is constrained by the social restrictions imposed on women of her time. When the family moves to an island to escape a scandal, Faith takes her chance to assume the mantle of natural scientist over a very strange plant indeed – and finds herself embroiled in a mystery that challenges all the assumptions that her father held dear.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Frances Hardinge is a class apart when it comes to writing for young people.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that her books aren’t really young people’s books at all, but adult-reader-worthy books that happen to feature young protagonists.  Having read plenty of Hardinge’s work before, I knew pretty well what I was in for with The Lie Tree, and that was exactly what I got: absorbing, evocative prose, strong female characters with obvious, yet useful flaws, plot twists, and an atmosphere that perfectly reflected the oppressive situation in which the protagonist finds herself.  Faith is the eldest daughter of an (until-recently) esteemed natural scientist, who finds herself and her family spirited away to a remote island to avoid a scandal related to her father’s work.  After uncovering some of her father’s secrets through slyness and stealth, Faith is presented with an opportunity to observe a mythical plant whose discovery could change the world.  The story, like much of Hardinge’s work, unfolds slowly, with important information drip-fed to the reader.  The historical setting of this particular tale added a great deal to the atmosphere, as did the focus on gender-based restrictions that require Faith to undertake much of her investigation covertly.  This book really is absorbing, playing on ideas about the power of suggestion to create fear and generate a social environment which, already enmeshed in class-based strata and strict observance of propriety, is ripe for the dissemination of falsehood as truth, and opinion as fact.  I received the illustrated edition of the book to review, with illustrations completed by (who other than) Chris Riddell, yet I found that the illustrations didn’t add a great deal to my experience of the book.  Obviously, the illustrations are gorgeous and I enjoyed flicking across a full page line drawing every now and then in such a long book, but the narrative carries itself here, with Hardinge’s narrative imagery working its own magic.  Riddell’s illustrative style is particularly suited to the dour, historical atmosphere of the story however and admittedly, it was fun to see the portrayals of characters whose physical features are as unflattering as their personalities. I would definitely recommend The Lie Tree to those who are already fans of Hardinge’s work, featuring as it does a similar dark and foreboding atmosphere as her recent publications, Cuckoo Song and A Face Like Glass. If you are a fan of historical fiction that carries a touch of the subversive, and are looking for a good mystery with a slightly magical twist, then you will find plenty to entice you with The Lie Tree.

Brand it with:

Keeping one’s enemies close; the stealth-inducing properties of crepe; born to be wild

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)

* We received a copy of The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dash is concerned about his relationship with Lily, while Lily is depressed about her grandfather, Christmas and her relationship with Dash. Dash decides to break with tradition and surprise Lily with twelve days of happiness before Christmas to try and get their mutual groove back.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you were a fan of the first book in this series (which I have not read), you will no doubt go ga-ga for this charming, festive offering.  I really wanted to like this one, not least because of the delightful, quirky cover design, but I ended up DNFing at 68 pages.  Romance and romantic relationships are just not my thing in fiction, but I can see why there was so much buzz about the first book in the series.  The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Dash and Lily.  Dash opened this book, and I quickly found his self-deprecating dry humour quite disarming.  I thought that I might actually find myself falling for a romance book!  Then Lily took the helm and I just found her a bit too sheltered for my liking.  When you are nearly 18 and can’t get over the fact that you don’t feel all that Christmassy at Christmas, I think you need to step out of your #firstworldproblems for a moment and appreciate what you’ve got.  I did make the decision to put the book down during one of Lily’s sections, mostly because I didn’t think I could handle reading about such a young-seeming character as an adult reader.  I can certainly see the appeal of the book and the series however and should warn you not to let my curmudgeonly attitude toward unspoiled, innocent souls put you off reading it if you are in the mood for a Christmassy, feelgood story.

Brand it with:

Christmas knits; holiday romance; Dash-ing through the not-snow

Surely there is something amongst these offerings to ignite the YA gleam in your eye and have you rushing out to muster up one of these titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

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

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

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

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monster science

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

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

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

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  haunted bridges

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

Ghost crossings; unlikely travel guides; social science is cool

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

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  menagerie of mysterious beasts

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

Muster up the motivation because…

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

Brand it with:

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

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

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprise! It’s an Indie YA Horror: In the Graveyard Antemortem

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graveyard antemortem

Now I know I said that I wasn’t going to be reviewing any more self-published titles for a while, but I decided to make an exception for In the Graveyard Antemortem by Stephen Stromp.  I had reviewed his earlier novel Cracking Grace a couple of years back, and since I enjoyed it I thought I’d give this one a go too.

And I’m glad I did.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is nothing at all like Cracking Grace, but it is a super-fun mix of murder-mystery, ghost story, creepy family drama and gory hack-fest.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

*Winner of Amazon’s reader-powered Kindle Scout program.*

Seventeen-year-old Lisa Jacobs is determined to solve her father’s gruesome murder. But before she can investigate in her own small town, she is forced to spend the summer with her Uncle Clayton, the owner of Grand Hallow—a massive funeral and mortuary operation the size of a small city.

Her move to Grand Hallow only deepens the mystery as she begins to suspect the strange and chilling occurrences there are linked to her father’s death.

With the help of her acid-tongued best friend and deadbeat brother, Lisa must unravel the secrets of Grand Hallow—before it’s too late.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is a mystery/suspense novel with a healthy dash of horror.

The first thing you need to do before reading this one is suspend your disbelief.  This is meant to be entertainment, not a reflection of reality.  It took me a few chapters to realise this and early on I was thinking, “But that wouldn’t really happen!” and “Why would she behave like that?”  and so on and so forth.  After I twigged that this wasn’t meant to be an actual, reality-reflecting murder investigation type book, I suspended said disbelief and things got a whole lot more fun and engaging really fast.

It’s no secret that I love books about cemeteries and morticians and the death industry in general, and this book features an absolute cracker of a cemetery.  It’s enormous and labyrinthine and you just know there are at least a few shady goings-on hidden amongst the viewing rooms and mausoleums and morgues.  Ned, the assistant manager character who initially brings Lisa to Grand Hallow (in a hearse, obviously), became my favourite by the end, in no small part because he reminded me so much of the “Yes” guy on the Simpsons:

Tina, Lisa’s potty-mouthed friend, also became one of my favourites, simply for the colour and life that she brings to the story, as well as her forthright manner.

The story has a few distinct parts to it – or at least they felt distinct to me as I was reading.  The first focuses on the murder of Lisa’s father and the unexpected intervention of her estranged Uncle Clayton.  The second part really makes a feature of Grand Hallow and we start to see that all is not as it appears at this vast necropolis.  After that there is a section in which Lisa doesn’t know who she can trust – I found this to be quite a suspenseful part of the story with lots of action, although….the next bit blows all that to pieces and turns the story right on its head as some rather unsavoury practices are brought to light and the murder is finally solved. HA! BUT IS IT REALLY SOLVED?!  You’ll have to read to the end to tie up all the loose threads – and this final part of the story features most of the gore and horror action in a satisfyingly exuberant fight to the death.

If you are looking for a YA book that contains an absorbing mystery (well, more than one actually), a good dose of atmospheric suspense, some twists that you won’t see coming (and will probably make you go “Ew”, when you get to them), and a solid helping of supernatural tumult, then I would highly recommend giving In the Graveyard Antemortem a crack.

I received a copy from the author for review, but you can pick it up at either of these two Amazon sites:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Now don’t take this to mean that I’m reviewing self-published tomes again, because I’m not.  This was an enjoyable aberration and my policy still stands for now.

Until next time,

Bruce

Venus Flytraps and Wandering Spirits: A Double Dip Review…

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Today’s Double Dip review will have you walking (or possibly skating or gliding) on the wild side as we explore an illustrated, comedic middle grade offering featuring a talking Venus Flytrap, and a collection of traditional ghost and scary stories.  For this reason then, it might be best if you choose an accompanying snack that doesn’t spill easily, as we take no responsibility for clothes ruined due to spillage from jumping in fright or guffawing with mirth.  We received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s dig in.

First up, we have Inspector Flytrap and the Big Deal Mysteries by Tom Angleberger and illustrated by Cece Bell.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From husband-and-wife team Tom Angleberger, creator of theNew York Times bestselling Origami Yoda series, and Cece Bell, author/illustrator of the Newbery Honor graphic novel El Deafo,comes the start to a funny and clever illustrated chapter-book series about a mystery-solving Venus flytrap. With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, this early-chapter-book series is a must for beginning readers.

Inspector Flytrap in the Da Vinci Cold introduces kids to the humorous and wacky world of Inspector Flytrap’s Detective Agency, home to the world-renowned solver of BIG DEAL mysteries. The plant detective works tirelessly with his assistant Nina the Goat on his community’s unsolved cases. There’s no case too big, but there are definitely cases too small for this endearingly self-important plant detective.

Celebrating the disabled yet enabled, the character of Inspector Flytrap is wheeled everywhere (on a skateboard, of course) by his goat sidekick as this mystery-solving duo works on cases such as “The Big Deal Mystery of the Stinky Cookies” and “The Big Deal Mystery of the Missing Rose.”

On his first caper, Inspector Flytrap heads to the Art Museum’s Secret Lab to discover what important message lies in a mysterious glob on a recently discovered Da Vinci flower painting. The ingenious solution: Da Vinci was allergic to flowers, and the glob is, er, evidence of that ancient sneeze.

Combining wacky humor and a silly cast of characters with adventure, friendship, and mystery, the powerhouse team of Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell have created a uniquely engaging series that is perfect for newly independent readers and fans of Ricky Ricotta, Captain Underpants, and the Galaxy Zack series. Also included in these books are some graphic novel–style pages that will attract reluctant readers.

Dip into it for…  inspector flytrap

…an illustrated, slapstick adventure that has kid appeal in spades.  As you can probably tell from the cover, Inspector Flytrap is no stranger to utter ridiculum, given that he gets about on a skateboard pushed by an obliging goat.  This series is aimed at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket as it is filled with repetitive gags – such as everyone getting Inspector Flytrap’s official title wrong – and rather obvious (or ridiculously outrageous) solutions to the BIG DEAL mysteries.

Don’t dip if…

You are looking for a middle grade read that will appeal to adult readers as well as the target age group.  To be honest, I found this to be a bit of trial to read and I suspect that this is one of those MG offerings that will appeal to its target age group, but not necessarily to the adults who may have to read it to or with them.  Admittedly,  the odd guffaw did escape my stony lips at a few points due to the blatant and silly nature of the comedy, however I do not feel any need to follow up with Inspector Flytrap in his adventures that are yet to come.

Overall Dip Factor

This is one of those middle grade reads that blends visual and textual information to its great advantage. The illustrations add immensely to the appeal of the book as one would expect, and are integral to the telling of the story.  Keep an eye out for the unobtrusive sloth (the real hero of the tale in my opinion) and Nina the goat for providing much of the visual comedy.  Without question, this is another addition to that wealth of middle grade literature aimed at kids who just want to have fun with their reading.

Next up we have The Thing at the Foot of the Bed (and other Scary Tales) by Maria Leach and illustrated by Kurt Werth.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A mysterious hitchhiker, a lovelorn pig, and a backseat gangster are among the colorful characters that populate these spooky stories. Noted folklorist Maria Leach spins a tapestry of yarns that originated in the British Isles, New England, and the American South. Moody black-and-white drawings complement the stories, which range from humorous and playful to downright eerie.
There’s the one about the fellow who saw two eyes staring at him from the foot of the bed, and the one about the family that ran away from their malevolent household spirit only to find that it had come with them. The tale of the golden arm, a favorite of Mark Twain’s, is a standard of campfire gatherings. Other chilling stories recount scenes from haunted houses, ghostly visitations, and midnight trips to the graveyard. An amusing selection of “Do’s and Don’t’s About Ghosts” offers advice to those who go looking for scares as well as those who find them accidentally, and the stories’ sources and backgrounds are explained in helpful notes and a bibliography.

Dip into it for...the thing at the foot of the bed

…a selection of traditional ghost stories ranging from mildly humorous to reasonably tedious, plus a bizarre collection of beliefs about ghosts and ghostly behaviour and some ghostly games to play.  I wasn’t aware on reading this that it was originally published in 1959, so the old-fashioned feel to the format and narratives isn’t so much old-fashioned, as contemporary for the time!  The stories are split into sections – scary tales, funny tales and real ones (although how the “real” ones differ from the others is unclear) – and each of the tales is linked to its supposed origins, as far as they are known.  This is quite a quick read, with most of the stories only taking up one or two pages each, along with an illustration.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for a book with actual scary tales.  It may be that Bart Simpson was correct when he posited that perhaps people were just easier to scare in “the olden days” but I found nothing even remotely scary about the stories contained in this book.  Also, the narrative style is so abrupt and unlike most writing for children today that I can’t imagine many younger readers will be particularly frightened by the stories either – which I suppose could be a good thing, if you’re a natural scaredy cat.

Overall Dip Factor

This book was a spectacular disappointment for me overall.  I can forgive some of the flaws given that it was published in a different era of reading, but the style of never kick a ghostwriting didn’t seem to lend itself to scary stories in my opinion.  One of the problems I had, that is peculiar to vintage texts, is that I had recently heard or read some of the stories contained here in much more interesting formats.  Don’t Ever Kick A Ghost turned up as a title story in an early reader belonging to the eldest mini-fleshling (pictured), while Julian Clary reads a cracking rendition of The Hairy Toe in an episode of Bookaboo, titled The Golden Arm in this collection.  There were a few stories that I enjoyed – Milk Bottles and Wait ‘Til Martin Comes being the standouts – but otherwise I didn’t find much to crow about.  Unless you are specifically looking for traditional ghost stories told in a narrative style common in the 1960s, you might be disappointed with this collection.

So did your clothes remain unstained by errant foodstuffs?  If not, it’s probably because of the content of the books.  I take no responsibility.

Until next time,

Bruce