DNF with Massive Potential: Give Me the Child…

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Although today’s book was a DNF for me, I would still heartily recommend it to you if you enjoy psychological thrillers featuring creepy children.  We received Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath from Harlequin Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

An unexpected visitor.

Dr Cat Lupo aches for another child, despite the psychosis which marked her first pregnancy. So when Ruby Winter, a small girl in need of help, arrives in the middle of the night, it seems like fate.

A devastating secret.

But as the events behind Ruby’s arrival emerge – her mother’s death, her connection to Cat – Cat questions whether her decision to help Ruby has put her own daughter at risk.

Do we get the children we deserve?

Cat’s research tells her there’s no such thing as evil. Her history tells her she’s paranoid. But her instincts tell her different. And as the police fight to control a sudden spate of riots raging across the capital, Cat faces a race against time of her own…

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Even though I DNFed this at 81 pages (chapter nine), it is not for the reasons you expect.  In fact, for the 81 pages I read, I was engaged, creeped out and thoroughly looking forward to the storm of batsh*t crazy that was no doubt going to explode in the second half of the book.  The reason I put this book down is purely because I could no longer bear to read about one of the characters – Cat’s “King of the Manchildren” husband, Tom.

But back to the good bits.  The book is a psychological thriller based upon the question of what would one do if a long-lost child turned up on the doorstep needing sanctuary…but said child was also significantly emotionally damaged.  This is the situation in which Cat finds herself, when the product of Tom’s affair (undertaken when his wife was in the HOSPITAL, PREGNANT and suffering from PRE-NATAL PSYCHOSIS!!) is unexpectedly thrust into the bosom of their family after the death of the child’s mother.  From the get-go, Cat is uneasy about the arrangement (perfectly understandably, one would think) and as she goes about tying up the loose ends of the child’s life, discovers some events which give her pause…not least because Cat is a doctor who deals with children displaying characteristics of psychopathy.

The story begins to unfold as you would expect.  There are incidences that send a shiver up your spine.  Cat tries to be welcoming to Ruby (the child) but is conflicted by her resentment of her manchild husband whose manchild actions have caused such disruption to the family.  Tom begins to show more loyalty to Ruby than Cat.  The suspense is taut, the potential for exciting and thoroughly spine-tingling disaster is ready for tapping….

…but then I just snapped.  When Tom – philanderer, crap husband and emotionally immature asshat – tells Cat that she’s being paranoid (a direct attack designed to shame her for having a completely unavoidable episode of mental illness in pregnancy) and that he won’t get his new child (who has obviously experienced trauma and neglect) therapy in order to ease the transition into her new family, I could not stomach reading one more second of book that had Tom in it.  In fact, I was wishing fervently that Tom could somehow be whooshed out of this book and into the Game of Thrones series, there to be eviscerated by whatever would be the most painful means.

Perhaps my irritability trigger is heightened at the moment.

But I just couldn’t bear to share the story with Tom any more.

However, I would love to know how it ends.  If you do happen to read it – and I really hope you do because it has all the hallmarks of a spectacular psychological thriller – please let me know how it ends.

And if Tom somehow manages to get off scot-free, feel free to make up some horrible fate for him.  I’ll believe you.

Until next time,

Bruce

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A Fi50 reminder and a Top Book of 2017 pick!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

It’s nearly Fiction in 50 time for March and this month our prompt is…

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If you’d like to join in (and we would love to have you!) just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it and then link your post in the comments of Monday’s Fi50 post.  If you would like more information, just click here.


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Today’s Top Book of 2017 pick is a wartime beauty that is also a celebration of the strength of womankind in adversity.  We received a copy of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Summer, 1940. In the Kentish village of Chilbury some are unimpressed at the vicar’s decision to close the church choir, since all the men have gone off to fight. But a new arrival prompts the creation of an all-female singing group and, as the women come together in song, they find the strength and initiative to confront their own dramatic affairs.

Filled with intrigue, humour and touching warmth, and set against the devastating backdrop of WWII, this is a wonderfully spirited and big-hearted novel told through the voices of four marvellous and marvellously different females, who will win you over as much with their mischief as with their charm.

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For the first few chapters of this epistolary, diary-entry novel I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but by the time I’d finished I felt that this book seemed to me for all the world to be a grown-up version of Goodnight Mr Tom.  Since that story is one of my favourites, it stands to reason that I would jolly well enjoy The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir too.

The book switches between the perspectives of a number of the ladies, young and old, of Chilbury.  There’s Kitty Winthrop, thirteen (nearly fourteen) year old sister of the wild beauty Venetia, and dead war hero Edmund, daughter of the brutish Brigadier and rising songbird, whose perspective we are privy to through entries in her journal.  There’s Venetia herself, older sister of Kitty and focused entirely (for the most part) on snagging a handsome, mysterious lover while leading on all the other lads in the village.  We see her side of the story through letters to her friend Angela.  Then there’s the shady Edwina Paltry, midwife of the village and not one to shy away from morally dubious dealings provided there’s something in it for her.  Finally, we have Mrs Tilling, a widow, whose son David is about to leave for the front lines in France and through whose diary we witness the major changes of Chilbury throughout the year of 1940.  We also get to see a few glimpses from Sylvie, a young child evacuee from Czechoslovakia who is living with the Winthrops until her parents can escape or it is safe for her to return, as well as Edith, the Winthrop’s maid.

At its heart, this is a book about personal growth, set against a backdrop of the ever-encroaching threat of invasion and loss, that highlights the strength of women under adversity.  Although each follows a different path throughout the story, the four main ladies whose stories we engage with all become very different people by the end.  It is this growth that reminded me so strongly of Goodnight Mr Tom: while the war and its effects play a large role in the book and in some instances create a shocking and frightening atmosphere, the plot is chiefly about decisions and their ripple effects and ways in which the women of the story choose to stand up in defiance of their situation or roll with the punches.

Funnily enough, the Choir plays a significantly smaller part in the overall story than I expected, but the sections that deal with the ladies coming together – be it for a local competition or to provide respite for a weary community – were always uplifting and provided a lightening of the atmosphere and enough humour to take the edge off some of the darker happenings going on in the plot.  My favourite character, apart from the enthusiastic, indefatigably positive Prim, the choir mistress, had to be Mrs Tilling.  As the only trustworthy adult narrator, I came to trust her judgement (except, of course, in regards to her opinion of the Colonel, her billet) and adored the way in which she grows into herself again as a confident, strong woman and a leader for the village.

This isn’t a light-hearted romp from beginning to end; nor is it a slow examination of the effects of war.  Rather, it is a snapshot of a village at the beginning of World War II, struggling to cope with change already happening and the inevitable change that is just over the horizon.  Hefty as it is at four hundred plus pages, this is one that you would do best to savour over time.  Get to know the ladies of Chilbury at your leisure and you certainly won’t regret that you took the time to visit.

As well as a Top Book of 2017 pick, I am also submitting The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir for the Epistolary Reading Challenge, the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge and the Popsugar Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress toward all those challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

#LoveOzYA : Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact

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I’ve been waiting excitedly for a year for this, the second book in Alison Goodman’s historical, fantasy, ass-kicking, demon-slaying Dark Days Club series to drop and thanks to HarperCollins Australia, I finally got my grabby paws on a copy of Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact.  In case you haven’t come across this series before, we boldly claimed it as a Top Book of 2016 on January 1st last year, for its extraordinary blend of meticulously researched historical content and original and creepy paranormal elements.

If you haven’t read the first book, you really need to do that now.  Go on, we’ll wait.

The second book serves up more of the same delightful Deceiver destruction and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The second novel in the thrilling LADY HELEN series sees Helen following orders that could bring about betrayal and annihilation. 

Summer, 1812

After the scandalous events at her presentation ball in London, Lady Helen has taken refuge at the fashionable seaside resort of Brighton, where she is training to be a Reclaimer with the covert Dark Days Club.

As she struggles to put aside her genteel upbringing and take up the weapons of a warrior, Helen realizes that her mentor, Lord Carlston, is fighting his own inner battle. Has the foul Deceiver energy poisoned his soul, or is something else driving him towards violent bouts of madness? Either way, Helen is desperate to help the man with whom she shares a deep but forbidden connection.

When Mr Pike, the hard bureaucratic heart of the Dark Days Club, arrives in Brighton, no one is prepared for the ordinary evil he brings in his wake. He has a secret task for Helen and Mr Hammond, and the authority of the Prince Regent. They have no choice but to do as he orders, knowing that the mission will betray everyone around them and possibly bring about Lord Carlston’s annihilation.

Society takes a back seat in this second offering as Helen’s Reclaimer training begins in earnest.  Almost immediately though, spanners are thrown in the works as the Duke of Selburn appears in Brighton on a not-very-subtle reconnaissance mission on behalf of Helen’s older brother, while the man in charge of the Reclaimers, Mr Pike, turns up unexpectedly and changes the course of Helen’s loyalties irrevocably.  We also see a return of Delia, Helen’s much-maligned friend, and Pug, who provides equal parts wingwoman and comic relief.

The tone of this book is one of underlying disquiet as events seem to conspire against Helen and her band of Reclaimer friends at every turn.  Helen is forced to make decisions on the fly, the consequences of which could end up endangering people she loves, no matter which course she chooses.  Essentially, this book is Helen’s coming-of-age in the Reclaimer world. No longer is she a young lady to be protected and promenaded; Helen must now take her place as an active Reclaimer or risk her own life and the lives of those she loves.  The events of the story do a great deal to advance the world-building and “rules” surrounding the bond between Deceivers and Reclaimers and as such, there is a lot of new information for readers to absorb and join the dots around.

Action is portioned out throughout the story, with subterfuge, underhanded deals and espionage more the order of the day, although the final few chapters certainly make up for any lack of chase, escape and derring-do that might be lacking in the earlier parts of the story.  There are some important reveals in this story that will absolutely change Helen’s role in the Dark Days Club as well as her role in life generally.  Other parts of the story will make your skin crawl and the “ick” factor is certainly in play where particular characters of ill-repute are concerned.  For the romance fans, you can cut the sexual tension between Carlston and Lady Helen with a knife (and between another pairing that you might not expect!)  but for readers shipping that particular couple, it should be noted that the course of true love never runs smooth, particularly where demon-slaying is involved.

Once again, this is a hugely entertaining story with meticulous attention to detail for the time period and innovative fantasy elements from a strong voice in Australian YA fiction.  If you are a fan of either historical fiction or fantasy, you really are missing out if you haven’t added Lady Helen’s adventures to your nightstand reading pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A YA Double Dip: Beasts of Fantasy and Rocky Realities…

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Sit down, relax and take up your favourite snack for today’s YA-focused double dip review.  I’ve got a contemporary that deals with mental health and teen friendships, and a fantasty retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in a mythical Japan, so take your pick and let’s wade on in.

First up we have Made You Up by Francesca Zappia. which we received from HarperCollins Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.

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Dip into it for…

…a funny and engaging story full of quirky characters that won’t make you work too hard, but still contains some unexpected twists here and there.  Despite the potential heaviness of the topic – the lead character Alex has schizophrenia and has difficulty differentiating her hallucinations from reality on occasion – this book has quite a light tone for the most part and characters with personality traits that will make you laugh.  Alex can be forgiven for having trouble figuring out what’s real and what’s not at her new school, because it is a bit of a bizarre place.  There’s Miles, the sometimes-German-speaking head of the detention club, a scoreboard that gets more attention from the Principal than the students do, and a bunch of strange goings-on that would have even the least imaginative person around scratching their heads and wondering whether they had slipped into the twilight zone.  As well as Alex’s condition, the book also deals with making new friends in an untrustworthy situation, caring for ill parents, navigating the precarious halls of high school and finding a place to fit in.

Don’t dip if…

…you like a straightforward story where everything is as it seems.  Alex tells us straight up that for her, reality isn’t always exactly as it appears, and unless she records it on her trusty camera, she won’t have a hope of keeping reality straight.  Funnily enough, this bleeds over a bit into the story, so if you don’t like second-guessing every single action and word of every character to test for its voracity, this probably won’t be the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I did enjoy this book, although not as much as I expected to.  I had heard great things about it around the blogs and given that it has a mental health theme, I thought it would be up my alley, but there were a few elements that didn’t ring quite true to me.  I loved Alex’s little helpmates – her camera and magic eightball, that help her separate the real from the unreal – but the book situated the schizophrenia more as a cute quirk than as the actual, devastating and debilitating (and in a third of cases, deadly) condition that it is.  There were also a few parts with Alex’s parents right at the end which seemed like a pretty unbelievable response to the situation in question, but I can’t say any more about that because, spoilers.  I suppose I shouldn’t really complain because the book never claimed to be one that was going to deal with mental illness in a realistic and meaningful way, and I really did enjoy the light tone and the main characters (and especially the triplets!) so I can recommend it to those looking for a humorous, reasonably light YA coming-of-age tale with some elements that you won’t see coming.

Next up we have Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriott, which we received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A companion title to Zoë Marriott’s critically acclaimed Shadows on the Moon, BAREFOOT ON THE WIND is a darkly magical retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in fairytale Japan.

There is a monster in the forest…

Everyone in Hana’s remote village on the mountain knows that straying too far into the woods is a death sentence. When Hana’s father goes missing, she is the only one who dares try to save him. Taking up her hunting gear, she goes in search of the beast, determined to kill it – or be killed herself.

But the forest contains more secrets, more magic and more darkness than Hana could ever have imagined. And the beast is not at all what she expects…

Dip into it for…  barefoot-on-the-wind

…a deeply atmospheric foray into family tragedy and having the strength to follow one’s own mind in the face of opposition.  As retellings of fairy tales go, setting one in a fantasy version of historical Japan is a stroke of genius.  I will admit that this was the element that drew me in to this book.   The first few chapters, in which we are introduced to Hana, her peculiar ability to talk to trees, and the shadowy curse plaguing her village, had me immediately hooked.  The writing is laden with imagery and Hana is shown to be kept on the outer by her peers, troubled by grief and family tragedy and yet steadfast in knowing her own mind.  The historical setting of the book felt so unlike any fairy tale I have read before that even though the book is a retelling (or re-imagining, I suppose), there is no deference to the usual tone and motifs typically seen in YA retellings of such familiar tales.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a Disney-esque retelling of a Beauty and the Beast, complete with twirly skirts and singing furniture.

Overall Dip Factor

As I mentioned earlier, the strongest parts of the novel for me were the beginning and end, as both of these took place in Hana’s village.  In the beginning, as the story moved on and we discover more about the curse of the Dark Wood, I was a little bit sad to let go of the down-to-earth aspects of the story to engage with the fantasy elements, which is unusual for me, but I’m sure those that love fairy tale retellings will adore the unique setting for the Beast and the other forces that manipulate the Dark Wood.  It was great to see a bit of influence of Japanese fantasy culture included here, with a truly frightening spirit throwing her weight around in the latter stages of the story.  If I’m honest, I could take or leave the “romance” bit, which read more like a developing relationship and building of trust than romance (thank goodness!) but the atmosphere and imagery generated by the writing were absolutely absorbing and so I can definitely recommend this to those who love retellings, or indeed those who love a good historical fiction with a fantasy twist.

If neither of these has prompted you to go in for a bite today (really?!), stay tuned, because tomorrow I have a round up of enticing middle grade titles (including some of the best indie reading I’ve done this year!), while on Thursday you can pick over some of my recent DNFs for potential new reading fodder.

Until next time,

Bruce

Magical Middle Grade in a Mouldering Setting: Wormwood Mire…

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Subtle magic, family mysteries and mouldering old houses are the cornerstones of Wormwood Mire, the second Stella Montgomery intrigue by Aussie author Judith Rossell. If you are into historical fiction for young readers that embraces a bit of the ol’ unexplained, then you should probably jump on board with this series if you haven’t already.  The good news is that you don’t have to have read the series opener, Withering-by-Sea, to enjoy this second offering – I myself had forgotten much about the plot of the first book, except for the major points, and found that the small references to the happenings in the first book really provide all a new reader would need to know.  Enough blathering though.  We received a copy of Wormwood Mire from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Stella Montgomery returned to the Hotel Majestic cold and wet but exhilarated by adventure, the Aunts were furious.

Now they are sending Stella away to the old family home at Wormwood Mire, where she must live with two strange cousins and their governess.

But within the overgrown grounds of the mouldering house, dark secrets slither and skulk, and soon Stella must be brave once more if she’s to find out who – or what – she really is …

From bestselling writer-illustrator Judith Rossell comes the thrilling and magical sequel to her multi-award-winning novel, WITHERING-BY-SEA.

Let me start by reiterating that I really don’t think that one has to have read the first book in the series in order to fully appreciate this one.  I found Wormwood Mire to be a much more intriguing and multi-layered story than Withering-by-Sea, and overall would have to say that I enjoyed the reading experience much more.  Stella, whose is alone in the world but for a collection of cranky aunts, is sent away to live with her as-yet-unmet cousins, Strideforth and Hortense, at the crumbling estate of a long-dead relation, after the shenanigans of the first book.  Stella, having never met her cousins and never attended proper lessons at all, is understandably nervous about the move, but hopes that spending time at the estate will allow her to discover more about some of the mysteries surrounding her family and her strange new-found abilities.

Happily, while Stella’s cousins possess a few interesting personality traits, the trio gets along famously and we become privy to the real mystery of the book – the bizarre collection of plants and creatures kept on the estate by their ancestor, Wilberforce Montgomery.  This is not the only mystery that Stella hopes to shed light on though; she is also much interested in finding out more about her mother and two children in a photograph, who Stella suspects are herself and a long-lost sibling.  Add to this set of puzzles a rather unorthodox (and quite shady) dentist and travelling showman, a ghostly figure flitting about the place and townsfolk whispering about history repeating and you have all the pieces in play for a particularly intense game of discovery and derring-do.  As with the previous book, the pace and overall tone is quite sedate, but the multiple, interconnected mysteries add plenty of depth to the story and I was drawn further in to the search for answers with every passing chapter.

The house itself was a wonderful addition to the story and almost a character in itself, with secret passages and exotic artifacts squirreled away by Wilberforce Montgomery.  Hortense’s collection of truly outlandish animal friends also adds colour (and chaos!) to the story, with a disagreeable and downright naughty mollyhawk who squawks in fluent latin and an extremely bitey ermine just two of her unusual menagerie.  Another highlight of the story is the multiple references to Stella’s book of cautionary tales, received, of course, from the nefarious aunts, A Garden of Lillies, in which children who stray from following the instructions of their elders meet various unpleasant ends, recounted in rhyming couplets. I’m fairly sure that thwormwood-mire-interiorese little interludes are a nod to Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies and provide just the right amount of comic relief.

Once again this tome contains some gorgeous ink wash illustrations, some as whole page images and others fitting around the text throughout.  The style of illustrations, as well as their greenish tones, add to the sense of place and the historical setting in which the story unfolds, and as I always say, any book – every book – is better with pictures.  The chunky hardback format and the included ribbon bookmark make the reading experience satisfyingly tactile too.

I am very interested to see what happens next in this series, as this book ends on an unexpected and revealing note.  Given that this story was so different to the last, I am sure that Rossell will have something equally diverting for Stella Montgomery’s next intrigue!

Until next time,

Bruce

It’s Time for a Spontaneous Giveaway!

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Remember how I said I had another Aaron Starmer book coming up soon, in my review of The Riverman?  Well thanks to Harper Collins Australia, I also get to give you the chance to WIN a copy of said Aaron Starmer book: new release YA read, Spontaneous!

So you know what you’re getting yourself in for, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye.

Yep, you read that right.  This book features multiple spontaneous combustions and the resulting messiness that accompanies such a phenomenon.  The copy of the book that I will be giving away even comes with a free splatter jacket for your convenience!

So, Spontaneous.  I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it as much as I did The Riverman – the two books are wildly different in narrative style – but Spontaneous has a gory, bizarre charm all its own.  The book reminded me strongly of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn, in that it hinges on one absolutely wacky and unexpected concept – in this case, spontaneous combustion of students in a particular high school class – and tries to wring an entire novel out of the same.

Mara, the narrator, has a serious problem with flight of ideas.  As a storyteller, she’s all over the place, hopping from topic to topic like a bunny trapped in a geodesic dome constructed entirely of springs, in a manner that readers will either find hilarious or extremely irritating. There are some genuinely funny scenes and one-liners here, but I’m pretty sure some readers will find Mara’s rapid changes of topic tiresome after a bit.  Apart from Mara, characters include Dylan, a mysterious and possibly delinquent boy that Mara immediately falls for (which, rather than being a case of insta-love, seems to just be how Mara rolls), and an X-files-esque FBI agent who Mara may or may not have an unhealthy fascination with.  I won’t mention any other teen characters because I don’t want to spoil the surprise when one or another of them goes pop when you least expect it.

Overall, I found this to be a fun, if utterly outlandish, read and I would recommend it to those of you who are stout of heart and happy to just go with the flow as the world of your current read falls down (or blows up, as the case may be!) around you.

If you are still game to have at Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer, then click on the Rafflecopter link below to try your luck.  One winner will win a copy of the book plus a splatter jacket.  This giveaway is open internationally and other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce
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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