Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review: Mr Wicker…

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Cheerio my pretties! Today I have an indie fantasy-paranormal-horror story for the grown-ups that features all manner of creepy goings-on.  I was initially drawn to it because of the raven on the cover (cool!) and the fact that it was set partly in a ghostly library (super-cool!) and partly in a psychiatric inpatient facility (count me in!).  I received a digital copy of today’s book, Mr Wicker by Maria Alexander from the publisher, Raw Screaming Dog Press (now there’s a name that gives you a good idea what sort of books they publish) in exchange for review – thanks!

Alicia Baum is experiencing a run of failures – her husband left her, her last book bombed in sales, and the bank is foreclosing on her house – and decides to end it all.  As she loses consciousness during her suicide attempt, Alicia finds herself inside a mysterious library with the sinister librarian, Mr Wicker, who informs her that his library holds a book containing Alicia’s lost memory – the one that is the cause of all her suffering to date.  Before she can take possession of the book, or move on into the (proper) hereafter, Alicia wakes to find herself in Bayford Psychiatric Hospital, under the control of the odious Dr Sark. 

Dr James Farron is a paediatric psychiatrist with a special interest in Alicia’s case.  Using funding for a research grant, Dr Farron is attempting to find out more about the mysterious Mr Wicker, a name that continually arises in the sleep-talk of children suffering trauma who are brought to the hospital.  Alicia is the first adult Dr Farron has ever encountered who has mentioned Mr Wicker, and he intends to find out why.

As the two cross paths in the hospital, danger is closing in from all sides, threatening to end Dr Farron’s career and Alicia’s life.  Unless Alicia can untangle the mystery of her missing memory, Mr Wicker may just open the door to some very old secrets indeed, that have the potential to change Alicia and Dr Farron forever.

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I’m going to do things a bit differently this time, as I tend to do when I feature books with some particularly sensitive or disturbing themes (and this book has a bit of both), so here is a “Don’t Read it if…” disclaimer for those who are faint of heart.

Don’t Read it if:

* you are in a fragile state of mind and the graphic description of a suicide attempt and violence against the female lead character is not something you want in your current reading experience

Now, onto the Read it if:

*you like your fantasy/horror stories to be raw, graphic and featuring more than a little violence, creepiness and smouldering sensuality

* you’ve ever been minding your own business and enjoying a quiet stroll in the park when out of the blue a large angry bird descends seemingly out of nowhere to chase, swoop and peck you … this point applies doubly if this has happened to you indoors

* when reading stories set in a psychiatric hospital, you prefer said hospital to employ practices more suited to a medieval torture chamber

*you believe fantasy/horror just isn’t fantasy/horror unless it takes a completely unexpected turn right in the middle of the story, preferably involving a little known ancient myth that features eternally repeating betrayal and murder

Mr Wicker was a lot more graphic in its horror and violence than the books that I usually read, but I suspect it will greatly appeal to those who regularly enjoy this genre.  Graphic descriptions aside though, the author manages to deliver a pretty complex storyline without losing control of any of the multiple plot threads.  Throughout the book, there’s a palpable sense of danger to Alicia, and the feeling that things aren’t what they seem.  A number of the hospital staff are less than professional, to say the least, and as the story unfolds the reader gets the idea that not only may Alicia be in danger from supernatural forces, but from some very human forces also.

Dr Farron is an instantly likeable, if somewhat stereotypical character, fulfilling the role of Alicia’s protector and champion when all around her seem to discount her experiences as the ravings of a madwoman.  The author manages to throw any stereotypes out the window with the introduction of a new and entirely unexpected (for me, anyway) plotline right in the middle of the book, that sheds light on the character of Mr Wicker and the reasons why he is so interested in Alicia herself.

Underlying all of this is Alicia’s missing memory and how this has contributed to her unraveling life.  This mystery is played out slowly, as Alicia dips into her family history in sessions with Dr Farron, but can’t quite grasp the memory that Mr Wicker guards so closely.  The inclusion of this personal psychological mystery as one of the major plotlines gives a nice break from all the other strangeness going on in the book and allows for a change of pace that I appreciated when it popped up every now and then.

Overall, I’d say that this book has a satisfying blend of fantasy themes, anticipated romance, family secrets, horror and mystery  and will appeal to those who are looking for a complex story with a lot of twists and turns.  And large, flapping birds appearing in odd places.  Mr Wicker is due for release on September 16th.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Secret Dead…

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Welcome to you, friend of the fantastical creatures lurking in your midst.  Today I have an indie offering for fans of urban fantasy and murder mystery (which, I am sure, is most of you).  The Secret Dead by S.W. Fairbrother is an enticing addition to the urban fantasy genre in the vein (I thought) of Ben Aaronovitch’s series featuring DC Peter Grant.

The Secret Dead follows Vivia Brisk, a hag – or death witch – who is employed by the Lipscombe Trust, an agency that assists non-human entities to rub along happily in a human society that has already implemented strict laws to deal with the ever-present threat of a zombifiying virus.  When she’s not dealing with trolls requiring rent assistance or shape-shifters being unfairly discriminated against in the workplace, Viv looks after her sister Sigrid, whose soul is trapped in the Underworld, even as her body requires round-the-clock care.  When office philanderer and all-round sleaze Malcolm Brannick unexpectedly zombifies at home and is spirited away by his winged son, Viv is drawn into a decades-old mystery that quickly turns dangerously sinister.  As the macabre discoveries mount up in her investigation, Viv is called upon to enter the Underworld (in effect, die) to gain answers for the police.  With questions piling up around her, Viv has to use all her contacts in non-human society to unravel this mystery before it becomes personal – and she gets stuck in the Underworld for good.

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Read it if:

*you suspect that if a government agency ever examined your family situation in any kind of detail, you would have a lot of explaining to do…particularly about the body of your dead mother being reverentially concealed in the attic by your immortal step-father

* you believe that zombies were people too…and therefore should be treated with dignity and respect, even as they attempt to gnaw at your flesh

* you would be secretly happy if the office sleaze-bag suddenly turned into a zombie

* you believe that police work is always made better by a few trips into the Underworld

I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the mystery that Fairbrother has created here.  The story seems to unfold in layers, as Viv discovers new information about people she thought she knew well.  Then there’s Viv’s personal struggles with earning enough money to keep herself, her (immortal) step-father and her disabled sister in housing and food.  And underlying this is a very tightly written world that believably incorporates humans, a whole range of non-humans and part-humans, as well as undead humans.

I found the zombie theme a fresh new touch to the more traditional urban fantasy elements and I was surprised that it actually worked really well and gave the story an interesting twist.  My favourite thing about the zombie threat in this particular book is that it was given a historical basis – the zombifying virus is one that has been present in the population for generations and therefore societies have developed to manage outbreaks and those that are carriers of it.  Because Fairbrother has integrated the zompocalypse theme in a historical way, it doesn’t have that over-used vibe that can come across in other novels.

If you enjoy the sort of crime investigation/magicality mash-up in Ben Aaronovitch’s novels, this might be a good choice for you.  The mystery element is pretty complex, involving lots of different characters and backstories, and the world building is solid and believable.  I’m not sure whether Fairbrother plans to turn this into a series, but it was pleasantly satisfying to see an ending that wrapped up the events of the book, but left the characters with some options.  There’s also plenty of lighter moments sprinkled amongst the death and unsightliness, so really, this book should appeal to a wide group of readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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Read-it-if Review: Glimpse…

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Today I am very pleased to be bringing you the awesome beginning to what looks like a fantastic series in the Young Adult bracket – Glimpse (Book 1 of the Dean Curse Chronicles) by Steven Whibley.  I received a copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley, although the book was released in April last year.  Why then, I wonder, did I not come across it before? For it has all the elements that I love to see in a paranormal YA book, including, but not limited to, timey-wimey conundrums, the restless dead, mysterious secret societies and group therapy meetings.  Allow me to explain.

In Glimpse, we are introduced to average almost-fourteen year old Dean, as he stumbles upon some muggers beating up a man in an alleyway on his way to school.  After chasing the muggers off, Dean tries to help the man, but all he gets is a whispered word (bet you can guess what it is…I’ll give  you a hint, it’s in the title) before the man falls unconcious and is taken to hospital.  Dean is hailed as a hero but soon finds out that something that happened in the alley has caused him to have terrifying visions of people screaming in fright. On discovering that his visions seem to predict people’s deaths, Dean and his friends Lisa and Colin try to find out the cause of Dean’s new “gift” (or possible curse), before Dean’s psychologist father has him in some serious therapy.

glimpseRead it if:

* you’re the kind of person who loves to say, “See, SEE, I told you that would happen!” when any situation occurs that has even the most tenuous link to something you once mentioned in passing in coversation

* you believe that to defeat a worthy foe (a painful little sister, for instance), you need only discover their weakest point or deepest humiliation…and then use it against them at opportune moments

* you love a good shrieking apparition – the kind that sets your eardrums ringing and gets every hair on the back of your neck (or the back of everywhere, really) standing on end

* you’ve ever made a complete fool of yourself in front of an entire classroom, endured the brunt of teasing and awkward looks, ridden out the storm of humiliation and assured yourself that things have blown over….only to find out later that things can always be worse

I really, really enjoyed this book.  For starters, Dean, Colin and Lisa are very likeable characters, the relationship between them is believable and there was never a time when I thought that their motivations and actions were not authentic to their age-group and abilities.  The dialogue between them works and there’s no sense that this author is trying to write like kids talk. The strength of these three characters really carried the story through for me and made it a lot of fun to read.

Whibley has managed to write scenes that had me feeling a bit tense and creepy, while also keeping the overall tone of the book light.  While reading the scenes in which Dean sees his visions, I got some chills up my spine – there’s something very freaky about imagining an apparition of someone you know looking all undead and zombie-like, then getting in your face while screaming in terror.  I really felt Dean’s fear in those parts, which made the whole book more believable.  Also, the story is very well crafted.  There were no lulls in the plot, there was always something going on and there was a great mix of action, mystery and problem-solving that pushed the story along at a fantastic pace.

I’m really surprised that given the quality of the writing and the plot here that I haven’t come across this book earlier.  I would highly recommend Glimpse to YA readers, and particularly those at the younger end of the age bracket, who enjoy paranormal and mystery, who like a story with a lot of action and humour, and don’t mind a bit of a scare factor.  I can’t wait to get my paws on the next two books in the series.  Hooray! Another new author to stalk follow with interest!

Until next time,

Bruce

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