Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge 2016: Voyage to Magical North

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alphabet soup challenge 2016

After a brief period during which I forgot all about the reading challenges in which I am participating, I am pushing ahead to finish off the last few letters that I need to complete the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 hosted by Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book.  Even though the challenge allows you to bend a bit for the trickier letters, choosing books that have that letter anywhere in the title (rather than heading up the first word of the title), I’ve done my best so far to stick to the letter of the law, as it were.  Today’s book completes the “V” requirement of the challenge, with middle grade fantasy adventure, Voyage to Magical North (The Accidental Pirates #1) by Claire Fayers.  I bought this one after hearing some trusted blogs raving about it and noticing that shining golden V in the title.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.

When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists. If Brine is lucky, she may find out who her parents are. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It could really go either way.

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I picked this one up on the promise of humour, quirky characters and an adventurous story and I am happy to say that the book delivered on all three.  As far as the plot goes, it’s a fairly typical quest to find the hidden “treasure” while defeating an apparently unkillable villain, but where this book stands out is in the telling.  The characters all have strong traits and obvious flaws and for most of them, a bit of growth is the order of the day by the end of the adventure.  Brine, the protagonist, is brave and able to make the most of certain unpleasant situations; Peter, Brine’s fellow servant (although really an apprentice magician), is by turns unsure and cocky, and liable to be easily led.  Cassie O’Pia, the pirate queen of the Onion (the boat which should have been called the Orion, but for an unfortunate spelling error) flies by the seat of her pants while maintaining the facade of absolute pre-planning.

There’s also an epic and mysterious library staffed entirely by women, a back-from-the-dead magical villain to rival Lord Mouldy Shorts himself, a colony of telepathic (and unusually ravenous) ice birds and a collection of other slightly-left-of-centre characters to add flavour to this piratical soup.  The humour is wry and dry and exactly the sort that will appeal to adult readers, as well as the age of reader at which the story is targeted and all in all, this is an impressive series opener, with the promise of completely new directions for the team’s next adventure.

I did find that the pace of this one was a tad slower than the average middle grade fantasy adventure I’ve read, mostly due to the fact that the characters tend to do a lot of reflecting on who they are, where life is taking them, and what on earth they’re doing stuck on a pirate ship with a deadly magician.  The point of view alternates between Brine and Peter, so there is a bit of variety in both the focus of the action as well as the mood of the book, with Brine seeming to throw caution to the wind (or at least make the best of a possibly bad lot), and Peter exploring how deeply his own vein of potential villainy may flow.

Overall I found this to be a fun and absorbing read with some original aspects and plenty of side giggles.  I particularly enjoyed the snippets from “The Ballad of Cassie O’Pia” which headed up a number of chapters and wouldn’t mind composing a little tune so I can sing them now and again when I’m feeling particularly piratical.   I recommend this one for middle graders who like an adventure into which they can sink their teeth and adult readers who like middle grade reads that are anything but run-of-the-mill.

If you are interested,  you can check out my progress in the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

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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Literar-tees: More shirts for story-lovers

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As some of you may know, while I have no personal requirement for clothing, I still get as much joy as the next creature out of browsing the interwebs for items I might like to purchase, had I the means and/or need for them.  For that reason, here are some exquisite bookish tees for your perusing pleasure. Click on the pics for a link to a site where you can purchase.

This first one is a personal favourite, suitable for all of those librarianarchists out there…

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Next is a good advertisement for parental guidance in text selection for mini-fleshlings…

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Finally, a useful reminder in times of great stress…keep-calm-and-read-on

Until next time,

Shirtless Bruce