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

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I hope you aren’t too saddle sore from our Mega Supersized Round-Up earlier in the week, because I now have three YA titles for you that you will definitely want to be sizing up.  I’ve got historical fiction, fantasy and a bit of weird science for you, so we’d better get straight to it!

These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly)

*We received a copy of These Shallow Graves from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

these shallow graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd June 2016.  RRP: $16.99

 

Josephine Montfort comes from one of New York’s most wealthy families, but harbours a secret desire to be a journalist, uncovering the lives of the poor and downtrodden. When her father dies, apparently from suicide, Josephine decides to go out on a limb, putting her journalistic skills to the test in an investigation that will have major ramifications for her family…and herself, if she is discovered.

Muster up the motivation because…

It’s quite refreshing to see a historical murder mystery that isn’t set in Victorian England.  While all the manners and social proprieties are still there, These Shallow Graves has a slightly different flavour, as the “new” and “old” money families battle it out in an unspoken war to be the most prominent.  There’s even a particularly mouthy grandmother character who reminded me strongly of Shouty Doris!  Josephine is a character that young female readers will immediately be drawn to – fiercely independent despite her coddled existence, with a desire to step out of the boundaries that society has set for her.  I enjoyed how the author doesn’t try to make Jo more worldly than she could possibly have been, given her upbringing.  As she discovers more about the seedier side of life, it’s obvious that Jo is undergoing rapid personal growth and making decisions about who she will be in her pre-destined world.  There is the obligatory love triangle, between Jo, her intended marital match and Ed, the young journalist far below Jo’s lofty station who assists Jo in her investigations.  As far as the murder mystery goes, I wasn’t entirely gripped by these elements and would have preferred things on that front to move a lot faster.  The book is more a 50/50 split between romance and mystery however, and with romance not really being my thing, I didn’t end up loving this one but found it easy to get into nonetheless.  I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and particularly historical cosy mysteries, who are looking for a slight change of pace from the English mysteries that seem to be this genre’s bread and butter.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves, investigative journalism, sticking up for the little guy

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Alan Cumyn)

* We received a copy of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: hot pterodactyl boyfriend

Shiels is in her final year of high school, the student-body chair, has definite plans about studying political sociology at college after she graduates and can count on Sheldon, her boyfriend-fixture, to support her in everything she does. Then Pyke, a pterodactyl, turns up to attend Vista View High and Shiels’ carefully laid plans go awry.

Muster up the motivation because…

How could you not want to read this, with a title like Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend??  I remember being desperate to get my claws on this one when it was released and now that I’ve read it, it was entirely not what I was expecting!  I was thinking that this must be a comedy.  Had to be.  But surprisingly, this is actually a really down-to-earth story of a girl whose plans have been hit for a six, that just happens to include an actual pterodactyl as a character.  After reading it, I can see that this could be any typical YA story wherein the main character undergoes massive personal upheaval due to an unexpected occurrence – an illness, the death of a loved one, someone coming out, a friendship breakdown – but the particular unexpected occurrence featured here is Shiels falling in love with a pterodactyl.  If you can get your head around that, then you’ll be far more prepared than I going into the reading experience.  Having said that, I quickly became absorbed by Shiels’ story.  She’s a likeable character despite the fact that she has quite glaring personality flaws that cause problems in her relationships.  The situations she gets caught up in – apart from the whole pterodactyl thing, obviously – are believable and readers in the target age group should be able to relate.  I did find my interest waning a little around two-thirds of the way into the book, but I enjoyed the ending (which dipped into the “utterly bizarre” category of magical realism – or should that be “prehistoric realism”?) and overall I think this is a solid and engaging read with one big, flapping, screeching point of difference.  Having had a look on Goodreads, the ratings are completely split in a loved it/hated it divide, but I definitely enjoyed this one even though it didn’t turn out to be the comedy I expected it to be.

Brand it with:

I believe I can fly, diversity in education, prehistoric problems

The Witch’s Kiss (Katharine & Elizabeth Corr)

*We received a copy of The Witch’s Kiss from HarperCollins Australia for review* 

Two Sentence Synopsis: the witchs kiss

For Merry, being a witch hasn’t ever been much of a problem…until her actions nearly cost her boyfriend his life. But if she thought that was the worst that might happen, Merry is sadly mistaken – because an ancient curse is about to surface and Merry will need every ounce of her ability to safeguard the people of her town, or die in the attempt.

Muster up the motivation because…

I found this to be a solid, well-constructed story with just the right blend of contemporary teen angst and historical magical curse.  I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, as I was worried that the romance elements might overpower the fantasy elements of the story.  I should not have feared though, because the authors manage to balance those two parts masterfully, so that the inevitable romance between Jack and Merry neatly complements the heart-stabbing, murderous, magical bits.  It was super refreshing to see a strong sister-brother partnership as the main protagonists, and Leo is a great balance to Merry’s impulsiveness and tendency toward pessimism.  The story alternates between the present day, as Merry and Leo attempt to stop the King of Hearts, who is carrying out random attacks on innocent people in their town, and hundreds of years ago, when the curse on the King of Hearts originated.  As Merry becomes more involved in the curse unfolding in the present day, her links to her ancestors become clearer, and the ending deftly brings these two periods in history together at a cracking pace.  The only problem I had with this book is that it is a series-opener.  To me, this is the perfect kind of story for a standalone – the ending is not left as a cliffhanger and I felt like all the loose ends were tied up.  Sometimes I like to know that on finishing a book, I have experienced all there is to experience with a set of characters and I am happy to have done so.  I’m not entirely sure where the story will go in a sequel, but I was perfectly satisfied with this one as an entity in itself.  I’d recommend this to those who love fantasy stories that have a fable-type feel with a contemporary twist, and don’t mind a little bit of romance to tie things together.

Brand it with:

Which witch is which?, Curse you!, Unrequited love

Three very different YA titles for you here – surely there’s something you want to get your hands on?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A YA, Road-Trippin’ Double Dip of Lies and Desolation…

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I hope that you have selected a snack that is easy to transport for today’s Double-Dip because if you haven’t, there’s a high probability that you might be wearing it by the end of the trip!  Both of today’s YA titles feature road trips and nicking off in a big way, so hold onto your snacks and let’s hit the road.

First up we’re travelling with Desolation, the second book in the Demon Road trilogy, by Derek Landy.  We gratefully received a copy of this one from Harper Collins Australia for review.  In case you missed our review of the first book in the series, you can check that out here.  And here’s the Desolation‘s blurb from Goodreads:

Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.

Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose.

And that night is coming.

Dip into it for…  desolation
…another adrenaline-fuelled trip featuring violence, banter and a whole bunch of new characters.  The tale takes place in Desolation Hill this time around, a small town that might offer protection from the Hounds of Hell, and as small town oddities go, Desolation Hill has the mother of all quirks.  I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what it is, but I can tell you that Amber isn’t the only supernatural being getting around the place this time around.  I enjoyed the plethora of new characters that were introduced in this book, which include (but are not limited to) a Scooby-esque supernatural crime fighting squad that travels the Dark Highway in a van, some town officials that are older than they look, two old actors in the middle of a personal feud, a very shady police department and a character from urban legend come to terrifying life.  The fact that the story unfolds in one place means that more space is given over to developing characters and delving more deeply into the nature of Amber’s demonhood.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not up for face-shredding violence and general debauchery.  If you’ve read the first book you’ll notice that apart from the violence, Landy doesn’t shy away from including really horrible misogynistic and/or generally depraved characters.

Overall Dip Factor

I felt that this book had a bit more of a male skew to it, with some token lesbian action and more of the poor attitudes to women exhibited by many of the male characters.  While I enjoyed the changes in the story and the interesting possibilities generated by the twist at the end, the general tone of this book felt more adult and grimy that the first.  It’s certainly a series for the upper end of the YA bracket, merging into the adult market, rather than for younger readers.  I’m expecting that the final book in the series is going to shake things up even more.

Next up we have There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake, which has been shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal.  We received our copy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, she and her mother will leave the hospital and set out on a winding journey toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travelers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.

Award-winning author Nick Lake proves his skills as a master storyteller in this heart-pounding new novel. This emotionally charged thrill ride leads to a shocking ending that will have readers flipping back to the beginning.

Dip into it for…  there will be lies

…an unscheduled road trip that will leave you wondering what’s real and what the future holds.  There is an awful lot going on in this book including a mysteriously protective and manipulative mother-daughter relationship, some magical realism with a possibly North American indigenous twist, and the limitations (and advantages) of disability.  Shelby is certainly an authentically teenage narrator who is obviously working things out along with the reader.  The ending is quite satisfying in a strange, unexpected sort of way – at least I was happy to see Shelby making decisions for herself, even if they were a bit odd from an ordinary person’s perspective.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a straightforward contemporary with some mysteries along the way. When the story begins to alternate between Shelby’s journey in the real world and her quest in the strange dream-state, I felt a strong preference for the bits anchored in reality.  In my opinion, the dream-state bits felt contrived and didn’t particularly add anything to Shelby’s actions in real life.

Overall Dip Factor

Overall, I was quite engaged with the real-life bits – which featured enough twists, reveals and unexpected surprises to carry the story on its own merits – and could take or leave the dream-state bits.  This is certainly an ambitious way to tell a story and I’m sure some people will love the parallel narratives of Shelby’s life, but for me there was too much interference from flights of fancy in what was essentially an absorbing read about a teenager with an atypical past discovering who she is and who she wants to be.

If you’re in the mood for a road-trip featuring violence and/or the supernatural, you could do worse than pick up one of these two new release offerings.  Let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…Fellside!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Shouty Doris and I are pleased to welcome you today to our review of a book that has certainly had us talking –

Shouty Doris interjects

-arguing-

-…yes, whatever…more than any other tome so far this year!  I speak of Fellside by M.R. Carey, a paranormal, magical realist, hard-bitten jaunt inside a women’s prison.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Will she listen?

fellside.jpg

Before we get into it, I should point out that the above blurb gives almost no indication of the depth of story that is explored in this book.  This is one hefty tome, make no mistake, so one shouldn’t go into it thinking it’s all about one young woman and her hopes for redemption.

Shouty Doris interjects

That’s right.  You should go into it thinking it’s about drugs and sex.

Well.  Yes.  There is a considerable amount of drug-smuggling, drug-taking (both in accordance with, and against, medical advice) and general druggery going on within these pages (as indeed one might expect from a book set within a prison), and to a lesser extent, a reasonable amount of sex (extra marital and otherwise).  Also, perhaps, as one might expect from a book set in a prison.

I did not consider this before reading, and therefore I was a little bit shocked by the grittiness of the plot.

Shouty Doris interjects

You old prude.

Indeed!  The main character of the tale is Jess Moulson, a young heroin addict who is convicted of murder after setting a fire that inadvertently caused the death of a ten-year-old boy living in the apartment above her.  The story overall is Jess’s story, as she attempts redemption and tries to remodel herself in the dark, dingy underbelly of the maximum security wing of Fellside.

Apart from Jess’s story, we are also treated to chapters from the point of view of a whole host of other characters – the cowardly, get-along-to-go-along Dr Salazar, the spiteful Nurse Stock, a warder on the up in the drug trade of the prison known as The Devil and a whole host of other inmates, medical staff, lawyers and hangers-on whose stories are interlinked throughout the book.

Shouty Doris interjects

And every one of them a crazed, violent loon!  I needed a picture dictionary to keep up with them all.  Especially the inmates.  One crazy, loud, violent woman became much like another by the end.  

Yes, after a while there were almost too many characters to keep a hold of, but I think Carey did a good job overall of keeping a handle on the multiple threads, and keeping the story from being impossible to follow.

Shouty Doris interjects

You’ve got to be joking! There were more twists than Chubby Checker’s corkscrew!  

Admittedly, by the final few chapters, the twists and unexpected outcomes really had been stretched to their limit.  I couldn’t decide by the end whether I thought the execution was masterful or over the top.

Shouty Doris interjects

Over the top.  By the end, the main character had even changed!  

Mmmm. I stilll think the author managed to err on the side of keeping control of his creation. One thing I can say for certain is that you will definitely get your money’s worth if you buy this book.  There is so much storyline to unpack that you could –

Shouty Doris interjects

-club baby seals to death with it.

Possibly try a less violent metaphor next time, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

I though it suited the violent prison atmosphere.  

Speaking of atmosphere, one thing I puzzled over was the fact that this book is set in England, written by an Englishman, yet there was nothing remotely British about the feel of the writing or characters.  In fact, I was certain throughout that this was an American book about American characters.  Certainly this isn’t necessarily something to complain about –

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d like to complain about it.

but I just found it a bit strange and disorienting.  This is probably quite appropriate because I found much of the book quite disorienting.

Shouty Doris interjects

Probably due to all the drug use.

Quiet you.

But definitely absorbing.  This was an absorbing, gripping, unexpected read that I can’t say that I enjoyed, exactly, but certainly felt compelled to finish.  I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with Carey’s work here and will now have to hunt down The Girl With All The Gifts, which has been on my TBR for ages.

Shouty Doris interjects

Give me a good ol’ Mills & Boon any day, I say.

**passes tattered book to Shouty Doris**

Shouty Doris interjects

Oooh, this is a good one!

I still can’t decide whether or not to put Fellside up as a Top Book of 2016 pick, simply because, while it was so memorable and different to anything I’ve read so far this year, I didn’t actually enjoy it all that much.  I suspect this one will make its way on to some bestseller lists, so I’m interested to see what others think of it.

If you are looking for a book that isn’t afraid to plumb the depths of human misery and provide you with plenty of distraction from your humdrum, not-being-in-prison existence, with a bit of a paranormal twist, then I would definitely recommend taking a look at Fellside.

But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

Why I Went Back: A YA “Read it if” Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

Welcome to another Read-it-if review!  Today’s book will be a treat for those who enjoy a bit of David Almond-style magical realism mixed with myth and legend, or indeed for anyone who likes to know that someone is looking after the postal system properly.  Why I Went Back by James Clammer is a no-romance (hooray!), no-nonsense romp that masterfully blends ancient legend with modern first world problems (ie: not getting your mail on time). Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Aidan needs his bike to deliver all the mail his postman dad’s been hoarding since his mum was sectioned. But his bike’s just been stolen.
In the early morning, Aidan chases after the thieves, hellbent on getting it back. When he reaches the abandoned factory where they’ve stashed his bike, he has moments to grab it and escape. But he finds more than just stolen goods. There’s a mysterious prisoner chained to the floor.
This is the story of why Aidan goes back.
Recalling Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, Why I Went Back is a dark tale of magic, myth and undelivered mail.

why i went back

Read it if:

*you’ve ever had to cover for someone on the job when you are woefully unqualified (and unmotivated) to do so

*you’ve ever attempted to assist someone in something you thought would be a straightforward and simple task, only to find that it actually ends up taking over your life

*you’ve ever discovered an ancient, legendary being in an unexpected place and wondered what to do with him/her/it

* your mail could be delivered by a horde of unsightly and malodorous gnome-centaur crossbreeds for all you care, provided it gets to you in a timely and responsible fashion 

Comparisons to David Almond’s Skellig will be obvious after reading this book, given the whole “troubled boy discovers ancient being in an abandoned warehouse” plotline, but there is plenty to enjoy about Why I Went Back on its own merits.  For a start, while the plots might be similar in some ways, Clammer’s narrative is a lot edgier, featuring a young lad who isn’t afraid to get into a bit of trouble, provided it gets him where he needs to go.  Aidan is an immediately likeable character, in that while he does indulge in some dodgy behaviour to achieve certain ends, he also has insight into why he’s doing what he’s doing and takes on the responsiblity to make changes in his own life.

The book swings a bit between totally mundane problems, such as Aidan coping with a mother in a psychiatric ward and a father who has checked out of his own life, and problems of a more mystical variety, such as what to do with the strange old man Aidan discovers being held prisoner in a warehouse by a group of local thugs.  I found this to be quite a satisfying blend of story threads that kept the narrative moving and allowed Aidan’s story, and his friendship with Daniel, to be revealed in layers.

The ending neatly ties up the loose ends and provides a bit of hope for the future, using a juxtaposition of ancient magic and good old fashioned hard work.  I’d recommend this one for readers of YA looking for an edgy, sometimes dark, sometimes funny story with a believable male protagonist and a touch of the old magic to shake things up.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Great Expectations…Slightly Dashed by Misleading Blurbs…

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GREAT (1)It’s time for another Great Expectations review, in which I compare my soaring expectations with the reality (good or not so good) of actually reading the book.  Today I have three new release YA novels whose blurbs led me to have reasonably high expectations but whose execution didn’t quite match up.  None of them were bad books per se (although I did decide not to finish one of them) but I felt like I had been sucked in to requesting them under false blurby  pretences.  Let’s get on with it shall we?

First up, here’s the DNFer: The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Martha is lost.

She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.

In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.

But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out – if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…

the finding of martha lost

What I Expected:

An absolutely crackingly quirky novel that combined all the excitement and urban mythology of train stations with all the mystery and intrigue of lost things all wrapped up in a cast of humorous, memorable characters.  Essentially, I was expecting a sort of cross between The Graveyard Book and a Peter Grant-esque tale of fascinating hidden worlds but without all the murders, ghosts and crazy magical stuff.  The cover is a bit of a tease in that direction too – that person fishing for sneakers is at least as tantalising and whimsical as anything promised in the blurb.

What I Got:

Now given that I DNFed this one at 21%, it may seem a bit presumptuous to start complaining that I didn’t come across certain things I was expecting, but the first fifth of this book was just not quirky enough to hold my interest.  I would have hoped that there would have been a bit of a secret tunnel or roman soldier within that 21% to whet my appetite, but no.  Just a remarkably ordinary (and annoyingly naïve) young girl and her friend who runs a café within the station.  I did find the whole “I can’t leave the station or it will collapse” concept a tad over the top for a sixteen year old protagonist even if she was subjected to some less-than-stellar adoptive parenting.  Overall, I wanted a touch of the ol’ magical realism, as seems to be promised in the blurb, but there was not a skerrick of it in the fifth that I read.  And as for a mention of the eternal stuffed monkey? Not a sausage.


 

The next two books were kindly sent to us for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Let’s start with Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“I’ve got some questions for you. Was this story written about me?”

I shrugged.

“Yes or no?”

I shrugged again, finally earning a little scowl, which somehow made the girl even more pretty. It brought a bloom to her pale cheeks and made sharp shelves of her cheekbones.

“It’s very rude not to answer simple questions,” she said.

I gestured for my journal, but she still wouldn’t give it to me. So I took out my pen and wrote I can’t on my palm.

Then, in tiny letters below it, I finished the thought: Now don’t you feel like a jerk?

Parker Santé hasn’t spoken a word in five years. While his classmates plan for bright futures, he skips school to hang out in hotels, killing time by watching the guests. But when he meets a silver-haired girl named Zelda Toth, a girl who claims to be quite a bit older than she looks, he’ll discover there just might be a few things left worth living for.

thanks for the trouble

What I Expected:

In one hyphenated word, I expected time-travel.  The female protagonist claims to be at least 100 years old and I was hoping that there was going to be some snazzy time travel or at least time bending going on in the novel.  I won’t tell you what there is specifically, because that would be a spoiler, but be assured there is no time travel.  Not a sausage.

What I Got:

Once again, I am in the minority of opinion on this book if Goodreads is anything to go by, because over 176 ratings, this book has an average of 4.05 stars and I gave it two stars, which equates to “It was okay.”  It’s my own fault for reading things into the blurb that aren’t really there but this book turned out to be penned in that particular style of magical realism that I find especially irritating.  The kind that hints at something but in fact turns out to be something else that may or may not be perfectly ordinary and mundane.  I’ll have to stop hinting there myself, because I don’t want to give anything away.  I found that the story started off with an engaging setting: we meet Parker as he is deciding whether or not to steal a wad of cash from a beautiful lady in a hotel restaurant.  I will admit that I quite enjoyed the first third or so of the book and then I began to lose interest due to the slow slide into events such as young person banter and parties and various other bits that may well appeal to younger readers than I, but generally make my stony eyelids droop.

One thing that really confused me was the fact that early on, Parker is specifically described as a Latino male, of the sort that wouldn’t be welcome (or would be looked at sideways) if seated in the restaurant of a fancy hotel.  Why then, if Parker’s Latino heritage is so emphasised, did the designers choose a rather gormless looking white boy for the cover?   If you’re going to make a big thing about his ethnicity, being that diversity in protagonists is such a popular thing nowadays, why not make the person on the cover look less like a white guy and more like the minority he’s meant to be representing?  It boggles the mind.

The ending was more ambiguous than I expected and did redeem the book a little for me.  I was quite surprised that the author would go where he did with such a controversial topic, but go there he did and I think the book is the better for it.  Overall though, this was just an “okay” read that I wish had relied a bit more on the magical side of magical realism and taken things to a stranger, more mind-twisting level.


 

Finally we have a new adult murder mystery, All These Perfect Strangers by acclaimed Australian crime writer Aoife Clifford.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths, but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’

You don’t have to believe in ghosts for the dead to haunt you.

You don’t have to be a murderer to be guilty.

Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.

College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. The perfect place to run away from your past and reinvent yourself. But Pen never can run far enough and when friendships are betrayed, her secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.

all these perfect strangers
What I Expected:
Suspense.  Mystery.  Mind-f*ckery.  A story that would have me puzzling and strategizing and trying to outwit the author in an epic tussle between one of the brightest lights in Australian crime fiction and the cleverest gargoyle getting about the shelf.

What I Got:

Long, drawn out descriptions of life as a first year in a university college (or dorm as our North American friends might refer to them).  It’s been a good long while since I sat on the shelf of a first-year undergraduate, but it appears that life is just as self-indulgent, narcissistic and populated with complete tools, for contemporary undergrads as it was for undergrads of the past.  The great emphasis on murder in the blurb of this book might lead one to believe that there would be a lot of murder-mystery type content going on in the story, but murder, while hinted at vaguely in Pen’s sessions with her psychotherapist, doesn’t really play a big part in the first third of the story.

When it does finally happen (in the present, rather than Pen’s past), the suspense doesn’t crank up even one tiny notch.  And as mysterious deaths keep happening, the suspense level remains at exactly the level at which it started – low.  I really couldn’t say for sure why I didn’t feel any suspense or need to puzzle things out while I was reading but I suspect it has something to do with the lack of information given at the beginning of the story.  We know that something happened involving Pen before she got to university, but it is touched upon so vaguely and with such round-about discussion, that I couldn’t really picture Pen as someone with a haunted past or the potential to be dangerous, because it was as if she had already put it behind her.  Similarly, many of here college-mates were so annoying or ineffectual that I was quite pleased when they met their respective ends.

I really wanted to love this and engage with it on an intellectual, can-I-outwit-the-author sort of a level, but there was just too much tedious, new adult, boring relationship melodrama and not enough devious plotting or red-herring-osity going down.  Shame really.

I am very interested in checking out some of Clifford’s other work now however, to see if this is just an errant blip for an otherwise kick-ass crime writer.  I suspect it might be the case.


So what do you think?  Have I been mislead in my expectations from reading these blurbs or have I read something into them that was never there?

Until next time,

Bruce

A Week of Double-Dip Reviews…starting with Middle Grade Fiction (and a Giveaway)!

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imageWell I hope you haven’t been filling up on lots of nutritional reading recently, because the shelf denizens and I have a whole WEEK’S worth of Double-Dip reviews to satiate your cravings.  Today we will be looking at two new release, middle grade, illustrated chapter books (and will have a giveaway to boot!), then on Friday we’ll move on to some delightfully subversive picture books, followed by short story collections on Monday, and rounding out the smorgasbord with adult fantasy fiction this time next week.

Excited? Hungry for good reading experiences? Then let’s get to it!

(You’re wondering about the giveaway, aren’t you?  Just read on and it will all become clear!)

First up we have Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet Warren the 13th, a cursed 12-year-old Victorian bellhop who’s terribly unlucky . . . yet perpetually optimistic, hard-working, and curious. Orphan Warren’s pride and joy is his family’s hotel, but he’s been miserable ever since his evil Aunt Anaconda took over the management. Anaconda believes a mysterious treasure known as the All-Seeing Eye is hidden somewhere on the grounds, and she’ll do anything to find it. If Warren wants to preserve his family’s legacy, he’ll need to find the treasure first—if the hotel’s many strange and wacky guests don’t beat him to it! This middle-grade adventure features gorgeous two-color illustrations on every page and a lavish two-column Victorian design that will pull young readers into a spooky and delightful mystery.

Dip into it for…

warren…an unexpectedly charming main character, a hotel full of adventure and some serious double-crossing.  The book is also illustrated which adds atmosphere to the kookiness of Warren’s hotel.  This is a book for the sleuths and problem-solvers, who will delight in uncovering Warren’s family secrets along with the protagonists and peeling back the layers of a very mysterious quest.  Those who resonate with a downtrodden main character will alternately shake fists at the machinations and rejoice at the foiling of nasty Aunt Anaconda, who is hiding more than just a severe dislike for Warren.  My favourite character was Sketchy – I won’t spoil it for you, but Sketchy is a character that you would certainly not expect to find in the basement of a reputable establishment.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a straightforward mystery.  This book is replete with twists, turns, characters hiding their true colours and a plethora of family secrets that will keep the reader guessing throughout.

Overall Dip Factor

Warren the 13th proves the idea that you don’t have to be pretty to be a hero.  While the concept of the story is one we’ve seen many times before, the execution is original and kids who enjoy quirky characters and unexpected plot twists will want to jump in right alongside Warren as he hunts down the All-Seeing Eye – whatever it happens to be.

Now onto a new release AUSSIE early chapter book, Bella and the Wandering House by Meg McKinlay, a copy of which was kindly provided to us by Fremantle Press.  The self-same copy will be available for you to WIN, provided you keep reading to find out how to enter the giveaway.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Bella is very surprised one morning to discover her house has moved in the night – not a lot, just a little. Her parents are too busy to notice, but even they can’t pretend it’s not happening when they wake up to find their house on the banks of a lake. Night after night the house moves and the family wakes to a new location. Unless Bella can solve the mystery, who knows where they’ll end up?

Dip into it for…bella and the wandering house

…a charming and memorable little tale that holds at its heart themes of grief, loss and the bonds between generations.  Unmentioned in the blurb, strangely, is the relationship between Bella and her grandfather, which features largely throughout the whole story and ultimately feeds into the satisfying resolution of the wandering house problem.  McKinlay has a delightful way with words and I couldn’t help but giggle at the description of the house’s long, skinny legs – helped along by the gangly, awkward image in one of the illustrations.  For some reason, I expected a walking house to have either a stout pair of clomping feet or chicken legs, but I enjoyed the choice of lower limb here.  I also loved how determined Bella’s parents were to get to work every day, despite where the house ended up – surely most true-blue Aussies would take a wandering house as an excuse to bludge off work, but not these two!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after an action-packed adventure story or something to do with magic and mystery.  This is a gentle story, simply told and while the house’s movements are quite amusing, it is also obvious that there is an underlying restlessness driving the plot that is reflected in the worries of the characters.

Overall Dip Factor

Bella and the Wandering House is a heartwarming story that is more complex than it appears.  While young readers will enjoy the fun of having a walking house, adult readers will appreciate the subtle themes about the importance of choice when recovering from difficult circumstances.  Reminiscent of the work of that other Aussie kidlit genius, Glenda Millard, and the mix of adventure and focus on relationships found in Eva Ibbotson’s books, Bella and the Wandering House would make a great pre-bedtime serial read for grown-ups and their mini-fleshlings, or a quick, satisfying read for independent readers who like contemporary stories with a twist of magical realism.  It would also be the perfect stocking stuffer for adult readers dreaming of a seachange!

Giveaway Time!

One of you lucky readers will receive my copy of Bella and the Wandering House – thanks to Fremantle Press for providing the copy!  The giveaway is open internationally and will be open from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight on Friday the 4th of December, 2015 (Brisbane time!).

To enter, simply comment on this post and answer this question: “What important thing of yours has gone wandering at an inopportune moment?”

One winner from the applicable comments will be chosen by a random number generator, and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is selected.

Good luck!

I hope this bite-sized snack of middle grade fiction has whet your appetite for more Double-Dip reviews! Stay tuned for double the literary goodness this week.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Tell The Story to its End: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

The team has come together again to bring you our thoughts on an intriguing middle-grade offering that acknowledges the power of stories to manipulate the mundane world.  We received a copy of Tell the Story to its End (which also goes by the title Eren) by Simon P. Clark from the publisher via Netgalley, and were pleased to discover an atmospheric and nicely paced tale that lulls the reader into a place of comfort…or does it? Mwahahahaha!

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

People are keeping secrets from Oli. His mum has brought him to stay with his aunt and uncle in the countryside, but nobody will tell him why his dad where his father is. Why isn’t he with them? Has something happened? Oli has a hundred questions, and only an old, empty house in the middle of an ancient forest for answers. But then he finds a secret of his own: there is a creature that lives in the attic…

Eren is not human.
Eren is hungry for stories.
Eren has been waiting for him.

Sharing his stories with Eren, Oli starts to make sense of what’s happening downstairs with his family. But what if it’s a trap? Soon, Oli must make a choice: learn the truth—or abandon himself to Eren’s world, forever.

Reminiscent of SKELLIG by David Almond and A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness, EREN is richly atmospheric, moving, unsettling, and told in gorgeous prose. A modern classic in the making.

Here are the two versions of the cover:

tell the story to its end

eren

And here’s the Club’s thoughts:

Guru Dave

If you fail to master your words, your wordsmaniacal book club guru dave may become your master.  Such is the power of stories, fables, myths, to change the way we think, the way we act and the way we are.  Are we the product of our ancestors’ stories or do we create our own narrative? What happens to the stories that have faded from human memory? And is the book always better than the movie?  These are the questions that Oli will explore with his new, mysterious friend, Eren. Well. Except for that last one.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessThere are no dragons in this book.  But there is a cool talking cat and a king of trees and a strange winged guy called Eren who hides in attics and really likes stories.  He sounds a bit like Bruce really.  There’s not a lot of whiz-bang action in this book.  It would have been better if Eren was the kind of monster that eats people.  There was a cool story about a witch too.  This was an okay book but it would have been better with dragons.

Mad Martha

There once was a boy called Oli,maniacal book club martha

Who truly enjoyed a good sto’ry,

Do he and his friends,

Come to grief in the end?

You’ll just have to read to be sure-y.

*Toothless interjects: Worst. Limerick. Ever. *

Bruce

You know how books often have some comparison on the cover, like “if you liked *insert series name here*, then you’ll love this!” or “for fans of *insert author here*”.  Most of the time, the book ends up being nothing like the assertion, but Tell the Story to its End really IS a lot like the work of David Almond.  If you enjoy the feel of Almond’s work, then I can assure you that this book has a very similar narrative style, comparable pacing and more than a touch of the ol’ magical realism.

This book isn’t going to appeal to all readers in the target age bracket, but will certainly suit those who like a slow-burn mystery and stories-within-stories.  Oli is your average young lad who finds himself suddenly moving to the country with his mother, to live with her brother, for reasons that he’s not exactly clear about.  His mother is keeping some sort of secret about his father, and while Oli puzzles this out, he discovers the mysterious Eren living in the attic.

The addition of two other young folk, Em and Takeru, whom Oli befriends, deepens the plot as local legends are brought to light.  As the situation with Oli’s father comes out in bits and pieces, Oli finds himself drawn more deeply into Eren’s world and influence.  The reader is kept in a cloud of obscurity surrounding who Eren really is and whether he knows more of Oli’s family than he is saying.  The ending was surprising (to me, at least!) but felt quite fitting for the style of story.

The Book Club gives this book:

imageimageimage

Three thumbs up (Toothless wanted more fiery destruction)

I feel pretty safe in corroborating the claim in the blurb, that fans of David Almond should certainly enjoy Clark’s work here.  This is one for those who savour an enigmatic approach to storytelling.

Until next time,

Bruce and the Gang