Corpselight: Paranormal Creatures and Pregnancy on the Streets of Brisvegas…

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corpselight

If you are as much a fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series of paranormal police procedural novels as we are, you really should prick up your pointy, furry ears for the book we have for you today.  We received Corpselight, being the second book in Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder paranormal detective series, from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use – it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing – but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

Corpselight is the sequel to Vigil and the second book in the Verity Fassbinder series by award-winning author Angela Slatter.

It must be noted that Brisbane, my ancestral home and current shelfing ground, is not commonly the setting for books featuring fantasy and paranormal happenings.  In fact, the last one I read with Brisbane as a setting was Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw, four years ago.  Despite this, Slatter has had a damn good crack at trying to create a paranormal paradise in our fair city in Corpselight, with, among other creatures, a mud-slinging Scandinavian nasty and a skulk of kitsune who have no doubt taken advantage of the quick nine hour flight from their home country.

The quick-witted tone of Verity’s narration moves the plot along apace and despite the many, many references to her pregnancy in the first few chapters (including the truly remarkable revelation that at thirty-two weeks along, she sleeps soundly all night), it’s easy to get sucked in to the initial mystery on offer – the mysterious repeat appearance of stinky, coating mud inside an upmarket Paddington house.  Much like in the Peter Grant series, Verity works with various connections in the paranormal underworld as well as seemingly ordinary people who have taken advantage of Weyrd-Human relations – the ubiquitous insurance agency chief amongst them – to dig deeper and uncover the truly unexpected source of the mud-slinging.  I did find that the narration was slowed a little in the early chapters by information dumps about the events of the previous book.  These were necessary from my point of view, considering I hadn’t read the first book, but I wonder whether there might have been another way to accomplish the same task without slowing the narration – a cast of characters at the beginning, perhaps, or something similar.

I’m sure that most readers won’t have any problem at all with Brisbane as a setting, but for some reason I found it enormously difficult to try and pair places mentioned that I know with the existence of fantasy elements.  I’m not sure why that is. I’m sure if the setting was Melbourne or Sydney or some other Australian city I wouldn’t have had this problem, but because Brisbane seems so unlikely to me as a paranormal setting, what with being a resident, it took an awful lot of effort to suspend my disbelief.  Although I will admit to a little flash of schadenfreude when I noted that the mud-afflicted house was in Paddington.  Sucks to be you, richy rich!

There were some reasonably complicated reveals toward the end of the book relating to Verity’s mother and other family members, that may have been clearer to those who have read the first book, but provided for an action-packed finale.  The fact that Verity gives birth halfway through the book was also an unexpected spanner in the works but provides a new lens through which Verity views the sinister events that are unfolding around her.

Overall, if you enjoy urban fantasy novels and appreciate some diversity in the paranormal creatures you encounter in your reading then you should definitely give Corpselight a go.  If you aren’t a fan of jumping in at the middle of a series, start with book one instead – Vigil.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Top Book of 2016 Pick: Down Station…

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Bruce's Pick

Oooooh, exciting times!! Today I’m bringing you my first Top Book of 2016 pick in adult fiction and it is an unexpectedly exciting, original, yet familiar read.  We received Down Station from Hachette Australia for review, not quite remembering why it was we requested it in the first place, and were enormously surprised by how much we loved everything about it: from the characters, the settings, the genre-switching, the multiple points of view….but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through…and find themselves on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland. The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from a London that is burning. None of them have returned. Except one – who travels between the two worlds at will. The group begin a quest to find this one survivor; the one who holds the key to their return and to the safety of London.

And as they travel this world, meeting mythical and legendary creatures,split between North and South by a mighty river and bordered by The White City and The Crystal Palace they realise they are in a world defined by all the London’s there have ever been.

down station

Despite this book having lots of elements that I just can’t go past in a book – London, train stations, portals, time travel, finding oneself unexpectedly in a hitherto unknown place – when I received it in the mail and read the blurb on the back, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I had requested it (apart from that gorgeous cover, obviously. We all know I’m a sucker for an attractive bookish face).  It seemed like this was going to be a dystopian, which I’ve been steering away from for mental health reasons, and after I read the first few chapters, I was even more worried that this was a dystopian dressed in a pretty jacket.  For the opening of the book, apart from introducing our main characters, presents a frankly terrifying escape from a fiery, possibly world-destroying inferno.

Things settle down a bit, however, when our protagonists find their way out of the fire and into Down, a world that seems to exist purely for the purpose of escape.  As the seven survivors try to decide what they will do in this new, safe-for-the-moment environment, they discover sea serpents, a man tended by wolves and the existence of a shady geomancer, who may or may not know the way back to London.  Which itself may or may not now exist.

The book unfolds into a full-on other world story, as events cause the momentary forgetting of return to London, and lives hang in the balance.  The story alternates between Dalip – a young sikh engineering student struggling to assert himself as an individual outside the expectations of his family – and Mary – a young woman learning to wield the power of personal choice after a traumatic and violent childhood.  While there are plenty of fantasy elements speckled throughout the plot, the author never loses sight of the inner struggles of his characters, and I think that is what makes the book stand out for me as a Top Book pick.  Despite the craziness going on around them and the potential loss of all that they once knew, the group must try and make the “right” decisions, in a world where morality is clearly relative.

I am so pleased that this is a series opener.  Normally, at this stage of my reviewing life, I prefer standalones, but the surface has only just been scratched in Down Station and I am excited to see how Dalip, Mary and the rest manage themselves given all the changes that have happened for them over the course of this book.

If you are into adult fantasy fiction, and enjoy stories with excellent character development, then you really should pick up Down Station, not least because I want someone to discuss it with!!

Until next time,

Bruce

The Rabbit Back Literature Society: A Read-it-if Review…

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imageTime for a Read-it-if and if you are open-minded enough to dive into an adult fiction, magical realism-based, English translation from a Finnish author, then you’ve come to the right place!  I have had my beady eyeballs on The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen for quite a considerable amount of time and when it popped up on Netgalley for Australian reviewers I jumped on it quick smart.  Having read it, I’m a bit bemused at least as much by the fact that it is the first book featuring magical realism that I really got into and enjoyed, as by the perversely amusing (and disturbing) events of the narrative.  Off we go then.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society was founded by famous children’s author Laura White to identify and mentor promising young writers in the Finnish town of Rabbit Back, in the hope that they would one day become Finland’s most prominent authors.  With nine members being selected as children, it comes as a surprise to everyone when Ella Milana – a secondary school literature teacher on a temporary contract – is selected decades later as the Society’s tenth member.  But during the welcome soiree, Laura White mysteriously disappears in front of most of the folk of Rabbit Back, and Ella Milana is left in the dark about her place in the Society – except for the slightly sinister Game that all members are invited to play.  As Ella Milana engages her fellow society members in The Game, old wounds and forgotten secrets are brought to light, and the mystery of Laura White’s dramatic exit becomes the least of anyone’s worries.

rabbit back literature societyRead it if:

* you like writing. Or snacking at all hours. Or dogs. Or snacking at all hours while writing, as the neighbourhoods’ dogs mass outside your front gate.

* you enjoy Finnish humour. (Unsure if you enjoy Finnish humour? Read this book and find out)

* you like the idea of a book plague, wherein books start infecting other books with their stories and jumbling up the original narrative

* you’d love the opportunity to really ask your favourite author some tough and revealing questions and have them give a completely truthful response

I have had a reasonably poor relationship with novels dealing in magical realism, it must be said.  This one however, I truly enjoyed.  I suspect it’s because there is a very nice balance between the magical and the realism here – the magical bit permeates a lot of the story, but it does so politely, so that I didn’t feel jerked around with random weird stuff happening at random unexpected moments for no reason at all.  I also tend to have a pretty ordinary relationship with translations, but this one hit the spot in my opinion.

To be honest, I don’t think this book is going to appeal to everyone.  For a start, it felt like a hefty read to me (although as I was reading it on the Kindle I couldn’t tell how fat the actual printed book is) and one that would best be read over a period of time, rather that devoured quickly.  There’s also a fair few bits in which the reader must suspend their disbelief (there’s the magical realism bit, rearing its magically realistic head).  And ultimately, not all the loose ends are tied up by the book’s conclusion. In fact, hardly any of them are.

But for some reason, the combination of offbeat (and often dark) humour, the unfamiliar experience of reading about Finnish characters, and the multiple twists and turns in the narrative made this a pretty satisfying read for me.  The characters are simultaneously completely believable and downright unlikely and I admit to developing a soft spot for Marti Winter, the once-handsome, now obese author of note, who enjoys elaborate pastries, suffers from various social phobias and is inexplicably plagued by dogs.  I would certainly give this one a go if the blurb interests you.  There was a lot of tidbits in it that I found unaccountably funny and there were also a few bits where I was mildly disgusted but overall this book was original enough in storyline and just odd enough (without becoming too strange) in content to get my tick of approval.

The downside of enjoying this book of course is that now Goodreads seems to be recommending a whole lot of books written in Finnish.  I did mention this was a translation, right? Goodreads, please take note.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Lariats at the ready for..Bruce’s Reading Round-Up! (Quirky Edition)

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Welcome to a new feature on the blog – my reading Round-Up! This is where I very briefly drag into focus some great books I’ve had the pleasure of encountering and believe should be wrestled into the spotlight for a good bout of oohing, aahing and appreciative nodding.  Today I’ve got four titles that are fun and odd and quirky and highly readable, so saddle up, pop on your book-herding hat and let’s chase some wild tomes!

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest (A. Lee Martinez)15791459

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Helen, a teenaged minotaur, and Troy, an ordinary (extraordinary) lad reluctantly become questers after almost being sacrificed by their employer to a God made of animated hamburger meat.  While encountering funny and poignant quest tropes a-plenty, Helen and Troy must succeed or die – or alternately be violently murdered by a group of reluctant orcs.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s funny, with well-rounded characters in ethical-dilemma-inducing situations.  It’s a YA featuring a positive, hairy, giant, female role model, which is rarer than gelatinous-blob teeth.  It also includes almost every possible questing stereotype ever written, so will appeal to those who are part of various quest-related gaming/reading fandoms.

Brand it with:

Fantasy, questing, mythical creatures, rampant silliness, vintage cars

See my Goodreads review here!

 

Doctor Who: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Time Traveller (Joanne Harris)

23157198  Two Sentence Synopsis:

The Third Doctor is on the run from an alien race intent on executing him, when he accidentally lands in what looks to be a quaint English village.  Something about the creepy toy parade and false cheeriness of the residents tips him off that this might, however, not actually be a quaint English village.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s a brief Doctor fix that will certainly satisfy those who can’t be bothered with reading a whole novel or watching a whole episode.  The story has all the hallmarks of a classic D.W. adventure, with an ominous sky vortex, an unseen entity controlling the village and its residents, and a slightly rebellious companion known only as “The Queen”.  Plus, it’s a great introduction (or reacquaintance) to the third Doctor for those who haven’t encountered him.

Brand it with:

Sci-fi, timey-wimey, creepy monsters, horse chases

Read my Goodread review here!

Hildafolk (Luke Pearson)

9700137Two Sentence Synopsis:

A happy trip to draw in the mountains takes a frightening turn when Hilda accidentally discovers a troll.  After escaping to the welcoming warmth of home and hearth, adventure ignites when the troll comes knocking.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s whimsy in the non-cliched sense, with art that catches the eye and melts the heart.  Hilda is accompanied by a range of odd characters, including the enigmatic wood man who turns up to Hilda’s house when the door is left open and silently lays by the fireplace.  Take a chance on Hilda who is one-part Pippi Longstocking, one-part Clarice Bean and a million-parts friend-worthy.

Brand it with:

graphic novel series, mountain adventures, artistic endeavours, cute woodland weirdies.

See my Goodreads review here!

 

Duck, Death and the Tulip (Wolf Erlbruch)

4009037Two Sentence Synopsis:

Duck notices a coy but persistent presence lurking behind her and invites it to make itself known.  Interesting conversation and friendship ensue, until the inevitable end of Duck’s story.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an accessible, gentle and thoroughly matter-of-fact treatment of existential angst and how one can engage with it to one’s benefit.  The characters are sparse but recognisable, the plot features ordinary events overlayed with important conversations and themes of acceptance and friendship  abound.  This is a great picture book for adults who like to ponder on the big questions of life in no more than 32 pages.

Brand it with:

picture books, existentialism, life and death, kids’ books for grown ups

Read my review on Goodreads here!

These are just some of the books I’ve been reading and enjoying lately but haven’t found space for in their own right on the blog.  I do post a lot of review on Goodreads that don’t make it to the blog, so feel free to send me a friend request if you like to frequent Goodreads yourself.  What books have you been rounding up lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Indie YA Double Dip Review…and a Fi50 reminder!

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fiction in 50  image

Afternoon all! Before we launch into the tasty goodness of an indie YA double-dip, I’d like to remind all comers that June’s Fiction in 50 challenge will open on Monday the 30th.  This month’s prompt is…

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If you’d like to play, all you need to do is create a piece of fabulous fiction (or crappy fiction…we’re not fussy) in 50 words or less and then link it up to the linky in my post on Monday.  For more detailed info just click on the large button at the top of this post.  See you on Monday, mini-narrative-maestros!

Now onto the double dip! First up we have Small Town Witch (The Fae of Calaverasmall town witchs County #1) by Kristen S. Walker.

Rosamunde is your average teenage witch.  She attends school with a bunch of human and non-human friends, she gets stuck with her grumpy, non-witchy sister, and she does her best to be a good daughter.  Taught to always be careful with her fledgling powers and to adhere to the law of the magical community, Rosa is more than surprised to discover some odd spells hidden around her bedroom. 

With friendship dramas unfolding, and a possible new love interest moving into the picture, Rosa must begin to unravel the mystery of who placed the spells and why.  As she delves deeper into the problem, Rosa discovers that her mother may be using her powers to keep Rosa’s family compliant in psuedo-happiness.

In order to free herself and her family from the spells, Rosa must decide whether she should step up against her own mother – the witch who has taught her everything she knows – and risk tearing her family apart.

Dip into it for…

…a nicely imagined urban fantasy in an unusual setting.  Most of the urban fantasy that I have read is set in big cities, like London, so it was interesting to read a book set in a small town.  It gave the action a more homey feel and I think it’s a new and different way to approach the genre.  Walker has also done a great job of bringing in a whole range of different magical creatures but keeping the mythology in the story contained.  In urban fantasy that embraces a diverse range of magicality, there’s always the risk that the author will have to spend endless passages explaining the whys and hows of the world they’ve created, but Walker has allowed the setting to speak for itself and the “rules” of her world are easily picked up through the story.  Another unusual facet to this book is the emphasis placed on the general teen angst experienced by Rosa and her sister Akasha – despite living in a community that embraces magic, they also fall prey to the kind of friendship and relationship issues that non-magical teens deal with, and I think this will appeal to your average YA reader of that age bracket.

Don’t dip if…

…you like your urban fantasy tight and action-packed.  There is an enormous amount of detail around Rosa’s family and friendships here that I found a bit tedious to be honest.  I felt that the editing could have been a lot tighter to keep the action flowing, and to create a few more peaks in the narrative.  Having said that, this book might be better categorised as YA chick lit with magic thrown in, as the relationship detail did give the book a very distinctive feel.  I think that the book would certainly have appeal to a wider range of readers if the book was categorised this way, because it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting from an urban fantasy, but it was an interesting and worthy read nonetheless.

Overall dip factor…

This is going to appeal to readers of YA contemporary first and foremost, I suspect, rather than your hard core urban fantasy purists (if there is such a thing!).  With a bit of judicious editing, Small Town Witch has the potential to bring a whole different audience into the world of urban fantasy, which can only be a good thing.  And book two in the series has already been released, so readers who lap this one up don’t have to wait around for the sequel – bonus!

Next we have another YA urban fantasy in a slightly different vein – Salted by Aaron Galvin.salted

Lenny is one of the Salted – a slave who lives in an undersea colony, with the power to transform into a Selkie.  Lenny works as a chaser, hunting down escaped slaves and bringing them back home to face their gruesome punishment.  When Lenny is charged with hunting down famous escapee Marisa Bourgeois, he knows this is a chance to prove himself, and possibly win his own freedom.

While being nearly drowned on purpose by a classmate, Garrett Weaver discovers that he has the ability to transform into a sea creature.  As no one else seems to notice Garrett’s odd affliction, he begins to think he’s going mad until one day at the aquarium, Garrett discovers others like him.

Lenny and Garrett are about to cross paths in spectacular fashion, and when they do, it could spell major danger for both the boys, and the people they care about.

Dip into it for…

…an urban fantasy that features mythical creatures we haven’t seen before.  No vampires or werewolves here!  Galvin has created an interesting world in which the power to transform into a Selkie comes, for some, with the price of slavery for themselves and their families.  It’s a unique take on the genre, with the mythical creature aspect twinned with a sort of dystopian society in which slaves can’t escape their underwater prison without dooming their loved ones to a horrific punishment.

There’s plenty of action to satisfy the thrill-seekers among us, mostly fueled by the thrill of the chase as Lenny and his crew hunt down the wiley, elusive and intriguing Marisa.  The male protagonists also give the book a rough sort of tone that complements the action and the dystopian aspect nicely.  The dual story lines featuring Lenny and Garrett provide a point of difference and allow for some changes in the pacing that give the reader time to take a breath.  There’s also plenty of unanswered questions to puzzle over – why can Garrett suddenly transform? Why do the Selkies hate the escapees so much? What is Marisa hiding and how does she manage to evade capture for so long?

There’s a lot to like here, but again, it’s not your average urban fantasy.

Don’t dip if…

…you like to have your hand held when you dip into a new fantastical world.  The first few chapters really throw you in at the deep end (pardon the pun) as the reader is plunged (pardon, again) straight into Lenny’s underwater world.  The Selkies have a peculiar turn of speech and the context isn’t spelled out in a detailed way so I did feel like I was floundering (SORRY!) a bit.  In fact, when the story flipped to Garrett’s point of view for the first time, I was quite relieved to be back in the realms of something I didn’t have to work to understand.  There are quite a lot of characters that get introduced early on and I did have a little trouble keeping them straight, although this lessened as time went on.

Overall dip factor…

If you enjoy the type of urban fantasy that features shape-shifters and societies with their own rules, you’ll probably enjoy Salted.  Selkies are a nice change from the standard vampire/werewolf dichotomy and I like that Galvin has chosen to branch out from the magic + sea = mermaid formula by choosing a lesser known creature.  Salted is heavy on action and mystery and low on romance (hurrah!), and is focused more on the fantasy than the urban.

So that’s all from me. If your appetite has been whetted, get your dipping hand warmed up, grab your savoury snack of choice and scoop up some  YA indie goodness!

Until next time,

Bruce

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