TBR Friday: Takeshita Demons

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TBR Friday

I know, I’m killing it!  It’s only February and I’ve already knocked over four out of my goal of twelve books from my TBR shelf for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017!  Today’s book is also going to count toward my progress in the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category #17, a book involving a mythical creature.  You can check out my progress toward all of my reading challenges here.

Today’s book is the titular book in Cristy Burne’s middle grade Takeshita Demons series, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Miku Takeshita and her family have moved from Japan to live in the UK, but unfortunately the family’s enemy demons have followed them! Miku knows she’s in trouble when her new supply teacher turns out to be a Nukekubi – a bloodthirsty demon who can turn into a flying head and whose favourite snack is children. That night, in a raging snowstorm, Miku’s little brother Kazu is kidnapped by the demons, and then it’s up to Miku and her friend Cait to get him back. The girls break into their snow-locked school, confronting the dragon-like Woman of the Wet, and outwitting the faceless Nopera-bo. At last they come face to face with the Nukekubi itself – but will they be in time to save Kazu?

takeshita-demons

Ten Second Synopsis:
Miku, who loved hearing stories of Yokai from her Baba, has moved to England with her family. When a disappearing visitor knocks on the door, Miku is thrust into a dangerous situation, as Yokai of all types begin troubling the Takeshita family.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Close to a year

Acquired:

I picked up the first three in this series from the Library Cast-offs bookshop at Nundah, because they featured Yokai and I hadn’t heard of them before.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

A misguided belief that I would have to read all three in the series one after the other.

Best Bits:

  • These are by an Australian author – yippee!
  • If you are a fan of fantasy and mild horror for middle grade readers, then this should be a delightfully dangerous change of pace, featuring, as it does, monsters from the rich and complex mythology of Japan.  This opening book alone includes a nukekubi (a demon that can detach its head at night and send it out hunting), an amazake-baba (a demon that takes the shape of an old woman but brings sickness and disease if you let her in) and even some murderous curtains.  And that’s not the half of it.
  • If you are on the lookout for books featuring characters from diverse backgrounds, Miku and her family are Japanese, living in England.  There are plenty of Japanese words and descriptions of various customs scattered throughout, as well as a glossary of the demons that appear in the story at the end of the book.
  • The plot is deliciously creepy without being outright scary and so is perfectly suitable for younger readers.  As an adult reader I found it a fast and fun romp with a few spine-shiver-inducing elements.  Even though the protagonists are female, the action and monsters should appeal to young male readers also, making this a book that should be a winner for everyone!
  • It’s illustrated!  Throughout the book there are single page illustrations that help to bring the monstrous demons to life.
  • It’s only reasonably short.  I read it over about three days in short bursts, so it’s not an overwhelming read for independent young readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I had a few cringes at the plotting at some points.  The heroines do overcome the demons at the end, but have a bit of help that comes along in quite a handy fashion.  There are obviously parts of this book, such as the references to the Takeshita’s house-spirit back in Japan, and the allusions to the powers inherited by the female line of the family, that will be expanded on further in later books in the series.  This didn’t bother me too much, because I already have the next two stories in my possession, but may be an sticking point for someone reading this as a standalone story.
  • The author has a tendency to throw in apparently random occurences here and there, such as the noppera-bo (faceless ghost) and the yuki-onna (woman of the snow).  These characters don’t end up having much to do with the story, so either they’ve been introduced to give the reader an idea of the variety of Japanese spirits getting around the place, or they might play a part in later books.  Either way, their inclusion did amount to a number of red-herrings that ended up being a bit annoying because I wanted to know what their role in the story was going to be.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes.  In fact I’m glad I’ve got the first three because I can continue the story at my leisure.  I’ll probably end up buying the fourth book before the year’s out too.  Reading them will also give me a good chance to use my brand new Yokai encyclopedia – yipee!

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf, to await its brethren.

Can I just say how much I’m enjoying the TBR challenge this year?  I feel really motivated to get those books that I bought with such excitement off the TBR shelf and into my brain, via my optic nerves.

Until next time,

Bruce

Escape! Three Cracking Titles for Younger Readers…

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September school holidays are kicking off tomorrow here in Queensland and with the hotter weather back (after a shocking two labyrinth-lost freedom-swimmer omnia
minute absence), many people might be starting to think about escaping on a relaxing getaway.  To ensure that your reading needs are covered, here are three quite excellent titles involving escape, for middle grade and YA readers.

First up, we have Omnia by Laura Gallego Garcia, translated from the original Spanish by Jordi Castells.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

All you have to do is imagine—the Omnia superstore has anything you could ever dream of.

Where else but Omnia would a boy go looking to replace a one-of-a-kind stuffed bunny that happens to be his baby sister’s favorite toy? Scrolling through the online retailer’s extensive inventory, Nico finds what looks like a perfect match, but the item is lost somewhere in the vast Omnia warehouse. He doesn’t believe it, so he stows away in a shipment being returned to the warehouse to search for the bunny himself.

Nico quickly gets stranded on the island of Omnia, a fantastical place that does much more than sell everyday items. It is a hub for a business with intergalactic reach, and while stray visitors to Omnia are welcomed warmly, they are not permitted to leave, ever.

The adventure of a lifetime awaits Nico as he searches for the beloved toy and tries to find a way to return home.

omnia

We absolutely adored this unusual middle grade sci-fi adventure story that was a delightful mix of Charlie and the CBruce's Pickhocolate Factory and and the inside of a TARDIS.  In fact, it felt like such an original story that we have labelled it a Top Book of 2016 pick.  Nico is a supremely sympathetic protagonist and an unfailing optimist and his firm commitment to finding a replacement for his sister’s favourite toy (also a family heirloom!) is commendable.  I loved the imaginative features of the Omnia warehouse – I won’t spell these out here because it would spoil the fun for first time readers – and the inclusion of some very unexpected individuals that gave the world an expansive feel, despite the fact that most of the story takes place entirely within the warehouse of the Omnia online store.

Omnia as a whole felt like an energizing story, with twists a-plenty, but twists that I didn’t expect and didn’t necessarily predict.  The story never becomes too sinister, yet Nico clearly has some troubling problems to overcome before he can achieve his goal  It was fantastic to see that instead of taking the easy, well-trodden “evil villain running a secret empire” route, the root causes of Nico’s problems were recognisably more human in origin.  The ending comes along quicker than one might expect, but I appreciated the fact that Gallego doesn’t faff about and draw out the final scenes simply to lengthen the wordcount.  If you are a jaded reader of middle grade fiction who is sick of the same old fantasy and magic tropes being played out time and again, Omnia will be a refreshing change, without compromising on a sense of adventure and new discoveries.

Next up we have a historical fiction for upper middle grade and YA readers by Wai Chim, Freedom Swimmer.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ming survived the famine that killed his parents during China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, and lives a hard but adequate life, working in the fields…When a group of city boys comes to the village as part of a Communist Party re-education program, Ming and his friends aren’t sure what to make of the new arrivals. They’re not used to hard labour and village life. But despite his reservations, Ming befriends a charming city boy called Li. The two couldn’t be more different, but slowly they form a bond over evening swims and shared dreams…But as the bitterness of life under the Party begins to take its toll on both boys, they begin to imagine the impossible: freedom.

freedom-swimmer

Freedom Swimmer (Wai Chim) Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $16.99

I will admit to knowing very little about the history (either ancient or modern) of China and this book was a perfect introduction to the historical period of the Cultural Revolution under the rule of Mao Tse-tung and the ways in which the Chinese people responded to massive social change.  Ming is a shy village boy who lived through years of famine which brought about the death of his family.  Alone and in a precarious social position, Ming tries to uphold his part in the work of the village while under the wing of his closest friend, Tiann.  Li is a good looking, educated city boy who arrives in Ming’s village as part of an exercise by the Red Guard to learn about the working life of the “peasants”.  While Li is familiar with and supportive of Mao’s teachings, he is open-minded and friendly, something some of his comrades in the Guard see as a precursor to possible reactionary thinking.

Freedom Swimmer is pitched at just the right level for young readers to get a glimpse of the oppressive nature of life for Ming and the people of China generally, without having to go into the more confronting details of how “reactionaries” were treated.  These details are hinted at, and there are some violent scenes, but rather than focusing on the horror of an oppressive military regime, the author has done a great job at highlighting the personal responses of Ming and Li to changes in their communities and families.  Before reading this book, I had no idea that Freedom Swims were a “thing” and this would be a fantastic novel to use in lower secondary classrooms to introduce the idea of asylum seeking, the ways in which people are forced to leave their home countries, and what might happen to them if they successfully manage the escape or if they don’t.  Given that this is a topical issue in Australia at the moment, historical instances of asylum seeking are a valuable contribution to the discourse on what exactly a refugee is and how different countries respond to those seeking asylum.

Putting the “issues” of the book aside for a moment however, Freedom Swimmer is a tight, engaging historical novel with relatable characters and writing that makes this recent historical period immediately accessible for young readers.

Finally, we have Labyrinth Lost, the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, by Zoraida Cordova.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

labyrinth-lost

Being the jaded, cranky old fusspot that I am, it is always exciting to come across a book that features a whole new experience of magic.  Having read more than a few YA books that feature magic in my time, I tend to get that samey feeling quite a bit.  I am pleased however, to note that Labyrinth Lost had me sucked right in to Alejandra’s world of witches and sorcery…for the first part, at least.  Cordova’s magic system here is a mix of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean myth, folklore and ritual and as such, the imagery fairly leapt off the page.  The initial part of the story, in which Alex is trying to figure out how to avoid her Deathday party, is urban fantasy at its best, with the magical, mythical elements expertly blended with the mundane world of school and relatives.

I was more than a little disappointed to see this part of the story end, but end it does when Alex and her reluctant accomplice, Nova, are drawn into the world of Los Lagos, in which magic reigns and the curse of a creature called the Devourer is laying waste to the land.  Now don’t get me wrong: this part of the book was still exciting and creative, but I haven’t read a really original-feeling urban fantasy YA novel for such a long time that I wanted that part to continue indefinitely.  Once the characters had arrived in Los Lagos, it felt like more familiar tropey territory, even though the world itself was quite original and unexpected.

The greatest thing about this book (apart from the kick-ass urban fantasy beginning) is the focus on identity and family relationships throughout.  Alex, despite being set apart as a witch, struggles with the common problem of feeling disconnected from her family; wanting something other than the path that is expected of her.  I’ll be interested to see where this series goes – I hope there’ll be more urban settings in the sequel.

So, be it by water, by magic portal or by pneumatic postal tube, I hope you find a way to escape these holidays!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Mythological MG Mystery, Read-it-if Review: The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if Review, where the decision regarding whether to add another book to your tottering TBR pile is made simple by the perusal of a short, attemptedly witty collection of bullet points. Today I have a diverting middle grade read which features Norse mythology, Russian folklore, talking animals and two clued in kid detectives. We received The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shaughnessy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“What is the Unbelievable FIB?”  

That’s the question eleven-year-old Prudence Potts discovers on a baffling card no one else in Middleton–except ABE, a new kid with a knack for solving riddles–seems to see. Then a mysterious man asks for ABE and Pru’s help investigating mythical beings infiltrating the town, and that’s just one of the things Pru finds hard to believe.

Soon Pru and ABE discover another world beneath the surface of their quiet town, where Viking gods lurk just out of sight. They must race to secure the Eye of Odin, source of all knowledge–and the key to stopping a war that could destroy both human and immortal realms.

Author Adam Shaughnessy draws from classic lore to create a new world where uncertainty opens the door to magic and the last thing you should do is believe your own eyes.

the ubelievable fib

Read it if:

*you believe chicken feet would be a savvy renovation addition for your current dwelling

*you are a dab hand at riddle-solving, and would be over-the-moon (as opposed to mildly confused or completely creeped out) to find a mysterious note from an unnamed stranger in your backpack

*you are convinced that hanging out at the local watchhouse and chatting to interesting inmates will reap benefits in an as yet unimagined future scenario

*you really love middle grade fiction that is fun, fast-paced and cleverly blends myth, fairy tale and good old fashioned detective work

I was pleasantly surprised by the Unbelievable FIB in that it was a while between when I requested it for review and when I actually got to reading it, so I had forgotten that it featured Norse mythology. Now, I haven’t read many books featuring Norse mythology, so this felt quite fresh and shiny-new. I can’t say if it would feel the same for seasoned readers of Norse-mythology-based books, but the blend of the mythological with elements of the Baba Yaga fairy tale really set off the exciting, puzzling detective bits of the story.

Pru and ABE are both likeable characters and neither felt particularly clichéd to me, which is always a relief. Pru is an intrepid, cheeky, forthright young lady who has recently experienced the loss of her father, a police detective, while ABE is the reserved, quietly clever, new kid in town. Together, their skills complement each other and provide all the resources necessary to get to the bottom of some of the stranger happenings that have been occurring around town. There are also enough eccentric and shady adult characters here to keep the kids (and the reader!) on their toes regarding who can be trusted – there’s Pru and ABE’s teacher, the pompous Mrs Edleman; the kindly Fay Loningtime; the enigmatic and reclusive Old Man Grimnir; the dashing and unexpected Mister Fox and a very odd looking customer residing in the town’s watchhouse.

The author has done a great job of keeping the explanations of the more complex aspects of Norse mythology contained within the story. The various salient parts of the myths are related in a variety of ways – through a story read for the main character’s homework, for instance – which avoids any slowing of the plot while important world-building and background knowledge is given. Shaughnessy has also employed a light and humorous tone throughout, with lots of banter and quippery, which made this story very enjoyable to wander through.

Overall, this story felt like a breath of fresh air in the crowded marketplace of middle grade fiction, in which one often comes across the same sorts of stories told in similar sorts of ways. While this isn’t so outrageously original it blew my mind, it was definitely different enough from other recent releases that it made me sit up and take notice.  If you have a young reader in your midst who loves solving mysteries and enjoys a bit of fantastical adventure, then I would definitely recommend placing The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB in their hands…or at least within easy reach.

Until next time,

Bruce

Unmissable Sequel Alert (and Giveaway!): Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering…

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Sound the alarm! I have a sequel today that you really shouldn’t miss, particularly if you’ve read the first book in the series and even more especially if you haven’t! Today’s book, The Suffering by Rin Chupeco is the follow-up to her 2014 debut The Girl From the Well, which I described (rather enthusiastically) at the time as “a hands-down, five-star, should’ve-got-it-in-print read”. The Suffering is a satisfyingly terrifying instalment and as I am now a confirmed, card-carrying fan of Ms Chupeco’s work, I have jumped in on the blog tour giveaway for the book, allowing YOU the chance to win a copy of The Suffering. Thank me later!

But let’s get on with it. Here’s the blurb:

Breathtaking and haunting, Rin Chupeco’s second novel is a chilling companion to her debut, The Girl from the Well.

The darkness will find you.

Seventeen-year-old Tark knows what it is to be powerless. But Okiku changed that. A restless spirit who ended life as a victim and started death as an avenger, she’s groomed Tark to destroy the wicked. But when darkness pulls them deep into Aokigahara, known as Japan’s suicide forest, Okiku’s justice becomes blurred, and Tark is the one who will pay the price…

the suffering

The most interesting thing about this sequel from my point of view is that it has a completely different feel to the first book, but retains that sense of mind-numbing IT’S BEHIND YOU! terror with which the first book was replete. While The Girl from the Well was stomach-churningly intense from the very first pages, The Suffering is more of a slow burn, with the early chapters seeing Tark living a relatively normal teenage life, albeit with an invisible dead girl for company.

The first part of The Suffering felt suspiciously like your standard YA with a bit of paranormal chucked in, but once Tark and Callie arrive in Japan, things quickly take a shuddersome turn. Aokigahara, Japan’s famed “suicide forest” seems to be having a bit of a day in the dappled sun in fiction at the moment – I’ve already reviewed another fiction book featuring it as the setting this year, and have noted a few others about – but Chupeco has done something clever here by twinning the acknowledged fear of the forest with a hitherto undiscovered village of the damned, you might say, within the forest’s clutches.

I won’t say too much about it here, because it would be a bit spoilerific, but by the time Tark and Okiku discover the village of Aitou, that familiar sense of ghoulish eeriness will have settled in the base of your brain, preparing you nicely to jump at the slightest noise or shadow. (Is that a bony finger stroking the back of your neck?). This book focuses on a centuries old curse that affected the young people of the village and the pace during most of this part is break-neck (literally, for some characters) as Tark and Okiku try to stay alive (well, Tark does, anyway) in a ghost-town that clearly wishes them otherwise.

The final chapters of the book are quite touching and unexpected and I gained a renewed respect for Chupeco’s ability to cap off a horror tale by refocusing on the important relationships in the book.

Take it from me, if you haven’t read Chupeco’s work yet and if you like horror even a tiny bit, then you really should try these out. You will be surprised at the quality of the storytelling that can come out of what could easily be branded just another YA horror tale.

That’s all from me, but keep reading for an excerpt from The Suffering and your chance to win! Many thanks to Sourcebooks for sponsoring the giveaway and for providing a copy of the book for review!

The Suffering

By Rin Chupeco

September 1, 2015; Hardcover ISBN 9781492629832; Trade Paper ISBN 9781492629849

Book Info:

Title: The Suffering

Author: Rin Chupeco

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Rafflecopter Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Excerpt from The Suffering:

It’s still early morning when our group is given clearance to enter. Aokigahara is a deceptive forest. It has all the hallmarks of a popular tourist destination: narrow but well-­maintained hiking trails with a surprising amount of litter, not to mention strips of tape and ribbon wrapped around tree trunks. The leader explains that hikers use them as markers to maintain their bearings. Later on, one of the other volunteers whispers to us that some of the tapes were left by those who came here to kill themselves, in case they decided to change their minds. The revelation horrifies Callie.

A few miles into our hike, anything resembling civilization disappears. Roots crawl across the hard forest floor, and it’s easy to trip if you’re not constantly looking down. We’re outside, but the trees make it feel claustrophobic. They reach hungrily toward the sun, fighting each other for drops of light, and this selfishness grows with the darkness as we move deeper into the woods.

It’s quiet. The silence is broken by the scuffling of feet or snapping of dry twigs as we walk. Every so often, volunteers call back and forth to each other, and rescue dogs exploring the same vicinity that we are will bark. But there are no bird calls, no sounds of scampering squirrels. We’re told that there is very little wildlife in Jukai. Nothing seems to flourish here but trees.

This deep into the woods, any roads and cleared paths are gone. At times, we’re forced to climb to a higher ledge or slide down steep slopes to proceed, and there’s always some root or rock hiding to twist an ankle.

And yet—­the forest is beautiful. I like myself too much to seriously think about suicide, even during my old bouts of depression, but I can understand why people would choose to die here. There is something noble and enduring and magnificent about the forest.

That sense of wonder disappears though, the instant I see them. There are spirits here. And the ghosts mar the peacefulness for me. They hang from branches and loiter at the base of tree trunks. Their eyes are open and their skin is gray, and they watch me as I pass. I don’t know what kind of people they were in life, but they seem faded and insignificant in death.

Okiku watches them but takes no action. These are not the people she hunts. They don’t attack us because they’re not that kind of ghosts. Most of them, I intuit, aren’t violent. The only lives they had ever been capable of taking were their own.

I’m not afraid, despite their bloated faces, contorted from the ropes they use to hang themselves or the overdose of sleeping pills they’ve taken. If anything, I feel lingering sadness. I can sympathize with their helpless anguish. These people took their own lives, hoping to find some meaning in death when they couldn’t find it in life. But there’s nothing here but regret and longing.

And there’s that tickle again, so light it is nearly imperceptible. Something in this forest attracts these deaths. It lures its unhappy victims with its strange siren’s call and then, having taken what it needs, leaves their spirits to rot. A Venus flytrap for human souls.

Something is wrong here, and suddenly, the forest no longer looks as enticing or majestic as when we arrived.

 

Praise for the Suffering:

 

“Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering is a horror lover’s dream: murders, possessed dolls, and desiccated corpses. I cringed. I grimaced. You won’t soon forget this exorcist and his vengeful water ghost.”

–Kendare Blake, author of Anna Dressed in Blood

 

“Chupeco deftly combines ancient mysticism with contemporary dilemmas that teens face, immersing readers in horrors both supernatural and manmade. The Suffering is a chilling swim through the murky waters of morality.”

–Carly Anne West, author of The Bargaining and The Murmuring

Summary:

 

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24789796-the-suffering?from_search=true&search_version=service_impr

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/PrKxL

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/PrKLh

Books A Million- http://ow.ly/PrL7j

iBooks- http://ow.ly/PrLCI

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/PrLOZ

Indiebound- http://ow.ly/PrLXu

 

About the Author:

Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and travel blogger, but now makes things up for a living. Connect with Rin at www.rinchupeco.com.

Social Networking Links:

Website: http://www.rinchupeco.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RinChupeco

 

 

New in Paperback from this Author: The Girl From The Well

Praise for The Girl From The Well:

“[A] Stephen King-like horror story.” -Kirkus Reviews

 

“Told in a marvelously disjointed fashion.”  -Publishers Weekly STARRED Review

 

“This gorgeously written story reads like poetry.” -Brazos Bookstore

 

“Darkly mesmerizing.” -The Boston Globe

 

“A superior creep factor that is pervasive in every lyrical word.” -Booklis

Summary:

The Ring  meets The Exorcist in this haunting and lyrical reimagining of the Japanese fable.

Okiku has wandered the world for hundreds of years, setting free the spirits of murdered children. Wherever there’s a monster hurting a child, her spirit is there to deliver punishment. Such is her existence, until the day she discovers a troubled American teenager named Tark and the dangerous demon that writhes beneath his skin, trapped by a series of intricate tattoos. Tark needs to be freed, but there is one problem—if the demon dies, so does its host.

With the vigilante spirit Okiku as his guide, Tark is drawn deep into a dark world of sinister doll rituals and Shinto exorcisms that will take him far from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Japan. Can Okiku protect him from the demon within or will her presence bring more harm? The answer lies in the depths of a long-forgotten well

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25263927-the-girl-from-the-well

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/PrQwE

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/PrQFa

Books A Million- http://ow.ly/PrQQU

iBooks- http://ow.ly/PrR6c

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/PrRlE

Indiebound- http://ow.ly/PrQp2

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A bit of Friday Horror: Bottled Abyss (Read-it-if…)

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Welcome to another Read-it-if review, this time with a little horror on the side. I received today’s novel for grown-ups through the LibraryThing member giveaways and although it’s taken me a little time to get to it, it was worth the wait. Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Etheridge is an atmospheric and twisted tale featuring some Greek mythology, common-or-garden grief and loss and a spattering smattering of violent retribution.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Herman and Janet Erikson are going through a crisis of grief and suffering after losing their daughter in a hit and run. They’ve given up on each other, they’ve given up on themselves. When their dog goes missing, Herman resolves to find the animal, unaware he’s hiking to the border between the Living World and the Dead. Long ago the gods died and the River Styxx dried up, but a bottle containing its waters still remains in the badlands. What Herman discovers about the dark power contained in those waters will change his life forever.

bottled abyss

Read it if:

*you enjoy boating or have ever harboured a desire to be a Venetian gondolier

*you would happily add any strange looking, rare coin to your extensive collection, citing the fact that you obtained it through less-than-honourable means as a value-adding feature

*you can quite easily think of a handful of people you would tag without a second thought to suffer an unexpected and spectacular punishment

*you can’t help but indulge in a little schadenfreude now and then, particularly when it pertains to someone for whom a comeuppance has been wanting

If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, particularly stories featuring Charon and the Furies, then this book will seriously float your boat. Sorry, had to get that pun in. Bottled Abyss is a contemporary urban fantasy/horror tale that features elements of these myths in an original and genuinely creepy way. The opening scene, in which Herman bumps into an evasive (yet supremely helpful) Charon, drew me straight in and I found Etheridge’s writing style to be pretty engaging throughout, despite the fact that towards the middle there is a good deal more violence and unsavoury goings-on than I’m used to in my reading.

The blend of reality, myth and fantasy will certainly appeal to a lot of readers who enjoy the feel of urban fantasy with an edge. I quite enjoyed the character development of a number of the main players – particularly Janet, who certainly makes a change from the grief-stricken drunkard that she appears to be at the beginning of the book – as events become stranger and the worlds of the living and the dead start to blend together. There are a number of characters that readers will no doubt love to hate also – my unfavourite being the odious childcare teacher who isn’t what she appears, closely followed by the thuggish and brutal Vincent. I found it satisfying that many of the characters are linked in ways that aren’t immediately apparent, even to the characters themselves. I felt this was the mark of some clever narrative planning and added to the reading experience overall.

While tending toward more violence and visceral suffering than I generally like to see in books, Bottled Abyss certainly delivers on both the fantasy and horror elements of the tale. I found myself still thinking about the story a few days after finishing, so obviously this is more than just a blood-splatting, clichéd yarn, so if you are stout of heart (and stomach) and enjoy a bit of mythology and horror in a contemporary setting, I’d definitely suggest trying this one out.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Haiku Review: The Feral Child…

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Morning all! Before Mad Martha takes you on a haiku holiday,  I feel obligated to let you know that as of right now, my current giveaway, in which you can score yourself any book of your choice from the Book Depository up to the value of $12 AUD, will be closing in just over 14 hours.  Go here to find the rafflecopter link – and entries are fairly low at the moment, so your odds will be good!  Now on to today’s business – Brucey out!

Good morning poppets, it’s Mad Martha with you this fine weekend morning – one day later than expected due to the extreme lack of motivation that springs from returning from a beachside holiday.  But more on that later in the week.  I received today’s offering, The Feral Child by Che Golden from the publisher via Edelweiss, in return for an honest review – thanks!

The Feral Child is a celtic middle-grade fantasy adventure featuring Maddy, who, after her parents pass away, finds herself moving from London to Blarney in Ireland, to live with her elderly grandparents and be tormented by her annoying cousins.  One rainy afternoon, Maddy is confronted and nearly kidnapped by a strange red-haired boy, who later turns up at her bedroom window in a strange and terrifying form.  After the boy kidnaps Maddy’s young neighbour Stephen and leaves a changeling in his place, nobody seems to take Maddy’s story seriously and she takes matters into her own hands. With her cousins Danny and Roisin, Maddy sets off to steal Stephen back from the Fey.  Cue adventure!

feral child

Scary faeries, wolves,

carnivore horses, oh my !

Must I save the child?

In some ways, The Feral Child is a fairly formulaic example of its kind.  Moody, damaged adolescent scorned by family and friends finds a secret power and goes on a heroic quest to right a wrong when no one else will step forward, finding redemption and friendship along the way.  I can think of a number of books for this age-group straight away that follow this plot line almost to the letter.  Where this one stands apart is in the characterisation – Maddy, Danny and Roisin are really believable kids.  There’s no cliched or stereotypical dialogue here, and the characters stay true to their personalities, taking on changes slowly throughout the story.  This is refreshing because often in middle grade fiction the reader will be treated to, for example, an annoying, bullying character for most of the story, who miraculously changes into a caring, heroic sort of a kid after one significant event.  In Golden’s story, the children’s perosnalities evolve in a much more natural way – at the end of the story, they’re still recognisable as the same people they were at the beginning, albeit with a slightly more mature outlook on their situation.

Another strong point of the story is the tense atmosphere that emerges when the sinister faeries come into the plot.  The villains in this book are genuinely creepy – particularly the elven mounts *shudder* – and really add to the sense of danger the characters are facing.

This is a solid pick for middle graders who enjoy fantasy and mythology in their reading. This new edition is due for publication in June this year, but is already available for purchase around the place if you want to get your paws on it now.   Oh, and it’s a perfect choice Bruce’s Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge in category one (a book with something related to safari in the title) or category seven (a book with something unsightly in the title). Just sayin’!

Adios until we meet again, cherubs, and don’t forget the giveaway – time is ticking!

Mad Martha

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