Meandering through (Aussie) Middle Grade: The Turnkey…

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Today I’ve got the final book in my recent run of World War II related reads, with The Turnkey by Aussie author Allison Rushby.  We excitedly received this one from Walker Books Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?

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The Turnkey is a solid, original and intriguing tale that has the perfect blend of mystery, history and paranormal activity.  Flossie is the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery in London, a job which involves ensuring that the dead interred in the cemetery remain – for the most part – peacefully at rest.  With the Blitz causing chaos every night, Flossie seeks solace in visiting some of the other Turnkeys in London’s major cemeteries.  On a midnight sojourn to St Paul’s Cathedral – a favourite thinking spot – Flossie encounters a ghost who shouldn’t, by the laws of the afterlife, be there (never mind that he’s dressed in the uniform of a Nazi SS Officer) and is drawn into a mystery that could tip the scales of the war in favour of the Nazis.

Flossie is an immediately likable character and throughout the story demonstrates her resilience, courage in adversity and compassion for those in difficult situations.  The Nazi officer, who we discover has an unexpected link to Flossie herself, is suitably evil and frightening, and each of the Turnkeys that we meet has his or her own personality, quirks and in some cases, secrets.

I always love books for young readers that aren’t set in schools.  Apart from the fact that being school-less allows the author to neatly avoid all those boring, repetitive, school-bully-based tropes, the non-school setting also makes books for young readers more accessible and interesting for grown up readers.  Such was the case with The Turnkey.  In fact, I kept forgetting that Flossie was meant to be twelve years old – albeit a reasonably long-dead twelve years old – such was the adult appeal of the novel. I love a good set-in-the-Blitz story also and the mix of bombed out London with the atmospheric cemeteries really worked to give a sense of the never-ending clean up and rescue operations that coloured that particular time in London’s history.

The pacing of this story was spot-on, with no filler material included to slow things down.  Reveals came at regular intervals with just enough new information to spur the reader on to discover the next twist in the ghostly Nazi’s plans.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to maintain all the threads of the story without losing the quality of each along the way.  By the end of the book the reader gets to experience the paranormal aspect of the Turnkeys working together (plus some patriotic and enthusiastic ghostly members of the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital), a journey into Churchill’s war rooms and the war rooms of the Nazis, a glimpse into the reality of those living and dying in the rubble and shelters and hospital wards of London during the Blitz, and a fantasy element featuring ancient artifacts.  None of these separate plot threads felt forced or tacked on and taken together they added greatly to the originality and atmosphere of the novel.

The only thing that could have made this book better – as I say with pretty much every book, everywhere – would be pictures.  I remember seeing a documentary or something on the Chelsea Pensioners and their red jackets and it would be awesome (and instructive for younger readers) to see some images of these iconic characters, as well as some images of the actual cemeteries or London during the Blitz for example.  There is a little author’s note at the back with some historical information and it was nice to see that the author had also consulted that seminal of cemetery-related tomes, Katherine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead.  **I read this ages ago and thought I was amongst a select few, but it keeps popping up as a reference authors have used for lots of fiction books that I’ve come across.  Give it a read if you feel inclined.**

 

I’m fairly sure that this is intended as a standalone novel but I would be interested in seeing what happens next for Flossie.  Given that she’s dead and doesn’t have to age or experience the changes of growing up, it would be cool to see a progression of historical/fantasy/mystery novels featuring the Turnkeys of London’s major cemeteries in different time periods up to the present.  I’d read them, anyway!

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly World War II fiction and you can’t go past a paranormal twist I would definitely recommend hunting down The Turnkey.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Escaping to the Country Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up To Be: Abigale Hall….

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abigale hall

It seems to be the week for World War II stories, as we had one yesterday, we’ve got one today and there’ll be another tomorrow – at least no one can say I don’t do my bit for fans of historical fiction!  We received a copy of Abigale Hall by Lauren A. Forry for review from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Amid the terror the Blitz in the Second World War, seventeen-year-old Eliza and her troubled little sister Rebecca have had their share of tragedy, losing their mother to German bombs and their father to suicide. But when they are forced to leave London to work for the mysterious Mr. Brownawell at Abigale Hall, they find the worst is yet to come.

The vicious housekeeper, Mrs. Pollard, seems hell-bent on keeping the ghostly secrets of the house away from the sisters and forbids them from entering the surrounding town—and from the rumors that circulate about Abigale Hall. When Eliza uncovers some blood-splattered books, ominous photographs, and portraits of a mysterious woman, she begins to unravel the mysteries of the house, but with Rebecca falling under Mrs. Pollard’s spell, she must act quickly to save her sister, and herself, from certain doom.

Perfect for readers who hunger for the strange, Abigale Hall is an atmospheric debut novel where the threat of death looms just beyond the edge of every page. Lauren A. Forry has created a historical ghost story where the setting is as alive as the characters who inhabit it and a resonant family drama of trust, loyalty, and salvation.

First up, this book felt like a much longer read than its 256 pages.  I felt like I was reading for ever and ever and getting sucked deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters and the mire in which they find themselves.  In terms of bang for your reading buck, Forry has packed an incredible amount of plot into a standard amount of pages.

We first meet Eliza and her younger sister Rebecca while they are in the custody of their Aunt Bess, after the death of their mother in the Blitz and the suicide of their father.  Aunt Bess isn’t the warmest of mother-figures and life for the girls is unpleasant in London, despite the fact that their immediate needs are more or less met.  Eliza enjoys her work at a theatre and is hoping that her beau, Peter, will cement their relationship by popping the question without too much delay.

All this changes when Aunt Bess announces that the girls are to be shipped off to work as housemaids at Abigale Hall, a country house in Wales.  Without so much as a by-your-leave, the girls are manhandled out of their Aunt’s flat and away to the middle of nowhere to be left at the mercy of the unrelenting Mrs Pollard and the nightmarish spectre of Mr Brownawell.  The girls’ tenure at the house is filled with secrets, rumours from the villagers about curses and missing girls, and the marked absence of the Lord of the manor.   Things are not as they appear at Abigale Hall – and they appear pretty grim indeed – and it is clear to Eliza that the longer they stay, the worse the impact will be on Rebecca’s tenuous mental health.

The story is told from the perspective of Eliza and later on, Peter, as he tries to track down Eliza herself as well as another missing girl from their workplace.  The narrative flicks between the paranormal, skin-crawling atmosphere of Abigale Hall and the far  more banal dangers of post-blitz London and its seedy underbelly.  Throughout the story Eliza is never quite sure who she can trust and is torn between securing her own safety and remaining a dutiful and loyal sister.

I must warn the sensitive reader that there is a bit of animal cruelty in the story as well as a collection of incidents that will make you say, “Ick!” mentally, if not aloud.  I quite enjoyed the looming unease of the parts of the story set in the house.  These were neatly balanced by Peter’s sections of the story and this stopped the story becoming too paranormal or too mundane at any given point.  The plot, taken in its entirety, is full of twists, turns and unexpected revelations that spin the reader’s train of thought and switch the trajectory of the characters at every turn.

The ending was remarkably satisfying to me as well…but then I’ve always been one to enjoy the downfall of characters who feel like they should get a swift clip around the ear.

This would be a great choice for a holiday read if you’re looking for something a bit creepy and complicated with a historical setting.

Until next time,

Bruce

Lockwood & Co #4: The Creeping Shadow…

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We Shelf-Dwellers love Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series.

We know it.

You know it.

Let’s just accept it as fact and move on.

If you haven’t had a crack at this series yet and you are a fan of paranormal, ghost hunting books, you are missing out.  Enough said.  We jumped at the chance to review book four in the series – The Creeping Shadow – when it was offered by the publisher via Netgalley (even though we haven’t got to book three yet), and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy has left Lockwood & Co. A freelance operative, she is hiring herself out to other agencies – agencies that might value her ever-improving skills.

But now Lockwood needs her help.

Penelope Fittes, leader of the well-renowned Fittes Agency wants Lockwood & Co. – and only them – to locate and remove the ‘Source’ for the legendary Brixton Cannibal.

It’s a tough assignment. Made worse by the tensions between Lucy and the other agents – even the skull is treating her like a jilted lover!

What will it take to reunite the team? Black marketeers, an informant ghost, a Spirit Cape that transports the wearer, and mysteries involving their closest rivals may just do the trick.

But not all is at it seems. And it’s not long before a shocking revelation rocks Lockwood & Co. to its very core . . .

*There may be spoilers here from book two and beyond.  Read at your own risk*

I think this is the most intriguing book of the series so far (although, admittedly, I haven’t read the third book yet – The Hollow Boy), with Lucy’s relationship with Lockwood & Co being first and foremost in the mind of the reader the whole way through.  Having skipped straight to book four when opportunity arose meant that I haven’t been privy to the events of book three in which Lucy parts ways with Lockwood & Co and strikes out on her own as a freelance operative, ably aided by the skull in a jar.  Even though it’s obvious that book three dealt with some pretty major events, I didn’t feel particularly out of the loop here because essentially, all the reader needs to know is that (a) Lucy left Lockwood & Co and (b) the skull played a part in this leaving.

The early chapters of the book have a distinct air of melancholy about them as Lucy spends most of her time, when not freelancing for various sub-par agencies, alone in her bedsit with the skull, which, I’m sure we can all agree, is a bit depressing really.  It’s obvious that she misses the team, but feels that she must stay away for the greater good of everyone and Lockwood particularly.  Soon enough though, excitement kicks off as Lockwood invites Lucy back for a one-off job that quickly turns into a second job and so on.  The initial two ghost hunts (involving a historical witch and a seriously creepy cannibal serial killer) are particularly atmospheric and frightening.  The unexpected inclusion of Quill Kipps – ex-Fittes agency smug git and Lockwood & Co antagonist from way back – adds a new dimension to the tale as the team swells to five members, all of whom seem to have a bit of a beef (or at least a niggling irritation) with at least one of the other members.

There are some amazing reveals at the end of the story that I didn’t see coming and these will certainly be of great interest in the fifth (and final, apparently – booooo!) installment when it is released.  I won’t spoil any of the action for you, but the final hunt for the team involves a seriously haunted village that seems to be experiencing a sort of plague of ghosts, ever since a well-known research institute moved in down the road.  If you count the skull as the sixth member of the team – which Lucy obviously does – it is apparent that all six members will need every ounce of their wits about them for the next book, due to a “warning” (read: threat) from one of the top folks in the ghost hunting field, as well as a shocking tidbit of information that gets dropped just pages before the end.

The Creeping Shadow is simultaneously more of the same from the Lockwood & Co gang and the potential for fascinating new directions, so I am definitely looking forward to the final book in the series.  Now I just have to go back and read book three before number five is  released.

Until next time,

Bruce

Creepy Adult Fiction Review: The Ghosts of Sleath…

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ghosts-of-sleath

Meet an old story in a new jacket!  We received this gorgeously covered copy of The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert from PanMacmillan Australia not realising that the story was originally published in 1994.  All things considered though, this didn’t really matter to us because we’ve never read any of Herbert’s work anyway!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Can a ghost haunt a ghost?
Can the dead reach out and touch the living?
Can ancient evil be made manifest?

These are the questions that confront investigator David Ash when he is sent to the picturesque village of Sleath in the Chiltern Hills to look into mysterious reports of mass hauntings. What he discovers is a terrified community gripped by horrors and terrorized by ghosts from the ancient village’s long history. As each dark secret is unveiled and terrible, malign forces are unleashed, he will fear for his very sanity.

Sleath. Where the dead will walk the streets.

Sleath, it seems, is a picturesque village that is haunted by…well, pretty much everything that ever happened there.  When psychic investigator David Ash is called to Sleath at the behest of the local vicar amid whispers of hauntings, he is woefully unprepared to deal with the sheer backlog of instances of human misery that this town seems to be hiding.  Along with Grace, the vicar’s daughter, and later on, a mysterious Irish man who turns up out of the blue, David must try and get to the bottom of the diverse phenomena appearing all over the village and discover whether they have paranormal origins or are driven by something more mundane.

Before you pick this one up you should probably be made aware that it isn’t your average, run of the mill ghost story, but also features some quite graphic, stomach-churning violence that is sprung on the reader without warning in various places.  We Shelf-dwellers, being fans of ghostliness, but not necessarily goriness (unless we’re in the mood!), found this to be a bit of a stumbling block to getting into this book because after a while we became hand-shy that something icky would be around the next corner.  For those who appreciate trigger warnings, you should be made aware that this book features descriptions of child sexual abuse that are quite confronting.

This is the second book in a series featuring psychic investigator David Ash.  Not having read the first book wasn’t a major problem as the author provides enough information here and there to ensure that the reader gets an idea of his backstory. Ash is a bit of a tortured character by all accounts who is committed to his job but still coming to terms with some seriously nasty psychological trauma from a past case.

I couldn’t quite make up my mind as to whether I enjoyed this book or not.  On the one hand, it certainly satisfies the criteria of “totally creepy paranormal phenomena” and “reveals you didn’t see coming”, both of which I appreciate in a good ghosty story.  On the other hand, the aforementioned violence seemed shockingly out of place and was so graphic in places that it made me feel a bit sick.   I also had a few issues with the slow pacing of the investigation and constant interjections of flashbacks from various townsfolk.

While this one didn’t quite hang together in the most appealing way for me as a reader, I’m sure there will be plenty of folk who will appreciate the dark, brooding atmosphere of this book and the multiple narratives that have been woven together to contribute to the surprising reveal.

I will be submitting this one for the Colour Coded Challenge 2017   You can check out my progress toward all my challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

For the Love of Books Giveaway Hop!

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fortheloveofbooks

Book love is in the air and so we’re happy to be participating in the For the Love of Books Giveaway Hop hosted by Val at StuckinBooks.  The hop runs from February 4th to 14th.

The theme of this hop is sharing books that we love so I’m offering one winner a copy of the first book in one of my favourite YA Paranormal series, Lockwood and Co by Jonathan Stroud.

lockwood-and-co

From Goodreads:

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . .

If you’ve already started the series, I’m happy to instead offer the winner their choice of any book from this series.  My giveaway is open internationally provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  Other Ts&Cs are in the Rafflecopter link.

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now hop along and see what else you can win!  Click on the linky below to see the other participating blogs:

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Adult Fiction Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day…

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Today’s book is an original ghostly tale that delves into the question, “if your afterlife was spent stuck on Earth, how would you spend it?”  The characters in this story answer that question in a range of ways that you might not expect.  We received a copy of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it for the Colour-Coded Reading Challenge 2017 and the PopSugar Reading Challenge, under the category of a book from a non-human perspective.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Considering that, at its heart, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, there is a significant amount of philosophising about the nature of life and the meaning of atonement in this book.

This is not a bad thing.

In fact, it gives what could have been a basic urban fantasy (or urban paranormal, possibly) story a deeper element on which to ponder.

I found Jenna to be an immediately likable narrator.  Having accidentally met her own death while grieving after the suicide of her older sister, Jenna spends her afterlife working on a volunteer suicide prevention hotline in order to avoid other families having to experience the death of a loved one by their own hand.  In doing so, Jenna is “earning” her way towards her final death – the day on which she was intended to die, had she not run out into a lightning storm and been prematurely frazzled.

The early parts of the book are heavy with world-building, because the author has set up specific rules regarding the type of person who can become a ghost, what ghosts can affect in the living world and why some ghosts have been around longer than others.  In fact, the bulk of the story involves Jenna finding out more about the laws that govern her afterlife, as ghosts start disappearing and her semi-comfortable existence begins to crumble.  For those who like a fantasy twist in their paranormal, McGuire’s world also includes witches (who can be male or female), whose powers link them to a particular object, be it organic or built, and shape how that power might be wielded.

The characters are the strong suit of this particular story, with Jenna ably accompanied by Delia, an elderly ghost who provides cheap housing for both living and dead tenants, Sophie, a homeless young woman with an affinity for rodents, and Brenda, a corn witch who has made Manhattan her home.  This is definitely as much a story of relationships and social connections as it is a ghost story.

After all the build up and time spent developing the afterlife concept at the beginning of the book, the resolution came along quite quickly and was all tied up in record time, which surprised me a little.  Having said that, I was quite satisfied with the pace of the final chapters because there is nothing worse than having a book drag out the denouement when there is no need to do so.  There is plenty of action and some unexpected reveals regarding who is behind the ghostly disappearances that I certainly didn’t see coming and by the end of the book, Jenna comes to terms with her misplaced guilt regarding her role in her sister’s death.

While I didn’t find this to be an absolutely stellar read, it was certainly original and had a tone that will appeal to those who enjoy books about female and family relationships, as much as those who enjoy paranormal and fantasy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

Alphabet Soup Challenge: Useless Bay

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alphabet soup challenge 2016

It’s getting to the pointy end of the year when I start to look back over the challenges to which I’ve committed and start to panic that I won’t finish them.  Thanks to a bit of blind luck, I’ve got the perfect entry today for the 2016 Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas, for the letter “U”: YA mystery suspense novel Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand.  We received our copy from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On Whidbey Island, the Gray quintuplets are the stuff of legend. Pixie and her brothers have always been bigger and blonder than their neighbors, as if they were birthed from the island itself. Together, they serve as an unofficial search-and-rescue team for the island, saving tourists and locals alike from the forces of wind and sea. But, when a young boy goes missing, the mysteries start to pile up. While searching for him, they find his mother’s dead body instead—and realize that something sinister is in their midst. Edgar-nominated author M. J. Beaufrand has crafted another atmospheric thriller with a touch of magical realism that fans of mystery and true crime will devour.

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Although the cover of this edition puts me in mind of a middle grade targeted story, this is definitely one for the young adults and older readers.  The story is a strange combination of murder mystery, magical realism and family drama and at times I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide which genre they wanted to focus on, so chose instead to flick between them and see what happened.

The Gray quintuplets have lived on the island all their lives and are constantly described in almost mythical terms, but when it boils down to it, it appears that they just happen to be above average height with a strong familial connection and a fiercely independent streak.  Pixie, from whose point of view half of the story is told, comes to be responsible, almost by accident, for a bloodhound who turns out to be brilliant at finding lost people; and it seems like there are a lot of lost people to find on the island and a steady stream of work available for Pixie and her dog, unlikely as that may be.  Henry, from whose point of view the other half of the story is told, is the son of a famous, rich man, and the family’s connection with Useless Bay itself -and the mystical Gray quintuplets – is the result of some serendipitous real estate brokerage.

Overall, I did enjoy the mystery and drama of the story but much of the book felt a bit unwieldy, switching between the grim reality of searching for a lost child (presumed dead) and the odd levity of Pixie’s foray into paranormal historical hallucinations.  The overall atmosphere is quite despondent, but this is tempered with scenes of pacey action and the revelation of unexpected secrets.

I can certainly say I haven’t come across such a hybrid of genres and interesting mix of characters and setting for quite some time in a YA novel, so for that reason alone it is worth picking up.  I think this would appeal to those who enjoy a quirky mystery that blends reality with unexpected paranormal twists.

In case you’re wondering how I’m going with the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, you can check out my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Win an MG or YA title!” Edition (with an Aus only giveaway!)

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Well, it looks like this week shall henceforth be known as “Bruce’s Mega Awesome Week of Giving Stuff Away” because in addition to my participation in the Stuck in a Good Book Hop (international), I’ve got a giveaway for Australian residents today, another giveaway for Australian residents on tomorrow (with a prize for adult readers this time), and I’m participating in a completely new international Hop on Friday, for internationals who wish to win stuff.

Whew!

Before I launch into our Round-Up, let me just say that if you are an Australian resident, I am giving you the opportunity to WIN one of the books I am reviewing today – huzzah!  

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win.  

The winning comment will be chosen by a random number generator at the end of the giveaway.  The giveaway will run from now (go!) until midnight on Sunday the 16th of October, 2016, Brisbane time.  We’re NOT on daylight savings, by the way.  

Good luck!

Now, on to the books!

Swarm: Zeroes #2 (Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti)

*We received a copy of Swarm from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016. RRP: $19.99

The Zeroes are trying to make a safe space in which to explore their new-found powers, but their world is shattered by the appearance of two newcomers who seem to have no regard for ordinary people. Not only that, but they look like they’re bringing danger in their wake.

Muster up the motivation because…

…given the hype that surrounded Zeroes, the first book in this series, it stands to reason that fans would want to be getting their grabby hands on Swarm.  I had heard of this series, and in particular, the interesting three-author aspect of it, but had not read Zeroes when Swarm landed on my doorstep.  For the uninitiated, the book follows the fates of a small band of teenagers who have developed a range of what could be termed superpowers.  These range from seeing through other peoples’ eyes, to deflecting the attention of others away from oneself, to the ability to destroy electronic equipment with the power of the mind.  Interestingly though, it appears that these powers only seem to manifest in people within a certain age range, and usually have some connection to crowds and the energy generated by crowds.  As I said, I haven’t read the first in the series, but the authors have gone to great lengths to inform new readers of what’s what in the first few chapters.  The book flicks back and forth between the points of view of all the Zeroes – about six in all, who all have code names as well as regular names.  I found this to be a handy way to quickly be introduced to each character and their power, as well as to get a handle on some of the happenings of book one.  After the opening round of chapters however, the constant switching between perspectives really slowed the pace.  I grew a little bored with hearing about various situations from each person’s point of view and a few plot points get rehashed over and over as certain characters have to explain to other characters things that we, as readers, already know, because we just experienced it through the point of view of the character it happened to.  I ended up DNFing Swarm at Chapter 23, or 135 pages of the total 388, not because it was a sub-par read, but because I felt I had missed out on some of the action and excitement and character connection that may have been generated in the first book.  I would recommend starting at the beginning (which is what I plan to now do) if you think this series sounds like your cup of superpowered tea.

Brand it with:

Teen super-angst; secret societies; crowd  control

Artie and the Grime Wave (Richard Roxburgh)

*We received a copy of Artie and the Grime Wave from Allen & Unwin for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh.  Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016.  RRP: $16.99

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh. Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016. RRP: $16.99

Since his dad died and his mum became catatonic from grief, Artie has navigated life under the care of his shouty big sister and with the help of his best mate Bumshoe. When the boys stumble across a potential (no, probable…okay, definite) stash of stolen goods, they must work to unravel an organised crime racket that (probably) goes all the way to the top.

Muster up the motivation because…

…apart from the slightly disturbing illustrations that sort of creeped me out, Artie and the Grime Wave is a fun and bizarre adventure for primary school kids.  Artie is an unassuming young lad with an over-sized best friend who happens to bear the nickname Bumshoe, and for those reasons alone, attracts the unwanted attention of local bullies.  On the plus side though, Artie is also surrounded by a collection of family and friends to support him.  There’s his mum (stricken with grief), his sister (Shouty McShoutface), Aunty-boy (the crazy, lolly-giving lady down the street) and the lovely Ukrainian family next door who may have hidden talents (the Unpronounceable-enkos).  So you see, despite being picked on by ruffians, Artie has plenty of oddity to keep him busy and distracted.  When Artie and Bumshoe accidentally stumble upon some stolen goods, Artie’s life takes a turn for the adventurous as he and his strange collection of family, friends and neighbours fall into a dastardly hotbed of organised crime.  The humour here is a familiar Australian blend of dry and silly and characters alone make the story funny enough to keep youngsters entertained.  The book is illustrated here and there throughout (with the aforementioned slightly creepy and unnecessarily toothy pictures) and also employs some different fonts to mix things up a bit.  All in all, this story can probably best be compared to the style of David Walliams, except with a bit more Aussie grittiness.  I would definitely recommend this one to young readers who prefer their reading to feature a bit of larrikinism, a bit of stealth and silliness and a bit of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure.

Brand it with:

Where have all the flowers pets and whitegoods gone?; suburban skulduggery; everybody needs good neighbours

The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell)

*We received a copy of The Wolf Wilder from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  wolf-wilder

Feo and her mother are wolf wilders; wolves kept by the Russian aristocracy as pets are brought to Feo and her mother when they are no longer welcome amongst polite society, and the women retrain the wolves to live as wild animals.  When the women are warned by Russian soldiers that they will be arrested if they are seen with any more wolves, Feo’s life is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented book with an engaging concept for lovers of animal stories and historical fiction.  I have to say up front that I made the decision to stop reading this one quite early on, after about four chapters, because the story looked like it was heading towards war and soldiers breaking down doors and young children (Feo in particular) fleeing for their lives, and I didn’t feel like I was in the mindset to take that in, even in a children’s book.  I am offering it for giveaway though because the book is absolutely gorgeous and I know some of you would love the opportunity to immerse yourself in this story.  The black and white illustrations are atmospheric and the story (or what I read of it) has a definite fable-like tenor, but also a strong feel of realism and authentic historical flavour.  I’d recommend The Wolf Wilder to readers young and old who like realistic adventure, historical fiction, animal stories and more than a hint of magic.

Brand it with:

An icy reception; howling good reads; animal adventure

Alright Aussies!

Don’t forget to comment on this post with the title of the book that most takes your fancy to be in with a chance to win it!  Good luck 🙂

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monster McGhost-Face” Edition…

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Yep, you read that title correctly – today’s books are a selection of monstery-ghosty tomes for the young and the slightly-not-so-young-anymore.  If you are into social history, cryptids or actual genuine science, you might want to strap on your spats and saddle up as we ride on it.  Yeehah!

Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) In the Real World? (Helaine Becker & Phil McAndrew)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  monster science

A high quality meeting of science and mythology in which everyone’s favourite monsters are placed under the cold, hard microscope slide of fact. Kids can read up on the facts behind the myths to see if their favourite monster could exist in the real world.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented tome featuring a topic that most kids love to read about (monsters, of course!), covering some pretty complex scientific principles in a fun way.  I was impressed with how much detail this book provided on the hows and whys of whether a monster could actually exist.  For instance, in the first chapter on Frankenstein’s monster, the book gives information about organ transplants, the electrical workings of our brains and bodies, historical information about grave-robbing and how early doctors made discoveries, and the principles of genetic engineering.  The page spreads are colourful, and although there is a fair amount of text per page, there are also plenty of diagrams and illustrations to break things up a bit.  I would definitely recommend this to those with a mini-fleshling who loves non fiction reads, especially those filled with wacky facts.

Brand it with:

Monster mash-up; mad scientist in training; science is cool

Haunted Bridges: Over 300 of America’s Creepiest Crossings (Rich Newman)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  haunted bridges

Apparently, ghosts love bridges.  This handy tome gives an exhaustive run down on the paranormal stories and phenomena associated with specific bridges across the US.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a concise and well-formatted collection that neatly summarises social oral histories of the paranormal in localities across the US.  I will admit to being unaware of the apparently strong link between paranormal sightings and bridges, but this book certainly opened my eyes on that score.  The author is a self-confessed ghost-hunter of sorts and the aim of the book is to provide other would-be ghost hunters with some well-worn paths to tread in their pursuit of supernatural phenomena.  Happily though, the book can also be read as a collection of popular urban myths and oral histories of specific areas, as the author throws in some definite tongue-in-cheek comments throughout.  The book is divided into categories related to the content of the stories – hangings, invisible hands (this is a ghosty “thing” apparently), historical hauntings, criminal hauntings and so on – and this makes it easy to see the common motifs in stories from varied locations.  My favourite section was the “Unaccounted Oddities” chapter, which deals with bridges that have an original or bizarre story attached – a portal into hell, for instance or a unidentified monster or some sort.  If you live in the US, this would be a fun book to have handy when planning a holiday or day trip!  While these hauntings aren’t local to my area, I still found plenty in this book to draw me in and fire the imagination, as well as give me a picture of how social stories develop over time.  Recommended for when you’re feeling in a quirky, paranormal mood.

Brand it with:

Ghost crossings; unlikely travel guides; social science is cool

A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts: Encounters with Cryptid Creatures (Ken Gerhard)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  menagerie of mysterious beasts

A collection of the author’s own encounters and research on a range of cryptids.  Includes witness accounts and case studies of the same.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of monster-hunting, or just have an interest in mythical creatures that may (or may not) walk (or crawl or slither or swim) among us, then this will provide an irrepressible outlet for your interest.  I DNFed this one at 12%, after the first chapter on the Minnesota Iceman because although the author claims to be approaching these sightings from a scientific angle, it is obvious that he is, in fact, not.  He makes note of the fact that his viewing of the Minnesota Iceman as a child (that is, when the author was a child, not the Iceman), was one of the events that sparked his interest in monster-hunting and it is clear that this is a man who wants to believe.  He makes links between accounts of iceman-type encounters from places as disparate as the USA and China, glosses over the highly dubious provenance of the specimen, and makes wild leaps of fancy as to how the Iceman could have made it to US soil.  As I said, if you are looking for a book on cryptids that will pique your adrenaline levels, this is probably a good choice.  If you are looking for a book that actually takes a scientific approach to the evidence on cryptids, read Darren Naish’s excellent and engaging Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths.

Brand it with:

We’re going on a cryptid hunt; the extraordinary; beyond belief

Got your monster-trapping gear ready by now? Of course you have, because I know you’ll want to track down at least one of these beauties!
Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprise! It’s an Indie YA Horror: In the Graveyard Antemortem

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graveyard antemortem

Now I know I said that I wasn’t going to be reviewing any more self-published titles for a while, but I decided to make an exception for In the Graveyard Antemortem by Stephen Stromp.  I had reviewed his earlier novel Cracking Grace a couple of years back, and since I enjoyed it I thought I’d give this one a go too.

And I’m glad I did.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is nothing at all like Cracking Grace, but it is a super-fun mix of murder-mystery, ghost story, creepy family drama and gory hack-fest.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

*Winner of Amazon’s reader-powered Kindle Scout program.*

Seventeen-year-old Lisa Jacobs is determined to solve her father’s gruesome murder. But before she can investigate in her own small town, she is forced to spend the summer with her Uncle Clayton, the owner of Grand Hallow—a massive funeral and mortuary operation the size of a small city.

Her move to Grand Hallow only deepens the mystery as she begins to suspect the strange and chilling occurrences there are linked to her father’s death.

With the help of her acid-tongued best friend and deadbeat brother, Lisa must unravel the secrets of Grand Hallow—before it’s too late.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is a mystery/suspense novel with a healthy dash of horror.

The first thing you need to do before reading this one is suspend your disbelief.  This is meant to be entertainment, not a reflection of reality.  It took me a few chapters to realise this and early on I was thinking, “But that wouldn’t really happen!” and “Why would she behave like that?”  and so on and so forth.  After I twigged that this wasn’t meant to be an actual, reality-reflecting murder investigation type book, I suspended said disbelief and things got a whole lot more fun and engaging really fast.

It’s no secret that I love books about cemeteries and morticians and the death industry in general, and this book features an absolute cracker of a cemetery.  It’s enormous and labyrinthine and you just know there are at least a few shady goings-on hidden amongst the viewing rooms and mausoleums and morgues.  Ned, the assistant manager character who initially brings Lisa to Grand Hallow (in a hearse, obviously), became my favourite by the end, in no small part because he reminded me so much of the “Yes” guy on the Simpsons:

Tina, Lisa’s potty-mouthed friend, also became one of my favourites, simply for the colour and life that she brings to the story, as well as her forthright manner.

The story has a few distinct parts to it – or at least they felt distinct to me as I was reading.  The first focuses on the murder of Lisa’s father and the unexpected intervention of her estranged Uncle Clayton.  The second part really makes a feature of Grand Hallow and we start to see that all is not as it appears at this vast necropolis.  After that there is a section in which Lisa doesn’t know who she can trust – I found this to be quite a suspenseful part of the story with lots of action, although….the next bit blows all that to pieces and turns the story right on its head as some rather unsavoury practices are brought to light and the murder is finally solved. HA! BUT IS IT REALLY SOLVED?!  You’ll have to read to the end to tie up all the loose threads – and this final part of the story features most of the gore and horror action in a satisfyingly exuberant fight to the death.

If you are looking for a YA book that contains an absorbing mystery (well, more than one actually), a good dose of atmospheric suspense, some twists that you won’t see coming (and will probably make you go “Ew”, when you get to them), and a solid helping of supernatural tumult, then I would highly recommend giving In the Graveyard Antemortem a crack.

I received a copy from the author for review, but you can pick it up at either of these two Amazon sites:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Now don’t take this to mean that I’m reviewing self-published tomes again, because I’m not.  This was an enjoyable aberration and my policy still stands for now.

Until next time,

Bruce