Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Alias Hook…

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Top of the Neverland to you all! Today I have a slightly unusual candidate for my fairy tale makeover series, in that the story being retold isn’t exactly a fairy tale. But it does have fairies in it. So that’s close enough for me.  I speak, of course, of Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen which tells the well-known story of Peter Pan from the point of view of the much-maligned Captain Hook, and does so in the most unexpected of ways.

I must admit firstly that I have never read, nor indeed watched, the story of Peter Pan, on account of the fact that Peter himself always struck me as a smug little git.  For that reason, I only have a vague knowledge of the original story, but this did not hinder my enjoyment of Alias Hook one jot.  In fact, I probably enjoyed it more, because I was already sympathetic to Hook’s viewpoint.  Anyway, let’s get on with it before I start to waffle.

James Benjamin Hookbridge was by all accounts a scoundrel of the highest order when he walked in the ordinary world.  However, after being mysteriously whisked away  with his ship and crew to a land ruled by a young, flying vagabond for centuries on end, it could only be said that Hookbridge, now the dastardly Captain Hook, is inwardly a broken man.  For years unnumbered, Hook has watched his crews brutally murdered by Pan and his Boys, while he himself is drawn, constantly and  unwillingly, into Pan’s violent and manipulative games.  But when a grown-up woman appears out of thin air on Hook’s ship, it is apparent that Pan may be losing control over his land of eternal youth.  Is it time for Hook himself to grow up? And can he throw off the shackles of his villainous past, or will he be trapped forever in the Neverland to suffer Pan’s twisted version of eternal life?

alias hookRead it if:

*you think Peter Pan is a smug little git

*you have ever been forced to play the same game with a toddler or small child ad nauseum, with no hope of escape in sight

*you’ve ever faked your own death in order to escape a repetitive and tedious social situation

*you quite like dressing up in fancy hats…preferably adorned with a feather or two

I was totally surprised by how cerebral this book turned out to be.  I was expecting something light, with a bit of parody; a cheeky protagonist with a “stickin’ it to the man (boy)” attitude, but this book was by turns dark, insightful, poignant and …well…dark again.  It really is a grown-up’s tale of redemption, focusing on the dilemma of how one might successfully change the habits of a lifetime (or several lifetimes, as the case may be).

As I mentioned, you really don’t need to know very much about the original Pan story to get into this book, as only the bare bones are used – the not-growing-up clause, the Wendys who mother the Boys – and I felt that this was a real strength as it allowed Hook to rule the story on his own terms, as it were.  To that end, there’s plenty of mindless violence – mindless in the sense that it is carried out mindlessly, not mindless in the sense of being gratuitous – a bit of rumpy-pumpy, at least one highly anti-social fairy and a whole bunch of soul-searching.  The addition of Stella (the aforementioned grown-up woman) is both the catalyst and the obstacle to Hook’s eventual redemption and bid for freedom.  The final epiloguey ending bit was both expected but fresh.  In fact, if I had to describe it in one word I’d say it was just darling.

(See what I did there? Geddit?!! Wait, the kids in the original Peter Pan have the surname Darling don’t they? I hope so, otherwise that joke is going to be a major flop).

Alias Hook had me dwelling on it days after I’d finished reading, which is the mark of a good read.  If you are looking for a book that you think will be reasonably familiar and predictable then this isn’t the book for you.  Alias Hook has a lot more going for it than your average “alternate point of view” retelling, so I suggest you set aside some quality reading time and delve into the one-part magic, two-parts torment experience that is Hook’s Neverland.

Alias Hook is published on July 8th and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Adult Fiction ARC Read-it-if Review: Lost and Found…

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Morning all! I am so, so pleased to be bringing this book to you today.  I have adopted this state of heightened excitement because in this book I have found an Australian equivalent to one of my all time favourites, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  That book had all the things I love in a novel – old people, an obscure quest and dry humour.  The book I present to you today has all that and more – not just old people, but shouty, rude old people.  Not a simple obscure quest but an obscure quest involving a one-legged shop mannequin.  And not just dry humour, but…well, lots of dry humour.  I give you Lost and Found by Brooke Davis.  Double points for Australian authorage.

I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy of this title from Hachette Australia for review, but I have to go and buy it in hardback anyway now, and put it on the “special” shelf to be watched over by my book-guarding minions.

Lost and Found follows the (slightly tragicomical) story of Millie Bird, a seven-year-old with a preoccupation for dead things, a father who has recently become a dead thing, and a mother who has abandoned her in the underwear section of a department store.  We first meet Millie in said underwear department as she waits for her mother’s return under the watchful eye of Manny the hawaiian-shirt-wearing mannequin across the aisle. Partway into Millie’s eventful waiting, she meets Karl the touch typist, an octogenarian widower who spends his days sitting in the department store cafe, silently grieving his dear departed Evie.  Shortly after Millie escapes from the department store (and, simultaneously, from the social services) with the help of Karl, we are introduced to Agatha Pantha, a widow who has not left her house since her husband died seven years ago, and who fills her time with such productive measures as the keeping of a daily record of her physical signs of ageing, and the shouting of remarkably personal insults at passers-by from her lounge-room window.  As the social services close in, Agatha and Millie make an attempt to follow Millie’s mum, using an itinerary left behind in the house.  Along the way they join forces with Karl and together the three (well, technically four – Manny ends up along for the ride too) evade the law and try to find Millie a home. 

lost and found

Read it if:

* you’ve ever felt a real and personal connection to a shop mannequin (in any sort of attire)

* you hope to grow old disgracefully and take up a life of geriatric delinquency

* you like to ponder the big questions, such as “Where do parking inspectors go when they die?” and “Has my arm flab increased by more than a millimetre since yesterday?”

* you believe (as I do) that if we were all allowed to shout insulting things at other people when we are having a bad day (month/year/life) then navigating a path through everyday social situations would suddenly become a lot more interesting

Aaaaaahhhhhh.  That is the sound of contented sighing when, after reading only 2% of the Kindle version of this book, I knew that it and I were resonating on the same frequency.  This book is by turns delightful, sad, poignant, hilarious and a bit off-putting.  The off-putting bit relates to a reasonably graphic description of old-people sex, in case you’re wondering.  It is the book that I was hoping The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was going to be, but whereas the characters and situations in that book annoyed me and seemed trite and contrived, the characters in Lost and Found just jumped off the page in a comfortable mix of idiosyncracies.

I could imagine that some readers might find Karl and Agatha (and especially Millie, in her precocious innocence) a bit contrived and annoying, but for me they were perfectly constructed and I just fell in love.  I loved Karl’s rebellious spirit and commitment to tagging public (and private!) property in popular 1980’s parlance.  I laughed my guts out at Agatha’s compulsion to shout the awkwardly anti-social obvious (“Assymetrical face!” “Stupid shoes!”) and I cheered inwardly at Millie’s determination to play the Angel of Existentialism by adopting the persona of Captain Funeral for her captive fellow train passengers.

While the characters embark on what feels like an epic journey, I knocked the book over in a couple of decent sittings because it was one of those stories that had me continually thinking, “I’ll just read one more chapter/to the next page break/until Agatha shouts something next”.  Inevitably, I was drawn ever-deeper into the increasingly complex (and somewhat ridiculous) web of deception and evasion of public officials that Karl, Agatha and Millie spin.  Like the book itself, the ending is at once poignant and light, inevitable and satisfying and one designed to keep the three main characters in the reader’s mind, while accepting that this too shall pass.

All in all, Lost and Found is a five star read has earned a place on my list of favourites.  As soon as someone takes the hint and buys me a hardback copy of Harold Fry, I will place these two side by side on my shelf as a tribute to humour in the midst of a finite existence.

Until next time (Reads too slow! Dried out eyeballs! Yawning at inappropriate moments!),

Bruce

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Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review: The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix…

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Cheerio lads and lasses! Today I’ve got a very different reading experience to share with you – a sort of fictional/memoir/murder mystery/magical realism mash-up.  It’s The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman.  I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

In this book we are introduced to the reasonably unlikeable Raphael Ignatius Phoenix (he of the initials R.I.P.), as begins a suicide note of truly monumental proportions.  You see, Raphael, at the age of almost-100 years, has decided that he has lived enough of this crazy journey called life, but before he goes, he wishes to regale us with the story of his life.  And quite a life it is too, for Raphael is a murderer, many times over.  He has bumped off irritating people from all walks of life and from all areas of his acquaintance.  And it is by this dubious achievement that he wishes to be remembered.  Alongside the stories of Raphael’s multiple murders is the story of his repeated, yet fleeting, interactions with his best friend (and only love) from childhood, Emily.   So let us join Raphael as he recounts his life’s adventures and attempts to take the gold medal for longest/largest/most elaborate suicide note ever written…provided he doesn’t run out of pens, of course.

final testimony raphaelRead it if:

* you can easily alight upon one or more person of your acquaintance that you could have happily bumped off, for each decade of your life so far

* you believe the penalty for being an irritating git should be death

* you could think of nothing more wickedly delightful than an attempt to turn twins, who are devoted to each other, against one other

* you are a fan of the tall tale

Let me be honest.  I found this book hard going.  The blurb held such promise.  I was intrigued to find out about multiple murders of the title character and was all set to enjoy the light-hearted manner in which they were recounted.  Unfortunately, the title character is a bit of an irritating git himself, so while I did enjoy the light-hearted tone and dry wit of the first few chapters, my interest started to wane after a bit.

Essentially, this book is divided into chapters with one murder (and usually one decade of Raphael’s life) explained in each chapter.  As I mentioned the early chapters – and particularly the recount of the first murder, the unfortunate Mrs Bunshop (if that is her real name) grabbed my attention and had me eagerly flipping pages.  But after repeated chapters of the same sort of format, it started to seem more difficult than it needed to be to wade through Raphael’s memoirs.  The very first line of the novel is this:

“This is going to be the longest suicide note in history.”

Well, he wasn’t lying there, so I suppose I can’t really complain that I hadn’t been warned about what lay ahead…but this book really felt looooooooong.  In between the murders, wherein many of the interesting bits lay, are long soliloquays about the actual writing of the note – the wheres, the hows, the difficulties, the successes.  To be perfectly honest, there’s only so many pages one can read about the anxiety that arises regarding the liklihood of running out of pens.

Despite my whinging, I didn’t completely hate this book.  It was just okay.  The chapter describing Raphael’s murder of the Albino Twins (yes, you read that correctly) had me compelled to find out how it would end.  I can honestly say it was the best chapter featuring Albino Twins and their cuddly toys that I have ever read.  And I mean that in a genuine, complimentary way.  The ending was also, if not a high point, something completely unexpected and had me considering what light it might throw on the preceding events.  (For interest’s sake, I decided that the ending came too far out of left field to really add much to the book.  Pessimistic, I know).

When all is said and done, I just think I was expecting something different from what this book turned out to be.  I suspect that there will be people that really love the book for its original premise and the cheeky nonchalance of Raphael, but it ended up being too much like hard work for me to really say I enjoyed it.

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix is due for release on May 22nd.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Read-it-if Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain…

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Howdy superfriends! Today I have a very different YA novel for you filled with action and gadgets and cool outfits.  It’s Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, and I received a digital copy of the book for review from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, via Netgalley – thanks!

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain is told from the point of view of Penelope, a young teen with superhero parents who is anxiously waiting for her own superpowers to appear.  Her friends, Claire and Ray, are similarly eager to come into their superpowers, and when Penelope unexpectedly builds an incredible machine that responds to her every command, without quite knowing how she did it, it appears the dream has become reality for at least one of the trio.  After some usual teenage unpleasantness involving another girl at her school, Penny and her friends seek revenge by using their newfound powers for evil, rather than good, and in doing so they inadvertently style themselves as supervillains rather than heroes when their antics (but not their identities) are caught on camera.  Working under the name The Inscrutable Machine, the trio venture out onto the town – but is it ever really too late to make a new name for yourself as a superhero? Or is it true that supervillains just have more fun?

please don't tell my parents

Read it if:

* you have a secret identity that you keep hidden at all costs…down the back of your undies drawer with your super-stretchy super-lycra superhero suit

* you’ve ever suspected that, if they found out the truth, your parents may be slightly disappointed in your chosen (or potential) career path

* you believe your teachers when they tell you that advanced mathematics has numerous practical applications in everyday life

* you believe that the ability to be cute and charming in order to get your own way is, in fact, a superpower

Now I first requested this title because (a) the cover is eye-poppingly awesome and (b) the title had me instantly interested.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t 100% live up to my high expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of bits I enjoyed and I appreciated the unusual premise, but the execution didn’t get me that excited for some reason.  Let’s start with the positives though.

I suspect that this book is going to be a hit with discerning readers in their early teens who are looking to move on from the prolific middle grade market, but also want to read a book with ordinary teen problems played out with action and humour.  The thing that really stood out for me while reading the book was the fact that the premise is so different form anything else that’s out there at the moment.  The superhero content seems to be an area that isn’t really featured in a lot of books for this age group just now, and it should certainly be a drawcard for younger readers, as it was for me.  There’s also plenty (PLENTY!) of action in the book, with superhero-versus-supervillain clashes aplenty, as well as some great one-liners and comedy woven into the action.  So in that regard, I think this will be a book that appeals to both genders, as there’s something for everyone here.

I think the main reason this didn’t grab me in the way that I thought it would is that I suspect it’s a bit overly long.  It takes a reasonably long while for Penny to unleash her superpower and then after she gets a handle on her newfound talents, it takes another reasonably long time before the first showdown occurs.  For some people this may not be a problem, but I felt that there could have been a bit of judicious editing here and there to tighten up the flow of the story and keep it moving at a steady pace, particularly as this is a book aimed at the young adult bracket (read: those of us with shortish attention spans…ooh, a shiny thing!).  Also, I suspect that the book will require readers who don’t mind a bit of explanation – there’s a lot of jargony, computery, mathsy, type language in there (due to Penny and her father having superpowers relating to the field of mathematics and computation) and that may put off those who just want the guts of the story without having to wade through such specifics.

So overall, I don’t think this one is for me unfortunately, but I think that there will definitely be a fan base out there for whom this is exactly the type of quirky YA action-adventure they’ve been waiting for.  I’ve also had a look at some of Richard Roberts’ other works, and there are definitely some in there that I want to get my paws on despite not quite loving this effort.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human: An R-I-I Review, Author Interview and Giveaway!

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Cheerio my flesh and non-flesh friends and compatriots! I have a delightful little cross-species tale for you today, and for extra delightedness, it has a delightfully long title.  I speak, of course, of middle grade sci-fi adventure story, Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human by Lynn Messina.  The book was published in 2012 and it has been a grave disservice indeed that I have not been exposed to it earlier than this, for it is a fun, funny and very clever read.  So it was incredibly lucky that I received a digital copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

The book follows the story of young robot Henry Jacobson, who has a tough time in Bot school due to a problem in his processor that causes him to shut down at inopportune moments when he is under stress.  As well as teasing at school, Henry has to put up with working with the drooling, stupid and frustrating human units that do the drudge work at his mother’s Beauty Salon.  After one of the human units goes beserko, smashing up the store with a mop and repeating nonsense at regular intervals, Henry finds himself teased even more at school when his mother gets the credit for sorting out the beserko unit and saving the lives of all the bots in the salon.  Things get even stranger for Henry when, after a mysterious visit from his father’s boss, an experimental human unit (the HueManTech ETC-420- GX-2) comes to live in his home.  After an initial period of distrust, Henry begins to discover that this particular unit seems to be able to do far more than just drool and threaten bots with household cleaning products.  Soon, Henry and E (as he comes to be known) are playing video games, making up new words and generally doing plenty of things that Henry would have thought were impossible for a lowly human.  When a threat is made to send E to be compacted, Henry knows that he must find out the truth behind this seeming superhuman who has become his friend.  Cue misadventure! Cue sneaking around! Cue the uncovering of secrets that will change the Bot universe….forever!!

Henry coverRead it if:

* you ever have days when you suspect that your reality affirmulator might be on the blink

* you have ever had fond feelings…the basis of friendship really, …for a household appliance

* you are acquainted with some human units who are capable of little more than drooling and mopping…on their good days

* you know a bot or two in their tweens or teens who can’t go past a good adventure based sci fi

I am so pleased that I was introduced to this story.  For a middle grade sort of a story, it is very, very clever.  There’s a lot to appreciate here for older readers, with lots of little wry observations of human nature, reflected back through robot society.  Henry is a very believable bot, with all the flaws and worries of any thirteen year old being and human unit E is laid back, quietly confident and a joy to read about.  The book is great fun with heaps of funny situations and some fantastic one-liners.

To top all of that though, there’s also plenty of action and suspense.  At one point, Henry and E break into a government agency and get chased by the authorities, get captured, uncover some shocking secrets and use their wits and wiles to save themselves from danger.  I was really worried for the lads during this part as there were some real challenges for them both to surmount.

If you’ve got young male readers around your dwelling, this is definitely a book you should add to your collection.  It will be thoroughly enjoyed by confident independent readers, but if you have to read it aloud to less confident readers, there is plenty here for grown ups to enjoy along with their mini-fleshling.

So who exactly came up with this highly read-worthy tome? Well I’m glad you asked because you’re about to meet her!

Lynn Messina grew up on Long Island and studied English at Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked at the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media), TV Guide, In Style, Rolling Stone, Fitness, ForbesLife, Self, Bloomberg Markets and a host of wonderful magazines that have long since disappeared. She mourns the death of print journalism in New York City, where she lives with her husband and sons. She is author of seven novels, including Fashionistas, which is in development as a feature film and has been translated into 15 languages.

You can find out more about Lynn’s work here, but for your convenience, I asked her some questions about Henry, E and her writing so you can be well prepared if you bump into her at a dinner party/sock hop/other impromptu social occasion.

Why Henry and E? What was it about their story that won out over other stories that may have been jostling for space in your CPU?

To be honest, my CPU isn’t as busy as you think it is. I find good ideas are really hard to come by, and when I get one, I run with it. I might not sit down and start writing immediately, but the idea takes up all my mental energy. So when I came up with the idea of robots inventing humans it was all I thought about for months. I jotted down notes about it everywhere. In fact, I was just cleaning out a drawer yesterday and found a scrap of an envelope from, like, six years ago on which I’d written some early ideas while at my day job.

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of Henry?

The ideal reader for Henry is the same ideal reader I have for all my books, and it’s the sort of reader I am: someone who will love the story enough to reread it at least once to discover all the little things she missed the first time around.

The title is absolutely astoundingly all-round alliterative…Are you a fan of wordplay? And how did you choose the title?

The title has been a problem for me from the start. The working title was Henry, ETC, and that’s the title under which I submitted it to publishers. When I decided to put it out on my own, I realized I needed a much more descriptive title, one that really said what it was about, so I threw in all the adjectives and made them alliterative because I think that’s so much fun. I wasn’t daunted by the long title because one of my favorite books when I was little wasAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Recently, however, a librarian suggested that the title was off-putting to young readers, and now I’m conflicted. But, yes, I love wordplay, and that was one of the things that made me really excited about the story. There were so many opportunities to turn words on their heads.

What are the best parts about writing for young readers?

I feel like the answer should be that writing for young readers allowed me be as silly as I wanted, but the truth is I love writing silly scenes and all my books descend into silliness at one point or another. The unique thing about writing Henry—and this was all the best part—was that it was science fiction. Henry was the first book I ever wrote that left the real world behind. I got to invent everything and make up all the rules (and change them when they no longer suited my purpose) and use my imagination freely. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

This is tough because I feel like the authors I mention should be relevant to the genre and I can’t think of many middle-grade writers I’ve read. Recently, I’ve been reading the Ivy & Bean series to my six-year-old and have been really enjoying it. I will say that J.K. Rowling (of course!) was a big influence because she’s so good with language and wordplay. I had Diagon Alley in my mind almost the whole time I was writing as a sort of talisman of the wit I was going for.

What do you imagine Henry will be doing when he reaches his 21st upgrade? And E?

This is an impossible question for me to answer. I have notes somewhere with ideas for two sequels and I’m fairly certain the trilogy ends with the entire transformation of robot society. But I can’t see beyond that. To be honest, I can’t even see that far because the ideas are so vague. I hope to write at least one of the sequels one day, but it’s been six years since I wrote the book and now there are definitely other things taking up space in my CPU.

And now, the giveaway!  We are offering one lucky reader the chance to win a print copy of the book and better yet, the giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY!

Here’s the deets:

– The giveaway is open internationally, so provided you live on planet Earth and have a postal address, you should be right to enter

– One winner will be chosen at random via rafflecopter and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a redraw will occur.

– No responsibility will be taken for packages lost in the mail. Sorry.

– The giveaway is in no way related to WordPress, Goodreads, Rafflecopter, Facebook or any other individual or company that is not me.

– I will be checking entries, so be honest.

click to enter button

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I should probably also point out that the book would fit nicely into a couple of categories in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge…category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category eight (a book with wordplay in the title).  Click on this attractive button to find out more and jump on the safari bus!

small fry

In short? Get it, it’s clever. And we all know that there’s nothing better than a clever book that’s meant for kids but sneakily discovered by a grown up.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Read-it-if Review: YA Fantasy Novella “Miyuki” and a GIVEAWAY!

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bannermiyuki

Good morning to you all! Before we begin, I’d like you to have a look outside…what’s the weather like today? Any fires predicted for your tranquil bush home? Are there likely to be rockfalls rattle-tattling down your mountain-side mecca?  Is that the mother of all thunder storms cracking outside your window? Well if any or all of these are lurking on your weather radar, today’s book reviews are definitely something you should keep your eye on.

I am very pleased to be part of the blog tour for Veronica Bane’s young adult fantasy novella, Miyuki, which is book two in the Unusuals series.  The tour  is running from March 1st to April 1st, and I’m lucky last on the tour.  Which could also be lucky for you, as I’m also offering the chance for one lucky reader to win paperback copies of the first two books in the series – hurrah! Giveaway info is at the end of the post.

As today’s review is of the second book in the series, I’ll also give you a handy rundown on the goings on of book one, entitled Mara.  In Mara, we are introduced to a group of teens living in the less than idyllic town of Jericho.  Things have always been a bit off-kilter down good ol’ Jericho way, what with general dislike and persecution of the Natives, and some decidedly odd goings on throughout the years.  During this book, we meet Mara, a reasonably unlikeable young lass who is grappling with a difficult family history and trying to come to terms with the fact that she can manipulate fire. As in, throw flaming fireballs from her hands and such like.  Mara begins to seek out others of her ilk, and discovers that Jericho has its fair share of “Unusuals” – people with certain superhuman abilities – but that being an Unusual also comes with a good chance of an early death at the hands of some of Jericho’s haters.

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In book two, we pick up the story after Mara and some other Unusuals, Miyuki being one, find out who has been trying to pick them off.  Miyuki, manipulator of water and granddaughter of Katsumi, a long time resident of Jericho, has to learn how to use her abilities to fight in order to protect herself and the other Unusuals on her side.  Because, not every Unusual sees things the way Miyuki does.  Enter the mysterious and mixed-up Nayara and things are about to get violent. Fatally violent.

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Read it if:

– you’ve ever considered yourself a little bit…out of the ordinary

– you’re a misfit, a rebel on the run, and no one understands you…especially not your vengeful gun-toting brother, or the other thugs that have been hired specifically to kill you…yep, ESPECIALLY not them

– you suspect you may be in possession of very mild superpowers

– you enjoy your YA gritty, edgy and with a side dose of super-charged fight and flight

These two books felt very different from the general fare of YA fantasy being served up just at the moment.  The stories had some real suspense and  a pervading sense of fear woven into the mystery of just who is hunting the Unusuals and what they might want the talented kids for.  They are also reasonably quick reads, coming in at under 200 pages each, which is great if you’re looking for something that won’t bog you down for weeks on end while you plough through the previous book in order to get up to speed with the new release.

I was reminded of nothing so much as movies like the X-men while I was reading these two, and I would really LOVE to see these books in graphic novel format.  There’s a lot of action and the writing really paints a picture while you are reading, and I just feel that the characters and their story would work perfectly in an illustrated format.

These books would be the perfect choice for YA readers looking for a break from your standard high fantasy, but don’t want to bother with love-triangle romances or urban fantasy with a long, complicated back story.  Mara and Miyuki are the perfect novellas to jump into for a break from reality involving a bit of superhumanity, a bit of crash-bang-wallop and a bit of psychological thriller wrapped in a bite-size package.

So now for the giveaway! This one is only open to residents of the US (sorry non-US-ians) and the winner will receive paperback copies of both Mara and Miyuki.  To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link below (and good luck!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

small fryOh, and just for the record, these books fit right in to category four of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with someone’s name in the title. Just sayin’.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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ARC Read-it-if Review: Side Effects May Vary…

8

Evening all! Today I have for you Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy, which I received as a digital galley from the publisher via Netgalley.  Thanks!

Side Effects May Vary follows the story of Alice and her (sometimes) best childhood friend Harvey through a period of ups and downs.  When Alice finds out she has terminal leukaemia, Harvey is there for Alice to lean on, even as she asks him to be her sidekick in some…unconventional…bucket list escapades.  Then, unexpectedly for everyone, when Alice is seemingly at death’s door, her doctors tell her that she is in remission.  Now Alice must face up to what and who she has become and find a way to move forward in a whole new future that she didn’t expect to have.

side effects may vary

Read it if:

* you read The Fault in Our Stars (I didn’t, by the way) and want to read another book featuring a main character with cancer

* you like YA novels that feature a female protagonist who is immature, manipulative and cruel, and a male protagonist who doesn’t respect himself enough to (a) stand up for himself and (b) distance himself from the immature, manipulative and cruel behaviour of the female protagonist, all in the name of “love”

Okay. You guessed it. I didn’t much care for this book.  Sorry Julie Murphy. It’s nothing personal.

Or rather, the book and story itself isn’t so bad – I think there are going to be a lot of people who really like the plot and the alternating points of view of Alice and Harvey, the then and now format of the book, and even the (miniscule and highly convenient) growth of the main character by the end of the story.  But it just wasn’t for me.

It’s the character of Alice that really put me off the whole thing.  She’s an entitled, nasty, revenge-seeking little madam. Plain and simple.  The thing that really tipped me over the edge into active dislike of this character was her over-the-top revenge pranks that involved publicly humiliating people who had wronged her in private. Later on in the book, when those she has pranked then seek their revenge in a public way, I had absolutely no sympathy for Alice.  Add to this the way she treats her supposed best friend, and I just couldn’t be bothered caring about how things would turn out for such an unlikeable character.

The other thing that annoyed me about this book **AND THIS MAY BE A SPOILER for some, so if you’re not up for it, skip this whole paragraph!!** was the whole idea of “love” that was portrayed.  I don’t understand why “love” is depicted through a character allowing himself to be treated like rubbish for a prolonged period of time by the object of his affection, as Harvey does, on the off chance that the person you “love” will suddenly “love” you back.  There’s no love here – Alice practices manipulation and then bargaining to win Harvey back, and Harvey demonstrates infatuation and submission.  That’s it.  This may be one of the reasons I don’t read too much YA with romance, because there very rarely seem to be depictions of healthy romantic relationships, but rather this perpetuation of the tortured soul who waits forever until their love object sees them for who they truly are and returns that skewed version of love.  Meh.

So again, not the book for me, but certainly one that I think a lot of YA contemporary (and especially romance) buffs will probably happily devour.  I’d suggest giving it a go if that’s your genre of choice and don’t let my curmudgeonly grouching put you off.  Side Effects May Vary is released on March 18th.

Until next time,

Bruce

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