Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Middle Grade Ripping Reads” Edition…

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Yeeeeeeehaaaaah!  I have some absolutely ripping reads to round up with you today, all of them pitched at a middle grade or early YA age group.  Excitingly, I’ve also stumbled across a fantastic, new-to-me indie fantasy series that I will share with you too!  I’m so excited I might pop my chaps!  Let’s ride on in!

Trollhunters (Guillermo Del Toro & Daniel Kraus)

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

trollhunters-red

Trollhunters by Guillermo Del Toro & Daniel Kraus. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016. RRP: $16.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Jim Jnr knows that the reason his dad is so overprotective has to do with what happened with his uncle forty years ago, but locks, alarms and curfews won’t stop what’s coming for Jim now.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Whoa there!

Hold Up!

In case you feel like you are experiencing deja vu, allow me to put your mind at rest.  Yes, I have reviewed Trollhunters before on this blog, but Allen & Unwin recently sent me this new, red-jacketed edition that is a tad more slim-lined than the first edition, because as seen on the informative sticker adorning the front cover, a new TV series is being (has been?) released based on the book.

Suffice to say, I will not bore you by re-reviewing a book that I have already reviewed, but if you haven’t come across Trollhunters before, you can find my original review here.  My updated comment on this edition is that the illustrations are still a drawcard and I am quite taken with the dashing red cover.

Brand it with:

Involuntary organ donation; safety when cycling; friends in low places

Murder in Midwinter (Fleur Hitchcock)

*We received a copy of Murder in Midwinter from Allen & Unwin for review*

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Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23 November 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Maya is travelling home on the bus when she accidentally takes a photograph of a crime in progress. Now the criminal is after her and the police attempt to hide her away in the country at her aunt’s house – but is she as safe as she appears to be?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an atmospheric, wintry romp through snow, sideways glances and suspicious criminal types.  I thoroughly enjoyed this brief but action-packed foray into middle grade mystery and the snowy setting was just the thing to take me away from summer heat that is so unforgiving it makes my eyeballs bleed.  Maya, the eldest sister in a charming little family that lives above their shop, innocently takes a photo from the bus window and is immediately plunged into a deadly game of cat and mouse when she realises that her photo may be a key piece of evidence in an unfolding murder investigation.  She is popped off to her aunt’s in Wales, and has to contend not only with being away from her close-knit family, but being shut in with her annoying (and downright disrespectful) cousin.  Of course, Maya turns out not to be as safe as the police thought she might be and it looks as if she and her repellent cousin may have to join forces to avoid being murdered in their beds.  Even though this is a standard size novel, it felt like a very quick read because the action just keeps coming.  There were some truly spine-tingling episodes in this one, as Maya’s antagonist attempts to smoke her out of the safety of her aunt’s house. There are a few bits of the story that do feel a bit clumsy and convenient to a reader of lots of adult murder mysteries, but overall this was lots of fun to read, with an epic, exciting, race-against-the-clock ending.  I would definitely recommend this to any readers looking for a wintry escape tinged with danger this holidays.

Brand it with:

Family ties; tips for taking good selfies; wintry Wales

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 (Lian Tanner)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 by Lian Tanner.  Published by Allen & Unwin, December 2016.  RRP: $12.99

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 by Lian Tanner. Published by Allen & Unwin, December 2016. RRP: $12.99

Petrel is the Nothing Girl – shunned by her shipmates because of the actions of her parents when she was a baby. When Petrel spots a boy on the ice and convinces the chief engineer to have him brought aboard, events are set in motion that could change Petrel’s life forever – as well as endanger everyone on the ship.

Muster up the motivation because…

…there aren’t a great deal of middle grade adventure series set on an Icebreaker ship in a speculative future, so if you haven’t read one such already, The Hidden might be just the place to start your middle grade ice-boating adventure reading journey.  In case you’re wondering why this book seems familiar, this edition is a cover redesign of Lian Tanner’s successful series (which has already seen a number of re-jacketings, by the look of things), so you may have come across this book before, in a different cover.   From a personal point of view, this re-jacketing is a great thing because I had seen this book a number of times before, yet never picked it up.  When I pulled this one from the postal box, I immediately went, “Oooooh!” and eagerly read the back to see what it was about.  In that sense then, this cover art enticed me sufficiently to ensure that I actually read a book that I had previously passed on multiple times in the past.  The story is appropriately icy and atmospheric, with the ship becoming almost a character in itself.  The world aboard ship is clearly divided into three social groups – Engineers, Cooks and Officers – and the mechanics of this are deftly explained throughout the story without the need for information dumps to slow things down.  The story picks up pace quickly once Petrel spots the boy on the ice and his rescue starts to cause division amongst the crew.  Clearly, the boy’s presence on an ice floe is highly suspicious, but the crew can’t seem to puzzle out his purpose for being there.  Petrel, for her part, is keen to gloss over any potential danger because at last she has a companion in a society from which she has been effectively shunned.  Mister Smoke and Missus Slink, a pair of talking rats who may be more than they seem, are a great touch, and I particularly warmed to Squid, the cook’s daughter and loyal friend (eventually) to Petrel.  There are a lot of surprises in the second half of this book and Tanner has done a wonderful job of creating an insular world ruled by machinery and survival in a hostile environment.  If you are (or know) a fan of tales of a speculative future that are heavy on the atmosphere and feature writing that conjures the story like magic, then I would definitely recommend grabbing a copy of Icebreaker – in any of its jackets.

Brand it with:

Is the heating on?; a sailor’s life for me; infernal devices

A Monstrous Place: Tales from Between #1 (Matthew Stott)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a-monstrous-place

When Molly’s best friend Neil goes missing, it is up to Molly to investigate. With the help of her ghostly Gran, Molly must brave the world of Between and unravel the mystery of her missing friend.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an exciting, original new fantasy series for middle grade that has the potential to explore all sorts of spine-tingling and imaginative situations.  I stumbled across this when the Kindle store threw it up as a recommended read, so I took a chance…and have subsequently bought the next two books in the series.  Between is a world that exists between waking and sleeping and is populated by all manner of strange, unexpected and unbelievable folk, including a tall faceless man, a boy-who-is-not-a-boy, and a bus full of weirdos of various persuasions.  When Molly’s best friend goes missing, her Gran – currently residing as a ghost in Between – tips her off as to where he might be, and Molly’s rescue mission begins.  After discovering some home truths about her next-door neighbours, Molly realises that she must brave a terrifying prospect in an attempt to save her mother from a fate worse than death.  The world of Between is just perfectly suited to my reading preferences.  I love original worlds filled with quirky, scary and unexpected folk and this book has them in spades.  There are a few sections of the book that are a little bit scary, but overall the story is packed with action and puzzle-solving as Molly attempts to wrangle her own rabbit-hole and save those she loves. Overall, the book has a sense of levity about it that staves off any real sense of terror, but there are definitely a few bits that had me biting my nails.  The adult characters of Gran and Mr Adams are larger than life in some senses, which keeps the story firmly in the realm of make-believe for younger readers.  I haven’t been so excited about an indie series since I found Mick Bogerman’s Slug Pie Stories, which I’ve raved about multiple times on the blog and it’s heartening to know its still possible to stumble over original, highly engaging indie-made stories.   I am so pleased to have found this series and I highly recommend these to you, if you are a fan of original fantasy tales.

Brand it with:

Sleepy time tales; old-fashioned chutzpah; gruesome gardening

The Identical Boy: Tales from Between #2 (Matthew Stott)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-identical-boy

Sam is bullied at school and a disappointment to his parents, so when he slips into Between and discovers a friend, it makes perfect sense to help the boy through to Awake, where they can be best friends together. As Sam and his friend start setting Sam’s world to rights, it becomes clear that Sam’s best ever best friend may not have Sam’s best interests at heart.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this second book in the Tales from Between indie middle grade series takes a much scarier turn than the first book.  More a psychological thriller in tone, The Identical Boy takes place mostly in the waking world, in which Sam is lonely and bullied…until his friend from Between crosses the border.  The book starts off innocuously enough, with Sam and his new friend dealing out schoolyard justice to a truly nasty gang of bullies, but as the boys spend more time together, things start to get a little out of hand.  Gorily out of hand, if I’m honest.  I ended up knocking this one over in one sitting because I just had to know what happened next, in that “I know it’s going to be bad, but I can’t look away” kind of way. In this book we also meet Ally, Sam’s rebellious, anti-establishment baby-sitter who becomes an ally for Sam when things start getting dangerous.  We get to see the Tall Man from Between, who appeared in the first book, again, and as the book continued I suddenly realised that Sam’s friend may indeed be the Not-Boy from the first book, although this is not confirmed – he certainly shares some of the Not-Boy’s personality traits though!  I suspect that the audience for this book would need to be of slightly sturdier stuff than readers who found the first book genuinely scary, because there is a bit of violence and blood-splatting in this one that is scary in a more realistic way than the fantasy frights of the first book.  As this series is designed to be a set of standalones though (if that makes sense!), more sensitive readers could easily skip over this one if it’s outside their comfort zone.  This is shaping up to be a super-readable series and I am impressed with the variety in content and setting that Stott has shown in just these first two stories.  I can’t wait to get stuck into book three, which is sitting on my Kindle patiently waiting its turn.  It won’t have to wait long!

Brand it with:

BFFs; parental disengagement; fun with flesh-ripping

Now look me in the eye, partners, and tell me that there isn’t a book in this herd that you want to lasso and drag home to your shelf.  Of course there is – but which one is your favourite?

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