A Non-Fiction Double-Dip Review: Those Cursed and Forgotten…

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Today you’ll have to reach right to the back of the pantry to find the dusty old snacks that have sat unnoticed for months untold, because today’s double-dip review is looking at non-fiction books that deal with the accursed and forgotten. Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey is a beautifully presented children’s non-fiction title, dealing with the accidental unearthing of the remains of slaves in New York in the 19th century, while The Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations by Olivier Le Carrer is the perfect book to place strategically on your coffee table to avoid having to listen to well-travelled friends who insist on sharing their exciting adventures with you.

I received both of these books from their respective publishers via Netgalley. Let’s start with the children’s fare. Here’s the blurb for Forgotten Bones from Goodreads:

Imagine you’re watching a backhoe dig up the ground for a construction project when a round object rolls down a pile of dirt and stops at your feet. You pick it up, brush off some dirt, and realize you’re holding a skull!

This is exactly what happened in Albany, New York, in 2005. Workers were putting in new sewer line when a backhoe driver dug up a skull. After police declared the skull wasn’t connected to any recent crimes, a team of archaeologists took a closer look. They determined the skull was from an African American who had died more than one hundred years earlier. Suddenly the construction site turned into an archaeological dig.

Scientists excavated more bones and realized that they had located a long-lost slave cemetery. Slavery had been legal in the northern United States, including in New York State, in colonial times, but the stories of these slaves are largely unknown. This site became just the third slave cemetery ever to be excavated in the North. See how archaeologists pieced together the truth about these once forgotten bones.

Dip into it for…forgotten bones

…a well-researched and highly engaging exploration of archaeology, anthropology and history all wrapped up in a visually enticing package. The easy-to-read text is accompanied by plenty of photographs and diagrams that bring the information to life (so to speak). The book follows the process of discovery from the initial acknowledgement that human remains have been found during routine maintenance, through to the identification and dating of the bones, to the recreation of the faces of some of the people whose bones had been unearthed. This is the kind of book that will draw young readers in from all over the place, simply for the excitement of the skull on the cover, and will keep them engaged with the accessible and fascinating information on the process and the people involved.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of bones?? There’s not much to complain about with this book – it’s a quality production. The only thing that irked me as an adult reader was the slightly clunky writing style that provided a narrative at the beginning of each chapter. While I understand that this was probably intended to liven up the facts and give them a bit of context, it felt a bit contrived to me.

Overall Dip Factor:

If you’ve got upper middle-grade readers in your social circle who love a bit of history and getting their hands dirty (metaphorically), they will eat this book up (also metaphorically). As an adult I found it engaging and fascinating and there was so much visual information in the form of photos and drawings and diagrams that even the most reluctant reader will find something to grab their interest. Even though the book features specifically American history, it still should provide high appeal to readers in other countries, as the process itself and the lives of the people uncovered should promote much discussion and comparison with local contexts. I’d highly recommend this as an addition to classroom libraries – put it out on the shelf and watch the kiddies fight over it for silent reading time!

Now for the grown-ups, here’s the blurb for The Atlas of Cursed Places from Goodreads:

Oliver Le Carrer brings us a fascinating history and armchair journey to the world’s most dangerous and frightful places, complete with vintage maps and period illustrations in a handsome volume. 

This alluring read includes 40 locations that are rife with disaster, chaos, paranormal activity, and death. The locations gathered here include the dangerous Strait of Messina, home of the mythical sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis; the coal town of Jharia, where the ground burns constantly with fire; Kasanka National Park in Zambia, where 8 million migrating bats darken the skies; the Nevada Triangle in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where hundreds of aircraft have disappeared; and Aokigahara Forest near Mount Fuji in Japan, the world’s second most popular suicide location following the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Dip into it for…atlas of cursed places

…bite-sized chunks of eyebrow-raising information focusing on a collection of locations that are plagued by natural, human-instigated or thoroughly mysterious misfortunes. Each location has one to two pages dedicated to its particular woes, which was too much for the places I wasn’t interested in, and not enough for those that I was. Many of the situations described prove the old adage that fact is stranger than fiction, such as the village in India where the ground could explode at any moment due to fiery mining pits beneath the earth, the mountain village where birds seem to go with the express purpose of dying and the ill-thought-out, surely-this-is-someone-else’s-problem nuclear submarine graveyard in the frozen north. This would be a great starting point for those looking to write a horror or fantasy story and needing an interesting setting. Or indeed, a great conversation starter for someone wishing to look worldly and mysterious at a dinner party.

Don’t dip if…

…you’ve booked a holiday to any of these places. Or perhaps if you are familiar with any of these places. The information given about each place is cursory for the most part and I found myself becoming annoyed with the slightly stereotypical depiction of Far North Queensland , where deadly creatures take shifts throughout the year to strike fear into the hearts of tourists (although this section was particularly amusing). Similarly, I was irritated to note that while the island of Nauru is mentioned, including a passing mention of Australia’s offshore detention facility for the “processing” of asylum seekers, the author neglected to mention the accursed experiences related by asylum seekers while detained there – experiences which include rape, self-harm, suicide and abuse – which surely qualify as the fodder for nightmares noted for other localities in the book.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is one of those books that you keep around for the “Oh, that’s interesting!” moments that you’ll experience while reading it. It would make a great gift for the travel enthusiast in your life, or for those teenaged readers who are looking for more grown-up books that focus on the real world in an accessible way. I quite enjoyed dipping into this one and discovering the mind-boggling situations attached to certain localities.

I am submitting both of these to the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader. Even though I’ve technically already completed the level that I was aiming for, I’m going to keep pushing and see how many non-fiction books I can get through this year.

Nonfiction 2015

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 16/10

Until next time,

Bruce

Indie YA Double Dip Review…and a Fi50 reminder!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dip into it for…

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

Don’t dip if…

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

Overall dip factor…

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

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

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

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

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

Dip into it for…

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

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

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

Don’t dip if…

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

Overall dip factor…

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce

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