Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mega Supersized” Edition…



Well, I said that this week would be devoted to catching up on books that have been awaiting their time in the spotlight and today I am starting to make good on that promise.  I have no less than six books for you to round up today, covering everything from picture book to adult fiction to historical non-fiction to short stories.  We received all of the following books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  I suggest you let your eye rove over the herd and lasso the ones you find most appealing.  Let’s ride in!

Blame (Simon Mayo)


Two Sentence Synopsis:

Ant and Mattie are locked in prison due to the crimes of their parents, under the new “heritage crime” laws. Never one to go quietly, Ant discovers a way to maybe break out – but the prison is going into meltdown and before she can escape the whole place might just explode.

Muster up the motivation because…

There is a veritable firestorm of action going on in this YA bit of speculative fiction set in the near future.  Mayo has managed to sneakily incorporate a fantastic amount of philosophical debate about crime and punishment into what is essentially a tension-filled flight of revenge, evasion and emancipation from start to finish.  The book starts with a huge concept – “heritage crime” and the question of how justice can be seen to be done when an individual seemingly evades the letter of the law – and Mayo skilfully explores this through action and character behaviour, held together with an exciting and pacey plot.  As one would expect of a book set in a prison, there is a fair amount of violence and general skulduggery, but the majority of it is appropriate to the telling of the story and not gratuitous.  There are two main sections to the book, the first set inside the prison and the other…well, I won’t spoil it for you, but the change in setting about two thirds of the way through breaks the plot up nicely and allows for a complete change of pace and new and unexpected dangers for our protagonists to face.  I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of grittier YA stories, who are happy to see a melding of young adult and decidedly grown-up worlds in their reading.  This would also make a fantastic class read for upper secondary students, to spark discussion and debate around scapegoating, delayed justice and the treatment of prisoners – especially juveniles.

Brand it with:

British badassery, the sins of the father, foster families

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer (Kate Summerscale)

the wicked boy

Two Sentence Synopsis:

A boy who kills his own mother turns out, after much investigation, to end up living an extraordinary life.

Muster up the motivation because…

If you enjoy painstakingly researched recounts of the lives of extraordinary individuals, you should find something to like here.  Beginning the tale in 1895, in England, Summerscale tells the story of one Robert Coombes, then aged 13, who murders his mother, covers it up and then goes on to have an unexpectedly eventful life, ending up in Australia of all places. I was under the impression that the book would confine itself to the murder and trial of Coombes, but this section makes up only a quarter of the story.  The rest deals with the aftermath of the trial, Coombes stay in Broadmoor prison asylum, his eventual release, his time in the Australian armed forces and most bizarrely of all, his father-son relationship with an ill-treated young neighbour.  To be honest, I found the last two sections of the book, dealing with Coombes’ adult life, far more interesting than the first, which was the reason I picked up the book to begin with, so overall it was a strange and not particularly satisfying reading experience for me.  While the content of the book is quite absorbing, the execution is unnecessarily long winded and the author seems to find joy in going off at arguably interesting but lengthy tangents.  I have heard the same complaints about Summerscale’s earlier works, so I suspect this might just be her particular style of writing.  This one would certainly be of interest to lovers of historical true crime stories but be aware that this is more than just a “murder” book and that the telling leaves out no detail, however tangentially related to the story.

Brand it with:

Tiny evil things, cool story bro, been there, done that, bought the t-shirt

Bigfoot Trails: Pacific Northwest (S.A. Jeffers & Catherine Strauss)

bigfoot trails

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Use the rhymes to aid you in hunting for Bigfoot in the illustrations, while learning some information about the Bigfoot legend along the way.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fun, fully illustrated Bigfoot adventure that allows the reader to decipher clues as to where Bigfoot might be lurking.  I will admit to being overly excited at the thought of an book that touted itself as an interactive Bigfoot hunting experience and it was these expectations that possibly led to me being a little disappointed with the interactivity of the story.  Essentially, this is a search-and-find style of book, with clues given in the rhyming text as to where to search for Bigfoot in the (admittedly pretty impressive) illustrations.   Some of the rhymes aren’t that flash to be honest, but the illustrator has definitely gone next-level serious on making sure Bigfoot won’t be found after a simple cursory glance at the page.  The book also includes some extra Bigfoot-related things to find at the end of the book (scat, for instance), so readers can extend their searching pleasure by going back through the illustrations to look for things they missed the first time.  Overall, I think kids will probably love this book and find plenty to occupy their time and imagination.

Brand it with:

Cryptid hide-and-seek, Where’s Weirdo?, future employment opportunities

Untethered: A Magical iPhone Anthology (Janine A.Southard ed)


Two Sentence Synopsis:

A collection of short stories that speculate on the magical and paranormal properties of the smartphone.

Muster up the motivation because…

If you’ve ever thought that your phone was possessed, or otherwise controlled by nefarious outside sources then this is the anthology for you!  The stories range from servers run by demons to sentient apps to phones that can contact the dead and with twenty stories in the collection, you’re bound to find something to awaken the spark of imagination and have you eyeing your smartphone with more than a little mistrust.  My favourite of the collection was “What You’re Called to Do” by Dale Cameron Lowry, which features an app with a mind of its own and a gender-twist on the “crazy cat lady” theme.  I also particularly enjoyed “Voices From Beyond the iPhone!” which explored the human desire to get in touch with the other side and used a quirky email correspondence format, and “Real Selfies” by John Lasser, a quick dip into the psychological horror genre and a hot potato that no one wants to be left holding.  I love the concept behind this anthology and while some of the stories didn’t really hit the mark, there were enough that I enjoyed to keep me dipping into it.  I’d recommend this one for short story lovers who like their technology bang up to date.

Brand it with:

ShortStories 2.0, Next gen, magic in your pocket

The Mighty Odds (Amy Ignatow)

the mighty odds

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Four students with no social connections between them are involved in a bus accident on the way home from an excursion. When they start to discover some strange new powers after the accident, the four disparate protagonists must work together to figure out the mystery behind their new abilities.

Muster up the motivation because…

This is a worthy addition to the middle grade humour genre with some standout features.  The thing that drew me in to the story first was the silliness of the powers developed by the protagonists – the ability to teleport four inches to the left, for instance and superstrength only in one’s thumbs – but this wry sense of the ridiculous isn’t really brought to the fore until about halfway through the book.  The author spends a lot of time developing the back stories of the protagonists prior to the bus accident in which the kids gain their powers, so by the time the silliness starts, a lot of serious issues – such as the prolonged bullying and exclusion of one of the four – have been highlighted.  There was a sense of authenticity about the characters as children on the verge of adolescence that you don’t always come across in middle grade fiction, particularly humorous stories, and I was surprised, but gratified to find it here.  The book also champions racial diversity, with a mix of racial and cultural backgrounds among the four main characters.   Another quirk of the book is that it is illustrated, with much of Martina’s story told in graphic novel format.  I really enjoy it when authors take risks with formatting and the graphic novel sections, though short, provide a good break in the reasonably heavy text sections.  Reflecting on the reading experience, this reminded me a bit of Louis Sachar’s work, with its focus on middle grade kids with all their brashness and insecurities, as well as the focus on changing one’s mind regarding people about whom one already has firm (generally negative) ideas.  I’d recommend this for confident readers of middle grade who like a bit of realism mixed into fantastical adventures.

Brand it with:

What’s your superpower?, unlikely team mates, beyond first impressions

Mister Memory (Marcus Sedgwick)

mister memory

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Marcel has an incredible gift – he is unable to forget anything that has happened in his life. When he is accused of the murder of his wife and packed off to an asylum while awaiting his capital trial, one detective decides to get to the bottom of this bizarre crime…and the man possibly behind it.

Muster up the motivation because…

As historical murder mysteries go, this one has an intriguing premise.  A man who remembers everything – EVERYTHING – is accused of murdering his wife but may not actually have done it.  It was this premise, as well as the fact that Marcus Sedgwick is the author, that inspired me to have a crack at this one.  Unfortunately, I DNFed at 28%.  For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to care much about Marcel or the faintly ridiculous doctor investigating his case.  I’ve mentioned before that my subconscious seems to take issue with books set in France for reasons I am unable to grasp, and so it was with this book.  There was something about the narrative style that felt particularly ponderous and I never felt like I could get up a good reading rhythm.  Having said that, I have enjoyed books by Sedgwick before, so it may just be that this particular book and I did not click.  If the premise sounds intriguing to you, I would encourage you to give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Brand it with:

I forget

So there you have six of my latest reads – some winners and some…not so winning – but I encourage you to hunt down and corral any that take your fancy.

Until next time (and another round-up!),













Fiction in 50 March Challenge: A Kernel of Truth…


imageWelcome to Fiction in 50 for March.   If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in 50 words or less using this month’s prompt and post a link to your work of genius in the comments of this post. If you want to share on twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50.  To find out more about the challenge and future prompts, simply click on the large attractive button at the beginning of this post.  This month’s prompt is…

kernel of truth

I’ve indulged in a cheeky bit of speculative fiction this month (or as speculative as one can be in under 50 words) and based my story on the ridiculously unseasonal weather we’ve been experiencing in Brisbane over the past few weeks.  This one is a little Antipodes-centric, but sometimes you’ve just got to champion the home side.  I have titled my contribution…

Excerpt from  CP State High School circa 2040 “Year 10 History Short-Answer Exam: The Early Millennial Years”

1.Describe how Coober Pedy replaced Canberra as the nation’s capital.

It started with climate-change-denying pollies. Temps in the high-30s in mid-Autumn? Wake up morons! When they finally twigged, they left the plebs to fry and shifted to CP. All hail our under-dwelling overlords!

Antagonistically put, Darren, but essentially correct.  B+

Looking forward to seeing everyone else’s efforts! For those who like to be prepared, next month’s prompt will be a democratic one.  It is:

the trouble with Fi50 button


I love the “fill in the blank” prompts.  We always get such creative responses.

Until next time,


Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Irregular Verbs and Other Stories…


Afternoon story-lovers! Today I have another title for the grown-ups and this one is a collection of short stories, something that I know many of you love to indulge in (for both reading and writing).  Irregular Verbs and Other Stories by Matthew Johnson features a whole range of short delights that run the gamut from accidental time-travelling folk from ancient civilisations, to the deliberate time-travelling citizens of a future Now.  But there’s more – much more than just time travel – to whet the appetite of anyone who likes to get stuck into a good yarn, and knows that for some readers, it’s better to be in it for a good time, than a long time.

irregular verbs and other storiesRead it if:

*you keep meaning to read a short story collection, but never quite get around to picking one up (surely it can wait…what harm could waiting do?)

* you ever made up a pretend language as a kid and wish you’d written it down (mainly so that you could use it to escape awkward social situations)

* you’ve ever had nightmares about elderly zombies, gnashing their terrible dentures and waving their sharpened-to-a-point bus passes

*you appreciate a writer who can drag you in with only a few short sentences, over and over and over again


I was pleasantly surprised by this collection because, although I enjoy reading short stories, I often find that collections can be hit and miss.  With Irregular Verbs I was happy to discover that not only did I enjoy the vast majority of these stories, but I also found myself deeply engaged in the tales within the first page.

Johnson seems to be a master at efficient, realistic world-building.  A number of the stories take place in alternate versions of our own time, or worlds that feature some aspect of time travel and I never felt like I had to work to figure out what was going on.  Within the first page or two, I was totally drawn in and the idiosyncracies of each world seemed perfectly reasonable.

My favourite stories of the bunch included the opener, which features a world in which complete languages are habitually created between partners, neighbours and small communities but are subject to the flimsy commitment of conversation in order to remain alive.  A timely warning appears in a tale in which those things that we can’t seem to find time for have been turned into commodities, ready to be purchased on easy-to-manage monthly installments.  Johnson also tries a new take on the Zompocalypse, with old-age pensioners making up the bulk of the shuffling hordes (complete with slippers and dressing gowns).  Another highlight for me was the one-way time-travel tale in which welcome centres have been created to deal with a strange anomaly in space/time that causes random groups of people from Ancient Roman times to be whisked into contemporary history.

Overall, I found this to be a fascinating collection of stories that deal with scenarios that give pause for thought.  Whether it’s the question of what exactly it is that keeps a common history safe in the minds of a society, or the conundrum of end-of-life directives for a being that seems to be immortal, these tales will get you thinking and I recommend it for the fearless, intrepid sort of armchair traveller.

Irregular Verbs and Other Stories was released on June 18th, and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,


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The Word Exchange: The end of the world as we splerg it…



I am very excited today to bring you my Read-it-if review of The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon – my second five star review of the week.  It’s been a very fortuitous seven days, I must admit. I received a digital copy of this book from Hachette Australia via Netgalley. Thanks!

So I know I may have mentioned once or twice that I was over dystopian novels.  Even the best of us can sometimes be wrong, however, and The Word Exchange is just the kind of dystopian/apocalyptic tome that I will happily let slip through the net.  Why? Because it’s the thinking person’s dystopian.

The plot has a lot of twists and the character relationships and reveals are quite complex, so there’s not a lot I can elaborate on without risking spoilification, but let me have a go at a synopsis.  In a not too distant future, the written word has become somewhat anachronistic.  People are attached (in some cases literally!) to their “Memes” – devices worn like a headpiece, that allow instant access to the internet, do the job of a phone, complete financial transactions and even make intuitive decisions for their wearers based on stored prefences.  For instance, if a wearer starts to think it’s time to leave a party, their Meme may automatically call a cab or list the quickest train times and routes home.  Written language is restricted only to very specific professions and those with a nostalgic streak.

On the night Ana’s father, a key figure in the production of the latest (and final) edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language goes missing, a sequence of events are set into motion that could result in the end of language as we know it.  As the shady business empire Synchronic Inc promotes a new site that allows the general public to create their own words and definitions and sell them through an online language marketplace, some individuals begin to display symptoms of aphasia and fears of a highly contagious Word Flu begin to spread.  For Ana, her friend Bart, and most of the people they love, things are about to get out of hand in ways no one could ever have imagined.


Read it if:

* you believe that your picture should be listed in the dictionary beside the definition for the word “anti-hipster”

* you denounce ereaders at every opportunity in favour of the glorious scent and texture of print

* you always carry stamps in your wallet, you have never owned a mobile phone, your computer has a stylish, modern, walnut-laminate veneer, and you are reading this post via an internet server powered by a hand crank

* you prophesy that the reduction of our rich language into clichéd acronyms such as LOL, OMG and FTW can only end in the destruction of life as we know it

As I said, this isn’t the kind of book that I frequently read, and it took me a few chapters to get my head around what was happening.  The book is told from shifting points of view, between Ana and her friend Bart, and initially I found Bart’s chapters to be hard going due to the character’s idiosynchratic voice.  This eased up considerably when the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Ana’s father gather momentum, and more details about the future world become apparent.  Ana’s chapters include footnotes, for reasons which will become clear at the end of the story, but as I was reading this on a Kindle, often the notes appeared three or four pages past their related sentences and I found it mightily distracting trying to flick back and forth between screens.  Luckily the story was engaging enough that I felt that the flicking was a necessary evil in order to get to the end.

Being someone who reads a lot of young adult fiction, it was refreshingly different reading a book that is well and truly nestled within adult fiction – I found the complexity of the storyline a real drawcard and I enjoyed trying to piece together the loyalties of the characters, figuring out who was working with who and on which side of villainy various characters fell.  The best thing about this book is undoubtedly its unique take on the concept of apocalypse (which has really been done to death, at least in the YA market) and the fact that the author wasn’t afraid to imagine situations that really make the reader question how they relate to, and use, language and technology on a day to day basis.

The book has an atmosphere of distrust and dis-ease that slowly overwhelms the characters and seeped out into my cosy little reading nook.  With the Memes in the story having such a starring role in how things pan out, I did feel a bit creeped out that I was reading on a digital device, rather than in good, old-fashioned, safe print!

This certainly isn’t a light beach read, but while the concepts are fairly heavy, they are balanced perfectly with action and enough mystery to keep the reader working to click the pieces into place before the narrator does.  I recommend The Word Exchange to anyone who’s looking for a read to make them sit up and pay attention – and creep them out enough to take an internet-holiday for a few days!

The Word Exchange is due to be published in early April…but I’d preorder if I were you, in case the Word Flu breaks out in the meantime.

Until next time,




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Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)