ARC Read-it-if Review: Man Made Boy…

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Afternoon all! Today’s offering is one that, since seeing the fantastic cover art, I had been excitedly anticipating…and then I managed to score an ARC review copy from Allen & Unwin Teen in return for an honest review.  Serendipitous, no? So our thanks to the publishers for making my anticipatory wonderings a reality.

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron is a coming of age tale with a twist – the twist being that the creature doing the coming-of-age thing is the son of Frankenstein’s monster and his Bride.  The inventively named Boy; stitched-together beastie and thoroughly likeable protagonist, lives with a slew of other “mythical” creatures in a community hiding in plain sight from human society in the form of a theatre group.  Boy also happens to be something of a tech wizard, and after developing a new form of artificial intelligence, accidentally sets in motion events that have the potential to reach cataclysmic proportions for all involved.  Simultaneous to this concerning development, Boy attempts to leave the theatre to make his own way in the world – hence the coming-of-age themes mentioned earlier.

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Read it if:

* you’re a sucker for a good YA/sci fi/modern mythology/coming-of-age/paranormal romance crossover novel

* you’ve ever had stitches (or indeed bolts) in a prominent place, and felt that this may have inhibited your ability to blend seamlessly into polite society

* you are, or have ever entertained the dream of becoming, a mad scientist who creates a sentient, yet fundamentally flawed, creature for your own entertainment and/or personal gain

* you can overlook some minor problems with pacing and plot provided that there is at least one character with a rhyming name.  (…Paging Shaun the Faun…your presence is required…)

As I mentioned, I had really high hopes for this book based on the cover art alone.  Yes, I am that judgemental.  Did this book live up to those expectations? Sort of.

There is much to like in Skovron’s work here.  The characters, although lifted from historical mythical tales and classic literature, are given an overhaul to suit the modern urban setting while retaining their authentic character.  The two (or should that be three?) main teen characters, Boy and Claire/Sophie Hyde/Jekyll, are relatable, charming and flawed in ways that are believable, without being stereotypical.  The world building, in regards to the hidden monster communities, is well done and provides some good launching points to drive the plot forward.

The main problem I have with the book is the technology plotline revolving around the artificial intelligence program that Boy creates and sends out into the world.  I can’t say too much here, as I think it would be too spoilerish, but for me, the parts of the book in which this plotline featured seemed forced and out of place.  I had the overwhelming feeling that Skovron had actually got all the ingredients for TWO great novels – one revolving around a young monster finding his feet in the world, and another, that had no fantasy elements but explored the themes of artifical intelligence and the role and pace of technology in society in a psychological thriller-type story.

Having said that, while the technology aspect of the plot didn’t really work for me, it didn’t diminish the overall appeal of the book to the point where I had to put it down.  For my money, if Skovron can maintain my interest for 300 + pages despite a plotline that grated on every stony, critical and pedantic nerve in my body, I’ll be very interested to see what he can come up with next.  Overall, I think this book will have great appeal to its target audience of older teens for its likeable characters and modern twist on some old favourites.

For those who are faint of heart, let me also flag a warning for language, grand-theft-auto style gratuitous violence and humour related to alien-implemented anal probes.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Read it if: The Shattering…..

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Ahoy me hearties! Today’s offering is a little gem of New Zealand’s YA fiction, The Shattering by Karen Healey.  I must say I am developing a soft spot for Kiwi writing…I get a comforting, homely sort of feeling similar to the feeling I get reading Aussie authors, but there’s the added bonus of all the charming little Kiwi quirks that litter the stories. I didn’t realise when I picked up The Shattering that I had already read and enjoyed Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead, and both stories share a finely balanced mix of everyday dramas and out of the ordinary magic, or myth, or paranormal phenomena…

The Shattering follows the story of Keri, Janna and Sione, three teens who are linked by the fact that their older brothers were all victims of suicide.  When Sione uncovers some strange statistical patterns while investigating his brother’s situation further, he garners the help of Keri and Janna in an attempt to unravel what appears to be some sinister goings-on relating to young men in the seaside tourist town Summerton.

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Read it if:

* you’ve ever wished you could live in a place with perfect summer holiday weather….all the time 

* you’ve ever wanted to be part of a (somewhat) merry band of mystery-solving teens

* you enjoy books told from the perspectives of multiple characters

* you suspect that the fact that you have never achieved fame and fortune may in fact be the result of some form of voodoo practiced by jealous detractors

* you enjoy YA fiction that believably melds a bit of magic and mystery with the ordinary troubles and worries of young people

I really enjoyed this book – while some of the plot twists were a little too convenient for my tastes, the characters were well-drawn and the underlying social and personal issues experienced by the characters were believable and sensitively treated.

If you haven’t had experienced the delight of a good New Zealand author, Karen Healey could be the perfect starting point.

Until next time,

Bruce

Read it if…: Anna Dressed in Blood

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Happy New Year to all of you in Blogtopia! I have decided to start the year with an absolute fire-cracker of a Read-it-if…it’s one I’ve been wanting to read for a while and now, having accomplished this task, I feel I must share my thoughts with you all as it has been a bit of a rollercoaster thrill-ride that may or may not be to your taste.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is a young adult horror, ghosty, slash and smash, slice and dice adventure.  Essentially, it charts the story of Cas, a young lad who is tasked with dispatching murderous ghosties by virtue of his inheritance of ghostie-slaying powers through his father’s bloodline.  I’ve seen many reviews for this book, some glowing, some not, but the cumulative effect of these did not prepare me for the gory, terrifying and downright compelling nature of this book.  At a number of points I wanted to give this book up because of its graphic and scarifying scenes of gut-splattering horror, but the writing was so good I just had to pick it up again….Having said that, I have also decided to put a little spoiler section in below: “Don’t read it if…”, so that those of a more delicate constitution can make an informed choice before plunging in.

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Read it if:

  • you are the type of person who thinks that the “Saw” films should be categorised as light entertainment
  • you think YA romances containing vampires are sooooo 2011…and that no YA romance these days should be without at least one deadish, ghosty type character
  • you can’t wander past a cemetery without donning a pouch of  protective herbs and anointing yourself with a patchouli poultice

DON’T read it if (SPOILER ALERT):

  • you think Finding Nemo should be categorised as horror
  • you don’t like stories where pets come to harm…particularly out of the blue
  • you have even a mild aversion to any of the following: blood, haunted houses, ghosts, witches, magic, voodoo, exploding corpses or patchouli

I can’t say I enjoyed this book – it kept me too tense for that – but I certainly found it a compelling read, and I will therefore reserve the sequel, Girl of Nightmares, at the library when it comes out in paperback.

Until next time…And here’s a hot tip: I hear Bruce may be bestowing a second round of Gargie Awards any day now to usher in the new year! (Keep it under your hat).

Mad Martha

Mind your own delusions: YA Fiction mixing mental health and fantasy themes…

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I am not abashed to admit that I spend a reasonable amount of time reading in the arena of Young Adult fiction.  This is a metaphorical arena, by the way, not a literal one. Just in case you were picturing my stony folds perched brightly on a stadium seat, clutching light refreshments, while adolescents, and authors catering to the same, fought it out in gladiator garb with paperbacks of varying thickness.  Not that such a spectacle would be necessarily negative, of course…it just wouldn’t be my scene.  But I digress.

Recently crossing my path have been a number of YA titles that combine main characters struggling with issues of mental health (or illness, depending on your viewpoint), with elements of fantasy or science fiction, with varying degrees of sucess.  I would now like to present three of these novels to you for your consideration.  Each offers something to engage those of you who, on seeing one more teen novel with a vampire/angel/demon/werewolf love story, would be prepared to enter the YA arena and fight to the death.

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson centres around Alison, who has been placed into a psychiatric facility in connection with the disappearance of a school-mate.  The story initially follows Alison as she comes to terms with her current predicament and attempts to make sense of her partial memory loss, and the strange and overwhelming sensations flooding her brain. Consultation with the young, handsome Dr Faraday reveals Alison to be experiencing synesthesia – a neurological condition in which multiple senses are stimulated for single sensory input – and this has contributed to her recent difficulties.

The element of science fiction that is thrust into this story happens so unexpectedly that on first reading I felt as if the publisher had somehow mistakenly printed halves of two different books into the one binding.  I won’t give any clues here as to the nature of the fantastical element that is injected into the story because while it was a surprise to me, I felt the sudden change of direction enhanced the overall narrative.  Thus, revealing it may take away from the experience of first-time readers.

Anderson has created here a very different and engaging novel that combines well-drawn characters with a sufficiently intriguing setting.  The unexpected twist in the tale happens late enough in the piece to ensure that readers have cast their lot in with the main characters and will happily suspend disbelief for the ride to the finish.  I highly recommend this novel for teens (anyone, really) looking for something a bit different.

The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod centres around Colin, a young person who also finds himself in a psychiatric facility due to his admission that he can see creatures resembling giant, upright cockroaches at the periphery of his vision.  These are the “shiny guys” of the title.  During his treatment, Colin gets the chance to meet the shiny guys and finds that they are real and in need of his assistance.  The story follows Colin’s journey as he attempts to carry out the instructions given to him by the shiny guys.

By the end of the novel, the reader is left to decide how real Colin’s shiny guys are and this could leave some readers feeling uneasy about the character they have come to know.  However, this story, while presenting a dark and ultimately ambiguous ending, is enfused with a gentle humour throughout that endears the reader to Colin and the other young people sharing Ward 44.

Admittedly, of the three books presented here, this was far and away my favourite.  It is definitely worth a look as it presents a realistic look (despite the giant insects) at the experiences of young people dealing with mental illness. Extra points for an Australian author also.

 Shift by Em Bailey relates the story of Olive, a teen returning to school after spending some time in a mental health clinic, and her self-imposed exile from her old, popular friends.  She now spends school days with new friend Ami, avoiding the malicious intentions of her ex-best friend, and the friendly advances of the new boy.  Enter Miranda, another new student, who Olive and Ami believe is a shapeshifter, slowly stealing the personality and position of her victim until she is the most popular girl in school.

This story is easily the weakest of the three presented here – it is Bailey’s first novel for the teen market and she may have been somewhat overambitious in what she was trying to achieve here.  This story did not have the genuine feel needed to provide an anchor for the reader when casting off their disbelief.  The characters seemed two-dimensional and some elements of the plot – including the death of one of the featured characters – seemed glossed over, without the emotional impact that one would expect for such events.

Despite this, Shift provides plenty of elements that would be attractive to the early teen reader – friendship dramas, the difficulties of establishing one’s identity in front of peers, tentative young love.  The fantasy elements also, while mostly overshadowed by normal human dramas, and at times unwieldy, give this novel its point of difference.  For that reason alone, I recommend it as a breath of fresh air for those tired of the standard boy meets “girl/boy turns out to be undead/girl meets similarly undead, but hotter boy etc” fare.

So, launch yourself into the arena if you haven’t already – and be armed with these recommendations…for it is dangerous to go alone….I’ve heard.

Until next time,

Bruce