Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

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Good luck!


TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is Time Travelling with a Hamster, a middle grade contemporary sci fi by Ross Welford.  This one was not on my original list, but I’ve just received Welford’s second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible, for review, so I thought it was high time I knocked this one over. Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

 

“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.

The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…

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Ten Second Synopsis:

On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his late father that offers him the secret of time travel and the chance to change the event that caused his father’s death. Life is never that simple and Al soon finds himself up to his hairline in twisted timelines.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Just short of a year.

Acquired:

I bought this one from an online shop -either Book Depository or Booktopia – shortly after it was released because I HAD to have it and wasn’t lucky enough to score a review copy.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Not sure really.  Like I said, I HAD to have it so it’s a mystery as to why I haven’t read it yet.  Possibly it was the thrill of the chase that I was really after.

Best Bits:

  • For those who don’t enjoy a lot of technical sciency information, this story focuses more on the relationships in Al’s life rather than the whys and wherefores of how time travel works.  There is a bit of technical info in order to shut down any loopholes, but the story isn’t overwhelmed by it.
  • This felt like a bit of a mix between Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and Mike Revell’s Stonebird, with the nerdy, science-y originality of the former and the serious issues-based subplot of the latter.  Considering I enjoyed both of those books, it stands to reason that I enjoyed TTWAH as well – especially since it seems to combine the best of both of those books into one memorable package.
  • Al and his dad’s side of the family are Indian (from Punjab), while Al inherits his webbed digits (syndactyly) from his mother’s side, so there is a bit of diversity all round here.
  • Al, his father and grandfather all seem quite authentic as characters in all the timestreams in which they appear, which makes for some genuinely engaging reading throughout and a plot that isn’t dumbed down in any way simply because the book is aimed at younger readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • There’s a bit of threatened animal cruelty in two parts.  It never eventuates, but for some people I know this is a deal breaker.
  • The first half of the book wasn’t as fast-paced as the second half.  Before Al has really figured out the time machine, parts of the plot drag a little, but the ending (and especially Alan Shearer’s role in it) is worth the wait.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yep.  It’s a solid middle grade growing up story with a fascinating time travel twist.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.

Obviously, I’m submitting this one for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, as well as for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can  check out my progress toward all my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

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

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I’m ready to hunt down an eclectic bunch of middle grade titles with you today, so let’s saddle up and ride!

Carter and the Curious Maze (Philippa Dowding)

*We received a copy of Carter and the Curious Maze from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:carter and the curious maze.jpg

When Carter says that the Fair is super-boring this year, a creepy old man challenges him to try to beat his hedge maze. Once inside, Carter realises that this maze isn’t a typical fairground attraction and it might take him far longer than expected to find his way home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is another fun addition to the author’s Weird Stories Gone Wrong collection of standalone books, featuring quick, engaging and unexpected tales.  The book revolves around Carter, a young boy who mistakenly believes that he is too old to have much fun at the local funfair.  On being invited to have a go at the admittedly less-than-enticing hedge maze, he soon discovers that some fairground attractions might harbour more secrets than they appear to at first glance.  Carter’s journey takes the reader on a whirlwind trip into various historical periods, from the present all the way back to the very beginnings of European settlement in his local area. I was hoping, overall, for a bit more depth in the characters and the problem-solving required from Carter to get back to the present, but because these are designed to be manageable reads, the word-count doesn’t necessarily allow for extended character development.  The character of Mr Green hits the mark in terms of creepiness and the “creepy leaf girl” that Carter encounters early on also exudes fairly sinister vibes (which are compounded upon seeing the illustration of her!), so there is quite enough weirdness to add a bit of uneasiness to the overall atmosphere.  I suspect that this would be a fantastic choice as a read-aloud for any teachers working on local history with their classes, as it really promotes the idea of thinking beyond the “now” and imagining (or even researching!) how what we consider to be our place or home has changed over time.  It’s probably alright to mention that while reading this story I became covetous of Carter’s sister’s squid hat and would quite like any tips on where to pick one up.

Brand it with:

Time travel, extreme gardening, creepy old guys

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Julian Gough and Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:rabbit and bear

When Bear wakes early from hibernation, she immediately begins to look for food…which has gone missing…so she makes a snowman instead. This simple act sparks a friendship with Rabbit, which, while rocky at first, is forged in the fire and comes out stronger on the other side.

Muster up the motivation because…

…aside from its visual appeal, this story provides some extremely funny dialogue exchanges about poo and the eating thereof.  If you’re still with me, having digested the thought of conversations about eating one’s own poo (pun intended), then you will probably enjoy the non-pooey parts of the story as well (of which there are many).  Rabbit and Bear is a fully illustrated early chapter book (with no chapters), featuring a trusting and forgiving bear and a reasonably self-centred and tetchy rabbit.  Aside from these two protagonists we are also introduced to a wolf (undoubtedly the villain of the piece) and a collection of snowpeople (inanimate).  There isn’t a great deal of plot going on here, possibly due to the fact that this is a series-opener and needs to do the work of introducing the characters in a short amount of text, but the dialogue exchanges between Rabbit, Bear and occasionally the Wolf, are quite funny in places and there are enough changes in pace to keep the interest up and the reader turning the pages. During the non-poo-eating parts of the book, a quite touching friendship develops between Rabbit and Bear, albeit with a few (non poo-related) teething issues, and the ending is saccharine sweet and will no doubt make you go “Awwwww!”  I’d recommend this as a pre-bedtime read-aloud for mini-fleshlings with a taste for quirky animal stories, or a read-alone for confident readers at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket who can’t go past a bit of poo-based humour.

Brand it with:

The odd couple, fun with rotting vegetables, run rabbit run

Fuzzy (Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger)

*We received a copy of Fuzzy from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:fuzzy

Max Zelaster is a good student with a fascination for robots, so when her school is chosen to participate in a new robot integration program, Max is super excited. After being assigned to help “Fuzzy” learn the ropes of middle school, Max finds herself getting into more and more trouble – will and Fuzzy be able to figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes before both suffer dire consequences?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a quality story about friendship and bucking the system, reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s work.  Set in the near future, Max and her friends exist in a school system for which the pinnacle of academic achievement is scoring correctly on standardised tests, while following all behaviour rules to the letter.  Max is a character to whom one can’t help but be sympathetic when it becomes apparent that someone or something is tweaking the system to ensure that she doesn’t measure up to standards.  Fuzzy starts off the book as a bit of a non-entity, but quickly develops his programming and blossoms into an unlikely hero with conflicting feelings about his origins and purpose.  This is a bit of a deceptive story: on one level it can be read as a simple story of friendship and standing up for one’s rights in an unjust situation, while on deeper reflection there is plenty to spark conversation on larger social issues including the purpose of education, the relativity of truth and the positive and negative implications for society of rapid technological advancement.  There is a lot to get one’s teeth into here, whether you are in the target age-bracket or not, although the story does read like a middle-grade tale in terms of language and character development.  I’d definitely recommend this book for its originality of content and the authors’ unabashed opening of various cans of  worms.

Brand it with:

All hail the robot overlords, no running in the halls, big brother is watching you

Now go forth and round up these titles for your TBR list, d’ya hear?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Adult Fiction Top Book of 2016 Pick: Down Station…

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Bruce's Pick

Oooooh, exciting times!! Today I’m bringing you my first Top Book of 2016 pick in adult fiction and it is an unexpectedly exciting, original, yet familiar read.  We received Down Station from Hachette Australia for review, not quite remembering why it was we requested it in the first place, and were enormously surprised by how much we loved everything about it: from the characters, the settings, the genre-switching, the multiple points of view….but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through…and find themselves on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland. The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from a London that is burning. None of them have returned. Except one – who travels between the two worlds at will. The group begin a quest to find this one survivor; the one who holds the key to their return and to the safety of London.

And as they travel this world, meeting mythical and legendary creatures,split between North and South by a mighty river and bordered by The White City and The Crystal Palace they realise they are in a world defined by all the London’s there have ever been.

down station

Despite this book having lots of elements that I just can’t go past in a book – London, train stations, portals, time travel, finding oneself unexpectedly in a hitherto unknown place – when I received it in the mail and read the blurb on the back, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I had requested it (apart from that gorgeous cover, obviously. We all know I’m a sucker for an attractive bookish face).  It seemed like this was going to be a dystopian, which I’ve been steering away from for mental health reasons, and after I read the first few chapters, I was even more worried that this was a dystopian dressed in a pretty jacket.  For the opening of the book, apart from introducing our main characters, presents a frankly terrifying escape from a fiery, possibly world-destroying inferno.

Things settle down a bit, however, when our protagonists find their way out of the fire and into Down, a world that seems to exist purely for the purpose of escape.  As the seven survivors try to decide what they will do in this new, safe-for-the-moment environment, they discover sea serpents, a man tended by wolves and the existence of a shady geomancer, who may or may not know the way back to London.  Which itself may or may not now exist.

The book unfolds into a full-on other world story, as events cause the momentary forgetting of return to London, and lives hang in the balance.  The story alternates between Dalip – a young sikh engineering student struggling to assert himself as an individual outside the expectations of his family – and Mary – a young woman learning to wield the power of personal choice after a traumatic and violent childhood.  While there are plenty of fantasy elements speckled throughout the plot, the author never loses sight of the inner struggles of his characters, and I think that is what makes the book stand out for me as a Top Book pick.  Despite the craziness going on around them and the potential loss of all that they once knew, the group must try and make the “right” decisions, in a world where morality is clearly relative.

I am so pleased that this is a series opener.  Normally, at this stage of my reviewing life, I prefer standalones, but the surface has only just been scratched in Down Station and I am excited to see how Dalip, Mary and the rest manage themselves given all the changes that have happened for them over the course of this book.

If you are into adult fantasy fiction, and enjoy stories with excellent character development, then you really should pick up Down Station, not least because I want someone to discuss it with!!

Until next time,

Bruce

An Fi50 Reminder and a Time Travel Murder Mystery…

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imageIt’s almost time for everyone’s favourite micro-flash-fiction challenge once again – Fiction in 50!  July’s challenge will open on Monday and the prompt for this month is…

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If you’d like to play along – and we sincerely hope you do – just create a piece of fiction comprising fewer than 51 words and pop back on Monday to add your link to the comments on my post.  For more detailed information and prompts for the next six months, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

Now on to the bookery!

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Today I have an unexpected delight for you that involves murder, mystery, magic doors, time travel and pen pals. Not necessarily in that order. We received a copy of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.

Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.

lemoncholy

The Good

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As far as time travel mysteries go, this is very well put together with a lovely blend of action between the present and the past. The tale starts off slowly (and innocently) enough, with two ladies becoming trans-temporal pen pals after each suddenly discovers the other’s house in their back garden. As  Annie and Elsbeth try and figure out why they are suddenly connected in this manner, more pressing issues come to light and the ladies are drawn into trying to stop a murder that may (or may not) already have happened.

As the story unfolds, the author deftly reveals subsequent layers of the connection between the two women and the events surrounding Annie’s current circumstances in the present. The characters of Christian (Annie’s long-time, stuttering friend), Edmond (befriended by Christian due to an inexplicable familiarity of face) and Nathaniel (old-fashioned romantic interest for Annie) all add to the depth of the story and kept me guessing about who was who and how they were all linked. Or not linked.

The villains, Culler and Danyer, are violent and unpredictable and cast a deliciously creepy shadow over proceedings that is necessary to dispel Annie’s unfailing belief that meddling in time will result in things turning out perfectly alright. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the ordinary issues of Annie’s life melded with the time-travelly, magical aspects of the tale and I think this book will have a wide audience that encompasses those who enjoy plain literary fiction as well as those who like an unreal twist to their novels.

The Sad

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The only thing that mildly soured the experience of this book for me was the fact that I felt the pace slowed unnecessarily in some places, making the book feel a bit overly long. This is one of those books that, like the final film in The Lord of the Rings franchise, has an action-packed climax and then continues on for another half hour or so as all the loose ends are tied up. While the post-climax information is interesting and enlightening, and a satisfactory conclusion to the tale, it falls into the category that I like to call the “pre-empted bladder annoyance”. This may be familiar to you (or not), being the situation in which you think something (usually a film) is about to end and therefore you give your bladder permission to relax, knowing that within minutes you will be free to attend to its needs. When the film (or book, or play or whatever) then continues for longer than expected, you are forced to fidget uncomfortably while the author takes the time to neatly tie off the ends of the narrative.

Again, this certainly wasn’t a big enough complaint to sour the experience for me, but I do like a bit of warning where bladder pre-empting is concerned.

The Quirky

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The thing that stands out for me about this book as opposed to other time-travel jaunts I’ve read is that it really does read like a family drama/comedy with time travel thrown in, rather than focusing on the mechanics of the time-travel and paradoxes and so forth. As a veteran reader of time-travel novels, this felt like a lovely, gentle yet exciting entry into the genre.

If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that doesn’t feature any unbelievable or magical elements, I would definitely recommend you give this book a try because it has all the best features of contemporary and women’s fiction (the friendships, the focus on relationships – both romantic and otherwise, the growth of the characters) as well as the added interest of the problems posed by finding a magic door at the back of your house and being unwittingly drawn into a century-old murder investigation.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the buoyant tone of this book and the way in which the author has intertwined time-travel with the general excitement and intrigue of a murder mystery. Annie and Elsbeth are both strong characters with a great sense of humour and wills of iron. The male characters run the gamut from shrinking violet to homicidal maniac and flesh out the narrative so that you can never quite be sure where each fits in (or will fit in in the future).

Give it a go, I reckon. If nothing else, you will find out the meaning of the word “lemoncholy” which you can then use in general conversation to annoy those who don’t know what it means, while simultaneously feeling superior in your ever-expanding vocabulary.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Help Fund My Robot Army!: An Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Submission…

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Today I’m presenting to you a book that I stumbled across on one of my many “what extra books can I add to my already unattainable to-read list” internet jaunts.  The title, and subsequently, the blurb and format were so beguiling that I felt it should be added to said list immediately.  Then I noticed that the kindle price was less than $5, so I decided, “what the hey, let’s live a little!” and duly added it to my kindle hoard.  I speak of none other than speculative/sci-fi/fantasy/humour anthology Help Fund My Robot Army!!! & Other Improbably Crowdfunding Projects, edited by John Joseph Adams. I intend to submit this to my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the categories of “odd title” (note the three exclamation marks and ampersand), and “odd language element”.  Its inclusion in this second category is due to the fact that this anthology is composed entirely of imaginary crowdfunding pitches, as might be found on Kickstarter.

While I am familiar with the concept of crowdfunding and I’m aware that Kickstarter exists, I have never spent any time perusing that site.  Apparently though, many fleshlings wile away the hours surfing this site for projects they might like to fund, or simply to leave humorous comments on the less likely of such projects.  So if you are one of these fleshlings, this book may well be for you.  Let’s dive in.

From Goodreads:

If you’re a regular backer of Kickstarters, you’ve probably seen some unique crowdfunding projects in your time. But one thing all of those campaigns—boringly!—had in common was: They abided by the physical laws of the universe!

HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! is an anthology of science fiction/fantasy stories told in the form of fictional crowdfunding project pitches, using the components (and restrictions) of the format to tell the story. This includes but is not limited to: Project Goals, Rewards, User Comments, Project Updates, FAQs, and more. The idea is to replicate the feel of reading a crowdfunding pitch, so that even though the projects may be preposterous in the real world, they will feel like authentic crowdfunding projects as much as possible.

So if what you’ve always been looking for in a Kickstarter—and couldn’t find—was a project that allowed you to SUMMON DEMONS, DEFY GRAVITY, WIELD MAGIC, or VIOLATE CAUSALITY, then HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects may be just the thing you’ve been looking for.

robot army

There are 33 stories in this anthology and the majority of them are written by accomplished (to a greater or lesser degree) authors in the sci-fi/spec fiction realm.  Every single one of them follows the format of a Kickstarter crowdfunding pitch and while some others who have reviewed this collection on Goodreads mentioned that this format quickly got stale for them, I didn’t share that feeling as I was reading.  In fact, I quite enjoyed seeing how so many different authors worked within the same – pretty limiting – restrictions to produce some very engaging stories.

The collection includes tales from the sci-fi, speculative and fantasy genres but there are a few recurring themes in the bunch.  There are a number of pitches dealing with time travel, quite a few robot-related stories, a couple to do with granting wishes and desires. While the repetition in format didn’t put me off any, the repetition of themes did in some cases.  For instance there are two stories that are very similar in that they relate to pitches concerned with raising enough dosh to raise certain ancient deities.  I enjoyed (and chuckled repeatedly) at Help Summon The Most Holy Folded One! by Harry Connolly but was a bit so-so towards Bring About the Halloween Eternal!  by Seanan McGuire, which featured at the close of the collection and had a very similar tone and plot to Connolly’s tale.  Similarly, I was less enthused by each time-travel tale that I encountered and I felt that the selection process for the stories could have been tighter to avoid including tales that were very similar.

There’s a lot of humour going on in these stories (especially in some of the “comment threads”) and I particularly enjoyed Save the Photophobic Hemoglobivores with the Sanguine Reserve by Mur Lafferty, about creating a retreat for endangered vampires, Life Sized Arena Tetris! by David Malki!, whose title is self-explanatory (and a cracker of an idea in my opinion), and of course, the aforementioned Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!, about the attempted raising of an ancient taco deity.  But not all the pitches are included for comic relief.  There’s the subtly sinister dystopian  A Memorial to the Patriots by Jake Kerr, the touching plea of a mother in crisis, I Want to Be a Lioness by Chuck Wendig, the slightly bizarre medical breakthrough of So Juicy Transforming Strips by Matt Williamson and the bittersweet sting of grief unprocessed in  Jerome 3.0 by Jason Gurley.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Michael J. Sullivan has inspired me to seek out W. W. Jacob’s original story, The Monkey’s Paw (another one for the mountainous TBR pile – at least it’s a short story) and, ironically, Spoilerfree: A Device for 21st Century Entertainment Living by Jeremiah Tolbert has lodged in my brain as one of the most memorable (and devilishly cheeky!) stories in the group.

Overall, I appreciated the fresh format of this short story collection and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of sci-fi and fantasy and is looking for some bite-sized chunks of originality and fun from a whole range of accomplished authors.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Goal: 5/16

To find out more about the Oddity Odyssey Challenge (and join in!) just click on the pretty image at the start of this post.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Unhappenings Review Tour…

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Welcome to my stop on the Review Tour for new release, time travel, sci-fi, adventure novel Unhappenings by Edward Aubrey.  Make yourself at home!  This tidy and complex little number is published by Curiosity Quills, from whom I received a copy of this book.

Feast your eyes on this gorgeous cover:

unhappenings coverIsn’t it beautiful? But of course, judging a book only by its cover would just be silly *cough*, so here is some further information to entice you:

When Nigel Walden is fourteen, the UNHAPPENINGS begin. His first girlfriend disappears the day after their first kiss with no indication she ever existed. This retroactive change is the first of many only he seems to notice.

Several years later, when Nigel is visited by two people from his future, he hopes they can explain why the past keeps rewriting itself around him. But the enigmatic young guide shares very little, and the haggard, incoherent, elderly version of himself is even less reliable. His search for answers takes him fifty-two years forward in time, where he finds himself stranded and alone.

And then he meets Helen.

Brilliant, hilarious and beautiful, she captivates him. But Nigel’s relationships always unhappen, and if they get close it could be fatal for her. Worse, according to the young guide, just by entering Helen’s life, Nigel has already set into motion events that will have catastrophic consequences. In his efforts to reverse this, and to find a way to remain with Helen, he discovers the disturbing truth about the unhappenings, and the role he and his future self have played all along.

Equal parts time-travel adventure and tragic love story, Unhappenings is a tale of gravely bad choices, and Nigel’s struggle not to become what he sees in the preview of his worst self.

And of course you’re now wondering what kind of finely-tuned, creative, literary mind could conjure such an audacious story, and so here is some information about Mr. Aubrey himself:

Edward Aubry is a graduate of Wesleyan University, with a degree in music composition. edward aubrey unhappenings tour Improbably, this preceded a career as a teacher of high school mathematics and creative writing.

Over the last few years, he has gradually transitioned from being a teacher who writes novels on the side to a novelist who teaches to support his family. He is also a poet, his sole published work in that form being the sixteen stanza “The History of Mathematics.”

He now lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife and three spectacular daughters, where he fills his non-teaching hours spinning tales of time-travel, wise-cracking pixies, and an assortment of other impossible things.

Find Edward Aubry Online:

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

And ultimately, of course, you are waiting to hear what I thought of the book.  Well, wait no longer, weary traveller, for I shall now metaphorically spill the metaphorical beans on this very intriguing take on time travel and its consequences.

I haven’t read a good time-travel yarn in quite a while – I think the last one was Backward Glass and that was ages and ages ago (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that being the last one) [*update* I just checked my records and I’ve read at least four time travel jaunts since Backward Glass…obviously they didn’t leave much of an impression...] – so I was most pleased to jump back into one of my favourite sub-genres of science fiction.

Unhappenings is a highly original take on the well-trodden time travel path, and has a much greater focus on the consequences for human relationships from meddling with time than any other story I’ve read in the genre.  The book begins with Nigel recounting his early experiences with the mysterious and confusing unhappenings that occured at random intervals throughout his teenage years.  Essentially, Nigel began to notice that time seemed to move differently for him than for most people – he’d mention conversations or experiences that none of the other people involved seemed to remember, his teachers would suddenly disappear, alter or reappear without so much as a passing comment from his classmates, and in the most severe instances, people he became close to were retroactively wiped from existence.

This was a really intriguing premise and I fell right into the story as Nigel recounts the major incidents of these early unhappenings and reflects on the patterns he felt were forming at the time.  Of course, as the story is narrated by a much older Nigel, the reader is privy to a few extra intriguing tidbits that poor old teen Nigel is not.  This added to the puzzle solving element of the story for me and of course I became enthralled in trying to figure out what was going on before it was revealed.

This, however, turned out to be nigh on impossible.

The story is set out in parts, with each part relating to a different person in Nigel’s sphere of reference.  The early part is dedicated to Nigel’s experiences with a mysterious girl who appears at certain points in Nigel’s journey and gives him little to no information about what’s going on – except the fact that she too experiences these unhappenings.

Actually, before I get sucked into explaining the different characters and so forth, I’m going to abandon the attempt because I don’t think it’s the best way to describe the experience of reading Unhappenings.

If you are a fan of sci-fi, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you are a fan of stories featuring time travel, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you enjoy a book with a strong premise that is executed with precision and skill, you will definitely enjoy this book.  This is a story with a lot going on, both action-wise and relationship-wise, and there is plenty of bang for your buck with over 100 pretty meaty chapters.

Aubrey has done a stellar job at creating an original take on time travel that is highly complex, and best of all, he doesn’t let the mechanics of it all get away from him.  There are multiple time-streams in play here and Aubrey masterfully controls each and every one, so there are no points at which I was forced to go, “HEY! That couldn’t have happened because *insert plot hole here*”.  By the end of this mind-bendingly extensive tale, I was perfectly content that I had just experienced a fresh and daring take on an old favourite theme.

Overall, I was really impressed with this offering, and I suspect that Aubrey will pop onto a whole bunch of “one to watch” lists for those who are introduced to him through Unhappenings.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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

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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,

Bruce

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