Picture Book Perusal: The Building Boy

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picture book perusal button

Today’s ethereal picture book is for anyone that has ever wished that they could hang on to the essence of someone they have loved and lost.  The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield isn’t just aesthetically appealing, but also moving and gently hopeful, without tipping into cliche or cheesiness.  In fact, the protagonist keeps both feet on the ground…well, his creation does, anyway…while being whisked away on an adventure.  We received a copy of The Building Boy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

All at once, it was as if the stars leapt closer.
Grandma grabbed the boy, raising him high above the rooftiles on her head.
She was alive!

The boy’s grandma was a famous architect. Her garden is still full of old building materials. Unwilling to accept she has gone, the boy builds a giant structure from the bricks and girders he finds. And then … Grandma comes to life! The boy is whisked away on an epic adventure across fields, through oceans and atop roofs. But where is Grandma taking him?

Beautiful, thrilling and extremely moving: the extraordinary debut picture book from much-loved author, Ross Montgomery.

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield.  Published by Allen & Unwin, October 31st, 2016.  RRP: $24.99

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 31st, 2016. RRP: $24.99

I’m not sure if it’s something to do with the soft, moonlit scenery, but The Building Boy certainly cast its gentle and inspiring ambience over this stony reader.  The industrious and colourful endpapers depicting engineering and design drawings give the first hint that this book is about getting things done, but perhaps not in the way you might think.  The first few pages of the story introduce the Boy and his architect granny, while a golden glow running through the illustrations on these pages gives readers a clue about the depth of the relationship between these two characters.  We just loved Grandma’s stylish bobble hat and patchwork skirt, too!

When it becomes apparent that grandmothers don’t last forever, the tone of the book changes into one of slight uncertainty, as the plans that the boy had made with his grandma start to unfold in unexpected ways.  The moonlit vistas perfectly compliment the touch of magical realism that seeps into the Boy’s endeavours and by the end of the book the reader is left with a sense of comfort and a kernel of hope that Grandma’s legacy will live on.

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Clearly, The Building Boy is addressing themes of grief and loss, but the unusual approach to the subject matter makes this the perfect choice for coming at the topic obliquely, focusing on the relationship between the child and his grandmother, rather than the event of her passing. The fact of the grandmother’s death is never explicitly stated, despite it being obvious that it has occurred, which allows for the creative interpretation of how the Boy’s beloved granny continues to inspire him even though she is not physically present. The overall message is a twist on the platitude-ridden “our loved ones are kept alive in our memories”, but the original narrative mechanism thankfully opens the way for the message to be deftly sent without the need to speak the cliche. The lyrical and evocative text also pays tribute to the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild, acknowledging the fact that this inter-generational sharing of activities is often tinged with a special type of magic.

The Building Boy is a celebration of the love and hope shared between generations, of building a legacy and carrying on with one’s dreams even when the inspiration behind them is no longer with us.  I highly recommend this both for its masterful aesthetic and sympathetic, yet imaginative, rendering of a topic that will strike a chord with many children.

For these reasons, we name The Building Boy a Top Book of 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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A Maniacal Book Club Review (and Top Book of 2016 Pick!): The Girl Who Drank the Moon…

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Well, we all agree – today’s book is a Top Book of 2016 pick!  

Bruce's Pick

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a delightfully original fantasy tale for middle grade readers featuring dragons, swamp monsters, magic, abandoned babies and a whole lot more.  We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley for review, but were unprepared for the complex and well-plotted story upon which we were about to embark.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
girl who drank the moon

And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

If a baby is left in the forest and no one is around, will anyone hear its plaintive cries?  That depends on who you ask, according to the stories passed down in the Protectorate and the Free Cities. Perhaps it will be heard by a witch.  Perhaps a saviour.  Perhaps its heart-broken mother.  If you were to ask a Guru, he might say that a special child like Luna will always find a way to have her voice heard by the people who matter.  Even if that voice is silenced by loss and witchery.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

THERE IS A DRAGON IN THIS BOOK!!!!  Fyrian is the dragon and he is tiny and funny and he is Luna’s pet but before that he was Xan’s pet.  Xan is the witch and Fyrian calls her Aunty Xan.  There is a sad story about what happened to Fyrian’s family but I can’t tell you what it is because Bruce says that would be spoiling it.  Even though Fyrian is really tiny he turns out to be important in the end.  I really liked Aunty Xan too and especially Glerk.  Glerk is a swamp monster and also a poet.

I think kids who love adventure and dragons would like this book.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a baby is taken from her home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark hidden forest, 

a girl finds a home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a girl makes a home

in her heart.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

It’s a tricky thing these days to find a book – in any genre, for any age group – that feels like a breath of fresh air.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon, while using some familiar themes from children’s literature, feels like it has been put together in a wholly new way.

The story is a complex mix of fantasy, family drama and socio-political tussle that plays out over the span of Luna’s young life, culminating in a satisfying finish in which the inner doubts and flaws of various characters are realised, overcome (in some cases) and incorporated into new lives, and we witness Luna’s transition to almost-adulthood.

There are a great range of original characters here, from Xan, the “witch” who does what she deems to be right despite not understanding why a certain city continues with a bizarre and seemingly useless ritual; there’s Glerk, the swamp monster who was born at the beginning of the world (or did he birth the world at the beginning?) and is Xan’s firm friend and resident poet; and Fyrian, the tiny dragon who thinks he is enormous and seems capable of nothing but pure love and joy for his odd little family.  There is also an unexpected villain (about whom I shall say no more in order not to spoil things), a desperate, grieving mother who becomes far more than the madwoman she is branded to be and a pure-hearted, and a pure-hearted ordinary man who loves a pure-hearted ordinary woman and wants nothing more than to live a peaceful life in the bosom of his family.

Reflecting on this one, I can see some underlying themes of integrity in the midst of confusion, standing up for what’s right, even if it means standing alone, and the fact that great suffering can, in some cases, find great healing, given time and the right circumstances.  While these themes aren’t laboured by the author, their inclusion gives this story depth and raises it above the level of your typical middle grade fantasy adventure.  There are real lives playing out in this world of magic, and it’s a wonderful thing for authors to trust that young readers can handle difficult topics if they are presented with authentic characters.

I highly recommend this to adult readers as well as younger ones, as the story is one that defies being labelled with a particular age-grouping.  We definitely suggest having a crack at this one if you are a fan of magic and fantasy in a context that doesn’t discount the need for characters that feel real and deep and developed.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

 

Moose on the Loose: A Double-Dip Review…

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If the sight of a pair of enormous antlers sets your heart a-flutter, you are in for a treat today because we have TWO moose-themed, illustrated children’s books for your perusal.  We received both of these gems from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Grab yourself a hearty snack and let’s strike out into the wilderness!

First up, we have Too Many Moose by Lisa Bakos, a cautionary tale about the perils of online shopping.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Martha gets an unusual pet, she’s delighted by all of the fun things they do together. If one moose is this marvelous, then more moose must be even better! Pretty soon, Martha has more moose than she can handle in this playful pet story.

Dip into it for…

too many moose

…more moose than you can handle and an endearing, and extremely funny, animal romp.  This book is so delightful I could barely handle all the excited frollicking that goes on throughout.  Martha, heartened by the success of ordering one moose from a catalogue, falls into that trap for young players at online shopping and ends up with an unwieldy amount of moose.  She eventually finds a solution that suits everybody and all is well, but in the meantime, things get a little hairy around Martha’s house.  I am always impressed with illustrators who can make such hilarious facial expressions on animal characters, and Martha is a wonderfully independent little soul and, in the end, a responsible pet owner.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like moose.  Or online shopping.  That is all.

Overall Dip Factor:

I absolutely loved this tale.  The rhyme and rhythm is spot on for reading aloud and little ones will appreciate the repeated refrains throughout.  The illustrations are just perfect and the scenes of frivolity (until things go bad, of course) make one wish one had a pet moose of one’s own!  I predict that this will be high on the request list of many a bedtime reading rotation.  Highly recommended.

Next up we have a sneaky TOP BOOK OF 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

It’s so good to see a cracking graphic novel, because we’ve had a few misses with the genre so far this year.  Here’s the blurb of Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy by Doug Savage, from Goodreads:

The forest is full of danger . . .  but help is here. Meet Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, improbable pals who use their powers—laser vision and an unrelenting sense of optimism—to fight the forces of evil. Join the dynamic duo as they battle aliens, a mutant fish-bear, a cyborg porcupine, and a mechanical squirrel, learning along the way that looking on the bright side might be just as powerful as shooting a laser.

laser moose

Dip into it for…

…a forest full of danger, an optimistic rabbit and one very vigilant moose.  Never has such a friendship between opposite personalities existed in a children’s graphic novel than that between Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy.  While Rabbit Boy is just happy exploring the forest and meeting animal people, Laser Moose is constantly on the lookout for danger…and his arch-nemesis Cyborgupine (a cyborg porcupine, in case you couldn’t figure that one out).  In four charming and hilarious stories, our intrepid heroes save the forest and learn a thing or two about themselves along the way.  And then there’s the Aquabear.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of alternating slapstick and subtle humour in your graphic novel reading.  The stories roll from Laser Moose causing unintentional carnage when wielding his eye lasers, to perfectly timed dry one-liners and back with nary a by-your-leave.  The end frame of the Aquabear story is a fantastic example of this (and I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I will say that it did result in me engaging in a thigh-slapping guffaw).  In some senses it’s pretty childish humour, but if an adult gargoyle can have a good old out-loud-chuckle at these animal antics, it’s got to be pretty sophisticated on some level too.

Overall Dip Factor:

I love this combination of characters – Laser Moose’s tightly wound vigilance is perfectly balanced by the forgiving and personable nature of Rabbit Boy.  The stories are short, so will appeal to young readers who need to take breaks while reading.  The dialogue is such that it will be appreciated by kids and adults alike. As with  most graphic novels, this was way too short for my liking and I’m itching to get my claws on the next in the series (it is going to be a series, right?!).  In the meantime I will have to settle for buying a copy as a “gift” for the eldest mini-fleshling.

A worthy Top Book of 2016 pick indeed, and I thoroughly recommend that you too pick up a copy under the guise of giving it to a young reader of your acquaintance.

I hope you’ve found a moose-y tale to inspire the imagination here!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burn Baby Burn: A YA (Recent) Historical Fiction Top Book of 2016 Pick!

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Bruce's Pick

I’ve got another one for you folks!  Today’s Top Book of 2016 pick is one that I don’t like to think of as “historical” fiction, given that it’s set in the 1970s, but when you realise that is nearly forty years ago (!!) it definitely qualifies.  We received Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina from Walker Books Australia for review and were drawn in by the tumultuous historical and social setting, as well as the fact that Brisbane’s never-ending summer this year neatly reflects the sultry atmosphere of New York in 1977.

Well, that and the fact that I am intrigued by the dance move that you humans call “The Bump”.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

Award-winning author Meg Medina transports readers to a time when New York seemed about to explode, with temperatures and tempers running high, to discover how one young woman faces her fears as everything self-destructs around her.

burn baby burn

So here are some of the reasons why I had to put this on my Top Picks list for this year:

  • As far as YA fiction goes, this is a finely honed piece of writing.  Meg Medina is obviously a writer who knows how to craft a believable, absorbing story with perfectly timed pacing and no filler.  Everything in this book is there for a reason and the various aspects – romance, family drama, social issues, friendship – are deftly balanced, resulting in a sense of authenticity that takes in the setting, the period and the characters.
  • Nora is an incredibly genuine representation of a seventeen-year-old woman from a poor family attempting to be pragmatic in a difficult situation.  A contributing factor to this sense of unfeigned teenage struggle is the fact that the author herself lived her teenage years in New York in the 1970s.  You don’t often see characters that are so deeply explored in young adult novels and Nora is a standout.
  • The parts referencing the Son of Sam killer are actually quite creepy.  Medina has captured the feeling of terror that would have no doubt flitted through the minds of young couples as they emerged from the cinema or disco, or sat together in a car during the time the killer was on the loose.  
  • If Nora is a standout character, she is flanked by a strong supporting cast who are equally believable.  There’s her friend Kathleen, who, despite having been best friends with Nora since childhood, is just far enough outside Nora’s social sphere that she misses the cues of violence and poverty occuring in Nora’s family; there’s Hector, Nora’s younger brother, whose personal growth throughout the novel more closely reflects a downward spiral; Stiller, the no-nonsense, feminist, socialist, advocate (the shelf’s favourite character after Nora!); and the collection of local shop-owners, landlords, school teachers and public servants who round out the community and add to the feeling of realism.

I had a good think after finishing this book and even put off writing this review for a few days to gauge whether my initial impression of the book waned after a period of reflection.  I can honestly say however, that there is nothing about this book with which I am dissatisfied.  The writing, the characters, the setting, the pacing – all of these contribute to the overall quality of the reading experience and I will definitely have to keep an eye out for Medina’s other works from now on if this is any indication of her talent.

Until next time,

Bruce

MARTians: A Five Things I’ve Learned Review…(and a Top Book of 2016 Pick!)

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Today I’m delving back into YA dystopian, a genre I have avoided in recent times due to its tendency to bring on feelings of despondency and gloom.  It was an overproliferation of YA dystopian that led to my creation of the Utopirama! feature way back when.  But times change and the use of a dystopian, consumer-driven setting in MARTians by Blythe Woolston is so subtle and original that I couldn’t help but give it the thumbs up.  We received a copy of MARTians from Walker Books Australia for review – thanks! – and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Last girl Zoë Zindleman, numerical ID 009-99-9999, has just been graduated. Early. Her options: wait for her home to be foreclosed and stripped of anything valuable now that AnnaMom has moved away, or move to the Warren, an abandoned strip-mall-turned-refuge for other left-behinds—a safe place, and close to AllMART, Zoë’s new employer, where “your smile is AllMART’s welcome mat.” Zoë may be the last girl, but her name means “life,” and Zoë isn’t ready to disappear into the AllMART abyss. Zoë wants to live.

MARTians is set in a world of exurban decay studded with big-box stores, where its inhabitants are numbed by shopping and the six o’clock “news.” MARTians may be the future, but it is frighteningly familiar.

MARTians

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned from MARTians by Blythe Woolcroft:

  1. Your smile is the ALLMart Welcome Mat.
  2. Your employment, promotion prospects, level of debt, ability to afford housing and general well-being all depend on your ability to keep customers shopping, so keep on smiling, ALLMart employee! *clapclapclap*
  3. Customer confusion results in a lack of consumer confidence. Know. Your. Product (and keep smiling!).
  4. Make sure you direct the customer through at least two different departments on their way to the checkout.
  5. Don’t quibble about your name-badge.  Everyone’s an individual at ALLMart

First up, I should point out that although I really enjoyed this book, I’m afraid it will be overlooked or seen as lacking by other YA readers due to a few key issues.  For a start, it was both short and a standalone.  These were both enormous positives from my point of view, but I know how YA readers love their series.

Secondly, there was no romance at all, despite featuring two protagonists of the same age and opposite sex stuck in an inescapable and rather bleak situation.  “HOORAY!” I cried, when I got to the end without being alternately bored and irritated by pace-slowing, bland, repetitive teen romance.  Again, I thought this was an enormous plus and offer kudos to the author for not getting sucked into the black-hole-like gravitational pull of peer pressure to put romance in every single YA book.

Finally, there were plenty of aspects of the story that COULD have been fleshed out far more deeply – the character of “Belly” and her mysterious fate, the whereabouts of Zoe’s mother, what happened to Dolly Lamb and 5er’s family – but to do so would have made this a super-long book and resulted, I think, in a shifting of the subtly disturbing and pervasive atmosphere of dystopia.

You see, I think the great strength of this book is that the dystopian aspect isn’t all in your face.  There isn’t a zompocalypse or some major environmental disaster that throws people together in a minute-t0-minute battle for survival.  Instead, the society described here is so close to our current consumerist society to be deeply disturbing on a psychological level, but just different enough to assure the reader that this is all fiction.   In Zoe’s world, you are either a consumer or a worker and there really isn’t much scope to be both successfully.  Individuals are taken straight from school graduation to prison, if deemed not capable enough to succeed as a worker.  Major retailers control the pay packets and lives of their workers.  And ordinary families disband, leaving whole suburbs of houses empty, in order to chase work and security, while the dwellings left behind are stripped of useful materials by those struggling to survive.

There is quite a bit of dark humour throughout the book – I only noticed the cheeky nod to literary classic The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the end! – and Zoe is a relatable, if naive, narrator. Timmer provides the lightness that is needed to avoid the whole thing descending into a depressive state and overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the way the author handled the story within such a restrained word count.

While this certainly isn’t going to be a blockbusting, seat-of-your-pants, thrillride of a read for many people, I am giving it my Top Book of 2016 tick of approval because it really is a standout in a YA market that has a tendency towards churning out books that aren’t prepared to take a risk in generating original characters or plots.

You can see my other Top Book of 2016 (so far!) picks by clicking this attractive button:

Bruce's Pick

Until next time,

Bruce

 

How Not To Disappear: A Top Book of 2016 Pick!

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Bruce's Pick

Ding Ding Ding! It’s another Top Book of 2016!

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is a YA road-trip novel featuring dementia, secret pregnancy and lots and lots of gin slings.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Simon & Shuster Australia for review – thanks!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby… Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

how not to disappear

Apart from the excessive drinking that no one on the shelf (except for Shouty Doris) really goes in for, this book had everything we enjoy in a good novel:  England (Whitby in particular), road trips, poor decision making, flashbacks and snarky elderly ladies.  I’ll be honest with you – it was a slow-burn decision to nominate this book as a Top Book of 2016, but the ending is so sensitively written that it would be a travesty for us to leave it off the list.

The narrative moves back and forth between the present (narrated by Hattie) and the past (narrated by Gloria) and so the reader slowly discovers the events that have led Gloria to her current living conditions.  It is made clear from the start that Gloria’s past was not a happy place and as Hattie finds out more about Gloria and Gwen (Hattie’s grandmother), she begins to question whether or not the road trip down unhappy-memory lane was such a good idea.

It is obvious to the reader pretty early on that Gloria must have experienced some life events that might resonate with Hattie’s current condition and so it turns out to be.  The first half of the book unfolds much as one might expect it to, with Hattie wavering over what to do about her pregnancy, and Gloria wielding pointy, pointy words with a mastery that comes from a lifetime of practice.

It is the second half, or possibly final third, of this book which really sets it apart from the common herd.  For a start, there are a few twists in Gloria’s tale that I didn’t see coming until they were upon me, and Hattie’s character development goes into overdrive.  The final chapters, which focus on life for the two ladies post-road-trip are moving and authentic and really touched this old gargoyle’s stony heart.

The best recommendation for How Not To Disappear I can give is that it is a story that transcends its YA categorisation.  Sure, the main character is a young person, with young person friends, dealing with young person problems, but the story as a whole avoids YA tropes and clichés and allows Hattie to be read as a protagonist in an adult fiction novel.  If you are after a contemporary read that is funny, realistic and moving and approaches the legacy of damaged family ties with real authenticity then you could do a lot worse than picking up How Not to Disappear.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Rebellious Read-It-If Review: Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club (and my first Top Book of 2016!)

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read it if NEW BUTTONI’m starting off the year in truly rebellious fashion by bringing you a TOP BOOK OF 2016 on the first day of the new year!  Yes, it is probably a bit early to be calling a Top Book of 2016, but this one really, truly is and I recommend that Bruce's Pickyou go out and acquire it immediately.  Today’s book, by an AUSTRALIAN author, features meticulously researched historical fiction combined with paranormal beast-slaying in a mash-up that works on every single level.  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of today’s book from HarperCollins Australia during my attendance at the BTCYA event in November 2015.

Without further faffing about, may I present to you…Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

London, April 1812. Lady Helen Wrexhall is set to make her debut at the court of Queen Charlotte and officially step into polite Regency society and the marriage mart. Little does Helen know that step will take her from the opulent drawing rooms of Mayfair and the bright lights of Vauxhall Gardens into a shadowy world of missing housemaids and demonic conspiracies.

Standing between those two worlds is Lord Carlston, a man of ruined reputation and brusque manners. He believes Helen has a destiny beyond the ballroom; a sacred and secret duty. Helen is not so sure, especially when she discovers that nothing around her is quite as it seems, including the enigmatic Lord Carlston.

Against a backdrop of whispered secrets in St James’s Palace, soirees with Lord Byron and morning calls from Beau Brummell, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club is a delightfully dangerous adventure of self-discovery and dark choices that must be made … whatever the consequences.

dark days club 2

Read it if:

*the thought of demonic creatures invading polite society is so grievous it has you reaching for the smelling salts in case you have a fit of the vapours

*you think the best hiding place for anything that must be kept away from the prying eyes of one’s relatives is down the front of one’s ballgown. 

*you like your Darcy-types brooding, dismissive and generally obnoxious – until they get their kit off in an unexpected situation that breaches all bounds of propriety

* you love period dramas and you also love paranormal ass-kicking adventures, and have been waiting, hoping and yearning for someone to put the two together in one thrilling, agitative adventure

I loved this book.

Plain and simple.

When I first read the blurb, I definitely thought that the content sounded like something I would enjoy, but I never expected to be thrust into such an exceptionally well-written work.  I truly can’t remember having such enjoyment in discovering a new fantasy series since I first stumbled upon Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy back in the early 2000s.  Happily, Alison Goodman is also an Australian author and so I can rest easy knowing that the future of Australian fantasy fiction for young adults will be just as worthy as its past.

The research that has gone into re-creating the Regency period here is just astounding.  From the details of clothing to the social interactions to the real-life celebrities of the time that have been slipped in here and there, my mind was thoroughly boggled at how the author managed to translate all that accurate information into a historical novel that also featured major fantasy elements.  Impressive, to say the least.  The accuracy of the period detail meant that I was immediately immersed in the historical setting and from there the fantasy bits, when they came, seemed a perfectly natural addition to the tale.

Lady Helen is a fully three-dimensional character of (reasonably) steady nerves and an abiding need to remain true to herself in a context in which social roles are ignored at one’s peril.  I adored Darby, Lady Helen’s stalwart lady’s maid and appreciated the depth of characterisation of the two main male protagonists, Lord Carlston and the Duke of Selborn.  Although it seems that these characters are foils for each other, they both possess personality traits that are largely hidden from public knowledge. While there is some romance in the book (which normally annoys me) it is not the simple love-triangle that we are so often subjected to and it is tempered by the historical setting.

I would have expected that given this is a mash-up of two usually separate genres, that one would be stronger than the other in the finished story, but the fantasy world that has been injected into the existing historical one is well-developed and it seems that there will be plenty more to discover about it in future instalments of the series.

It seems that I will have to now add Goodman’s back catalogue to my TBR list and I encourage you – whether you are a fan of historical fiction or fantasy (or just a bloody good read) – to get your hands on this one ASAP.  For your convenience, here are the alternative covers so you can keep a good eye out:

dark days club 1 dark days club 3

Until next time,

Bruce