Corpselight: Paranormal Creatures and Pregnancy on the Streets of Brisvegas…

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corpselight

If you are as much a fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series of paranormal police procedural novels as we are, you really should prick up your pointy, furry ears for the book we have for you today.  We received Corpselight, being the second book in Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder paranormal detective series, from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use – it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing – but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

Corpselight is the sequel to Vigil and the second book in the Verity Fassbinder series by award-winning author Angela Slatter.

It must be noted that Brisbane, my ancestral home and current shelfing ground, is not commonly the setting for books featuring fantasy and paranormal happenings.  In fact, the last one I read with Brisbane as a setting was Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw, four years ago.  Despite this, Slatter has had a damn good crack at trying to create a paranormal paradise in our fair city in Corpselight, with, among other creatures, a mud-slinging Scandinavian nasty and a skulk of kitsune who have no doubt taken advantage of the quick nine hour flight from their home country.

The quick-witted tone of Verity’s narration moves the plot along apace and despite the many, many references to her pregnancy in the first few chapters (including the truly remarkable revelation that at thirty-two weeks along, she sleeps soundly all night), it’s easy to get sucked in to the initial mystery on offer – the mysterious repeat appearance of stinky, coating mud inside an upmarket Paddington house.  Much like in the Peter Grant series, Verity works with various connections in the paranormal underworld as well as seemingly ordinary people who have taken advantage of Weyrd-Human relations – the ubiquitous insurance agency chief amongst them – to dig deeper and uncover the truly unexpected source of the mud-slinging.  I did find that the narration was slowed a little in the early chapters by information dumps about the events of the previous book.  These were necessary from my point of view, considering I hadn’t read the first book, but I wonder whether there might have been another way to accomplish the same task without slowing the narration – a cast of characters at the beginning, perhaps, or something similar.

I’m sure that most readers won’t have any problem at all with Brisbane as a setting, but for some reason I found it enormously difficult to try and pair places mentioned that I know with the existence of fantasy elements.  I’m not sure why that is. I’m sure if the setting was Melbourne or Sydney or some other Australian city I wouldn’t have had this problem, but because Brisbane seems so unlikely to me as a paranormal setting, what with being a resident, it took an awful lot of effort to suspend my disbelief.  Although I will admit to a little flash of schadenfreude when I noted that the mud-afflicted house was in Paddington.  Sucks to be you, richy rich!

There were some reasonably complicated reveals toward the end of the book relating to Verity’s mother and other family members, that may have been clearer to those who have read the first book, but provided for an action-packed finale.  The fact that Verity gives birth halfway through the book was also an unexpected spanner in the works but provides a new lens through which Verity views the sinister events that are unfolding around her.

Overall, if you enjoy urban fantasy novels and appreciate some diversity in the paranormal creatures you encounter in your reading then you should definitely give Corpselight a go.  If you aren’t a fan of jumping in at the middle of a series, start with book one instead – Vigil.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Furthest Station: A DC Peter Grant Mini-Mystery…

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the furthest station

Long time readers of the blog will be aware of we Shelf Dwellers’ love of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant urban fantasy/police procedural series of novels.  Happily, instead of making fans wait ages for the next book in the series to come out, Aaronovitch has cleverly taken to including short stories, graphic novels and exclusive audiobooks to sate the appetites of his fans.   The Furthest Station is one of these stories and it is set between books five and six of the series (that’s Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree, for those interested).  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

More than just enjoying the story presented here, I absolutely adored the shorter format.  If you have been following my reviews of this series, you’ll know that my high expectations garnered from reading the first three books led to some disappointment with some of the later books in the series.  One of my main complaints in these reviews was directed at the filler material and slow pacing that seemed to plague the stories and the shorter format of The Furthest Station rectified that problem beautifully.

Even though the tale is short, it misses none of the humour, action and unexpected twists of the novels.  The story starts off as a ghost hunt; reports of apparitions on the Chesham train line are compounded in weirdness when the victims doing the reporting apparently forget all about their complaint within a few hours of making it.  Then a chance encounter with a roving spirit on a train leads to a tip off as to the whereabouts of a possible missing woman.

There is enough in the way of mystery here to keep readers guessing and while  the magical booms and bangs are kept to a minimum there are more cerebral problems for readers to engage with.  The inclusion of Abigail, Peter’s younger magically endowed cousin, adds variety to the story as well as raising the question about how to address Abigail’s magical abilities with her parents. A new river god also makes an appearance, which, given his tender age, could make things interesting in later stories.

Having enjoyed this reading experience, I will definitely be making a point to scout out the extra material that has been included in this series, hopefully beginning with the graphic novels.  If you’re a fan of the series already, you should definitely add these short stories to your TBR and if you haven’t got started with DC Grant yet – what are you waiting for?

Until next time,

Bruce

Adult Fiction Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day…

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Today’s book is an original ghostly tale that delves into the question, “if your afterlife was spent stuck on Earth, how would you spend it?”  The characters in this story answer that question in a range of ways that you might not expect.  We received a copy of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it for the Colour-Coded Reading Challenge 2017 and the PopSugar Reading Challenge, under the category of a book from a non-human perspective.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Considering that, at its heart, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, there is a significant amount of philosophising about the nature of life and the meaning of atonement in this book.

This is not a bad thing.

In fact, it gives what could have been a basic urban fantasy (or urban paranormal, possibly) story a deeper element on which to ponder.

I found Jenna to be an immediately likable narrator.  Having accidentally met her own death while grieving after the suicide of her older sister, Jenna spends her afterlife working on a volunteer suicide prevention hotline in order to avoid other families having to experience the death of a loved one by their own hand.  In doing so, Jenna is “earning” her way towards her final death – the day on which she was intended to die, had she not run out into a lightning storm and been prematurely frazzled.

The early parts of the book are heavy with world-building, because the author has set up specific rules regarding the type of person who can become a ghost, what ghosts can affect in the living world and why some ghosts have been around longer than others.  In fact, the bulk of the story involves Jenna finding out more about the laws that govern her afterlife, as ghosts start disappearing and her semi-comfortable existence begins to crumble.  For those who like a fantasy twist in their paranormal, McGuire’s world also includes witches (who can be male or female), whose powers link them to a particular object, be it organic or built, and shape how that power might be wielded.

The characters are the strong suit of this particular story, with Jenna ably accompanied by Delia, an elderly ghost who provides cheap housing for both living and dead tenants, Sophie, a homeless young woman with an affinity for rodents, and Brenda, a corn witch who has made Manhattan her home.  This is definitely as much a story of relationships and social connections as it is a ghost story.

After all the build up and time spent developing the afterlife concept at the beginning of the book, the resolution came along quite quickly and was all tied up in record time, which surprised me a little.  Having said that, I was quite satisfied with the pace of the final chapters because there is nothing worse than having a book drag out the denouement when there is no need to do so.  There is plenty of action and some unexpected reveals regarding who is behind the ghostly disappearances that I certainly didn’t see coming and by the end of the book, Jenna comes to terms with her misplaced guilt regarding her role in her sister’s death.

While I didn’t find this to be an absolutely stellar read, it was certainly original and had a tone that will appeal to those who enjoy books about female and family relationships, as much as those who enjoy paranormal and fantasy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Hanging Tree: Peter Grant #6

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If you are a fan of urban fantasy and police procedurals and haven’t yet become involved with Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Today I have the sixth book in the series for you courtesy of Hachette Australia (although I have just found out that a graphic novella set in between books four and five has been released….and NOBODY told me! **NB: I’ve also just noticed that there is another short story set in between books one and two that was published in 2012 that I didn’t know about**) but if you think this series is something that might interest you, you really need to start at the beginning.  For everyone else, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

It is no secret that I am a great fan of the first three books in this series, found the fourth quite lacking save for the epic and unexpected twist literally in the last few pages, and was bored rigid and greatly disappointed by the fifth.  Happily, The Hanging Tree is a return to form for this series with a multi-layered mystery and a cast of mostly familiar characters, with the Thames family featuring chiefly amongst them.  So, after returning to London, Peter becomes involved in a case featuring a number of young people and an unexplained death in one of London’s most prestigious apartment blocks. While on the surface, the case looks like it doesn’t require much Falcon involvement, once the surface is scratched it becomes clear that this case could be intricately linked with the identity of the Faceless Man.

Cue an inadvertent admission to manslaughter by the daughter of a river Goddess and some shifty looking Americans poking their noses in to Falcon’s investigation and things start to get tangled up pretty quickly.  One thing I did find tricky about this book was that given that the previous book took place outside of London, and that I hadn’t read a London-based DC Grant story since 2013, I found it a little tricky remembering who was who from previous books.  There are a number of wizards and demi-monde folk who reappear in this novel and a little ledger in the front with the names of all the Little Crocodiles and various hangers-on and where they fit in to the story would be incredibly handy for feeble-memoried readers like myself.

I very much liked the developing professional partnership between Peter and Guleed here, and was happy to see Stephanopolous making a contribution, as this was where much of the humorous banter came from in this particular story.  Lesley May makes a much more significant appearance in this one too, which I am pleased to see remedied as her lack of involvement in Foxglove Summer was one of my main complaints about that book.  The relationship between Peter and Beverley Brook also takes a backseat  in this story, which was quite a relief after being bombarded with it in book five.  There are a pair of new practitioning ladies introduced in this book, with some new, never-before-seen (by Peter, at least) powers that shake things up a bit and provide some interesting implications for how these may impact on the Folly in the future.  Peter has mastered a couple of new (and quite amusing) forma since the last book, as well as having developed some helpful new magic-proofed gadgets and these added a bit of variety to the spells we have come to know and love.

The big plot point in this novel is the fact that Peter and Nightingale catch up with and uncover the identity of the Faceless Man – but I’m not telling you any more than that.  The ending leaves things up in the air once again, with all sorts of options left open for what might happen next.  All in all, I was pleased with this offering and although I will soon need a wall-sized reference chart to plot who is who and who is related to who and by what means to refer to while reading, I think I’m well and truly invested in this series for better or worse.

Until next time,

Bruce

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

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Today’s Round-Up features three middle grade books from the same publisher – Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us all three, unexpectedly, for review and we loved one, thoroughly enjoyed another and were left scratching our heads at the positive hype we’d heard about the third.  Regardless, we’ve corralled them all here for your consideration. Giddy-up!

First up, we have the one we loved:

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den (Aimee Carter)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  simon thorn

Simon lives a pretty lonely life with his uncle while his mother travels the world for work, offset only by his ability to communicate with birds and animals. When Simon’s mother returns unexpectedly and Simon receives a message from an eagle warning him of danger, everything Simon knows is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…although the cover screamed “pedestrian book for reluctant male readers” to me, I loved the unexpectedly complex and twisting plot, where no one is completely trustworthy and motives are as murky as unstrained tea. I knocked the book over in two sittings, such was the pull of the adventure and mystery. Simon is a solid and honourable character who just wants to peel back some of the layers of secrecy that have shrouded his existence for so long and there are many surprises in store for him along the way, none of which I feel I can really talk about because they all relate to twists in the tale. The supporting cast of young characters, including Winter, Ariana, Jam and Nolan are believable and, unusually for most middle grade writing, all carry authentic flaws that relate to their backgrounds and loyalties. While the story does have its typical middle grade tropes – a semi-orphaned protagonist, a potential “chosen one” theme, bullied kid makes good and so forth – these aren’t laboured or made the focus of the plot and instead play an integral part in guiding the twists. Best of all, the ending is almost impossible to pick (although seasoned readers of middle grade adventure fantasy will have their theories early on) because all of the main characters, apart from Simon, have motivations that are partly hidden from the reader. This is the first middle grade offering from Carter (and I certainly won’t be examining her YA work, that looks suspiciously like paranormal romance-y type stuff – blerch!) but I am heartily impressed and looking forward to the next instalment in Simon’s adventures. I would recommend this book highly to readers of middle grade looking for an absorbing take on animal shape-shifters and urban fantasy.

Brand it with:

Pigeons vs Rats, sibling rivalry, choose your side

Next up, we have a reissue of an old classic from a master of middle-grade storytelling:

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom (Louis Sachar)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  there's a boy in the girls bathroom

Bradley Chalkers is the most obnoxious, odious child in school – even the teachers can’t stand him! But when new kid Jeff, and school counsellor Carla come along, things might start looking up for Bradley, if only he can stop sabotaging himself.

Muster up the motivation because…

…You can’t go wrong with Louis Sachar really, can you? Whenever you pick up one of his books you can be assured of interesting (if, in some cases, annoying) characters, amusing writing and some unexpectedly embarrassing events. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom delivers in all of these areas. Bradley Chalkers is possibly the most deliberately obnoxious character ever written for this age-group and having a purposefully unlikable main character, while seemingly counter-intuitive, actually drew me further into the story. Apart from a few hints at some frightening events in Bradley’s father’s past, we aren’t ever privy to how Bradley got to be so unpleasant and self-defeating, but it is obvious that his problems are long ingrained and almost expected by all those around him, including teachers. The story rolls on toward an inevitable happy ending (with a few speed-bumps and tough decisions toward the end, of course) and the resulting fond feelings on closing the book are the icing on the cake. One of the great things about Sachar’s books is that there always seems to be room for forgiveness, with the young characters often changing their viewpoints and friendships in an authentic way by the end. And speaking of forgiveness, you would be forgiven for wanting to poke Bradley Chalkers in the eye after the first few chapters. I’d recommend this one for young readers looking for a realistic story of friendship and fitting in, with a good dash of humour.

Brand it with:

That weird kid, no one understands me, pay attention to signage

Finally, here’s the one that didn’t live up to the hype from our point of view.

Anyone But Ivy Pocket (Caleb Krisp)

Two Sentence Synopsis: anyone but ivy pocket

A half-witted maidservant is entrusted with delivering a precious jewel to a certain person at a certain time. She does so, while ignoring obvious cues toward villainy and making up stories.
Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy stories featuring “delightfully” oblivious heroines embroiled in the delivery of a (possibly magic) valuable gemstone that people are prepared to kill to possess, then you will probably enjoy Anyone But Ivy Pocket. This one has been on our radar for a while and having heard that it was a funny adventure, with a strong, unique female protagonist, I was quite interested to dive in to the story. Unfortunately for us, Ivy can only be described as either wilfully blind to obvious social cues or spectacularly unintelligent and self-centred. Either way, it proved to be an excruciating reading experience because Blind Freddy (or Fredrika!) could see the glaring plot points that Ivy was missing. This was clearly intentional on the part of the author and I’m not sure why this technique was employed. As an adult reader, I found it to be tedious at best and I can’t imagine that younger readers would find Ivy’s dull-headedness particularly amusing. The narrative style was flippant and light and overall the book is obviously intended to be a humorous, wacky adventure with two-dimensional characters that each fill a particular function in the story. We just couldn’t get over our irritation with Ivy however, in order to enjoy the actual plot. Regardless, plenty of people have really enjoyed this book, but we shelf-dwellers don’t count ourselves amongst that happy number.

Brand it with:

Are you being served?, mystery maids, wacky historical fiction

Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say, so I hope you have found something here, as we did, to amuse and entertain. Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for this Round-Up-worthy haul!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…TrollHunters!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Bruce and Doris with you today with a new release YA novel that features trolls, adventure and illustrations! I excitedly received a copy of Trollhunters by Guillermo del Torro and Daniel Kraus from Five Mile Press and was happy to dive right in. Let’s get stuck in before Doris falls asleep.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing. The townspeople don’t believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jnr knows that they’re a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe? TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan’s Labyrinth.

trollhunters

As well as being wildly excited to read this book based on the awesome cover, the eye-poppingly brilliant illustrations and a terribly engaging extract, on discovering that Daniel Kraus was a co-author, my anticipation levels went into overdrive. Kraus is the author of Rotters, one of the most compelling and unforgettable books I have ever read and so I was expecting big things from Trollhunters. I have to say that all up, while the story was interesting enough, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first chapter drew me straight in, finding out about how Jim Jr’s uncle went missing all those years ago, and I was gearing up for a fast-paced romp until…..we meet up with Jim Jr at school. With his fat best friend and handsome jock bullies.

I have reached a point in my reading life at which I am confident to say that I am thoroughly over the popular/sporty boy bully picking on the weedy and/or fat unpopular kids.

Seriously.

Over it.

Shouty Doris interjects

You can say that again! How many stereotypical handsome, sporty, popular bullies can we stomach before we start feeding authors to their own tedious creations? Honestly, get some new material! Fancy being creative enough to come up with trolls and troll hunters and a missing child conspiracy and then fobbing us off with a bullying plotline that’s been done ad nauseum!

Indeed. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the predictable, tedious chapter at the start of the book was setting up some interesting twist later on, but unfortunately it just led up to a quick, also fairly predictable incident after the climax.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yep. Even I could see that one coming from a mile off, and I lost my glasses six years ago.

One of the things I loved about the book was the incredible illustrations.   I really think more middle grade and YA books could benefit from the kind of sporadic, full page illustrations that appear in Trollhunters. Apart from the fact that they are gorgeous to look at, I love being immersed in a tale only to turn the page and be surprised by an eye-popping bit of artwork. It’s like a secret reward for being engaged in the story.

I also loved the two main troll characters in the story. I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but these two really lifted the humour and pace of the story whenever they appeared. The ending gives a fitting tribute to the role that they played in Jim’s journey and was both sentimental and all kinds of awesome. Tub, Jim’s only friend, provided great comic relief and while I was mildly irritated by the fact that there was a romantic plotline added when it really didn’t need to be, Claire was a spot of sunshine also. The twist in her narrative arc was actually quite satisfying and I didn’t see it coming, so that was definitely a plus.

On the other hand, Jack, the uncle who disappeared forty years earlier and reappears in an unexpected fashion had the uncanny ability to slow things down and generally be a bit annoying every time he turned up.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, you’d think that after forty years he’d get a bit of maturity about him. Surly little bugger.  For someone who didn’t say a lot, I certainly dreaded him opening his mouth.

After finishing the book I am overwhelmed with the sense that this COULD have been a brilliant, engaging, fast-paced read…..IF it had been pitched at a middle grade audience.

As a YA fantasy/urban fantasy with humour, this fell far short of other books I have read in the genre, such as Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez or Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron. It didn’t have either the mythical complexity or the humour that I was hoping for and I just wanted things to move a bit quicker. However, with a slightly younger protagonist and cutting out all of the bullying and girl-angst stuff that did nothing but add mediocrity, this could have really taken off. As it is, I feel that it misses the mark.

Shouty Doris interjects

More trolls, fewer kids, I say.

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

 

An Oddball Double Dip: A Smallgoods Saviour and a Shambling Detectives…

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Welcome, fellow oddballs, to this double-dip of silliness.  Today I have adult fiction and YA fiction for you and they are linked by their commitment to the advancement of character groups too often overlooked in literature – specifically, undead detectives and homeless delicatessen workers.  Load up your bizarre (and slightly gross) savoury snack of choice and let’s jump right in.

Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J Anderson follows zombie detective Dan Chambeaux (“Shamble” to his friends) on a few cases with a definite supernatural twist.  Dan lives in the Unnatural Quarter, home to all manner of supernatural and/or formerly living residents whose existence came to be after an accident with a Necronomicon.  Now undead, not-human and ordinary folk rub along together in this interesting part of the city.  When a worsening stench overtakes the detective’s offices and a pre-pubescent supervillain presents with a case of wrongful eviction from his underground lab, Dan is forced to descend into the sewers to get to the bottom of the problem.  There he bumps into Ah’Chulhu, a tentacular-faced real estate mogul who is playing hardball with his tenants and the whole Unnatural Quarter property market.  As the plot (and the stench) thickens, Dan discovers that he must unearth Ah’Chulhu’s real motive before the entire Unnatural Quarter sinks below the level of social acceptability.  Throw in an Ogre opera singer who has lost his voice, a gang of violent garden gnomes on a spree of armed robberies, and an election campaign that could literally cause the earth to move, and you just know that things are about to get interesting.

18184424Dip into it for…

…a fun and silly detective romp that bursts with characters who reside slightly left of centre.  This book really worked for me as light refreshment during a heavy review period and I was most appreciative of the brain-break.  The highlight of the book for me was most definitely the array of oddbod characters, from Dan himself, to the beleaguered Ogre Stentor, who spends most of the book shouting (in a stage-whisper), “Help! Someone’s stolen my voice! If found, please call the police!”, to the Aussie-accented Ah’Chulhu, who reads very like a slimy-faced Steve Irwin, to a helpful barbershop quartet of toad demons.  Really, the book has everything.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after serious noir or detective work that doesn’t involve werewolf prostitutes.  There. I said it.

Seriously though, if you aren’t up for a gobful of silliness and disbelief-suspension, you should probably be moving right along.

Overall Dip Factor

This is the perfect book for when you don’t want to have to work too hard and you’re looking for something that is original and fun and will give you a hearty chuckle or two (or more).  I did feel that the plot dragged in a few places (mostly for me it was during the sections involving the weather wizards and their constant bickering.  Although admittedly, one of the weather wizards becomes an important character later in the story and therefore redeemed this plotline a little).  Being a country-monster of Ah’Chulhu, I was slightly affronted that an Australian was cast in such an evil light, but he has his soft side as well, so I ended up forgiving Anderson for that one.  Overall though there are plenty of intertwining plotlines and original characters here to keep even the most cynical, cranky reader from getting too snarky.  Slimy Underbelly is a great pick for when you’re sunning your skin/tentacles/fur/scales/rippling bubonic flesh on a beach (or similar) and you just want to relax and escape into a world that is slightly more bizarre than your own.

**I feel I have to point out that I did pick up one little flaw in Ah’Chulhu’s authentic Australian-ness.  At one point, while dismissing the zombie detective, Ah’Chulhu uses the word G’day. Typically Australian one might think, except this term is only ever used by native speakers in greeting, never in parting.**

Now onto some oddness for the young adult market….

Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Saviour by Eric Laster is a humorous sci-fi romp set partly in a delicatessen and partly in an alien world in the midst of an invasion (by a second alien species).  The book opens with Welfy, hungry teenaged lad of no fixed address, attempting to find work in exchange for something to eat.  Morton, owner of Grammercy Deli, takes pity on Welfy and gives him a job, thus beginning Welfy’s exposure to the aliens among us (well, kind of).  On descending to the deli basement, Welfy is transported into an alien world, in which he is immediately mistaken for “The One (with a dirty apron)”, a prophesied hero sent to save the Brundeedles from the oppressive and violent Ceparid race.  Along with the alarming discovery that he can now pull weapons from his deli apron pocket, Welfy meets a whole host of Brundeedles, including Princess Nnnnn and her little brother Raoul, and her husband, the jealous Prince Ffff as he fights alongside them to save the Brundeedles from assured destruction.  But hang on – how is it possible for a deli basement to hide a portal into another point in space?  Welfy is going to need all the help he can get from both sides of the galactic divide  (as well as an apron pocket full of weapons-grade salami) in order to save the Brundeedles and figure out his true destiny.

welfyDip into it for…

…a wholly original take on the “undiscovered hero” plotline for the upper-middle grade, lower-YA audience.  This reminded me of nothing so much as Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smek Day, not only because of the sci-fi themes, but also because both books feature a fun balance of humour and action with a healthy side order of silliness.  Books like this work, in my opinion, because although they contain situations and/or characters that defy logic and disbelief suspension, the characters within the story take the story seriously, and because of this it’s much easier to get sucked in to the plot.

Laster has also managed to create a pretty complex protagonist in Welfy.  He’s a homeless kid with an uncertain family history and a more recent track record in foster care.  He’s also a mature and humble sort of guy, prepared to work to get ahead.  I appreciated also the poignant moments amongst the alien chaos.  The author has really done a good job here providing insight into why life on the street might be preferable for some young people than staying in the foster care system.

Don’t dip if…

…you expect your sci-fi to be heavy or serious, or you find characters with unpronounceable names irritating.  There is a fair bit of “Brundeedle language” spoken in certain sections here and I can imagine that some people might find it a bit annoying to read bits of…well, unreadable text.  You’ve been warned.

Overall Dip Factor

This is going to appeal to sci-fi fans of all ages and those who are prepared to take a chance on a story out of left field.  Vegetarians need not apply.  The cover actually gives a pretty good overall impression of the contents and atmosphere of the story, and I would love to see this story in graphic novel form in the future.

To add to the whole “this book is a bit different to your average” theme, Laster has thoughtfully provided an appendix  which outlines how to translate Brundeedle language into English.  And for those stout-hearted code-breakers among us, he’s also included a news article written in Brundeedle language in order for you to practice.  Finally, the book includes a little teaser of a story called “The Case Files of Erasmus Twiddle”, so you can’t complain that Laster hasn’t given you some bang for your buck.

Give it a go if you want to pull something different out of the hat apron.

Until next time,

Bruce

* I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley*

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Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Secret Dead…

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Welcome to you, friend of the fantastical creatures lurking in your midst.  Today I have an indie offering for fans of urban fantasy and murder mystery (which, I am sure, is most of you).  The Secret Dead by S.W. Fairbrother is an enticing addition to the urban fantasy genre in the vein (I thought) of Ben Aaronovitch’s series featuring DC Peter Grant.

The Secret Dead follows Vivia Brisk, a hag – or death witch – who is employed by the Lipscombe Trust, an agency that assists non-human entities to rub along happily in a human society that has already implemented strict laws to deal with the ever-present threat of a zombifiying virus.  When she’s not dealing with trolls requiring rent assistance or shape-shifters being unfairly discriminated against in the workplace, Viv looks after her sister Sigrid, whose soul is trapped in the Underworld, even as her body requires round-the-clock care.  When office philanderer and all-round sleaze Malcolm Brannick unexpectedly zombifies at home and is spirited away by his winged son, Viv is drawn into a decades-old mystery that quickly turns dangerously sinister.  As the macabre discoveries mount up in her investigation, Viv is called upon to enter the Underworld (in effect, die) to gain answers for the police.  With questions piling up around her, Viv has to use all her contacts in non-human society to unravel this mystery before it becomes personal – and she gets stuck in the Underworld for good.

the secret dead

Read it if:

*you suspect that if a government agency ever examined your family situation in any kind of detail, you would have a lot of explaining to do…particularly about the body of your dead mother being reverentially concealed in the attic by your immortal step-father

* you believe that zombies were people too…and therefore should be treated with dignity and respect, even as they attempt to gnaw at your flesh

* you would be secretly happy if the office sleaze-bag suddenly turned into a zombie

* you believe that police work is always made better by a few trips into the Underworld

I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the mystery that Fairbrother has created here.  The story seems to unfold in layers, as Viv discovers new information about people she thought she knew well.  Then there’s Viv’s personal struggles with earning enough money to keep herself, her (immortal) step-father and her disabled sister in housing and food.  And underlying this is a very tightly written world that believably incorporates humans, a whole range of non-humans and part-humans, as well as undead humans.

I found the zombie theme a fresh new touch to the more traditional urban fantasy elements and I was surprised that it actually worked really well and gave the story an interesting twist.  My favourite thing about the zombie threat in this particular book is that it was given a historical basis – the zombifying virus is one that has been present in the population for generations and therefore societies have developed to manage outbreaks and those that are carriers of it.  Because Fairbrother has integrated the zompocalypse theme in a historical way, it doesn’t have that over-used vibe that can come across in other novels.

If you enjoy the sort of crime investigation/magicality mash-up in Ben Aaronovitch’s novels, this might be a good choice for you.  The mystery element is pretty complex, involving lots of different characters and backstories, and the world building is solid and believable.  I’m not sure whether Fairbrother plans to turn this into a series, but it was pleasantly satisfying to see an ending that wrapped up the events of the book, but left the characters with some options.  There’s also plenty of lighter moments sprinkled amongst the death and unsightliness, so really, this book should appeal to a wide group of readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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Guest Post of Awesomosity: Rosie Best, Author of Skulk…

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skulkAhoy me hearties! You’ve made a canny choice jumping aboard the good ship Bookshelf today, because as a result you get to read a post by Rosie Best, author of Skulk – foxy, new-release, young adult, urban fantasy novel that I reviewed very recently indeed….in case you missed it, you can find that review here.

So who is this Rosie Best character? Here’s the lowdown, thanks to her publisher, Strange Chemistry

Rosie Best lives in London and loves all things nerdy. She is an editor at Working Partners Ltd, working on a huge variety of projects from first chapter books about unicorns to dark YA journeys through the land of the dead.

She’s also written for Working Partners on a freelance basis, on series published by Usborne and Hot Key Books.

The opening of Skulk won a place in the 2012 Undiscovered Voices anthology. When not writing or indulging a passion for video games, she sings with the Crouch End Festival Chorus.

And guess what else? She likes Ben Aaronovitch and Neil Gaiman too…clearly she has impeccable taste in authors, just like we shelf-dwellers.

For today’s post, Rosie is sharing a bit about why London is the perfect location for Meg’s adventures in Skulk….

Skulking Around London rosie best

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, but I bloody love London town. I consider myself deeply privileged to have done most of my growing up here, and when I realised I was going to write an urban fantasy there was no question at all in my mind where it was going to be set.

Skulk is the story of Meg Banks, a girl from an upper class London family who’s out graffitiing her posh girl’s school in the middle of the night when she witnesses the death of a fox who shapeshifts into a man. She inherits his ability to shift, and soon gets caught up in a conflict between the shapeshifters and someone who’ll do anything for power.

‘Write what you know’ is advice that can seem reductive and annoying, but I ended up following it when I was writing Skulk, almost by mistake. Even though I was actually writing a story about shapeshifters and magic, I ended up naturally filling Skulk with things that fit, that I knew could be believably found somewhere within the M25. Urban foxes, the ravens in the Tower, spiders and rats, and yes, butterflies. Pigeons and fog (even though the last great London fog happened in the 1960s). Hyde Park and Waterloo Bridge, the Tower of London and the top of the Shard.

Sometimes I worried that putting in so many of the famous locations would make the book feel like a tourist’s version of London. There’s a subtle but very important difference between using the royal family and the red double decker busses and a nice cup of tea because they’re realities of life in London, and using them to suggest some kind of strangely glossy paradise full of polite white men in bowler hats.

That’s not London – the real city is staggeringly diverse, both in terms of the landscape and the people. I hope that a little bit of grit rubs off on the bright, shiny places from the less glamorous corners of this fabulous city that also made it into the book – the traveller park under the Westway flyover, Willesden Junction tube station, the dodgy part of Hammersmith.

I’ve been wondering whether Skulk could be set somewhere else, and I think it could – I can imagine the New York version, the Delhi version, the Sydney version (that one would have the biggest spiders). I think those would be cool books, but I know I couldn’t write them.

There are a couple of books I have to acknowledge as huge influences on the way I think and write about London:

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman – for my generation this is the book (and originally the TV series) that got half of us into urban fantasy in the first place. Richard Mayhew helps a homeless girl and discovers a whole secret world just under the surface of London life. Tube station names like Earl’s Court and Blackfriars become wonderfully literal, and all sorts of real locations feature in weird, fantasy-tinged ways.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch – much more recent, but no less brilliant. This is the story of Peter Grant, a Metropolitan Police Officer who sees a ghost at a murder scene and finds out that magic is real and people are committing crimes with it. It’s an urban fantasy police procedural, and because the main character is an architecture nerd it comes with a healthy (and surprisingly compelling) helping of London history.

Harry Potter – this is a bit of a strange choice, because almost all of it is set in Wizarding Scotland. But JK Rowling also writes about the muggle world with an insightful truthfulness that’s just as brilliant as the wild fantastical world of Hogwarts. Plus, I love that JK created a London landmark of her very own that stuck so fiercely in people’s minds that it now really exists – at least, there’s a sign for Platform 9 3/4 and half a trolley sticking out of a wall in King’s Cross station.

If you want to read more from Rosie (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?), you can check out her blog at http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.com.au/    In the meantime, you should probably go and immediately get your hands on a copy of Skulk. I have made that bit easy for you – just click on the cover image at the top of the page to be taken to the Book Depository, where you can spend your hard-earned (or ill-gotten) cash*

As this post is part of a blog tour, you can multiply your Skulky pleasure exponentially by visiting other foxy bloggers over the course of the next month – just go to http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.co.uk/p/skulk-blog-tour.html and follow the trail!

Until next time,

Bruce

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