Spellslinger: Magic, Cards and Deadly Talking Squirrel Cats For The Win!

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It’s not often I run across a YA book with such original world-building, so I’m just a little bit excited to be sharing Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell with you today.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.”

Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.

Spellslinger is heroic fantasy with a western flavour.  

I know I already had you at “deadly talking squirrel cats” but this book has plenty to offer those with a penchant for stories featuring easy-to-follow world-building, an original method of magic use and subtle commentary on social hierarchies and dominant cultural myths.  Kellen is days away from taking the mages’ trials, earning a mage name and upholding his family’s honour – the only problem being that he hasn’t sparked any of the bands that will allow him to perform the spells to pass the trials and so will probably end up as a servant instead. When a wanderer arrives in town and takes an interest in Kellen, events unfold that will tear the fabric of everything Kellen believes about his world.

Spellslinger is an incredibly well-paced story, with revelations about the world and its players occurring at regular intervals.  The learning curve regarding understanding the Jan’Tep society is pleasantly tilted and explained within the action of the story so that the important features and history of the world are grasped quickly, without need for the reader to grope around trying to piece bits together and or wade through boring information dumps.

Kellen is a believable and likable character who realises that he must use his other skills – mostly his crafty, tricksy, strategising brain – to manage in the world as his magic deserts him.  Into this strict social hierarchy comes Ferius Parfax, a wandering, card-slinging, fast-talking, ass-kicking woman who manages to avoid any stereotype relating to female characters in action stories.  She is clever, cautious, compassionate and covert in equal measure and essentially performs the narrative function of holding the piece together, as well as providing the impetus for new directions at the end of the book.

The narrative balances action and danger with more philosophical questions about identity, cultural background and the injustices we perpetuate in order to maintain our own comfortable living standards.  I particularly enjoyed Kellen’s convsersations with the Dowager Magus as something peculiar in YA fiction; the adult conversations and the expectation from the Dowager Magus that Kellen would rise to her expectations intellectually felt authentic and added an extra layer of gravitas to a narrative that could otherwise have descended into your typical boy-hero-saves-world story.  Spellslinger is definitely a YA book that could be appreciated by adult readers in this sense.

The ending of the book leaves the way open for a completely different setting and story for the second book in the series and I am looking forward to seeing where Kellen’s path will take him.

And after all that I’m not going to tell you anything about the deadly talking squirrel cats.  You’ll just have to read the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

Night Shift: After Dark in a Department Store…

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We received YA novel Night Shift by B. R. Meyers from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At Willard’s department store, none of the night security guards survive for long, and eighteen-year-old Daniel Gale is about to discover why.

Tired of living out of his backpack, he ignores the clerk’s gossip about the old building being haunted and accepts the latest vacated position of night guard. On his first shift Daniel narrowly escapes a fatal fall down an elevator shaft and is rescued by Mary—a bossy and intriguing girl far too beautiful for after hours inventory.

Anticipating every night shift as a chance to be with her, Daniel thinks his traveling days are over hoping that Manhattan is the place to call home. But as his life becomes more entwined with Willard’s, Daniel senses unnatural changes and bizarre coincidences both with Mary and the store itself. Soon he begins to suspect Willard’s is hiding something more sinister than gossip about ghosts—something that could make him the next casualty of the NIGHT SHIFT.

I was really in the mood for some creepy, atmospheric horror – or at least paranormal – when I requested Night Shift and while there are some aspects of the story that I praise for being original and unexpected, this wasn’t atmospheric or paranormal in the slightest.  Daniel is a solid protagonist around which to build a narrative – he has a fascinating past, he seems like a reliable narrator and generally I wanted him to succeed against whatever foes were lurking in the dark of Willard’s.  In the interests of an exciting story, I also wanted him to have the absolute willies scared out of him at least once…and preferably multiple times…during the story so that I could live vicariously through him.

This isn’t that kind of book.  It’s not a ghost story in the typical sense of the word (or even at all) and while it does have a fantastic twist that I didn’t see coming – but admittedly, probably should have, if I’d used my puzzling-things-out brain (more about this later)- there is far too much in-between filler that sucks the suspense out of the story quicker than a recently serviced Dyson cyclonic.  I felt like this book was at least a third longer than it needed to be and this is chiefly due to whacking great chunks of dialogue that doesn’t progress the story, but exists, it seems, to develop character relationships that I felt were already quite solid.

The stringing out of the mystery went for so long that I very nearly put the book down before the twist had even happened.  As I stumbled across the twist in the mystery, I wsa surprised enough to emit a little “Oh!” and quickly flick on in the hopes that the suspense and excitement would ramp up.  Unfortunately, the author took the route of stretching things out to the extent that by the end I didn’t really care about the whys of the plot and just wanted it all to be over.

Admittedly, there is a full and developed story toward the end of the book that links Daniel’s past to his present situation and provides some feel-good moments and action scenes, but by then it was too late to salvage my interest.  There are plenty of interesting and original things going on in Night Shift but because the first part of the book is so focused on ghosts, I had certain expectations of what the story was going to be about.  The twist provided a momentary respite from those dashed expectations, and the thought that maybe there was going to be a more original take on the ghost gossip, but I just couldn’t seem to get past my pre-conceived ideas of what the book was going to be in order to fully enjoy what it is.  Night Shift turned out to be more focused on relationship building and romance than the paranormal/magical realism elements, and as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a sucker for the latter.

If you are looking for a story that is high on romance and budding relationships featuring an unexpected couple, you will probably find something to enjoy in Night Shift.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Remembering the Great East Japan Tsunami and Earthquake of 2011: Hotaka (Through My Eyes)

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Hotaka: Through My Eyes Natural Disaster Zones by John Heffernan and Lyn White.  Published by Allen & Unwin, March 2017.  RRP: $16.99

It would be remiss of me not to review this particular book on this particular date: At 2.46pm on March 11th, 2011 a massive earthquake triggered a deadly tsunami that inundated 560 square kilometres of Japan’s eastern coastline.  The wave also caused major damage at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.  By the time the final effects of the multiple disasters were tallied, more than 24 000 people are confirmed dead or missing and six years on, hundreds of thousands are still displaced.

The Through My Eyes young adult novel series began with the stories of fictional children living in conflict zones throughout the world and has moved on to include the stories of fictional children affected by natural disasters. We received a copy of Hotaka by John Heffernan from Allen & Unwin for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A powerful and moving story about one boy caught up in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

When the tsunami strikes the Japanese seaside town of Omori-wan, the effects are utterly devastating. Three years later, much of what happened on that day is still a mystery. As Hotaka sets about convincing local performers to appear at the town’s upcoming Memorial Concert, he finds himself increasingly haunted by memories of best friend, Takeshi, who perished without trace in the tsunami. Then his friend Sakura becomes involved in an anti-seawall movement, and all too quickly the protest gets serious. As the town and its people struggle to rebuild their lives, can Hotaka piece together what happened that day – and let go of the past?

The book begins the morning of March 11th, 2011 with Hotaka and his friend Takeshi on a school trip to the local puppet show.  As the day unfolds and the earthquake hits, the reader is given an idea of how it might have felt to have experienced first the shock of the extraordinarily strong earthquake, the scramble to higher ground and then the chaos and confusion following in the wake of the giant wave.  Rather than dwell on the actual disaster itself, the story soon moves on to three years later, as the residents of Omori-wan try to continue with their lives despite a lack of housing, the mental affects of trauma and an underlying sense of resentment from those who lost much toward those who lost little.

Hotaka and his friends Osamu and Sakura are charged with preparing a memorial concert for the fifth anniversary of the wave that will involve aspects of local culture, with the aim of helping the residents of Omori-wan to let go and move on.  Hotaka discovers that he, of all people, has something that he must let go of if he is to move forward in life, while Sakura – who generally keeps her cards (and her past) close to her chest – is infuriated by government plans to build an enormous sea wall around the town to protect it from future tsunamis.

Events come to a head when Sakura takes matters into her own hands and begins a protest that snowballs to national attention.  As threats from developers and local government start to hit close to home for the three friends, they must decide whether it is worth continuing to speak out for the sake of their town, or instead fall in line with the wishes of the government, as is the usual course of action.

Heffernan has done a good job here of highlighting the difficulties of the townspeople whose lives were irrevocably altered after the wave.  The stress of inadequate temporary housing, the trauma of lost loved ones and the feeling of abandonment are made obvious through Hotaka’s interactions with some of his less fortunate classmates.  The story never veers from the perspective of a young person however, and the kernel of hope that Hotaka and others continue to show lifts the book from becoming depressing at any stage.  The three young protagonists have diverse personalities and characteristics and while their differences do lead to conflict at times, the strength of their friendship pulls them through.

The book includes a timeline of the actual disaster at the end, as well as a glossary of Japanese terms, and overall I think this book would be a great starting point for any young person wanting to read more about this particular disaster in a fictional format.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

#LoveOzYA : Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact

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I’ve been waiting excitedly for a year for this, the second book in Alison Goodman’s historical, fantasy, ass-kicking, demon-slaying Dark Days Club series to drop and thanks to HarperCollins Australia, I finally got my grabby paws on a copy of Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact.  In case you haven’t come across this series before, we boldly claimed it as a Top Book of 2016 on January 1st last year, for its extraordinary blend of meticulously researched historical content and original and creepy paranormal elements.

If you haven’t read the first book, you really need to do that now.  Go on, we’ll wait.

The second book serves up more of the same delightful Deceiver destruction and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The second novel in the thrilling LADY HELEN series sees Helen following orders that could bring about betrayal and annihilation. 

Summer, 1812

After the scandalous events at her presentation ball in London, Lady Helen has taken refuge at the fashionable seaside resort of Brighton, where she is training to be a Reclaimer with the covert Dark Days Club.

As she struggles to put aside her genteel upbringing and take up the weapons of a warrior, Helen realizes that her mentor, Lord Carlston, is fighting his own inner battle. Has the foul Deceiver energy poisoned his soul, or is something else driving him towards violent bouts of madness? Either way, Helen is desperate to help the man with whom she shares a deep but forbidden connection.

When Mr Pike, the hard bureaucratic heart of the Dark Days Club, arrives in Brighton, no one is prepared for the ordinary evil he brings in his wake. He has a secret task for Helen and Mr Hammond, and the authority of the Prince Regent. They have no choice but to do as he orders, knowing that the mission will betray everyone around them and possibly bring about Lord Carlston’s annihilation.

Society takes a back seat in this second offering as Helen’s Reclaimer training begins in earnest.  Almost immediately though, spanners are thrown in the works as the Duke of Selburn appears in Brighton on a not-very-subtle reconnaissance mission on behalf of Helen’s older brother, while the man in charge of the Reclaimers, Mr Pike, turns up unexpectedly and changes the course of Helen’s loyalties irrevocably.  We also see a return of Delia, Helen’s much-maligned friend, and Pug, who provides equal parts wingwoman and comic relief.

The tone of this book is one of underlying disquiet as events seem to conspire against Helen and her band of Reclaimer friends at every turn.  Helen is forced to make decisions on the fly, the consequences of which could end up endangering people she loves, no matter which course she chooses.  Essentially, this book is Helen’s coming-of-age in the Reclaimer world. No longer is she a young lady to be protected and promenaded; Helen must now take her place as an active Reclaimer or risk her own life and the lives of those she loves.  The events of the story do a great deal to advance the world-building and “rules” surrounding the bond between Deceivers and Reclaimers and as such, there is a lot of new information for readers to absorb and join the dots around.

Action is portioned out throughout the story, with subterfuge, underhanded deals and espionage more the order of the day, although the final few chapters certainly make up for any lack of chase, escape and derring-do that might be lacking in the earlier parts of the story.  There are some important reveals in this story that will absolutely change Helen’s role in the Dark Days Club as well as her role in life generally.  Other parts of the story will make your skin crawl and the “ick” factor is certainly in play where particular characters of ill-repute are concerned.  For the romance fans, you can cut the sexual tension between Carlston and Lady Helen with a knife (and between another pairing that you might not expect!)  but for readers shipping that particular couple, it should be noted that the course of true love never runs smooth, particularly where demon-slaying is involved.

Once again, this is a hugely entertaining story with meticulous attention to detail for the time period and innovative fantasy elements from a strong voice in Australian YA fiction.  If you are a fan of either historical fiction or fantasy, you really are missing out if you haven’t added Lady Helen’s adventures to your nightstand reading pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

For the Love of Books Giveaway Hop!

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fortheloveofbooks

Book love is in the air and so we’re happy to be participating in the For the Love of Books Giveaway Hop hosted by Val at StuckinBooks.  The hop runs from February 4th to 14th.

The theme of this hop is sharing books that we love so I’m offering one winner a copy of the first book in one of my favourite YA Paranormal series, Lockwood and Co by Jonathan Stroud.

lockwood-and-co

From Goodreads:

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . .

If you’ve already started the series, I’m happy to instead offer the winner their choice of any book from this series.  My giveaway is open internationally provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  Other Ts&Cs are in the Rafflecopter link.

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now hop along and see what else you can win!  Click on the linky below to see the other participating blogs:

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

A Deathly Dangerous Double Dip Review: Cell 7 and Circus Werewolves…

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If you are hankering after a book-sized snack with a dangerous flavour, then I’ve got just the thing for you today.  Two things in fact – one YA suspense tale and one MG horror comedy (horromedy?), so let’s jump straight in!

First up I have the fourth book in indie (yes, I know I said I wouldn’t, but I love this series too much), middle grade scary humour series, The Slug Pie Stories: How to Protect Your Neighbourhood from Circus Werewolves by Mick Bogerman.  We received this one for review from the author.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The circus is in town, and Mick Bogerman has a fail-proof plan to sneak inside the adults-only Macabre Pavilion. But there’s something weird about the A. Linville & Purnima Bros. Circus this year. Angry parents and crying kids exit early by the carload. Maybe it’s the clowns. Yes, they wear the standard stark-white faces and red bulbous noses, but underneath their painted smiles, there’s something not quite right. What’s more, after the full moon rises . . . they howl.

When Mick and his friends rescue a caged boy from the clown’s clutches they set off a series of disasters that threaten their entire neighborhood. Can Mick become the leader his neighbors need and protect them from the pack of hungry predators infiltrating their town?

Dip into it for… circus-werewolves

… fast-paced adventure, escaping death by the skin of one’s teeth and improvised werewolf deflecting weaponry.  It’s no secret that I love the originality of this series as well as the salt-of-the-earth narration from Mick Bogerman himself.  There are no frills to Mick – he’s a boyish boy with a strong sense of justice, a stronger sense of humour and a fierce protective streak for his younger brother Finley.  In this offering, Mick, Finley and their friends are excited to visit the circus, as they do every year, but are also wary of the reports they’ve been hearing about clowns that are far scarier than clowns have any right to be.  After the boys make a split-second decision to rescue a boy trapped in the “freak show” tent, they discover that they will now have the opportunity to see the clowns up close and personal.  

Don’t dip if…

…you’re a wussy wussbag.  Each of the books has a (possibly tongue-in-cheek!) warning to parents at the beginning, noting that the books are not for the faint-hearted and should only be read by kids of a strong constitution.  Otherwise, there’s nothing not to like.

Overall Dip Factor

The best thing about this series is that it is evolving with every book.  In this book a collection of Mick’s friends are integral to the action, and Mick and Finley’s globe-trotting Uncle George makes an important (and life-saving!) appearance.  The addition of so many extra characters gave the story a fresh energy, and as each of the characters is a bit quirky and unusual, the group of friends has quite a collection of unexpected skills and resources to hand, which is lucky when terrifying monsters seem to pop up around every corner. This book, like the others, is a reasonably quick read and the clever pacing means that there is no time to sit on one’s hands, as the action unfolds so quickly.   I’d highly recommend this one, especially to male readers of middle grade age.  Did I mention that you can also vote for the plot of the next Slug Pie Story by visiting their website?  I don’t want to get too excited, but the story featuring GARGOYLES is at the top of the rankings right now!! You can check it out and cast your vote here.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Now that that’s sorted, if you haven’t read the others in this series, you really should rectify that as soon as possible.

Next up we have Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery, a YA tale of suspense, privilege, choices and reality TV set in a speculative near-future.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Should she live or die? You decide

An adored celebrity has been killed. Sixteen-year-old Martha Honeydew was found holding a gun, standing over the body.

Now Justice must prevail.

The general public will decide whether Martha is innocent or guilty by viewing daily episodes of the hugely popular TV showDeath is Justice, the only TV show that gives the power of life and death decisions – all for the price of a phone call.

Martha has admitted to the crime. But is she guilty? Or is reality sometimes more complicated than the images we are shown on TV?

Dip into it for…cell-7

…an intriguing take on the mob mentality and the ways in which mass media, entertainment and critical thinking intertwine in today’s society.  In a near-future that doesn’t look too far different from our present, courts have been abolished and the fate of prisoners is decided over a seven-day public voting period.  The motto “an eye for an eye” is the driver behind the TV program Death is Justice, and the viewers feel that they have a personal stake in dealing out deadly justice to perceived wrong-doers.  This book is a bit unusual in that it flicks between a number of points of view – Martha, from the inside of her death row cell; and Eve, her counsellor, in particular – as well as employing flashback scenes and running scripts from the Death is Justice television show.  This variety of style actually kept me more interested in the story than I otherwise would have been because it allows the situation in which Martha finds herself to be explored from a number of angles, and exposes the motivations of various characters.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a pacey story.  This book takes its time in giving the reader the full picture, although the information that is held back at the start of the novel does provide for an interesting mystery.

Overall Dip Factor

There was something about this book that screamed “high school set text” to me because it is such an issues-focused book, with justice, fairness and power being the issues under examination.  It was obvious from the beginning that there was more to Martha’s case than initially meets the eye, and it seemed to take quite a while to get to the crux of the issue.  I did enjoy the final few chapters of the book, when the flaws of the public voting system become apparent for all to see.  This part of the book was faster-paced than the earlier sections, and the impending and inevitable sense of danger added a bit of excitement to proceedings.  Because this did feel a bit didactic to me as an adult reader, I was a little disappointed to find out that there is a second book in the works.  I was quite satisfied with the ambiguity of what might happen to the characters given the events of the ending and I think it would have been a stronger conversation-starter if the story was left there.  Whatever the case, you should probably give it a read and let me know what you think!

After all that danger and daring, you could probably do with a cup of tea and a good lie down, so I’ll let you go, but do let me know which of these books takes your fancy.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

It’s Time for a Spontaneous Giveaway!

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Remember how I said I had another Aaron Starmer book coming up soon, in my review of The Riverman?  Well thanks to Harper Collins Australia, I also get to give you the chance to WIN a copy of said Aaron Starmer book: new release YA read, Spontaneous!

So you know what you’re getting yourself in for, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye.

Yep, you read that right.  This book features multiple spontaneous combustions and the resulting messiness that accompanies such a phenomenon.  The copy of the book that I will be giving away even comes with a free splatter jacket for your convenience!

So, Spontaneous.  I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it as much as I did The Riverman – the two books are wildly different in narrative style – but Spontaneous has a gory, bizarre charm all its own.  The book reminded me strongly of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn, in that it hinges on one absolutely wacky and unexpected concept – in this case, spontaneous combustion of students in a particular high school class – and tries to wring an entire novel out of the same.

Mara, the narrator, has a serious problem with flight of ideas.  As a storyteller, she’s all over the place, hopping from topic to topic like a bunny trapped in a geodesic dome constructed entirely of springs, in a manner that readers will either find hilarious or extremely irritating. There are some genuinely funny scenes and one-liners here, but I’m pretty sure some readers will find Mara’s rapid changes of topic tiresome after a bit.  Apart from Mara, characters include Dylan, a mysterious and possibly delinquent boy that Mara immediately falls for (which, rather than being a case of insta-love, seems to just be how Mara rolls), and an X-files-esque FBI agent who Mara may or may not have an unhealthy fascination with.  I won’t mention any other teen characters because I don’t want to spoil the surprise when one or another of them goes pop when you least expect it.

Overall, I found this to be a fun, if utterly outlandish, read and I would recommend it to those of you who are stout of heart and happy to just go with the flow as the world of your current read falls down (or blows up, as the case may be!) around you.

If you are still game to have at Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer, then click on the Rafflecopter link below to try your luck.  One winner will win a copy of the book plus a splatter jacket.  This giveaway is open internationally and other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce
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