An Fi50 Reminder…and My Oddest Review Yet!

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Here’s a reminder for all you connoisseurs of micro-flash fiction – Fiction in 50 is kicking off for this month on Monday.  The prompt for April is…

the trouble with Fi50 button

You fill in the blank!

For more information on the challenge, just click the big button at the start of this post.  If you want to play along, just compose a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and link to your effort in the comments of my Fi50 post on Monday.  New players are always welcome!

Now onto…

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And my oddest review yet!

If you aren’t aware of the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge for 2015, it basically entails choosing a level that suits your time commitments and reading books across a number of odd categories.  The real crux of the challenge is to get participants reading books that are odd FOR THEM.  For more information, just click on the big fancy button.

I’m doing quite well in my challenge so far, having read seven of my Audaciously Odd goal of 16 or more books for the year.  Today’s book certainly qualifies in the category of books with an odd subject matter but I won’t be adding it to my total just yet because…..I haven’t actually finished it.

Yes, you read that correctly.   I am going to attempt to review a book that I haven’t finished reading. Hold onto your hats.

The book is Mindtouch by M. C. A. Hogarth, the first book in the Dreamhealers Duology and I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley.  It was pitched as a “light, fluffy, asexual sci fi romance”.  A LIGHT, FLUFFY, ASEXUAL, SCI-FI ROMANCE! Honestly, how could I not take up that offer?!  And I have decided to review it now because it is very, very, very long and I’m enjoying it.  Therefore, I don’t want to quash my enjoyment of the novel by rushing through it to fit a review date.  So odd all round, really.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Seersana University is worlds-renowned for its xenopsychology program, producing the Alliance’s finest therapists, psychiatric nurses and alien researchers. When Jahir, one of the rare and reclusive Eldritch espers, arrives on campus, he’s unprepared for the challenges of a vast and multicultural society… but fortunately, second-year student Vasiht’h is willing to take him under his wing. Will the two win past their troubles and doubts and see the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime partnership?  

mindtouch

Now isn’t that cover just delightful? The promise of a light, fluffy, asexual romance between a skunky-centaur thing and a super-tall, mood-leeching empath.  Brilliant.  This is full-on sci-fi with an original, complex world, so I won’t go into too much detail, except to say that Jahir (the tall one) and Vasiht’h (the four-legged one) end up as room mates at an intergalactic medical school for intergalactic psychiatrists.  The two lads form a friendship as Jahir comes to terms with living on a thriving university campus while being a reclusive introvert with the ability to read people’s moods if they get too close; and Vasiht’h tries to figure out where he wants to go in life and what career he should pursue against the high expectations of his large family.  In the meantime, the two friends become the staunch allies of a group of young children confined to the nearby hospital with serious illnesses.

I have been reading (off and on) since the beginning of February and I’m still only 31% of the way through.  At this rate, I won’t be finished til the end of the year, and that’s if I really put a singular focus on this book to the exclusion of my other reviews! But I am really enjoying this book. It has a gentle pace and a focus on exploring the characters.  It has a complex world with a multitude of species (both organic and genetically engineered) and a plethora of social rules to engage with.  Then there’s the philosophical discussions between the two main characters and the possibilities that these give rise to.

Essentially, I think this is a deeply thought-out piece of work and I don’t want to ruin what has been so far a satisfying and unusual reading experience by putting pressure on myself to finish it within a certain timeframe.  If you are looking for something totally different in the sci-fi sphere – something that is character-driven and concept-focused – then I encourage you to give Mindtouch a try.

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Double-Dip Review: Alexander Baddenfield and Joe All Alone…

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I invite you to collect a portion of your favourite salty snack, pour out some delectable dip and jimageoin me for a tasty double-dip into some MG fiction.  Today I have a new release that I received from the publisher via Netgalley and a tome that has been sat on my shelf for at least six months (which in no way reflects the astronomical levels of excitement and desire that pushed me to buy it in the first place), so with this review I shall also be taking one step closer to the peak of Mt TBR.

But let’s push on. Our first tome is new release UKMG novel Joe All Alone by Joanna Nadin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When thirteen-year-old Joe is left behind in Peckham while his mum flies to Spain on holiday, he decides to treat it as an adventure, and a welcome break from Dean, her latest boyfriend. Joe begins to explore his neighbourhood, making a tentative friendship with Asha, a fellow fugitive hiding out at her grandfather’s flat.

But when the food and money run out, his mum doesn’t come home, and the local thugs catch up with him, Joe realises time is running out too, and makes a decision that will change his life forever.

Dip into it for… joe all alone

…a sensitively rendered account of a young lad whose mother has chosen a man over her son.  Joe is a likeable, ordinary kid and I think a lot of young readers will relate to his matter-of-fact narration and the anxieties that sit in the back of his mind.  The book touches on themes of domestic violence, racism,  family breakdown, trust and identity and subtly balances the neglectful actions of Joe’s mother and father-figure with the cautiously caring actions of the adults in Joe’s block of flats. The friendship between Joe and Asha is believable and adds a bit of fun and banter to a story that has a pervasive atmosphere of loss and fear.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re wanting a fun, lawless romp featuring a cheery young lad who is happy that his parents have left (as indicated by the cover, and the tagline “No parents, no rules…no problem?”).  This really is a book that focuses on the deeper issues that Joe is facing and as the story progresses, Joe’s fears about what will happen next and who to trust are palpable.

Similarly, if you’ve read a lot of UK fiction in this kind of vein – kid with violent/absent/mentally-ill/drug-addicted parent struggles to find friendship and help to live a normal life – you might get the sense of having read this all before.

Overall Dip Factor

Joe All Alone is a solid addition to the MG literature featuring realistic, contemporary storytelling focusing on important social issues in an accessible way.  The diary format worked well in building up the suspense of what might happen if Joe’s mum didn’t return and also helped the reader focus in on Joe’s day-to-day struggles once it was apparent that his mum wasn’t coming back.  The ending was a surprise for me, given how realistic it actually was in terms of where a young person might find themselves once the adults in their life have abdicated responsibility for them.

While I did enjoy the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this story was nothing new.  I suspect this is one of the problems of reading as a reviewer with a special interest in MG and YA – although I haven’t read a story featuring exactly this plot before, I’ve certainly read more than a handful that deal with the same themes and same sorts of characters and that does take some of the sparkle out of the story.  If you enjoy this genre though, or haven’t read a lot featuring these themes, Joe All Alone is definitely worth a look.

Now onto some real wickedness.  Here’s The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano.  From Goodreads:

Alexander Baddenfield is a horrible boy—a really horrible boy—who is the last in a long line of lying, thieving scoundrels.  One day, Alexander has an astonishing idea.  Why not transplant the nine lives from his cat into himself?  Suddenly, Alexander has lives to spare, and goes about using them up, attempting the most outrageous feats he can imagine.  Only when his lives start running out, and he is left with only one just like everyone else, does he realize how reckless he has been.

Dip into it for… alexander baddenfield

…a delightfully droll tale in which a naughty boy gets his just desserts. Eventually.  This cheekily illustrated book is Edward Gorey for children (and their subversive parents) and I don’t feel too bad in telling you that Alexander dies in the end. Multiple times.  There’s also a shocking reveal about the real name of Alexander’s gentleman’s gentleman.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a tale in which the bad guy learns his lesson and turns over a new leaf – Ebenezer Scrooge this kid ain’t.  Also, if the thought of a young child dying in various horrible ways offends you, you should probably steer clear.  And there’s at least some surgical mistreatment of a cat.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is a completely quirky and unexpected trip into the philosophical origins of good and evil and whether or not a villain can ever really change his ways.  Also, it’s just a pretty funny romp through the death-fields with an arrogant little snot and his long-suffering babysitter. Keen-eyed readers will also appreciate the playful anagrammatic name of Alexander’s surgeon and the phonetically named cat.  This would be a great read-together for parents with left-of-centre offspring in the early middle-grade age range.

So there you are.  One seriously realistic read and one seriously ridiculous read.  Take your pick.  Or better yet, dip into both!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Shelfies: The Book of Curious Lists…

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imageHello there! Today we’re getting up close and personal with another Shelfy, wherein I share with you some of the more interesting books on my shelf.  Today I have just the thing for the creatives among you and those who just love a good list.  Many years ago (well, maybe 5) I came across this darling little tome on the Book Depository:

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In case you can’t read it clearly, it is Curious Lists: A Creative Journal for List-Lovers published by Chronicle Books.  It was one of those books that I enthusiastically engaged with for a few months immediately after its purchase, and then put aside as other time-thieves took over my waking hours.  But the metaphorical chickens have come home to do some metaphorical roosting, because having picked it up again during out recent move, I found it was just perfect to share with you in this Shelfies feature as a little snapshot of Bruce as I was around about 2010.

Essentially, this is a sweet little hardback tome filled with prompts for creating lists.  But these are no ordinary lists, oh no.  These lists are strange, unexpected and sometimes just downright silly.  Let me demonstrate.

Here’s one of my favourite lists in the book: Collections of Things Beginning with the Letter S or O

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You can tell it’s one of my favourites due to the vigour with which I’ve approached the filling in of the list.  In fact, I was so enthusiastic about collections of severed limbs, that I’ve listed them twice. Such is the enjoyment that this little book brings.

Here’s another that got my mind whirring: Encumbrances for a Bike Rider

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I think it was the little illustration that piqued my imagination, but I found quite a bit of glee in mentally conjuring the image of a bike rider trying to balance a kennel of homeless puppies on his or her handlebars.  Or indeed, a couple of stone gargoyles.

Some of the lists I obviously used to demonstrate how hilarious I am.  Consider evidence A: Quotes Uttered at a Shakespeare Holiday Party

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Clearly I laughed like a drain when composing this list, no doubt wiping a granite tear from my eye as I did so.  And here’s another that I quite obviously was itching for someone else to read and enjoy, from around the time I was perched on a teacher’s bookshelf: Heartbreaking Words to Be Said to a Teacher

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The above picture also demonstrates that some of the lists had me baffled.  Cuisine Associated with Philadelphia remained sadly blank for the longest time until I happened to catch an episode of Dr Phil a year or two ago, in which the good Ph.D. visited Philadelphia and ate a cheese steak.  Of course I dashed off immediately to fill in my book of lists!

Other suggestions for this list would be gratefully received.  Of course, I could just google the information, but where’s the fun in that?  Apart from Philadelphian cuisine, here are some other lists that I’m stuck on:

Zip Codes in New York

Evergreen Shrubs of Ireland

Weeds that are also not Weeds

Beaches of Southern California

Rural Areas mentioned in Hemingway Stories

Any suggestions received will duly attract a “suggester’s credit” in my little book, of course.  While you’re thinking, here are two more lists that I filled in with only one entry.  Obviously I thought these single items were sufficiently hilarious that I need add no more!

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Equally hilarious suggestions will of course be gratefully received.

I’m interested to know if anyone else out there is in possession of this wondrous little list repository and if so, how it illuminates their life.  Or indeed if anyone has something similar, I would love to hear about it.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Robots, Insomnia and Plague…

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Welcome to another reading round-up! Today we have a bit of YA thriller, a bit of literary fiction and a bit of graphic novel gore, so hopefully you’ll find something you like within the herd.  I received two of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and a third from the author.  Let’s ride!

Sleepless: Narrowdale #1 (Michael Omer)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sleepless

When Amy moved from L.A. to the boring suburb of Narrowdale she was pretty sure she was about to experience some big changes in her life – not necessarily for the better. Finding new friends turns out to be the least of her worries however and when the terrifyingly realistic nightmares begin, Amy knows that there’s something strange running beneath the ordinary exterior of her new town.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fairly original and engaging take on a paranormal horror story for the YA set. It’s probably not going to win any awards for the standard of the writing, but there’s plenty of spook factor here – cue creepy whistling outside a young girl’s window at night – and enough snarky banter to keep the young folk interested. Omer has created an interesting setting in Narrowdale, where the homeless folk seem to be telepathic (and mildly prescient) and you’re never quite sure whether you’re talking to an ordinary person or a revenant from the past, so for that alone, this is worth a look.  Extra points for the awesome cover art.

Brand it with:

Catchy tunes; missing, presumed dead; heated daydreams, YA paranormal

Spread: Volume 1 (Justin Jordan, Kyle Strahm [ill], Felipe Sobreiro [ill])

Two Sentence Synopsis:Spread-Preview-1

A bloke named No is trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, when he stumbles across a dead woman’s baby. No’s life looks set to become far more complicated, until the baby inadvertently reveals an extremely handy post-apocalyptic, plague-destroying ability.

Muster up the motivation because:

If gore and blood splats and hand-to-hand violence is your kind of thing, Spread will be right up your plague-festering alley. If you like heartwarming stories featuring gruff men saving cute little babies, this will also be right up your alley (presuming you can handle large amounts of blood-splatting gore). I don’t normally go for highly violent graphic novels, but I picked this one up because the fantastic juxtaposition of No and baby (named Hope, for the present time) on the cover screamed “Oddity Odyssey Challenge!” at me and I found that the story was engaging enough that I could put up with the graphic violence. I quite enjoyed the wily and carnivorous ways of the plague creatures too, and No is really just a big softy carrying a throwing axe.

Brand it with:

Post-apocalyptic cuteness, awwww-ful violence, fun with plague creatures

A Robot in the Garden (Deborah Install)

Two Sentence Synopsis:robot in the garden

Ben wanders outside one day to find a decrepit and slightly confused robot sitting under his tree, looking at the horses. Ben seems to think the robot – Tang – can be useful, but is there really a place in a world full of android servants for a rustbucket like Tang?

Muster up the motivation because:

If nothing else, this is a cute story of an unlikely friendship. The plot arc is fairly predictable – underachieving man finds useless robot and tries to integrate it into his home, man stubbornly sticks with robot despite disruption to his marriage, man undergoes dramatic personal change and rectifies underachieving ways with robot in tow. I didn’t really connect with the character of Ben (or Tang, for that matter) and so I think that affected my enjoyment of the overall story but if you’re looking for a gentle, unusual and fairly humorous story featuring unexpected robots, this would be a good pick.

Brand it with:

DIY, it’s-me-or-the-robot, postmodern fable, artificial intelligence

So there you have it, another herd of wild books rounded up and safely corralled.  Hopefully there’s something in there that takes your fancy.  I’m also submitting Spread for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of odd subject matter, because I don’t normally read such graphically violent books.  Particularly graphically violent books narrated by a baby.  If you’d like to find out more about the challenge, just click this button:

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Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 7/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Super-Spooky, Adult Fiction GSQ Review: Suicide Forest…

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imageAre you sitting comfortably? Got the lights on? Wearing undies with reinforced gussets? Then you’re all set for today’s jaunt into the particularly creepy, horror novel set in Japan, Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates. I received a copy of this one from the author for review and it certainly lived up to the series tagline “The World’s Scariest Places”.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Just outside of Tokyo lies Aokigahara, a vast forest and one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Japan…and also the most infamous spot to commit suicide in the world. Legend has it that the spirits of those many suicides are still roaming, haunting deep in the ancient woods.

When bad weather prevents a group of friends from climbing neighboring Mt. Fuji, they decide to spend the night camping in Aokigahara. But they get more than they bargained for when one of them is found hanged in the morning—and they realize there might be some truth to the legends after all.

suicide forest 2The Good

Bates has done a brilliant job here of capturing the natural spine-tingliness of a place in which many have died by theirimage own hand.  The multiple death factor, coupled with the organic spookiness of dark, ancient woodland certainly provide the perfect setting for an unwitting set of hikers to experience nefarious doings. The best parts of this book are the slow build to the really terror-ridden parts of the story, and the dramatic twist toward the end of the book. For the straight horror fan, this book has everything – there’s gore and violence, ghosts, suspicion amongst the group, a potential stalker, and an ever-present, unseen menace hovering over the whole shebang.

Oh, and it’s set against the beautiful backdrop of Mt Fuji.

The Sad

There were only a few annoying niggles in this tome from my point of view, and these generally had sorted themselves out by two-thirds of the way through. Initially, the antics of the main character group had me thinking that I’d imageaccidentally picked up a schlock-horror book for the YA set, as none of the group seemed to be able to act (or think) like an adult. The childish egging on and teasing by some members of the group to convince others to continue further into the forest seemed very YA-like, but more so was the way in which the characters caved in to this teasing. Is this a collection of Marty McFly wannabes, I thought, who lose all sense of reason when someone calls them yellow? It seemed to me that if I didn’t want to go hiking in a suicide forest, being called a pussy would be unlikely to change my mind. Again, this was a small but persistent annoyance during the first half of the book.

Another niggle was the character of John Scott, who appears as a hanger-on and generally brash, buffoon. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the writing of the character, I just found him to be a pain in the arse to read.

Finally, I had one or two small issues with the plot of the book, particularly when it becomes clear that the group is completely lost and have spent much longer than expected in the forest. This mainly centred around the fact that there were people on the outside who knew where they were (such as their driver Honda and the wife of one of the group) and it seems strange to me that these people wouldn’t have raised the alarm when they didn’t turn up as expected. This is one of those times when I fear I was being too logical though – horror wouldn’t be horror if the pretty girl didn’t descend into the lightless basement on her own now, would it?

The Quirky

There is quite a bit of unexpectedness in this book that raises the level of excitement and interest in the story. First off, imagethe fact that Aokigahara exists at all is pretty quirky, as is the range of opinions held about it by the Japanese characters in the book. These range from general indifference through morbid curiosity to utter terror. The actions of “the suicides” as they are referred to, such as leaving makeshift gravesites and ribbons to mark their places, are an interesting psychological piece that helps both group and reader to connect with the sense that there may be more than just possessions left behind in the forest.

The story also has a fantastic blend of straight, atmospheric, supernatural horror and visceral, violent, injurious horror – I’m generally not a fan of plain violent bloodbaths, and sometimes a plain ghost story can get a bit predictable, so Bates has created a nice balance here that kept me in throes of terror right to the end.

The twist in the tail of the tale certainly took me by surprise, but Bates has gone even further by extending the story of the survivors after their escape from the forest. Just when I thought all the creepiness had crept its last, one final jab made its way under my carefully placed headgear. So all in all, there’s a lot going on in this tale and it will certainly keep you guessing until at least the second-last page.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. “Enjoyed” in the sense that it completely freaked me out and I had to sleep with the light on, grasping one of Mad Martha’s dreadlocks for comfort. I will not deny that I even emitted a little scream when, after having put the book down two-thirds of the way through for the night, the dog snuck into the room, giving the impression that the door was opening on its own. Such is the effect the story had on me.

Recommended for those who want a pervasive and memorable scare.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

An Adult Fiction Double-Dip: Posthumous Shenanigans…

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imageI don’t wish to alarm you but if you haven’t yet secured a tasty snack to accompany today’s Double-Dip, it’s probably already too late.  For today we are delving into the world of post-death mischief, in which those that are dead pose all sorts of riddles and problems for those left behind.  I received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s get on before our snacks (and the bodies) get cold.

Our first pick today is Disturbed Earth: Ritual Crime Unit (#2) by E. E. Richardson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A hard-nosed career officer in the male-dominated world of British policing, DCI Claire Pierce of North Yorkshire Police heads Northern England’s underfunded and understaffed Ritual Crime Unit. Injured in the line of duty, Pierce returns to work to find her new Detective Inspector has brought in a self-proclaimed necromancer to question the victim of a murder, there’s a coven of druids outside protesting the sale of their sacred site, and an old iron lantern in the evidence room has just sent out a signal.

Pierce is going to have to hit the ground running. A suspected ritual murder and a string of puzzling artefact thefts initially seem unconnected, but signs point to something bigger: buried skulls possessed by evil spirits start turning up, and they may only be the beginning. Someone is planning something big, and the consequences if they succeed could be catastrophic. With a rebellious second-in-command, an inexperienced team, and a boss who only cares about potential bad publicity, Pierce has to make the connections and stop the ritual before it’s too late…

Dip into it for…disturbed earth

…a good old-fashioned urban fantasy police-procedural lark featuring a redoubtable yet self-deprecating middle-aged female protagonist.  On first getting into the book, it reminded me strongly of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series (which is one of my favourites) in that it has a similar style and, of course, it’s an urban fantasy police-procedural.  DCI Pierce has a dry British wit and a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude and apart from neromancers who do more harm than good and vicious attacks on frail old academics, she has to put up with a DI who is far too arrogant for his own good.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like starting in the middle of the series.  As I didn’t realise that this was the second book in the series, I did spend a little time wondering why the author wasn’t giving us more background to the characters.  Once I’d figured out that I had, in fact, missed the first book, the reason for these strange gaps in the backstory became apparent and I just went with the flow.  It wasn’t that hard to catch up, but I did feel I was missing some of the finer points of the world-building.

Overall dip factor:

I’m glad to have found another candidate in the urban fantasy police-procedural sub genre as I think there’s a lot of scope for story content and I’m a little worried that Aaronovitch’s series has already reached its peak.  If you’re fan of either murder mysteries, or police work with a supernatural twist, you should definitely give this one a try. It’s dark, intense but with an underlying sense of humour. File under W for “weird-ritual-shit-gone-pear-shaped”

Next up, we have Mortom by Erik Therme.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads…

Andy Crowl barely knew his recently deceased cousin, Craig Moore, so he’s especially surprised to be named as the sole beneficiary in Craig’s will. Not that there’s much to inherit: just an empty bank account and a run-down house.

Once Andy arrives in the town of Mortom, however, he’s drawn into his puzzle-obsessed cousin’s true legacy: a twisted and ominous treasure hunt. Beckoned by macabre clues of dead rats and cemetery keys, Andy jumps into the game, hoping to discover untold wealth. But unsavory secrets—and unanswered questions about Craig’s untimely demise—arise at every turn, leading Andy to wonder if he’s playing the game…or if the game is playing him.

Something’s rotten in Mortom. And this dead man’s game might not be all that Andy is doomed to lose.

Dip into it for…mortom

…what felt like a scaled-down version of The Westing Game for adult readers.  This book has everything for those who, like me, love trying to outwit the author and figure out the puzzle before it’s revealed to the characters.  There are a number of little puzzles that Craig leaves for his cousin Andy to solve, and then there are some bigger challenges as Kate and Andy try to unravel the mystery of who Craig really was and the circumstances surrounding his death.  There’s a little bit of humour, a little bit of mystery and one very engaging story wrapped up in a small town setting.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of books in which the protagonists get the run-around from someone who isn’t even part of the story.  Or, you don’t like it when characters give a tiny, teasing bit of pertinent information and then storm, flounce or otherwise exit the scene in a reticent fashion.  Oh, and if you’re an activist for the humane treatment of rats, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor:

I found this book to be one part suspense, one part mystery and two parts fun. I really enjoyed trying to solve the tricky little puzzles along with Andy and while the characters weren’t particularly fleshed out, they had enough depth to muddy the waters as to what was actually going on in Mortom. This is a great pick for those times when you want to do a little bit of mental detective work, but don’t want anything too violent, weird or unsavoury.

And with that reference to flavour, we will bring this Double-Dip review to a close. I hope you’ve found something to chew over in this duet of post-death doings.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Shouty Doris Interjects about…Madness: A Memoir

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Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome one and all to a new feature here at the shelf – Shouty Doris Interjects! Every so often you come across a book that will arouse strong emotions. When this happens, you may find yourself shouting (in your head, mostly), at the book, the author, the characters – whatever it is that has you all het up. Well around the shelf we have someone who takes this interjection to the next level. She is known as Shouty Doris. She is a denizen of the shelf and often takes it upon herself to loudly interject when happening upon certain emotion-provoking reads. And so we have given her a feature. She is a vocal non-fan of modern technology, so I was forced to create an artist’s impression of her countenance for the feature button. It’s quite a good likeness, I think. So enjoy this new feature – I hope Shouty Doris’s shoutiness will give you some sense of the complex issues behind today’s book.image

I’m also popping this one in for the Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the  comfy armchair.

The book is Madness: A Memoir by Kate Richards and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Madness is a real world for the many thousands of people who are right now living within it. It never apologises. Sometimes it is a shadow, ever present, without regard for the sun. Sometimes it is a well of dark water with no bottom, or a levitation device to the stars. Madness, a memoir is an insight into what it’s like to live with psychosis over a period of ten years, in which bouts of acute illness are interspersed with periods of sanity. The world is beautiful and terrifying and sometimes magical. The sanctity of life is at times precious and at times precarious and always fragile. It’s a story of learning to manage illness with courage and creativity, of achieving balance and living well. It is for everyone now living within the world of madness, for everyone touched by this world, and for everyone seeking to further his or her understanding of it, whether you think of madness as a biological illness of the brain or an understandable part of the continuum of the human condition.

madness a memoir

Right from the start, I found this to be a harrowing read. I had just picked it out for a bit of pre-naptime reading and was treated to a very graphic and frankly, stomach-churning description of the author’s attempt to amputate her own arm. While this was definitely not what I was expecting as an opening gambit, it was undoubtedly compelling and I knew that this would be an engaging read.

Shouty Doris interjects

It was bloody disgusting, all that talk about fatty tissue and seeping blood. I nearly had to reach for the sick bag. Honestly, books like this should come with a warning. I had to take one of my tablets to calm down.

This was not the first memoir I’ve read from someone diagnosed with Bipolar, but what set this one apart was the fact that it was written by a trained medical doctor and deeply explored the effects of her psychosis on everyday life. An author’s note at the beginning informs the reader that the book has been put together using the author’s notebooks as a basis for describing the periods during which she was unwell, and I found it interesting that while the descriptions were quite harrowing and shocking, we were also dealing with a narrator who, by her own admission, was unreliable. I questioned, for instance, the fact that none of her colleagues (who were all medical doctors, you will recall) picked up on the obvious signs of her psychosis.

Shouty Doris interjects

What you mean is, it beggars belief that she could turn up to work wearing multiple layers of odd clothing, with seeping wounds from a self-inflicted hydrochloric acid burn, after nights spent awake and imbibing large amounts of alcohol and not one of her learned, medical doctor colleagues noticed anything was amiss. And her being in and out and in and out and in and out of hospital and missing work! Surely her boss would have figured out that something strange was going on!

That aside, the book really raised the complexity of mental illness and the services available to people who suffer from its many variations.

Shouty Doris interjects

How did her workmates not notice the smell? The unkempt hair? I mean, how could you not notice the seeping wounds?!! WHY WOULDN’T ANYONE HELP THIS WOMAN??

The author had quite a negative view of psychiatrists in general as well as the specific psychiatrists of whom she was a patient. This was a recurring theme of Richards’ personal narrative, despite the fact that during much of the book she was too unwell to comply with the psychiatrist’s recommendations.

Shouty Doris interjects

Why did she stop taking her medication? She was doing so well! WHY IS THIS WOMAN NOT CHAPERONED DAY AND NIGHT?! She obviously can’t take care of herself. It was just a revolving door – self-harm episode, hospitalisation, out the door with some medication, and start it all again. For Pete’s sake woman, put away the alcohol! Follow the Doctor’s orders! Wait, now she’s going to New York? And Israel?? On her own? WHOSE STUPID IDEA WAS THAT? THIS IS NOT GOING TO END WELL!

Overall, this book was an in-depth look at one woman’s experience with severe mental illness over a period of years and her journey through the public health system. Reading it has stirred up a lot of questions for me about the glaring gaps in provision of mental health services generally, and especially for those who don’t have the money to afford private health care. In essence, while it was a difficult read in places, Madness is an engaging addition to the literature on mental illness in an Australian context.

I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in individuals’ experiences with mental illness, particularly Bipolar, but if this is your first foray into memoirs about mental illness I’d probably start with something a little less “in your face”, lest you be overwhelmed with the enormity of the subject.

Shouty Doris interjects

Thank goodness it did end well. Or well enough. Although that should have been obvious, seeing as she wrote the book. I need a cup of tea and a good lie down after that debacle. It’s enough to give an old woman heart failure.

Non-Fiction Reading Challenge Progress: 4/10

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)