Unmissable Sequel Alert (and Giveaway!): Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering…

1

Sound the alarm! I have a sequel today that you really shouldn’t miss, particularly if you’ve read the first book in the series and even more especially if you haven’t! Today’s book, The Suffering by Rin Chupeco is the follow-up to her 2014 debut The Girl From the Well, which I described (rather enthusiastically) at the time as “a hands-down, five-star, should’ve-got-it-in-print read”. The Suffering is a satisfyingly terrifying instalment and as I am now a confirmed, card-carrying fan of Ms Chupeco’s work, I have jumped in on the blog tour giveaway for the book, allowing YOU the chance to win a copy of The Suffering. Thank me later!

But let’s get on with it. Here’s the blurb:

Breathtaking and haunting, Rin Chupeco’s second novel is a chilling companion to her debut, The Girl from the Well.

The darkness will find you.

Seventeen-year-old Tark knows what it is to be powerless. But Okiku changed that. A restless spirit who ended life as a victim and started death as an avenger, she’s groomed Tark to destroy the wicked. But when darkness pulls them deep into Aokigahara, known as Japan’s suicide forest, Okiku’s justice becomes blurred, and Tark is the one who will pay the price…

the suffering

The most interesting thing about this sequel from my point of view is that it has a completely different feel to the first book, but retains that sense of mind-numbing IT’S BEHIND YOU! terror with which the first book was replete. While The Girl from the Well was stomach-churningly intense from the very first pages, The Suffering is more of a slow burn, with the early chapters seeing Tark living a relatively normal teenage life, albeit with an invisible dead girl for company.

The first part of The Suffering felt suspiciously like your standard YA with a bit of paranormal chucked in, but once Tark and Callie arrive in Japan, things quickly take a shuddersome turn. Aokigahara, Japan’s famed “suicide forest” seems to be having a bit of a day in the dappled sun in fiction at the moment – I’ve already reviewed another fiction book featuring it as the setting this year, and have noted a few others about – but Chupeco has done something clever here by twinning the acknowledged fear of the forest with a hitherto undiscovered village of the damned, you might say, within the forest’s clutches.

I won’t say too much about it here, because it would be a bit spoilerific, but by the time Tark and Okiku discover the village of Aitou, that familiar sense of ghoulish eeriness will have settled in the base of your brain, preparing you nicely to jump at the slightest noise or shadow. (Is that a bony finger stroking the back of your neck?). This book focuses on a centuries old curse that affected the young people of the village and the pace during most of this part is break-neck (literally, for some characters) as Tark and Okiku try to stay alive (well, Tark does, anyway) in a ghost-town that clearly wishes them otherwise.

The final chapters of the book are quite touching and unexpected and I gained a renewed respect for Chupeco’s ability to cap off a horror tale by refocusing on the important relationships in the book.

Take it from me, if you haven’t read Chupeco’s work yet and if you like horror even a tiny bit, then you really should try these out. You will be surprised at the quality of the storytelling that can come out of what could easily be branded just another YA horror tale.

That’s all from me, but keep reading for an excerpt from The Suffering and your chance to win! Many thanks to Sourcebooks for sponsoring the giveaway and for providing a copy of the book for review!

The Suffering

By Rin Chupeco

September 1, 2015; Hardcover ISBN 9781492629832; Trade Paper ISBN 9781492629849

Book Info:

Title: The Suffering

Author: Rin Chupeco

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Rafflecopter Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Excerpt from The Suffering:

It’s still early morning when our group is given clearance to enter. Aokigahara is a deceptive forest. It has all the hallmarks of a popular tourist destination: narrow but well-­maintained hiking trails with a surprising amount of litter, not to mention strips of tape and ribbon wrapped around tree trunks. The leader explains that hikers use them as markers to maintain their bearings. Later on, one of the other volunteers whispers to us that some of the tapes were left by those who came here to kill themselves, in case they decided to change their minds. The revelation horrifies Callie.

A few miles into our hike, anything resembling civilization disappears. Roots crawl across the hard forest floor, and it’s easy to trip if you’re not constantly looking down. We’re outside, but the trees make it feel claustrophobic. They reach hungrily toward the sun, fighting each other for drops of light, and this selfishness grows with the darkness as we move deeper into the woods.

It’s quiet. The silence is broken by the scuffling of feet or snapping of dry twigs as we walk. Every so often, volunteers call back and forth to each other, and rescue dogs exploring the same vicinity that we are will bark. But there are no bird calls, no sounds of scampering squirrels. We’re told that there is very little wildlife in Jukai. Nothing seems to flourish here but trees.

This deep into the woods, any roads and cleared paths are gone. At times, we’re forced to climb to a higher ledge or slide down steep slopes to proceed, and there’s always some root or rock hiding to twist an ankle.

And yet—­the forest is beautiful. I like myself too much to seriously think about suicide, even during my old bouts of depression, but I can understand why people would choose to die here. There is something noble and enduring and magnificent about the forest.

That sense of wonder disappears though, the instant I see them. There are spirits here. And the ghosts mar the peacefulness for me. They hang from branches and loiter at the base of tree trunks. Their eyes are open and their skin is gray, and they watch me as I pass. I don’t know what kind of people they were in life, but they seem faded and insignificant in death.

Okiku watches them but takes no action. These are not the people she hunts. They don’t attack us because they’re not that kind of ghosts. Most of them, I intuit, aren’t violent. The only lives they had ever been capable of taking were their own.

I’m not afraid, despite their bloated faces, contorted from the ropes they use to hang themselves or the overdose of sleeping pills they’ve taken. If anything, I feel lingering sadness. I can sympathize with their helpless anguish. These people took their own lives, hoping to find some meaning in death when they couldn’t find it in life. But there’s nothing here but regret and longing.

And there’s that tickle again, so light it is nearly imperceptible. Something in this forest attracts these deaths. It lures its unhappy victims with its strange siren’s call and then, having taken what it needs, leaves their spirits to rot. A Venus flytrap for human souls.

Something is wrong here, and suddenly, the forest no longer looks as enticing or majestic as when we arrived.

 

Praise for the Suffering:

 

“Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering is a horror lover’s dream: murders, possessed dolls, and desiccated corpses. I cringed. I grimaced. You won’t soon forget this exorcist and his vengeful water ghost.”

–Kendare Blake, author of Anna Dressed in Blood

 

“Chupeco deftly combines ancient mysticism with contemporary dilemmas that teens face, immersing readers in horrors both supernatural and manmade. The Suffering is a chilling swim through the murky waters of morality.”

–Carly Anne West, author of The Bargaining and The Murmuring

Summary:

 

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24789796-the-suffering?from_search=true&search_version=service_impr

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/PrKxL

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/PrKLh

Books A Million- http://ow.ly/PrL7j

iBooks- http://ow.ly/PrLCI

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/PrLOZ

Indiebound- http://ow.ly/PrLXu

 

About the Author:

Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and travel blogger, but now makes things up for a living. Connect with Rin at www.rinchupeco.com.

Social Networking Links:

Website: http://www.rinchupeco.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RinChupeco

 

 

New in Paperback from this Author: The Girl From The Well

Praise for The Girl From The Well:

“[A] Stephen King-like horror story.” -Kirkus Reviews

 

“Told in a marvelously disjointed fashion.”  -Publishers Weekly STARRED Review

 

“This gorgeously written story reads like poetry.” -Brazos Bookstore

 

“Darkly mesmerizing.” -The Boston Globe

 

“A superior creep factor that is pervasive in every lyrical word.” -Booklis

Summary:

The Ring  meets The Exorcist in this haunting and lyrical reimagining of the Japanese fable.

Okiku has wandered the world for hundreds of years, setting free the spirits of murdered children. Wherever there’s a monster hurting a child, her spirit is there to deliver punishment. Such is her existence, until the day she discovers a troubled American teenager named Tark and the dangerous demon that writhes beneath his skin, trapped by a series of intricate tattoos. Tark needs to be freed, but there is one problem—if the demon dies, so does its host.

With the vigilante spirit Okiku as his guide, Tark is drawn deep into a dark world of sinister doll rituals and Shinto exorcisms that will take him far from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Japan. Can Okiku protect him from the demon within or will her presence bring more harm? The answer lies in the depths of a long-forgotten well

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25263927-the-girl-from-the-well

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/PrQwE

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/PrQFa

Books A Million- http://ow.ly/PrQQU

iBooks- http://ow.ly/PrR6c

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/PrRlE

Indiebound- http://ow.ly/PrQp2

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A “Top Book of 2015” MG Read-it-if Review: Hoodoo…

3

image

If you’ve been wandering around in a fog of “what-do-I-read-next?” then you have stumbled into the right place. I heartily recommend today’s cracking and original tale and I have taken the rather rash and possibly disputable decision to elevate it to a place in my “Top Books of 2015” list. I received a copy of Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith from the publisher via Netgalley. Apart from that stunning cover, this historical tale has folk magic, family secrets, stranger danger, talking crows, dream travelling and one very nasty demon…not to mention the fact that it is a book that could easily slot into the “promoting diversity” category.

But enough with the tantalising descriptions! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can’t seem to cast a simple spell.   

Then a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, and Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger’s black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He’ll just need to learn how to conjure first.     

Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, Hoodoo is infused with a big dose of creepiness leavened with gentle humor.    

hoodoo

Read it if:

*you’ve ever had a bad dream that seemed incredibly real…then woken up to discover that it was actually…incredibly real.

*you are possessed of a name that implies characteristics that are absent from your personality

*you’ve ever thought the whole “Stranger Danger” thing is a big overreaction from helicopter parents

*you’ve ever ignored sage advice from a trusted elder. Or a deceased relative.  Or indeed, a talking bird.

What an original little offering this book is! I truly enjoy meeting books that stand out from the thoroughly well used plotlines and characters that have populated middle grade fiction since Moses was a lad. On reading the blurb, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was, in fact, a typical “chosen one finds magic within himself and saves the world” sort of a story, but there are some important details that set this one apart.

First off, this is historical fiction, with events taking place in the 1930s, when segregation was alive and well. The author manages to weave in aspects of the period as well as some nifty little informational nuggets while keeping the plot flowing and the setting authentic. I quite enjoyed the little historical tidbits and as the book is set in the US, there were some interesting things I learned from the tale, such as the use of patterned quilts hung in cottage windows that held secret instructions for slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. I always liken fiction that teaches you something to a bonus prize you win after you think the game is over.

The sinister elements of this book are very sinister indeed, and I was surprised at how creepy the content got considering that this is a middle grade offering. Apart from the Stranger (who starts off merely unsettling and finishes in full-blown demon possession), old sulphur-boots himself makes an appearance (albeit off-stage) and the second half of the book certainly felt to me like it had a fog of malevolence blanketing the action. The plotline that requires Hoodoo to solve the riddle of the Stranger and use his folk magic to protect himself is tightly woven and will provide a challenge to those who like to puzzle things out along with the hero.

I almost wish that this was part of a series because Hoodoo is such a likeable character, and I really felt like part of his extended family as I followed his adventures. The supporting characters are well developed and there is a distinct theme of loss and re-connection as the story unfolds. The sense of warmth and welcome that exudes from the descriptions of Hoodoo’s home with Mama Frances and the obvious reliance on others that is evident in the community definitely balances out some of the more frightening aspects of the story and provides a consolation for the losses that Hoodoo has experienced in his young life.

Having read a few early reviews of Hoodoo, I do agree with some reviewers that there is something lacking overall in the execution of the tale. While I was highly impressed with the originality of the story and the way in which the author has pulled off the scarier bits, I did feel mildly dissatisfied at the end. Strangely though, I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly was missing or lacking. I did find the pacing to be unusual, with the earlier chapters almost devoid of anything magical at all (except Hoodoo’s first encounter with the Stranger) and the later chapters particularly intense in terms of danger and macabre doings. Perhaps it was this disparity in pacing that put me slightly off, making Hoodoo seem younger than his twelve years in the beginning and much older by the end.

Having said that, this was definitely a stand-out book for me for this year, for its original content, historical setting and the masterful way in which the author has developed the more frightening aspects of the story. This is certainly not a read for the faint-hearted or suggestible, but for advanced middle grade readers of stout heart and steady nerve this would be an excellent choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Cheeky Youngsters” Edition…

0

image

It’s time to pull on your chaps and spats again and join me in rounding up some plucky and amusing titles for the younger crowd. Today I have corralled three books – a picture book, a middle grade adventure and a YA graphic novel – and I received copies of each from their respective publishers via Netgalley. Let’s round them up in ascending order of audience age, beginning with….

Worms (Bernard Friot)

Two Sentence Synopsis:worms

A young lad forced to attend a dinner party with his father’s boring colleagues hits on an innovative way to liven up proceedings. But has he underestimated the comedic value of his sneaky plan?

Muster up the motivation because:

This tale will be appreciated by pint-sized pranksters the world over as much for its humour as for its gorgeous retro style illustrations. I particularly enjoyed the expressions on the worms’ faces and then immediately felt guilty, knowing their unhappy fate. There’s not a great deal of text here as the illustrations speak for themselves and the twist at the end of the story will please parent and child alike. I was left mildly disappointed at the story’s ending, as I was hoping for something a bit more unexpected and subversive, but all in all this will be a great addition to the bedtime rotation or for times when the designated bed-time-reading grown-up feels like a tale in which a comeuppance is both sought and provided.

Brand it with:

What happens when you cut a worm in half?; childish pranks; unsavoury savouries

Now for the adventurous middle-grade sorts, we have…

Box 1571 (R. M. Tudor)

Two Sentence Synopsis:box 1571

Ella’s parents’ café is in financial trouble and Ella is finding school a lonely place since her friend Sophie moved away. When Ella discovers a way to solve her parents’ money problems and save the café, she is unwittingly drawn into a game of riddles and unexpected encounters.

Muster up the motivation because:

This feel-good tale is reminiscent of such innocent and unexpected adventures as The Phantom Tollbooth. Box 1571 is perfect for younger middle-grade kids who are looking for some good, old-fashioned escapism – almost literally, as the story involves the main character escaping her problems via a post-office box. The story is episodic in nature and therefore perfect for a classroom or pre-bedtime read-aloud (or read together) and has subtle secondary themes of developing confidence and overcoming social isolation. I did feel there were a few slight plot holes (the most obvious being the seemingly incompatible states of the café having very few customers, yet lots of washing up) and I found Ella’s older brother’s verbally abusive behaviour, particularly toward his mother, a bit too intense for the tone of the rest of the story, but these were only slight niggles. Overall, I found this to be a charming and engaging offering with enough whimsy and derring-do to keep newcomers to this level of reading entertained.

Brand it with:

Lost in the post; what’s in the box?; a cup of tea and a good lie down; #amwriting

And finally, for the teen set, or those just in need of a good dose of ridiculousness, here is…

Teen Boat! The Race for Boatlantis (Dave Roman and John Green)

Two Sentence Synopsis:teenboat

TeenBoat – the teen with the power to transform into a boat when wet – takes part in a competition with the hope of finding the fabled city of Boatlantis. But being a boat and a teen isn’t as glamorous as you might think – especially when a new kid at school threatens TeenBoat’s claim to fame as the only boatkid on the block.

Muster up the motivation because:

This graphic novel really does have all the ANGST of being a teen, coupled with the THRILL of being a boat! Essentially, this one is as hilariously silly as it sounds and perfect for those times when you just need a brain break in a land that always features an unlikely inlet, canal or fjord. This is Saturday morning cartoons in book form. There’s a great twist when Teen Boat discovers what his rival can transform into and Teen Boat’s principal has a good bash at trying to relive his youth while posing as an unconvincing student in order to help find Boatlantis and a long-lost love. TeenBoat is a balm for the jaded soul…or just easy, mindless fun for the slightly bored.

Brand it with:

Teen angst; fabled underwater cities; the life aquatic

Hopefully there’s something there to grab your attention and drag you into a reading-based trance. Stay tuned for Monday when I’ve got another “Top Book of 2015” to add to the pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Scaling Mount TBR: Working Stiff…

0

image

Well, it’s hard to believe, but I’ve just ticked another book off my teetering TBR pile – hooray!  Today I present to you Working Stiff: Two Years, Nonfiction 2015262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek.  I grabbed this one on Kindle special when it was released and then put it off and put it off until I could put it off no more, and so here we are. As this is a memoir, I’m submitting it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the comfy armchair.

Let’s jump right on in – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s rookie season as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases, hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex, that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation, performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.

Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies, and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.

working stiff

So regular readers of this blog will know that this sort of book is right up my alley, given my intellectual interest in death and its accoutrements. I had heard great things about this book and was raring to get into it, and for the most part, it delivered on fascination and mystery. What I wasn’t quite prepared for (although why I wasn’t is anyone’s guess, given the subject matter) was the graphic detail with which Melinek approaches the oozing, splatting, deflating, bloating, leaking, mouldering and general squishery that goes hand in withered hand with the human body after death. Especially when you start chopping it up.

Be warned then, that there will be no sparing of the details for the sensitive reader. And rightly so, I suppose, although I did find myself doing some involuntary retching at a few points throughout.

The book is divided up into chapters that deal with different manners of death. The difference between the cause of death and manner of death is spelled out a number of times, as Melinek gets to grips with the paperwork side of the job. This is where the fascination factor is upped considerably as the author walks us through the variations of natural, accidental, homicidal and inconclusive causes of death. We are privy to the autopsies of those who have died from disease, through complications from surgery, gunshot wound, stabbing, burning, drowning, asphyxiation and even a few cases in which the deceased exited this world through no particular cause that the examiners could discern…..those that died of death, I suppose.

Along with all the interesting facts relating to how the examiners can determine different causes of death simply by examining the body (and testing various bits and pieces of it), I found it equally fascinating to find out the actual procedure of an autopsy and what the examiner does with all the body bits while the autopsy is going on. It boggles the mind.

Even though it is clearly stated in the blurb, for some reason I was utterly unprepared for the last section of the book, in which Melinek describes the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath for those involved in post-death services. I found this section to be harrowing, confronting, unsettling and generally unfathomable, as the sheer number of corpses to be identified and the unthinkable circumstances in which some of them came to be in their current condition was really driven home. This part of the book gave a whole new insight into the circumstances of those who work with death on a daily basis and how an unexpected mass casualty event can be chaos not only for those involved, but for those who must deal with the deceased under stressful and distressing circumstances. Hats off to anyone who has worked under such conditions, I say.

Overall I found this to be a deeply involving read and well worth the money to purchase. For anyone who is interested in coronial matters, I would certainly recommend giving this one a go, but be aware that no punches are pulled when the going gets gory.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 11/10

*Challenge completed – Woohoo!*

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 August Challenge!

2

imageRoll up thrill-seekers, for the August edition of Fiction in 50, where risk-takers of all persuasions gather together to attempt the near impossible (or at least, really quite tricky): creating a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words!  If you would like to join in (and we’d love to have you!), simply compose a piece of micro-narrative and add your link to the comments of this post for others to enjoy.  For more detailed instructions, and past and future prompts, just click on that attractive picture at the top of this post.

Our prompt for August is….

calculated risk button

And I have come up with a school-themed story for you this time, which I have titled…

The Stench of Failure

Class 5B knew it would be touch and go. No-Neck Norris wasn’t a teacher you messed with.

That stink bomb flew straight down No-Neck’s collar.

We didn’t know he’d built up a tolerance; a trap for young players.

We changed his nickname after that: No-Mercy Norris

A warning to others.

Risky indeed! But boys will be boys, I’ve heard, just as experienced teachers will always be one step ahead.  You’ve got to hand t to them!

Right then, now it’s your turn.  And don’t forget, if you’re sharing on Twitter, use the hashtag #Fi50.

For the uber-organised, next month’s prompt will be…

life of the party button

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

An Fi50 Reminder…and an Atmospheric Bit of Literary Horror

2

imageBefore we crack on with our book for today, I would like to remind all comers that Fiction in 50 for August kicks off on Monday. If you’d like to join in, just compose a fictional piece of writing in fewer than 51 words based on our monthly prompt, and then pop back on Monday to share your link in the comments section.

This month’s prompt is…

calculated risk button

If you’d like more information about the challenge, just click on the challenge button at the top of this post.

Now on to the atmospheric bit of literary horror that I promised in the title.  The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley is an unsettling tale of faith and family and straying from the expected path.  I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is. I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…

the loney

 

The Loney, as much as it was absorbing and haunting, was also a book that left me mildly dissatisfied by the end.

And disoriented.

And fairly creeped out.

Liam, our narrator, is a typical young Catholic lad, caught between the Church, his boyishness and his mother. His older brother Andrew is not all that his mother hoped he would be, experiencing as he does some unidentified developmental delays, and the boys’ mother fervently hopes that her eldest son will be healed by the grace of God, and his mother’s faith. The family and a small number of fellow parishioners travel on a pilgrimage every year to “the Loney” – a remote, unhospitable place that is home to a shrine that Liam’s mother believes will be the site of Hanny’s healing.

The story follows the group as they return to the Loney after a decade’s absence, with a new, more liberal priest in tow. From meeting odd and unreadable village folk to finding a long-hidden room in the house in which they’ve always stayed, the visit is a long, confounding and demoralising experience filled with disappointments and unexpected surprises. Through it all, Liam steadily narrates the events as he sees them as they roll on towards a climax that is both inevitable and utterly out-of-the-blue.

The bulk of the tale are events from Liam’s past and throughout the book the reader is treated to some tantalising pieces of Liam’s present life, wherein the situation is obviously far removed from the events being described. These snippets give us the idea that the relationship between Hanny and Liam in the present day is at odds with what we are being told about their experiences in the past, and this juxtaposition is critical to the events that make up the unexpected ending.

I mentioned earlier that the book left me feeling mildly dissatisfied and that was mainly because I felt that the intertwining of Liam’s past and present could have been used to far better effect if there had been more included about Liam and Hanny’s present relationship. I can’t say too much because it would spoil the ending for future readers, but after I had finished the book I definitely felt like I wanted more of that bit – “that bit” being the events of the last two chapters, which took such a twist that I just wanted more information.

If you are looking for a different sort of a literary read, which focuses deeply on relationships between family members, will be very familiar and relatable to Catholics of a certain age and expertly exudes a haunting and unsettling atmosphere throughout, then I would highly recommend picking up The Loney. And if you do, please tell me what you thought of the reading experience, because I’m still feeling a bit unsettled about it even now.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Shouty Doris interjects during…Aussie debut novel The Bit in Between!

1

Shouty Doris interjects

Doris has joined me today for Aussie author Claire Varley’s debut adult contemporary novel, The Bit in Between, which features two mildly confused twentysomethings trying to nut out identity, destiny and love in the Solomon Islands. We received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan Australia as part of the blog tour for the book’s Australian release – thanks Pan Mac Aus!

As Doris is shelfside today, you can almost be guaranteed that a spoiler of two will slip out. I try to tell her, but you know how she is. You’ve been warned. But let’s get on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately.

Inexplicably.

Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.

the bit in between

Now I know that I have a blanket policy of disliking romance books on sight – it comes from having a heart of stone, you see – but I do like to give an affirmative response when asked to review new release contemporary Australian books. This is mostly because I like to keep at least half an eye on what many people are picking up when they wander into a bookshop. So while I was interested in the Solomon Islands setting and the sun-dried tomatoes, particularly, I did have a certain sense of trepidation on entering this story, given that it is advertised as a love story of sorts.

I was happy to discover, however, that The Bit in Between is much more a story about relationships than romance. Phew. Oliver and Alison are an unusual pair, who sort of fall into a spontaneous relationship as much out of a shared sense of ennui as anything else. Oliver is a semi-successful published writer who hates what his publisher did to his debut novel, while Alison is adrift after an unsuccessful relationship with an attractive, narcissistic quasi-poet. I will admit that I didn’t particularly warm to Oliver at all throughout the book, but I became quite fond of Alison by the end.

Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t like Oliver either. He needed a good kick up the backside with a pointy-toed shoe. Lazy sod. Instead of moping about and whinging about having writer’s block he should have spent his time getting a haircut and a real job. A bit of gainful employment and he wouldn’t have to worry so much about his girlfriend leaving him.

And that Alison! What a nincompoop! What on earth possessed her to take a fancy to that Ed character to begin with? And once she’d escaped from his tedious, self-absorbed clutches, why on earth would she go back?! Young people nowadays! It wouldn’t have happened in my day.

Ahem. Hold on there, Doris. I hadn’t even mentioned Ed yet.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well hurry up then. None of us is getting any younger. At my age, I’m lucky if I make it to the next commercial break.

Yes, well. Once the happy pair decamp to the Solomon Islands, the planned setting of Oliver’s anticipated tour de force, we are introduced to two characters who have the potential to be the most annoying creatures in contemporary literature. Rick is a loud-mouthed, thrill-seeking, hard-drinking American working for an NGO, who befriends Oliver and becomes an entrenched feature in the lives of the two Australians. Ed is Alison’s aforementioned ex-boyfriend who arrives in the Solomons unexpectedly and creates a fair bit of havoc (as well as some truly dreadful poetry).

Out of the two, I much preferred Rick. His interactions never failed to provide a bit of comic relief and I particularly enjoyed his plans to make his (as yet unnamed) band a sound to be reckoned with in the Pacific region and beyond. Similarly, his bout of malaria was quite amusing in both its outrageous enactment and the fact that one couldn’t help but indulge in a bit of schadenfreude. Ed, however, was just a pain in the proverbial. I have to agree with Doris, in that I didn’t find the storyline between Alison and Ed convincing at all, especially considering Alison’s personal growth throughout her time helping local women in the Solomons.

Shouty Doris interjects

A waste of space all round – both the storyline and the bloke.

The part of the book that I enjoyed the most was the inclusion of mini-narratives about minor characters – taxi drivers, passers-by, shop assistants – that gave a hint of these characters’ back stories and provided a bit of an interlude during transitions in the main story.

Shouty Doris interjects

I agree. All of the minor characters’ stories were more interesting than Oliver’s; I’ll tell you that for nothing. Even his ending was ambiguous – like the author couldn’t even be bothered to give him a definitive closing sentence. To be honest, I was hoping for the plane crash he was planning on writing.

That’s a bit harsh, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d eject my own seat if I was stuck between him and Ed on a plane.

Well, your animosities for fictional characters aside, the ending to the story is quite ambiguous. I suspect that a particular interpretation is somewhat implied, but I was quite happy to deliberately ignore that interpretation and craft a much more satisfying (to me) ending in my mind. I think people will take what they want to out of the ending, depending on how they feel about the characters and relationships overall.

All in all, this was a strange beast of a read. It has elements of romance, social issues, personal growth, destiny versus decision-making, grief, loss, happiness, achievement and just a touch of something that could be magical realism. For all that though, the fact that I only really connected with one of the main characters made the read not all that it could have been. On the other hand, the variety of elements in the story, and the unexpectedness (unlikeliness?) of some of the events will keep readers on their toes in what will certainly be a great pick for those looking for a holiday romance novel with a bit of real life thrown in.

Shouty Doris interjects

Next time, there should be more about the women, who were the only ones doing anything meaningful, and less about silly blokes who couldn’t change a light bulb between them with an electrified light-bulb changing machine. Honestly, men just drag down a good story.

Present company excepted, of course, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

Definitely not.

Right. Fine.

Ignore the old bird, try the book.

Until next time,

Bruce