Haiku Review: Pigeon English….

3

Afternoon all, Mad Martha with you again! Now Pigeon English by Stephan Kelman has been waiting on the shelf for quite a long while now, ever since I saw it in a second hand bookshop after having briefly read a review a month or two prior and remembering that it sounded like something I might possibly be interested in reading if I could find the time or motivation.  I can now happily report that I have picked it off the pile and finished it, and am all the better for it.

Pigeon English relates the thoughts of Harri, an eleven year old boy who has recently migrated from Ghana to London with his mother and older sister.  The story opens with Harri reflecting on the recent stabbing death of a boy in his neighbourhood, and continues on through a six-period during which Harri spends time investigating the boy’s murder, learning about girls, the social pecking order and certain English turns of phrase, and generally growing up.  The pigeon of the title refers to a bird that alights on the balcony of Harri’s apartment one day, beginning a (slightly one-sided) companionship that develops during the second half of the book.

This book really surprised me.  I was expecting a run-of-the-mill puberty story with the slight point of difference of a migrant’s perspective, but Kelman has really created a likeable character in Harri and has given him a charming, cheeky and endearing voice.  Another great strength of this book is the issues with which it deals (specifically, the culture of violence, bravado and peer-pressure that exists in some sections of youthful society).  The ending of this book came as a major shock, although admittedly the clues are clearly stated earlier in the story should the reader wish to take note.

But to cut a long story into seventeen syllables, here is my haiku review of Pigeon English:

pigeon english

A boy and a bird

present in living colour,

learning love and loss

I thoroughly recommend this book although I feel I must warn you that while the protagonist is quite young, the language use and some of the content suggest that this is a read for slightly older children (middle to late teens). 

Until next time,

Mad Martha

Advertisements

Read it if…..: The True Meaning of Smekday

11

Well, after a few days of wild, wet and windy weather, what better way to dry out and unwind than to recommend a worthy book to the ravenous blog-reading hoardes?  Today’s offering is a truly charming and quirky little story that I stumbled across by accident in one of my frequent random word searches at the Book Depository.  I had never heard of it before and have only come across two mentions of it since I discovered it a while back…this is a travesty in my opinion, because it’s certainly deserving of a wide readership. Although it may just be me living under a rock, (living as a rock?) because apparently it is to be made into a film to be released next year.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex is funny and fast-moving tale for middle readers (aged around 8 to 14), with great appeal for adult readers also.  It centres around Tip, a 12-year-old girl who is writing an essay titled “The True Meaning of Smekday” in the aftermath of the invasion of Earth by an alien race called the Boov.  In case you’re wondering, the Boov renamed Christmas day – the day of the invasion – Smekday, after their leader Captain Smek.

smekday

Read it if:

* you have a natural urge to rebel against authority

* you have ever wanted a sidekick or mode of transport with a memorable yet silly name

* you are a fan of cats and believe they will play some role in either the causation or defence of the invasion of Earth by an alien species

* you’re looking for a really un-usual story that stands out from its genre-mates through its incessant humour, thoughtful application of characterisation, setting and plot twists,  and engaging format and illustrations

I would definitely recommend this one as a read-aloud to a class or a read-with for a reluctant reader.  If you haven’t come across it before, seek it out – it is certainly a standout for content and readability for books in this age-range.  Also, if the news is right, and it is to be made into a film, it always pays to read the book first, so you can smugly comment on all the differences betwixt book and film to your less-well-read friends.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Are you Prepared for the Jam-pocalypse?: What’s in a Name Reading Challenge…

2

Obstacle 2 in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge: Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw…

This is the first title I’ve attempted from my Non-Christie-Listie, as well as the first title from Category 2 (something you might find in the kitchen) and I am happy to report that it has been successfully (and cheerfully) vanquished.

JamThis is Croshaw’s second novel, after Mogworld, and it certainly displays the same swift and silly plotting and characterisation.  Jam follows the story of Travis, a young man who wakes up one morning to discover that his city (incidentally, the one in which I also reside!) has been invaded by flesh-eating jam.  So begins a rollicking romp around Brisbane (Australia, not Texas) involving a cheeky tarantula, plenty of ironic ironicisms and plastic bag fashions a-plenty.

This Novel’s Point of Difference:

Um. I’d say it’s probably the jampocalypse aspect.

Pros:

  • One of Croshaw’s great strengths is silliness-in-appropriate-quantities and this book is jam-packed (pun-intended).with the same. There’s a lot of humour and laugh out loud lines in this book – it’s really one for when you need a bit of a chuckle or aren’t in the mood for anything too heavy in the thinking department.
  • It’s set in Bris-vegas….I quite enjoyed seeing the cityscape on the front cover and being able to recognise the Gotham City Building (I don’t know it’s actual name…since it was built everybody I know has only ever referred to it as the Gotham City Building)
  • It’s a fantastically welcome change from Zombie-related apocalypses (apocalypsi??), and scary, bring-us-all-down dystopian thrillers.

Cons:

  • It’s silly.  Now I realise I just put this in Pros, but I’ve read a lot of reviews (from people who are familiar with Croshaw’s work, weirdly) that panned this book because some of the events depicted were too silly to be credible.  I found this a bit odd, considering the whole premise is based on apocalypse by carnivorous strawberry preserve.  But I suppose, if you are after strictly believable scenarios, this is not the book you’re looking for.
  • I found it hard to recognise my own city in parts of this work….Croshaw faithfully recreates Brisbane landmarks and general layouts, except in the naming of two buildings in which most of the action takes place.  So the Myer Centre becomes the Briar Centre, and the Hitachi building becomes the Hibatsu building….but other landmarks, such as the Wintergarden and plenty of streets are given their proper names….as a local, I found this irritating as it got in the way of me picturing the action as it was occuring in places I know very well.
  • Croshaw uses plenty of American dialect words despite mostly Australian characters in an Australian setting – for example” ice pops” (we call ’em ice blocks here), “community college” (TAFE), “janitor” (cleaning staff), “middle school” (we only have primary and high), “wastepaper baskets” (bins)….I found this quite SPECTACULARLY annoying.

Teaser Text:

He sighed. “There isn’t much we can do without electricity, but my team has been researching alternatives.  One of my engineers proposed a system of fans powered by dogs in giant hamster wheels, but the major issue there is our limited dog inventory.  We’ll keep looking into it”.  p199

Although I have listed three cons, in honesty, if you are not a Brisbanite, it is unlikely you will even notice the specific local references (or lack thereof) that irritated me so.  If you’ve never tried Croshaw’s work before and you are open-minded, enjoy a bit of silly humour and particularly if you are aged 20 – 40 and interested in gaming, you should probably give it a go.

Oh, and here’s a link to some pictures of the Gotham City Building for your viewing pleasure:

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/tags/statelawbuilding/interesting/

Until next time,

Bruce

Colour Me Confused: Inexplicable Subjects on which to base a Colouring Book

19

As many of you know, I’m a great fan of the BookDepository.  Apart from their fantabulous range of books, low, low prices, and free international shipping (!), I find great enjoyment in their search mechanism. I get unfathomable delight from typing in a random word and casting my eyes over the numerous and unexpected titles that pop up.  It’s like fishing in Lake Oddball.  In fact, even an innocent word like “colouring” will turn up the most bizarre range of tomes.  Books that make you think, “now what publisher in their right mind thought THAT would be a big hit amongst the community of colouring-in enthusiasts?”

So today I will share with you some of the more exciting titles that have turned up in the fishing net of the Good Ship Catalogue Trawler.  These are but a small sample, mind, of the hilariously weird titles that lurk in the search engine, just waiting for their chance to be spotted by that niche-market colouring fan…please, enjoy:

  • Stewing over a birthday present for the Li’l Dawg or Li’l Shawty in your life? The Gangsta Rap Coloring Book may be just what the gang leader ordered!   In fact, why not follow the gift to its logical (and inevitable) conclusion, and give it in conjunction with the Police Station Coloring Book, which helpfully features “thirty full-page drawings introduce youngsters to a host of law enforcement professionals on the job”.  It’s never too early for youngsters to appreciate art imitating life.

gangsta rappolice station

  • If appreciating art’s contemporary forms is more your show, why not test your pastels on Body Art: the Tattoo Design Coloring Book?  This little gem features “men and women showing off tattoos on their arms, legs, and backs”.  That’s right!   For all you aspiring tattoo artists, this book will provide essential practice at colouring inside the lines – before you try it with indelible ink on your unsuspecting and probably drunk best friend.

body art

  • For those of a more sedate, and dare I say, modest disposition, here are two offerings to satisfy your bland and uncomplicated desires. If An Amish Farm Coloring Book doesn’t quite scratch that itch, I guarantee you will be transported to your happy place by the Historic Southern Lighthouses Coloring Book.  Thankfully, both of these books are part of a series, so you need not fear running out of Amish or Lighthouse related imagery to render in living colour.

amish farm  lighthouse

  • Finally, after constant hectoring from the Slightly Creepy Equine Enthusiasts Lobby, Dover Publications has thoughtfully made available the Horse Anatomy Coloring Book.  If you’ve ever thought that colouring in the outside of the horse was simply not enough, Dover has thoughtfully rectified this thorny issue by providing pages depicting the horse’s “skeleton, muscles, nervous system, and major organs” for your colouring pleasure.  Red and white crayons at the ready, kiddies!

horse anatomy

In case you thought these were the most bizarre, I have actually excluded the most inexplicable colouring book that I’ve come across.  That one is dedicated entirely to the reproductive hardware of female fleshlings. I would have included it here, but the title contains a word that is considered particularly rude and unsavoury amongst more civilised fleshlings.

I’ll let you all go now so you can make sure your colouring pencils are sharp enough to tackle the challenges contained in these tomes….Incidentally, if anyone owns one of these books, I’d love to see some finished examples.

Until next time,

Bruce

What’s In A Name Challenge: A Murder is Announced…

7

Well, here it is: the first obstacle in the What’s In A Name Reading Challenge (hereafter to be known as the WIAN? RC)!

As previously mentioned, I have decided to complete this challenge in two parts – the Christie-listie, which is comprised entirely of books by or about Agatha Christie, and the Un-Christie-listie, which is comprised of books that are not in any way related to the Dame herself….Clearly, this first title is from the Christie-listie, and specifically relates to Category 3 – a book with a party or celebration mentioned in the title.

murder is announcedSo where is the party/celebration in A Murder is Announced?   Well, according to our good friend Professor Wikipedia, “a party is a gathering of people who have been invited by a host for the purposes of socializing, conversation, or recreation“…..and a subcategory of this, the suprise party, is “a party that is not made known beforehand to the person in whose honor it is being held”.  It is therefore abundantly clear that the murder in the title, which has been announced, will involve a gathering of people (who necessarily, on seeing each other, will socialise, converse or engage in some form of recreation).  Further to this, the person to be murdered will, most likely, not have prior knowledge of their status as the guest in whose honour the event is being held.  Clearly then, a murder is a sort of surprise party. I rest my case Your Honour.

Given that the Christie-listie is a very specific sub-category of the crime genre, I have devised a special rating system for use in reviewing these works.  It consists of 5 criteria against which a star rating (of which 5 stars is the highest) will be applied.  The book will then be summarised in a rhyming couplet.

The criteria are as follows:

Rate of Moustache-Twiddlage (for Poirot novels) or Stitch-Droppage (for Marple novels): This refers to the expected level of engagement with the plot as measured by the extent to which anxious body language emerges in the reader…

Red Herring Haul: relating to the level of mis-clues present…

Butler-osity: which refers to the complexity of the revelation at the end (based on the foundation level of non-complexity in which the Butler is identified as the one who did it)…..

Common-or-Garden-ness: the formulaity of the plot set-up, cast of characters and reveal. Otherwise known as the Retired-Colonel-Ometer…

Rate of Contextual Controversy: or the extent to which racist, sexist or other generally a-bit-off-by-today’s-standards references are casually scattered about the text

marple kitteh

A Murder is Announced – WIAN? RC REVIEW

Plot summaryThe residents of Chipping Cleghorn are aghast/delighted/upset by an announcement in the local paper stating that a murder will take place at the big house at a given time.  Said nosey residents turn up to see what goes down, only to be shocked/dazzled/terrified when the lights go out at said given time.  Shots are fired, a body is discovered….enter Miss Marple (in a casual and nondescript fashion) for the usual highjinks after local constabulary assess that the situation is a bit iffy.

Stitch Droppage:  2stars   While the premise looked promising, I would be lying if I said I was totally gripped from beginning to end.

Red Herring Haul: 2stars A few tricksy traps were left out to trip up the unwary, but I didn’t feel these were of the calibre of red herrings in other Christie offerings.

Butler-osity: 3_stars_svg Quite a complex ending – worthy of both eyebrows being raised and the uttering of an appreciative “Mmmm!”

Common-or-Garden-ness: 5-Stars  Retired Colonel who served in the colonies? Check.  Quiet rural village with a spectacularly silly name? Yesiree!  Oodles of live-in hangers-on with shady backgrounds? You bet your sweet bippy!! It’s a veritable feast for all those Christie-capers we know and love.

Contextual Controversy: 5-StarsRacial stereotypes abound! It’s almost a Blyton-esque parade of casually related remarks about the general unsavoury nature of “foreigners”.

Plot in a Poem:

If you’re game to earn a shilling,

the stage is set to make a killing!

Overall Rating: Meh.  Not her best work, but a reasonable enough read for a rainy day.

So, that’s one down, many to go….

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Read it if……: Dear Everybody

4

Evenin’ all! It’s that time again – those few moments that you devote to discovering a new reading opportunity. Today’s offering is Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball, which is a complicated but quick read that tracks a fictional series of letters written by the main character, Jonathan Bender, to seemingly everybody in his life (including his old high school….no, not the students, the actual building) just prior to his suicide.  So not really a beach or holiday read, but certainly one that delivers in the high-emotions department.

I nearly didn’t pick this one up because while reading the blurb for one of the author’s other books, I came across the bizarre line “possibly the saddest book ever written”……I’m not quite sure who the publishers thought would be excited enough by that line to purchase the book (“Oh I can’t wait to get this home and start vicariously experiencing agonising despair!!”), but enticing as the suggestion was, I thought I’d begin my relationship with Kimball in a less dramatic, though still fairly sombre, reading experience.

dear everybody

It’s clear from the introduction by the main character’s brother (he who has compiled the letters and other documents into the form presented to the reader) that Jonathan always experienced life a little differently from the common herd.   However, the nature of his mental illness or personality issue is never made explicit.  I think this helps the overall reading experience because the reader isn’t restricted to thinking of Jonathan in terms of a label.  But in short…..

READ IT IF:…..

* you are looking for something with a bit of depth and substance

* you enjoy books in letter-format

* you are prepared to experience a bit of sadness, empathy or reflection on negative experiences

Once again, I feel the need to put up a bit of a flag to warn the unwary, so…..

DON’T READ IT IF:

* you are in a state of great emotional imbalance

* you have any kind of issue with reading about suicide or its aftermath

* you are looking for something light, fluffy, and preferably containing jolly conversations between charming spinsters who knit woollen coats for teacup poodles

I can’t pretend that I enjoyed this one – I don’t feel it’s the kind of book that one should enjoy….but it was definitely worth picking up.  I’m not sure whether I want to progress to Kimball’s other tome – that saddest one ever written – but I’d love to hear opinions of any other readers who have read Kimball’s work and how they found it.

Until next time,

Bruce

Ode to an Author: Chris Priestley

10

Good evening Possums! Mad Martha here, going just a little bit Dame Edna on you all.  Today I am waxing lyrical on one of the favourite authors amongst the denizens of Bruce’s shelf – Chris Priestley, author of Mister Creecher, The Dead of Winter, The Tom Marlowe Mysteries and our resounding favourite, the Tales of Terror Series!  This series features collections of short stories centred around a young protagonist (or two) who, through accident or design, has become the captive audience of some very odd and colourful storytelling. Starting with a delightfully atmospheric and eerie romp around Uncle Montague’s house and surrounds, this series blossomed into a veritable English country garden of creepy weirdness, with the followup titles Tales of Terror from the Black Ship (my personal favourite so far), Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth, and the limited release The Teacher’s Tales of Terror!  You may notice the differences in the cover art – the titles are available in both the pen and ink illustration covers and the more photographic style….We on the shelf prefer the pen and ink.

tales of terrorTOT black ship

TOT tunnelTeachers TOT

Priestley has an uncanny knack for creating an ambience that has you looking over your shoulder while reading.  Also, as many of the main characters in the short stories are less than endearing, it can be somewhat unsettling to realise that one may be secretly relishing the various sticky ends to which those characters succumb.

We are always keeping our eyes peeled for new titles in this series as they really are the cream of the crop in spine-tingling stories for people aged about 10 years and over. Our vigilance was rewarded recently when Bruce spotted a seasonal release, only available (annoyingly) as an ebook – Christmas Tales of Terror!

TOT christmas

So it was that Bruce attempted to read his first ever e-book – in fact, he read it aloud in one sitting for the benefit of all the shelf-folk, during a brief period in which the house fleshlings were away from the dwelling, leaving their precious electronified tablet unguarded.  While this is certainly not the best offering in the series in our opinion, (the first story, “The Green Man” being particularly weak), it is certainly another feather in the cap of the good Mr Priestley.  And for his services to the field of terror-inducement in minors and others, I present to him this Ode, in the form of a letter from a reader…..

Dear Mr Priestley,chris-priestley

Your tales are so beastly.

Your plotlines increas’dly mean characters cease-to-be.

Terror unceasingly fills my mind feastingly,

I beg for release from thee!

Yours (most dis-ease-dly),

An Appreciative Reader

I must admit, that one was a challenge.  Not many words rhyme with Priestley.  Further suggestions for rhyming words would be welcome.

But please do yourself a favour and explore the work of Creepy Chris….if you dare! Mwuuuhahahahhaaaaaaaa!

Ahem……Until next time lovelies,

Mad Martha