Haiku Review: Shadow Forest….

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Hello my pretties! For today’s dose of haiku I’ve dug one of my favourite tomes off the shelf: Matt Haig’s Shadow Forest.  To prove it’s one of my regularly thumbed books, I’ve thoughtfully included a picture of myself with the book and it’s (slightly less engaging but still worth a read) sequel, The Runaway Troll:

mad martha shadow forestFrom the opening sentence of the book’s blurb, “Samuel Blink is the hero of this story but he doesn’t know it yet”, the discerning reader knows that a particularly intriguing tale is in the offing. Handily, this book is one of those special little paper-gems that will not disappoint.

Samuel Blink (our soon-to-be hero of the moment) and his sister Martha (selective mute) find themselves suddenly living in Norway with a long-lost aunt (ex-Olympic javelin champ) after the untimely death of their parents.  Aunt Eda’s only rule for their stay is this: Do not enter the forest. Ever. For any reason.  For the forest is the known home of creatures of ill-repute and has already claimed the life of the children’s literally long-lost Uncle Henrik.

Obviously, both children end up entering the forest. And from there, as they say in the classics, the fun begins!

shadow forest

Picturesque arbour

not suited to tourist groups

Hold fast your shadow

I had forgotten how much I really love this book until I was casting my eyes over the shelf for re-reading inspiration recently. It’s obviously a kid’s book but the comedic undertones have appeal across age groups. I still can’t read the chapter involving the Truth Pixie without giggling to myself for days afterwards.  Incidentally, the picture above shows a different cover to the edition I own – I believe the art on my edition is vastly superior, but I’m sure you can make up your own mind.

Until next we meet, keep reading, and stay out of the forest…

Mad Martha

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Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Dating for the Literary Minded…

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Today’s selection in the lucky dip comes to you courtesy of the search term “dating”.  Yes, that most anticipated and awkward of human interactions has thrown up some unexpected, yet intriguing, titles for those interested in the world of courting and mate-selection. Set your peepers to stun as you peruse the following relationship reads:

For those looking for a magical, otherworldly dating experience:

wood nymph centaurFor the malodorous or otherwise unsavoury cassanova:

undateable

In case you can’t read it, the subtitle says “311 things guys do that guarantee they won’t be dating or having sex”.  One wonders why they stopped at 311….

For the slightly suspicious, or for those concerned about their intended’s fascination with taunting small animals:

dating a sociopath

For those looking for God’s gift to women. Literally.

dating jesus

For those hoping that love will blossom organically, without the need for pesticides or growth hormones:

meeting your half orange

As is often the case with the lucky dip, this is but a small selection of the exciting possibilities availalbe to the romantically-minded reader.  Feel free to add your own contributions for our appreciation!
Until next time,

Bruce

Retro Reading: The Brothers Lionheart…

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Today I present to you a book that I have been forced to categorise (since my most recent reading) as a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a very attractive dust jacket. I first encountered The Brothers Lionheart by perennial favourite Astrid Lindgren (she of Pippi Longstocking fame), as a reasonably young gargoyle. If memory serves I would have been around 9 or 10 years stony standing and was deeply involved in a “medieval” phase – which has been acknowledged as a highly important developmental period for gargoyles and other stone-creatures alike.  It was first published in the original Swedish in 1973, and had its first outing in English in 1975.

brothers lionheart

The story centres around young brothers Karl and Jonathan Lion, who die within weeks of each other and are reunited in Nangiyala, which appears at first glance to be an afterlife consisting of simple country living, such as one might have experienced during “the time of songs and sagas” as Lindgren puts it.  Shortly after Karl’s arrival in Nangiyala however, it becomes apparent that a creeping evil is descending on the valley where the boys reside and the story really takes off when Jonathan vanishes while on a secret mission into the heart of enemy territory.  Essentially, the plot unfolds as your basic good townsfolk versus tyrannical despot type of story, until we leave the boys as they gain entry into a second afterlife-y place called Nangilima.

bl pic 1

Right. Now as soon as this book popped unbidden back into my head n years after first reading, I immediately added it to my “to read retroactively” list as the thought of it was accompanied by a lovely warm feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment in the story.  Weirdly, as I re-read it, I also remembered that I was not able, as a youngling, to read this book in one sitting due to a feeling of dis-ease that seeped into my young mind with every turn of the page.  In fact, after some really focused reminiscing, I acknowledged that while I remember borrowing this book out from the library multiple times, I did so only because I found the book too discomfiting to finish in one reading.

bl pic 2

As a grown stone re-reading this story, I could see why it made my young self a tad unsettled.  For a start, it’s chock-full of death. The two main characters die not once, but twice; the second time in a way that I found, as an adult reader, a bit disturbing.  There’s plenty of terror and tyranny in the story as well – dissenters being carted off to a secret prison, traitors revealed amongst trusted company, and so forth.

I think though that this book is one of those tricky ones that can be interpreted at a much deeper level if first encountered as an adult.  Prior to re-reading, I had fond memories of my experiences with this book, with only vague undertones of something a bit frightening lurking within the pages.  As an adult reader, I’m now a bit unsure as to whether I like the story or not, and what sense or message I can take from it, and this might be a little unfair.

Soooooo…….do I recommend this one for young readers or not? I think I’ll have to err on the side of a guarded recommendation. It’s an engaging and action packed read, but “Macy the Shopping Mall Fairy” or “Captain Underpants” this book ain’t.  There are deeper themes presented here than one would normally find in children’s literature and for that reason I would recommend this book as a read-aloud, or for young independent readers who are fairly mature and/or sensitive in their outlook on life and books.

I would love to hear from anyone else who encountered this book as a youngling, and how their recommendations would pan out now.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Read it if: The Marching Dead….

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Today, unusually, I’m bringing you a Read-it-if review for a sequel.  The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby is the follow up tome to the quirky and creatively titled The Corpse-Rat King.  You’ll remember of course that in the first book, the irrepressible Marius don Hellespont was mistaken for the King of the Dead while looting the corpses of soldiers post-battle (a simple mistake to make, I’m sure you’ll agree) and was forced to set out on a quest to find the dead a real king.

In this book, Marius and his fellow flesh-folk find that their dearly departed have…well…departed… from their cosy home in the soil for reasons unknown.  Enter Marius’ simple mountain-lad mate Gerd (deceased) and Gerd’s potty-mouthed Granny (also deceased), and a now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t cat and you have a questing party worth hitching your (deceased) horse and cart to.  The story follows Marius and co. in their efforts to figure out where the dead have got to and what they plan to do when they get there.

marching dead

Read it if:

* you’ve read The Corpse-Rat King, or you’re looking for something that doesn’t take itself too seriously

* you are a boy aged 16 to pre-deceased

* you enjoy a bit of jollity and good clean fun in your fantasy tales

* your idea of jollity and good clean fun includes swearing, debauchery, general bastardry, frisky warrior nuns, potty mouthed grannies and a fancy headband made out of an animated corpse’s nether regions

Although this is a sequel, I’m sure that it could be enjoyed and followed fairly easily for those who haven’t read The Corpse-Rat King. Having said that though, the first book is a fun, cheeky read in itself and is definitely worth a look, particularly if you enjoy fantasy tales and would like something that is pitched entirely at (immature) adults.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Stenchblossoms Re-loaded: A Word on Naming One’s Offspring

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Afternoon all.  I come to you on this lazy, rainy Saturday with a lazy, rainy re-post of one of my earliest posts.  I’ve been overhearing a lot about baby names around the shelf lately, so I thought I would re-post a tiny bit of my own brilliance, in suggesting some potential offspring monikers from great fiction-y literature.  Enjoy!

names

**  Please note no responsiblity will be taken for incessant teasing resulting from the infliction of any of these names on your offspring **

A Stench Blossom by any other name would smell as sweet….

Names are important, aren’t they? This is as true for gargoyles as it is for flesh folk. I myself am named after my great-grandfather – a mighty shelf warrior, who only ever allowed books from his shelf to be borrowed on the condition that the borrower left a token as a guarantee that the book would be returned. This token usually took the form of the first-born spawn of the borrower.

I have noticed, from overheard conversations between flesh folk, that there seems to be a trend toward unique and unusual names for newly minted flesh folk. For the greater good of fleshling kind, I wish to contribute some suggestions for names from the world of fiction. These should scratch any itch for individuality that a new flesh parent may feel. “Verily!” these names shout, “Great thinkers they may not have been, but let no one state that my name-givers were not great readers!”

For the unique and unusual male child:

Voldemort (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – a name for parents who wish their child to be ambitious, academic, set apart from common folk and great contributors to hitherto unexplored avenues of evil .

Tumnus (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe/C.S.Lewis) – for parents who envisage a child who has a gift for music, and a desire to help lost children…while plotting their imminent downfall.

Slartibartfast (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy/Douglas Adams) – sure to satisfy lovers of interesting spelling everywhere, this name would be best suited to the child developing an early and keen interest in fjords.

Mistoffelees (Old Possum’s Practical Book of Cats/T.S. Eliot) – Another for the you-neek spelling brigade…and there’s hardly likely to be another kid in the same class with this one, is there?

Oedipus (Corduroy Mansions Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – it goes without saying that this is the perfect choice for the quintessential “Mummy’s boy”.

For the different and diverse female child:

Narcissa (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – any teen girl child spending hours in front of the mirror will no doubt be accused of loving herself on at least one occasion….why not take the sting out of the barb and acknowledge this tendency at birth?

Pestilence (The Bible, The 13th Horseman/Barry Hutchison) – traditionally a male name, I’m hoping this one can make the leap across the gender gap and be taken up by trendsetting parents of girls…it has a charming ring to it, don’t you think?

Verruca (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Roald Dahl) – the perfect appellation for that child who is always underfoot.

Tofu (Scotland Street Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – another name that I hope will bridge the gender gap, it acknowledges the tendency of the majority of folk to be blandly average. On the other hand, this name could suit the child who has a gift for making up the numbers in any social situation.

Shelob (The Lord of the Rings Series/J. R. R. Tolkien) – admittedly a strong name for a young lady, possibly best suited to a tomboy. Or a lass who is fond of the number eight. Or who has an affinity with arachnids. Or prefers the hairy-legged look.

While this list should provide any prospective parents with a wealth of names to choose from, further inspiration may be drawn from the following two tomes that I have come across in my bookish wanderings:

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a Name Challenge: Death in the Clouds…

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poirot moustache cat

 

Obstacle number four….possibly five….I forget…in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge – Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (cue ominous music).

Taken from: the Christie Listie

Category: One – A book with up or down (or the equivalent) in the title

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Christie Listie review, so in case you had forgotten, I am basing my reviews for this list on five main criteria:

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

death in the cloudsAn ordinary group of air travellers are stunned to find a murder has been committed in their midst during their flight. Police are even more stunned to find out that apparently nobody witnessed what they assume to be a very visible and attention-catching mode of dispatching a victim.  Luckily the famous Hercule Poirot happens to be one of the passengers on the flight of death and fiscal misfortune (as I like to think of it)….let the shenanigans commence!

Moustache-Twiddlage: starswhite5-md 

I was thoroughly gripped throughout, and inevitably thought I had the killer figured out well before the reveal.  Even more inevitably, I was wrong….although not far off.  Part of the fun of this one was the fact that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, and was therefore quite content with any of them turning out to be a devious, cold-blooded murderer.

Red Herring Haul: starswhite4-th

From annoying buzzing insects to isolated South American tribesfolk, this book has a veritable trawler-load of mis-clues to keep you guessing.

Butlerosity: starswhite4-th

The reveal to this one was very….revealing….   If you are able to predict who the killer/s is/are in this one prior to the reveal, then I honour you as a certified Christie genius.  Honestly, it was almost impossible to deduce the circumstances surrounding  this death, which could be highly satisfying or endlessly annoying depending on your viewpoint.

Common-or-Garden-ness:      starswhite3-md

While there is a fairly predictable cast of characters, there is no retired colonel, which was a bit of a disappointment for me.  Thankfully, this was made up for with the inclusion of a fantastically caricatured crime writer and at least one person pretending to be someone else.

Contextual Controversy: starswhite1-md

Very low. A few passing references to the shadiness of foreigners.

The Plot in a Poem:

Ingesting some dodgy airline curries

turned out to be the least of their worries.

Overall:

A thoroughly enjoyable romp and some of Poirot’s finest cogitations. Although not having read an awful lot of Poirot novels, please be advised that I may not be fully  qualified to pronounce on Poirot’s cogitations with any great certainty.

Until next time dear readers,

Bruce

Read it if: The Examined Life…

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Evenin’ all.  Today’s “Read-it-if” falls into one of my favourite sub-genres: psychiatric tales.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the sort of books produced by such lauded psychotherapists as Irvin D. Yalom and Susie Orbach, which involve therapists spilling their guts (and the guts of their patients) with identities changed to protect the innocent.  Based on this enjoyment, I figured The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by psychotherapist Stephen Grosz would be just the ticket.

The book is divided into short collections of patient-therapist interaction based around a particular theme such as grief and loss or romantic relationships.  I found the interactions in the first half of the book to be missing the all-important therapist’s perspective, and without this, the anecdotes had the feel of random, slightly amusing (or disturbing) stories chucked in for…..well, I’m not sure what for. Thankfully, this was rectified in the second half of the book and I felt at the conclusion of this tome that it had been a satisfying reading experience.

examined life

Read it if:

* you just can’t resist a good old eavesdrop when the opportunity arises

* you are of the belief that shoes should be removed before availing oneself of the therapist’s couch

* you’ve always wondered what that therapist was really thinking when you related the emotional turmoil you experienced that time you accidentally got yourself caught in your zipper

* you suspect that your therapist may actually be snoozing/texting/fantasizing about their next yacht purchase on the quiet while you blab away on the couch

This is a fascinating and light read for anyone who has any kind of voyeuristic tendency.  If you’re looking for something that delves more deeply into the psychotherapist’s methods and approach, I would probably lean more towards Yalom’s work (specifically Love’s Executioner) or Susie Orbach’s creatively named The Impossibility of Sex (pictured below).  However Grosz’s little tome is a nice introduction to the topic and an engaging and relatively quick read.

loves executionerimpossibility of sex

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time,

Bruce