Fiction in 50 Challenge: September

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It’s that time again, so get your diminuitive creative juices flowing for….

fiction in 50

This month’s prompt is…

fi50 uncon button

I had a minor hiccup this month, as despite coming up with the prompts myself and posting a reminder about this month’s prompt less than a week ago, I still managed to accidentally pen a response to next month’s prompt.  So rather than trying to redirect my thought processes, I’ve decided to do a mini-saga starting this month and finishing next month, based around the same main character.  I have titled this introductory piece:

The Optimist

The interview had gone well…

“The more information you give us, the more likely we’ll be to find a good match.”

“Well, I’m not fussy really, but ideally she’d be a pigeon-racing aficionado.”

“Riiiiiiiight. And how important is that criterion for you?”

“Well, non-negotiable, really. Ideally.”

…I anticipated impending love.

TO BE CONTINUED in next month’s challenge, the prompt for which is:

monumentally awkward button

If you’d like to join in (and we all sincerely hope you do!) simply create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less, and post it in the comments or post it on your blog and leave a link in the comments so we can all pop by.

If you have any ideas for future prompts, please suggest them and with a bit of luck I’ll include them on the list for future challenges.

Oh, and as a special reward for reading this far, you get to hear about my first ever giveaway, which I will be posting later in the week….keep it under your hat. Or don’t.

Until next time,

Bruce

Odds and Ends: Double Haiku Review and Fi50 Reminder…

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Good morning to you, munchkins of Blogland! I have a bit of a mixed bag today – firstly, Mad Martha will present you with two haiku reviews for some great books we’ve encountered recently, and then I’ll provide you with this month’s Fi50 prompt, so you can all get working over the weekend on your micro-narratives.

Well, after a spate of middle grade and young adult ARCs, we shelf denizens have spent a little bit of time reacquainting ourselves with big people’s books.  Today’s first offering, Green Vanilla Tea by Marie Williams is a highly readable memoir in which the author reflects on experiencing the journey toward her husband Dominic’s terminal illness, alongside their two teenage sons.  Green Vanilla Tea recounts the experiences of this young family before, during and after Dominic’s diagnosis with early onset dementia and motor neurone disease in his early forties.  William’s memoir charts the confusing and sometimes frightening incidents pre-diagnosis, through the everyday struggles of caring for a young man in rapid decline, and the difficult decisions she faced around finding suitable end-of-life care for her husband.  One would expect the subject matter of this book to be harrowing and deeply depressing, but William’s honest reflections and use of humour lift the book out of that mire and result in a life-affirming and ultimately hopeful read that we highly recommend.  And we also give bonus points for being an Australian book.

Mad Martha’s haiku for this one is based on her favourite anecdote in the book…

green-vanilla-tea

Wife losing life’s love

asks, “How would you like your tea?”

Perplexed. “In a cup”

And while on the subject of hopeful, uplifting narratives, I recently discovered that shelf-favourite Alexander McCall Smith has released as an e-book The Slice of No. 1 Celebration Storybook: Fifteen Years with Mma Ramotswe, to celebrate this milestone of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.  As great fans of this series (that was introduced to us through the inspired gifting of a very insightful friend of the shelf!) we simply had to purchase this, despite it’s e-format.

The book is quite miniscule and contains two short stories with all the old favourite characters – nothing ground-breaking here, but certainly a happy addition to the series for long-time fans.  I’ve recently seen some reviews for the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, panning the books because there simply isn’t enough mystery or crime-solving going on in their pages.  I can’t help but feel those people have missed the point of the books.  For my money, the books are about relationships, pure and simple; and how we can recognise and affirm each other’s humanity (or creaturely-ness as it were, depending on your origin) in the most mundane of encounters.  If you haven’t ever picked up one of these books, start at the beginning when you’re in the mood for something light and relaxing.

slice of celebration

Pride of Botswana

reaches jubilant milestone

Congratulations!

And finally, a reminder that the monthly Fiction in 50 (Fi50) Flash Fiction Challenge is on again starting next week from the 23rd of September!

fiction in 50

….the prompt for this month is…

…UNCONVENTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS…

So pick up your pen, stylus, keyboard or pointy finger and create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less, then post a link so we can all enjoy your efforts.  It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t even have to be insightful or serious, but it does have to be MICRO-SIZED!

For more information and a slightly more detailed explanation of the challenge and its requirements, click on the button above, or the appropriate page in this blog’s header.  Hope you will all join in!

Until next time,

Bruce and Mad Martha

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Read-it-if: Pathways to Illumination….

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Afternoon me hearties! Today I bring to you something a little bit different – poetry! No, not my own or Mad Matha’s spectacular efforts of poetic brilliance, but those of Christy Birmingham in her compact yet emotional, autobiographical tome Pathways to Illumination.  Initially, Mad Martha and I discussed doing a haiku review given the poetical content of the book, but quite frankly, Ms Birmingham’s work is of a far greater quality than our own, so we decided to defer to a higher talent when we see it and go with the Read-it-if instead.

Pathways to Illumination is a collection of poems relating Birmingham’s journey through a toxic relationship and out the other side.  The poems explore the various stages of moving through a relationship breakdown, and address domestic violence, control in relationships, emotional turmoil, depression and self-harm before moving on to the more hopeful outcomes including finding support and beginning again with a more healthy and positive outlook.  The poems are structured to be read sequentially, so that the book almost takes on the design of a verse novel, allowing the reader to experience the author’s journey and engage with her process of healing.

pathways to illumination

Read it if:

* you like a bit of poetry but don’t like random collections of poems on disjointed topics

* you’ve ever hitched your star to a wagon that looked fancy at the time…but who’s hard wooden seats gave you splinters, who’s hard wooden wheels ran over your toes, and who ultimately hooked up with another, more tawdry looking wagon despite promises to the contrary

* you have unabashedly adopted Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as your personal theme song

* you can’t go past an author who, in her own words, “inhales personal growth and exhales a passion for every new day”

While we shelf denizens do our fair share of composing (slightly dodgy) poetry, admittedly, we don’t read a lot of it.  Mainly because poetry, like a classic novel, can be a bit daunting and intimidating. Or overly pretentious.  Thankfully, those labels do not apply to the poems in this book.  Rather, if you pick up Pathways to Illumination you will find poems that contain striking imagery, relatable content and honest emotion in a very readable format.  Best of all, one will be left with a sense of hope and optimism to speed one on one’s way.

If you are interested in grabbing a copy of the book, you can do so here.  And if you want to connect with Christy herself, you can check out her blog at www.poeticparfait.com

And just for kicks, here’s Ms Gaynor herself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBR2G-iI3-I

Until next time,

Bruce

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Pre-release Read-it-if Review: The Dead Men Stood Together….

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Good Sunny Morning to you all! Today’s offering is a pre-release from one of the shelf’s favourite authors: The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital review copy via Netgalley from Bloomsbury in return for an honest review, so three cheers to Bloomsbury!

As I mentioned, we are big Chris Priestley fans around the shelf – indeed, he has even been the subject of one of Mad Martha’s Odes to an Author, which you can check out here, if you so desire.  So it was with great anticipation that I got my paws on this latest tome.  As a bit of background, Priestley has recently published a number of books that are retellings of well-known horror stories, and The Dead Men Stood Together is the latest in this line-up.  Based on Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Dead Men follows the adventures of the young narrator as he sets sail through every extreme of weather, on a highly unusual and extremely creep-inducing adventure in the company of a crew of hardened sea dogs and his highly unusual and extremely creep-inducing uncle.

I had not read the poem before starting the book, but a few chapters in, I thought I probably should, just to have something with which to compare the story as it unfolded.  If you are of a similar mindset, you can find the text of the poem here, although it is by no means necessary to be familiar with the poem in order to enjoy the book.

dead men stood together

Read it if:

* you can’t resist a rollicking tale set on the high seas

* you have ever been held captive by an elderly person as they regale you with far-fetched stories from the distant past

* you are inclined to complain heartily and predict impending doom should the weather stray more than a couple of degrees either side of your preferred temperature

* you have an objectionable uncle (or indeed any type of irritating relative) and you would love to witness their come-uppance…particularly if that come-uppance involves the wearing of something large, ridiculous and foul-smelling as a means of public ridicule

Priestley has a very recognisable style that pops you straight into the gothic, atmospheric headspace required for maximum enjoyment of a fear-laden tale.  The voice of the narrator is just perfect for read-aloud and I can definitely picture fathers and sons (probably best to avoid uncles and nephews, unless you are indeed the objectionable sort of uncle who finds amusement in creeping kids out) enjoying this one together as a before-bed serial.  This would also be a good choice for middle-grade lads who like a bit of substance with their adventure.

The only trouble I would note for this as a read-alone for the younger end of the target age bracket is the pace of the book in some parts – particularly towards the end of the tale, there are a few large chunks of text that are almost entirely comprised of the narrator’s reflections and I found that without any dialogue or real character interactions that I had to really focus my attention through those sections.  This may also have been due to the fact that I find myself far more distractable when reading e-versions  – I would definitely say this type of story suits a print book. Preferably a hardback. Dog-eared. With an attached fabric bookmark.

Overall, this was a nice, atmospheric read; light on the blood-spattering gore type of horror but well-divested of a sense of creeping dread.  And I will award bonus points because, as it’s based on classic poetry, it allows one to indulge in a bit of book-snobbery: “Coleridge? Oh of course darling, I’m utterly familiar with his major works….”

Until next time,

Bruce

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Haiku Review: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great….

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Afternoon my Spring-time lovelies! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the bees are buzzing (or would be, were there any bees left in our neighbourhood) and cupcakes are raining from the heavens! Sorry, northern hemisphere-friends, just couldn’t resist making you a little jealous.  Although admittedly, the cupcakes part is made up.

Mad Martha here with you again, and speaking of cupcakes, the title character in today’s Haiku review does actually have the ability to make it rain cupcakes! Yes, I’m speaking of Unicorn, from Bob Shea’s colourful and inviting, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great…

unicornI found this book to have an incredibly high “I can relate to that” factor.  Being a sock creature created from the dregs of the fabric off-cuts basket, I admit I can be overly-sensitive to those who may be considered “the beautiful people”.  For this is the crux of Goat’s dilemma – how can ordinary old goat ever be friends with such a stand-out over-achiever as Unicorn?  Luckily, with a bit of heart-to-heart, honest communication Goat learns that he too has some pretty enviable skills and abilities.

Open dialogue

defeats Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Cloven is cool too.

The title and cover art alone were enough to get me straight into this book, but I found even more to enjoy inside the covers.  Take, for example, this page:

cloven justice

Apart from giving me an idea for a fantastic literature-related Halloween costume, what a catchphrase! I have immediately brought it into use around the shelf, while dusting and generally keeping things tidy….I find it lifts the spirits in an otherwise uninspiring circumstance.

Go on, try saying it.

A bit louder.

Fun, isn’t it?

Until we meet again my pretties, TASTE MY CLOVEN JUSTICE!!

Mad Martha

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Read-it-if-Review: Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase…

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I’m very excited about today’s offering – Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud…  I was lucky enough to get my paws on an advance digital copy of the book via NetGalley thanks to Random House Australia and I am very glad I did…because it was an absolute little RIPPER, as we say around my neck of the woods!

screaming staircase

I haven’t read a Stroud book since I encountered the first of the Bartimaeus trilogy, The Amulet of Samarkand, many years ago.  Although I enjoyed it then, I didn’t feel the need to keep on with the series. I may have been mistaken in that decision, if the quality of Lockwood & Co is anything to go by.

The Screaming Staircase follows 15-year-old Lucy Carlyle as she arrives in London and attempts to find work with an appropriately outfitted Psychic Investigation Agency – essentially a group of kids with psychic skills, supervised by adults who have since lost their psychic skills, whose job it is to protect the general population from attacks by various types of wandering ghost.  Instead, she lands a job with Lockwood & Co, a seat-of-your-pants, duct-tape and fishing line type organisation staffed by charismatic and devil-may-care Anthony Lockwood and surly and straight-down-the-line George Cubbins.  Thus begins an eventful period in which the three are beset by a range of murderous spirits, engaged in an effort to stave off angry clients and bankruptcy, and occasionally find time to relax with tea and piles of doughnuts.

Read it if…..

* you are a fan of the young adult/paranormal/comedy/murder-mystery sub-genre

* you like to keep collections of weird and/or creepy things in jars around the house and spring them on unsuspecting guests for the express purpose of amusing your housemates (and yourself)

* you wholly support the idea that the dead should have the common decency to remain in an unanimated state until such time as the Powers-That-Control-The-Universe decree that they should be otherwise

* you agree that, should the need for fighting off wandering ghosts arise, the task should definitely be left to a bunch of small children…because adults have enough to bother about as it is

There’s a lot I could say about this book…and I will, in fact, because it’s worth raving about.  But I will place these nuggets of information in handy, indented blocks for your perusing pleasure.  You’re welcome.

Reading Age:

One of the booksellers I came across had this book listed as recommended for ages 9-12. I think that’s both (a) a tad optimistic and (b) a tad limiting, in that, at nearly 400 pages and given the concepts and language involved, it would take an exceptional nine-year-old reader to manage this one on their own.  As well, there is plenty here for older readers to enjoy, so I’d place it more at an 11+ sort of an age bracket.

World-building:

The cover art, title and a lot of the early story had me initially assuming that this was a story set in, say, Victorian times, when rosy-cheeked orphans performed engaging dance routines while picking the pockets of the unsuspecting gentry.  Then every so often there would be a reference to television or some other modern item. In fact, this story takes place in a CONTEMPORARY setting. For some reason, my brain could not wrap itself around this concept and the modern references jarred every single time.  Consider yourself duly warned.

Tone:

If you’re expecting grim, creepy and atmospheric, then you’ve come to the right book.  If you’re expecting dry, witty dialogue, classic exchanges between the main characters, and a skull-in-a-jar that almost steals the show, you’ve also come to the right book. Stroud has blended the two seamlessly. Hurrah!

Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough of this book.  While reading it, I was having the same moment of extended bliss that I had while reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist – for the full story on that one, go here.  I can definitely see this one falling into the “regular re-read” category and I’m almost certainly going to have to get myself a print copy so I can make it all soft and well-thumbed.  Although anyone who feels the need to gift me with a print copy is more than welcome to do so.

If you’re not convinced that this is a great book, let the proof lie in this little piece of information: I, Bruce – of the major-hating-of-the-e-version-of-books and the much-preferedness-of-the-print-version-of-books – actually found myself returning to the computer screen in order to read more than my daily allocation of the e-galley…..

Until next time,

Bruce

*

Guest Post of Awesomosity: Rosie Best, Author of Skulk…

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skulkAhoy me hearties! You’ve made a canny choice jumping aboard the good ship Bookshelf today, because as a result you get to read a post by Rosie Best, author of Skulk – foxy, new-release, young adult, urban fantasy novel that I reviewed very recently indeed….in case you missed it, you can find that review here.

So who is this Rosie Best character? Here’s the lowdown, thanks to her publisher, Strange Chemistry

Rosie Best lives in London and loves all things nerdy. She is an editor at Working Partners Ltd, working on a huge variety of projects from first chapter books about unicorns to dark YA journeys through the land of the dead.

She’s also written for Working Partners on a freelance basis, on series published by Usborne and Hot Key Books.

The opening of Skulk won a place in the 2012 Undiscovered Voices anthology. When not writing or indulging a passion for video games, she sings with the Crouch End Festival Chorus.

And guess what else? She likes Ben Aaronovitch and Neil Gaiman too…clearly she has impeccable taste in authors, just like we shelf-dwellers.

For today’s post, Rosie is sharing a bit about why London is the perfect location for Meg’s adventures in Skulk….

Skulking Around London rosie best

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, but I bloody love London town. I consider myself deeply privileged to have done most of my growing up here, and when I realised I was going to write an urban fantasy there was no question at all in my mind where it was going to be set.

Skulk is the story of Meg Banks, a girl from an upper class London family who’s out graffitiing her posh girl’s school in the middle of the night when she witnesses the death of a fox who shapeshifts into a man. She inherits his ability to shift, and soon gets caught up in a conflict between the shapeshifters and someone who’ll do anything for power.

‘Write what you know’ is advice that can seem reductive and annoying, but I ended up following it when I was writing Skulk, almost by mistake. Even though I was actually writing a story about shapeshifters and magic, I ended up naturally filling Skulk with things that fit, that I knew could be believably found somewhere within the M25. Urban foxes, the ravens in the Tower, spiders and rats, and yes, butterflies. Pigeons and fog (even though the last great London fog happened in the 1960s). Hyde Park and Waterloo Bridge, the Tower of London and the top of the Shard.

Sometimes I worried that putting in so many of the famous locations would make the book feel like a tourist’s version of London. There’s a subtle but very important difference between using the royal family and the red double decker busses and a nice cup of tea because they’re realities of life in London, and using them to suggest some kind of strangely glossy paradise full of polite white men in bowler hats.

That’s not London – the real city is staggeringly diverse, both in terms of the landscape and the people. I hope that a little bit of grit rubs off on the bright, shiny places from the less glamorous corners of this fabulous city that also made it into the book – the traveller park under the Westway flyover, Willesden Junction tube station, the dodgy part of Hammersmith.

I’ve been wondering whether Skulk could be set somewhere else, and I think it could – I can imagine the New York version, the Delhi version, the Sydney version (that one would have the biggest spiders). I think those would be cool books, but I know I couldn’t write them.

There are a couple of books I have to acknowledge as huge influences on the way I think and write about London:

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman – for my generation this is the book (and originally the TV series) that got half of us into urban fantasy in the first place. Richard Mayhew helps a homeless girl and discovers a whole secret world just under the surface of London life. Tube station names like Earl’s Court and Blackfriars become wonderfully literal, and all sorts of real locations feature in weird, fantasy-tinged ways.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch – much more recent, but no less brilliant. This is the story of Peter Grant, a Metropolitan Police Officer who sees a ghost at a murder scene and finds out that magic is real and people are committing crimes with it. It’s an urban fantasy police procedural, and because the main character is an architecture nerd it comes with a healthy (and surprisingly compelling) helping of London history.

Harry Potter – this is a bit of a strange choice, because almost all of it is set in Wizarding Scotland. But JK Rowling also writes about the muggle world with an insightful truthfulness that’s just as brilliant as the wild fantastical world of Hogwarts. Plus, I love that JK created a London landmark of her very own that stuck so fiercely in people’s minds that it now really exists – at least, there’s a sign for Platform 9 3/4 and half a trolley sticking out of a wall in King’s Cross station.

If you want to read more from Rosie (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?), you can check out her blog at http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.com.au/    In the meantime, you should probably go and immediately get your hands on a copy of Skulk. I have made that bit easy for you – just click on the cover image at the top of the page to be taken to the Book Depository, where you can spend your hard-earned (or ill-gotten) cash*

As this post is part of a blog tour, you can multiply your Skulky pleasure exponentially by visiting other foxy bloggers over the course of the next month – just go to http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.co.uk/p/skulk-blog-tour.html and follow the trail!

Until next time,

Bruce

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