An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Heraclix and Pomp…

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Welcome to a Read-it-if for grown ups who like swords, sorcery, fairies, monsters and general villainy and  mystery.  I received a copy of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest Aguirre from the publisher via Edelweiss after being intrigued by a tantalising blurb which promised monsters and fairies acting in cahoots.

Heraclix is a reincarnated creature patched together from random body parts.  Pomp is a fairy who is facing certain disembowelment at the hands of villainous sorcerer.  From this happy beginning springs a friendship that is destined to cross the borders of life itself.  After escaping with only their lives from the aforementioned villainous sorcerer, Heraclix and Pomp set out across a land rife with conflict to discover who and what they are.  Pursued by various groups and individuals that seem to want them dead (or at least imprisoned), Heraclix and Pomp befriend a warlord-turned-healer, inveigle themselves into a secret society and even make a depressing jaunt into Hell before getting to the crux of the matter and facing off against the sorcerer at whose ill-advised dabbling this story began.

Heraclix and Pomp

Read it if:

* you believe monsterism is as monsterism does

* you are firmly convinced that spending too much time hanging around in front of the mirror can be hazardous to one’s health (and soul)

* you are of the unwavering belief that tattoos can be redemptive

* you have learned, by experience or otherwise, when being pursued by a mob with torches and pitchforks, it is best to run first and gauge the general mood later

When deciding to pick this book up, I was drawn to the heady atmosphere of oddity that seemed to emanate from the descriptions of the main characters.  A patchwork man of monstrous countenance and open heart? Wonderful.  A cheeky fairy learning to exist in the mortal world? Sure, bring it on.  All the other stuff would sort itself out, I thought, if I could just read a story with these interesting characters leading the way.  And for the most part, thoughtful, purpose-driven Heraclix and well-meaning, curious Pomp were enough to keep me engaged in this complex world.

I must admit that I was utterly astounded when I saw that the print version of this book has only 280 pages, because reading it on the Kindle had me thinking I was wading through a 500 page epic.  Aguirre has packed a lot of action into this tale and it certainly felt to me to be a hefty read, and not one that I would pick up for a bit of light diversion.  It’s more a tale that needs a committed reader, because the magical elements dip in and out and interweave themselves with real places, and if you’re not paying attention, it would be easy to lose the thread of the whos and whats and wheres of our intrepid pair.  I found that after the eventful and enlightening trip to Hell that the pair undertake (about two thirds of the way through) I began to lose the thread of the story just a little, and never quite regained it to my satisfaction.  I could fully grasp the events of the final third of the plot, but I suspected I was missing some important nuances.

Overall, this is a story that features a very strong sense of place and culture: as Heraclix and Pomp traverse Europe, the places that they visit seem to have their own life and exert an influence over the pairs’ decisions.  If you are very familiar with the lore of various old cities in Europe, you’ll probably appreciate this far more than I did, as my vague knowledge about the magical history of Prague (for instance) didn’t really cut it in terms of understanding the nuance of the story.  As it was, I simply appreciated the changes in atmosphere as Heraclix and Pomp moved about the place.

What I did find refreshing and fun and brain-building was the need to use the Kindle’s dictionary feature reasonably often during my reading, thanks to Aguirre’s vocabulary-expanding text.  I quite enjoyed hovering over a certain word or phrase (just to double-check its meaning, you understand!)  as I don’t often run across a book containing hitherto unforeseen (or rarely seen) words.  Some of the crackers I picked up included fumarole, janissary, senescence, celerity and concrescence.   Go on, look them up. Of course, on having embraced the use of this feature on the Kindle, I am now continually frustrated that I can’t do the same in printed books.  Ah well.

If you like a bit of magic, philosophy and sword-thwackery presented in a well-executed package, Heraclix and Pomp could be the book for you.  While it’s not for the fainthearted, it will definitely draw you in and have you pondering what it means to be human, and how redemption can be earned.

Until next time,

Bruce

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An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Nyctophobia…

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Welcome, seekers of the light, to a spooky haiku review with me, your host, Mad Martha.  Today’s book focuses on a fear common to fleshlings and sock-creatures alike: the fear of the dark.  Light your candle/gas lamp/super-powered LED torch and let’s creep quietly down the darkened corridors of Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler.

Callie hasn’t had the easiest of journeys so far in life, but since marrying older, dark, handsome Spaniard Matteo, things have been looking up.  Giving up work as an architect, Callie moves with Matteo to Spain and is immediately drawn to the remote and mysterious Hyperion House, with its strange architectural style that keeps the majority of the house in direct sunlight for the greatest part of the day.  After moving in, Callie begins to research the history of the house in an attempt to discover the reasons behind some its more bizarre features; apart from the lack of shadows in the main living area, the back of the house appears to be built into a cliff, rendering it into almost total darkness, and the servants quarters seem to be built as an exact replica of the main house, but at a third of their size.  As Callie digs deeper into the house’s secrets she becomes convinced that there are “others” living in the locked, dark servants’ quarters – others that wish to do her family harm.  As Matteo is increasingly absent due to work and Callie has no one to turn to but his nine-year-old daughter Bobbie, things become very confusing for Callie very quickly.  But perhaps some secrets are best left buried: for if we do not heed the lessons of history, we may be doomed to repeat them.

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Noises in the walls

are the least of her worries

What price, happiness?

This is not your typical gory, deaths-aplenty horror story (although there are a few deaths here).  Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ghosts in the attic story (although there are indeed ghosts inhabiting various rooms also).  Nyctophobia is instead a psychological, mess-with-your-head, things aren’t what they seem (or are they?) type horror story, and as such, Christopher Fowler has done a very thorough job at creating an atmosphere of confusion and secrecy throughout the book.

If you enjoy haunted house stories, you’ll probably enjoy this.  While defining it as a “haunted house” story is a major simplification – this is a complex book that layers traditional motifs with Spanish history, familial history and episodes of mental illness – it is Hyperion House itself that is the star of the tale here.  I love the idea of a house built specifically to cater to those who are afraid of the dark – for in this story, the original builder of the house designed it with his nyctophobic wife in mind, to ensure that not one shadow penetrated the facade.  The bizarre architectural quirks add interest to the tale and provide Callie (and the reader) with hours of fun as she tries to figure out why they were built and why they are kept perpetually locked and in darkness.

The story has a well-thought out twist in the end that I didn’t see coming.  I won’t give you any clues as to what it might be, but it really threw everything that had happened before into a new light (pun intended!) and had me re-thinking earlier parts of the story.  The twist was nicely handled in that it was revealed matter-of-factly and the realisation of the implications of the twist were allowed to slowly percolate through Callie’s head (and the readers’!) before a slightly ambiguous ending.

The one problem I had with this book is that it felt to me like a hefty, dense read.  It’s only 320 pages, but it seemed to take a long time to really get into the meat of the “horror” elements – in fact, Callie’s first really frightening encounter with the suspected “others” doesn’t take place until chapter twenty-two, and for some people I suspect that’s going to be too long a wait.  If you are in the market for a ghostly, psychological thriller that takes a few Spanish siestas here and there, Nyctophobia could well be the book for you.

Until we meet again, may your torch batteries be ever inserted the right way round,

Mad Martha

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley *

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Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! Win (Mildly) Scary Stuff!

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Spooktacular2014

Welcome to my stop on the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! The hop is running from October 15th to 31st and is hosted by I Am a Reader!  Don’t forget to hop around the other 200+ blogs participating in the event, and try your hand at winning all sorts of spooky stuff.

I have decided to provide some spooky options for readers of all ages for this hop.  My giveaway is open internationally, provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  One winner will be able to choose ONE of the books below as their prize.  Click on the book cover to find out more about the book!

For the little horror buff:

sherlock holmes little primer

For the middle grade scare-fiend (one of my personal favourites):

uncle montague

And for the grown-up terror:

screaming staircase

Although, if the winner has already read/bought the first in the series of Tales of Terror, OR Lockwood and Co, I will be happy to substitute the second in the series if the winner so chooses.

To enter, click on this link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck! And now here’s the list of other participating blogs – hop on my friends, and good fortune…

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Until next time,

Bruce

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A Poetical Read-it-If Review: Rhyme Schemer…

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Are you the kind of reader that loves it when an author tries something a little bit different…and NAILS it? Me too.  Happily, today’s offering is from an author that does just that.  Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt is a verse novel for a middle grade audience, so I suspected when I requested it for review that I would probably enjoy it.  What did surprise me was the way that Holt has managed to create a clever, funny and sensitive novel that hits all the right notes and authentically portrays the troubles and triumphs of a young lad who is considered to be a bit of a ne’er-do-well.  So, in fact, I ended up loving it. Hurrah!

If you were to describe Kevin as a class bully, you would not be too far off the mark.  Kevin has a reputation for being the kind of guy who might hide all your pencils.  And then politely inform you that your pencils are missing.  And then laugh at you.  Kevin also has four older brothers and two parents who don’t have a lot of time for him.  Kevin also has a particular skill in manipulating pages in classic children’s stories and posting them around the school.  But when a classmate discovers Kevin’s love of poetry, he suddenly realises how much of an impact words can have on other people.  Is it too late for Kevin to redeem himself? Or is he going to be stuck as the villain of the story forever?

rhyme schemerRead it if:

*you’ve ever thought that many classic children’s books could do with a cheeky, handwritten makeover

*you’ve ever felt like the smallest fish in a very large pond…comprised mostly of annoying brother fish

*you’ve ever had a secret passion for something that might be considered a bit embarrassing were it to be revealed in public

*you’re looking for a book with an authentic male protagonist that features poetry in a clever and very engaging way

As someone who enjoys the odd bit of poetry (and a bit of odd poetry) this book could not have been more perfect.  It is a super-quick read – I think I read it in two sittings, but could easily have managed it in one – and has a storyline that had me glued to the pages.  The book opens with Kevin revealing that he is the mastermind behind a spate of guerilla-poetry attacks, in which pages torn from classic children’s books have been manipulated with pencil to create funny new poems and stuck up around his school.  If you can’t imagine what I mean, here’s a handy illustration from the book to demonstrate:

 

rhyme schemer illustration example

 

Kevin is a self-proclaimed bully who seems to take great delight in humiliating others, but as we move deeper into Kevin’s journal, we quickly discover that he has family problems that may account, in some part, for his less-than-kind behaviour towards his classmates.  It’s really hard to dislike Kevin though, as his voice is at once self-promoting and self-deprecating – he knows that his behaviour is not winning him friends, but he also seems to know that he has a gift that might open up some opportunities for him if he can keep out of trouble.

This is an ingenious new take on the moving-into-the-teenage-years style of story that will most definitely appeal to kids in the target age group because of the style of humour and excellent characterisation.  I suspect this will also appeal to those with a subversive streak (including, but not limited to, reluctant readers and those who like to deface library books), and those who are just looking for a familiar story of friendship and personal growth told in a fun, accessible fashion.

Actually, writing this review has done two things: it’s encouraged me to pick up That Shakespeare Kid, another verse novel that’s been sitting on my TBR pile for at least six months, and it’s also reminded me to put Rhyme Schemer on my Christmas list. Because now I wish to own it in print, not least because it features the funniest collections on the subject of the school principal’s tie ever written.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fairy Tale Makeovers: A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack…

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My fairy tale makeovers review series has been lagging a bit of late, so I am happy to present you with a fun little makeover of Jack and the Beanstalk for the early years crowd.  I gratefully received a copy A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce and the alliteratively named Kenny Callicut, from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, and was immediately drawn to the gorgeous colours and sweeping vistas of the illustrations.  There’s also an extremely underwhelmed Brahman bull that pops up here and there that had us all giggling from the get-go, so watch out for him!

a bean a stalk and a boy named jack

When drought hits the land, all the King’s subjects must line up to do their bit – their bit specifically being producing tears in order to provide water to wash the King’s stinky pinky toe.  After some slight interference from the King’s daughter and the Royal Wizard, a smallish boy and a smallish bean join forces to solve the problem of the stinky pinky, and return equilibrium to the kingdom.  When Jack (the smallish boy) plants Bean (the smallish bean), an oversized stalk erupts and delivers the unlikely pair to the crux of the problem – a (smallish) giant kid having a giant bath!  With a bit of friendly conversation and due consideration, the water problem is rectified and the King’s pinky becomes unstinky.  Cue bathing! Cue rejoicing! Cue…another fairy tale?!

**For some odd reason – it could be something to do with the writing – but I imagined this whole tale beginning to end read in a Brooklyn-ish accent.  It seemed to fit perfectly and really added to the experience for me, but you know, it’s just a suggestion. **

At 58 pages, A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack, is a slightly longer than average picture book, but the engaging and colourful illustrations, many of them covering double page spreads, just suck you straight into the adventure.  The tale is narrated in a fun, laid-back tone, and while there’s no rhyme, there are plenty of repeated phrases for the young’uns to join in with.  The text is laid out in a combination of clear black type and colourful speech bubbles and this mixes things up and provides a bit of interest.

Jack is immediately likeable and Bean is possibly the cutest vegetable ever to grace the page and the remaining members of the  ensemble cast just seem to want to solve the stinky pinky problem and return the status quo.  There’s not a lot of wild adventure here – more of a meeting of like minds – but it’s definitely worth a look simply to appreciate the eye-catching art and gentle humour gracing the pages.  I especially liked the cheeky twist at the end of the tale which leads into another fairy tale (Jack, of course, being a common name in fairy tale circles), but I won’t spoil it for you.

If you are looking for a fun, relaxed twist on the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum that exchanges bone-grinding for hygienic bathing practices and water conservation, then this is the fairy tale makeover for you!  I must admit, paging through it again has sucked me straight back into the beautiful illustrations, so I’m going to sign off now and spend a few more moments giving my eyeballs a visual treat.  Don’t mind me.

*clears throat in preparation for Brooklynish accent*

A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack was released on October 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce

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2014: A Bookish Year in Review…

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So last year around this time I jumped in on a fun, bookish survey from Pop Culture Nerd – you can check that out here if you like – and this year I’ve decided to do my own bookish review of the year that has (almost) been!  Basically, I’ve come up with some sentences and I aim to finish them with the titles of books that I have read this year.  I can’t guarantee that I won’t cheat though and use some titles from last year. Or titles on my TBR pile.  I may even include more than one title per sentence.  Hold onto your false teeth, thrillseekers, here we go!

So far, I would describe this year as being: [a] Blur

I’m tipping that the next big thing in Reality TV shows will be: Extreme Dentistry

I could have cried when: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side

blur  extreme dentistry  mirror cover

I would love to have some respite from: Baby Penguins Everywhere!

The most unexpected thing that happened this year involved: 100 Hungry Monkeys

My non-bookish friends would say I: [have a] SuperEgo

baby penguins everywhere 100 Monkeys superego

My motto for the remainder of 2014 is going to be: Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab

The thing I am most looking forward to is: [an] 8-Bit Christmas

One of my favourite dreams features: Duck, Death and the Tulip

never underestimate a hermit crab  8 bit christmas duck death and the tulip

If you looked under my couch you would see: [a] Slimy Underbelly

If I could no longer keep blogging, I would probably pursue a career in: The Indifference League

Something most people don’t know about me is: I Need a New Butt

 

slimy underbelly  the indifference league  i need a new butt

I’ve linked the Goodreads info to each of the pictures if you have suddenly developed an interest in any of these handy titles.  Feel free to jump aboard with your own Bookish Survey – I’d love to hear what other people’s literary year has been like!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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The Thinking Person’s Double-Dip Review: Therapeutic Felines and The Mysterious Brain…

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Welcome to a brainy edition of the Double-Dip Review! Today I have two low-fat, high-firbre options for those interested in the workings of the mind and its more tangible cousin, the brain.  Engage your central nervous system and let’s scoop up the dish on these two informative reads!

Purr Therapy: What Timmy and Marina Taught Me About Love, Life and Loss by psychotherapist Kathy McCoy delves into the little known and not-often-encountered practice of cat-assisted psychotherapy.  While most people have seen or heard about dogs assisting in various therapeutic enterprises (such as in the nursing home, which you can find out more about here), McCoy, to her surprise, accidentally discovered two cats perfectly suited to assisting her clients and so her foray into animal-assisted therapy began.  Throughout the book, McCoy relates the story of how Timmy and Marina came to live with her family and how each cat took on the mantle of therapy-feline in unique ways.  McCoy features some specific clients (names changed to protect the innocently guilty, of course) and outlines how the cats’ individual natures changed the course of the therapy journey for clients dealing with a range of issues such as anxiety, grief, marital difficulties and parenting troubles.  The book concludes with a round-up of the important lessons that McCoy has learned through working with animals in her personal practice.

21817417Dip into it for…

…a well-documented recollection of how cats (yes, cats!) can cut the mustard against their canine counterparts in deeply emotional situations.  Being more than mildly interested in psychotherapy and other forms of treatment for mental illness and emotional trauma, I was clearly going to be positively disposed to this book from the start, and it does provide a good insight into the benefits of using an animal to assist people in emotional distress. Because McCoy came upon the idea of using cats in her practice due to serendipitous circumstance, she provides a good overview of the issues she ran into initially, such as how to manage when and where the cats would work, how to deal with clients with allergies and fear of cats, and how to ensure that every client who wanted to, was able to engage with the cats.

The book is broken up into parts, the first of which focuses on Timmy – the first cat McCoy took into her therapy room – and his journey into McCoy’s family and practice.  The second part of the book focuses on Marina, McCoy’s second therapy cat, the differences between Marina’s approach and Timmy’s and how each cat was suited to particular client needs.  Each part is wrapped up with a handy summary of the most important learnings that McCoy took from her experiences working with the cats and how she applied these to her own life.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like books in which animals die. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say, because McCoy mentions it very early on in the book, but BOTH CATS DIE UNTIMELY DEATHS.  You’ve been warned.  The deaths of Timmy and Marina, and McCoy’s and her clients’ emotional reactions to the deaths are dealt with in surprising detail.  I actually found the recount of Timmy’s unexpected illness and death quite distressing – which was no doubt a reaction to the distressing nature of the actual event as experienced by McCoy and her husband – so if you don’t like to read about animals suffering and/or dying, this might not be the book for you.  Or perhaps you could skip those bits, although they do take up quite a significant portion of each cat’s story.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a very accessible and, for the most part, interesting read that really opens up the conversation as to the benefits of using cats in therapeutic situations.  It’s going to be a hit with cat-lovers and fans of real-life animal stories and would be good to keep on the bedside table and dip into at leisure.  I was hoping for a bit more focus on the therapy part of the deal, but while McCoy does feature a number of clients’ stories per cat, I felt that the therapy part was glossed over a little in favour of the cats’ antics.  This was bearable for most of the book, but by the time I got about halfway through Marina’s story I was beginning to doubt the veracity of McCoy’s recollections – surely no cat could have such astute timing and such perfectly anthropomorphic reactions as these two! Nevertheless, apart from that slight irritation, I’m glad I delved into this book, for the novelty value of cats bucking the stereotype of indifference to human suffering if nothing else.

Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: A Renowned Neurologist Explains the Mystery and Drama of Brain Disease by Dr. Allan H. Ropper and Brian David Burrell comprehensively explains, through the lived experiences of a number of patients, the complex and sometimes utterly bizarre nature of the brain and the things that can go wrong with it.  In a completely accessible way, Ropper recounts stories of the strange and heart-breaking, from the salesman who is found driving round and round a traffic roundabout, seemingly unable to get off, to the young mother diagnosed with ALS forced to make profound decisions about continuing on despite being unable to move anything but her eyes, or breathe on her own.  With a liberal dose of humour, Ropper delves into the challenges and triumphs experienced with and by these patients, and relates the difficulties inherent in diagnosing diseases of an organ that can play tricks on itself. 

19286537Dip into it for…

…the most accessible and gripping book about neurology that you will ever read.  I know that’s a big claim, but I’m assuming that only a tiny percentage of those of you following this blog are qualified neurologists or neurosurgeons, so I feel quite justified in making it.  I was initially quite reluctant about requesting this for review because I thought it may be quite dry and technical and not turn out to be very readable at all. Thankfully, I was completely wrong, and I found myself glued to the book, reading at least a chapter every night before retiring.

Together, Ropper and Burrell have hit on a fantastic and engaging narrative style that is matter-of-fact, personal and touches on all the existential fears floating around in the human psyche relating to the potential for death or permanent disability and how one might reasonably (or unreasonably) face these fears.  Another interesting point in the book is Ropper’s up-front acknowledgement that doctors and medical professionals are not infallible and are subject to the same pressures, doubts and muck-ups that plague the rest of us.  In one memorable story, Ropper recounts how, in a spectacular stroke of cumulative bad luck, one mistake by a clinician incorrectly reading a scan, followed by a number of unlikely follow-up mistakes by subsequent medical staff assigned to the case, caused a patient to be initially misdiagnosed and delayed the discovery of the actual cause of his illness until it was too late to administer any really effective treatment.

This story is in the minority however, as most of the situations recounted demonstrate the commitment of medical staff working in a difficult field and the resilience or othewise of their patients as they come to terms with the scary possibility that there might be something wrong with their brain.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not into recollections of medical procedures, potentially life-threatening illnesses and more than one patient death.  Really, I suspect this book is going to have a niche audience of people interested in either particular neurological disorders, or neurology in a general sense, and if that’s not you, you should probalby move right on by.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really surprised at how deeply I got into this book, and how much of its content has popped up in my thoughts since I finished reading it.  Coincidentally, the ALS/Motor Neurone Ice Bucket Challenge started hitting the internet while I was making my way through this book and while I already knew a small amount about the disease, it was nicely topical to be able to read into the topic more deeply just at that time.  If you’re a fan of Michael J. Fox (and who isn’t, really?), it turns out that Ropper has been involved in treating and advising Mr Fox through his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, so there’s a bit of bonus celebrity-related material in here too. While I was engaged and challenged by the more emotional and worrying patient stories, I also very much enjoyed the initial chapters of the book which aptly described the range of bizarre cases that can pop up in the neurology department and the interesting and unexpected ways in which medical staff go about trying to figure out what’s wrong.

All up, if you’re interested in the brain in all its mysterious glory you should probably keep this book on your radar.

So there you have it – from mind science to brain science, I hope you’ve found something to fire some neurons in this double-dip!  I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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