Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Widows and Random Body Parts” Edition…

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imageWelcome to another Reading Round-Up pardners! Today I have an eclectic collection of bookish beasts so hopefully there’ll be something to satisfy even the most fussy lariat-wielding reader.  I received all of these books from their respective publishers (two via Netgalley, one via Simon & Schuster Australia – thanks!) for review.  Let’s ride read!

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse (Leslie Bulion & Mike Lowery)random  body parts

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This one does exactly what it says on the box: you guess which body part a cheeky verse is describing.  Some are blindingly obvious, and some take a little more deciphering, but all in all there’s a lot of fun to be had here mixing science and literacy.

Muster up the motivation because:

…it’s fun, funny and pitched perfectly for the middle to upper primary age bracket.  There are also plenty of illustrations, and a glossary and annotations so there’s a lot going on visually for those who get bored looking at print on a page.  Really, this book harnesses the brilliant (and educationally useful) idea of linking two subject areas that rarely see the light of day together, except in picture books for the early years, and executes it with vim and vigour.  *My kindle version did have a few problems in the formatting of the imagery with the print, but I got a good overall impression of the book despite this.  I would also love to see the finished version in print because of this*

Brand it with:

innovative educational text, shakesp-ears (and eyes and brains etc), poetry in motion

Read my Goodreads review here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1207887128

I’m also submitting this one for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge in the category of books with an odd language element.  To find out more about the challenge and join in, just click on this cute little button:

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 My Daylight Monsters: A Gothic Novella (Sarah Dalton)my daylight monsters

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Mary has been seeing visions of creepy ghosty-zomboid monsters since a devastating accident in which she lost some of her friends.  She checks herself into a psych ward for teens to get some respite, but it appears her monsters follow her even into the safety of daylight.

Muster up the motivation:

Overall this is a solid, psych-ward adventure-drama, with all the expected patrons in attendance and some unexpected ones also.  The ending got to be a bit unlikely for my tastes but the bulk of the storytelling is done well with some interesting twists and reveals.  As a novella, it’s also a quick read and a great opportunity to try the series before committing to the full length novels featuring Mary in other adventures.

Brand it with:

unhelpful helpers, daytime hauntings, tall-dark-mysterious strangers, take your medication

See my Goodreads review here!

 

 

The Widow’s Confession (Sophia Tobin)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  widows confession
Two American sisters come to Broadstairs, Kent in 1850 to hide from a secret in their past (and enjoy the bracing sea breezes and picturesque painting opportunities – obviously).  When the corpses of young girls start turning up, more than just sand is churned up as the townsfolk try to keep the past buried.

Muster up the motivation because:

…there’s plenty of broody atmosphere to go round, as well as a piecemeal approach to the reveal of past secrets as each chapter is preceded by parts of a letter of confession.  As a period piece and murder mystery, all the tropes are there – the holidaying dapper young gent, the worried vicar, the cold-hearted physician and the mysterious foreign lasses with a shady past.  If you are looking for a book that will make you feel like you’re really there, wuthering on the clifftop (being wuthered? Not sure of the correct verb usage there!) then cosy up with The Widow’s Confession and be blown back and forth with the changing tides as characters’ secrets are revealed.

Brand it with:

An American in Kent, pretty young things (deceased), blustery clifftop strolls, historical fiction

Read my Goodreads review here!

So there you have it. Three rather different books, but hopefully something there has piqued your interest.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 4/16

I’m a quarter of the way there! How are others going in the Oddity Challenge? Anyone else want to join in? There’s plenty of time. Come on! Get on it!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Tomes from the Olden Times: Grandad’s Gifts…

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image Welcome, young and old to Tomes of the Olden Times, the feature in which I discuss books that I particularly remember from times long past.  Today’s gem is an exquisite short story/long picture book from that genius of Australian short-storytelling for children, Mr Paul Jennings.  If you have never read anything by Paul Jennings, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Go and correct this at once. No, actually, wait until you’ve read this post, THEN go and correct this in a timely fashion. Today I wish to discuss Grandad’s Gifts, written by Jennings, hauntingly illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe and first published in picture book form in 1990.  That’s 25 years ago folks. Yep, it makes me feel old too. The book tells the short but spook-laden tale of Shane, a young lad who moves with his family to live in the house of his late grandfather.  While there, Shane opens a forbidden cupboard, uncovers a long-hidden secret and sets about righting a wrong in his family history.  Here’s the (rather spoiler-filled) blurb from Goodreads: This is a chilling picture book with a twist in the tail, as Paul slowly brings a fox back to life by feeding its fur with lemons from the tree above its grave. But it’s the lemons above Paul’s grandfather’s grave that give the fox its final gift, sight… grandads gifts When Grandad’s Gifts suddenly popped back into my consciousness many moons after first encountering it, I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about it for so long.  I immediately tried to hunt it down but had a great deal of trouble finding it in print.  Then, one glorious day, as I was rifling through some second-hand library books I spotted it.  Not the cover that I remembered, but still, that title and that author and I knew I had found it.  And pretty darn pleased about my little score I was too. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this story so mystical and memory-worthy, but I can assure you that it is one of those special books that you really should endeavour to get your hands on.  Trust me on this. When first I was introduced to this story, in a classroom setting, I remember being stunned by the …well, stunning…illustrations.  So realistic, so engaging, so erring on the side of the magical in the realm of magical realism.  Here’s one:  image And here’s another: imageAnd one more, for luck:

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Boo! That one got you in, didn’t it?!

I think the realism of the artwork really gave this story its spook-factor.  There is something haunting about these pictures that embeds itself in the memory and brings the story right off the pages.  They are the perfect accompaniment to Jennings’ particular brand of quirky strangeness.  Any young Australian worth their salt (and any Australian teacher worth theirs) would be familiar with the hilarious and weird short stories of Paul Jennings.  Some of these, notably his Round the Twist stories,  were later turned into a television series, whose theme song will no doubt still be stuck in the heads of some.  *Mentally sings: Have you ever…ever felt like this? When strange things happen, are you goin’ round the twist?*

Apart from being deliciously creepy though, the book is also remarkably touching, as we get carried along with Shane’s mission to free his furry, cupboard-strewn friend.  This is one of those stories that proves the power of story-telling – it’s one I did actually forget about for a period of time, but once I remembered it, the experience of first hearing it came back in vivid detail from the depths of decades past.

I would highly, highly recommend hunting this book down if you can and reading it with any kids in your vicinity aged around seven or older.

Until next time,

Bruce  

Fiction in 50 February Challenge: Sincerely Yours…

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fiction in 50Welcome to the February edition of Fiction in 50, where young and old, novice and master, serious and slightly silly, gather to share their golden nuggets of micro-narrative. If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in 50 words or less using this month’s prompt and post a link to your work of genius in the comments of this post. If you want to share on twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50.  To find out more about the challenge and future prompts, simply click on the large attractive button at the beginning of this post.  This month’s prompt is…

imageAnd I have titled my contribution:

Shuffling Off This Mundane Coil

Shaz,

I can’t go on.  Don’t try to stop me. I’m going to a better place.

Jodz.

Dear Jodie,

I have received your resignation and we at Kwiki-shop Groceries wish you the best in pursuing an acting career.  We will all say we knew you before you were famous!

Sharon

(Manager)

Keen-eyed readers will note that this is actually 51 words (again!).  The last time I asked for editing suggestions I received a slew of excellent thoughts, so feel free to pitch in and let me know where I could lose a word or two and get under the required 50 words.

Next month’s prompt will be…

kernel of truth

Looking forward to seeing everyone’s contributions this month (especially any newbies!)

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Graphic novel Double Dip…and an Fi50 Reminder

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Welcome to an illustrative double dip review with a side order of odd.   Before we start noshing on with graphic novels however, I must remind participants and lurkers alike that Fiction in 50 for February kicks off on Monday.  This month’s prompt is….

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To participate, simply  create a piece of fiction or poetry in less than 50 words, post it somewhere, then add the link to the comments section of my Fi50 post on Monday.  It was great to see some new players last month, so if you’ve been dithering about whether or not to join in, the time is NOW! For more information and future prompts, just click on the Fi50 button at the top of this post.

To the Double Dip! I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and it would be tricky to find two more different works. First up, for the young and young at heart we have Gronk: A Monster’s Adventure by Katie Cook.

Gronk is a little, not very scary monster.  After leaving Monsterland, due to her lack of scaring ability, Gronk is picked up by Dale, a human lady, and taken home to live with Kitty (Dale’s cat) and Harli (Dale’s Newfoundland dog).  We join Gronk as she negotiates the joys and terrors of the human world and tries to fit in as just another creatuimagere in a houseful of interesting ones.

Dip into it for:

…a cutesy, episodic tale featuring a cute little monster.  Gronk is undeniably adorable and there are some chuckles to be had as she tries to join in with various human activities with varying degrees of success.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for something with substance.  This really is just a bit of fluff for those days when you need a dose of cheerful monsterism to brighten your mundane existence.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed with the overall Gronk experience.  As it is based on a web comic, the book follows an episodic format, jumping around to different incidents in Gronk’s human-world experience.  While this suited the cartoonish, cute feel of the character, I tend to prefer a more linear storyline to make things a bit more meaty.  The undeniable star of the book for me was Harli, the massive dog.  He’s an absolute scene-stealer.  Recommended for monster fanciers and those looking for a non-calorific distraction.

Now to something for the grown-ups and a definite contender for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of odd subject matter.  I speak of Suffrajitsu: Mrs Pankhurst’s Amazons by Tony Wolf.

In London, 1914, the Suffragist movement is alive and well.  Women are prepared to fight, go to jail and hunger strike in order to secure the right for women to vote.  The last line of defence in this fight is an elite band of women trained in the martial art Bartitsu and the time is coming when these suffragettes aren’t just in danger from the police, but a conspiracy that reaches further then they could have imagined.

Dip into it for…image

…feminist ninja activists! Honestly, if that doesn’t convince you then nothing will.  The story is a socio-political, action-adventure, historical mystery, so if you like a bit of genre-mashing you should appreciate this one.

Don’t dip if..

…you don’t like non-cartoony art styles or blood-splashing violence. This is a graphic novel with a serious tone, so if you’re looking for a bit of light humour this might not fit the bill.  Also, as this is only the first volume the tale ends on a cliffhanger.

Overall Dip Factor:

I would be very interested in seeing where this series goes, as feminism and martial arts are two of our interests on the shelf, and quite frankly, we are pleased someone decided to put the two together.  The level of illustrated violence is probably at the top end of my tolerance level, but I was certainly drawn into the mystery that was revealed at the end of this volume.  Give it a go if you like your graphic novels with a social history twist.

Perhaps, these graphic novels have inspired some ideas for Monday’s Fi50? We’d love to see you join in!

Progress towards Oddity Odyssey Challenge Goal: 3/16

To find out more about the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge (and jump on board!) click on the image at the top of the post.

Until next time then,

Bruce

 

 

 

A New, Revealing Feature: Bruce’s Shelfies!

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Welcome to my new, shelf-centred feature: Bruce’s Shelfies! Seeing as I spend all of my time here, and it informs so much of my thoughts on books that make my acquaintance, I thought I would introduce you to some of the special nooks and crannies of my domain over the course of a few posts.

Regular readers will be aware that the shelf has recently moved, so I thought I’d start by showing you around my new abode.  This is not an exhaustive tour of the Shelfdom – think of it more as a sort of highlights package.  Come on in!

Here’s my new perch:

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You can see that I’m looking rather smug in my new home.  Mad Martha shares this exalted spot with me and we decided that we would fill our top shelf with all our favourite fantasy and paranormal books.  Most of these have been mentioned at some point on the blog and therefore might look mildly familiar.

Underneath us, is our “classics and re-readables” shelf:

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I have recently culled my Doctor Who collection, but a few remain.  You might also note a range of well-clawed Red Dwarf books, which will be the subject of a later Shelfies post.  Notably missing is a hardback set of The Lord of the Rings and another hardback set of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Both were too big to fit on this shelf, so they occupy a special place on another shelf.

For some zany reason, I decided to group all my books (that weren’t already at home on the previous two shelves) by authors from the UK together and these occupy the next shelf down.

Now, my TBR shelf:

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I have ALWAYS wanted a shelf of books arranged according to colour, so I just went ahead and did it with my TBR pile.  You can also see my Good, Sad and Quirky guys (and friends!) perched upon their corresponding colour piles. Guru Dave and Toothless also occupy this shelf in order to keep their claws on the pulse of what is entering our reading world. Please let us know if you’ve read any of the books on my TBR shelf, and what you thought of them!

In other news, the fleshlings have bought a dog in order to make the house a home (awash with dog hair). Her name is Rosie and so far, has shown no interest in de-perching me, but some interest in chewing the mini-fleshlings’ board books.  Here she is, reclining:

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And finally, here are the newest additions to the shelf, picked up by Mad Martha this very day at a local book sale:

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She was particularly excited to stumble upon the Ian Sansom tome (on the left), as this had been on our radar as a potential candidate for our Monday is for Murder feature.  Or at least, the author is. I’m not sure there is any actual murder in the Mobile Library series. Nevertheless, gaining this one for the bargain price of 45 cents was something of a coup.  Mad Martha also snagged a short story collection by Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series (which we haven’t read), that looks as if it might be odd and creature-filled. Bliss! To the TBR pile they go.

Next time I think I might do a bit of “Show-and-Tell” with some of my more valuable tomes…signed editions and such.  If there is anything you would like me to reveal in future editions of this feature, please do let me know and I will do my best to accommodate.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Adult Fiction Haiku Review: The Room…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for another dip into oddity – specifically, the oddity of Jonas Karlsson’s translated, magical realism tale, The Room.  This one certainly qualifies under the “odd subject matter” category of the Oddity Odyssey reading challenge and also the “odd language element” category, as this one is a translation from the original Norwegian. For more info on the O.O. Reading challenge, just click on the image above.

Bjorn works in a government office as a public servant and discovers a room between the toilets and the lift on his  floor.  He finds that the room houses a perfectly ordinary office space, and as the space seems unclaimed, he begins to take his breaks in the calming quiet of the room.  When his colleagues refuse to acknowledge the existence of the room, Bjorn realises that an elaborate conspiracy must be afoot. Is it a strange, collective case of workplace bullying, designed to drive Bjorn (and his significant talent) out of the office? Or is it a more sinister plot to see Bjorn unhinged? Regardless, workdays in Bjorn’s office are about to get a lot more interesting.

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Anomaly in

Norwegian architecture

draws us into fray

Regular readers of this blog would know that Bruce does not have the greatest relationship with magical realism.  I can understand why. Is it meant to be an allegory? A metaphor for some greater meaning that’s going over his head? Or is it meant to be taken at face value? Just a bit of craziness in an otherwise ordinary setting, perhaps?

I experienced a bit of mild confusion after finishing this book, but decided that overall, I wouldn’t bother trying to assign deeper meaning to some of the odder parts of the story and just appreciate it as  a gem of weirdness in the midst of the mundane.  So Bjorn goes to work, finds a room in his office and hangs out there.  The other people in his workplace deny that there is a room at all.  Interoffice conflict ensues. And it’s eventually resolved in a satisfying (from my point of view, anyway) fashion.

The great things about this book include it’s brevity and the fact that the main character is just as puzzled about the turn of events as the reader.  Bjorn is a singularly unlikeable character – he’s arrogant, socially awkward and self-centred – which kind of added to the perversity of the situation for me. I certainly didn’t feel sorry for him or the predicament in which he finds himself, and I think that helped me just go with the magical elements of the story.  Bjorn is also so sure of himself throughout the majority of the crazy events that are happening around him that he just brings everyone else along with him and by the end everyone else is questioning their own sanity – including me, at some points.

This is a reasonably quick read, with short chapters and very few wasted words or scenes, which I also appreciated greatly.  There’s nothing worse than having to puzzle over nonsensical content while the author revels in their own superior, prescient knowledge of the outcome. Overall, I have to say I definitely enjoyed this story and, while magical realism won’t be going on my favourite genres list, The Room is definitely worth a look when you’re in the mood for something a bit unexpected in a totally mundane context.

This book is the perfect reading choice after a long, hard day working in your non-existent office.

Progress towards Oddity Odyssey Challenge total: 2/16

Ta-ra, m’dears!

Mad Martha

Time for a (dragon) Chaser, anyone?: The Demonic Incident in Chinatown…and GIVEAWAY!

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Welcome to the Read-It-If Review from Hell! But not in the way you think. Today I have an enticing giveaway, and an equally enticing review of a remarkably enticing sequel. I speak of course, of the second book by Andy Mulberry; the MG comic fantasy adventure The Demonic Incident in Chinatown.

This book is a follow on from the rib-tickling oddity that is Skycastle, The Demon and Me, in which young Jack finds a newspaper ad under the fridge and accidentally orders his very own demon.  You can read my review of that adventure here.

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But in this second adventure, the mayhem ramps up as Jack and Brink jump into a frenzied hunt for gold.

When we left Jack and Brink, they were trapped inside Skycastle as the  building flew through the air. Safe, for the moment, from the Collector, boy and demon begin a frantic hunt for gold to buy Brink’s freedom.  The search leads them deep into trouble – dragon-based trouble – and if that weren’t bad enough, Chinatown is about to become a lot more of  a tourist attraction thanks to Jack and Brink.  Can our two heroes get the gold for Brink’s life and liberty or will all their good intentions lead them down the path to hell – and the Collector?

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Read it if:

* you’ve always got a family member who’s good for a loan when you’re in a tight spot

* you like your theatre performances to end with an unexpected twist, preferably involving the hasty exit of all involved

* you adamantly believe that, when things go pear-shaped, one should never lose one’s head

The Demonic Incident in Chinatown begins exactly where the initial book leaves off and since it’s been a little while since I read the first book in the series, it took me a few moments to reorient myself to what was going on in the story.  I was soon back into the action again however, and was quite happy to be accompanying the lads on their adventure.  The tone of this book is a little different to the first – the witty banter is still there, but Brink and Jack seem to be more comfortable in their friendship this time around and are more focused on evading capture and finding a quick bit of gold, than spending time chatting.

The plot moves quickly through the action scenes and then hits a peak right at the end, when some dragon-and-headless-ghost craziness kicks off in rather public view.  This series is shaping up to be super-appealing to young readers, with humour, wild action and fun fantasy elements – who wouldn’t want a castle that can zip you out of imminent danger and plop you down somewhere cool?!

So if you know of a young reader who likes humour, wild action and fun fantasy elements (or that describes you!) and you live in the US or Canada, you should probably enter the giveaway! Author of the series Andy Mulberry is offering one winner the chance to win PRINT copies of BOTH the books in the series.  To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And in case you are one of those happy people that will just rush out and buy the book, don’t forget it’s also available in e-form, and in AUDIO book, for your listening pleasure!

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Case of the Cursed Dodo (The Endangered Files #1): A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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It’s time for another gathering of the Maniacal Book Club and this time we have an offering that will also fit comfortably into category two of the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: books with an odd author.  For you see, this book is penned by a Giant Panda. Who happens to be a detective.  The book also fits quite nicely into category three (books with odd subject matter) as the noir style is not one often seen in books for middle-graders, nor is the fact that the story is written in the format of a chaptered screenplay.  So pretty odd all round, I should think. Allow our discussions about this odd little contender to sway you towards taking a walk on the wild side.

Jake G. Panda is a bit of a loner.  The in-house detective at the Last Resort, a hotel refuge for endangered species, attracts trouble like spilled sugar attracts ants.  When Jake gets a phone call from his Professor friend that is cut suspiciously short, the detective hightails it straight to the last known deserty whereabouts of his friend to get to the bottom of things.  Captured by a smuggling cartel, Jake and an unlikely band of fellow endangered animals escape and return to the Last Resort to sort out the mystery of a lost suitcase and a jade Dodo.  But at least one familiar face from Jake’s past has got there first.  Can Jake keep his wits about him and unravel this age-old mystery or will some double-crossing creatures rain on his parade?

the case of the cursed dodo

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Ah, the panda. So alone and yet, he pretends to enjoy his lonely existence. So it must be for many who find themselves endangered.  The message then, is to lean on one’s friends, to see one through the tough times.

But at the same time one must beware upon whom one leans – because the smiling face of a friend could simply be a mask behind which a deadly assassin hides.

Or perchance not.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there were some cool lizard-type guys and a really cool snake.  That’s close enough I suppose.  There was lots of action and animals being captured and escaping and stealing things and swapping stuff around.  There was lots of mystery which was pretty cool.  And there are some nasty rats.  I would have liked to eat the rats.  Jake G. Panda seems like a cool customer.  Maybe he can take me on his next case.

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

Take some advice

from the school of hard knocks,

Should you move to the desert

Take sand-proof jocks.

 

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised by the originality of the format of this book.  When I heard this was pitched at middle-graders, but had a noir flavour, I wasn’t sure how the author was going to pull it off.  Noir is not my favourite narrative style, and I wondered how the gritty overtones would suit a book for a younger audience.
I needn’t have worried.  The book is written like a screenplay, with most of the noir elements contained in Jake’s introspective voiceover monologues.  These all have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek vibe and there’s plenty of dry humour throughout the book, as well as a few slapstick scenes thrown in for good measure.  Reflecting on it, it reminded me of movies like the Naked Gun, but aimed at kids.

For the most part I enjoyed the twists and turns and the action-adventure scenes throughout the book, but I felt that the inclusion of an old flame of Jake’s around about the middle of the book slowed things down a bit and I’m not sure how that storyline will appeal to young readers.  Other than that though, there are thrills, spills, mystery and mayhem and a whole slew of obscure endangered animals to whet the curious appetite.

This series of books is something really different for this age-group and the illustrated format and the interesting narrative style will no doubt have fans of Jake G. Panda holding their collective breath for the next instalment.

Overall Rating:

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(Noir of any kind is not Mad Martha’s cup of tea)

Oddity Odyssey Challenge Progress Total: 1 of 16 books

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Mondays are for Murder: Arsenic for Tea…

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Welcome to another dose of Mondays are for Murder, the feature in which I report on the latest murder-mystery to have graced my shelf and eyeballs.  Today’s review underwent a midstream alteration – I was going to feature the new(ish), not-written-by-Agatha-Christie-but-featuring-Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah, but unfortunately I found it to be lacking in the Poirot department (you can read my Goodreads review here) and so I turned my attention to that inimitable schoolgirl duo, Wells and Wong, in their second outing, Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens.

Hazel and Daisy are staying at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the holidays along with their dorm-mates, Kitty and Beanie, under the tutelage of slightly suspicious governess, Miss Alston.  When Mrs Wells’ odious young friend, Mr Curtis drops dead during Daisy’s birthday tea, it becomes apparent that all is not as it appears at Fallingford. The girls immediately suspect that Mr Curtis has been poisoned and once again find themselves thrust into the midst of a murder investigation.  As the weather worsens and Fallingford is cut off by rising floodwaters, will Hazel and Daisy (and assistants Kitty and Beanie) be able to untangle the mystery before the murderer strikes again?

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The Usual Suspects:

This time Stevens has kept things all in the family – mostly.  There’s Daisy’s parents, Lord and Lady Hastings, her Aunt Saskia (she of the floaty scarves and light fingers), her shrewd Uncle Felix, older brother Bertie and Bertie’s school friend Stephen.  Then there’s the hired help – Miss Alston, who is acting very strangely indeed (and not at all like a governess), Lord Hasting’s Gentleman’s Gentleman, and the kitchen staff (who always know more than they are telling).

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The hunt is conducted in a somewhat clandestine fashion, as it is not immediately apparent to all concerned that murder has in fact taken place.  Thus, our girl detectives must use all of their cunning and wiles to sneak about, eavesdrop and generally avoid the watchful gaze of Miss Alston by concealing their enquiries under the pretence of multiple games of hide and seek and the like.  There are plenty of twists and turns though, as suspects are ruled out and back in again, and the girls have more than one brush with mysterious persons unknown lurking, supposedly unseen, in incriminating places.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip art

Four poison bottles for a good old-fashioned big house romp

This second offering featuring Wells and Wong had all the features of a manor-house-based Christie-mystery, with the added bonus of child detectives.  I really enjoyed the period feel of the story and, being a known fan of Christie, the careful plotting of the murder narrative.  This was a real whodunit, of the kind I like, where the focus is on solving the puzzle, and trying to be as clever as the author.

I am quite pleased with how this emerging series is turning out, and I can’t wait to see what Stevens does with the girls next.

Until next time (in which we will plunge into Dorothy L. Sayers’ work – finally!),

Bruce

 

Useful: An Adult Fiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageWelcome to another, fairly self-explanatory “Five Things I’ve Learned” review.  Today I have a humorous, Australian adult contemporary novel for you that deals with the pressing question that most people never ask: How can I use my spare kidney to make the world a better place?  The book is Useful, a debut in adult fiction for Debra Oswald who is a published playwright and children’s novelist.  Let’s crack on, shall we?

It would be somewhat remiss to describe Sullivan Moss as a successful specimen of manhood.  Having dented and destroyed multiple friendships and at least one marriage through a combination of alcohol, infidelity and general poor behaviour, Sully wakes up in hospital to discover that even his attempt at suicide has been unsuccessful.  After taking the briefest of moments to reassess this unexpected new lease on life, Sully decides that he will become “useful” – by donating one of his kidneys to a complete stranger. 

While jumping through hoops to meet the criteria for a living donor, Sully begins to pull his life together and become a more productive member of society, making new friendships, holding down a job and making amends for past sins.  Just as it seems Sully has hit his stride in this new way of living, things go kidney-shaped when an old acquaintance returns to stir the pot. 

Sully thought he’d turned the corner, but unless he can maintain the strength of his convictions, he’s in danger of making a complete U-turn.

useful

Here are…

Five Things I’ve Learned From…

Useful

1. It is actually possible to randomly decide to donate a spare body part to someone in need (at least in this country)

2.  When sneaking into a friend’s wake after skipping the funeral, it is best to do so alone. Or at least not in the company of a relative stranger who proceeds to nick all your dead friend’s partner’s gear.

3. Dogs are the glue that hold many awkward social couplings together.

4.  Infidelity is the glue that holds many rubbish relationships together.

5. Giving someone a second (and third, fourth, fifth or twentieth) chance can sometimes bear fruit.  *Fruit-bearing not guaranteed*

Apart from a definite sag in the middle, I quite enjoyed Useful.  It’s a fun and unusual premise, that of random living organ donation, and one that certainly should act as a conversation starter in a country such as ours in which rates of posthumous organ donation are so low and the need for said organs so high.  In fact, Oswald manages to touch on a number of rather serious issues in a jocular fashion in this tome.  There’s Sully’s obvious mental health problems, with depression, suicide attempts and alcoholism.  There’s relationship break-up and its effects on children.  And then of course, there’s the issue of re-homing pets whose owners have died.

Useful has an undeniably Australian feel to the humour and events in the story, which was something I welcomed.  There’s a sense of laid-backed-ness that you get with many Australian novels that I really delight in.  It makes book reading a bit like listening in to the gossipy talk at a backyard barbeque, and the male main character in this one also gives the humour a blokey feel, which I found quite refreshing.

Sully is (by design) an impossibly likeable but flawed character.  He is undeniably charming (in a genuine, self-deprecating way) and it is this trait that has caused most of the drama in his life to date.  I can’t really resist a tale of redemption told with humour and authenticity with a bit of quirk on the side, and Useful delivers on each of these elements.  Unfortunately, the plot does slow down in the middle, round about the time Sully’s ex-acquaintance from Hollywood arrives on the scene, and this slowing did effect my overall enjoyment of the book.

Sagging aside though, this should appeal if you’re looking for some contemporary fiction with a bit of a medical twist and one very darling dog.

Until next time,

Bruce