Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop!

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Lucky-Leprechaun-Hop-2015

Welcome to my stop on the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop.  This hop is hosted by I Am A Reader, Not a Writer and runs from March 17th to 29th. There are over 100 blogs participating, so don’t forget after entering here to hop around and see what other pots of gold are on offer for your winning pleasure.

I am offering ONE winner their choice of book up to $10AUD from the Book Depository.  The giveaway is open internationally, provided you live in a country to which the BD ships for free.  Other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter.
To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link just below this sentence:

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the list of other participating blogs:

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


Hop off, my pretties and good luck!

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Norfolk Mystery…

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Welcome to another Mondays are for Murder feature. I feel I must apologise for perhaps leading some of you up the garden path.  You see I mentioned in my last MafM feature that I would be featuring Dorothy L. Sayers work this time around.  Well, I did try. I picked up Whose Body? and tried to wade through it alongside Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but I just couldn’t do it.  I don’t know whether it was the writing, the character or my mood at the time (or a combination of all three) but I quickly tired of Lord Peter (who, let’s face it, is no Poirot or Marple) and made an executive decision to move on.  Sorry.

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So instead, today I have the first in Ian Sansom’s “County Guides” series, The Norfolk Mystery.  I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and I finally found it at our new library so was spared the expense of buying it. Which turned out to be quite a spectacular turn of good luck, as you will discover. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In The Norfolk Mystery, the first in the County Guides series, we meet Swanton Morley. Eccentric, autodidact – the ‘People’s Professor.’ Morley plans to write a series of guides to the counties of England. He employs a young assistant, Stephen Sefton, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and together with Morley’s daughter, Miriam, they set off through Norfolk, where their sightseeing tour quickly turns into a murder investigation.

As Morley confronts the conventions of class, education and politics in 1930s England, as Sefton flees his memories of the war, and as Miriam seeks romance, join them on their first adventure into the dark heart of England.  When Morley’s map leads to mystery, no one is above suspicion!

norfolk mystery

I feel I should shed more light on the above blurb by mentioning that on arrival in their first port-of-call in Norfolk, to peruse a church of some significance, Sefton and Morley are greeted by a duo of upset ladies and are shown to the rectory, in which hangs the lifeless body of the village vicar.  I’m not entirely sure why the blurb is so obtuse about the central plot point, but consider yourself enlightened.

The Usual Suspects:

For all intents and purposes, the vicar’s death appears to be a suicide so until Morley mentions the possibility of murder, nobody had actually considered it.  Immediately upon mentioning murder, Morley and Sefton become chief suspects, being strangers who have conveniently turned up out of nowhere and happen to have stumbled upon a not-very-suspicious death.  When Morley and Sefton take up the potential case however, a host of village regulars come into play – the odious local professor, the village doctor, and various wives and barfolk who wish to keep themselves to themselves.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Again, since there is no official cause to suspect that the vicar’s death is murder, the investigation is kept somewhat on the down-low by Morley and Sefton, who conduct their interrogations through the veil of polite inquiry and socially-sanctioned conversation.  Suffice to say, this is one murder-mystery the likes of which I have never encountered.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip art

Two poison bottles for an abundance of unnecessary confusion and delay

In detailing some important point during the investigation, Morley notes that for most suicides, if one were to detail one’s thought processes, one might say “I would not have committed suicide, but for (insert situation here)”.  For example, “I would not have committed suicide, but for the fact that I went bankrupt” or whatever.  I feel it is appropriate to comment in the same vein on my enjoyment of this book.  So here goes:

I would have enjoyed this book, but for the inclusion of Morley himself, as I found him possibly the most distracting, annoying and generally convoluting character I have ever encountered, and would have enjoyed nothing more than to poke him with great force in his flabby underbelly with a sharpened fork.

If you are familiar with British sitcoms of the early 1990s, you will gain a fuller understanding of the character of Morley should I compare him to one Gordon Brittas, from  the BBC’s The Brittas Empire.  Only Morley is considerably more intelligent than Mr Brittas.  If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned program, allow me to elaborate.  Morley is so verbose as to derail, it seems, even the author in his attempts to keep the plot following a reasonably efficient tack.  He is a well-intentioned character, but his entire reason for being appears to involve distracting, deflecting and otherwise drawing away the attention of the reader (and the poor, suffering Sefton) from the situation at hand.  In my opinion, what this book really needed was this, courtesy of Monty Python:

I had great hopes for this series, but as Morley has annoyed me so greatly I will not be continuing on and will leave Sefton to suffer in silence.  I will however, still have a go at the Mobile Library series written by Sansom, because I enjoyed his writing style, if not his main character.  I’d love to know what others have thought of this series if there are any among you who have read it though.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Help Fund My Robot Army!: An Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Submission…

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Today I’m presenting to you a book that I stumbled across on one of my many “what extra books can I add to my already unattainable to-read list” internet jaunts.  The title, and subsequently, the blurb and format were so beguiling that I felt it should be added to said list immediately.  Then I noticed that the kindle price was less than $5, so I decided, “what the hey, let’s live a little!” and duly added it to my kindle hoard.  I speak of none other than speculative/sci-fi/fantasy/humour anthology Help Fund My Robot Army!!! & Other Improbably Crowdfunding Projects, edited by John Joseph Adams. I intend to submit this to my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the categories of “odd title” (note the three exclamation marks and ampersand), and “odd language element”.  Its inclusion in this second category is due to the fact that this anthology is composed entirely of imaginary crowdfunding pitches, as might be found on Kickstarter.

While I am familiar with the concept of crowdfunding and I’m aware that Kickstarter exists, I have never spent any time perusing that site.  Apparently though, many fleshlings wile away the hours surfing this site for projects they might like to fund, or simply to leave humorous comments on the less likely of such projects.  So if you are one of these fleshlings, this book may well be for you.  Let’s dive in.

From Goodreads:

If you’re a regular backer of Kickstarters, you’ve probably seen some unique crowdfunding projects in your time. But one thing all of those campaigns—boringly!—had in common was: They abided by the physical laws of the universe!

HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! is an anthology of science fiction/fantasy stories told in the form of fictional crowdfunding project pitches, using the components (and restrictions) of the format to tell the story. This includes but is not limited to: Project Goals, Rewards, User Comments, Project Updates, FAQs, and more. The idea is to replicate the feel of reading a crowdfunding pitch, so that even though the projects may be preposterous in the real world, they will feel like authentic crowdfunding projects as much as possible.

So if what you’ve always been looking for in a Kickstarter—and couldn’t find—was a project that allowed you to SUMMON DEMONS, DEFY GRAVITY, WIELD MAGIC, or VIOLATE CAUSALITY, then HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects may be just the thing you’ve been looking for.

robot army

There are 33 stories in this anthology and the majority of them are written by accomplished (to a greater or lesser degree) authors in the sci-fi/spec fiction realm.  Every single one of them follows the format of a Kickstarter crowdfunding pitch and while some others who have reviewed this collection on Goodreads mentioned that this format quickly got stale for them, I didn’t share that feeling as I was reading.  In fact, I quite enjoyed seeing how so many different authors worked within the same – pretty limiting – restrictions to produce some very engaging stories.

The collection includes tales from the sci-fi, speculative and fantasy genres but there are a few recurring themes in the bunch.  There are a number of pitches dealing with time travel, quite a few robot-related stories, a couple to do with granting wishes and desires. While the repetition in format didn’t put me off any, the repetition of themes did in some cases.  For instance there are two stories that are very similar in that they relate to pitches concerned with raising enough dosh to raise certain ancient deities.  I enjoyed (and chuckled repeatedly) at Help Summon The Most Holy Folded One! by Harry Connolly but was a bit so-so towards Bring About the Halloween Eternal!  by Seanan McGuire, which featured at the close of the collection and had a very similar tone and plot to Connolly’s tale.  Similarly, I was less enthused by each time-travel tale that I encountered and I felt that the selection process for the stories could have been tighter to avoid including tales that were very similar.

There’s a lot of humour going on in these stories (especially in some of the “comment threads”) and I particularly enjoyed Save the Photophobic Hemoglobivores with the Sanguine Reserve by Mur Lafferty, about creating a retreat for endangered vampires, Life Sized Arena Tetris! by David Malki!, whose title is self-explanatory (and a cracker of an idea in my opinion), and of course, the aforementioned Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!, about the attempted raising of an ancient taco deity.  But not all the pitches are included for comic relief.  There’s the subtly sinister dystopian  A Memorial to the Patriots by Jake Kerr, the touching plea of a mother in crisis, I Want to Be a Lioness by Chuck Wendig, the slightly bizarre medical breakthrough of So Juicy Transforming Strips by Matt Williamson and the bittersweet sting of grief unprocessed in  Jerome 3.0 by Jason Gurley.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Michael J. Sullivan has inspired me to seek out W. W. Jacob’s original story, The Monkey’s Paw (another one for the mountainous TBR pile – at least it’s a short story) and, ironically, Spoilerfree: A Device for 21st Century Entertainment Living by Jeremiah Tolbert has lodged in my brain as one of the most memorable (and devilishly cheeky!) stories in the group.

Overall, I appreciated the fresh format of this short story collection and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of sci-fi and fantasy and is looking for some bite-sized chunks of originality and fun from a whole range of accomplished authors.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Goal: 5/16

To find out more about the Oddity Odyssey Challenge (and join in!) just click on the pretty image at the start of this post.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Non-Fiction Read-it-if Review: If You Find This Letter…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if review, this time featuring a memoir of sorts, which I received from the publisher via Netgalley.  I’m also submitting this one for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.  I can’t remember whether I mentioned that I would be doing this challenge, but I signed up at Explorer level, which is 6-10 books.  If you’d like to find out more about the challenge, you can click on the challenge image at the top of this post.

But back to business.  Today’s book grew out of a blog that the author began in an effort to reconnect with herself and find some purpose in her life.  It’s called If You Find This Letter: One Girl’s Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers and it’s by Hannah Brencher.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fresh out of college, Hannah Brencher moved to New York, expecting her life to look like a scene from Sex and the City. Instead, she found a city full of people who knew where they were going and what they were doing and didn’t have time for a girl still trying to figure it all out. Lonely and depressed, she noticed a woman who looked like she felt the same way on the subway. Hannah did something strange–she wrote the woman a letter. She folded it, scribbled If you find this letter, it’s for you on the front and left it behind.

When she realized that it made her feel better, she started writing and leaving love notes all over the city–in doctor’s offices, in coat pockets, in library books, in bathroom stalls. Feeling crushed within a culture that only felt like connecting on a screen, she poured her heart out to complete strangers. She found solace in the idea that her words might brighten someone’s day.

Hannah’s project took on a life of its own when she made an offer on her blog: She would handwrite a note and mail it to anyone who wanted one. Overnight, her inbox exploded with requests from people all over the world. Nearly 400 handwritten letters later, she started the website, The World Needs More Love Letters, which quickly grew.

There is something about receiving a handwritten note that is so powerful in today’s digital era. If You Find This Letter chronicles Hannah’s attempts to bring more love into the world,and shows how she rediscovered her faith through the movement she started.

 if you find this letterRead it if:

* you like reading memoirs by people who have just barely cracked the quarter century in years on this planet

* you like wacky blog ideas that morph into meaningful projects in the real world

* you like your memoirs to deeply explore the author’s relationships and personal reflections

* you enjoy the idea of randomly leaving stuff behind for others to find (or as I like to call it, “guerrilla kindness” or “littering mindfully”)

It was for just this last reason that I picked up this book.  Having featured books about yarn-bombing on the blog before, I am clearly one of those creatures that gets a kick out of people secretly leaving some little treasure (be it letter, crocheted door knob cosy or book) for some unsuspecting passer-by to find and enjoy.  I was really hoping that this book would be something akin to a cross between yarn-bombing in letter format and the worldwide art and connection project begun by one man, known as PostSecret.  (If you don’t know what PostSecret is, please check it out. It’s worth a look, for certain).  Unfortunately, it read more like the developmentally typical learnings of a reasonably sheltered young woman in her twenties.  Not what I was hoping for, by any means.

The actual letter project, in which Hannah puts out the invitation for anyone who wants a handwritten love letter from her to apply via her website, really takes a back seat in this memoir to a whole bunch of other happenings in Hannah’s life.  I suspect that the idea was to show that she herself was reaching out to strangers in this way because of her own sense of disconnection, but a lot of the stuff that she talks about seemed to me to be pretty typical of anyone between the ages of about 18 and 30 who is trying to carve out an adult identity and some existential equilibrium.  I really wanted to read more about the letter project, and let that speak for itself, than find out about her involvement in a volunteer service project, and a whole bunch of Faith related personal reflection.

Did you notice that Faith-with-a-capital-F?  Yes, this is another blurb which I fear has mislead me and caused me to pick up a book that I probably would have passed on otherwise.  That last line in the blurb –  “If You Find This Letter chronicles Hannah’s attempts to bring more love into the world,and shows how she rediscovered her faith through the movement she started” – is not referring to her faith in humanity.  It’s her Faith, as in her personal relationship with God.  Now, I’ve mentioned before, that the fleshlings who own my shelf have a Christian leaning – they are even Catholics (of the rare non-lapsed variety), as is Hannah herself – so we have no objection to religious content per se in a book.  What really gets on my horns though, is when blurbs don’t make this clear.  If they said this was going to be a God book I could have made an informed decision.  But they didn’t.  So I got stuck wading through a whole lot of “Hannah returning home” (in the Catholic sense, not in the literal sense – in the literal sense, we get a nice little story about one Thanksgiving where Hannah is literally not allowed to return home. Not sure why it was included really), when I was really in the mood for “interesting social connection project”.

Now, don’t let my negativity bring you down.  Others have read this book and called it “inspiring” and “captivating”.  I would suggest reading it if it sounds interesting and make up your own mind.  But I suspect that not all blog projects need to be made into a book. At least, not a book in a memoir format.  For my (non-existent) money, I would have liked to have seen a lot more focus on the project and the benefits contained therein for not just the author, but some of the recipients of letters, and a bit less on the life-reflections of someone who seems to be a reasonably typical example of this particular age group.

Until next time,

Bruce

MG KidLit Series Feature, Author Interview and GIVEAWAY: Slug Pie Stories…

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Welcome to this very special series highlight post, where I will re-introduce (and in some cases, introduce for the first time) you all to the Slug Pimageie series of books.  Readers with particularly good memories will recall that the Maniacal Book Club reviewed the second book in the Slug Pie Stories, How To Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid, late last year, and we immediately popped the other two books in the series on our TBR list to hunt down at a later date.  In a joyous bit of good luck, the publishers of the Slug Pie series (by 12-year-old author Mick Bogerman, you will recall) contacted the shelf in the hope that we would review the other two books in the series – callooh, callay! Of course we agreed, as much for the excitement of reading Mick’s other adventures as for the satisfaction of knocking two more titles off Mount TBR…

The publisher has even been so generous as to offer a GIVEAWAY of ONE of the Mick’s adventures to a lucky reader of this blog.  To enter the giveaway, click on the rafflecopter just below this sentence!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now, let’s hunker down in our anti-monster panic room and venture into the world of Mick Bogerman’s Slug Pie Stories…

 

Book 1: How to Navigate Zombie Cave and Defeat Pirate Pete 

From Slug Pie Stories:zombie cave

Armed with a pitchfork, miner’s hat, and map, Mick Bogerman dares to hunt for pirate treasure in Zombie Cave. His little brother Finley is tied up at the beach. Literally–Mick tied him up. No one needs a little brother tagging along when you’re going to slay the undead. But Mick soon wishes he’d taken some human company with him, because lurking in every corner, reaching from every crevice, is another hungry corpse. No wonder the place is named Zombie Cave! And finding treasure in the twisty tunnels is a lot harder when your map disintegrates. And man-oh-man the cold, dark tide chases fast. But the worst part about fighting off ravenous flesh-eaters is the one monster deadlier than a regular zombie . . . the worst of the worst . . . Pirate Pete

Having read the second book in the series first, I had an idea of what to expect with this little sojourn into zombie territory.  In this book the reader is plunged straight into the action as Mick ties up his little brother Finley in a (supposedly) safe place on the pretence of playing a cowboy game and heads off with an ill-gotten antique map to retrieve Pirate Pete’s ancient treasure.  The descriptive and engaging style is immediately at play here, drawing the reader in as Mick attempts to navigate through confined, poorly lit spaces while fending off Nike-wearing zombies and making the acquaintance of one very unlucky gentleman named Harold.  You’d think a pitchfork would be quite useful in such a venture, but you’d only be partially right. This story was a lot more monologue-y than the second in the series, on account of Mick undertaking this adventure mostly on his own, but Mick’s indomitable spirit and drily humorous approach is apparent from the get-go and there is blood-splatting, bone-crunching and internal-organ-squishing fun aplenty for the middle-grade reader with an appetite for such things.  Special mention goes to a zombie (or possibly just aged) parrot for comic relief in dire circumstances.

Book 2: How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid

bloodthirsty mermaid From Slug Pie Stories:

All Mick Bogerman wanted to do was teach his little brother how to swim in the coolest swimming pool in town. He didn’t ask to take care of a bunch of Sea-Monkeys while he was there. He certainly didn’t mean to morph one of them into a mermaid by feeding it genetically enhanced super food. No one is more surprised than Mick when the creature starts luring unsuspecting adults into the deep end of the pool. Adults who don’t resurface. Join Mick as he battles a powerful adversary: a bloodthirsty mermaid who hypnotizes with a golden gaze, shatters glass with a piercing shriek, and reveals her true menacing self by the light of a full moon.

Seeing as I’ve already devoted a whole review to this book, I won’t say too much here but you can read the original review at this link.  Looking back on this book in the context of having read all three in the series, I’d say this one has the greatest amount of chuckleworthy moments and the inclusion of PJ to the Boogerman brothers’ fighting team added an extra dimension to the story.  Allow me to sum up with Mad Martha’s poetic take on the book:

Let us all heed advice from our mothers

We should not judge the books by their covers

For like Disney’s she ain’t

This Mer-lass needs restraint

As with flesh-ripping death you’ll discover  

Book 3: How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army

killer robot armyFrom Slug Pie Stories:

When Savannah “Van Demon” Diamond comes to town she ruins everything for Mick. She takes over his favorite hang out, outruns him in gym class, and worst of the worst—his little brother has a crush on her. Devising a plan to get her kicked out of school and moved out of Beachwood is simple. Dealing with Savannah’s mind-blowing revenge is Mick’s most challenging adventure yet. Join Mick as he thwarts insidious traps and deadly weaponry, fighting against the most cunning of enemies. Catastrophe looms for all of Beachwood unless Mick can put aside his pride, join forces with his rival, and destroy the new girl’s killer robot army.

Apart from having (in my opinion) the most strikingly beautiful cover of the three, this book takes a slightly different turn as more characters enter the fray and Mick is forced to deal with not only his own poor behaviour, but an entirely non-organic fear-inducing monster.  The reader gets to find out a bit more about Mick’s school in this one and there’s a definite sense of menace as the monsters in this story break into the Boogerman sanctuary.  Special mention here go to Bagel Boy (who, in case you are wondering, is not a boy at all) and the inclusion of a female super-villain so Mick can pick on someone his own size.

After having read all three of the available titles in this series, I have to say that I’m hooked.  I’ve sectioned off a special place in my stony heart for the Boogerman brothers and I will definitely be seeking out their next adventures.  The only thing that could make this series better would be chapter heading illustrations.  Or just randomly inserted illustrations.  Those covers are so good, the illustrator deserves to be set free on the inside of the books as well, I reckon.

Before we jump into an exclusive interview with Mick himself (squee!), to find out more about the books, the author, the characters, the creator of those brilliant covers and to have a say in Mick’s next adventure, go have a look at the Slug Pie Stories website here.

Now to find out more about the intriguing young author of these intriguing young stories!

So, Mick, you’ve already published three heart-pounding and informative guides to overcoming various monstrosities in our midst.  Do you plan to continue your work in the adventure/monster-vanquishing guidebook industry?

Thanks Bruce! You bet I’ll keep writing about monsters. I just started working on the 4th Slug Pie Story: How to Protect Your Neighborhood from Circus Werewolves. The title of the next book was chosen by readers over at the website www.slugpiestories.com. It was pretty much an even vote between Circus Werewolves and How to Obliterate a Spirit-Possessed Lawnmower, and then at the last minute Circus Werewolves pulled ahead. The book’s going to have a lot of fun and a lot of scare. Clowns are terrifying all by themselves if you know what I mean. Then making them Werewolves? You’re gonna want to know how to protect yourself from these creatures!

The monsters that you’ve beaten so far have been quite dangerous.  Are there any monsters that you wouldn’t want to encounter?

I think me and my brother Finley are up for just about anything. And my friends are a great help too. Our town seems to be a magnet for monsters, so it’s going to be up to us kids to take care of things. The trick is knowing everything you can about your adversary so you’re prepared. That’s why I always include a preparation list at the back of my books. Now girls are a whole ‘nother story. They’re not exactly monsters, but they can be a little scary, and I sure haven’t figured them out.

What advice would you give to any youngsters planning on seeking out adventure in their own neighbourhoods?

Well if you keep your imagination wide open you don’t have to seek out adventure, it will come find you. When it does, keep your cool and don’t panic. Gather your resources and your friends. You never want to go it alone. I learned that lesson in Zombie Cave!

If the books end up being super successful, do you see a TV series in the works? Could you imagine yourself filming educational documentaries in the vein of The Crocodile Hunter, for instance?

That would be EPIC! Who do I talk to to make that happen?

If you could only take three things with you to defend yourself against an unknown monster, what would you choose and why?

Only three? Now that’s a tough call. First thing would have to be my brother Finley. He’s really learned how to handle himself and he’s always got my back. He finally learned how to swim too, which is uber handy when you live by the ocean. Second would have to be a Swiss Army knife. The things got all kinds of useful tiny tools all tucked inside a sturdy little case. I take mine everywhere. And third? Hmmmmm. Maybe something to eat? Like a bag of Skittles or candy bar or something. If Finley and I didn’t eat it, maybe the monster would want it. You know. Instead of eating us.

Will any of your books feature gargoyles in the future, in either a heroic or villainous capacity?

Actually I do have a story with gargoyles in my brain right now. It’s called How to Rescue Your Teacher from Rampaging Gargoyles. The gargoyles are definitely the villians, but the best villains have some positive qualities too. Sometimes the villain is just misunderstood. Voting for Slug Pie Story #5 is going on right now at http://www.slugpiestories.com/vote-for-our-next-story.html if you want to cast a vote for Gargoyles.

YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST PEOPLE!! Get on over to that link and vote for Gargoyles to appear in Mick’s next-but-one adventure!

Until next time,

 

Bruce

 

The Mirror World of Melody Black: An Adult Fiction, GSQ Review…

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imageIt’s time to unleash my psyche again as I deconstruct another book in a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today’s book is the second by Gavin Extence, author of The Universe Versus Alex Woods, which I reviewed a while back hereThe Mirror World of Melody Black deals with similarly difficult topics as that prior book and engages the same warmth and humour, but in a much-different context.  I (excitedly!) received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley.  Let’s begin.

When Abby crosses the hallway to ask her neighbour for a key ingredient in that night’s dinner, she does not expect to find said neighbour dead in his armchair.  As this unexpected discovery segues into the usual official processes that accompany such a death, Abby is interested to notice that, despite living in close proximity to her neighbour – Simon – his death, and Abby’s role in its discovery, bring up barely any emotional response for her.  From this point, Abby begins to explore, through her freelance journalism, why this might be so.  Is increasing urbanisation to blame for this isolation amidst a crowded city? And what do monkeys have to do with it? As Abby delves into this mildly intriguing  (for her) personal experience, her life begins to spiral out of control – from the heady, euphoric highs of hypomania, to the catatonic lows of depression.  The Mirror World of Melody Black explores what it is to be human – and to be crazy – in the context of modern, urban living.

 

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The Good

Before I even get to the content, I have to note that once again the cover designer for Extence’s work has outdone themselves.  After the beautiful green vista of The Universe Versus Alex Woods, we are now treated to this scintillating blue mosaic.  Gorgeous.  image

I think I can safely declare, after having read both Extence’s offerings, that I am now a confirmed fan of his work.  I really enjoyed the engaging first person viewpoint (Abby’s, unsurprisingly) that drove the story.  From the moment she forces (innocently) her way into her neighbour’s flat, I regarded Abby warmly and despite her incessant smoking (a filthy habit), wanted only the best for her.  As in his last work, Extence has once again managed to include a wide range of interesting characters as the narrative unfolds.  None of these is particularly well-developed, the focus being on Abby herself and her inner journey, but special mention must go to the slightly bemused, but ever-so-sporting Professor Caborn, and the no-holds-barred poet Miranda Frost, whom we should all aspire to emulate. Especially with the living in isolation with a couple of cats thing.

The book was just the right length too, I felt.  There are a number of distinct sections to Abby’s story and while they each change the tone and focus of the novel, Extence has achieved a nice balance with pacing so that the plot isn’t slowed down at any particular point.

The Sadimage

There were only two things on which I could metaphorically mark this book down.  The first is a personal quirk, for which the author can’t really be held responsible, but I will bring it up anyway.  Abby and her sister – grown women, both – refer to their father as Daddy.   There is nothing I find more annoying…well, actually there are plenty of things, but let’s just go with this melodramatic pronouncement for the moment…than grown people referring to their parents in such childish terms.  Particularly as Abby doesn’t dote on  her father, or have any kind of relationship with him really.  It seemed a bit odd to me that someone of Abby’s independent calibre would use such a term of endearment for such a man.  Personal quirk, but there you are.

The other thing about which I was mildly brought down was the fact that there is quite a significant section of the tale during which Abby is confined in a psychiatric ward.  As mental health and illness are one of our major interests around the shelf, we have read an awful lot of works featuring psychiatric wards, both fictional and otherwise, and reading about Abby’s time on the ward felt a bit samey, and did dull my enthusiasm just a tiny bit.  I do acknowledge however, that this is due to the fact that (a) I’ve read a stack of books about psych wards and (b) speaking from personal experience, there isn’t a wild degree of variety in the way that people experience such an institutionalisation.  So really, there was nothing wrong with this section of the book, I just found it a bit tiresome, having had the feeling that I’d seen (and read) it all before.

The Quirky

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The most unexpected part of this book for me actually appeared after the story had ended, in an author’s note, in which Extence details his own experiences with hypomania.  As interesting as his bizarre and ambitious ideas were during this period of his life, I was intrigued more by the fact that most of the people around him didn’t notice that his behaviour was indicative of some kind of mental disturbance.  (Although admittedly they could be forgiven for this on the banana point. Bananas are awesome).  I found this remarkably interesting because I have heard tell from professionals in the mental health field that it is not unusual for people to be in manic or even psychotic or delusional states for quite some considerable time before anyone close to them actually twigs to the fact that they are indeed manic, or psychotic, or delusional.  You fleshlings are so endearing when you’re pretending everything is normal when it so clearly isn’t.

The book also features Lindisfarne island, which you can google if it is unfamiliar to you. The island is quirky enough in itself to warrant a mention, but this was also one of the places that Mad Martha wished to go on her tour of the UK, but never quite made it.  To think, she could have been one of those pesky tourists mentioned in the book!

Overall, I’d definitely recommend having a bash at Extence’s new work.  If you have read The Universe Versus Alex Woods, then you’ll enjoy being drawn back into the world of a storyteller who does thought-provoking in an understated, yet impactful (is that a word?) way, with dry one-liners to boot.  If you haven’t read Extence’s first work, then let this be your introduction to an author that is now firmly ensconced on my auto-covet list.  I’d say auto-buy, but money is tight around the shelf since the fleshlings bought a mortgage, so I am now doing more coveting than actual buying.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

A KidLit Haiku Review: The Snowbirds…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for another haiku review, so plump up your feathers (or feathered pillow) and join me in my wintry foray into a  fable-esque tale for youngsters, set in Japan and including elements of Russian legend: The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

In a small Japanese mountain village, young Shoji enters an ice carving competition. He soon finds he has a rival in Orochi, another boy in the village, who tries to sabotage Shoji’s entry, but with the help of his family Shoji creates a most beautiful Snowbird.

When the other ice carvings are revealed they discover that Orochi has stolen Shoji’s idea and has also carved an equally beautiful Snowbird. The judges cannot decide the winner of the competition so they announce that the result will be declared the next morning.

During the night Jack Frost discovers the two Snowbirds and thinks one of them will make an ideal companion for his Grandfather Frost, the Snow King. At the same time Shoji, anxious for the safety of his Snowbird, sneaks out of his house and meets Jack Frost who explains his plan. Shoji agrees to let him have his Snowbird, but they are both interrupted by the arrival of Orochi who demands payment in return for his.

Jack Frost brings the Snowbirds to life and tells them they must travel to the North Pole where his Grandfather will choose one of them to be his companion. On their journey they meet different characters and encounter many difficulties until they both finally arrive, but which one will be chosen? Jack Frost has a cunning idea to help his Grandfather decide…

 

the snowbirds

Adversarial 

actions lead to hard choices

Noble heart thaws ice

Fitzsimmons has developed an original and interesting story here, but at the same time it feels incredibly familiar due to the style of writing that can only be described as a fable.  I think this style will appeal both to grown-ups, who will appreciate a new and different “fairy tale” to read to their youngsters, and to children, who will be assisted into independent reading by the familiarity of the format.  At only 78 pages (in the digital version), the story is also very attainable for younger readers who are venturing into reading on their own.  The tale is very atmospheric, with the wintry surrounds leaping off the page through the descriptive writing and I could almost feel the snowflakes as I read.  The descriptions of some of the scenes, and of the snowbirds themselves are quite beautiful and lend themselves to easy visualisation for the reader.  I can certainly imagine youngsters and their grown-ups wanting to hop onto Google to have a look at some real ice sculptures after reading these sections.

Kids will love to despise the odious Orochi and his devious and spiteful actions towards Shoji’s delicate creation.  I’m sure they will also relish the fact that Orochi’s snowbird bears an incredible resemblance in personality to its maker.  The story is illustrated with line drawings that give a sense of naivety and reflect the tone of the story.

I was quite surprised at how quickly and how easily I became engaged in the story.  Not being a massive fan of traditional fairy tale formats, I appreciated the way that Fitzsimmons has mixed old and new.  The interesting setting helped me engage in the story also, as did the fact that the story was devoid of princesses.  I think parents and carers will really like the strong family bonds represented in Shoji’s family and the emphasis on perseverance,  truthfulness and generosity underlying Shoji’s actions.

If you are a fan of fairy tales and fables, The Snowbirds is well worth seeking out to add to your collection.

Yours in wintry, icicle-laden magic,

Mad Martha