The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageI seem to be on a bit of a minor roll at the moment, with unexpectedly wonderful books popping up here and there, and I am pleased to be able to add another to my (very short) list of “Top Books of 2015”.

Today’s book is as unexpected and wonderful as it is singular and extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley. The tome in question is The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee, being the first in a new series relating The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. I hasten to warn that this book, with its oddities and profanities, will not be for everyone but if you are hankering after a blindingly original array of characters forced into unruly submission by an author with an obvious mastery of the written word, then there is a good chance that this book will be for you.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

1888.  A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.

Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

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Here, then, are five things I’ve learned from

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath

1. Never trust a man in a waistcoat. Particularly one made of whimsically decorated fabric.

2. Never trust anyone who names themselves after an opposable body part. 

3.  Should you ever be invited to take an especially close look at the workings of a coffin-sized clock, it would be prudent to decline. 

4. When being pursued by demons and humans of dubious origin, it is recommended that you seek the services of a large, battle-trained protector with the ability to shape-shift.

5. Socks, while generally considered an unimaginative gift for older male relatives, are also much less likely to see the giver murdered for the immortality-inducing properties of their soul.

 

I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than a few times how highly an original story is valued in my reviewing world. Being that I churn through a stupidly high number of books a year – my Goodreads challenge chart is telling me that I have read 68 books this year so far – it is only reasonable to expect that much of the time there will be a niggling feeling of having read something like the story in which I find myself immersed, at any given time, before. It is a real and almost tangible treat then, to come across a tale about which one can truly say, “This is different!” The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath is one such book and I put its originality down to the obvious and remarkable talent of the author.

The story is all over the place – and I mean this in the exciting and invigorating sense, not in the “Good Lord, this book is all over the place!” sense that is usually uttered with head in hands – as various characters (both main and minor) muscle in on the telling. The setting ranges from a woody cottage to the depths of the Underworld to the deserts of Cairo to a less-than-reputable clock shop. The characters are human and demon and almost, not-quite. There’s violence and one-liners and escapes and unsavoury dinner parties. Over the course of the tale, a number of characters are referred to as mad – “mad as a spoon”, “mad as a hat”, “mad as scissors” – and while a definite atmosphere of mild insanity hangs over the proceedings, at no point did I feel that the author was letting things get out of (her) hand.

Apart from the welcome and inspiring originality of the tale, the shining light has to be the book’s narrative style. Bee manages to be simultaneously lyrical and distinctly unnerving, mixing dry wit with outlandish, almost slapstick violence and a sense of the poetical with deeds unequivocally wicked. While the title refers to Mirror and Goliath, the main character here turns out to be John Loveheart, Esq., who embodies this sense of innately flawed hilarity and carries it to the nth degree.

By the end of this book I was utterly convinced that I want to read more from Ishbelle Bee, whether in this series or elsewhere. It is rare, in my experience, to come across such finesse with the use of language that one feels excited just to be experiencing the words on the page. I therefore have to commend this book into place number four on my “Top Books of 2015” list, which is growing at a slow but steady pace.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Indie, MG Maniacal Book Club Review: Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang…

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Today’s pick from the Maniacal Book Club features a Korean main character, some American bullying and some all-out, strange, generational magic. We received a copy of Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang, the first in an indie series for middle grade readers, from the author, Tim Learn, for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chewy Noh has problems. He was born with them. Two weeks after his birth, the family fortune-teller saw bad things in his future…and she was right. The school bully hates him and will stop at nothing to get rid of him. His mother suddenly can’t get out of bed, complaining of horrible headaches. And worst of all, the secret his grandmother is hiding may be at the root of it all. But why should he worry? He’s a superhero with a power no one’s ever seen before!

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Let’s hear what the Book Club have to say, shall we?

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

While many have sought my wise counsel over my many years of existence, I have never been fortunate enough to wield powers like those of the Mu-dang. In this tale, Chewy takes on the power of an ancient spirit and finds the power within himself to change the course of his existence. But is a young boy worthy of such knowledge, such advantage? I would urge caution and prudence should you ever come into a magically-rendered gift of your own, thoughtful reader.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. There’s some pretty cool witchy stuff though and a whole bunch of people who aren’t really what they seem. I didn’t like the bullies – I wouldn’t mind if they got eaten by a dragon. And the girls were a bit weird too. But Chewy and Clint were pretty cool. Ordinary, but cool. It would have been better if there were dragons. To eat the bullies.

 

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

When selecting a secret new power

Be prepared for your gift to turn sour

For with greatest intentions

Magic interventions,

Your best laid of plans, can devour

maniacal book club bruce Bruce

Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang is going to greatly appeal to those young readers looking for something a little different. For a start, Chewy himself is Korean, an ethnicity we don’t often see in middle-grade books and the author has included a host of interesting mythology and magic narrative from that part of the world. Secondly, this isn’t the expected sort of superhero book, where the main character suddenly sprouts an obvious and visible power and has to decide how to wield it.

Chewy is a laid-back every-man sort of a kid and his power is just as understated as he is. Because of this, the story follows the common, new-kid-being-picked-on plot line, with some superpowered antics thrown in. Having said that, the book does have a few features that make it stand out from the norm. There are the references to the Mu-Dang and the storyline related to Chewy’s family and secrets that have been kept that could change who Chewy is and how he thinks about his family. There’s also the fact that Chewy and Clint, although experiencing bullying, are more curious than vengeful toward their bullies’ behaviour.

I did have a few problems with the story. While I enjoyed the supernatural bits, the other parts – in which Chewy and Clint form a friendship and deal with the bullies – was pretty run-of-the-mill. I would have loved to have seen more focus on the magical side of the story. A plotline involving two girls in Chewy’s class also muddied the waters as it just seemed to range all over the place. I couldn’t follow why the girls were behaving as they were or what their motivations might have been and the whole plot line seemed tacked on and superfluous.

Also interrupting my enjoyment of the story was the bugbear of many an indie publication – a lack of hard-core editing. I found that the overall narration lacked a clear voice and that there was far too much unnecessary dialogue and description of mundane things as a result. I had that uncanny feeling that I’ve had before while reading indie works, that I was actually reading a translation, because the words don’t flow as well as one would expect.

Overall, this would be a good pick for middle-graders looking for some diversity in the characters that they are reading about and for those who want an unexpected twist on the superhero genre.

The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Three Thumbs Up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

A Ripping, YA Read-it-if Review: Boo…

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Today’s Read-it-if Review book, I am pleased to announce, has made it onto both my “Top Books of 2015 (so far)” list (which currently only has two other listings) as well as….drum roll please….my Goodreads Favourites list!

*spontaneous applause*

I should probably warn you then that this review WILL include gushing praise.

Today’s book is Boo by Neil Smith. I received a copy of this YA book – which I think is actually adult fiction cleverly disguised as YA – from the publishers via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in heaven, the eighth-grade science geek thinks he died of a heart defect at his school. But soon after arriving in this hereafter reserved for dead thirteen-year-olds, Boo discovers he’s a ‘gommer’, a kid who was murdered. What’s more, his killer may also be in heaven. With help from the volatile Johnny, a classmate killed at the same school, Boo sets out to track down the mysterious Gunboy who cut short both their lives. In a heartrending story written to his beloved parents, the odd but endearing Boo relates his astonishing heavenly adventures as he tests the limits of friendship, learns about forgiveness and, finally, makes peace with the boy he once was and the boy he can now be.

boo cover one

Read it if:

*you like books that feature diverse characters. Even if they’re dead.

*you are either (a) energised or (b) repulsed by the thought of being stuck as a 13-year-old in the afterlife

*you’ve ever been part of a chanting mob

*you like nothing more than discovering something curious turning up in an unexpected place

Now on to the gushing praise!

I have not experienced the kind of satisfaction that I felt on finishing Boo in a long, long time. Here, thought I, is a perfectly constructed tale that is expertly paced, filled with authentic characters, and can be appreciated by those well beyond the YA age-range at which it is marketed. I picked up Boo thinking it would be a reasonably quirky take on the paranormal, life-after-death plot that I generally enjoy, but Smith has created much more than just a fun, creative read here.

For a start, the afterlife that he has created is both expansive and perfectly contained, as well as being pretty original. For in the afterlife in which Boo finds himself, all the residents are 13 years old – the age at which they died. Some died years ago and some are “newborns” like Boo, but all can expect (barring a few exceptional cases) to hang around “Town” as they call it for approximately 50 years, before disappearing into Zig-knows-where. The concept of “Town” reminded me strongly of Neal Shusterman’s afterlife in the Skinjacker series that begins with Everlost. While the similarities are there, Smith’s afterlife doesn’t have the menacing, mysterious undertones of Shusterman’s post-death experience, and feels like a place in which all things have the potential to be made right.

The characters here are diverse (in ethnicity, ability and personality) and felt particularly authentic to me as an adult reader. All of the four main characters have their flaws but come across as complex and layered. I admit to having a soft spot for Esther, the young lass with dwarfism who is applying to be a do-gooder but can sling a stinging one-liner with the best of them. Boo is also a delightful narrator and it didn’t take long for me to relax into his easy narration.

The highlight of the story for me was the depth to which Smith is prepared to take young readers as the narrative unfolds and the events surrounding their untimely deaths are brought to light in Boo and Johnny’s memories. There are twists in this tale, but it didn’t feel like they were thrown in to shock, but to provoke thought from the reader. As these plot twists are revealed I was more and more impressed with the way the author constructed the story. This could have so easily been a two-dimensional, didactic tale in which certain characters were labelled goodies and baddies, but Smith has taken his characters far more seriously than that. The sensitivity with which the boys’ story is rendered was simply a joy to behold.

If you’re looking for a YA read that is, in my opinion, above the common herd, then you should make a point to search out Boo. I will certainly be making it my mission to collect it in print for my shelf.

Until next time,

Bruce

May Fiction in 50 Challenge: A Contradiction in Terms…

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Welcome to May’s instalment of Fiction in 50, where writers dauntless and bold set out to create a piece of fiction (or poetry…or in one case this month, narrative non-fiction!!) in fewer than 51 words. If you’d like more information on the challenge, simply click on the challenge image at the top of this post. This month, our prompt is…

may fi50 challenge

I will admit to being a little stumped this month, despite having come up with the prompt. After a bit of tea and chocolate however, I’ve managed to come through with a response for this month’s challenge. Whether it’s any good is entirely another matter!

I have titled my contribution:

On Trend

All I wanted was Nanna’s fourth-best tea set.

“What do you want that for?” Mum started going on. “Throw it away love, it’s chipped, useless.”

“No mum, it’s cutting edge; “Shabby Chic” it’s called.”

“Shabby tat, more like”.

Vintage is so hot right now.

Mum’s such an old fossil.

***

Now it’s your turn! Don’t forget to pop a link to your efforts in the comments of this post so others can appreciate your narrative brilliance. If you’re sharing on twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50. Next month’s prompt will be…

june fi50 button

And this will be the last for the current set. If anyone has any suggestions for prompts for the second half of the year, let me know and I’ll endeavour to include them.

Cheerio then loves,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 Challenge Reminder for May!

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fiction in 50

It’s that time again – get out your pencil, keyboard or tablet-poking finger and get writing – Fiction in 50 is nearly upon us for May!

This month our prompt will be….

may fi50 challenge

To participate, all you need do is create a piece of fiction or poetry in less than 51 words.  Then post it.  Then come back here on Monday and add your post link to the comments of my Fi50 post.  For more information and for upcoming prompts, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.  New players are always welcome!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Scaling Mount TBR: The Whitby Witches…

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Thank you for joining me as I claw my way up the teetering goliath that is my current TBR pile. Today’s book is one I picked up second-hand after having placed it on my wish-list very soon after Mad Martha returned from a memorable sojourn to the seaside town of Whitby in the UK, declaring that we should now search out and read every book ever written with Whitby as a setting. And there have been a lot. Although we still haven’t read the most famous by far.

Here’s a picture of Mad Martha enjoying the B&B in which she stayed. If you squint, you can just see a bit of the Abbey in the distance out the window:

mad martha whitby

And here she is enjoying a long-awaited wash in the Whitby Laundromat washing machine:

mad martha whitby 2

 

And just for fun, here’s one of the Abbey that looks like it’s screeeeeeeaaaaammmming!

abbey screaming

But I digress. Today’s book is The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, a rollicking and surprisingly dark (in places) tale that was first published in 1991, although it has the ring of a book published much earlier. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At first glance, the small seaside town of Whitby seems quiet and charming, but eight year-old Ben and his older sister Jennet soon learn that things are not always as they seem. Moved about from foster home to foster home, Ben and Jennet hope to make a fresh start in Whitby. But Ben sees things and people others cannot. There’s something unusual about Alice Boston, their new guardian. And what is that horrible howling Jennet hears late at night? Something wicked’s brewing in Whitby. Can Ben and Jennet put it to rest?

whitby witches

This was an unexpected reading experience for me because there was just so much story packed into the pages. There are the witches and witchiness of the title of course, but then there are fantastical creatures, an ongoing (and progressively more deadly) murder investigation, a strange nun that might not be what she seems, an ancient curse, pregnant cats, as well as an astoundingly action-packed climax that features time-travel along with everything else.

And does anyone else think that Alice Boston bears a striking resemblance to one of the TV versions of Miss Marple??

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Extraordinary!

So I didn’t expect there to be quite so much going on in this book, but I really appreciated how the author gives the young reader enough credit to put in some pretty creepy content. For a start, there’s the terrifying hound on the cover of this edition. Then there’s quite a lot of violence directed towards old ladies. I was genuinely surprised at a few points that Jarvis was brave enough to pen the deaths of the aforementioned old ladies in such vivid, atmospheric detail.  Actually, now that I think about it, there are a number of scenes that had me thinking, “Oh, that’s a bit shocking!” and this disposed me fondly toward the author for having the gumption to trust that younger readers can handle some grisly, scary stuff and come out the other side unscathed. I suspect this is why the book felt like one that was published before the 90s, because there doesn’t seem to be any coddling through the difficult bits.

Overall, this is one of those stories that has all the classic elements – abandoned siblings, a setting oozing with its own character and history, mysterious magic and just plain, unadulterated adventure! As this is part of a series, I will now add the others in the set to my ever-growing TBR pile and hopefully get to them in the not-too-distant future.

I recommend The Whitby Witches to anyone (especially mini-fleshlings of the upper middle-grade persuasion) looking for good old-fashioned feats of danger and derring-do.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Morgue Drawer Four…

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Thank you for joining me for another edition of Mondays are for Murder. Today I have a book that I’ve been stalking for a while, waiting for it to come on special somewhere so I could pounce on it. Obviously that happy day came so I added it to my Kindle with great haste and efficiency. I speak of the first book in Jutta Profijt’s Morgue Drawer series, Morgue Drawer Four. I should also mention that the particular version I read was a translation from the original German, so I feel it is only fair to mention that the translator is Erik J. Macki, because he has done a wonderful job here.

Anyway, on to more murderous things. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Coroner is the perfect job for Dr. Martin Gänsewein, who spends his days in peace and quiet autopsying dead bodies for the city of Cologne. Shy, but scrupulous, Martin appreciates his taciturn clients–until the day one of them starts talking to him. It seems the ghost of a recently deceased (and surprisingly chatty) small-time car thief named Pascha is lingering near his lifeless body in drawer number four of Martin’s morgue. He remains for one reason: his “accidental” death was, in fact, murder. Pascha is furious his case will go unsolved–to say nothing of his body’s dissection upon Martin’s autopsy table. But since Martin is the only person Pascha can communicate with, the ghost settles in with the good pathologist, determined to bring the truth of his death to light. Now Martin’s staid life is rudely upended as he finds himself navigating Cologne’s red-light district and the dark world of German car smuggling. Unless Pascha can come up with a plan–and fast–Martin will soon be joining him in the spirit world. Witty and unexpected, Morgue Drawer Four introduces a memorable (and reluctant) detective unlike any other in fiction today.

morgue drawer four

The Usual Suspects:

Given that Pascha (who also goes by Sascha, for reasons that were fairly obscure to me) was a bit of a shady wheeler-dealer when alive, it doesn’t take much foresight to predict that the usual suspects in this case are likely to be similarly shade-loving. There are sex-workers, car smugglers, petty criminals, and bar owners all thrown into the mix as poor, put-upon Martin risks life, limb and sanity to bring Pascha’s possible murderer to justice. And prove that there was in fact a murder in the first place.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The investigation is pretty much a comedy of errors as Martin – law-abiding, waistcoat-wearing, three-wheel-car-driving Martin – attempts to question a parade of unsavoury characters without having his face bashed in. In the early part of the book there are very few clues to go on, and the pace dragged a bit, but by the halfway point there are some definite leads – and some extra, unexpected corpses – and the lads begin to unravel the tangled motivations of those involved.

Overall Rating

poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

 

Three poison bottles for a series opener that has great potential for guts, glory and German comedy

After having anticipated reading this for quite a while, I found myself both gratified and mildly disappointed in this tale. The story didn’t have quite the murder-mystery punch I was hoping for in the actual investigation side of the plot, but it certainly made up for that in the hilarious banter and distinctive, vivid voice of Pascha. The translator really needs credit for bringing across both the meaning and the comedy behind the meaning, because he has brought Pascha from German into English in living, bawdy colour. The relationship building between Martin and Pascha was really at the forefront of this book, rather than the murder, but now that the relationship is established, I am very interested to see how this series will pan out. If you are looking for a murder-mystery series that balances death with a strong, funny character pairing then I’d definitely add this one to your list.

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*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR*

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddly Unmoved: A Review of Unseemly Science…

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Today I have another submission for my personal Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge. I received this book from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley after pondering whether or not I should request it. You see, today’s book is the second in a series and I haven’t read the opening book. I speak of Unseemly Science: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2 by Rod Duncan. I um-ed and ah-ed a bit over whether I should attempt a sequel without having read its predecessor, but decided in the end that the blurb looked intriguing enough to override my worries.

I am submitting this book into the Challenge under the categories of Odd Setting, given that the book features a strange version of the United Kingdom (I think – my mild confusion over this will become apparent) which is split into a monarchy and a republic. I’m also submitting under the Odd Character category because the main character is a lady who is also her own brother.

Let’s crack on into the unknown then, shall we? Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life – as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy! There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…

unseemly science

Intriguing blurb, no?  I concur.

So what’s the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook? No idea.  Why was Alice Carter hanged? Couldn’t tell you.  What’s haunting about Elizabeth Barnabus’ past? Not an inkling.

It turns out that in this particular series, all the world building happens in the first book and if you haven’t read it, you will be mired in slight confusion for at least the first third of the story.  This is fair enough, I suspect.  If you go into a second book with an obviously obtuse blurb, as I chose to, you probably shouldn’t expect to be coddled by the author with all the information you missed by not bothering to read the first book.  And while it was obvious that the world of this story had been built while I wasn’t paying attention, the actual thrust of the story was perfectly simple to follow, albeit without the nuances that knowing Elizabeth’s past would have added.  Suffice to say, she’s an ex-monarchy-dweller on the run from a powerful Duke to whom she was sold.

It turns out that she also moonlights as some kind of detective, and sometimes impersonates her fictitious brother.  This is where we dip into the part of the story that drew me in – the mystery of the charitable organisation and the body-snatching and unseemly experimentation promised in the blurb.  It takes literally half the book to get to the real meat of any investigatory business, as the first half is devoted to Elizabeth’s attempts to escape from the Republican officials’ new law to repatriate monarchists to their place of birth.  Once we get to the investigation part, the action explodes and the pace of the plot quadruples as we charge toward a twisty, dangerous ending.

Surprisingly (for me, anyway…maybe not for you), the action and autopsies of the second half of the book didn’t make up for the slow start and extended running and hiding of the first half.  I really enjoyed the ladies’ foray into the territory of the ice farmers and Julia’s code-breaking attempts were a bit of fun riddle-solving, but otherwise I felt this to be a reasonably slow burn, with an ending that didn’t quite provide the thrill I was looking for.  Plus, of course, there was the general sense that I was missing something important pretty much the whole way through.

To my surprise, at the end of the book I discovered a glossary of sorts that spelled out all the nuances of the Gas-Lit Empire and much of the stuff I had missed.  As I came upon this after having ploughed through the whole book, I decided that I couldn’t be bothered filling myself in on the vital information that would probably have made the reading experience a bit more enriching.  I feel I have discharged my duty by having told you about it though, so if you wish to attempt this book without having read the first one, you’ll know to start with this elusive glossary first.

Discounting the fact that I didn’t have a full working knowledge of the world in which the story is set (given that this was entirely of my own choosing), I would have to say that overall this was an interesting diversion into an original imagining of England.  While the pace was slower than I expected, there was enough mystery and intrigue to keep me turning the pages.  If you’re a fan of alternative history, steampunk and strong female protagonists with mad evasion skills, then this will probably tickle your fancy, although I would strongly recommend starting with book one and saving yourself some brainache.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 9/16

Until next time,

Bruce

A Non-Fiction Read-it-if Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (and other lessons from the Crematory)

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imageNonfiction 2015

It’s time for another foray into the world of non-fiction and today I have an absolute cracker that will go on my (so far, very selective) “top books I read in 2015” list. Obviously, I will be submitting this title toward my total in the Non-fiction Reading Challenge being hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the armchair.

Without further ado then, let me introduce today’s contender: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Doughty learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Doughty soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures. Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like? Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Doughty’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Doughty argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

smoke gets in your eyes

 

Read it if:

*you’ve ever wondered what really goes on behind the curtain at the crematorium

*you enjoy a memoir that jumps from light-hearted, pithy, humorous comment on everyday topics to the “Oh my Glob!”-worthy, stomach-churning imagery of post-mortem mishap.

*you are looking for a no-holds-barred, unvarnished account of what might happen to your lonely corpse if you end up as an unclaimed body in San Francisco

*you wish to discover exactly which fashionable fabrics are impervious to leaking corpse fat

*you honestly think that your use of “anti-ageing” paraphernalia will keep you looking youthful and pristine against the ravages of time

Regular readers of this blog will know that, like the author of today’s book, I have more than a passing interest in death and its workings and again, like Ms Doughty, one of my fleshlings has seriously considered exploring a job in the funeral industry. Obviously, this book was always going to be my kind of memoir.

Right from the start I enjoyed Doughty’s self-deprecating humour and the way in which she understood that her death-fascination may well seem odd and more than a bit creepy to the great majority of the population who seem hell-bent on avoiding death and its implications at any cost. I would recommend not reading this book while you’re eating, as it does jump (sometimes within the space of a sentence) from a chuckleworthy observation about the peculiarities of taking possession of a box of heads, for instance, to an eye-wateringly detailed description of some disgusting incident usually related to the body’s unsightly decomposition processes. More than once I could be heard to utter, “Hahahaha..eurggh!” If the thought of such graphic corpse chat doesn’t turn you off, you will find that this book is replete with fascinating, concerning and just plain unexpected information about the sorts of things that could happen to you once you pop your proverbial clogs.

Doughty’s focus in writing the book is undoubtedly on the bizarre and absolute detachment that many Western societies are determined to achieve from death, both in actuality and concept. She raises some valid and thought-provoking points about how in a relatively short historical period, people have gone from washing, preparing and sitting with a loved one’s corpse at home, to getting the dead thing out of the house as quickly and with as little acknowledgement as possible. While I was supremely interested in the processes of the death industry itself, I also found a lot to ponder in the latter half of the book, in which Doughty points to alternative voices that are piping up to say “Hey! Death is actually a pretty natural thing! It doesn’t have to be all spiky mouth and eyeball retainers and lead-lined, diamond studded caskets!”

Overall, I found a lot to be surprised about and plenty to keep my little grey cells ticking over in this book. It probably won’t be the kind of book that everyone will take to….but it probably should be, in all honesty. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt by observing you fleshlings, it’s that death is coming for you, sooner or later – so why not make it a good one?

Progression toward Non-Fiction Reading Challenge goal: 6/10

Until next time,

Bruce

A Bit of Odd Horror: The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave…

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It’s time for another submission in my personal Oddity Odyssey Challenge and today’s book is an absolute doozy, qualifying for submission in THREE categories – odd title (as you’ll see), odd character (murderous teddy bear) and odd subject matter (is this weak adult horror or vulgarity-laden middle-grade?). If you don’t know anything about the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge for 2015, I invite you to click here and find out more. And then join in.

I received a copy of today’s book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for review. I say I “received” it, but as soon as I saw the cover, combined with the spectacularly understated title, I decided I must read it as soon as possible. But let’s crack on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads for The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave by J. H. Moncrieff.

Sometimes evil looks like a fuzzy teddy bear.Still grieving the untimely death of his dad, ten-year-old Josh Leary is reluctant to accept a well-worn stuffed teddy bear from his new stepfather. He soon learns he was right to be wary. Edgar is no ordinary toy…and he doesn’t like being rejected. When Josh banishes him to the closet, terrible things begin to happen.Desperate to be rid of the bear, Josh engages the help of a friend. As the boys’ efforts rebound on them with horrifying results, Josh is forced to accept the truth—Edgar will always get even.

bear who wouldn't leave

 

Check that cover. Isn’t it just brilliant? And the title: absolute gold. While this book isn’t going to be winning any awards for the quality of the writing or, indeed, the scariness of the horror, it is a fun, light read that will scratch an itch if you’re in need of a bit of quirky creepiness.

I had a bit of a problem situating this story in my mind though. It’s listed as “adult horror” but features a ten-year-old main character and reads (despite some ear-blistering swear words and a few extreme disciplinary measures) EXACTLY like a middle-grade book. There’s the lovable Josh, who’s dad has died and is just trying to get by with his mum and evil stepfather – and the step-father really is evil in this story; in fact, he’s the most horrifying element of the book by far. There’s the mother who wants to believe her son, but is clouded by a controlling spouse. There’s Josh’s mate Sean who is drawn in to the unbelievable stalkiness of Edgar the murderous panda.

And in the end…well, it’s all a bit predictable really. It’s like the author set out to write a really pedestrian story and then jazzed it up (which I fully appreciate) with an awesome-sauce cover and the title of least resistance.

Once again, I don’t suspect that this is going to satisfy adult readers of horror in any way, but for a fun diversion featuring a fluffy despot who just wants to be loved, you really can’t go past *cue deep movie trailer voiceover * The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave!

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Goal:   8 (I think…I’m starting to lose track)/16

Until next time:

Bruce