Mondays are for Murder: Resorting to Murder (Holiday Mystery Anthology)…

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Welcome to another fiendishly murderous Monday! Today I have a collection for you, featuring short stories from some well-known writers of classic British mystery. Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, is just one in a collection of mystery anthologies on different themes that are due for release this year. Unsurprisingly, today’s collection is based (mostly) around that great British destination for relaxation: the seaside. I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Holidays offer us the luxury of getting away from it all. So, in a different way, do detective stories. This collection of vintage mysteries combines both those pleasures. From a golf course at the English seaside to a pension in Paris, and from a Swiss mountain resort to the cliffs of Normandy, this new selection shows the enjoyable and unexpected ways in which crime writers have used summer holidays as a theme.

Resorting to murder

The Usual Suspects:

This section should probably read not so much “the usual suspects” but “mostly the kind of suspects you’d expect, with a few absolute twisters thrown in”. There are nefarious family members motivated by greed, wives and husbands motivated by the desire to get rid of their wife or husband, business associates, people pretending to be other people and just about every trope you could think of popping up somewhere in this collection. A disturbing lack of retired Colonels back from the sub-continent, though.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, the hunts take many forms, but the majority involve a private detective or a police detective taking the expected route. In one memorable story however, the murderer is never found and in others, it’s not exactly clear whether a murder has happened at all.

Overall Rating:

 poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

 

Four poison bottles for an invigorating seaside holiday featuring sand, sunburn and serial killing (or rather, killing in serial)

I really enjoyed this anthology, for the fun trip through classic British murder mysteries, as much as getting to dip my toe into the writing styles of a bunch of mystery writers from the first half of the twentieth century without having to commit to reading a whole novel. The opening tale by Arthur Conan Doyle set the tone nicely, with a typical “locked room” type mystery that helped me to warm up to the task of solving multiple, unrelated murders by the end of the book. There are also a veritable slew of detectives to acquaint one’s self with, so if you were under the impression that Poirot was the only one getting freelance and solving murders, this book will really open your eyes!

I particularly enjoyed Murder! by Arnold Bennett (as much for the exclamation mark in the title, as for the twist in the story), while The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser by Basil Thomson was simultaneously ridiculously far-fetched and utterly compelling. In fact, I think Thomson’s mystery was my favourite of the lot.

There are more in this anthology series (two just in time for Christmas, apparently!) so I suspect these will find their way onto my TBR list. If you are in the mood for a holiday of the mind that involves skullduggery in bite-sized chunks, I would definitely recommend packing this one in your bedside drawer.

Until next time,

Bruce

Choose Your Own Adventure for Big Kids: Superpowered (Click Your Poison #3)…

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Hold your horses! Stop the press! Today I’ve got an early Christmas present for anyone who wants to feel like they did way back when, as they flicked through a Choose Your Own Adventure tale. But today’s book is designed specifically for adult readers.  Intrigued? Come on, of course you are!  I was lucky enough to snag a copy of today’s tome through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and I am glad I did, because I haven’t had such a fun experience with an ebook for a long time as I had with Superpowered by James Schannep, the third offering in the Click Your Poison series.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

You know the superhero fantasy. What would life be like if you had superhuman abilities? But really, given the choice, would you save the world or conquer it? In SUPERPOWERED, the choice is yours.

After a bizarre experiment leaves you with one of three superpowers (play the book multiple times to explore all three!), you must ally with or confront the other two test subjects while the fate of Mercury City–nay, the world!–hangs in the balance.

Live your own interactive comic book adventure and Get SUPERPOWERED!

3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question… Will YOU Be a Hero or a Villain?

 

superpowered

This was a light, fun read that immediately had me thinking out my old-school strategies for how I would approach the story.  I initially took the path of least resistance, which resulted in a quickly ended storyline, and then I backed up and got my head in the game.  There are three superpowers you can choose from once the story gets going and I took my time deliberating – you don’t want to end up choosing a sucky one and having to start all over again, after all. Or maybe you do, if that’s the way you want to play it!

Once it becomes apparent that you are no longer an ordinary human, paths unfold that allow you to choose whether you will be a bleeding heart hero with designs on making the world a super place, or a black hearted villain with no regard for the common people.  The thing that impressed me the most about this book was the smooth and responsive “click your choice” format in the Kindle edition that allows the reader to click on the chosen option to be taken straight to the corresponding page.  I admit, I did wonder how the author was going to get past all the flicking forward and back of the traditional print CYACs in the electronic format, but it worked like a dream and kept me focused on the story.

I did find it was tricky to go back once you’d made a selection – I learned to take note of the prior location in case I muffed it up – but that was a minor drawback to something that really delivers an enjoyable, nostalgic experience in a modern, adult-friendly format.

There are two other adventures in the Click Your Poison series – one a murder mystery and the other an apocalyptic plague zombie survival adventure – and I would be interested in checking them out.  I reckon that this series is perfect for those who enjoyed the CYAC format as a youngster and are looking for a fun, interactive reading experience to brighten up their daily commute, boring appointment waiting time or other tedium from which there is no physical escape.

I’m submitting this one into my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of Odd Language Element due to the interactive format.  For more information about the challenge and to join in, click here.

Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 11/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Picture Book Oddity: The Princess and the Fog…

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If I was looking for a picture book featuring some odd elements, say, for an Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge, then today’s book would surely top them all. Or at least most of them.  I am submitting today’s book, The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones, which I received from the publisher via Netgalley, under the categories of Odd Title, Odd Subject Matter and Odd Character.  That made your eyebrows raise in slight awe, didn’t it?  And so it should.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Once upon a time there was a Princess. She had everything a little girl could ever want, and she was happy. That is, until the fog came…

“The Princess and the Fog” is picture book to help sufferers of depression aged 5-7 cope with their difficult feelings. It uses vibrant illustrations, a sense of humour and metaphor to create a relatable, enjoyable story that describes the symptoms of childhood depression while also providing hope that things can get better with a little help and support.

The story is also a great starting point for explaining depression to all children, especially those who may have a parent or close family member with depression. With an essential guide for parents and carers by clinical paediatric psychologists, Dr Melinda Edwards MBE and Linda Bayliss, this book will be of immeasurable value to anyone supporting a child with depression, including social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, arts therapists, pastoral care workers and school staff, as well as parents and carers.  

princess and the fog

So let’s go through the checklist:

A title that’s a play on words? Well that’s odd.

A book about depression aimed at 5-7 year olds? Don’t see too many of them around!

A main character who’s a princess? That’s not odd at all.  But a princess with clinical depression?!

AWOOGA!AWOOGA!

That’s the Oddity Alarm ringing at all 5 bells.

As soon as I read the blurb of this book, I simply had to request it, despite the fact that I Really. Don’t. Like. Princesses.

Not the real life ones. I’ve got nothing against Kate Middleton. I certainly don’t have a bad word to say about Mary of Denmark (she’s from Tasmania, don’t you know?).

But I really dislike princesses in literature*. That goes for any age, any style, any kind of princess. I think they’re overused, undercharacterised and I simply don’t understand why they’re promoted as some kind of idol for young girls.

But I put that aside because here was a picture book about depression written for small children.

Essentially in this tale, the princess has a normal, princessy life of happiness, until one day she doesn’t. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be as happy as she was before. Nothing has particularly changed. But she doesn’t feel like doing the things she used to enjoy. She doesn’t feel like playing with her friends like she used to. Generally, she just doesn’t feel much of anything good.

The author has done a wonderful job here using metaphor and the evocative illustrations to present to children the feelings associated with depression. I’m sure any child who has experienced depression themselves (or seen it in someone close to them) will definitely resonate with the creeping sadness that is represented by the Fog and the ways in which it absolutely changes the Princess.

As the friends and family of the princess gather round and support the princess against the Fog in whatever ways they can, the princess slowly begins to come back to herself. By the end of the book, there is hope that the princess can once again experience the happiness she had at the start of the story, with the understanding that with help, the Fog can be kept mostly at bay.

I’m not entirely convinced that the end of the book is as strong as the beginning in the way it draws young readers into the world of the depressed person, but this is such a difficult topic for adults, let alone for young children. I applaud the author for addressing such a tricky topic and I think that this book will be a great conversation starter for little ones about depression and, importantly, the things that friends and family can do to support someone who isn’t behaving like themselves.

This is definitely worth a look if you work with early years-aged children in any kind of caregiving or educational capacity.

Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 10/16

Until next time,

Bruce

*The only exception to my dislike of princesses in literature (or on television) is the northern-accented, pillow-case wearing lass from the UK children’s show Little Princess. Partly because it’s narrated by Julian Clary and partly because her accent is brilliant, her parents are frumpy and she doesn’t wear pink.

 

 

An Adult Fiction GSQ Review: The House of Hidden Mothers…

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Today’s book turned out to be a bit of an unexpected read, hence the GSQ format. Drawn in by the delightful cover art and the promise of a book written by Meera Syal (she of The Kumars at Number 42, the Doctor Who episode with the Silurians and various other humorous creative exploits), I requested The House of Hidden Mothers from the publisher via Netgalley with the anticipation that this would be a quirky read. And it was. Sort of. Just not in the way I was expecting. So let’s dive in!

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Little India, East London, where Shyama, aged forty-four, has fallen for a younger man. They want a child together. Welcome to a rural village in India, where young Mala, trapped in an oppressive marriage, dreams of escape.

When Shyama and Mala meet, they help each other realise their dreams. But will fate guarantee them both happiness?… Brimming with warmth, wit and indignation, Meera Syal immerses us in a double story of friendship, family and the lengths women will go to have a child. Crossing between East London and rural India, its universal tale of female triumph over adversity tickles as much as it bites, while asking searching questions about what makes us human.

house of hidden mothers

The Good 

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First off, it was certainly a relief to find out that Syal is as talented at writing as she is at dramatic stuff. This is a well-written book, that deftly entwines two – well, more than two actually, but we’ll get to that in a moment – seemingly unconnected stories and shows enough respect to the characters to ensure that none of them ends up stereotyped or two-dimensional.

There is a lot going on in the book, because both the main female characters – Shyama and Mala – have fully fleshed out tales that carry the main plot. Alongside these two ladies however, is Tara, Shyama’s young adult daughter to whom much of a secondary plotline is devoted, as well as Prem and Sita, Shyama’s parents, who also embody a fully developed plotline involving distant family members who have unlawfully taken up residence in their retirement apartment in India. So all in all, this is a hefty read that doesn’t skim over the trials of its characters.

Underlining the struggles of the characters are the social issues that Syal brings to light – the relative merits and pitfalls of international surrogacy; violence against women in both the UK and India; the struggles of those living in poverty and the ways in which businesses might support or exploit them. There is certainly a lot to consider here and I was impressed with the way that the author has managed to span such a range of characters and situations while keeping the writing tight and relevant.

The Sad

 

There’s not a lot that I can think of to fill this section, but if I had to nitpick, the only drawback of having so many fleshed out storylines going at once is the fact that it makes the book very long. I have coined the term “Kiimagendle Heft” to indicate the relative “heaviness” that I ascribe to an ebook as I’m reading, relative to how thick I imagine the print version to be and how tiny the font therein. This one comes out as “hefty”, which means I felt like I was reading for a long time and not getting very far through the
page count.

I suppose I expected this book to be lighter in tone than it ended up being. This is not necessarily a negative point, as I did get a lot out of the reading experience, but I did expect this to have a lot more “wit” – as in humour – than was actually present. Essentially, if you’re looking for a light bit of fun, fluffy reading, you won’t be satisfied by this book.

The Quirky

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This could have so easily been a book that focused in on the contemporary couple wanting a baby and being faced with fertility issues. That would have produced plenty of material for a standard women’s fiction novel. Because Syal has included both the perspective of a younger generation (in Tara) and an older generation (in Prem and Sita), the book really does give an overall view of the whole infertility experience and the fact that it doesn’t happen in a contextual vacuum. I suppose what I’m saying here is that while this is a “contemporary couple wanting a baby and being faced with fertility issues” kind of book, it’s also a lot more than that – which is something you don’t often get with your general women’s fiction novel.

This turned out to be a much more thought-provoking read than I expected and has duly increased my level of admiration for Meera Syal. I don’t think it will be for everybody, particularly if you are expecting a fun, funny, relaxing-by-the-pool sort of a read, but if you are in the market for a well-developed, multi-plotted tale that mixes contemporary with traditional then I’d definitely recommend adding this one to your list.

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects!… during YA New Release “Me Being Me is Exactly As Insane As You Being You”

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Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome once again to the shelf for a close look at an intriguingly premised YA new release, Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowry. Today I am joined by Shouty Doris, who has a few things to say about our experiences of this book. Given that Shouty Doris has a very low level of regard for the sensitivities of others, you can be certain that this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! You have been warned.  I also must say a hearty thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for furnishing us with a copy of this exceedingly hefty tome (646 pages!) and an impressed “well done” to the Australia Post postie who lugged it to our address.

But let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Darren hasn’t had an easy year. There was his parents’ divorce, which just so happened to come at the same time his older brother Nate left for college and his longtime best friend moved away. And of course there’s the whole not having a girlfriend thing. Then one Thursday morning Darren’s dad shows up at his house at 6 a.m. with a glazed chocolate doughnut and a revelation that turns Darren’s world inside out. In full freakout mode, Darren, in a totally un-Darren move, ditches school to go visit Nate. Barely twenty-four hours at Nate’s school makes everything much better or much worse—Darren has no idea. It might somehow be both. All he knows for sure is that in addition to trying to figure out why none of his family members are who they used to be, he’s now obsessed with a strangely amazing girl who showed up out of nowhere but then totally disappeared.

Told entirely in lists, Todd Hasak-Lowy’s debut YA novel perfectly captures why having anything to do with anyone, including yourself, is:

1. painful

2. unavoidable

3. ridiculously complicated

4. possibly, hopefully the right thing after all.

me being me

Did you get that? The book is formatted ENTIRELY IN LISTS! As an avid list writer and general fan of lists, that was enough to have me salivating over this tome. Unfortunately, there was one main problem with these lists.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’ll say. They were about as funny and engaging as a train-spotting accountant’s grocery list. AND they made the book ridiculously long. Not to mention heavy. God only knows what they were thinking with this one.

Yes. Well. As Shouty Doris so clearly points out, if a book is to be composed entirely in list format, I would suggest making those lists reasonably quirky and interesting. Or chuckleworthy. Or at the very least, engaging. Sadly, most of the lists in this book were …well…unnecessary and plot-slowing.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, yes, we realise the boy is confused but including multiple lists consisting of various ways to say “What the Fox?” is both tedious and self-indulgent. Honestly, I wanted to poke someone’s eyes out by about page 50. Preferably my own.

I also had a bit of a problem with the main character, Darren. Essentially, I found him to be quite underdeveloped and that he lacked a solid voice. I didn’t really feel that he had anything going for him, especially considering the characters around him, including his overcompensating father, his self-centred and distant mother and his significantly-cooler-than-Darren brother, were just so much better developed. So while I quite enjoyed the parts that involved Darren relating his interactions with these other characters, a significant part of the book is just Darren monologuing in fairly uninspiring lists.

Shouty Doris interjects

Can’t stand a monologue. Especially from a teenager. Nobody can wallow in misplaced self-pity quite like a teenager.

The strange thing about this book (and be prepared for spoilers here) is that the actual content could have formed the basis of a fantastically engaging read. The incident mentioned in the blurb that causes Darren to question his very identity (and indulge in multiple WTF? lists) is one that was unusual enough to generate lots of interest as well as provide a springboard for in-depth examination, discussion and general turning-over of the topic. It really could have been a story that engaged teenagers (and others) in discussing their attitudes, beliefs and prejudices and how these might affect them if they (or someone close to them were in a similar situation).

Shouty Doris interjects

Stop beating around the proverbial. The twist is that Darren’s father announces over the breakfast table that he’s GAY. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to start the day for young Darren?! Imagine what could have followed! But young pity-party Darren just uses the opportunity for another round of “What the Foxes”.

Seriously, I feel that the author missed an opportunity here to make this story relevant and arresting. The coming out of Darren’s father isn’t actually the only storyline going on here and I felt that things just got convoluted and the focus of the plot wasn’t clearly defined. I suppose this is a danger of breaking usual rules of narrative style – while the list idea is great as an initial drawcard, it needs to be backed up by masterful writing and, more importantly in my view, ruthless editing.

Overall, I think there will be a certain readership who really enjoy Darren’s story and can appreciate the author’s style, but for me, it was disappointing to see an interesting format and a conceptually meaningful story, with potentially far-reaching influence, executed in such a pedestrian way.  I suspect I would have enjoyed this much more if the author had dispensed with the quirky list idea and instead focused on developing the characters and plot.

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s a “no” from me, Barry.

Until next time,

Bruce (not Barry. Forgive her, she’s getting on.)

A YA, Sick-Lit Haiku Review: Extraordinary Means…

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It’s been a little while, but it is I, Mad Martha, back with another haiku review for a new release YA title, Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider.  I was lucky enough to snag a copy of this one for review from the publisher via Netgalley.  Asthma inhalers at the ready? Then let us embark on a gentle stroll through the word of Totally Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. BYO paper mask.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it’s easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down. Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances.

extraordinary means

Oh the feels! True love’s

first kiss interrupted by

coughing fit. Awkies…

Astute observers may notice that I’ve been a bit cheeky with my haiku today, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Suffice to say, I’ve got mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed parts of it and I appreciated the original concept of placing the characters in a tuberculosis sanatorium. This made a nice change from the groups of teens hospitalised at psychiatric facilities that I usually read about. And that cover is just beautiful, isn’t it?! On the other hand, I should point out I haven’t read that book by John Green that is a massive bestseller (and I don’t intend to), or indeed any other of the recently released “sick-lit” YA titles, so you won’t find any comparisons with those in this review. This is, I think, probably a good thing because I have a shrewd suspicion that this book may easily be slotted into the “just another sick-lit YA title” shelf and quickly forgotten.

So let’s start with the positives. First, originality. It’s not immediately apparent from the first few chapters, but the characters in this novel are quarantined at a tuberculosis sanatorium and boarding school. Essentially, they have all contracted Totally Drug Resistant TB (which is a total bummer) and have been sent to Latham House to take a rest cure. Unfortunately for some, not all will make it out alive; such is the aggressive nature of TDR-TB. I really enjoyed the weird atmosphere that was created here by having a group of naturally exuberant, passionate and generally active teens hobbled by rest, good nutrition and gentle exercise. Obviously enough, a good part of the story revolves around the main characters attempting to inject some fun into their lives in spite of their illness.

I was drawn into the story quickly through the use of alternating points of view between Lane and Sadie and the relatively short chapters. I’ve always been a fan of multiple-point-of-view novels and this one had an engaging style. In fact, I think this is what kept me happy for about half of the book.

By about halfway through, it was pretty obvious to me where the ending was going and that is the main thing that limited my enjoyment of the book. While the first half of the book felt fresh and interesting, by the halfway point I had a pretty good inkling that for at least some of the main characters, the ride to the finish would contain some exciting highs, followed by tragic lows and then a short, philosophical musing on the meaning of life and death.

And I was right.

I know others have really loved this book and lauded its characters and plot and narrative arc and all the rest, but for me it started well and then ended in a rather pedestrian fashion. The medical twist towards the end did liven things up a little, but it also confirmed my suspicions about what was going to happen in the end. The characters seemed too two-dimensional for me to garner any deep connection and I generally tire of faux-existential musings forced into books just to increase “the feels!”

I have come to the conclusion that this is one book that really is aimed at the YA set and as a jaded adult, I couldn’t come on board with the hopeful yearnings of young love in the way that the author wanted me to. Particularly when the characters manage a romp into a neighbouring town, to frolic and spread their deadly contagion amongst the unsuspecting townsfolk. Not cool, peeps.

So you can see now why my haiku is a bit cheeky.  I’m not the ideal reader for this book, which is a shame, but I think it will be enjoyed by its target audience. If you are a young person, or you know one who can’t go past a good romance/friendship/coming-of-age/deadly illness dalliance then this would definitely be worth a look.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha