Shouty Doris Interjects during…TrollHunters!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Bruce and Doris with you today with a new release YA novel that features trolls, adventure and illustrations! I excitedly received a copy of Trollhunters by Guillermo del Torro and Daniel Kraus from Five Mile Press and was happy to dive right in. Let’s get stuck in before Doris falls asleep.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing. The townspeople don’t believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jnr knows that they’re a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe? TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan’s Labyrinth.

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As well as being wildly excited to read this book based on the awesome cover, the eye-poppingly brilliant illustrations and a terribly engaging extract, on discovering that Daniel Kraus was a co-author, my anticipation levels went into overdrive. Kraus is the author of Rotters, one of the most compelling and unforgettable books I have ever read and so I was expecting big things from Trollhunters. I have to say that all up, while the story was interesting enough, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first chapter drew me straight in, finding out about how Jim Jr’s uncle went missing all those years ago, and I was gearing up for a fast-paced romp until…..we meet up with Jim Jr at school. With his fat best friend and handsome jock bullies.

I have reached a point in my reading life at which I am confident to say that I am thoroughly over the popular/sporty boy bully picking on the weedy and/or fat unpopular kids.

Seriously.

Over it.

Shouty Doris interjects

You can say that again! How many stereotypical handsome, sporty, popular bullies can we stomach before we start feeding authors to their own tedious creations? Honestly, get some new material! Fancy being creative enough to come up with trolls and troll hunters and a missing child conspiracy and then fobbing us off with a bullying plotline that’s been done ad nauseum!

Indeed. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the predictable, tedious chapter at the start of the book was setting up some interesting twist later on, but unfortunately it just led up to a quick, also fairly predictable incident after the climax.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yep. Even I could see that one coming from a mile off, and I lost my glasses six years ago.

One of the things I loved about the book was the incredible illustrations.   I really think more middle grade and YA books could benefit from the kind of sporadic, full page illustrations that appear in Trollhunters. Apart from the fact that they are gorgeous to look at, I love being immersed in a tale only to turn the page and be surprised by an eye-popping bit of artwork. It’s like a secret reward for being engaged in the story.

I also loved the two main troll characters in the story. I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but these two really lifted the humour and pace of the story whenever they appeared. The ending gives a fitting tribute to the role that they played in Jim’s journey and was both sentimental and all kinds of awesome. Tub, Jim’s only friend, provided great comic relief and while I was mildly irritated by the fact that there was a romantic plotline added when it really didn’t need to be, Claire was a spot of sunshine also. The twist in her narrative arc was actually quite satisfying and I didn’t see it coming, so that was definitely a plus.

On the other hand, Jack, the uncle who disappeared forty years earlier and reappears in an unexpected fashion had the uncanny ability to slow things down and generally be a bit annoying every time he turned up.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, you’d think that after forty years he’d get a bit of maturity about him. Surly little bugger.  For someone who didn’t say a lot, I certainly dreaded him opening his mouth.

After finishing the book I am overwhelmed with the sense that this COULD have been a brilliant, engaging, fast-paced read…..IF it had been pitched at a middle grade audience.

As a YA fantasy/urban fantasy with humour, this fell far short of other books I have read in the genre, such as Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez or Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron. It didn’t have either the mythical complexity or the humour that I was hoping for and I just wanted things to move a bit quicker. However, with a slightly younger protagonist and cutting out all of the bullying and girl-angst stuff that did nothing but add mediocrity, this could have really taken off. As it is, I feel that it misses the mark.

Shouty Doris interjects

More trolls, fewer kids, I say.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult, Sci-Fi Read-it-if Review: Master of Formalities…

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As strange as it may sound, while today’s book is clearly a futuristic science fiction novel, I am certain it would also appeal to lovers of Jane Austen. With that bold and ufounded claim I would like to welcome you to today’s Read-it-if review. I received Master of Formalities by Scott Meyer from the publisher via Netgalley, after requesting it due to the promise of a sci-fi comedy of manners from an author who has employed puns in the titles of his past works. If that’s not an iron-clad formula for successful book-choosing, I don’t know what is. But let’s crack on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Even when finding oneself engaged in interstellar war, good form must be observed. Our story is set thousands of years after the Terran Exodus, where two powerful, planet-dominating families—the elegant House Jakabitus and the less refined Hahn Empire—have reached a critical point in their generations-long war. Master Hennik, the Hahn ruler’s only son, has been captured, and the disposition of his internment may represent a last and welcome chance for peace.

Enter Wollard, the impeccably distinguished and impossibly correct Master of Formalities for House Jakabitus. When he suggests that Master Hennik be taken in as a ward of the House, certain complications arise. Wollard believes utterly and devotedly in adhering to rules and good etiquette. But how does one inform the ruler of a planet that you are claiming his son as your own—and still create enough goodwill to deescalate an intergalactic war?

master of formalities

Read it if:

*you believe that an argument will always be won by the person who presents the precedent that is simultaneously the most relevant and the most obscure

*you believe that servants should always be stealthy and unseen when carrying out their lowly occupations…unless they make an embarrassing mistake, in which case their humiliation should be paraded around to the maximum number of viewers

* you suspect that the futuristic Hahn Home World could well have picked up the foundations of its culture – enacting the greatest inconvenience on the greatest number, whenever possible – from observing the modern-day customer service models employed by health insurance companies

*you support activities that foster the father-son bond

What a strange and amusing little offering I found this to be! I fear I am going through a minor aversion to science fiction at the moment, simply because engaging in new futuristicky worlds seems to be far too much effort. I must say though, that I thoroughly enjoyed this little romp for the strangely compatible senses of familiarity and originality that it provided.

I did find the first two or three chapters a little confusing as Meyer drops the reader in at the deep end of world-building, requiring that salient points about the world be deduced from general conversation. By the time we’re introduced to Master Rayzo’s first “Sports” meet though, I was swinging along with the strata of characters and revelling in the dry, understated approach of Meyer’s humour.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I honestly think that this book is going to have a much wider appeal than just to those who enjoy science fiction, because while the setting is a futuristic, interplanetary society, the subterfuge, social manipulation and general political skulduggery will be familiar to and enjoyed by lovers of any type of social comedy. While the blurb might give the impression that there are fairly solemn issues at play here, Meyer keeps the tone firmly tongue-in-cheek and I found it very easy to be drawn into the various awkward social conflicts of the various characters.

My favourite scenes were undoubtedly those featuring Rayzo and his “adopted” brother Hennik. I couldn’t help laughing aloud at Hennik’s valiant attempts to retain control over his predicament, as well as his impressive commitment to being a complete little turd at every opportunity, as dictated by his culture. The late inclusion of the ruler of a third planet – one that delights in finding himself in annoying and inconvenient situations for the opportunities these provide for self-betterment – added a wonderfully unexpected tonic to the superciliousness of the Hahn ruling family.

I feel I should also mention that another late highlight in the tale was the highly amusing and completely ridiculous walking chair that one of the rulers uses. It’s making me laugh again now just thinking about it.

I also enjoyed the ebb and flow of power in the novel, as those who appear to be on top take a metaphorical tumble, providing the impetus for some unexpected characters to rise to the top of the social food chain. I can’t say too much here without spoiling some of the twists, but Meyer has done a good job of fleshing out his characters so that you can never be certain that your alliances won’t change as more information comes to light.

Master of Formalities turned out to be an unexpectedly light and twisty foray back into science fiction for me and it has certainly given me a reminder to check whether I still have one of Meyer’s previous titles, Off to Be the Wizard, on my Kindle. I remember reading mixed reviews of it on its release, but having enjoyed Meyer’s writing style and sense of humour so much here, I will definitely give it a go….just as soon as I have an opportunity to hack away a bit more at Mount TBR.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 July Challenge…

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Welcome to the Fiction in 50 challenge for July! Our prompt this month is…

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To join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry related to the prompt in fewer than 51 words, then link your effort to the comments of this post.  For more detailed information on the challenge just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

So with all of the paper tiger public enemies being put up round our neck of the woods in recent months (and years), I thought I would go for a little bit of dystopian fiction.  Once again I’ve clocked in at 51 words, but I just couldn’t find a word I wanted to cull.  Suggestions, as always, are welcome.

My contribution is titled…

A Public Information Notice From Your Government

Citizens are reminded that members of the never-were class have been retroactively dehumanised to maintain government-imposed peace.

Although never-weres may have been your spouse, child, parent or friend, government thought-monitors have detected anti-government sentiments within their private thoughts.

Citizens are reminded that harbouring a never-was carries a penalty of retroactive dehumanisation.

***

I’m looking forward to seeing your efforts this month! If you’re sharing on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50.  For those who like to be prepared, next month’s prompt is…

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Until next time,

Bruce

An Fi50 Reminder and a Time Travel Murder Mystery…

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imageIt’s almost time for everyone’s favourite micro-flash-fiction challenge once again – Fiction in 50!  July’s challenge will open on Monday and the prompt for this month is…

public enemy button

If you’d like to play along – and we sincerely hope you do – just create a piece of fiction comprising fewer than 51 words and pop back on Monday to add your link to the comments on my post.  For more detailed information and prompts for the next six months, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

Now on to the bookery!

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Today I have an unexpected delight for you that involves murder, mystery, magic doors, time travel and pen pals. Not necessarily in that order. We received a copy of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.

Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.

lemoncholy

The Good

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As far as time travel mysteries go, this is very well put together with a lovely blend of action between the present and the past. The tale starts off slowly (and innocently) enough, with two ladies becoming trans-temporal pen pals after each suddenly discovers the other’s house in their back garden. As  Annie and Elsbeth try and figure out why they are suddenly connected in this manner, more pressing issues come to light and the ladies are drawn into trying to stop a murder that may (or may not) already have happened.

As the story unfolds, the author deftly reveals subsequent layers of the connection between the two women and the events surrounding Annie’s current circumstances in the present. The characters of Christian (Annie’s long-time, stuttering friend), Edmond (befriended by Christian due to an inexplicable familiarity of face) and Nathaniel (old-fashioned romantic interest for Annie) all add to the depth of the story and kept me guessing about who was who and how they were all linked. Or not linked.

The villains, Culler and Danyer, are violent and unpredictable and cast a deliciously creepy shadow over proceedings that is necessary to dispel Annie’s unfailing belief that meddling in time will result in things turning out perfectly alright. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the ordinary issues of Annie’s life melded with the time-travelly, magical aspects of the tale and I think this book will have a wide audience that encompasses those who enjoy plain literary fiction as well as those who like an unreal twist to their novels.

The Sad

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The only thing that mildly soured the experience of this book for me was the fact that I felt the pace slowed unnecessarily in some places, making the book feel a bit overly long. This is one of those books that, like the final film in The Lord of the Rings franchise, has an action-packed climax and then continues on for another half hour or so as all the loose ends are tied up. While the post-climax information is interesting and enlightening, and a satisfactory conclusion to the tale, it falls into the category that I like to call the “pre-empted bladder annoyance”. This may be familiar to you (or not), being the situation in which you think something (usually a film) is about to end and therefore you give your bladder permission to relax, knowing that within minutes you will be free to attend to its needs. When the film (or book, or play or whatever) then continues for longer than expected, you are forced to fidget uncomfortably while the author takes the time to neatly tie off the ends of the narrative.

Again, this certainly wasn’t a big enough complaint to sour the experience for me, but I do like a bit of warning where bladder pre-empting is concerned.

The Quirky

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The thing that stands out for me about this book as opposed to other time-travel jaunts I’ve read is that it really does read like a family drama/comedy with time travel thrown in, rather than focusing on the mechanics of the time-travel and paradoxes and so forth. As a veteran reader of time-travel novels, this felt like a lovely, gentle yet exciting entry into the genre.

If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that doesn’t feature any unbelievable or magical elements, I would definitely recommend you give this book a try because it has all the best features of contemporary and women’s fiction (the friendships, the focus on relationships – both romantic and otherwise, the growth of the characters) as well as the added interest of the problems posed by finding a magic door at the back of your house and being unwittingly drawn into a century-old murder investigation.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the buoyant tone of this book and the way in which the author has intertwined time-travel with the general excitement and intrigue of a murder mystery. Annie and Elsbeth are both strong characters with a great sense of humour and wills of iron. The male characters run the gamut from shrinking violet to homicidal maniac and flesh out the narrative so that you can never quite be sure where each fits in (or will fit in in the future).

Give it a go, I reckon. If nothing else, you will find out the meaning of the word “lemoncholy” which you can then use in general conversation to annoy those who don’t know what it means, while simultaneously feeling superior in your ever-expanding vocabulary.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Fishbowl…

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imageToday’s book is one that drew me with promises of weirdness and hilarity and therefore I had it pegged as a submission for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge before I even had my grubby paws on it.

Upon finishing it, I was slightly underwhelmed with the levels of both weirdness and hilarity, but I do admit to having ever higher standards in these areas for new books. It is a result of reviewing obsessively and chewing through more than one hundred books a year; after a while you feel like you’ve seen it all and it takes something pretty special to impress.

Hmm. I’ve just re-read that introduction and it might give the impression that this book isn’t up to much. Stay with me though – it’s worth it just for the explanation of inexplicable incidents of fish falling from the sky. And the ending. What a great ending!

I received a copy of Fishbowl by Bradley Somers from the publisher via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He’s longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.

There’s the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building’s super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time.

Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become. Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, “An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had.”

fishbowl

So I’m submitting this one to the Odyssey in the category of “odd character” given that the main character is a flying (plummeting) goldfish. On reading the blurb on this one, I got the impression that Ian (the fish) would be the narrator and for that reason alone, I wanted to read this book. It turns out that Ian, while having significant input into the story, is not actually the narrator and the story is told from the alternating perspectives of Ian, Katie (the downtrodden girlfriend), Connor (the villainous boyfriend), Faye (the unassuming homewrecker), Petunia Delilah (the pregnant homebirther), Jiminez (the building superintendent), Garth (the labourer with a hidden hobby), Herman (a time-travelling homeschooler) and Clare (an agoraphobic sex-line telephonist). I may have missed someone there, but those are the main ones I remember.

As one might expect, at the beginning of the tale, the characters mostly know each other from brief nods in the stairwell or lift (or in some cases, not even that) and by the end of the tale, also as one might expect, their lives have intersected in unexpected ways. As is often the way in multi-perspective tales, there were some characters that interested me far more than others. I quickly grew bored with the Katie/Connor/Faye debacle, following as it did the general scorned lover storyline. I experienced a sense of satisfaction with Garth’s narrative arc and the eventual happiness that he discovers after revealing his secret. Clare provided a good laugh in places, but for me the hero of the tale was Petunia Delilah and the live-action homebirth that we are treated to toward the end of the book.

I also enjoyed Ian’s interjections and the big reveal that finally explains those strange occurrences in which fish have been reported falling from the sky.  You thought it was tornadoes lifting the fish from lakes and depositing them over land in unexpected places, didn’t you? Please.  You’ll forgive me for mentioning how naïve you must be if you believe that “scientific” explanation. I won’t shatter your simple assumptions here though.  If you truly wish to see the light, you’ll have to read the book.

Given that I didn’t absolutely love all of the characters’ tales, my interest peaked and troughed. Overall though, I think this is an appealing story with enough humour to lighten things up, enough twists to keep the reader guessing (oh, that ending!), and enough diversity in the cast of characters to produce a hero for every reader. The tone is generally light and conversational and as such, I think this would be a great pick for a holiday read.

Provided, of course, you like your holidays to include a bit of weirdness and hilarity.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 12/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Non-fiction Reading Challenge: The Norm Chronicles (Stories and Numbers about Danger)…

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Nonfiction 2015

The comfy couch is at the top of this post, so that means I have another submission for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader. I stumbled across today’s book in an online bargain book sale and couldn’t resist adding it to my cart. The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers about Danger by David Spiegelhalter and Michael Blastland is a foray into the myriad of risks and dangers that plague our everyday life. Have you ever wondered just how dangerous car travel is in comparison to air travel? Or whether having that extra sausage at breakfast will really increase your risk of cancer? Well this is the book for you! Rather than just present bland and confusing statistics, The Norm Chronicles delves into the consequences of risky behaviour and tries to balance the numbers against the personal stories.

Here’s the blurb from Profile Books:

Meet Norm. He’s 31, 5’9″, just over 13 stone, and works a 39 hour week. He likes a drink, doesn’t do enough exercise and occasionally treats himself to a bar of chocolate (milk). He’s a pretty average kind of guy. In fact, he is the average guy in this clever and unusual take on statistical risk, chance, and how these two factors affect our everyday choices. Watch as Norm (who, like all average specimens, feels himself to be uniquely special), and his friends careful Prudence and reckless Kelvin, turns to statistics to help him in life’s endless series of choices – should I fly or take the train? Have a baby? Another drink? Or another sausage? Do a charity skydive or get a lift on a motorbike? Because chance and risk aren’t just about numbers – it’s about what we believe, who we trust and how we feel about the world around us. From a world expert in risk and the bestselling author of The Tiger That Isn’t (and creator of BBC Radio 4’s More or Less), this is a commonsense (and wildly entertaining) guide to personal risk and decoding the statistics that represent it.

norm chronicles

If you are a reader of the internet, you will be aware that anything from eating food that you haven’t hunted/grown/cultivated yourself, to letting your child play alone in the backyard to expressing an opinion at a friendly barbeque could all be considered HIGHLY DANGEROUS. It seems that every time one turns around these days there’s another behavior that seemed perfectly commonplace before that now has some kind of risk attached to it. What The Norm Chronicles does brilliantly (and with plenty of humour) is demystify the numbers and rhetoric and cut through to the likelihood of various unpleasant events happening to you, while deconstructing the fear that can run rampant through a populace.

Each chapter deals with a particular event or category of risk using Norm (the average guy), Prudence (the anxious, overprotective mother) and Kelvin (the danger-loving, risk-dismissing, wild man) as examples. The great thing about the format of the book is that while the assertions are based on statistics and measurable data, the authors never discount the potency of our almost unavoidable tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios as they apply to our own lives. The “what-ifs” that cripple our rational minds – “What if I let my child walk alone for 500 metres to school and they’re hit by a car? Kidnapped? Blinded by a swooping magpie? Slip on a discarded cigarette and break both their legs??!” – are neatly placed beside the statistical likelihood of these things actually happening.

Strangely enough, this almost made the “what-ifs” worse for me because, as the authors note in one chapter, it is impossible to “beat the odds” – even if the odds are 1 in 20 million that something tragic could occur to you, there is still a chance that you could be the one!

(But how likely is that? Not very. Miniscule likelihood actually. But still, it has to happen to someone. It could be you. It could be ME!)

On the plus side, it turns out that as long as you are older than one year old, you’ve passed the riskiest time of life. That’s a relief, isn’t it?

Overall, I found this to be a fascinating and funny read and one that would be a great conversation starter for a book club. Not that I’ve ever been part of a book club outside the shelf. Far too much risk involved. This is the kind of book that works just as well for dipping in and out as it does as a read-from-cover-to-cover. If you’ve ever wondered about the actual risks associated with train travel, using drugs or having a baby (or indeed, any combination of those three and more!) then this book is essential reading.

I’d have to say that Norm turned out to be better than average in this instance. As a side note, if you’d like to try before you buy (or borrow from the library), the book also has a connected website that has a few interactive fascinating facts to whet your appetite. You can find it here.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 8/10

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop!

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no-stings-attached-July-I’m feeling generous again so I thought I’d participate in the No Strings Attached giveaway hop, hosted by the lovely folk at Bookhounds and running from July 17th to the 22nd.  The beauty of this hop is that it offers you a chance to win by exerting very little effort – no follows, no retweets, no commenting required!  All you have to do is leave an email so I can contact you if you win.

I will offer one winner their choice of book from the Book Depository up to the value of $15 Australian dollars.  To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And don’t forget to hop along to the other participating blogs:

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

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce