The Eye of the Reindeer: Snow, Sanity and the Search for Self…

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eye-of-the-reindeer

We readers know that it is super important to make sure you have the right book for the holiday season.  Something that won’t be over too quickly, that will take you on a journey (even if you have to stay at home) and will plunge you right into a new and unexpected world.  Today’s book does all of those things and more in an epic journey toward freedom of body and self, spanning more than 30 years.  We received The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, Ritva is sent away to Seili, an island in the far north of Finland. A former leper colony, Seili is now home to ‘hopeless cases’ – to women the doctors call mad. But Ritva knows she doesn’t belong there. As biting winter follows biting winter, she longs to be near to her sister, and wonders why her father ever allowed her to be taken to this desolate place.

Hope arrives in the form of Martta, a headstrong girl who becomes Ritva’s only friend. Martta is a Sami, from the north. All through her childhood, Ritva’s mother told her wonderful Sami legends and tales – of Vaja the reindeer, the stolen sealskin, of a sacred drum hidden long ago. When Ritva and Martta decide to make their escape, this is where they will head.

So begins an odyssey over frozen sea and land towards a place where healing and forgiveness can grow. This is a story about friendship, about seeing the world through a different perspective, and the stories and tales that can make up a life.

Wowsers, what an epic!  I had absolutely no idea when I started reading this book that it would span such a long time period and feature an unbelievable journey, both in foot miles and in growth of characters.  Ritva is a young woman in 1913 when she is shipped off to Seili, an asylum set on an island in the freezing north, and home to women that have been deemed (correctly or incorrectly) difficult cases.  The daughter of a pastor, Ritva has long experienced strange dreams and visions, and it is only when she meets Martta, a young Sami woman imprisoned with her, that she discovers that her dreams may be related to legends of the Northern Sami people.  After a daring escape, Ritva and Martta are caught up in a journey toward physical freedom from Seili, and the emotional journey of dealing with family history, sexuality and who they really want to be.

The book is broken into a number of parts that correspond with certain legs of the journeys that the girls – and then later on, women – take.  The story begins with Ritva’s time on Seili and we are given certain glimpses into her past and the reasons why her father may have had her committed in the first place.  This family mystery continues throughout much of the book until it is brought to a shocking, yet satisfying conclusion about two-thirds of the way through.    After this, Ritva tries to carve out a place for herself to belong and untangle the pressures of expectation and desire that have weighed her down.

I haven’t read a book like this in quite a long time, if ever.  The Eye of the Reindeer is totally focused on Ritva as she faces incredible challenges throughout her life.  The pace is quite slow, despite the fact that the story begins in Ritva’s adolescence and ends after her middle age, and yet I found each section totally absorbing while I was reading it.  I think my favourite part of the book was Ritva and Martta’s escape from Seili, their unconventional modes of transport and the suspense of potential recapture set against such a hostile environment.  The setting in Scandinavia and the lands at the top of the world was so well described as to almost be a character in itself and I was fascinated by the details relating to the indigenous people of this region – the Sami – and their way of life.  The author leaves some notes after the story is finished about the Sami and their current predicament for those who wish to find out more.

This book certainly won’t be for everyone, given the depth in which it explores difficult subjects like abuse, abandonment and betrayal, and the slow unfolding of the narrative, and certainly isn’t one that, had I known in advance how hefty the story would feel, I would probably have ever picked up.  The atmosphere is quite tense in some parts and particularly gloomy in others, but for the most part there is an undercurrent of hope and determination that spurred me on to find out how Ritva’s story might end.  Overall though, I am so happy to have read Ritva’s story and was completely absorbed in her life as it unfolded.

If you have a space in your schedule in the next few months which could be filled with a vast, sprawling landscape and a young woman slowly picking her way towards truth over the course of an incredible life, then I would definitely recommend you have a go at The Eye of the Reindeer.

Plus, the author has a rhyming first and surname.

That’s always a bonus.

Until next time,

Bruce

On For Young and Old: Activity books from wicked to wonderful…

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If you (or your mini-fleshlings) are already twiddling your thumbs and the school holidays haven’t even started yet, allow me to avail you of some fantastic activity books that will give your thumbs, and indeed the rest of your hand-based digits, something to do.  Let’s start with something for the grownups, shall we, with…

The Wicked Plants Colouring Book (Amy Stewart and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

which we received for review from Scribe Publications

wicked-plants

From Goodreads:

A colouring book with a dark side

In The Wicked Plants Colouring Book, Amy Stewart and artist Briony Morrow-Cribbs bring colouring enthusiasts the 40 most menacing botanical atrocities from their New York Times bestseller Wicked Plants. Morrow-Cribbs’s exquisite etchings are now finely rendered colouring-book art and are paired with details from the original book.

Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, and written with Stewart’s trademark wit, each wonderfully creepy spread offers a fascinating portrait of the evildoers of the plant world, from the vine that ate the South (kudzu) to the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother (white snakeroot) to the world’s deadliest seed (rosary pea).

If this time of year generally has you making a list (of people who have wronged you during the past year) and checking it twice, then you are definitely the sort of person for whom the colouring of deadly plants could be a relaxing and educational experience.  I was woefully unaware of the original nonfiction title that spawned this black and white spin-off, but Wicked Plants is now definitely on my TBR list.

As well as providing some gorgeous and detailed line drawings of the aforementioned floral evildoers for you to wile away the hours colouring in, each plant picture is accompanied by a short paragraph of text explaining the specific wickedness of said plant and providing tidbits of scientific information about it.  The cover star of the book, in case you are wondering, is the Betel Nut, a highly addictive nut prized for its chewability, but a chief cause of mouth cancer and asthma.  A small selection of the 40 delightfully deadly plants included here are the innocent-seeming Water Hyacinth (waterway clogger extraordinaire), the highly toxic Death Camas (well, the name did warn you), and the completely-poisonous-except-for-one-tiny-bit (can you guess which one?) Yew.  The plants are listed in alphabetical order, with a foreword from the author at the beginning, and some blank pages at the back for you to draw your own plants.

I think the most charming thing about this particular activity book is that it bears a “This book belongs to” stamp at the front, so that budding poisoners can ensure that nobody makes off with their tome of flowering death.  If you are, or you know, a green thumb who is also quite at home with the dark side of plant life, this would make the perfect gift.  Other than that, perhaps you could keep it beside your list of enemies, for when you need a light break.

Next we have one for the middle-sized fleshlings of your acquaintance…

Doodles Activity Book 

which we received from Allen & Unwin for review

doodles-activity-book

Doodles Activity Book Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $16.99

From Allen & Unwin:

A hilariously funny activity book filled with wacky drawing ideas. DRAW-SNAP-SEND-LAUGH – submit your drawing directly to the interactive animated comedy series Doodles, now screening on ABC3.

Take a monster selfie, untangle a robot’s wiring or create your own UFO in this comic and appealing activity book with loads of child appeal. Full of hilarious drawing activities, funny dot-to-dots, zany find-a-words, wacky mazes and other mad-cap activities sure to spark a child’s creativity, this book from the creators of the successful television show of the same name will be a winner for Christmas.

The interactive television show, Doodles, in which kids’ drawings are turned into micro movies is now screening on ABC ME. Kids can submit their drawings to the television show by following the instructions in the activity book.

As with the previous title, I had absolutely no idea that this book is based on a TV show currently screening on ABCMe (formerly ABC3).   At first glance, this book doesn’t appear to be anything too different or special when it comes to drawing prompt-type books for kids, but having had a quick look at the website for the show, which encourages kids to send in their drawings, which are then made into short animations, this activity book starts to make a lot more sense. I would definitely encourage you to use the book in conjunction with having a goggle at the show, to provide inspiration beyond what’s provided in the pages here.  Don’t panic if you think you’ll forget the website for the show – all the social media addresses are included in the book – and there’s even a little instruction page detailing how kids can submit their drawings for the show.

The book itself is a satisfying A4 size, and divided into sections based on different themes – dinosaurs, superheroes, aliens, technology and robots, and magic and fantasy.  Personally, I think this is a great idea because not only does it allow the user to flick to whatever interests them first, but it but it also provides a focused prompt and allows users to practice one particular type of drawing before moving on to the next.  As well as lots of doodling prompts, each section has a range of other activities, such as colouring by numbers, decoding puzzles, crosswords, funny labelling activities and mad libs style fill-in-the-blank activities, so even if your mini-fleshling isn’t a drawing desperado, they should find something to keep them busy inside this book.  

The final section of the book is a “Make Your Own Movie” chapter, in which users are guided through the process of creating a story from start to finish.  Page prompts detail how to create characters, decide on a conflict and push the story through to an exciting ending.  This is a great way to keep the mini-fleshlings busy for more than just a few minutes, as they plan and create a story, rather than just fill in an activity page.

On closer inspection, I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the prompts found in the Doodles Activity book.  If you are looking for a way to get your kids away from their screens without cancelling all screen time, this book could be a great middle point as it uses the TV show as a starting point to fire kids’ imaginations.

And finally, we have one for the whole family, whether you’re snowed in or sweating it out…

The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book (Andy Seed & Scott Garrett)

which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia

anti-boredom-christmas

From Bloomsbury Australia:

Warning: This book will cure all boredom!

Christmas is everyone’s favourite time of year. But it can also get a bit boring from time to time. Those long journeys to see Aunty Periwinkle can seem to drag on forever! But look no further because Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Christmas Book will cure all those Christmas boredom blues!

Find out how to say snow in 16 different languages; discover who banned Christmas carols; act out your own wacky routine of the Twelve Days of Christmas… and much much more!

This fantastically festive witty and wacky book is bursting full of laugh-out-loud facts, games, quizzes plus heaps more for hours of fun. Packed full of Scott Garrett’s hilarious artwork, this book is sure to keep you entertained for hours of festive fun! 

“So how is this different from other Christmas activity books, Bruce?” I hear you ask.  Well, for a start, The Anti-Boredom Christmas book is far less focused on using the book as the starting point for the activity, rather encouraging people, both young and old, to share their ideas, likes and dislikes about all things Christmas.  Divided into a range of handy sections which cover everything from snowfall to festive music to Christmas around the world, each section features jokes to tell, objects or events to rate, challenges to complete individually or with family or friends, riddles to solve, games to play and contentious topics (like whether real or fake Christmas trees are superior) to debate.  My favourite bit (being a bit of a nerdy nerd) was discovering a list of Toy of the Year winners from 1965 to 2015, although I had a bit of a chuckle at a collection of real and made up festive place names from around the world (did you know the US boasts a town named Santa Claus?), and I thought hard over a would-you-rather game involving Christmas films.  The only downside to the book is that it is quite Northern Hemisphere-centric, and even Britain-centric, and younger Aussie readers may not quite get the references to Pantos and such.  

The book is quite a small size, which makes it super-handy for travelling, but ensures that the text is packed onto the page, so a quick flick through really gives the impression that there is plenty to get one’s teeth into to ward off holiday boredom.  It’s also beautifully formatted so that you can just open it at a random page and have a go at whatever you happen to land on, be it joke-telling, snowflake crafting or playing a Christmas-themed guessing game.  I think the best part about this book is that most of the activities within it beg to be shared with others, encouraging interaction rather than isolation on screen or over page.  If you are going on a long boring train, plane or car trip, or expect some drop-outs to your Wifi this holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is a great solution for when you need ten festive minutes to fill.

Hopefully one of these books has taken your fancy and we on the Shelf have once again assisted you with your gift-buying needs.  Or, you know, just helped you add a few extra books to your teetering TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 November Challenge!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Welcome to the Fiction in 50 challenge for November.  The point of the challenge is to create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, based on a monthly prompt.  If you’d like to know more about the challenge, just click here.  This month our prompt is…

an-offer-you-cant-refuse

I’m one word over (again) this month, and I have titled my contribution…

Occupational Hazards

A straightforward hit, $500 000 on completion, was bread and butter for his line of work.

The mother had been easy, but the child…

He recalled the client’s incredulity, “That much? It’s such a little thing I ask!”

He took in a wisp of hair, cherubic features.

Such a little thing.


Only one more challenge for the year and our prompt for December will be…

recipe-for-success-button

And while we’re on the topic … are people still interested in me running the Fiction in 50 challenge in 2017?  We’ve had a marked drop-off in participants this year, but if people are happy to keep playing (and reading!) I can keep providing prompts.  Let me know what you think.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 Reminder!

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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!

This month our prompt will be….

an-offer-you-cant-refuse

To participate, all you need do is create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer  than 51 words, post it somewhere, 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

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge: Quidditch Through the Ages…

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alphabet soup challenge 2016

I’m inching closer to completing the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 hosted by Escape with Dollycas, with only Q and A left to assign.  Happily, I realised that I hadn’t actually ever read JK Rowling’s faux-text Quidditch Through the Ages, so I grabbed it from the Kindle store and whipped through it to draw a line through the Q part of the challenge.  While reading, however, I got a message from the library that The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie was waiting to be picked up, and I remembered that I had actually put that on hold to be my Q title.  Oops.  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Did you know that: there are 700 ways of committing a foul in Quidditch? The game first began to evolve on Queerditch Marsh – What Bumphing is? That Puddlemere United is oldest team in the Britain and Ireland league (founded 1163). All this information and much more could be yours once you have read this book: this is all you could ever need to know about the history, the rules – and the breaking of the rules – of the noble wizarding sport of Quidditch.

quidditch

If you are a die-hard fan of the Potterverse, then it would be remiss of you not to read this book.  It’s certainly one that you can fit in to a lunch break or two, coming in at well under 100 pages.  The book was originally penned to raise money for Comic Relief, so it isn’t any deep exploration of the game of Quidditch, but rather a mostly-humorous look over the game itself and how it came to be, as well as dropping a bit more information about the Quidditch league for those Potter fans who like to go the extra mile, trivia-wise.

The most enjoyable part of the book for me was reading about all the different international Quidditch teams and how they came to be.  I was surprised to learn that the Americans have their own spin-off of Quidditch called Quod, which is at least as exciting and deadly as Quidditch itself.

I wouldn’t go out of your way to read this if you haven’t already, but if you’ve got a spare half-hour with nothing to fill it, this would be a suitable way to pass the time.  It may also have kindled my interest a bit more regarding finding out about the new Fantastic Beasts movie/screenplay and deciding whether or not I will bother with it.

Q – I dub thee, completed!  If you ‘d like to see how my Alphabet Soup Challenge is progressing, you can check it out here.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Hanging Tree: Peter Grant #6

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hanging-tree

If you are a fan of urban fantasy and police procedurals and haven’t yet become involved with Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Today I have the sixth book in the series for you courtesy of Hachette Australia (although I have just found out that a graphic novella set in between books four and five has been released….and NOBODY told me! **NB: I’ve also just noticed that there is another short story set in between books one and two that was published in 2012 that I didn’t know about**) but if you think this series is something that might interest you, you really need to start at the beginning.  For everyone else, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

It is no secret that I am a great fan of the first three books in this series, found the fourth quite lacking save for the epic and unexpected twist literally in the last few pages, and was bored rigid and greatly disappointed by the fifth.  Happily, The Hanging Tree is a return to form for this series with a multi-layered mystery and a cast of mostly familiar characters, with the Thames family featuring chiefly amongst them.  So, after returning to London, Peter becomes involved in a case featuring a number of young people and an unexplained death in one of London’s most prestigious apartment blocks. While on the surface, the case looks like it doesn’t require much Falcon involvement, once the surface is scratched it becomes clear that this case could be intricately linked with the identity of the Faceless Man.

Cue an inadvertent admission to manslaughter by the daughter of a river Goddess and some shifty looking Americans poking their noses in to Falcon’s investigation and things start to get tangled up pretty quickly.  One thing I did find tricky about this book was that given that the previous book took place outside of London, and that I hadn’t read a London-based DC Grant story since 2013, I found it a little tricky remembering who was who from previous books.  There are a number of wizards and demi-monde folk who reappear in this novel and a little ledger in the front with the names of all the Little Crocodiles and various hangers-on and where they fit in to the story would be incredibly handy for feeble-memoried readers like myself.

I very much liked the developing professional partnership between Peter and Guleed here, and was happy to see Stephanopolous making a contribution, as this was where much of the humorous banter came from in this particular story.  Lesley May makes a much more significant appearance in this one too, which I am pleased to see remedied as her lack of involvement in Foxglove Summer was one of my main complaints about that book.  The relationship between Peter and Beverley Brook also takes a backseat  in this story, which was quite a relief after being bombarded with it in book five.  There are a pair of new practitioning ladies introduced in this book, with some new, never-before-seen (by Peter, at least) powers that shake things up a bit and provide some interesting implications for how these may impact on the Folly in the future.  Peter has mastered a couple of new (and quite amusing) forma since the last book, as well as having developed some helpful new magic-proofed gadgets and these added a bit of variety to the spells we have come to know and love.

The big plot point in this novel is the fact that Peter and Nightingale catch up with and uncover the identity of the Faceless Man – but I’m not telling you any more than that.  The ending leaves things up in the air once again, with all sorts of options left open for what might happen next.  All in all, I was pleased with this offering and although I will soon need a wall-sized reference chart to plot who is who and who is related to who and by what means to refer to while reading, I think I’m well and truly invested in this series for better or worse.

Until next time,

Bruce