Fi50 March 2017 Challenge #luckycharms #flashfiction

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Welcome to the Fiction in 50 micro-writing challenge for March, with the prompt:

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If you’d like to join in, just create a piece of prose or poetry in fewer than 51 words and link it up in the comments section of this post.  For more detailed information on the challenge and future prompts, just click here.

I took this one at face value this month, being too overwhelmed with having to adult all the time to delve too deeply into other layers of meaning.  I have titled my contribution…

First Date Jitters

Mike mentally reviewed his lucky totems as he knocked on his date’s door: rabbit foot,  horseshoe, wooden ladybird, ceramic pig, heads-up penny, match-winning socks and genuine four-leaf clover.

An auspicious seven in total.

She opened the door.  Mike’s smile froze when he noticed the soot black moggy in her arms.


I’m looking forward to seeing everyone else’s creative take on this prompt, so don’t forget to post your link in the comments and let other’s know about the challenge so they can join in!

For those who like to be prepared, our prompt for April will be…

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Until next time,

Bruce

Challenge Checkpoint: 25% into 2017

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Since we’re nearing the end of March, it’s time I fill you in on how I’m progressing on my multiple reading challenges for this year, because I know you’re dying to know all about it.  *Hint: If you’re that desperate, you can check here at any time to get all the goss*

Mount TBR Reading Challenge Checkpoint #1:

I am super pleased with how I’m going on this challenge.  My original goal was 12 books – or Pike’s Peak level – but at only three months in I’ve managed to knock over seven books, so I may upgrade to Mount Blanc level, which requires 24 books.  I’ll take stock again halfway through the year and make a decision then.

book-uncle-and-me chickenhare beastly-bones takeshita-demons return-of-zita time-travelling-with-a-hamster the-boyfriend

You’ll notice that some of these weren’t on my original list of books that I wanted to get through for this challenge:

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…but I still plan on having a crack at all the books pictured.  I’m having a bit of trouble with The Bromeliad.  I started it in January, but found my attention wandering so I’ve put it aside for the moment.  Hopefully I’ll get it knocked over before the end of the year.

Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge:

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This, of course, is the Shelf’s own homegrown challenge and I’m doing pretty well so far.  I’ve knocked over three of the seven categories so I’m well on track to finishing this one in plenty of time, provided I can remember what the other categories are.

chickenhare 1230-from-croydon chilbury ladies choir

Colour-Coded Reading Challenge:

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I’m killing it with this one.  I decided to go with cover colours here, rather than colours in the titles because I’m already doing a title-based challenge with Wild Goose Chase.  I’ve knocked over every colour except brown, red and “implied colour” so far and I can’t foresee any troubles finding those colour books in the next nine months.  Here’s a selection of the covers so far.

time-travelling-with-a-hamster what-not-to-do-if-you-turn-invisible frogkisser deepdean-vampire ghosts-of-sleath book-uncle-and-me night shift ya

Popsugar Reading Challenge:

I’m not going too badly here, just taking it as it comes and occasionally checking back to see if my books match any categories.  So far I’ve knocked over books in ten of the fifty-two categories.

Epistolary Reading Challenge:

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This is my slowest challenge so far, with only two books read – and one of those books is a bit of a stretch to be honest.  I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for any epistolary novels being released soon and I’ve got one sitting on my shelf ready to step into the breach, but I’ll need to search out a few more to really feel like I’ve had a good go at this one.  Suggestions welcome!

How are you going on your various challenges for the year?  Do you track your progress regularly or are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of challengee?

Until next time,
Bruce

Night Shift: After Dark in a Department Store…

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We received YA novel Night Shift by B. R. Meyers from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At Willard’s department store, none of the night security guards survive for long, and eighteen-year-old Daniel Gale is about to discover why.

Tired of living out of his backpack, he ignores the clerk’s gossip about the old building being haunted and accepts the latest vacated position of night guard. On his first shift Daniel narrowly escapes a fatal fall down an elevator shaft and is rescued by Mary—a bossy and intriguing girl far too beautiful for after hours inventory.

Anticipating every night shift as a chance to be with her, Daniel thinks his traveling days are over hoping that Manhattan is the place to call home. But as his life becomes more entwined with Willard’s, Daniel senses unnatural changes and bizarre coincidences both with Mary and the store itself. Soon he begins to suspect Willard’s is hiding something more sinister than gossip about ghosts—something that could make him the next casualty of the NIGHT SHIFT.

I was really in the mood for some creepy, atmospheric horror – or at least paranormal – when I requested Night Shift and while there are some aspects of the story that I praise for being original and unexpected, this wasn’t atmospheric or paranormal in the slightest.  Daniel is a solid protagonist around which to build a narrative – he has a fascinating past, he seems like a reliable narrator and generally I wanted him to succeed against whatever foes were lurking in the dark of Willard’s.  In the interests of an exciting story, I also wanted him to have the absolute willies scared out of him at least once…and preferably multiple times…during the story so that I could live vicariously through him.

This isn’t that kind of book.  It’s not a ghost story in the typical sense of the word (or even at all) and while it does have a fantastic twist that I didn’t see coming – but admittedly, probably should have, if I’d used my puzzling-things-out brain (more about this later)- there is far too much in-between filler that sucks the suspense out of the story quicker than a recently serviced Dyson cyclonic.  I felt like this book was at least a third longer than it needed to be and this is chiefly due to whacking great chunks of dialogue that doesn’t progress the story, but exists, it seems, to develop character relationships that I felt were already quite solid.

The stringing out of the mystery went for so long that I very nearly put the book down before the twist had even happened.  As I stumbled across the twist in the mystery, I wsa surprised enough to emit a little “Oh!” and quickly flick on in the hopes that the suspense and excitement would ramp up.  Unfortunately, the author took the route of stretching things out to the extent that by the end I didn’t really care about the whys of the plot and just wanted it all to be over.

Admittedly, there is a full and developed story toward the end of the book that links Daniel’s past to his present situation and provides some feel-good moments and action scenes, but by then it was too late to salvage my interest.  There are plenty of interesting and original things going on in Night Shift but because the first part of the book is so focused on ghosts, I had certain expectations of what the story was going to be about.  The twist provided a momentary respite from those dashed expectations, and the thought that maybe there was going to be a more original take on the ghost gossip, but I just couldn’t seem to get past my pre-conceived ideas of what the book was going to be in order to fully enjoy what it is.  Night Shift turned out to be more focused on relationship building and romance than the paranormal/magical realism elements, and as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a sucker for the latter.

If you are looking for a story that is high on romance and budding relationships featuring an unexpected couple, you will probably find something to enjoy in Night Shift.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Fi50 reminder and a Top Book of 2017 pick!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

It’s nearly Fiction in 50 time for March and this month our prompt is…

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If you’d like to join in (and we would love to have you!) just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it and then link your post in the comments of Monday’s Fi50 post.  If you would like more information, just click here.


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Today’s Top Book of 2017 pick is a wartime beauty that is also a celebration of the strength of womankind in adversity.  We received a copy of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Summer, 1940. In the Kentish village of Chilbury some are unimpressed at the vicar’s decision to close the church choir, since all the men have gone off to fight. But a new arrival prompts the creation of an all-female singing group and, as the women come together in song, they find the strength and initiative to confront their own dramatic affairs.

Filled with intrigue, humour and touching warmth, and set against the devastating backdrop of WWII, this is a wonderfully spirited and big-hearted novel told through the voices of four marvellous and marvellously different females, who will win you over as much with their mischief as with their charm.

chilbury ladies choir

For the first few chapters of this epistolary, diary-entry novel I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but by the time I’d finished I felt that this book seemed to me for all the world to be a grown-up version of Goodnight Mr Tom.  Since that story is one of my favourites, it stands to reason that I would jolly well enjoy The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir too.

The book switches between the perspectives of a number of the ladies, young and old, of Chilbury.  There’s Kitty Winthrop, thirteen (nearly fourteen) year old sister of the wild beauty Venetia, and dead war hero Edmund, daughter of the brutish Brigadier and rising songbird, whose perspective we are privy to through entries in her journal.  There’s Venetia herself, older sister of Kitty and focused entirely (for the most part) on snagging a handsome, mysterious lover while leading on all the other lads in the village.  We see her side of the story through letters to her friend Angela.  Then there’s the shady Edwina Paltry, midwife of the village and not one to shy away from morally dubious dealings provided there’s something in it for her.  Finally, we have Mrs Tilling, a widow, whose son David is about to leave for the front lines in France and through whose diary we witness the major changes of Chilbury throughout the year of 1940.  We also get to see a few glimpses from Sylvie, a young child evacuee from Czechoslovakia who is living with the Winthrops until her parents can escape or it is safe for her to return, as well as Edith, the Winthrop’s maid.

At its heart, this is a book about personal growth, set against a backdrop of the ever-encroaching threat of invasion and loss, that highlights the strength of women under adversity.  Although each follows a different path throughout the story, the four main ladies whose stories we engage with all become very different people by the end.  It is this growth that reminded me so strongly of Goodnight Mr Tom: while the war and its effects play a large role in the book and in some instances create a shocking and frightening atmosphere, the plot is chiefly about decisions and their ripple effects and ways in which the women of the story choose to stand up in defiance of their situation or roll with the punches.

Funnily enough, the Choir plays a significantly smaller part in the overall story than I expected, but the sections that deal with the ladies coming together – be it for a local competition or to provide respite for a weary community – were always uplifting and provided a lightening of the atmosphere and enough humour to take the edge off some of the darker happenings going on in the plot.  My favourite character, apart from the enthusiastic, indefatigably positive Prim, the choir mistress, had to be Mrs Tilling.  As the only trustworthy adult narrator, I came to trust her judgement (except, of course, in regards to her opinion of the Colonel, her billet) and adored the way in which she grows into herself again as a confident, strong woman and a leader for the village.

This isn’t a light-hearted romp from beginning to end; nor is it a slow examination of the effects of war.  Rather, it is a snapshot of a village at the beginning of World War II, struggling to cope with change already happening and the inevitable change that is just over the horizon.  Hefty as it is at four hundred plus pages, this is one that you would do best to savour over time.  Get to know the ladies of Chilbury at your leisure and you certainly won’t regret that you took the time to visit.

As well as a Top Book of 2017 pick, I am also submitting The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir for the Epistolary Reading Challenge, the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge and the Popsugar Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress toward all those challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays (and in this case, Thursdays) are for Murder: Date with Death…

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Well, last time I was complaining that Monday had come around too fast.  This time, it’s come so quickly that it’s got to Thursday before I can put up Monday’s post.  Sorry about the delay this week, but the week was busy, then when I sat down to blog I realised the keyboard had decided to retire without telling me, so I had to track down a new, more enthusiastic keyboard that was willing to work with no pay and under the constant threat of tea spillage and here we are, it’s Thursday.

Today’s book is the opener of a new cosy mystery series set in the Yorkshire Dales and although it has a punny title, I really enjoyed it.  We received our copy of Date With Death (Book 1 in the Dales Detective Series) by Julia Chapman from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Samson O’Brien has been dismissed from the police force, and returns to his home town of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales to set up a detective agency while he fights to clear his name. The people of Bruncliffe, however, aren’t that welcoming to a man they perceive as trouble – and he is greeted by his old friend, Delilah Metcalfe, not with an hug but a right hook that sends him sprawling.

Delilah, meanwhile, is besieged by financial concerns and struggling to keep her business, the Dales Detective Agency, afloat – all while trying to control her wayward Weimaraner dog Tolpuddle. Then when Samson gets his first case, investigating the supposed suicide of a local man, things take an unexpected turn, and soon he is discovering a trail of deaths that lead back to the door of Delilah’s agency. With suspicion hanging over someone they both care for, the two feuding neighbours soon realise that they need to work together to solve the mystery of the dating deaths – and working together is easier said than done.

date with death

Plot Summary:

Delilah is in deep debt and struggling to hang on financially until her dating agency business gets off the ground. When Samson O’Brien returns to the Dales in disgrace, Delilah’s only financial option is to let him rent out her ground floor office for his new detective agency…a timely move indeed because it seems someone in their community is picking off members of Delilah’s agency one by one.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of a tricky one because there isn’t anyone in the village (or beyond) who particularly stands out as someone who would happily be serial killing members of a dating agency.  As the story moves along, instead of actual people as suspects our protagonists try to build up a mental picture of who such a person might be.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is quite a refreshing aspect of the book because in your usual murder mystery you at least have a few suspects to work with.  It takes a little while to prove that the deaths are indeed murder, and then the hunt involves some rather tricky and dangerous tactics.  As well as attending the odd speed dating night out.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the amount of dutch courage needed to get through a blind date with a farmer whose personal hygiene habits receive only passing attention

Despite the fact that this is definitely a cosy and there is a lot of time spent on developing the characters, both main and secondary, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would certainly be interested in following the series.  Delilah is the only girl in a family of manly men and is determined to make her business successful after a recent divorce.  Samson is the black sheep of the village, having left his alcoholic father in dire circumstances (in the opinion of the town) to swan off to London and bag a high paying and dangerous job with the Met.  When Samson returns home, his welcome is not particularly warm and he discovers that many things have changed drastically since he’s been away.  Samson’s return coincides with a little problem at work which he wants to keep hidden from the villagers at all cost.

I quite enjoyed the premise of the murdered folk all being from the same dating agency (although I’m sure this has been done before in some way, shape or form in other cosies) as well as the way in which Delilah and Samson (eventually) go about sorting it out.  It seems rather far-fetched that no one would bother to inform the police about their suspicions, but it works for the story and makes the eventual hunt far more suspenseful, knowing that Delilah and Samson are on their own.

As one who likes my mysteries twisty and my murders happening in quick succession, I did find the long sections developing characters, backstory and village life a little distracting, but I accept that this is obviously one of those series where the relationships between the characters and their relationship with their environment is of utmost importance.  The book also sets a bit of groundwork for other books in the series.  There are definitely some shady characters getting around Bruncliffe that will no doubt play a part in nefarious doings further down the track.

There’s a lot going on here that will satisfy those looking for both an exciting mystery and a story about coming home and reinventing oneself.  I must give a shout-out to the collective folk of the retirement village, of which Samson’s father is part, for lifting the mood whenever they appeared.  I’m glad to see that they will feature heavily in the next book in the series.  I would certainly recommend giving this one a go as your next holiday read, or, if you happen to live in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the perfect book to snuggle up under a blanket with on a rainy, lazy weekend…for whenever the humidity decides to bugger off for good.

I will be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under the category of “author using a pseudonym” because Julia Chapman is the pen name of Julia Stagg. You can check out my challenge progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Night Shift…

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Today’s offering is one of those rare picture books that is aimed at adults and delivered in an extraordinarily moving way.  Debi Gliori, most famous for her popular fantasy stories and kid-level picture books, has created an absorbing portrait of depression and hope in her new picture book Night Shift.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A groundbreaking picture book on depression with stunning illustrations.

With stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori examines how depression affects one’s whole outlook upon life, and shows that there can be an escape – it may not be easy to find, but it is there. Drawn from Debi’s own experiences and with a moving testimony at the end of the book explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope, Debi hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.

‘I have used dragons to represent depression. This is partly because of their legendary ability to turn a once fertile realm into a blackened, smoking ruin and partly because popular mythology shows them as monstrous opponents with a tendency to pick fights with smaller creatures. I’m not particularly brave or resourceful, and after so many years battling my beasts, I have to admit to a certain weariness, but I will arm-wrestle dragons for eternity if it means that I can help anyone going through a similar struggle.’

The first clue that this isn’t your average picture book comes from the cover and size of Night Shift.  At A5 size and with a rich-feeling cloth-bound cover, it’s obvious from the off that this isn’t necessarily a book a child might pick up.  Fans of fantasy will be drawn to the dragon on the front cover and will be rewarded throughout because Gliori has chosen to represent mental illness – in this case depression – through the medium of the dragon.

The story starts simply enough.  A woman is a bit tired, a bit stressed, has trouble sleeping.  She is followed around by a small dragon who, while maybe a bit annoying certainly isn’t immediately recognised as malignant in intention.  As the story continues however, the dragon gets larger, the woman’s reality more fragmented and fanciful and it seems like she couldn’t possibly find the tools to escape from the new landscape of fear and sadness in which she lives her life.

And then…a feather.

And hope.

night shift feather

The monochromatic, graphite and charcoal illustrations throughout perfectly capture the sharp contrasts of depression and anxiety, as certain experiences stand out starkly while others blur around the edges.  In each vignette it is possible to see the small changes that eventually lead to a sense of being overwhelmed; in which some small thing has somehow taken over a life.  The text on each page is sparse, but the words skilfully chosen to reflect the common cliches that the depressed often hear from friends, family and therapists.

A brief afterword from the author describes her journey through depressive illness and her inspiration in creating the book.  Books like Night Shift are an important stepping stone on the way to making mental illness visible in the public eye, and something that is acceptable to talk about.  If you have ever experienced depression, or know someone who has, I would suggest seeking this book out.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Mighty Jack…

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Today I’m bringing you another Ben Hatke graphic gem because Ben Hatke is awesome.  I picked up Mighty Jack from the library a week or two ago and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it even more than the Zita the Spacegirl books.  It’s a big call I know, but bear with me.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

mighty jack

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Fantasy, fractured fairy tales

Art Style:

Ben Hatke style!

Reading time:

Took me about half an hour total spread over two sittings

Let’s get gabbing:

I’m going to dispense with reiterating how much I love Ben Hatke’s illustrative style and adorable original creatures and just get on with talking about the story.  Although, if you’ll indulge me, this series has a ridiculously cute little onion headed species that Mad Martha is dying to recreate in yarn, but as she doesn’t have the time just now, we’ll have to wait for that particular treat.

This is the good old fashioned kids-stumbling-upon-hidden-magic-right-in-their-own-backyard combined with meeting-a-friend-with-a-bizarrely-cool-skill style of fantasy that anyone who has loved fantasy and magic stories since childhood will definitely appreciate.  Since Jack’s mum has to work two jobs just to make ends meet, Jack is often left to look after his little sister Maddy, who is nonverbal.  When Maddy wanders off at a local market, Jack manages to find her talking to some strange people (who you will certainly recognise if you have read the Zita the Spacegirl series!!) and ends up trading his mum’s car for a box of seed packets when Maddy unexpectedly starts talking.

When the kids plant the seeds in the yard they’re in for a massive shock – because the garden that sprouts is full of sentient plants, adorable onion-headed creatures and some vines that are a bit too grabby for comfort.  When Jack’s swordplay-mastering, home-schooled neighbour Lilly (oh, I’ve only just realised that she has a botanical name…coincidence?) turns up to help out, Jack has to decide whether to trust her and let her into the family’s troubles or take the easy route and keep shutting everyone out.

I love, love, love, love this story.  Apart from the fantasy elements (enormous snails, anyone?) there is a strong subplot about acceptance, trust and the perils of relying on oneself when others are willing to contribute.  Mighty Jack doesn’t have the humorous undertones of the Zita series, relying instead on a sense of adventure and risk to drive a suspenseful, but exhilarating plot.  Once again Hatke has created female characters that are full of depth, with unexpected skills and for this reason, the book will appeal to both boys and girls.  There’s a certain echo of the Spiderwick Chronicles in this story, but Hatke has done it better.  I really can’t wait now to get my paws on the second book in the series – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – by hook or crook.

 

Overall snapshot:

This is another brilliant addition to Hatke’s growing catalogue of work.  If you haven’t yet introduced his graphic novels or picture books to your younglings, you must really correct that oversight because these are modern classics that deserve to be re-read again and again.

Until next time,

Bruce