When the Lyrebird Calls: An Aussie GSQ Review…

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I’ve unleashed the psyche triplets today to examine the Good, the Sad and the Quirky of Kim Kane’s new release, middle grade homage to classic Aussie time-slip literature, When the Lyrebird Calls.  Time-slip novels seem to be non-indigenous Australia’s way of “doing” fantasy, considering that we don’t really have any native fairy-type folk outside of indigenous Dreaming stories, and as many non-indigenous Australians know very little about indigenous Dreaming stories (myself included), time-slipping back to the early days of colonisation (or invasion, depending on your perspective) provides a serviceable substitute.  Anyway, we received a copy of this one from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Madeleine is shipped off to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, she expects the usual: politics, early-morning yoga, extreme health food, and lots of hard work. Instead, Madeleine tumbles back in time to 1900, where the wealthy Williamson family takes her into their home, Lyrebird Muse.

At a time when young girls have no power and no voice, set against a backdrop of the struggles for emancipation, federation and Aboriginal rights, Madeleine must find a way to fit in with the Williamson family’s four sisters – beautiful, cold Bea; clever, awkward Gert; adventurous, rebellious Charlie; and darling baby Imo – as she searches desperately for a way home.

Meanwhile, the Williamson girls’ enchanting German cousin, Elfriede, arrives on the scene on a heavenly wave of smoke and cinnamon, and threatens to shatter everything…

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When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane. Published by Allen & Unwin, Octber 26th 2016. RRP: $16.99

The Good:image

When the Lyrebird Calls is essentially a story about women and girls; the ways in which their lives have been shaped and directed by the expectations of society and the ways in which they have rebelled, quietly and personally or loudly and publicly, as the case may be.    Madeleine is a sporty girl, her grandmother a hippy, yoga-loving, clean-eating independent sort, and the girls from the historical period of the story are variously tomboyish, ladylike and completely ignored.  Much of the plot arc involves Madeleine coming to an understanding of how the lives of these historical women differ from her own, and how much she owes to the personal sacrifice of the women that have come before her.  Kane has done a great job of highlighting the pertinent issues of the time – and in particular, the suffragist movement – without labouring the point in an overtly teachy sort of way.  Many of the finer points around women’s social power are revealed through family dynamics and the quiet upheaval that takes place when the German cousin Elfriede comes into the picture.  Overall, the story hangs together quite well, with loose ends from the beginning of the story (set in the current time period) tied up by the end of Madeleine’s historic adventure.

The Sad:

Only two things brought this book down for me.  One was the pacing: the historical period of the story moves along quite imagesedately and with much decorum, punctuated with a few moments of pinafore-ruffling action, but I was hoping for a few more near-misses or instances where Madeleine felt in danger, or at least in danger of being discovered as an interloper from the future.  This is just a personal preference though, and others might find the pace perfectly suits the setting.

The other thing that annoyed me slightly was the fact that the author obviously wanted to highlight issues of racism in the historical period, but kept signposting the fact by having Madeleine take particular note every time somebody did or said something racist (albeit typical of the historical period).  These instances did feel a bit overtly didactic, and somewhat out of keeping with the authenticity of the story.  Obviously, in order to authentically recreate the historical period, societal attitudes, however unsavoury, have to be recreated also, but most of the instances of racism seemed to be included simply to say, “Look! People in the past were overtly racist all of the time!”  Ezra, the indigenous servant/groundsman/horseman of the family seemed to serve little purpose other than as a reference point for Madeleine to note that (a) people are racist toward him and (b) she hasn’t actually ever spoken to an indigenous person before.  This second point could probably have been the basis for a meaningful bit of learning for Madeleine once she returns home from the past, but is never mentioned again, with greater emphasis being placed on the issue of women’s rights.

The Quirky:

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The most interesting thing about this book is the fact that it is being marketed as being “in the tradition of Playing Beatie Bow“, the Australian classic time-slip tale by Ruth Park.  You can see by comparing the covers of the two books that there has been a conscious attempt to connect the two in the minds of readers:

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Good old Beatie was a set text for many primary school kids of the era, so perhaps the marketing gurus are counting on adult readers (and particularly teachers!) making the link and picking up Kane’s tome, but apart from the few obvious similarities, the two books could be read as companion novels, rather than one being a straight re-telling or re-imagining of the other.  While Park’s story took place in the slummy environment of The Rocks, with a Scottish immigrant family and constant threats of being beaten yeller and green, Kane’s story is set in the grand house of an upper-class family of ladies.  The romance theme of Park’s work is missing from Kane’s story (thank the Lord!) and When the Lyrebird Calls is lacking the dark, gritty atmosphere and almost ghost-story quality of Playing Beatie Bow.  This is probably a good thing if, like me, the front cover of Park’s book and the eerie skipping-rhyme poem gave you the heebie jeebies as a kid.  Canny teachers will no doubt be pleased to have a newer time-slip story of the same historical period to introduce to their students, either alongside or as a substitute for the original classic.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly in a book targeted at upper primary, lower secondary readers, I would definitely recommend giving When the Lyrebird Calls a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright: A GSQ Review

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It’s time to look at all that’s good, sad and quirky about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge, a new release middle grade romp that features science fiction, science fact and lots of sciencey faffing about with bananas and wayward cats.  We received a copy of this one from Allen & Unwin for review after eyeing it covetously on various “coming soon” lists of middle grade fiction.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Albie’s mum dies, it’s natural he should wonder where she’s gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie’s mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum’s computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her…

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The Good

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As UK middle grade reads go, this one is quite original.  If you discount the oft-used “child coping with the death of a parent” storyline, there is plenty here that goes beyond the usual bounds of middle-grade fare.  We’ll discuss those bits more in the “quirky” section though.

Albie is a character who will resonate with many readers; a young man trying hard to honour his mother’s memory, while his father just works to forget.  There are a number of competing themes going on here including family realignment after the loss of a parent, dealing with grief, finding one’s purpose and challenging accepted boundaries of thought.  The pace of the book is even, with an episodic plot that follows Albie as he hops from one world to another.  I particularly enjoyed the character of Alba and her interaction with Albie and would have loved to have seen more interactions like this throughout the book.

The Sad

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There was something missing throughout this book for me and I suspect that the missing something was a strong supporting character.  For much of the book Albie goes it on his own, so the narration comprises a lot of Albie telling us what’s going on or relating his thoughts without much to break this up.  A bit more banter between Albie and …someone…would have made the book a bit pacier and more engaging in my opinion, and allowed for a bit of unexpectedness in a plot where the reader suspects everything will turn out in the end.

I also had a problem with the straightforward way in which Albie manages to solve all the problems of inter-dimensional travel without much effort. The plot is full of complex, nebulous scientific ideas that even proper scientists have trouble with, but Albie’s scientific problems – such as getting from one world to another and how to get home again – are solved by accident or dumb luck.  I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide whether this was supposed to be first and foremost a book about science and parallel universes, or a book about grief and personal growth, so left both plotlines a little underdeveloped in order to manage such big ideas in a book for young readers.

The Quirky

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I can safely say that this is the first time I have encountered such a focus on science in a middle grade fiction offering.  Throughout the story many theories, experiments and facts are brought up – including, but not limited to, the Large Hadron Collider and Shrodinger’s Cat – and this will really appeal to those young readers who can’t get enough of science fact and how it might be imagined as science fiction.  I can imagine that after reading this book at least one kid (or adult!) will grab a bunch of balloons and their younger sibling’s favourite toy and attempt to launch the two into space.

Overall I enjoyed this book but not nearly as much as I expected I would.  I was hoping for a little more challenge and struggle in Albie’s journey toward healing, and a little more zany danger in his romp through the unknown universe.  It is certainly an ambitious undertaking to attempt to blend high level scientific concepts with the enormity of a child’s grief, but for me it didn’t quite hit the mark.  I certainly enjoyed it while I was reading, but I don’t think it will be one of those books that makes it into the regular rotation of books I recommend to others.

Unless they’re looking for a middle grade read featuring cats that are simultaneously dead and alive.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Morgue: A Nonfiction GSQ Review

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It’s time to let the psyche triplets out of the bag again for a Good, Sad and Quirky review of a book about death, justice and medical science.  We received a copy of Morgue: A Life in Death by Vincent DiMaio and Ron Franscell from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In this clear-eyed, gritty, and enthralling narrative, Dr. Vincent Di Maio and veteran crime writer Ron Franscell guide us behind the morgue doors to tell a fascinating life story through the cases that have made Di Maio famous-from the exhumation of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to the complex issues in the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Beginning with his street-smart Italian origins in Brooklyn, the book spans 40 years of work and more than 9,000 autopsies, and Di Maio’s eventual rise into the pantheon of forensic scientists. One of the country’s most methodical and intuitive criminal pathologists will dissect himself, maintaining a nearly continuous flow of suspenseful stories, revealing anecdotes, and enough macabre insider details to rivet the most fervent crime fans.

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The Good

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There are a number of highly absorbing cases discussed in Morgue, both high profile, such as the death of Trayvon Martin, and otherwise. The interesting thing about this book in particular is that it addresses issues of forensic science as it relates to the law in the USA.  While I have read other books about life as a coroner or medical examiner (chiefly Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Kortanny Finn), none have explored how forensic evidence – and particularly, conflicting expert opinions about forensic evidence – can influence whether or not a person is convicted of a crime.  The issues raised in the book regarding whether justice is actually done or simply seen to be done, can be uncomfortable to read about at times, but raises some heartily thought-provoking gristle on which to ruminate.  The cases covered include suicides, murders, serial murders and historical murders and each is discussed in the context of the author’s involvement in presenting evidence at trial or to further a case.

The Sad

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I did find that the author had a tendency to come across as a bit of a Judgey McJudgerson in parts of the book.  He doesn’t seem the type to suffer fools (or indeed anyone who knows less than he does on the subject of forensic
medicine) gladly and is scathing in his view of so-called “armchair forensic detectives” who speculate on high profile cases with only the education of CSI type shows under their belts.  He also makes plain his views on media and lobbyists using particular deaths, such as that of Trayvon Martin, to advance certain political or social causes, which, depending on which side of the fence you sit in these matters, could turn you off a bit.

It is while espousing such opinions that the author dips into that strange American cultural phenomenon that allows one to talk oneself up and proudly declare how learned and experienced one is.  I have no doubt that the author is indeed as famous and influential in the forensic sphere as he claims, but as America seems to be the only place where it’s socially acceptable to blow one’s own trumpet (loudly and at great length), readers from outside that great nation might find these parts a little bit…American.

There is also one chapter in particular wherein the author goes into great detail about his family background in forensics.  While no doubt extremely important to the author, I found this part rather tedious.

The Quirky

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Along with the high profile cases previously mentioned, there are some completely unexpected inclusions hiding in this tome.  The exhumation of Lee Harvey Oswald to reassure (or possibly inflame) conspiracy theorists that the corpse buried in Mr Oswald’s plot was, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald is one of these.  As is the utterly bizarre final chapter in which the author is called upon to speculate on the death of Vincent Van Gogh.  Odd.

Potential readers might also like to know that while some of the cases go into very little gory detail – such as the two cases of serial child murder – others are shockingly graphic.  One such, detailing the gruesome murder of three young boys**, described the deaths and injuries in incredible detail – for reasons relating to the conflicting forensic opinions explained later in the piece – and I wasn’t quite prepared for this level of illustrative explanation.  You have been warned.

Despite some issues with the narrative style of the author that lessened my enjoyment of parts of this book, the majority of the cases and the information provided is deeply engaging and will greatly appeal to those “armchair forensic detectives” that the author so disdains.  If you have any interest at all in forensic medicine and how forensic evidence can make or break (or manipulate!) criminal trials, then I would definitely recommend this book to you.

**Spoiler Alert!**

So I have a little question about one of the cases.  I apologise if I’ve missed the answer in the book, but if anyone has read it and can fill me in, it would be great!

 In the graphic child murder case mentioned above, the author presents his opinion that the wounds that the original examiner believed were made by a serrated weapon were actually made by animals, possibly after the boys’ deaths.  At the same time, he agrees with the opinion that one of the boys was dead before he went into the water.  So….if the wounds that were originally presumed to have been made by a blade, leading to the young lad bleeding out and dying BEFORE he went in the water, were actually potentially made AFTER he went in the water…or at least, after he had already died…then what was it that killed that particular boy??

Until next time,

Bruce

Magrit: An MG Good, Sad and Quirky Review…

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Today’s review nearly ended up being a “Great Expectations…” review because my level of expectation for today’s book was impossibly high, but I have decided to unleash my psyche on you instead.  Magrit by Lee Battersby (author of such bizarre adult fiction favourites of the shelf as The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead) is a middle grade, beautifully presented foray into a graveyard full of surprises.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Magrit lives in an abandoned cemetery with her friend and advisor, Master Puppet, whom she built from bones and bits of graveyard junk. One night as Magrit and Master Puppet sit atop of their crumbling chapel, a passing stork drops a baby into the graveyard. Defying Master Puppet’s demands that the baby be disposed of, and taking no heed of his dire warnings, Magrit decides to raise the baby herself. She gives him a name: Bugrat. Magrit loves Bugrat like a brother But Master Puppet know all too well what will happen when Bugrat grows up – that the truth about them all will be revealed.

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The Good:image

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and have wished that there existed a book very like it, but suited to a younger audience, Lee Battersby has fulfilled that wish in Magrit.  The book is set in a beautifully atmospheric cemetery, wherein the inhabitants lie forgotten and a self-contained, private sanctuary has been chiseled out of the silence.  Magrit is an easy character to follow along with; a carefree nearly-ten year old, whose imagination is fed to bursting by her mouldering home and her questions answered by the all-seeing Master Puppet.  Master Puppet is a great, original character, I must say – a skeleton patched together from various discarded bones and lashed to the cross atop the cemetery’s chapel, dispensing wisdom and criticism in a voice that is practically audible while you read.  The plot is easy to follow for young readers, and while adult readers (and indeed, canny youngsters) may pick up on which way the wind is blowing reasonably early in the story, the ending is unexpected and satisfactorily ambiguous.

The Sad image

If you have not read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, then this criticism will pass you by and not affect your reading of Magrit at all.  If this is the case for you, I am truly happy that you have yet to discover the magic of both of these wonderful books.  The only problem I had with this story is that it felt far too much like The Graveyard Book.  So much so, in fact, that I felt like Bod and Magrit could have easily lived in Bod’s graveyard at the same time, with Magrit’s corner cordoned off in some way so that the two never got around to meeting.  The reason this was a problem is that because I read The Graveyard Book years ago on its original release (our dust-jacketed, hardbacked edition has pride of place on our shelf, with only slight paper-specklage after eight years), and have since re-read it multiple times, Bod, Silas and the gang have taken up residence in my brain as the superior graveyard-dwelling crew.  Again though, if you haven’t read The Graveyard Book, you should find Magrit and Master Puppet entirely original and thoroughly unique.

I would also have loved to have seen a bit of the quirky, bizarre humour that Battersby inserts into his adult fiction works make its way into Magrit’s story.

The Quirkyimage

The presentation, both inside and out, of this first edition of Magrit is something else entirely.  For a start, the textured hardback cover fits neatly in your hand and the raw edges of the pages are tinged an inviting pale purple.  The beautiful papercut illustration on the front sets the tone for the gorgeous reading experience awaiting you.  The pages inside are bordered in similar papercut designs and Master Puppet’s dialogue is always printed in a spectacularly eye-popping font, which is both a handy visual cue for younger readers and serves to enhance that unique character voice that I mentioned earlier.  Overall, there has been a great deal of consideration put into the visual presentation of this book and it greatly enhances the reading experience.  I can just imagine the coveting that will go on amongst mini-fleshlings when this one hits the school library shelves!

I also loved that Battersby references Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead in his acknowledgements.  This is a reasonably large and dense non-fiction tome that I checked out of the library years ago, before I started blogging, as part of my attempt to read all the death-related things.  I just like the idea that other people have read a reasonably obscure book that I randomly checked out of the library many years ago.

Overall, I am so glad I pre-ordered this one and didn’t wait around on the off-chance that I would get the opportunity to get a free review copy.  This is definitely a book that you won’t regret purchasing and displaying in a prominent place on your shelf to amaze your friends and confuse and dismay your enemies.

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

 

 

Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions): A Picture Book GSQ Review

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It’s time for a GSQ review and today’s book offers a fun, unusual brain-workout for littlies and their grown-ups, and surprisingly, doesn’t have much to do with poo but does have a lot to do with seeking, deducing and figuring out nifty visual clues.  We received a copy of Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions) by Anton Poitier and Tracey Cottingham from the good folk at Five Mile Press – thanks! – and we will now subject it to the rigours of a Good, Sad and Quirky review!

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Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This amusing spot the difference book is entertaining and educational for pre-schoolers. Each spread features the same group of animals – with a twist. A question appears, prompting children to spot the difference.

Who’s splashing who? Who’s swapped places? The simple and fun questions featured throughout the book allow children to use their analytical skills of concentration, thinking and observation to provide the correct answers.

Cute and quirky illustrations of animals ensures children are interested, with the interactive game-like spot the difference nature of the book keeping them engaged.

The Good

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Who’s Had A Poo? is one of those ideas that is a sure-fire winner for the simple reason that it engages kids by asking a pretty ordinary question and letting the kids do the detective work.  The idea of the book is that children (and their grown ups) explore page spreads containing the same set of animals, with just one or two tiny differences on each page that relate to the question.

Here’s an example:

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Can you spot who’s ready for lunch?  What I love most about this type of search-and-find book is that it’s not as simple as just finding Wally (or Waldo, as our American friends know him), but it almost requires a conversation on the reasons a certain animal is chosen as fitting the particular question.  For the page spread above, for instance, the panda is the obvious choice, but perhaps the duck could fit the bill as well (pun intended) – it depends on how well one can articulate one’s choice.

Apart from the sleuthing that is the book’s main focus, the bright, cheeky animal illustrations and the die-cut, peekaboo holes on the front cover are sure to draw in the mini punters for a rewarding reading experience.

And if you’re wondering whether this book is too advanced for the younger end of the picture book market, I took the trouble of testing it on the youngest mini-fleshling in the dwelling (two years old) and she loved it to bits.  It’s quite surprising how children so young can use the visual cues to answer the question, even if they can’t articulate their reasoning exactly.  This book was also fun for finding out which animals the mini-fleshlings knew – the peacock was a bit of challenge, the chameleon a new favourite, and all the rest that she didn’t know took on the mantle of “hippo”.

The Sadimage

The only downside I can see with this book is the title.  I’m afraid the reference to poo may be misleading and cause some parents and carers to bypass it, if they are averse to poo-based picture books (of which, we can all agree, there are many).  Allow me to assure you that the book is NOT about poo – except for one page, that asks “Who’s had a poo?” and which both the mini-fleshlings found absolutely hilarious.

The Quirky

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If this was the first book of this type that I had ever seen, I would be leaping around, shouting its praises from the rooftops.  I still feel inclined to shout its praises, perhaps from a slightly lower vantage point but I actually stumbled across this concept late last year after a tip off from Read It Daddy, with their review of Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec.  I immediately bought the book, given that I trust their judgement implicitly and so I and the mini-fleshlings were introduced to this concept of sleuthing for visual cues.  Who Done It? is an exceptional book, but there are a number of differences between that and Who’s Had A Poo? and if I point these out, it might make deciding which one you’ll read first a little easier, based on your personal preference.

Firstly, Who’s Had A Poo? is your standard picture book format, while Who Done It? comes in a long, rectangular format that requires you to turn the pages by lifting them up.  Who Done It? also features only eight or nine figures on each page, and these are different for each page spread leading to discrete questions and answers, whereas Who’s Had a Poo? has the same set of twenty-four animals on each page and some of the questions require the reader to turn back to the previous page to figure out the answer to the question.  I was pretty stumped by the “Who’s swapped places?” page until I did a bit of judicious page-flicking, but the two-year-old picked “Who’s changed colour?” with nary a blink of the eye while I was left scratching my head for a bit.

The level of challenge in Who’s Had a Poo? also increases throughout the book, given that the questions have multiple answers as the book goes on.  Where in the beginning only one animal might fit the criteria, towards the end some pages have up to six animals that fit the answer.  This is great fun, and led to races between the mini-fleshlings to see who could spot all the creatures with the right characteristics. I, of course, am above such undignified behaviour.

I hope this book has piqued your interest. I must say, it is a search and find concept that I have taken to with great adoration and I hope that more books along this line make it to publication in the near future.  Oh, and if you haven’t come across the Read It Daddy blog before, and you are a fan of children’s and middle grade titles, do yourself a favour and pop on over.  You won’t be disappointed!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Posthumous GSQ Review: Spoiler Alert (You’re Gonna Die)…

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imageToday I have a book for those for whom the stench of a decomposing corpse fires up curiosity, rather than the vomiting reflex.  We received Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell from the publisher via Netgalley and found a delightful little book in Q&A format that is the perfect introduction for those wishing to scratch the itch of curiosity surrounding what happens to the dead immediately after death.  Let’s begin with the blurb from Goodreads:

One thing that you can be sure in life, is that it is going to end. How’s that for a buzzkill? A real life coroner challenged a few thousand internet strangers to ask her anything. The result is a collection of morbid and slightly embarrassing questions all about The End. Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die! will leave you with a new perspective on life. Print

The Good

imageIf you have any sort of interest in the workings of the death trade – that is, those people whose job it is to deal with the dead in any manner – then this is a concise and easy-to-read introduction that should suit you perfectly.  The questions and answers are divided into a number of categories both for ease of reference and so (I assume) you can skip over the bits that don’t interest you/gross you out/make you feel a bit weird for being too interested in them.  The book covers a pretty broad range of content, from information about the types of qualifications and work experience that you might need if you are thinking of getting into work in the post-life industry, to lesser-known methods for body disposal for those who think burial or cremation is too mundane, to what exactly goes on during an autopsy.  The book never gets too in-depth on any one topic so I wouldn’t recommend it for those who really want specifics on a certain area – although if you are looking for a book of that nature I would certainly recommend Working Stiff by Judy Melinek or Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty or even Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read way back in that mystical time before I started blogging – but it’s certainly a thorough and accessible introduction.

The introductions to each category written by Korttany Finn are quite funny and Jacquie Purcell has mastered the art of dry humour, so you won’t get too bogged down in the sadness and unsightliness of close encounters with corpses.

The Sad

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The saddest part of my reading experience here is that I wanted it to be longer.  I wasn’t prepared for such a concise tome and so I was disappointed that it wasn’t more in-depth.  Also, although this is no fault of the authors, there were a whole lot of questions in the first section that are specific to the USA (and in some instances specific to the state in which Purcell works), which prompted the slightly irritating realisation that if I wanted to know about how things work in Australia, I would have to research it myself.  As my natural laziness prevents me from doing any such research, I will have to live with this feeling of slight irritation, until someone publishes and places in my hands a book which focuses on post-death practices in Australia.  **Newsflash! I just did a microsecond of research and found out that coroners in Australia are mostly lawyers or magistrates and one of the main roles of the coroner’s court is to investigate deaths that may have an impact on public safety (eg: bushfire related deaths) in order to improve policy and practice around these events to ensure that they are prevented or minimised in future**

The Quirkyimage

The fact that this book features answers by a coroner, as opposed to a funeral director or someone who does the work of handling corpses in some capacity, the perspective is slightly different from other books I’ve read on the topic.  It took me a few moments to realise that I wasn’t actually 100% sure what a coroner does, although I had some ideas.  Those who love crime shows like CSI will probably think they have a good idea about what a coroner does, but this book might change their minds!

Also, the book grew out of a question and answer thread run by Purcell on a parenting blog, so it’s good to know that the questions in the book were actually asked by actual people and therefore, if you have ever idly pondered similar questions, you are not as weird and morbid as you think you are.

Overall I found this to be an interesting interlude on my quest to read lots of books about death, with some fascinating information that I certainly hadn’t considered before.  If you are interested in this topic, but you’re looking for a reasonably quick read, then I’d certainly recommend you pick this one up.

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*I’m submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge*

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

The Colour of Darkness: An MG, GSQ Review…

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Welcome to another GSQ review, this time for a book that I’ve had on my TBR ever since I finished its precursor at the end of 2014.  The Colour of Darkness is the second book by Ruth Hatfield in The Book of Storms Trilogy – the first, rather predictably, being The Book of Storms.  Many thanks to Five Mile Press for sending us a sneaky early review copy!  Before I let the psyche pals loose, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Danny O’Neill hasn’t had a single good night’s sleep in the year since he discovered the book of storms. Exhausted and a social outcast, he wishes only to escape the shadowy figure of Sammael who controls his dreams and nightmares.

Cath Carrera, from the other side of town, dreams of escaping her brutish father and spiteful step-family. So when she meets Barshin, a talking hare who offers her protection from her dad’s latest violent rage, she doesn’t think twice about going with him. But she didn’t expect to find a place like Chromos: a vibrant, addictive dreamland built from her imagination, in all its colours.

In return for his protection, Barshin wants Cath to deliver a message to Danny: he must rescue his cousin Tom from Sammael before it is too late.

Together, the three must find a way to stop Sammael before he destroys Tom. But even with the help of talking plants and creatures, and a friendly stag, the journey to Chromos and beyond is a dangerous, near-impossible mission, and Danny and Cath will have to muster every scrap of bravery and ingenuity to have a hope of succeeding.

The-Colour-of-Darkness-Ruth-Hatfield

The Good

As in The Book of Storms, Hatfield has written a highly descriptive adventure, with imagery that springs fully to life imagefrom the page.  While this book had a very different feel to the first book, in my opinion, and took the story to a place I certainly didn’t expect, there were some excellent new elements here.  Cath, the streetwise, sassy young lass from a violent home, is a fantastically engaging character, not least because Hatfield has written her in three dimensions.  I immediately warmed to rough-around-the-edges Cath, as her difficult home life is brought to the frightening fore right from the off.  The inclusion of Cath really lifted this book out of the predictable mould that it could easily have fallen into, due to the fact that she is completely unaware of the events that Danny has been involved in and therefore brings fresh eyes to the bizarre experiences that are unfolding around her.

Danny’s state of mind is quite chaotic during this book, which I also didn’t expect, and again, Hatfield has done an amazing job of really getting into Danny’s mind and conveying his fear and despair to the reader.  Danny is almost paralysed by fear for most of this book and the all-encompassing terror and indecision that plagues all his actions will be familiar to anyone who has suffered from any kind of anxiety.  Tom, Danny’s cousin and unwitting ally to Sammael, is also more deeply explored in this novel, yet retains his disbelief of Danny’s “special” abilities despite the evidence staring him in the face and slowly draining his life force.

I am very impressed with the authentic way that the characters have been portrayed in this novel.  Their emotions and motivations seem to be explored and rendered in a much more genuine fashion than one normally sees in fiction for this age group.

The Sad

There were two things that I felt dragged this book down a tad.  The first was the world building and the concept ofimage Chromos – the magical world that Cath discovers, and which plays a key role in the children engaging with Sammael.  Chromos seems to be a world in parallel with the world we know, but one upon which it is impossible for a human to actually stand.  Much of the adventure involves Cath and eventually Danny dipping into and out of Chromos with the help of the talking hare Barshin, and the Chromos guide steed Zadoc.  Even though Chromos is meant to be somewhat intangible to humans, I felt that I couldn’t really get a handle on the place as I was reading.  It seemed to me that for a lot of the book Danny and Cath are trying to get to Chromos or away from Chromos, while spending hardly any actual time there and these parts really slowed the pace of the whole story.

The second thing I felt was lacking, compared to the first book, was the menacing and unsettling presence that Sammael brought to the story.  While Sammael is certainly present here – mostly involved with Tom – he didn’t bring the feeling of dread to my bones that he managed to do quite easily in the first tome.  He seemed to be a bit of side character for most of the book and I was a bit disappointed by this because he really is an original and very scary villain.

The Quirky

I could not possibly have predicted where this series was going after the end of the first book.  If you had asked me, I imagewould have probably guessed that the focus would be mostly on Tom and Danny dealing with the unholy bargain that Tom has made with Sammael.  While I didn’t necessarily love the inclusion of Chromos and the Aether (another intangible world like Chromos), their inclusion in the plot was certainly original and unpredictable.  Once again, Hatfield seems to be bucking the trend of typical, expected MG/YA tropes and plotlines and taking things in a different direction.

I will certainly be interested to see how this series finishes up and what new surprises will be awaiting me in book three.  If you haven’t come across this series before, I definitely recommend starting with book one rather than jumping ahead.

 

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*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR!*

Until next time,

Bruce