Meandering through Middle Grade: The Tale of Angelino Brown…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

David Almond is one of those authors that many people categorise as an “auto-read”; that is, such is the strength of his previous work, any new work that is published will be snapped up immediately by his fans.  It’s a bit that way for we shelf-dwellers.  We loved Skelling, A Monster Calls and Heaven Eyes, for instance, but found some of his other books like Clay and The Savage a bit too dark and depressing.  The Tale of Angelino Brown which we received from Walker Books Australia for review, felt like something new from Almond.  The magical realism and quirkiness were all still there, but oozing out of the pages was a sense of hope and a lightness in tone that we hadn’t encountered in Almond’s work before.  Before I say too much more, here’s the blurb from Walker UK:

A warm and witty tale from a master storyteller, author of Carnegie Medal-winning Skellig and internationally bestseller The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas

Bert and Betty Brown have got themselves a little angel. Bert found him in his top pocket when he was driving his bus. Bert and Betty’s friends think he’s lovely. So do Nancy and Jack and Alice from Class 5K. What a wonder! But Acting Head Teacher Mrs Mole is not so sure. Nor is Professor Smellie. Or the mysterious bloke in black who claims to be a School Inspector. Then there’s Basher Malone – big, lumbering Basher Malone. He REALLY doesn’t like Angelino. And it looks like he’s out to get him…

tale of angelino brown

There’s a real sense of joy that comes flitting through the text and images of this tome, from the opening lines of “Here we go. All aboard”, to the rosy-cheeked, golden-haired, flatulent angel of the cover.  This book felt quite uplifting to read throughout, which is not always the case with Almond’s work, and I couldn’t help but feel that this book would be a hit with both its intended young audience, and older readers who dared to venture into books for young readers.  The tone is generally light and humorous, without ever losing Almond’s signature sense of pathos directed toward certain of the more pitiable characters in the story.

The book opens on Bert Brown’s pondering about the deficiencies of the bus driving trade, when all of a sudden, Bert’s life is turned on its head by the discovery of an angel – a living, breathing, if somewhat flatulent and undersized angel!  The grumpy Bert brings the angel home to his wife Betty and the pair immediately become enamoured of the little creature and name him Angelino.  As the story moves on, Angelino becomes a treasured being among the children at the school at which Betty works as a lunch lady and with each passing connection, Angelino grows larger.  All is not well however, as unscrupulous and just plain unwise forces find out about Angelino and set into motion a plan to kidnap him for reasons nefarious.

This really is a delightful read, with lots of giggles to be had and a real sense of warmth about the quirky characters.  Almond has a way of making even the most odious of personalities at least pitiable, if not likeable, and there is much of that going on here with everyone from Kevin the Master of Disguise, to Mrs Mole the acting Headteacher and the truly monstrous Basher Malone.  Bert and Betty are the epitome of lovable however and felt like the true heart and soul of the book to me.

Themes of friendship, forgiveness and the forging of community can be found at various junctures of the story and Angelino, while never the most loquacious of characters, serves as a central focus around which unconnected characters come together.  The illustrations enhance the reading experience and wrap neatly around sections of text, giving extra life to the imagery generated by the writing.

I thoroughly recommend The Tale of Angelino Brown to current fans of Almond’s work as well as those who have never come across his work before.  I could see this being the perfect read aloud for a lower middle grade classroom, both for its humour and its gentle message of rallying around the vulnerable.

I’m going to submit this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge, under category #47: a book with an eccentric character, because eccentricities abound in this one.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review: The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix…

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Cheerio lads and lasses! Today I’ve got a very different reading experience to share with you – a sort of fictional/memoir/murder mystery/magical realism mash-up.  It’s The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman.  I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

In this book we are introduced to the reasonably unlikeable Raphael Ignatius Phoenix (he of the initials R.I.P.), as begins a suicide note of truly monumental proportions.  You see, Raphael, at the age of almost-100 years, has decided that he has lived enough of this crazy journey called life, but before he goes, he wishes to regale us with the story of his life.  And quite a life it is too, for Raphael is a murderer, many times over.  He has bumped off irritating people from all walks of life and from all areas of his acquaintance.  And it is by this dubious achievement that he wishes to be remembered.  Alongside the stories of Raphael’s multiple murders is the story of his repeated, yet fleeting, interactions with his best friend (and only love) from childhood, Emily.   So let us join Raphael as he recounts his life’s adventures and attempts to take the gold medal for longest/largest/most elaborate suicide note ever written…provided he doesn’t run out of pens, of course.

final testimony raphaelRead it if:

* you can easily alight upon one or more person of your acquaintance that you could have happily bumped off, for each decade of your life so far

* you believe the penalty for being an irritating git should be death

* you could think of nothing more wickedly delightful than an attempt to turn twins, who are devoted to each other, against one other

* you are a fan of the tall tale

Let me be honest.  I found this book hard going.  The blurb held such promise.  I was intrigued to find out about multiple murders of the title character and was all set to enjoy the light-hearted manner in which they were recounted.  Unfortunately, the title character is a bit of an irritating git himself, so while I did enjoy the light-hearted tone and dry wit of the first few chapters, my interest started to wane after a bit.

Essentially, this book is divided into chapters with one murder (and usually one decade of Raphael’s life) explained in each chapter.  As I mentioned the early chapters – and particularly the recount of the first murder, the unfortunate Mrs Bunshop (if that is her real name) grabbed my attention and had me eagerly flipping pages.  But after repeated chapters of the same sort of format, it started to seem more difficult than it needed to be to wade through Raphael’s memoirs.  The very first line of the novel is this:

“This is going to be the longest suicide note in history.”

Well, he wasn’t lying there, so I suppose I can’t really complain that I hadn’t been warned about what lay ahead…but this book really felt looooooooong.  In between the murders, wherein many of the interesting bits lay, are long soliloquays about the actual writing of the note – the wheres, the hows, the difficulties, the successes.  To be perfectly honest, there’s only so many pages one can read about the anxiety that arises regarding the liklihood of running out of pens.

Despite my whinging, I didn’t completely hate this book.  It was just okay.  The chapter describing Raphael’s murder of the Albino Twins (yes, you read that correctly) had me compelled to find out how it would end.  I can honestly say it was the best chapter featuring Albino Twins and their cuddly toys that I have ever read.  And I mean that in a genuine, complimentary way.  The ending was also, if not a high point, something completely unexpected and had me considering what light it might throw on the preceding events.  (For interest’s sake, I decided that the ending came too far out of left field to really add much to the book.  Pessimistic, I know).

When all is said and done, I just think I was expecting something different from what this book turned out to be.  I suspect that there will be people that really love the book for its original premise and the cheeky nonchalance of Raphael, but it ended up being too much like hard work for me to really say I enjoyed it.

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix is due for release on May 22nd.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Devil’s in the Detail: A Haiku Review…

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Top o’ the afternoon to all you lovely readers! It’s Mad Martha with you today sharing a haiku review of a tome full of the unexpected red tape and beauracracy that accompanies some unfortunates from this life into the next.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy of this book for review through Great Aussie Reads, who specialise (in case you couldn’t guess!) in promoting fantabulous Australian authors and their works. Pop on over there to say hello and see some of the enticing contents of their virtual shelf – you won’t be disappointed!

The Devil’s in the Detail is penned by Melbournish author Matthew S. Wilson and revolves around one David Shepherd – middle aged London cab driver and all-round nice bloke.  After waking up in a prison cell in Purgatory, David is dismayed (to say the least) to find that he has died and must now face a court trial to decide where his eternal soul will end up, his choices being Heaven, or one of the ten circles of Hell.  For reasons unknown to David, Hell’s minions seem particularly enthusiastic about winning David’s soul for the home side, and in his trial, he must attempt to rebutt accusations that he has knowingly and willingly broken all of the Ten Commandments.  With only the mildly helpful angelic defence lawyer Olivia to assist him, David may just be facing the legal fight of his life….or indeed, death.

devil in the detail

What rewards await

the soul of the upright man?

It’s all gone balls-up

Having recently read a number of afterlife-y type books (and with a few more in the TBR pile), I felt very comfortable falling straight into Wilson’s world, which contained elements of Christian, Jewish and Buddhist religious traditions as well as some interjections from Dante and Greek mythology, and some wholly original bits and bobs.  I’m not sure what I expected on reading the blurb, but I was surprised by the reflective, philosophical nature of parts of the book.  The story is told partly in the present, as the reader eavesdrops on David’s trial, and partly through David’s memories, as he recalls the situations throughout his life that have led to the current accusations being levelled at him by Hell’s own prosecution lawyer.  The combination results in an interesting blend of action and intrigue, and slightly melancholic memoir.

Admittedly, as I was reading, I did begin to wonder a little at what the point of the story was, but it seems I had pondered too soon, because at the end of the tale a surprising little twist emerged that put a whole new spin on what had gone before*.  This twist was perfectly timed and a very nice way of wrapping up the story.  I must admit, as I got closer to the end of the book I did wonder how on earth the author was going to tie up the loose ends, but the ending here left me feeling very satisfied with my efforts at having perservered despite being unsure as to where it all might end up.

The Devil’s in the Detail ended up being a lot more cerebral than I initially expected, which while certainly not a bad thing, had me wondering who I would recommend it to.  Perhaps those who, like myself, enjoy a bit of speculation with a spiritual twist.

* As a side note, I must say that the cover of the book had me thinking that maybe David would end up having to be the Devil’s cabbie or something, but that’s not how things work out.  Perhaps Mr Wilson could consider penning a sequel to satisfy this thought.

To conclude, I have been asked by Bruce to display his latest “Obscure Proverb of the Day” from his Tumblr feed, as he believes it is appropriate to the theme of today’s book.  (For which I apologise – honestly, he shouldn’t be allowed out on his own, as this is the type of thing that ensues).  Here it is:

obscure proverb casket

Hilarious.  For more of this fare, as well as zombified children’s book covers, please form an orderly queue to click on the Tumblr button at the end of this post.

Bruce and I have also conspired to produce this small piece of political statement.  It won’t be a regular thing, just something we feel passionate about right at this moment:

hands off our abc

Until next time my sweets,

Mad Martha

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Afterworld ARC Review: Read it if….

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Evening all!  Today’s young adult ARC, Afterworld by Lynnette Lounsbury, was received from Allen & Unwin Teen in return for an honest review  – thanks A&U T!

Afterworld is the story of 15 year old Dominic Mathers’ journey into a life-beyond-life after his untimely demise in a car accident in India.  Dom finds himself in the Necropolis, a city that was originally intended as a place of preparation and learning for the newly dead before they attempt to progress to the next stage of their journey in the afterlife, but has degenerated into a place of hopelessness, inertia and eternal waiting for most of its inhabitants.  Humans share the Necropolis with the Nephilim, a race that are the offspring of humans and angels.  Satarial, leader of the Nephilim, has instigated the spectator sport of the Trials, in which hopeful denizens of the city can compete, and if successful, win the right to move on to the next part of the afterlife, known as the Maze.  A loss in the Trials, however will doom the contestant to a fate worse than death.

When Satarial manages to bring Dom’s sister Kaide into the Necropolis while she is still alive, Dom is forced to participate in the Trials.  With his Guide Eva and Guardian Eduardo, he just might have a chance to be the youngest person ever to beat the Nephilim at their own game. But then again, he might not!

afterworld

Read it if:

* your idea of heaven inolves making new friends while picking fruit on a slightly dreary working holiday

* you adhere strongly to the personal motto, “time is money”

* you suspect that being presented with a functional and fashionable accessory (like a fancy new satchel) on your entry to the next plane of existence would go a long way to making up for the untimely nature of your demise

* you’re looking for a cracking good read that will exercise your little grey cells and give you something to chew over while you chew over your breakfast bagel, lunchtime linguini, or other reading-related snack food

Three (serendipitously alliterative!) features about this book struck me while I was reading it – its cohesion, its character development and the cerebral nature of the content.  Lounsbury has created an amazingly detailed imagining of an afterlife in this book and the world-building hangs together flawlessly.  There was never a point at which I had to question how the world worked or a description that jarred me out of my disbelief suspension.  When writers get that bit right, it becomes very hard for me to put a book down.  Score one to Lounsbury!

Another really enjoyable afterthought of the book was the thoughtful character development.  All of the main group of characters in Afterworld, bar one I felt, had depth – and even the one who could have done with a little more complexity had enough twists and red herrings in her plot trajectory to prevent me from dismissing her out of hand.  While there was a little bit of repetition in the behaviour of the characters – Dom and Eva tend to “smirk” a lot, and Kaide spends 95% of her time in a “laugh” – the dialogue, motivations and changes of heart of the characters seemed genuine and believable.  In-depth characterisation can be one of the things that’s often missing in YA novels, replaced by cliched villains and ordinary heroes, so I was happy to find it here.  It wasn’t the greatest part of the story (that was undoubtedly the world-building), but it allowed the concepts to be accessed more easily.

I did not find this book to be a light read.  At over 400 pages, it was never going to be quick either, but the way the author has woven multiple ideas and religious traditions into one cohesive vision of an afterlife really makes for a thought-provoking read. Or maybe that should be a thought-promoting read….Afterworld has enough heft in the storyline and world-building to give those interested in theories about the misadventures (or otherwise) of those who have shuffled off this mortal coil some new fodder to argue about.  The proof that I received had set the suggested age range at 13 to 18 years, but I really think this is a book that older teens will get the most out of.

Afterworld definitely offers a reading experience that is different from your average paranormal-type YA adventure.  If you’re looking for something that requires you to engage your brain as you read, then it might be the book for you.  It’s due to be published in February, so for now it’ll be one to pop on your TBR list.

Oh, and don’t forget to consider signing up for the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – YA books are most welcome.  BYO funky safari hat.

Until next time,

Bruce

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