An Aussie Classic Revisited: Stories from Stella Street…

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Stories from Stella Street by Elizabeth Honey. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $19.99

A long, hot Australian summer holiday needs a long, funny bout of escapist kidlit and to that end, I have for you not one, but three Aussie classic kids’ stories.  We received this bright and breezy (and big enough to use as a door stop!) 21st anniversary edition of Elizabeth Honey’s Stella Street stories.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s te blurb from their website:

Elizabeth Honey’s immensely popular 45 + 47 Stella Street and everything that happened turns 21! This special anniversary edition includes three exciting adventures in one big book: 45 + 47 Stella Street, Fiddle-back and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay.

CELEBRATING 21 YEARS OF STELLA STREET!

Meet Henni, the tallest girl in school, and her best friend Zev, with amazing electric hair, and Briquette, little Frank’s dog … and everyone else in Stella Street! Read Henni’s original version of what her gang did when the Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything! It’s fast and funny and you never know what’s going to happen next. Henni also tells the story of life-changing events when the Stella Street gang all went bush and camped by a wild river, and then how their perfect old-beach-house holiday in Cauldron Bay nearly ended in disaster.

Three hair-raising adventures in one chunky book!

Elizabeth Honey writes with the invigorating energy of a salty wind off the sea that wakes you up and makes you see the world afresh. Warm-hearted, funny, touching and wise, the Stella Street stories are about growing up and living life to the full.

Now, I can’t be sure whether or not I actually read these stories as a youngster – I’ve checked the dates and I would have been a little outside the target audience, but nonetheless, I did feel a tickle of familiarity as I meandered through the first book in this collection: 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened.  This familiarity could be because I (a) did actually read this as a youngster but have forgotten or (b) it is so typical of its genre and target age for Australian books of the period that I feel like I know it even though I haven’t read it.
The first book in the collection was a delight to read.  Hanni has an appropriately conversational style for a young girl of the early nineties, bashing around the neighbourhood with her mates and prevailing upon God to deal out justice to the Phonies next door.  In the end of course, it’s Hanni and her gang – Zav, Frank and Danielle – who have to bring about justice against a pair of the worst kind of neighbours: rich, pompous and ready to complain at the drop of a hat.
One of the things I enjoyed about reading this is the lack of technology in the lives of the characters, both child and adult.  The Phonies are involved in a bit of a shady practice (I shan’t spoil it for you!) that nowadays would certainly require access to multiple devices, yet in this delightfully innocent tome the skulduggery is all paper-based.  Similarly, Hanni is writing a book – with a pencil and paper to begin with, and then a typewriter!  I wonder whether contemporary readers of what is now historical fiction would notice this in the text and what they might make of it.
The pace of the story is laconic, as indeed most Aussie stories should be, punctuated with flurries of activity.  Stella Street itself is so delightfully rendered by the author that it is the kind of street anyone would give their eye-teeth to live in.  Filled with friendly neighbours (barring the Phonies, of course) and kids that band together to make their own fun, it’s the kind of place that forms the dream of a perfect childhood.
I only got through the first book in the collection before this review.  I do intend to read the others – Fiddleback and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay – if only because Hanni is such an engaging voice.  If you enjoy a good Aussie yarn or would love to introduce your mini-fleshlings to the kind of life kids might have had before the internet was in every pocket, Stories from Stella Street would be a fantastic place to start.
Until next time,
Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

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It’s our final Monday Murder for the year, so I thought I’d go a bit festive and bring you Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, a collection of six short stories with all but one featuring Poirot.  The odd one out features Miss Marple in a remarkably brief appearance.  The book also has a foreword by Agatha Christie, which I found delightful, recounting, as it does, Christie’s memories of Christmas time as a youngster.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Agatha Christie’s seasonal Poirot and Marple short story collection.

First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding… then the discovery of a corpse in a chest… next, an overheard quarrel that led to murder… the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits… and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.

What links these five baffling cases? The little grey cells of Monsieur Hercule Poirot!

the-adventure-of-the-christmas-pudding

Plot Summary:

The six stories contained herein are the titular Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, The Under Dog, Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds, The Dream and Greenshaw’s Folly (which features Miss Marple).  All but the first feature murders being solved ingeniously by either Poirot or Marple.  The first story, however, is about the theft of a priceless jewel.  

The Usual Suspects:

As there are so many different stories here, I can’t really go into detail about the suspects, but you can rest assured that the stories include all the old favourites, from long lost brothers returned from the African continent, to people pretending to be someone else, to people in disguise, to people hoping to inherit the murdered person’s worldly goods.  

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, specific details vary, but for the Poirot stories, our favourite Belgian is generally called in by the police or an interested party, does his questioning bit, and then casually reveals the killer before the story abruptly finishes.  Similarly, in Greenshaw’s Folly, Miss Marple only experiences proceedings second-hand, yet still manages to pick motive, method and murderer, having never laid eyes on the scene or the players.

 

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip art

 

 

 

 

 

Four poison bottles for the cheery thought of a traditional Christmas party peopled by thieves and murderers.

It’s been a while since I read a Christie mystery so it was jolly good fun to jump back in with Poirot and Miss Marple and kick around some theories about who done it.  I really enjoyed the fact that these were short stories too, because I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with end of year busyness just now and the short tales meant that I didn’t have to remember names and roles across a whole novel.  I did get close to the answers in a number of the stories, guessing part, if not the whole solution, which is always satisfying and cause for a smug internal smile.  I also found it interesting that the TV adaption of Greenshaw’s Folly that I saw earlier this year (or it could have even been last year) was much more in depth than the story here.  It’s put me in just the right frame of mind to gear up for the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that gets shown on telly here every Christmas Eve (or maybe the day before Christmas Eve).  I’d definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a mildly festive foray into murder in short, easily-digestible chunks.

Finishing this book is especially satisfying because I pulled it from my TBR shelf and so….that’s another chink from Mt TBR!

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Until next time,

Bruce

Some Spooky Shorts for your Halloween: The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories…

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The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories by Susan Hill. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 26, 2016. RRP: $24.99

Any self-respecting fan of contemporary ghost story writing will immediately notice the vintage creepy charm of a cover design style that is synonymous with Susan Hill.  Having read and enjoyed The Small Hand a number of years ago, I decided to put Hill’s work on my radar and so was happy to receive a copy of The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories from Allen & Unwin for review, just in time for Halloween.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From the foggy streets of Victorian London to the eerie perfection of 1950s suburbia, the everyday is invaded by the evil otherworldly in this unforgettable collection of new ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black.

In the title story, on a murky evening in a warmly lit club off St James, a bishop listens closely as a paranormal detective recounts his most memorable case, one whose horrifying denouement took place in that very building.

In ‘The Front Room’, a devoutly Christian mother tries to protect her children from the evil influence of their grandmother, both when she is alive and when she is dead.

A lonely boy finds a friend in ‘Boy Number 21’, but years later he is forced to question the nature of that friendship, and to ask whether ghosts can perish in fires.

This is Susan Hill at her best, telling characteristically flesh-creeping and startling tales of thwarted ambition, terrifying revenge and supernatural stirrings that will leave readers wide-awake long into the night.

If this was the first Susan Hill book I had encountered and I read this collection in the traditional fashion (that is, from front to back), I might be forgiven for discarding this book halfway through as sub-par in quality.  As this is not my first Susan Hill book, I persevered and am very glad I did so because oddly enough, the final two stories of the four far outshine the first two in psychological creepiness and general paranormal entertainment.  But let us address each of the stories in turn, in the traditional fashion; that is to say, from front to back.

The collection opens with The Travelling Bag, a  story of professional betrayal and revenge told from a third person’s perspective and set in Victorian times.  This one certainly felt like it was going to be a spine-tingling paranormal winner, with a mystery immediately set up and the listener (as well as the reader) left in suspense for a spell.  The actual reveal felt a bit light for me though and I didn’t contract any of the sense of fear that the main character was supposedly feeling.  Overall, this story had a strong build-up, but petered off at the end.

Next up is Boy Twenty-One, which I thought I might enjoy the most, but ended up completely forgetting about as soon as I’d read it.  The story is set in a boarding school and centres around the friendship of two lonely boys.  This one felt as if it was either unplanned or unfinished – as if the author had a number of options with how to link the threads of the story together, but couldn’t decide which would be best and so ended up finishing the story abruptly with no real answers and no particular sense of mystery.  I literally did find this story so forgettable that I couldn’t remember anything about it before writing this review even though I’d only just finished the book a day or two ago and I had to go back and flick through it again.

Happily, the third story, Alice Baker, finally employs some good old-fashioned creep-factor with a ghostly, mind-twisty traditional sort of tale about the workers in a women’s typing pool (or similar).  This story has more of what you would expect from the term “ghost story” with obvious clues left about for clever readers, a slow build and the inevitable abrupt shock and reveal.  The ending probably won’t be much of a surprise to anyone who has ever read (or heard) a ghost story before, but there is something deliciously delightful about being drawn along with a character on a path toward certain fright.

The final story, The Front Room, was far and away the best of the lot in my opinion, employing psychological twists, and playing on familial and religious themes in all the right places to evoke the shiver-down-the-spine effect.  In this story, an ordinary family are inspired, after hearing their pastor’s weekly sermon about charity, to invite the husband’s elderly step-mother to live with them.  The tale takes the stereotypical “evil stepmother” trope to a whole new level, ending with a surprise and a lingering feeling of ickiness that will have you reconsidering inviting anyone to your place ever again.

On the whole, the final two stories of the collection really saved this one for me and with the first being passable, I’d have to say that this is another enjoyably scary offering from Susan Hill.  Others may have different opinions about Boy Twenty-One (and I’d love to hear your take on it if you’ve read it!), but if that story had been left out or replaced, this is definitely a book I would rave about.  As it stands, if you are looking for a suitably quick and frightening story to get you in the mood for Halloween, you should find what you are looking for in The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Odd TBR Friday and Fi50 Reminder…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we kick off with another TBR Friday, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for April opens on Monday, with the prompt…

born to...

(You fill in the blank!)

To participate, just create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and link it up or post it in the comments of the Fi50 post on Monday.  For more detailed instructions and future prompts, just click here.
TBR Friday

I feel so productive on TBR Fridays!  I’m knocking another one off the enormous, ever-growing pile today and I feel this one counts double as it is a collection of short stories.  In fact, Oddest of All by Bruce Coville is the third in a series of short story anthologies from the aforementioned Bruce Coville.

oddest of all

Ten Second Synopsis:

This tome comprises nine short stories that all feature a bit of oddity.  All but one have a fantastical or sci-fi twist to them and the subjects range from werefrogs to unicorns to ghosts to doing what you’re told.

**Side note: I have just noticed something super weird – the cover in the image above says “Eighteen Odd stories” but the book I have in my hand (ostensibly the EXACT SAME edition), says NINE short stories…Odd indeed!**

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I can’t remember exactly, but I know I acquired this one in the dying months of 2015.

Acquired:

From the Cystic Fibrosis charity bookshop at Nundah that sells off all the books withdrawn from the BCC library’s collection.

Reason I Haven’t Read it Yet:

No particular reason except that other shinier newer books have taken my fancy.  It was one of those books that you pick up on a whim knowing that you won’t get to it immediately.

Best Bits:

  • The stories are all reasonably quick reads, with only one or two that stretch out a bit longer.  This is great because you can dip into a story here or there before sleep without too much difficulty.
  • Most of the stories had a humorous element to them so the collection reminded me of reading Paul Jenning’s brilliant anthologies as a mini-fleshling
  • My favourite stories in this collection were The Thing in Aunty Alma’s Pond, The Mask of Eamonn Tiyado and Herbert Hutchison in the Underworld because they all had a slightly creepy twist to them
  • Some of the stories here are shorter versions of a larger series, such as The Ghost Let Go, so there is scope for readers to continue the adventure in a longer reading experience

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I did feel that I had seen some of these stories before…not the actual stories of course, but the themes and plot twists.  I suspect this is because I have read quite a few short story anthologies aimed at this age group, especially from people like Anthony Horowitz and Neal Shusterman, who have covered similar topics

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it was only $2, yes.

Where to now for this tome?

It will go to the permanent shelf at least until I decide I need more space or find someone who would really enjoy it.

That’s one more handhold grasped on my way up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block!

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Inherited Disorders: A Read-it-if Review…

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Today’s Read-it-if Review focuses on an anthology pertinent to fathers and sons and the oft-complex relationship betwixt the two.  We received a copy of Inherited Disorders: Stories, Parables and Problems by Adam Ehrlich Sachs from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A son receives an inheritance from his father and tries to dispose of it before it destroys him. Inherited Disorders tells this elemental story in over 100 hilarious, witty variations.

Adam Ehrlich Sachs’s Inherited Disorders is a rueful, absurd, and endlessly entertaining look at a most serious subject—the eternally vexed relations between fathers and sons. In a hundred and seventeen shrewd, surreal vignettes, Sachs lays bare the petty rivalries, thwarted affection, and mutual bafflement that have characterized the filial bond since the days of Davidic kings. A philosopher’s son kills his father and explains his aphorisms to death. A father bequeaths to his son his jacket, deodorant, and political beliefs. England’s most famous medium becomes possessed by the spirit of his skeptical father—who questions, in front of the nation, his son’s choice of career. A Czech pianist amputates his fingers one by one to thwart his father, who will not stop composing concertos for him. A nineteenth-century Italian nobleman wills his ill-conceived flying contraption—incapable of actual flight—to his newborn son. In West Hollywood, an aspiring screenwriter must contend with the judgmental visage of his father, a respected public intellectual whose frozen head, clearly disappointed in him, he keeps in his freezer. Keenly inventive, but painfully familiar, these surprisingly tender stories signal the arrival of a brilliant new comic voice—and fresh hope for fathers and sons the world over.

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Read it if:

*you are a father or a son

*you have a father or a son, and would quite like to have a good laugh at them

*you like your short stories to be exactly that

*you enjoy being alive for no more complex reason than that life affords you the ability to amusedly observe the burdens of others – and the more ridiculous the burden, the greater your appreciation of your ability to observe it

* you are, or have, a father who will not be thwarted in passing on an absurd legacy to ungrateful offspring

Inherited Disorders in one of the more unusual short story anthologies that I’ve come across of late.  For a start, the stories are all considerably shorter – some less than a page – than what one might usually find in a short story collection.  Being a purveyor of micro-narrative myself, I found this quite refreshing and perfectly suited to the dip-in, dip-out situation necessitated by having too much to read and too little time in which to read it.

Each of the stories possess a significant element of the absurd and I found this to be the key factor in chuckle-elicitation as I was reading.  For the reader not prepared for a voluminous collection of stories that each promote the most ridiculous aspect of the father-son relationship, this dry yet quirky style of humour may end up leaving a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.  I, however, loved it.  From the book’s opener, The Nature Poet, in which a poet’s attempts to describe a fern are continuously misinterpreted as coded commentaries on his father’s brutal Nazi past, to the cyclical legacy of commentaries from which successive sons cannot extract themselves, to the respective burdens of the famous mountain climber’s/sea kayaker’s/skydiver’s sons, each story here has been designed to draw the reader in to the inescapable nature of the intagible inheritence each one of us receives from our parents.

The only downside I found in this collection was that as there are so many stories included, some of them had themes or motifs that seemed too similar and therefore felt somewhat repetitive.  There are at least two stories featuring the frustrated sons of famous mountain climbers, for instance.  There are multiple stories featuring the sons of accomplished fathers, who wish to achieve in a different a field.  I suppose the benefit of this is that there is no pressure to read each individual story, knowing that they all feature the same theme, but to pick and choose those that appeal.

I’d recommend Inherited Disorders to those looking for a funny, quirky collection that pays homage to this ridiculous experience we call life, through the medium of father-son relationships.

I’m submitting this one for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until nex time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Not What Your Were Expecting” Edition…

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Welcome to another Reading Round-Up, wherein I skilfully lasso some of the wily beasts that have been lumbering across the plains of my shelf of late. Today’s edition should probably be retitled the “Not What I Expected” edition because all of these books were surprising and, well, not what I expected. Saddle up readers – let’s ride!

Twisted Dark, Volume 3 (Neil Gibson)

I received this title from the publisher via Netgalley.

Two Sentence Synopsis:  twisted dark

A collection of graphic short stories that are linked by a theme of twisty darkness. The stories are illustrated by a range of artists and broach a diversity of content.

Muster Up the Motivation because:

If you enjoy stories that lean towards the dark side of human nature and have a twist in the tail, you should find something to appeal to you in this collection. The stories range from the consequences of crossing a torture-loving drug lord to the inner anguish of body image distortion and pretty much everything in between. A few of the stories left me a bit underwhelmed by their endings, but overall this is a gripping and gritty collection with some stunning artwork to flesh things out. I’d recommend this to horror and short story lovers looking for something new to surprise them.

Brand it with:

Twist in the tail, tortured souls, eye-popping artwork

World of Shawn (Jordan M. Ehrlich)

I received this title as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers giveaways.

Two Sentence Synopsis:  world of shawn

Shawn’s attempts to create a fantasy sandbox game using a map-rendering program go disastrously wrong when he discovers that the program seems to be creating its own reality. With his two good friends by his side, Shawn must go into the game to try to tame the beast he’s created.

Muster Up the Motivation because:

This is a nicely original take on the whole “falling into a parallel universe” tale with a definite skew toward the young adult gamer community. I found the plot to be reasonably tricky to follow at some points as multiple versions of characters are spawned from the malfunctioning program, but overall the story is a fun read, featuring all the banter and humour one would expect from young lads attempting to kill the (virtual) dragon and win the heart of the princess. The author does take some pains to explain various bits of the programming to the uninitiated (ie: me), which I appreciated, but if you are into that sort of thing to begin with, this book should provide a light, non-digital diversion from the gamersphere.

Brand it with:

Weird science, create-your-character, role-playing in the real world

normalisedNormalized: The Complete Quartet (David Bussell)

I received a digital copy of this title from the author for review.

Two Sentence Synopsis:

The once mighty Captain Might has to come to terms with living an ordinary life after his superpowers are snuffed out. Fortunately, he has documented this process in a journal for any other aspiring supers who may fall victim to similar villainy and be forced to return to the anonymity of normal life.

Muster Up the Motivation because:

It’s quite nice to see a superhero – and an arrogant one at that – get a bit of comeuppance. This is the complete collection of four novellas tracing the demise of Captain Might. If you are a fan of the superhero genre and have been waiting for a tale that is prepared to go no-holds-barred into that good night, then this will probably tickle your fancy. The books are replete with (fairly male-oriented, it must be said) humour and a bunch of supercharacters who are remarkably similar to common-or-garden a**holes that you’d find in any social circle, were you to discount their super abilities. I suspect that Bussell’s writing style won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a brash, unflinchingly politically incorrect character on an inner journey of identity renewal, then you couldn’t find better than the travails of Captain Might (and his infinitely less talented brother, Birdy).

Brand it with:

“Oh no he di’n’t!”, super-narcissism, men in lycra

As I said, this round up ended up being a collection of books that came out of left field, so if you’re looking for something that deviates from the norm, genre-wise, I’d recommend having a look at these three titles.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Resorting to Murder (Holiday Mystery Anthology)…

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Welcome to another fiendishly murderous Monday! Today I have a collection for you, featuring short stories from some well-known writers of classic British mystery. Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, is just one in a collection of mystery anthologies on different themes that are due for release this year. Unsurprisingly, today’s collection is based (mostly) around that great British destination for relaxation: the seaside. I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Holidays offer us the luxury of getting away from it all. So, in a different way, do detective stories. This collection of vintage mysteries combines both those pleasures. From a golf course at the English seaside to a pension in Paris, and from a Swiss mountain resort to the cliffs of Normandy, this new selection shows the enjoyable and unexpected ways in which crime writers have used summer holidays as a theme.

Resorting to murder

The Usual Suspects:

This section should probably read not so much “the usual suspects” but “mostly the kind of suspects you’d expect, with a few absolute twisters thrown in”. There are nefarious family members motivated by greed, wives and husbands motivated by the desire to get rid of their wife or husband, business associates, people pretending to be other people and just about every trope you could think of popping up somewhere in this collection. A disturbing lack of retired Colonels back from the sub-continent, though.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, the hunts take many forms, but the majority involve a private detective or a police detective taking the expected route. In one memorable story however, the murderer is never found and in others, it’s not exactly clear whether a murder has happened at all.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for an invigorating seaside holiday featuring sand, sunburn and serial killing (or rather, killing in serial)

I really enjoyed this anthology, for the fun trip through classic British murder mysteries, as much as getting to dip my toe into the writing styles of a bunch of mystery writers from the first half of the twentieth century without having to commit to reading a whole novel. The opening tale by Arthur Conan Doyle set the tone nicely, with a typical “locked room” type mystery that helped me to warm up to the task of solving multiple, unrelated murders by the end of the book. There are also a veritable slew of detectives to acquaint one’s self with, so if you were under the impression that Poirot was the only one getting freelance and solving murders, this book will really open your eyes!

I particularly enjoyed Murder! by Arnold Bennett (as much for the exclamation mark in the title, as for the twist in the story), while The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser by Basil Thomson was simultaneously ridiculously far-fetched and utterly compelling. In fact, I think Thomson’s mystery was my favourite of the lot.

There are more in this anthology series (two just in time for Christmas, apparently!) so I suspect these will find their way onto my TBR list. If you are in the mood for a holiday of the mind that involves skullduggery in bite-sized chunks, I would definitely recommend packing this one in your bedside drawer.

Until next time,

Bruce